Noahide Seven Commandments Torah classes
© 2014 by Rabbi Zvi Aviner
Introduction-1/ The Seven Commandments’ List
1: Our list
Welcome to our 2014 Noahide Torah classes. We’ll learn about the Noahide Seven Commandments, their origin, meaning, and how they are derived from the Torah’s text.
Not mentioned as a group
Unlike Moses’ Ten Commandments of Sinai, the Noahide Commandments are not mentioned as a group in the Torah’s text. They were not given as a ‘block’ on ‘tablets,’ on a burning mountain accompanied by fire and horns. They were not given in any impressive way. Instead they are given to Adam and Eve in Eden right after they were ‘formed.’ They are:
Later Noah received from G-d the Seventh Commandment that prohibits EATING BLOOD and a LIMB from a LIVING ANIMAL. It prohibits cruelty.
A hint for their origin: Soon after ‘forming’ Adam in Eden, the verse says:
“And HE Commanded on the Adam, saying,
from all the tree fruits of the Garden you can eat,
but from the Tree of Knowledge Good and Evil you shall not eat…” (Genesis 2: 15.)
The words “Commanded, saying…” seem superfluous. Hence G-d “Commanded” on Adam the Six Commandments, and also told him not to eat from the forbidden Tree.
Thus Adam’s Six Commandments are primordial. They were given to Adam in Eden before he lived on Earth. They were given along with the concept of ‘sin,’ i.e. the primordial sin (which was not sex but rather adultery.) These six Commandments were given to Adam as one package, a pre-requisite for his staying in Eden. Yes, there was no free lunch even in Eden. Adam and his wife were there to “till it and preserve it,” (Genesis 2:15.) He and his wife had to earn their living even in Eden. They could stay there protected from the Angel of Death as along they kept the Six Commandments.
The concept of Sin
As the story of Eden infers, the Six Commandments were given bound to the concept of ‘sin.’ The text suggests that there are different levels of sin. A child sins against his parents and teachers, just by not adhering to their warnings. A grown up can commit a sin against authority, by violating the Law. Sin can be against logic. All those different shades and aspects of sinning are alluded to in the story of Eden, as we’ll learn in due course.
They are headlines
Let’s note that Adam’s Six Commandments were given as ‘principles’ or ‘headlines.’ Unlike the Ten Commandments of Sinai, they don’t come in the language of “Thou shall do this” or “Thou shall not do that.” Instead, they sound like ‘thunder in the air’: IDOLATRY! ADULTERY! BLOODSHED! THJEFT! JUSTICE! BLASPHEMY! They are headlines, or moral principles.
Israel is addressed as slaves. Noahide are free people.
The difference between the Ten Commandments to Israel and the Six ones to Adam is profound. Israel was a slave nation which was redeemed from Egypt to become God’s slaves. As it says: “For me are the Children of Israel slaves,” (Leviticus 25: 55.) When you talk to a slave, you’d use a language of commands like ‘you shall do this’ and ‘you shall not do this.’ Noahides in contrast to Israel have never been enslaved nor were they redeemed. Hence they are addressed differently than Israel.
But make no mistake: There is no greater honor in the world than to be recognized as a slave to God. Only three people were called as such: Moses, Joshua, and King David.
Moses’ Laws represent morality
While it is true that other Nations in Moses’ time (1450 B.C.) had also developed a rich Civil Law system (such as Hammurabi’s of Babylon) yet these laws stipulate mostly the punishments incurred for violation the law, while the Six Commandments are PRINCIPLES and they don’t even stipulate the retribution for violating them. Moses’ Laws are far more advanced theoretically and philosophically. According to Moses Man should observe these Six Laws not because they incur retributions, but rather because violating them IS NOT MORALLY RIGHT.
Noah’s new one
Noah, as we’ve said, added one more Commandment on top of Adam’s six: the prohibition to drink blood and eat a limb from a living animal. Whenever the Torah adds a Commandment, it means that the previous ones were not enough. The new one enforces our connection to G-d. The Seventh of Noah enforces MERCY and reduces BLOODSHED in the World. So do not look upon the Commandments as a burden. To the contrary, they are designed to form a ladder on which we climb to Heavens.
ten generations after Noah, Abraham added another Commandment, the Eighth: Circumcision. It means that the previous Seven of Noah were not enough. The eighth Commandment, Circumcision, signal that we are G-d’s property. He owns the heavens and the Earth, and therefore owns us. It is like the emblem of My Lord (Master) in my flesh. Potentially, all people could have been obliged to keep it, since Abraham was a “Son of Noah.” Moses, however, came later and ‘limited’ the Circumcision as an obligation to Israel only.
No decent society can without them
These Seven Noahide Commandments pertain to all Mankind, regardless of race, affiliation or religion. No decent society can survive without them. They are primordial, ‘natural,’ given to us in Eden. They can help us to create Eden here on Earth.
Lately the U.S. Congress has recognized the Seven Noahide Commandments as the “Basis for the moral fabric of our great nation,” (see the front page of this Site.) By this, the USA has become the first nation in history to adopt and recognize the Seven Commandments officially. It behooves every good American to know these Commandments, irrelevant of religious affiliation.
Different Commandments lists
Tradition offers several lists of the Commandments, with various numbers and orders. Basically they all concur. Some would break down a Commandment to subtitles, thereby getting different numbers. The list we use is the most common one seen in the rabbinical literature.
There are several excellent books we recommend:
“The Seven Laws of Noah,” by Aaron Lichtenstien, a scholarly work.
“The Seven Commandments,” by Michael Dalen, an easily read book.
2: The Commandments as Headlines
As we’ve said, each Commandment is a headline. Thus:
IDOLATRY infers not only to ancient idols of wood and stone but also for modern idols such as drugs sex and seeking power. Another example of modern idols are Art, Political party, Social philosophies and Science. They are idols when we subject our lives for their sake.
ADULTERY too is a large headline that includes rape, incense, sexual promiscuity and perversions, in addition to coveting or cohabiting with another people’s married spouse.
BLOODSHED too is a headline that forbids various sorts of murder: such as suicide, indirect killing as well as direct ones. We’ll learn those different subtitles in due course.
THEFT likewise is a headline that prohibits ABDUCTION, ROBBING and STEALING. It allows SLAVERY only on strict condition that honors the slave. Abraham for instance fought bitterly against forced slavery and abduction.
JUSTICE pertains not only to passing just laws, but also to the establishing just court and electing qualified judges and establishing loyal police force.
BLASPHEMY prohibits not only cursing G-d, but also dictates our behavior.
Eating flesh from torn Limbs of a living animal teaches us MERCY. It is an enormously important issue, far beyond the strict law.
As you see, the Commandments cover all aspects of life. A child who learns them would live a different life than otherwise.
3: The Commandment’s Order
IDOLATRY comes first, since if you don’t accept G-d, what would stop you from violating all the rest?
What is the Commandments best order on the list? Which one should come first and which second, third and forth?
There are several lists with different Commandments at the top:
The Talmud’s list: JUSTICE, IDOLATRY, BLASPHEMY, IDOLATRY, ADULTERY BLOODSHED, THEFT, LIMB OF A LIVING CREATURE
The RaMBaM’s list: IDOLATRY, BLASPHEMY, BLOODSHED, ADULTERY, THEFT, JUSTICE.
Most commonly used list (our list): IDOLATRY, ADULTERY, BLOODSHED, THEFT, JUSTICE, BLASPHEMY.
We use our list because of hallachic and logical points.
In our list, IDOALTRY, ADULTERY and BLOODSHED come first since they are often quoted together, and they incur severe penalty.
Note that penalty in the Torah is there to indicate the Commandment’s importance and to scare people from violating them. In practice, though, it is difficult to arrive at the death penalty in Torah’s Court.
Another reason that IDOLATRY , DULTERY and BLODSHED are listed at the top is that we are called upon to surrender our lives rather than violating them. This is certainly true for Israel. Most Rabbis write that Noahide are rewarded for sanctifying them, though Noahide are not OBLIGATED like Israel.
