Tag Archives: Corruption

Parshat Kedoshim (5774)


Leviticus 19 – 20

Because “I Meant Well” Doesn’t Cut It

As we come into this week’s parsha we cannot avoid the fact that this week’s theme is holiness, Kedoshim means to be holy, to be sacred. Our parsha is named after the key word that leads this parsha, and the leading word in the phrase: “Kedoshim tiheyu ki kadosh ani Hashem eloheichem / You shall be holy, for I, Hashem, am holy.” (Levitcus 19:2)

We aught to really consider the advice that we give people, realizing that people are often trusting us to blindly to lead them. If we misadvise someone, its just like setting up a stumbling block which causes them to fall

“We aught to really consider the advice that we give people, realizing that people are often blindly trusting us to lead them. If we mis-advise someone, it’s just like setting up a stumbling block which causes them to fall”

The Torah begins to detail what it means to be holy. Respecting your parents, and observing Shabbat. (v. 3) Not making worthless idols, but instead showing respect for the sacred service of Hashem. (v. 4) This all keeps in mind with lofty sacredness we normally associate with religion and tradition. (v. 5-8)

But then our Torah immediately begins to challenge us with addition demands which are not so heavenly, but instead focused on the way we treat other people. The Torah suggest that part of holiness is displayed by how care for our fellow man. At this time we are also commanded to leave behind some of the remaining crops after the harvest, and to leave the corners of the field so that they can be collected by the poor, and the stranger – the ger the resident alien (or the convert). (v. 10-11)

And then the Torah makes even more demands, ones of an ethical nature. That we do not steal, that we do not falsely deny people their property or deny our true intentions. That we not lie to our fellow. (v. 11) Lest we believe these demands are merely good civil suggestions, we see that our Torah presses the issue of honesty as being a matter of spiritual significance.

We cannot be dishonest with our fellow and expect that it to not eventually have mirroring consequences for how we respect the creator of man – Hashem our G-d. We are told that we should not be false because it can inevitably lead to one falsely swearing or testifying by G-d’s Name, and thereby, “chilul Hashem eloheichem / profane the Name of your G-d.” (v. 12)

This part of the Torah is elementary for every Jew. We understand that we are to deal fairly and honestly in all our dealing because our actions can lead to the desecration of G-d’s Name. It’s more than just taking a false oath and testifying dishonestly after swearing by G-d. We also understand that as Jews, as religious Jews, our actions have consequences. Acting poorly reflects badly upon our faith and diminishes people’s respect for our G-d. We drag G-d’s Name down into the muck with us when we act unethically.

Simply put, the command to be holy is so important because the world cannot comprehend our G-d as holy if the people who claim to represent Him act appallingly. This call of holiness is not just a demand for us to rise to holiness, but also a stern warning not to diminish the holiness of our righteous G-d through our actions.

So what are we next warned again? We are further commanded not oppress our fellow. To not rob them. And to not withhold the wages of the workers. (v. 13) The Torah talks about paying a laborer in the manner of a day laborer, at the end of the day and not stiffing them or holding out.

For just a moment I would like us to consider the plight of the many immigrants to this country who are most often oppressed, robed of all they have on their road to freedom, and then upon arrival most often exploited in employment because of their illegal status. Day laborers in this country are openly exploited in some of the most appalling ways.

The strangers in our midst – the ger, the immigrant and the convert – this is most often their reality. Being unfamiliar with our ways and at the mercy of the suggestions of others they are taken advantage of by not just the locals, but most often by other immigrants who insincerely swear they are merely looking out for this person’s best interests. But even if its obvious that is not true, the stranger isn’t in a position to defend themselves and therefore just learn to deal with it. As people siphen these laborers dough and resources. I see things like this near everyday in the barrio, with inappropriate demands and unfair pay. As I see it, the Torah’s commands are no less relevant to us today.

Before we move on, I would hope that we all make a commitment to deal fairly with all workers, both with our own citizens and the strangers in our midst. Even day laborers are entitled to a fair and timely wage according to our Torah!

However, today we are going to focus on the final verse of our first aliyah, verse 14. This next commandment related to holiness is the least understood of these statements. It reads:

“Do not not curse a deaf person.

Do not place a stumbling block

before a blind person.

You shall fear your G-d – I am Hashem.

| Lo-tekalel cheresh

| velifnei iver lo

| titen michshol

| veyareta me’Eloheicha ani Hashem

Leviticus 19:14

The placement of these commands should make sense to us. We have talked about the poor, the stranger, the laborer, and now it deals with the disabled. Specifically the deaf and the blind. That one should not curse them, nor be tricksters with them. One might ask themselves who would be cruel to a person and take advantage of them based on their condition? You would be surprised the callousness some people have. It should be severely obvious to us, we are commanded do not to mistreat the disabled.

Because it is also unthinkable to our rabbis that people should be so overtly cruel, the rabbis have tried to focus more deeply upon this message to make us realize that this commandment can also apply to each of us in more subtle ways.

Our sages are of the opinion that it is unthinkable for us to curse any living person, let alone a deaf person. That when the Torah makes this command it is merely to double reinforce this for their benefit! So our rabbis pretty much walk away from this saying not to curse anyone, but especially not the deaf. Because they can’t hear you, it’s cruel and unfair.

I agree with the sages on this. Our rabbis tend to see all of this verse in a more symbolic manner. They further draw ethical lessons from these verses for the benefit of all people. This has also been my understanding as I read these verses.

For example, the first phrase of our statement “do not curse a deaf person” also has figuratively meant to me to not get angry with people when they cannot hear what you are saying. When they just don’t have the ears to hear, they just aren’t capable of listening or giving heed to better advice.

Rashi’s advice also seems to follow a similar line of logic as we continue with the commentary for this verse, regarding the blind. The Rashi for the blind reads:

You shall not place a stumbling block before a blind person: Before a person who is ‘blind’ regarding a matter, you shall not give advice that is improper for him. [For instance,] do not say to someone, ‘Sell your field and buy a donkey [with the proceeds],’ while [in truth] you plan to cheat him [by advising him to sell his field for a very low price for your own purpose,] since you yourself will take the field from him [for this low price].”

ולפני עור לא תתן מכשל: לפני הסומא בדבר לא תתן עצה שאינה הוגנת לו, אל תאמר מכור שדך וקח לך חמור, ואתה עוקף עליו ונוטלה הימנו:

Rashi, Levitcus 19:14

Rashi likens a person who is knowledgeable and clueless in a matter to one who is blind, for a person is indeed “blind” in that matter. When one can’t see for themselves what is true and what isn’t. They can’t see the path or dangers ahead, so they are dependent upon us to help them navigate that path. Since our trusted advice leads the way, it’s no less cruel to trip people up with advice than it is to physically stick out your leg and cause them to stumble. Sometimes our bad advice, that can be a stumbling block to others.

Rashi even outright tells that based on this command we are forbidden from giving advice that is improper for a person. We are commanded to keep in mind the best interest of the person, and not our own interests. Rashi tells us we are forbidden from giving advice which benefits us, instead of the person we are advising. That we benefit, as they stumble.

Furthermore, our rabbinic tradition seems to suggest to us that we should not be loose with handing out advice for which we have a financial interest in. Rashi makes this example, its like giving bad real estate advice to the needy, when your intention is to make a steal by acquiring their property below market value. Our rabbis thereby would suggest it is inappropriate for us to go around giving advice for which we have personal and special interests in, for which we ourselves profit.

Why not? Simply because it’s nearly impossible to be objective in one of those situations. That should be obvious.

Personally, I don’t necessarily like giving out personal advice to people. I always wait until asked, and I am always pensive about my responses. Making sure to keep in mind the situation and needs of the person I’m talking to. And always trying to leave my own interest out of it. But more often than not, I’m usually simply listening to people and helping them figure how to pick and approach the best of the choices present in their lives.

Honestly, I prefer to give my personal advice to people privately. As the internet is rife with people who loosely hand out advice on things. People who give you hokey advice, then want to “click here” to buy into it.

Personally I strive not to be one of them. I hope to share the personal knowledge I have, so that people can make better choices for themselves. But I believe the Torah herein tells us to be careful regarding our intentions when we suggest things to others.

Now the Internet personalities out there most certainly get upset when you pose it that way. Because it is very easy for one to snap back, “But you don’t know my intentions!” Precisely one cannot truly judge another person’s intentions, that’s another reason yet why we should restrain ourselves:

And you shall fear your G-d: [Why is this mentioned here?] Because this matter [of misadvising someone] is not discernible by people, whether this person had good or evil intentions, and he can avoid [being recriminated by his victim afterwards] by saying, ‘I meant well!’ Therefore, concerning this, it says, ‘and you shall fear your G-d,” Who knows your thoughts!’ Likewise, concerning anything known to the one who does it, but to which no one else is privy, Scripture says, ‘and you shall fear your G-d.’” – [Torath Kohanim 19:34]

ויראת מאלהיך: לפי שהדבר הזה אינו מסור לבריות לידע אם דעתו של זה לטובה או לרעה, ויכול להשמט ולומר לטובה נתכוונתי, לפיכך נאמר בו ויראת מאלהיך המכיר מחשבותיך. וכן כל דבר המסור ללבו של אדם העושהו ואין שאר הבריות מכירות בו, נאמר בו ויראת מאלהיך:

Rashi, Levitcus 19:14

One of the reasons we need to keep from doing anything that looks inappropriate in our dealings with others is because they have no way at all of knowing our intentions. For in such a case, when things go sour, what is else can one say? Other than, “I meant well!” and, “I had the best intentions!” But the truth is that is insufficient of a statement. In fact Rashi and our rabbis would suggest that is merely a knee-jerk way of avoiding recrimination.

Rashi instead speaks to a person who uses such an excuse through this last clause, saying that you should fear G-d. Because He really does know whats going on inside your head, and in your heart. Therefore fear G-d – or more appropriate, show respect for G-d – and know that He is privy to your private thoughts. One should consider if their intentions are really so pure, or if they are instead colored by personal bias or financial interest. And be aware that even when we don’t consciously recognize it, G-d does know and will judge us accordingly. G-d seeing all the factors, even the ones we choose to leave out and ignore.

When we do things that are inappropriate and non-transparent we not only jeopardize our own sacredness, but we also profane the Name of G-d. When we engage in things that may appear inappropriate we show a shocking lack of respect for G-d, not just for man.

Lesson of the Week: We ought to really consider the advice that we give people, realizing that people are often blindly trusting us to lead them. If we misadvise someone, it’s just like setting up a stumbling block which causes them to fall.

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Parshat Noach (2012)


Genesis 6:9-11:32

Are We Living In the Days of Noah, again?

No Angry PeachersOne of the worst times for me is elections season. We find ourselves in the midst of it yet again here in the United States, and coming up soon in Israel as well. More and more I find it hard to follow the news and social media because I find the politicking growing more unsavory. Seeing how uncivil people can be about “civil elections” is something I find quite distressing. What hurts more than the secular media sometimes is the how unbecoming religious spokesmen are acting, becoming more brazen by the day in their fiery messages. They reckon themselves like the prophets of old calling back the nation from the brink of apocalypse to a better and more wholesome way.

Now that’s not to say I haven’t heard some crazy stuff in my day. Even as a kid I heard the rabbis and preachers doing this. And when they had to justify why they would be so frazzled and anxious they would tell the public that this world is “going to hell in a hand-basket.” They would talk about how bad morality and ethics have fallen to the point that we were seeing the reemergence of sinfulness like in the days of Noah, contending they need to warn of the coming disaster. They would come to this conclusion by bringing down this text to us:

“Now the earth was full of corruption

before G-d

and the earth became full of robbery.

And G-d saw the earth

and behold

it had become corrupt

for all flesh had corrupted

it’s way upon the earth.

And G-d said to Noah:

‘The end of all flesh has come before Me.

For the earth has become full of robbery

because of them,

and behold,

I am destroying them from the earth.’”

| Vatishachet ha’aretz| lifnei ha’Elohim

| vatimale ha’aretz chamas.

| Vayar Elohim et-ha’aretz

| vehineh

| nishchatah

| ki-hishchit kol-basar

| et-darko al-ha’aretz.

| Vayomer Elohim le-Noach

| ketz kol-basar ba lefanai

| ki-male’ah ha’aretz chamas

| mipeneihem

| vehineni

| mashchitam et-ha’aretz.

Genesis 6:11-13

Now I have to admit that this kind of extremity, the merging of fire-and-brimstone with the deluge in order to catch people’s attention, is normally more of an American form of fanaticism and usually more common to the Christian culture of North America. However, in recent years with the rise of terrorism in the West and the threat of a potential nuclear threat looming in the Middle-East Jews in Israel have become more flagrant about using this tone.

In all honesty, in our Jewish tradition we have some strange occurrences of midrashic and widely known rabbinic interpretation which has been used to justify this type tone. More often that not the haredi voices I have listened to who are provocative in this manner have often blamed failing morals in the world for threatening our existence on the face of the earth. We are in a fight against barbarism. Why would G-d leave us exposed to such threats in the world, they rhetorically ask. Then they posit that it is because we are exposing ourselves to a threat on account of immorality in the world. They cite the text above that all flesh had become corrupt before G-d, and they emphasis the flesh in that statement. Of course at the height of that list of immoralities in our society they will cite homosexuality and the threat of gay marriage.

