Tag Archives: Acharei-Kedoshim

The Torah for the Nations of the World

Question:

Why is Judaism so intolerant of idolatry? I don’t mean massive temples with human sacrifices. What about a civilized idolater, in the privacy of his own home. With a job, a family, a mortgage, donates to the World Hunger Fund and Greenpeace — and instead of one G-d, he just happens to have two or three or even several dozen, all lined up on the dashboard of his car. Why does Judaism make a cardinal sin of it, demanding total eradication of idolatry in every corner the world? As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, what’s so terrible?

Answer:

There are many ways to answer this, but let’s take a historical perspective. Historians agree that our current standard of ethics stems from the Jewish ethic. Yes, the Greeks gave us the natural sciences, philosophy and art; the Romans gave us governmental structure and engineering; from the Persians we have poetry and astronomy; from the Chinese, paper, printing, gunpowder, acupuncture and more philosophy, and so on. But the historical fact is that all those cultures (and all the other unmentioned cultures) sustained and even glorified attitudes and behaviors that today we universally find abhorrent. Today, if you dispose of your unwanted infants, practice pederasty, set humans to kill each other for sport, ignore the rights of those lower than you on the social ladder and refuse to acknowledge any social responsibility to the poor and the unhealthy, and can’t wait to run to war against the nation next door, you are a barbarian. You may have made a wonderful citizen of Athens or Rome, but today, no club will take you.

Where did those values come from? There’s only one source historians can point to: Torah.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“What’s So Terrible About Idolatry?”
Commentary on Parshah Acharei-Kedoshim.
Chabad.org

Sorry to be such a “Chatty Cathy” and post two missives in one day, but when I read the paragraphs above, they seemed to spell out something a lot of non-Jewish believers operating in the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots spaces have been puzzling over if not actively struggling with. Is there some sort of “universalism” to the Torah? That is, does the Torah apply to everyone and not just to the Jewish people?

The answer to that question is enormously complex, even though some people seem to believe the answer is an incredibly simple “yes.”

Toby Janicki
Toby Janicki

I’ve written on this topic at length including in my original review of Toby Janicki’s article The Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses as well as my revisiting that material sometime later. I’ve also written of the Torah and Gentiles in my “in a nutshell” explanation of Torah and Christians and in Torah and the Gentile Believer. Hopefully, I’ve rendered a consistent message across those different blog posts that studying the Torah is appropriate for a non-Jewish believer for a wide variety of reasons, but stating that we share an identical obligation to observe the mitzvot with the Jewish people in a manner identical to theirs, and claiming that the Torah and being “grafted in” also makes Gentiles “Israel” is way over the top.

That’s not to say that we “Messianic Gentiles,” and arguably the mainstream Christian Church don’t have special obligations and duties. It’s just that the duty of Messianic Gentiles and Christians isn’t to observe the mitzvot but to encourage and support Jews to observe the mitzvot.

That said, I do think there is a universal aspect to the Torah, one that applies to every man, woman, and child who has lived throughout history and one that applies to all of us across the world today.

It’s spelled out in Rabbi Freeman’s answer to the question about idolatry.

We tend to think of application of Torah as an either/or sort of thing. Either it applies in exactly the same way to everyone, or it applies to no one at all. There’s no such thing in the minds of certain people as differentiation of application, or the idea that Torah is received by the Jews in one way and by the Gentiles in a different manner.

How the Torah applies to the world, even the world of people belonging to different religions or no religion at all, is in how it has shaped our world ethically and morally. American criminal and civil law, as well as many of our social mores, is based on the Torah.

This isn’t a religious application. Heck, you don’t even have to believe in God. You can be an atheist and still live in a world where the basic moral and ethical structure is based on the “blueprint” of the Torah.

Torah at SinaiRabbi Freeman in his somewhat lengthy answer says that while many peoples, nations, and civilizations have come and gone across the vast corridor of time, only the Jewish people have remained.

Why is that? For one thing, for the entire existence of the people of Israel, since Hashem gave the Torah at Sinai, the Jewish people have kept and preserved the Torah. If Israel had been wiped out by some ancient enemy and the Torah lost forever, upon what would the world have built its ethics and morals? As Freeman states, in ancient times (and maybe in modern ones), if you didn’t like the ethics of a particular “god,” you simply worshiped another one. After all, without the knowledge of a single, all-powerful, all-encompassing, creative God, morals and ethics are relative and impermanent.

The single greatest gift the Jewish people have given the world is the Torah. No, not the obligation to obey Torah on the level of the individual commandments in a way identical to the Jews, but as the broader basis of civilization. According to Freeman, what we think of as civilization wouldn’t exist without the Torah.

Today, we are witnessing the most dramatic results of Abraham’s strategy in action: Our progress in the last 500 years, to the point of the current empowerment of the consumer with technology and information, only became possible through the rise of this ethic. In a polytheistic world, this could never have occurred. It was only once the people of Europe began actually reading the Bible and discussing what it had to say to them, that the concepts of human rights, social responsibility, the value of life, and eventually the ideal of world peace took a front seat in civilization’s progress. And it is only such a world that could have developed public education and health care, old age pension, telephones, fax machines, personal computers, the Internet, environmental design and nuclear disarmament.

