GOOD MORNING! Recently I read an article about a Miami multi-millionaire who is creating a foundation to find atheist solutions to the problems of society. It seems he thinks that religion is the root of all evil. It just might be that atheism is the root of many evils ... and even if some religions -- or groups within those religions -- create evil in the world, it does not mean that all religions are forces of evil.
Many years ago a rabbi sat in a sherut (a special shared taxi) going from Jerusalem to Beersheva. Sitting next to him was a brilliant Jewish man who prided himself on being an atheist and touted his superior morality. The rabbi asked him, "Would you slap the man next to you (on the other side!) across the cheek?" "Of course not," said the atheist. "Would you slap him if I gave you $10?" "Of course not," said the atheist, "What do you think I am?" "How about for $100,000?" the rabbi asked. "Of course I would! Just think of the good I could do in the world!" Responded the rabbi, "That's not morality! Morality is having a bottom line right or wrong. It is wrong to hit the man and it cannot be rationalized."
The problem with Atheism (besides the fact it has no holidays) is that its morality is flexible. Whatever standard individuals, groups or society agree upon at the moment is considered to be moral. And a "morality" like that can lead to the decision that the greater good for society is "ethnic-cleansing," genocide -- gas chambers and ovens.
Would a religious Jew hit the man for $100,000? It depends on the individual. Each of us has the capacity to rationalize our actions. One thing for sure, at least he knows that hitting someone for money is wrong. The amount makes no difference. So, what is the difference whether or not he knows his actions are wrong if he will hit the man anyway? Once we have knowledge we can do something about it -- have regret, apologize, make restitution, change our behavior in the future. There is a big difference.
The Torah sets the standard for right and wrong. We uphold the standard because we believe that the Almighty gave us the Torah and that we are obligated to uphold its standards. (If you want to know why we believe in God and why we believe that God gave us the same Torah that we have now, I suggest reading Permission to Believe and Permission to Receive by Lawrence Keleman --available from your local Jewish book store or by calling toll-free 877-758-3242.)
We follow the directives of the Torah both because we love God and fear God. In reality, we need both love and fear in life. Love motivates us to do positive deeds while fear motivates us to refrain from negative actions. A parent will be motivated out of love to buy a birthday gift for his child; but it won't keep him from losing his temper and yelling at the same child. Fear will keep us from coming late to work or blowing up at our boss; it won't motivate us to do something extra to be nice to that boss.
Everyone agrees that doing out of love is far superior to doing out of fear. However, every government recognizes that only by having severe consequences for not paying taxes, will people pay taxes. Fear of consequence is a strong motivator to do the right thing.
We are programmed to be moral. If you ask your friends or people you meet, "Are you a good person?" almost everyone will say "Yes." Who will hesitate to say "Yes"? The person who has thought about the topic and who has a standard to live up to. Every evil person will justify his actions as being righteous. (Adolph Hitler, may his name and memory be blotted out, once made a speech where he claimed that the Germans were the only truly moral people. His proof? While he was sending us off to the concentration camps, he was setting up organizations to take care of our pets.)
Why should it make a difference to us whether we are righteous that we need to justify ourselves? There is no evolutionary benefit. As a matter of fact, it is often contrary to the survival of the individual.
So, why do human beings care whether they are morally righteous? The Almighty wired us with a moral imperative -- now we have to learn the Torah (I recommend the Artscroll Stone Edition of the Five Books of Moses) to keep from getting our wires crossed.
Torah Portion of the Week
This week we conclude the ten plagues with the plagues of locusts, darkness and the death of the first-born. The laws of Passover are presented, followed by the commandment to wear Tefillin, consecrate the first-born animal and redeem one's first born son.
The Torah tells us that at some time in the future your son will ask you about these commandments and you will answer:
"With a show of power, God brought us out of Egypt, the place of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us leave, God killed all the first-born in Egypt, man and beast alike. I, therefore, offer to God all male first-born (animals) and redeem all the first-born of sons. And it shall be a sign upon your arm, and an ornament between your eyes, for with a strong hand the Almighty removed us from Egypt." (Ex. 13:15)
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Moses tells the Jewish people to remember the day they departed Egypt. He then tells them that the Almighty will bring them to the land of Israel, "a land flowing with milk and honey and you shall do this service" (Exodus 13:5). What service is the Torah referring to and what connection is there between the service and the Land of Israel?
The Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, the leader of the generation before World War II comments: "This verse refers to the Jewish People doing the Almighty's commandments. The Torah and the Land of Israel are one unit. Their relationship is as the relationship between the body and the soul. A soul cannot exist alone in this world. The body alone is just dust from the earth; it needs the soul to give it life.
"The soul of the Jewish People is the Torah. The body is the land of Israel. There are many commandments that cannot be fulfilled outside the Land of Israel. In exile our people suffer. Nevertheless, with all of the difficulties involved in living in exile, we as a people are alive. The land of Israel without Torah, however, is like a body without a soul. It is just a piece of land. Only when both exist together is there a complete unit." (from the Chofetz Chaim al HaTorah, p. 65)
PIRKEI AVOT 1:1
"... Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many students and create a fence for the Torah."
CANDLE LIGHTING - January 18:
(or go to http://aish.com/candlelighting)
Guatemala 5:36 Hong Kong 5:44 Honolulu 5:54
J'Burg 6:47 London 4:07 Los Angeles 4:52
Melbourne 7:24 Miami 5:36 Moscow 4:17
New York 4:39 Singapore 6:59
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
The pursuit of comfort is
the antithesis of the search
With Special Thanks to
In Honor of