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GENESIS — 5:1 image

GEN535 Those moderns who deny Buber’s “accountability to the Eternal Thou” or who refuse to acknowledge a transcendent source of “the good” must still grope for the ultimate foundation of their value system.  Why, for example, is it wrong to demean, degrade, or exploit another person?  Should man’s increasing dominion over the earth make it technically possible to breed a race of docile imbeciles—why would it be wrong to do so? To answer this question in its ontological depth, is to imply that there is an order of creation which man should not violate.  At the heart of this order is “the sacredness of the human personality” or what ben Azzai called the most important sentence in the Torah: “This is the Book of the generations of man. In the image of God created He him.”  [this verse].  To explore the foundations of ethics is to point toward if not explicitly to affirm the God who is the “Giver of Torah.”  FOJE xxiv-v


GENESIS — 8:21 evil

GEN637 He who cultivates his sensual nature instead of letting his sense of God and of awe before him control his conduct, and win the victory for his higher nature, creates in himself, as the Talmud says, a strange god; that is, he allows the natural impulse to evil, which the religious man subdues through the good deed, to grow ever stronger until finally it becomes his master.  To be sure, man’s heart is evil from his youth [this verse], that is, as our sages teach, evil example can even in childhood have a devastating effect upon the purity of the soul, but over against evil example education and good example stand as equally strong forces.  Thus, Judaism does not believe in the depravity of human nature; it only asserts susceptibility to sin.  If the soul of man is pure, so is his body also; man’s body as God’s creation carries within itself, no natural uncleanness.  Nor is the evil inclination embedded in man’s corporeal life.  The human being who sins acts out of moral perversity.  Over against all other views, Judaism holds firmly to the purity of the human being.  FOJE 93-4


GENESIS — 18:19 doing

GEN968 Within Judaism there have been divergent currents of thought, but on this one point there has always been agreement and an ever increasing insistence, namely, that piety and the fear of God are grounded in moral action and that man can only apprehend God as he realizes that in the fulfillment of the good lies the raison d’etre of his existence.   FOJE 20


EXODUS — 10:1 heardened

EXOD126 The Jewish tradition is also mindful of the variability of human freedom and considers the factors which increase or diminish it. Thus, the more wrong decisions one makes in freedom, the less free we become to choose the good. “At first the evil inclination in man is like a cobweb but afterwards like strong thick ropes.” (Sukkah 52b) When Pharaoh is commanded to free the Israelites he alternates between consent and refusal. Bowing to the threat of divine sanction he acquiesces. Once the threat is removed, he reneges on his pledge. Pharaoh’s “hardening of the heart” is subsequently imputed to divine intervention: “And the Lord said unto Moses ‘Go into unto Pharaoh for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants that I might show these my signs in the midst of them.’” (Exodus 10:1) The rabbis ask: If man is free to choose between good and evil, why was Pharaoh denied the freedom to make the right choice? Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish answered: “When God warns a man once, twice, or even three times and still he does not repent, then God closes His heart....” Exodus Rabbah 13:3). Man's freedom, itself a God-given gift, expands or contracts with his exercise thereof. The more consistently one embraces a pattern of conduct, good or evil, the more difficult it becomes to alter the pattern. Here is in part is the significance of the rabbinic dictum: “If God created the evil inclination, he also created the Torah with which to temper it.” [Kiddushin 30b - AJL]. If Torah functions in a man's life as a structured system of acts and restraints, his power to pursue the good has already has found sturdy anchorage. In the rabbinic play on the words charut and chaerut one may find another enduring insight which the tradition contributes to a discussion of human freedom. The Hebrew slaves experienced their greatest birth of freedom not at the Red Sea, but at Sinai. Their freedom chaerut was bound up with their acceptance of the covenant and the engraved (charut) tablets of law. At that hour, they ceased being servants of men and became servants of God (See Avot 6:2). Freedom may not be simply defined as a rejection of authority. It is the exchange of one kind of loyalty for another; in religious terms, a rejection of idolatry for commitment to God. The man who exercises freedom must choose between conflicting claims. His freedom to choose one or the other depends on his assessment of their relative value. How free is a man to stand out in a torrential downpour to purchase an advanced ticket for a theatrical performance? The answer depends measurably on how high “love for the theater” ranks in his order of passionate loyalties or values. An infant's freedom to restrain his aggression is linked to the value he attaches to maternal love. The traditional Jew’s freedom (his power) to observe the demands of the covenant -- even under duress-- is related to the value he places upon doing the will of God. “‘Of them that love me and keep my commandments’ [Exodus 20:6] refers to those who dwell in the land of Israel and risk their lives for the sake of the commandments.” (Mekilta Bahodesh, Vol. II, Lauterbach edition p. 237). Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah envisages Jews who are tempted to eat pork or who will wish to violate the laws of sexual purity, but who conclude: “What can I do in as much as my Father in heaven has decreed that I do otherwise” (Sifra 93b). Man's freedom (power) to serve God is contingent upon the place such divine service occupies in his hierarchy of concerns. We are partly free to choose our values and those values in turn help define the parameters and substance of our freedom.


