Rabbi Dr Zvi Aviner
How Can a Noahide be Holy?
Today we follow the Torah text and we move from the stories of Abraham to the stores of Jacob, and with this the Torah takes us from THEFT, Noah’s Four, to JUSTICE and CILVIL ORDER which is Noah’s Fifth.
Indeed, all the stories about Jacob revolve around one issue: Seeking Justice and Civil Order.
Thus, we first see him struggling with his brother Esau on the status of the first-born son within the family, which is a civil right issue. The firstborn son inherits twice the share of property than all the other siblings, besides getting the spiritual blessing of the family. Jacob has his own claims, and his twin brother Esau has his own claim. Who is just? Esau lies, and Jacob cheats him back, the result of which was that he had to run away for his life.
The second story of Jacob tells us how he was cheated by Laban; who gave him the wrong daughter to marry despite their agreement. It is a clear civil justice issue, apparently nothing to do with religion. .
Then the Torah continues to tell tus how Laban cheated Jacob in regard to his monetary compensation for his work as a shepherd. Again, it is a civil right issue of justice, nothing to do with religion. And like with Esau, Jacob cheats Laban back, thereby implementing his justice, yet it came with a cost – he had to flee with his family for his life.
The apex of the stories of Jacob seeking justice is the story of his daughter Dinah, being abducted and raped by the son of the city’s mayor. It is clearly a civil right issue of social justice, Denim, Noah’s Fifth, rather than a religious issue.
Hence, we can color all the stories of Jacob with one color – let’s say PURPLE. In the same way we’ve colored all the stories of Abraham with Green designating THEFT, and all the colors Noah with red designating BLOODSHED, and all the story of Eden with PINK designating ADULTERY, and chapter One with GOLD, designating IDOLATRY.
Thus,the entire Book of Genesis is written by Moses with Adam’s Six Commandments as a guideline. This way we get a lot of insight about a Commandment that otherwise we would have missed.
One such issue regarding Jacob and JUSTICE is the question: How can a Noahide be holy?
In regard to Israel, the answer is clear. In the Book of Leviticus, G-d tells Moses “Say to the Children of Israel be holly, for I am holly. Then the verse continues: How would you be holy? By keeping my Commandments: Fear your mother and father, observe the Sabbath, leave a portion of your field to the poor, and so on. Meaning: Be holly by observing G-d’s Commandments.
That is indeed what we say before fulfilling any Mitzva, any Commandment. We say:
“Bless are you HaSheM (YHVH) Our ELKM the King of the Universe Who has Sanctified us by His Commandments and has ordered us to do this or that
In the blessing we express the idea that we become holy by performing God’s Commandments.
We should realize how exceptional and extraordinary that perception is.
In all other cultures and religions around the globe, people become holy by shutting themselves off from the mondain daily life. To be holy in Christianity on has to enter a monastery, chant psalm songs, live very modestly and wait for the second coming. When you become holy this way, you may perform miracles recognized by the Church. Yes, as a monk or as a nun you may do good things to the poor and the needed, but not as a regular member of society.
Other religions tell their followers that in order to be holy they toned to seclude themselves in a cave, or a remote place, let their hair and nails grow, and walk on nails. Others like the Muslim stuffy dive into the philosophy about G-d and then swirl around with ecstasy, to connect themselves to G-d. That is what makes them holy.
But the Torah tells us the other way around that to be holy you must get involve in society, and perform G-d’s Commandments. You can’t do Commandments in a cave, isolated from the rest of Mankind. No other religion would say that or recognize that concept, even those religions that claim to take over from Israel.
Thus, every Commandment we observe connects us to G-d. it endows the person with the presence of the Shechinah around him, dwelling in his heart.
For what is holiness in the eyes of the Torah? What do I mean by saying that an object or a person is holy?
Some say that holiness implies seclusion, prohibition to touch or approach or enter. Thus, the Holy Temple is holy because it is a place where no one may enter besides certain people at a certain time. This definition of holiness is only partially true, since a filthy place may also be forbidden to enter. Clearly, a negative aspect, a prohibition to enter, is not enough to make a place holy. Some positive aspect of the place, a presence of a holy entity, must be there to endow it with holiness. In the case of the Temple, the presence of G-d, the Shechinah on the Holy Ark under the Cherubs is what makes the Temple Holy.
