Over these past few weeks, I have had a number of discussions. They spanned Reformed, Conservative, Gentile, and non-religious by choice. Our discussions yielded ideas applicable to many others. I have paraphrased our discussions below, while embellishing my own research and thoughts. I commence with one position, that spirituality means more than rigorous, adherence to the Torah’s specific laws. Additional positions are then taken up:
Reader: In my Temple, I am not so fond of the rabbi and the cantor; I don’t get a feeling I’m looking for.
Reader: Yes, I feel Judaism is more about religious feeling than actions.
Mesora: But you have not - as of yet - attempted to discern whether your feelings are justified, or if they are truly in line with G-d’s own words given on Sinai. Are you convinced that G-d exists, and that He gave a Torah to the Jews - the Torah we have today?
Mesora: And that Moses and the Jews did not follow this Torah for thousands of years, had it been man made?
Reader: No, I was taught in my temple that only the Ten Commandments are G-d’s words, and that Moses wrote the rest from his own mind.
Mesora: Then you aren’t aware of the numerous cases, throughout the entire Five Books (the Torah) that it is written, “And G-d spoke to Moses saying.” Had Moses written his own ideas, and not G-d’s, why did Moses write just the opposite? But the proof is that Moses’ face shined miraculously from Sinai, until he died. This miracle is an outright endorsement by the One who makes miracles, that Moses was being truthful when he said G-d commanded the entire Torah, not just the Ten Commandments. Your rabbis teach you a flagrant denial of G-d’s words.
Reader: OK, well let’s ay they ARE G-d’s words. But yet, we must adapt it for our times. Would G-d prefer that I stay home on shabbos, because to get the Temple I need to drive? Or doesn’t G-d prefer that I drive, so I can be in Temple?
Mesora: The fact that you are asking, demonstrates that you are unsure yourself. Additionally, your words “adapt it for our times”, assumes that G-d lacked the foresight to know what Torah requires, so as to remain absolutely applicable in all generations.
But your position is clear; Temple attendance outweighs Shabbos laws. However, this is incorrect. Your approach to truth is flawed. The only way to come to the truth of what G-d truly desires, is by studying His Torah. Had you studied, this would be absolutely clear. Additionally, sustaining “feelings” is not the goal of the Torah. Torah is a means by which in-depth study is a prerequisite for our actions. The study gives us insight and joy into the world of G-d’s perfect and absolute wisdom, and our actions are the barometer by which we display our convictions in such ideas. Therefore, “feelings” or even thoughts bereft of action, lack conviction.
Temple is not to afford you some good feeling, as you have it, although good feelings accompany anyone performing G-d’s word, understanding and appreciating those perfecting qualities, and ideas.
Reader: But that is so restrictive, and you are being very intolerant.
Mesora: Is not your position equally restricted by its parameters? And yes, I am intolerant of what is not truth. You should strive to be the same way. Such intolerance is a good thing, as it will steer you clear of fallacy.
However, by such accusations, you remain in your same error; assuming that your feelings of “tolerance” are a good value, and you are to be justified by your own, subjective “Torah performances”. But the reverse is true: one must change themselves to conform to G-d’s singular reality, i.e., the Torah. This is how one will truly be happy, and how one truly adheres to G-d’s words. Who knows what is better for man: us, or the One who created us?
Commencing with what you feel is correct, is a denial that G-d knows better. You may seek certain feelings, but if these feelings are not G-d’s desires, then you seek something other than G-d’s Torah. Realize that G-d Himself did not suggest as you do. He stated that adherence to law is mandatory, and one may not simply replace “feelings” with actions. Many times I hear the position, “All G-d wants is that we are good, and kind to others.” Well, if that was all G-d wanted, His Torah would have been much smaller. G-d’s words contradict your position.
There are severe penalties for one who violates Torah, and acts when he shouldn’t, or is passive when action is demanded. According to you, your feelings outweigh G-d’s prescription. But according to G-d, you might violate that which is punishable by death.
You mention that the laws are restrictive. Yes, by definition, a law restricts or permits. This is what law means. Do you not obey the requirements of your employer? Isn’t this a restriction? You must arrive at 9am, and not leave until 6pm. Yet, you do not complain about this restriction.
Reader: But that is so I can pay my bills. What should I do, not work?!
Mesora: I am simply pointing out that you really do not oppose restrictions per se, except when it is uncomfortable with your desires. You admittedly observe work restrictions, but you violate G-d’s restrictions in His Torah. Another example will better illustrate the underlying flaw: people will meticulously adhere to a doctor’s prescription. A doctor may say, “Take these 10 pills each day for the rest of your life, and you will live in full health. But miss one day, or one pill on any day, and you will die.” Would you deviate from such a prescription?
Reader: Of course not.
Mesora: What do you mean by “of course” not?
Reader: I mean, my life is not something I tamper with. I don’t want to die. Isn’t that obvious?
Mesora: Yes, it is obvious. And so also, it should now be obvious to you that you place greater value on your physical life, than on your soul. You won’t risk physical death, and will adhere exactly to the doctor’s prescription. Why then, in matters of the soul, that which far outlives the body, do you follow your ignorance, instead of again listening to the “Doctor”, I mean G-d?
This is where you must start your self-examination: with your belief that the body is more important to you than your soul. You must correct this notion; otherwise, all of your opinions will be based on this inverted value system. Until you understand with clarity, that the real “self” is the soul, which may live eternally, you will make all decisions based on an overestimation of the ‘expiring’ body. One, whose arrogance causes him to value the body over the soul, is suicidal in the truest sense - he forfeits his soul.
Ironically, you will be surprised to learn that G-d’s knowledge of all generations, which you previously denied, already anticipated and addressed your philosophy of “doing what feels good”.
