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4 Sivan 5766 - May 31, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Derocheho Darchei Noam — The Ways of Torah are Pleasant

by Rabbi Mordecai Plaut

The pleasantness of the Torah is what we would like to display for all to see, since that would undoubtedly be the most effective aspect to draw in the lost souls, and also to impress the rest of the world.

Yet this is often problematic: there are aspects of the Torah which are not perceived as pleasant by outsiders in today's world. For example, the Torah has capital punishment, which in principle is considered by some to be unpleasant, and it is meted out for actions that are considered trivial (carrying on Shabbos) or even heroic (living a hedonistic life in deviant ways) in modern times.

On the other hand, it is clear that the Torah does not advocate wholesale execution of those who transgress its mitzvos when there are masses of people who do so. Whenever transgressors became too numerous, Chazal suspended the Torah sanctions: when murderers became numerous they suspended Egloh Arufoh. When adulterers became numerous they suspended the waters of Sotoh (Sotoh 47a). In fact, when murder became too common the rabbinical judges stopped judging murderers altogether (Avodoh Zorah 8b).

The Torah is not intended to correct the imbalances and perversions of a world run wild. Rather, it is a comprehensive system that provides a blueprint for all aspects of life from the ground up: the individual, the collective, and all of humanity. It cannot be interposed or imposed upon a reluctant community. It must define the basic parameters as well as the particular laws.

HaRav Hirsch (Collected Writings, vol. I, p. 183 and seq.) writes, "The Torah is One and Unique like G-d its Creator. It has nothing in common with other laws, teachings, systems and institutions. It is so unique that it can be compared only to itself, it is something sui generis; as soon as you describe it by names and terms taken from other spheres you falsify the essence of Torah and bar the way to its real understanding."

This warning is well-taken even for many who grew up in a modern Torah community. Many are exposed — to a greater or lesser extent — to so many aspects of the secular and non- Jewish life that there is a natural tendency to make comparisons. These are wrong and misleading. In order to really receive the Torah, we must make ourselves empty like a desert. "If one makes himself like a desert then Torah is given to him as a gift, as it says, `Umimidbar matonoh' (Bamidbar 21; Eruvin 54a)" and also, "The words of Torah will persist only in someone who completely negates himself" (Sotoh 21b).

One must leave himself completely open to receive the wisdom of G-d as expressed in the Torah, otherwise he will certainly miss important parts. Since the Torah is so unique, nothing outside of it can reliably help to understand it.

As HaRav Hirsch continues, "What the Torah wants to regulate is not only the thoughts and sentiments of man, but the whole of human existence — man's sensual impulses, his needs and desires, his individual life as well as that of his family, society and state. The Torah is the unique message of G-d addressed to Man in his totality" (page 186).

We cannot measure Torah against the standards of men that are based in their animal lusts or else are the products of their individual dreams and experiences. The pleasantness of the Torah is a perfection that can be visible to all, but perhaps only after the Torah and the life that it produces are experienced on their own terms.

A true talmid chochom displays the darchei noam of the Torah in everything that he does and even in the way he just is, constantly.

The large communities that are composed of Torah families in Eretz Yisroel and in chutz la'aretz also radiate the noam of the Torah. Although it may not be possible to demonstrate it to a skeptic, anyone who sees it from the inside can satisfy himself that the problems that are present — and problems are still present — are the result of outside influences, the sad fruits of the fact that the larger society is not fully run according to the system of the Torah.

HaRav Hirsch (p. 206): "The Torah is the Divine seed of all human happiness that is to come, the indispensable condition of independence and progress in this world which man seeks in vain through other means. . . . in G-d's good time, the great Jubilee of the Torah will come, . . . then the fetters of our spiritual slavery will be broken, the allurements of non- Jewish life will have lost their attraction, even the remotest and most estranged of our brethren will then hear the ancient call of G-d . . . and they will turn and return to the sacred heritage of our fathers, and the eternal, holy vocation of our people."

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