If you don’t follow the Torah, you have no moral basis

If you don’t follow the Torah, you have no moral basis.

You might argue that you don’t really need the Torah, because you have the right ideas already. You know it’s important not to kill, not to commit violence against another, not to steal.

But how long can you go through life relying on your own intuitive sense of right and wrong?

What is right and wrong?

To see this classic dilemma in action, look no further than the first book of the Torah, the book of Genesis. Genesis lays the groundwork for humanity’s moral code. The most fundamental lessons are shared through stories rather than injunctions, which serves to make the lessons more relatable and enduring. 

One of these stories is particularly relevant for our era of subjective truth: the very first story we see in the book of Genesis, the classic tale of Adam and Eve. 

Let’s briefly review the story. God created man, then created woman from man. He gave them a paradise, the Garden of Eden, and told them, “Eat everything in this garden. But don’t eat from the Tree of Knowledge.” It wasn’t such a monumental demand. Nevertheless, they couldn’t follow it.

It seems ludicrous that the man and the woman (only the man, Adam, had a name at this point), the first humans shaped by God’s own hand, who had such an obvious, tangible relationship with Him, could immediately disobey a command He himself verbalized. A simple one, at that.

The woman conversed with the snake and he told her if she were to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, she would become like the angels. Instead of listening to the word of God, she listened to her new friend and her own desires. In other words, she ignored objective truth and engaged in her own subjective truth. It seemed good to eat, so it must therefore be good.

The sages say that prior to eating from the Tree of Knowledge, the man and woman inherently knew objective truth – they had an innate sense of truth versus lies. Had they maintained this state, humanity would have had an innate connection to objective truth. But after they ate from the Tree of Knowledge, the man and woman viewed the world through a highly subjective lens. 

What exactly was so wrong about eating from the Tree of Knowledge in the first place? The simple, most straightforward answer is that God commanded them not to. As soon as they transgressed His commandment, it created chaos. This is the archetype of all subsequent sins humans have committed. God gives a commandment, we disobey it, and in so doing, we create chaos. 

The same way the woman in Genesis committed a wrongdoing because her subjective viewpoint overpowered her knowledge of God’s commandment, people are now choosing to do evil due to their subjective desires and feelings. Their feelings are overcoming any shred of God’s truth within them. The more humans give credence to their own feelings, the more they question and dismantle the tenets which have governed life and society at large for generations. 

What happens when we dismantle the most rudimentary rules of life? When we undo basic precepts of the Torah – “male and female He created them,” (Genesis 1:27), or “be fertile and increase,” (Genesis 1:28) – then we undo the more complex ones as well.  Any violation of the Torah’s precepts wreaks havoc upon the very foundations of society. 

The first several chapters of Genesis illustrate the moral descent humanity experiences after rejecting God and His laws. “Surely, if you improve, there is uplift. But if you do not improve, sin crouches at the door; its desire is toward you, yet you can rule over it” (Genesis 4:7). The more often you open the door for sin, the more easily he can enter. When we break one fundamental rule, we can easily break another. And another. It’s not a slippery slope; it’s a steep drop off a cliff. 

We see this sequence of events in Genesis. Fundamental rules given by God are broken, and before you know it, “The earth became corrupt before God; the earth was filled with lawlessness…” (Genesis 6:11). God then says, “The end of all flesh has come before me because the earth is filled with lawlessness because of them” (Genesis 6:13). Our corruption and lawlessness had sealed the decree against us, and we were beset by the Flood. It was only in one man’s merit – Noah – that all of humanity wasn’t wiped out.

What was once universally regarded as “true” is being completely upended. Powerful forces in society have done their best to eradicate what is true. While we may not have idol worship of the same variety that we had in ancient, pre-flood days, we do worship something – ourselves. Narcissism is the new religion of our times, and as soon as we become indoctrinated into this new religion, we dismiss the very basis of moral civilization. God created definitions and rules, and as soon as we dismiss them – and in turn, God Himself – we fall into formlessness and emptiness. Chaos. 

Genesis clearly demonstrates how humanity has faced a constant battle to distinguish between good and evil – with perilous results. The longer we pretend that this ancient, God-given book is irrelevant and outdated, the more we will plunge ourselves into the chaos. 

In short, we are not God. We either absorb God-given truth and live by it, or we don’t. To trust in our own instincts entirely is self-worship, and to allow ourselves to be led astray by our own emotions is an act of turning away from God. 

Know Him in all your ways, and He will direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own sight; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.

Mishlei 3:6-7

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