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Fundamentals of the Jewish Faith

Chapter Three: Torah and Mitzvot (Part 3)

So G-d instituted just the system of practices and rituals that would enable us to draw near to Him, which is known as the Halacha. It is the full and huge well of knowledge that we draw upon when we need to know what to do next to come nearer and nearer yet to G-d; and what will shift the cosmic make-up for the good or for the bad.

For you see, the Halacha is also the means G-d gave us all to affect the cosmos in otherwise unimaginable ways. But one would have to be very, very careful about what he or she does. For while most of us would know how much salt or pepper is too much for our plate, and we might even be able to sense how much a whole pot would call for, few of us have any idea how much is needed for in a dish meant to feed hundreds, or perhaps thousands. And so, one of the qualities of Halacha is its innate ability to incorporate just the right amount of this or that inscrutable stuff into the world that it needs at any one time.

As we’re taught that what we do in our world somehow shifts and stirs the great and invisible realms up above, and that we’d need to be sure not to set off too much or too little of one or another thing, so as to have it all work in synch. Because while we’re each invested with the ability to have lights up above cast shadows down below in new and necessary ways, we’re also cautioned not to take that into our own hands, lest we go too far or not far enough.

It follows then that we’re charged with adhering to G-d’s system of Halacha, and to engage in those mitzvot in the system that are called for just then, and to avoid the things the Halacha would deny us at that very moment, for the sake of it all. But we’re never to forget that the point of it is to draw closer yet to G-d moment by moment.

But there’s a vast array of things we’d have to contend with at any given moment. For the Halacha not only touches upon rituals to engage in at certain propitious moments, it also has to do with all the mundane and seemingly less intense things we come into contact with in our daily lives that we focused on before (like what we eat, how we’re to conduct our businesses, and the like). For indeed everything we do in this world affects the heavens in ways we discussed above to one degree or another. So the wise seeker would acquiesce to the demands of Halacha at every instance so as to catch sight of G-d at each turn.

The point of the matter, as Ramchal words it, is that “just as humans were granted the ability to draw either holiness of unholiness down upon themselves, they were likewise granted the ability to draw down either holiness or unholiness upon the cosmos by their actions”. Hence, while we’re certainly afforded a lot of authority in this world, we’re also charged with a lot of responsibility. After all, “all of creation is either rectified or ruined by human intervention”. So we’d need to take our actions seriously and to consider the consequences of what we do upon the course of human history as well as upon the well-being of all of existence.

So stunning a degree of responsibility is of course daunting, and as everyone knows, very few of us fulfill our assignments properly. Nonetheless we’re to always to bear in mind that we’ve been granted the ability to rectify our own deeds through teshuvah, and to thus help set the universe itself aright in the process. That’s to say that we’re never denied the chance to redo what had been undone or rebuild what had been torn down and to begin anew.


Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has translated and commented upon "The Gates of Repentance", "The Path of the Just", and "The Duties of the Heart" (Jason Aronson Publishers). His works are available in bookstores and in various locations on the Web.


 

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