Commandments: A Karaite Perspective
I was asked an interesting question a few days ago. It went like this; "How is it possible with my flying around the world, living out of suitcase life style am I able to keep the commandments? How am I able to maintain my equilibrium with my faith and be at ease with my approach to life?" A fair question because in today's hectic, almost manic society, people have little enough time to breathe let alone find time to find peace and tranquility through harmonizing their lives with religious doctrine. The problem for most is that they've placed layers upon layers in practically everything they do. They have buried themselves beneath a landslide of incidentals that have little relevence to the necessities of life, family, or love. We have become a race of 'wannabees', 'havetobees' and 'jealousies'. So the first rule must be to find contentment and sadly, most of us cannot find that place in our minds, our hearts, or our working lives to do so. Karaite beliefs state that all answers are contained in the Torah. That if we are looking for that equilibrium, that paradise on earth, that contentment of mind and soul, then it is available to all that know how to read the Scriptures and interpret their significance. And therein lies the problem, because for most of us, we've allowed others to dictate exactly what that interpretation is. The "thou shalls" and the "Thou shall nots" without ever questioning, interpreting or deciding for ourselves whether they were right or wrong. In fact we've allowed these self-motivated, self-fulfilling individuals rework the lessons of the Torah or Old Testament into a set of impossible rules for which we'd be doing an eternity of penance if we ever even attempted to proscribe to them all. And believe it or not, there are those in this world that are doing exactly that. Living a life of constant penance because they've been convinced that their entire life has been a sin. Is this how you truly see God? An angry, vengeful entity that constantly berates you for your inferiority, unworthiness, and lack of discipline? If you do, then those of you that have children know exactly how your child has turned out if you placed those same pressures upon them from the time of their early, impressionable years. They are the antisocial, radical, angry youths and young adults of today. Because if they could never live up to your expectations then there was no longer any reason to even try. Does that not sound like our society of today, rejecting religion, rejecting God?
613 Impossible Rules
My Rabbanite brethren will say that there are six hundred and thirteen commandments stipulated in the Torah. And their rabbis will say if you break even one, then you are considered to have broken all of them. They have placed equal precedence and punishment upon all of them and then oppressed their followers by demanding they attempt to achieve each and every one because their God, their "Merciful Almighty" is an angry god that will demand punishment if He is not obeyed. So as these Rabbis are caught in a cabal selling body parts from New York, as was the case a couple of years ago, or fleecing their followers for donations that ended up in their pockets, another well known case from the USA last year, then where is the divine punishment, the lightening bolts to strike them down for performing the very sins they have terrorized their congregations in regards to breaking. And don't take this as a condemnation of just Rabbanite religious leaders. You merely have to look at the Catholics, the Anglicans, the Muslims and you will see the litany of sins that violate the Torah and God's word which they continually gloss over, because after all, they are the interpreters of the Bible and they are the 'true' servants of the Lord. That being the case, then I have to presume that their teaching that breaking one commandment is the same as breaking all of them is only applicable to everyone else and not themselves.
The ludicrous nature of these 613 commandments is that they were not commandments in the strictest sense but instructions. Instructions of what was appropriate at the time they were written and therefore were subject to interpretation. The Rabbanites knew this but instead of providing Free Will, the gift of God to mankind, they imposed Their Will and turned everything according to their design which they incorporated into their Talmud. But of course that meant unresolved debates on almost every issue since these men, each of them, had their own personal agendas to fulfill. There is an interesting rabbinical tale of how one of their sages imposed the 613 commandments upon himself and felt that with every step he was undertaking a new mission and therefore had to make a prayer to God for each step he took. Obviously this sage of theirs never reached his destination but although the Rabbanites will refer to him as a saintly man, he was nothing more than a fool concerned only with the demonstration of his own piety, basking in the adulation of others that were similarly misguided, and never fulfilling what God intended because he had no time to do so. Some might argue that his demonstration was a fulfillment in itself, but ask yourself this question, "was it really?" Did it serve any greater purpose? Did it aid the people or the society to whom he preached? Did he achieve anything that rescued the poor, or the homeless, or the hungry, or did he just simply earn the false accolade, "of there goes a righteous man," as he passed those along his very tedious way.
But ignoring these rabbis and concentrating on the laws they tried to impose, we do find serious problems with their edict of the 613 Commandments. If a man walks down the street and an insect flies into his mouth, and he swallows that insect, then by their own standard, he has now broken all 613 of the commandments. Yes, believe it or not, there exists a rule that forbids the man from swallowing the insect. One can claim that the law had a built in implication of intent, but regardless, do you truly believe that even if I willingly swallowed a fly that I should be considered no different than a man that committed murder. Or perhaps we should look at the commandment that states if a man rapes a woman, then he must marry that woman and they can never be divorced. Now ask yourself, if there was a man that raped your daughter do you truly want the courts to force that man to marry her afterwards. I'm sorry, I would sooner blow him away than let that happen. So it is obvious that what has been taken as law, the 613 commandments, were not intended as so in all cases. And that other than the Decalogue which was passed directly to Moses by God, that all these miscellaneous commandments may not be God's direct laws but instead impositions made by the society and its leaders (the 70 judges) of the time that incorporated them into the Torah which was their book of Laws as well as the word of God.
But fortunately, God foresaw this potential folly of mankind, and in turn provided sanctuary for the condemned. And we have to understand the meaning of this in order to appreciate the true nature of God. Anticipating that there would be men that would assume positions of power, autocratic and punitive in nature, men that would abuse the teaching of the Torah, God dictated that there must be a place that these people accused of crimes could flee to rather than face the wrath of men determined to take their lives. You have to understand, that when the tribes of the Children of Israel conquered and settled in the land of Canaan, they did not have as their first priority the building of prisons. So God gave the accused and convicted a choice; either suffer at the hands of their accusers, whether warranted or not, or flee to the Levite cities that he had Moses dot across the countryside. There they would remain, with no other function than to serve the priests, unable to ever leave but they at least had a chance to atone for their sins though in reality they were prisoners. They had no family, they had no chance to rise above the subservient station to the priests, and they had no freedom.
Of course, in today's society we do have prisons but we again fail to acknowledge the intent of God's purpose. Our prisons are like revolving doors. Children are born within their walls and most in the prisons have more rights and privileges than the guards stationed over them. We have made a mockery of God's intent with the bleeding hearts that seem to care more for the criminal's rights than those of the victims or their families. But once again it is the result of leaving the interpretration of divine law in the hands of a self-fulfilling minority that have their own motives and agenda. But if there isn't justification for these 613 commandments that are preached by those that claim ownership of God's tongue, then is there some other code that we should be following? Yes, but not the one you think.
Failure of the Golden Rule
Whether the Golden Rule was first spouted by Yeshua (Jesus) or by Hillel, it matters not. The fact is that the Golden Rule once again is a law made by a man, to serve man, and has failed to acknowledge the commandments given by God to mankind. Superficially, the Golden Rule would appear to be a highly commendable law that would unite mankind and satisfy the Lord that we are at least trying to behave in a proper manner. When examined closely though, it too fails to meet the requirements of a divinely inspired law because it's as varaible as which ever way the wind blows. It is only as good or as honourable as the society that spouts it. If I lack the moral values of my neighbour, then my interpretation of the Golden Rule is contrary to his belief, and therefore just like the Rabbinical interpretations of the 613 commandments, the Golden Rule is little better.
Let me explain. If I am from a warrior society, let's use Germany as an example, or the Germany pre 1945, then I have a code of beliefs that justifies my conquest of other people. The "Deutchland Uber Allas" philosophy. I believe every other nation has the same right as mine to go out and conquer other people but I have a divine belief that God has made my people stronger, smarter and more Ubermensch (superhuman) thereby guaranteeing my success. I want other nations to go to war. I want other people to attack me. I want them to try to kill me so that I can in turn demonstrate my superiority. The Golden Rule says that I am justified in this belief because this is how I see my world and I wish to impose it on everyone else as well. THerefore this Golden Rule can be used to justifiy the Crusades, the slaughters throughout history, the Muslim conversions by the sword, simply because I believe I am doing God's handiwork because those other groups I'm terrorizing have the same right to do it to me if they were stronger.
Let's take it another step. Sexual deviants believe in their world there are no victims. That everyone is seeking what they seek. They're predatory and they see the world divided along those lines. They want their partners, victims, etc., to want what they want as much as they do. In fact they establish nightclubs, parites, weblinks in order to find those people that share their same distorted cravings. They do unto others exactly as they hope those others will do unto them.
As you can see, the Golden Rule breaks down as soon as you encounter a group of people that have contrary beliefs to your own, or moral values directly opposed to your own. It is ony as good as those people that wish to practice it tend to be. And if fails because it is a man made law that relies on mankind to make the determination as to what is good and therefore good for everyone else. Once again I will bring up our decaying and faltering justice system. It has become lenient to the convicts, murderers, deviants and scum of our society because it says, "I would not wish to be punished in this manner." But of course we wouldn't because the 95% of us aren't criminals or murderers by nature and we wouldn't even consider doing such horrible atrocities to another human being. But suddenly we have the Golden Rule twisted by our justice and courts system telling us that this is what we want for these criminals because that is how we believe the commandment should be enforced. We have had our own morality used as a weapon against us and in so doing they have unleashed that part of society that is in moral decay upon us and twisted our own words to do so.
Simply stated, the Golden Rule does not work because it is not an indicator of God's intent.
One Commandment to Unite Us All
So, in regards to the original question as to how I can find balance in my life and still maintain the contentment I derive from my Karaite beliefs, the answer is quite simple. I have read the Torah, I have distilled what I believe was God's intent, I have made my interpretation as Anan ben David instructed, and I have found that what I believe is good and righteous. We can only find the true path by walking it ourselves and not permitting others to dictate to us what we should or should not believe.
I have but one commandement that I live to fulfill. And it goes like this; "Do only that which I believe God would wish me to do." Based on the instruction and teachings of the Tanach, it becomes quite evident of how God wants us to be, what are his expectations, and how he wants us through our own Free Will, to find the path that leads us to him. There are no if, ands or buts. We have the evidence of how God sought our early patriarchs to behave. He gave us examples. He showed us which choices He approved of and which He reprimanded us for. Yes, this rule influences every decision I make because I have to merely ask myself the question each time, "would God wish for me to do this in this manner? Would it please him or displease him? Am I doing it for the benefit of myself only, or am I meeting God's more wide ranging requirements?" It's a simple commandment but we know that every action we make has repercussions. From the taking of a life to the taking of a pen from the company stationary drawer. Ask yourself the question, and if you can honestly say to yourself that God would approve based on everything that is written in the Torah, then you can find the contentment and consent you seek. And should there be any doubt, then don't dismiss it but accept that as a warning that God would probably not approve. But the choice is still yours as long as you can live with the consequences. A single commandment that will ultimately bring you peace of mind in a world where peace is the hardest thing to find.