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Sixth Paper

Or, Second Installment of the Fifth Paper

By Rev. Jack E. Saunders

Man of Law and Man of Spirit

Actually, the idea of legalism versus spiritualism is only meant to provoke thought and not to say that one is in opposition to the other. In fact, I believe that each goes hand in hand with the other. Let me explain.

For some the idea of spiritualism or being a spiritual person is always somehow connected to the idea of emotionalism without much or any inclusion of intellectual involvement. Legalism is usually defined as someone that is completely devoted to following scrupulously a set of rules without any emotional involvement. Now, I am sure that this is not the idea that we are discussing when we address the issues of legalism and spiritualism.

So what do we mean when we speak about legalism and being a spiritual person?

I am sure that somehow the word legalism somehow still carries the stigma even with us when we identify someone as being someone who only closely adheres to certain standards and follows them seemly without any emotional involvement. Or maybe more clearly someone who only is only concerned with the rules but oblivious as to the reasons behind them.

But the reality is we are searching not for the separation of these two ideas but the combining of both legalism (someone who studies the fine points of the standards and follows them) and spiritualism (making a connection to the King of the Universe).

First let us tackle the issue of spirituality or making that connection to the King of the Universe. Rabbi Moses Maimonides (also known as Rambam) in The Guide for the Perplexed (c. 1190 of the Common Era) speaks about those who are close to G'd and those who are not.

He states that those who have a greater knowledge and more correct knowledge of G'd are closer and those who have lesser knowledge and less correct knowledge of G'd are considered further away from G'd . From his point of view it takes meticulous study and the gathering of much knowledge to be able to formulate correct opinions about the Creator in order to come close to Him. So one might be able to say that it takes one being a legalist (a meticulous study) in order to become a spiritualist (one that is closer to G'd).

But maybe there is more to it than what Rambam states. But we must give carefully consideration to his words and also the words of the prophets when they state, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge ".

Having stated what some may think about legalism and spiritualism and a small look at what or how the prophets and Rambam might have considered these issues.

What I am about to propose is not something that I have ever remembered reading from any source other then the conclusions that I have drawn from reading the text of the Torah and the many writings of the great Sages of Israel.

Let us turn to the story of Noah and just maybe we might be able to arrive at some ideas that might not have entered our minds that Noah fits both of our equations.

In parsha Noach, we are informed of the actions of the masses of people and of Noah's actions, which are in direct opposition to those of his generation.

The masses, we are informed, were involved in all forms of illicit sexual activity. The Scripture informs us that Elokim saw the wickedness of man was great and that every imagination (purposes and desires) of the thoughts of man's heart was completely directed only toward evil. We are informed that because of the state of man's heart this "saddens" the heart of Y-H-V-H, and He immediately informs us that He is going to wipe man, along with many of His other creations, from the face of the earth .

Elokim also informs us that the earth was filled with violence (hamas). That all flesh had corrupted His way upon earth and as a result He was going to destroy those that had corrupted His way with the earth .

Elokim informs us the many violations of the standards that He had given to man in order to establish an orderly society and corrupted His way upon earth. The Y-H-V-H informs us of the sadness of his heart because of the wickedness of man's heart. Now, that we have seen how both Elokim and Y-H-V-H reacted to the activities of man with the exception of one, Noah.

Noah we are told, found face (grace) in the eyes of Y-H-V-H , and was recognized as a righteous individual (tzadik) by Elokim. Now, we must ask the questions, What made Noah a righteous individual (tzadik) by Elokim, and how did he find grace (face) in the eyes of Y-H-V-H? 

Usually, when one is termed a tzadik, it is because he is meticulous in study and observance of the standards set forth by the Creator. So would we merely suggest that Noah was just legalistic, or one who remained committed to following the way of Elokim? Would Noah say that it is not important to be involved in the meticulous study and observance of the commandments that G'd had given to him? Seeing that all of humanity was about to be destroyed before his eyes because of their failure to follow the commandments given to them, Noah's survival and the survival of his family seems to be dependent upon his meticulous observance. That surely must imply meticulous study in order to comply with the standards set forth by Elokim.

But what about this grace Noah found in the eyes of Y-H-V-H? Where did this come from and how did he deserve it? Was it his meticulous study and observance of the commandments that earned him this? While it may be certainthat without his meticulous study and observance of his commandments he probably would not have found grace in the eyes of the LORD, there must have been something coupled that. What is this thing that Y-H-V-H found in Noah that was lacking in the rest of humanity?

Could it be the lack of his own desires which are referred to as evil by Y-H-V-H - the desires that were continually on the hearts of all the others? Maybe we could identify this evil - the evil of all the others - as the lack of hesed (kindness)? Hesed - kindness - is the opposite of violence (hamas).

Later, when the people of Sodom are destroyed, we are told it is because they are evil. The prophet Ezekiel later identifies this evil as the lack of charity or kindness.

Perhaps Noah blends both the traits of what we may term as legalism and spiritualism. Elokim tells us that Noah is a tzadik in that he studies and observes the commandments meticulously and he is also truly a spiritual individual because he demonstrates the trait of kindness, which earns him grace in the eyes of Y-H-V-H. It is no wonder that G'd would chose such a man to take care of all the animals that were to be saved from the Flood.

Just some thoughts on these subjects, and we will be looking forward to your comments.


For the next paper in this series, click here.


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