Going From the 7 Mitzvot of the Children of Noah to the 613 Mitzvot


Going From the 7 Mitzvot of the Children of Noah to the 613 Mitzvot


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Opinion & Society

Shavuot - Anniversary of the Giving of the Torah

By Avi Lazerson

What was the need of G-d giving the Torah to the Jewish People? If it were to give instruction to the world on how to live morally, the world had divine instruction that existed from the time of Noah. During the life of our patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the world's existence was based upon the observance of these laws.

These seven laws were propagated and became obligatory on mankind during the time of Noah in order to safe-guard the world that there should never become a need for another destruct on the level of the flood. These laws are called the 'Seven Mitzvot of the Children of Noah'. They include prohibitions against blasphemy, idolatry, murder, theft, promiscuity, and animal cruelty. The one positive obligation was to form courts to insure that the world were to live a just and proper life.

The patriarchs lived with these seven laws and prospered both materially and spiritually. Later in history the Torah was given to the Jews at Mount Sinai. Besides the increase in the number of prohibitions and obligatory commandments, what was added to mankind? What was the reason that G-d decided to give the Torah to mankind?

First, it should be mentioned that the seven mitzvoth of the children of Noah provide a backbone for the continued existence of the world. We can find that when society forsakes these laws, the society soon disintegrates. As a blatant example, we find that in Iraq, as senseless and random killing has become a daily occurrence so has society begun to collapse. Similarly in America, as the virtue of living a modest life has fallen into disrepute, so has the family crumbled. As homosexual relationships become accepted as 'equal' to proper heterosexual relationships, and as promiscuity abounds, so the family unit has deteriorated and disintegrated.

The seven mitzvoth that were given to society at large are guidelines for living a proper and productive life. But they do not necessarily promote a life of spirituality. For a life of spirituality, effort is required on the part of the individual – and so it was during the time of Abraham. He as a lone individual decided to seek out G-d. In doing so, he rejecting the various belief systems that were in vogue at that time.

To be a spiritual person during the time of the patriarchs meant much meditation on the essence of G-d. It meant a life of denial of the material, for the physical was the enemy of the spiritual. There seemed no way to combine the two spheres of being. To reach G-dliness much hard work and much self sacrifice was required to overcome the overwhelming material world. Seeking G-d mean forsaking the physical pleasures of this world since no G-dliness was found in the world.

Abraham was unusual in his generation and it required much effort and stamina on his part to go against the current common belief. He succeeded, but there were not many like him. He passed his spiritual wealth to his son, Isaac, who likewise passed it on to his son, Jacob. But something happened when the children of Jacob went to live in Egypt. Whereas they became a large nation, under the slavery and difficulties which they endured, they succumbed to the physicality of Egypt – meaning they lost sight of spirituality. From this we see that spiritual wealth can not be passed indefinitely to subsequent generations.

By the time they were redeemed from Egypt, they were on such a low spiritual level, it was doubtful if they could successfully pull themselves up on the spiritual ladder.

The Torah was given to generations that wanted to reach the spiritual levels of the patriarchs, but were too immersed in the material to pull themselves out of it. The world needed a method of joining the spiritual world with the lower mundane world. In addition, the mankind itself needed a people that could show the way. For this G-d chose the children of Abraham. He gave them the Torah which contained new prohibitions and new observances. These additional mitzvoth differed from the original Seven Mitzvot of the Children of Noah since they were not just to insure the continuation of the world's population, but rather to provide a vehicle to reach an intimate relationship with G-d.

This was the purpose of the Torah. Once the Torah was revealed to mankind, man was able to elevate himself while still living in the material world. Even more so, the Torah was the mechanism through which man could unite the material and the spiritual. The mitzvot are almost all based on utilizing the physical to reach a spiritual closeness to the infinite G-d.


from the May 2007 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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