Shalom alecheim and Hag Sameach - Happy Holiday, Chanukah - to all!
I'm very impressed with this article and don't debate any point that was
stated. I think that it is very much in line with my own thoughts.
After perusing again everyone's rebuttals to the original article (and my
initial one), I think that most of us are in line regarding where we stand
on "legalism vs. spirituality", even if we do it in divergent terms. Jack
touched superficially on some deep concepts that displays his thorough
knowledge of the subject matter, and I have no doubt that the members of
this email list picked up on the real breadth of his allusions. Yet, for any
others who may someday track this correspondence, I think it would be
helpful to elaborate on these ideas, and hopefully stir again some
controversy amongst us. It is through such controversy that we can be
motivated to reply when we otherwise would not, and it can also serve as a
method of revisiting previously accepted ideas in an attempt to lend
additional strength to our ideas. I have found that through so doing, I have
often amended or varied my past conclusions. And of course, it is also
possible that whenever there is a vague allusion, each will interpret it
according to their own developing "theology" as opposed to the way in which
the author actually intended.
So, Legalism vs. Spiritualism: Are they at odds? Do they complement one
another? Which is preeminent? To what do the concepts allude? How do we
achieve them? Where do we find balance?
These are all good questions - to be sure - and difficult to answer. I think
that Jack hit all of the high points and satisfactorily so. Yet, there is of
course much more to be said. This very "debate" (if it is such) has been
around for a long time, in many circles and in many forms. The most recent
expression of the roman religion was formed by this debate. Yeshua HaNotzri
repeatedly scorns and derides the "hypocritical" Sadducees and Pharisees in
the christian bible. In which way did he find them to be so? Generally, (if
there is any shred of his actual teachings that can still be gleaned from
the immensely corrupted texts) his claim was that they were elitists who had
lost touch with the common man, developing elaborate prayers and intricate
traditions which were devoid of spiritual essence(see for example Mark
12:38-40). The new roman religion has latched on to these ideas and
vehemently affirms that Judaism is a body without a soul, an intricate
structure of laws, statutes, and rituals without any true connection to the
One Whom they profess to worship with this structure. Obviously,
christianity has enough theological problems of its own to deal with before
it delves into the ocean of Judaic thought, but can this specific claim be
dismissed as easily as the virgin birth? Who can deny that many "religious"
Jews perform their avodah through rote, because they were raised and trained
to do so, without ever questioning the why behind their observance? Is this
the case for all observant Jews? Of course not! But it IS a problem that
many in the Orthodox community have battled for millennia.
We remember acutely (because christian polemics make it impossible to
forget) the words of the prophets:
"Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but my ears You have pierced,
burnt offerings and sin offerings You did not require. Then I said, 'Here I
am, I have come- it is written about me in the scroll'. I desire to do Your
will, O my G'd, Your law is within my heart." Psalms 40:6-7
"O L'rd, open my lips and my mouth will declare Your praise. You do not
delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; You do not take pleasure in burnt
offerings. The sacrifices of G'd are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite
heart, O G'd, You will not despise." Psalms 51: 15-17
"For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of G'd, rather than
burnt offerings. Like Adam, they have broken the covenant - they were
unfaithful to Me there." Hosea 6:6
We are all well aware how these passages and others like them have been
taken out of their historical context and used to support the roman
"substitution theology". Their ignorance of the Torah and Rabbinic thought
is apparent in their mythology, yet the problems of legalism vs.
spiritualism cannot be dismissed off hand as it is a reality in any
organized religion (ironically I think christians themselves are perhaps the
most guilty). So, the struggling Noachide movement should pay special
attention during its formative stages that it puts the knowledge of the
mitzvoth in its proper spiritual perspective. And though the above passages
speak of the Jewish mitzvoth of sacrifice in general, it seems apparent that
any ritualistic observance can easily fall into the same category - even
Jack really hit the proverbial nail on the head when he said that the two
concepts are not at odds. Of course, we know that the reality is that the
two are complementary and that either one without the other is defective. I
doubt that any of us will argue that pure "legalism" or pure "spiritualism"
leads anywhere but to destruction. Yet, where do we find the proper balance?
Balance is what it's all about.
Jack alludes to the concepts of Elokim and Y-K-V-K. This is the essence of
our discussion. Obviously, these concepts do not allude to disparity or
disunity in HaShem himself, but merely to different modes of His
action/manifestation on earth - right and left.
As a historical note, the modern secular concepts of "Right" and "Left" are
opposite the Biblical concepts. In modern politics, a "right winger" is
conservative, restrictive, and fundamentalist, while a "left winger" is
liberal, expansive, and forbearing. Contrarily, in the Torah when we speak
of G'ds right "hand" we are typically speaking of His actions as being
merciful while his left "hand" describes His actions as demanding strict
justice. For this reason, I will use right and left within their Biblical
context - so keep that in mind.
