Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Purpose of the 7 Laws – Part 2

In the first part we discussed the overall goal of the 7 laws and differentiated them from the 613 mitzvos for the Jew. I would like to continue on that and examine how this looks in the real world today.

If we look at the Noahide world today we see that there is little or no emphasis on acts that will make this world a better place. Attention is given to performing religious acts that do not further the purpose in creation for the non-Jew. There are a few reasons for that failure. Some are based on the Noahides themselves and their religious background and others on the Rabbis who are teaching Noahides.


In general Noahides have come out of the Christian church. They have recognized it as the false religion it is. But this is half of the battle that a Noahide faces. King David says: ‘Turn from evil and do good’. Leaving the Church starts the fulfilment of the first part of King David’s injunction, but that does nothing for the second part.

In the church they have been raised with ideas about Torah, Tenach and Judaism and what HaShem wants of people from that. The problem is that while the Tenach has much that can be useful for the non-Jew, it was not written for them nor is it about them. It is about HaShem’s interaction with the Jewish people, what He has done for them, and what they have done. It is not always the best guide for the non-Jew.

As an example; for the Jew the Exodus is about how his ancestors were freed from slavery, for the non-Jew it shows how HaShem is merciful and fulfills His word. This does not mean that there are not inspiring stories and universal truths, just that when it says ‘say to the children of Israel’, that is not universal.

As I pointed out in the first section there is a difference in what HaShem wants and expects of the Jew and the non-Jew. This is based on the difference in their purpose and goals in this world.


The Torah tells us that HaShem said to Avraham: ‘Leave your land, your birthplace, and your father’s house and go to the land I will show you.’ It says in the Jewish works of moral instruction that HaShem was telling Avraham that before he could come to the service of HaShem he needs to rid himself of the habits he had acquired in his youth. These are in three levels, and they can apply also to the Noahide.


First is ‘from your land’. This is the leaving of their false religions. This is the easiest and the first step for the Noahide. Noahides grow up in communities where Christianity is taken as a given, as absolute truth and from God. The Noahide has taken that first step of rejection of that falsehood.


The Second is ‘your birthplace.’ This refers to those ideas that underlie these false religions. For example, it is not uncommon for Noahides to carry over Christian thought patterns and approaches to the Noahide way of life. There are two areas where we see this:

Noahides are coming mostly from Evangelical backgrounds and are trained in Bible studies. They see regular Bible studies as a requirement of God for them. It involves certain ways of learning, but Christian Bible study is not Jewish learning of Torah. They see the study of Scripture and its interpretation as based on individual effort and knowledge. This is wrong.

In Torah all actions have a purpose. For the Noahide all religious learning is practical and goal oriented. The goal being to fulfil their purpose in this world. But learning the Tenach does not teach much about that. It is found more explicitly in the words of our Rabbis.

The basic laws for the Noahide are easily taught and I will in fact be writing short articles on each one telling what it is and how a Noahide can live their life in accordance with the specific law. But there is no mitzvah to learn for the Noahide as there is for the Jew. The spiritual benefit a Jew gets from learning is not enjoyed by the non-Jew.

A certain degree of learning is needed for the knowledge needed to live your life. But beyond that there is no obligation. (And in some cases it is forbidden.) And it certainly is not the primary function of the Noahides life. The Rabbinic dictum ‘it is not the learning but the action that is the main thing’ applies especially to the Noahides.

Second; coming from Christianity they see Judaism as a religion of rituals and ‘works’. They therefore see being a Noahide in the same light. Same system, different commandments.

This is contrary to what we have seen. There are no ritual requirements, nor any need of them. As to actions there are limited commands. It is not a ‘religion’ at all, nor does it require regular ‘study’.

However the Noahide who does understand what his or her purpose is will have a world outlook that requires certain actions which cannot be listed as the 7 or 613 mitzvos are listed. Actions which logically will lead to more peace and stability, and increase the well-being of the world, and especially the Jewish people.


