Gentiles & Torah

Rabbi Morton Moskowitz

Transcribed by a student

Question: Why is it prohibited for non-Jews to observe Torah laws like Shabbos and kosher? I understand they are not obligated in them, but why can't they follow them if they like??

Rabbi Moskowitz: Psalms provides insight: “Jerusalem built up, a city knit together, to which tribes would make pilgrimage, the tribes of the Lord—a testimony to Israel—to praise the name of the Lord” (Psalms 122:3,4). Rashi comments:

For there in Shiloh the tribes ascended when they went up from Egypt, and the Tabernacle was established in its midst. The heathens were talking about them (the Jews) when they left Egypt, and they would say about them that they were the offspring of adulterous unions: “If the Egyptians ruled over their own bodies, surely [they ruled] over their wives.” Said the Holy One, blessed be He, “I attest that they are the sons of their fathers.”  He bestowed His name upon them: the “Ha-Reuben-i”  — “Ha-Simeon-i”  (Num. 26). God added the letters of the name, the Hay at the beginning and the Yud at the end (two letters creating God’s name “Yah”). The result is that this name Yah is testimony to Israel (that all Jews were direct descendants of their Jewish parents and not Egyptians).

Now, if the purpose of the commands is just to keep Torah, what difference is it if we are Israelites or another nation? Why must Torah observers be descendants of the 12 tribes? Why can't Torah observers be any people who keep Torah? We also must ask what or who are the patriarchs? 

The patriarchs and matriarchs did not have Revelation at Sinai and therefore they did not keep the commandments (mitzvos). They perfected their souls by coming in line with God's will without commandments. They had that ability to relate to God directly through their minds. Most people cannot do this and require a system (Torah) to attain perfection. Torah’s purpose is not merely commandments, but to help mankind attain the level of the patriarchs. Thus, Israel's mission must always be attached to the patriarchs to show that the life of the patriarchs embodies the essence of the commands. If we lose the attachment to the patriarchs, that would separate the patriarchs from the commandments and people will just keep the commandments as an end themselves, without using them as a means of attaining the perfection of the patriarchs.

Question: If you keep the commandments, don't you automatically perfect your soul?

Rabbi Moskowitz: Keeping the commandments without studying Torah’s philosophy will not perfect one much. One must study Torah to gain the ideas and values behind the commandments. All these types of discussions are crucial for perfection [and the performance of commandments alone cannot provide this].

Studying Proverbs provides great insights into human behavior. Commandments do not provide this essential knowledge. Many people keep commandments but have jealousy, with no clue how to get rid of it. One must study the ideas and human traits that help you perfect your soul [a study unaddressed by commandments alone]. You must understand the nature of the emotions and how they deceive you. And regarding relating to God, if you lack understanding, you can fool yourself [cementing you in your corrupt ways as you believe you follow God]. Psalms helps us understand our emotions in relation to God. Without all these ideas, commandments alone will provide very little perfection of the soul.

Again, the Torah system includes the patriarchs to impress this idea that perfection is not only the commandments, as the patriarchs had no commandments or halacha. Now, if halacha was the essence, the patriarchs didn't have the essence! Our nation must always connect to the patriarchs to represent that idea. The patriarchs surpassed our perfection, probably greater than you could ever reach, and they did so without halacha.

To answer our original question why gentiles are prohibited to observe laws outside of civil laws, it is due to our mission. If gentiles kept the Torah, it would confuse the world to believe that all that is required, is keeping the commandments. But this would forfeit the Jews’ mission, that the essence is perfection of the soul, embodied in the patriarchs. As gentiles are not connected to the patriarchs, only the descendants of the patriarchs can teach this lesson. [Therefore those who represent Torah’s objective—the perfection of the patriarchs—they alone most observe the commandments to teach that the commandments isolated from the patriarchs is not God's will, and is not human perfection].

Question: As this idea seems hidden in this Rashi (Psalms 122:3,4), how do we teach this lesson?

Rabbi Moskowitz: Attaining perfection of all the emotions requires great wisdom. The basic foundation of Judaism is a religion of wisdom, which conveys the ideas. Ideas are behind all of halacha; every aspect of Judaism is [permeated with] thought. Therefore, if you are not a thinker you will lose out to some measure on many of these ideas. And if you are a thinker, you will perfect your soul through Torah study and training the mind. God designed Torah so it naturally helps you attain higher levels and perfects your soul. If one studies Torah’s concepts it will perfect your soul. So even if people don't see this idea [spelled out] that Israel is unique, people must discover this and the Jew alone observing Torah conveys this.