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GENESIS — 5:1 generations

GEN528 It is interesting to note that in the Sifra, a rabbinic commentary to the Book of Leviticus, there is a discussion concerning the greatest principle in the Torah [89b].  Rabbi Akiba argued that it was the golden commandment: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” [Leviticus 19:18]  But another rabbi, Ben Azzai, found an even greater principle. He quoted the sentence, “This is the book of the generations of Adam.” [this verse]. The Torah, therefore, belongs to all persons.  Its affirmation of human value, its insistence on human duty, comprehend all humanity.  Ben Azzai, in selecting this verse, penetrated to the core of the moral law.  No one is above the human level and no one is below the human level.  Each is bound by duties and protected by rights.  No one is above the moral laws which bind all. No one is below the moral laws which protect all.  No one should step beyond right and wrong. No one should count for less than a human being.  Here, in eight words, is the essence of the moral law: All persons are obligated. All persons are precious. The essence of the moral law can be expressed as a principle of duties and rights: Treat all persons as obligated, including yourself; treat all persons as precious, including your enemies. … Children [can] learn what are the right questions to ask when faced with a difficult moral problem.  What if everyone were to do that? How would I like that done to me? Am I putting God first? Does it promote the general happiness? Of course, some of these questions will speak to some families and others to other families.  The golden rule, however, is probably the best place to begin.  When it comes to the stage of moral decision, a person can always say, “So what?  So what if I do not contribute to the preservation of a humane society. So what if I do not contribute to the general happiness.  So what if I am not loyal to God. So what that it would be hateful to me and it will be hateful to him.  So what, I will pursue my own advantage.”  Thus, a commitment to the preservation of a humane society, to the general happiness, to loyalty to God, should be developed.  Likewise, a bond of true case with the fellow human being needs to be created.  The essence of the great moral principles can be expressed in a few short sentences: All persons are obligated. All persons are precious. And there are no exceptions.  This is the heart of ethics and it should be taught.  If these few sentences can be humanized with examples and taken to heart by the student, then he will have written the moral law on his own consciousness.  It will also be helpful if the young learn respect for specific moral laws.  Keep your promises is an important instruction to the young, although they will learn later that there are exceptions.  First, however, they need to learn that moral laws are expected to be kept.  The primary task of moral education is to develop a moral self image in the young.  The young person should achieve a consciousness that we become truly human not be the exercise of physical courage nor by excellence of mind, but primarily by moral actions.  In the ethical life…everything ultimately depends on the oral self image.  It is for this reason that the widespread assault upon the virtue of compassion in the last twenty years … is dangerous.  Compassion is one of the highest virtues – the Talmud even mentions it first in describing the character of the Jews.  But now, compassion is in disrepute. … Life requires compassion and wisdom just as much as it requires courage.  … The tough guy is one image of the human being—but it is not an image which can lead to an ethical life.  Children who model themselves on tough guys will not develop a moral self image.  No moral model, no moral self image. No moral self image, no moral life.  If society is to remain moral, it must provide its young with exemplars of the moral life.  As children grow older, adults should explain to them the fundamental purpose of ethical actions.  The causal connections between ethics and constructive human relationships and also between ethics and the growth of character can be discussed in a clear and simple way.  What ethics achieves, what it contributes to, and what it does not guarantee should be clarified.  The young will then not be swept into cynicism and despair when decency is repaid with evil. HIRSH 68, 71-73


EXODUS — 20:3 other

EXOD362 The Ten Words are usually divided into two tables. (J.H. Hertz, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs. Soncino, 1965, p. 295). This is the five-five division. The first table enumerates a person's duties toward God. The second table describes a person's duties to his fellow human being. I propose a different division for the purpose of ethics: the one-eight division. Let us call it the one-eight hypothesis. I perceive in the Ten Words one moral principle followed by eight moral rules. The Ten Words, thus, constitute the fundamentals of a moral system. What is the moral principle in the Ten Words? Can we find in them something comparable to the golden rule or the categorical imperative or the utilitarian principle? To discover it, we do not need to look beyond the second word: “Thou shall have no other gods before me.” [Exodus 20:3]. This principle is a source of moral rules and does not admit of exceptions. We are always called upon to resist idolatry--to keep our priorities straight by not making power, wealth, prestige or anything else but obedience to God our primary goal and fundamental loyalty. When faced with an ethical choice, we must ask: “Am I being loyal to God? Or am I obeying my nation, my social group, my selfish desires?” This is the principle of priorities. This principle cannot be separated from the first word which describes God as the redeemer from slavery. For the first word, with its emphasis on freedom, describes the kind of God who demands our loyalty. This is a God who cares, an ethical God. To such a God, we owe obedience. For the purposes of ethics, the first and second words are inseparable. Together, they form a compelling moral expression of ethical monotheism. Words three through ten are moral rules. Since they are rules, not principles, we can find exceptions to each. Earlier in this book, I quoted the case of Mrs. Bergmeier which constituted an exception to the Seventh Word. The Maccabees (Jewish freedom fighters of the second century B.C.E.) violated the Sabbath in order to preserve Judaism. Occasionally, there are truly sadistic parents who should not be honored. In some situations, stealing is justified. And so it is for every word.


