Symposium. Fifth Paper
By Rev. Jack E. Saunders. 12/1/06
Since I finally received all the ongoing dialogue I have been reading and trying to digest all that has been said by the previous authors. One of the things that one finds immediately is that there a few disagreements about what genre of literature one should study. Next, the deep need expressed by all as to their need to connect (spiritly or emotionally) to the King of the Universe. Also, the tremendous need felt to be enabled, for those who have children and those who will, to pass along to their children these truths, ideas, and spiritual connection that they have become to hold so dearly. Then the issues of leadership, schools, siddurs, restrictions on study, holiday observances, etc. which pretty much round out the challenges set before us. But lastly, the real challenge as expressed by Jeremy is how do we overcome these immense hurdles?
But before I actually begin to try and address these many challenging issues I would like to try and set up my answers to these issues through the use of an ancient Midrash.
Midrash Rabbah - Lamentations II:13
“HER GATES ARE SUNK INTO THE GROUND (II, 9). R. Huna said in the name of R. Jose: The gates paid honour to the Ark of the Covenant, and for that reason the enemy had no power over them; that is what is written, Lift up your heads, O ye gates (Ps. XXIV, 7)1 On that account, HER GATES ARE SUNK INTO THE GROUND,2 HE HATH DESTROYED AND BROKEN HER BARS.
HER KING AND HER PRINCES ARE AMONG THE NATIONS, TORAH IS NO MORE. Should a person tell you there is wisdom among the nations, believe it; as it is written, Shall I not in that day, saith the Lord, destroy the wise men out of Edom, and discernment out of the mount of Esau? (Obad. 8). But if he tells you that there is Torah among the nations, do not believe it; because it is written, HER KING AND HER PRINCES ARE AMONG THE NATIONS [WHERE] TORAH IS NO MORE.
HER PROPHETS, i.e. the false prophets; YEA [HER PROPHETS] includes the true prophets. Both classes FIND NO VISION FROM THE LORD.”
First, we find it quite obvious that the Sage who spoke this did not deny that the non-Jews were in anyway impaired by his/her intellect. In fact just the opposite is stated quite clearly, “Should a person tell you there is wisdom among the nations, believe it.”
Secondly, however he clearly states that there is an inadequacy found among the peoples of the nations, “But if he tells you that there is Torah among the nations, do not believe it.”
Now, I believe that this Midrash is a hint to a much larger discussion found among the Sages in Balvi. Tractate Avodah Zarah 2a-3b , is concerning the offering and their acceptance of the Torah by the people of Israel. And it’s being offered to the other nations and their rejection of it.
Now I know by now you are asking, What has this to do with the ongoing discussion? So I will try and get to my point as quickly as possibly.
This Talmudic passage, although it has many points, clearly states that all the nations were offered the Torah but rejected it. There was only One Family of Noahides who arose to the occasion. This family of Noahides was to become know as the people of Israel.
We are also informed that G’d rises and releases all the other families of Noahides from observing the Sheva Mitzvot. I will not go into the idea of what it means “to be released”, but I will attach this section of Talmud for your own viewing.
Now, what can we learn from all of this?
Only one family from all the families of Noahides rises to accept and continue the practice of the Sheva Mitzvot along with additional Mitzvot (613). Only One Family of Noahides can trace their Mesora all the way back to Mt. Sinai and eventually to Adam. Only this family from out of all the others did not reject Torah and as a result they are the only family among all the other families of Noahides that can be said to have Torah Wisdom. Only this family of Noahides has preserved these laws that are incumbent on all families of Noahides and as such deserves our deepest respect and honor.
But most importantly, “What may we learn from this important family that springs from Adam, Seth, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moshe Rabbinu?” If we can begin to examine this G’dly line of descendants and see their struggles with “some” of the same issues that confront us and their solutions. Maybe, with their help we can resolve some of these gigantic challenges that face us. And just maybe, if we were to seek their aid and guidance, that through their kindness (hesed) they might be able to resolve the other problems that are and will continue to plague and confront us.
Maybe, the next issue that needs to be addressed is, “Is this an exclusive family?”
In Bresheit after the flood we are told that Noah blessed his sons, or at least two of them Shem, and Yapeth. Let’s focus on these blessings and maybe from them we can discover that this family of Noahides that eventually would become Israel is much broader and encompassing them we might be lead to believe.
“And he said, ‘Blessed is Hashem (Y-H-V-H), the G’d of Shem, and let Canaan be a slave to them.’”
“May G’d (Elokim) extend Yapeth, but he will dwell in the tents of Shem, may Canaan be a slave to them .”
Also in Bresheit when Hashem extends His blessing to Avraham,
“Hashem (Y-H-V-H) said to Avram, “Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your fathers house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation; I will bless you, and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who cruses you I will curse; and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you .”
Then in I Kings when Solomon was dedicating the Temple,
“Also a gentile who is not of Your people Israel, but will come from a distant land, for Your Name’s sake; for they will hear of Your great Name and Your strong hand and Your outstretched arm; and will come and pray toward this Temple; may You hear from Heaven, the foundation of Your abode, and act according to all that the gentile calls out to You, so that all peoples of the world may know Your Name, to fear You as does Your people Israel, and to know that Your Name is proclaimed upon this Temple that I have buil t.”
“And may these words of mine that I have supplicated before Hashem be near Hashem, our G’d, day and night, that He may grant the just due of His servant and the just due of His people Israel, each day’s need in its day; so that all the peoples of the earth shall know that Hashem is G’d – there is no othe r.”
Then in the words of the prophets,
“And the foreigners who join themselves to Hashem to serve Him and to love the Name of Hashem to become servants unto Him, all who guards the Sabbath against desecration, and grasps My covenant tightly – I will bring to My holy mountain, and I will gladden them on My house of prayer,… ”
It would seem that from the vast amount, this is but a few, of information found in the Tenach that this family of Noahides that became Israel is a very large Tent. And the desire of this one family is that all families would come to love and fear this Elokim they have come to know as Hashem (Y-H-V-H).
Yapeth shall dwell in the tents of Shem, all families will become blessed by Avram, Solomon’s prayer is that all peoples will recognize that the Elokim of Israel is Hashem, and when any of the other families come and pray toward the Temple of Hashem that He would hear and answer so that eventually all shall know that Hashem is Elokim.
Then in the Siddur we are informed,
In Maariv, the daily prayer, we are told that at the splitting of the Sea of Reeds and caused the enemies of Israel to sink into the depths that they perceived His power and they lauded and gave praise to His name and His Kingship they willingly accepted upon themselves. Then their prayer turns toward all of humanity. That all of humanity will reject all false gods and accept upon themselves His Kingship just as they had done previously .
The most interesting aspect of all this information is that there is not an expectation from this family, Israel, that all the rest of the families should become part of their family in order to have a connection to Hashem. In fact it seems just the opposite is true.
But it is just as obvious that the rest of the families of the earth should incorporate the same ideas of Hashem as the people of Israel have come to know. So the issue is, “How can we reach these deep truths of Hashem without looking through the vast amounts and various genera of literature that has been produced by the people of Israel?” “Are we to be limited in our studies?” And if we are, “How will that affect our understanding of Hashem?”
First installment - more will follow. As you can see, this is but an introduction.
Thanks, Jeremy, for getting the ball rolling.
For the "second installment" from Rev. Jack E. Saunders, Man of Law, Man of Spirit, click here.