Noachide Worship by Jim
Sometimes people look for more to serving God than is necessary. They want special rituals, a formula, something to raise their emotions and make them feel closer to God, whether or not they are actually closer to God. The desire to fulfill this religious emotion has led to great errors. People replace truth with “spirituality”, and invest themselves in all sorts of false practices that make them feel spiritual, closer to the divine, or “one with the universe”. Instead of getting closer to God, however, most of these practices take one further from God and into serving the product of one’s imagination.
This is a difficulty for many people. I have met Noachides who do not feel that there is enough service to God in obeying his commands. The fact that the Universal Laws are mostly, although not entirely, prohibitions, leaves some Noachides with a sense that they count less than the Jewish people, who have been given specific practices. The restraints placed upon their lives do not feel like service to them, and some have been tempted to create their own forms of worship. However, doing so does not bring one actually closer to God; it only placates the religious emotion. Sadly, they have not understood that adherence to the Universal Laws is service to God.
One may keep the Laws in one of two ways, incidentally or intentionally. When one keeps them incidentally, he does not observe the Laws because they are God’s Laws, but because society accepts them, or he fears reprisal if he breaks them, or he finds them sensible. He may, for example, refrain from stealing, because he understands that no society can exist when people do not respect the property rights of others. This self-restraint he practices is good, but he does not do it to keep God’s Law. He has only kept God’s Law incidentally.
One keeps the Laws intentionally when he does so because they are God’s Laws. Keeping the Universal Laws takes on the character of obedience to God. His self-restraint takes on the character of righteousness. And when he reflects on the Laws and sees that his actions submit him to the expressed will of God, he does not need to invent a service to perform for God. He is not seeking to titillate his own emotions; he is seeking to follow the Command of God. Such a man will not denigrate them because they are prohibitions. He knows that no Law authored by God is inferior.
On the other hand, some will feel that because they already do not steal that there is nothing special in not stealing. These have not avoided theft because of God’s command. Their actions are not devoted to God. Their self-restraint is not an act of devotion to God. They have not spent time thinking about these acts as obedience. They are too busy looking for something they can perform for God. What they do not realize is that God needs nothing, and there is nothing they can do for Him. They can only do what He has required.
Such people are like a husband who knows that his wife would appreciate him not leaving wet towels on the floor, taking off muddy boots before he comes in, and the like, but he does not do these small things that would show consideration of her feelings. He is always looking for some big gesture that will make him feel pleased with himself for his grandiosity. It is not her feelings with which he is concerned; it is his own.
Such people sometimes look to emulate the Jewish people. They feel that they have been denied something in lacking practice. They adopt Jewish practice, and it makes them feel good. And it is easy, because it is not required of them. They do it because they want to do it. But if it were to become a command to them, they would become rebellious. Once it becomes a requirement, the natural human propensity to resist command kicks in. They do not find themselves so pleased by the same actions as when it was not required.
If only they had sought to please God and not themselves, they would have been enriched by His Commands. They would become mindful of even minor violations. They would avoid taking extra ketchup packets from fast food restaurants when they have none at home, because they wish to obey God. To guard themselves, they would study the details of His Laws, and be mindful of them at all times. Their minds would be turned to God constantly. If they take on more commands later, it will be with wisdom, studied and thoughtful, mindful of their God, not attempting to please themselves. They would seek to understand His Torah, and not look for an interpretation that fit their philosophy. They would submit their judgment to His.
Such being the case, they will find that the prohibitions of the Universal Law are fulfilling. They are not without power to bring one close to God. Those Laws allow humanity to honor God daily. They may not give one an ecstatic experience, but they are the mark of devotion. And no Noachide who truly keeps the Seven Laws need ever feel like they are lesser children.
I have identified a source of error. I am not passing judgment on those who find dissatisfaction with the Seven Laws. Those who have come out of a prior religion, in particular, are bound to grope with the need to fill in a void. They are used to performing particular acts, many of which they have just renounced. Moreover, those things pleased the emotions. And now they have seemingly nothing to please the emotions. There is nothing nefarious in this. I am not judging people. It is, however, a source of error.
To correct the error, we must understand that the Laws given to us are good and by fulfilling them we are living a life of devotion. And that life is not one designed specifically to appeal to our emotions. Still, I think that anyone who understands those commandments, who turns his attention to the Creator will find himself fulfilled emotionally, for he will have directed his energies to something real.
I think if you will reread your comment to me, you will see that you have illustrated my point. You write that all the prayers of thanks on the holidays regard Israel. The poor Noachide who has this attitude is asking God, “What have you done for me lately?” Of course he should be offering his gratitude to God on behalf of the good given him by God. Is there any human who brought himself into existence? When I prayed this morning, I thanked Hashem for my wife and children, and the life that we have together. What human being can find himself contemplating his very existence and complain that God did not part the waters for my fathers? Let him thank God for his previous breath.
A Noachide who feels that God has done nothing for him does not truly understand the situation at all. I can find no reason for jealousy in the Noachide chest. And yet, I do give thanks for the things God did for Israel. I am very thankful for the nation that has preserved the knowledge of God in the world while my ancestors followed after their vain imaginations. I am thankful for that priestly nation which has carried the Torah, a burden made heavy by the nations who oppressed them. So yes, I offer thanks for God’s preservation of Israel, because it has redounded to my good. Let no Noachide feel inferior for having no national miracle, for every miracle performed for Israel has benefited us.
Let those who wish to convert, convert. It is a good thing. I said nothing against those who wish to convert. But if they wish to convert, I hope it is not because they feel less than the Jew. The Jewish people have performed a valuable service for us. We should give them our gratitude, not our envy. Let those who wish to convert do it for love. I write nothing against conversion, but like anything else in life, if done for the wrong reasons, it will not benefit the convert. He is likely to find himself eventually dissatisfied.
I could not write against conversion, for I and my family wish to convert as well. But if ever we want to do it because we think that it is not “good enough” to be Noachides, then let it not happen. If we do it because we feel envious that others have Pesach, tefillin, or mezuzot, may we never convert. If we don’t do it for love of God, love of Torah, and love of the Jewish people, may it never happen.
But please do not think that because I identify the source of error means that I think ill of people. Every human I have ever met has made mistakes. Most of the big one’s to which I have been witness, I have also been the source. But when we recognize an error, we must take steps to correct it. The Noachide who feels he cannot draw close to God through the Noachide Laws does not yet understand them properly.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal