School for Biblical, Judaic & Spiritual Studies
Knowing Noah's “Commandments”
by Ariel Bar Tzadok
Copyright © 2015 by Ariel Bar Tzadok. All rights reserved.
The Noahide Covenant: so misunderstood! Come, walk with me through these words, and let us learn together along the path. We start, where else? At the beginning...
There is an old saying, “the sign of a big fool is that he speaks with little knowledge.” It is terribly unfortunate that one who has learned something can come to believe that he/she knows everything. This arrogant attitude is the ultimate contradiction of everything that the Torah path teaches, and represents.
The wonderful thing about Torah learning is
that over the thousands of years of recorded Torah literature, we have an
enormous body of ideas, beliefs, and opinions. Some are expressions of accepted
Rabbinic authority, and some are not. What defines the scholar is that he/she
studies all these ideas, beliefs, and opinions, can speak speak about them
intelligently, and academically, without any kind of polemic agenda.
A scholar does not embrace doctrine, or dogma,
and then demand that others capitulate to the “orthodox” catechism. Yet, all too
often we find representatives of religion who claim to be either scholar or
scholarly, and then demand intellectual conformity as the price for being
religiously acceptable. This is the path of the ignorant, the fool, the
religious fanatic, extremist, and fundamentalist. It is true, a little
knowledge, can cause a lot of damage, when the arrogant mind is not put in its
place by the humble heart.
A proper understanding of religion cannot contradict the known realities of existence. What is real, and can be proven as such, only helps reveal to us more about the world in which we live. Religion originated to answer the questions about life that observation, and learning could not answer. That which we can understand through observation came to be called physics. That which was beyond human observation was then called metaphysics.
In ancient times, religion created stories which became legends. These legends talked about the many gods, their deeds, and their struggles. The ancient legends about the ancient gods makes them sound very much like human beings. This is because it was human beings who were telling the stories, and it was human beings who were meant to believe them.
In ancient times, the ancient stories spoke within the realities of what was then thought to be the truth of existence. Yet, as the centuries have past, and human knowledge has grown, we put aside the stories of humanities youth, and instead embrace newer, more modern stories that better represent our present levels of understanding and experience. Religion evolves and grows in equal proportion to our growth of observations. Essentially, as physics increases, metaphysics decreases.
As religion becomes exposed to new truths and
new realities, it experiences a crises of change. The religion either has to
progress and mature, thus embracing new-found truths and realities, or the
religion retards, and falls back, rejecting new-found truths, and the greater
revelations of reality that they represent. When religion chooses this latter,
dark path, it does so at the cost of creating new myths and stories, similar to
those told in ancient times. Religion is then transformed from being a path
heading towards truth, and into a fortress of delusional isolation.
In the pursuit of knowledge, more is always better. Only a naysayer who fears the discovery of new truths will deny this. In fact, the naysayer will not only deny this, he/she will take active efforts to combat it. The naysayer will seek to ostracize, and isolate anyone who pursues knowledge not deemed “orthodox,” and considered acceptable to the religious ruling body, or accepted current attitude.
It is in this arena of intentional ignorance,
and self-imposed blindness that we find the greatest perpetrators of
intellectual dishonesty. In their small, and limited knowledge, they honesty
believe that they know all that they need to know. Anyone saying or teaching
anything outside their “orthodox” catechism, is therefore branded, marked, and
cast out. And all that one has to do to suffer this fate is to simply expose
oneself to knowledge, and information that is politically incorrect. And this is
how the beast of the religious fundamentalist/extremist grows, and devours its
prey of opposing voices that offers truths not to its own liking.
Torah is a path that contains many paths.
Judaism is a religion that speaks with many voices. While it is true, that “to
each his/her own,” this does not mean that as each individual embraces one's own
path, that one then has the right to deny the legitimacy of the paths of others.
Torah and Judaism are based on behaviors, not doctrines and dogma. What one believes plays “second-fiddle” to what one does, and how one acts. The commandments of the Torah have a purpose, they are a means to an end. The purpose of the commandments is to make us act out rituals and behaviors that teach the universal truths of respect for humanity, respect for all other life, and respect for our planet in general.
To sum up the Torah, it is all about respect for life, and respect for one another. This is a universal message. It transcends any form of the Jewish religion, and speaks to all humanity, and not just practitioners of Judaism. This is the universal Torah. The universal Torah are “commandments” for all humanity. Respect for God, respect for life, respect for the planet, respect for all humanity, this about sums it up, the rest are just the details, and specifics.
When Judaism teaches that Torah pre-dated the world, it is these concepts to which it refers. These concepts were taught “in the beginning,” to Adam, to Enoch, and to Noah. This is how our story developed. But the moral of the story, the universal message, has been proven over and over again to be a reality of both physics and metaphysics. Respect for all is the first step down the long road to discovery. Discovery comes from both the world within us, and from the world around us. The wise know this, and therefore, shut no door that can lead to learning further truths about this great world of ours.
The Sages of old knew all this, and taught this lesson to us. We are wise today because we have listened to their ancient advice. Learning is the key that unlocks the doors to discovery. On the other hand, ignorance is a prison that locks up the mind, and retards human development.
Long ago, our Sages said that, “learning is everything,” (Talmud Torah K'neged Kulo). In order to become a real Mr. Know-Something, one must first realize that he/she is not a Mr. Know-It-All. Only God has all the answers. Our job is to keep asking the questions. Our responsibility is to accept the answers that we find, and absorb them in our never-ending quest of discovery.
The truths of Torah become self-evident to the one who sees them clearly, and rationally in the intellectual eye. The Talmud says that God's Name is Truth. Maimonides states, as the first law in his Mishneh Torah Law Code, that one is obligated to know God. Faith in God is not enough. One must know God. If indeed God is Truth, then we understand Maimonides as saying that the first commandment of the Torah is to know Truth.
The formula is simple God = Truth, and thus according to the reflexive property of equality, Truth = God. One cannot deny the one, without essentially denying the other.
The pursuit of truth is never-ending. It requires an open mind, and an open heart. These too are part of the message of universal Torah. This was the ancient message passed down long ago centuries before Moses and Sinai.
According to our legends, these teachings were taught to Noah as his family repopulated the world after the flood. In Rabbinic literature, these teachings were called by his name. They became known as the commandments of Noah. In Rabbinic fashion, the Sages summarized the teachings, and “codified” them into seven basic principles, and called them the Seven Commandments of the Children of Noah (Sheva Mitzvot d'Benei Noah).
The religion of Judaism is the domain of those who practice it. The Way of Universal Torah is for all humanity. And if one looks closely into almost all the religions of the world, that which we call “Universal Torah” is indeed at the heart of them all. Knowledge and learning will bring this to the forefront. One should pursue the Face of God by discovering the truths that God has placed for us to find throughout His creation.
“Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together” (Psalm 133:1). We are all children of God, children of the Earth, and the children of Noah. It is time for us to recognize our brotherhood, and to experience the good therein.
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