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


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GENESIS — 5:1 generations

It is interesting to note that in the Sirfa [89b], a rabbinic commentary to the Book of Leviticus, there is a discussion concerning the greatest principle in the Torah.  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 G-d 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 G-d. 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 G-d, 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

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