Weekly Letter: Are the Torah’s Laws Still Relevant?

This week, as we prepare for Shavuos, we present a letter from the Rebbe in which he gives an answer to the question: since we live in a society based on law and order, are the laws of the Torah still relevant today as they were thousands of years ago? The letter, written originally in English, is from the archives of the Rebbe’s personal trusted secretary, Rabbi Nissan Mindel.

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                                                                                                                                       By the Grace of G-d

16th of Shevat, 5724

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Mr.

Binghamton, N.Y.

Greeting and Blessing:

This is in reply to your letter, in which you ask: since we live in a society based on law and order, are the laws of the Torah still relevant today as they were thousands of years ago? I trust the following few lines will provide an answer.

One of the basic messages of the Ten Commandments is contained in the fact that they begin with “I am G-d,” etc,,   introducing the profound principle of monotheism, the idea that there is one and only one G-d. This in itself was a tremendously revolutionary idea in those days of idolatry, dominated by the polytheistic culture of Egypt (as indicated in detail in the second commandment). Incidentally, the emphasis on monotheism, and the denial of all forms of idolatry, is to be seen not only in the fact that these ideas form the subject of the first two commandments, but also in the quantity of words and detail which they contain. At the same time, the Ten Commandments conclude with such apparently obvious injunctions as “Thou shalt not steal,” etc.

The profundity of monotheism, with which the Ten Commandments begin, and the simplicity of the ethical and moral laws, with which the Ten Commandments conclude, point to an important lesson, namely:

  1. a) The true believer in G-d is not the one who holds abstract ideas, but the one whose knowledge of G-d leads him to the proper daily conduct even in ordinary and commonplace matters, in his dealings with his neighbors and the respect for their property,  even if it be an ox or an ass, etc.
  2. b) The ethical and moral laws, even those that are so obvious as “Thou shalt not steal,” and “Thou shalt not murder,” will have actual validity and will be observed only if they are based on the first and second Commandments, that is to say, based on Divine authority, the authority of the One and Only G-d.

If in a previous generations there were people who doubted the need of Divine authority for common morality and ethics, in the belief that human reason is sufficient authority for morality and ethics, our present generation has, unfortunately, in a most devastating and tragic way refuted this mistaken notion. For, it is precisely the nation which has excelled in the exact sciences, the humanities and even in philosophy ethics that turned out to be them the most depraved nation of the world, making an ideal of murder and robbery. Anyone who knows how insignificant was the minority of Germans who opposed the Hitler regime, realizes that the German cult was not something which was practiced by a few individuals, but had embraced the vast majority of the nation, who considered itself the “master race,” etc. Surely it is unnecessary to elaborate on this at great length.

With all good wishes and with blessings,

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The above letter is from The Letter and the Spirit by Nissan Mindel Publications (NMP).

These letters were written originally in English and were prepared for publication by Rabbi Dr. Nissan Mindel, whose responsibility it was the Rebbe’s correspondence in English and several other languages.

We thank Rabbi Shalom Ber Schapiro, who was entrusted by his father-in-law Rabbi Mindel with his archives and who is Director of the Nissan Mindel Publications (NMP), for making the Rebbe’s letters available to the wider public. May the merit of the many stand him in good stead.

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