Mitzvos for the 70 Nations

“The sum of the matter, when all has been considered: Revere God and keep His mitzvos, for this is the human being’s whole duty.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)


Dear Friends,


In this letter, we will begin to discuss those mitzvos of the Torah which all human beings are to fulfill. Our discussion will begin with a group of major mitzvos known as the Sheva Mitzvos Bnei Noach – Seven Mitzvos of the Children of Noah. With the help of Hashem, we will later cite sources which indicate that there are also other mitzvos which all human beings are to fulfill.


The Talmud (Sanhedrin 56b) states that seven basic mitzvos were first taught to humanity at the very dawn of human history, beginning with Adam and Eve. These Divine mandates were reaffirmed during the era of Noah, after the flood, and they therefore became known as the “Seven Mitzvos of the Children of Noah.” As Maimonides points out in his Mishneh Torah, the Seven Mitzvos of the Children of Noah were reaffirmed with the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai (the Laws of Kings 8:11). The following are the Seven Mitzvos:
1. Establish courts of justice


2. Not to curse the sacred Divine Name


3. Not to engage in idolatry – the deification of any object, creature, human being, or power other than the One Creator of the Universe


4. Not to murder a human being – including one’s self


5. Not to engage in immoral sexual relations


6. Not to steal


7. Not to eat a limb severed from a living animal


According to Ramban (Nachmanides), the mandate to establish courts of justice also includes the responsibility to establish laws regulating various civil matters. (Commentary to Genesis 34:13)
The “Sefer Ha-Chinuch” is a classical work on the Torah’s mitzvos, and it states the following teaching: The Seven Mitzvos of the Children of Noah 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, “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 explains that since the Children of Noah were adjured about the sin of 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.”
The Talmud teaches that a Gentile who studies the Torah in order to understand and fulfill these universal mitzvos “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. Meiri 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 the principle of the Divine Unity which is expressed in the words, “Hashem is One! (Deuteronomy 6:4); moreover, we can also find the related concept of the unity of all creation. This is because the deification of any fragment of creation – an aspect of nature, a human being, or a nation – can cause human beings to lose their consciousness of the unity and common origin of all creation. It is therefore not surprising that the same Prophets of Israel who proclaimed a vision of world unity also spoke out against all forms of idolatry.


If we examine the prohibition against eating a limb severed from a living animal, we can find other Torah principles which we discussed in previous letters. 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 cruel and inhuman act which goes against this basic principle. (This cruel act was more common in the ancient world, but it is 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)


 In this spirit, 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 a 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?  Cursing the sacred Divine Name is an extreme form of human arrogance; moreover, it is an act of rebellion against Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One, Who created the human being to serve the compassionate and life-giving Divine purpose. The prohibition against this act therefore serves as a reminder of the following Torah principle: We are to revere the Compassionate and Life-Giving One Who created us to serve the Divine purpose, as it is written:


“Revere Hashem, your God, and Him shall you serve” (Deuteronomy 6:13).


In this spirit, King Solomon proclaimed:


“The sum of the matter, when all has been considered: Revere God and keep His mitzvos, for this is the human being’s whole duty.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)    


This reverence is a basic principle of the Torah, as without this reverence, the human being can become an arrogant creature that exploits and damages the world. This is why the Prophet Isaiah states that before the arrival of the messianic age of universal enlightenment and unity, “Humankind’s haughtiness will be humbled” (Isaiah 2:17).  


We therefore yearn for the fulfillment of the following Divine proclamation regarding the universal pilgrimage to Zion at the dawn of the messianic age:


“And it shall be that, from New Moon to New Moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to bow before Me, said Hashem.” (Isaiah 66:23)


Have a Good and Strengthening Shabbos,

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)


Related Teachings:


1. It is written: “Many peoples will go and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the Mountain of Hashem, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths.’ For from Zion will go forth Torah, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:2,3)


“He will teach of us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.” What are the ways and paths that they will seek to study and follow? In his commentary on a related verse, Radak explains that when the peoples make the pilgrimage to the Temple, they will seek to study and fulfill the Torah’s universal path – the Seven Mitzvos of the Children of Noah (commentary on Isaiah 42.6).


2. The Hebrew term for a Gentile who fulfills the Seven Mitzvos is ger toshav – the stranger who is a resident. The reason this righteous Gentile is called a “resident” is because he or she can become a resident of the Land of Israel. With the help of Hashem, we shall elaborate on this topic in a future letter.


3. The “Sefer Chassidim” – attributed to Rabbi Yehudah HaChasid – is a classical work on Torah ethics and piety which was written in the thirteenth century. Regarding a Gentile who is diligent in his fulfillment of the Seven Mitzvos, he writes:


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

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