In the merit of Torah and mitzvoth, as explained in this week’s Torah portion, ‘Clal Yisrael’ receives blessings in real life * Mitzvoth and Jewish values have an actual effect * Thanks to Jewish values, religious families are more stable * The Torah educates towards fertility which leads to demographic growth, as reflected even in secular society * Torah observant workers are less tempted to betray the trust of their employers * Torah study develops creative thinking also in industry * A person who receives religious education is more willing to help the weak in society * Moral values can be taught in secular education as well, but in order for them to develop with vitality and passion, especially in an affluent society, faith is required
Blessing in This World
The reward and punishment written in the Torah is designed for ‘Clal Yisrael’ in this world (for all individuals, the main reward and punishment is in ‘Olam Ha’ba’ (the hereafter), as explained in the Talmud Moed Katan 28a; Kiddushin 39b). This reward and punishment does not violate the laws of nature, but rather, occur through them; for if they came miraculously, they would abolish free will, and individuals would not merit the opportunity to be partner in ‘tikun olam’ (repairing the world). In this article, with God’s help, I will try to explain how, by means of Torah observance, blessing comes naturally.
Since we will be dealing with comparisons between the religious and secular, it is important to first emphasize that there is no fundamental difference between observant and secular Jews – all wish to be good, and the level of talent in both groups is equal. However, when looking deeper, we find that when an entire group of people observes Torah and mitzvoth in a balanced manner, the cumulative blessing they receive is beyond belief. This is the destiny of the nation of Israel; in this way, it can be a light unto the world, elevating it to its ‘tikun’.
In analysis of the following indicators, I will attempt to assess the advantages of religious life in percentages. Indeed, the numbers are not exact (to say the least), and it would be fitting to investigate these important issues in greater depth. Nevertheless, since I am certain that the direction in principle is correct, in order to illustrate and help see the overall picture, I tried to approximate the advantages of Torah observance in percentages, according to things I’ve read in the past.
Obviously, the blessings written in the Torah come on the condition that its instructions are followed without diverting to the left or right – namely, prohibitions are not added, such as forbidding academic studies or acquiring a profession, while on the other hand, mitzvoth that are difficult to fulfill are not gotten rid of.
The Blessing of Marriage
When marrying, both secular and observant people alike hope they will remain committed forevermore. Nevertheless, enthusiasm eventually diminishes, and temptations increase. By means of Torah and mitzvoth, especially the mitzvoth between ‘adam le’chaveiro’ (between man and his fellow man) and mitzvoth ‘onah’ (laws of marital purity), observant people have a better chance of getting through crises, and continuing to deepen and elevate their love.
The phenomenon of infidelity is also lower among the observant public than the secular, thanks to education regarding commitment and modesty. Of course, we wish that religious education could prevent all infidelity, but to our great dismay, it exists; nevertheless, we can find comfort that thanks to religious education, the percentages are lower. Even after an act of unfaithfulness, thanks to the importance placed on the value ‘teshuva’ (repentance) ‘shalom bayit’ (reconciliation), the chances of an observant couple successfully rebuilding their lives is higher.
Thus in practice, observant people tend to have better marriages, which has a positive effect on the quality of their lives, their children’s education and on their livelihood, for on the whole, divorce harms all of these areas (it appears the divorce rate among the secular is over 50%, 10% among the observant, and somewhere in the middle among the traditional).
The mitzvah of honoring parents and the framework of Shabbat and Chagim (holidays) stabilizes the religious family and the relationship between parents and their children to a great extent, and also provides an advantage in children’s education and guidance in the areas of ‘derech eretz’ (desired mode of behavior), such as persistence in studies, acquiring a profession, higher education, contributing to society and the nation, and establishing a family. Thus, if we compare families with equal education and knowledge, and an equal socio-economic status, the success rate of the observant will be slightly higher.
In the area of establishing a family the success rate of the observant is much higher, whereas in the other areas, it is not as high. However, even if this means only an additional ten percent in the success rate in scholastic studies and in acquiring an education and a profession, this is a very significant difference.
Children and Demographics
Secular families on the average have slightly more than two children per family. In contrast, thanks to family values and the mitzvah ‘pru urvu’ (procreation), the average number of children in a religious family is approximately four, and in an ultra-Orthodox or Haredi family, about six or seven.
Since among the observant the proportion of sons and daughters who get married is higher and the age of marriage is earlier, the demographic growth rate is much higher. If we attempt to calculate the overall situation in the religious community, taking into account that about twenty percent leave religious life, it is possible to estimate the demographic growth of the religious community will be twice as high in twenty-five years, four times as high in fifty years, and sixteen times as high in one hundred years.
Incidentally, because the secular public we have discussed is not completely secular, but in many areas is essentially traditional, the percentage of marriages and the number of children among secular Jews in Israel is much higher than Western countries equal to Israel economically and educationally. As a result, the only population among Western affluent societies that has grown substantially, is Israel’s Jewish population.
Work Ethics and Productivity
Almost all people – both religious and secular, would like to work honestly and diligently, however the evil inclination, on the other hand, seduces one to be lazy, careless, and even to cheat and steal. It may be assumed that thanks to religious education, the percentage of those who work diligently and faithfully is higher among the observant by at least about ten percent.
