Walk this way

posted in: BasicPhilosophy | 0

Leviticus 26:3, “If you will walk in My decrees and guard My commandments and you do them…” The verses go on to list blessings we will receive for following God’s directives. These are the spiritual principles that govern the universe. This is how the Almighty designed things. We’re crazy to ignore His principles. We’re nuts. Yet still He rewards our efforts to do that which is crazy not to.

Common for our Creator, He wants what’s good for us, encourages us to do it, and then rewards us for doing it. Is this kind of love comprehensible?

Principles, not laws

Certainly there are Dos and Don’ts in the “Instructions for living” we call the Torah. But they aren’t the same as the laws of the land we live in. For the laws of the land there are specific rules, and punishments to fit those rules. Buy liquor for a minor, pay a $350. fine. With the Creator’s Torah there are principles, 613 of them to be exact. Yet the fulfillment of these principles can’t be put into a law book, they are principles to live by. They are attitudes to permeate your outlook. That’s why the opening verse uses the phrase “walk in my decrees”. As the common phrase these days “walk the walk” implies a general mode of behavior, not just a specific set of rules.[1]

It would be easier, no doubt, to list a set of rules to follow. That would happily take less thought and sensitivity on our part. Unfortunately, that’s just not what spirituality is all about.

“Don’t cut down the fruit trees in war” says one of the commandments. If that was all we had to do for that principle, most of us would be off the hook. After all, how many people are going to go to war, and how many of them will be inclined to kill a fruit tree? Chalk that one up for me, only 612 to go.  – Not so fast.

The idea behind the mitzvah is to care for and value any useful thing in the universe. That goes for the fruit tree, the person next to you, a piece of paper, and even a grain of rice, (if you take the principle far enough). Room for growth isn’t the word here, we have endless opportunity to respect and value every molecule of creation. It’s all a piece of God, take good care of it. That principle can define your whole way of thinking.

Each and every mitzvah is a world of appreciation, an infinite piece of the Creator, and an avenue of spirituality without bounds. You could spend your entire life trying to appreciate useful items. You could branch out to appreiciating the nuances of personalities, to making sure no child is hungry, or you could work towards worldwide recycling. There are so many possibilities.

Right and wrong

Now don’t get me wrong, (or right). I’m not saying that there aren’t fixed rules. Some things are black and white, wrong and right. If it’s wrong to steal a soda from a soda machine, it’s wrong, period. Walking in the pathways of spirituality is not an excuse to be lax in our commitment to morality. Some people don’t like rules and regulations, and therefore gravitate towards a flimsy sense of spirituality that makes no demands on them whatsoever. If they are in the mood, they will keep the change (that exceeds the amount they deserve) from the cashier. “I guess the gods are on my side today,” you might think. It’s my good karma coming back to me. The Astrology chart in the newspaper said I’d see a financial blessing today.

Some cashiers are responsible for the mistakes they make and will have to pay for the wrong change you took. That’s called stealing.

There are rules of morality. To take a life unnecessarily is a transgression. To give a dollar to charity is a good thing. Some acts are clear cut. That’s called the “letter of the law”, and it is important too. Yet the “spirit of the law” is what we’re talking about. Never let the letter of the law go without the spirit of the law or you will wind up with an empty religion.

As one teacher I had used to say, “Strictly follow the law, but don’t follow the law strictly.” The law is our guide and our only connection to the Infinite. But life has fluctuations of every kind and variety. The law needs to find a resting place in the reality of your situation. You have to know the principles well in order to know how to do that.

What’s more important?

There’s the $64,000 question. The Talmud tells us that God is found in the “four measurements of Jewish Law.” This famous quote could have been stated more simply God is found in Jewish Law. But the sages mentioned something specific, “four measurements” (arbah amos -in Hebrew). Because the details are important to the Almighty. He gave us those details, and by being precise we show that His will is important to us. We want to do it exactly.

If my wife asks me to pick up some flowers, I don’t just go out to the yard to pick what’s growing there, I want to know what kind of flowers she wants, why she wants them, how she wants them to look, because her needs and wishes are important to me. If God’s wishes are important to you, you’ll find out in detail exactly what He wants and why.

It’s not a valid question to ask –“Which is more important the spirit or the letter?” You’re implying there’s some aspect of God’s will you are not interested in. They are one and the same.

If you are following the spirit of the law by being honest in business dealings, but don’t take the time to find out what practices are forbidden and what practices are permissible, you don’t really care about God’s principle. And if you get caught up in the details, and don’t act like an emissary of God in your business practices, you’ll end up making mistakes in some important areas of your relationship with God and man. In the world of spirituality, the details and the principles are two sides of the same coin; they can’t be separated.

The spirit and the letter, the principle and the detail are one and the same. They are both partners in the path to the Creator.

Exercise

Pick one of the commandments you relate to and write down clearly, or articulate to someone what the principle or spirit of the law is, and what are a few of the details or letter of the law. ( If you don’t know, ask your local rabbi.)


 

[1] Various Codes of Jewish Law have been written, and they serve to function for two main reasons: A – not everyone has the time to delve into the study of Torah to understand the principles well enough to translate them into action for all the events that require a legal decision. A Code of Law is a short cut. B – In order to unite Jews under one banner and make sure we are all generally following the principles in the same way, God asked the Rabbis of each generation to render legal decisions on areas of dispute. A Code of Law compiles those decisions. But these codes fall very short of dealing with all the daily decisions a person makes that have spiritual ramifications.

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