This week’s Torah portion is Noah — the story of the world being destroyed by a flood because of the way people treated each other (see Dvar Torah). It is a lesson that we all need to take to heart. Did you ever ask yourself, “What would it take to create a perfect world and perfect humanity?” Here’s my list. These are all ideas culled from the Torah, the Instruction Book for Life.
10 Rules for Perfecting Humanity
- Speak Properly
- Act with Honesty and Integrity
- Respect Others
- Be Kind to Others
- Study Wisdom
- Work for a Cause
- Be Humble
- Make a Daily Accounting
- Be Real with God and Life
-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
Shabbat Shalom Weekly
Given that I’m reasonably “settled” in what I have to do and how I have to do it in having a relationship with God while also being “Judaicly aware” (not that I’m very good at doing it all), I haven’t expected to write much more on this blog, or at least I thought I wouldn’t write very often.
But since the Torah Portion for this week is Noah, the story of a righteous Gentile, and that Judaism considers Hashem’s covenant with Noah (all living things, really) to be binding on all non-Jewish humanity even to this day, I thought I should draw some attention to the Rabbi’s commentary.
Notice that the list above are 10 rules for perfecting humanity not just Jewish people. Of course, Rabbi Packouz is writing to a Jewish audience, but I don’t think that invalidates the application of his advice to the rest of us. Also notice that the advice applicable to the Gentile was derived from the Torah.
Someone (a non-Jewish believer) commented on this recent blog post that the Torah is universal. He meant that every detail and every mitzvah is universally applied to all human beings who are either Jewish or Gentile disciples of Rav Yeshua (Jesus).
Well, of course the Torah is universal. Rabbi Packouz’s list illustrates this perfectly. However, that there are principles and even praxis in the Torah that are equally relevant to the Jew and Gentile doesn’t mean that all of Torah is equally applicable.
But let’s take what we’ve got in the list above.
First, go to the original article and read how R. Packouz “fleshes out” each item on the list.
Next, let’s consider how well each of us does on a daily basis in fulfilling every one of the ten items above.
Do we speak properly? This pretty much means not engaging in gossip or idle chatter about other people, even though there are some folks who get an emotional charge out of tearing someone else down, especially when that someone else has made mistakes and is reaping the consequences.
That sort of goes along with item 4: Be Kind to Others. No matter how unappealing or even sinful a person looks on the outside, first remember that none of us is perfect either, and then realize that everyone is fighting a hard battle, not just you.
Do we act with honesty and integrity? As disciples of Rav Yeshua, I hope so, but let’s face it, more than one religious person, Christian and Jew, has been caught with his or her hand in the cookie jar. Sometimes how we recover from a mistake tells more about our character than never making one.
Do we respect others? I guess I should have put this one in with items 1 and 4, since our respecting all other people based on them also being created in the image of the Almighty would probably eliminate the vast majority of unkind and improper behavior in the world.
Study Wisdom. In this case R. Packouz cites both Torah and Pirke Avot, but I find it interesting that Theodore Roosevelt once said, “A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.” Clearly, both Packouz and Roosevelt are saying very similar things. Acts 15:21 also seems to imply that the non-Jew can benefit from being grounded in Torah study (the Christian Bible obviously didn’t exist at that point in time) and there’s a lot to gain for a non-Jew studying Torah besides merely learning to imitate Jewish praxis.
Work for a Cause. They say charity begins at home but it doesn’t end there. Even if we sometimes question exactly what our mission is on Earth from God’s point of view, it’s pretty easy to look around our community and see needs. Find one you can fulfill.
Be Humble. That’s hard to do in the blogosphere. You’d think religious bloggers would be experts at this one, but often the exact opposite is true. R. Packouz says that wisdom only enters a humble person, so item 5 does nothing for you unless you also practice item 7.
Pray. Again, hopefully we are all doing this every day…maybe even every hour depending on what’s happening in our lives. These aren’t just petitions to fulfill personal needs, although this too is appropriate in prayer. Many of the personal prayers we find in the Bible are praise to God. Also, praying goes along with items 3, 4, and 6. When we pray for others, we integrate them into our thoughts and emotions, and out of that, we can act to be the answer to their prayers.
Make a Daily Accounting. This is an ugly one. Oh sure, if you’re a saint and you never sin, then this accounting is your personal victory list for the day. However, if you are a human being, there are bound to be at least a little bit of red on your ledger that needs to be wiped clean.
Being real with God would be easy, you’d think. He knows everything, after all. You can lie to others convincingly, but you can’t lie to God (no matter how much you might want to sometimes). Being real with God is baring your soul to Him. Being real with life is applying your relationship with God to your lived experience and connections to other people.
So, you’ve been through the 10 rules for perfecting human beings. You don’t have to say how you did. I’m certainly not going to share the gruesome details about my performance on the list.
But you can share it with God and see how He can help you and me be better tomorrow than we’ve been today.
