The following is an excerpt from some notes I am using for a class after synagogue tomorrow. I think this is a fascinating topic and I must say I am quite the fan of Rabbi Telushkin. If you have not discovered his books, you are missing out on an easy and fun way to learn Judaism. The thoughts about ethics and the godly life are my own, though I got an idea from Rabbi Telushkin that led to this little list.
Ethics and the Godly Life
When you think about living a religious life, there are several areas that are indispensable:
Spiritual experience — Part of the religious life is the experience of the worshipper. We receive emotional and intellectual joy from godly practices such as reading the Bible, praying, worshipping, reflecting on God, etc. Religious life is rewarding.
Study of divine truth and ways — Messianic Jewish life involves study, since God revealed himself in a written text and calls us to community in a tradition with many written texts. Studying the Bible, great writings from Christian and Jewish sources, Talmud, and so on is essential.
Holy practices and ritual observances — Some practices and observances are essential and in other areas there are a large number of choices for honoring God, serving others, and growing. Learning and practicing the required observances is a must, but so is choosing and continuing optional practices for growth and service.
Repentance and transformation — Taking in the rewards of a religious life without also taking responsibility for sins is not godly living. Repentance and the hard work of transformation are the difference between partial and complete love for God.
Ethical treatment of others — A godly life cannot simply be inward (experience and inner transformation) and Godward (worship and holy practices), but must also be toward others (the ethical). The prophets of Israel rebuked those who worshipped but who were unethical.
For each of these five areas of godly living list and discuss specific examples. Where are your strengths and weaknesses?
The Importance of Ethics
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin mourns the diminished focus in some Jewish circles on the importance of ethics:
This book has a simple thesis: God’s central demand of human beings is to act ethically. But although what I have said is clearly and repeatedly reflected in Jewish sources, over the past centuries the role of ethics in Judaism has been deemphasized. Most significantly, the word “religious” has come to be associated almost exclusively with ritual observance. Thus, when two Jews are speaking about a third and a question is raised as to the person’s religiosity, the response is based solely on that person’s level of ritual observance (“She keeps Shabbat and Kashrut; she is religious,” or “He doesn’t keep Shabbat and Kashrut; he is not religious”), from which we may form the peculiar and inaccurate perception that in Judaism ethics are an extracurricular activity and not very important. Reference: R. Joseph Telushkin, A Code of Jewish Ethics, Vol. 1. (pg. 1).
Compare Galatians 5:14 with Rabbi Telushkin’s statement, “God’s central demand of human beings is to act ethically.”