The Individual and the Collective
There is a misconception that the Torah deals only with the four-cubits of the individual and his direct relationship with those around him, but that it has no say in the public arena (i.e., social, governmental, or political systems). From here, the mistaken belief that one should “be a Jew at home and a gentile outside” results, and if a Jewish rabbi rules on a matter of public importance, he is harassed by those who complain that he should never state his opinion. However, those who criticize the rabbi have no idea what the Torah is, and in their ignorance, they compare it to other religions in which there is a definitive distinction made between “religion” and “politics.” Just as the Torah guides the individual in his home and family life, so too it guides the entire Jewish people and shapes Jewish life in the public arena. In fact, to a certain extent, the Torah’s foremost concern is the public arena, and it reverts to the minutiae of our personal lives only once the community has been rectified.
Moreover, the Torah does not only offer advice, but it makes rules and demands. The correct mental attitude towards it is one of unwavering obligation to observe what is written in it, as the Children of Israel proclaimed at the foot of Mt. Sinai, in the declaration that still echoes in our psyches to this day, “We will do, and we will listen!” Even though there are still Jews today who do not yet assert this openly, since God gives the Torah to us every day anew, and the Torah’s verses are knocking at our doors right now, asking us to let them in. This is why any rabbi who does not express the Torah’s standpoint and halachic (Jewish law) rulings on current public events, is misappropriating his role.
Halachah and Kabbalah
How do we discover the Torah’s perspective on various issues that we encounter in reality? Quite simply, we approach the subject as it appears in halachah, following the conventional halachic method. By “translating” the fundamental principles into relevant, applicable halachah, we produce the relevant decisions to the subject at hand. In hilchot Shabbat, for example, extensive Torah study was required to rule whether using electricity on Shabbat is permitted or prohibited; so too, extensive research is required to reach conclusions regarding the Torah’s ruling on public concerns.
But that’s not enough. Sometimes halachah seems to be on a collision course with reality. Halachah is dry and decisive, telling us “do this” and “don’t do that.” However, reality is apparently no less stubborn. We find ourselves caught between the Torah’s uncompromising ruling and the world at large, which doesn’t really take an interest in what the Torah has to say. Even if we decide to stubbornly stand our course, knocking our heads against a brick wall, as it were, we still lack an inner integration that totally identifies with the halachic ruling, which appears to “attack” reality’s mundane perception of the situation. But, if the Torah’s standpoint is challenging even to those who promote it, how can we expect to convince other Jews to accept it?
In order to find a solution, we are compelled to reach the rich and thriving world of the Torah’s inner dimension. Behind every halachic ruling (and certainly behind every complete system of halachot), hide myriad dimensions, which the mysteries of the Torah’s hidden wisdom reveal. This inner wisdom reveals God’s countenance that is behind the Torah, i.e., the Giver of the Torah Himself. Thus we reveal that halachah is not merely a heavy tome of laws but an expression of life (“eternal life You planted in us”). Incorporating the inner dimension of the Torah into our everyday lives of halachah can be compared to the wondrous biological systems of our body, which enable life to materialize through it. So too, the Torah’s inner dimension helps organize our halachic approach by weaving a complete, orderly system from a variety of different opinions. Kabbalah breathes life into the dry bones of halachah, making its details come to life by revealing how the different opinions each represent one facet of a complete unit.
The moment the world of halachah joins the inner dimension of faith, which is also reflected in our souls, it no longer appears ominous, but begins to be joyful and illuminating, vibrant and attractive, and we automatically resonate with it and desire to act by it. Similarly, we gain the ability to influence others and break through these boundaries.
This is how the wisdom of Kabbalah serves as an appropriate bridge between the world of halachah and observing it in practice, bringing these two parallel worlds together. It also softens the bluntness initially associated with halachah and simultaneously softens the stubbornness of reality, oiling the systems and preventing friction between them. Indeed, wisdom in general, and the wisdom of the mysteries of Kabbalah in particular, are compared to oil.
An excerpt from the article (in Hebrew) entitled “Reality, Halachah and Kabbalah?” in our book Malchut Yisrael