How many areas of our lives are out of focus? To what values do we ascribe? Are they valid, true, and real? Is our vision blurred, oriented towards unchecked desires, which have their origin in external, unproven or invalid ideals? Do our passions blind us? And now that we have erred, by what means do we correct our aim? Fortunately we have the perfect guide in the form of our Torah, crafted with absolutely accurate precision and clarity, where each and every command targets some perfection in our thoughts, feelings, morals, speech or actions.
Soon we commence the month of Elul with the wake up blasts of the shofar. The High Holidays soon approach, when we come before God in judgment. We are fortunate as well to be alive at this time, not already dead with no chance to repent, where we may use this call to reflect, regret, and realign our values and actions with reality; with God’s Torah. But not only do the commands’ literal content educate us towards truth, the very style of the Torah’s written words uncover even more truths; enlightening and invigorating our souls with God’s method of concealment and revealing of these ideas. Two examples may be taken from this week’s Parshas Re-eh.
“Guard yourselves lest you stumble after them (alien nations) after they have been wiped out from before you, and lest you inquire of their gods saying, ‘How do these nations worship their gods, and I too will do the same’.” (Deuteronomy 12:30)
God designed our minds in a manner that we must focus on individual ideas, as we apprehend nothing when bombarded with sensory overload. Therefore He designed the Torah in a manner that our minds may identify individual concepts: Torah sections are demarcated by gaps in the lines of text, purposefully indicating the commencement and conclusion of individual themes. And although a section will contain many ideas, there exists in each section, one individual concept which determines and binds all subordinate ideas and lessons located therein. This is a tradition, a “Mesora” as we call it. However, determining that underlying singularity in each section is not always an easy task, but it is quite enjoyable and captivating. This very section warning against idolatrous tendencies concludes a few verses later with Moses’ warning “not to add or subtract from the Torah”. We wonder what the relationship is between these two ideas, between idolatry and altering the body of Torah content.
Man’s temptation to follow other nations and their gods is a strong drive, and obviously why Moses felt it crucial to admonish the Jews. As we said at the outset, man may follow something externally validated as real, or else, he can only follow his own machinations. There exists no third possibility, for man is equipped with only two faculties: his intellect and his emotions. He is always functioning in one of these two realms. By aligning his warning against idolatry with the obligation to adhere meticulously to the Torah with no deviation, Moses teaches how man’s natural and ever-surging fantasies may be curbed: exactitude is required if we are to remain living in line with truth. But once we act without instruction, we will end up following some erroneous, emotional feeling. Moses commanded the Jewish nation to be careful and not alter any part of the Torah. In this fashion, they will be protected from alien religious practices, since they are not allowed to deviate one iota. We see the connection.
But this is an example of not “decreasing” from the Torah, as idol worship equates to an abandonment of certain laws. Interestingly, Moses also warns against “adding” to the Torah. This is expressed in over religious activities. Both, idolatry and over religious zeal are equally prohibited. One might think being over religious is certainly admired by God, but God differs. One who does more than the Torah asks is equally following a destructive lifestyle, for he thinks he knows better than God. Truthfully, man must be humble enough to know that if he does not measure up to the angels, or even a Maimonides, he certainly cannot second-guess God’s laws and better suggest what “being religious” means. God knows exactly what man needs, as a doctor knows the quantity of medication to administer to his patients. No patient ever said, “The doctor told me to take 3 pills daily, but I will take 6.” No one plays with his life in this manner. So too, no one should play with his soul by adding to what God’s limited Torah advises. Remaining true to Torah law, never adding or subtracting is the only means to guard against any deviation. Unfortunately, all too many Jews today pick and choose what laws they will keep. They do further harm to themselves with their justification, “Oh come now, do YOU really keep everything?”
Moses warns against the problem, and offers a solution. In the process, we discover why something seemingly unrelated, is actually the perfect remedy. We understand why Moses connects Torah deviation with idolatry. A further tie between these two themes is what underlies the very reason people deviate: it is their internal desires. The internal, instinctual world is the mother of idolatrous tendencies. Thus, the warning against Torah addition and subtraction is directed squarely at the internal world of emotions, be it sensual or ideational, as is the case with idolatry. Adhering exactly to God’s words, we make it impossible to give expression to our internal desires. Eventually, and only with deep study and analysis of His laws, man will come to see the truth in Torah and the fallacy in all other practices. He will eventually feel no attraction to what his mind will then see as fallacy. He will grow in his desire to understand more absolute truths, and ponder further about God.
On this note, I reiterate the dire need that educators insure in their curriculum, regular classes which examine other religions, contrasting them to Judaism, and exposing the absolute fallacy in their doctrines, while teaching the perfection and reasoning of Torah commands. Teaching Maimonides’ 13 Principles should precede this. If this path is followed, students will no longer fall prey to missionaries and Jews for Jesus cults. Having clear proofs and answers; they will be dedicated to the perfection and unassailable truths of Judaism, and will easily refute proselytizers. To assist parents and educators, I once again direct you to issues 116 through 126 of the JewishTimes located here: http://www.mesora.org/jewishtimes These issues are free as are all others, so make good use of our efforts and research, exposing and educating the flaws of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and their doctrines as nonsensical and destructive. However, be wary of voiding the education of these false religions, which will certainly keep students in harm’s way, making them prime targets of missionaries. If you do not give students the answers, no one else will. (If you have gentile teachers and fear friction, I advise you preempt them about your plans, and even invite them to attend these discussion for their own good. But by all means, no not cower from this responsibility you all owe your children and students.)