41 thoughts on “Perfecting Humanity”
It appears that Rabbi Packouz overlooked one minor but critically important adjective in his recommendation number six. It only works as he undoubtedly intended it if you qualify it by insisting that the cause to which one devotes one’s efforts is a *good* cause (as HaShem would view the definition of “good”). There are, regrettably, far too many folks in the world today who are devoting their energies to causes that are downright evil and destructive — many of them recognizably in service to false gods, false values, and false goals. Others may be said to serve causes that are not good by mistake or due to ignorance or a failure to investigate or evaluate the actual characteristics and consequences of the causes they support, compared with HaShem’s values and goals.
There are 2 options with moral value systems: (1) secular morality: just do whatever you think is good; (2) Scriptural morality: do whatever G-d says is good.
This post advocates a secular morality–the idea that a Gentile can just use his innate conscience and try to do what he feels is good. It sounds great, this humanistic idea that we can do everything on our own, figure everything out with man’s philosophy. This is an old Hellenistic belief.
But you, as a Believer, can’t stick to secular morality. I’ll demonstrate:
Let’s examine #3 on your list: “Respect Others”
Let’s say your government tells you that you must respect homosexuals by never speaking out against homosexual marriage. But one day G-d tells you to speak out against homosexual marriage because He has called it evil in His Scripture. So what do you do? Well, as a Believer, you say, “I must follow Scriptural morality rather than secular morality; I must obey G-d rather than man.”
You would appeal to Scriptural morality (i.e. the Bible) as a Law that trumps man’s morality (e.g. American morality as informed by our legal system that deems homosexual union as morally good).
So it all comes back to Scripture. Gentiles can’t follow some sort of “do what feels good” secular morality or “simple life of holiness” based on a subjective idea of what the individual deems “holy.” Rather, Gentiles MUST follow Scriptural morality–the value system of HaShem.
And ALL of Scripture is imbued with G-d’s value system. It is Law which IS morality. It is our True North. Remove Scripture from your moral system and you will set off for destinations unknown.
I’ve enjoyed your blog and these discussions.
@PL: I suppose, given that Rabbi Packouz said his source material was the Torah, that it’s implied that the cause be good as defined by Hashem, at least that’s how I took it. I do agree that if this were a list viewed from a secular point of view, then “good” could be defined as all manner of things not approved of by the Almighty.
@Peter: I think you’re missing a critical point, one I mentioned to PL above. Rabbi Packouz says he derived every item on his list from Torah, so by definition, the list is one conforming to Hashem’s understanding of “good,” not necessarily a secular one. This is what I mean by the “universaility” of Torah. Everyone can learn how to relate to God and to other people as the Almighty intends. I draw the line however, that everyone’s religious praxis and cultural and covenant identity becomes identical.
If we all conformed how we treat one another to how God wants us to behave, the world would be as if Messiah had already arrived/returned.
It’s been suggested that some of the principles above such as respecting others and being kind to others might lead to unilaterally accepting all sorts of human behaviors, regardless of what Hashem and the Bible have to say. I found a quote recently that I think addresses this issue:
It is possible to tolerate someone and even treat them with basic dignity without also tolerating a principle we believe to be against the will of God. I just wanted to bring our attention to this difference.
RE: “Rabbi Packouz says he derived every item on his list from Torah, so by definition, the list is one conforming to Hashem’s understanding of “good,””
Your argument is as follows:
(1) Rabbi Packouz says his list of rules for humanity came from Torah;
(2) Therefore the list must conform to HaShem’s understanding of good.
Well, then, if the list came from Torah then by all means, James, please show us the Scriptural reference for this list so that we can begin following it as Torah. Where is this list of comprehensive rules for humanity to be found in Scripture?
Interesting term “derive”. The latin origin denotes drawing out from a river. Why would Gentiles want to drink from the hand of Rabbi Packouz when they can go straight to the source–and drink directly from the pure River of Torah? Why should we settle for imperfect imitations (derivatives) of Scripture when we can have the real thing?
By the way, if you don’t have a Scriptural reference for Packouz’s list then his “rules for humanity” are not Torah and, by definition, do not reflect HaShem’s understanding of what is good for humanity. I can say that I am derived from my father. But being derived from my father and actually being my father are two different things. I can’t say that I am my father. You can’t say that Packouz’s derivative list is actually Torah and therefore verifiably reflects HaShem’s understanding of what a good comprehensive set of rules for humanity should look like. Rather, you must admit that you have absolutely no idea whether Packouz’s list reflects HaShem’s understanding of good since his list is nowhere to be found in Scripture as a comprehensive set of rules for humanity.
I suggest you email Rabbi Packouz and ask for his specific references. This is his list, not mine. I’m just passing it along and adding a bit of commentary. Apparently you have issues with the value of this list relative to God’s desires for humanity. Why do you find it difficult to believe that Hashem would actually want us to treat other people with kindness and respect, to act with honesty and integrity, to study wisdom (that is, the Bible), be involved in a good cause, which I personally would consider to be something contributing to tikkun olam, be humble, pray, review our thoughts and behavior at the end of each day for what we did well and what we could have done better, and have an authentic relationship with God?
