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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 — 1:4 good

…all things should not be believed to exist for the sake of man’s existence.  Rather all other beings too were intended to exist for their own sakes, not for the sake of something else.  … We say that all parts of the world were brought into being by G-d’s will, intended either for their own sake or for the sake of something else intended for its own sake … This view too is stated in the prophetic books: “The Lord made each thing le-ma’enehuProverbs 16:4.  The reference might be to the object [each thing for its own sake]; but if the antecedent is the subject [G-d], the sense is ‘for Himself,’ i.e., His will, which is His identify…also called His glory … Thus His words, “All that are called by My name and created for My glory, I created, yes and made” Isaiah 43:7 … If you study the book which guides all who seek guidance toward what is true and is therefore called the Torah, this idea will be evident to you from the outset to the end of the account of creation.  For it never states in any way that any of the things mentioned was for the sake of something else.  Rather, of every single part of the world, it is said that He created it, and its being agreed with His purpose.  This is the meaning of its saying, “G-d saw that it was good” [this verse].  JHRHV 35-6  

GENESIS — 1:4 good

The idea of creation as an act of grace is not so much the warrant as the equivalent of our core claim, identifying the being with the desert of things.  For being is an expression of divine creativity manifested in, and upon, the recipients of grace.  It was in keeping with such a conception that the school of R. Ishmael framed their question about the purpose of the world’s existence as a quest for deserts: For whose sake – “for whose merit does the world exist?” Why does G-d bother, why create or sustain the world? Their answer: “For the merit of the righteous” Midrash ha-Gadol, Gen. 3, II. 11-13; c.f. B. Shabbat 119b; B. Yoma 38b, glossing [this verse].  Or, generalizing: For the good that it contains, for the sake of the beings, which is to say, for G-d’s glory.  JHRHV 43

GENESIS — 2:18 not good

Man, like all beings, must be treated as what he is, but what he is is a self-conscious and self-choosing being.  His personhood morally requires recognition as personhood.  It is for this reason, before any biological exigency is fixed, that G-d can judge (not as a fiat or imposition but as a statement of fact), [this verse].  Humanity needs society. No being, not even G-d, but only another person can accord the friendship and mutuality that personhood requires.  JHRHV 38

GENESIS — 3:23 banished

Kantian ethics derives, say, kindness to animals as a humane virtue, not as a corollary to the categorical imperative.  One can say that humaneness is part of what we cultivate in treating humanity in ourselves as an end and never merely a means.  But that argument is on a par with the celebrated proof that Adam wore a yarmulke, which rests on [this verse] announcing that G-d sent Adam out of the garden: “Do you think he’d send him out bareheaded!” JHRHV 164 n. 22

GENESIS — 4:23 slain

In the Code of Hammurabi compensation for an abortion of the type described in Exodus [21:22 – AJL] is dependent on the status of the parties, and the death of the woman is punished by the execution of the offender’s daughter.  The moral thrust of the Mosaic law stands out vividly against this contrasting background.  Here we see the expectant mother identified explicitly as the potential victim in the law’s concern.  Treatment of feticide as a homicide emerges as precisely the kind of disproportion [this verse] that the biblical law seeks to correct Exodus 21:20, 26, etc. when it provides that damages shall be proportioned to the gravity of injuries sustained Exodus 21:23-25, and not the status of the parties Deuteronomy 1:17, that homicide belongs in a separate and restricted category of offense Leviticus 24:17, Exodus 21:12-14, and that “Parents shall not be put to death for children, nor children for parents, but each individual for his own offense” Deuteronomy 24:16, cf. Exodus 21:28, Leviticus 4:3, Numbers 9:13, 12:11, 16:22.  JHRHV 88

