Six Levels of Dialogue with God
Translated by Michael Iazovsky
- Six levels: in the Torah
- Six levels: in the world
The Torah, or Pentateuch, contains a small fragment of two sentences, which tells about the different levels of dialogue between man and God. This is the book of Leviticus, chapter 26, verses 14 and 15. There are no unnecessary sentences in the Torah, and this little piece is no less important than any others. This article is my comment on this passage.
Here is that passage1:
(26:14) But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments;
(26:15) and if ye shall reject my statutes, and if your soul abhor mine judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant...
Classic Rashi2 comment on this passage indicates here seven individual offenses “if you will not hearken”, “if you will not do all these commandments”, “if you will reject my statutes”, “if you abhor my judgments”, “so that will not do”, “all these commandments”, “but break my covenant”. However, for the seven offenses Rashi had to split a quite complete phrase, “so that ye will not do all my commandments”, into two parts, and it looks quite unnatural.
I suggest not to break this phrase. This way in this passage six types of actions can be seen clearly listed in a negative option — and further in the Torah text follows a list of troubles that befall nation, if people would not perform these actions. I assert that these six kinds of actions correspond to six levels of the Dialogue with God, and I offer to give them the following names:
|Level||Method of dialogue|
|I. Shema (שמע, “hearken” or “listen”)||But if ye will not hearken unto me|
|II. Mitzvoth (מצוות, “commandments”)||and will not do all these commandments|
|III. Hukim (חוקים, “statutes”)||and if ye shall reject my statutes,|
|IV. Mishpatim (משפטים, “judgments”)||and if your soul abhor mine judgments,|
|V. Mitzvoth (מצוות, “commandments”)||so that ye will not do all my commandments,|
|VI. Brit (ברית, “covenant” or “union”)||but break my covenant...|
Next I'll examine each of these levels and suggest the way of comprehension for each of them — and then I'll try to justify this comprehension on the basis of further text of Torah.
Mentioned above Rashi's comment2 on this passage states that under this is meant Torah learning and “will not” means “will not work on the study of the Torah and comprehend interpretation of the sages ...” (Sifra). But this explanation seems to me wrong, and at the end of the article I will suggest a possible explanation for why the Jewish tradition has come to such a conclusion.
Here I suggest to consider a different understanding of this. There are a number of places in the Torah which speak of the necessity to listen to God. Here are some examples;
And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. (Genesis 22:18),
Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments (“Mizvoth”), my statutes (“Hukim”) and my laws (literally “Torahs”) (Genesis 26:05),
And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice (אִם שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמַע, literally “if while hearken you will hearken”) of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee. (Exodus 15:26),
Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:5–6),
But if thou shalt indeed hearken (אִם שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמַע, literally “if while hearken you will hearken”) unto his (angel's) voice and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries. (Exodus 23:22).
And the most famous place of the Torah, which is, in my view, is the key to the first level of the Dialogue, is a Jewish prayer, that also became the greatest commandment of the Christian faith: Shema Yisrael. Here are these words (Deuteronomy 6:4–5):
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
This is definitely the most important place in the Torah. However, the word “Hear” in this passage (שמע, shema) is traditionally neglected. After all it's not an introductory word to attract the audience's attention — these words had been said already in the middle of the speech of Moses, which begins in Deuteronomy 5:1, and are repeated throughout the speech several times. It is a call to which Moshe is persistently addressing the people. Moreover, God decreed it so that it is already has been happening for more than three millenniums that this call is being repeated by Jewish believers in their prayers, in the mornings and in the evenings, within the community either alone. But whom these words of the Torah call to listen to? Not Moshe — he was only a man through whom God sends His word. And especially not a person who prays (i.e. not to hear himself). It is a call to hear God.
In accordance with this, I suggest to understand “But if ye will not hearken unto me” in the simplest and in the most direct way as far as possible, without any allegories, which I think are completely unnecessary here. That is, understand it literally.
“Will not hearken unto me” — means exactly what is said: you will not listen to His direct speech, His words, which He verbally and directly addresses us. As He addressed people throughout the biblical story, and as addresses through Moshe in the text of Shema Israel. To listen to God directly, not only through the text of Scripture — it is designated in the Scriptures as the norm. That is the exact way how Jewish people are taught in the most parts of the Pentateuch.
Of course, to listen to, you have to hear. But we are not talking about a physical hearing where the voice of the Lord sounds like a real material sound — these cases are rare exceptions and a great miracle. Then how God can be heard? Moshe heard Him directly, “face to face”; great prophets heard His speech in visions or dreams. This is the mental speech, the most efficient and the most obvious way in which the Almighty can tell us something. However, the text of the Torah calls for hearing the Lord not only the chosen prophets, but all people and all of Israel.
It may seem incredible and impossible: say how can just an ordinary cook talk to God? However, the Torah is not limited to a simple declaration that it is necessary to listen to God. The Almighty gives comprehensive tips what we need to do — the ways that are really feasible for everyone. It is not very large, but extremely important set of commandments of the Torah, commandments of Shema level. Here are some of them
First of all, in the beginning of the Shema prayer, the Torah gives a clue what you need to hear God. This is love to Him. Love with all your heart, all your soul and all the practical life (“with all your might”, בְכָל מְאֹדֶךָ). In particular, pay attention upon the third part and note the word "might": a person really should be ready to "invest" in his service to God all his material possessions, and it means — all his life. In other words, to invest more than modern people invests in their education, career and their children. Furthermore, all these components of human life should be part of incessant love for God and part of service for Him. This is high, but necessary requirements for Shema level.
This is the basis. But the Torah gives other clues. Next text of the Torah speaks of the need to teach the children. It seems obvious — who else but his parents can teach the child to hear the Almighty — nevertheless the Torah specifically emphasizes this: And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart. And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children... (Deuteronomy 6:6–7). Further it is said about repetition of prayer, that is about daily practice of it at the Shema level: ...and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up (6:7). And even such an elementary thing as a physical reminder, items that might help to remember God in the midst of the daily routine, are also important: And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates (6:8–9). The second and third parts of the traditional Jewish prayer Shema are excerpts of books Deuteronomy 11:13–21 and Numbers 15:37–41, which also devoted to this topic.