Third is ‘from your father’s house’. This refers to certain approaches that a Noahide grew up with in his old religion, like Sola Scriptura, and individual autonomy. Egalitarianism and other things that are not consistent with Torah.

In the end the goal of the Noahide is very much like that of the Jew: fulfil HaShem’s will for him as a person and a Noahide.


In a sense, as Rabbis and teachers we have exacerbated the problem. While it is certainly the case that some of those involved have intentions other than to fulfil HaShem’s will, and spreading Torah to the world, most are not like that. We need to see why they have so far failed to impart to the Noahides the ideas I have outlined above, which are known to them. I think the problem comes from two things:

First, we are Jews. We understand our relationship to HaShem in a certain way. Our relationship to HaShem is through learning Torah and doing mitzvos. The mitzvos bring spiritual strength and benefits to our Nashamos, and learning Torah, which is also a mitzvah, connects us directly to the Will of HaShem. (As is know from the sefer Tanya of the Alter Rebbe ZT’L) The solution to our spiritual problems is more learning and more mitzvos, For the Noahide that is not the outlet for increased spirituality. There is a Chassidic saying that clearly applies to the Noahide and his spirituality: “The other persons physical needs are your spiritual needs”.

Second, we are people who are compassionate. When we are working with Noahides we recognize that they have, because of their leaving Christianity, a feeling of being lost and having no direction. We wish to fill their psychological and spiritual needs in ways that are consistent with Torah, and which the Noahide feels comfortable with.

Because of this we tend to concentrate on issues of what they can and cannot do, and not explaining the full picture. This is a disservice to the Noahides, and leads them to have a wrong outlook on what their purpose is and what they should be doing.


What are we doing wrong?

What we are doing wrong is obvious to anyone who steps back and examines the situation. Are Noahides out there improving our world? No. Why is that? Because as Rabbis we have them involved with learning intricate details in Jewish law and/or arguing about how many mitzvos apply to them or involvement in numerous other irrelevant things. What we don’t do is tell them how to practically apply things to their life. Ask a Noahide if they can go to the local Walmart and buy a whole non-kosher chicken, and they will be unsure.

We burden them with keeping holidays that don’t relate to them. Should they do this or that on Passover or Shabbos? But we don’t encourage them to help their fellow men and other things that ARE their mandate, and purpose in this world.

In a sense we are violating the Rambam and all the poskim in making what appears to be a new religion for non-Jews. Putting the emphasis on more learning and actions in imitation of Jewish mitzvos is not what we should be doing and saying. (I will discuss this at length late.)


What should we be doing?

I will in other articles deal with the halachic issues around not just the 7 mitzvos but also if they may do more and what conditions they are allowed to do more according to those who say they can.

However first and foremost we need to deemphasize intensive learning and performance of the Eidos and Chukim that apply to Jews exclusively, and deal with practical issues of the 7 laws and those things needed to further world harmony and stability.

Instead of the type of learning we see, we need to encourage the reading of books that will be helpful for them. For example Artscroll and other publishers have come out in recent years with pseudo biographical works about many Rabbis. They emphasize the good works and traits of these Rabbis. There is much for non-Jews to gain from that just as Jews gain from that.

I will try in the next few articles, to fill in this important information and by doing so, to show the Noahides how to live a full and satisfying life in accord with what HaShem wants of them.

We need to also keep in mind that we want to guide Noahides so that they are not dependent on us constantly. It is easy to teach what they need to know of the laws, and then guide them to act as individuals (or as a group) to further world harmony and stability.


What should organizations be doing?

The Torah and Codes of Law never indicate that there should be an organized group of Noahides. It sees them as individuals. What has happened is that in recent years many non-Jews have left Christianity and because of the internet they meet each other. While it was not intentional; the Noahide movement just is. This can be a force for good, but it can also be a negative force leading to a new religion. At this time it can go either way.

What should organizations do in order to further HaShem’s plan for non-Jews and not drift into a new religion divorced from HaShem and Torah?

