In January 1987 Paul Johnson, the noted British historian and award-winning author, wrote an essay entitled “The Heartless Lovers of Mankind.” He excoriated the intellectualism of Western Civilization which has been responsible for unspeakable atrocities because ideas were elevated over people. He expanded his theme in a subsequent book entitled Intellectuals in which he shows how irresolute individuals failed to put into practice the glorious ideas they espoused. The secular reformers since the French Revolution, for instance, were unfaithful to their spouses, fathered illegitimate children, and were personally uncaring and opportunistic. Johnson concludes: “it is the idea humanity they love rather than the individuals who compose it.” Chaim Grade, an underappreciated Yiddish writer who dies in 1982, made a similar observation in his post-Holocaust dialogue “My Quarrel With Hersh Rasseyner.” Grade accused Western intellectuals with these shocking words: “You were your own gods. You prophesied: ‘Man will be a god.’ So naturally he became a devil.”
Judaism in general and the Torah in particular stand in opposition to this view. The Torah reminds us of this fact by implying that a just and moral society can be attained only when we walk in the paths of God and observe His laws. Judaism insists that all people walk in the ways of God, not simply talk about the ways of God. As Moses Mendelssohn noted, Judasim is a religion of deed, not creed. Judaism bids us to translate our love of humanity – which is so easy to verbalize – into a practical program that is difficult – but necessary – to live by. Charlie Brown understood this truth when he pleaded: “Lucy, you must be more loving. The world needs love. You have to let yourself love to make this a better place.” But Lucy replies in the spirit of Western intellectuals when she says: “Look, blockhead, the World I love. It’s people I can’t stand.”
If we are to walk in the paths of God and make love and kindness an integral part of our lives, it requires that we act out our convictions; it requires that we concretize our beliefs through the way we treat our family, our neighbors – even our enemies. It is insufficient to intellectualize our love of freedom without working to achieve freedom for others. It is not enough to articulate high standards of justice without assuring justice for those denied it. It is not enough to urge compassion for the poor and the homeless without acting on it.