Here is also a very important hint to which I would like to draw your attention. In the above passage from Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4–5) God is not talking only about that we have to learn His laws and do them (this will be at the following levels of Dialogue), but that we must obey Him in our hearts and in our souls, just because we love Him. This idea is repeated in Deuteronomy 11:13 (the second part of the prayer Shema): And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently (אִם שָׁמֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ, literally “if while hearken you will hearken”) unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul... Comparing it with other places in which God says the same thing (see above), we see that we need to obey “to hearken while hearking” not just commandments in formal text, but namely the Voice of God, who teaches us these commandments (to obey while you hearken God) and not for the sake of keeping the commandments themselves, but for the love to God and for the love of the Almighty to us.
In other words, dialogue with God on Shema level assumes that people would not only perform a number of various religious precepts, but would live according to the teachings of the Lord, genuinely trying to serve Him and doing His will in all aspects of their life — and in severe cases appeal to prayer, trying to hear the answer and prompt of God.
Summarizing all the above: Level Shema means direct perception of the Divine Speech based on the love of God, and obedience to God which directly arises from this.
Following words of God say about the different types of commandments — mitzvot, hukim, mishpatim. However, the term mitzvot can be referred to any of the commandments. In this context, it obviously refers to those of the commandments which were not included in the categories hukim, mishpatim, Shema and Brit. To understand what kind of commandments they are, you need to have good understanding of the meaning of the other categories. Therefore, for the moment we will skip the Second level and move on to the Third: hukim.
By this word in the Torah is usually meant “supernatural” commandments, the meaning of which is unclear and seems irrational. These are the commandments of kashrut, the commandment of the Red Heifer, the commandments of sexual purity and uncleanness, the commandments concerning the uncleanness of the dead body. Of the Ten Sayings (Decalogue) to this group, as a minimum, can be attributed the second, third and fourth commandments: the prohibition of idolatry, the prohibition of mentioning the Holy Name without the need and the commandment for Shabbat. (The first commandment, according to the Jewish numbering, postulates the very existence of God and is too general: so I would not take a risk to attribute it to one group or another).
But besides the “inexplicability”, hukim has another common feature and it seems to me the key for understanding their role in the system of Six levels. It is that all they talk about the “purity” of the human person. They teach us to be clean, and not so much in physical aspect as in the bioenergetic and spiritual aspects. Of course, we can not understand how it works, because we do not know how the human soul is constructed. However, this meaning of the commandments — purity and moreover, holiness — are repeated in the text of most of these commandments or in explanations about them that God gives. So, idols defile our soul, while Shabbat sanctifies and cleanses; sexual demands of the Torah allows us to avoid the “abomination” and maintain the purity of an intimate relationship. Kashrut speaks directly about “clean” and “unclean” food, and it is plain from the outset that this is all not about material cleanness and material dirt.
In other words, the hukim laws are designed to support the human personality — not only the body, but namely the personality in all of its aspects, such as bodily-material, spiritual and bioenergetic — to keep it clean, i.e. in perfect order. That’s what Level Hukim means.
The fourth level is mishpatim. This is also the traditional term, since the commandments in the Torah that concern social order are called so. We are talking about such kind of laws as the measure of responsibility for theft, murder, the concept of cities of refuge for inadvertently committed murder, rules for treatment of workers3, the prohibition to give and take interest-bearing debts, rules of conduct in the war, the system of holidays, the special status of the Levites etc.
These commandments are not well known in modern society, moreover, some of them seem strange to modern man, and even cruel (for example, the commandment about the treatment of captive women, which is not rejecting the fact of captivity for sexual purposes). However, we need to be aware that human society is not eternal and immutable creation — on the contrary, human civilization is changing and evolving in accordance with the general Divine Plan. For comparison, human psychology (i.e. properties of the individual, as referred to at hukim level) changes very slowly over the centuries. But the changes which are taking place in society are incomparably faster. Moreover, the Torah was given to us, in particular, to make the mankind grow and become matured, so that to let it gradually move from primitive paganism to the total service to God.
Mishpatim commandments are given by God as a dynamic, developing system, which adapts to gradually changing and maturing humanity, according to alternation of generations. The initial “version” of this system — commandments mishpatim, given at Sinai 3,300 years ago — were themselves an enormous head start (in the literature it is easy to find discussions concerning progressiveness of Torah in comparison with the laws of other nations of that era, for example, in a classic commentary on the Torah by Rabbi J. Hertz's, edition of “Soncino”.) For that era it was the best social code, which was created and given directly by God. And from the very beginning, in this system were laid flexibility and possibility of perfecting according to the spiritual growth of humanity. Namely, the sages had been entrusted the right to clarify and expand legislative framework, basing on the knowledge of the Torah and the direct contact with God (Shema level). Thus, God offered a complete system of social laws for a particular generation, including what today would be called a government legislation, plus a mechanism for future development and adaptation to the changing world under the control of the Almighty — i.e. basis to ensure the development of the ideal human society according to His plan. That ideal society, which the philosophers of subsequent millennia dreamed about.
Jewish history is the proof that this ideal is really attainable — for at least some time after Sinai the Jewish people really lived by these commandments, adapting them to the specific situation in contact with God through the Temple (first moveable, Mishkan) and through the prophets sent by God. Only in the Diaspora, departure from the ideal has become inevitable: since mishpatim, that Jews still diligently studied, yet were almost impossible to be implemented into practice completely.
In other words, just as hukim provide an ideal (corresponding to the Creator's plan) cleanness and order inside the individual human being, so mishpatim are needed for creating perfectly organized human society in accordance with the plan of the Creator. Together commandments hukim and mishpatim provide harmony of immaculate service to God.
We are now prepared enough to understand the meaning of the Second and Fifth levels. If we exclude from consideration the commandments of already considered types Shema, hukim and mishpatim, as well as a few commandments related to the Covenant (Brit), then the rest of the commandments of the Torah will be the ethical commandments. That is what the word mitzvot actually means here: human ethics.
Of course, this category contains the fundamental commandments (Sayings) of the Decalogue from the 5th to the 10th, which today are recognized by the entire civilized world: the requirement to respect their parents, the prohibitions of murder, adultery, theft, false witness and envy. This category also contains commandments of higher level from the Leviticus chapter 19, which say about the nonadmission of revenge, anger at each other, about mutual respect, about the need of helping each other and being honest. And, of course, the famous commandment Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself (Leviticus 19:18), which became the second greatest commandment in Christianity (Matt. 22:39).
And what is the difference between the second and fifth levels? According to the text of the Torah, the difference is in motivation.
In the first case (Second level) the violation of mitzvot commandments is a personal human error. Most often, of course, unintentional: you have not listened to God, and as a result you did not know what exactly to do (or you simply did not believe His advice) — and acted amiss. But what we usually call wilful violation, i.e. crime, also falls into this group: even a professional thief understands that stealing is wrong, but he can not or does not want to cope with it, so he actually does not trust God, who claims that this should not be done in any case. Responsibility for such sins before God is also personal: in this world, as a rule, the punishment appears as a broken and unhappy life.
In the second case (Fifth level) it is a collective responsibility. You knew the laws of purity hukim, but have rejected them, you knew the rules of social order mishpatim, but have abhorred them, and as a result (“so that”, as written in the text) refused to do His commandments! In other words, it is a direct rebellion against the Creator. Moreover, it is a public rebellion: for this is not some incidental violation of a ban, but regular and systematic lifestyle under the alternative laws, which contradict the commandments of the Creator. Examples of such rebellion are known from the Bible — it is about the people, who lived before the Flood, and the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. And their punishment was accordingly collective too4.
In some sense the obeyance of the ethical laws-mitzvot is the most important part of the Dialogue with God. Here we reveal the inherent divine qualities in us and behave as befits for people who were created in the image and likeness of God. Commandment to love one's neighbor in the Jewish tradition is regarded as one of the central or even the central commandment of the Torah. Thus, the great Jewish sage Hillel formulated the “negative” equivalent of this commandment as the essence of the entire Torah, saying: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation”. Another famous sage Rabbi Akiva plainly called the commandment to love one's neighbor “the great principle of the Torah”. In this commandment we in the maximum degree assimilate to the Creator who loves all his creations. And conversely, a conscious rejection of the fundamental ethical precepts, i.e. rebellion mentioned at the level 5, in contrast, for example, from eating pork or unwillingness to listen to a speech of God (up to disbelief in such possibility — as happens in case with atheists) — makes man a monster.
Brit — is Brit. This is the covenant, or more precisely, the Union with God. This is the logical outcome and the top of all other levels of the Dialogue. A human being, a nation, or (in the future) the humanity, that hears and listens to God, behaves in accordance with His rules of ethics and ensures proper order (cleanness) in an individual soul and in society as a whole — it can and it should become God's partner in co-creating of the world.
Of course provided above classification of levels requires proof. And this proof can be found in the following text of the Torah.
We believe in divine justice. Therefore, the consequences that may be caused by violation of the Six levels must be strictly in accordance with these violations themselves. After the formulation of levels themselves in Leviticus 26:14–15 God goes on to describe the penalties that people will incur for inobservance of these conditions. If there are six conditions (levels of Dialogue) indeed and they are just as they were described above, then further we will see six groups of punishment, where each of them will correspond to the extent and type of the offense.
Let’s read further text of the Torah
(26:16) I also will do this unto you; I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.
(26:17) And I will set my face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth you.
If people lose contact with God, their Creator and a loving parent, the first and main problem they face — uncertainty. They suffer from this, their parenting seems futile and vain, the results of their labors will get the others and people just have neither moral core nor support to resist the “enemies and haters” — even in those cases when there are no real problems. These are the consequences of the loss of Shema level.
Further we can see there a “delimiter” — “if you will not yet hearken” — and the following section:
(26:18) And if ye will not yet for all this hearken unto me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.
(26:19) And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass.
(26:20) And your strength shall be spent in vain: for your land shall not yield her increase, neither shall the trees of the land yield their fruits.
These are the consequences of violating of the Second level, mitzvot, in accordance with the general law of justice “measure for measure”. If a people do not obey, even by mistake, those ethical laws, which were intended for them by the Lord, they are deprived of marvellous support of the Lord — for they are not behaving in accordance with the Image and Likeness. And then finally time comes for not only psychological kind of problems but for also the real problems which begin to arise as well — such as disease, drought, difficulties with ingathering and loss of fruits of hard work. Thus, real sins lead to consequences of real problems. The measure of the sin in this case is the neglect of the Lord, lack of attention and obedience to His Teachings — so, consequently, it is as though God “forgets” about human needs and leaves one alone with the harsh realities of life and with all its brute matter.
Further, again follows the condition-”delimiter”, but the more subtle one, which is “inconstancy” of a person in his service of God. Of course, the person can perform some fundamental ethical axioms, but not serving the Lord constantly, every minute. And then follows the next section:
(26:21) And if ye walk contrary unto me, and will not hearken unto me; I will bring seven times more plagues upon you according to your sins.
(26:22) I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and your highways shall be desolate.
It is the translation by King James Bible, however it is not the precise literal translation: in Hebrew, the verse 26:21 starts from the words וְאִם תֵּלְכוּ עִמִּי קֶרִי, that literally means “and if you will go with Me (but) inconstantly” (Rashi, Targum Jonatan, Sifra).
Note: from this point, speech already goes about real punishments. It's not just the difficulties of life (“heaven as iron” and “earth as brass”, disease, crop failure), now it is about real human tragedies.
Also note: it is the most mysterious kind of punishments — animals that kill children and destroy cattle to such an extent that it becomes a national disaster. Such events are mentioned in the Bible among the Plagues of Egypt, which, of course, the supernatural ones: “Else, if thou wilt not let my people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies upon thee, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thy houses: and the houses of the Egyptians shall be full of swarms of flies, and also the ground whereon they are.” (Exodus 8:21, according to the Jewish numbering Shemot 8:17; the word הֶעָרֹב , which is translated here as “swarms of flies”, can be also translated as “pack of wild beasts”)5. However, in real life it does not happen: the animals may accidentally kill someone, but they can't be a serious threat to the nation. In modern literature, there is a good story by du Maurier “Birds”, later filmed by Alfred Hitchcock — perhaps it could serve as the illustration of this kind of punishment.
