The Temptation of More
Going through those articles on sharia law and also remembering something an unsavoury character (Asher Meza aka George) said about how christianity has more to it that the observance of the Seven Commandments, I am reminded of how a person may feel when they are free from the clutches of these religions, or when they are an outsider looking in at these religions. Isn’t there so much law and principle there in islam? Doesn’t it cover your whole life with divine worship? Isn’t there love and fellowship amongst christians? Isn’t it all about worship and connecting to God through Jesus? And aren’t the Seven Laws a stark and empty, scant existence in comparison? There aren’t as many laws. There isn’t even a command to worship God or to fast and pray. I mean … islam and christianity look like banquets with pleasure and community and togetherness; and the seven commandments look like a dank dark empty apartment with just some bread and water.
It’s like escaping luxury to end up in a desert, a wilderness.
I just read an article that highlights this way of thinking amongst “noahides.”
All the rabbis and Noahides I talked to agreed that Noahides don’t have an obligation to keep more than the seven laws. But the sort of people who go on a spiritual quest that leads them out of Christianity aren’t the sort who are typically satisfied with that. They want to do more.
“We left Egypt and can feel the warmth of Judaism,” said Bryant. “We don’t want to just keep wandering through the desert.” (The Gentiles Who Act Like Jews – Who are these non-Jews practicing Orthodox Judaism? by Ilana E. Strauss, http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/196588/the-gentiles-who-act-like-jews)
This gives the impression that just keeping the seven commandments is like “wandering through the desert.”
[ASIDE: Let me tell you an odd thing. I had written the beginning of this article and I had already written the part that says “It’s like escaping luxury to end up in a desert, a wilderness” but had stopped about there. It was only a few days afterwards that I saw the article I just quoted and was surprised by the coincidence in a “noahide” describing the seven laws in almost the same way. Odd, huh?]
I’ve been part of christianity. I was even the music player, being able to play instruments. The churches I went to were usually dependent on me to play one instrument or other for them to do their worshipping. And I enjoy music. I’ve seen the fellowship and the additional responsibilities and the centrality of what they see as “worship.” And I also see seven laws, the “simple” seven laws. It appears to strip most of the pleasure away. A lot of what I saw as fulfilment just seems like nothing. A sense of religious community? Gone! A feeling of pleasing God? Gone! The spiritual stuff? Gone! A day of worship, a Sabbath day? Gone! Now there are just prohibitions. Seven “thou shalt not’s!”
At least that’s how it seemed.
There’s a proverb that says “The full soul tramples over honeycomb; but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.” When a person’s heart hungers for religiosity, for the adornments and ornaments of worship, especially when that heart has been habituated by foreign forms and definitions of worship, it becomes very easy to take up many practices to express oneself, to feel as if one is actually connect to or reaching out to God. And I do admit, there is a lot of freedom allowed in a Gentile life to have such things, even with knowledge and observance of the Seven Commandments. There is such a temptation for more than just the Seven, in terms of commandments of God.
The first of our commandments is Dinim, justice. That’s a divine commandment, one that God enjoins upon us. How is our world doing according to that? Are there courts that uphold the seven and that ensure that people are taught concerning them? Hell no! Do we have legal systems based on or similar to the Torah, fair and just? Hell no!
According to Ramban, we cannot embark on our grand mission of religious life without a fundamental grounding in human decency. This parallels Ramban’s reading of the Noahide law of dinim. The Noahide court system does not merely enforce the other six Noahide laws; rather, it demands a more widespread attempt to create an equitable monetary and social system. For Ramban, all religious communal life begins with social institutions which promote justice and benevolence. (Ramban on the Torah: Which Commandments preceded Sinai? by rabbi Avi Weinstein, http://blog.webyeshiva.org/ramban-on-the-torah-which-commandments-preceded-sinai/)
Justice, for the most part, has failed in the courts of the world. Human decency has no place in the land of cops, judges, lawyers and jailors. Instead there is arrogance and arrogating, lies, corruption and protecting one’s own, defending clients for money rather than truth and pretending to represent some “state” in order to prosecute the people. Dinim has been spat upon. And according to what the previous quote said, without that foundation of human decency, a proper religious life can’t be embarked upon.
To spend one’s time not only focusing on learning justice but also applying whatever parts of it to our lives, especially in obedience to God’s law, establishing that foundation of decency, does that sound like a wilderness? Promoting this law in one’s life, is that a desert? Yet, for too many, the personal preference is not for that, but rather to gather a number of times a week for worship which is not commanded, huh? The foundations of God’s commands for this life is in tatters, yet the desire is to connect to God through dietary and religious laws, huh?
In the quest for doing more, what happens too often is that what God actually commands gets denigrated, whether it is intentional or not. Can you imagine king David singing,
Oh, your commandments, oh Lord, they are dry and scant.
How I feel like I’m lost in a dry desert.
Oh, just obeying what you commanded me is nothing.
