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.