Mitvot in Noahide Law
Rabbi Yoel Schwartz (Jerusalem Court for Bnei Noah)
“We will fulfill and we will hear” (Shabbat 88a).
Here we will try to explain the importance of spiritual fulfillment and its effect on the personality of the person. We will also see why it is not enough to feel this spiritual fulfillment in the heart, but that it must be accompanied by concrete actions. All this has been explained in the Torah and was understood as something quite simple by many intellectuals of the world like Soren Kirkgegard (In “A Jew, Who Is He, What Is He?” page 22) who said, “A belief that does not bring in its wake a fulfillment and a change, is a false one. The greatest believer, who carries out his belief with great enthusiasm, but shows no sign of a complete change in his life, proves, that his belief is simply part of his own imagination only. The influence and recognition of a belief in a human being depends on the way he carries out his day-to-day life and manages to control and suppress his desires, stops doing evil and the actions he takes to carry this out.”
The Greek philosophers, who did not believe in a practical religion, but believed that human perfection comes from recognizing and studying the truth, believed just the same, that a person must carry out and fulfill deeds that will teach him spiritual perfection: In his Kuzari, Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi thus wrote (Article A, Part A), “Question the truth on the things that you want to know, in order that your brain will act and not be acted upon. Talk to the point and in truthful ways. This will help you seek and recognize the truth. Then you will demand less, be more humble and accumulate good character traits.”
The Philosophers did not recognize G-d or the need to act accordingly to His commandments. This is why they believed that human beings can act in any way suitable that will bring them to fulfillment of their goals. Just the same, these intellectuals understood that it was not enough for a person to acquire education and knowledge but that he also needed to carry out and act in order that his internal thinking could turn into a reality. Which is exactly what the Torah tells us to do, and we will bring several examples here.
A) The Precepts (Mitzvot) connected to prayers: These precepts connected to prayers are done through the heart as it is stated in Ta’anit 2, “and to labor for him with all your heart - what is the service of the heart - it is prayer.” Anyway it is not enough to pray from the heart. If a person has some thoughts that stem from his heart but does not utter them out with his lips, then he has not fulfilled the commandment as it is stated in Berachot 20, “Thoughts are not the same as an utterance.”
B) Repentance: The precepts connected to repentance are also connected to the heart: Nevertheless, “A person repenting must confess with his lips and say the things he has decided to do through his heart” (Rambam, Repentance, Chapter 2).
C) Ownership: When ownership is transferred, the most important part in this transaction is that the heart of the original owner agrees with the action. But all of this is not legal until some sort of action of transference is performed, such as that a deed or legal paper is signed or changes hands or the transfer of ownership done according to the Jewish religion (Halacha). (This includes an action that is accepted as a valid transference of ownership by the society where the transaction is taking place.)
D) Marriage: It is not enough for both sides to agree to marry and to live like a family, but a legal action must also be carried out for this agreement to be formal.
From all these examples we have learned that it is not enough for the heart to tell you to do something. There is a need for some sort of act to carry out the will of the heart. For this reason the spiritual fulfillment of a person is not reached unless it is carried out by action. The belief and the desire to be close to G-d and the actions connected with it must be according to the precepts (Mitzvot) that G-d set forth in the Torah.
There is, sometimes, an opposite process when outside actions (not connected or controlled by the person) influence the internal thinking of a person as it is explained in Sefer Ha’Chinuch #16, explaining why the Torah has so many practical precepts: “Know that a person is governed by his actions. His heart and all his thoughts are influenced by the actions that he is involved in be they good or bad. Even a wicked man whose thoughts are concentrated on doing evil all day, if he should start studying Torah and Mitzvot, even if he is not doing it for G-d’s sake, he will start acting in a more positive manner. This is because the heart goes after the deeds. The same holds true, concerning a righteous man, who lives according to the Torah and Mitzvot, but makes a living from dubious transactions, or if for example he is forced by the King or ruler to deal in such dubious matters, he will eventually be transformed from a righteous man to an evil one.”
In Mesilat Yesharim (Chapter 7), it is written, “Alacrity is brought about by the internal enthusiasm of a person. But even if a person lacks this internal enthusiasm, he should carry out and do things in an accelerated pace, this will bring about an internal enthusiasm. Since external actions brings about internal ones.”
The Rambam, in his commentary to Avot, wrote, “If a person wants to give a certain sum to charity, it is worth while to divide this charity into several portions and give it away at different intervals and not at one time. By doing so, it has a greater effect on a person, than if he would give the sum to charity all at one time. This, despite the fact that to do so, he must invest more time and effort.”
The actions of a person should be done in order to fulfill and carry out the commandments of the Creator, since these are the things that elevate a person. As the Maharal from Prague wrote in Tiferet Yisrael (Chapter 4), “The commandments of the Torah can be likened to a rope by which a person is drawn out of a hole or a well. The person is drawn from the lowest levels to the higher levels of the world. The more he does, the more he removes materialism from himself, which then enables him to sit next to the Lord of Hosts.”
The meaning of the word Mitzvot in Hebrew comes from the root Unite and Bind. Which means that each mitzvah unites and binds the person to the Creator of the world (see Tanya). In Tanna d’bei Eliyahu (Chapter 9), it is written, “I testify before heaven and earth, Israel and the nations, man and woman between a servant and handmaiden, the Holy Spirit rests upon a person according to his actions.”
The fulfillment of the commandments in the Torah, builds the character of a person and raises him to a level of perfection, as it is written in Deuteronomy 4:14, “And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and ordinances, that la’asot’chem – you might do them...” [The Hebrew la’asot’chem also means “you shall make (i.e. build) yourselves.”]
This word la’asotchem teaches us here that the statutes and ordinances, the mitzvot, build the person and it does not merely mean that a person must carry them out. This is why it is written in this special way. A person must be trained on the way he should build his life, starting from early childhood. Anyone reading books dealing with child- care can find many examples there. But even as a grownup, a person must take a grip on himself, if he wants to “discover himself” and find a real meaning to his life. The Noahide laws are logical. Many intelligent people will even agree that there is a need for them, but this is not enough. We must remember that we must carry out these ordinances and statutes because we have been ordered to do so by the Creator. They were given to Adam and Noah, then again given on Mount Sinai. Part of the Torah was given on Mount Sinai to the Israelites as a Holy Nation of Priests (Exodus 19:2). The remaining part is intended for entire human race. The Rambam wrote in Melachim-Kings (8:11),
Every person that agrees to carry out the seven Mitzvot of the children of Noah, and does this in a careful manner, is a righteous gentile, and has part in the world to come, meaning that he carries this out because G-d has ordered him to do so in the Torah, through Moses. But if these seven mitzvot are carried out just because he feels a necessity to do so, then he is not a Ger Toshav (Gentile resident in Israel), nor a righteous gentile or one of its sages.
The Mitzvot have been handed down to us in the form of an order, but just the same we are called to accept them gladly. A person must accept the Mitzvot with love. Despite the hardships in fulfilling them, he must carry them out. This also has an educational value.