Saturday, March 17, 2012

Ramblings in Jewish Theology & Its View of Morality


THE FOLLOWING IS PART OF a discussion/debate that took place a while back, in the Coffee Room of the Yeshiva World.[1][2]

MiddlePath says:
I am doing a good deed because I love G-d, and want to show my love by following His commands.

Yitayningwut says:
I am doing a good deed because I love G-d, and want to show my love by following His commands.

While in principle I agree with this, I believe it is an oversimplification.

One might say that the purpose of not murdering your friend when you are angry is to show your love to God. On some level this is true, but not directly. Allow me to explain.

The ultimate purpose of life (not to sound utterly pretentious here as if I have it all figured out, I don’t, I am simply saying over my understanding the mehalech I have seen in the Rambam) is for man to be one in mind with his Creator. Others might say “one” in other ways, but be that as it may, it is neither here nor there. This end is achieved through the study of Torah, prayer, and contemplating God’s creations. Regarding these things one can say in the most basic sense that “I am doing it because I love God” or “I am doing it to become close to God” etc.

One can only even attempt to do these things in a state of “yishuv hada’as”. One cannot expect to achieve mental depth in anything while one is involved with attaining much more basic needs. On a different thread I made the case that this is conceptually comparable to Maslow’s theory.[3] Therefore, it can be said that all of the laws governing interpersonal relationships, the mitzvos bein adam lachaveiro, are there in order to create a society that is conducive to the personal growth of what the Rambam terms – the אדם השלם. A healthy, civil society is not an end in itself even in Torah terms. Its purpose is to create an environment in which people are able to focus on becoming “one” with their Creator.

It is known that the Rambam suggests reasons for nearly all of the mitzvos. In his own words (the Guide 3:31) -שכל מצוה מאלו תרי"ג מצוות היא אם לנתינת דעת אמיתי, או להסיר דעת רע, או לנתינת סדר ישר, או להסיר עול, או להתלמד במדות טובות, או להזהיר ממדות רעות. In other words, all mitzvos are there in some way to make a person a more stable person, and more attuned to truth and to what is good. Similarly, the Rambam says that although there are reasons for a mitzva in general, the particular details do not necessarily have any reason at all other than to break a person’s midos, and to attune him to the intricacies of life and not take anything for granted. While, for example, the general idea of shechita might have an understandable reason, the intricate details are simply there to make us better people, more patient, more understanding, more humble, etc.

In a way one could therefore say that just as the direct purpose of all interpersonal mitzvos is to mold a society healthy for spiritual growth, similarly most personal mitzvos are there to mold a man or a woman, the microcosm of society, into a healthy environment for growth.

Of course there are various mitzvos that are much more directly related to a person’s becoming close to God. Shabbos, for example, the Torah tells us explicitly, is in order to internalize the ideas that God is the Creator and that he still governs in the world. But the general trend is that most mitzvos fit into the above two categories – to make a healthy society or to make a healthy person.

Back to where we started: If one were to say that the purpose of not murdering your friend when you are angry is to show your love to God, on some level, ultimately he would be right. That is, the purpose of not murdering is in order to maintain a healthy society and the purpose of that is to generate an atmosphere conducive to growth and the purpose of that is to grow – which you are terming showing your love to God. But it is certainly not the direct purpose. The direct purpose is very similar to what any unbelieving person might also say – one should not murder because it is against the general will and society will not be able to remain stable if people murder. It is on the ultimate purpose of all this that we differ with those who do not believe.

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Lomed Mkol Adam says:
The Torah instructs us how to lead every aspect of our lives. Some mitzvos we are instructed with are solely bein adam lamakom, and others are a combination of bein adam lachaveiro and bein adam lamakom. My point is that the essence of bein adam lachaveiro mitzvos are an expression of our natural moral feelings which Hashem created us with.

Yitayningwut says:
The essence of bein adam lachaveiro mitzvos are an expression of our natural moral feelings which Hashem created us with.

I don't believe מצות שכליות mean they are inborn feelings. If they were they would be calledמצות הרגשיות. What they are, from my understanding, are mitzvos which one could figure out through contemplation and experiment, without Hashem telling us to do them.

Do you have a source for this idea that people are born with natural, moral feelings?
              
Lomed Mkol Adam says:
It’s quite obvious that people are born with natural moral tendencies to love other people. Some may feel insecure and choose to hate rather than love, but that doesn't take away from the fact that they also were born with instincts to love.

Yitayningwut says:
It's quite obvious that people are born with natural moral tendencies to love other people.