When HaShem's attribute of strict justice is being manifested on the earth,
we find that He is manifesting His name "Elokim". Yet, when His attribute of
lovingkindness is manifesting, we find that He is called "Y'K'V'K". When the
names are utilized together "Y'K'V'K Elokim", it displays His merging of
these two extremes of action. This is El Meleck Ne'eman (G'd the Faithful
In Midrash Rabbah 3:7 we find the following curious statements:
"'and there was evening...' (Genesis 1:5), R. Judah b. R. Simon said: 'Let
there be evening' is not written here, but 'and there was evening.' Hence we
know that a time order existed before this. R. Abbahu said: This proves that
the Holy One, blessed be He, went on creating worlds and destroying them
until He created this one and declared, 'This one pleases Me; those did not
please Me.' R. Pinchas said: This is R. Abbahu's reason: 'And God saw
everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good (Gen. 1:31): This
pleases Me, but those did not please Me.'"
The classic commentators qualify this statement to inform us that HaShem
first created a world through his attribute of absolute Judgment and the
world did not stand. He then created a world through absolute Mercy, which
also failed. It was only when He created a world with a balance of Mercy and
Judgment that the world (this one) was able to exist. Now, does HaShem make
mistakes? Of course not. Yet, this allegorical story stands to teach us a
valuable lesson about how He wishes us to behave - like Him, meting out
justice when required but being merciful in our dealings with others when it
is likewise required.
So, the implication here is apparent: How can HaShem judge us without first
teaching us His laws and the methods of proper behavior? And how can we ever
hope to realize that ideal if He is not also forbearing and merciful to us
as we mature spiritually? Further implied in this is that we must make great
strides to study and apply the mitzvoth, while emulating HaShem by tempering
our learning with good deeds and connection to Him.
Thus, my initial response to Alan Cecil's remarks stands. He would imply
that we should shrug off our spiritual requirements while focusing solely on
the study and application of halacha. This is an untenable situation.
Therefore, I honestly believe that we have at our disposal the proper
vessels to manifest these two equally important requirements. We know that
we must make greater strides to study and delineate the halacha as it
applies to the Bnai Noach. Likewise, we must attempt to develop a more
comprehensive framework of spiritual practices - again, as they apply to the
Bnai Noach. And we all need to be more proactive in spreading the knowledge
of HaShem to those who seek to know Him in truth. If we can succeed in these
goals, then we will be one step closer to the time when "On that day HaShem
will be One, and His name will be One".
Now, I think that we know what "legalism" entails, but what of
"spiritualism"? This concept is more elusive to describe. Is spiritualism
synonymous with emotionalism? Is it "feeling good" when we pray or do a good
deed? Is it crying over the ruined foundations of the Mikdash and the arab
desecration of the holiest place on earth? Is it anger against
anti-Semitism? Is it a feeling of transcendence before the Awesome One? A
feeling of His Presence?
When a master carpenter makes a beautiful armoire, is it his intention to
create sawdust? No, but it is a natural consequence of his act of creation.
Sawdust can be useful at times, but it is still only sawdust. Anyone can
make sawdust, but not everyone can make an armoire. The product is the goal,
the rest is a side effect. All of the above emotions are great, but they
aren't spiritualism. They are only emotions and emotions are fleeting. Today
I may bemoan the Mikdash, but tomorrow I may forget. Today I may feel His
presence in my prayer, but the next time I may not. Emotions are side
effects of true "spiritualism", not the goal. True spiritualism is nothing
less than devekut with our Creator. A clinging, all inclusive, transcendent
state of existence in which we see His "Hand" in everything that transpires.
A connection to a limitless Presence which forever answers the question "is
there a G'd"? It is insight into an unseen yet still extant world which
moves and directs every insignificant event to a greater purpose. It is
placing HaShem before you - at all times.
Is everyone going to achieve that goal? Maybe someday. For now, all we can
do is train ourselves towards realizing it. But how do we train ourselves?
The rituals of Judaism are designed to keep this goal ever present in the
aspirant's mind. Most consider them burdensome and time consuming, but they
are the framework through with legitimate experience manifests. Sure, there
are days when the prayer services may feel like mindless repetitions. But
when a connection IS made, how much more relevant is it when it is
experienced within an ancient framework and vessel. Likewise, how often can
one hope to achieve such a connection if his only prayer, his only religious
expressions are haphazard and spontaneous. How easy it is to get caught up
in the daily routine and push HaShem far from our waking consciousness.
Therefore, we must make an attempt to develop some type of framework for the
observant gentile, who is significantly limited in the practice of the
Jewish framework. There is much that can be done, and much that must be done
if we are to do our part in the redemption of our world and the preparation
I look forward to the next installment and welcome all comments.
For the next paper in this series, click here.