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What Are Biblical Commandments: The Teaching of Rabbi Menahem Azaria De Fano

What is the status of moral imperatives whether we find them in traditional sacred books like the Torah, the writings of Confucius, or the Koran, or we put them together from folk wisdom and common sense?  Do we need to believe in a Super Being who wants something from humans and is disappointed and frustrated if He does not get it?  Whatever the status of arguments for the existence of such a Super Being (cf. Hume Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion) it seems that such a view can have deleterious psychological consequences in terms of guilt, fear, and shame.  Considering the deleterious effects of the midah of depression on one’s spiritual progress, the strategy of viewing commandments as demands of a possibly disappointed Super Being is a self-defeating one.

For a better strategy consider that of Menahem Azariah da Fano who flourished from 1548-1620 in Mantua, Italy and was, in collaboration with R. Israel Sarug one of primary funders and disseminators of the teachings of the Ari in Europe.  According to Da Fano a command such as “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” is not a command, it is a prediction.  The commandment states that you as a human being are the sort of being that naturally loves other human beings.  Your nature is love.

What are the psychological consequences for those times when the commandment does not describe our behavior?  First of all we do not view them, according to R. Fano as breaking anything but as moments of less than perfect flourishing.  So if we say  “But R. Fano, I just stole from my friend!  I invalidated your prediction.” he responds “That was not you.  You were not being what you truly are.”

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