I’ve read other articles from Jewish sources stating that the Torah has applications for the whole world, but I never quite grasped what they meant. I guess it was because of the continuing debates we have on the web between Messianic Judaism(s) and various aspects of the Hebrew Roots movement regarding the question of how much of the mitzvot a Gentile should take upon himself or herself that blinded me to a wider perspective.

It’s about the people of the nations creating and then living in “a world that values life, world peace, individual rights, freedom of expression, literacy, knowledge and compassion for those who have less…” That’s the universal quality of the Torah. That’s the Torah for the nations.

The moral and ethical principles are identical for the Jews as they are for the rest of us. The only difference is that there are many additional instructions that only have to do with the Jewish people.

the crowdYou and I as non-Jews participate and “observe” the Torah every day, at least if we’re reasonably ethical, moral, and are law-abiding citizens. For those of us who are believers, this evidence of Torah in our lives becomes all the more apparent, but the larger reality is that untold millions of people everyday also live out the Torah just by committing acts of compassion, by sending their children to school, by obeying the highway speed laws, by upholding the rights of the disadvantaged, and in a thousand other ways.

The answer of how the Torah can be universal seems so elusive until you look at it from the perspective Rabbi Freeman brings in his online article. Once seen from that viewpoint however, everything becomes clear.

Acharei-Kedoshim: Impossible Love and Holiness

Following the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, G‑d warns against unauthorized entry “into the holy.” Only one person, the kohen gadol (“high priest”), may, but once a year, on Yom Kippur, enter the innermost chamber in the Sanctuary to offer the sacred ketoret to G‑d.

Another feature of the Day of Atonement service is the casting of lots over two goats, to determine which should be offered to G‑d and which should be dispatched to carry off the sins of Israel to the wilderness.

The Parshah of Acharei also warns against bringing korbanot (animal or meal offerings) anywhere but in the Holy Temple, forbids the consumption of blood, and details the laws prohibiting incest and other deviant sexual relations.

The Parshah of Kedoshim begins with the statement: “You shall be holy, for I, the L‑rd your G‑d, am holy.” This is followed by dozens of mitzvot (divine commandments) through which the Jew sanctifies him- or herself and relates to the holiness of G‑d.

These include: the prohibition against idolatry, the mitzvah of charity, the principle of equality before the law, Shabbat, sexual morality, honesty in business, honor and awe of one’s parents, and the sacredness of life.

Also in Kedoshim is the dictum which the great sage Rabbi Akiva called a cardinal principle of Torah, and of which Hillel said, “This is the entire Torah, the rest is commentary”—“Love your fellow as yourself.”

Parshah in a Nutshell
Commentary on AchareiKedoshim
Leviticus 16:1–20:27
Chabad.org

Okay, here’s the problem: I’m supposed to love my fellow man. Which means that I should accept my fellow human beings as they are. (That’s what love means, right?) But can I—indeed, should I—accept my fellow human beings as they are?

Should I accept a malnourished child as she is? Should I accept a drug-addicted teenager, a suicidal spouse or a bigoted friend as he is? If a person I love suffers from a lack of something—whether that something is food, money, knowledge, health, moral integrity or peace of mind—and whether that person wants to be helped or not, should I not do everything in my power to fill that lack?

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“Love Yourself”
Commentary on AchareiKedoshim
Leviticus 16:1–20:27
Chabad.org

Love your fellow as yourself: I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19:10 (JPS Tanakh)

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I’m beating a dead horse as far as this “love” stuff in the Bible is concerned. I’ve been writing about love, or our woeful lack of it, all this week now and I can’t even stop long enough to write a commentary on this week’s Torah Portion. And yet the Bible speaks to both the Jews and the Christians (and everyone else) about the need; the absolute requirement for love.

It also speaks about the absolute need for holiness and perfection, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Christians should be very familiar with the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.

And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. –Matthew 22:39 (ESV)

That’s the second of the two greatest commandments issued by the Master and as I’m sure you can tell, this week’s Torah Portion was Christ’s “source material.”

But what does it mean to love someone else as you love yourself? Rabbi Tauber’s commentary is very eye opening.

Love is an oxymoron. To truly love someone, I have to do two contradictory things: I have to respect him, and I have to care for him. If I do not accept him as he is, that means that I do not respect him. It means that I don’t really love him—I love only what I wish to make of him. But to love someone also means that I care for him and desire the best for him. And since very, very few people are the best that they can be, caring for someone means not accepting him as he is, but believing in his potential to be better, and doing everything I can to reveal that potential.

I can respect someone. I can care for someone. I can accept a person as she is. I can not accept a person as he is. But I can’t do both at the same time. Love sounds great in principle. In practice, it’s impossible.

But I love myself. I’m not unaware of my deficiencies; indeed, in a certain sense, I am more aware of them than anyone else. I want to improve myself, but I don’t think less of myself because I haven’t yet done so. I respect myself and I care for myself; I accept myself as I am, while incessantly striving to make myself better than I am. I love myself—truly, fully, in every sense of the word.

