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"For Instruction shall come forth from Zion, The word of the L-rd from Jerusalem." -- Isaiah 2:3

Jerusalem

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GENESIS — 1:31 very good

In Germany, the Reform-Conservative movement was powerfully influenced by the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. The Word of G-d was identified with the “Categorical Imperative” of the moral law, and Judaism was now described as “ethical monotheism.” It is our ethical conscience that reveals to us the One G-d. At the same time, Moritz Lazarus (1824 – 1903) expounded the ethics of Judaism as the endeavor to comply fully and in all domains of life with the moral-rational law. On the unity of the religious quest for holiness and the ethical aspiration for rightness, Lazarus made these observations: …  The problem of evil can be solved only by pointing to the opportunities for good that every evil offers -- particularly, in a social context. In the first half of the 19th-century, ethical investigators were occupied, in fact, they tormented themselves with the question of absolute evil. The fundamental thought of the system of social ethics that the Rabbis had in mind as an ideal offers an escape from absolute evil. When men are in close association with one another, evil must yield to some good in spite of itself. … the Rabbinic notion is that misery and distress exist chiefly to be alleviated by the good among men. They differ as to strength, possessions and events of their lives, “So that love and beneficence may have the opportunity to translate themselves into acts.” Exodus Rabbah 31 The thought herein developed… contains a true theodicy-true because ethical. Here we have an attempt, found nowhere else, to solve the problem of the divine sufferings of sin. As a rule, this toleration was excused on the plea that man’s morality must be the creation of this free will-a view that in a measure considers it a necessary evil, which certainly is not a worthy conception of the Divine government. The Rabbis virtually makes sin itself a constituent element of chastened morality, and so the Rabbinical interpretation of [this verse] is completely justified—“And behold it was very good” – “good,” that is, the Impulse for Good, “very good,” that is the Impulse for Evil [very good, in this sense of providing the chance for superlative achievements]. The Ethics of Judaism, volume II, chapter 5.  Lazarus’ conception of the rule of evil is paralleled by a famous saying of the founder of Hassidism, namely, “Evil is the foundation for the good.” Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, d. 1960. AGUS 263-8
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GENESIS — 6:6 regretted

In rabbinic Judaism, the two central concepts were the One G-d and His Revealed Law. And each concept was itself the product of a synthesis of the mystical and the rational approaches. G-d was remote in transcendental, above and beyond all the forces of nature: “He is the place of the world, but the world is not His place.” Genesis Rabbah 68:10 How then are we to understand the many biblical passages which speak of His coming and going, His descending in ascending, His seeing and His wrath and delight? Genesis 7:6, 11:5, 35:13; Exodus 32:14, 34:51 Numbers 11;25, 12:5. One answer was to delegate these activities to the Divine Presence, or Schechinah, or to His Word, Memra, or to Glory, Kavod. The paradox of the all-knowing G-d, changing His Mind, as it were, and regretting the creation of man, is softened in Targum Onkelos where the feelings of regret are attributed to His Word [this verse]. The Lords “passing,” when Moses was in the cleft of the rock, is attributed in the same work to His Presence (Schechinah). Exodus 34:6-8 similarly the plea of Moses that the “Divine Face” accompany the people in their wondering is here interpreted as referring to the same Presence (Schechinah) Exodus 32:14-15.  “The Cloud of the Lord,” was supposed to rest on the sanctuary in the wilderness, is rendered in the Targum as if the verse read “The cloud of the Glory of the Lord.” Exodus 40:38  AGUS 40-1
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GENESIS — 18:19 way

… at an early period of Jewish thought, the rational quest for the Way of Righteousness asserted itself. The good, it was felt, somehow immanent in this world; there is a Divine law of justice, inherent in our minds and hearts, corresponding to the laws which holds nature in thrall. “Can it be that the judge of the whole universe will not do justice?” asks Abraham. Genesis 18:25   G-d’s purpose in choosing Abraham is “That he might command his children after him, that they shall keep the way of the Lord to do justice and righteousness.” [this verse]. “A way of the Lord” exists as the one right road to follow, and it is distinguished by the manifest, objective qualities of justice and righteousness, which are self-evident. The tension between the transrational Vision and the Way of “justice and righteousness” is illustrated in the trial of Abraham, which is a drama in two acts. In the first act, the romantic vision of the Divine Being is exemplified. He asks Abraham to slaughter his son, “his only one, the well-beloved.” Genesis 22:2  Abraham obeys, for after all G-d is beyond all good and evil; how can a poor mortal presume to weigh His commands in the scales of right and wrong? In the second act, an angel of the Lord tells Abraham not to kill his son, “For now I know that you fear G-d.” Again, Abraham obeys, this time as a mature worshiper who has learned his lesson-G-d wills that which is good.   In contrast to Kierkegaard’s admiration of the kind of faith that triumphs over mere morality, it should be pointed out that the heroism of Abraham in the second act was far more significant than his “fear of G-d” in the first act, precisely because it represented a harmonious resolution of his inner conflicts. This perspective becomes apparent as soon as we put this story in its historical context. In the days of Abraham and for a thousand years after him, it was universally assumed that human sacrifices were needed at critical moments in life. So Misha, King of Moab, sacrificed his son on the wall 2 Kings 3:27; so, too, the leading families of Carthage sacrificed their sons at the time of the slavery rebellion. O. Meltzer, Geschichte der Karthage, Vol II, Bk. 3 (1896).  It takes little courage to fall in line with the prevailing patterns of piety. In each successive generation, ordinary mortals did not hesitate to slaughter their sons on the altars of whatever Molochs happened to be worshiped. But, in the second part of the drama, Abraham found the courage and the wisdom to resist the impact of popular piety and to set over it the voice of the angel, who articulated the message of a rational conscience. Abraham was not merely “the first of the believers,” as Maimonides put it, or “the knight of faith,” as Kierkegaard put it--he was the protagonist of a moral-rational faith. To believe in G-d, who is beyond Nature and unlike all things, and, at the same time, to insist that the moral– rational Way, as it is manifest in the light of reason, is a revelation of His Will-this dual conviction establishes the central polarity in biblical religion. Abraham, the ideal believer, will not make peace with the notion that G-d punishes the innocent along with the guilty. Moses refused to concede that the ways of the Lord are so mysterious as to be beyond human standards of right and wrong. In the cleft of the rock, he was assured, that while “man could not see Him and live,” his Ways were comprehensible and compassionate.  Exodus 34:6-8 AGUS 32-34
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GENESIS — 18:25 justice

Along with the religious injunction to love G-d and to obey Him, we find in Judaism occasional expressions of the humanist thesis, that the human conscience is the safe source of the ethical imperative. As rational men, we possess the capacity to judge whether actions are right or wrong, apart from the teachings of Divine Revelation. In fact, Abraham dares to take G-d to account: “Can it be that the judge of earth will not do justice?” [this verse]. Jeremiah sounds this note with even deeper resonance: “Righteous art thou, O Lord, when I complain to thee; yet I would plead my case before Thee. Why is the way of the wicked prosperous?” Jeremiah 12:1  The entire drama of job revolves around this axis—Job cannot and will not surrender the light of his conscience on the altar of the conventional faith that G-d rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked, and somehow Job is right, while his ”pious” friends are wrong. That the demands of conscience are self-evident and self-validating is the belief that runs like a golden thread through the writings of the classical prophets. It is justice that G-d wants (Amos), or love (Hosea), or faith (Isaiah), not sacrifices or blind acts of obedience. Micah sums it all up in the saying that G-d desires us “to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with the Lord. Micah 6:6   This emphasis is conjoined with the daring critique of popular religion in Israel. The Will of G-d, the prophets insist, cannot be but consistent with our human awareness of right and wrong. Their basic axioms may be as follows: “It is the good that G-d wills, not the opposite--whatsoever G-d wills is good.”AGUS 11
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GENESIS — 19:8 shelter

Sympathy and tenderness are by the saint not confined to the human species.   They extend also to dumb creation. Thus we read in the Little Book of Saints, “Refrain of my kindness and my mercy from nothing which the Holy One, blessed be He, created in this world. Never beat or inflict pain on any animal, beast, bird or insect; nor throw stones at a dog or a cat; nor kill flies or wasps.” Indeed, men will be punished who will make his animal carry larger burdens that it is able to bear. In connection with this, we read the story of a man who was cruel to his dog. The dog, however, sought refuge under the robes of the sage. When the man approached the dog with the purpose of beating him, the sage protested with the words, “Since this dog sought my protection, you shall not touch it,” and applied to him [this verse].  AGUS 290
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EXODUS — 13:17 nearer

The historical value of certain precepts, such as the sacrifices, served a useful educational purpose at a time when the people were not ready for more spiritual forms of worship. … in a similar manner did G-d provide for each individual animal of the class of mammilia. When such an animal is a born it is extremely tender, and cannot be fed with dry food. Therefore, breasts were provided which yield milk, and the young can be filled with liquid food which corresponds to the condition of the limbs of the animal, until the latter have gradually become dry and hard. Many precepts in our Law are the result of a similar course adopted by the same Supreme Being. It is namely impossible to go suddenly from one extreme to the other; it is therefore according to the nature of man impossible for him suddenly to discontinue everything to which he has become accustomed. Now G-d sent Moses to make the Israelites a kingdom of priests and a holy nation by means of the Knowledge of G-d [Deuteronomy 4:35; 5:39] The Israelites were commanded to devote themselves to His service.… but the custom which was in those days general among all men, and the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up, consisted in sacrificing animals in those temples which contained certain images, to bow down to those images and to burn incense before them.... It was in accordance with the wisdom and the plan of G-d, as displayed in the whole creation, that He did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service, for to obey such a commandment would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is used; it would in those days have made the same impression as a prophet would make at present if he called us to the service of G-d and told us in His Name that we should not pray to Him, not fast, not seek His help in time of trouble; that we should serve Him in thought, not by any action.... There occurs in the Law a passage which contains exactly the same idea; it is [this verse]. [Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, III, 32.]
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EXODUS — 19:5 treasured

The Purpose of Israel is to teach mankind the oneness of G-d: [this verse]. Though the entire human race is doubtless precious to me, constituting the goal of creation, you will be more precious to me than all others. "But you shall be unto me a kingdom of priests." Your being a "treasure" consists in the task you assume, to be a "kingdom of priests"-dedicated to comprehend and then teach the entire human race to worship the Name of the Lord and to serve Him in serried ranks. This purpose will be fulfilled by Israel in time to come. [Seforno commentary on this verse].
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EXODUS — 19:6 holy

The priestly hero–image was included in the Bible, but it was also transcended. Moses announces his intention of founding a "Kingdom of priests and a holy nation" [this verse]. Every Jew is to share in the glory of priesthood, shunning "the unclean" and periodically cleansing himself from "all their defilements." While the priestly prophet Ezekiel seems to say that the priest alone must not eat unclean and improperly slaughtered meat (nevelah uterefah) [Ezekiel 44:31], the Torah ordains this law for all Jews.
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