I am not going to puzzle out these words of the Torah ,which obviously have a lot of hidden meanings, but the mystique of punishment quite corresponds to inconceivability and transcendence of hukim commandments — he Third level of the Dialogue. Another detail is also obvious: these commandments are among those, which constantly fill the everyday life of a person, and from that moment the Lord speaks about “inconstancy”.
Next “if” of God is almost similar to the previous one, and reflecting the symmetry and the relationship of the Third and Fourth levels:
(IV) (26:23) And if ye will not be reformed by me by these things, but will walk contrary unto me (וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי קֶרִי, literally “but will go with Me inconstantly”);
(26:24) Then will I also walk contrary unto you (וְהָלַכְתִּי אַף אֲנִי עִמָּכֶם בְּקֶרִי, literally “then I will also go with you inconstantly”), and will punish you yet seven times for your sins.
(26:25) And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall avenge the quarrel of my covenant: and when ye are gathered together within your cities, I will send the pestilence among you; and ye shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy.
(26:26) And when I have broken the staff of your bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and they shall deliver you your bread again by weight: and ye shall eat, and not be satisfied.
The difference from the previous section, however, is obvious: these penalties are not mysterious, and completely understandable. Punishment as serious as in the previous section, but now they affect not only individual families but the whole society. War, pestilence, famine. All this corresponds exactly to the next, Fourth level of the Dialogue — mishpatim.
If the “organism” of the society is not kept clean and in order, in accordance with the laws-“judgments”, which Lord has commanded to humanity, then society, just like a sick organism, will be invaded by the social ills. As well as the troubles which happen because of poor execution of hukim, these are inconstant kind of problems too: the tragedies that fall on the mankind, though not continuously haunt us.The next section, which is again separated from the previous one by a refrain “and if”, is the hardest and most terrible one:
(26:27) And if ye will not for all this hearken unto me, but walk contrary unto me (וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי בְּקֶרִי, literally “but will go with Me inconstantly”);
(26:28) Then I will walk contrary unto you also in fury (וְהָלַכְתִּי עִמָּכֶם בַּחֲמַת קֶרִי, literally “then I will go with you furiously inconstantly”); and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins.
(26:29) And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat.
(26:30) And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you.
(26:31) And I will make your cities waste, and bring your sanctuaries unto desolation, and I will not smell the savour of your sweet odours.
(26:32) And I will bring the land into desolation: and your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it.
(26:33) And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste.
(26:34) Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies' land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths.
(26:35) As long as it lieth desolate it shall rest; because it did not rest in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it.
(26:36) And upon them that are left alive of you I will send a faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; and the sound of a shaken leaf shall chase them; and they shall flee, as fleeing from a sword; and they shall fall when none pursueth.
(26:37) And they shall fall one upon another, as it were before a sword, when none pursueth: and ye shall have no power to stand before your enemies.
(26:38) And ye shall perish among the heathen, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up.
(26:39) And they that are left of you shall pine away in their iniquity in your enemies' lands; and also in the iniquities of their fathers shall they pine away with them.
(26:40) If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against me, and that also they have walked contrary unto me (as above, literally “went with Me inconstantly”);
(26:41) And that I also have walked contrary unto them (as above, literally “I also will go with them inconstantly”), and have brought them into the land of their enemies;
Up to this point problems and punishments were severe, but clear, corresponding to a measure of some certain offense. This time all punishments of all previous levels combine together and become truly mad and immense. By such words could be described GULAG, Hitler's concentration camps, a nuclear bomb and other, most awful troubles which mankind suffered. To such result can lead only one thing: an obvious rebellion against God, violation of the Fifth mizvot level. God very much loves us, but He endowed us with the fundamental right without which the person would stop being the person, and it is freedom of choice. If we completely and purposefully reject Him, we will achieve any terrible consequences.
And finaly, the last “if” of God (this time this word differs from the previous ones and also has meaning “maybe”):
(26:41) ...if (or maybe) then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity:
(26:42) Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.
(26:43) The land also shall be left of them, and shall enjoy her sabbaths, while she lieth desolate without them: and they shall accept of the punishment of their iniquity: because, even because they despised my judgments, and because their soul abhorred my statutes.
(26:44) And yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them: for I am the LORD their God.
(26:45) But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the heathen, that I might be their God: I am the LORD.
Here it isn't necessary to look for parallels with Brit Sixth level, because word “covenant” is written here directly. But what is interesting: unlike all previous verses, nothing is said about punishments here at all. In fact here lies the deep meaning — if we do something that is not right, we can meet difficulties, God can become “inconstant” with us, having deprived us of His daily and hourly guardianship and care. He can even become “furiously inconstant” if we make every effort to rebel against Him. But if we, for our part, try to break the Covenant, the Union with God, He will never forget His Covenant and won't refuse us. The punishment corresponding to violation of the Covenant simply doesn't exist, because it is impossible to break it. Whatever nonsenses children do, the Father will never leave them.
I want to pay your attention to remarkable symmetry of described above levels. As in any model, which helps to understand reality, symmetry improves understanding of sense and a role of each component. Besides, existence of internal simmetries is certainly additional argument in favor of correctness of model.
The first level (Shema) is symmetric to the last one, the sixth (Brit). Really, God concludes the Alliance (Union) only with those who hear Him and who hearken to Him carefully — it is impossible to make an arrangement about anything with someone who can't hear you. And vice versa: every time in those situations when God revealed Himself to people and began the Dialogue with them, He entered with them into an Аlliance (that, of course, is absolutely normal in relation to beloved children). Abraham heard God and obeyed Him, and God made with him the Alliance, and symbol of it became the circumcision. The Jewish people followed God to the Sinai desert, and God entered into a Аlliance with them, which is called the Torah in a Judaism and the Old Testament in Christianity. Christians see the same situation in the Christ's descent to Earth — incarnate God who entered into a New Covenant with those who agreed to hear Him and to listen to Him.
