Neo-Reform and Faith

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Bo 5773 – translated by R. Blumberg]


In every generation enemies rise up to eliminate elements that are part of the Torah, or to insert elements that are not there; to be lenient where the Torah was strict, or to be strict where it was lenient. Since the Torah is the supreme Divine Light that elevates the Jewish Nation and individual, countless attempts are made at counterfeiting the Torah. The various counterfeiters seek shelter behind our Sages’ words that “there are seventy faces to the Torah.” Truthfully, however, those counterfeiters constitute the seventy-first face. In other words, they are outside of the Torah. They argue: “There are arguments, and our position is legitimately within the Torah.” Yet that is not so. Their position represents the destruction of the Torah.

It is true that to the simple person, this seems like a simple halachic difference of opinions, but that is not the case, because everything depends on one’s approach.

Most people do not notice this, so there is an obligation to shout: Danger!

Yet those same precious people still will not understand why we are shouting. This seems like a rebuke that no one will heed, and we are advised not to give such rebuke. Yet that is not so. Our point is indeed something that people will listen to, because it fits their intellectual and moral ability. It just takes time, but it is ultimately to be heeded.

And what constitutes a counterfeit approach? Everyone agrees that the Torah is a living Torah. Yet what is a living Torah? Must the Torah be suited to life, or must life be suited to the Torah? We, the disciples of Moses, say: The Torah preceded life. It is the breath of life. It provides our lives with order. It is the light of our lives.

Put another way: Does the reality follow Halacha, or, G-d forbid, is the opposite the case, that Halacha follows reality, such that the Torah must be bent to agree with public opinion? Certainly the Torah must enlighten the entire Jewish People, and Shamai the Elder said, “Receive every person with a pleasant countenance (Avot 1). Yet that does not mean that, G-d forbid, we must change the Torah.

As Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook put it: We are allowed to pray with the sinners on Yom Kippur, but not to take their sinful views into account (Igrot HaRe’iya). Rav Kook provided a parable: “A physician must watch over a patient, curing him by means of his medical science.

He should pay no heed to the wishes of the patient who has ruined his health by way of his heinous life style. In just the same way, the gaze of our holy leadership must always be focused on the Torah, on the life of the Holy Temple. From there we can see very well how life has to be and, based on that, how it must be organized. If someone is further swayed by the corrupt reality of life in the outside world, it will ruin his outlook.” (Ein Aya, Shabbat 17, Chapter 1, letter 79).

The physician must act in accordance with the doctrines of medicine, and not, G-d forbid, in accordance with the wishes of the patient in order to increase his own stature.

Thus, “G-d forbid that life outside the House of Study, with its corruption, should influence the process of codifying Jewish law and providing Rabbinic guidance, a process that emerges specifically from the House of Study, a place of Torah.” (ibid.)

Certainly we must have a full acquaintance with life, so that it will be possible to cope with it, but we mustn’t be influenced by life. Therefore Rav Kook explains that this is why Moshe “ascended to Mount Sinai early in the morning” to receive the Torah, and “descended from Mount Sinai early in the morning” in order to give it to us (Shabbat 86a). It is because during the course of the day our lives are intoxicating, especially regarding our interaction with society. Yet we mustn’t allow the Torah to accept any impression from life and from our surroundings. There is no need for this mixing. Quite the contrary, it can only detract. Torah must be free of any external influence, and then it can be part of life (Ein Aya, Shabbat 86a, Chapter 9, Letter 16).

We are very happy that we have a Jewish State, but the Torah is not subject to that State. Rather, the Torah loves us, enlightens us and educates us.

The Torah is not a description of what exists, but rather of what has to be, as Maharal said (Netivot Olam, Netiv Ha-Torah, Chapter 14). If you wish to know what is happening in life, buy a newspaper, but if you wish to know what should happen in life, or what will happen, then learn Torah. The Torah “is not influenced by reality. Quite the contrary, it influences reality. Be cautious regarding everything you hear,” writes Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto in Mesillat Yesharim. “Examine it seven-fold, lest it was influenced by the evil impulse.” (end of Chapter 6)

“One must particularly be cautious regarding what one hears in the realm of modesty, because the evil impulse is very strong in that realm, tricking people into thinking that it is pure” (Chapter 11).

Rambam wrote that there is nothing in the entire Torah which is as difficult to withdraw from as this particular passion” (Hilchot Isurei Biah), namely, who we are forbidden to marry and what is forbidden without marriage.

This is Avraham’s war, from time immemorial, against paganism, which argues that man’s purpose on earth is the harmony of pleasures, within which the gods are integrated. We, by contrast, say that this world is a world of fulfilling duties, and pleasures are just a necessary aid so that we can feel good and we can do our work steadfastly.

Is the Torah the ideal of life with certain pleasures being essential, or are pleasures the ideal with Torah being essential, just in minute quantity, or less than that?

Do not say: Torah has to be rendered more friendly. Truthfully, nothing could be more friendly than the Torah. It was given to us by He “who chooses His people Israel with love,” He “who loves His Nation Israel”. We say in our prayers, “Hashem, our G-d, Your love for us is everlasting… You teach us law of life, to perform Your will whole heartedly” (from the blessings of the Shema).

The Torah is friendly. We just have to follow G-d’s pathways and fulfill “Love your fellow as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18).

The antidote to Neo-Reform is to increase faith in G-d, fear of G-d and love of G-d.  The entire Jewish People loves the light of G-d. “O give me the kisses of your mouth, for your love is more delightful than wine” (Shir Ha-Shirim of Songs 1:1). The Jewish People are ready and waiting for those kisses. They are waiting and longing to love G-d and attach themselves to Him. Wine is an intoxicating experience, but G-d’s love is better and sweeter. (see Zohar Chadash on Shir Ha-Shirim 63b, 64a).