@Peter — You asked: “Why would Gentiles want to drink from the hand of Rabbi Packouz when they can go straight to the source–and drink directly from the pure River of Torah?” The answer to that question is probably the same reasoning for which gentile disciples were expected to learn Torah in synagogues each Shabbat (viz: Acts 15:21). In the synagogues of that era, one would hear Torah interpreted by representatives of the scribes and Pharisees, who were cited by Rav Yeshua in Mt.23:2-3 as the authoritative interpreters of Torah (i.e., seated in the authoritative role of Moshe Rabbeinu). It could have been suggested alternatively that these gentile disciples should obtain their own copy of Torah and read the source text for themselves in their own assemblies, but that was not what the Jerusalem Council of Emissaries thought appropriate to suggest. Their suggestion was actually much more consonant with Rav Yeshua’s Mt.23 directive. History has shown us during the past 19 centuries that gentile Christian assemblies did a very poor job of interpreting the Torah for themselves apart from traditional Jewish rules and conventions of interpretation based in long familiarity with the idioms of its language.
Another purpose for the fine art of derivation is that you won’t find a convenient summary list like that of R.Packouz already neatly compiled as such in the existing text of Torah. It required educated effort to extract and compile such a list, which is exactly the service that the good rabbi provided. Such derivations are not intended to replace personal study of the source from which the summary was derived, but are intended rather to provide guidelines and a starting point for understanding what may be found in the source. Such a list is not a summary of some single set of scriptural proof-text verses, but a selection of concepts and precepts that each may represent some complex combination of verses and their implications.
I don’t take issue with someone saying “be kind.” I take issue with someone saying that “be kind” (and several other arbitrarily selected rules) constitutes the COMPREHENSIVE set of rules for humanity because to do so involves CUTTING OUT large sections of Torah. Where is Rabbi Packouz authorized to cut out a set of commandments and put forth his arbitrary set of rules as the comprehensive set of rules for humanity?
Peter, I think you are overanalyzing this situation and overreacting. No one is commanding you personally and you can believe anything you want to believe. I really published this blog post to be an encouragement and, hopefully, to inspire people reading this (including the guy who wrote it…me) to be a little bit better tomorrow than we (I) have been today. I’m sorry this has upset you so much (I’m sure you realize that writing in CAPS on the web constitutes shouting). I’m sure Rabbi Packouz didn’t have you or the Hebrew Roots movement in mind when he crafted his missive. If you need to blame someone, blame me.
I don’t think (my opinion) that Rabbi Packouz intended his list to be a comprehensive set of rules to guide all human beings (remember, he writes for Aish whose audience is primarily Jewish). I think he was just trying to help by giving people a starting point in understanding (again, my opinion) the weightier matters of Torah. Rav Yeshua gives us a small example of what those are in Matthew 23:23: justice and mercy and faithfulness. Can you dispute this teaching?
I stated in my first comment that I enjoy these discussions. Does that seem like shouting? CAPS is used as an alternative means of conveying emphasis when italics are unavailable. Your commenting system doesn’t allow the use of italics. And you should note how logical my comments are, reasons connected to evidence. Definitely not characteristic of someone shouting.
RE: “I don’t think (my opinion) that Rabbi Packouz intended his list to be a comprehensive set of rules to guide all human beings.”
Then why did you refer to his list as the 10 rules for perfecting human beings? You wrote, “So, you’ve been through the 10 rules for perfecting human beings.” If these rules make you perfect then what would be the point of keeping any additional rules? Perfection sounds pretty comprehensive to me…
THINE is the kingdom and power and glory.
For weakness of heart, God allowed.
Man is made of His image.
We are given His Spirit
@Peter: The comments section allows the use of basic HTML, so you can use the em tag (click the link to find out how this works) to create italicized words and phrases.
In a text-only environment, it’s difficult to assess a person’s emotional state, but you have gotten a little “hot under the collar” in past discussions, both here and on your own blog, so I do have some reason for believing you aren’t always cool and composed. I apologize for misreading your feelings.
Peter, you tend to be quite literal and rigid in your assessment of Rabbi Packouz’s list specifically and what God expects of each of us in general. That’s probably why the 613 mitzvot appeals to you (my guess) because it seems to rigidly outline a set of specific, definite behaviors that leave no grey areas. It also provides for ritual behaviors linked to specific times of day, days, and seasons, and thus offers a very structured way of living.
However, as the Jewish sages can attest, there’s actually some ambiguity to observing at least some of the mitzvot, even for a Jew. What I’m looking at in R. Packouz’s missive, is the underlying principles of the Torah. Why are Jews required to help up the loaded mule belonging to another Jew, even if it’s someone they don’t like? Because of the underlying principle of acting kindly to another person.
Even the Master spoke of this when he says to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). Once we grasp the principles being taught, we can apply them to our own loves as they are relevant to non-Jews or rather, to all human beings, Jews or non-Jews. This is the universal nature of Torah. For us, the specific mechanics and rituals of saying certain blessings before donning a tallit gadol, and then the blessings for laying tefillin, and then davening don’t apply because these are specific to Jewish covenant identity and praxis.