Now I’m not gonna talk about the issues of human sexuality, that’s not the topic at hand in this parsha anyway. But you wouldn’t know it by the devrei Torah these hysterical moralists give. In fact it has become more common in recent year for people to pull old and obscured midrashim out and batter people with them, with statements like, “Did you know the midrash says that in the days of Noah they were so depraved that men made ketubot (marriage contracts) with men; two men. It also says they even allowed men to marry their animals. If we allow these gays and their marriages it’s gonna happen all over again and bring destruction on us all.” I wish I was exaggerating, but I have literally heard this said many times.

Now this is not the first example of extreme legends held within the midrash, and it is not exactly without certain precedent even in our most accessible off rabbinic commentaries. Rashi’s commentary, a staple in almost all chumashim (Pentateuchs), his teaching on these verse also gives us a fantastical story. It suggests that when our parsha says “all flesh was corrupt on the earth” that even the cattle, animals and birds upon the earth began to mate with other species of animals.

Now, again, I’m not to gonna argue the issues of human sexuality; neither am I gonna go beyond merely pointing out that this is a bit over-the-top because in the modern world we know that animals also naturally have occurrences of divergent sexuality. You can’t fight science with fundamentalists, because they don’t really understand it, but try very hard to make their assumptions sound scientific. A perfect example is currently in Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to drive, they have a new “scientific Muslim study” that shows that if they allow women to drive people will become homosexuals and addicted to pornography.

For some reason the only thing that Jewish, Christian and Muslim fundamentalist seem to have in common is their insistence on being prophets of doom that people’s private sexuality will bring the end to civilization.

Now the above midrash noted by Rashi has unfortunately been pushed further by many modern thinkers and translators that are less than honest in their attempt to stand against perversion. Because that is what it comes down to, the above interpretation says that even the animals had become perverted in their sexuality, like humans had. With this in mind I found the following odd interpretation that over steps their presentation of Rashi’s commentary, the original is on the right and the interpolation is presented in English:

The end of all flesh: Wherever you find promiscuity (and idolatry), a pestilence comes upon the world and kills both good and bad alike. — [from Gen. Rabbah 26:5] Note that parenthetic words do not appear in Gen. Rabbah , Lev. Rabbah, or in early mss. and printed editions of Rashi. We have translated אַנְדְרוֹלוּמוּסְיָה as pestilence, following Aruch.”

קץ כל בשר: כל מקום שאתה מוצא זנות ועבודה זרה, אנדרלמוסיא באה לעולם והורגת טובים ורעים:

Rashi on Genesis 6:13, The Judaica Press (emphasis my own)

Now there is a few things I would like to point out about the hastiness and over-zealousness of the translators in interpreting this text according to a line of thinking they have already decided. They conclude that based on the previous verse, that the animals had become sexually deviant, the next interpretation is all about deviance as well but this time it is talking about its manifestation in human behavior. They begin to harp in that melody.

Now this is a high respected translation, presented on probably the top Orthodox Jewish website in the world, however it is tragically wrong in how it brings down this supposed translation. First off it is not true to the text itself, which is clearly evident by any Hebrew reader. The text clearly reads that where ever you find motzei z’not – places of whore-dome – it brings an’deralamusiah – chaos or bedlam. Interestingly it rolls back the Rashi text, for seemingly sensible reasons, but ignore the likeliness of the context that explains the evolution of this commentary text. It would rather us believe that in some point in the past sexual promiscuity was a greater stigma and was less rampant than it is today, which could not be further form the truth.

It should be obvious to us that promiscuity was an issue that was prevalent at all times even in the times of the scriptures, but there are some distinctions from what we see today. Most of the examples the Bible provides stand out clearly to us as a form of apostasy and idolatry. It was common for the nations to worship their gods through sexual acts with maidens and priestesses, that way uniting themselves in a physical and mystical union with their deities. This is what made the sins of harlotry so wrong, look at the story of Pincha’s zealotry where he flared up because the people who attached themselves to the G-d of the Moabites through sleeping with their daughters, it wasn’t just per-marital sex (Numbers 25:1-3; see my study on Parshat Pinchas 2011). We aren’t talking about general promiscuity, which is not necessarily considered a sin in the ancient culture the same way adultery was. The problem is that more often than not in the ancient world whore-dome was religiously institutionalized and thus given a certain sense of respectability in the culture. As the Jews became more acculturated with foreign ways this obscenity began to permeate until we find the later prophets chastise the people for doing pagan worship in the Temple itself, with even fathers and sons going to the same whore-maid, it says to profane His Name, and they would copulate on piles of clothes near the altars they erected. (Amos 2:7-8) Think about it, we have no concept of “fornication,” meaning the sin of per-marital sex in our tradition at all.

However, we do have a very common Hebrew word that stands out to show us that this above interpretation is incorrect, the word zonah. Now I hardly have to translate that word for the Hebrew speaker, we know what that word is, it’s the archaic way of saying whore; but it’s not so out-dated that you wont hear it every few minutes in a packed Israeli street of irritated people, slurring each other with “Ben zona / son of a prostitute.” The word promiscuity is incorrect, motzei z’not are places of prostitution. Likewise the word an’deralamusiah does not mean pestilence, it clearly means chaos, bedlam, causing a racket. This is not ambiguous wording at all. Such practices cause hell to break loose in places prostitution permeates, it does not suggest that it brings disease as is loosely suggested by this paraphrase of Rashi, even if that is true. People are pushing the text further than it intends to go.

Now I have never wanted to point out this issue in the text because any of us who know this type of stuff have probably heard it in part presented by homosexual rights leaders and their apologists. I don’t consider myself one of those people, I am not smart enough to tackle that issue definitively or without prejudice in the eyes of others. And I have not wanted to necessarily associate with leftists who push the text of scriptures too far too and see gay people all over the pages of the Bible, to feel like they are justified; I think that is silly. However, it is true that the argument that is made stating that private sexuality is not considered the driving vice that brings wrath from G-d in His Torah, it is people’s idolatry through their sexual perversions which is a concept that is supported by our rabbis. This dishonesty to faithful present our tradition by zealous moralists only leads to the conclusions for some that there is no form of intellectual honesty in our faith so that one should respect it, instead only scaring people with exaggerations.

