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Torah Attitude: Beha'aloscha: Unchanged Judaism


The Torah comes to praise Aaron that he did exactly as instructed and did not change anything. The Dubno Maggid uses the parable of three sick people to explain the praise for Aaron. The secret of the success of the unbroken transmission from Mount Sinai until today is a result of the Jewish people having accepted their spiritual leaders who have guided them and shown them the way. In order to guarantee the continuity and unity of the Jewish people, the great sages had to come to one decisive conclusion and listen to the leader of the generation. The descendants of Eisav hate the descendants of Jacob, irrelevant whether Jacob observes the laws of the Torah or not. Obviously, there is no continuity for Judaism by offering a religion based on mysticism void of practical observance. It is our obligation to continue the way of Aaron, to investigate and study to the best of our ability but never to make a change in the observance of the mitzvoth.

Praise Aaron

In the beginning of this week's Torah portion, G'd instructs Moses regarding the kindling of the Menorah. The Torah concludes and says: (Bamidbar 8:3) "And Aaron did so as G'd had commanded Moses." Rashi comments in the name of Sifri that the Torah here comes to praise Aaron that he did exactly as instructed and did not change anything.

Three sick people

The famous Dubno Maggid wonders what kind of praise is this for Aaron? Even a simple person would not dare to change something commanded by G'd, so why is Aaron to be praised? To answer this he offers a parable of three sick people who suffered the same serious illness. All three went to a well-known specialist, who instructed them which medications to take and how to conduct themselves. The first patient was a simple person, he followed the doctor's instructions without any questions and he was soon healed. The second patient was somewhat knowledgeable in medicine and after receiving the doctor's instructions, he pursued some research of his own. He decided that the prescribed medicine was good and consumed it. However, he did not see the purpose of the other instructions of the doctor and did not follow them. Unfortunately, his sickness took a turn for the worse and he eventually passed away. The third patient also had some knowledge of medicine and was curious to investigate the various prescriptions and instructions he received from the doctor. However, he recognized the superiority of the specialist and followed the doctor's instructions even though he did not fully understand why the doctor prescribed that particular medicine. As could be expected, it did not take long for this third patient to enjoy a full recovery.

Three followers of Torah

Says the Dubno Maggid, when it comes to following the commandments (mitzvoth) of the Torah we also find three categories of people. There are many simple, straightforward people who do as the Torah instructs. Without delving too deep into the reasons behind the mitzvoth, they readily observe every mitzvah. Others who are more intelligent and have a more inquisitive mind want to understand the rationale behind each and every mitzvah. They decide to observe only what they understand and due to their limited knowledge they develop major flaws in their observance. With the passing of time, their observance diminishes into a traditional brand of Judaism. Lacking the bulwark against assimilation, very often they disintegrate with their families into the gentile society. The third group are intelligent people who are eager to study the laws of the Torah and to understand the rationale behind them, but they realize that they are not capable of comprehending everything. Therefore, they undertake to observe every mitzvah even if it is beyond their comprehension.

Guaranteeing the future

This third group is the group that guarantees the future and continuity of the Jewish people. The first group, who does not question and investigate, may be able on a personal level to observe the mitzvoth. However, when their children come and ask them about their observance, they will have very little to offer and chances are that the next generation will lose their interest in keeping mitzvoth that they do not understand. The second group who make their observance dependent on their own understanding is a disaster for themselves and their children, as each individual will develop his own brand of Judaism according to his understanding. Only the third group who on one hand are ready to observe the mitzvoth and at the same time try to understand the rationale behind them to the best of their ability, they are able to develop and pass on a "live" Judaism that satisfies the inquisitive mind and gives pleasure in the observance of the mitzvoth. They follow in the footsteps of our ancestors who at the revelation at Mount Sinai exclaimed (Shemos 24:7) "We will do and we will listen." The commentaries explain that the deeper meaning of this seemingly illogical statement is "We will first of all do as we are instructed; subsequently we will listen to the explanations and the rationale behind the mitzvoth in order to understand to the best of our ability." In this way the observance will never be dependent on anyone's personal understanding.