Thus, in the First Temple that stood 410 years, the presence of the Shechinah was evident by many miracles that happened in and around the Temple. Thus, the fire on the altar was not extinguished, the flesh of the sacrifices was never spoiled, there was always enough room for the pilgrims no matter how many they were, and the prophets of Israel heard YHVH’s voice coming to them from under the Cherub’s Wings. In addition, the King of Israel, like David, could ask HaSheM questions regarding the welfare oof the people – like should he go to war or not.
That presence of the Shechinah was absent from the Second Temple, since there was no holly ark anymore. The Temple stood 405 years, but its holiness was “rabbinical” only.
Hence, to be holy, a place or an object must carry the presence of YHVH in it. The Sabbath is holy since it is a Temple for YHVH in the dimension of time. And when we say that a person is holy, it means he carries the Shechinah with him, however small it may be. And when we say that we are holy by keeping G-d’s Commandments, it means that through observing the Commandments we receive YHVH’s presence in us, in our hearts and our minds.
But what kind of the Commandments would render us holy?
In general, there are two types of God’s Commandments: Negative ones, and positive ones. The negative ones are prohibitions, telling us what not to do, whereas the positive ones that tell us what to do.
Now, through which kind we might receive holiness?
The answer is clear:
Observing the negative ones, avoiding bad behavior, is certainly important, but not enough to endow us with the presence of the Shechinah. Merely sitting idle would not connect us to HaShem. Only by standing up and doing a positive Commandments we would connect to HaSheM and draw the Shechinah into us.
For what is holiness? Fir instance, what makes the Temple holy? Some people think that holiness is a prohibition to enter or touch. The Temple is holy for it is forbidden to enter it besides certain people at a certain time. But a place can be forbidden to enter because of other reasons, like filth. Hence holiness refers to some positive entity that dwells in that place. The Temple is holy because the Shechinah dwells there in between the Cherubs on the Holy Ark. In the absence of the Ark, as it was in the Second Temple, there was no holiness in the Place and it was considered holy on a lower level, like in a synagogue.
Another example: The Sabbath day is holy, for the Shechinah dwells in it, as a Temple within the dimension of time.
Hence holiness is what we might achieve by performing a positive Mitzva, a positive Commandment.
How does it work? What is the mechanism of that holiness? There are several opinions. Hassidism teaches that the commandments change our physical body, rendered it capable of receiving the Shechinah. But the mechanism is not important as the recognition that the only way to become holy in Judaism is by fulfilling G-d’s Commands,
Now does it work for Israel?
As quoted above, YHVH says to Israel Be holy for I am holy. How? By keeping my Commandments. Israel has 613 commandments, many of them positive. So we have ample opportunities to become holy.
What about Noahides? How high you can go with only Seven Commandments?
Moreover, most of the Seven are negative ones. Which are not enough to endow any holiness. Thus,
IDOLATRY is a negative one – do not worship idols.
ADULTERY is a negative one – do not commit it,
BLOODSHED is a negative one – do not murder,
THEFT is a negative one – do not steal or abduct
JUSTICE AND CIVIL ORDER is the only positive Commandment given to Noahides, which is necessary to endow holiness.
Let’s elaborate. What does Dinim – JUSTICE – entail?
Maimonides spells it out: Dinim involves four steps:
1 Set up a just judiciary systems of laws
2 Set up court houses in every district
3 Elect qualified judges who are known to be of strong character, resistant to bribery, seek the truth, having all the qualities mentioned by Yithro to Moses in the Book pf Exodus. Let’s recall that Yithro was the first Noahide.
- Set up a loyal police force to implement the court’s verdicts
All those aspects are positive ones, telling us to stand up and do those things. It would endow Noahides with holiness.
On the surface, that seems weird. What does holiness to do with JUDICIARY SYSTEM and JUSTICE?
In fact, this formula of holiness by JUSTICE is not given to the Children of Noah. The Children of Israel too, become holy by implementing JUSTICE.
