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DEUTERONOMY — 11:26 set

DEUT551 One of the doctrines of the Biblical–Rabbinic tradition is the proposition that though God revealed in the Torah the path of life we should follow, it is we who make the decision to follow or not to follow that path. God does not make that decision for us. It is our divinely imposed, inescapable responsibility. See also Deuteronomy 30:19, Avot 31:9, 20.


DEUTERONOMY — 11:27 obey

DEUT552 Jews in the United States are the product of both the American and the Jewish culture, each with a radically different understanding of community. Am I, as the Declaration of Independence proclaims, a creature born with inalienable rights within a community that exists only at the pleasure of those who give up some of its rights? Or am I, as Deuteronomy would have it, a person born into a host of obligations that are as “unalienable” as the Declaration's rights? The two are not mutually contradictory, but they certainly present two very different ways of thinking of oneself and of one's community. The clashes between Judaism and American democratic theory appear in several forms. The first, as I have been suggesting, concerns the assumptions that I as a human being and a citizen make about myself and others. If rights are the primary reality of my being, the burden of proof rests on anyone who wants to deprive me of those rights or restrict them. Because other people are born with the same rights, there are times when my rights are legitimately restricted, and there are even times when I have a positive duty to others. In each case, however, the duty arises out of a consideration of the other person’s rights. If, on the other hand, the prime fact of my being is that I have obligations, as it is in Judaism, then the burden of proof rests on me to demonstrate that I have a right against another person as a result of his or her duties to me. My rights exist only to the extent that others have obligations to me, not as an innate characteristic of my being. The source and purpose of my obligations also divide Judaism from American democracy. It is “We, the people” who create the constitution of the United States; the government must be “of the people” and “by the people,” according to President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, not just “for the people.” The reason is the underlying assumption articulated in the passage from the Declaration of Independence quoted at the start of this section: “To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Rules are instituted to secure rights; American individualism can be set aside only by American pragmatism, in this case the practical need to ensure that all can enjoy what is theirs by right. The source of authority of the law is the consent of the governed, who presumably see the practical need for imposing a law that restricts freedom. For Judaism, on the other hand, the author of the commandments is God, not the government. The Bible delineates several reasons to obey God’s laws: to avoid divine punishment and/or to receive divine rewards; to fulfill the promises of our ancestors to abide by the covenant, promises to which we, too, are subject; to have a special relationship with God, thereby becoming a holy people; and, as the opening passage of this section from Deuteronomy declares, to express our love for God. None of these aims, however, is to secure rights. Judaism and American democracy differ completely, then, in the initial assumptions of the legal system (rights versus obligations), the source of the law (people versus God), and the goals of the law (securing rights versus participating in the covenantal relationship with God). Moreover, the way in which a person views the world in the two systems of thought is different. In the one, I owe God; in the other, the world, or at least the government, owes me. In Judaism, I begin with the assumption that things can be expected of me; in the American system, I begin with the assumption that I have an unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which the government has been established to secure. In his 1961 inaugural address, President John F Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”; but those lines are memorable precisely because they are so surprising in an American context.



DEUT556 Do not destroy anything that is associated with Hashem's Name. Do not destroy anything that has Hashem’s name written on it. So, too, do not destroy anything that is associated with His Name, such as any part of the Beis HaMikdash, wood for the Altar, Torah sefarim and so on. Likewise, do not erase any of His holy Names. Key concept: Regarding all matters of holiness, the Jewish nation is to approach them with awe, trepidation and fear. By means of this mitzvah, fear of Hashem fills their hearts.


DEUTERONOMY — 12:5 vow

DEUT557 Bring vowed objects to the Beis HaMikdash during the first festival after the vow is uttered. Key concept: When a person vows to perform a mitzvah, he must not be lazy about fulfilling the vow. After all, people are quick to fulfill the commands of kings of flesh and blood, so all the more so should we be quick regarding commands of the Holy One, the King of kings. Still, when someone makes a vow to bring something to the Beis HaMikdash or to perform a mitzvah there, the Torah does not trouble him to travel to Jerusalem immediately to fulfill the vow. That would be an undue burden, and it would cause people to refrain from making such vows, to avoid the strain of having to travel immediately. At festival time, however, almost everyone must go to Jerusalem anyway, so the Torah warns us to fulfill such vows during the first festival after the vow is made. [Regarding vows such as these, the Torah warns, “Do not delay,” but one does not violate this prohibition unless three festivals have passed and the vow was not fulfilled. On the other hand, our verse is a positive command, and if the person that vows does not fulfill his vow before the end of the first festival, he notifies a positive precept of the Torah].


DEUTERONOMY — 12:14 offerings

DEUT560 Bring all offerings in the Beis HaMikdash. Since the world has been given a special place where offerings are to be brought, and people constantly come there to seek Hashem, that place has a special sanctity. Hashem desires it and constantly showers great blessing upon it. Also, people’s hearts fill with awe and soften at the mere mention of this place, and when their eyes behold it, they repent their sins and return what they stole or extorted. Even were it possible to bring offerings elsewhere, the aforementioned blessing would not be present. This explanation is addressed to children, until they mature and acquire wisdom, which will enable them to understand in all of the words of the Torah deep and sublime concepts.


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