1.     Spreading 7 laws – the primary function is to spread the laws to other non-Jews
2.     Provide basic materials on the 7 laws. The preferred way is like that used by Rav Yoel Schwartz, which just lists what is allowed or not. (I will be having a few articles for that purpose with the emphasis on understanding the general principles so that they can be applied to real life situations.)
3.     Provide lists of qualified Scholars who can be consulted and are willing to answer more difficult issues.
4.     Inspirational lectures – rather than on intricacies of law, talks on personal improvement. Discussions of stories of the Tanach are also good.
5.     Making charitable organizations – This is a very important function as it leads to the spreading of the laws. A Vendyl Jones Memorial Hospital is more worthwhile than a Yeshiva for Noahides. Such an endeavor would show that Noahides have finally started to focus on the goal.
6.     Political action – Get involved in activities that will further observance of the 7 laws.

This is just an outline and I am sure with thought more can be done.


To summarize: The purpose of the 7 laws is to transform the non-Jew into a person who is sensitive to his or her responsibility to transform this world into a place of peace and stability, where it is possible for the knowledge of HaShem to be spread out.

Purpose of the 7 Laws

This article is one I have wanted to write for almost 15 years. Since my first encounters and discussions with Noahides I have been thinking of these things. I hope that what I write here will be helpful, but more than that I hope it will inspire those many serious Noahides (and those who desire to be close to the God of the Tenach) to reexamine their actions and motivations for them.

Because of the length I have divided it into two parts. This first one deals with the basic principles involved, while the second expands on them to point out the problems why things did not develop the proper way and some suggestions for Noahides and Rabbis on where to go from here.


One of the biggest problems dealing with Noahides (and more with the Ger people) is that they have no understanding of what the purpose of the 7 laws is. Having spoken and observed Noahides for over 15 years, it seems that the predominant view is that being a Noahide is like Judaism lite. It’s a stage between Christianity, without Jesus and the New Testament, and conversion to full 613 mitzvah observant Judaism. It is seen as a type of Judaism rather than a totally different (and important) way of serving HaShem.

If it is not a streamlined version of Judaism then what is it? In this article I want to examine this issue, not just from the strict halachic perspective but with an eye to give insights on the underlying purpose of the laws.

I believe this is necessary for a few reasons. Primarily is that no Noahide I have discussed with has a clear answer of ‘why’ these 7. If Judaism is the only true religion, then why should there be Noahides at all? This has led to many Noahides feeling they ‘should’ do more, but without being able to give a valid reason why.


What is our purpose in the world?

The most important question we all need to ask is: What does HaShem want of me? What am I, as an individual, here for? Everyone has a specific purpose in their life. HaShem has us here for something. We may not know what it is, but it is there.

For the Jew it is simpler. He has a Torah, a Talmud a Shulchan Aruch, Rabbis and Rebbes. There are many wise and Holy men to go to in order to get advice, and guidance. Every Jew has to consider what path to take. Should I sit and learn my whole life? Should I live in Israel, or somewhere else? A Jew has what he learned at home, at Yeshiva, from his Rabbeiim and Rebbes to guide him in these decisions.

For the non-Jew it is different. There are no ‘Rebbes’ for them. They need to grapple alone with questions like: Does HaShem want him to convert? What is he or she as a non-Jew supposed to do? Why does HaShem have non-Jews anyway?

There are specific goals HaShem has for the individual, there are also general goals for individual nations and mankind as a whole. There is a goal and purpose for the Jewish people, and one for the non-Jews. For the Jewish people it involves keeping 613 mitzvos and for the non-Jew 7. But what is the purpose of these mitzvos? Why this difference?

There have been many seforim written to explain the answer for a Jew. These answers from different perspectives lead to different ways of living within the Torah for Jews. Chassidim, Litvish etc., all have slightly different answers to these questions.
But we remain with this question: What is the fundamental purpose of the 7 commandments? To understand that we need to first examine what is the purpose of the Jewish people as opposed to the rest of the nations of the world. Then use that to see what the purpose of the non-Jew is in HaShem’s plan.


