The Universal and Life-Giving Path: Part One



The term “chasid” appears in our Sacred Scriptures, and it refers to someone who serves the Creator with devotion and love. The term “chassidei umos ha'olam” refers to those among the nations who serve the Creator with devotion and love. Our sages state:


Chassidei umos ha'olam have a share in the World to Come.” (Tosefta – Sanhedrin 13:1)

Dear Friends,
Although the Torah has a specific path for the People of Israel which prepares them for their universal role and leads them to eternal life in the World to Come, the Torah also has a path for the peoples of the earth which leads them to eternal Life in the World to Come. This path contains seven basic mitzvos – Divine mandates – which are known as the “Seven Mitzvos of the Children of Noah.” In this letter, we shall cite a source which states that these seven mitzvos are actually seven categories of mitzvos which contain many specific mitzvos. In the next letter, we hope to discuss sources which state that there are other mitzvos which all human beings must fulfill, in addition to the seven basic mitzvos.


The Talmud (Sanhedrin 56b) states that the seven basic mitzvos were first taught to humanity at the very dawn of human history, beginning with Adam and Eve; however, these Divine mandates were reaffirmed during the generation of Noah, after the flood, and they therefore became known as the “Seven Mitzvos of the Children of Noah.” They include:
1. the mandate to establish courts of justice
2. the prohibition against cursing the sacred Divine Name
3. the prohibition against idolatry – the deification of any object, creature, human being, or power other than the One Creator of the Universe
4. the prohibition against murder – including the murder of one’s self
5. the prohibition against immoral sexual relations
6. the prohibition against theft
7. the prohibition against eating a limb severed from a living animal
According to Ramban (Nachmanides), the mitzvah to establish courts of justice also includes the obligation to establish laws regulating all civil matters such as damages, business regulations, labor laws, etc, in order to establish a just society. The mitzvah to establish courts of justice is therefore a general mitzvah which includes many particular mitzvos.


According to the “Sefer Ha-Chinuch” – a classical work on the Torah’s mitzvos – the seven basic mitzvos are actually seven “categories” of mitzvos which include many of the 613 particular mitzvos which are incumbent upon the People of Israel. This explanation is found in the following comments of the Sefer Ha-Chinuch regarding the 416th mitzvah – the prohibition, “You shall not covet” (Deuteronomy 5:18):
“This prohibition applies at all times, in all places, to both men and women, and to all human beings. This is so because it is part of the prohibition against stealing, which is one of the Seven Mitzvos that all human beings are to observe. Make no mistake concerning the enumeration of the Seven Mitzvos of the Children of Noah – these being well-known and recorded in the Talmud – for they are but categories, and they contain many particulars.”


The Sefer Ha-Chinuch points out that since the Children of Noah were adjured about stealing, they were equally adjured about all Torah decrees to keep a person far away from stealing, such as the decree, “You shall not covet.”
Regarding a human being who properly fulfills the Seven Mitzvos, Maimonides writes:


“Anyone who accepts upon himself the fulfillment of these Seven Mitzvos and is precise in their observance is considered one of the chassidei umos ha'olam, and he has a share in the World to Come.” (Mishneh Torah: The Laws of Kings 8:11)


Maimonides adds that in order to be considered one of the chassidei umos ha'olam, “one must accept and fulfill these Seven Mitzvos because the Holy One, Blessed is He, commanded them in the Torah and informed us through Moshe, our Teacher, that even previously, Noah’s descendants were commanded to fulfill them” (ibid). In other words, the Seven Mitzvos were reaffirmed at Mount Sinai; thus, chassidei umos ha'olam are to recognize that the Revelation at Mount Sinai includes a universal path for all humankind.


