Being Religious vs. Following God 

Moshe Ben-Chaim

As we continue in the book of Leviticus discussing sacrifice, last week's Haftoras Tzav (Jeremiah 7:21–8:3) records God's rejection of the Jews' sacrifices. God says He never asked for sacrifices from the time the Jews "left Egypt". He repeats this, so something about Egypt is vital to understanding the Haftora. Instead, God says, "All I commanded you is that you listen to My voice and I will be a God to you, and you will be to Me a nation, and you will walk in the entire path that I commanded you, in order that good befall you. But you did not listen and you did not incline your ear, but you went in your own counsels, and in the freedom of your evil you went backwards and not forwards." (ibid 7:23,24) Further (7:31) God rebukes the Jews for having sacrificed their children in fire to idolatry, performing acts "that I did not command, nor that entered My heart". Other than the obvious "sacrifice" parallel, what is the deeper connection between God's rebuke of their Temple sacrifices, and human sacrifice?

In our Torah, God clearly requests sacrifice. How then can the prophet say God never requested sacrifice from the time of Egypt"? The answer is that God means He never desired the "act" of sacrifice per se. As He said, "All I commanded you is that you listen to My voice..." The mention of Egypt is to hint to the source of man's corrupt sacrifices. (The Jews corrupt sacrifices contained a germ learned in Egypt.)

The first message is that just as was the case with those ancient Jews, our rote performances of mitzvah, token studying, and rushed-through prayers are meaningless to God. 

In verse 26 God says that generation sunk to deeper levels of sin than those previous. It is evident that their empty religious practices cloaked their inner corruption, that made them sink so low. They duped themselves as truly righteous, since they performed the "acts" commanded by the Torah. But these actions were empty of God's true desire, that the Jews comprehend God, and His wisdom encased in the Torah's commands. They did not arrive at a subjugation to God, but they "went in their own counsels, and in the freedom of their evil heart".

That ancient generation felt securely "religious", as they witnessed themselves "doing mitzvahs". They thought "doing a mitzvah" was what God wanted...but God says the opposite. Those Jews possessed no true subjugation to the goal of mitzvahs. This being so, their emotions went unchecked. 

To which emotion did they cater? Clearly, they succumbed to the "religious" emotion. They felt "sacrifice" was an ends in itself. Here is where they began to go backwards...

How Emotions Work

When a human is not guided by reason, intellectual reflection, humble self-analysis and critique...all that directs his or her actions are emotions. It can be greed, ego, or any other. Those ancient Jews succumbed to the emotion of "sacrifice". And as is the case with all emotions, one seeks unrelenting satisfaction...emotions know no limitation, so it forces a person to the extreme in every case. Overeaters will gain hundreds of pounds. Anorexics will starve themselves. Drug attics will kill themselves. And those immersed in the need to sacrifice, will seek better ways to show their 'loyal devotion' to their god. (I spell it with a lower case "g", since their god is false.) The true God stated that He does NOT desire sacrifice per se...exactly what these Jews offered.

"I am Not Loyal Enough Yet"

So as the loyal sacrificing Jew slipped backwards, deeper into that emotion to sacrifice, he realized he wasn't "loyal enough" yet...unless he showed the highest degree of loyalty: sacrificing his child. This is what God depicts in this section of Jeremiah. Through the prophet, God teaches us where the emotion must lead us, since they have no limit. And in the emotion of loyalty, one will eventually be forced to kill himself or others to show his loyalty.

The only limit that can be placed on an emotion comes from our intellect. For we have only two faculties. But if one is not intelligent in his religious practice, he too will go to extremes, as we see with Mother Teresa and Christianity itself, requiring one to be selfless. "Turn the other cheek" so an enemy can slap you again, says Christianity. "Drink any poison and Jesus can save you". Doing so, one actually feels deep satisfaction in their selflessness, being a true devotee to Jesus. Many people find satisfaction in martyrdom of this kind. 

Today's Jews who deem their Rabbi as flawless are expressing this same emotion. They wish to be loyal to their Rebbe, so they don't think for themselves, and follow him blindly. But this was not the way of the true Torah scholars and righteous members of our people. Aaron disputed Moses on occasion, and Moses conceded. Aaron was correct to reject what his mind told him, and Moses was correct to accept error. Chullin 124a cites a case where one said he would not follow even Joshua, if he disagreed. These sentiments are true Torah values, as God does not wish we cave to emotions of any kind, including emotions to "serve", or emotions of loyalty. King Solomon taught in chapter three of Ecclesiastes that everything has its time...which means at times, any attitude is improper, such as love, war, mourning and dancing. Not one is the correct attitude 100% of the time.

Following the religious emotion, those Jews ended up killing their children. This seems far from what we could do, or even imagine. But if humans back then could commit such tragedies, we can today. We are no different. We share the identical, psychological design. A wise Rabbi once mentioned that it was the self-denial of one's own viciousness that caused the previous generation to deny Hitler could be doing what they heard. Had they admitted Hitler could be capable of genocide, they would have to accept that any person could...including themsleves. That self-image was not something they could tolerate. And that denial delayed action...causing the murder of millions.

So we must be honest. We must be clear on exactly what God deemed the best life, and not deviate at all. We must not be impressed by the masses, assuming if  "so many people do X, it must be right". For with that thinking, we should be Muslim, since greater numbers follow Islam. We must reflect and be sensitive to where we are following the religious Jewish crowd, instead of God.  God said these Jews erred since they did not follow Him, but rather, their fell prey to their free hearts. What is "following God"? It means exactly that: we do not follow any notion we sense in ourselves, but ALL our decisions and actions are based solely on His words. If we truly follow God, we will not offer sacrifice or prayer just so we might feel more religious. Our actions will not be the objective, but the goal will be an understanding and performance of all other laws. 

God said we are to "walk in the entire path that I commanded you, in order that good befall you".  So the litmus test of whether we follow God, is if we deem an act as insuring some good. This means, the acts that God desires must make sense to our minds as insuring some good. Deuteronomy 4:8 says that the other nations will be impressed with the Torah's wisdom. 

As I write, I received an email from a religious Jewish group selling coins, with the promise that such coins will create some form of success. writes that purchasing these coins is "A great talisman [amulet] for success and redemption". This website denies the Torah fundamental of "Reward and Punishment". It means that if I am currently poor, and not deserving of God's graces, buying this coin will override God's will. And if I am righteous, but don't buy this coin, I will have less success.  However, God taught otherwise, and did not make amulets mandatory. All that is needed is that we follow God, and He alone can provide. If we reject Him, no coin can help. In either case, these coins are useless, and deny God's words. One must be absent minded to fall for such a hoax.

Yet, this is all in the name of "religious Judaism". You see how far man can go, that today's Jews accept amulets, instead of God's word. Nowhere in all of Torah do we find Moses, the patriarchs or matriarchs practicing or condoning amulets of any sort whatsoever. Yet, Jews today buy into this coin charade. This is because Jews are not truly studying God's word, so their emotions get the better of them. Tzav's Haftora is right on the money.

Sadly, world Jewry is not ready for Moshiach who will be teaching Torah, not heathen superstitions [1]. The responsibility falls on the shoulders of today's educators and Rabbis to break their silence on this unpopular issue. 

You chose Torah leadership. Teach it.

[1] Tosefta Sabbath, chap. 7.