I do not want to speak ill of our rabbis, and the scholars who invest in these sacred works of teaching and translating our classical works, however when they are incorrect it needs to be addressed. This is nothing more Jewish that struggling with the opinions! I respectfully suggest that such translators are just not able to contextualize the meaning of the text. A perfect example of their honorable attempt at honesty, even if it led to wrong conclusions, is shown in their attempt at trying to simplify the text and harmonize their interpretations they have taken, they also suggest that the meaning of idolatry (adodah zara) was not a driving characteristic meant. It doesn’t belong in the text they suggest. They instead seem to feel that this rectification of the text to specifically point out this truth is not really a genuine point.

The problem is that they don’t seem to be able to contextualize the age in which Rashi lived and what was happening in Europe at the time. Harlotry under the hidden auspices of the Catholic Church was prevalent in his age and obvious to him that this was just another element of them still allowing pagan practices in their religion of idolatry. Though celibacy was encouraged by the church as early as the later 3rd century in an attempt to curb this, it was not pushed until the end of the 11th century, and the clean-up process took much longer to accomplish yet. This was so notorious the Protestant Reformers of 16th century readily pointed out the whore-dome in the monasteries and illicit sexuality in the Catholic Church as an example of their moral error. Only over time as the image of their heresy cleaned up does it appear the rabbinic scholars feel they needed to make the point more explicit. In reality we should see that religious sex heresies were present from the days of Moses until the days of Rashi (11th century) in such evident ways it didn’t need to be further explained. In fact, they might have been worse than anything we can imagine today.

Now I must bring us back to the text and remind us that this is not all Rashi says on the subject. It is also important to once again point out this is not the message of the Torah here at all. What is the real issue at hand, what is it that is so vile and ungodly that it brings destruction upon all flesh, both wrong-doer and the innocent that they perish all together? Notice the next line of Rashi:

For the land was filled with

chamas [robbery]:

Their fate was only sealed because of theft.”

כי מלאה הארץ |

חמס: |

לא נחתם גזר דינם אלא על הגזל: |

Rashi (France, 11th century) on Genesis 6:13

In reality the reason that we shouldn’t have to do so much work to try to get the plain meaning of the text out of the statement is because it should be completely obvious. The issue of promiscuity and perversion was not the driving factor here that brought about the flood, it was chamas. Interesting word chamas, pronounced exactly like the Palestinian terror organization in Gaza (not exactly a cognate, but a coincidence based the fact all Semitic languages use a shared alphabet and three letter root structure system), which is very appropriate, because chamas means to violently rob a person; it has every connotation of mugging a person at gunpoint. In the literary sense it means to rob a person and oppress; when used as a noun it not only means robbery and theft, but poetically it means evil-doing. This was their sin that ill-fated the people in the age of Noah, this was the sin that made them so evil. Even aside from Rashi’s commentary the statement is explicit, it tells us in the actual scriptural text of our parsha both before and after the questionable verse, that the earth was filled with robbery. It was violent theft that sealed their fate.

Now, it is my duty to remind people that even if we were to argue that this interpretation of Rashi’s commentary is correct, Rashi is not the final and decisive voice in Torah interpretation. A good chumash is always filled with several forms of commentary, among them most often is the Ramban. And if we were to review the commentary of the Ramban we would see an explicit blow made to any attempt to use this text for moralizing by those caught up in their delusions of prophetic grandeur. The Ramban takes it back even further, and rejects the idea of perversion all together, and merely sees the corruptions spoken of at face value; corruption had caused such violence that ordinary life was disrupted.

Our tradition is usually very honest. We are a people who hold intellectual honesty very high. We do not have room for such politicking and moralizing in our midst, especially when it distracts from us really focusing on the true meaning of Torah. That does not mean that we need to hold back the message or that it is inappropriate for our scholars to add some glossing to the text so its more readable for the average user. To prove this point we can look to other Orthodox examples of translation of classical commentary as we review the position of the Ramban:

“In the plain (non- Midrashic) meaning of the term, all flesh simply means ‘all mankind,’ and it does not include the animals…“[Chamas] Injustice – this refers to robbery and fraud. [G-d] gave Noah the reason for the destruction of the earth as injustice, and did not mention the other sin of ‘corrupting way,’ because injustice is a known and public sin, whereas sexual immorality is a private sin. The Sages (Sanhedrin 108a), however, said that the reason only injustice is mentioned here is that it was specifically over [injustice] that their decree was sealed, and not over sexual immorality. The reason why this sin sealed their fate over all others is because it is a law that is intuitively understood, and [the people] had no need for a prophet to warn them about it, unlike sin of sexual immorality, which people could conceivably rationalize. Furthermore, [injustice] is an evil both toward G-d and toward men, while sexual immorality does not necessarily involve harming another person.”

ועל דרך הפשט כל בשרזה כל האדם….

חמס: הוא הגזל והעושק. ונתן לנח הטעם בחמס ולא הזכיר השחתת הדרך, כי החמס הוא החטא הידוע והמפורסם. ורבותינו אמרו (סנהדרין קח עא) שעליו נתחתם גזר דינם. והטעם מפני שהוא מצוה מושכלת אין להם בה צורך לנביא מזהיר, ועוד שהוא רע לשמים ולבריות.

Ramban (Spain, 13th century) on Genesis 6:12-13 (Artscroll/Mesorah Publications)

The Ramban is making the point in his commentary that the plain and obvious meaning of the text is that all flesh only refers to the humans, it does not mean the animals as that is midrash (legend). Sure the animals suffered in the flood, innocents suffering with the culpable human race, but the corruption spoken of was that of mankind alone. The Ramban contends in line with Rashi that only reason the earth was subject to the flood because of robbery and fraud. The people had become so corrupt that the whole world was filled with violent theft and injustice.

What’s also interesting about making the connection about people saying they are prophets like the day of Noah, in that they damn themselves. Because as our rabbis almost all across the board argue, Noah was not really much of a prophet if he can be called that at all. He didn’t warn people about anything, he just built his ark for his own safety and that of his family, and for that our tradition cries out against him. The Ramban says that it’s inconsequential because their sin was a public sin as described in the Talmud, they really didn’t need a prophet anyhow. Everyone could see what the problem of their corruption, fraud and violence had brought upon the world. He says that it’s just known inside a person when they are corrupt and fraudulent they are in the wrong, it doesn’t need to be told to anyone. It’s not just an evil toward G-d as sexual sin is, it’s an evil against mankind. G-d didn’t send them a prophet. Their sins were not as “simple” as the ones people kept behind closed doors, it was the open fraud and violence that permeated the face of the earth that destroyed life for all on it.

