This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will achieve success. Joshua 1:8 NASB
Careful – Step 3, the two-edged sword. Yesterday we learned about the importance of speaking, the audible initial step of gripping Torah. Then we learned about due diligence, deep mining God’s word. That took us to Step 3: be careful and do. Most of us won’t have many issues with the doing part. Fulfilling the positive commands is typically straightforward. We know what it means to tell the truth, honor our parents, observe the Sabbath, show kindness to strangers. In my observation, these are not stumbling blocks today. It’s the verb šāmar that gives us the most trouble. Linguistically, we understand what it means:
The basic idea of the root is “to exercise great care over.” This meaning can be seen to underlie the various semantic modifications seen in the verb: In combination with other verbs the meaning is “do carefully or diligently”. Thus Prov 19:8, “Give heed to understanding”; Deut 11:32, “Be careful to do (i.e. perform carefully) all the statutes and ordinances) and in Num 23:12, speak carefully or faithfully.
Secondly it expresses the careful attention to be paid to the obligations of a covenant, to laws, statutes, etc. This is one of the most frequent uses of the verb.
The problem comes with Heschel’s observation:
“The experience of the easy and endless opportunities for evil, and the awareness of the dreadful danger, threatens to outweigh all delight of living. The answer to that danger is either despair or the question: God, where art Thou? ‘Where is the God of justice?’ (Malachi 2:17).”
“Others despair in the fog of the crystal-clear laws of necessity, in which our hopes often freeze to death.”
It’s “guarding” that’s the issue. Not because we have trouble with the major prohibitions, but because there are so many subtleties in the homogenization of evil and good in our world. It’s so easy to move the fence just a little. The differences often seem trivial. And the last thing we really want is a code that is so strict it binds us more than Torah itself. Living in Babylon means constantly making judgment calls about all the small details. It’s morally exhausting. So we tell ourselves, “Well, God knows I have good intentions. What’s the difference if I do what I think I should do even if I’m not quite sure about it? After all, God forgives, right?” As Heschel notes, trying to sort out all of it leaves us either in despair or doubt. We just give up hoping to get it right and we go ahead anyway.
Frankly, the Torah doesn’t really help here. Why? Because it was written for people who never had to face the issues like elevators, artificial intelligence, tax codes, medical terrorism, etc., etc. It was written for tribes and subjects of kingdoms in a world long since buried in the sand. That means we need to determine how those Torah commandments can be applied today. That’s the point of rabbinic arguments, Christian commentaries, moral teaching, and therapy groups. But even after you avail yourself of all the communication available, you still have to decide. And you might be wrong no matter how right you feel.
If you thought I was here to give you an answer, I hate to disappoint, but I don’t have one. I’m in the same boat, trying to figure it out. Fortunately, I’m not Solomon (and neither are you) so I don’t have to live with a divine perspective on evil and good. All I really can do is follow what I know about God’s instructions to those ancient people, and ask Him to correct me along the way.
And then, of course, listen.
Topical Index: guard, šāmar, Torah, evil, Joshua 1:8
 Abraham Heschel, Between God and Man: An Interpretation of Judaism (Free Press Paperbacks, 1959), p. 192.
 Abraham Heschel, Man Is Not Alone, p. 149.
ANNOUNCEMENT: The final “single topic” discussion will take place at 8AM EDT on April 11, this coming Sunday. The topic is: Why doesn’t God step into human history today and rectify all the evil we see? To participate you must be registered on my other web site (ivebeenskipped.com).