In Deuteronomy, 29:18-20 after hearing the extensive curses met with a Torah violator, G-d describes a certain personality:
“And it will be when one hears the words of this curse, and he will bless (himself) in his heart saying, ‘I will have tranquility, for in the desires of my heart do I go’, thereby adding the watered to the thirsty (“Sins done accidentally be rendered as willful.” -Rashi.) G-d will not be willing to forgive him, for then G-d’s anger and jealousy will smoke against that man, and all the curses written in this book will come down upon him, and G-d will erase his name from under the heaven. G-d will set him aside for evil from all the tribes of Israel, in accordance with all the curses of the treaty written in this book of Torah.”
Who is the person described herein? What is meant by, “I will have tranquility, for in the desires of my heart do I go”? Rashi comments, this refers to one who follows “what his heart sees to do.” One blesses himself, feeling he will be vindicated. This is so commonplace today. People preach a religious practice containing not 613 commands, but just one, “G-d wants us to do what is good”, or, “G-d knows I am doing my best”. If G-d held that one cannot be responsible, except to do his subjective “best”, G-d would not have commanded us in an “objective” system, obligatory upon all. G-d does not impose on man, the impossible. His Torah system is well within our capabilities, and is the best life. It is the ignorant ones who have yet to see the value of Torah who create such positions.
People gravely distort and diminish Judaism, down to a practice that really does sound acceptable! Who could blame such a “righteous” person who lives by this motto, “Just do what is good in your heart”? The answer: G-d can blame him. G-d, in His knowledge of the past and future, anticipated this error, and included it in His Torah. And what an error it is. Not only is such a person sinning with his grave distortion of Judaic philosophy, but also all previous accidental sins are rendered to him as purposeful! Why must this be? Where is the justice in G-d rendering my sins – performed in ignorance – as willfully perpetrated? Additionally, why am I not “forgiven”, “erased from under the heavens”, and ”meet with all these curses”?
One thing we see: this “innocent” philosophy is just the opposite; it is one of the worst crimes, as all evil is justly measured by G-d in proportion to its punishment. And the punishments here are severe.
Let us understand the facts: this person affords himself security (“I will have tranquility…”) for something he must be insecure about. What is his insecurity? He knowingly violates the Torah! If he was not knowingly violating, he need not reassure himself of anything, as there would be no fear. However, his underlying sin is not simply violating G-d’s words – all sins contain this flaw. Here, there is something specific: this sinner holds the conviction that what his inner emotions dictate, is how reality is: “My own feelings cannot be wrong” is what he says to himself. His crime is “subjectivism”. This is the sin of today’s teachers of Conservative and Reformed Judaism, possessing full knowledge that Orthodox Judaism predated those imitations, and thus, must be the original, by definition. (I wonder how those two imitations explain our verses.)
This explains why previous, “accidental” sins are now rendered as “willful”, and deserving of greater punishment: his sins are by ‘design’, and not truly accidental! His words testify to a “conscious lifestyle” – his errors are based on a selected philosophy, not mere results of temporal, emotional flare-ups. If the latter, he would be considered as sinning accidentally. But once someone selects a “philosophy”, that “I go in the feelings of my heart”, he now takes the position that he argues on G-d’s words, and “all” of his sins are viewed as purposeful.
This lifestyle can destroy Judaism. If all Jews would act out what is subjective in their own hearts, there would no longer be a consistent religion practiced by all Jews. Of course, it wouldn’t even be Judaism anymore once it was altered. This corrupt lifestyle condones “subjective practice”, identical with Reformed Judaism’s tenets.
What is G-d’s response? He insures the preservation of authentic Judaism. How does G-d achieve this? Such a person or family is met with the curses, thereby validating G-d’s words not to alter Judaism! Whose words end up standing? G-d’s words are validated. The person/family is seen to be met with horrific curses outlined in the Torah, his deviation thereby becomes known, and G-d’s promises of cursing such a person are fulfilled. Ultimately, G-d erases his name from under the heavens so no others may be misled. Fear is instilled in others, and the reality of the Torah’s words is seen clearly.
But why does G-d not forgive such a sin? What exists in this sin over all others, that warrants no forgiveness? Let us be mindful that in specific, this person denies these curses, and feels secure that his internal and subjective lifestyle is approved by G-d.
I believe the answer to be enlightening, and perfect. The specific crime committed, was a “crime against the system of reward and punishment”. For his actions contrary to Torah, this sinner held (in his heart) that no punishments would be meted out to him. He openly denies G-d’s words saying, “One who violates the Torah laws cited therein, would not meet with the punishments”. Now, if he goes Scott-free, it will appear that he is right, and G-d’s word is wrong. What must happen in this instance is what G-d says, that the person will not be forgiven and will be punished. For if he is forgiven and receives no punishment, G-d will appear as a liar. In other words, when the violation is a “denial of G-d’s punishments”, no removal of these punishments is tenable, if G-d’s word is to be upheld. In such a rare case, forgiveness is not an option. And this is justly so, as the Torah does not hide the ultimate punishment from this sinner. He is well aware of G-d’s fatal measures.
As was the case with Pharaoh, G-d withholds repentance because one can “go too far”. There is a “point of no return”. In our case, forgiveness is withheld, for another consideration: that G-d’s system retains its truth.
We conclude that man commits one of his greatest sins when he espouses the life of “going by his heart.” Claiming such an arrogant position, that one knows better than G-d, is true suicide, as you forfeit your soul. The repercussions of subjectivism are fatal.
In this portion of our Torah, G-d corrects man’s errors, and He did so long before man made them. Also teaching that the Torah does not require “updates” as suggested by the Reformed and Conservative movements. The converse is true: we must update ourselves to be in line with G-d’s infinite wisdom. Now doesn’t that sound a bit more reasonable?