53. The Torah Addresses the Norm

It is important to understand that the Torah does not take exceptions into account. Whatever the Torah teaches, be it intellectual, moral or practical in nature, is based on the norm and not on any deviations that may occur. [III, 34] The mitzvos are beneficial to mankind but there may be individual cases where they cause harm. These exceptional cases do not disqualify the underlying reasons for the mitzvos.

We can better understand this by looking at nature. There are things in nature that are generally beneficial. Let’s say that milk and bread fall into this category. (This is my example, not the Rambam’s.) We can all agree that these things are generally considered to be important sources of nutrition. But we also know that some people are intolerant or allergic to lactose or gluten. Nuts are a healthy food to most people but others could die just from smelling them! The existence of exceptions does not mean that these things are unhealthy, it just means that some people are exceptions. Similarly, it should not surprise us that, while the mitzvos are generally “healthy” in a spiritual sense, some mitzvos do not “agree with” some people’s individual circumstances.

Despite the existence of exceptions, there is only one Torah for everyone. As King Solomon put it, “They are all given from one shepherd” (Koheles 12:11); it would be impossible to assign each person his own individual Torah. The Torah by its nature applies in all times and places. It is not like a medicine that a doctor alters depending on an individual patient’s condition.

The fact that certain mitzvos make less sense – or even appear to be counterproductive – in certain societies is immaterial. If the Torah were subject to alteration with each generation, it would be a sign that it was imperfect. This is why the Torah must apply always and not be subject to human whims – “The community is to have one law for you and for converts, a permanent statute throughout the generations…” (Numbers 15:15).

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