Do I think we are in the days of Noah? I don’t know, my friend. But what I do know is that if we are then we are in the same situation then, G-d has not sent us any prophets and our downfall is because of our corruption. G-d has not sent these wild-eyed preachers who moralize about promiscuity endlessly, while turning a blind eye to chamas – fraud, theft, violence and oppression. These are false prophets, hysterics that fantasize about a cloistered world achieved through warfare. They are present on every continent dreaming of rolling back humanity to some simpler, golden-age that never existed where halacha, or sharia, or canon law, and the like ruled. We cannot give room for this because it distracts from the obvious things that should convict us; injustice.


Parshat Korach (2012)


Parshat Korach
Numbers 16 – 18

Korach: The hysteria and downfall associated with false revolutionaries

We are taught through our Rabbis that the name of a parsha is a shoresh (root, or sum) of the entire parsha. Very few parashiot are named after a person, but so infamous is the story of Korach and his rebellion against Aaron and Moses that his name is fixed in the order of the Torah portions.

In fact the story of his brazen rebelliousness and revolt was so dramatic that his name actually made it into one of the 613 commandments that were given to Israel to observe for all time, as we read:

“And be not like Korach and his assembly.”

| Velo-yihyeh cheKorach vecha’adato

Numbers 17:5

Summary of Previous Parsha: How did it come to this

In order to understand what Korach’s contentions are we have to understand that the Nation of Israel has passed up an opportunity to ascend to Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel). We find that they panic in Parshat Shelach when they hear the negative report provided by 10 out of the 12 scouts. When they finally get their hysteria in check they find that they are too late. Their realization of this happens with tragic results, they attempt to go up to the Land without the blessing of Hashem and without the accompaniment of the Ark and the get crushed by the Amorites and Canaanites.

The Rise of Korach: Double-Talk

Where Parshat Korach picks up we find that the people are fed up with the management; namely Moses and Aaron. In their resentment of their leaders they challenge the entire institution of the priesthood and the leadership of Moses. What is Korach’s argument? In Numbers 16:3 we have the assembly of the elders of Israel saying to Moses and Aaron:

“It is too much for you!

For the entire assembly – all of them –

are holy and Hashem is among them;

why do you exalt yourself over

the congregation of Hashem?”

| Rav-lachem

| ki chol-ha’edah kulam

| kedoshim uvetocham Hashem

| umadua titnase’u

| al-kehal Hashem

Numbers 16:3

And in the midst of this we see Korach rise up as a Che Guevara like character, a revolutionary and seeming champion of equality. It seems to be a decent and reasonable concept, G-d has called His entire nation to be holy, set apart for G-d; no one is better than the other. However the hypocrisy, as with many so-called revolutionaries, was as that at the same time as attacking the validity of the government and institutions, he insists he can do a better job at their helm. Thus we see Korach attacking the institution of priesthood and in the same breath suggesting that he been appointed High Priest. The double-talk doesn’t stop there. Yet here the Torah gives us a good example of how to deal with people who come aggressively to us with their fallacious claims: hear them out and wait for the true intentions to reveal themselves.

You see at first the argument seems to be one of reasonable concern for Moses and Aaron. It is true that “rav lachem” can mean “You’ve gone too far,” but in can also mean “it is too much for you.” In other words, “you’re overwhelming yourself Moses and Aaron.” However, their true intentions come out as they are allowed to speak. Their real feelings surface as, “you think your better than us!”

Divisiveness Begins with Alienation

Starting with the beginning words of the parsha we see that Torah is in fact offering proof that supports the claim of Korach that he is just as qualified. Not only does it provide his credentials as a Levite, but he is also a Kohain. Thus the text states:

“Korach son of Izhar

son of Kohath, son of Levi separated himself.”

| Vayikach Korach ben-Yitshar

| ben-Kehat ben-Levi

Numbers 16:1

But the text here is also rich with meaning if we look at it closely. Notice that here in the genealogy it stops with the name of the patriarch of their tribe, unlike other genealogies it does not go on to say “son of Israel.” The Torah is giving us an insight into the nature of where their heart was, they had already separated themselves from the Nation.

But what do we mean by “separated?” The term “vayikach” means literally the he “took.” But what did Korach take? The text goes on to read, “veDatan va’Aviram benei Eli’av ve’On ben-Pelet benei Re’uvein / with Dathan and Aviram, sons of Eliav, and On son of Peleth, the offspring of Rueben.” The Targum Onkelos (Aramaic translation) renders “vayikack / took” as “separated.” Rashi further supports this understanding by explaining that in context Korach took them to the side, isolating them from the rest of Am Yisrael (The People of Israel) and privately conspired with them. Only then after they conspired together in private did they approach the body of the elders of Israel. We need to take a good look here and realize that private conspiracy has only one aim, to separate people from one another. It’s a natural principal in this universe, things reproduce after their own kind; dogs give birth to dogs, cats give birth to cats, and divisiveness and separation only births further division and separation!

How ironic it is then that the shoresh (root) of the name Kohath, who was patriarch of the most sacred priesthood, means “to gather together.” In the introductory words of our parsha we see the Torah supporting the outward claim of Korach as a son of Kohath, while at the same time showing the hidden element of his conspiring that invalidates his claim.

Furthermore it appears to me that Korach has gone one step further, he has done the typical act of a shyster in convincing each of the elders that they each are better candidates as well. One should be aware this is a typical act of a conman to build up the ego of each individual, uniting them against a common enemy and yet dividing them against each other in a spirit of competition. For this reason we see that Moses is going to put them to the test, Korach and his mob of 250 are offered a chance to show if they had what it took to fill the shoes of High Priest. He asks them to take fire-pans, or censers, which are used to burn incense and to offer it to Hashem; then let G-d choose for Himself.

Here in the Torah we find some striking examples of the human condition and the workings of the human psyche. Here we see a typical act of a coward in Korach as the ringleader of this madness, in that he has nothing to say when confronted by Moses directly. He has no answer for the basic question:

“And Aaron,

who is he

that you should have grievance with him?”

| Ve’Aharon

| mah-hu

| ki talinu alav

Numbers 16:11

Moses attempts to speak with Dathan and Aviram but they also refuse to meet with Moses and say “lo na’aleh / we won’t come!” (v.12) We find that Korach’s co-conspirators to display another loathsome quality of conmen and those manipulated by them, they not only refuse to answer for themselves directly but they try to shovel the blame of their unhappiness upon Moses. They not only blame him for not bringing them into the Promised Land, but twist the words of Hashem and have the vulgarity to describe Egypt as a land flowing with milk and honey. (v.13) The very description Hashem gave them of Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) they apply to the land of their captivity. How typical are people in the wrong, in that for all their brazenness they most often refuse to stand up and let their situation be judged in light of their own actions.

English: The Death of Korah, Dathan and Abiram...