“…For God is testing us to learn whether we love God with all our hearts and with all our souls.” (Deuteronomy 13:2)
Let’s take one more example form this week’s Parsha. Deuteronomy 13:2 warns us not to follow a prophet or dreamer who successfully predicts a wondrous sign, while directing us to follow idolatry. We are told not to listen to their words, “for God is testing us to learn whether we love God with all our hearts and with all our souls.”
Many problems arise: Why would God test us in this way? What does “test” mean? Does God truly need to “learn” anything? Why would our refusal to follow the prophet or dreamer prove our “love for God”? And why is this prophet any different than Moses, who also gave signs, that we should favor Moses?
The very next verse says as follows, “After God your God you shall go, He you shall fear, and His commands you shall guard, and in His voice you shall listen, an He shall you worship, and in Him shall you cleave.” (Deut. 13:4) Some verse! So many topics and actions, and a style of repetition not seen elsewhere. Most of all, we ask again, “What is the relationship between this verse and the warning not to follow the false prophet or dreamer?” How exactly is Deuteronomy 13:4 the ‘perfect’ response to the false prophet and dreamer?
We must know that God is not “testing” us in the manner you may first assume. This is a test, but one which ‘we’ initiate, as God would not set up such ‘ambushes’ on His people. He does not seek that we stumble. He is not vicious. What then is this “test”? It means that God arranged the world and human condition and Earthly experience from Genesis, and this is just another scenario which man will face in life: “Whom do I follow?” The test here is whether we use our minds or our emotions, not that God arranged this specific event. “Do we feel impressed with illusions, or remain firm in our intellectual convictions?” This is the test. But life has many tests. We could say similarly, that when we pass a non-Kosher restaurant wafting mouth-watering aromas, that God is again “testing” us. God doesn’t send messages to individuals to do these things: it is “human nature” at work. God certainly is not forcing a prophet or dreamer to say things he does not wish to: God did not send Jesus as a test to the Jews, as God never tampers with free will, not even with Pharaoh. That would violate His plan that each man and woman be the sole cause of his or her actions: “Reward and Punishment” is based on free will everywhere, with everyone, at all times. God also knows what we will do, but that is irrelevant, since we do not, this event is a trial. So the phrase “God is testing you” used here, means that God designed the world so that in many cases – mostly in following God – (not false prophets) we express our free will, and this expression and choice, is termed a “test”.
Now, how shall we refute the prophet or dreamer? We have the answer, but Moses reiterates it again, “His commands you shall guard, and in His voice you shall listen…” This refers to Sinai, from where we received these very commands, and from where we heard the voice created by God. Since we have established proof of God and His Torah from Revelation at Sinai, this is what we know is truth, and nothing else can prove otherwise. An event is as unchangeable as God. Sinai took place, and there is no changing that historic truth. Nothing can disprove God and His will, as expressed in His Torah. This is what is meant by our “love of God”, meaning, “our love of truth”. This is why Moses’ testimonies are superior to those of any false prophet or dreamer: Moses has proof on his side, derived from Sinai. Following proof demonstrates our attachment to reality, and all reality is identical with God’s will. Thus, using our reasoning to detect what reality is, and then adhering to what our minds know to be true, we are “loving God.” We are attached to the source of all reality.
Therefore we again see that Moses aligns one verse on the heels of another, as the latter verse offers the solution to the problems in the first verse. But we must use our minds to discover these truths. And when we do, we are amazed by Moses’ methods of subtle instruction, which propel our minds to uncover more than what can be conveyed with discreet words alone.
The repetitive style of this verse, I feel, may indicate the “overabundance of proof” for following God. Meaning, that which is overwhelmingly rooted in, and validated by reality, is the very method for which we determine what to follow. Judaism is all about truth, proof, reason, and living in line with these fundamentals. We care nothing about what only seems to be a wondrous sign, if the performer asks that we abandon what we know is truth. Let him make all the miracles he wants, but he cannot convince us that Sinai did not occur. He cannot convince us that the world has no Creator. Signs mean nothing: the message is that which concerns the seeker of truth. For this reason, Maimonides explained that the Jews did not believe in Moses, based on miracles. Therefore, we do not pit Moses against a false prophet, and measure their words based on the ‘more impressive’ miracle. As a matter of fact, if you can discern, you will see the signs of false prophets and dreamers are in fact, mere illusions, as Sforno teaches, “For there is no doubt that all his words are false and conjured from his heart…his miracles are sleight of hand…you shall know without a doubt that he dreamed nothing”. (Ibid)
What is the difference between these two sections and their remedial verses? It is clear that the first verse deals with “internal” prodding towards idolatry: we look at other nations’ gods and seek to assimilate. Moses recognized this emotional need, as did Shmuel, and criticized the Jews for desiring a king “as all the other nations”. This act of seeking to worship the gods of other nations is borne of the internal, idolatrous emotions, combined with social approval. The instincts are attracted to less abstract (physical) deities, and abandon the true God in place of phantoms. Therefore, the remedial verse addresses the command to never deviate from the Torah, and this will insure adherence to reality. We must keep a yoke on our internal fantasies. But the second case deals with prophets and dreamers who fantasize that God spoke with them. Here, the deviation from Torah ideals originates not internally, but external to the Jew. The source of error can be either internal, or external. This being the case, the remedial verse calls on us to recall those internal flaws or external events which will arbitrate between Moses and others, reminding us of the true reality: that which was witnessed by millions on Mount Sinai, and what our minds know as truth.
Both cases teach us to focus on what is real and true. Many people wish to live in a fantasy world and will do all they can to protect their disoriented and blurred view of reality. But since we all must answer to God – the Creator of reality – and since we live in the world that He created, it is wise that we abandon fantasy, focus intelligently on reality, and do all in our power to use our one life for the best, and that is defined by God.