When studying God’s original 7 Noachide Laws intended for all mankind, one cannot help but ask why these 7 graduated into 613. Equally perplexing is why God didn’t give 613 to Adam commands at the very outset, and why He eventually did to Moses at Sinai. What was the original plan for mankind?
We also notice quite a strange phenomenon when comparing the two systems side by side: the 613 Commands are relatively explicit, clearly identifying the commands: Do not steal, Do not murder, Observe Sabbath, wear Tefillin, etc. But the Noachide laws are not clearly stated at all. Talmud (Sanhedrin 56b) derives the 7 Noachide laws from God’s commencement of His prohibition to Adam not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge:
“And God, [the] Governor commanded upon the man saying, ‘Of all the trees of the garden you may surely eat’.” (Gen. 2:16)
We are further perplexed: what does this verse have to do with the 7 Noachide Laws governing idolatry, sexual laws, murder, stealing, cursing, courts, and eating of a living animal?
The Talmud answers that each word of this verse may be used to derive one of the seven laws: the word “commanded” is the source for the Noachide law demanding courts are established. The word “command” implies a court system to enforce those commands. The word “God” refers to cursing; “governor” refers to idolatry, and so on. So we wonder at this mode of command via subtle implication, whereas the 613 Commands are explicitly stated: no derivation is required. Why this difference? And this method of subtle derivation is continued with the additional laws of mix-breeding, witchcraft, Sabbath observance and Torah study that other Rabbis add to the 7 Noachide Laws. Subtle implication of God’s will is thereby seen as a clear theme in Noachide commands. But why so covert?
A reader raised a question this wee: what is meant by Jeremiah 31:30-33, “I will put my Torah within them and write it on their hearts; I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Referring to future times) When he asked this, I associated to a question Rabbi Reuven Mann asked years a go: Maimonides’ 13 Principles address our understanding of God: He is the first cause; He is indivisible; He gave the Torah; He gives prophecy; He rewards and punishes, etc. The question is what the belief in the Messiah is doing here, forming one of the 13 Principles. How does this form part of our ideas of God?
Deuteronomy 30:6 reads as follows: “And God will circumcise your hearts, and the hearts of your seed [in order] to love God your Governor with all of your heart and all of your soul, for the sake of your lives”. After Adam the First sinned, his imagination took over and he no longer naturally desired to do the good as he did prior to the sin, as God created him. Ramban (Nachmanides) in fact says this metaphoric “circumcision” is a direct reference to the quote above in Jeremiah when in future times, God will make a change in human nature that we will once again naturally desire the good (unlike now when we sin) and He will return us to the state of Adam prior to his sin. In that state, Adam naturally cleaved to God. Here, we are provided with another clue to God’s plan for mankind.
However, we notice that Adam’s downfall was not through any intervention by God. Man ruined himself. But if this is so, cannot man then reverse this error independent of God’s interaction in the future? Keep this in mind. Now, there is just one more source of interest…
In Pirkei Avos (Ethics) in the last few mishnas of chapter six, we learn that “God has 5 acquisitions in His world: Torah, heaven and earth, Abraham, the Jewish nation, and the Temple”. What stands out to me, is Abraham. Why him? And what is this idea of “God’s acquisitions”?
“Acquisition” according to Rashi means a “purposeful creation”. He states that God created Abraham for the purpose of “attracting mankind to follow God”. Of course, Abraham had free will. But God created Abraham as a unique individual with great intellectual powers. Abraham then used his free will and desired to harness his capabilities to discover God, and educate the masses.
What this statement means is that God created five fundamental creations essential for man: 1) Torah as the purpose of the earth’s creation; 2) the heavens and earth to further offer man evidence of a Creator; 3) Abraham, who emerged as the sole individual of his time to embody man’s purpose and educate others; 4) Israel was created as a means to educate the rest of mankind; and 5) Temple was created for the purpose of man’s expression of his attachment to God, in the form of sacrifice and worship.
It appears that God’s initially plan was that man approach God using his intellect alone. Yes, we were given commands, but just a few. We were supposed to then use those commands, and our intellects, as a stepping-stone to explore with our minds much further, and arrive at a correct lifestyle, embodied by Abraham. Abraham was an anomaly, but the right type of anomaly. He alone displayed man’s potential, as Adam in the garden prior to sin. Abraham’s primary lesson to mankind is that God equipped every human soul with the ability to reach God, with no need for instructions at all…and even if immersed in idolatry as Abraham.