English: The Death of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, by Gustave Doré (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If we consider it, we see that at the time of the offering of incense there are 250 fire pans, one for each of the elders. How is that Dathan, Aviram and Korach are not included in this count? I believe the answer is that Dathan and Aviram never intended to seek the priesthood, their aim was all together different in that they sought kingship. I believe as offspring of Reuvein, the first born son of Israel, their contention was that the tribe of Reuvein was entitled kingship. They sadly proved that the traits of their forefather Reuvein were alive and well in them; in Genesis we learned that Reuvien lost the right of first-born and it was given to the sons of Joseph because at the time of Joseph’s abduction Reuvein did not prevent the injustice taking place. Instead Reuvien compromised, in that he suggested instead of killing Joseph they should just capture him, furthermore he stood back as his brother was sold off. So here again we see in his offspring the lack of backbone to deal with situations directly here in the lives of Dathan and Aviram.

I believe that the reason Korach isn’t included in the 250 is that despite his contention that he should be High Priest, he never rose to the occasion when the time came to prove his ability. It appears Korach is conspiring to take the High Priesthood by force, in return for the support of the sons of Ruvein whom he each seem to promise a crown. They are going to lead a revolution and share the power as dictators. This is an ultimate example of back-room politics and corruption!

Furthermore, he not only failed to offer incense here, but also in other cases when he really should have. Unlike Moses and Aaron when the dispute and Hashem’s anger over this row became apparent, again Korach made no attempt to intercede for the people to G-d as they were suffering the fallout.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, of blessed memory, explains to us based on the interpretation of Rashi that the judgment that came about, with the earth swallowing Korach, was a symbol that Korach had the desire for greater spiritual status; his spirit desired to be High Priest, however he lack the commitment. What greater commitment is there than to be willing to commit ones life to the point of descending into their grave for your cause? He lacked this commitment and the truth of it overwhelmed him, as symbolized by the earth swallowing and covering over him.

Korach was willing to let the people sacrifice their lives in support of his supposed search for equality, however he truly didn’t desire it in his heart, and this desire is represented by fire. He nor any of the 250 candidates interceded for the people before Hashem, they were willing to die for the cause, but not to live with passion for it and it overwhelmed them, as symbolized by being consumed by a flame from heaven. (v.35)

What is so terribly saddening in the end is that, as is often the case, this terrible display of rebellion cost more to the collaborators than the initial instigator. How so? In Numbers 26:9-11 we have the recounting of this story in a census of the next generation being taken; it reads, “…Dathan and Aviram, the same Dathan and Aviram who were summoned by the assembly, who contended against Moses and Aaron among the assembly of Korach, when they contended against Hashem. Then the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and Korach with the death of the assembly, when the fire consumed two hundred and fifty men – and they became a sign. But the sons of Korach did not die.” The children and household of Dathan and Aviram was swallowed alive by the earth along with them, however the sons of Korach lived on. You will find that the beginning of Book Two of Psalms – which starts with Psalm 42 – being attributed to the sons of Korach.

Korach was so short-sighted, as we see the sons of Korach went on to serve before Hashem but he did not. Furthermore we see in chapter 17 that the fire-pans used for incense were collected together after the death of the assembly of 250 candidates. As the fire-pans had been used in holy service to Hashem they became sacred. The pans were commanded to be hammered down and made into coverings for the Altar of G-d. Though their bearers never ascended to offering at the Altar, the copper covers made out of the fire-pans ascended to the Altar as an eternal reminder. (Numbers 17:3) Let us all learn from their example, that when we do not live in unison with the plans of Hashem for peace sometimes we cut ourselves short; ourselves never seeing the day that our work and dreams mature to greatness.

Be Among the Disciples of Aaron…

What is so tragic to me about this whole story is that the symbol of incense was as symbol of peace. Everyone knows that incense is intended to provide a pleasant aroma. However the Zohar goes on further to explain that the offering of Incense (the Ketoret) was intended to remove impurity from the world and to bring peace among the proverbial 70 nations of the world (the whole world, in other words, all the peoples). Here the very offering of it becomes twisted around by the cynics and self-important.

For all the complaining that Korach and his assembly did against Moses and Aaron, these two leaders of G-d showed their overwhelming love for the Nation of Israel through their conduct. Again, unlike Korach and his conspirators Moses and Aaron interceded for the people at each turn. They continuously humbled themselves by even falling on their faces and begging the people to reconsider the error of their ways. Korach, Dathan and Aviram however were not only unwilling to speak for themselves, they were also unwilling to speak up for the Nation of Israel and showed they had little concern for the outcome of the people as a whole. It was only Moses and Aaron that when faced with the reality of Divine Judgment against the people responded back to G-d with a challenge for justification, in their asking:

“Oh G-d, G-d of the spirit of all flesh,

shall one man sin, and You be angry

with the entire congregation?”

| El Elohei haruchot lechol-basar

| ha’ish echad yecheta

| ve’al kol-ha’edah tiktzof

Numbers 16:22

Even after the tragic deaths of Korach and his assembly the people didn’t waste time attacking Moses and Aaron again. The next morning the people rose up against them and again they plead with them and tried to compel them to not again incite the “anger” of Hashem. Again Moses and Aaron fell on their faces and interceded for the people of Israel. However the people did not listen to Moses and Aaron and a plague broke out among the people, causing the people to drop dead.

In the next chapter we read:

“And Moses said to Aaron:

‘Take your fire-pan

and put on it fire from upon the Altar

and place incense,

and go quickly to the assembly

and make atonement for them!'”

| Vayomer Moshe el-Aharon

| kach et-hamachtah

| veten-aleiha esh me’al hamizbe’ach

| vesim ktoret

| veholech meherah el-ha’edah

| vechaper aleyhem

Numbers 17:11

In verses 12-13 we see a scene that I think is one of the most beautiful events in all of the Torah, we read:

“Aaron took as Moses had said

and ran to the middle of the congregation.

And behold! The plague had begun

among the people.

He placed the incense

and provided atonement for the people.

He stood between the dead and the living,

and the plague was checked.”

| Vayikach Aharon ka’asher diber Moshe

| vayarotz el-toch hakahal

| vehineh hechel

| hanegef ba’am

| vayiten et-haktoret

| vayechaper al-ha’am

| vaya’amod bein-hametim uvein hachayim

| vate’atzar hamagefah

How beautiful it is to me that unlike those who criticized him, Aaron had such genuine love for the people that when faced with a situation of G-d striking them down with a plague he didn’t run away, or hide behind a mob, instead he threw himself into the middle of the situation; and (1) stood as a buffer, used himself as a shield to protect the people; (2) interceded for the people to remedy the needless ruin. He stood between the living and the dead and put the plague in check, that is powerful.

