Our Practical Path

“Practical” – concerned with action, not theory (Webster’s Compact Dictionary)
Dear Friends,
Maimonides cites the following teaching of our sages: “There is no mitzvah among all the mitzvos which is equivalent to Torah study. Torah study, however, is equivalent to all the mitzvos, for study leads to action.” (The Laws of Torah study 3:3)
Torah study makes us aware of the many mitzvos which relate to every area of life on earth. Through each mitzvah, we elevate and sanctify different aspects of our earthly existence. Our Torah study leads to action; thus, the Torah path is a practical path. The detailed steps of this path are known as “halacha” – a term which means, “the way to walk.”
The goal of this halachic path is to transform this earth into a holy heaven. A Chassidic sage known as the Kobriner Rebbe finds an allusion to this idea in the following verse:
“The heaven is the heaven of the Compassionate One, but the earth He has given to humankind.” (Psalm 115:16)
As the Kobriner Rebbe explains, the heavens are not our concern; they are in the hands of Hashem – the Compassionate One. It is the earth that is given to us, so that we can elevate and sanctify it. In this way, the earth can attain the holiness of the heavens. (Cited in the ArtScroll Haggadah by Rabbi Joseph Elias)
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch finds another reference to this idea in the following verse:
“And I have placed My words in your mouth – and with the shade of My hand have I covered you – to implant the heavens and to set a foundation for the earth and to say unto Zion, ‘You are My people.’ ” (Isaiah 51:16).
“To implant the heavens and to set a foundation for the earth” – According to Rabbi Hirsch, these words express the holistic goal of the halachic path. There are other religious traditions, explains Rabbi Hirsch, which view heaven and earth - the spiritual and the material - as irreconcilable; thus, they believe that whoever wants heaven must renounce earth. Judaism offers a different approach through the practical path of halacha, writes Rabbi Hirsch, for our Divine assignment is to accomplish the following goal:
“Permeating, infiltrating the earthly with the heavenly, the temporal with the eternal, for that is where human happiness lies. To bring heaven on earth is what God's Torah wishes.” (Commentary on the Haftorah)
To permeate the earthly with the heavenly, the temporal with the eternal, is the raison d'etre of our people, especially within the Promised Land. This is why the above Divine proclamation ends with the following words: “And to say unto Zion, ‘you are My people.’ ” As Rabbi Hirsch explains: “Israel is to be a people in which every phase of public and private life bears the stamp of belonging to God (ibid).”
When our ancestors made the pilgrimage to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, they not only went there in order to bring offerings and pray; they also went there to receive halachic guidance for the complex issues they faced as individuals and as a community. In what way was the Temple a center for halachic guidance?  Within the precincts of the Temple was the Chamber of the Hewn Stone, where the Supreme Torah Court – later known as the Sanhedrin - gave halachic rulings and instruction. A reference to the role of these judges appears in a biblical passage which describes the pilgrimage of the tribes to the Temple:
“The built-up Jerusalem is like a city that is united together. For there the tribes ascended, the tribes of God, a testimony for Israel… For there sat thrones of judgement (Psalm 122:3-5)
“For there sat thrones of judgement” - Two noted biblical commentators, the Metzudas Dovid and the Malbim, explain that this is a reference to the seats of the judges on the Supreme Court. These judges were the leading Torah scholars in the land who received the tradition from the leading Torah scholars of the previous generation. In fact, the traditional Hebrew term for a Torah scholar is “talmid chacham” – a disciple of the wise, as each talmid chacham is a link in the chain of tradition going back to Sinai.
The Talmud states: “Since the destruction of the Holy Temple, the Holy One, Blessed be He, has naught in His world but the four cubits of halacha” (Brochos 8a). The noted commentator on the Talmud, the Maharsha, explains this teaching as follows:
When the Holy Temple existed, the Chamber of Hewn Stone located within its precincts was the place from which the halacha emanated by the word of the Sanhedrin, and the Shechinah – Divine Presence - was with them. Since the destruction of the Holy Temple, the Shechinah can be found wherever a talmid chacham establishes a place of Torah study to decide the halacha.
The halacha not only guides us in our relationship with the Creator; it also guides us in our relationship with other human beings, other creatures, and the earth. It even guides us in our relationship with ourselves. During the 19th century, some Jews in Western Europe wanted to “reform” Judaism by abandoning the Torah’s all-encompassing system of halacha. As a result, their spiritual life became centered in the synagogue and its services. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch fought this trend, and he reminded our people that Jewish spiritual life is centered in life itself. For example, Rabbi Hirsch cited the following prophetic proclamation of Jeremiah against the false prophets who claimed that the Temple alone, without a commitment to the mitzvos and their halacha, would save the people:
“Do not trust the false statements that say, ‘The Temple of the Compassionate One, the Temple of the Compassionate One!’ They themselves should be the Temple of the Compassionate One!” (Jeremiah 7:4 – Rabbi Hirsch’s translation)
Commenting on the above verse, Rabbi Hirsch stated: “From the point of view of the Torah, the real Temple of God is not the mere building of brick and stone, but the Jew whose whole life is a continuous glorification of God.” And he added: “Either the Torah knows no worship at all or its worship comprises the whole of human life.” This comment appears in Dayan Grunfeld’s introduction to “Horeb” – Rabbi Hirsch’s classical work on the mitzvos and their halacha. 
Life and Shalom,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)
Related Comments:
1. In her book, “My Sister the Jew,” Ahuvah Gray - a granddaughter of African American sharecroppers, and a former Christian minister – tells the story of how she joined the Jewish people through accepting the Torah and its path of mitzvos. Her parents and grandparents raised her with ethical and spiritual values, and as an adult, she discovered that these values were rooted in Judaism. As she became committed to Judaism, she also discovered that the mitzvos and their halacha enabled her to further actualize these values in her daily living, especially in the home. She writes:
“Spending much time in other people's houses leaves me in awe of religious Jewish women. Our homes are a daily sanctification of the Name of Hashem (God). I came from a fine family. I saw love and kindness and devotion to the poor, and I was raised with values of strict morality and refinement. Yet when I enter a Torah home, the daily, moment-to-moment sanctification of God's name that I experience far surpasses anything that I was raised with.”
For further information, visit her website: www.mysisterthejew.com  . Her second book is titled, “Gifts of a Stranger,” and it discusses her life after her conversion to Judaism. Ahuvah Gray’s books are published by Targum Press and distributed by Feldheim Publishers.
2. A growing number of Jewish men and women on Israeli Kibbutzim have begun to explore their Jewish spiritual roots. Rabbi Shlomo Ra’anan is the head of Ayelet HaShachar, an Israeli Torah outreach organization, and he reported that one of the most popular books among these searching kibbutzniks is Kitzur Shulchan Aruch – an abridged code of daily halacha. These seekers are fascinated with halacha, he says, as “they learn that each action and every moment has meaning.” (Cited in the article, “A Torah Revolution in Need of Troops” by Jonathan Rosenblum, Mishpacha Magazine, 6th of Teves, 5767 - December 27, 2006)

Hazon - Our Universal Vision