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GENESIS — 5:1 descendants

GEN526 With respects to the limits of our obligation to love our neighbor [Leviticus 19:18], there is a well-known controversy. “Rabbi Akiba says, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’ is a great principle in the Torah. Ben-Azzai says ‘This is the book of the generations of Adam’ [this verse] is an even greater principle. [Sifre, Kedoshim, 4:12] While Rabbi Akiba places very high value on the love of neighbor, the meaning of neighbor in his usage is open to doubt. If we take it as I presume Rabbi Akiba did, in its technical halakhic sense, then it can only mean another Jew.  There are those who attempt to expand the meaning by construing kamokha to mean, “he is like yourself.” This interpretation, which is offered by various exegetes from Mendelssohn and Wessely in the eighteenth century to Hermann Cohen in the twentieth, means to expand the reference to all humanity by stressing that every other man is human like yourself, and by virtue of that fact merits your love.  It can even be read to conform with Maimonides’ greater restriction, namely, he is an observant and learned Jew like you and this is the reason that he deserves your love.  Ben-Azzai wanted to avoid all such ambiguities.  For that reason he stressed as his primary principle the concern with humanity as such.  Consider his proof-text in its entirety.  “This is the book of the generations of Adam.  In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made He him” [this verse]. About this notion of man there can be no debate.  He is everyman, for he is like Adam the first man, who is not a Jew. He is, beyond all parochial limits, man created in the image of God.  FOXMJE 38-9 


GENESIS — 18:23 approached

GEN1011 [T]he Rabbis see motives as the characteristic determinant of virtue. Interestingly enough, Maimonides singles out as examples David and Elijah, who displayed harshness and anger, albeit in righteous causes, to show how lack of love results in loss of virtue even though in practice the exigencies of justice leave no room for choice. [Maimonides, Shemonah Perakim, chap. 7].   It is not surprising therefore that the Halakha itself recognizes the suspension of the usual halakhic criteria in those instances where conflict on the motivational level is acute.   The archetype is our father Abraham.   So boundless is his love for man that he rebels against accepting the divine decree against the wicked cities of Sodom and its allies.  Scripture says, “Abraham approached” [this verse], and Midrash comments: “R. Elazar explained thus, ‘For war-I come; for conciliation-I come; for prayer-I come.’” Bereshit Rabbah 49. Abraham does not shrink from war, as it were, against the Almighty, and driven by love he hurls an accusation against “the Judge of all the earth.” The question reappears in various guises.   In order to save lives, is every action justified? Based on Talmudic remarks about Esther and Yael, Sanhedrin 74b, Rabbi Joseph Colon saw it as permissible for a woman to surrender to or even arouse the adulterous lust of bandits in order to save the lives of their captives. Responsa Maharik, 137. More recently Rabbi Ezekiel Landau demurred. Noda Be-Yehuda, Tinyana, 161.  The same question is discussed in our own time by Rabbi Yehiel Weinberg. Seridei Esh, v.3, sec. 109.  All the authorities agree that in extreme cases, there is no prescribed course of action, and the woman’s own conscience must be her guide, for only she can determine what her true motives are.  Not only an overwhelming challenge of love can suspend the usual norms.   The same applies to the stern demands of justice.   … Lest one allow oneself too much freedom in taking liberties with established judicial procedure [Maimonides] concludes, “It is the glory of the Torah only to act in accordance with its statutes and ordinances.”  It is only in cases of overriding urgency that the individual is given the liberty to probe his own motives and act as he sees fit regardless of the usual rules.   FOXMJE 93-4


GENESIS — 18:25 justly

GEN1032 [I]t is extremely difficult to evaluate today the relationship of religion and ethics.   The modern decline of religion and the concomitant search for the essence of Judaism have undermined the unity of religion and ethics. And yet, from the point of view of Judaism -- as it is expressed both in theory and in life -- there can be no doubt that there is a profound, intrinsic, and abiding interrelationship between religion and ethics.   Philosophers have always explored the nature of the good and its connection with God, but Jewish life was always conducted in the firm belief that God cannot act unjustly [this verse] and that only through justice and loving-kindness can man “walk in the way of God” Micah 6:8.  FOXMJE 231-2


GENESIS — 21:24 swear

GEN1115 Hesed … generally implies a relation based on reciprocal obligation. Hesed is debt to be paid, as in the phrase gemilut hasadim.   The particular individual concerned may not be in a position to pay back but it is understood that hesed applies to acts that bind society together in a relation of mutuality. Now this hesed relation is possible and even mandatory between Israel and other nations, that is, Jew and non-Jew.  The world as a whole is said to be built on hesed (Psalm 89:3). Thus, Abimelech addresses Abraham: “According to the hesed I have done to thee thou shalt do to me.” And Abraham swears accordingly [this verse].   Coming to our own time this represents a high standard of international relationships but it is within the bounds of the humanly possible.   To expect us to love our enemies is outside the bounds o the humanly possible.   And Judaism does not require it.   The specific command, “Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself” Leviticus 19:18 has particular reference to the Jewish people.   FOXMJE 59


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