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   by Jacob Solomon

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‘G-d commanded us to perform all these statutes… for our own good… and it will be [tzedaka] a merit for us if we are careful to perform all the commandment(s) before L-rd our G-d as He commanded us’ (6:24-5).

This passage emphasizes ‘all the commandments(s)’ – meaning the entire body of Torah Law in the Ten Commandments, which breaks down into the 613 Mitzvot. The above passage seems to imply that the whole body of Torah observance only has merit if observed in utmost fullness.

This would seem to contradict the text containing several Mitzvot for whose observance the Torah promises Divine reward - without reference to all the Mitzvot. For example, the Torah tells us to honor parents ‘so that your life may be lengthened and so that it will be good with you’ (5:16). It does not say that one has to keep all the other Mitzvot as well in order to merit this Divine reward.

As an attempt to resolve this difficulty, look the very different way that Ibn Ezra understands the Hebrew word tzedaka in the above passage:

It appears to me that this is its meaning: namely that all nations will see that we are righteous [tzedaka] in our observing His commandments and statutes, that they [the laws] are indeed right.

In other words, the performance of the Mitzvot will be a source of righteousness in the sense that the nations who observe our conduct will regard us as good people. In a similar spirit, Moses told the Israelites earlier on:

‘You shall safeguard and perform them (the Mitzvot) for it is thorough them that the nations perceive your wisdom and understanding… and they shall say, “This great nation can only be a wise and discerning people”… (Indeed) which is this great nation which has righteous decrees and ordinances, such as this entire Torah which I place before you today?’ (4:6,8)

Thus combining the above two sources, Moses gave the Israelites a very strong message in relating with other cultures and peoples – which is, in short, “keep the Torah in full and they will respect and look up to you as a learned and moral society”.

For the Torah way of life only ‘breathes the true vibes’ to other nations where the Jews sincerely attempt to observe all the Mitzvot in harmony. A person – and for that matter a community - may be friendly, helpful, charitable, and of the highest integrity, but however virtuous those qualities are, they are not, by themselves, the Torah. Another person or group observes the laws of Shabbat, Kashrut, and sexual modesty to the last detail in the Shulchan Aruch, but (contains members) who shun and show open contempt for those who are not within their specific religious or political circle – violating the mitzvah of loving one’s neighbor as oneself (Lev. 19:18). Furthermore, there are certain Mitzvot that from the outside may appear strange and even weird, but take on beauty of their own when observed in the framework of the whole Torah. Thus the nature of the numerous prohibitions of Shabbat may, by themselves, look primitive and superstitious. But they take on new meaning to the intelligent outsider on witnessing a true observance of Shabbat and sampling its deep spiritual qualities. These include the unique atmosphere at Kabbalat Shabbat, the Kiddush and the festive Seudot, focussing on the family, guests, Zemirot, and Divrei Torah – things that collectively would make a strong positive impression on any right-thinking non-Jew. Thus, Torah observance only radiates far and wide the Torah experience in all its infinite beauty when accepted to the last detail.

Indeed, during the earlier part of King Solomon’s reign when the Israelites observed the Torah impeccably, they were respected far and wide. This is exemplified by the story of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. After she had conversed with King Solomon and come into contact with his deep Divine-given wisdom, she exclaimed:

Happy are your men! Happy are your servants! (Happy are) those who regularly stand before you, listening to your wisdom. May the L-rd your G-d be blessed in his desiring you, putting you on the throne of Israel… making you a king to perform judgement and righteousness (Kings I 10:9-10).

Conversely, calamities and later anti-Semitism struck when Torah observance on a communal level weakened. The Destruction of the First Temple was associated with bloodshed and adultery; that of the Second Temple, with widespread groundless hatred. Various scrolls written by the Jews during the Crusades testify to their attributing their lot to various wrong-doings. And the century leading up to Nazi Europe featured an unprecedented and accelerated level of assimilation. In most cases it was not a total negation of Torah values, but a widespread neglect of various aspects.

Two years ago, the following event brought out the importance of totality.

As primary schoolboy in the 1960s, I was interested in astronomy, and I clearly remember being thrilled in being allowed to stay up and watch a total eclipse of the moon. However I also found out that the far rarer, but much more spectacular total eclipse of the sun was not to take place in the UK until August 15th, 1999. I found myself looking forward to this event throughout the next decades. Despite having made Aliya, that particular date found me in Oxford, for unrelated reasons. I learned that the moon would only cover 96% of the sun’s face, and I would have to travel another 200 miles to Plymouth to witness the 100% cover. So I did not travel, but instead joined the hordes of local people who poured into the large country open space at the edge of the Oxford to see that much-anticipated event.

The skies were clear and the day was warm. With heavily darkened transparencies, I saw the sun transform to a mere sliver of a crescent. When I took them off, that crescent – only 4% of the surface – was still bright enough to be mistaken for the full sun. True, it became a little darker and much cooler, but such a change in the weather would hardly have been given a thought in the normal course of a day…

The lesson – 96% is not 100%. And the ‘product’ I had waited a third of a century to view was only visible at 100% cover…

Similarly, Torah observance. Pledging oneself to observe ‘96%’ is not true Torah observance. It has some effect – yes. It may have the effect of ‘lengthening one’s days’ on the individual. But it is not the total entity of Torah observance, which in sum, and only in sum, gives out the vibes which cause the nations to look up to the Torah nation as the leaders of Divine-instructed wisdom and morality.

This illustrates the verse: “You shall not add, nor take away from the word that I command you” (4:2). Removing even one Mitzvah from Torah observance changes the whole make-up of the Torah into something that fails to gives those Divine-created vibes to the nations…

The Chafetz Chaim was known to have said in answer to the question of, “Who is a Jew?” that, “the question should be ‘who deserves to be called a Jew?’ He that that sincerely accepts that he is required to observe all the Mitzvot even if he at the time can not find a way of doing so…”



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