LEVITICUS — 26:3 observe

LEV1110 The ethics of Judaism is built upon its teaching concerning the freedom of the will, which endows man with the moral power to determine what he will do or leave undone, with the capacity to vanquish his sinful impulses, and to sanctify himself in disposition, intent, and open action. But by that, in addition, it also lays upon him a great responsibility. The teaching of Judaism regarding reward and punishment is founded upon this responsibility. Its conception of the consequences of good and evil developed in Judaism from naive hope for reward and fear of punishment in the beginning to the very highest ethical consciousness in the end: “The reward of a good deed is a good deed, and the punishment of sin is a sin.” [Avot 4:2 - AJL]. The Jewish philosophers of religion all agree (there is only one opinion on the subject) that in the Biblical writings promise of reward and threat of punishment have for their aim the education of the people, according to their powers of apprehension, in the observance of the Divine commandments and the living of an immaculate life (compare also PP. 138-139, VI, 1). Therefore, as a reward for doing what is pleasing in the sight of God, earthly welfare at first is promised, and earthly trials are threatened as punishment for the transgression of the Divine commandments (Leviticus xxvi. 3ff.; Deuteronomy vii. 9f.; xi. 13ff.; xxviii. 1ff.). But even this teaching does not confine reward and punishment merely to the personal destiny of the individual; on the contrary, it declares that the righteousness practiced by the individual and the community carries an entail of happiness and welfare for the community, just as for evil practices the individual and the community are punished. The happiness promised in the Torah and in the prophetic writings is not merely material and personal, but ideal conditions for the community are included: undisturbed peace, public welfare and social harmony, in which all participate and through which alone man's spiritual ascent is made possible.


DEUTERONOMY — 10:12 what

DEUT423 In its original context this biblical commandment can hardly be reduced to an observance of “the moral law.” … In truth covenant faithfulness embodied an integrated system of “ethical” and “ritual” acts. It may be more helpful to speak of Torah as an all-encompassing way of life through which the man born Jew nurtures his humanity and fulfills his particular divine vocation in the world. Thus a Jew who fails to identify with his people’s redemption from Egyptian bondage (who says “What mean ye by this service?”) and who denies the claim of mitzvot relating to Passover, is surely rejecting the covenant of his fathers. Shall we describe this rejection in ritual or ethical terms? While his neglect of a Seder may be characterized as a failure to perform certain ritual acts, it may also be token a lack of self-respect, of reverence for the sources of his being, and therefore be deemed an offense against his humanity, his people and the God of the covenant. Significantly, the Haggadah designates such a Jew as a rasha, an evil man. A Christian who fails to observe the Passover is not similarly culpable. Morality as “a basic requirement of the religious life” has distinctly Jewish as well as universal overtones.


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