If you read the previous post, “Can This Be Love”, you might easily conclude that all God wants from us is to “follow the rule book”. After all, if He expresses His Love by giving us “Torah, commandments, rules and regulations….” and we express our love by fulfilling His expectations, isn’t our role rather simple, albeit perhaps degrading?
Rather, the almost total indefiniteness of the Mitzvot as they appear in the written Torah, necessitating the accompanying Torah Sh’Ba’al Peh, the Oral Torah, gives us a much better insight into the nature of God’s love (and expectations) for us. Although the Torah lists 613 mitzvot, even that list is unclear and our greatest sages don’t all agree on what’s included. Beyond that, scripture provides few, if any, hints how to fulfill most of these commandments. Without further discussion, we are unable to determine exactly what Tefillin, for example, are, how to make them and exactly when and how to wear them. There are no clues how to prepare meat to make it kosher or even what Shabbat really entails. Not only that, our sages rarely share identical visions and interpretations. Relying on the written words rather than how our Oral Torah explains them, we’d be led towards brutal savagery (i.e. not realizing that עין תחת עין (Ayin tachat ayin) “An eye for an eye” means monetary compensation rather physical vengeance).
The point of all this is that the “Torah, commandments, rules and regulations….” we’re so thankful for does not include a mindless “rule book”. God hasn’t expressed His love for us with the request that we live as brain-dead automatons. Rather, The Creator, in His love, offers us a method to live hyper-aware, to be constantly thinking, always challenged and evaluating just what our best next action will be. This Torah we’re so thankful for is a gift to lead us to become as fully human as each of us, uniquely can be.
For when we love someone, be it a child, a spouse or a friend, our primary interest is their welfare and growth, not how they satisfy us.
Through the ages, philosophers have proposed many seemingly unique qualities which separate Man from the animal kingdom. After a while, each proposal is disproved when we find examples of other animals doing the same thing. Opposable thumb and tool-manipulation? Sorry, not only do many primates have one, but so do pandas, opossums and even a variety of frog. Speech/Communication? We’re all familiar with how even honeybees, using dance, can tell others in the colony where to find nectar and pollen. Whales sing for, seemingly, the pleasure of it.
What makes us most human is the ability and often-troublesome obligation to make value judgements. Free-will, בחירה (Bechira) decisions based on ethics and morality, is not an instinctual skill but, rather, it requires extensive learning and practice. Our “Torah, commandments, rules and regulations….” provides that training which enables us to develop, both individually and societally, our humanity. God loves us through His high expectation, His preventing our complacency and His constant challenges.
If that isn’t true love, I’m afraid I’ve never experienced nor expressed it.