The Torah describes itself as a Torat chayim - a Torah of life and living. There are many possible interpretations of this phrase. It can refer to the fact that the Torah is eternal, vibrant and ever renewing, the source and fountain of life – that it is a living Torah. However to my mind, this phrase implies that it is also, if not even primarily so, the Torah of practicality and reality.
It is fashioned to fit the world that it preceded. It does not demand the impossible nor does it deviate from the norms of human and natural existence. It is not only a living Torah but also a realistic and practical guide to human life and society. Though the Torah is built upon the bedrock of faith it is not ideological in nature. Though it espouses a monarchial system of government, it really advances no ideological political view, and no grand economic plan. Rather, it is humble in imposing set forms and ideas upon human society.
Throughout the biblical period, when there were many prophets who lived and guided Jewish society, they almost unanimously spoke of moral behavior, a sense of justice in government and society and the necessity for exhibiting kindness and tolerance to one another. They emphasized the practical dangers that the Jewish kingdoms faced and warned against hubris and provocations.
The prophets of Israel did not advance capitalism, socialism, communism, nationalism, universalism or other ideological doctrines or restraints. All ideologies, sooner or later, infringe upon individual rights and create tyrannical societies that propagate evil in the name of a higher good. We are painfully aware of where the ideologies of the past number of centuries have led us. Ideologues are always able to justify injustice in order to achieve their imagined perfect goal.
When ideology combines with religion and incorporates that ideology as part of the faith basis of that religion, that ideology becomes doubly lethal. Religious wars throughout the centuries have really been wars of ideology, territory, power, financial gain and dominance rather than being struggles of faith and soaring belief.
The Torah contains six hundred thirteen commandments. One would think that that would suffice. Nevertheless, in our time it his been overlaid with conflicting ideologies that have taken on the aura of becoming principles of faith. To the anti-Zionists amongst us, denigrating and defaming the state of Israel is equal in their eyes to observing the Sabbath and eating kosher food.
Their ideology has made them haters and hated. That cannot be the state of being that the Torah had in mind for Jews particularly and human beings generally. To many of the Zionists, settling on the land of Israel is the prime ideology that rules all else. It must be admitted that, in the extreme application of this ideology, it flies in the face of all current reality. And the Torah, if it is nothing else, is reality personified and applicable in all situations.
Now, human beings apparently cannot live without an ideology to sustain their political beliefs and societal programs. But care must be taken that ideology does not fly in the face of reality. In instances when it does, no good occurs.
We see throughout the books of the prophets that reality was the lodestone that guided them. The prophet Samuel hesitates, even when commanded by God to go to the house of Yishai to crown the new king of Israel. He says to the Lord: “But King Saul will hear of this and will slay me for being disloyal to him.” The Lord apparently takes this reality in account. He instructs Samuel to take animals with him to sacrifice them publicly in Bethlehem as a cover story for his real purpose in appearing there.
Throughout the books of the prophets of Israel this strong sense of reality enters into their words and dominates their views. In Second Temple times, most of the great rabbis of Israel did not support the rebellion against Rome, feeling that it was futile and that it would only result in the destruction of the Temple. The reality of Roman power overrode the ideology of the then present Jewish messianism. Sixty years later, most of the rabbis dissented from the ideology of Bar Kochba and Rabbi Akiva and opposed this further rebellion against Roman power, again being doomed to failure.
In our current world and in the situation that we find ourselves in we should be cautious not to confuse ideology – which is not necessarily a tenet of our faith – with the realities that we face. We should pray that the Lord give us the wisdom to be able to discern and apply this historical truth to our times.