I’ve written before about the somewhat “uncertain” status of Gentiles in Jewish community or who are “Judaicly aware”. For us finding our “niche,” so to speak, in terms of day-to-day practice is more challenging. We don’t have authoritative poskim in the Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots communities who we can go to for legal rulings on which mitzvot to observe and how to observe it. It would be easy to let someone else tell us what the Bible means to use on an action by action basis, but it’s not that easy.
However, if we use the principles behind the Torah mitzvot as a guide, as well as the teachings of Rav Yeshua and the Apostle Paul, who after all, was chosen as Yeshua’s emissary to the Gentiles, we have a place to start. We may not have been given specific blessings to prepare outselves for prayer, but we do know we are to pray. We may not have the commandment of sending the mother bird away before taking her young, but we do know to be kind to people and animals.
All good can be found in the Bible. We “study wisdom,” as R. Packouz puts it, in order to learn and then do.
Oh, you seemed to have made the same comment twice, so I deleted the redundant one. Just FYI.
Was the plan of the Council to get the Gentiles to listen to the Torah of Moses so that they would NOT keep the Torah? “Gentiles! Behold this wonderful Torah! And now I want you to ignore it completely because you really shouldn’t be keeping any of this. I’ll tell you what, we’ll cobble together a different set of instructions just for Gentiles later on. But for now just listen to the Torah of Moses being read so that you can ignore it completely.”
That sounds slightly absurd.
PL, your point might be supportable if Acts 15 said something like: “Gentiles should listen to something OTHER THAN the Torah of Moses in synagogue each Shabbat.” If it had said “Noahide laws” or “limited set of ethical rules” then you’d have a good point. But, for some reason, James ended his speech by stressing the importance of Gentiles listening to the Torah of Moses.
‘Fraid you missed the point. Peter — Gentiles were not told to learn something other than Torah, and they were not told to learn Torah because they needed to enact every detail of it, but they were told first that their responsibility included only a subset of it and that they were to learn it nonetheless. We must infer, therefore, that they were to understand that learning it from a Jewish perspective and under Jewish interpreters was the means by which they would be enabled to recognize how to extract from it those aspects which they would be able to apply to themselves and which aspects were specifically applicable only to Jews. It is only in your own misrepresentation that an absurdity such as you expressed could be formulated. It is to extract precisely the sort of generalities that R.Packouz did for which the gentile disciples were instructed to learn Torah.
Let’s summarize what’s been said so far. You wrote that Gentile humanity could be perfected by keeping a limited set of moral rules supposedly derived from Scripture. I pointed out that (1) the commandments of Torah all contain morals (i.e. they all reflect G-d’s values, each is created to protect something He considers valuable) and that (2) you are not authorized to cut out the commandments that you deem non-moral (because there are no non-moral commandments) and therefore (3) you cannot claim that a chopped-to-pieces version of Torah is comprehensive enough to lead to human perfection.
RE: “…but they were told first that their responsibility included only a subset of it and that they were to learn it nonetheless.”
So your position is that the fourfold decree conveys the sense of something like this: “Gentiles are only required to avoid pollutions of idols, cultic prostitution, drinking the blood of strangled, pagan sacrifices…beyond that they can do whatever they want.”
Again, slightly absurd.
The fourfold decree specifically refers to the context of “pollutions of idols” and it’s associated practices: to strangling pagan sacrifices, drinking the undrained blood of such strangled sacrifices, engaging in the universal pagan practice of cultic prostitution in the midst of such sacrifices. This is a single directive for Gentiles to disassociate from idolatry.
And the very next verse says they need to be in synagogue each Shabbat in order to hear the Torah of Moses being read. It’s the age-old formula: turn from idolatry, return to HaShem.
Again, Peter, you ignore the practical realities of the Acts 15 recommendation. Learning Torah under Jewish auspices would never produce an absurd suggestion such as “do whatever you want as long as it’s not idolatrous”. The fundamental issue is the question of how gentiles are to live once they turn from idolatries toward HaShem’s ways. It is intrinsic to “HaShem’s ways” that Jewish behavior is to differ from that of non-Jews, even when they are both constrained by some common principles. No one on this blog has ever suggested that the limited legal liability of anti-idolatry requirements for gentile disciples, which is much less than the legal demands upon Jews under the covenant, authorizes a license to ignore all of the other behavioral principles that are found in Torah. It is not to be construed as a sanction for murder, for example. That is a far cry, however, from your position that the only alternative is for gentiles to copy Jews in every particular nuance of Torah implementation.
RE: “No one on this blog has ever suggested that the limited legal liability of anti-idolatry requirements for gentile disciples, which is much less than the legal demands upon Jews under the covenant, authorizes a license to ignore all of the other behavioral principles that are found in Torah. ”
Oh, so some of the mitzvot contain “behavioral principles” and some do not? Tell me: which mitzvot do NOT contain behavioral principles?
This is too funny…
I can’t wait to hear your response. How are you going to claim that Shabbat (etc) is not a behavioral principle?
Oy vey. : )
Peter, you seem to think this is just some sort of game that you have to win and once you win, your existence is somehow justified and everyone who disagrees with you is a loser.
In fact, we all, each of us, is continually discovering who we are as children of Hashem. I really don’t see the value in you attempting to ridicule another disciple of Rav Yeshua when you could be expending your time and energy more productively seeking your own purpose in the plan of the Almighty.