From a very simplistic way of looking at things, yes. But that can easily be explained away as a person's natural aversion to being alone, or a desire to be liked, or cared for etc. Meaning there may be an urge to be nice to others, but you haven't shown that it is at all altruistic.

Lomed Mkol Adam says:
Sorry, we are not connecting. Why does a person love his friend or spouse; isn't that love genuine?

Yitayningwut says:
Why does a person love his friend or spouse; isn't that love genuine?

Ahh... love. I hope you don’t expect me to answer you on one foot.

What is love? Is love by nature “good”? According to the pesukim, Shechem loved Dinah and Amnon loved Tamar; clearly love implies a strong emotion that is not necessarily good. On the other hand, love also implies a certain mode of behavior, which is good. I believe the Ramban interprets the pasuk ואהבת לריעך כמוך this way.

Love has two meanings. Both are verbs, but one is a state of being and one is an action. If you are familiar with dikduk terminology the first would be a פועל עומד and the second a פועל יוצא. The first is an emotion, the second, while it may be caused by the first, is not.

Emotions are selfish. What I like with my emotions is no different than what I like with my palate. I enjoy a girl, I enjoy a steak, what’s the difference? Love is no different. A man loves a woman because she makes him feel good; whole, special, complete, loved, safe, cared for, etc. etc. These are all selfish feelings. These are all reasons to explain how it makes me feel good. Selfish is not a bad word. It is simply a reality of human existence, or for that matter, all existence.

So what’s the big deal with love? Why is it considered so “good”?It is because when I say I love you I am not simply referring to the first meaning, I am referring to the second as well. I am making a conscious commitment to love you – to give to you, care for you, and be there for you. This is not an emotion, it is a decision based on my values. My values might be my emotions, and my values might be the Torah, either way, this commitment is called love.

So to answer your question – when a person loves a friend or a spouse – indeed that love is genuine. But that doesn’t make it selfless. It doesn’t make it altruistic. It’s an emotion, like all emotions. Only when love the commitment is included in the equation does it become something inherently good. And that is something which people aren’t born with, it isn’t something inside a person.

So, to reiterate my position, as I understand it I see no reason to think people are born with any inherent good intentions or bad ones either for that matter.

Lomed Mkol Adam says:
I am making a conscious commitment to love you – to give to you, care for you, and be there for you. This is not an emotion, it is a decision based on my values.

Giving to a person whom you love is also an emotion; it causes you to feel appreciated and loved. When we act upon our instinct to love and we give/care to/for our friend/spouse, we are in essence creating a deeper dimension to our primary instinct feelings of love. So even the most selfless person is actually driven by his inner desire for love.

Yitayningwut says:
It causes you to feel appreciated and loved.

Which would certainly not make it selfless.

When we act upon our instinct to love and we give/care to/for our friend/spouse, we are in essence creating a deeper dimension to our primary instinct feelings of love.

So to get very technical, the feeling is not selfless, only the acting is, as I said.

Giving to a person whom you love is also an emotion.

How is giving an emotion? One might commit to give because of the value he holds for his emotions, but giving is not an emotion, and emotions are not selfless.

So even the most selfless person is actually driven by his inner desire for love.

No argument here.

Lomed Mkol Adam says:
The motivation/desire for giving and the feelings of satisfaction after giving are all emotions. Without feelings/emotions one would not desire/accomplish anything. So Hashem created us with these feelings in order for us to act upon them and do good deeds; therefore the essence of these feelings are also considered tov/good since these feelings make someone a kind hearted person who does good deeds for others. It's irrelevant that the actual psychological essences of these feelings are self serving.

Yitayningwut says:
It's irrelevant that the actual psychological essences of these feelings are self serving.

Of course it's relevant. It is precisely this that implies that these feelings are not inherently/naturally good. Because, since they are self serving, one whose values are not in line with the Torah's or whose reasoning isn't up to par will not just naturally be a selfless giver.

Yitayningwut says:
MiddlePath wrote: I am fairly certain that love is one of our strongest emotions.

I think what you really mean is that we are most obsessive about the things we are obsessed with.

MiddlePath says:
True. Which is why it is such a strong emotion.

Lomed Mkol Adam says:
Because, since they are self serving, one whose values are not in line with the Torah's or whose reasoning isn't up to par will not just naturally be a selfless giver.

I don't see your proof here. If the Torah dictates in certain circumstances an act which runs contrary to these natural feelings, how does this prove that the Torah delegitimizes these feelings and does not consider them tov/good; maybe the Torah is commanding us to do otherwise because of other considerations which fall under the category of bein adam lamakom, whether we understand the reasoning or not.

When Hashem commanded Avraham Avinu to sacrifice Yitzchak, does that demonstrate delegitimizing Avraham Avinu's natural feelings towards his son, or does it just demonstrate that our obligation of bein adam lamakom should take precedence to our natural tendencies towards bein adam lachaveiro?

Yitayningwut says:
I apologize, I didn't explain myself properly. My point is that love - the emotion, is as I interpreted MP, emotional obsession. It means to like something or someone to the point of obsession. This emotion does not have to lead to something good; it can lead to something bad too. Therefore I am simply trying to say that you cannot call love something which is by nature, good. It is neutral, like all emotions, and purely self-serving.

There is a love which is selfless as I noted previously, but that is love - the action; the commitment to give selflessly. Although a person's obsession of another might spark that commitment, the commitment isn't the obsession, it is one possible natural outgrowth of that obsession.

We started with a disagreement on whether there are inborn feelings in a person which are by nature good. You cited love as something which is by nature good. I have merely been trying to challenge that assertion.

If the Torah dictates in certain circumstances an act which runs contrary to these natural feelings, how does this prove that the Torah delegitimizes these feelings and does not consider them "tov"/good?

It does not show that they are bad, but it shows that they are not absolutely good. The simplest approach to take is that they are neutral, and can be acted upon in healthy and unhealthy ways.

Either way, I have already cited examples where the pesukim explicitly refer to a person's love in situations that were completely illicit. This should be sufficient proof that the emotion of אהבה does not refer to something any more "good" than any other emotion.

Lomed Mkol Adam says:
Of course lust is not good; I was discussing emotions. Emotions, even those which originate from lust, are by nature good/tov. When the Torah prohibits feeling certain emotions/acting upon them in specific circumstances, this is because of other considerations [usually bein adam lamakom reasons, but sometimes bein adam lachaveiro reasons]. But even when the Torah prohibits these feelings, the Torah is still not illegitimating the inherently good nature of these actual feelings.

Yitayningwut says:
Don't you see the contradiction in your words? How can something be inherently good in nature and yet be a source of something bad? Good and bad are opposites. The thing in question is therefore obviously not inherently good. That doesn't mean it is bad, we can assume it is neutral.

And by the way, why are you calling it lust? The Torah says the word אהבה, not תאוה.

Lomed Mkol Adam says:
I don't see the contradiction in my words. If the essence of these [emotional love] feelings is neutral as you claim, then how can it possibly become converted to either good or bad depending on the circumstances? Obviously these feelings are really in essence classified as good, but when the Torah dictates a prohibition on these feelings, these emotions become an aveira even though they are in essence good. The Gemara says one should feel a desire/lust to eat a chazzir/hog and withhold himself solely because the Torah prohibits it; meaning that the actual desire/lust for a chazzir is not bad even though the act of eating will be an aveira.

Btw, I'm a vegetarian. I believe that sympathetic feelings for animals are actually good feelings, even though the Torah permits one to eat them.

Yitayningwut says:
If the essence of these [emotional love] feelings is neutral as you claim, then how can it possibly become converted to either good or bad depending on the circumstances?

It doesn't become "converted." By neutral I do not mean it is not good and not bad but a third, middle stage. I mean it is undefined, and good and bad are not relevant to it. It can be used in a good way or a bad way precisely because it is not something good or bad.

And you are correct that the desire for eating something which tastes good is not bad in nature. That does not make it good either. It too, like love, is neither good nor bad.

Btw, I'm a vegetarian. I believe that sympathetic feelings for animals are actually "good" feelings, even though the Torah permits one to eat them.

So I will ask you the same question the Gemara asks R' Meir (Chullin 11b-12a):

לר"מ דחייש למיעוטא הכי נמי דלא אכיל בשרא? וכי תימא הכי נמי, פסח וקדשים מאי איכא למימר?

Lomed Mkol Adam says:
You can't claim the feelings of emotional love is neither classified as good nor bad, since you do agree that when used for good, these feelings are actually what makes the person be defined as someone good in nature; so then obviously the essence of these feelings are actually good.

Additionally, your comparison of emotional love to one's desire to eat is not a fair comparison, since the desire to eat is never classified as good even when the act of eating is a mitzva; however, emotional love is classified as good when it brings about acts of kindness for others.

Lastly, how do you see from the Gemara you quoted that sympathetic feelings for animals is not genuine good feelings; of course I agree when there is a mitzva to eat basar/meat, we must eat for bein adam lamakom reasons.

Yitayningwut says:
To your first point: It doesn't say anywhere that the emotion of love is inherently good. A hammer can be used to build a shul and it can be used to build a church. The hammer is not inherently defined as something good or bad. What makes you say love is any different? It is not defined, it is inherently neither good nor bad, it is simply a part of the makeup of human nature that can "do" good or bad things.

you do agree that when used for good, these feelings are actually what makes the person be defined as someone good in nature

I do not. The actions are what make the person called a good person, not the feelings that brought them about. The feelings are undefined, as they could have easily brought about other actions as well.

To your second point: Why in the world would the Torah give us a mitzva to eat animals if killing an animal presents any kind of moral issue? That would not make sense to me. It would be as if the Torah said, in certain cases, shecht a person and eat him.

Lomed Mkol Adam says:
1) The Mishna is Pirkei Avos explains that the characteristic traits of a person [not his actions] define him as either a good person or an evil person. "Ayin tov, lev tov, nefesh shefeila – mitalmidav shel Avraham Avinu; Ayin ra'ah, lev chomed, nefesh rechava, mitalmidav shel Bil’am Harasha". The translation of "Ayin Tov, lev Tov," means "emotional love" towards your fellow, and the translation of "Ayin ra'ah, lev chomed," means an evil eye and jealousy towards your fellow. So obviously the feelings of “emotional love” are what define someone as a good person in nature.

2) The Torah does not say it is a Mitzva in general to eat animals; rather the Torah says one is "permitted" to eat animals. Only for specific purposes it is a mitzva to shecht animals. Would you say that killing a child is not a moral issue since the Torah commanded Avraham Avinu to shecht Yitzchak? A specific mitzva bein adam lamakom does not contradict the validity of our general feelings of bein adam lachaveiro. Also, the Midrash says that Hashem choose Moshe Rabbeinu to lead Klal Yisroel precisely because he showed compassion towards the sheep he shepherded.

Yitayningwut says:
1) Lev tov and ayin tov aren't good by definition. They just make doing good a whole lot easier.

2) But in some cases it is a mitzva, which is why I cited those specific cases.

I do not believe any issue is a moral issue. You see, I will call your bluff. You can bring up the most unthinkable crime and I will still say it isn't a moral issue. That is, it isn't immoral based on the fact that our feelings tell us so. Something is immoral because God says so. Without that it is all relative. That is the point I was trying to make in the first place.

One should certainly be compassionate to animals. And shecht them in a way that causes them hardly any pain.

Lomed Mkol Adam says:
Lev Tov and ayin Tov are good by definition; this is what the Mishna in Pirkei Avos means to imply.

We get an extra mitzva/reward when refraining from doing an immoral act, since we are listening/connecting to God in the process [besides listening to our own feelings].

Shechting an animal definitely causes it significant pain.

Yitayningwut says:
Lev Tov and ayin Tov are good by definition; this is what the Mishna in Pirkei Avos means to imply.

I disagree.

Shechting an animal definitely causes it significant pain.

I am sorry to hear that.

However, since the Torah allows one to eat meat and it is even a mitzva sometimes, I do not believe that this pain caused to the animal is morally wrong.

Unless you will tell me דיבר תורה כנגד יצר הרע, in which case I will not have a response. The only thing is, from my understanding of the concept of morals, which is basically moral relativism from a natural, human standpoint, I do not need to accept any such docheik with regard to why we may eat animals, and therefore I will continue to assume that there is absolutely nothing wrong with killing animals in order to eat them.

Lomed Mkol Adam says:
I don't see how else you can explain the Mishna in Pirkei Avos. The Mishna is discussing pure character; not behavior or actions.

There are many things which the Torah permits, but it is nevertheless proper to try to refrain from doing; like gezel akum (mid’oraysa), capital punishment (for beis din), bi'ah shelo kedarka, go'el hadam etc. So, even though the Torah permits shechita on a regular basis it still may be considered proper to refrain from eating animals [at least during weekdays when it's not a mitzva at all].

Yitayiningwut:
1) Yes, but in no place does the Mishna say that these things are inherently good, only that they are a path worthy of going along - because more often than not they lead to good. Besides, there is no indication that the Mishna is discussing what you call emotional love. In fact there is indication to the contrary, as at the end it says about lev tov: אָמַר לָהֶם, רוֹאֶה אֲנִי אֶת דִּבְרֵי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲרָךְ מִדִּבְרֵיכֶם, שֶׁבִּכְלַל דְּבָרָיו דִּבְרֵיכֶם. Now, one of the paths mentioned was הרואה את הנולד. Pray tell, without getting involved in complex hermeneutics, how emotional love includes this. If you look in the mefarshim there are many explanations other than yours.

2) There are many things which the Torah permits but are worth refraining from anyway because overindulgence is not good. There is nothing that the Torah permits that is in any way immoral by its very nature, and certainly not something which the Torah commands in certain instances. It should be obvious to any thinking person who believes that the Torah is from God that it is absurd to say that something permitted by the Torah runs contrary to what is moral. What you are saying is that killing an animal in order to eat it is wrong. It is not possible to say that, because that would mean the Torah allowed something which is wrong.

Lomed Mkol Adam says:
1) There is a concept in chazal of a tzaddik by nature and a rasha by nature. This is what the baalei mussar refer to as someone with midos tovos or midos ra'os. True, the Torah Shebichsav only discusses laws and not character; but chazal in Pirkei Avos discuss character. The Mishna I quoted above is clearly discussing how Avraham Avinu was defined as a tzaddik/good in character. Ayin Tov/good eye is a character trait; so is ruach nemucha/humble spirit and nefesh shefeila. Also, the chazal which says "Ma hu rachum af ata rachum" is discussing the character trait of compassion. A good hearted/compassionate/loving person is a tzaddik by nature; he may be rasha bein adam lamakom who commits immoral acts, but he is nevertheless a tzaddik bein adam lachaveiro.

2) I mentioned a few examples in my above post of actions which are permitted by the Torah, but it is nevertheless praiseworthy to refrain from doing on account of our moral feelings. Gezel akum, capital punishment, bi'ah Shelo kedarka, go’el Hadam are all permitted but chazal say (at least the middle ones) one should try to refrain from doing because of one's moral feelings. I believe that the Torah is from God, but it doesn't seem contradictory to me that the Torah halachically permits certain acts even though they run contrary to our moral feelings. On the other hand, we see the Torah constantly commends one for acting kind and compassionate to all the creations of the world, as I quoted above from the Midrash which says that Hashem choose the Avos Hakedoshim and Moshe Rabbeinu because of the compassion they showed towards the sheep they shepherded; also the pasuk in Tehillim says "verachamav al kol ma'asav" – animals included.

Yitayningwut says:
1) Again, none of these attributes are inherently good. They are paths which generally lead people to good.

2) Gezel akum, capital punishment, bi'ah Shelo kedarka, go’el Hadam are all permitted but chazal say (at least the middle ones) one should try to refrain from doing because of one's moral feelings.

You are mistaken and your statement is unfounded. To my knowledge, nowhere do Chazal say that because of one's moral feelings one should be machmir on what the Torah allows. Bring me even one source to the contrary, and we'll talk.

Your point about kindness to animals is not relevant, because I agree that one should be kind to animals. The point where we differ is whether or not my desire for a steak supersedes that obligation.

Lomed Mkol Adam says:
1) The pasuk says "ve’ahavta lerei’acha kamocha". The simple/pashtus meaning of this pasuk is that the actual feelings of love are a purpose and end to itself. God wants us to have these actual feelings, regardless as to whether these feelings lead to actions or not. The same way the Torah commands us to love Hashem (“Ve’ahavta es Hashem elokecha”), since through the actual feelings of love we bind/connect with Hashem; so too the Torah obligates us to love our fellow, since through the actual feelings of love/connection we are doing something which is inherently good.

2) The obvious reason why the Gemara states a negative comment on a beis din which gave misa/capital punishment once in seventy years, is because of our moral feelings not to deliver such severe punishment on a person. So too, it's understood that proper moral behavior would not commit bi'ah shelo kedarka even though it is permitted (I'm sure none of the sages in the Gemara had done it). Do you think any of the sages in the Gemara who might have been a go’el Hadam would have killed an accidental murderer? Why did Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai greet nicely every Gentile he met in the street; wasn't it because of his natural moral feelings? Also, Rabbi Shimon bar Yocha’i who returned lost objects to a gentile even though halachically it is permitted to keep aveidas nachri; wasn't it because of his moral feelings?

Yitayningwut says:
1) The pasuk says "ve’ahavta lerei’acha kamocha".
                                                          
This only proves my point! The mitzva is only on ריעך, not on everyone, right? That itself is proof that “love” is not inherently good, it is good when directed properly. Otherwise it may be good and may be bad, depending on the situation.

through the actual feelings of love/connection we are doing something which is inherently good.

