When Robert A. Rockaway, a recognized authority on Jewish-American history, decided to chronicle the story of the Jewish mob, he sought out Jewish old-timers, their family and friends, in order to gather information on this less than reputable element.
Rockaway even interviewed his own mother, who, a native of Detroit, Michigan, knew some friends and family members of the nefarious subjects of his research.
Once, while talking to his mother about the reprehensible conduct of a particular mobster, his mother stopped him short in his tracks: “All that you say may be fine and good, no one said the guy was a saint. Between you and me, he was known to have made a few people disappear… But you shouldn’t rush to judgment. Don’t forget that he was always kind to his mother! Does that count for nothing? Trust me; the man was a real Mentch!”
Have you ever met a person who believes in “moral relativism?” Of course not! No one is callous enough to believe in a self-serving, (jungle) form of rule. Except, of course, when they do.
This is to say that most people don’t consciously believe in a subjective form of morality – “If it is to my advantage it’s ok, if it is to my disadvantage it’s bad” – but subconsciously most of us fall into that trap. It’s actually hard not to.
You see, the human mind is essentially hard wired to think in terms of moral relativism. Like it or not, we are by nature bias towards ourselves. It is for this very reason that the Torah so emphatically admonishes against accepting a bribe when sitting in judgment. Because the smallest bribe skews our thinking and taints our impartiality. Yet, who is not bribed by their own self-interest?
It, obviously, takes a very elevated level of consciousness to steer clear of the self-serving moral relativism trap when contemplating issues of morality and justice. In fact, no matter how high-minded a human being may be, it is never high enough to guarantee against the possibility of self-prejudice and bias. For high as it may climb, the human mind is after all human, and humans are biased.
So, it is totally logical when it comes to issues of ideology and ethics, which directly impact and affect our own lives, that they are not beyond human bias and relativism, unless they are Para-human, e.g., Divine. Hence the need for divine morality. In fact, the only possible form of true morality is Divine morality.
“See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse,” commences our Parsha – Re’ei. “The blessing: That you hearken to the commandments of the Lord your G-d, that I command you today. And the curse: If you do not hearken to the commandments of the Lord your G-d, and you stray from the path that I command you today . . .” – Deuteronomy 11: 26
Our Parsha proceeds to admonish: “Should there rise up in your midst a prophet or a dreamer of a dream – and he will [even] produce for you a sign or a wonder . . . – saying: ‘Let us follow G-d’s of others, which you did not know, and we shall worship them!’ – do not listen to the words of that prophet or to that dreamer of dreams. . .”
How prophetic are these words! How many, so called, prophets have risen throughout history; presenting their ideas as fresh, revolutionary and novel, only to lead their flock into chaos and catastrophe?
How many dreamers have emerged – who’s innovative dreams and ideologies pledged to bring equality, tranquility, and salvation to mankind – only to plunge their followers and the rest of the world into the worst suffering and carnage imaginable?
In recent history alone, the world witnessed the brutal rise and fall of Nazism and Communism as well as various destructive forms and praxis’s of Socialism. These highly promising experiments brought about the most vicious destruction known to man – the obliteration and sacrifice of tens of millions of innocent human beings.
Only recently has our country experienced the rise and fall of the hippie culture of the 60’s and a garden variety of strange and exotic cults. What all these dreams and dreamers have in common is their pledge for a better universe – a brighter tomorrow and a more fair and just way of life. Yet they have all ended in collapse – leaving in their wake a gaping void in the souls of their followers and in many cases a mountain of destroyed lives and futures.
When approached with an enchanting promise of a lifestyle that will provide bliss, the words of Moshe should ring out as a solemn reminder. These new, “never-before-known-to-mankind” ideas are just that – another in the series of spurious ideologies which will likely only lead to misery rather than bliss.
Indeed the call for change should be treated with a good dose of suspicion. Few such calls, if any, have proven worthy. We ought to follow the call for return rather than the call for change.
In the proceeding Parsha, Moshe, continuing this week’s theme, makes the following assertion: “According to the teaching that they will teach you and according to the judgment that they will say to you, shall you do; you shall not deviate from the word that they will teach you, right or left.”
The commentaries interpret this to mean that one must obey the Torah and its guardians in each generation; even if he is convinced that it is wrong – even if it seems to be telling you that right is left and left is right. So much for moral relativism, or subjective morality.
I need not spell out the amazing non-coincidence of these words being read at this particular juncture, as our country gears up for 2008 Presidential election with the democratic convention this week in Denver. The timing is simply uncanny.
The Torah seems to be addressing this very moment in history, when we are undergoing public evaluation and scrutiny – when all kinds of Prophets are calling for all kinds of change, making all kinds of predictions and promising all kinds of results – reminding us that the only change that can bring true hope and promise is the return to the embrace of the age-old Divine values and principles as spelled out in the holy Torah.
The return to these divine tenets will certainly hasten the age of true utopia and bliss with the coming of the righteous Moshiach speedily in our time.