“You shall not at all do as we are doing here today — every man doing what is right in his own eyes” Deuteronomy 12:8
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One of the most important questions for a society is how much freedom should people be given. Liberal theorists argue that people can only flourish if they are given maximum autonomy. But conservative philosophers assert that society functions most effectively if it is governed by clear rules and set hierarchies.
In the early years of our nation’s history, God tolerated a considerable degree of autonomy in worship. For example, a person could offer a sacrifice to God anywhere. However, once the conquest of the Holy Land was complete, the sacrifices and other forms of worship could only be carried out at a central place, which was, ultimately, Jerusalem.
Adherence to Jewish law or halachah is often perceived as highly prescriptive, touching every aspect of life. Clearly, the Torah holds a conservative view of civilisation; we need an unambiguous set of rules to create a successful society.
However, this brings with it danger for the observant personality. It is easy to become slavishly conformist to the halachic system and to perform the mitzvot in a rote and superficial manner. Consequently, a way must be found to engender individual expression within Jewish law.
For me the most important antidote to the danger of spiritual stagnation is the advice to “make for yourself a teacher” (Ethics of the Fathers). Each person must find a spiritual leader who speaks specifically to them. This teacher will guide and inspire a person to grow in the way that they are uniquely suited and enable him or her to utilise the halachic framework to build an increasingly close relationship with the Divine.