Family stability provides a certain advantage at work as well, seeing as the phenomenon of infidelity, divorce and the fights involved with them, damage one’s ability to concentrate on his work.
It is a mitzvah to fix specific times for Torah study every day, and thus, the percentage of observant people engrossed in study is higher than that of the secular, many of whom hardly open any type of academic book for even an hour a week. It can be assumed that study provides a person inspiration to develop new ideas, and find solutions to complex problems.
Even if we say that the cumulative effect of this is only five percent, it’s a very significant difference, because in free market competition success is often determined by an additional five percent of creativity. One could say that thanks to Jewish tradition and values of learning, members of the secular public are also more creative than their peers in the West. Thus we find that in practice, the State of Israel is one of the world leaders in the field of high technology, thanks to a certain percentage of extra creativity.
Presumably, the more Jews who invest time in Torah study, without taking away from the importance of science, work, freedom and responsibility, we will merit greater success in the development of science and technology.
It is a great mitzvah to help the poor, sick, crippled, deaf and blind. Presumably, a person who receives a religious education, on the average, is more inclined to enlist. These wonderful mitzvoth open a person’s heart and enriches the mind, and when many are willing to volunteer in order to lighten the suffering and hardships of others, there are those among them who are able to find solutions and impressive advancements for the sake of the suffering and society. Aside from the moral value of this, businesses also grow from these innovations. For example, as a result of this, the government and private corporations are also willing to invest more resources in the development of the various sciences, and in the long term, this is extremely beneficial for business.
Modesty and Frugality
Torah values help a person to defer gratification, be pleased with one’s portion, and spend less on luxuries. Consequently, an average religious family is able to save more money and invest it for the long term – part of it for their children’s education until they acquire a suitable profession, and the other part for their old age, so as not to be a burden on the shoulders of their children or society. Some of this saved money is also directed through various funds to the development of science, technology, and the economy.
The Foundation: Faith
Q: Aren’t secular people correct when they claim that it’s possible to educate towards all of these values even without faith in God and the Torah, seeing as they are human values that any decent person can understand?
A: First of all, ‘emunah’ (faith) is truth, and God is the source of all truth and good. Consequently, when these values are connected to their Divine origin, ‘emunah‘ provides them with vitality and strength, but when these values are not connected to their Divine origin, it is difficult to internalize them. For example, many people agree that observing the laws of family purity is extremely beneficial in preserving a marriage, but without ‘emunah‘, they cannot be fulfilled, and consequently, their blessing cannot be gained.
Apart from that, when a nation is in financial distress or at war, often it finds the power to accelerate the development of its economy and society, and thus, finds itself in an economic, national, and political upswing. But when society becomes satiated, gradually it degenerates. Indulgence and laziness increases, young people waste their parents’ inheritances, and individuals refrain from sacrificing themselves for the common good. This is how society crumbles, and how nations are defeated and vanish.
Regarding this, the Torah warns: “Be careful that you not forget God your Lord… lest you eat and be satisfied, building fine homes and living in them… and you amass much silver and gold… And your heart grows haughty, and you forget God your Lord… and say to yourself, “It was my own strength and personal power that brought me all this prosperity”… If you ever forget… I bear witness to you today that you will be totally annihilated” (Deuteronomy, 8:11-19).
Thus, for everything that occurs by natural means we must pray, give thanks, and ask Hashem to continue helping us, and that in spite of all the blessings, we do not deteriorate.
Development of the Will to Benefit
In order for the vitality, energy, and creativity to continue even in times of abundance, Torah must be learned. Because aside from the fact that Torah study deepens and inspires thought, it also turns a person into an idealist wishing to improve the world and make it better. Subsequently, vitality continues even in times of abundance, in order to improve the world and reveal all the Divine goodness.
The mitzvoth of helping the weak, disabled and sick also deepens the desire to benefit others, adding strength and vitality even in times of abundance, to take action with the aim of adding blessing and good in the world.
Therefore, it is essential for the Jewish nation to have Torah scholars and yeshivas, who will be the beacons of light, establishing the values of the Torah and ‘chesed‘ (kindness), so as to add blessing in the world and improve it.
The Vision of the State of Israel
If the religious community merits ascending in the path of the all-embracing Torah, and serving as an example of moral, social and economic success, traditional Jews will naturally come closer to Torah and mitzvoth.
And if thanks to the diligence and creativity at work, Israel’s annual gross domestic product rises only five per cent on average beyond the rest of Western countries, and demographic growth rises about three percent a year as is usual in religious society, then within a few generations, the Jewish nation residing in its Land will number tens of millions, and will lead the world in terms of values, technology, and economics. Consequently, the Jews living in the Diaspora obviously will be eager make aliyah and take part in the success; the lost and exiled will inquire about their roots, and return to their people and country; a great and immense nation will proclaim faith and justice to the world, paving ways for moral instruction and intellectual development for the benefit of all humanity, and innovate methods and technologies for the longevity and quality of life. Thus, in a natural process, we will see the fulfillment of the prophetic vision: “In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall go and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths. For out of Zion shall go forth Torah, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:2-3).
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: