Monday, May 2, 2011

Keeping Difficult Decisions Difficult

Parshat Emor
Vayikra 21:1 - 24:23
3 Iyar 5771 / May 6 - 7, 2011

Keeping Difficult Decisions Difficult
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ

How do you go about making tough decisions? What information do you gather? Who do you consult? Where do you go for the clarification of values and ethics that allows you to choose one course of action over another, even when all choices are not perfect? When I read the final section of this week’s Torah portion these questions come to my mind.

Right now, people are being murdered in our global community in response to seeking increased liberties. And each government has to make a decision if, and how, they should get involved in foreign conflicts. They often respond with military action that includes killing and supporting. The lines between enemy and civilian are blurred. The lines between helping and intruding also become blurred.

What about in our own communities? How do we punish behaviors and what does our reaction say about the kind of community that we are trying to establish? In Chapter 24 in the Book of Shmot (verses 10 – 23), we are told a story about a man who publicly curses G-d’s name. The people do not know what to do, so they take him to Moshe who locks him up. Moshe consults G-d who commands that this man must be stoned to death, AND in the same breath G-d says,

And a man – if he strikes mortally any human life, he shall be put to death.” (24:17)

Now hold it there G-d. You just told us to kill this guy because he cursed You and now you seem to be saying if we listen to You and put him to death, we will be put to death too. What to do? A tough decision indeed!

This week, I understand this conundrum as saying – There is always a consequence to killing someone. Death will always lead to more death – even if you have a good justified reason to do so. It seems to me that when we make a decision to go to war (figuratively, against one person, or literally, against an entire nation) we think only about the immediate effect of stopping whatever behavior we do not agree with. This story about the blasphemer widens my perspective to think about how violent action will inevitably lead to further violent action. I think history has proven this time and time again. I am not necessarily advocating for complete pacifism. I am offering a reminder that the question to kill should always be a difficult one. If you can so easily agree with bloodshed, it might mean that you have ceased to see the other as a living person, like yourself. If we have lost our ability to recognize humanity, we can never create a humane world.

I hope that while the governments and armies of the globe are keeping peace within the model that is currently functioning, we Moisheniks – people living all over the world – are doing our part to educate against stereotypes, are learning deeply about the real issues from the perspective of the people facing them, and are innovating models of working for peace through peaceful means.


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