The Torah’s Great Principle

love-one-anotherRabbi Akiva said, “Love your fellow as yourself” is a great principle of the Torah. A similar principle is gleaned from the famous story of a proselyte who wished to convert to Judaism on condition that someone would teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel the Elder accepted his conversion and told him, “That which you hate, do not do to your friend [the negative picture of “love your fellow as yourself”]―that is all the Torah and all the rest is commentary. Go and study it.”

Obviously, the entire Torah is a true, God-given Torah, but Hillel the Elder and Rabbi Akiva teach us that there is room to meditate on the principle that is the Torah’s “great principle”; the signpost that puts us on the right track.

The need for such guiding lights is most necessary when an outsider wishes to approach the infinite sea of Torah and needs an anchor to show him where to begin.

-Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh
“The Torah’s greatest principle”
Wonders From Your Torah

Our Master Yeshua (Jesus) taught something similar.

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:37-40

Referencing Rabbi Ginsburgh, I periodically write about non-Jewish people (including me) who are drawn to the larger body of Torah mitzvot and who find they have a desire to live a more “Jewish” lifestyle as a means of holiness. Essentially, there’s nothing wrong with this and indeed, the Torah was created not just for the Jewish people, but for humanity, as it is said:

For out of Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

Micah 4:2

I substituted the word “Torah” for “Law” in the ESV translation for effect, but both terms are correct (although I’d argue that “Torah” is the more correct word to use here).

Again, as we see from Rabbi Ginsburgh’s commentary, the “outsider” (non-Jew or secular Jew) who desires to learn Torah has to start somewhere. Although as Rabbi Ginsburgh states, the entire Torah is true, it’s easy for a beginner (Rabbi Ginsburgh is talking about potential converts to Judaism but I’m applying his statements to the rest of us) to become lost, confused, discouraged or even “seduced” by the complexities of Torah and the vast span of mitzvot. I’ve seen non-Jewish people introduced to the concept of “complete Torah observance” or “obligation” who throw themselves headlong into what they imagine it is to lead a “Torah-submissive life” only to become enamored by “the stuff.”

tzitzit1I call “stuff” all the outward devices, objects, or activities that are typically associated with observant Judaism, such as donning a tallit gadol and tefillin when davening, wearing a tallit katan under one’s shirt daily, wearing a kippah in public daily, lacing their sentences with Hebrew or even Yiddish words, growing a long, furry beard (because they believe God wants this), and so on.

But what does Rabbi Ginsburgh, citing both Hillel the Elder and Rabbi Akiva suggest is the Torah’s “great principle?” What does the Master say is the greatest commandment?

None of those things I just mentioned. What is the anchor for “beginners” in the Torah? “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

This concept sheds light on the Jewish conception of holiness. The Hebrew word kedosh , meaning “holy,” implies separation; (See Tanya, ch. 46.) a distinction must be made between the Jewish approach and a secular approach to any particular matter, as is stated at the conclusion of our Torah reading: (Levitcus 20:26.) “You shall be holy unto Me, for I, G-d, am holy, and I have separated you from the nations to be Mine.”

Such a distinction is unnecessary with regard to the ritual dimensions of the Torah and its mitzvos. These are clearly distinct; there is no need for man to do anything further. Instead, the focus of our Torah reading is on concerns shared by all mortals. Thus the reading relates laws involving agriculture, human relations, business, and sexual morality. For it is in these “mundane” areas that the holiness of the Jewish people is expressed.

Judaism does not understand holiness to be synonymous with ascetic abstention. Instead, it demands that a person interact with his environment, and permeate it with holiness. (See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos De’os 3:1.)

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“What Does Being Holy Mean?”
Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. I, p. 254ff; Vol. XII, p. 91ff;
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Acharei-Kedoshim, 5745

That might be a little “intense” or at least unfamiliar to most Christians. Here’s another way of saying it.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

James 2:14-17

A life of faith and holiness cannot be lived apart from actually living life. Holiness is doing not just praying, meditating, studying, and contemplating. Holiness is an action. Go and do.

An emissary is one with his sender. This concept is similar to that of an angel acting as a Divine emissary, when he is actually called by G-d’s name. If this is so with an angel it is certainly true (See Iyar 6.) of the soul; in fact with the soul the quality of this oneness is of a higher order, as explained elsewhere. (See Tamuz 10.)

“Today’s Day”
Thursday, Iyar 8, 23rd day of the omer, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe;
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

Again, the Master taught something similar.