The doing is good, in the specific scenario which is good. That doesn’t make the emotion inherently good; there is no logical way to deduce that.

2) The obvious reason why the Gemara states a negative comment on a Beth Din which gave misa/capital punishment once in seventy years, is because of our moral feelings not to deliver such severe punishment on a person.

No, that is not the obvious reason. The obvious, most simple reason, is because evidence is often faulty, and it’s not worth killing someone when he may not have done it. This is obvious from the method that was employed to reduce death penalty cases – עיין שם.

it is understood that proper moral behavior would not commit Bi'ah Shelo Kidarkah even though it is permitted

That is circular reasoning. It starts with you assuming that a moral person wouldn’t do something, then gives a reason for the assumed way of living, and uses that as proof of the assumption. Who told you to assume it in the first place?

Do you think any of the sages in the Gemara who might have been a go’el hadam would have killed an accidental murderer?

Seriously, do you not see how weak your argument is? I don’t wish to be patronizing, but your rhetorical questions don’t prove a thing. It’s circular, circular, circular!

Why did Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai greet nicely every Gentile he met in the street; wasn't it because of his natural moral feelings? Also, Rabbi Shimon bar Yocha’i who returned lost objects to a gentile even though halachically it's permitted to keep aveidas nachri; wasn't it because of his moral feelings?

The proper place to look for answers to these questions is in the rishonim. There are multiple mehalchim offered that are plain and simple.

By the way, I am noting through your arguments that you believe the tana'im and amora'im to have had heightened senses of "morality." In that case, according to your own reasoning, why were they not vegetarians?

Lomed Mkol Adam says:
1) I was proving from the pasuk "ve’ahavta lerei’acha kamocha" that a natural emotional feeling can be considered good, even though the essence of emotions is self serving. If the Torah considers natural feelings of love towards another Jew a mitzva, then kal vachomer it can be classified in general as good. And definitely the pashtus of the pasuk means to infer to the actual feelings unrelated to any actions.

Additionally the Derasha of chazal on the pasuk "vehalachta bidrachav" – "ma hu rachum af ata rachum," pashtus means to imply the actual characteristic trait of compassion unrelated to deeds. So the Torah considers the actual characteristic trait of compassion not only good and a mitzva, but even a following of the ways of God.

2) a) The obvious reason why Beth Din should try hard to find fault in the evidence, is because of compassion for the guilty person; the same way Avraham Avinu pleaded with Hashem to withhold punishment from Sodom even though they were deserving of the punishment. b) It’s understood from the Gemara in Nedarim (end of 3rd perek) that the tanna told the woman although he sympathizes/agrees with her, he nevertheless can't reprimand her husband over it since the Torah still permits it. This would seem to imply that the tanna did not approve the behavior and would obviously not do so himself. c) Can you find me one source in Gemara/Midrash which states that it's commendable for a go'el hadam to kill the murderer? d) I don't know which rishonim you're referring to, but it's obvious that my explanation of these two separate stories is the simplest explanation which explains both stories the same way.

In the Zohar it says that many animals/fish carry gilgulim of lost neshamos which need a tikkun, and the way they get a tikkun is through a Tzaddik shechting and eating them. This is how I understand why the tana'im ate animal meat. Nevertheless we see in the Gemara that Rabbeinu Hakadosh was reprimanded for not showing sufficient compassion for the animal which was being led for slaughter.

Yitayningwut says:
1) I was proving from the pasuk "ve’ahavta lerei’acha kamocha" that a natural emotional feeling can be considered good, even though the essence of emotions is self serving.

Again, even if as you say the Torah is referring to the emotion, it is the circumstance which makes it good. A different circumstance would render that same emotion not good and unhealthy. Ergo, the emotion is not inherently good.

If the Torah considers natural feelings of love towards another Jew a mitzva, then kal vachomer it can be classified in general as good.

I don’t follow.

Additionally the Derasha of chazal on the pasuk "vehalachta bidrachav" – "ma hu rachum af ata rachum," pashtus means to imply the actual characteristic trait of compassion unrelated to deeds. So the Torah considers the actual characteristic trait of compassion not only good and a mitzva, but even a following of the ways of God.

No, that is not the pashtus. The pashtus is that we cannot attribute any emotion to Hashem, and if he is called merciful it is because he acts that way. Similarly, a person should act that way. Furthermore, of course there are times when to be merciful is wrong as well. Which again shows that it is not inherently a good trait.