GENESIS — 5:2 blessed

To state our theory of desert in its sheer simplicity: The good or worth or value of any thing is its being, where being is construed dynamically and conatively.  Beings make claims, and these constitute their essence, their identity or nature, their prima facie interests and entitlements.  It is because desert is the very reality of things that it is universal and positive in all beings – although, of course, beings may overstep, and the equilibration of deserts in a multifarious universe will never simply serve the unqualified or unreflective claims of a single crude conatus. Universal deserts are bespoken in the biblical protection of the trees of a besieged city Deuteronomy 20:19-20, the land that needs it sabbaths Leviticus 25:8, 26:34, 43; 2 Chronicles 36:21, with Jeremiah 25:11, the ass in the story of Balaam Numbers 22:28, the human person, and even the human form which must not be desecrated or exposed, even after the execution of a criminal Deuteronomy 21:23, nor mutilated, even in the service of G-d Leviticus 21:5.  The values sketched here are systematized in the Mishnah’s broad rule against wanton destructiveness (bal Tahhit) and in the phased measures taken against a rodef or aggressor in hot pursuit; and, accordingly, in the phased measures taken against a fetus in those rare cases where it becomes a rodef but still merits recognition as a being on the threshold of human life. Biblical humanism is not the rival but the culmination of this general recognition of deserts.  Thus cattle must be milked on the Sabbath, to prevent the suffering of living beings.  A fortiori does Sabbath rest give way in the face of threats to human life or health. The principle of pikuah nefesh [saving a life] rests on the reasoning that the Sabbath is created for us, not we for the Sabbath – and so with all the commandments: “You shall live by them” – not die for them B. Yoma 82a-85b.  Life is the aim, but a certain kind of life, not any sort at all costs.  Life is good, being is good, worthy of sustenance, capable and deserving of nurture.  The humanism articulated in the Mosaic norms, mounted in the larger fabric of love of life and being, provides the grand thematic of the Gemara.  Marking that humanism, Ben Azzai locates the great principle of the Torah in the words of [this verse]. JHRHV 43-4

GENESIS — 9:5 man

… abortion is one issue on which we find the roots of a genuine Judeo-Christian consensus, an outlook that led to critiques of both religions by ancient pagan authors.  Among the rabbis, the Noahidic law against bloodshed was traditionally interpreted as forbidding abortion.  A fortiori, it was argued, should abortion be restricted for Jews, lest the Torah seem more lax than the general laws of civilized humanity B. Sanhedrin 58b, citing [this verse]; and Tosafot ad 59a, s.v. leika). R. Bacharach urged that a common Judeo-Christian morality should inform halakhic decisions in such areas as this, and David Novak argues today that the common moral commitment to humane and humanizing norms that is exemplified in a shared repugnance for abortion offers a valid staring place in common concerns for the ongoing dialogue among Christians and Jews.  JHRHV 94

GENESIS — 15:7 assign

Premodern rights do not hang in the air.  They are elements of a larger scheme of natural justice, which situates humanity in creation vis-à-vis G-d’s law, as articulated in Scripture and as implicit in the human frame and condition.  … Conceptually, we find a case in point with the Torah’s legislation for all Israelites’ undisturbed possession of their ancestral land: The communal right to the land G-d promised the nation, through their earliest ancestor, is institutionalized as a right of possession by all Israelites and their heirs, severally [this verse], 15:18, 24:7; Exodus 6:4, 34:24, Leviticus 25:18, 25:23-38.  In the vignettes of the Prophets, that right is transmuted into an arcadian vision paradigmatic of the reign of universal justice, when “nations shall not take up sword against nation … but every man shall sit, unmolested under his own vine or fig tree” Micah 4:3-4.  JHRHV 55

GENESIS — 18:25 justice

Just as Plato, in his task of uniting all values by acknowledging their complementarity, recognized that what is fairest and best must be most real, so the Torah discovers that what is most real, what is divine, must be not only absolute but fair and good.  Accordingly, [this verse]. Saadiah Gaon makes the underlying reasoning explicit: G-d rules because He is just; the combination of rule with caprice would be possible, he argues, only through a power struggle.   But G-d did not come to power in some pagan theomachy.   He rules eternally.   Goodness is constitutive in the very idea of G-d.   Thus, when we read that G-d’s throne is firm and everlasting Psalms 45:7, c. 9:5, 8; 47:9, we understand not only G-d’s ontic stability but His legitimacy, the stability that only justice brings Psalms 93. G-d stands at the summit of a series in which goodness and reality go hand in hand.   JHRHV 39-40

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