For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

John 13:15-17

boston_marathon_terror_explosionWe are his servants and we are not greater than he is. He gave us an example of what to do by the living of his life and his teachings. He gave us an “anchor” in the Torah as to where we should begin and where we should stay centered: to love God with all of our being, and to love our neighbor (who is really everyone) as ourselves. And just recently, we’ve been reminded that there are opportunities to fulfill the Master’s mitzvot all around us.

The Mighty Rock, Whose deeds are perfect, because all His ways are good. He is a faithful God in Whom there is no iniquity.

Deuteronomy 32:4-5

These very sobering words are often invoked at moments of great personal distress to express our faith and trust in the Divine wisdom and justice.

People who have suffered deep personal losses, such as destruction of their home by fire or the premature death of a loved one, or who have observed the widespread suffering caused by a typhoon or an earthquake, may be shaken in their relationship with God. How could a loving, caring God mete out such enormous suffering?

It is futile to search for logical explanations, and even if there were any, they would accomplish little in relieving the suffering of the victims. This is the time when the true nature of faith emerges, a faith that is beyond logic, that is not subject to understanding.

The kaddish recited by mourners makes no reference to any memorial concept or prayer for the departed. The words of kaddish, “May the name of the Almighty be exalted and sanctified,” are simply a statement of reaffirmation, that in spite of the severe distress one has experienced, one does not deny the sovereignty and absolute justice of God.

Our language may be too poor in words and our thoughts lacking in concepts that can provide comfort when severe distress occurs, but the Jew accepts Divine justice even in the face of enormous pain.

Today I shall…

…reaffirm my trust and faith in the sovereignty and justice of God, even when I see inexplicable suffering.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Iyar 8”

Without trust and faith in God, it’s easy to lose faith in humanity and we are unable (or unwilling) to be the Master’s servant in this world and to do his will by loving and helping others in need.

In a commentary on this week’s Torah portion, we learn from the midrash that one of the reasons for the death of Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu was that they loved God “too much.” They came too near the Holy One and were consumed. This was a warning to Aaron that no matter how great his love for God was and the desire to draw near the Divine Presence in the Holy of Holies, he must restrain himself.

G-d knew that Aharon’s love for Him was so great that he would always desire to enter the Holy of Holies. However, by doing so, it could cause his soul to leave his body, as happened with his sons. G-d therefore informed told him of the need to keep his soul within his body so that he could fulfill his mission in this world — transforming it into a dwelling place for G-d.

The lesson we can learn from the command to Aharon is that every Jew has the capacity to love G-d, and indeed is commanded to do so, as the verse states: “You shall love your G-d with all your heart, soul and might.” (Devarim 6:5)

peace-of-mind1While midrash may not appeal to you in a literal sense, when viewed metaphorically or as a moral lesson, it teaches that human beings, out of our love for God, can achieve greater heights of holiness, drawing nearer to God, though we can never be “greater than our Master.” Yet as servants, we must always strive to become better than we are.

It’s not easy. God never gets tired, He never gets scared, He never gets discouraged, He never wants to “throw in the towel,” but we poor, pathetic human beings experience all those things.

People think that if they are not well, they must sacrifice all meaning in their life in order to take care of their physical situation.

In fact, the opposite is true: You cannot separate the healing of the body from the healing of the soul. As you treat the body, you must also increase in nourishing the soul.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Soul Healing”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Just as we cannot separate healing of the body from healing of the soul, we cannot separate our personal need for healing from the needs of those around us. In fact, by acting for the benefit of others and serving their needs, we may discover that our own wounds are also being healed.

I have been guilty on many occasions of wanting to withdraw from humanity and particularly from the community of faith when it has hurt too much. God has shown me (again and again and again) that I’ve been going in the wrong direction.

When in doubt, I must return to the portion of Torah that is for all of us, Jew and Gentile alike, the anchor, the center, the love of God and humanity. Without that, nothing else we do means anything.

160 days.

11 thoughts on “The Torah’s Great Principle”

  1. Great thoughts James.

    Contemplating the “160 days” though. Very mysterious! And since you don’t strike me as a Herald Camping type of guy, I’m left to assume there will be a new Star Trek release? 😉

  2. Sorry it was hacked, I would have never said that… 😛

    Just so you know, I agree with many of your post or at least tid bits here and there, I just don’t always comment on those. 🙂

  3. Too bad. It might be nice for all the people who read these blogs but never comment on them to realize we’re not at each other’s throats all the time. 😉

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