Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Attitudinal distinctions between moral/ethical and ritual Mitzvot 

Guest Blogger:
Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen
Attitudinal distinctions between moral/ethical and ritual Mitzvot
by Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen

Recent debate over the proper attitude necessary for the observance of Mitzvot galvanizes the question as to whether
a pious Jew should have a disciplined control over his/her  desires or appetites that he/she does not even lust after (or desire) that which is forbidden?
Though such a character trait would appear to be lauded, concern must be noted that , at first glance, it seems to be contradicted by the following Talmudic dictum. Namely the rule that "no one should say, my soul cannot tolerate the meat of a pig, rather , one should say: personally I would eat it, but what can I do, it has been forbidden to me".(See Rashi, Vayikra 20:26)
In other words desiring forbidden foods is not a negative Jewish trait.
HaRav Shlomo Kluger contends(I simply cannot recall the source) that there is an attitudinal distinction between different types of sins.
In general Jewish law may be divided into two distinct categories. There are Mitzvot which are logical and  supported by a moral/ethical point of view. In addition there are Mitzvot beyond human comprehension, precepts that are considered statutes (Chukim)  In the former group, the rational component of the sin should be powerful enough to eliminate even a scintilla of desire to sin. Accordingly the true believer and observer of the Torah should be of such a mind that lying , stealing and cheating should be viewed as repugnant to morality.
Regarding, however, the statutes (Chukim), we simply do not understand their  raison d'etre. As such, there is nothing wrong with manifesting a personal inclination to enjoy the forbidden item. In these matters the concern is not the desire per se, but, rather, withholding oneself from violating the Biblical injunction.
Thus, one may not contend that he/she sees nothing wrong with stealing but refrains from doing so due to the biblical mandate.

Thus, when performing logical Mitzvot we are implored to observe them in the same manner  and enthusiasim  as one performs action of great joy and moral value.When, however it comes to commandments whose reason we simply do not understand, we follow the ruling of Rabban Gamliel who said in Avot, "Nullify your will before His will, so that He will nullify the will of others (Avot 2:4) In other words, even though we may desire forbidden foods, we hold back from eating them and hope HaShem will reward us by nullifying the evil will of others. (See Magen Avot- Commentary of Rav Shlomo Kluger, Avot m2:4)

About our Guest Blogger
Rabbi Cohen is the recipient of the prestigious "Jerusalem Prize" for rabbinic scholarship and leadership presented in the presence of the President of Israel and the chief Rabbis. Rabbi Cohen has published several Sefarim on Halacha. His latest, "Shabbat The right Way-Resolving Halachic dilemmas (Urim Publications) is available at Judaica stores and at


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