Category: Torah Insights

Rosh HaShana

Posted by – September 22, 2006


Happy New Year!

May you all be inscribed in the Sefer Chaim (Book of Life) and have many wonderful things and opportunities in the new year!!


Filed Under:
Torah Insights and Religion

Love Your Neighbor: The Whole Torah?

Posted by – September 17, 2006

More Torah Commentary

Veahavta l’reyacha kamocha, or, in English, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18) is one of the core mitzvos (commandments) of the Torah, and is in nearly every religion.

This is
counted in
Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos as its own commandment, but he also notes that this mitzvah falls under the umbrella of the mitzvah to emulate HaShem and “walk in His ways” (Deut. 28:9).

How can we possibly walk in the ways of Hashem? He’s an infinite force and we’re just flesh, but we can at least try by identifying what His ways are, then doing that.
Read the 13 attributes of Hashem here. Rambam writes in Sefer HaMitzvos: “To emulate Him, may He be exalted, according to our ability . . . that is to say, emulating His benevolent actions and esteemed qualities with which G-d, may He be exalted, is described.” The midrash (Sifrei) teaches: “Just as He is called gracious, so must you be gracious; just as He is called compassionate, so must you be compassionate; just as He is called holy, so must you be holy.” Thus, Torah compels you to continual, G-d based, self-improvement. It’s the ultimate self-help book.

And the core mitzvah of emulating Hashem is “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Indeed, Rabbi Hillel famously taught that this mitzvah is the whole Torah. “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man: this is the whole Law; the rest is the explanation (commentary), go and learn” (Tractate Shabbas 31a).

How can one mitzvah encapsulate all the Torah and its 613 mitzvos? It’s a wild idea to try to process. The Baal Shem Tov, who made this mitzvah the cornerstone of the Hasidic movement, explained that “love your neighbor as yourself” is an interpretation of and commentary on “Love the L-rd, your G-d” (Deuteronomy 6:5), and he who loves their fellow loves G-d. How is this? Because loving the creation is loving the Creator, or, as the Tanya elaborates, honoring another person’s soul and its divineness is honoring G-d, because by loving someone else you overcome the cold, material world, and by this you love G-d. It is through this transcending of the physical world you achieve the goal of all Torah. Thankfully we have 612 other mitzvos, and must do them, but in loving your neighbor, just like in all those mitzvos, the purpose is elevating the mundane, elevate everything to be above the rest and connect you to holiness. “If I had to describe Judaism in one word,” rabbi Gavriel Sanders said, “it’d be ELEVATOR.”

Martin Buber wrote perhaps the best commentary on the “love G-d by loving each other” concept with his book Ich and Du (I and Thou). Buber wrote that when we have geniune love and regard for someone in an “I and Thou” relationship rather than the all-too-common “I and It” relationship, we reach G-d. When we rise above the consumer, the animal self, and set all notions aside to simply love another unconditionally, we access G-d like nothing else.

Veahavta l’reyacha kamocha.

Love more today.


Filed Under: Torah Insights and Religion

Serve G-d Without Thought Of Reward

Posted by – September 15, 2006

Commentary On Sefer HaMitzvos

It’s time for a post about Torah before Shabbas (Sabbath) starts.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m studying Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos, which lists all of the Torah’s 613 mitzvos (commandments), what they mean, their reasons, how to do them, and why they’re included as one of the 613. In my study of the earlier portions of Sefer HaMitzvos, I ran across this:

Not to test the prophet unduly Deut. 6:16

This is derived from Moshe recalling the dreaded “Waters of Strife” (Massah U’Merivah) incident I blogged about last month, when the Jews tested Moshe’s ability to get water for the tribes and he lost his cool and got banned from the Promised Land.

“Ye shall not try the L-RD your G-d, as ye tried Him in Massah.” (Deut. 6:16)

This commandment on the most basic level, Rambam wrote, is defined as not unduly testing Hashem / His prophet like at the water rock.
But included in this mitzvah, he wrote, is not testing G-d to see if you get a reward for doing mitzvos. We must not be tapping the proverbial water rock over and over expecting a reward. Rambam sees this mitzvah as yet another affirmation of a core principle of Judaism: mitzvos for mitzvos sake. Service because it is right and it is required, not because you’re trying to earn an earthly or eternal reward.
“Be not like servants who serve their master for the sake of a reward, but be rather like those who serve without thought of receiving a reward.” (Perkei Avos 1:3)

It is because of this core belief in Judaism that Jews almost never emphasize the afterlife. What a contrast to the hellevangelists!
With even a cursory scan of the Torah (the five books of Moses)
you see that the existence of the afterlife is not even explicitly stated, because as Jews we have to focus on all we are commanded, and our overarching task to bring holiness down to earth. It was not until the rise of the Pharisees (c. 100 B.C.E.), the forerunners of our sages, that the notion of a spiritual life after death developed in any meaningful way in Jewish thought.

This is an especially important point to remember with Yom Kippur, the day of judgment, coming soon to a synagouge near you. All the rewards and punishments decided on Yom Kippur are coming within the next year, physical, here and in real time, then it starts over next Yom Kippur. It is much more like the Karma shown in that sitcom “My Name Is Earl.” haha.
And ideally, we have control, or at least can minimize, how much bad our year is going to have, by how good we’ve been. We do have total free will. As this week’s parsha puts it: “I have set before you life and goodness, and death and evil… And you shall choose life.” (Deut. 30:15)
Rambam comments: “If G-d were to decree, that a person be righteous or wicked; or if there were to exist something in the very essence of a person’s nature which would compel him toward a specific path, a specific conviction, a specific character trait or a specific deed… how could G-d command us through the prophets ‘do this’ and ‘do not do that’…? What place would the entire Torah have? And by what measure of justice would G-d punish the wicked and reward the righteous…?”
Total free will is essential. We aren’t slaves to forces beyond our control.

Before, I blogged about the Jewish philosophy that it’s this world that matters, and we’re here to do mitzvos and walk with Him without thought of eternal reward in this popular post in March. Check it out.

Deut. 28:9 does command us to “walk in His ways.” How can we possibly walk in the ways of Hashem, an infinite force? Well, it’s a very deep question, that cuts right to the core maxim of the whole Torah as explained by R” Hillel: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man: this is the whole Law; the rest is the explanation (commentary)” (Tractate Shabbas 31a).

I’ll have to explain what this means in my next blog; it’s very deep.

Until then,

Gut Shabbas! 🙂