When Moses went up the mountain to receive the Commandments written in stone by G-d the Israelites impatiently waited below. Based on their miscalculation of time Moses seemed to delay in returning and the people panicked. Before Moses came down from Mt. Sinai G-d told him that the Jewish people have created an idol a golden calf. But Moses wasn't alarmed; he was determined to bring the Jewish people the commandments, nonetheless.
But, as he descended the mountain and saw the Jewish people dancing and singing around the golden calf, he suddenly threw the Tablets down and broke them. Why? Why did he lose his determination? The answer is that G-d told him about the golden calf, but G-d did not tell him that the people were dancing and singing. Moses may have imagined the people sitting beside the golden calf, crying, because they had lost hope in their leader returning.
Surely, they would rejoice as soon as they saw him! Instead, they were happy with a golden calf. Its one thing to make a mistake in a moment of despair, it's another thing to be happy about it. Incredulously, Moses recognized that if the people could be happy with a golden calf, they could not have comprehended the great gift that he was about to bring them from G-d.
The Talmud further explains that as Moses came down the mountain, his incredulity and horror rising at the scene fore him, the letters flew off the tablets. When that happened, the tablets became so heavy that Moses couldn't hold them any longer. When the tablets lost their meaning they became lifeless rock.
So it is with the Torah (Bible). When it ceases to be the Book of Life then it becomes dead weight just a heavy burden.
When the meaning and the taste of Torah are lost, then there is no love for it and no joy in living it. When a person whom you love asks you for a favor, it is easy to do it, it's a pleasure. But when you don't like the person, the favor can be the hardest thing in the world because there are no good feelings surrounding it.
I think that most people don't have good feelings about living a life of commandments. They don't understand the meaning of it. They don't know the taste of it and, worse, they likely have a bad taste about it. The Talmud says that when people accept the commandments with joy and happiness, these feelings are guaranteed to be long lasting. But when people accept commandments with anger or feelings of coercion, though they may observe them for a while, eventually they reject them and everything breaks down.
YOU GET BACK WHAT YOU PUT IN
Imagine somebody suggests to you that you should tell your spouse "I love you" three times a day. Sounds like a great idea. You wake up in the morning and start rushing off to work. "Oh, my gosh!" You hurry back and say, "Honey, I love you. See you later."
You're having a busy day, lots of big deals in the make, and it's now two o'clock oh, no! You call up your wife and say, "Hey, sweetheart, it's me. I love you. I'll call you later."
You get home exhausted, fall asleep on the couch and oh, no it's two o'clock in the morning! You panic, run to the bedroom: "Oh, honey, honey, wake up!"
"What is it?" she asks with alarm.
"I love you, goodnight."
So what would happen if that kind of behavior went on and on? Would it keep you ever mindful of your loved ones presence and significance in your life? Or would it become a burdensome obligation? Is it a good idea to tell your spouse "I love you" three times a day, or is it a bad idea?
The answer to that question is up to you. The intentions that you put into it are what you'd get out of it. If a person says "I love you" with no meaning, no feeling and no understanding, then those words will get in the way of the relationship. But it is a truly great idea to tell your spouse regularly that you love him or her. You just have to put a little something into it a little consciousness and understanding.
The same thing goes for a living the commandments. The Torah gives us ways of connecting to G-d and each other, spiritual strategies for living a more complete, meaningful and enlightened life, but we have to have put a little soul into it. I can have a powerful lamp, but if I don't know how to plug it in, it's not going to turn on.
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The Kabbalah offers a great parable for this concept. The Kabbalah describes the commandments as garments. By itself a garment cannot keep you warm; it can only keep the heat inside your body from escaping. Imagine you have the flu. You can have several blankets draped over you and you can still be shaking. The blanket only reflects your own body heat, gives you back what you put out. If you are cold inside, then nothing you put on the outside is going to help you.
In this way, the Kabbalah is teaching us that the commandments such as celebrating Sabbath, keeping kosher, or doing acts of kindness can only give back to us what we put into them. The commandments are like garments. They were meant to be put on and not to be a put off.
EGO TRIP OR SPIRITUAL JOURNEY
But I also have to warn you that the commandments can be a form of slavery if they are not practiced with the right intentions. The Talmud says a person can follow all the commandments to the letter and still be ugly. Stronger yet, the Talmud warns that although the Torah is an elixir of life, it can also become deadly poison.
If a person performs the commandments to please another human being whom he fears or whom he wants to please, then this is another form of idol worship. Depending on our attitude, a Torah life of commandments can be an incredible journey of the soul or just another ego trip.
You see for some people performing the commandments to the letter is a goal unto itself regardless of any real desire to bond with G-d. We must be cautious not to make the commandments into idols as if having independent value outside the context of a relationship with G-d.
The Oral tradition says that when the elders of Israel saw that Moses was about to threw down the tablets and break them, they tried to grab the Torah from him and stop him. However Moses succeeded in keeping a firm hold and broke the Tablets. The Talmud surprisingly says that G-d even congratulated him for doing this. The explanation for this is that Moses was the master educator he realized that the people were really not ready for the Torah had they really internalized the understanding of what they were waiting to receive they would have never made a golden calf and certainly would not have rejoiced over it. Moses saw that they would simply make the Torah into another idol. They had lost the critical prerequisite understanding for receiving the Torah the desire to bond with G-d. Without that intention even the mitzvot would become a form of idolatry as an ends in and of themselves rather than the means to bonding with G-d.
Some people come to the Torah life of commandments for the wrong reasons. They are looking for social approval or they are looking for escape. Some even see it as a way to gain power and control over others.
As they look for communal acceptance, they imitate the external trappings of the religious lifestyle dress a certain way, behave a certain way, use certain common idioms.
I knew a fellow, let's call him Mike, who became a very devoutly religious Jew. He put on the clothes that the Hassidim wear, the long black coat, the black hat. I am not saying that to do so is not good, but in Mike's case it was clearly bad as this story will soon show.
So he enrolled in a yeshiva, a religious school, where he was studying the Talmud all day long. Then one evening as he was walking home, he saw a reflection of a man in a store window. The man had a long beard and wore a black coat and black hat. At first he couldn't recognize who it was, but suddenly he realized the man was him. And when he did, he said "Hey, this ain't me."
And he went home and threw all his clothes away and with them he threw away his religious commitment. You see he wasn't seeking to bond with G-d; he was merely on some sort of an ego trip. His Hassidic garb was just a costume. His journey was not a soul journey. And therefore, his observance of the commandments led him nowhere; it was not a path to harmony, integration and bonding with G-d.
When Torah is lived with the right intentions, it truly empowers you. It helps you grow. It helps you become the best you can be. It helps your real "self" shine through. And this is holiness. This is true freedom the freedom to be who you are, created in the image of G-d at one with G-d.
For more on this topic please see "Endless Light: The Ancient Path of Kabbalah to Love, Spiritual Growth & Personal Power"
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