Torah Thoughts for Today
Wednesday, February 25, 2004
#19:The House That Stands Forever
The House That Stands Forever

(Related to the weekly Torah portion Terumah (“Offering”) read in synagogue. Exodus, Chapter 25, verse 1 – Chapter 27, verse 19. English text and commentary at
Dedicated to my parents.)

Somebody gives you a few million dollars, now what do you do with it? Do you stuff it into your mattress? Do you share it with the world? Do you stop functioning and go on vacations? The savvy advisors will say you have to “make it work for you”, to “make it last” and “make it grow” through smart “investing” so that it “grows” and that you can “live off it” for the rest of your life and even “hand it over” as a thriving inheritance to your descendants!

That is precisely what happened after God gave the Ten Commandments, the entire Torah in essence, to the Children of Israel. It was the GREATEST TREASURE ever revealed and the Jews became the eternal custodians of it. So how was it to be preserved then?

There are many ways to answer this question. The Torah itself contains many passages that warn that the key to “happy” Jewish history hinges on the best observance of the Torah’s TEACHINGS and its COMMANDMENTS – “MITZVOT”.

The establishment, construction, and endurance of the first portable religious spiritual SANCTUARY, which metamorphosed into the permanent TEMPLES which in turn shaped the rise and endurance of the system of multiple SYNAGOGUES (roughly meaning “bring together” in Latin or Greek) known as a House of Prayer - “Beit Tefilah”, or a House of Gathering – “Beit Knesset”, or a House of Learning – Beit Midrash, ALL OF WHICH WERE DIRECTLY BASED ON THE TORAH’S BLUEPRINT as outlined and detailed in this week’s Torah portion. It was THROUGH THESE STRUCTURES THAT THE MANNER AND STYLE OF JEWISH WORSHIP OF GOD WAS PRESERVED AND TRANSMITTED THROUGH ALL THE AGES. They provided the framework for the “transmission” of the spiritual “wealth” of the Torah, much like great fortunes are preserved and transmitted by wealthy families. Just in this case the “families” included all Jewish families committed to Torah life, and the “banking houses” are NOT savvy financial institutions, but HOLY INSTITUTIONS OF JEWISH WORSHIP – “AVODAH” (DIVINE SERVICE).

Torah “includes the Written Law and the Oral Law in its entirety and expounded by successive generations of Sages.” [1]

Rabbi Shimon, (who lived over 2,000 years ago), of this Mishnah, is not giving a “personal” opinion. He is stating a UNIVERSAL PRINCIPLE OF JUDAISM: That the very FOUNDATIONS of the world are built FIRST on the TORAH! That is the foundation that is embodied by the GIVING OF THE TORAH – “MATTAN TORAH” and is symbolized by the physical Ten Commandments on the two tablets of “sapphire” stone. Where do they go? Into the “HOLY ARK” which is placed into the Holy of Holies within the Sanctuary. Surrounded by all the other holy objects, such as the TABLE, ALTAR, and “MENORAH” which have a variety of functions or “SERVICES”, known as the “AVODAH”. And this is what Rabbi Shimon states that the world rests on this SERVICE – “AVODAH” too: “The SERVICE of God, i.e. the SACRIFICIAL SERVICE in the Temple and, IN THE ABSENCE OF THE TEMPLE, STUDY OF THE LAWS REGARDING THE SERVICE. IN ITS BROADER SENSE, SERVICE REFERS TO PRAYER AND THE PERFORMANCE OF THE COMMANDMENTS.” [2]

So we have two foundations of the world in place right here in the Sanctuary, where does the third component of KIND DEEDS – “GEMILUT CHASADIM” come into the picture? The answer, as we shall explain later, is that the entire process of building, maintaining and supporting both the TORAH and the AVODAH of not just the sanctuary, but of the entire world is built upon the KINDNESS and GENEROSITY that people give of their wealth, efforts, know-how and SELFLESSNESS towards maintaining the entire EDIFICE of Torah - religious, communal and social, material and physical needs. The world rests on the Torah, the Service – “Avodah”, and Kind Deeds.

Why the need for a special “HOUSE OF or FOR GOD” or “RELIGIOUS EDIFICES or BODIES” in the first place? What motivates the need for such things?

In many instances, the more precious something is, the greater its need for an outer casing. The most expensive jewels and valuables are stored in massive secure vaults. Historical books and items of great importance are preserved in professional libraries. Great paintings and works of art are guarded in museums and private collections. The vegetables and fruits we eat grow in peels and shells awaiting the right (ripe) minute for our mouths. Chocolates and gifts are no fun if they are not wrapped in fancy paper and boxes. Fine wines and liquors come in exotic bottles and canisters designed to beguile the eye and lure the palate as they flatter the contents. In the animal kingdom many have skins and furs that not only give them natural, and beautiful, insulation, but are also prized for the same protection and elegance they can convey upon men and women as clothes and fashions.

On a human level, an infant is protected from the outside world first by its mother’s body and is then swaddled by layers of warm clothes and covers. Children are protected from harm with fences and alarms and by being watched and cared for at home and school. Most civilized people cannot survive even moderate changes in climate without any clothing or physical shelter. Human beings have an innate need to be housed and protected. For work purposes, all sorts of structures are erected to enable business and commerce to take place within them, from the computer cubicle to the convention center. Societies and states with populations and resources to protect from outside threats and dangers, must shield their people and assets militarily from fortifications and posts to missile “shields and umbrellas”.

It goes even deeper than that, as Judaism believes that the body HOUSES and HOSTS an indefinable ethereal abstract entity called the “SOUL” (“NESHAMAH” in Hebrew), that is in fact its original SPARK OF LIGHT rooted to the SOURCE OF LIFE which provides an ongoing connection to LIVING and ultimately is linked to the Divine: “NER HASHEM NISHMAT ADAM” – “(THE) LIGHT OF GOD (IS THE) SOUL OF MAN, which searches the chambers of ones innards,” says the book of Proverbs (Chapter 20, verse 27) and as Rabbeinu Yonah (Rabbi Yonah ben Avraham of Gerona. Spain, c. 1200 – 1263) explains: “BY MEANS OF THE SOUL, GOD SEARCHES MAN’S INNERMOST THOUGHTS AND SCRUTINIZES HIM”. [3] Thus the SOUL is compared to LIGHT which is inside the special “LIGHTHOUSE” within each and every one of us, casting a glow on the darkness and instinctively, intuitively, almost imperceptibly guiding us to safe harbor as our frail bodies, like battered ships (the “houses” of the sea) sail across the stormy oceans of life praying not to be sunk before our time has come to leave the world in peace.

If we take a close look at the Torah’s description of the first man’s creation, it says that: “God formed man out of dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils a ‘BREATH (SOUL) OF LIFE’ – ‘NISHMAT CHAIM’” (Genesis, Chapter 2, verse 7). “Breath” and “Soul” in Hebrew have the same root origin. The Hebrew word for “breath of” is “nishmat”. The “BREATH” is the “N E S H I M A H”. The Hebrew word for the SOUL is the “N E S H A M A H”, because the SOUL – “NESHAMAH” is the source of LIFE –“CHAIM” which is manifested by the obvious fact that a person has BREATH – “NESHIMAH”. So we see clearly that the SOUL comes from God since He is the one who “breaths” it into Adam having made him from the “dust of the ground”. Therefore, the material, physical, corporeal earth and dust-like vessel that is the human body, is the REPOSITORY for the Divine Soul. The body “houses” the soul, as much as our homes “house” us. Furthermore, the world, meaning the totality of our planet and universe, is a grand-scale home for all of humanity that is “housed” upon the face of the globe.

Judaism also teaches that just as the soul is “housed” or “clothed” by the body, and the body in turn is literally dressed by clothes, it is a metaphor for the Torah which has a spiritual “soul” as in its esoteric mystical teachings and the Oral Law – “TORAH SHE-BEAL PEH”, which are housed in the body of the Written Torah – “TORAH SHE-BICHTAV”, which in turn is “clothed” by the COMMANDMENTS – “MITZVOT” and the Codes of Law relating to life in the everyday “real” world, all of which are studied and practiced by the House of Israel – “BEIT YISRAEL”.

Can we point to any root source for these concepts in the Torah and Judaism?

What is the real “truth of the truth” as to why the more sophisticated people are, the greater the value and stress they place of the centrality of “housing” in their lives?

After all, for thousands of years billions of people lived in carved out caves, scraggly tents, primitive mud or thatched huts, and even under the natural shades of the trees and vines without needing a special place to “call their own”, so why the need for something more?

What is the hidden essence of any structures that makes them special to people, whereby a house is not necessarily a “home”, and my home can be my “castle”, and a castle can become a “ruin” but could also become a wondrous “castle in the sky”, and my dull little town turns into a shining “city on a hill”?

What is the essence of the PRIVATE Jewish home, the place where each family contributes to the foundation, stability, growth, variety, and strength of the Jewish People – Nation (Children) of Israel – Hebrews?

Taking a quantum leap, what defines a “House of Worship” as it is called on common parlance?

What are the roots and explanations of those uniquely Jewish PUBLIC holy places: The Tabernacle - “MISHKAN” of the Exodus and early Israel; The First, and Second, Holy Temple – “BEIT HAMIKDASH” that stood in Jerusalem; and the rise of the SYNAGOGUE – “BEIT HAKNESET” for prayers and worship and the Yeshiva and Study Hall – “BEIT HAMIDRASH” for learning, studying and teaching Torah?

This week’ Torah portion of TERUMAH, refers to the “OFFERINGS” or “GIFTS”, “CONTRIBUTIONS”, “DONATIONS” that God requests from the Children Israel (Exodus, Chapter 25 vs. 1 – 9):

This is to provide the materials to enable the construction of the FIRST PERMANENT , albeit portable, RELIGIOUS SANCTUARY to get underway. The core purpose of these contributions is so that: “THEY SHALL MAKE ME A SANCTUARY (‘MIKDASH’ – ‘A HOLY PLACE’), AND I WILL DWELL (‘SHOCHANTI’) AMONG THEM. YOU MUST MAKE THE TABERNACLE (‘HAMISHKAN’) AND ALL ITS FURNISHINGS FOLLOWING THE PLANS THAT I AM SHOWING YOU.” (Exodus, Chapter 25, vs. 8 – 9) [4]

(Note that the rabbis point out that the verse is seemingly “misdirected”, meaning that it should state: “make me a sanctuary and I will dwell IN IT (i.e. the sanctuary)” and NOT “AMONG THEM”. Why is that so? After all doesn’t God want a “dwelling” here on earth to live in? And the answer is uniquely Jewish in that God has no “interest” in “dwelling” in a “place of worship” if the people in it have not let God into THEIR PERSONAL SELVES FIRST! This is the classical mistake of superficiality in religious life that so many people make, placing God into a neat “two by four” (ok, maybe a bit bigger than that) “enclosure”, and “arranging” to “meet” with Him at pre-appointed times as if He were the “ultimate executive” to be found in “the office” 9 to 5 so to speak, like “the doctor is in” now during services. This is blatantly childish as the verse here teaches that sanctity is created when God is constantly in our PERSONAL lives, and NOT WITHIN THE HOLLOW PHYSICAL STRUCTURES. After all, at one time God saw fit to allow the complete destruction of the ancient Temples because of this kind of misunderstanding and abuse, and that is why we mourn on the Ninth of Av – “Tisha BeAv”.)

What goes into a SANCTUARY / TABERNACLE / TEMPLE / (and eventually a SYNAGOGUE)?

These that follow are to be among the crucial and necessary “FURNISHINGS” for God’s HOLY PLACE. All the elements to be enumerated as necessary for the SANCTUARY would continue FOREVERMORE, either literally or symbolically, as the Jews traveled through time. All the features would be place into the permanent Temples and even enhanced. When these would be destroyed, first by Babylonia and then by Rome, the Jewish People would RECREATE and REESTABLISH them within each and every formal SYNAGOGUE and YESHIVA structure, as soon as they found the freedom, and place to settle down. Resources, time and money were never held back to establish the needed core of any COMMUNITY – “KEHILLAH” during over 2,500 years of exile:
An “ARK OF THE COVENANT” (Exodus Chapter 25, vs. 10 – 22):
(Diagram: http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/tanach/mishkan/23.htm )

Also known as the “ARK OF THE TESTIMONY”, a square box made of special wood with an outer and inner layer of gold boxes, with two golden “KERUVIM” – dramatic and mysterious “male-child~female-child, cherub-like, bird-winged, figures” facing each other, on top of the Ark, into which will be placed, “REST”, the TEN COMMANDMENTS inscribed on the two tablets of stone. This will be placed in the inner sanctum to be called the “Holy of Holies” – “KODESH HAKODASHIM”.

Perhaps it may be said that this is analogous to the most private part of any home, the BEDROOM that is the place where the husband and wife dwell together in HOLINESS, as the Jewish marriage is called “KIDDUSHIN”. The mission of the Jewish home is to produce God-fearing good children and Judaism teaches that this comes about when the mother and father join to produce the body and God joins them to provide the soul. Hence the expression in classical Judaism that there are “Three partners to [creation] of man; the Holy One, the father and mother” (Talmud, Tractate Niddah). From the mother and father comes the body and from God comes the SOUL”.

In any SYNAGOGUE, this remains the HOLIEST spot. It is the ARK where the Torah scrolls are permanently stored. To this day, when the doors of the ark are opened, the congregation rises and the level of holiness present is considered to be higher than usual.

The special TABLE (Exodus Chapter 25, vs. 23 – 30):
(Diagram: http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/tanach/mishkan/18.htm )

Also known as the “TABLE OF THE SHOW (or “SHEW”) BREAD”, made of wood and overlaid with gold, upon which were placed TWELVE LOAVES of specially baked bread, which is the origin for the concept of a “DOZEN”. This is representative of man’s need for basic nourishment and for elevation and dedication of the eating act to one of holiness.

It is symbolic of the “kitchen” and dining room of the Jewish home that places great emphasis on holiday and Shabbat meals with bread being on the “highest level’ of any mundane food requiring the most serious Blessings and Grace after meals.

Perhaps one may surmise that these are the tables or “pews” in synagogues, at which congregants sit and pray, or follow along with the Torah readings, placing their prayer books upon the tables, “taking in” the words of the services and having faith and trust that God will answer their prayers for daily bread and success in dealings with our fellow man.

The GOLDEN LAMP, SEVEN-CUPPED CANDELABRUM - “MENORAH” (Exodus, Chapter 25, vs. 31 – 40):
(Diagram: http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/tanach/mishkan/16.htm )

In order to provide and symbolize LIGHT on all levels. No house or home can exist without basic lighting and the TABERNACLE and TEMPLE were no different. Probably aside from the Star (Shield) of David , the “MAGEN DAVID”, no item better symbolizes the whole essence of Judaism and Godliness than the “MENORAH” from which shone forth light. It is symbolic of the first “LIGHT” of Creation, to the “LIGHT” of the Torah, and the “HIDDEN LIGHT” – “OR HAGANUZ” of the End of Days. The great mystical text of Judaism is called the “ZOHAR” which means “SHINING’ as its teachings “SHED LIGHT” upon hidden mysteries in the Torah.

Most amazingly, modern science has “discovered” that “LIGHT” is the “BUILDING BLOCK” of all “existence” as everything in the universe is nothing but energy in the form of light.

The Jewish people has a role as a “LIGHT UNTO THE NATIONS” and the Jewish home is the custodian of all the “LITTLE LIGHTS” of its precious children as they grow up to become great shining bastions of the right kind of “en-LIGHT-enment” (hopefully!) Every synagogue has an “ETERNAL LIGHT” – “NER TAMID” near the front above the Ark where the Torahs are kept. There is a custom in some places to light a candle, and obviously to TURN ON THE LIGHTS, before services begin, as to pray in darkness is a sign of mourning, and one should be happy when facing God in prayer. The greatest symbol of light is the Torah, and its fusion with the Jews as a symbol of LIGHT in all its positive connotations.

The ALTAR – “MIZBEIACH” (Exodus, Chapter 27, vs. 1 – 8):
(Diagram: http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/tanach/mishkan/14.htm )

Upon which would be offered SACRIFICIAL slaughtered KOSHER ANIMALS. It was also referred to as the “ALTAR OF EARTH”, the “OUTSIDE ALTAR”, or the “BRASS ALTAR”. From the dawn of time God desired the institution of animal sacrifices both as an “ATONEMENT” – “KAPARAH” (as for example on the DAY OF ATONEMENT, know as “YOM KIPPUR”) for man (rather the animal than the person) and as a “GIFT” from man and as a “SPECIAL AROMA” to God.

By symbolic extension to the Jewish home we are talking about the oven and grill upon which are cooked and roasted all the delicious kosher meats, and much else of course, which we should consider as being a form of our own “SERVING” of God as we eat meat NOT as frustrated “cannibals” but as people who can serve God through the fine foods we cook and consume with the proper Blessings and intentions to serve God.

This makes the despicable practice of human “sacrifices” totally unnecessary and evil, as people should transfer their sins upon the beasts of the field that will please God sufficiently.

On a far more tragic note, we must remember that during the Holocaust (1939 – 1945) over SIX MILLION JEWS perished, and many of them had to face death by FIRING Squads and if they were gassed to death THEIR BODIES WERE BURNED TO ASHES IN THE CREMATORIA of “en-LIGHT-ened” Europe, by Nazis who were MORE merciful to animals and cared nothing for their fellow humans whom they sent up in SMOKE!

In a synagogue, the “Altar” is the “BIMAH”, meaning an “ELEVATED PLACE”, as an ancient altar was referred to as a “BAMAH”. Whenever the Torah is taken out of the Ark it is brought to the “BIMAH” which is like an ALTAR UPON WHICH ARE PLACED HOLY OFFERINGS. Since we cannot and do not offer any form of “living” sacrifices, we often-times read, especially on each and every Holy Day – “YOM TOV”, those PORTIONS and SECTIONS from the Torah that describe the ancient offerings. This is in lieu of the “real thing” and because there is no Temple standing in Jerusalem, the Torah readings on the “BIMAH” are considered as if they had been offered on the original ALTAR.

The body of the SANCTUARY, (Exodus, Chapter 26, vs. 1 – 36; Chapter 27, vs. 9 – 19):
(Diagram: http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/tanach/mishkan/1.htm )

It is called a HOLY PLACE - “MIKDASH”. This is not yet the full and permanent Temple that will be built in Jerusalem hundreds of years later. It is to be its core and will be a “PORTABLE STRUCTURE” to be called THE TABERNACLE – “MISHKAN”. The SANCTUARY is to be made with beams, crossbars, held together with special fasteners, covered with special woven sheets and skins that will create a roof, walls, enclosures and partitions. There are many details. The “MISHKAN” literally means “DWELLING PLACE” because God designates it as His “HOME AWAY FROM HOME” for His Divine Presence known as the “SHECHINAH” , which is connected to the same Hebrew root as “MISHKAN”.

The “S H E CH I N A H” known as God’s “‘Feminine’ PRESENCE” can also mean “THAT WHICH DWELLS”. For example, in Hebrew, a street or a neighborhood is called a “SH` CH U N A H”, a neighbor is a “SHACHEN”, (“SHECHENIM” in plural), and a “SHICUN” is a small house or cottage.

This “Tabernacle” is NOT to be confused with the portable “hut” known as a “SUKKAH” which has its own festival called “SUKKOT”, or “TABERNACLES” in English, commemorating the miracle that God preserved and protected the Children of Israel in “huts”/Sukkot/Tabernacles after the Exodus in the 40 years of the wanderings in the wilderness. In English though, the word “tabernacle ”, is derived from “tabern” which means “hut” and “cule” means “small” in Latin, probably related to the word “tavern” maybe even to “barn”. Interestingly, a “tavern” is the ancient concept of a “hotel” where one can find rest and food on a journey far from home, and a “barn” is a place where grain, foodstuffs, and animals are kept for the benefit of people, especially in the ages before deep freeze and mass containers.

The concept of the “SUKKAH” as a portable structure is endowed with its special religious aura somehow hinting at the future permanent Third Temple which is described as “SUKKAT DAVID” – THE SANCTUARY OF DAVID. It also hints at a future wondrous mystical structure, THE SKIN OF THE LEVIATHAN (FISH) – “ORO SHEL LIVYATAN”, that will HOUSE the righteous at a final Grand Banquet.

Let us look at that third component of the world’s foundation, KINDNESS, as mentioned by Rabbi Shimon in Ethics of the Fathers, Chapter 1, Mishnah 2.

The Torah records that God required that HOW all of this was to become possible is the foundation for WHAT was to happen. Meaning, that now the Children of Israel were called upon to make a PERSONAL SACRIFICE, assuming their natural KINDNESS – “CHESED”, and give up something that they may have held to be of “PERSONAL VALUE” as a CONTRIBUTION to the “COMMUNAL NECESSITY” for a “PLACE OF WORSHIP”.

Amazingly, wherever Jews have gone to live, one of the first things they do is build a “SHULL” (Yiddish for Synagogue). Money is always found to do it, and when the community eventually leaves, the “SHULL” will be the last communal structure to close down. Jews have always excelled at philanthropy. Per capita they are probably the most generous and giving nation in human history. In the United States Jews have contributed untold BILLIONS of dollars each YEAR to all sorts of HUMANITARIAN causes over the past fifty years out of all proportion to their relatively tiny numbers in the general population. Secular assimilated Jews have HAPPILY given away their hard earned billions to universities, hospitals, foundations, medical research, employment training, education, scholarships, community centers, democratization of societies, and countless positive needs. Where has this wonderful “philanthropic gene” come from? You don’t have to look far to know that it comes from, firstly the kind Jewish hearts of the Jewish people during the ages, and secondly from the religion and commandments of Judaism as outlined in the Torah and voluntarily practiced with great joy by Jews for millennia.

A few days ago I happened to witness a telling incident. I was at a synagogue after the conclusion of morning services that is attended by some very astute professional people. There were perhaps about twenty of them lingering to say “Mazel Tov” (congratulations) to a congregant whose wife had just given birth to a girl, so they were distracted and even anxious before trotting off to work; businessmen, accountants, brokers, teachers and some others. Suddenly out of nowhere a hassled young man appears, not a member of the community and never seen before, who approaches the center of the synagogue in a rushed and urgent manner. In a fairly loud, unprofessional, yet coherent manner he states, talking to no-one and everyone at the same time, that he is on a self-appointed mission to collect funds for a family that recently came from Israel and is living on the other side of town. The father is very ill and needs to have several serious surgeries but that the family does not have medical coverage, (sadly this is common for so many people in America too). In the course of his pitch the young man does mention the name of some rabbis who know the family and endorse the appeal and the name of some non-profit organization that will provide the needed receipts for donations if need be. I do not think anybody really noted the names of the “endorsing” rabbis. I for one had never heard of them. No one even bothered to ask the guy his name nor the name of the sick person. But what did come across was that this was a sincere religious young man deeply concerned about a suffering fellow Jew crying out for help. From what I could tell, by the time the young fellow left, he had collected a few hundred dollars, some in cash, mostly in personal checks, all unexpected and “out of the blue”. He left as “mysteriously” as he arrived. The synagogue had already done its own daily minor voluntary collection earlier, and not everyone gives to blank strangers, and I am sure some in the crowd had doubts whether to give for THIS “appeal”. But what came across loud and clear was the warm welcome, openness and generosity of the majority of those present.

The above is not some “isolated freak occurrence”. It is typical of the natural generosity that is inherent in every Jewish heart, and hopefully in all humanity. Classical Judaism teaches that in fact the ENTIRE WORLD IS BUILT ON GOD’S OWN IMMENSE KINDNESS – “OLAM CHESED YIBANEH” (Psalms, Chapter 89, verse 3). It is this very QUALITY of KINDNESS, so close to God’s true essence, when people overcome their tendencies towards parochial selfishness, that actually signals and “triggers” God to “ENTER INTO” our world such as when he asks us to make a SANCTUARY for Him: “Take My offering from everyone WHOSE HEART IMPELS HIM TO GIVE” (Exodus, Chapter 25, verse 2). (Probably this is the first and most major instance of a “CAPITAL CAMPAIGN”, as it’s known in today’s fundraising parlance, for a “religious institution” stated in the Torah by God Himself, no wonder fundraisers many times have that air of …. well, you fill in the blanks yourself, as hopefully your experiences have been positive.): “God spoke to Moses, saying: speak to the Israelites and have them bring to me an offering. Take my offering from everyone whose HEART IMPELS HIM TO GIVE…gold, silver, copper, blue wool,…lines, skins, acacia wood, oil for the lamp, …incense, …precious stones…” [5] And as classical Judaism teaches “(THOSE GOOD) THINGS THAT GO OUT FROM (YOUR) HEART, ENTER (INTO ANOTHER’S) HEART” – “DEVARIM HAYOTZIM MIN HALEV NICHNASIM EL HALEV”, so it’s so to speak from God’s Heart to your heart and then back again to God’s Heart that makes the OFFERING – “TERUMAH”, also called the “NEDAVAH” – “GIVING” significant and valuable from God’s perception.

So we come full circle as we see that foundations of both the world and the Tabernacle were based on KINDNESS and GENEROSITY. The gentile nations of the world were also welcomed to give appropriate offerings. This is all derived from the original forefathers, Abraham who embodied KINDNESS, Isaac who embodied SELF-SACRIFICING SERVICE, and Jacob who was the embodiment of TRUTH the “seal” of God and the definition of Torah. “On Three things the World Stands: On Torah; and On Service (‘Avodah’); and On Kindness (‘Gemilut Chasadim’)”!

Have a great Shabbat, and please let me know what you think!

[1] Pirkei Avos – Ethics of the Fathers, Artscroll English prayer book, p. 544 – 545.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Book of Proverbs, Tanach – 24 Books of the Bible, Artscroll English translation, p. 1597.
[4] The Living Torah, English translation by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, p. 382 – 383.
[5] Ibid.
Wednesday, February 18, 2004
#18:Judaism and Law: The Greatest Constitution
Judaism and Law: The Greatest Constitution

(Related to the weekly Torah portion of Mishpatim (“Judgments”), read in synagogue. Exodus, Chapter 21, verse 1 – Chapter 24, verse 18. English text and commentary at: http://bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp?ACTION=displaypage&BOOK=2&CHAPTER=21
Dedicated to my parents.)

Most people are not conscious of the fact that they live in a society that is governed by laws that essentially protect them and their human, religious, political, and civil rights. In the United States children are educated about the written Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and a Bill of Rights. They are taught how the system of government is based on “checks and balances” between the three branches of the legislative, judicial, and executive branches. But once out of the classroom, nobody gives a second thought to the legal system that makes all the freedom possible.

The United States’ Declaration of Independence from its mother country of Great Britain was written in 1776, two and a quarter centuries ago, and is considered to be a revolutionary document “ahead of its time” in modern history. It preceded the famous French Revolution of 1789 that in time brought Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity to its citizens. The Russian Revolution that overthrew the Czarist system took place in 1917 was supposed to bring more freedom to the people. It was only after the Second World War (1939 – 1945), after the crushing defeats of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, that the rest of the world was able to obtain freedom from the remaining colonial powers, such as Israel and India from Britain in 1948. All of these movements of national liberation and freedom were inspired by the “American Experience” and unfolded in relatively recent times.

The question arises: What was the hidden volatile powerful explosive and dynamic SPARK, the special root source, for the very concept of declarations of freedom, constitutions, bills of rights and balancing governmental powers between an executive leader and counterbalancing powers as in a judiciary and a legislature?

Classical Judaism would say, hey, that’s an easy question, because the greatest of humanity’s laws is rooted in the Torah, because after all, humanity itself is rooted in the Torah, and in fact all of existence and reality, all the knowable and unknowable dimensions are rooted in the Torah. Why is that? Because in classical Judaism, the Torah is so-to-speak in abstract terms GOD’S MIND as it were. Obviously God is unknowable and inscrutable. However, classical Torah sources teach that GOD, THE TORAH and ISRAEL are ONE – “YISRAEL, VE’ORAYTA, VEKUDSHAH BRICH HU CHAD HU”. It is through the Torah that God “reveals” His Mind, Intentions, Goals, Expectations, Demands, and Predictions for us as well as for all humankind! God is the ultimate CONTINUUM in ABSOLUTE TERMS. Then the Torah is a CONTINUUM of teachings, laws, and judgments and the source of all TRUE KNOWLEDGE no matter what kind, be it mathematics, biology, history, philosophy or religion, what have you, nothing in the fields of human knowledge and experience, ideas or phenomena, can “knock down” the Torah’s teachings and narratives.

On the contrary, with the passage of time, it is the Torah’s worldview that has permeated the world, be it through its main HIDDEN conduit of Judaism, or through its “surrogates” such as Christianity and Islam as the famous RAMBAM (with an “M”), Rabbi Moses Maimonides (Spain, North Africa, 1135 – 1204), teaches. (This does NOT mean to say that classical Judaism “endorses” these other alien faiths that it considers to be flawed and false. Just that the founders of the faiths expropriated from the Jewish Bible and so unwittingly also transmitted some core teachings to the pagans of the world who would have otherwise remained completely ignorant to “Biblical” concepts such as Monotheism, the Decalogue and much else.)

Humanity too IS a solid CONTINUUM from Adam and Eve until the time God will see fit to conclude the current cycle of civilization as we know it and Creation will have reached its original purpose. And starting with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Jewish People are a WONDROUS CONTINUUM all of their own encapsulating and symbolizing the heart of all the other CONTINUUMS. Hence the expression: THE INDESTRUCTIBLE JEWS. Finally, as time will draw to a close with the dawn of the SEVENTH Jewish millennium, the one connected to all the concepts of the SABBATH, a new era will awaken. We cannot know what it will be like, but Judaism does teach about the times of the JEWISH Messiah, a place called “Gan Eden” (Garden of Eden in Hebrew), the END OF DAYS – “ACHARIT HAYAMIM”, and a FUTURE WORLD the “OLAM HABAH”, AND THEY ALL STRESS THAT IT WILL BE AN ERA OF PEACE AND HOLINESS AND THE TORAH WILL BE AS CENTRAL AS EVER ALL THE TIME. Thus, there are no “pit stops” and/or detours to exotic islands of escapes in time, such as the fictions of movies and books create in the minds of the masses, from God, as Jonah tried, or flights of fancy from the TRUTH of the UNIFIED CONTINUUM of world history that is moving in one direction only whether we want it to or not. Just as Pharaoh could not fight the will of God when he saw that nature was nothing but a straw puppet, similarly, the modern Naturalists cannot escape to their ivory towers and gilded TV cages as they note that their beguiling intellects and hidden passions were ensnared by false gods with clay feet.

Thus we are not just looking at some ancient “religious code” of laws when we look at the “dry facts of the law” in this week’s Torah portion. The comprehensive CIVIL LAWS with over FIFTY (out of the “613”) applicable Commandments – “MITZVOT” are all part of a greater human and spiritual CONTINUUM of the “TORAT CHAIM” – TORAH OF LIFE of an “ELOKIM CHAIM” – A LIVING GOD, as observed by the “AM YISREAL CHAI” – THE LIVING NATION OF ISRAEL:

Freedom for the slaves; Punishing a murderer; Penalties for injuries and damages; Dealing with the thief and robber; Damaged property; Judging between a plaintiff and a defendant; Laws of guardianship; Cases of borrowers and lenders; Eliminating seduction; Lending money to the poor; Prohibition of “loan sharking”; Not charging interest; Not to curse the judges or rulers; Paying tithes from crops on time; Ignoring false rumors; Do not follow a wicked majority; Judges need to be learned and clear; Following a majority in good Torah laws; Impartiality in court; Relieving the burden of another; Rejecting circumstantial evidence in capital cases; No bribery; Observing a Sabbatical year. And then follow a few more laws concerning the Sabbath, not swearing by an idol’s name, sacrificial offerings, first fruits, not eating meat and milk together, dealing with enemies in Israel, removing evil gentile influences from Israel. These are the great laws in this week’s Torah portion, going well beyond what we can deal with comprehensively.

These are all revolutionary milestones in the establishment of a world order based on the revealed Torah Law that emanated from Mount Sinai. Judaism believes that it was because these laws were Divine in origin, that they were rooted in the MOST POWERFUL FORCES OF ALL, that are in fact an expression of God’s Will in this world that the laws of the Torah have continued to be trailblazing pathways that have carved out the roads and highways for all subsequent MORAL, JUST, and HUMANE legal systems that respect the fact that there is a God in the Universe and that He is in fact the final Judge! As Abraham pleaded with God to show mercy to even the wicked people of Sodom: “…SHALL THE WHOLE WORLD’S JUDGE NOT ACT JUSTLY?” (Genesis, Chapter 18, verse 25). http://bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp?ACTION=displaypage&BOOK=1&CHAPTER=18

Indeed, Judaism celebrates its HOLIEST DAYS OF THE YEAR the Ten Day Period from the JEWISH NEW YEAR – “ROSH HASHANAH” to the DAY OF ATONEMENT – “YOM KIPPUR” as a process of God sitting in Judgment over each individual and nation. It is the time when people and events are JUDGED by God as to WHO WILL LIVE AND WHO WILL DIE in the coming year. So Judaism views the entire cosmos as being enveloped within God’s Judicial system with the Torah being its Constitution and the Ten Commandments being its core heart and soul. It applied then, it applies now, and it will always apply, no matter what the Social Sciences may teach about the nebulous functions of “Social Systems” and the “rise and fall” of personalities, psychologies, tastes, trends, fashions, institutions, societies, civilizations and universes.

(Remember any of these?: The “theory” that “meteor showers” killed out the bumbling dinosaurs billions of years ago as they foraged for food in swamps that sucked them under forever? The destructiveness of the “Social Darwinism” “philosophy” that has been linked to the rise of Fascism? The actual fact that the “moon rocks” were no different to your own garden variety of stones? Walt Disney’s animated “Jiminy Cricket” regaling you with the song “You ARE A ‘Human ANIMAL’” in biology class? Putting time capsules in the ground with everyday items in them so that a million years from now (then) people, very “evolved” by then no doubt, will know what we ate and did for fun? Famous musicians took on names of “beetles” and “stones”? And why the relentless drive wasting trillions of dollars in the unsuccessful push to find even one measly under-nourished itsy-bitsy amoeba in space someplace that is obviously MIA in space and “out to lunch” down here on earth in everyone’s kitchen sink??? Such is the magnificent scientific and sociological trivia search we live with as we have evolved to the stage of TV “reality shows” where people eat garbage under the hot sun, and couples go on national television for an “intimate” date. Our society shows no signs of letting up on its own determination to make itself outlandish and out of the ball park, scientifically, sociologically and psychologically speaking.)

In this week’s portion the Torah makes a huge quantum leap when it introduces a flood of “MISHPATIM” which means JUDGMENTS / STATUTES / LAWS / RULINGS /. A “SHOFET” is a JUDGE, a “MISHPAT” is a RULING /ADJUDICATION / LAW / JUDGMENT. A “BEIT MISHPAT” is a COURT. And of the four Codified Sections of the Jewish Code of Law – “HALACHAH”, the “SHULCHAN ARUCH’, one Sections is called the “CHOSHEN MISHPAT” – Which deals mainly with matters of Civil Law: Laws and guidelines relating to appointment of Judges; Laws of Testimony and Witnesses; Business Law of Lending and Borrowing; Monetary Claims and Adjudication of Financial Disputes; Guarantors and Underwriting; Property Disputes; Partnerships; Representatives; Sales and Purchases; Wrongful Purchase; Gifts; Lost and Found; Theft and Robbery; Monetary Damages; Personal Injury and Claims of Compensation. These laws are discussed and analyzed in great depth in Talmudic Tractates – “MASECHTOT” such as Baba Kamma, Baba Metzia, Babba Kama, Sanhedrin and others way beyond the scope of this essay. What they all have in common is that everything in Jewish Law is derived from the verses and statements in the Torah such as we learn in this week’s Torah portion. And these are not “college courses”, they have been the staples of classical Torah and ‘yeshiva’ (Torah and Talmudical school) education for thousands of years. The Talmud itself begins as a mature system over two thousand years ago.

Secular Legal scholars share the confusion of secular scientists and of the Social Science and Humanities scholars, when they just cannot get past the historical smoke screen of modernity’s cultural propaganda that blinds them to an understanding of the origins of Law as it is understood in the Western world. They follow dead ends and dark alleys rather than take a look at what is in front of their noses. Some start with the Middle Ages, and others look at English Common Law and Roman Law or fiddle with some obscure illegible cracked codex scribbled on clay deemed to be the starting points of the great legal heritage. The Nazis invoked Nordic and ancient Persian myths to buttress their racist “laws” made for their new cruel race of “supermen” - “ubermentschen”. Murderous Jihads, justified by some Moslems as based on a law that seems to have its origins in hallucinations in the over-heated Arabian deserts still fires up fanatics to kill innocent men, women and children without any recourse to minimal humane legal due process. The Czars of Russia were just a “law unto themselves” from Ivan the Terrible To Nicholas the Last. In France, the Kings were absolute monarchs who believed like Louis XIV that “I am the State”.

In the Oral Law teachings of the Ethics of the Fathers – “Pirkei Avot” the Talmud’s own source of JURISPRUDENCE, the very first teaching deals with the REVELATION OF THE LAW AND ITS TRANSMISSION: “ Moses received the Torah from [Mount] Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua; Joshua to the elders; the Elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets transmitted it to the Men of the Great assembly. They [the Men of the Great Assembly] said three things: BE DELIBERATE IN JUDGMENT; DEVELOP MANY DISCIPLES; AND MAKE A FENCE FOR THE TORAH.” (Ethics of the Fathers, Chapter 1, Mishna 1) [1] We see from this the centrality of the concept that the LAW of the Torah, in its ENTIRETY was handed down by Moses through the generations and in fact they were encouraged to protect it with making additional “laws”, i.e. “FENCES”, to protect the original body of laws. The first bit of GREAT legal advice that is stated unequivocally here is to “BE DELIBERATE IN JUDGMENT”, this means: “Do not give hasty decisions, but analyze each question in depth. Rendering a fair judgment is one of the highest forms of Torah study (Rashi, Rambam, Rabbeinu Yonah –[Three classical Torah commentators]).” [2] The first chapter concludes with the following famous statement: “RABBAN SHIMON BEN GAMLIEL SAYS: THE WORLD ENDURES ON THREE THINGS – JUSTICE, TRUTH, AND PEACE, AS IT IS SAID: ‘TRUTH AND THE VERDICT OF PEACE ARE TO ADJUDICATE IN YOUR GATES’ (Zechariah, Chapter 8, verse 16)” (Ethics of the Fathers, Chapter 1, Mishna 1) [3]. Justice is “DIN” in Hebrew and it is related to the Name for God that Jews use for God: “ADONAI” meaning “My Lord”, the One Who applies “DIN” to me, hence also being consistent with the English language origins of the word “law” in the name “Lord”.


Essentially what I am asking is how do you reconcile two contradictory philosophies of life and living? A study of the Law in America will lead you to its roots in Biblical Moral Spiritual Divine Law, with its belief in One God and the foundations of Humanity’s Godliness and Holiness. Life assumed along the lines of the popularly held views of Evolutionary Theory, and the fact that so many scientists are “devoted” to Atheism and Agnosticism, influences society’s and people’s self-image as connected to vegetables and animals, and derived from Neanderthals and now related and perhaps even resembling Orangutans.

I am NOT saying that the laws of the United States of America were derived “directly” from the Ten Commandments or from this or that aspect or detail of Biblical laws. The Ten Commandments are Moral Laws that apply to human society as originally “legislated” by God according to classical Judaism. I am talking about the notion of “law” to begin with. What are its origins in its present common forms? One may say that the ancient societies of the Pharaohs or the Babylonians had “codes”, but those ancient archaic blood-thirsty kingdoms slave and feudal systems were geared for the benefit of an oligarchy, a few powerful people who ruled as god-kings and ruthless absolute monarchs brooking no dissent and usually deposed violently. We are certainly not referring to the “laws of the jungle” or of “might makes right” either. The ancient Persians, Greeks and Romans, and even the English kings, developed a modicum of democracy and representation for their inner circles, whereas the American Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are SWEEPING DOCUMENTS that herald a new modern era of “equality before the law”, democratic republican government, and a host of promises still coming into full force for hundreds of millions of people. This has put America into a breathtaking leadership position in democratization and freedom. Fascinatingly, the Oxford dictionary says that the origin of the word “law” is from the Old English “lag” meaning “laid down” or “fixed”, it also says it is a variant of “lo” or “lor`” for “Lord”. It may be said that this was a sign of the rest of the world taking over THIRTY THREE HUNDRED YEARS to catch up with what the Torah had intended all along and which Jews had actually benefited from internally, before the events of modern times preached the most ancient demand by God of Pharaoh: Let My People Go So That They May Serve Me! Celebrated by Jews as Passover – The Festival of FREEDOM from bondage!

We do NOT agree with the following lengthy quote, but let’s give the “other side” their chance to speak, since we are talking of “justice” and “judgments” after all. You may choose whichever opinions you feel best represent your views, obviously, but remember, honestly ask yourself is it what Judaism represents or expects?

So here goes: We will turn our attention to the famous controversial naturalist and anthropologist Charles Darwin (Britain, 1809 – 1882), a very complex scholar with deep set eyes and a long majestic white beard, who at one time studied for the Christian ministry, but instead was recruited for an around the world voyage of nature research by the British Royal Navy {THEY are the REAL “culprits” `: - } . The few years he spent at sea, looking at all sorts of life forms, gave him the time to rethink life and formulate and organize “theories” that would reshape the way modern men of science viewed life. He had plenty of time to read as well, and was also influenced by the thinking of one Thomas Malthus (Britain, 1766 – 1834) of the “Malthusian” philosophy alarmed by population explosions and advocating “birth control” for the working classes.

I came across the following by Peter Landry at http://www.blupete.com/Literature/Biographies/Science/Darwin.htm#fn8
which seems pretty representative. Again, I do NOT agree with this information, but I cite it in order to “round out the picture”:
“DARWIN, directly on account of his early adventures (with his evidence and his conclusions: zoological, botanical, geological and paleontological), COULD NO LONGER SUBSCRIBE TO THE TEACHINGS OF GENESIS, viz., that every species had been created whole and have come through the ages unchanged. Of course, Darwin's theory, at first blush, is at odds with the whole notion that there exists a Supreme Being, which brought into existence all things. As to the Primary Cause and more generally the existence of a God: ‘I [Darwin] cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I FOR ONE MUST BE CONTENT TO REMAIN AN AGNOSTIC.’ All the evidence supports (and none exists that disproves) the proposition that life on earth has evolved; life started out slow and small, and our current state of existence is as a result of some process working upon natural materials throughout a period that consists of millions and millions of years…In 1859, Darwin's shattering work, The Origin of the Species, came out (‘a sell out in one day’); it is now recognized as a leading work in natural philosophy and in the history of mankind. Simply stated, Darwin's theory is that things, and, in particular, life, evolves by a process which Darwin called ‘natural selection.’…(H. Alfvén, professor of Plasma Physics at the University of Stockholm Atom, Man, and the Universe) states: ‘We are beginning to see that the awesome wonder of the EVOLUTION FROM AMOEBA TO MAN - for it is without a doubt an awesome wonder - was not the result of a mighty word from a creator, but of a combination of small, apparently insignificant processes. The structural change occurring in a molecule within a chromosome, the result of a struggle over food between two animals, the reproduction and feeding of young - such are the simple elements that together, in the course of MILLIONS OF YEARS, created the great wonder. This is nothing separate from ordinary life. The wonder is in our everyday world, if only we have the ability to see it.’ … We will let Julian Huxley (Britain, 1887 - 1975) (Humanist, ATHEIST and science popularizer, a Professor of Zoology, brother of Aldous Huxley and grandson of Thomas H. Huxley) sum up Darwin's place in the history of science: ‘DARWIN’S WORK…PUT THE WORLD OF LIFE INTO THE DOMAIN OF NATURAL LAW…Man is not a finished product incapable of further progress. He has a long history behind him, and it is a history not of a fall, but of an ascent. And he has THE POSSIBILITY OF FURTHER PROGRESSIVE EVOLUTION BEFORE HIM. Further, in the light of evolution we learn to be more patient. The few thousand years of recorded history are nothing compared to the million years during which man has been on earth, and the thousand million years of life's progress. And WE CAN AFFORD TO BE PATIENT WHEN THE ASTRONOMERS ASSURE US OF AT LEAST ANOTHER THOUSAND MILLION YEARS AHEAD OF US IN WHICH TO CARRY EVOLUTION ONWARDS TO NEW HEIGHTS’…Julian Huxley was the grandson of Thomas H. Huxley (1825 - 1895) an English biologist, teacher, and a defender of Darwin. Darwin was not a conversationalist and he only very rarely appeared in public to defend his theories himself; he was fully represented by Thomas H. Huxley, ‘Darwin's Bulldog.’ It is interesting to note what Thomas H. Huxley said about his topic when confronted with the opposition in the form of Bishop Wilberforce of Oxford. Both Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce were on the same stage when during a conference which had as its theme, Darwinism. The Bishop, in a sarcastic manner called out: ‘I would like to ask Professor Huxley whether it was on his grandfather's or his grandmother's side that the ape ancestry comes in.’ (Darwin) after whispering to his dinner companion, ‘The lord hath delivered him into my hands,’ took the podium:‘A MAN HAS NO REASON TO BE ASHAMED OF HAVING AN APE FOR HIS GRANDFATHER. If there were an ancestor whom I should feel shame in recalling, it would be a man of restless and versatile intellect, who, not content with success in his own sphere of activity, plunges into scientific questions with which he has no real acquaintance, only to obscure them by an aimless rhetoric, and distract the attention of his hearers from the point at issue by eloquent digressions and skilled appeals to religious prejudice’.” [4]

End of the long above citation. Here is MY partial reaction to some of it, and the conclusion to this essay:

From the foregoing we see that Darwin remains one of the world’s most important and accepted “philosophers” as many millions of people “believe” in his school of thought and “theories” even though the majority have no clue how he “invented” them. Darwin’s views and attitudes and his own life’s history are very typical of the “modern scientific” man: Rejecting Biblical Teachings of the Creation of the Universe by God during the Six Days of Creation; Accepting the notion that life evolved over “millions” of years from amoebas; Defining the origins of life by new “scientific” slogans of “Natural Selection” and “Evolution”; A false notion that somehow to “believe” that people are “evolving” is a “progressive” idea because to believe that God created the complete Adam and Eve means that they cannot “progress” (the word “progress” may be relative, of course); Equating humanity with the “animal kingdom” especially the apes; Celebrating that “finally” an alternative “explanation” could be provided for life’s development on Earth; Traditional views of God could not be accepted so it is acceptable to be an Agnostic and an Atheist; The world exists primarily within the parameters of Natural Law; An amazing display of arrogance – “CHUTZPAH” by the newly-minted “Evolutionists”, who defend their views with ideological ferociousness, as they refuse to accept even simple LOGICAL questions, critiques or criticism as if their ideas were the “holy” words of a new civil “secular scientific religion” that must not be questioned but just accepted as “facts”, and they will of course decide for the rest of the world which facts are “politically correct” and which are not; Since the Bible is now relegated to secondary place (at best, or to the incinerator most likely) behind the new “bibles” of biology and zoology tomes, there is no longer a role for that type of morality associated with the same beliefs that gave you Creation and God in the first place in Biblical books; An amazing hold on the popular imagination with the academic world and the media and entertainment industries reinforcing Evolutionary philosophy, continuing to enshrine and worship Darwin as a modern day “saint, prophet and law-giver”.

It is therefore remarkable to remember that Judaism already had a “Declaration of Independence” from Natural Law in ancient Egypt when nature specifically was shattered by Ten Plagues recorded in the Torah and recited at Passover in the Haggadah, and a “Bill of Rights” as embodied in the Ten Commandments (“The Decalogue”), and a comprehensive “Constitution” of the Torah (“The Bible”) with a complete, sophisticated and trustworthy system of government that protected the rights and status of both its adherents and those who lived within their society beginning with the REVELATION and the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai in the Hebrew year 2448 (1312 B.C.E.) more than 3,300 years ago!

Our Torah portion is way AHEAD of mere human-centered Natural Law theories. It’s called “MISHPATIM” which means laws, judgments, and ordinances taken from the first verse of the portion: “And these are the laws that you must set before them [the Israelites]” (Exodus 21, verse 1), in a real world, of real time with real flesh and blood human beings demanding JUSTICE – “TZEDEK”.
The classical Torah scholars zero in on the very first words of this verse which in the Hebrew are actually combined into one: “AND THESE” – “VE-EILEH”. The famous rabbinical commentator RASHI, Rabbi Shlomoh ben Yitzchaki (France, 1040 – 1105) teaches: “Wherever ‘these are’ - ‘eileh’ is used it cuts off the preceding section from that which it introduces; where, however, ‘VE-eileh’ - ‘AND these’ is used it adds something to the former subject (i.e. forms a continuation of it). So also here: ‘AND these are the judgments (i.e. these, ALSO)’: what is the case with the former commandments (THE TEN COMMANDMENTS)? THEY WERE GIVEN AT SINAI ! SO THESE, TOO, WERE GIVEN AT SINAI ! If this be so, why is this section dealing with the ‘civil laws’ placed immediately after the commanding the making of the ALTAR? To tell you that you should seat (i.e. provide quarters for) the SANHEDRIN in the vicinity of the TEMPLE (or near the ‘mizbeach’ - ‘altar’) in one of the chambers in the Temple court (i.e. the ‘lishkat hagazit’ - ‘chamber of stone’).” RASHI cites his sources for this as the Oral Law’s Mechilta, Midrash Rabbah, and Tanchuma, all classical texts of reliable scholarship. [5]

Dr. Russell Jay Hendel (creator of the extensive site devoted to studying Rashi at http://www.rashiyomi.com/ ) notes on the above Rashi comments that: “Again Rashi by way of pun notes that the Parliament (Sanhedrin) sat IN the temple and ‘therefore the altar is mentioned near the Judicial code (judgments)’ But Rashi is not connecting JUST two chapters but rather Rashi is connecting a whole sequence of chapters dealing with laws that enable us to live a just and good life…Some highlights are as follows: While Exodus, Chapter 23 deals with the laws for HOLIDAYS and the 7th YEAR (Sabbatical) nevertheless the emphasis in Exodus, Chapter 23 is on letting the STRANGER and POOR have a respite (e.g. Exodus, Chapter 23, verse 9; Exodus, Chapter 23, verse 12). FURTHERMORE THE ALTAR WAS AN INTRINSIC PART OF THE JUDICIAL CODE – FOR ALL LAW IS BASED ON THE BACKUP OF COURT PROCEDURES WHICH IN TURN IS BASED ON THE OATH. IF A PERSON TOOK AN OATH FALSELY HE HAD TO BRING A SACRIFICE (Leviticus, Chapter 5).

Thus Rashi’s words prove the concept of the TOTALITY and UNITY of all aspects of Jewish Law: The necessity of faith in God and rejection of other false gods as set out in the first of the Ten Commandments are connected to its moral and humanistic teachings governing human relationships and behavior, which is connected to the spiritual days and observances like the Sabbath and Holidays. They are all connected to a system of worship and rituals with sacrificial offerings that would become part of the Jewish Temple worship. Of course this all takes place within the Torah’s original framework of Creation and the flow of world history, and ultimately even prophecies of doom that would befall the Children of Israel should they falter and renege on their covenant with God. These prophecies also include optimistic predictions about Jewish survival, return and redemption as there is always the note of future affirmation, validation and triumph of the Jews and the Torah that binds them to God.

Here is what is written in the Artscroll commentary, explaining the connections:
“The juxtaposition of this ‘Sidra’ [Portion in Hebrew] (dealing primarily with CIVIL and TORT LAW) with the Ten Commandments and the laws of the Altar provide a STARTLING INSIGHT INTO JUDAISM. To God, there is no realm of ‘religion’ in the colloquial sense of the word. Most people think of religion as a matter of ritual and spirituality. Western man differentiates between Church and State. The Torah knows NO SUCH DISTINCTION. To the contrary, all areas of life are intertwined and holiness derives from ‘halachically’ (Jewish Torah Law) CORRECT BUSINESS DEALINGS no less than from piety in matters of ritual. The sages teach that one who wishes to be a ‘chassid’, or a devoutly pious person, should be scrupulous in matters of civil and tort law [‘mili denizikin’, Talmud Bava Kamma, 30a] for in Judaism the concept of ‘temple’ is in the courtroom as well as in the synagogue. This is the significance of the (Torah’s) juxtaposition of chapters. From this proximity, the Sages derive that the seat of the Sanhedrin, the seventy-one member court that is the supreme authority on ‘halachic’ (legal) matters, should be on the Temple Mount, near the Temple itself, for both the Temple and the Sanhedrin are expressions of holiness and worship of God. A judge who rules correctly is considered a partner in Creation, and one who rules corruptly is a destroyer of God’s world. It is quite natural, therefore, that immediately after carrying us through the recognition of God’s power, through the miracles of the Splitting of the Sea, and the Revelation at Sinai, the Torah commences with laws that SEEM almost mundane. THEY ARE AS MUCH EXPRESSIONS OF GOD’S GREATNESS AS THE FIRST COMMANDMENT, WHICH PROCLAIMS GOD’S EXISTENCE AND SOVEREIGNTY…[Rabbi Moses ben Nachman (Spain, North Africa, Israel, 1194 – 1270), known as the] RAMBAN (with and ‘N’) comments that the CIVIL LAW IS AN EXTENSION OF THE TENTH COMMANDMENT, WHICH FORBIDS COVETOUSNESS. In order to know what he may NOT covet, ONE MUST KNOW THE RIGHTS AND PROPERTY OF OTHERS. Elaborating on this concept, [Rabbi Obadiah ben Jacob (Italy, 1470 – 1550) known as the] SFORNO comments that the above commandment states that one may not covet anything that belongs to his FELLOW; so the Torah now goes on to begin defining what it is that belongs to others.” [7]

What is YOUR opinion? Please let me know!
Best wishes and have a wonderful Shabbat!