When those around me forsake your commands, I will lift up those things you did not command in order to magnify your name. (Psalms 119, the secret verses for “noahides”)
Yet this is what both “noahides” and Jews think of the seven commandments.
The fact is this: God could have given one command and even that one is to be treasured because of where it comes from, because of its Source. It should be a joy seeing it upheld and a disappointment and challenge to see it trampled under foot. And in our culture, the Seven are trampled under foot daily, even by “noahides.”
Also, as was stated in a previous post that quoted Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s brilliant “response” to those that wondered why Gentiles wouldn’t just convert (and now, apparently, to those that think so poorly of the seven laws),
God also needs in His kingdom of humanity both Jews and non-Jews. Jew and non-Jew each has his own calling and his own law, and God’s sublime purpose will be attained only if each one, Jew and non-Jew, will gladly and faithfully carry out that calling and obey that law which God has set for him, and in so doing will make his own contribution to the common good as God expects him to do …
“Gladly and faithfully?” Would you say comparing God’s seven laws to a wilderness or desert, something insufficient, is a reflection of “gladly and faithfully?”
When a person chooses to focus on the more, to crave the more, especially when God’s actual commandments upon oneself are given lower esteem, although it may come from sincere feelings and desires, it is selfish and self-serving. When God calls for justice, but the heart is looking for what others – even Jews – do as worship, then, unfortunately, the focus is off.
We Gentiles are not Jews. And christianity and islam are manmade edifices that gave too much honour to men, Jesus and Mohammed, than the commands of God. For all their prayer and fasting, the message from Isaiah and Jeremiah would just as well apply to them as it did to ancient Israel:
Put away your festivities, songs and prayers; that’s all about you, not Me. Instead, seek justice and fairness. I didn’t command you about sacrifices and “worship,” only to obey my commandments. (based on Isaiah 1 and the latter parts of Jeremiah 7)
I remember a video from rabbi Moshe Weiner, the author of the book “Sheva Mitzvot Bnei Noach” which had an English version called “The Divine Code.” In it, he discusses the fact that many people want to add commandments upon themselves, commandments not given to the non-Jews, yet have not mastered their own commandments yet (https://youtu.be/z6ZIE_Tfyns). What also comes to mind is what Rambam said in Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings and Wars, chapter 10, halakha 9.
[A non-Jew] should either become righteous converts and accept all the mitzvoth [divine commandments] or remain in his Torah [the seven commandments] without adding or detracting from them.
It is clear that this refers to all non-Jews, not just “idolators” as some claim.
[ASIDE: I do know that later on Rambam states that non-Jews should not be held back if they want to perform one of the Torah’s commandment for a reward, but then it is plain that the performance is done not because the act has the power of a commandment done out of obedience to God, but rather it is done for self-serving reasons, “for a reward,” thus not being an obligation from God, but for motives more selfish. That doesn’t make it bad, just not ideal.]
All these messages come to teach us to take God’s commandments to Gentiles seriously. If we would actually plumb their depth, we would see that the real “more” is already there; not the fictions of worship dreamt up my christians or muslims, not the flawed attempts to emulate Jews amongst some of the “noahides,” but a worship that comes from being faithful to and loving what God has actually given.
You see there is a misdirection and a hubris in that attitude of those who tack on additional commandments upon our core responsibilities, or who seek some religiosity and so-called spirituality to the denigration our main obligations. Intentional or not, it becomes about usurping God’s authority and claiming “I’ll worship him how I see fit!” “I think God should be worshipped with all that stuff so that’s the worship he’s gonna accept.” But in the end, it’s just about pleasing oneself, as opposed to truly connecting with Divinity.
130 The prohibition to adding anything to the Written or Oral Torah. This is the grave mistake many of the Reform (religious) Noahides make, the mistake of Nadab and Abihu. In Bamidbar 3:4, it says that “Nadab and Abihu died before H ashem when they offered alien fire before H ashem in the Wilderness of Sinai.” Noahides are not commanded to pray, or to have organized religious services, or to wear kippahs or “Noahide” tallis, or to keep the Sabbath or any of the Jewish festivals, or to say, “since Noah offered sacrifices, I will offer sacrifices.” What Noahides are commanded to do is to create a safe and just society with laws based on the Torah. “Do not try to discover new ways of honouring God, and do not seek giving satisfaction to your God by any other means than those which He has prescribed for you. Only by faithfully, conscientiously carrying out the commands He has given you do you render the homage He expects from you. The Mitzvas which He has commanded you, and precisely as He has commanded you, are the expression of His Will for you, and they tell you what He expects from you, and what you have to do to arrange your life on earth in accordance with His satisfaction. As they are not your own ideas of what is right and befitting but the dictates of your God, you have not got to try and improve them in any way, not to add to them or subtract from them. By doing more or less they would no longer be the dictates of your God.” Hirsch, commentary on Devarim 13:1, 230–31. (footnote 130 on pgs 456 and 457 of Alan Cecil’s book, Secular by Design)