(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
If one is consistent and true to Torah ideals, it seems obvious that it is forbidden to take the law into one’s hands. The judicial system of the Torah calls for a trial in capital cases where there is a potential death penalty, that the case be heard before 23 judges. Random stabbing of people attending a parade is clearly forbidden and should never be condoned.
There is an apparent contradiction in the Torah. In Exodus it’s written that the sins of the fathers are remembered for three and four generations. And in Deuteronomy it’s written that fathers should not be put to death for the sins of their sons, and sons shall not be put to death for the sins of their fathers.
Each man shall be punished for his own sin. The answer to this contradiction is that the verse in Exodus speaks of the Heavenly court where God makes His own calculations, while the verse in Deuteronomy speaks of courts here on earth where we are to judge based on what we see. We may not “play God” and certainly not take the law into our own hands.
Nevertheless, Rabbi Yakov Emden, a great Torah scholar from the eighteenth century, was once quoted as saying, “A greater miracle than the splitting of the Red Sea is that the Jewish people survived into the late eighteenth century.”
Jewish survival defies all logic as we managed to remain firm in our convictions and we held tightly to the God-given Torah as transmitted by our holy sages. Paradoxically, at a time when for the first time in our history Jews are no longer collectively oppressed, the grip to that Torah is loosening.
Maimonides, in his introduction to Perek Chelek, describes the incredible manner in which the Almighty gave the Torah to Moses.
Moshe Rabbeinu had reached the highest level of prophecy in human history. In this exalted state, the holiest and most perfect book ever written was given to the Jewish people.
It was supposed to be clear that the book written by God Himself was incapable of containing any imperfections. Being that it came from God, it contained the highest level of morality and justice and was written for the Jewish people of all ages. It would be considered blasphemous to even suggest that this work of perfection could ever become outdated.
Torah observant Jews throughout the ages were taught the concept of hachna’ah, or surrender, as a major theme of Judaism. Simply put, if we were to challenge the words of the Torah and Sages, we were expected to “surrender” – for who were we to argue with the Master of the Universe? The rabbis even go further to explain the idea that it is far greater to do that which was commanded than that which we were not commanded.
The example given, in the name of the Tanna Rav Elazar Ben- Azaria, is that one should not say, “My soul detests the flesh of the swine,” but rather, “I would love to eat the swine but the Master in Heaven forbids it.”
These convictions of faith where there was no doubt in the world that the Torah was absolute truth were what kept us vibrant as a people.
When one believes that he is on a level to argue with the Torah and Jewish Law, he is either ignorant or doesn’t really believe that this ongoing chain of faith is really Divine. Once a person convinces himself of such ideas as “things have changed,” or, God forbid, that the Torah we have is not the identical one that God gave Moses, they have turned Judaism into a manmade religion. If it’s man-made, you can disagree with everything and pick and choose the traditions and customs that you agree with.
This is the crux of the problem with the issue of gay marriages and homosexuality. If one were to apply the view previously presented, then I’d say that I would love to welcome the gay community to Judaism. After all, they are very fine people and they are just expressing feelings or tendencies they have had from their youth. Even if I agreed with this, there is something far greater than my views. The Torah is perfection.
The Torah is kindness, justice, love and morality far higher than anything human beings can come up with. God and the Torah must have the final word of right and wrong. If it doesn’t, I don’t believe Rav Yakov Emden would be able to make that same observation. Only the steadfastness to the holy and Divine kept us together as a people.
Whenever attempts were made to become more moral than God, they ultimately failed. Let’s not take God for granted. Our survival depends on it.
The author, founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles, is currently a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem.
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