Transformational Tora - The Purpose of Halakha

True comprehension of the essence of Hashem is impossible. All we can reliably speak about is the way in which Hashem manifests and acts within our perception of reality. The essence of the Divine remains completely and totally hidden from the human mind.

Despite this fact, we do possess a unique window into the Infinite. Our soul, that which gives us life, is in its essence, co-identical with Hashem. Just as a rock hewn from a mountain remains the exact same substance only separated by physical distance - so too, our soul is a piece of the Divine essence hewn and cut from the whole by the axe of material manifestation.

Being-in-this-world is that which cuts us away from our source, leaving our soul stranded from its ultimate source. Thus, our soul remains our primary portal to the Divine. Engaging with and wrestling with the Divine within our individual self is our best route to accessing that which includes all things.

At its root, our soul possesses the same essential quality as the Divine: the unbounded and insatiable will to give. Hashem is that which only gives, and never takes. Hashem gives life and meaning to the entirety of reality - for it is from Hashem which reality has been emanated. The posture of giving, of creating, of emanating from oneself entire worlds, is also present in our souls, albeit only in potential.

 

The fact of material existence erects a barrier between our souls and the Source to which they strive to return. Our world acts as a ever-densening shield, blocking more and more of the light which tries to shine through time and space into our soul’s potential. That potential remains unrealized so long as we resist the effort to adopt Hashem’s will to give, for our materiality engraves upon us an irrevocable will to receive.

Being a creature and not the Creator means that we exist through the will to receive. We receive our life, our breath, our food, our soul, our heartbeat, our mind - all through the will to give of the Infinite. Hashem gives, and we take. That is the basic nature of humanity - to be ever-taking in embracing the will to receive. Yet, if we wish to clear away the screens which block our souls, to reveal the occluded light of our own deepest selves, we must make ourselves anew in the image of Hashem. We do this by actualizing the potential of the will to give which is embedded in our very essence.

Receiving is unavoidable, for it is the basic prerequisite for existence. However, what we do with what is received is a choice left entirely to us. If we want to make our potential will to give manifest, we must transmutate ourselves and our will to receive, transforming ourselves into something more akin to Hashem, giving. We cannot stop taking, but we can ensure that we take only in order to give.

 

Like the Sun, Hashem’s light is always shining. When it is cloudy, it is shining (even if hidden from our eyes). When it is night, it is shining (even if we are not in the location to see it). The light of Hashem is omnipresent and always available to those who are able to see it. It gives, and takes from no thing. Just as the entire solar system depends on its giving its light, so too all of reality depends on the light of Hashem. The rays of the Sun shine equally upon all, making no distinctions between the righteous and the wicked, the human and the animal, or the Jew and the Gentile.

We, meanwhile, are built as solar panels - specially designed to catch the light of the Sun. The soul of a human being is more efficient and more capable of absorbing that Holy Light than anything else, for it was designed for that purpose. It’s primary function is to receive, it operates totally under the auspices of the will to receive. Yet, what use is a solar panel unconnected to some grid?

We mustn't be the solar panel that simply soaks up the Divine Light and lets it fill our fuel cells. We will burn out, becoming indifferent to the beautiful sight of the Sun’s rays. Rather, we need to mirror our beneficiary, using the light we’re able to absorb to power others; passing on the energy invested in us by giving it to others. We must make our souls like perfectly efficient solar panels: absorbing just enough Light to redistribute, creating a perfectly neutral conduit for the Divine design.

 

How then, do we accomplish this feat? How do we turn our will to receive into one to give? How we use the Light which shines within us to empower others? It may seem as though we would need some kind of manual for how to do this - and in fact, we do, and it has already been provided to us. The Tora, and the system of mitzvot is the means by which we transform our souls back to their Divine design.

A life lived according to the principles of halakha can act as an antidote to the natural-born selfishness of material creatures. It can also be co-opted to only further reinforce that selfishness. How do we distinguish? Ultimately, we must consider what the purpose of the system of halakha is and what benefit it has to offer us.

Halakha is not ‘Jewish Law.’ There are certainly elements of it which include those things that we may justifiably label as ‘legal.’ Yet, it itself is something entirely other than a criminal or civil legislative code. Halakha is a path, as its name suggests, one that we walk on in order to reach a certain destination. Halakha is not, and can never be, the end of a religious life. The purpose of a religious life is not to act out the system of halakha. Rather, halakha is the route in which we take to achieve a truly religious life, one in which we engage with the necessary project of redeeming ourselves from the will to receive and inculcating within ourselves the will to give.

Halakha is the means, not the end; and its purpose is to refine us, to prepare us, to help purify us of the will to receive and enable us to undertake the tremendous work of self-transformation.