The world will be perfected when, instead of holding “spitting contests” in the blogosphere, each of us could be silently, anonymously serving God in whatever way He desires us to serve Him…not as we think we “deserve” to serve. Service is not all about us…it’s all about Him.
So, Peter, are you challenging me to defend *your* nonsensical statements that I neither stated nor even implied? Now *that’s* funny!
This is a good-natured and pleasant discussion. You are the one characterizing it as something different.
You’ve indicated that Gentiles must ignore behavioral principles such as Shabbat etc (which you say would involve theft of Jewish identity) and, in the next breath, you said “no one on this blog has suggested…Gentiles have a license to ignore behavioral principles in the Torah.”
I then point out the inconsistency of such statements and suddenly James swoops in and accuses me of trying to “ridicule” you. I have long-time friends, friends of over 20 years, and we’re not afraid to point out to each other whenever we do something inconsistent. The way I see it, I’m showing you respect by not letting you get away with statements that are blatantly inconsistent.
I wish James would stop trying to characterize this conversation as something mean-spirited. I’ve been very gentle and even used smiley-faces to show there is no hostility involved here whatsoever. There is nothing but love on my end and that’s the truth.
Peter, I can’t actually hear the tone of your “voice” in text, but some of your choices in phrasing suggest ridicule rather than a light-hearted exchange. Please keep in mind who is the blog owner and who is the guest. Thanks.
@Peter — Neither Shabbat, nor the keeping of it, is a “behavioral principle”. Apparently you’ve misconstrued the term. R.Packouz’s list is based on behavioral principles, though the individual items on that list may be considered categories of behavior or guidelines for behavior rather than actual specifications of behavior. There is a significant difference between a specific behavior and a behavioral principle. Keeping a Torah commandment may require multiple inter-related specific behaviors, though the commandment itself, or a group of inter-related commandments, may imply a principle.
For Jews, the observance and preservation of the Shabbat requires a complex set of behaviors, which, as I’ve stated before, was never given to gentiles as a responsibility to do. The very fact that foreigners are commended so highly by HaShem in Is.56 for merely refraining from profaning that day indicates that for them even *that* is considered above and beyond what is expected of them. Jews are never commended for keeping the Shabbat or any other mitzvah. Doing so is considered a requirement of the covenant, hence the only time it is mentioned in connection with us is when we fail to keep it as expected.
@Peter: Relative to non-Jews and the Shabbat, I don’t think it’s considered an absolute “no-no” in Messianic Judaism. I know I’ve considered my own Shabbat Project for Gentiles. I even thought of using a Shabbat siddur that’s specifically written for non-Jews in the Messianic movement.
Following that path, my experience was hit and miss, with my first experimental attempt not going so well, and my second attempt being a bit better.
If you, as a non-Jew, choose to observe the Shabbat in some manner, it’s not like the “Shabbat police” are going to break down your door to stop you. It’s just that the meaning of guarding vs. observing the Shabbat is different between Gentile and Jew.
Personally, I think that in Messianic Days, both Israel and all of the nations will rest on Shabbat, and if you choose to light the candles 18 minutes before sunset on Friday, refrain from driving or handling money, and spend your waking hours in worship and study, I seriously doubt anyone will complain.
But in my opinion, we non-Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua were not given the same imperative command to observe Shabbos. For us, it’s a duty we freely choose.
RE: “Neither Shabbat, nor the keeping of it, is a “behavioral principle”. Apparently you’ve misconstrued the term.”
One day I was visiting the University of Richmond Law Library near where I live and I came across a statement that is very appropriate for this conversation:
“The word ‘principle’ is ambiguous,” Aleksander Peczenik, Legal Rules and Moral Principles, pg. 29 of “Law & Morality”, Edited by Ulla V. Bondeson
Principles and Rules both function as law in the sense that they (1) regulate behavior, telling us what to do or not do based on (2) an underlying value proposition. That’s your first problem, differentiating principles and rules when, in reality, they function identically. Your second problem is that a principle is about protecting a value (by regulating behavior) which means you’d have to determine which values of Scripture are just for Jews and which values are for all mankind.
But then you’re back at the original problem I pointed out: if all the commandments for common members of Israel reflect G-d’s moral value system, then why wouldn’t we seek out every performable commandment?
@Peter — You’re conflating specifics and generalities. For example, commandments reflect values, but they are not values in themselves. Behaviors are required to perform commandments, but there can exist a variety of behaviors associated with the performance of a commandment. We’ve already discussed the fact that not all commandments apply to all categories of people or their roles or positions in society. The tumah of niddah does not apply to men as it does to women, nor does the tumah of spilling seed apply to women. Their purification processes differ, even though both are derived from the commandment to be holy. Similarly, the specific performance of gentiles must differ from that of Jews even where both are addressing the same commandment and a common godly value.
