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Volume 10 Issue 5   February 2016Shevat 5776

Great Big Truths & Holy Legalese

Praise the LORD (HaShem), all ye nations; Laud Him, all ye peoples.
(Psalms 117:1)

Praiseworthy is the man who heeds Your commandments and Your Torah and takes to heart Your word. From “Blessing after the Shema,” ancient Hebrew prayer - cited in the Talmud, Berachos 11a and Tamid 32b, as part of the Temple’s Morning Service.

Notice, please, that it’s not the cohen, levi or Jew but the man – the “ish,” or person – who’s praised here, for maintaining this high level of God-consciousness. One sees this sort of thing all through Scripture: the One God, the only true God, the one and only Divine Father, very definitely wants all His human children to follow Him and cleave to Him, and acquire this superior consciousness. 

“Your Torah,” above, means the basic concepts of the Torah itself, including the Torah’s legal precepts; “Your word” refers to the Bible’s ethical concepts – ideas related to the big teachings, like “blessed is man, whom God made in His image,” or “blessed is he who blesses Israel” – that are taught directly in the Bible or are derived from events described in the Torah and by the Prophets. (Siach Yitzchok, c. 1627)

The great Noahide Newton – Sir Isaac Newton, whom we wrote about earlier  http://www.1stcovenant.com/articles/newton.htm - knew this, although he didn’t have the freedom to publicly declare it. (His countrymen would have butchered him for trying!) He did what he could, including learning Hebrew and studying Maimonides’ commentaries. So do we today: we do what we can.

One of the first things we notice is this distinction: between the complicated legal precepts of the Torah – look, for instance, at the precise Divine instructions that God has laid down for the Jews even in Egypt, long before they ever got near Sinai: intricate, narrow-focused precepts, about preparing the first Pesach seder, including (among many other details) how to cook the meat, dispose of any leftovers, what to wear on their feet, how fast to eat, etc. (Exodus, chapters 12 and 13), on the one hand - and, on the other, ringing holy “words” and ethical concepts: including the crystalline, deeply revolutionary, “One law shall be to him that is homeborn and to the stranger that sojourns among you.” (Exodus 12: 49)

Would God make a Noahide like Newton responsible for learning those detailed parts – abstruse details which he would probably, almost certainly, never get a chance to practice? The question answers itself. All those things are available for Noahides to read, if they so choose (printed as they are, in Scripture itself), but Noahides do much better by focusing on the “big teachings” that exist to illuminate the world for everybody on Earth much, much more than on the innumerable intricate details of the Torah that govern only the Jews.

Rabbi Michael Katz, reviewing this draft-article, criticizes the focus here on the Korban Pesach, the Passover sacrificial offering featured here in these chapters of Exodus, complaining, “of all the mitzvot (“commandments or “connections”) that you could have used as an example, to make your point, this is one of the few that's off-limits to the uncircumcised. Further, Noahides should not be studying the laws of those commandments which cannot apply to them.”

Wonderfully, it seems to us, HaShem designed Scripture itself to handle the issue here: the Torah legalese that makes one’s eyes glaze over is NOT for all mankind. It's solely for the Jews, and particularly for the men of Israel. Jewish men are commanded not just to read it but to learn it; the Jews as a whole are also obligated, so far as possible, to do it.

This follows the principle that “the Holy One, blessed be He, wished to give merit to [His beloved nation] Israel, therefore He multiplied Torah and commandments (mitzvos) for them.” (Talmud, Makos 23b). The men of Israel, if not the women, are commanded to immerse ourselves in the intricacies of the Torah, to learn them, to make them a part of our national existence and our day-to-day living. This is how HaShem maintains a “kingdom of priests”: by giving them, the Jews, this occupation. Only by keeping commandments like those involving the Sabbath, say, according to their details, can Israel live the Torah as required.

But Noahides don’t have to do this. They can, and should (as we see from the Psalm, and Scripture generally, and from the prayer just-quoted), focus on the big stuff.

Does God Disdain Gentiles?

In the last issue, we quoted Jack Saunders quoting Rabbi Meyer in the Talmud, Sanhedrin 57, to the effect that “a Noahite who keeps the 7M (the Seven Mitzvos or Commandments) and studies them is equal to the High Priest of Israel.” Naturally, like anything in Torah, this can be read on many levels, but one way of looking at it is as a slap at the High Priest, the cohen gadol. Rabbi Meyer lived in a tough time, things weren’t as they once were, and he would have been glad to have had a High Priest who didn’t run around betraying the 7M. So it’s possible to read this statement as a less-than-ringing endorsement of Noahide potential.

That doesn’t diminish Noahide potential. There is, frankly, a strain of disdain for non-Jews in Jewish tradition. It doesn’t exist in Scripture, except according to some commentaries on Scripture: the enemies of God are damned, naturally, but all born of women come into the world pure. Non-Jews are never presumed to be irredeemable. Neither does contempt strike us as being consonant at all with the general thrust of Torah.

Noahides will have to deal with this issue – we have often heard Noahides lamenting, “cleaving to Israel isn’t easy,” in the face of perceived insults – but a few more Noahides like Newton will, we expect, do a lot to solve the problem. In the meantime, we see it as an all-but unavoidable consequence of fallible beings wrestling with the perfect justice and holiness of HaShem.

“Gentiles Who Act Like Jews”

A good friend of ours, Samuel Abady, distinguished New York attorney, brought this article to our attention yesterday. With thanks to Tablet, the online magazine, and to the author, Ilana E. Straus, we re-post it here, for your information. "The Gentiles Who Act Like Jews"


By Michael Dallen



We call on God for help. As the prayer that Israel says every morning just before reciting the Hebrew statement of faith known as the shema asks (please understand that this is much richer in Hebrew than in English): Our Father, the merciful Father, Who acts mercifully, have mercy on us, instill in our hearts to understand and elucidate, to listen, learn, teach, safeguard, perform and fulfill all the words of Your Torah's teachings with love. Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah, attach our hearts to Your commandments, and unify our hearts to love and fear Your Name. Amen.

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