Unbroken transmissions

It is interesting to note that the Torah praises Aaron not just for doing as G'd had commanded, but rather: "As G'd had commanded Moses." Aaron accepted the authority of his younger brother who was the leader of the generation. This is the secret of the success of the unbroken transmission from Mount Sinai until today. The Jewish people throughout the generations have always accepted their spiritual leaders who guided them and showed them the way. The Kabbalists explain that in every generation the Torah leader of the Jewish people has some of the spirit of Moses within him that enables him to lead and guide the nation (see commentary of Vilna Gaon Mishlei 30:4).

Rabbi Gamliel and Rabbi Yoshua

The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 24b) relates how there was a dispute amongst the sages when to establish the new month of Tishrei. Rabban Gamliel, who was the head of the highest Rabbinical Court at that time, sent a message to his colleague, Rabbi Yoshua, who had a different opinion, stating: "I decree on you that you should come to me with your staff and your money bundle on the day that is Yom Kippur according to your calculation." This distressed Rabbi Yoshua but Rabbi Akiva explained to him that they had to accept the authority of Rabban Gamliel since he was the leader of their generation, and in Heaven they would reckon with the day that he decided was Yom Kippur. Rabbi Dossa added to this that the decision of the court was to be considered as if made in the court of Moses himself. On the day of Yom Kippur, according to the calculation of Rabbi Yoshua, he picked up his staff and money bundle and travelled to Yavneh where Rabban Gamliel resided. When Rabban Gamliel saw him he stood up in respect and kissed him on his forehead and said to Rabbi Yoshua: "Come in peace my master and disciple, my master in wisdom and my disciple as you have accepted my ruling. " These great sages understood that in order to guarantee the continuity and unity of the Jewish people, even if they had differences of opinion, they had to come to one decisive conclusion and listen to the leader of the generation.

Eisav hates Jacob

Throughout the generations many people have missed this important lesson and tried to institute reforms and changes into Judaism. Today we know how they all failed. After a number of generations, the descendants of these reformers have either assimilated or returned to observant Judaism and become Ba'alei Teshuva. Some reformers thought that if they would change their lifestyle and blend in with the gentile population around them, they would be accepted as equals by their non-Jewish neighbours. They honestly believed that the basis of the hatred and animosity resulted from the Jewish people having their own value system and observing the laws of the Torah. However, our sages taught and established as a fact that the descendants of Eisav hate the descendants of Jacob (see Rashi Bereishis 33:4), irrelevant whether Jacob observes the laws of the Torah or not. On the contrary, in many instances the rise of secularism amongst the Jewish people caused fear and concern to their gentile surroundings. As long as the Jewish citizens kept to themselves, the non-Jewish host country felt at ease. But as the universities, media and commerce filled up with Jewish intellectuals, totally out of proportion, the local population often felt threatened that the Jews were going to take control. At the end of the day, the Hamans and the Hilters of the world did not differentiate between observant and non-observant Jews. No Jew was spared during the Holocaust because of his secular lifestyle. Similarly, the modern day State of Israel, despite its secular leadership and effort to be like the other nations, still very much stands out as the Jew amongst the nations of the world.

Practical Judaism

Similarly, those who wanted to make reforms and leniencies to make it easier for the younger generation to stay within the fold did not succeed. They created a watered-down Judaism void of spirituality and depth, achieving just the opposite of their intentions. In recent years the Kabbalah movement gained a lot of popularity by offering a religion based on mysticism without practical observance. Obviously, there is no continuity for this type of Judaism either. It is like taking the soul out of the body. The foundation of Judaism has and will always be the practical observance of every mitzvah. For example, when the Torah commands us not to "cook the kid in its mother's milk", this is not a lofty ideal based on spiritual compassion, but it is the foundation of all dietary laws prohibiting the mixing of milk and meat dishes.

Torah blueprint

The Zohar explains that the Torah is the blueprint for the creation of the world. As long as this world exists it is based on the laws and commandments of the Torah, and even with the changing of times, the basic blueprint does not change. On the contrary, any change throughout the times was originally included in the blueprint. That is why there is no modern day question that cannot be resolved based on the words of the Torah.

Not make slightest change

This was the praise of Aaron. Although he had a deep understanding of the mitzvoth (instructions of G'd) and had an inquisitive mind to further explore into the depths and rationale of the mitzvoth, he never made the slightest change to the instructions of G'd. It is our obligation to continue in the way of Aaron, to investigate and study to the best of our ability but never to make any change in the observance of the mitzvoth. Only in this way can we secure and guarantee the continuity and future of the Jewish people.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel