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Why can't the Torah be modified to adapt to the times?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

Library » Mitzvot » Should I do them? | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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Let's start with a simple question: The Torah specifically tells us (Deuteronomy 4:2) "You shall not add to the word that I commanded you, nor shall you subtract from it."


Why, pray tell me, doesn't the Torah allow for changing times and customs? Why does our all-knowing G-d, who certainly knows what the future will bring, tell us that the laws of the Torah are not subject to change? In fact, one of our Thirteen Principles of Faith, penned by the great philosopher Maimonides, is the belief that the commandments of the Torah are permanent and irrevocable.


This is not a small detail in Judaism; rather this is at the very core of our belief-system. To understand the answer to this question we must first examine the essence of the Mitzvahs. Mitzvahs all emanate from G-d's supernal Will (Ratzon). True will transcends logic and intellect, and this is evident in many Mitzvahs which don't have (and never did have) any logical reason, such as the laws of Kosher, Shatnez, the Red Heifer, etc.


Intellect is a creation, as much as everything else in this physical world, and therefore just as G-d Himself transcends creation so too He transcends intellect
And although the Torah does state the reasons for many Mitzvahs, these are not the primary reasons for the commandments and they are not the primary reason why we fulfill them. Rather, the word "Mitzvah" means command, and that is why we do them, because we were commanded to do so.


[Now you might be thinking, "Why should I perform a Mitzvah which doesn't make sense? Why would G-d be commanding us to do acts which defy logic and rationality?" But the truth is that such questions arise do to the fact that in the human consciousness, intellect is the greatest faculty which we possess, and (almost) everything of value is dictated by the laws of logic.


Anything which does not agree with the laws of logic is considered childish and irrelevant. This is all true in human terms, for G-d created us in this fashion, but G-d is not limited by the Laws of Nature with which He created us. Intellect is a creation, as much as everything else in this physical world, and therefore just as G-d Himself transcends creation so too He transcends intellect.


Kabbalah tells us, that to G-d, intellect and a stone are of equal value for both are merely creations. Therefore, according to the teachings of Kabbalah, the Mitzvahs, which are G-d's will, actually stem from an infinitely higher level than the Torah, which is G-d's wisdom!]


Now back to our question... If G-d were to want us to do Mitzvahs because of one reason or another, then if the conditions which caused G-d to tell us to do the Mitzvah would change or cease to exist, the Mitzvah would become "outdated" and extraneous. But if Mitzvahs are a product of G-d's intrinsic Will, how can it be changed by the times?


To properly understand the abovementioned concepts it is essential that you join a class on the subject of Chassidut. Contact your local Chabad rabbi to find a Chassidut study group in your area.


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COMMENTS

immutability of torah

Posted by: Grace Ballesteros, Davao City, Davao del Sur, Philipines on Dec 17, 2004

Dear Rabbi Silberberg: Thank you for your answer touching on the topic of why the torah is immutable. This is what I have come to know from Scriptures and believe: the mind and power and love of the Eternal Who created the universe also knows the future. This is all man has to know and that he needs to understand. He does not need to understand all the reasons for each and every such laws. His mind is too puny for things that matter in eternity. This is why faith is necessary in maintaining his relationship with the Eternal One. Take care, Grace

Torah

Posted by: Anonymous, LA on Jul 20, 2005

Do we have an authentic copy of Torah in the language it was actually revealed on prophet moses?

Are there people who remember Torah by heart as Koran is remembered by Muslims?

Editor's Comment

1. The text of the Hebrew Torah which we have today is the very same text which was dictated by G-d to Moses. 2. Since it is a "Written Torah," we are not encouraged to remember it verbatim by heart.

Authenticity of Torah

Posted by: Anonymous, LA on Aug 17, 2005

For proving authenticity of torah, you again give reference from torah that it cannot be changed. Same claim is there in Koran also. How can one, who do not believe in Torah or Koran, believe in claim written in the book itself.

How can you prove that the torah in your hands is same torah which was revealed on Prophet Moses. Because many times in History, Jews had been facing mass killings and burning of Torah.

Editor's Comment

1. This article is not intended to prove the authenticity of the Torah; it's merely explaining why it cannot be modified. 2. The Jews have been persecuted around the globe for two thousand years, yet all Jews, from all corners of the world, retain the exact same Torah!

RELATED CATEGORIES

Torah » Modifying Torah

Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Maimonides
Moses son of Maimon, born in Spain in 1135, died in Egypt in 1204. Noted philosopher and authority on Jewish law. Also was an accomplished physician and was the personal doctor for members of the Egyptian royalty. Interred in Tiberius, Israel.
Kosher
Literally means "fit." Commonly used to describe foods which are permitted by Jewish dietary laws, but is also used to describe religious articles (such as a Torah scroll or Sukkah) which meet the requirements of Jewish law.
Kabbalah
Jewish mysticism. The word Kaballah means "reception," for we cannot physically perceive the Divine, we merely study the mystical truths which were transmitted to us by G-d Himself through His righteous servants.
Shatnez
A garment which contains both wool and linen. A Jewish person is forbidden to don a Shatnez garment.
Chassidut
The teachings of the Chassidic masters. Chassidut takes mystical concepts such as G-d, the soul, and Torah, and makes them understandable, applicable and practical.
Red Heifer
A cow that was completely red. This cow was burned together with several ingredients, and its ash, mixed with water, was sprayed upon certain impure people in order to purify them.
Deuteronomy
The fifth of the Five Books of Moses. This book is a record of the monologue which Moses spoke to the Israelites in the five weeks prior to his passing.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.