Any rule which has even one exception is not absolute. Saying something is inherently good is the same as saying it is absolutely good. If an emotion, even in only one case, is not good, you cannot say it is inherently good. That is all I am saying.

2) a) The obvious reason why Beth Din should try hard to find fault in the evidence, is because of compassion for the guilty person; the same way Avraham Avinu pleaded with Hashem to withhold punishment from Sodom even though they were deserving of the punishment.

If you were correct, then legal arguments should not be necessary to let the guy off the hook. There should be no reason to have to claim שמא במקום נקב נקב. You should just be able to argue the morality clause and get him off the hook. Clearly the halacha does not recognize these feelings.

Avraham Avinu thought they had hope of getting better, that’s all. There is no indication that he would have tried to save them had he been absolutely sure that they were not going to change their ways. Which is why, I think, he stopped when he realized there weren’t even 10 righteous people in the whole city. He realized they had no chance. And don’t forget, Hashem said no.

b) This would seem to imply that the tanna did not approve the behavior and would obviously not do so himself.

You mean the end of the 2nd perek. That is not the implication at all. The woman complained, and Rebbi said I’m sorry you don’t like it, but the Torah allows him. They (the couple) could have just as easily been fighting about whether to serve cholent on Shabbos.

c) I’m not the one who needs to bring a source. If the Torah says something is mutar and you want to say that nevertheless it is wrong, I believe you are the one saying a chiddush.

d) it's obvious that my explanation of these two separate stories is the simplest explanation which explains both stories the same way.

Why? They aren’t from the same place! That is not intellectual honesty. That is enjoying making patterns and being willing to bend the truth in order to see one.

Let’s analyze:

אמרו עליו על רבי יוחנן בן זכאי שלא הקדימו אדם שלום מעולם ואפילו נכרי בשוק.

What is the context of this statement? Well, just beforehand the Gemara says:

מרגלא בפומיה דאביי לעולם יהא אדם ערום ביראה, מענה רך, משיב חמה, ומרבה שלום עם אחיו ועם קרוביו ועם כל אדם ואפילו נכרי בשוק, כדי שיהא אהוב למעלה ונחמד למטה ויהא מקובל על הבריות, אמרו עליו על רבי יוחנן בן זכאי...

You don’t have to be a major lamdan to see that the Gemara is citing the story of R’ Yochanan ben Zakkai to make Abbaye’s point. And Abbaye’s reasoning is that a person should do things which make him well-liked. Nothing to do with moral feelings. And by the way, Rashi says that the reason he was מקדים שלום to non-Jews as well was because of דרכי שלום.

Next-Here are the words of the Rambam:

אבידת עכו"ם מותרת שנאמר "אבידת אחיך" והמחזירה הרי זה עובר עבירה מפני שהוא מחזיק יד רשעי עולם. ואם החזירה לקדש את השם, כדי שיפארו את ישראל וידעו שהם בעלי אמונה הרי זה משובח. ובמקום שיש חילול השם אבידתו אסורה וחייב להחזירה ובכל מקום מכניסים כליהם מפני הגנבים עם כלי ישראל - מפני דרכי שלום.

It is quite obvious that he would not interpret the actions of any tanna who returned lost objects to non-Jews as “following his moral instincts”.

Also, the Meiri is known for his position that אבידת עכו"ם does not apply to civilized non-Jews, but that is a different story.

In the Zohar it says that many animals/fish carry gilgulim of lost neshamos which need a tikkun; and the way they get a tikkun is through a Tzaddik shechting and eating them. This is how I understand why the tana'im ate animal meat.

If you want to believe that the tana’im and amora’im ate meat for such reasons, that’s your prerogative. I don't. I guess we will have to agree to disagree on this one.

Nevertheless we see in the Gemara that Rabbeinu Hakadosh was reprimanded for not showing sufficient compassion for the animal which was being led for slaughter.

Yes, but he was not reprimanded for allowing it to be slaughtered. Moral of the story? Have as much compassion as you can have without it infringing on you enjoying your steak.

Lomed Mkol Adam says:
1) You didn't understand my post. I wrote that the commandment of "ve’ahavta lerei’acha kamocha" is a purely emotional mitzva, not connected to any circumstances. [This is the literal translation of these words in the Torah. Also, the Gemara says one should not have marital relations with his wife during the day, because he might dislike something and then transgress this commandment; so clearly we see that the actual thought of disliking a Jew is a transgression even though it didn't lead to any action/circumstance.] So, if an emotion of love [not connected to any circumstance] can be considered a mitzva when felt towards another Jew, then obviously your logic which you stated, that an emotion can't be considered good since it's in essence self serving, is incorrect. Furthermore, we can also say that emotional love is generally classified as good even though it's only a mitzva when felt towards another Jew.