Two and OneOften, husbands complain that their wives are always trying to change them, and usually in ways the husband doesn’t want to change. Here we see a little bit about why wives are motivated in this direction. If a wife loves her husband “as herself,” then she sees the faults in him and wants to help him be a better person. But what about the part of love that requires respecting the other? Is it respectful to try and change a person when they don’t want to be changed? Is it possible for a wife to love her husband enough to help him realize his greater potential and still respect him for who he is today?

If a person were trying to kill himself and you could stop him, would you stop him or respect his wish to die?

That’s a tough one, since some people feel that they should, under certain circumstances, respect another individual’s “right to die.” But what about an alcoholic drinking herself to death? What about a drug addict shooting chemicals into her arm while ignoring her baby crying in his crib? If you love someone and they are on a path toward self-destruction in any way, shape or form, could you stand idly by and allow it to happen? Won’t that self-destruction hurt or even destroy others around the person you love? Is allowing a person to “crash and burn” loving and respectful?

I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that one, but I do think that’s why both the Torah of Moses and the commandment of Christ specifically teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Love isn’t easy.

But how does holiness figure into all of this?

Indeed, a Jew’s sanctity can be so lofty that it bears some comparison with G-d’s, as the verse states: “You shall… be holy, for I… am holy.”

But how is it possible for corporeal man to reach such heights? The verse addresses itself to this question when it states “for I, the L-rd your G-d, am holy.” Since G-d is holy, each and every Jew can and must be holy as well, for all Jews “are truly part of G-d above.”

The measure of sanctity which each and every Jew is capable of achieving may best be appreciated when one realizes that the sanctity we are told to aspire to in Kedoshim follows that previously achieved in Acharei. In that portion, the passing of Nadav and Avihu is described as the result of their souls’ extreme longing for G-d. So great was their love that their bodies could no longer contain their souls, which literally expired.

The portion of Kedoshim informs every Jew that he is capable of even greater heights. For the pursuit of holiness is never-ending, one level always following another, the reason being that holiness emanates from G-d, who is truly infinite — “for I am holy.”

-from the Chassidic Dimension
“Holy and Holier”
Chabad.org

Now recall the first of the two greatest commandments given by Jesus as quoted from the Torah:

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.” –Matthew 22:37-38 (ESV)

Marry all of that to what the Torah says about being holy and what the Master said about being perfect.

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. –Matthew 5:48 (ESV)

The idea mixed in all of that is we can somehow be holy and perfect as God is, or at least shoot for that as a life-long goal; a series of levels that we’re continually climbing toward. But if that also has to do with how we love, then we are being commanded to continually love just like God loves.

How does God love? Unconditionally?

I’m tempted to say He loves us as He loves Himself, but trying to understand how God conceptualizes His own Being is beyond my limited human ability to imagine. But I do know that He loves us enough to have our welfare and what’s best for us at heart.

OK, I know what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking, “Good grief! How can you say that!” If God really loved us and had our best interests at heart, how come children are beaten, women are raped, people are maimed and killed in wars, car accidents, and plane crashes, and how come so many people suffer lingering and horrible deaths from cancer and other miserable diseases?

I don’t know.

I only know that, even in the midst of hideous, nightmarish suffering such as was found in the camps of Dachau, Treblinka, and Auschwitz-Birkenau, God was there. He’s there when your doctor diagnoses you with cancer. He’s there when you have been assaulted by thugs and left for dead. He’s there when your spouse tells you he want a divorce. He’s there when you feel you haven’t the strength to go on and suicide seems the only way out.

He’s there when someone else needs His love and you are the only conduit available to provide that love. That’s the connection between love, holiness, and perfection. God’s love isn’t just some supernatural event or experience. If you are a Jew or a Christian and someone around you is suffering, you are God’s opportunity to love that person. When you are suffering, God has made it possible for someone near you to love you and comfort you in a way that is only possible for God.

Loving someone enough to perceive their faults and loving them enough to respect their wishes seems like trying to travel both east and west at the same time. It’s impossible. But that’s what God asks of us: the impossible. It’s impossible for us to be perfect like God is perfect. It’s impossible for us to be holy like God is holy. It’s impossible for us to love people like God loves people; to love our neighbor just as we love ourselves.

And yet, that’s what God requires of you and me with each waking moment of each passing day of our lives.

To love someone just as they are and still want to help them be the best they can be is to be holy and perfect. Love, holiness, and perfection are not destinations, they’re part of the journey we travel as we walk with God. When Jesus said to the righteous, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me,’ as found in Matthew 25:40, he was talking about this kind of love.

When we feed a hungry person, visit someone in the hospital, or comfort a recent widow in her grief, we aren’t just giving them our love, we are giving them God’s love. It’s what makes it possible for us to be perfect and holy. It’s what makes it possible for a weak and frail human being mired in the abyss of despair to experience God’s infinite love and strength on earth. It’s what makes it possible for us to do the impossible; to rise above the pain and suffering of life and to experience the glorious, majestic holiness of God.

Be holy. Be perfect. Give love.

Good Shabbos.