The Talmud teaches that a Gentile who studies the Torah in order to understand and fulfill this universal path “is like a Kohen Gadol - a High Priest” (Sanhedrin 59a). A noted commentator on the Talmud, Meiri, explains that the Talmud is calling on us to honor such a person as we would honor a Kohen Gadol. In this spirit, we find the following teaching regarding a Gentile who is diligent in his fulfillment of the laws and principles of the Seven Mitzvos:


“Honor him more than you would a Jew who is not involved in the study of Torah” (Sefer Chassidim, 358).


Meiri, in his commentary cited above, adds that most of the principles of the Torah are contained within the Seven Mitzvos. The Meiri does not elaborate, but if we examine any of the Seven Mitzvos, we can discover basic Torah principles. For example, within the prohibition of idolatry, we can find not only the concept of the Unity of the Creator, but also the related concept of the unity of creation. For the deification of any fragment of creation – whether it be an aspect of nature, a human being, a nation, or humanity itself – can cause human beings to lose their consciousness of the unity and common origin of all creation. Rabbi Avraham Yaffen, a noted teacher of Jewish ethics in the early 20th century, elaborates on this idea in an essay that he wrote about our father, Avraham, and his unifying role. Rabbi Yaffen points out that it was precisely Avraham, who dedicated his life to acts of lovingkindness, who also dedicated his life to the negation of idolatry. Rabbi Yaffen adds that when Avraham would see the people of his generation fighting with each other, and how each would offer sacrifices to his own god in order to try to gain support in his struggle against his neighbor, Avraham would teach them that, on the contrary, “each should help  his neighbor, for one God created them and desires the honor of all of them.” (Mishel Avos - An anthology of Commentaries on Pirkei Avos, p. 144)
If we examine the prohibition against eating a limb severed from a living animal, we can find other Torah principles. For example, a basic principle of the Torah is that the human being is created in the Divine image with the capacity and responsibility to emulate the Divine compassion and concern for all forms of life. Eating a limb from a living animal is a brutal and cruel act which goes against this basic principle. (This cruel act was more common in the ancient world, but it still practiced in certain parts of the world today.) The prohibition against this cruel act is also included among the 613 mitzvos which were given to the People of Israel. The Sefer Ha-Chinuch discusses this prohibition, and it states:


"A root principle of this mitzvah is that we should not train our spirit in the quality of cruelty, which is a most reprehensible trait of character.” (#452)


Another Torah principle included in this prohibition is the awareness that the human being is not the owner of the earth and its creatures, for the human being is only the custodian (see Genesis 2:15). The human being therefore has no right to cruelly exploit other living creatures for his immediate gratification. This is why the Torah has a number of mitzvos which obligate us to show concern and consideration for the feelings and instincts of animals. We discussed these mitzvos in our previous series – “Relating to Other Creatures” – which appears in the archive on our website.

What Torah principles are contained within the prohibition against cursing the sacred Divine Name? I would like to suggest that this prohibition reminds the human being to respect and revere the Divine Source of all life, truth, and wisdom. This reverence is a basic principle of the Torah, as without this reverence, the human being becomes an arrogant creature that exploits and damages the world. This is why the Prophet states that before the arrival of the messianic age of enlightenment, “Humankind’s haughtiness will be humbled” (Isaiah 2:17).  A related Torah principle is that all creation stems from the One Creator; thus, respect and reverence for the Creator can lead to respect and reverence for the Divine creation.

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
Related Teachings:


1. In Letter 120 of this series, we discussed how the Kohen Gadol – High Priest – represents the eternal life of the first human being in the Garden. A Gentile who follows the universal path of the Torah connects to this eternal life. We therefore suggested that this may be a reason why our sages compare this righteous Gentile to the Kohen Gadol.
2. During the messianic age, each people will maintain its basic identity and culture, but will dedicate this culture to fulfilling the life-giving mandates of the Compassionate One. As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes in his commentary to Psalm 24:6:

“Each nation may still retain its own characteristics and peculiarities, but must always use them and the way of life based upon them only in conformity with the supreme Divine moral Law.”

Hazon - Our Universal Vision