To understand HaShem’s purpose for the Jewish people we need to go all the way back to the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Before giving the Torah HaShem explains in Exodus 19:5-6 just what the program was to be:

And now if you will listen to My voice and keep My covenant, you will be for Me a special treasure from among all the peoples because all the world is Mine. You will be for Me a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy People. This is what you shall say to the Children of Israel.

There are three terms used for the Jewish people that is to distinguish them from the rest of the nations of the world. Let’s look at each of them in turn to see what they tell us about the role of the Jewish people; to build the contrast to the role of the non-Jewish world.

1. A ‘special treasure.’ Rashi‘s comment here is significant. He describes a treasure as ‘expensive vessels, precious stones that kings hide’. Then he continues and says ‘it does not say you alone are mine and no others… they (Israel) are in my eyes before all others.’ (The Siparno comments similarly to Rashi.)

Here is the classic statement of the ‘chosenness of Israel’. All of creation is important to HaShem, BUT the Jewish people who keep his commandments and uphold his covenant are special above the others. This specialness comes from their acceptance of the Torah in full and keeping it. A non-Jew and even a Jew who does not keep the Torah, does not have this special status.

When we refer to the Jewish people as a light to the gentiles, what does that mean? It means that by keeping the Torah and serving HaShem as he commanded, it becomes revealed to the nations HaShem and the special nature of Israel. This is to attract them to HaShem just as the light attracts those who are in darkness.

2. ‘Kingdom of Priests.’ Rashi says the word ‘priests’ (Kohen) means princes. The Ramban says it means a kingdom of priests ‘to serve me’. The Siparno adds to this: ‘You will be a kingdom of priests to understand and to instruct all the peoples, to all of them in the name of HaShem.’

Here we see that the Jewish people have an exalted state, but the purpose of that is NOT to forcibly rule over others. The Jewish people are the priests in relationship to the rest of the world who are the laity, just as in Israel the Jewish people are divided into the tribe of Levi and the rest of Israel. There are two responsibilities of this position which corresponds to the responsibilities of the priests.

The first is serving HaShem, like the priests did in the temple. The priests would perform daily service to HaShem as representatives of the Jewish people. This would also apply to the whole world, with the Jewish people as a whole performing religious rituals for the rest of the world. (This actually occurred in the times of the Temple when they had a special daily sacrifice specifically for the nations of the world.)

The second refers to another function that was primarily for the priests; that was to learn Torah and to instruct others in Torah.

In ‘payment’ of this the people of Israel would support the priests. They got the tithes. And so the nations are to support the Jewish people who observe HaShem’s Torah.

On the other hand the priests were not given a portion in the land outside of some cities. Similarly we see that Israel as a whole is given the Holy Land for theirs, and the rest of the world is for the non-Jewish nations. But the non-Jewish nations are supposed to help and support Israel because of that.

3. ‘Holy Nation’. The Ramban says on this ‘to attach themselves to the Holy God. As it says “You shall be Holy because I HaShem am Holy. “This is a promise for this world and the next.’

The Ramban is referring to the beginning of the parsha of Kedoshim (Leviticus 19) which has the exhortation to Holiness. The Ramban there discusses that ‘holiness’ means separation and refers to the observance of the mitzvos which brings holiness. It is a special burden to keep the commandments, which will bring a special level of holiness to the Jews who keep them. This is not the case with the 7 commandments.


To summarize these two verses we see that HaShem is saying that when the Jewish people will keep His commands in the Torah they will be raised to a special place before Him.

With regards to their relationship to the other nations, they will be separated, by doing the commandments which will bring upon them holiness. They will be charged to be there to teach and instruct in HaShem’s law and provide service to HaShem as an emissary of the nations.

In short, the purpose of the Jewish people is to take care of the ‘spiritual’ needs of this world, and aid the other nations in their relationship with HaShem.


From this we see what the purpose of the non-Jewish nations and peoples is. In the nation of Israel there is a division. The tribe of Levi were involved in the spiritual matters concentrated around the Temple. The rest of the Jewish people worked the land and supported themselves; but also the Levites to allow them to continue in their service of HaShem.

