The Five Torot and the Obligation to Love G-d
I remember feeling somewhat put off the first time I saw the huge colorful banner of the Five Torot hanging in front of Rubin Hall. What is this banner, spanning almost one full face of the building doing here? Since when do we flaunt our values so loudly? I understood why President Berman would want to establish core ideals to guide and permeate the internal dynamics of Yeshiva University. However, I wondered why that had to be exposed to the entire Washington Heights community. I am not embarrassed or apologetic about my Jewish values, but I am also not used to a Jewish institution being so outspoken or articulate about Torah ideals with the broader world.
Historically, we have seen that Jewish leaders, at least since the post-Second Temple era, have stood out for Torah values in front of the broader world as a reactive measure. When the Jewish people or the integrity of Torah was at risk, they would answer defensively. While some public debates between Jews and other religions did historically occur, such as the Disputation of Barcelona in 1263, they were only at the behest of gentile authorities. It is hard to find examples of cases when Jews proudly carried their values and creed in an expository and voluntary manner. Thus, in the absence of precedent, I found myself somewhat struck by the public and bold display of Torah ideals.
In fact, I believe there is room for that feeling. There is a notion of Torah being an intimate endeavor. It is problematic to teach non-Jews Torah, because Torah is our inheritance, it is our betrothed. Why then, would we be interested in sharing that relationship with the outside world? Furthermore, there is a general rule that dictates that your life precedes your friend’s life. If we can apply this principle more loosely, perhaps it can be argued that the Jews in exile have been focusing on their own physical and spiritual survival, and are therefore “exempt” from educating those outside of the Jewish family about the existence of G-d and of a moral truth.
Despite my initial sentiment, I later realized that this issue is not black or white. After some thought, I noticed that there is indeed significant halachic precedence and philosophical significance in Rabbi Berman’s campaign of spreading what he considers to be the five core Torah values out into the world, way beyond the daled amos [four cubit] of the YU batei medrash [Torah study halls] and even beyond the university component of the yeshiva.
The third positive mitzvah in Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvos is the mitzvah of Ahavas Hashem. The Rambam writes that this commandment is fulfilled when a person thinks about and meditates over Hashem's mitzvos, words and creations to the point that he or she has the maximum delight in grasping Hashem’s existence. Later, the Rambam notes that part of this mitzvah is “that we should draw every human being to serve Him and to believe in Him.” He explains that just as when you love a person you will share with others how great they are and make others love them as well, so too if we truthfully love G-d, then certainly we will actively invite everyone to believe in Him. The Rambam then cites a Sifrei that darshens [explains] that the mitzvah of “Veahavta es Hashem” is meant to be fulfilled by making Him “lovable” to others, just like Avraham did. Avraham was not content with knowing the truth. His heart was so full of love for G-d that he inevitably brought others with him as well.
In the first chapter of Hilchos Avodah Zara, [the laws of idol worship] we are given more detail into Avraham’s universal kiruv [religious revival] campaign. When Avraham was 40, he recognized his creator and thus began to debate and answer questions to those who asked him about his rejection of polytheism and his belief in one G-d. He would tell them how ridiculous it is to believe in pieces of stone or wood and that they should break their idols and destroy their altars.
After finally emerging victorious in this moral and religious battle, the king of Ur Kasdim wanted to kill Avraham, so he escaped to Charan. However, in Charan, while perhaps his methods changed, his agenda did not. Presumably, in Charan, no one was pressuring him to leave his religion. We could speculate that there, he was allowed to “live and let live.” But nevertheless, even there he would attempt to tell the entire world “that there is only one G-d and that only Him it is fitting to serve.” Furthermore, “he would walk from city to city and from nation to nation” to teach mankind about the truth of G-d. Eventually, he settled in Canaan, where people would congregate around him and ask him questions: “Avraham would tell every one and one, according to their respective intellectual capability, that they should return to the path of truth.”
In the ninth chapter of Hilchos Teshuva, the Rambam defines what will be in the next world. He quotes the prophet Yeshayahu who says that in those days “the world will be full of knowledge of G-d.” Every nation of the world will listen to Hashem’s word, because “in the end of days, the mountain of G-d’s house will be established at the peak of the mountains.” It is perhaps not coincidental that the chapter that follows (which is the last perek of Hilchos Teshuva and the entire Sefer Hamada) speaks about serving Hashem out of love and the individual who loves Him. Perhaps the Rambam wants to connect the two: The vision of days when everyone will recognize G-d becomes the driving force of the servant who serves with love.
This is one simple thought on a potential kiyum hamitzvah accomplished by the Five Torot banner hanging outside Rubin Hall. Perhaps publicizing our core values, in this case via the banner, and of course trying to the best of our ability to model them, is what the Rambam referred to when he spoke about the mitzvah of loving G-d by carrying others to Him along the way.
As a postscript, it is important to acknowledge that the complex technical parameters of our moral and educational responsibilities toward non-Jews is a controversy among the greats to debate.
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Photo Caption: The Five Torot banner outside Rubin Hall
Photo Credit: Yossi Friedman