EXODUS — 20:13 murder

EXOD460 The sixth word: “Thou shall not murder,” may present a special difficulty. Some may argue that even if every other word from three through ten is a moral rule [i.e., per the author, morals rules permit exceptions, unlike moral principles, which do not -- AJL], surely this sixth word permits no exceptions and is a moral principle. What is the correct translation of לא תרצח, the sixth commandment? “Thou shalt not kill,” is the King James translation. “Thou shalt not murder,” is the Jewish Publication Society rendition. Neither translation is completely accurate. The King James version falters because the English verb, “to kill,” is far broader in meaning than the Hebrew verb, רצח. The prohibition, “Thou shalt not kill,” rules out a wide spectrum of acts including those of legitimate self-defense. The Hebrew original has no such intention. Any attempt, therefore, to base a claim of conscientious objection to military service on the sixth word is not justified by the Hebrew text. The Jewish Publication Society translation, “Thou shalt not murder,” on the other hand, is too narrow. For the Hebrew לא תרצח goes beyond premeditated (first degree), and intentional but not premeditated (second degree) murder to include unintentional killing (manslaughter). Stamm and Andrew, The Ten Commandments in Recent Research. Alec R. Allenson, 1967, pp. 98,99. Thus, the Hebrew phrase לא תרצח prohibits not only the malicious, but even the careless destruction of human life. It applies, among other things, to such modern instruments of manslaughter as mercury poisoning caused by the irresponsible discharge of industrial waste into waters which flow into fishing grounds. In the previous chapter, I mentioned as one of the less comprehensive moral principles, the principle that killing for the sake of killing is always wrong. The sixth word obviously covers much more territory than this moral principle. The moral principle has no exceptions, but I believe the sixth word does--certainly cases of euthanasia, for example. Perhaps murder would be justified in the case of a man in agony who was hopelessly caught in the burning wreckage of a plane and pleads to be shot. In regard to manslaughter we can certainly conceive of a group required to use, for its defense, dangerous weapons such as landmines which could cause fatal accidents. Despite these exceptions, the sixth word remains the deepest of the moral rules, the closest to essential morality. It rightly heads the second tablet. It should be set aside only with supreme reluctance.


EXODUS — 34:27 covenant

EXOD1051 Religion and Ethics Inseparable. If we understand them as a moral system, it makes little difference whether we call them Ten Words or Ten Commandments. A Jew, however, must on some occasions, at least, use the designation Ten Words, because for him they are more than a moral system. They are the conditions of the covenant between God and Israel. (Exodus 34:27-8) They are, thus, ethics in the context of a covenantal relationship. Such an ethic we may call covenant ethics. In covenant ethics in particular, as in Judaism in general, the religious and the ethical are inseparable. The awesome religious experience has an enduring ethical content. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, but “Thou shalt not” was heard. (Exodus 19:16-18) The noblest ethical teaching has a powerful religious dimension: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18) Religion and ethics inseparable! In every single word there is both the duty to God and the duty to persons. The first two words proclaim the authority and sovereignty of God. But they also commend freedom and established priorities. The third word proscribes the misuse of God's name. But it also involves, in the making of an oath, the obligation to keep our promises. The fourth word sets aside the seventh day for God, but the manservant, the maid servant, the stranger and the cattle must share in it. Parents are the subject of the fifth word, but God is remembered as the ultimate giver. Then comes that powerful series of ethical commands, four staccato imperatives and then the concluding fifth, behind each word the authority of a commanding God. Each word is religious. Each word is ethical. A human being and God meet on a bridge of Ten Words.


LEVITICUS — 19:15 rich

LEV462 ... moral rules, unlike moral principles, require exceptions. John Stuart Mill stated it most concisely: “It is not the fault of any creed, but of the complicated nature of human affairs, that rules of conduct cannot be so framed as to require no exceptions, and that hardly any kind of action can safely be laid down as either always obligatory or always condemnable.” Smith and Sosa, Mill’s Utilitarianism, Wadsworth, 1969, p. 165. In his book, Generalization in Ethics, Marcus G. Singer clarifies the distinction between principles and rules. Rules, as we have seen, allow exceptions. They state what is usually right or wrong, but there are occasions when it is not only justified, but imperative to break a moral rule. In A.I. Meldon, ed., Essays in Moral Philosophy, University of Washington, 1958, p. 165. In some situations, a parent should steal milk for his starving child. Moral principles, on the other hand, allow no exceptions. They are also deeper than and the source of moral rules. Thus, we often speak of the principle underlying a certain rule which determines its scope and justifies exceptions to it. Ibid, 160. Moral principles are not only more fundamental than rules; they are also more general and comprehensive. It follows that principles are necessarily more abstract than rules. Ibid. 169. Given these conditions, it is clear that moral principles will not be nearly as numerous as moral rules. What are some moral principles? Kant's categorical imperative is such a principle: “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, Bobbs-Merrill, 1959, p. 39. In other words, when faced with an ethical choice, we must ask the question, “What if everyone in a similar situation were to do that?” The categorical imperative, thus, warns the individual not to make an exception of himself and not to set himself above the moral law. There are exceptional situations, but no person is an exception. The Torah, the five books of Moses, speaks strongly on this point. None is above the law. Not the powerful and not the King. Leviticus 19:15, Deuteronomy 17:14-20. Even the poor, for whom the Torah has immense compassion, are not to be favored at the expense of justice. Exodus 23:3, Leviticus 19:15. This truth also implies that no principle, no nation, and no religion is above the moral law.


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