Daf Yomi Gittin 23
Whenever I get into a taxi, I chat with the cabbie. About what? The Seven Noahide Laws, of course. Why wouldn’t I take the opportunity of his undivided attention? After all, I’m paying him for his time!
Most non-Jews are happy to hear that Judaism believes everyone can be righteous and receive reward both in this world and the Next. And for the most part, they’re pretty comfortable with the Noahide code.
‘That makes sense,’ invariably the cabbie will respond, ‘I actually already subscribe to all those things.’
‘But here’s the fine print,’ I gently advise, ‘to be a Noahide and receive reward, you can’t just keep the laws because they make sense to you. You must keep them because you are obeying G-d’s will!’
Mishnah: Everyone is kosher to write a gett (bill of divorce), even the deaf-mute, mentally-ill, or a child.
Gemara: But they do not possess the requisite mental state!
Rav Huna answers: They may write it, as long as an adult of sound mind is present.
Rav Nachman said to him: If so, would you likewise approve the writing of the gett by an idolater, as long as a Jew was present? If you say yes, behold we have learned, “An idolater is invalid.”
He responds: An idolater is invalid because he acts according to his own reasoning.
Rashi explains: Since he is an adult, he might not pay attention to the instructions of the Jew standing there.
Some people think of mitzvos as good deeds. That may be true, but the translation of mitzvah is commandment. When we do a mitzvah, we are doing it not because it happens to be a nice deed or it makes sense; we do it because the Almighty has commanded us to perform certain activities and abstain from other behaviours.
What is the definition of an idolater? One who acts according to his own reasoning. He might not actually bow down to an idol, he may be a very good, honest, sincere person. But if he is doing the right thing merely because it makes sense to him, he is certainly not serving Hashem. And that makes him an idolater.
But is it really fair to call him an idolater? Just because he’s not serving G-d doesn’t mean he’s serving idols, does it? Well, while he might not be serving a physical statue, in a certain sense, the true object of his idolatry is even worse! How so?
One of the mysteries that Charles Darwin grappled with was altruism. A major principle of his theory of evolution was survival of the fittest. That means that the strongest, most selfish organisms will survive, at the expense of everything and everyone else. On that score, why would anyone operate unselfishly? Why would anyone do anything for another human being? All of the nice, selfless, altruistic people should have disappeared millions of years ago!
Darwin concluded that human beings had figured out that it was better for survival to roam in packs. When we join and serve a community of likeminded individuals, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, why do people say that it makes sense to keep a law such as not stealing? Because if everyone stole from one another, nobody would have anything left. Meaning to say, that the individual who says it is reasonable to avoid theft is only serving himself! And so, he has made himself into an object of worship, an idol! That’s why he is called an idolater.
Serving G-d means accepting the yoke of Heaven upon yourself. While it might sound constricting, it is actually extremely liberating. Every act you perform that would otherwise make logical sense is now an act of holiness. You are taking the mundane and sanctifying it! That is so empowering!
It’s time to stop making yourself the object of your worship. While many of the mitzvos might indeed make logical sense, that’s not why we do them. May you serve Hashem wholeheartedly without any extraneous reasons!