Ask The Rabbi

Ask The Rabbi


3000 year old agreement

The Rav Name: Rabbi Yitzchak Arad

why should a Jew nowadays be bound to an agreement (and punished for not following) made by their ancestors 3000 years ago? If my ancestor had made an agreement with God that every time he and his ancestors walked into the house, he banged himself on the head, should I, 3k years later be bound to bang myself on the head?

3000 year old agreement

Shalom and thank you for your question! You ask if you should be bound to an agreement that ‘some ancestor’ made with G-d three thousand years ago, the implication being that such an old agreement could no longer be relevant after three thousand years.

Let’s take a look at some ancient civilizations. Where are the Incas now? Their civilization lasted from about 1200 to 1533. Although some individuals of their original race may exist, their civilization is long gone. Long gone are also the Roman empire and the Assyrian Greek empire. The British empire extended across the world to Australia, (where I come from) but shrunk back to the British continent. These nations had philosophies and legends, most of which have crumbled into the history books and may be studied by scholars, but not as a viable life-style.

Judaism has lasted, its teachings are eternal.

We live in an era where everything that for many many centuries was considered normal has been questioned, and many people have decided to throw out much of what in the past was considered moral or self understood. This has been an ongoing process throughout history, and there is much good in it. Not so long ago relative to the history of mankind, there were systems of monarchy, and the monarchs were not necessarily benevolent and protective of their subjects. The infamous statement attributed to Queen Marie Antoinette (of which there apparently is no proof) that the poor could eat cake if they had no bread, is a classic example of this. The monarchy lived opulently while masses of their subjects lived in dire poverty, until they rebelled. Within the next couple of hundred years since the French revolution, many systems of monarchy in the world fell. It is certainly a good thing that much of the world realizes that all people have rights and should not be subjected to the tyranny of immoral kings or dictators. So questioning can be a good thing.

However, we do not want to throw out the baby with the bath-water. (If you are not familiar with that expression, it comes from medieval England, when families would draw some water from the well for a bath during one season of the year. It was considered dangerous to bathe more often. By the time that the whole family had bathed in that same water and it was the baby’s turn, the water was so dirty that one might not be able to see the baby. Due to our three thousand year old agreements with G-d, the Jewish people followed laws which mandated a much more frequent system of bathing, and thus were less susceptible to some of the diseases which were then rampant. I digress though.) Let’s look at the family unit. For thousands of years it was self-understood that there should be continuity of the human race, enabled by the family unit. Parents begat children who grew up and begat another generation. Today many people question the need for it. Many people do not see a need to get married or to have children. Has this made the world a better place? More and more people turn to their digital devices for companionship. People are addicted to substances and/or technology. People are isolated and lonely. All these issues have crept into the lives of practicing Jews together with the devices. However, all of the modern innovations can be used for good purposes and for strengthening Jewish life and belief.

Judaism believes in the family unit. Judaism believes in community life. Judaism believes – and that in itself is something to be envied when others grope in the dark trying to find meaning anywhere and everywhere except in the detailed belief system of the Torah. Torah is from the Hebrew root Hora’ah, meaning instruction. We believe that G-d created and constantly recreates the world and all that is in it. In the words of the great scholar Maimonides (also known as the Rambam) one of the thirteen principles of Jewish belief is that G-d is “the primary cause of all existence”. Another one of these principles is that the origin of the Torah is Divine. We believe that G-d not only created and recreates the world, but has given us an instruction manual for how to use it, and this has eternal relevance.

There are endless questions and they should be asked. When the Jewish people received the Torah, they said “everything  that HaShem has said, we will do and we will hear (Exodus 24:7). This means that yes, agreements were made for eternity, but questioning and learning is also an ongoing process.

The Jewish people were compared to a bride at the giving of the Torah, and G-d was the groom. Marriage means commitment, but it should also be an ongoing process of discovery. Today’s marriage experts say: “Be open, curious and accepting.”

When I am on the farm and I see the cows being milked, and I see where the milk goes, I know that it is cow’s milk. I don’t need to believe it. If I visit someone and they bring me a glass of milk from their kitchen, I need to believe them that it is cow’s milk, as they believe the company that markets the milk and puts it in the carton or bottle. That is why seeing does not equal believing. Believing is about what you don’t see. So yes, we might not see how everything in the Torah seems logical to us. We need to exercise our capacity to believe. Interestingly, the Hebrew word ‘Emunah’ which means belief, comes from the root ‘Imun’, which means practice.

We hope that the above has been helpful and welcome more questions.