G-d gave His people Israel a true, trustworthy, pure and perfect Torah. Thus we find, “The word of the L-rd is pure” (Psalms 18:31); “The words of the L-rd are pure words, as silver tried in a crucible on the earth, refined seven times” (Ibid., 12:7); “Your word is refined to the uttermost” (Ibid., 119:140) “The law of the L-rd is perfect, restoring the soul”(Ibid., 19:8). This perfect Torah is formed from two elements – first, from concepts, ideas, Divine values and attributes, and second, from those practical commandments constituting Jewish observance. The first group constitutes the Torah's very core. They serve as a lamp to our feet, elucidating and defining the ways of G-d; the path we must follow. It is to these the Torah refers each time it uses the word “derech”, way, as in “to walk in G-d's ways” (Deut. 26:17), interpreted by Ramban as meaning “to do what is right and good and to perform kind acts.”
It is G-d's ways which show us how to emulate Him. Man's task, after all, is to learn these ways and emulate G-d. As our sages said (Sifri, Ekev 49), “If it be your wish to know the One Whose word brought the world into existence, study Midrash, for through it you will come to know G-d and cling to His ways. If you fulfill your duty, I shall fulfill mine.” Sifri (Ibid.) also comments: “To walk in all G-d's ways” (Deut. 11:22): These are the ways of G-d, as it says, “The L-rd, the L-rd, G-d, merciful and gracious, long suffering and abundant in goodness and truth...(Ex. 34:6). It also says, “It shall come to pass that whosoever shall call on the name of the L-rd shall be delivered” (Yoel 3:5). How can a man “call on the name of the L-rd”? Rather, just as G-d is called “merciful and gracious”, so, too, must we be merciful and gracious... Just as G-d is called “righteous”, so, too, must we be righteous...
The essence of Torah is to learn, to know, to become familiar with Divine attributes, concepts and ideas and to walk in G-d's ways – to cling to Him. Ritual observance is only the external expression of the internal idea. It is the conceptual framework which stands at the heart of Torah, determining the path one must follow. How important it is to note here the role played by one revolutionary perversion, the awful removal of Bible study from the yeshivot. Who can fathom ignoring our sages' words (Avot 5:25), “At age five Bible study begins,” or their devoted instruction regarding real Torah education, or their directive that we must teach the child all of Scripture before he delves into Mishnah and Talmud? Our sages understood that the Bible is the source and foundation of the Torah structure, and that without it a flimsy, unfinished edifice will arise. They understood that only in Scripture can we find the natural model of the Jewish leader who lived and grew up in the Land of Israel in a holistic setting, and the Divine ways and ideas we must emulate.
The Torah is like a forest; the mitzvot are its trees. If someone is unfamiliar with the shape and general appearance of the forest, and the path through it, he will never know what role each tree serves or where and how to plant trees to suit the shape of the forest. The nature of G-d and the tenets of our faith are the shape of the forest. Only through them can we understand the role of the practical mitzvot and laws, thereby planting the forest as the Planner intended. Those tenets which teach us the shape of the Torah come from study of Aggad'ta and Midrash. They teach the thought and nature of G-d. Only by studying these, the larger picture, can we understand the place and essence of the practical mitzvot, the details. It is a pity we have abandoned and neglected Midrash and Aggad'ta. We are much impoverished as a result. G-d regrets having created four things, and the main one is the exile, which perverted the original idea of Jewishness. A complete, speedy and glorious redemption is impossible until we restore the Torah to its former glory. We must destroy the dross and cut from the Torah – the Tree of Life – the branches of distortion. Once more we must embrace devotion, accepting G-d's yoke in complete submission, until we restore to ourselves an accurate grasp of G-d's nature and the Torah's concepts and values, these constituting the Torah's very heart. Then we will once more be able to establish the true, complete Torah edifice, devoid of every forbidden combination, of all foreign cultural influence. We will be able to know G-d's true ways and we will have a complete understanding of our Jewishness. We will set a straight course, veering neither right nor left from G-d's truth. Moreover, we will then be at one with G-d. With love and joy we will accept the yoke of His kingdom, His mitzvot, His attributes, without the stain of conceit, but with devotion, with cries of “Cling to Him!” (Deut. 10:20).
When a person does not understand a mitzvah and the idea behind it, or worse, he has internalized alien, distorted concepts and attributes; then when he fulfills the mitzvah, the external form of devotion, he is only emphasizing an idea that is fallacious, or, G-d forbid, that contradicts G-d's eternal truth. Clinging to G-d, accepting the yoke of Heaven, demands full submission and readiness on a Jew's part to accept upon himself all the details of the mitzvot, especially the Divine concepts, values and attributes, precisely as G-d commanded; although some of them may conflict with his world view or his innate feelings. G-d, and not man, establishes religious concepts, ideas and commandments. He defines exactly what is kindness, justice, uprightness, and mercy.
It is entirely possible that a person will disdain some command of Divine value, or that one of them will conflict with “kindness and mercy” as he sees them. In his false perception, G-d's ways may border on “cruelty”. Yet if someone rejects Divine attributes and concepts as our Father in Heaven determined them to be, then despite his continuing to fulfill the rituals, he is not a “mitzvah observer”. He cannot be labeled 'one who fulfills G-d's commands.” Such a person does as he sees fit. He is a slave to himself, pronouncing that he is G-d. He denies Hashem's existence. Suppose, then, that someone who denies that the Torah's commandments originated with G-d performs a mitzvah, such as honoring one's parents or giving charity, doing so not because it is a decree of the King, a Divine edict from Sinai, but because he finds it morally agreeable. It most certainly follows that his action is worthless. His blessings are not blessings and his mitzvot are bot mitzvot – but blasphemy. True, our sages taught (Pesachim 50b) that one should fulfill G-d's commandments even without sincerity, since insincere performance will lead to sincere performance; but that has nothing to do with the case at hand. Here, the person in question has no belief whatsoever in the concept of a “commandment”; hence his actions do not even constitute insincere fulfillment. I believe that the Pesachim source refers to one who does a mitzvah chiefly because he finds it agreeable. Our sages might agree that a mitzvah performed “insincerely” borders on not being a mitzvah at all; yet, they would say, it is still better for him to perform it. That way, there is hope that he will reach a state of sincere fulfillment, performing mitzvot as commandments in the literal sense.
It emerges that the cornerstone of the Torah edifice upon which all the mitzvot stand, and without which they would all collapse, is the yoke of Heaven and absolute devotion to G-d and His commands. With this the world has a reason to exist. Without it, Hashem rises up to His role of E-l Shadd-ai, “Almighty G-d,” and threatens to destroy it (Shabbat 88a): “G-d set a proviso before the universe:'If Israel accept the Torah, you will survive. Otherwise, I shall reinstate chaos.” It also says, “The world endures only for the sake of the Torah given to Israel” (Esther Rabbati 7:13); and “Just as it is impossible for the world to be without winds, so is it impossible for the world to be without the Jewish People” (Ta'anit 3b). Were there no nation ready to receive the Torah and fulfill it, there would be no reason for the world or man to exist.