[1] Ethics of the Fathers in the Artscroll Prayer book, English translation, p. 544.
[2] Pirkei Avos, The Wisdom of the Fathers, English translation and commentary, Rabbi A. Davis, p. 7.
[3] Ethics of the Fathers, Ibid, p. 548.
[4] http://www.blupete.com/Literature/Biographies/Science/Darwin.htm#fn8 , by Peter Landry.
[5] Pentateuch with Rashi’s commentary, Exodus, English translation, M. Rosenbaum and M. Silberman, p. 107.
[6] http://www.rashiyomi.com/nu20-01z.htm , Dr. Russell Jay Hendel.
[7] The Torah - The Chumash, The Artscroll Stone Edition, English translation and commentary, p. 416.
Thursday, February 12, 2004
#17: Changing Eras: The Power of Ten
Changing Eras: The Power of Ten

(Related to the weekly Torah portion of Yitro read in synagogue. Exodus, Chapter 18, verse 1 – Chapter 20, verse 23. English text and commentary at http://bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp?ACTION=displaypage&BOOK=2&CHAPTER=18
Dedicated to my parents)

The central event in this week’s Torah portion is the depiction and presentation of the granting of the Ten Commandments in the Hebrew year 2448 from Creation (1312 B.C.E.) over 3,300 years ago! The granting of these ten moral laws and the additional ones that followed as laid out in the Torah, have continued to revolutionize and change the world. It was the dawn and beginning of a completely new era for humankind.

What previous era was it that was being changed by the arrival of the Ten Commandments? Why did the world need to change; was there something wrong with it? What era arrived on the scene of human history with the Ten Commandments? Why are they so controversial, and even rejected and misunderstood to this day by so many people?

Without thinking, millions of people are convinced that the major way of understanding the rise of civilization is to accept prior ages and stages of life’s growth over billions of years, and that’s it! However, they are making a serious error, because the various ages are actually considered to be “pre-historic”, as human “history” requires first-hand human written records. History only actually begins “officially” with the “invention” of CUN(E)IFORM , a type of writing with a stylus onto wet clay that preserves an intelligent human record of events at the time:

“The earliest attested documents in cuneiform were written in Sumerian, the language of the inhabitants of southern Mesopotamia and Chaldea from the 4th until the 2nd millennium B.C.(E). Discovered at the site of the ancient city of Uruk (biblical Erech), they were in a pictographic type of cuneiform in which objects were represented by pictures, numbers were represented by the repetitional use of strokes or circles, and proper names were indicated by combinations of pictures used according to the rebus principle; i.e., the pictures were to be interpreted according to their usual pronunciations rather than according to the objects they depicted.” [1]

“In ancient times writing was done on papyrus, parchment, potsherds, and clay tablets. The latter were made of clean-washed, smooth clay. While still wet, the clay had wedge-shaped letters (now called ‘cuneiform’ from Latin ‘cuneus’, ‘wedge’) imprinted on it with a stylus, and then was kiln fired or sun dried. Tablets were made of various shapes - cone-shaped, drum-shaped, and flat. They were often placed in a clay envelope. Vast quantities of these have been excavated in the Near East, of which about a half million are yet to be read. It is estimated that 99 percent of the Babylonian tablets have yet to be dug. The oldest ones go back to 3000 B.C.(E). They are practically imperishable; fire only hardens them more. Personal and business letters, legal documents, books, and communications between rulers are represented. One of the most famous is the Code of Hammurabi, a Babylonian king who lived long before the time of Moses. The tablets reveal intimate details of everyday life in the Near East and shed light on many obscure customs mentioned in ‘Old Testament (times)’. Some tell the story of the Creation, the Fall, and the Flood.” [2] Thus this is actually an example where ARCHEOLOGY PROVES THE TRUTH AND VALIDITY OF THE BOOK OF GENESIS. Some have speculated that Abraham and Hammurabi lived in the same era and that they may either be one and the same or arch rivals, but the general accounts of ancient Sumeria and the Torah’s story do mesh perfectly!

Fascinatingly the previous article also states that: “ Cuneiform was the language of politics until the fifth century B.C.(E). It died out and was replaced by the 22 Letter Aramaic in about 900 B.C.(E).” In fact ancient Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic are twin languages and so therefore it is a momentous example of how the tide of Hebraic influences swept away the old world orders. When observing this era in history, one gets the feeling that there is always something vastly different and threatening, yet eerily familiar that “lurks” beneath the surface of real history and what Judaism tries to teach all along. Modern perspectives have created a whole new range of intellectual and emotional, academic, media, literary, and cultural “filters” or lenses from which to view the past and make sense of humanity’s origins and direction. The current hot-button apt phrase “POLITICAL CORRECTNESS” works “backwards” and shapes perceptions of the past as well as pointing to some kind of vaguely defined punitive invisible global censor ready to pounce, even within the recesses of people’s private minds, upon any doubts that may enter about redefining the world in alternative, and in our case, truly Judaic terms.

From the purely secular perspective, as the ages get closer to our times, they go through a “Stone Age” (from “two million” years ago up to 4,000 – 2,500B.C.E.), a “Copper Age” (4,500 – 2,000 B.C.E.), a “Bronze Age” (2,400 – 450 B.C.E.), the “Iron Age” (500 – 1 B.C.E.). Over 2,000 years ago, the Romans even began to use tough steel for their weapons, an early start for the “Steel Age”, which culminated in 1855 when Henry Bessemer in England designed and built the first massive industrial converter (furnace) for processing steel, marking the start of the “Industrial Age”. In the West we have now actually entered into the “Information Age” with its concomitant “Leisure Age”. [3]

One may wonder why it is that the “stages” are pegged and known primarily by inanimate MINERALS in people’s minds? Yes of course, you may say, it’s because it was like the “technology” of that time. But that would be an unconscious projection of modern day intellectual pursuits of the highest order, whereas the nomenclature “stone, bronze, and iron” implies a primitive BARBARIC level of existence of the
“CAVEMAN”. And that is precisely the point, that the underlying assumptions of those who created the notions of pre-historical ages of ape-like ‘cavemen’ homo-sapiens who then evolve into more ‘advanced’ yet brutal Romans is that life in its origins is PRIMITIVE, and therefore early civilizations are ‘primitive’ too. But we, who have TVs, jets and Jacuzzis, are somehow creatures of modern perfection and gentility.

Classical Judaism teaches that the world was created and is constantly re-created through the power of TEN GODLY “COMMANDS”: WITH TEN UTTERANCES THE WORLD WAS CREATED -“BA’ASARAH MA’AMAROT NIVRA HA’OLAM”, (Ethics of the Fathers – Pirkei Avot, Chapter 5, 1) through which God originally created the world and universe OUT OF NOTHING / E X N I H I L O – “YESH ME’AYIN” in the first place at the time of Creation something which few mortal minds have ever been capable of grasping.

The TEN UTTERANCES include the nine times “And God SAID” as mentioned in Genesis, Chapter 1, vs. 1 – 29 http://bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp?ACTION=displaypage&BOOK=1&CHAPTER=1 plus the word/s “BEREISHIT (BARA ELOKIM)” – “IN THE BEGINNING (GOD CREATED)” (rabbinic commentators differ on this, as mentioned in the Talmud, Tractate Rosh Hashanah, 32a) as this too is probably considered THE most important “UTTERANCE” as it says in the book of Psalms, Chapter 33, verse 6: “By the WORD of God were the Heavens made.” [4] It must be noted that: “In later times, the Jewish Mystics spoke of creation as a series of TEN EMANATIONS - “SEFIROT”, from (GOD) THE INFINITE – “EN SOF” (Literally in Hebrew: “Without End”). The “EN SOF” and the EMANATIONS, however, were conceived as an ABSOLUTE UNITY, even as the colors of the flame and the flame itself are latent in the coal.” [5]

The MAHARAL (Rabbi Judah Loew, Prague, 1525 – 1609) teaches that: “These utterances are God’s statements for creation…There are, in fact only NINE such utterances by which the different parts of Creation were brought into being. The TENTH UTTERANCE is ‘THE LORD CREATED THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH’ (1st verse in Genesis). IT IS NOT INTRODUCED WITH THE WORDS ‘AND THE LORD SAID’ BECAUSE IT IS AN ALL-EMBRACING DECLARATION OF C R E A T I O N. The (FIRST) ‘TENTH STATEMENT’ is the SINGLE DIVINE COMMAND THAT BROUGHT ABOUT THE WORLD THROUGH THE (SUBSEQUENT) NINE DETAILED STATEMENTS. It blended the nine fragments of Creation into a harmonious whole that embraces and reflects God’s HOLINESS…What can be learned from the fact that the world was created with ten utterances? We learn that the world was created with SANCTITY, for the number TEN IS THE SYMBOL OF SANCTITY. Ten resonates with the glory of God’s presence. God truly enhanced the world’s importance by creating it with ten statements and demonstrating that He imbued the world with HOLINESS. A world without sanctity would indeed have been created with only one utterance.” [6]

What emerges at this point is that according to Judaism God is the Creator of both the WORLD OF NATURE and of NATURAL LAW with both directly derived from within God’s own essence. Nature and Natural Law do have a latent connection with Holiness. However, due to the UN-HOLY actions of people, starting from Adam and Eve, then continuing for TEN GENERATIONS (according to Ethics of the Fathers, Chapter 5) till the time of Noah when the world “flooded” itself with “CRIME” - “CHAMAS” which denotes “decadence, perversion, destruction, damage and especially sexual immorality and idolatry” so that: “God
said to Noah, ‘the end of all flesh has come before Me. The world is filled with [man’s] CRIME (‘CHAMAS’). I will destroy them with the earth.’” [7]

According to the SFAS EMES (Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter, Poland, 1847 - 1905, second Gerrer Rebbe), this descent of mankind is described as follows: “The ‘MISHNAH’ (of Ethics of the Fathers), discussing the TEN GENERATIONS from Adam to Noah, is not just the historical sequel to the previous ‘MISHNAH’, but also describes the COMPLETE REVERSAL OF THE PROCESS OF CREATION INITIATED THROUGH THE TEN STATEMENTS (UTTERANCES). Every generation, through its amoral behavior and its complete IGNORANCE OF THE DIVINE WILL, had the effect of ‘reversing’ (i.e. obscuring) one of the DIVINE STATEMENTS (UTTERANCES).” [8]

Then there was a further plunge of ANOTHER TEN GENERATIONS from Noah to Abraham who had to “discover” ETHICAL MONOTHEISM for himself and begin the process of teaching it to the world, primarily through his descendants. But even these changes in the eras BEFORE the giving of the TEN COMMANDMENTS at Mount Sinai was not enough to really and truly alter the course of destiny YET! Humanity’s connection to Nature and Natural Law was so strong that it needed a CATALYST to change the world. That catalyst was the TEN PLAGUES that BROKE down Nature and Natural Law and readied it for the new structure of REVEALED MORAL LAW as manifested in the Ten Commandments.

The world of NATURE is not only crass when it becomes the staple for a cult, it is mostly beautiful, sublime, and awesomely magnificent. It’s a supremely masterful work of art by the ultimate supreme master Artist. In all its moods, varieties and phases, Nature has served and serves as a conduit for “messages” from God in almost all human cultures. Pagans unfortunately created many mythological gods, so for them it was “the gods (plural, like a god and his mother in law maybe) are angry”! In time nature itself became “god” to many, so that people worshiped the nature object of their choice, all the way from the sun to the snake, and anything in between. Among animals, the cat, crocodile, cobra and the cow were some favorites that the ancient Egyptians worshiped.