In the commentary for Pirkei Avot in the Artscroll Etz Chaim Siddur it aptly states, “In Talmudic literature Aaron is described as the great peacemaker who went to any ends to make peace between man and his wife and between feuding Jews.” For this reason we read in our tradition;

“ [Rabbi] Hillel said:

Be among the disciples of Aaron,

loving peace and pursuing peace,

loving people

and bringing them closer to the Torah. ”

הלל אומר: |

הוי מתלמידיו של אהרן, |

אוהב שלום ורודף שלום , |

אוהב את הבריות |

ומקרבן לתורה. |

Pirkei Avot 1:12


Parshat Noach (2011)


Genesis 6:9 – 11:32

The Torah’s Response to Corruption in the World

bird-flying-freeOur Parsha begins with the words “ayleh toldot Noach / these are the decedents of Noah,” and from this we derive the name for this Parshat Noach. Now just briefly, as I should deal with this in more detail in Parshat Toldot; the word toldot most often means offspring, descendants, and generations or genealogy, but it can also mean chronicles or history. Yes, we will see in the second verse of this parsha the listing of Noah’s three sons, so the traditional rendering is often in relation to offspring; however, notice that the genealogy is already given in the previous parsha, not here (see Genesis 5:23).

Instead of giving us a genealogy our parsha begins to introduce us to Noah with the statement, “Noach ish tzadik tamim haya bedorotav / Noah was a righteous and whole-hearted man in his generations; / et ha-Elohim hit’halech Noach / Noah walked with G-d.” (v.9) This majority of this first paragraph (v. 9-12,) is about telling a story, only one verse (v. 10) concerns the three sons. In this parsha we find the actual story of Noah’s life and deeds, not just who Noah and his sons were, but what Noah did: this is his story. So the translation can go either way; “these are the descendants of Noah” or “these are the chronicles of Noah.” However, in this case it seems clear the latter is a better choice.

In our previous parsha (Parshat Bereshit) we were given an introduction as to what we are walking into here, saying that in Noah’s days:

“Hashem saw that the wickedness of man was

great upon the earth (land),”

| Vayar’a Hashem ki raba raat ha-adam

| ba’aretz

Genesis 6:5a

This is the summation of the state of the earth. And the description of the state of man is described as:

“and all his heart had tendency to consider was

only evil all the time.”

| v’kol yetzer mach’shevot libo

| rak rah kol ha-yom

Genesis 6:5b

In the case of the earth, the problem was simple; it was man. However, the description of the condition of the heart of mankind is a little more complicated. It says that all of mankind’s yetzer, his impulse and inclination, was to think about evil all day long. Most of us recognize the word yetzer right away and first thing we think of is the yetzer ha-tov and yetzer ha-ra, the concept of our good inclination in opposition to our evil inclination. But this scripture isn’t saying that man’s nature was evil. No this word yetzer only has meaning here when connected to the word after it, mach’shevto which means thoughts, considerations, interest, philosophy; this is what was evil. The yezter is only the vehicle, so this word takes on more of the meaning of drive or urge. Everything mankind felt the urge to think about, everything that drove their interest, that motivated their outlook was only evil all of the time (kol ha-yom), all day long! Not just evil (ra), and evil all the time, but only (rak) evil; nothing else but evil.

And of course yetzer closely relates to the word yatzar, same spelling different pronunciation as a verb, which means to create or to produce. The world was in a sad state because the people of the world felt the urge to take everything they could produce, think, or take interest in and utilize it for how to cause evil (ra).

So often I hear the message of the parsha presented by yelling Bible-thumpers, saying that mankind had become grotesquely evil after the fall of man in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden). But really what it’s saying is that man’s mindset had become inclined to think about wrong things all the time. I don’t want to get carried away on this point, but usually when we hear this story we are told about how evil man is, perverted to the core of his nature. But that’s not what I see here at all. I would like to remind these fire and brimstone people that dichotomize society that even Hashem, the Holy One blessed be He, is said to be the cause of both tov (good) and ra (evil). (see Isaiah 45:6). When I say that of course the non-Jewish fundamentalists get all upset and say that it’s true that the vast overwhelming majority of the time the word does simply means evil, though this doesn’t mean that G-d is engaging in sin or malice, but that by evil we can mean trouble, ill, woe, calamity, and disaster. This is true, examples are:

Genesis. 19:19 – “I cannot escape to the mountain, and the destruction (ha-ra’ah) will overtake me and I will die.” In this instance it means calamity and disaster.

Jeremiah 7:6 – “Neither follow after other gods, leading to your determent/harm (l’ra).”  In this instance it means ill, harm, trouble and woe.

Genesis. 26:29 – “That you will do us no harm (ra’ah) as we have done nothing but good (rak tov) to you” In this instance not only does it mean calamity and disaster, but also evil and bad (notice how bad/ra is expressed as the opposite of good/tov), showing it can certainly mean both in the same breath.

My point is that when the scriptures are saying that the thoughts of men were “rak rah kol ha-yom / only evil all the time” it is not saying that mankind was so depraved that they only had their heart set on maliciousness, no I believe there were good-natured people that just had their mind set on destruction, trouble, tragedy and hardship until it made them hardened and corrupt people. So it can be said that “v’kol yetzer mach’shevot libo” can also mean that the tendency of man’s heart was to worry all the time. One of the meanings of the words machshavah is “to worry,” and it can clearly be appropriately applied here. Not all destruction is what people plan for others, it can also be the disasters that one neurotically imagines for themselves, worry that drives people to act as less that upright people.

Old-World Thinking and Corruption

“And the earth was corrupt before G-d

and the earth was filled with violence”

| Vatishachait ha-aretz lifney ha-Elohim

| vatimalay ha-aretz chamas

Genesis 6:11

As we come into this weeks parsha we find ourselves looking at this perplexing statement. It says that the earth (ha-aretz), the very land itself was corrupt (shichait) before G-d. Are we saying the Earth was depraved by nature?

In looking at the word shichait, we see it means to corrupt, to destroyed, to damage and to ruin.

It has two meanings, on one hand it is true that it does mean moral corruption. We will see this at the incident of the golden calf, “lech raid ki shichait amcha / Go, descend, your people have become corrupt” (Exodus 32:7), it is also paraphrased using the same word in Deuteronomy 9:12. We again see it used this way in Deuteronomy 32:5, “shichait lo, loh / Is corruption His? No”

But it also means simply to destroy and damage, as we see the people fearing in Jeremiah 39:39 that, “bo yivoach melech bavel v’hish’echit et ha-aretz ha-zot / the king of Babylon will certainly come to destroy this land / v’hish’bit mimenah adam u’beheima / and cause the extinction of man and beast.”

