Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Muse: Emor 2008

“You shall observe my commandments and perform them; I am the Lord. You shall not desecrate My Holy Name, rather I should be sanctified among the children of Israel; I am the Lord who sanctifies you.”(Leviticus 22:31-32)

These two verses which seem rather straight forward are not only complex but provide us with a moral standard of behavior when confronted with situational ethics. The concepts of kiddush hashem and chillul hashem can be traced to these verses. Although the idea of kiddush hashem and its converse are broad I would like to touch upon the concept of yehoreg v’al yaavor, in particular because of the season which we are in, that of Yom Hashoa U’gevurah, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut, where there were many documented instances of kiddush hashem within the narrower definition of yehoreg v’al yaavor. This season also brings to mind the need to clarify, whenever possible standards of behavior when faced with situational ethics.

In a situation where someone is threatened with death unless he kills someone else the principal we live by is clear. He isn’t allowed to kill someone else in order to save his own life; by obeying this principal he becomes a kiddush hashem. The principal is based upon the statement of Rava in Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 74-a, when asked about the ethical behavior incumbent upon a person if faced with that kind of situation. His answer, more of a rhetorical question was, “is his blood more red than the intended victim’s blood? This approach, also adopted by the Rambam has no direct biblical reference but is a humanistic/moral approach an attempt at anticipating situational ethics which begs for moral guidance.

The principal of Rava becomes clouded when we complicate the paradigm by changing the composition of victims. If several people were told that if they don’t kill a certain individual they will all be killed would Rava’s principal apply? Harav Kook deals with this question and maintains that preference should not be determined based on numbers, and that Rava’s principal will still apply. The logic is the following: When we use quantifiers, prognosticators, statistical predictors or numbers as a determinant than we have to ascribe value to that system. What value can we possibly apply; and if we apply a value perhaps the wrong value system is being used. For example, perhaps one highly educated individual is worth more than ten uneducated persons based upon his contribution to society, should we therefore sacrifice the ten for the one? What about the life of one chayal verses that of five talmudei yeshiva? And who is to determine which value ought to be applied? According to Harav Kook when dealing with issues relating to life and death we cannot make a decision based upon statistical predictors or quantifiers or prognosticators.

Harav Kook does however believe that in very specific situations numbers do count, and trump the individual. For example in situations of triage or if one wishes to volunteer for a suicide mission in order to save others the individual can sacrifice himself for the good of the group. There is one other example, that of Clal Yisrael. Here Harav Kook maintains that one can sacrifice his life on behalf of Clal Yisrael because the Clal isn’t a group of individuals united into one group, but rather is one unique and indivisible unit.