You asked: “… why wouldn’t we seek out every performable commandment?”. The answer is that commandments are not something to be sought out, regardless of whether one has been assigned to perform them. Commandments are assigned solely by HaShem; they are not “up for grabs”. Some are assigned to all humanity; some to Jews only, because of the covenant; some to men; some to women; some to Levites; some to Cohens only; some to Nazirites only; some only to particular people in specific circumstances, such as the Levir who must marry his dead brother’s childless widow or participate in a designated ceremony of release performed by the widow. Each has his or her particular role or roles, and they are not interchangeable. Part of the process of performing a commandment is to do it properly, and only someone who is eligible to do it can do so. Further, some eligible candidates may be required to perform in one manner to be deemed to have done so properly, while other candidates may be required to perform differently to be deemed to have done so properly. The fact that a given commandment could be performed by someone in some manner does not authorize just *anyone* to presume to do so. We cannot all serve as the High Priest of Israel offering sacrifices on Yom haKippurim. Refusal to perform properly, or to recognize constraints of ineligibility, would constitute disobedience and presumption.
I’m reminded of what the Sages teach about Hillel and the Three Converts. As you probably know Peter, one of the Gentiles wanted to convert to Judaism so he could become the High Priest.
Hillel could have just told him that no convert, but only a direct male descendant of Aaron could be High Priest (legally, that is), but instead, he just instructed the Gentile convert to study the Torah.
Eventually, the convert discovered on his own that any man who approached the Tabernacle where (only) the High Priest serves is subject to the death penalty, even the King.
If within the covenant people of Israel, there are mitzvot and actions that are forbidden to most Jews or permitted only by some, how much more so do we find many mitzvot are forbidden to Gentiles and only some of the mitzvot are permitted?
I doubt my rehashing a well-known bit of Talmud will convince you to change your mind. That’s not the point. The point is to offer a reminder to anyone who needs it, that this way of understanding how the Torah applies to Jews vs. Gentile disciples of Rav Yeshua was covered in Acts 15, of which I wrote extensively here, here, and here.
I’ve been trying to decide if I should write another blog post revisiting Acts 15, but in re-reading my own six-part series on the topic (the links above represent parts 4, 5, and 6), I determined that there’s not much more, if anything, left for me to say.
The application of Torah across populations, both within Israel and outside of her, is highly nuanced and, especially in the case of Gentile disciples, difficult to grasp firmly. While religious Jews can consult various Sages and Poskim to answer questions regarding how to fulfill a commandment, there is relatively little in the way of authoritative documentation that guides you and me.
I know for someone who likes things all nice and tidy, that’s probably quite annoying, but everything I’ve read that I consider a credible source, tells me that if we want our own answers, we’ll have to continually search for them.
In the meantime, we can occupy ourselves with continual repentance before Hashem, thankfulness in the grace of God for allowing the redemption, even of the Goyim when the Almighty isn’t obligated by covenant to do so, and loyalty to the coming King Messiah who will one day bring peace, not just to Israel, but all the nations of the world.
You’re saying there’s a difference between principles and rules, that Gentiles need only keep behavioral “principles” in Torah, not the behavioral rules in Torah.
So then tell us how a behavioral principle is different from a behavioral rule.
@Peter — Questor has offered a suitable illustration to answer your question, but I’ll add to that a more explicit statement that a principle is more general and more abstract than a rule.
Further, if we consider the written Torah, many commandments state what is to be done, but do not explain detailed procedures of how to do it. Such details are found in the Oral Torah which has guided specific Jewish cultural behavior across the generations. The example cited by Questor of how to attach tefilin to one’s arm, hand, and head is a case in point, as is even the physical structure of the tefilin themselves.
I am not a Jew, so I do not lay tefillen when I pray. The behavioral rules of laying tefillen are to wind the tefillen around ones head, around ones arm, and hand, in a very specific way as instructed by ones Rabbi.
The behavioral principle behind laying tefillen is to keep the commandments of G-d close to ones mind, heart, and hand, that we may be ever aware of G-d’s commandments, that those commandments should rule all that we think of, feel about and do.
Gentiles are not instructed to lay tefillen, but in studying the behavioral principle behind the laying of teffilin, we can realize the importance of the behavioral principle, and perform our daily duties in accordance with the underlying behavioral principle in all that we do, and thus become more righteous.
The behavioral rules of laying tefillen are specific to Jews. By laying tefillen without having the application pertain to you as a Gentile is considered as stealing the inheritance of the Jews.
Gentiles have their own inheritance in Yeshua, which we will receive in the Millennial reign, that all of the commandments will be written into our hearts and minds, so that we will act always righteously…without rules or regulations. We also will receive a portion of Yeshua’s glory as he determines we should have in the Kingdom, and of his possessions as part of that inheritance. G-d’s interest in our behavior is that we act in righteousness, as Rabbi Kalman Packouz summarized in his extraction of behavioral goals from the Torah.
Therefore, if you want the inheritance of the Jews, convert to an Orthodox Messianic Congregation, and get the appropriate training.
So this is a classic example of the ploy of equivocation (where an ambiguous word is used one way in one portion of the argument and used another way in a different portion of the argument).
You first claimed that a behavioral principle functioned as law and that Gentiles are prohibited from ignoring those legal principles:
“No one on this blog has ever suggested [that Gentiles have been given] a license to ignore all of the other behavioral principles that are found in Torah.”