Symmetry of the Second and Fifth level is obvious: after all it is a question of the same ethical precepts.
Symmetry of the Third and Fourth level “is less transparent”, but also it can be seen in the comment given above. Both levels are “auxiliary” and at the same time “deep”: they provide a condition of the person and society in which the person and society are best capable to serve God at other levels. Both concern fine tuning, balance and harmony — of human soul in a case of hukim, of human society in case of mishpatim. Conscious refusal of both of these levels — actually conscious, when people are well aware of what it is about, and can “reject” it or “abhor” — is the prerequisite for rebellion against God.
Thus, each couple of symmetric levels has something in common. But, besides, there are at least one more internal simmetry. Namely, there is something common in the first triple and in the second triple of levels — and these triples in a sense supplement each other. The first three levels concern individual dialogue with God and the last three — public dialogue.
Indeed, at Shema level it is always a particular person who hears God. The prayer, as well as reciprocal feeling of His Presence, up to a direct prophecy, are always individual. (Gift of the Torah is an exception, as at the same time it became the Union with the Jewish people.) Further, violation of mizvot at the Second level too has no public character, as it is an individual mistake, a sin or a crime of the certain person. Hukim (the third level) too concern individual behavior of the person: as to what he should eat, whether to keep Shabbat and how to do it, how to behave to spouses, etc.
On the other hand, mishpatim commandments of the Fourth level by the most definition are public: mishpat, i.e. the judgement, makes sense only within society. Violation of ethical mizvot at the Fifth level also always has public character: as a group of people who reject “old” ethics, then offer their own and teach the followers to a non-divine way. Rebellion against God, about which the Torah says, as well as judgements, are public phenomenon. And finally Brit — the Union, which God always makes not only with one person, but with a group of people: The Union made with Abraham was also the Union with all his descendants; the Union on Sinai was made with all Jewish people, and lastly, in Christian belief the New Testament which concerns all the future Christian world.
At attentive reading it is possible to see the system of Six levels also in other places of the Torah — though, maybe, it isn't so obvious, as in the Leviticus 26. I'll give one example where the same Levels, or, to be more exact, the same six groups of punishments are shown clearly enough. It is the song “Haazinu” (“Give ear”), making penultimate weekly Torah portion — Deuteronomy 32.
This passage begins as follows:
(32:15) But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation.
(32:16) They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger.
(32:17) They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not.
(32:18) Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee.
(32:19) And when the LORD saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons, and of his daughters.
Then in the text successively, though not so detailed, mentioned the same six groups of punishments about which there was a speech in the Leviticus 26. I will simply quote Torah words — in fact, it is written here about the same what it was in the Leviticus 26 and was commented above.
(I, loss of contact with God and, as a consequence, the loss of priority)
(32:20) And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith.
(32:21) They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.
(II, practical problems — crop failure, famine, diseases)
(32:22) For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.
(32:23) I will heap mischiefs upon them; I will spend mine arrows upon them.
(32:24) They shall be burnt with hunger, and devoured with burning heat, and with bitter destruction:
(III, mysterious punishments through animals)
(32:24) ...I will also send the teeth of beasts upon them, with the poison of serpents of the dust.
(IV, public troubles — wars)
(32:25) The sword without, and terror within, shall destroy both the young man and the virgin, the suckling also with the man of gray hairs.
(V, the most severe punishment for rebellion against God)
(32:26) I said, I would scatter them into corners, I would make the remembrance of them to cease from among men:
(32:32) ...For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter:
(32:33) Their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps.
(VI, the inviolability of the covenant with God)
(32:36) For the LORD shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants...
(32:41) ...If I whet my glittering sword, and mine hand take hold on judgment; I will render vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me.
(32:43) ...Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people: for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will make expiation for his land, for his people.
The classification given above contains a key to understanding of many processes happening in the world. Ways to God of different people of the world are various, and it turns out that these differences are well described in terms of Six levels of Dialogue with God.
Levels Shema and Brit, 1st and 6th, are the basis of of Christianity.
One of the most important ideas of the Christian doctrine is that God is waiting for you, gives you a hand — just turn to Him, and He will save you from death and darkness pitch. And people are turning. Turning to Him in a literal sense, not allegorically. Cry out to the Lord and yearn for hear His answer in any form, from miracles in everyday life to dreams or illumination. And, of course, they receive, because God loves us. This is Shema level.
The keynote of the Living God, who loves us and with whom it is possible to communicate, was always extremely strong in Christianity. This thought is formulated in the Gospel: Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? (Matt. 7:7–11).
In May, 2011 I conducted survey of orthodox Christians from kuraev.ru Russian Internet forum on the subject, whether many of believers ever received the answer from God and acted in accordance with His recommendations (“hearkened” unto Him). Among the respondents there was a majority of such people. Here this discussion:
It is necessary to remember, of course, that Shema level assumes sincere diligence to construct the life according to sense and spirit of the Doctrine of God, not just to execute formally instructions of the Law. This was already mentioned in the first part of discussion of Shema. The Christianity seems to be the first religion where this requirement found clear formulations and became a part of the Doctrine. Here is this formula told by Paul the Apostle: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life (2 Cor. 3:6).
As for Brit (“covenant”) level — it is so important to Christianity, that became one of self-definitions of the religion. Christianity is based on the New Testament, or the New Covenant with the Almighty — not on the one that was before, but on the new one. It is really a covenant, a contract and a union, and it is different in many respects from the Jewish covenant. The main motive of this covenant is formulated at the end of the Gospel of Matthew: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Historically, this is the first covenant, which was postulated as a common to all mankind — introduction to the doctrine of God of all the nations, and actually it has achieved that goal on a global scale.
The following levels in the symmetric “nested doll” are mizvot, the 2nd and the 5th, i.e. universal ethics. These levels for Christianity are fundamental too. Actually, that is why today we call these ethics “universal” or “standard”, that due to diligence of Christians they became the basis of Western culture, spreading at least to half of the world. And today in Greenland, Rio de Janeiro, Canberra and Vladivostok decent parents teach their children what is good and what is bad, based on this same biblical ethics.
