"Despite what Torah critics say, it is impossible to fulfill all the commandments, without it causing a person to exhibit proper character traits. The idea, that someone can fulfill all of the mitswoth (commandments), and still be an unrefined human being is preposterous (in my assessment).

As can be proved, every commandment was designed with some reason/benefit, that inculcates some moral, truth or social conduct (Moreh Nevukhim) - to the doer of commandments.

However, to inquire further than this (as to precise reasons behind each commandment) is dangerous folly - which ultimately leads to heresy. While noone can deny the source of derekh hatovah/emtzait (mentioned in Hilchoth De'oth), which are the character traits we learn from the path of Avraham (pre-Torah), can it be said that simply following the Torah (by itself) imparts nothing to the human condition - in terms of character???

To say that kindness (for example) is not commanded and demonstrated in Torah is just another (clever) way to minimize one's adherence to the Torah. It is just another attempt to ritualize the Torah into a cold, meaningless ritual. This is no different than what some of the Notzrim attempted to do in medieval times (and even today), in order to sway us from the Torah.

I say that if one is correctly fulfilling his obligations, it is impossible that he will not learn and exhibit proper character traits "middoth" (even in spite of his intentions).

 In fact, one who fulfills the commandments, without it having affected his soul, in terms of middoth improvement (over time), is surely not fulfilling them correctly at all! Upon closer scrutiny, he must surely be doing the commandments in an incorrect or inaccurate fashion - and must take a very close look at the way he (or she) is attempting to perform them. Someone who properly / correctly observes the law, can not circumvent the positive effects of this law. In addition, this doesn't speak to all the instances where Mishnah blatantly teaches proper behavior, by showing or underlying what the avoth did WRONG (and not just correctly)...So again, the Torah (Oral and Written) is filled with both positive and negative lessons on middoth - if you know what to look for.

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Why did HaShem give the Torah?

Over this previous holiday (of Simhat Torah 2008), a group of people (at our esnoga) sat down, and immediately began a deep, philosophical discussion of spirituality. Like most discussions (for the sake of heaven) go, a healthy (but controlled) passion could be found on all sides of the discussion. At first, it started with one person. But soon, the group grew to about five people (from many different philosophical schools). The discussion lasted about two hours.

From my view of the entire “roundtable” (as it eventually resembled), a few things were spoken - that simply could not go unchallenged.

At the onset, this was sure to be a rousing topic. In fact, this was the first exchange I had ever had with this crowd (as a group). Who knew what to expect? At first glance, an outsider might have mistakenly pegged our group dynamic as follows: a legalist (for lack of a better self-term) surrounded by a group of “spiritually and philosophically hungry” people. But that would have been an inaccurate & limited portrait of them - and myself. I also appreciate philosophy.

To warm it all up, a “nice" quote from RambaN was pre-interjected. Apparently, RambaN said that fully observant Jews (who followed the entire Torah) were STILL flawed (in terms of proper character), because the commandments of the Torah do not impart proper character traits. According to this assertion, that is not the purpose of the commandments...

Afterall (it was asserted), none of the commandments require man to exhibit proper middoth! Kindness, it was stated, is something we do not learn from the commandments. Rather, we learn it from outside the commandments (they asserted).

That controversial statement (all by itself) was enough to get me charged. Okay, the debate was on! Heaven forbid I would (or could) deny the incredible lessons to be learned from our Patriarch's (non-legal) behaviors. Books are written about that. However, could I just sit still - and leave their (commandment based) assertion unchecked?

Alas, the Torah of the L-rd is perfect, perfecting the soul. Certainly, I had to make the point - that our commandments never did (and never will) need any “dressing” to make it more spiritual. With all due respect to my colleagues and the RambaN, the entire notion sounded like the Notsrim (a thousand separations). Perhaps they got RambaN wrong? And so we began our discussion.

One of the first questions dealt with the reason(s) why HaShem gave the Torah. For some reason, this question seemed to be a qualifying, test-case question for the entire group (who had apparently met before). As the neophyte in this crowd, the question was posed to me. The question was as follows:

Why did G-D give the Torah?