Thus if an evil person forces us to worship idol, we should surrender our life rather than comply.
If the evil person forces us to rape, or have a forbidden sexual relationship, we should surrender our life rather than comply.
If an evil person forces us to kill other people, we should surrender our life rather than comply.
This makes these three Commandments ‘sever.’
he details of this important debate are beyond the outline of this course. Most of the Torah authorities of today hold that Noahides should regard themselves obligated. Certainly they are rewarded by G-d for their self sacrifice.
Logical reasons for our list order
Moses was the greatest psychologist in the world. He knew the human heart like nobody else. You see that in the order of the Commandments. They act like a cascade on which people may slide if they are not careful. One sin would lead to another. Thus
ADULTERY comes next. For the first thing you’d do without God in your heart is to sleep with your best friend’s wife.
BLOODSHED comes next, since if you’ve violated your friend’s wife, what would stop him from running after you with a knife? And would you not wish to get rid of him to get his wife permanently?
THEFTcomes next, since once you’ve stolen someone’s wife, what would stop you from stealing his property and money?
INJUSTICEwould follow suite, since once you have stolen someone’s wife and money, what would you do if not suppressing justice?
BLASPHEMY should follow for sure since when you live in such a society that tolerates all the above, you’d curse your mother and father for bringing you to the world, and curse G-d for creating this world!
A sad case to remember. It demonstrates everything we’ve just said.
Years ago I knew a member of our synagogue, a decent fellow, a physician, who was really a dedicated religious man.
His wife, on the other hand, was not so much religious. She actually was caught eating in non kosher restaurants
Which may not seem such a bad thing to you, but it does betray the fact that tradition and G-d were far away from her mind.
She simply did not take G-d seriously.
After a while, one day when the husband came home unexpectedly, he caught his wife with another man in their living room.
The husband told me later that if he had a gun, he would have shot them both, and then kill himself.
Moreover, how shocked he was later to discover that for years his adulterous wife had supported her lover by lots of her husband’s money.
Then, when the case came to court, she hired the best lawyer in town who smeared the poor husband so much in the court’s eye that
the poor husband lost the custody of their children, lost his home, and finally left town.
This was such a gross distortion of justice that the entire community kept talking about that for years.
In fact, we are born to withstand this cascade of Commandments; they are engraved in our psyche.
This list of the Six Commandments opens our eyes to our reality.
When we wake up in the morning we know that we would be faced with their challenge throughout the day. No escape. We better remind ourselves of them by reciting them by heart each and every morning.
Select the best answer ***
(1) In Eden Adam received (a) ten commandments (b) seven commandment (c) forbidden fruits (d) six commandment
(2) The Seventh Noahide Commandment was given to (a) Adam (b) Abraham (c) Moses (d) Noah
(3) The First Commandment is (a) the basis for the rest (b) the prohibition to enthrone G-d on our life (c) adultery (d) none of the above
(4) The first three Commandments (a) demand sacrificing our lives (b) are less important than the others (c) rarely mentioned together (d) all the above
(5) The Six Commandments come (a) detailed (b) headlines (c) with fire and horns (d) On Sinai
(6) Eden took place on (a) the First Day (b) Second Day (c) Third Day (d) Fourth Day
(7) The Six Commandments (a) reflect basic morality for all humans (b) no good society can survive without them (c) pertain to all mankind (d) all the above
(8) BLASPHEMY includes prohibition of (a) abortion (b) desecration of G-d’s Name (c) eating blood (d) stopping breathing machine
(9) In Eden, Adam could (a) live free of any obligation (b) eat anything he wished (c) stay forever regardless of his sins (d) live only if he abides by the Six Commandments
(10) On Earth, Adam’s Six Commandments were (a) abrogated (b) replaced by spirituality (c) carried over (d) non relevant anymore
Read also: "Genesis Vs. Science, Can They Match?" By Zvi Aviner, at www.smashwords.com
END OF INTRODUCTION 1