Torah for the Nations: Judaism 101
3. The Torah & the Noahide Code
EMUNAH is usually translated into English with the words "faith" or "belief", but they fall short of the true meaning of EMUNAH because:
Matters of "faith" or "belief" are often considered subjective, personal points of view for which there is no rational proof or evidence, whereas EMUNAH is something you accept and KNOW INSTINCTIVELY in your innermost self without proof or reason. And once you accept it, you see evidence everywhere and in everything.
Matters of "faith" or "belief" (e.g. "the universe is billions of years old") may have no influence on your actions, your goals and how you run your life, whereas EMUNAH is the foundation for everything Torah Jews know, think and believe about the universe, our lives and purpose in it, and for everything we say or do.
EMUNAH governs all aspects of our lives on the levels of THOUGHT (in our minds, hearts, traits & attitudes), SPEECH (what we say and how we say it) and ACTION (what we do and for what purposes). EMUNAH is more than a mere belief in the mind that a Supreme Being - G-d - exists. EMUNAH is the affirmation that G-d is RULER of the Universe, and as such, we must accept and submit to His RULE, namely His LAW. Many things in which people have faith or believe impose no obligations upon them. But EMUNAH carries the obligation of submitting to G-d's TEACHING and LAW about how we are to direct and use our faculties of THOUGHT, SPEECH and ACTION throughout our lives.
In Hebrew, the name for G-d's TEACHING and LAW is TORAH.
The Noahide Code
The EMUNAH of the People of Israel until today - that G-d created the Universe and that we are obligated to serve Him by observing His Torah - was originally revealed to humanity by the first prophets and fathers: Adam, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses.
After Noah's Flood, G-d made a binding agreement - "Covenant" - with Noah, his children and all their descendants, namely all humanity, to accept and practice a Universal Code of Law (see Genesis chapter 9 verses 1-17). This is known as the "Noahide Code", consisting of seven general commandments, the "Seven Noahide Laws", which are the foundation for a just, well-ordered, peaceful and prosperous civilization permeated with faith in G-d. These laws relate to the three levels of our being, THOUGHT, SPEECH and ACTION with all of their ramifications in all areas of human life:
1. Do not serve idols
2. Do not blaspheme
3. Do not murder
4. Do not commit adultery
5. Do not steal
6. Do not eat the limb of a living animal
7. Institute courts of justice
The prohibition of idolatry ensures that our system of belief, our thoughts, words and deeds are untainted by errors that would cause us to swerve from the path of G-d's Law.
The prohibition of blasphemy maintains the purity of our speech in the way we speak to and about G-d and His works and the way we speak to one another.
The prohibition against murder sanctifies the right of all humans to live securely and at peace.
The prohibition against adultery and incest protects the marriage bond between husband and wife which is the foundation for sound childrearing and the continuity of humanity.
The prohibition against theft sanctifies the right of all humans to enjoy their own legitimate property without suffering the encroachments of others or encroaching on the property of others.
The prohibition of the cruel practice of consuming flesh torn from a live animal exemplifies the respect we are to show to nature and the environment which G-d has given us.
Establishment of courts of Justice together with a system of effective policing to enforce the law is the foundation for a just and peaceful society.
The Noahide Code was and remains a Covenant that binds all humans. However, in the generations after Noah, the majority of people lapsed into idolatry and lawlessness. Only the patriarch Abraham searched for the One G-d and how to serve Him. Abraham received the tradition of EMUNAH from Noah's son Shem and heightened his EMUNAH through following the path of prophecy. Thus, it is written of Abraham: "and he believed in HaShem and He considered it to him righteousness" (Genesis 15:6).
Abraham honored, worshipped and prayed to G-d, and sought to bring the knowledge of G-d to all. Abraham practiced kindness, charity, hospitality, respect for others, respect for law and the sanctity of life, marriage and property rights.
In reward for Abraham's righteousness, G-d struck His Covenant with Abraham and his descendants, who would have a unique role in bringing the world to know and serve G-d. Thus, Abraham set himself to "instruct his children and household after him to guard the way of HaShem to practice righteousness and justice" (Genesis 18:19).
The Children of Israel
Abraham passed the tradition to his son Isaac, who passed it to his son Jacob. Jacob, who was also named Israel, passed the tradition to his twelve sons. Thus, Jacob's sons and their families - known as the "Children of Israel" - inherited the tradition of EMUNAH received from Adam, Noah, Shem and the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Four generations after Jacob, the "Children of Israel" had multiplied to become a people of over 600,000 adult males besides women and children, but they had fallen into slavery in Egypt. At that time G-d chose to renew His Covenant with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and He sent His prophet Moses, great grandson of Jacob, to lead the Children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and back to the land of their fore-fathers.
Fifty days after their miraculous departure from Egypt, encamped at Mount Sinai in the Wilderness, the Children of Israel - some two million people including men, women and children - attained a collective prophetic experience that brought them all to EMUNAH, the KNOWLEDGE of G-d and acceptance of His RULE, the law of the Torah. This unique historical event, witnessed by millions, is described in Exodus chapters 19-20 and 24 and in Deuteronomy chapter 4 verses 9-13 and chapter 5.
Accepting the Torah
From G-d's side the revelation at Sinai is called MATAN TORAH, the Giving of the Torah. From Israel's side, it is called KABBALAT HATORAH, Receiving or Accepting of the Torah.
A gift may be placed in a person's hand while they are asleep, but until they wake up, feel the gift in their hand, grasp it and consciously take it as theirs, they cannot be said to have RECEIVED or ACCEPTED the gift. The people of Israel RECEIVED and ACCEPTED the Torah through their undertaking upon themselves and upon all their children and descendants for all time to submit to the Torah with all its laws and sanctions, to practice its commandments (the "Mitzvot", singular: "Mitzvah") and to accept the authority of the true prophets, priests and sages.
Acceptance and practice of the Torah on all three levels of THOUGHT (Faith, Belief and Knowledge), SPEECH (prayer, Torah study & clean, respectful talk with others) and ACTION (Mitzvot & good deeds) is called AVODAT HASHEM - the service ("Avodah") of G-d ("HaShem").
The Torah Code accepted by the Children of Israel consists of 613 Commandments, all of which are elaborations of the Seven Noahide Laws. The 613 Commandments are the binding articles of G-d's Covenant with the people of Israel. In return for their keeping the Torah, they have been chosen as G-d's "treasure out of all the nations" and "a kingdom of ministering priests" (Exodus 19:5-6).
Nationhood, Converts and Noahides
Israel's acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai was an act of mass conversion to the Torah Code (with the three elements of circumcision, mikvah and sacrifice required at every Torah conversion, Babylonian Talmud Keritot 9a). All those present undertook all the obligations and sanctions of the Torah upon themselves and upon their children and children's children to all the generations. This collective conversion established Israel as a people distinguished from all others, with the Torah as our national Constitution.
However, membership of the People of Israel is not restricted only to the biological descendants of those who received the Torah at Sinai. Any person from any other people or background who is willing to accept the entire Torah with all its 613 Commandments may apply to a Torah court of law (Beit Din) to convert, and on demonstrating their sincerity and steadfastness, they may be recognized as a convert or proselyte ("Ger Tzeddek"). The convert or "Ger Tzeddek", male or female, has exactly the same status, rights and obligations as every other member of the people of Israel.
Thus, the People of Israel are not a race, tribe or group of tribes all sharing the same biological ancestry. Rather, the People of Israel are a nation that developed out of one extended family and subsequently incorporated adherents from many different races and backgrounds, all of whom are unified as one people through adherence to the Torah.
"One Torah shall there be for the homeborn and the convert who dwells among you" (Exodus 12:49).
"As for the congregation, there shall be one statute for you and for the convert resident, a statute forever throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the convert be before G-d. One Torah and one law shall be for you and for the convert that dwells among you" (Numbers 15:15).
The Torah does not instruct the Children of Israel to force people of other nations to convert or to impose upon them any of the 613 Commandments of the Torah. The Torah demands only that all humanity observe the Seven Noahide Laws and has placed an obligation upon the people of Israel to lead the world to fulfill them.
"Moses our teacher only gave the Torah and the Commandments as an inheritance to Israel, as it says, 'An inheritance of the congregation of Jacob' (Deuteronomy 33:4), and to all who wish to convert from among the other nations, as it says: '...as you are, so shall the convert be before G-d' (Numbers 15:15). However, someone who does not desire to accept the Torah and the Commandments is not forced to do so. Likewise, Moses was commanded by the Almighty to compel all the inhabitants of the world to accept the commandments that are binding on the descendants of Noah.
" Anyone who accepts upon himself and carefully observes the
Seven Commandments is of the Righteous of the Nations of the World and
has a portion in the World to Come. This is when he accepts
and performs them with faith that the Holy One, Blessed Be He, commanded
them in the Torah and that through Moses our Teacher we were informed
that the Sons of Noah had already been commanded to observe them."
- Rambam (Maimonides) Mishneh Torah , Shoftim , Laws of kings and their wars 8:10-11