All Israel has a share in the World to Come, as it is stated: ``And your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever. They are the shoot of My planting, the work of My hands, in which I take pride.'' -Talmud, Sanhedrin 90a (introductory reading to Ethics of the Fathers)

Moses received the Torah [from G‑d at] Sinai and gave it over to Joshua. Joshua [gave it over] to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets gave it over to the Men of the Great Assembly.

Ethics of the Fathers, 1:1


Is there such a thing as a ``Torahless'' Jew? Can one still be a Jew without observing the edicts and ethos of Torah in his daily life?

Jews defy all conventional definitions of a ``people'' or ``nation.'' We lack a common race, culture or historical experience. While we all share our eternal rights to the Land of Israel, for all but a few centuries of the last 4,000 years the overwhelming majority of Jews have not lived or even set foot in the Jewish homeland.

What define us as Jews is a relationship and commitment. We are Jews because the Almighty chose us to be His ``cherished treasure from all the nations... a kingdom of priests and a holy people.'' We are Jews because the Almighty chose us to implement His purpose in creation: to orientate our lives in accordance with His will, and to develop a society and world community that reflect His goodness and perfection.

The Essence of a Transgression

The substance of this relationship, the charter of this commitment, is the Torah. The Torah is G‑d's concept of reality as communicated to man, the blueprint that describes the perfected world envisioned by its Creator and details the manner in which the Inventor of Life wishes it to be lived.

This would seem to define our Jewishness as a ``religion'': we are Jews because we adhere to the beliefs and practices mandated by the Torah. But the Torah itself says that this is not so. Torah itself proclaims that G‑d ``dwells amongst them in the midst of their impurities,’’ that His relationship with His people remains unaffected regardless of their behavior.

In the words of the Talmud, ``A Jew, although he has transgressed, is a Jew.'' According to Torah law, one's Jewishness is not a matter of life-style or self-perception: one may be totally unaware of his Jewishness and still be a Jew, or one may consider himself Jewish and observe all the precepts of the Torah and still not be a Jew.

In other words, it is the relationship between the Jew and his Creator that defines his Jewishness, not his acknowledgment of this relationship or his actualization of it in his daily life. It is not the observance of Torah's mitzvos (Divine ``commandments'') that makes him a Jew, but the commitment that the mitzvos represent.

This is the deeper significance to the axiom that ``A Jew, although he has transgressed, is a Jew.'' The simple meaning of these words is that a Jew is still a Jew despite his transgressions. But on a deeper level, it is because he has transgressed that he is a Jew. A non-Jew who eats chametz (leavened bread) on Passover has done nothing wrong; likewise, his eating matzoh on the Seder night has no moral or spiritual significance. But for a Jew, the mitzvos of Passover are a component of his relationship with G‑d: by observing them he is realizing this relationship and extending it to his daily life; if he violates them, G‑d forbid, he is transgressing---he is acting contrary to the commitment which defines his identity. Thus, in a certain sense, the fact of a Jew's transgression is no less an expression (albeit a negative one) of his relationship with G‑d than his observance of a mitzvah.

Indeed, the Hebrew word mitzvah means both ``commandment'' and ``connection.'' The relationship between the word's two meanings can also be understood on two levels. On the behavioral level, we connect to G‑d through our fulfillment of His commandments. On a deeper level, we are inexorably connected to Him by virtue of the fact that He chose us as the object of His commandments. Obviously, these two levels of connection are two sides of the same coin, being the inner and outer faces of the same truth: our observance of the mitzvos is the manifestation, in our daily lives, of the intrinsic bond between G‑d and Israel.

The Six-Dimensional Link

The Zohar, the basic work of kabbalistic teaching, expresses this concept in the following manner:

``There are three connections that are bound to each other: G‑d, the Torah, and Israel---each consisting of a level upon a level, hidden and revealed. There is the hidden aspect of G‑d, and the revealed aspect; Torah, too, has both a hidden and a revealed aspect; and so it is with Israel, who also has both a hidden and a revealed aspect.''

The Zohar goes on to describe the manner in which the Torah serves as the connecting link between G‑d and Israel: how the Torah is one with its Divine Author, and how the Jewish people connect to the Torah through their study and observance of its teachings.

But what are the ``hidden'' and ``revealed'' elements of G‑d, Torah and Israel? And what is their relevance to our connection to G‑d through His Torah?

The Zohar is intimating that these three ``connections'' are interlinked on two levels, both on a ``hidden'' and on a ``revealed'' plane. For each of the three interconnected ``links'' possesses both an explicit and an implicit dimension.

There is the so-called ``revealed'' aspect of G‑d, those expressions of His reality which He chooses to manifest within the created existence, and there is His ``hidden'' unknowable essence. The Jew, too, has his revealed and manifest self—the manner in which he expresses himself through his behavior—and his hidden, quintessential self. And the Torah, as outlined above, has both a more pronounced as well as a more implicit significance as the connecting link between G‑d and Israel.

On the ``hidden'' plane, the soul of the Jew is bound to the very essence of G‑d through the underlying relationship and commitment which Torah represents. Even if the Jew's life, on the conscious-behavioral level, is inconsistent with the revealed will of the Almighty, he is no ``less'' a Jew, G‑d forbid: no matter what, the ``hidden'' intrinsic bond that defines his Jewishness is unaffected. But in order to express this relationship on all levels of his being, in order to bring his life in line with his essence, the Jew must reiterate the connection on the ``revealed'' level. This he does by studying G‑d's Torah and observing its mitzvos.

The Third Juncture

There is, however, another, yet deeper meaning to the Zohar's words.

The above-cited passage speaks of ``three connections which are bound to each other.'' The Aramaic word translated here as ``connections'' is ``kishrin'', which literally means ``knots.''

At first glance, this seems to be an inaccurate usage. If Torah is the link between G‑d and Israel, then what we have are three entities (G‑d, Torah and Israel) linked via two connections (Israel's connection to Torah and the Torah's connection with the Almighty). Where do we have three knots/connections?

This brings us to a second definition of the ``hidden'' and ``revealed'' dimensions of the relationship between G‑d and Israel. The Midrash states:

``Two things preceded G‑d's creation of the world: Torah and Israel. Still, I do not know which preceded which. But when Torah states `Speak to the Children of Israel...,' `Command the Children of Israel...,' etc., I know that Israel preceded all.''

In other words, G‑d created the world in order that Israel might implement His Divine plan for existence, as outlined in the Torah. So the concepts of ``Israel'' and ``Torah'' precede the concept of a ``world'' in the Creator's ``mind.'' Yet which is the more deeply rooted ``idea'' within the Divine consciousness, Torah or Israel? Does Israel exist so that the Torah be implemented, or does the Torah exist to serve the Jew in the fulfillment of his mission and the expression of his relationship with G‑d? If the Torah describes itself as a communication to Israel, this presumes the concept of ``Israel'' as primary to that of ``Torah.''

This means that G‑d's relationship with Israel ``pre-dates'' (in the conceptual sense) the Torah, for the Torah comes to serve that relationship. In this sense, Israel is the ``link'' between the Torah and G‑d: the Torah's existence as the embodiment of the Divine wisdom and will is a result of Israel's existence and its connection with G‑d.

Thus, we have three connections linking G‑d, Israel and the Torah:

On the revealed level, the Torah serves as the link between G‑d and Israel: the Torah is connected to G‑d, and Israel is connected to the Torah. (This includes both levels of connection outlined above---the connection achieved through the performance of a mitzvah and the connection defined by the commitment itself).

But on a deeper, more quintessential level, there exists a third connection: the "direct" connection between G‑d and His people which precedes the very concept of a Torah. On this level, Israel's involvement in Torah is what connects the Torah to the Almighty, what causes Him to extend His infinite and wholly indefinable being into a medium of ``Divine wisdom'' and ``Divine will.'' On this level, it is not the Jew who needs the Torah in order to be one with G‑d, but the Torah who needs the Jew to evoke G‑d's desire to project Himself via the Torah.

Nevertheless, the Torah is crucial to the Jew's relationship with G‑d. The essence of the Jew, as it is rooted within the essence of G‑d, is indeed one with its Source. But then it ``descends'' to become part of the created existence, assuming a distinct identity as a soul and then as a human being. So the Almighty provides the Jew with His Torah. Through Torah, the Jew touches base with his own quintessential self, and makes his intrinsic bond with his Creator a reality in his daily life.

Beginning Before the Beginning

Ethics of the Fathers, the Talmud's summation of the Jew's ethical code, opens with the statement that ``Moses received the Torah from Sinai, and transmitted it'' to all successive generations of Jews. This is meant to underscore that the entirety of Jewish Law and the Jewish way of life stem from G‑d's communication of the Torah to us at Mount Sinai.

But when we study the Ethics (a chapter on each Shabbos afternoon of the summer months) we do not begin from the beginning, with Moses' receiving the Torah. We preface each chapter with the attestation that ``All Israel have a share in the World to Come,'' that ``Your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever'' because G‑d considers them all ``the shoot of My planting, the work of My hands, in which I take pride.'' That each and every Jew, regardless of present behavior or spiritual status, is bound in an invincible knot to his Creator.