To give a little background, the immediate consensus (not all) of this group was the following: G-D gave the Torah to enable individuals to form better individual relationships with Himself. In fact (it was said), RaMb"M (Maimonides) himself had spoken of such things in the beginning volumes of his Mishneh Torah. However, as an avid student of RaMb"M (especially the chapters in question), something didn’t add up. I didn't ever recall seeing this (anywhere) in the works of Maimonides. Maybe RaMb"N, but never RaMb"M.

Thus, I was duty-bound to argue this point, on the basis that it did not exist inside of the Mishneh Torah. Unfortunately, at that point, all eyes turned to me for an answer to the question (Why did G-D give the Torah?).

For some reason, I felt immobilized. I knew the exact reason given by Maimonides in Moreh Nevukhim (a Guide for the Perplexed). And yet, I initially refused to answer the question. And then when I did (after much prodding), I did not give RaMb"M’s real answer. In my defense, I did mention (before anything else) that there were a multitude of reasons behind every commandment (even mentioning social conduct). So I did mention one of Maimonides's real answers. However, something troubled me about the entire line of inquiry.

Why was this the most important issue to this group? Why should it be their focus? Why was everything resting on this answer?

In the end, I answered that a son should listen to his Abba, when so instructed (as the answer). Of course, I meant that he should listen (only) when his father instructs him correctly – as the law requires a son’s refusal for any advice that goes against Torah (heaven forbid). In the end, my answer didn’t go over well. In truth, it was no answer at all! I knew I shouldn’t have answered that question like that!

And yet, why didn’t I just give RaMb"M’s simple answer in the first place? Certainly, that would have neutralized the “personal relationship” business they were pushing (in their answer); a concept that dominates the philosophical systems of other non-Jewish religions.

Ultimately, the answer of RaMb"M would come from a fellow friend Ariel (no last names), who nailed it (95% bulls-eye). However, I will quote Maimonides directly:

“Far be this! (that HaShem would command us to do what is of no use to us, and forbid us to do what is harmless): On the contrary, the sole object of the law is to benefit us. Thus we explained the scriptural passage: ‘For our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day’ (Deut. Vi. 24). Again, ‘which shall hear all those statutes (hukkim), and say, surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ (ibid. iv.6). He thus says that even every one of these “statutes” convinces all nations of the wisdom and understanding it includes. But if no reason could be found for these statutes, if they produced no advantage and removed no evil, why then should he who believes in them and follows them be wise, reasonable, and do excellent - as to raise the admiration of all the nations? But the truth is undoubtedly as we have said, that every one of the 613 precepts serves to inculcate some truth, to remove some erroneous opinion, to establish proper relations in society, to diminish evil, to train in good manners or to warn against bad habits. All this depends on three things; opinions, morals, and social conduct. We do not count words, because precepts, whether positive of negative, if they relate to speech, belong to those precepts which regulate our social conduct, or to those which spread truth, or to those which teach morals. Thus these three principles suffice for assigning a reason for every one of the Divine commandments.”

And again, in a variation to this answer, the RaMb"M says as follows (in Peirush HaMishnayoth):

On the statement of Rabbi Chananya ben Akashya: "The Holy One, Blessed be He, wished to confer merit upon Israel; therefore He gave them Torah and Mitzvot in abundance,"

RaMb"M wrote as follows:

"When a person does one of the 613 mitzvot properly, without the admixture of any worldly goal or contamination whatsoever, then he merits to the life of the world-to-come. Since there are many mitzvot, it is impossible that in his lifetime a person will not do one the way it is supposed to be done and completely; and when he does that mitzwah, then he lives because of the deed." 

Proper knowledge of what is permitted and forbidden and similar issues related to the commandments provides basic mental tranquility to individuals and promotes social tranquility on earth - so that we may inherit the world to come...Paraphrased from Maimonides

Again, the common thread here seems to be a benefit. In this case, one receives the benefit of meriting the world to come.

Technically, we could split hairs over whether RaMb"M considered these to be “ultimate purposes” or just benefits. Or perhaps it is only a benefit for obedience. Either way, he clearly uses the words purpose and "sole object" in the first quote above. So we will stick with that.

Turning back to the group discussion: so what was the problem? Why was I so bothered by their answer - that HaShem’s purpose was to enable people to have (customized) individual relationships with their Creator (on their own levels)? Surely, this answer had merit too. During the conversation, proof was suggested in the form of the Takanoth (decrees formulated by the Hakhamim in Sanhedrin times), which were created for this very purpose. However, upon further examination, I was able to obtain an admission – that not all of the takanoth were created for that purpose.

So what’s the real problem with their answer? I guess this is where this essay dives into the crux of the matter. In today’s times, so many are thirsting for a meaningful way to connect to HaShem. In today’s new-age order of mass communication and exchange, all religions (or mixed components of) are free to compete on the open (real time) exchange of debate and ideas. Far be it from me - to be worried about Torath Moshe, and its ability to compete. However, I fear that something terrible is happening in this exchange- that remains largely unnoticed to many in our own flock. As I have argued in the past, this extremely free (unchallenged) exchange of inter and intra-faith dialogue or influence has had a profound effect (dilution) on the Judaism we see being practiced by the common man (in the streets). By common man, I mean the common man/woman who sees himself/herself as a religious Jew. Enabled and empowered (as we now are), the accuracy of our dogmatic purity has certainly been weakened. Perhaps “polluted” would be a more accurate, if not disturbing term.

No longer is the perfection and wisdom of Torah something to be studied for it's own merit and sake. Nope. We are too busy reconciling it with other systems to listen to what is actually written. This has been going on for so long, that it has actually affected the accuracy of our transmission. To quote a teacher of mine, "This is the mass media concept. Everything is salable and only depends on time-based preparations. Good and bad are just momentary vogue. It works perfectly - because almost all share this feeling of the god-to-be developed. The question is, where to find the heaven to reign in. This is the individualism naked down to the bone. The community is, in fact, the sharing of this individualism."

Please allow me to explain. There is no doubt that the religious picture (understanding of law and philosophy) has gone through a profound change over the past 500 years. To put it simply, our faith really isn't what it used to be. In my view, this change was strongly started during the 1600s, with the rise of the Zoharist and Laurianic schools of thought. Based on the presumption of revelation, these new, self-proclaimed qabalistic schools retrogressively  claimed authority from the past. In many cases, they totally and undeniably redefined the very core (and protected) monotheistic concept of G-D, as never before. From a legal standpoint, the implications of this open-heart-surgery were (and still are) staggering. In terms of our strong and ongoing warning against idol worship, this speaks to very heart of what makes us Jewish - in terms of being monotheistic.

During the conversation, the notion of a “soul” came up. This is another case in point. According to one person, the soul represented pieces of G-D (inside of us). I waited (in vain) for others to pick up on this clear violation of ribbuy rishuyot (a multiplicity of reigning powers). Everyone knows that HaShem is not corporeal, and therefore will not take up space. This is yesod ha Torah in RaMb"M - mentioned throughout Talmud. HaShem has no need to be limited - in any type of dividable or corporeal way. According to his own definition, G-D is not (will not be) limited or divisible (halilah). If He would be, He would cease to be G-D. Unfortunately, no one really did appreciate the seriousness of the problem, even after I pointed it out.

It was also proposed (by the same Jew) that G-D took up human form in the past, whenever he so chose (lhvdl). The fact that this type of “inner-core-breach” passed through a discussion of "observant" people, totally unchallenged (except by one) disturbed me to no end. Something is wrong in OZ.

In the end, I argued that (even) philosophy must pass through the halakhic, legal filter of accurately preserved Judaism. Otherwise, we risk dividing the very unity of G-D himself (heaven forbid), who is totally indivisible - abrogating the very covenant we propose to explore and fulfill (halilah). The implications are staggering. The entire underlying vocabulary used by observant Jews today, including the concept of the nature of “soul” and G-D's monotheistic nature, has apparently been relegated to the modern world of new ideas and world religions. And there I was, doing my best to describe the ongoing, changing nature of our religion, in terms of its documented and historically demonstratable metamorphosis – in order to explain what was happening.

We have a duty to preserve and follow it, as originally given. No one since the last valid Sanhedrin (and court of r. Ashe and r. Ravina) has the authority to change anything – and certainly not a core concept that deals with idol worship.

Conclusion:

Once we "over-focus" on why (with self-created reasoning), we are more likely to circumvent (ignore) the true reasoning/purpose behind the commandments. Thus, we risk giving ourselves permission to accomplish the same purpose – in different ways (without the "now unnecessary" mitzvoth).

However, this type of dilution can't happen, in a world where every command does have a true purpose (benefit). The only all encompassing reason that G-D gave the entire Torah – would be “to benefit man”.  Man can not replicate these benefits or reasons for himself, other than following HaShem’s formula. These are all symptoms of a larger problem, which relates to a blatant lack of accuracy in the preservation of our faith.

In terms of why some insist on the "why" question, my teacher writes as follows: "HaShem's creation (man) was made limited in the sense of knowledge. We were not given the power to know what others think - in depth, desire, dreams, conjurings, plans and so forth. I think that, that's why we ask this question." Perhaps we are just naturally curious. But we all remember what curiosity did to the cat (halilah).

In the end, only the Mishneh Torah (ie: the “Hibbur”), recorded by the hand of that pure and holy Rabbi and Doctor Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides) zt"l, documents and outlines the entire (whole), authoritative legal system (legislation) of the Sanhedrin (and court of r. Ashe and r. Ravina). This encompasses ALL of Torah. Today, it is still the only comprehensive legal code to fully describe the entire breadth and width of the Torah (written and oral) as a whole. Only the Mishneh Torah considers both the land of Israel and the exiled lands, Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi, Temple and post-Temple times, and Jews and Gentiles. At the same time, it was specifically made simple enough for everyone. All of this was achieved without incorporating or blurring new or incorrect customs with the law. RaMb”M always, clearly identified new practices (he may have encountered), in terms of when (and by whom) they were introduced. The RMb"M’s Mishneh Torah was written to put the entire breadth of law into the hands of laymen, women, and children (and even Torah scholars). In addition, it did this without any type of mystical influence. If you do not grasp the Torah whole, then how did you grasp it at all? Everything is interrelated.

My original point is this. How can any one say that the commandments do not teach (command) middoth or kindness? Over here in the local esnoga, they are saying someone could follow all the commandments, and still be an idiot (in middoth). This is supposed to come from RambaN.

To this, I must say…  this is preposterous!

Are they merely purposeless commandment/ rituals, without any other moral lessons?

If RambaN did say this, it surely hurts Jewish observance (especially in today's times).

Surely, middoth like kindness are commanded in a number of places (like treating guests or taking care of the sick)! More of this is addressed in Hilchoth De'oth.

Why in the world would anyone make such a technical argument, that paints the Mitzvoth into such a limited, ritualistic religion? RaMb"M is clear… every single commandment teaches some moral or social conduct - even if we don't know what it is!

IN CLOSING: If someone claims to follow the commandments, but still hurts someone (through bad morals)… he must not have been following the commandments properly! Heaven forbid we should imply the commandments were incomplete, in terms of their ability to impart middoth.

Can we not also learn from the extra-legal behavior of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs (on what to do and what not to do)? Who would dare say otherwise? But this is a far cry from minimizing the Torah.

RaMbáM is very clear in Dalalat alHa'irín that although 4 out the 14 treatises of Jewish Law deal with relations between Man and Man, and the rest with God, he comes back and says the following about the latter: "in reality they lead to the results which concern also his fellow-men". (Part III, Chp. 25, 17th paragraph)

Proper knowledge of what is permitted and forbidden and similar issues related to the commandments provides basic mental tranquility to individuals and promotes social tranquility on earth - so that we may inherit the world to come...Paraphrased from Maimonides