God created man and woman with the ability to use mind alone – without 613 Commands – to live exactly as God intended. This is why just a few commands were necessary. But as time passed, man regressed into an instinctual lifestyle, where his infantile insecurities forced him to resort to idolatry and other deviations from a life of intellect. Eventually, God gave us a law of 613 Commands, many addressing the false beliefs and practices of the Canaanites, the Egyptians, and many other idolatrous peoples. But it appears that this is not the ultimate state for man. Ramban taught that based on the verse above in Deuteronomy, God will eventually step in and make some change in human nature, where we will revert to the state of Adam before the sin. God’s plan is that man lives as originally intended, and God will insure this to occur in the future.
However, throughout time, we have witnessed rare men and women who have not followed the masses, but engaged their intellects and rose above all others. Einstein, Newton, Freud, Esther, Abraham, Aristotle, Plato and others displayed the great level man has in potential. And since these thinkers reached such levels of thought and breakthroughs – before God made His change as Jeremiah discusses – we learn that just as Adam “independently” caused his downfall, other men and women “independent” of God’s future change, can live as God intended for Adam in the garden. Man caused his own downfall, so it appears that man still possesses the potential to reverse his attachment to instinctual drives, reengage the mind, and find far greater satisfaction in life, as these shining examples teach. In other words, we have not lost the capacity to use our minds alone, and arrive at happiness. It is merely the follow-the-leader attitude that jails most cultures into repeating their ancestors’ errors. God will make a change in the future, but perhaps this is because most men are too weak to do so alone, and not because we have lost the capacity.
This, Rabbi Mann explains, is why belief in the Messiah forms part of the 13 Principles. It is because man is the one creation still imperfect. And when God perfects us in the future, all of creation will now reflect God’s perfection. And as God’s perfection is embodied in that perfect state of mankind in the Messianic era, this is a perfection of God, and rightfully part of the 13 Principles.
The Talmudic method of deriving the Noachide laws also points to that original perfection intended by God for man. For if man could derive the laws he is to follow, and need not read them explicitly, this exposes man’s great intellectual abilities possessed by the original Noachides. Since God originally desired mankind to follow his fully capable intellect, mere hints to few laws were all that was required. Had God spelled out those laws, it would imply that man could not engage his mind, but he could. So all that was needed were implications.
Why is Abraham God’s acquisition? It is precisely this reason: he demonstrated the potential in man to use his mind alone to discover his Creator, and unearth great truths by merely pondering the universe. This was man’s original potential, but man sunk to the instinctual. Yet, even during our darker periods, the potential was not completely lost, as seen in one like Abraham. He, like all the other four acquisitions, remained with his purpose. The Torah, heavens and earth, Israel, and the Temple never lost their true goal…nor did Abraham.
God will eventually insure that mankind lives exactly as intended. Mankind will come full circle. But we don’t have to wait. Just as Abraham demonstrated long after Adam’s sin, that a human being – every human on some level – possesses the original capacity to discover God independent of a detailed and explicit system of 613 commands, we too can realize and live by God’s true intent for man, and we can start the process. Or, we can continue living based on what the other nations and the media pull over our eyes.
We can truly discover the amazing realizations witnessed by Abraham…today. But sadly, most of us are convinced that what matters most is fame, fortune, and emotional gratification. Our Torah study is a token shiur, where we can’t wait to return to the world of business. That’s where we get excited: at the next deal. That’s what overtakes our conversations: dollars, not ideas. We succumb to the media, we are impressed by masses, and we don’t think for ourselves. But this is not the true objective, as clearly stated in Deuteronomy. Pirkei Avos also teaches that we are to make our work the lesser part of the day, and Torah is to be the primary focus.
If we admit God is wiser than we are, then we must cast off the desire to impress our neighbors with luxurious cars and affairs, suits, dresses, and homes, and make a change in our lives. We must be as independent as Abraham, and do what God tells us is best, not what society says…even Jewish society. If God is your guide, you have many lessons to follow. Judaism is learned by studying God’s word, not religious Jews’ actions. But if you wish to placate man, you will remain without the ultimate good.
You have one life. Take some serious time and realize how to make the most, based on God’s lessons. Be independent.