Saying that Gentiles do not have license or permission to ignore behavioral principles means that these legal principles must be both specific enough and concrete enough to be readily identifiable as a behavioral guide. For example, a sign that says “don’t go too fast” is so general and abstract that it cannot function as a behavioral guide. For something to be a behavioral guide (i.e. law), it must be specific enough and concrete enough for the average person to understand–a sign saying “Going over 45mph is dangerous” offers the principle that speeds in excess of 45mph are dangerous. So you claimed that there were behavioral principles in the Torah for Gentiles, principles that functioned as rules which Gentiles were not given license to violate–that Gentiles must behave precisely as the principles dictated.
Then, later in the argument, you defined “principle” as something that does not give a concrete and specific guide for behavior. You actually went on to define principle as “more general and more abstract than a rule.”
Classic fallacy of equivocation. Here’s why:
You’re trying to have it both ways, claiming that there are “behavioral principles” Gentiles are required to follow and then, in the next breath, saying that these behavioral principles don’t tell you specifically what to do.
“Gentiles, you are not allowed to perform Behavior X. I’m not going to specify what Behavior X is. But I expect you to not do it. And if you violate my will and perform Behavior X then you will be guilty.”
“Gentiles, you must perform Behavior Y. I’m not going to give you a concrete idea of what Behavior Y is and I’m not going to specify. But I expect you to perform Behavior Y. You DO NOT have a license to ignore this behavioral principle.”
This legal hermeneutic of yours reduces Scripture to irrelevance for Gentiles.
Sorry, Peter, but I never claimed that behavioral principles function as law. That notion of rigid specificity is entirely yours.
Incidentally, Peter, the non-specific nature of principles constitutes a demand for gentiles actually to *think* about the instructional guidelines of Torah in order to derive suitable and specific rules for their own behavior. They don’t find there any ready-made, off-the-rack, list of things to do or not do (though, admittedly, it’s easier to find “don’t”s than “do”s). Even Jews have had to think about these things to develop the halakhah that we have done. We’ve just had a long head-start compared to non-Jews. That’s why learning Torah under Jewish tutelage (a-la Acts 15:21) offers such benefits toward comparable gentile development.
To say that Gentiles do not have a license to ignore behavioral principles in Torah means that Gentiles must be obedient to principles set forth in Torah. Obedience is only required when law exists. Obedience and law are interdependent and correlative concepts. To say “you do not have license to ignore” means you cannot disobey, you must be obedient. But obedient to what?
And you answer: be obedient to that which is general and abstract. Well, it doesn’t work that way. You can only obey that which is specific and concrete.
All I can say, Peter, is that you don’t understand Torah. I know that sounds condescending, but that’s what it comes down to (pun intended). To “not ignore” is not equivalent to “must obey everything explicitly and specifically”. If you can’t see that, your conceptual framework is entirely too flat and simplistic. For example, to “not ignore” the principle of respect for life that is the gift of HaShem does, in fact, imply concrete rules like “do not murder”, but it doesn’t stop there. There are many additional nuances even to the determination of what exactly constitutes “murder” as distinct from, say, “manslaughter”, or legitimate criminal prosecution and execution; but there are even more implications in this principle for how humans should interact beyond the obvious “don’t murder anybody” rule. That’s why thinking and development is required, as I described in my last post.
You said Gentiles must be obedient to an instruction that has not been specified. How is it possible to obey an instruction that has not been specified?
Father: “Son, I want you to build something so that you will not be harmed.”
Son: “Certainly, father. What would you like me to build?”
Father: “I’m not going to specify. Just build something…big. So that you won’t be harmed.”
PL, you talk about the need for Gentiles to be obedient to principles of Torah but then you say those principles are general and abstract. This puts the Gentiles into the absurd position of trying to be obedient to an instruction that has not been specified.
A valid principle/instruction is one that can be acted upon because it is specific. Conversely, a non-specified principle/instruction is void for vagueness.
Res est misera ubi jus est vagam et invertum (“It is a miserable state of things where the law is vague and uncertain”)
To the 9:34 AM today: yes, indeed.
I will give another example, in a different direction* of aspect. Not yelling at one’s spouse is a Jewish value. I didn’t know this (about Judaic halacha) specifically, in my youth. However, it was a life understanding to me anyway. Subsequently, I was not someone who yelled at my spouse. Rather, I communicated clearly, rationally, and honestly. In contrast, my spouse didn’t communicate honestly, didn’t care about thinking things through (things pertaining to daily and relational life) before speaking, wasn’t anywhere near consistent in reliability for decisions and so forth, and chose yelling as a primary habit. I proceeded to do the best I could with this situation. I remained calm and went about my life as a mother, homemaker, congregational member and so on (and, not to forget, “not grumbling or complaining” or gossiping). Let me add my husband wasn’t Jewish, he had no background of the values I held dear and lived by; he was Christian (Christians can have excellent values but also are kind of a wild card). This led, after decades of his callousness to me (and the kids), to a stress condition I never would have expected (because I was a strong and focused person).
I started having headaches (not debilitating migraines or terrible pain, but bothersome) and decided to take aspirin. I was a very healthy person who had no history of anything (no headaches, allergies, anything), nor of any regular drugs (not even ordinary over the counter). This was only a warning. Shortly after this started (months at the most, but weeks with reference to thinking of starting aspirin), I almost went into death by anaphylaxis (while I remained a calm and sensible person, not someone going into panic attacks or anything anywhere near or even like this, no “pms” history, NOTHING). Stress hormones can cause an allergic reaction that can kill you. I had no idea. [And, really, I wouldn’t have known I had a stress hormone issue.]
I thought I was having a straight up allergic reaction to aspirin. But the doctors told me that was highly unlikely (even though you can read of the possibility on the label). I was in an emergency room because of a rash (on my body) one day followed by swelling of my face and in my throat during sleep that night (which woke me up because I was reflexively swallowing over and over and decided I might be extremely thirsty). I got up and saw my face when I went to the bathroom for water. I was given adrenaline, steroids, and more. Then I was then sent to an allergy, ear, nose and throat specialist who explained about stress and build-up of reaction to histamine [in a somewhat similar way as one can build up an allergy to a drug that did not cause an allergic reaction when taking it at first].
Now, you don’t have to learn the value from Judaism (although a lot of the best doctors are Jewish). You can learn it from medicine and science and doctors and the decency of behavioral research and so on (rather than brushing off secular work as soft or meaningless). You can follow the heart of the Torah, or Yeshua’s conveyance of it, the principle to love your neighbor (or your brother); you can include your sister or wife or women in general in said call to love. You won’t find this “law” not to yell at the weaker vessel (who you dominate) in the Bible. I don’t then conclude that God failed us. I deduce that people need to learn and develop (and care to).
* I say different direction in the sense that it could be argued that there are some delineations of manslaughter and such in the Bible. And this shows why “the ten commandments” aren’t enough. But they (and the whole Bible) also aren’t “enough” per detail.
P.S. Using the left- and right-facing mathematical triangular brackets and the slash and [i] (without those square brackets) renders italics (same as it has for years up to now).
By the way, this conversation inspired my latest blog post. I hope you’ll check it out:
@Peter — In your own blog article, you cited two statements as illustration of “instructions” given by parents to children for the sake of their safety. They were: “Don’t play in the road.” and “Don’t run with scissors.” These statements are fine, but they would be described better as rules rather than instructions. Instruction is a teaching function, and it generally includes the underlying reasons for rules that may be derived from it. Within the general category of “Torah”, which is best translated into English as “instruction”, we actually find four categories of material: torah (instruction), mitzvot (commandments), ‘hukim (laws), and mishpatim (ordinances). Given that these were formulated a long, long time ago, they have been maintained and their interpretation and application has been updated and re-applied to the varying circumstances of each generation of Jews since their original formulation. They are not merely taken “at face value” or read superficially or woodenly. They are studied in their context, and processed accordingly. Jews have been doing this for Jewish generations and culture, of course. Gentiles who wish to learn from Torah must do similarly for gentile cultural circumstances.
The title of your article: “Instructions Not Included: Why Many Gentiles Leave Messianic Judaism for Non-Messianic, Halachic Judaism” suggests that “many gentiles” (which is rather an exaggeration) are looking for that ready-made collection of rules I cited in a post above. However, if that is the focus of their longing, they will find nothing more than that at the end of their journey. Like those who focus on idols instead of lifting their metaphorical sights to the higher plane where HaShem can be found, their horizon is too low to see the real purpose of Torah, which is to elevate one particular exemplary society of individuals to a level that can “walk with HaShem” and interact with Him as did the first humans in the primordial “garden” before their disobedience severed them from that relationship. From the example of one society, other societies may be inspired to develop similarly. However, those who are merely rule-seekers will suffer from the very problem that so exercised Rav Shaul while writing to the gentiles of the Galatian assembly. In Gal.5:2-3, he told them that allowing themselves to become circumcised would result in their losing the benefits of the Messiah, because everyone who is circumcised is obligated to keep the entire Torah. Why should that which is required of Jews as a great blessing be such a problem for gentile converts? It was because of the circumstances and the worldview under which they were feeling compelled to convert. Their focus was not on their freedom and redemption due to trusting in the free gift of Messiah ben-Yosef; but instead it was on the supposed resolution of their political tensions with Rome (and their insecurities vis-à-vis Jewish messianists) as non-idolatrous non-Jews. They were seeking an alternative form of redemption via rule-keeping (or status-changing or emulation of “the other guys”) rather than by relying on HaShem’s ‘hesed (grace).
Here’s another. “When your parents said not to talk to strangers, they didn’t mean forever.” [Judah Friedlander]
For the record, I saw neither of Peter’s last two posts when I posted my last two. I doubt he saw my 3:19 PM either (before posting his 3:52). Each time, I had started typing before his came through (and got delayed because I was busy); I’m sure everyone knows how that can go. I just now saw his link and went to it. Interesting that he started, at his site, to talk about kids and parents. My last comment wasn’t intentionally directed at him or at what he posted over there (as a response to him/that here), as I hadn’t seen what he wrote.