The Torah Of Love
By Rabbi Dr. Michael Schiffman
When people think about the Torah, they think of rituals and commandments; a system of “do’s” and “don’ts.” For them, the Torah is something negative and oppressive, especially in a society that tells us we should do whatever we want, or whatever comes naturally. I have always been fond of a line from the classic film, “African Queen.” Humphrey Bogart makes a romantic play for Katherine Hepburn. She rebuffs him. He says, “Sorry Ma’am, but it’s only natural.” Katherine Hepburn responds, with great indignation and tells him, “Nature … is what we were put in this world to rise above.” There is a lot of truth in that statement. Either we struggle with our inner natures, or we have given up and just follow it with the excuse that it’s just natural. The scriptures teach us we need to rise above our base natures, that everything we want is not necessarily right.
The world view of post-Modernism tells us that there really is no ultimate right or wrong, but that anything can be right or wrong for us in a given situation. The Holy Scriptures teach us that there is right and wrong, and that we need to choose the good and reject what is bad. This does not seem to be an attractive message to people today. We want to do what we want, and will say whatever comes to mind to justify our actions. The scriptures refer to this as “tickling” our ears, or in other words, we do what is right in our own eyes. The problem is, when you do what is right in your own eyes, you can justify anything no matter how bad it may be. The Nazis murdered millions of innocent people, but it was right in their eyes. They rejected the standard set by Scripture. What they had left was evil.
The reason the Torah seems to bring a negative message is not even the Torah itself. It’s the negative and oppressive views people read into it. The Torah teaches good, and offers a life of Godliness. The Torah says, “… I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore choose life, that you may live, you and your seed; to love the LORD your God, to obey his voice, and to cleave to him; for he is your life, and the length of your days;…” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20
I have observed people say that the Torah was given so Israel would have an impossible standard they could never keep. People say this to dismiss any obligation to do what it says. For them, they are free from God’s instruction and can do whatever they think best. The problem with this view is that it makes our lives subjective. It was the same situation that existed in the days of the Judges, when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21:25) Today many believers do what is right in their own eyes. Some try to find a bible verse to justify them selves, but others just claim they heard from God that whatever they want to do is justified. The result is that people are doing everything and anything in the Name of God’s leading. They justify doing some pretty bad things, and it results in God’s Name being profaned because we are his people, and what we do reflects on Him. When we do whatever we want, we are saying the God of the Bible, is not our God, but our own lusts and desires are our God. Why are we shocked then, when God does not bless it?
God gave His Torah for good and for life, and as He invited us to do, we need to choose life. By living the Torah in love, we can transform the world. In a world that sells its fallen values to our children, the Torah gives us light and life.