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Home » Chukat

Chukat Balak: The Commandments

Submitted by on June 25, 2020 – 10:15 pmNo Comment | 1,306 views


The Torah’s laws about how to purify oneself from ritual contamination can only be prevalent at a time when ritual contamination is possible. Ritual contamination occurs when a Jew comes in contact with a dead body. When the Mashiach comes, the prophetic promise that death will cease and all the dead with return to life, will be fulfilled. At that time, there will be no death and no impurity, as Zachariah foretold, “the spirit of impurity I shall remove from the earth.”[1]

This raises a question about the immutability of Torah law. The Talmud famously states that the Torah’s laws will never be extinct.[2] If the circumstances that require the law become extinct, doesn’t the law itself become extinct? The answer is, of course, that the law won’t be extinct. The process of purification will remain in place, but it will be dormant because the need for it will become extinct.

However, a rarely discussed Talmudic passage mounts a more serious challenge to this rule. The Talmud rules that though it is forbidden to wear shatnez (garments with a blend of linen and wool) the shrouds for the dead may be shatnez. The Talmud asks, won’t the deceased violate the prohibition of shatnez when they rise at the resurrection clad in shatnez? Says Rabbi Yosef, this proves that the commandments will become extinct in the messianic future.[3]

This is a much more serious challenge to the eternality and immutability of the Torah. How can the Torah be eternal if its laws will be extinct in the Messianic future?

A New Reality
The answer to this question is similar to the answer to our earlier question about the process of purification. We laid down the principle that the commandment is not extinct if it exists in concept but the need for it expires. The same can be said about the commandments in the messianic age. The commandments will remain in place, but the need for them will expire.

The word commandment carries several connotations. Firstly, there are two parties, the commander and the commanded. Secondly, the commanded is distinctly different from the commander. The commander doesn’t require a commandment because he already knows what to do and is motivated to do it without a commandment. The commanded, who lacks a broad understanding and is unmotivated to do what is necessary, requires a commandment.

When we relate this back to G-d and ourselves, we encounter a problem. G-d is the commander. He knows right from wrong and understands all the best practices. Conversely, we don’t have inherent knowledge of moral truth and it is, therefore, fitting that G-d issues us commandments.

The problem is that this model presupposes that we exist outside of G-d. Like it is in the relationship between the commander and the commanded, in which the commanded is a distinct entity and vastly different from the commander.

G-d, however, is omnipresent. He exists everywhere and nothing exists outside of Him. How can G-d issue a commandment if nothing exists outside of G-d?

The answer is that though it is true that nothing exists outside of G-d, we are not conscious of this reality. We function under the illusion that we are quite independent of G-d. We, therefore, have our own desires, our own understanding of life, and our own freedom to do as we choose. Under these circumstances, the only way that we might know right from wrong, is if G-d informs and commands us to do the right thing.

In the Messianic era, this illusion will be torn away, and the truth will be laid bare for all to see. At that time, we will not see ourselves as separate entities from G-d. We will see ourselves as extensions of G-d. When that occurs, we will think as G-d thinks, we will want what G-d wants, and we will behave as G-d behaves. Not by choice, but by nature; by instinct.

At that point, the need for a commandment will indeed become extinct. The commandments will still be correct. We will still follow every single Torah law, but not because we were commanded to and might otherwise have preferred something else, but because we will want to. It will become part of our inherent pattern. Thus, it is true to say that the commandments will continue to exist, though the need for them will be extinct.

This is perhaps why the Talmudic statement quoted above is not that the commandments will not be extinct, but the laws of the Torah will never be extinct. The laws will remain in place and we will follow them willingly. But the need for commandments will expire and thus, the commandments will be moot.

Torah and Mashiach
The difference between the Torah, which is eternal, and its commandments, which are not is that the Torah represents G-d’s will whereas the commandments represent the way G-d wants us to behave. The world was created so that we could study the Torah and observe its laws. The commandments were given to teach us—created beings—how to behave. This means that the world was created for the sake of the Torah whereas the commandments were given for the sake of the created.

When Mashiach comes, we will be able to see G-d readily and experience the world through the lens of the Torah. We will instinctively intuit that our very purpose is to observe the Torah’s laws. That we were created in order to observe the Torah. There will be no need to command us. We will know it by ourselves.

We have yet to merit the coming of Mashiach, but we await his coming every day. In the meantime, we must strive to live and behave in accordance with the way it will be when the Mashiach arrives. Even today, when we are not inherently inclined to follow G-d’s commandments and must set our desires aside to follow G-d, we must at least attempt to kindle a desire to live G-d’s way.

When we consider that the whole of Creation serves the Torah, it follows that the end is more meaningful, significant, and even enjoyable than the means.  Suppose you visit the servants’ quarters in a royal palace and are impressed by its opulence. You would conclude that if the servant’s quarters are so beautiful, the king’s chambers must be astounding.

Similarly, if the world, which serves the Torah is so wonderful and so pleasurable, the Torah, which is served by the world, must be immeasurably greater, more meaningful, and more pleasurable. Although we can’t see today precisely how this is so, it is not difficult to surmise that it is so. By thinking along these lines, we can arouse within us a little spark of desire to follow the Torah as G-d wants us to.

If we succeed in feeling today as we will when Mashiach comes we will pave the way for his coming and hasten the date of His arrival. Amen.[4]

[1] 13:5.

[2] Jerusalem Talmud, Megilah 1:5. Maimonides (Fundamental Torah Laws Chapter 6) similarly ruled that the commandments are eternal and will never be subject to change, diminution, or addition

[3] Babylonian Talmud, Nidah 61a.

[4] Sefer Hasichos 5752, pp. 27–32.

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