Across the Great Divide: Between Jew and Non-Jew
by Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, author of Unlocking the Torah Text
A monumental shift in focus takes place as the Torah moves from Parshat Noach to Parshat Lech Lecha.
Until this point, the narrative has been universal in scope, as the text has chronicled the world’s creation and man’s early generations. Now, however, the Torah’s range narrows as it begins to tell the story of Avraham and his descendents, the chosen Jewish nation.
Before this shift takes place, however, a universal moral code for the world is laid out by God. This code, referred to in rabbinic literature as Sheva Mitzvot B’nai Noach (the seven mitzvot of the children of Noach), or the Noachide code, is derived from a passage found at the end of the Noach narrative and consists of seven basic commandments. Taken together, these commandments form a moral blueprint for all civilizations.
The seven Noachide laws are the following: do not steal, do not kill, do not eat the limb of a living animal, do not commit acts of sexual immorality, do not practice idolatry, do not blaspheme God, and establish courts of law.
How can the existence of the Noachide code inform our understanding of and our relationship with the non-Jewish world? How does God relate with the non-Jewish nations after He “chooses” the Jewish people? Can we morally defend a two-tiered system in God’s relationship with the nations of the world?
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Adapted from one of the multiple essays on this parsha in Unlocking the Torah Text by Rabbi Shmuel Goldin.