Torah is Everywhere

Menachem Ben-Mordechai,

Menachem Ben Mordechai
Menachem Ben Mordechai
INN:MB

A man enters his car, drives to the gym, and works out.  What does this have to do with Judaism?

A good deal, actually.

Say the man speeds, runs a red light, or sends text messages instead of watching the road.  When he arrives at the gym, he takes up two parking spaces.  Inside the gym, he uses equipment but doesn't put it back, such as leaving a pair of dumbbells on the floor.

Such a man might pray three times a day and keep kosher, but he is alienated from Judaism no less than someone who eats pork.

Along with ritual observances like daily prayer, Judaism is deeply concerned with mundane behavior. As Rabbi Eli Mansour notes, “The Torah is not a codebook.  Torah is actually a lifestyle.”  A reckless and rude lifestyle is repugnant to Torah.

In 2008, Rabbi Re’em HaCohen issued an opinion that reckless drivers should be disqualified as witnesses in rabbinical courts.  The head of Yeshivat Otniel stated, “Anyone who blatantly and intentionally commits traffic violations, thus endangering human lives, is also purposely transgressing Halacha.” 

Likewise, in an overview of reckless driving, Rabbi Mansour cites opinions that a reckless driver has the lethal status of a rodef (pursuer) and must be stopped, his recklessness having both murderous and suicidal implications. (http://www.dailyhalacha.com/Display.asp?ClipDate=6/15/2010

Someone who has internalized Judaic values does not behave this way, just as someone who has internalized Judaic values does not eat pork.  In a discussion of the Rambam's Moreh Nevuchim, Rabbi David Bar-Hayim of Machon Shilo states concerning Israeli social pathologies including the rate of car accidents: “There's no doubt in my mind that if we were to teach all people who drive a car, for example, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah, Hilchot De'ot, and some parts of Moreh Nevuchim, there would be many fewer car accidents.” 

Referring to an incident in Beit Shemesh where a child attacked another child with a knife over an argument about a water pipe, Rabbi Bar-Hayim remarks:

"That cannot happen, should not be possible, in a society where the influence of the Torah is strong and clear.  But in a society where people are not trained to control their passions, where people do not have midot tovot (good character traits) then almost any argument can lead to one person knifing the other person.  (See 33:35 of part five: http://machonshilo.org/en/eng/list-audio-shiurim/41-audiohalakha/350-are-the-misswoth-a-means-or-an-end.)"

 The cases of using two parking spaces and not putting equipment back in a gym have less alarming implications, but they stem from the same cause.  There is still recklessness involved since someone could trip on the equipment and injure himself.  The deeper commonality between these behaviors and reckless driving is a lack of consideration for others.

 Our Sages teach, “Derech eretz kadma l’Torah” (Good manners precede Torah observance).  When someone runs a red light or leaves equipment in a hazardous location, he does not consider or care about the damaging consequences this might have on other people.  Recklessness follows from rudeness, violating a cornerstone of Judaism.  These anti-Jewish traits can also manifest in non-physical contexts, thus the prohibition on ona’at devarim (hurtful speech).

In Isaac Bashevis Singer's novel The Slave, set in Poland, the following exchange occurs between the protagonist and another character:

“Where is the Torah?  In Josefov?”

"The Torah is everywhere."

"How can it be everywhere?"

"The Torah tells how a man should conduct himself."

This is exactly right.  The more we conduct ourselves in accordance with Torah, the greater harmony and growth we advance in our society and ourselves.

For further study, see “Derech Eretz: Back to Basics” by Rabbi Eli Mansour (https://www.learntorah.com/lt-shiur-details.aspx?id=872)





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