Emunah Negates Legalism

Active Faith is the Key

By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman © April 09, 2015 (most recent update May 9, 2017)

Recorded live on Facebook

"All your commandments are Faith" (Psalms 119:86)
The world regards faith as something minor, but I consider faith as being of the greatest importance -- Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Sichot Haran #33.

    We often think of Judaism as a very intellectual religion and spiritual discipline, and it is, in part. When we think of the tzadikim, the righteous ones, we often imagine them sitting at a desk bent over a verse of Talmud or carefully examining the deeper Kabbalistic implications of the words of Torah. Or we may think of the restrictions placed on us by Torah: we are not to eat pork or shellfish, we can't even enjoy a Cheeseburger in Paradise! Many of our detractors point to what they see as the "legalism" of Jewish orthodoxy. They say we have missed the entire point of Torah with all of our rules and regulations!

Is this true?

Do Torah for the sake of Torah!

We are told:

...Thus we see that according to Rambam the purpose of observing Torah should be observing Torah! That is to say that we should observe Torah for its own sake. This, as we have seen, is also the position of the Talmudic sages.... The Rabbinical Assembly in Israel.
Is this "legalism?"

No. Legalism implies the belief that if we do not strictly observe the minutia of Orthodox halacha (i.e. Orthodox Jewish law) we will be penalized and perhaps rejected by HaShem (God forbid!). This is not what traditional Judaism teaches. Ideally Jews are to be Torah observant simply for the sake of Torah, seeking no payoffs. This means we are to obey HaShem simply because of who He is with no ulterior motives. That is not legalism. That is rightful obedience to our Creator.

Legalism: strict adherence, or the principle of strict adherence, to law or prescription, especially to the letter rather than the spirit. The doctrine that salvation is gained through good works. The judging of conduct in terms of adherence to precise laws -- Dictionary.com
The Rabbinical Assembly quote continues:
... But the sages were also very practical people, and recognized that not everybody is capable of sustaining such an altruistic motivation. So, after presenting such a lofty theme, Rambam does a backtrack: that highest motivation, Torah for Torah's sake, is a very difficult one for the "ordinary man in the street", if not impossible. He who comprehends that the best reason for observing the mitzvot of the Torah is the very fact that they are the mitzvot of the Torah has reached the level of saintliness and spiritual sophistication associated with the Patriarch Abraham who loved God for no ulterior motive. Rambam suggests that lesser mortals must be permitted to do right for the wrong reasons -- emphasis mine, The Rabbinical Assembly in Israel.
So those of us who are not tzadikim, we 'ordinary people in the street', are allowed to observe Torah for ulterior motives if it will help us be more observant! Such as: "If I observe the mitzvot I will be a happier person." "If I observe the mitzvot I will please HaShem." "If I observe the mitzvot I will become more attached to God." "If I observe the mitzvot I will be a better spouse, parent, employee, friend..." There are innumerable reasons to be Torah observant! The rabbis teach that for every mitzvah there is a corresponding blessing to be attained. And yes, for some it may be that "If I observe the mitzvot I will not be punished by HaShem" but this considered a lesser motivation.

Our goal however should be to merit doing Torah for the sake of Torah without any ulterior motives at all. May HaShem bless us with such observance!

But how?

Emunah is the Key!

Many people make the mistake of turning the means through which something comes about into an intermediary between themselves and God. They do believe in God, but they also believe in the intermediary, saying that we have no option but to depend upon a particular means in order to bring about a certain result. For example, they put their faith in their business activities as the cause of their livelihood, placing all the emphasis on their own endeavors as if God would somehow not be able to provide their livelihood without them. Likewise people put all the emphasis on the means through which a cure comes about - the medicine - as if without medicine God does not have the power to heal. That is not so. The Holy One, blessed be He, is the Cause of all causes, and there is absolutely no need for any one particular means. Even while resorting to a given means to try to bring something about, we must believe only in God, and not put our faith in the means -- Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Likutey Moharan I, 62
If one trusts in "works," external means, even in Torah observance alone then one will fail to achieve what HaShem has in store for him/her! Being human we all make mistakes. Even the tzadikim are not immune to human foibles! Such occasional missteps could ruin all that a person has accomplished through meticulous Torah observance, if one bases success on personal observance and effort. Rather, one should understand that even our ability to be Torah observant, to whatever degree we may be, is dependant solely on the Mercy of HaShem. As the prophets acknowledges:
And we all have become like one unclean, and like a discarded garment are all our righteous deeds, and we all have withered like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind.
Another translation has it this way:
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
So where is our hope?

Emunah! Active faith!

"Know this day and consider it in your heart that HaShem is God in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other" (Deuteronomy 4:39).

The only way to know God is through complete faith [Emunah]. Only faith can bring you to true knowledge and perception of God's greatness: "And I will betroth you to Me with faith, and you shall know God!" (Hosea 2:22) -- Sichot Haran #217.
So What is Emunah?

אֱמוּנָה (Emunah) is difficult to translate literally into English because it is such a rich word in Hebrew. אֱמוּנָה refers to firmness. To something that is a solid and dependable, something from which to draw security, something that is of itself security.