This is not surprising. Throughout all the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly returns to the ethical subject. He decrypts the commandments of the Decalogue, of the 19th chapter of Leviticus and several other locations, explaining what behavior befits the person and what is not. He teaches people to righteous behavior on the bright and vivid examples. He enhances the ethical imperatives so that they become extremely clear: when you help your neighbor, you can not feel sorry for yourself, you can not commit adultery even in thought, you can not dislike a man just because he is considered an enemy of your nation. Christ's many expressions became winged, known even among those who never opened the Bible: about love to enemies, about the other cheek, about rich man for whom it is difficult to enter a Kingdom of Heaven, about the poor in spirit. These ideas were included in literature, into poetry, into philosophical works — cultural classics, which schoolchildren and students of the whole world studied and study today. The progressive statesmen, who try to improve society life, based on them too. As a whole, through the christian perception, ethical mizvot of the Torah became a real moral basis of the modern civilization.
Christians “elaborated” not only the 2nd, but also the 5th level. Many times in the history of Christianity happened that certain social groups raised rebellion against God, refusing His Doctrine and acting contrary to this. In accordance with what was said in the text of the Torah (Leviticus 26), this led to severe public disasters. And then people again came back to Covenant — right in accordance with the same text of the Torah.
Let us now consider the levels 3 and 4: hukim and mishpatim. The situation here is changing quite significantly.
Christians practically do not keep hukim. There is no kashrut or mikvah in Christianity, nor care about the uncleanness of the dead body, nor prohibitions in relation to the menstrual cycle or various outflows, also there is no ban for mixing breeds of animals and plants. The Ten Commandments, of course, are sacred in Christianity — it's too fundamental unit of Doctrine, underlined in the Torah, that is also a part of Christian Scriptures — but even here all three commandments from Second to Fourth, relating to hukim, are not performed accurately. The requirement not to do the image for worship is “softened” with the veneration of icons, Hashem's Name is used rather freely (even Sacred Four-letter), and even if they keep the Shabbat, it is only on spirit, but never by a letter — which, as we know, orders to abstain from quite long list of melachot 6.
The same thing about mishpatim. There never was a Christian society (as well as were not any attempts to create one), where legal rules would be based on Revelation. Although criminal, procedural, family, labor, military Codes in all Christian nations and countries were being built considering the ethical precepts of God, they weren't guided literally by the text of mishpatim in the Torah (the books of Exodus, Levynite, Deuteronomy), nor by the text of the Gospel or Epistles. The mishpatim system, relating to all aspects of structure of society (of the State), which were originally dictated by God and then, in accordance with the rules which He appointed, adjusted in the dialogue with Him — all this did not happen to be in Christianity.
Why it happened this way? After all we believe that God governs the world, and development of civilizations happens according to His plan and purpose. Does this mean that all Christian people “do not need” 3rd and 4th level of the dialogue? Certainly it doesn't. It is just necessary to look at a situation in dynamics: nations of the world develop differently, and during certain historical eras it is more important to someone to develop one aspects, and to someone — others. And God tells people what it is now important to learn, and what isn't so actual yet. We can easily find these tips in the text of the New Testament — tips, which became known to entire Western humanity and really influenced its development.
About clean and unclean Jesus said: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man (Matt. 15:11). Further in Acts God tests Peter, saying: What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common (Acts 10:15). Jesus's words “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mk. 2:27) became winged, forever defining the Christian attitude to this command only in the sense of “Remember”, but not in the sense of “Keep” 6.
The attitude to mishpatim is based on another catch phrase of Jesus: Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's (Matt. 22:21). Church subsequently tried several times to assume the functions of government, but nothing good came out of it — which is as it should be, because they did not have mishpatim system.
Nevertheless, it is absolutely clear: this does not mean that Jesus abolished one part of the Torah, and kept the other. At the beginning of his sermons he clearly stated: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled (Matt. 5:17–18). In fact, all his words have correct meaning as part of the full Law. Indeed, backbiting is greater sin than eating non-kosher food, as the first destroys the whole society while the second only harms an individual. Indeed, the Shabbat, like all hukim and mishpatim, were given to people in order to live in them (Leviticus 18:5). Really, though it isn't presented among Pentateuch precepts, other books of the Bible teach to pay respects to the authorities — for example, Proverbs 24:21, 25:6 (this thought is confirmed further in books of the New Testament: 1 Peter 2:17, Rpmans 13:2 etc.; in the Jewish society these ideas led to the halachic principle of Dina d'malchut).
However Jesus placed quite certain accents which defined future belief of non Jewish Christians. What he emphasized, this became the basis of faith. And something that he passed over in silence, or all the more relegated to the background in comparison with more important things, — this was not included in the Christian tradition.
Probably, there is a deep divine plan in it. After all the main sense of the Covenant with Christians is initial communion of humanity with God and spreading the Good news about Him among pagans, who at the beginning of their way were ignorant and cruel. Ideal energy purity and perfect accuracy of the social tool, i.e. the complete harmony of the society, aren't required here; but strong faith, great devotion to God and, if necessary, a willingness to perform a feat for sake of Him are very important.
Thus, summarizing, we can say that the way of Christianity is defined by levels 1, 2, 5 and 6 of the Dialogue. But levels 3 and 4 didn't gain development among Christians.
The first thing that catches the eye when compared to traditional oriental schools with western religions — is no idea of God.
Of course, this statement is not exact. At “highest levels” of spiritual understanding of reality oriental sages see the same picture that the western — One Creator, the Absolute, who “created” or “caused” our universe. This is a philosophical concept. But in everyday practice of oriental spiritual believers, the Living God, the God-Personality virtually “doesn't have any significance”.
In the language of the system of Levels of Dialogue it is formulated very clearly — Oriental religions do not involve levels Shema and Brit. Here the believers did not make a union with Brahman or Atman, they do not love Him, they do not assume His love for them and they have no direct conversation with Him by the rules of Shema.
