When God saved Noach and his family from the flood, He gave them seven mitzvot. These mitzvot are referred to as the "Sheva Mitzvot Bnei Noach," or the Noahide commandments.
The seven commandments are:
1. Do not worship false gods.
2. Do not curse God.
3. Do not murder.
4. Do not be sexually immoral.
5. Do not steal.
6. Do not eat a limb removed from a live animal.
7. Set up courts and bring offenders to justice.
These commandments are fairly simple and straightforward, and most of them are recognized as sound moral principles. Any non-Jew who follows these laws because the Almighty commanded them, has a place in the World to Come and is called a Chassid of the Nations of the World.
These mitzvot are binding on all people, both Jew and non-Jew, because all people are descended from Noach and his family. The 613 mitzvot of the Torah, on the other hand, are binding only on the descendants of those who accepted the commandments at Sinai and upon those who take on the yoke of the commandments voluntarily (by conversion).
The Seven Laws of Noah demonstrate that the Almighty has rules and laws that are binding on all human beings, and that He loves all of us, both Jew and gentile, and provides guidance for all of us, both Jew and gentile.
states "Whoever among the Nations fulfills the Seven Commandments to serve God belongs to the Righteous among the Nations, and has his share in the World to Come."
Do It Right!
The Talmud refers to a non-Jew as a Ben Noach, a "son of Noach" since all humans are descended from the Biblical Patriarch Noach. Before the Jewish nation was born, mankind was commanded to keep certain mitzvot – six from the time of Adam and seven from the time of Noach. For the Jewish people, the 613 Mitzvot of the Torah superseded the Seven Mitzvot given to Noach. For non-Jews, however, these seven Mitzvot remain binding. God will judge all gentiles according to how they kept those laws.
Since the Seven Mitzvot Bnei Noach appear to be basic ethical values, isn't it enough to keep them because we want to be good, ethical human-beings?
The underlying intent is of such importance that if a person conducts himself according to these principles because they appeal to his sense of right and wrong, his intellect, or his sense of justice, rather than because the Almighty commanded him, he is not fulfilling the mitzvot properly and is not considered a 'Ben Noach.' The Rambam states that a gentile must accept these mitzvot specifically because they were revealed from God through Moshe to the children of Israel at Mount Sinai.
In other words, the seven Mitzvot Bnei Noach are not just nice, ethical "things to do." They are Divine laws, halachot. And, as the Talmud states, "Since the Temple was destroyed, God has no place left except the four cubits of halachah," for these mitzvot to become a Godly vessel, they must be kept properly, which means that they must be kept according to the halacha.
Just like Jews must observe the halacha in keeping their 613 commandments, there are halachot in observing the Seven Mitzvot Bnei Noach. Obviously, the halachic details are beyond the scope of this website article. There are, however, plenty of resources for further exploration on the internet.
Finding God in Our World
From the words of our Rabbis…
The Torah states, "And they encamped in the desert" (Shemot 19:2).
"The Torah was given in an ownerless place, for if it had been given in the Land of Israel, the nations of world would say that they had no part in it. Therefore, it was given in the desert and anyone who wishes to receive it should come and receive" (Midrash Mechilta 20).
"Each word that came forth from the mouth of God was split into seventy languages" (Shabbat 88b).
"Rabbi Yochanan said, the voice split into seventy voices for the seventy basic languages, so that each nation could hear the voice in its own language" (Midrash Rabbah on Shemot 85:19).
The Meiri explains, "If he [a non-Jew] learns the Seven Mitzvot Bnei Noach with their details and all that may be gleaned from them, then … it is fitting to honor him as one would a High Priest (Kohen Hagadol)."
Contemplation Leads to Belief
All People, both Jew and non-Jew thirst for spirituality, for truth. "From the rising of the sun until its setting, the Name of God is praised" (Tehillim 113:3).
Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian poses a question: When Dovid Hamelech (King David) composed the book of Tehillim (Psalms), the world was filled with idols and only the Jewish people worshipped the Almighty. If the world was filled with idols, how was God's name praised "from sunrise to sunset"?
Rabbi Lopian explains that the soul naturally desires for the Creator, as it states "My soul thirsts for you" (Tehillim 63:2). Although a person might attempt to quench this thirst through idol worship, he will continue to yearn for the truth. If he pursues that desire, he will eventually find God, in the same way that our patriarch, Avraham (Abraham) found the true God.
How did Avraham discover the true God? "He began to think day and night, and was amazed at how it was possible for a constellation in the sky to move without anyone leading it. Who could be moving it, as it was impossible for it to move itself? He had no teacher, or anyone to inform him of anything, as he lived in Ur Kasdim, a city of idolaters. His parents and all the people around him worshipped idols, and he also worshipped with them. But he felt so uneasy that his powers of reasoning led him to a true understanding of the One God Who leads the constellations in the circuit, Who created everything, and that there is no God other than Him" (Rambam, Laws of idolatry).
Rabbi Yeshaya Karelitz, known as the Chazon Ish, explains why contemplating the creation leads to belief in God:
"The attribute of faith is a fine, delicate quality of the soul. If a person possesses soulful feelings and has is in a tranquil environment, when he contemplates the heights of the heavens heights and the depths of the earth, he cannot fail to be amazed, for the world will seem to him like an insoluble puzzle. This riddle entangles the mind and heart, until he can think of nothing else, and feels faint and breathless in his stirring to find a solution. He would willingly go through fire and water to attain the answer, for what is life to him without knowing its purpose?" (Belief and Trust, essay I).
Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman elaborates, "The wonders of creation demand of every intelligent person to arrive at the conclusion that they were created by a Divinity. Therefore, each man will be judged if he does not do what is expected of him by reason of this innate intelligence (emphasis my own, editor)" (Kovetz Maamarim).
For a Jew, this conclusion "each man will be judged if he does not do what is expected of him by reason of this innate intelligence" obligates Torah observance; for a non-Jew, this conclusion obligates observance of the Seven Mitzvot Bnei Noach.
How can I observe the Seven Mitzvot?
Let's take a look at the seven mitzvot and what they entail.
1. Do not worship false gods
The essence of the Seven Laws of Noach is the prohibition of idol-worship or idolatry. We are prohibited from serving or worshipping any created thing - no human being, no angel, no plant, no star, nor the four fundamentals (earth, water, fire, and air), nor anything formulated from them. To properly observe the prohibition against idol-worship, one must become aware of God's unity.
What does this entail?
1. We are not allowed to think that there is another deity besides God.
2. We are not allowed to own an idol, make an idol, or have someone make one for us.
3. We are not allowed to worship an idol.
4. We are not allowed to bow to an idol, to sacrifice to an idol, to pour libation or burn incense before an idol, even where it is not the customary manner of worship to the particular idol.
5. We are not allowed to turn to idolatry, in word, thought, deed or by any observance that might draw us to its worship.
2. Do not curse God
Cursing the Creator or using His Name to curse something of His Creation an expression of an incomplete faith in God (or an incomplete belief in His Absolute Oneness). It is the only prohibition involving speech rather than action, and demonstrates the importance of this uniquely human attribute.
3. Do Not Murder
We are prohibited from committing homicide. God has charged us with protecting and safeguarding human life – both our own and that of others. Except in cases of self-defense, judicial sentences of lawful warfare, the punishment for murder is capital punishment, as it states, "He who spills the blood of man, by man will his blood be spilled, for in the image of God he made man" (Bereishit 9:6).
We are also forbidden to harm another person, including a fetus. Abortion is prohibited, as it states, "He who spills the blood of man within man" (Bereishit 9:6). The Talmud comments, "While he is within a man" (Sanhedrin 57b).
A sick or injured person may not have their life shortened. "From the hand of a man's brother, I will require the life of the man," (Bereishit 9:5). This is explained that even if one feels that the sufferer is his "brother" in other words, in need of compassion, it is prohibited to shorten his life. In other words, euthanasia and mercy killing is prohibited.
God charged us safe-guarding human life, our own included, as it states, "And only the blood of your soul I will require" (Bereishit 9:5). Therefore, suicide is prohibited.
Male masturbation (spilling one's seed) is also frowned upon, and considered to be an act of murderous character, as we see from the story of Er and Onan, who were subject to the Seven Mitzvot Bnei Noach. Masturbation is punished by the hand of Heaven.