These verses teach us that this division in Israel, corresponds to a similar division in the world as a whole. Both Jew and non-Jew are made in God’s image, but the purpose of the Jew is to serve HaShem in spiritual matters; the job of the non-Jew is to ‘work the land’, i.e. make this world a place where the Jewish people are free to follow HaShem and serve him according to Torah. The non-Jew is supposed to help the Jew to fulfil his purpose in the world, just as the Israelite provides support for the Priest and Levite so they can perform their purpose.


If we look at the 7 laws we see this clearly reflected in them. The first two are dealing with the fundamental rejection of any false gods and beliefs.

1.     Not worshipping idols
2.     Not cursing HaShem

These two are fundamental to the 7 laws, as they place them firmly in a religious basis: HaShem commanded them to Noach. But these are not religious statutes like the 613. You find no extensive worship commands, as you find in the 613. A recognition of HaShem is implied, but no obligations on the individual. Much like it is with the Jewish people as a whole vis a vis the priesthood.

The other five are also different. They indicate a totally different perspective and purpose for the Noahide as opposed, or better said, in compliment to the Jew. We can see this clearly by looking first at two ways in which we can look at the 613 commandments and see how they relate to the other 5 laws.


The first is a recognition that the 613 laws can be divided into a two classes: those between man and God and those between man and man. The Noahide has a minimal obligation to HaShem. It is basically to not be in defiance of Him by worshipping false gods or cursing Him. It sets up that these laws are from HaShem, but not much more.

The rest are all laws dealing with interrelations. (In this sense not eating from the limb of a living animal is dealing with interrelations with other parts of HaShem’s creation.) The mitzvos between man and man really form the basis for a civil society. Were it not for them, societal order would break down. These 5 laws are 5 general categories necessary for human interrelationships to function properly.

From this we see the primary purpose of a Noahide is to improve his/her actions with regards to other people. Any action which leads to more peace, security, and stability of society is part of the mandate of the 7 commandments to Noach, even if not explicitly one of the 5 or derived from them. This includes their relationship to Jews. Seeking the welfare of the Jewish people as a group and as individuals is a fundamental part of this mandate.


The second way of looking at the mitzvos is by classifying them as either mishpatim’ (laws), ‘eidos’ (witnesses) or ‘chukim’ (decrees).

Mishpatim refers to a set of laws that are obvious and all societies have them in one way or another. The laws against murder and theft are clearly in this class. This is the primary function of the Noahide laws, and the primary purpose of Noahides is to pursue those things that would be called Mishpatim and live accordingly. They are logical and clearly fit in with the important purpose of non-Jews in this world.

Eidos refer to those commandments that are there as witnesses of the things HaShem has done for the Jewish people: The holidays like Passover are a good example. These have no relevance for the Noahide or their purpose, which is why none of the 7 are eidos. However at times there is a logical reason for a non-Jew to do actions that are eidos. For example, giving a prayer of thanksgiving to HaShem for something He did for them, is clearly logical and would be called ‘eidos’. But these are restricted to things HaShem did for the individual Noahide, or possible his nation.

Chukim are decrees that HaShem has decreed for the Jewish people having no rational reason. These also have no relevance for non-Jews. They defy logic and have no purpose but to show full submission to HaShem’s will and commands.


We see that for non-Jews their purpose is to follow the 7 laws and any other ‘laws’ that would further the goal of peace and stability in this world. I will be discussing the issue of ‘adding’ to the 7 mitzvos in another article and will also discuss this idea of what is ‘logical’.

There is another aspect of this. Noahides are expected to be a source of support for the Jewish people. This does not mean financial, (which is allowed) but moral, cultural and ethical. They should try to help Jews to fulfil the commandments given to them. For example, at times it is allowed for a non-Jew to do work for a Jew on Shabbos. (These laws are complex and I will not get into them here.) Doing this for a Noahide, while not part of the 7, is something that brings merit to the Noahide.

Purpose of the 7 Laws – Part 2 In the first part we discussed the overall goal of the 7 laws and differentiated them from the 613 mit...