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A Worthy Path of Life

On the Yahrzeit of my beloved father, Irvin Kaplan, יצחק בן מרדכי

We all know that Judaism is a unique religious system. Its uniqueness is expressed not only through its legal system of 613 commandments but by its underlying philosophy as well. In this regard there is a fundamental distinction between Judaism and all other religions. For all other religious systems, if you do not accept their tenants, you are deemed to be unworthy and condemned as a nonbeliever. Your ultimate judgment is to be consigned to purgatory, whatever that is, or its equivalent. In any case you would certainly not be considered among the good or righteous people of the world.

In stark contrast to this attitude is the Torah’s outlook found in this week’s Torah portion, parshat Noach. Here the Torah reveals a system of life and law known as the Seven Commands of B’nai Noach. All mankind, as descendants of Noach’s sons, are charged by God to follow them.

Don’t think this system is some ancient culture, a relic from some bygone era. In fact, today there is a vibrant International Bnai Noach Society with the American branch headed by J. David Davis of Athens, Tennessee. This organization is assisted by the Chief Rabbinate in Israel as well as many rabbis throughout the United States and Canada. When I lived in Seattle some 25 plus years ago, I initiated and was part of a Bnai Noach study group. The group continues to meet regularly under the direction of my mentor, Rabbi Morton Moskowitz. A few years ago, I attended a Noachide convention held in Ft. Lauderdale where I had a very meaningful reunion with my Noachide students and friends from Seattle.

As adherents to Judaism, what is our view or attitude toward Bnai Noach? The Rambam in his compendium of Jewish law, the Mishnah Torah, codifies the Jewish perspective of Bnai Noach. He states quite clearly, “… anyone who accepts from God and follows these seven commands is considered among the righteous of the world and merits life in the world to come.” Yes, you read that right. People who follow the 7 commandment system outlined in the Torah receive the same ultimate reward as those who adhere to the 613 commandment system.

Clearly then, you need not be Jewish to be a good and righteous person, and even a genuine prophet of God To maintain otherwise is haughty, philosophically bankrupt and stems from an inner psychological defect. Defining the “good” by our own subjective standards creates bigotry and brings prejudice and hatred to the world. Needless to say such a religious attitude has been responsible throughout the ages for the greatest atrocities committed by human beings on other human beings.

As Jews we must reject any elitist attitude and actions that stem from such a shallow philosophy. Our most sacred text, the Torah, tells us to abandon all such notions. Contrary to the beliefs of others, when God restarted humanity with Noach and his family, every person became endowed with the ability to live a righteous life. As a natural result of living by these seven commandments, each individual can attain the ultimate relationship with God, eternal life in the world to come.

If we truly believe in the Torah and the tenants of our own religion, then it is incumbent upon us to internalize this concept intellectually and reflect it in our conduct as well. The way we talk about and interact with our non-Jewish brethren will demonstrate whether our commitment to the philosophy of Judaism is merely lip-service or whether it comprises the guiding principles of our lives.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Robert Kaplan