by Rabbi Aryeh Carmell
Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem/New York
"Masterplan" is a modern adaptation of the 19th century classic "Horeb" by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. In Horeb, Rabbi Hirsch explores the ethical and spiritual teachings which can be derived from the mitzvos - precepts - of the Torah. He also discusses how the mitzvos lead to a more caring and just society - one based on the principles of love and justice. And over a hundred years before "the environment" became a major world issue, Rabbi Hirsch discusses in "Horeb" how a number of mitzvos relate to environmental concerns.
In "Masterplan", Rabbi Aryeh Carmell, a noted Torah educator and author, explores how all of the mitzvos are actually "building blocks" in the Master Architect's plan for a caring and just society. And he reminds us that this unique society is to serve as a "light" to all the nations: "The idea is to establish a model society which the world will wish to emulate, thus bringing the benefits of a Torah life to as large a proportion of humanity as possible."
A major strength of this work is its attempt to confront a number of contemporary issues. For example, over a third of the book deals with the relationship of many mitzvos to the preservation and enrichment of the environment. Rabbi Carmell argues that the Torah's definition of the environment is more holistic than the standard secular understanding of the term, for it includes not only land, plants and animals, but also "our bodies, our property, our words and our sexuality."
Rabbi Carmell also criticizes the modern system of factory farming, where animals are raised in crowded, unhealthy, confined cells with no room to move. In his chapter on the Torah's prohibition against cruel treatment of animals, he writes: "It seems doubtful from all that has been said whether the Torah would sanction factory farming, which treats animals as machines, with apparent insensitivity to their natural needs and instincts. This is a matter for decision by halachic authorities (experts on Torah law)."
Traditional topics such as marriage and the family are certainly not neglected. However, Rabbi Carmell understands that some people have difficult life circumstances which prevent them from fulfilling the mitzva to bring children into the world. He therefore makes a special effort to include single men and women, as well as couples without children, in the Divine plan for the universe:
People whose life presents them with a difficult challenge, for example a family without children or a woman who is not married, should never feel that they have no part to play in the Torah's plan. Any home can become a center of Torah and of concern for the physical and spiritual welfare of others. Biological children can be replaced by spiritual children. An unmarried woman can pursue the Torah's goal of being a blessing to others with as much zest as her married sister. There is a positive task for everyone if only one will take the trouble to look for it.
Most of the above viewpoints will not necessarily challenge the secular-oriented reader. The real challenge lies in Rabbi Carmell's argument that our modern, technological society often fails to protect the individual from alienation and abuse, precisely because this society is not anchored in the belief that every human being is created in the Divine image. In addition, the author points out that the strength of Torah can be found in its ability to provide the individual with concrete, practical commandments which reinforce, both at the conscious and the unconscious level, appreciation and respect for the sanctity of life. These arguments are not new, but they are presented in a novel and compassionate way. They serve as a reminder that a caring and just society is a mandate for all the peoples of the earth.
"Masterplan" can be obtained from Feldheim Publishers, 800-237-7149.
Serious spiritual seekers should also try to obtain the English translation of "Horeb" published by The Soncino Press, New York/London/Jerusalem.
Excerpt from Masterplan
Circumcision (Brit Mila)
I am God Almighty: walk before Me and be whole... I will establish My covenant with you [Abraham] and your descendants after you forever: that I will be your God [and theirs]. And I will give them...all the Land of Canaan as an everlasting possession... And you shall keep My Covenant, and your descendants after you throughout their generations...Every male among you shall be circumcised...when he is eight days old. This is the sign of the covenant.
(1) Being whole
Being whole does not mean being perfect. Nobody is perfect. It means being single-minded - wholehearted. If one is tired of being pulled this way and that by his inner urges and ardently desires to have a single aim and pursue it with all his heart - then he is a candidate for a covenant with God.
The people of Israel are the people of the covenant. We have undertaken to lead the world in single-hearted devotion to God's purposes. Our national purpose is to further God's universal purpose.
As may be seen from the verses which head this chapter, it was for this purpose that we were given Eretz Yisrael - to show how every aspect of a society and a civilization can be built up on this wholesome basis.
In the course of exile many of our people have lost this sense of purpose and are driven hither and thither on the currents of Western civilization. However admirable and even glorious, this civilization may be in many respects, in others it falls absurdly short of the standards set by the Torah. Yet however estranged they may have become from the content of the covenant - through circumstances we understand, though deplore - they have shown very few signs of giving up the sign of the covenant, except where this has been virtually a physical impossibility, such as in Soviet Russia. It seems that God's words to Abraham, ''a covenant with you and your children after you forever'' still reverberate throughout the generations.
(2) The sign of the covenant
As we noted in chapters 22-23, the sexual drive is one of the most potent in human affairs. Wrongly directed, it has the power to wreck individuals, families and whole societies. Used positively, in accordance with the Torah's guidelines, it is the great builder of families and societies.
It can be readily understood why the Torah places the seal of its covenant on the male sexual organ.The proper use of this power is the key to Torah civilization.
The mizva of mila - circumcision - is to remove the foreskin, which is called in the Torah ''orla.'' We met this term previously, in chapter 14, in connection with the young fruit tree whose fruit is ''orla'' - restricted - for the first three years.
Man is naturally selfish; a ''taker'' and not a ''giver.'' We are created takers and our task is to transform ourselves into givers. In man's natural state, without the benefit of Torah, it is only natural that the power of sex, that most potent of drives, will be directed to the limited ends of self-gratification. That is why the male sexual organ is, in nature, covered by an orla. Left to itself its use is restricted, hemmed in, limited - for selfish ends only.
In Jewish life we are to rid ourselves of this limitation. We are to use our sexual urge for the infinitely wiser and greater ends of the Torah - the founding and cementing of a Jewish marriage and a Jewish family, which is a stake in eternity.
This is the symbolism of circumcision.