However, the following levels — mitzvot, 2 and 5 — in oriental religions are the same as in the Bible. And they coincide so precisely that this in itself is a clear indication of the origin of the commandments from the same Source (even if we ever doubted it). It is just enough to look at basic texts of the two fundamental commandments of oriental religions — Hinduism and Buddhism. All these ethical requirements in some form or another are stated in the Torah. Even more than that — a basic Christian principle of non-resistance to evil by violence, arising out of the most fundamental understanding of love your neighbor commandment — on a society scale was first implemented in India by famous Mahatma Gandhi.
Passing to the innermost levels of the “nesting doll” — 3 and 4, hukim and mishpatim — we see that in oriental schools these levels are not just relevant, but have gained considerable development. And it has been so significant that it is exactly from the East, not from the Bible and not from the Jewish tradition, the Western world was first introduced to hukim — at grassroots, popular level. Namely, with such things as energetics, aura, energy of a body, purification of consciousness and body etc. What in the Torah is called hukim — purification and development of internal “mysterious” power of the person — is very well-developed in yoga system, practice of meditation, oriental methods of treatment and diagnostics, Qi's concept, work techniques with charkas, etc.
Mishpatim level is more complicated to analyze, and I will not take any attempts to delve into this topic. At first glance it is obvious only that Eastern thinkers raised questions about the proper management of the society for a long time and it was not in isolation from the moral and religious education (as in the case of European “secular” politicians and philosophers), but in connection with it, since in the history of Eastern civilizations was nothing like the Western idea of separation of church and state. Apparently vivid example here is a Confucianism.
The above only touches vast and most interesting subjects, which for today are extremely poorly investigated — the analysis of oriental outlooks from the point of view of the Torah. As the preliminary summary we can say that: Eastern way to God is determined by levels of Dialogue 2, 3, 4 and 5. Levels 1 and 6 are left in the “latent”, not an activated state.
Perhaps this conceived by God as counterbalance and addition to Western civilization. In such a case, both ways of mankind, eastern and western, are united by common ethics, i.e. by mitzvot Levels 2 and 5 — that guarantees the possibility of mutual understanding and cooperation.
Of course, for the sake of orderliness of the system it would be desirable to conclude that the Chosen people has quite developed all Six Levels. But, unfortunately, orderly systems often have unpleasant feature to be incorrect.
Probably, there are reasons to assume that at some moments of history, especially right at the beginning, after 40 years of “cleaning” by the desert, the people of Israel really got closer to the perfect condition — full actuation of all Six Levels. It is logical: Jews were chosen to be an example in service to God, and they should have shown an example of that state, which eventually had to become norm for all mankind.
However, despite existence of all Levels of Dialogue in the Divine Doctrine, i.e. in the Torah, in the course of historical development of Judaism not all levels were equally developed. Namely, problems can be seen at Shema levels, hukim and mishpatim.
Problems with the hukim are most obvious. The most important part of these laws is the service in the Temple — the place where God's presence is maximized and where the most profound questions, related to “mysterious”, the deepest aspects of the human soul, are resolved. Of course, after Temple destruction it became impossible to execute these laws, and studying them turned into theoretical form. However, other hukim laws, which nevertheless can be executed, such as Shabbat, kashrut, laws on purity of sexual life etc., are executed so carefully that in the opinion of other people even became some kind of symbol of Jews.
Problems with the level mishpatim are caused by equally prosaic reasons. Jews were compelled to live in diaspora under laws of the countries in which they dwelled. As a result, eventually mishpatim commandments became a subject of the academic studying, which is almost never used in practice. Unlike hukim, at this level remained almost no commandments, which would really “work” at full capacity to this day.
Moreover, today, in the revived Israel, public laws are simply borrowed from the western countries. That is, as it was already spoken in the above chapter “Christendom”, they are based on ethics of the Torah, i.e. mizvot levels, which keeping is the purpose, but they aren't based directly on the Divine prescriptions-mishpatim, which provide the best realization of this purpose.
Certainly, such situation generates difficulties and conflict situations, when Halacha — the code of practical laws adopted in a Judaism — doesn't “fit” the “secular” laws, based on ethics, but not on the mishpatim. In modern Jewish society it's possible to find a number of patent examples. The most obvious is, perhaps, concerning service in army, from which the majority of ultra-orthodox Jews of Israel is abstaining. From the point of view of ethical precepts, it is obvious that it is necessary to protect your nation, your land and especially the Holy Land, which is given by God according to the direct text of the Torah. However Jews, who are in some sense are the “most faithful”, just don't do it, because in modern Halacha such requirement isn't present.
Problems with the level Shema are deeper. One of the clearest manifestations and perhaps partly the cause of these problems are the famous words of Moses given in Deuteronomy 30:12: “It is not in heaven” (about the Torah). These words (belonging by the way to Moses, not to God), Jewish sages took quite literally and drew a conclusion that their decisions have a higher priority than direct speech of God. There is a good article by rabbi Eli Talberg “Lament for Rabbi Eliezer” (it can be found on the Internet in Russian: «Плач по рабби Элиэзеру»), where he is analyzing this situation and its consequences for further development of Judaism. Wishing to protect Torah from violations and to order execution of commandments, sages seem to be overdone and put the Torah — i.e. existing text and oral Jewish tradition — higher then direct communication with the Creator Himself, i.e. lively dialogue with God.
The situation is aggravated by the traditional Jewish thesis which brings “theoretical base” concerning the loss of level of Shema: it is considered that the prophecy indeed ended right after arrival of the prophet Malachi. Certainly, if it is considered to be that it is impossible to hear God, then you will not hear Him — and even if you will hear Him, you won't believe in it. In particular, such position explains, why Rashi in his comment on the fragment, which is discussed in this article (Leviticus 26:14–15), writes that the excerpt “you will not hearken” is necessary to understand as “you will not toil in the study of Torah in order to know the exposition of the Sages”2. If it is impossible to hear God directly, then it is obvious that the best approach to it is to study of Torah.
