The Crown Jewels
Arguably, the 10 Commandments are the most famous religious document in the world. Actually, calling them the 10 Commandments is an incorrect translation of their Hebrew name, which would more correctly be translated as the Ten Articles (Aseret Hadibrot, in Hebrew). Though they are made up of 10 separate articles, they include more than 10 of the Torah’s 613 commandments. Indeed, even the earliest commentators on the Torah write that the text of the Ten Commandments alludes to all 613 commandments. The most important allusion to this is that the original Hebrew text of the Ten Commandments (as they appear in Exodus 20:2 thru 20:13) contains exactly 620 letters. 620 is 7 more than 613. According to some Rabbinic authorities, the 7 commandments that complement the 613 commandments given to the Jewish people are the 7 Laws of Bnei Noach, that were given to the first generations of man, beginning with Adam.
620 is the numerical value of the word “crown,” in Hebrew. As such we find that the Jewish people—who carry the responsibility for 613 commandments—together with the righteous gentiles who are responsible for the universal commandments, together adorn the Almighty’s crown of Kingship over the entire world with 620 jewels—the commandments of the Almighty’s words unto man.
God’s Universal Instructions
The Torah portion that is most associated with righteous gentiles is Noah. It begins with the Torah describing Noah’s character: “Noah was a righteous and earnest man among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” Every non-Jew who wishes to walk with God should seek to emulate Noah, who through his commitment to follow the word of God, saved the human race from extinction during the Flood. As the Torah relates:
The earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth and beheld that it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted its way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come. The earth is filled with violence because of them, and so, I will destroy them with the earth….”
When Noah and his family emerged from the Ark they had built, God formed a new covenant with them, and hence with all of humanity. He blessed Noah and his family and instructed them in the ways of the new order, declaring:
“I have now given you everything…. And thus, of the blood of your souls, I will demand an account….”
God’s instructions to Noah, who became the progenitor of all those born after the Flood, are binding on all human beings—“the children of Noah,” or Bnei Noach in Hebrew. These instructions (most of which were given earlier to Adam ) are broken down into seven general commandments known today as the seven Laws of Bnei Noach. They are:
- a prohibition against worshiping any entity other than the One God,
- a prohibition against blaspheming God’s Name,
- a prohibition against murder,
- a prohibition against theft,
- a prohibition against adultery,
- a prohibition against eating the flesh of a live animal,
- a proscription to establish a court system to ensure a just society based on these laws.
The Significance of Divine Instructions
To understand the full significance of these seven laws one must first recognize that the Torah (i.e., the Five Books of Moses) is not merely a book of stories about the first few generations of mankind, the Children of Israel, their exodus from Egypt, and their wanderings in the desert. The Torah is also more than a legal document listing the commandments prescribed by the Creator. More comprehensively, the Torah is and should be experienced as a revelation of God Himself—particularly of His Will. In the language of the Zohar, “God and the Torah are one.”
As a revelation of the Almighty’s Will, the Torah can be described as a user’s manual for life, revealing to those who study it the manufacturer’s operating instructions. Considering this, the Laws of Bnei Noach cannot be viewed as merely technical requirements God makes of human beings. Instead they are the very revelation of God’s Will. By committing to keeping these commandments a person is already manifesting the Will of the Almighty in our mundane reality. All of God’s expectations of what we as human beings, as His creations, can achieve operationally depend and practically pass through the acceptance and commitment to practicing the seven Laws of Bnei Noach. Moreover, as manifestation of the Divine Will these seven laws are actually part of the mechanisms of the universe—the light, energy, and forces that make the universe function.
Getting the Message Out
Subsequent to His covenant with Noah, God made a covenant with Abraham, and with Abraham’s son Isaac, and with his grandson Jacob, to whom God gave the name “Israel.” At Mt. Sinai, “the children of Israel,” Bnei Yisrael in Hebrew, experienced en masse a revelation of the Almighty and were given the Torah (the Five Books of Moses), with laws comprising 613 commandments. These 613 commandments are binding only upon Bnei Yisrael (the Jewish people), and it is through these commandments that Jews fulfill their special mission in the world.
The Torah is replete with verses clearly stating that the Jewish people were chosen by God to fill a special role. For example:
Now therefore, if you will obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own treasure among all peoples; for all the earth is Mine; And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
As a result of this special assignment from God, the Jews have a responsibility to be a “light unto the nations” —this means that they are responsible to teach non-Jews how to obey the seven Laws of Bnei Noach and by doing so to lead the entire world to the true worship of the One God, thus bringing about the final redemption, as Isaiah prophesized:
In the days to come, the Mount of GOD’s House shall stand firm above the mountains and tower above the hills. And all the nations shall stream to it. And the many peoples shall go and say: “Come, let us go up to the Mount of GOD, to the House of the God of Jacob—that He may instruct us in His ways, that we may walk in His paths.” For from Zion shall come forth Torah, and the word of GOD from Jerusalem….
Anyone who is interested in the Laws of Bnei Noach and Divine worship for non-Jews is probably familiar with all of the above. The introductory and technical aspects of the seven universal commandments have been treated in the past in other books, some of which were written by Jewish authorities in Torah.
Revealing the Mystical
In this book we intend to introduce a completely novel aspect of the Laws of Bnei Noach. If the Bnei Noach commitment to the One God is to take root and flourish it must turn into a spirited and creative form of religious experience and expression. The key for achieving this lies in the mystical dimension of the Torah. By presenting the mystical aspects of the Laws of Bnei Noach, as derived from Kabbalah and Chassidut, the traditions of Jewish mysticism that reveal the inner dimension of the teachings of the Torah, this book will offer the reader the more spiritual and philosophical-theoretical aspects of the Divine service of righteous gentiles, while at the same time, opening up new avenues for religious expression. With this task in mind, we turn to the principles of faith entailed in the Laws of Bnei Noach.