Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (The RaMChaL) writes in “Path of the Just”* that (paraphrasing) our only and ultimate purpose as humans is to delight in G-d and to bask in the glorious light of His שכינה “Schechina”, His divine presence. שכינה comes from the verb “to dwell” – G-d dwells in “unapproachable light”, yet His light, sustaining and blessing all creation, constantly emanates from His presence, and our sole purpose is to receive this light and channel it to the people around us, which we then call charity or lovingkindness.
The RaMChal goes on: “The means that lead a person to this goal are the commandments which the blessed G-d commanded to us.” This will typically make perfect sense for someone who grew up with Torah, but appear strange, even unpalatable to an adherent of the religion called “Christianity”. Rules aren’t glorious, they are a necessary evil to get by in the world and keep things “fair”. But obeying laws in order to unlock G-d’s beauty and power? No thank you! My personal redeemer abolished all laws, and gave me just one new law, to love! I’m off now to continue blowing into my violin, bowing my tambourine, digging holes with my trombone and drumming a beat on my spade. The rules are all done away with, I do as I see fit with my gracefulness and love in my heart! How could I possibly go wrong?
Is it so outlandish that in order to channel and radiate the true light and beauty, we have to be plugged in, set into the appropriate context, handled with correct and masterful technique, i.e., connected to the vine, conducive – an unblocked vessel, pipes clear to resound, corpus un-jammed to jam. We have to be operated as designed to function as intended. Each tool has its own specific rules of operation. Outside of these rules, a piano may still make a reasonable shelf and a tromp a halfway decent coat hanger if you manage to hammer it into a wall. Yet somehow, things aren’t quite right.
“The place of the performance of these commandments is only in this world.” Could be misunderstood as “the commandments are to be done away with in the future”: now is the time of labor, but then will be (only) the reward, no more toil. Yet only a wicked soul could muse this way: I will work hard and to achieve righteousness so that in the world to come, my reward will be permission to jump right back into this wonderful debauchery and depravity (which the adversary dangles in front of that afflicted soul as something alluring). Many Christians not only suffer unknowingly from this misunderstanding, but also believe the law is now done away with because they are “in grace”, but what that would really mean is: they are already in the Olam haba, the world to come, they are citizens of heaven and have already achieved the reward based on their heroic deed of coming to faith and even undauntedly stepping into a basin of chilly water! Now all that’s left is to pull as many others as possible from spiritual death to life through this amazing status change achieved by complete submergence in water, or as some also believe, a three-fold sprinkling therewith.
So while the principles of the Torah are eternal, what the RaMChAL here means is that the work of aligning our ways with Torah are in this world, where there’s still work to be done to “heal the world” (Tikkun Olam), while in the world to come, we will be able to celebrate Torah, Shabbat, the Festivals, charity and lovingkindness among all humanity, with an undivided heart. In the same vein, Paul (Shaul of Tarsus) argues in Romans and elsewhere that the law is good, yet we are not justified by it. Many “Christians” think this means we shouldn’t do the law as we shouldn’t try to get justified as this would diminish the role that our Savior’s salvation plays in our lives. Yet this is a completely contorted logic. The fact that I struggle with obeying the commandments, which are good for us (Deut 12:28), means that I should endeavour even more to keep them! Doing away with the law because it doesn’t justify me is quite a lot like saying: “the law requires me to be my best self, yet because being my best self won’t redeem me from my past or purpose, I will actively avoid being my best self so that grace is not diminished.” This mindset is precisely what Shaul (Paul) condemns (Rom 6:1)
Disclaimer: I am not (yet) fully Torah-observant, but I perceive it as the best way to live in tune with our Maker’s rhythms and decrees for a good life.
* «Mesilat Yesharim»
‘probably the most popular mussar (ethics) work in Jewish literature’