However, existence of a problem in no way means that Shema level is really lost. Contrary to popular belief — which, nevertheless, is rather a point of view “for the masses” — the cases of communicating with God occurred many times throughout all Jewish history. And the most impressive example is the book of Zohar, which collected the revelations granted to Simeon bar Yochai in the 2nd century AD. Another example is the book “Maggid Meysharim”, written by rabbi Yosef Karo from the words of the angel-maggid. Today in Israel there is at least one school of the prophets “Magen” (
Nevertheless, despite the problems, God is faithful to His promises, and according to the Brit Level (the only level which basically can't be cancelled and which never departed from Israel) He returned Jews to the Holy Land. Today there is so powerful outpouring of Divine light that we can hope for gradual restoration of other levels and the general cleaning of all six-level system of Dialogue with God, first on the Holy Land, and then throughout the world.
Of course, the provided analysis is very brief and incomplete. There are many major religious and worldview systems which absolutely were not mentioned, in particular, Islam, Zoroastrism, ancient Greek-Roman culture. But, apparently, any public systems and areas of development of a human civilization can be analysed by means of the described model.
From here on, with the God's help, I finish the short review of Six levels of Dialogue with God.
May–November 2011 г.
Welcome to leave your comments concerning all written above in my blog, in the topic “Six Levels of Dialogue with God — in English”:
- Hereinafter I quote the Torah on King James or American Standard translations.
- Here is the comment of Rashi:
and if you not hearken unto me
To toil in [the study of] Torah in order to know the exposition of the Sages. I might think that this refers to fulfilling the commandments. When Scripture says, “and you do not perform all these commandments,”, the fulfillment of commandments is [already] stated. So what is the meaning of “if you do not listen to Me”? To toil in [the study of] Torah. And what is the meaning of “to Me”? This is speaking only about someone who knows his Master, and yet willfully rebels against Him (Sanh. 109a). Likewise, regarding Nimrod [whom Scripture calls], “a powerful hunter before the Lord” [Gen. 10:9], [it means that] he recognized God but intentionally rebelled against Him; likewise, regarding the people of Sodom, [referred to as], “very evil and sinful against the Lord ” [Gen. 13:13] — [it means that] they recognized their Master but intentionally rebelled against Him. — [Torath Kohanim 26:18].
and will not do
[This refers to one who] despises others who perform [the commandments]; — [Torath Kohanim 26:18]
And if ye shall despise my statutes
[This refers to one who] despises others who perform [the commandments]; — [Torath Kohanim 26:18].
if your soul abhor my judgments
[refers to one who] hates the Sages; .
so that ye will not do
[refers to someone who] prevents others from fulfilling [the commandments]; — [Torath Kohanim 26:18].
all my commandments
[refers to one who] denies that I [God,] commanded them. This is why the verse says “any of My commandments” and “not any of the commandments.”; — [Torath Kohanim 26:18].
but break my covenant
[This refers to one who] denies the main tenet [of Judaism, namely, that God is the Omnipotent Creator of all existence (Torath Kohanim 26:18).] Hence, [this verse has enumerated] seven sins, the first leading to the second, and so on, until the seventh, [and the process of degeneration is] as follows: [First, a person] does not learn [the Torah]; then, he [subsequently] does not fulfill [the commandments]; he then despises others who do [fulfill them]; then, he hates the Sages, prevents others from fulfilling [the commandments], denies the [authenticity of the] commandments and [finally] denies the very omnipotence of God.
In my opinion, this passage describes not 7, but 6 different problems: the partition of the phrase “so that ye will not do all my commandments” into two parts seems rather unnatural and does not have an explicit proof in the further text of Torah. In favor of the view of Rashi there is a fact that the number 7 is really repeated several times in the further text of Torah, when it speaks of retribution “seven times for your sins.” However, attempts to count in each group the seven sins seem to be even more unnatural. I think the word “seven” in the text has to be understood rather metaphorically, as an indication of a large number, just like the number 3 in the proverb “measure thrice and cut once” or the number 7 in its Russian equivalent “measure seven times before you cut once”.
- It should be said: the laws about slaves and employees. However, the word עבד, “slave,” in modern languages has clear negative connotation that is absent in the language of the Torah. In modern society, to biblical concept עבד rather correspond diverse forms of economic relations between the employee and the employer, from unconditional submission of a soldier in the army to the opposite situation — the president, who in point of law is also a “slave,” a hired man, who is hired by the people of some country to control the state. This subject is too vast to discuss it in this article
- Nowadays the good example of it can be the Soviet Union, which was built on the so-called “socialist” principles, which in fact systematically rejected the Ten Commandments. Enough to remember (and compare with the Decalogue) “scientific” atheism, worship of Lenin and Stalin, blasphemous books ridiculing God, the cult of Pavlik Morozov, legalized robbery and delation. The punishment for this, of course, was as inevitable as in the case of Sodom: it was GULAG, physically destroyed 20% of the Soviet people.
- The word עָרֹב, “arov”, allows various interpretations, “flock”, “gathering of animals”, “gathering of insects”, “mixture of noxious creatures.” Here Rashi's comment to this place:
a mixture of noxious creatures
[which includes] all species of wild beasts, snakes, and scorpions in a mixture, and they were destroying among them [i.e., among the Egyptians]... (Midrash of Rabbi Tanchuma)
The King James Bible translates this word as “swarms of flies.”
- In Judaism, the Shabbat commandment consists of two components. The first component corresponds to the text of the book of Exodus (20:8): Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. The second — to the text of Deuteronomy (5:12): Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it. In Jewish tradition it is believed, that the first text was carved in the First tables, and the second on the Second tables, which were given to Moses to replace those he had broken. The traditional understanding of the difference between the commandments is as follows: the first commandment (remember) requires to allocate the 7th day of all days of the week to fill it with holiness, the second (keep) requires to refrain from certain actions during that day. In the original language these prohibited actions marked with the word melacha (מלאכה), which is usually translated by the word “work” — but this translation is inexact, because in fact this word is a special term, which is almost not explained in the Bible itself, but known from the oral Jewish tradition (Oral Torah). There are several types of melacha corresponding to very concrete actions: laundry, lighting of fire and extinguishing, plowing, writing, building etc. The Christian understanding of Shabbat quite corresponds to the first option of the commandment about Shabbat's spirit, but Christians resolutely reject the Jewish list of forbidden melachot and don't do any attempts to present any kind of their own.