We can both have and exercise active faith through and with אֱמוּנָה knowing that it is stable and steady, not something which may change or leave us adrift. אֱמוּנָה in HaShem places us on a firm and unyielding foundation. With אֱמוּנָה we can do anything! We can be anybody! We can be the servants of HaShem according to His purposes!

"All your commandments are Emunah" (Psalms 119:86)
With Emunah as our foundation we discover three levels of its application: Everything comes from HaShem, is for our ultimate good, and takes place to help us develop and grow ever more connected with HaShem! Emunah is the belief that there is none other than HaShem, whose Divine Providence is the root of all things and all events (ibid).

Enlightened Jews are not slaves to legalism! They do not depend on their efforts for their present not their future redemption! Rather they place their Emunah, their active faith, in HaShem alone. They seek to observe the mitzvot, the commandments, because these draw them closer to HaShem and strengthen their Emunah. For the believers the only thing higher that such service to HaShem is achieving the level of doing Torah solely for the sake of Torah. What else matters?

As Rav Aryeh Kaplan explained:

The commandments should not only supercede one's logic, they should even transcend one's personal tastes. We do not keep the commandment because they suit our fancy, but because God told us to. Our sages thus teach us that one should not say, "I will not eat pig because it disgusts me." Rather, one should say, "I would enjoy pork but I will not eat it because God has commanded me not to."
Ultimately, we therefore keep the commandments precisely because they are commandments -- laws decreed by God. It is forbidden to think of them as anything else -- The Aryeh Kaplan Reader: The Gift He Left Behind: Collected Essays, page 200.

And a Few Gems From Rebbe Nachman on Walking Derech HaShem (the Ways of God) -- emphasis mine, thanks to azamra.org.

No sophistication is needed in serving God - only simplicity, sincerity and faith.
Simplicity is higher than all else. For God is certainly higher than everything else, and God is ultimately simple! -- Sichot Haran #101

Even after all the wisdom and sophistication - even if you possess true wisdom - you must cast aside all wisdom and sophistication and serve God with complete innocence and simplicity, with no sophistication whatever.
The greatest wisdom of all is not to be wise at all. The truth is that no-one in the world is wise, for "there is no wisdom and no understanding before God" (Proverbs 21:30 ). The main thing God wants is the heart -- Likutey Moharan II, 44.

Throw aside all wisdom and clever ideas and serve God with simplicity. Make sure that your deeds are greater than your wisdom, because the main thing is not study but its practical application. This obviously applies to most ordinary people's clever ideas, which are mere folly, but it even applies to genuine wisdom. When it comes to serving God, even a person whose head is filled with genuine wisdom should set it all aside and serve God simply and innocently.
Sometimes it may even be necessary to behave in a way that seems foolish in order to serve God and carry out His will. We may have to roll around in mud and mire for the sake of serving God and keeping His commandments. This applies not only to explicit mitzvot. Anything that God wants us to do is also called a mitzvah. Sometimes one has to throw oneself into the very mud and mire to perform a certain deed that will be pleasing to God.
One whose love of God is sufficiently strong becomes His dearly beloved child. God will show him abundant love and kindness, permitting him to explore the King's hidden store-chambers and even to understand what is beyond wisdom, including the deepest of all secrets, such as why the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper -- Likutey Moharan II, 5.

When a person follows his own mind and clever ideas, he can fall into many pitfalls and errors and come to great evil. Tremendous damage has been caused by such people, like the infamous great villains who, through their intelligence and cunning, have led the entire world astray.
The essence of Judaism is to conduct oneself in pure innocence and simplicity, with no sophistication whatever. Make sure that whatever you do, God is there. Don't heed your own honor. If it enhance s God's glory, do it. If not, then don't. This way, you can be certain you will never stumble.
Be careful to act with true innocence and simplicity but not foolishly. Sophistication, however, is quite unnecessary. Simplicity, innocence and faith can bring you to the highest level of joy -- Likutey Moharan II, 12.

Don't follow excessive stringencies in your practice of the Torah. "God does not rule over His creatures with tyranny" ( Avodah Zarah 3a) - "The Torah was not given to ministering angels" [i.e. but to fallible humans]( Berachot 25b).
Our rabbis have taught that it is proper for each person to choose for himself one mitzvah to observe with particular care in all its fine details ( Shabbat 118b ). Yet even with your chosen mitzvah, you should not be excessively strict to the point of folly. Don't let it make you depressed. Simply try to keep the mitzvah carefully in all its finer points, but without excessive punctiliousness.
As for the other mitzvot, simply follow the essential laws without adding extra stringencies. If only we could keep all the mitzvot of the Torah according to the simple interpretation of the law without seeking to go beyond it!
There is no need to look for extra stringencies: this is foolish and confusing. The essence of serving God is simplicity and sincerity. Pray much, study much Torah and carry out many good deeds without seeking out or inventing unnecessary restrictions. Simply follow the path of our forefathers. "The Torah was not given to ministering angels [i.e. but to fallible humans]."
There is nothing that you absolutely must do or else. If you can, you can. But if you cannot: "God exempts a person under duress" ( Bava Kama 28b).

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