- Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz used to say that Bnei Brak has discovered a new Avodah Zara – idol worship - called Torah. Rambam in Moreh 3:54, after describing what the word Chochma means in its different contexts in our sources, and discussing the verse in Yirmyahu 9:22-23
כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה, אַל-יִתְהַלֵּל חָכָם בְּחָכְמָתוֹ, וְאַל-יִתְהַלֵּל הַגִּבּוֹר, בִּגְבוּרָתוֹ; אַל-יִתְהַלֵּל עָשִׁיר, בְּעָשְׁרוֹ. כִּי אִם-בְּזֹאת יִתְהַלֵּל הַמִּתְהַלֵּל, הַשְׂכֵּל וְיָדֹעַ אוֹתִי--כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה, עֹשֶׂה חֶסֶד
מִשְׁפָּט וּצְדָקָה בָּאָרֶץ: כִּי-בְאֵלֶּה חָפַצְתִּי, נְאֻם-יְהוָה
comments: (My comments in parentheses)
Our Sages have likewise derived from this passage the above-mentioned lessons, and stated the same theory that has been explained in this chapter, viz., that the simple term hokmah, as a rule, denotes the highest aim of man, the knowledge of God; (in other words metaphysical speculation to get to know to the best of our ability everything we can about HKBH)
that those properties which man acquires, makes his peculiar treasure, and considers as his perfection, in reality do not include any perfection: (Self improvement is not a goal in itself)
And that the religious acts prescribed in the Law, the various kinds of worship (keeping Mitzvos is not a goal in itself)
And the moral principles which benefit all people in their social intercourse with each other, (Bein odom lacheveiro Mitzvos which in reality are reciprocal social interaction that maintain order in society are not a goal in themselves either)
Do not constitute the ultimate aim of man, nor can they be compared to it, for they are but preparations leading to it.
We have to listen carefully to what Rambam is saying here. We keep Mitzvos so that we develop self discipline, we also keep Mitzvos so that we stay aware that there is a God so that we continuously seek Him out, we have social laws so that we live in peace with each other (Rambam just spent about 20 chapters discussing the Mitzvos and their reason) and finally we learn Halachos in the Torah so that we know how to keep the Mitzvos (that is why Torah comes first, not for some mystical reason). Yirmyahu dismisses all these supposedly good actions saying
, אַל-יִתְהַלֵּל חָכָם בְּחָכְמָתוֹAll these should not satisfy a person but Rambam continues:
“The perfection, in which man can truly glory, is attained by him when he has acquired-as far as this is possible for man-the knowledge of God, the knowledge of His Providence, and of the manner in which it influences His creatures in their production and continued existence. Having acquired this knowledge he will then be determined always to seek loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness, and thus to imitate the ways of God”
The purpose of Torah is to get us to the highest point in our personal ability to know God and how He runs the world so that we can emulate Him and act as he does. By improving ourselves, by developing discipline, both in our actions and our thoughts, we aspire to acquire true knowledge and fulfill our obligations as man. We cannot do it if we limit ourselves to ritualistic obsessions, to learning for the sake of learning alone and ignore the true goals of Torah. Let us serve God and not Torah. Let us use Torah and Mitzvos to reach our ultimate goal of Yedias Hashem.
I believe that when this idea is taken in it changes a person’s way of thinking. Asking questions and looking for answers being honest with one self, is the highest level of worship because its goal is finding truth which is God. Many of the people I have interacted with on and off the public forums in the past few months, since I entered the blog world, are perplexed by the world they live in, the current Yeshivish way of thinking which has of course become mainstream. No wonder because that world has lost its way. The answer to their confusion is to reassess their status and feel that they are outside the pale. They will realize that they are the true religious ones and start by spending time learning the theological teachings of our Rishonim.
(Of course the title of this post is meant to shock and call attention to itself. I am not suggesting that Jews who keep Mitzvos and learn Torah are Ovdei Avoda Zara. I just want to remind ourselves that it is not the ultimate goal in Judaism but a very important vehicle for attaining the ultimate goal, which unfortunately has been forgotten and sometimes distorted by many of us).