It should be noted that the same word as a verb means to be pitted or excavated, dug up like a trench or a cistern (a shallow well), as seen in Psalms 7:16, “bor y’habel aven / He dug a trench, and burrowed / vayipol b’shachat yif’al / and has fallen into the pit he made.” In Job 33:22 it also clearly equates this image of the pit as a grave, though it is implied elsewhere. The landscape is marred and deadened.

I believe the reason some translators have chosen to look more at the idea of earth being corrupt, more than the earth being scarred and damaged is because of the second clause of this statement, “va’timalay ha-aretz chamas / and the earth was filled with violence.” The word chamas, here is an interesting word. Aside from violence it also means to cause oppression, as well as to rob; thus in Jewish law the term chamas means to rob a person through violence. As a noun it can figuratively also means theft and evil doing. [Interesting side note: if we add just one silent letter to this word, an alef, you get the name Hamas, same pronunciation, which is the name of the evil Islamic terror organization. Apparently they really do live up to their name]

As I look over this verse it becomes apparent to me that the translators tried to pair the meaning of the first clause with the second, and harmonized the meaning of the two so they were in agreement; and I agree that it is wholly appropriate. However, it doesn’t give us a good picture of what the nature of the world at this point in the story. It can confuse a person and lead them to the conclusion that now the scriptures are saying that world itself was evil; and such is the position of many faiths, to call the physical world bad and only the spiritual plane good. This is not at all what the scriptures are trying to say, it’s not even closely leaning to asceticism or demoralizing the physical world. So it clarifies for us in the next verse:

“And G-d saw the earth, and behold,

it was corrupt (or destroyed)

because all flesh had destroyed

(or corrupted) their way on the earth.”

| V’yare Elohim et ha-aretz, v’hinai

| nish’echatah

| ki hish’chit kol basar

| et dar’ko al ha-aretz

Genesis 6:12

And this is what I’m want to get at my friends, that the corrupt ways of humans were imposed on the earth itself. When it used the word “dar’ko / their way” we are talking about the literal, we mean they imposed their derech (way), like making a paved path or road (Genesis 16:7); men have changed the physical landscape to suit their aims. But it also means figuratively as well, meaning way of life or lifestyle; the manners to which one is accustomed (see Genesis 19:31, 45:23; 1 Sam 21:5, etc). The best example of this latter description is in Ezekiel 20:30, “…when you pollute yourselves after the manner (ha-derech) of your fathers…”

When we look at it this way the scriptures are presenting us with a sad image of this young and fruitful world as scared and destroyed. Being polluted both in environment and even more so in mentality, that it was prevalent on the earth for people to be corrupt. Again there is nothing by nature that is wrong with the world or people that makes them evil. But the earth has been damaged, likewise the social environment was also, in a way that it was recreating a cycle of destruction. This is why G-d had to put a stop to it. And this is the only reason that the earth had been dragged into this judgment with man at all during the flood, because both the physical and social environment had to be cleansed.

I cant help but think of how we were faced with a disastrous fews years due to the scandals that rocked the Jewish world from the fallout of corruption claims. In politics, in religion, through investment schemes, through fraud, in bribery and even in some Jewish companies and communities being dragged into grotesque environmental and civil ordinance violations. Our community is no different than any other, faced with the same challenges as any other people. But the Jewish community has rightly be focused on the embarrassment of such instances and the chilul hashem, the desecration of the Name of G-d, that is caused.

I was reflecting on this the other day with someone who has been a missionary pastor abroad for decades. He rightfully pointed out to me that corruption and bribery is pretty much the norm in all places, especially in third-world countries. The strictness of the American ethic against corruption for instance, in that we do not allow it to run rampant and unchecked, is quite rare. Corruption is presented in most places as the way of the world. We started to compare tragic stories of corruption specifically within religious communities and the shame it causes to the faithful. As we discussed, I was asked how is it that wise and good people could be dragged into crookedness.

As an honest person I had to start out with the examples I know most intimately, those in the Jewish community. Unfortunately, my experience had shown me that often times there is among the religiously observant, and sadly especially among haimish people, for there to be an old-world style disregard for the civil law. Even worse, there is a tendency to cook the books and submit to bribery. The reasoning is not hard to understand, this is the way that Jews both in Europe and in the Arab world were conditioned out of survival. As less than true citizens they were subjected to not only unfair tax practices, but also constant extortion. Because the law was unfair it seemed okay to defraud the unjust authorities. As you could be robbed blind at any moment it was seen as good practice to conceal your funds as an act of discretion. Avoiding the proper channels of civil authority or giving over to bribery used to be the only way to get things done in the old-world, where permission based on merit and necessity was not honored for Jews. Abuse and waves of genocide only ingrained this even deeper, as there grew the paranoia to always try to get as much as one could while the getting was good, because the tides of tolerance would surely turn in the imminent future and funds would be needed. This became a norm and a constantly repeating cycle; just like Ezekiel 20:30, polluting ourselves after the ways of our fathers, foolishly following a bad example.

Sure, just like in the days of Noah there are many people whose hearts are set on nothing else other than doing the wrong and unethical for their own benefit. But not everyone does this intentionally, some people get sucked into foolish acts of corruption because of their constant worry and tendency to focus on calamity. It doesn’t matter what the reason is though, it leads to the same result; judgment. For a person of faith it is essential that we live our lives and manage our business practices above the board and ethically. The Torah commands us to follow the laws of the land, and by doing so we are honoring the will of G-d and the commands of His Torah. Furthermore, it is incumbent upon us to acknowledge that G-d is the one who provides for us; if we are corrupt or even lax in our ethics we do not truly believe that G-d rewards and cares for those who hold by His Torah. G-d would not call us to do something if He was not going to also to provide for us to do accordingly, if we cannot believe that then our view of G-d is far too small and is defective.

The first thing G-d did with Noah after emerging from the ark was give the Seven Laws of Noah, which calls for us to honor G-d, establish courts of justice, honor the lives of man, honor the lives of the beasts of the earth, etc. (Genesis 9:1-7) The Torah then continues on with the promise of never again destroying all life nor the earth with a flood (v.9-17). The only reason the earth and life upon the earth was troubled was because of the evilness that drove the ambitions of mankind. G-d was not just making a promise here, but also providing the means to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, by commanding the establishment of a system of law and order to enforce justice in place of judgement.

I would hope that we walk away asking ourselves two questions this week. First, how do our actions effect and scar the earth? Secondly, do we perpetuate unbecoming and unethical practices in our dealings?


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