4. Do not be sexually immoral
Sexual misconduct is prohibited; God has commanded mankind concerning proper sexual behavior and relationships. Within all of Creation, there is no rule that permits any individual to break the sexual laws because of his or her "own true nature." Rabbi Yirmeyahu Bindman, author of The Seven Colors of the Rainbow, observes, "There is no such thing as 'an adulterer' or 'a homosexual' anymore than there is such a thing as 'a thief.'" If one truly needs and desires to do as God wishes, one would be able to withstand the temptation of wrongdoing.
What does this entail?
1. A man may not have a union with his mother.
2. A man may not have a union with his sister.
3. A man may not have a union with his father's wife.
4. A man may not have a union with another man's wife.
5. A man may not copulate with a beast.
6. A man may not lie carnally with a male.
7. We must refrain from conduct that may lead to a prohibited union.
Lesbianism is considered an "abomination."
Although non-Jews are not commanded to marry before beginning a sexual relationship, they are encouraged to do so. Through marriage, we cultivate the finer elements in our sexual behavior, and in developing a strong, loving marriage, we not only enhance our own lives, but we provide future generations with the necessary foundations for lead a God-fearing lives.
5. Do not steal
We are prohibited from stealing money, or any object (whether animate, i.e. raping or seducing a woman, or inanimate, i.e. physical objects, or even time from an employer, or causing physical or psychological loss), or kidnapping a person. The prohibition of theft may, in fact, be the hardest of all the Seven Mitzvot Bnei Noach to obey since the opportunity to steal presents itself to us almost constantly.
What does this commandment entail?
1. We are not allowed to steal.
2. We are not allowed to cheat.
3. We are not allowed to repudiate a claim of money that we owe.
4. We are not allowed to overcharge.
5. We are not allowed to kidnap.
6. We are not allowed to use or even possess false weights and measures.
7. If we have stolen, we must return or pay for the stolen object.
6. Do not eat a limb removed from a live animal
This prohibition has nothing to do with physical health or hygiene. It has to do with the spiritual constitution, because the eating of live meat is at the root source of cruelty and selfishness. Eating even a tiny amount of living flesh (flesh taken from a living animal), whether cooked or raw, violates the prohibition. The intent of this prohibition is not to promote vegetarian practices. Before the Flood, meat of any kind was forbidden as food. After the Flood, God told Noach that meat would be permitted as long as this one condition was maintained in preparing it. All food prohibitions in the Torah have deep mystical significance, and the prohibition of eating live flesh is explicit, as it is written in Bereishit (Genesis) 9:3-4, "Every moving thing that lives shall be for you for food; just as the green herbs, I have given you everything. But flesh with its living soul, its blood, you shall not eat."
What is entailed in this prohibition?
1. We are not allowed to eat a limb that was severed from a live animal, beast, fish or fowl.
2. We are not allowed to eat the flesh of any animal that was torn by a wild beast, which, in parts prohibits the eating of such flash as was torn off an animal while it was still alive.
7. Set up courts and bring offenders to justice
When God created man, He entrusted him with establishing Law Courts, or Courts of Justice, to maintain the Seven Laws of Noach. The world cannot be left to anarchy. There must be a well organized system of law so that people can be judged equitably and not take the law into their own hands.
Our Sages state, "Anyone who judges truthfully is as if he became a partner with God in creating the world."
Although honoring our parents is not one of the Seven Mitzvot Bnei Noach, when a non-Jew who honors his parents he is rewarded for making the world a better place. Noach's son, Ham, was punished for degrading his father (Bereishit 9:22), and conversely, a son of Noach who honors his parents is rewarded from Heaven.
Similarly, Lot was praised for risking his life to bring guests into Sodom, a city that had outlawed hospitality (Bereishit 19 1-10). The Midrash states that Avraham visited his son, Yishmael, to see if he was hospitable to guests. When Yishmael's wife failed to welcome him, Avraham advised Yishmael to divorce her.
Bnei Noach are charged with cultivating good character traits and striving to come close to the Almighty through prayer and through bringing offerings in the Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple, may it be rebuilt speedily and in our days, as it states:
"And I have brought them to My holy mountain, and I have made them rejoice in the house of My prayer, their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices to be acceptable on My alter, for My house is a house of prayer for all the nations" (Isaiah).