In fact, the very name Israel comes from Jacob standing up for justice against the lies of Esau. When Jacob finally wrestles with the angle of Esau face to face, the truth about them comes out. Jacob wins and the angle succumbs, since the truth is that Jacob is qualified to be the first born, and get Abraham’s blessing, while Esau does not. When Esau’s angle refers to Jacob as Israel, JUSTICE prevails. Israel, then, stands for JUSTICE. Seeking JUSTICE iis what makes Israel holy.
How do we know that?
Because at dawn, when Jacob held the angle down, the angle beg Jacob “send me away for the morning Sun is rising.” And Rashi explains: Why does the angle wish to go away at dawn? For it was a member of the Heavenly Angelic Choir of Seventy angles, against Noahide Seventy Families of Nations, that chant every morning: “Holy, Holy, Holy, the World is full of His Glory.” They chant up there in the sky, while Israel chants it here on Earth. Hence, as Israel was formed by Jacob strong stance for JUSTICE, Israel is also endowed by holiness.
Now let’s ask, how can we explain the connection between CIVIL JUSTICE and holiness?
The answer is profound.
Seeking and executing a truthful JUSTICE is one thing by which Mankind can emulate ELKM, the Heavenly Attribute of JUSTICE.
As we recall, ELKM seeks the absolute truth, reacting to it by measure for measure. We can’t emulate ELKM by creating things, since He created the Universe from nothing, whereas Man can only re-arrange thing with wisdom. But Man can use material that is already there. We therefore can emulate ELKM by doing JUSTICE, but not with anything else.
Hence, we can emulate ELKM by observing Noahide Fifth. We wouldn’t emulate Him by other Commandments -like ID0LATERY, ADULTERY, BLOODHED or THEFT, since those issues have nothing to do with ELLKM Himself. Hence the only positive Commandment of JUSTICE is also the only one we can emulate ELKM.
What about emulating YHVH?
On the surface, YHVH is not involve in JUSTICE, since JUSTICE is the faculty of ELKM. That is true, but on the other hands, YHVH is here in our Universe exactly for that purpose – to affect ELKM and emulate His hash verdicts.
As we recall, at the Beginning, ELKM intended to create the Six Days by himself.
Seeing that the world, including Adam in it, would not withstand His harsh scrutiny, He asked- so to speak- the Attribute of Mercy YHVH to come over from Her Sabbath and join Him in creating the World, and in making Adam “In Our Form and Our Image.”
YHVH’s presence in the Heavenly Court would ameliorate ELKM harsh and truthful verdicts in our favor. Her presence would also offer Adam a chance to repent and ask forgiveness, so that he could start all over again. Her participating in the Heavenly Court as our Defense, is apparently Her only encounter with JUSTICE. In fact, HER INPUT DIMINSHES THE ABSOLUTE JUSTICE (of ELKM.)
That is true in regard to Man violating almost all the Six Commandments of Adam given in Eden. YHVH would emulate and sweeten the harsh judgment against us when Adam has violated IDOLATRY, ADULTERY, BLOODSHED AND THEFT. If Man does not violate them, YHVH apparently has no input.
But when it comes to number Five, YHVH has a direct interest in Man keeping it. For YHVH hates SOCIAL INJUSTICE and Loves JUSTICE. She hates those who take advantage of the poor and socially weak, like orphans and widows. Read the prophets of Israel and see it for yourself.
Hence in fulfilment of JUSTICE, Man is loved by the two Attributes as One. No wonder why Noah’s Fifth connects us to YHVH, and ELKM. No wonder why fulfilment of JUSTICE positive Commandments render on us holiness.
So, if you wish to be holy, stand up and set court of justice in every district, elect for them qualified judges, set up a loyal police and most importantly – STAND UP AND WRITE A JUST LAWS OF CIVIL RIGHTS AND ORDER.
What is the best way for Noahides to set up a just law of JUSTICE? Says the RMBN: Bnei Noah should learn from the Talmud the Laws of JUSRTICE and THEFT. Then they may write their own system accordingly.
So send your youngsters to a Yeshiva of BN, where they would learn the Talmud like their peers, the Jewish youngsters of their age. That would open their minds and connect them to HaSheM. That would make them holy.