Unfortunately, today there are still some major world religions that incorporate animal worship, covering it with the deceptive veneer of benign vegetarianism. I ask you, according to that, why should the vegetables suffer just because someone has elevated the animal kingdom over and above the vegetable kingdom? And for those who may still worship bushes, shrubs and trees, why not also include the inanimate world of rocks, crystals, and minerals? There is actually no end to this vicious-cycle of false and even destructive beliefs such as polytheism, animism, animalism, and such like. Is that what drives people to become spiritualists, atheists, agnostics? What about Satanists, why would they want to sell themselves into the bondage of Hell? Who knows? These are all the FALSE GODS that the TEN COMMANDMENTS come to assault and remove, no wonder people don’t like the demands of the Torah’s Monotheism.

Nature’s good weather and pleasant climates, needed rains, abundant crops, fattened fowl, herds of animals roaming grassy plains and abundant fish filling the oceans are all Blessings for humans and animals that God is feeding them well. Clear skies, calm oceans, and moderate climates allow for the Blessings of daily life, travel, transport, communication and commerce so that humanity can grow economically and materially. Deep ocean currents, vast atmospheric trade winds and cosmic magnetic and radiation belts ensure balance and equilibrium on God’s Earth and the other planets. The wonderful cycles of day and night as the Earth spins reliably and predictably on its own axis from west to east, the rotation of the moon around the Earth and the fact that the fiery sun does not destroy us with its periodic solar eruptions is a Blessing all its own.

Frighteningly, when Nature gets distorted or disrupted, through violent death and diseases or tornados, hurricanes, tidal waves, icebergs, earthquakes, eruptions, droughts, poisons, plagues, storms and floods, even the animals seem to know that it is God’s wrath as they stare Heavenwards with heavy teary darkly-glowering eyes beseeching God “Up There” to stop the madness and return things to “normal”.

Judaism teaches that it is this very Nature that is yet rooted in Holiness because it was created by God whose essence is HOLINESS: “ God spoke to Moses, telling him to speak to the entire Israelite community and say to them: YOU MUST BE HOLY, SINCE I AM GOD YOUR LORD [AND] I AM HOLY.” (Leviticus, Chapter 19, vs. 1 - 2). I AM HOLY – “KADOSH ANI”.

Then there is NATURAL LAW, which has been defined, on “The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy”, as: “The term ‘natural law’ is ambiguous. It refers to a type of moral theory, as well as to a type of legal theory, despite the fact that the core claims of the two kinds of theory are logically independent. According to natural law ethical theory, the moral standards that govern human behavior are, in some sense, OBJECTIVELY DERIVED FROM THE NATURE OF HUMAN BEINGS. According to natural law legal theory, the authority of at least some legal standards necessarily derives, at least in part, from considerations having to do with the moral merit of those standards. There are a number of different kinds of natural law theories of law, differing from each other with respect to the role that morality plays in determining the authority of legal norms.” [9]


Now ask yourself these questions:

If human beings according to modern understanding are nothing but a highly developed species of evolved Neanderthal-like apish “homo sapiens”, then does that mean that Natural Law is in fact a glorified version of “The Law of the ‘Apes’”, and that we may well be living on a “Planet of the ‘Apes’” (like in those classical movies, which was governed by its own “natural laws” not unlike our own here)?

How could Natural Law be “OBJECTIVELY DERIVED” from the NATURE of human beings who are notoriously prone to violent and selfish mass SUBJECTIVITY? After all, human beings are the ones who wage war, enslave, exploit, torture, manipulate, and victimize each other to the degree that the means of the day allows them to. In ancient times they knew how to make chains to enslave and swords to fight, in modern times humanity has invented technology to track and exploit people and Weapons of Mass Destruction that can annihilate the planet, so how can there be any claim that human nature is “OBJECTIVE” when it is clearly not?

When it says above that: “There are a number of different kinds of natural law theories of law, differing from each other with respect to the role that morality plays in determining the authority of legal norms” we must wonder why they cannot agree on the “ROLE” that MORALITY “PLAYS” “in determining the authority of legal norms”? After all we are talking about “LEGAL STANDARDS” and if we can’t agree on what “role” morality has in legal standards then we are in fact setting the stage for the “relativity” of law, as each culture has its own definitions of what is and is not moral for its members. For the women of ancient mythological Lesbos it was “moral” that women should use men only to become pregnant and if either a baby boy was born or a male dared set foot on their island it was only “moral” that they be put to death as Lesbos was only for women which is obviously not a standard of a society where men and women are allowed to live side by side. Were the Nuremberg Laws valid “legal norms” of the Third Reich and its cohorts in Europe, which classed Jews as deadly parasites deserving extermination as it became a German “moral” standard to live and fight for?

One can go on and on to show that “NATURAL LAW” is like a “well structured” sifter, with apparent shape, form and coherence, and even usefulness in some instances, yet fatally FILLED WITH HOLES through which passes everything within it back to where it came from, depending on the size of the holes it contains. A vast “natural law” theory is unfortunately so big that the entire world just goes right through it without much having really happened.

The TEN PLAGUES that hit the Egyptians must be understood in the context of God perfecting His world. It was as if God took hold of a crooked, rounded, natural world and began to bend it straight so that it would become a built up structure guided by a Director’s ram-rod straight baton and accurate measuring stick, with the Torah finally providing the measurements and guidelines, rather than people just relying on instincts and “what comes naturally” as a natural outgrowth of nature and its seasonal changeable patterns.

A very learned rabbi once told me, in the name of another un-named learned rabbi, that THE MARK OF NATURE IS THE CIRCLE. In nature things grow, move and function in CYCLES. Trees have rings in them. Ocean currents move in mammoth cycles, the planets are round, the galaxies are spirals, and water flows down a drain in a circle. There is also a profound lesson within this CYCLICAL world in that everything is always ultimately connected with its source. When you have a circle it has neither a beginning nor an end it is just an ongoing CONTINUUM. The Jewish custom of dancing in circles is part of this concept whereby Jews rejoice by re-connecting with their source. However, according to this same rabbi, CIVILIZATION, meaning the way MAN projects and builds things around him is the STRAIGHT LINE. Whether it be the square, the triangle, the rectangle or the cube, and many other possible STRAIGHT lines, protrusions and LOCI. Thus your current house and room, the computer in front of you, the ancient pyramids, the modern skyscraper, the Roman aqueduct, or Pythagoras’ geometry, are all built on straight lines. The notions of East-West, North-South and Up-Down, which are embodied in the way LINES of LONGITUDE and LATITUDE run, place planet Earth’s round globe into a straightjacket of artificial linear quadrants covering the surface, without which no vehicle on the surface or in space would know ACCURATELY where anything is on the face of the planet.

Yet both the world of NATURE’S CYCLES and CURVES, and the world of CIVILIZATION’S COLUMNS and LINES are actually TWO SIDES OF ONE COIN! This is actually probably one of the great unknown, yet very obvious, “secrets” of the Jewish “STAR OF DAVID” also called the “SHIELD OF DAVID” – “MAGEN DAVID” (supposedly it was King David’s chosen emblem) which consists of TWO TRIANGLES wedded “up-side-down’ to each other. Now, the sum of the three inside ANGLES of ANY triangle is 180 degrees. The sum of two triangles is 360 degrees. And so in actual fact the two triangles actually equal the 360 degrees of any CIRCLE. So the CIRCLE which is the symbol of God’s Natural World is also reflected in the two triangles of the Jewish “Star of David”, who very interestingly was meant to be the BUILDER of the ULTIMATE HUMAN BUILDING, the Jewish TEMPLE in Jerusalem which was built by King David’s son, King Solomon.

Let us look at how the TEN PLAGUES served as the literally explosive catalyst for change from the Natural World of the Ten Utterances to the Torah World of the Ten Commandments. The SFAS EMES (Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter, Poland, 1847 – 1905. Second Rebbe of the Ger Chasidim) quotes his grandfather, the CHIDUSHEI HARIM (Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, Poland, 1799 - 1866, the first Rebbe of Ger): “ ‘The TEN DIVINE STATEMENTS (UTTERANCES) – ‘ASARAH MA-MAMAROT’ were transmuted into the TEN COMMANDMENTS – ‘ASERET HADIBROT’, THROUGH the TEN PLAGUES – ‘ESER MAKOT’.’ It was only the TEN PLAGUES, which demonstrated Hashem’s (God’s) might in full public view, that convinced a skeptical mankind that indeed He had created the universe through the TEN STATEMENTS (UTTERANCES). Fortified by its newly found faith in Hashem (God), the UNIVERSE was now ready for Hashem (God) Himself commanding them ‘I AM HASHEM, YOUR GOD’ - ‘ANOCHI HASHEM ELOKECHA’, the first of the TEN COMMANDMENTS, one of the most glorious manifestations of His DIVINE PRESENCE – ‘SHECHINAH’.” [10]

Classical Judaism teaches in some of its profoundest sources that the Torah is actually the “BLUEPRINT” for the world. There are teachings that the original ABSTRACT Torah, was written by the hand of God with mysterious “BLACK FIRE” Letters upon “WHITE FIRE” Parchment “two thousand” abstract years before the world was created itself. When God undertook Creation, the teachings say that GOD LOOKED INTO THE TORAH AND CREATED THE WORLD – “HISTAKEL BE-ORAITA UBARA ALMA”. Thus all of Creation from first to last is contained within the Torah itself. The first Man who God Created was called ADAM, the name comes from the Hebrew for EARTH or GROUND or SOIL – “ADAMAH”. Man was created from the material physical finite earth and then God BREATHED into him the spiritual spark of Godliness the SPIRIT or SOUL – “NESHAMAH” of LIFE: “God formed man out of dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils a BREATH (SOUL OF - “NISHMAT”) OF LIFE. Man thus became a living creature.” (Genesis, Chapter 2, verse 7). The mission of Man was to be a partner with God and teach the superiority of Godliness and hence harmonize
physical and material with the spiritual and Holy.

It became the mission of the Hebrews Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and then Jacob’s Twelve Sons – The Twelve Tribes-The Children of Israel-The Jewish Nation to ACTUALIZE the mission of ADAM. Ancient Egypt is called the FURNACE OF IRON – “KUR HABARZEL” because it forms and purifies the rough product that comes out of it. The Exodus is compared to BIRTH PAINS – “CHEVLEI LEIDAH” as the moment draws near for the BIRTH OF ONE NATION (ISRAEL) FROM WITHIN ANOTHER (EGYPT) – “GOY MIKEREV GOY”. The TEN PLAGUES are NOT a “personal vendetta” that God is running against some ancient folks, it’s a process of MELTING DOWN AND PURIFYING and bringing NATURE, with Israel as its “apotheosis”, back to a PURER HIGHER LEVEL WITHOUT DROSS.

The SPLITTING OF THE SEA is like an actual NATIONAL BIRTH, with the “breaking of the ‘mother`s’ (nature`s) water” with the Egyptians and Nature working willy–nilly in unison together with the SEA and WIND (“huffing and puffing”) and “PUSHING” the “BABY – ISRAEL” OUT INTO FREEDOM !!! And so once they cross over into the wilderness of Sinai, they are cared for with “baby food”, the “MANNA” from Heaven, the special water well (of Miriam), a protective PILLAR OF LIGHT (FIRE) – “AMUD HA-ESH” for lighting at night and a PILLAR OF CLOUD – “AMUD HE-ANAN” as covered protection during the day, and even fresh delivery of meat from the quails. So the physical material nature of the TEN UTTERANCES of Creation have now been NEUTRALIZED AND REFINED by the TEN PLAGUES and now the way is open for the INSERTION OF THE TORAH, THE SOUL OF ISRAEL INTO ITS BODY POLITIC WHEN THEY ACCEPT THE TEN COMMANDMENTS BY SAYING “WE WILL DO AND WE WILL LEARN (HEAR)” - “NA-ASEH VENISHMAH”.

With the appearance of God at Mount Sinai, known as the REVELATION, God’s ORIGINAL plan for the world’s destiny comes into full force as the details of the Torah are taught by God to Moses and the Children of Israel over the next FORTY YEARS, before they will be expected to be ready and enter, conquer and claim the HOLY LAND that God had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the Children of Israel in several covenants.

The TEN COMMANDMENTS commence a new unambiguous very tough road of a DIVINELY GRANTED GOD-GIVEN MORAL LAW not subject to SUBJECTIVITY, or any form of human manipulation, corruption, or trickery. IT IS A HIGHLY DEMANDING UNAMBIGUOUS MORAL CODE THAT CANNOT BE ABROGATED BY THE WHIMS OF MAN. (Through the religions of Christianity and Islam over half of humanity’s six billion people know of BIBLE teaching and of the centrality of the DECALOGUE – THE TEN COMMANDMENTS!) For Jews to live up to its teachings has proven to be a complex and uneven process. No wonder! Just see what’s required as we look at just two of the TEN COMMANDMENTS from the perspective of classical Judaism:

Judaism teaches that God’s “opening statement and introduction” of Himself: “I am God your Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, from the place of slavery” (Exodus, Chapter 20, verse 2), is in actual fact the FIRST OF THE TEN COMMANDMENTS that commands every Jew to BELIEVE and have absolute FAITH in God.

The famous Rabbi Dr. Samson Raphael Hirsch (Germany, 1808 – 1888) notes that the Hebrew word for “I”, which normally should be “ANI”, is here said as “ANOCHI”. Why is that? He says that “ANI”, the simple “I” emphasizes the speaker rather than the listener. But, the complex “I” of “ANOCHI” proclaims the Speaker as the one who is INTIMATELY near the listener and who has great responsibility for protecting and preserving the listener and from whom the listener derives his existence and standing… “Nothing is more overwhelming than the thought of how, in the midst of all the commotion, and out of the turmoil of the universe quaking in its very foundations, God proclaims Himself the ‘ANOCHI” - THE COMPLEX ‘I’ of the universe, through Whom alone all other existence receives the possibility and the actuality of existing, and then immediately turns to each individual Jew and says: ‘I am your ‘ANOCHI’: ‘I AM GOD YOUR LORD’ – ‘ANOCHI HASHEM ELOKECHA’. As this verse is NOT to be taken as a declaration, but as a COMMANDMENT – ‘MITZVAH’, as ONE OF THE COMMANDMENTS, it does NOT mean ‘I, Hashem (God) am your God’ BUT ‘I, Hashem (God) AM TO BE your God’. This makes the foundation of our whole relation to God to be that demand which our sages express in the term ‘KABALAT OL MALCHUT SHAMAYIM’ – TAKING ON ONESELF THE DUTIES WHICH ARE INVOLVED BY CONSIDERING GOD AS ONE’S KING…The so-called ‘belief in the existence of God’…is miles away from what this verse demands…NOT the fact that there is a God, also NOT there is only One God, but that THIS ONE, UNIQUE, TRUE GOD, IS TO BE MY GOD, that He created and formed me, placed me where I am, and goes on creating and forming me, keeps me, watches over me, leads and guides me; NOT THAT MY CONNECTION WITH HIM SHOULD BE THROUGH TEN THOUSAND INTERMEDIARIES AS A CHANCE PRODUCT OF A UNIVERSE WHICH HE BROUGHT INTO BEING AEONS AGO…in a word, NOT the knowledge of the existence of God, but the ACKNOWLEDGMENT of God, as MY God, as the exclusive One in Whose hands is my fate…it is only with the acceptance of this TRUTH that I can lay the foundation of a Jewish Life. To the DEMAND of ‘I am God” - ‘ANOCHI’ there is but one corresponding reply YOU ARE MY GOD – ‘ATAH ELOKAI’.” [11]

Finally, as another example of the depth of the application and scope of any of the commandments let’s take a look at the SEVENTH COMMANDMENT: “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY” which in Hebrew is just TWO WORDS: “LO TINAF” (Exodus, Chapter 20, verse 13.) In strict Legal-Halachik Torah Law, the act of “adultery” is defined as taking place when a man, either married or single, willingly has completed (penile vaginal penetration) sexual intercourse with a MARRIED woman and was potentially a capital offence in the times of the Sanhedrin Court over 2,000 years ago:
“If a man commits adultery with a married woman, [and] she is the wife of a fellow [Israelite], both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death” (Leviticus, Chapter 20, verse 10), this requires that two adult “kosher” – Sabbath-observant Jewish male witnesses warned them beforehand and actually witnessed the actual sex act take place, which in any case would be a practical rarity, so that it’s nearly impossible to “convict” an offending couple, yet the risks are frightening indeed. Sex between a man and an UNMARRIED woman is also a severe moral sin in the Torah, which may also be included in the Torah’s broader prohibitions of adultery and immorality, and carries its own penalties for both parties, short of capital punishment.

The Oral Law Midrashic Commentaries bring an example of how one commandment can actually comprehensively encompass far more than first meets the eye or hits the mind: “Our Sages taught in the name of Rebbi Chanina (a sage from about 2,000 years ago), ‘An adulterous person transgresses all TEN COMMANDMENTS.’ Some people (sages) were troubled by this statement and approached Rebbi Chanina for clarification. They said, ‘We agree that an adulterer and adulteress are guilty of having violated the following NINE COMMANDMENTS:

‘I AM YOUR GOD,’ because an adulterer or adulteress denies and negates God (since it was God Who forbade adultery in the first place, or by given into one’s physical lusts, one is denying that God demands that one desist. Or, they simply ignore God as if He did not exist altogether as in atheism which claims that there is no God at all of any kind);
‘YOU SHALL HAVE NO OTHER GODS’, Her act is likened to idol-worship. Just as she forsook her husband for the sake of another man, or the man forsakes his wife for another married woman, so they are liable to forsake the Almighty and serve idols, (or by indulging in physical attractions they are worshiping the human body over God);
‘YOU SHALL NOT SWEAR IN VAIN IN GOD’S NAME’, for the adulterers will surely swear that they are innocent, (or they may come to mock God’s Name during their escapades together);
‘HONOR YOUR FATHER’, since the adulterer will impregnate, and the adulteress will bear a child who will not know his real father and therefore will be unable to honor him, (they also dishonor their Father in Heaven);
‘YOU SHALL NOT MURDER’, an adulterer is determined to kill or be killed, should he be caught in his act;
‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’, (also understood as the prohibition of IMMORALITY of any kind in the widest sense, as noted in the Talmud, Tractate Nidda 13b, see Rabbi Hirsch, Exodus, p. 277);
‘YOU SHALL NOT STEAL’, he steals another man’s wife. She steals another woman’s husband, (both are stealing “forbidden fruits” and tasting the stolen fruits of their moral laxness);
‘YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS’, since the adulteress will testify to her husband, ‘I am pregnant by you’. And the adulterer will swear that he did not do it;
‘YOU SHALL NOT COVET’, because he covets what belongs to the woman’s husband. (Adulterers covet the spouses and loved ones of others).”

“ ‘We thus see how an adulterous person transgresses NINE COMMANDMENTS. We do not understand, though, in what way he disregards the COMMANDMENT,

“Rebbi Chanina replied, ‘Take the case of a NON -‘KOHEN’ (NON PRIEST) who commits adultery with the wife of a ‘KOHEN’ (PRIEST). The child will then be unwittingly claimed as a ‘KOHEN’ (PRIEST). (The status of ‘KOHEN’ is determined by the FATHER, unlike the ‘religion’ that is determined by the mother. The child will therefore be a NON -‘KOHEN’ to whom the holy Temple Service is forbidden by the Torah). He will then perform the special service in the TEMPLE – ‘BEIT HAMIKDASH’ even on the SABBATH – ‘SHABBAT’. For example he will arrange the wood on the altar and kindle its fire, which is only permissible to the PRIEST – ‘KOHEN’. SINCE HE IS AN OUTSIDER, HOWEVER, HE THEREBY DESECRATES THE SABBATH (as it is forbidden for anyone else to light any fires on the Sabbath, one of the 39 categories of forbidden work for an Israelite).” [12]

In societies with sky high divorce rates, and where infidelity is put on center stage on TV, movies and books, can there be any wonder that there exists hostility to the basic tenets of the Ten Commandments? In an age when “sexual freedoms” are taken for granted there should be no amazement that the Torah’s very clear-cut guidelines should be scorned. So then it is a great miracle of huge proportions that in spite of the prevailing anti-religious trends in the world, there are still millions of Jews, and many more good moral non-Jews, who strive to learn and live by the oldest moral code of them all, the Ten Commandments, that seeks to undo the glamorization of trends that connect directly with “world’s oldest profession” of disrepute with its very real diseases, failings, and moral bankruptcy. Let us hope that humanity will learn the lessons that will help it improve for the better.

Have a wonderful and great Shabbat and let me know what you think!

[1] http://www.crystalinks.com/cuneiformtablets.html
[2] Ibid.
*“Stone Age”: http://www.bergen.org/technology/stone.html ;
*“Copper Age”: http://www.comp-archaeology.org/Central_European_Neolithic_Chronology.htm ;
*“Bronze Age”: http://odur.let.rug.nl/arge/Work/chrono.htm ;
*“Iron Age”: http://www.beloit.edu/~museum/logan/paleoexhibit/ironage.htm ;
*“Roman Steel”: http://www.mri.on.ca/steel.html ;
*“Steel History”: http://www.fantasysteel.com/steelhistory.html ;
*“Information Age”: http://photo2.si.edu/infoage/infoage.html ;
*“Leisure Class (Age)”: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1899veblen.html
[4] Pirkei Avos, The Wisdom of the Fathers, English translation, Rabbi Avraham Davis, p.149.
[5] Pirkei Avot, Sayings of the Fathers, English translation, Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz, p. 84.
[6] Maharal of Prague Pirkei Avos, English commentary and translation, Rabbi Tuvia Basser, pp. 292 – 294.
[7] The Living Torah, English translation, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, p. 27.
[8] Pirkei Avos, Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes, English translation and commentary, Rabbi Yosef Stern, p. 313.
[9] Natural Law, (Dr. Kenneth Einar Himma Ph.D.), The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://www.iep.utm.edu/n/natlaw.htm
[10] Sfas Emes, Ibid., p. 311.
[11] The Pentateuch, Exodus, Commentary of Rabbi S.R. Hirsch, English translation, Isaac Levy, pp. 257 – 258.
[12] The Midrash Says, The Book of Shmos – Exodus, English commentary, pp. 194 – 195.

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