The p'shat in chazal "ma hu rachum" definitely refers to an actual characteristic trait, as per its literal translation. Also "derech" refers to a trait not behavior. The characteristic trait of compassion is an absolute/inherently "good" trait. Even when we are restricted from feeling compassion, like for achzarim and Amaleikim, this does not translate to turning our compassionate emotions into "bad" feelings; but rather it means we are restricted from feeling these good emotions of compassion towards an "achzar/cruel person, as I explained in previous posts.

2) a) Of course we need legal arguments to get the guy off the hook; since it’s a commandment in the Torah that he's chayav misa. I was saying that the motive behind the determination of beis din to try to find flaws in the evidence and thereby get him off the hook is because of our compassionate feelings for the guilty person. Where do you see the purpose of the ten tzaddikim in Sodom was for them to cause the people in Sodom to do Teshuva [I need a source for that]? The simple understanding of the Parsha is that compassion/midas harachamim does not punish altogether for sins, and the merit of the ten tzaddikim coupled with Avraham's tefilla can cause a strengthening of midas harachamim over midas hadin.

b) The Tanna used the words "biti, ma e'ese”/“my daughter, what can I do?” In other words, he made a helpless expression, saying that although his sympathy/emotions are with the woman, he's nevertheless helpless as far as reprimanding her husband since the Torah states a heter for this. This is pashut p'shat.

c) I didn't say it's wrong c"v; I said I highly doubt any tanna had actually gone ahead and killed a murderer of his relative. I guess I can't bring actual prove/source to my logical assumption.

d) "Darchei shalom" is a moral feeling; shalom/peace is a natural moral feeling. The pasauk says "dover emes bilvavo" which refers to a Jew and Non Jew alike (geneivas da’as of a non-Jew is assur mid'oraysa), so do you honestly think Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai greeted a gentile or returned an aveida for the sole purpose of Kiddush Hashem (or your understanding of darkei shalom), and have the gentile think that the object was returned out of sincere feelings of the Rabbi? This would constitute geneivas da’as and would be a violation of "vedover emes bilivavo". The meaning of the Gemara obviously is that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai returned the object out of sincere feelings of morality, coupled with an intention of making a Kiddush Hashem. The Rambam is going with the shita that it's assur to return an aveida to a gentile; so only for the purpose of Kiddush Hashem, one should return an aveida and not solely on account of his moral feelings.

Lastly, the punishment was given to Rabbeinu Hakadosh for not saving the animal [who pleaded him to have mercy] from being slaughtered.

Yitayningwut says:
1) I understood you very well. You are missing my point. Even if you say that the emotion of love is good when directed properly, that does not make it inherently good. Inherently good means absolutely good. Absolutely good means no exceptions.

Hashem does not have character traits. Brush up on your Rambam if you want to know why this is so. We are commanded to be like Hashem, just as his actions are those of mercy, so should ours.

2) a) I disagree.

b) Yes, he was sorry that he couldn't help her, but not because it was a moral issue, rather because it was something that was causing her agmas nefesh.

c) Exactly.

d) Again, I disagree. And according to you, the Rambam had a skewed sense of morality.

Lastly, again, I disagree, and I believe it is as I explained.

Our disagreements stem from a fundamental disagreement of whether there are good feelings/ideals inborn in a person. You believe there are; I don't. Therefore to you, pashut pshat in many statements of Chazal will be very different from what pashut pshat is to me.

Lomed Mkol Adam says:
Inherently good means absolutely good. Absolutely good means no exceptions.

I explained that there are in fact no exceptions. When we are commanded to not feel pity on Amaleik/Achzar, this means that we are restricted from feeling the "feelings of pity" on these people, not that the feelings are actually "bad"; the same way we are restricted from feeling emotional love towards a woman other than our wives. How do you see/prove otherwise?

Hashem is kiveyachol defined with midas harachamim which is in essence complete and thoroughly compassion as per its translation.

I said the Rambam holds that it's assur to support a gentile who is oveid avoda zara through returning his lost object, just like it's assur to give them a matnas chinam. This is similar to the halacha of moridin ve’ein ma'alin which has to with indirectly supporting avoda zara in the world, which of course overrides our morality obligations.

So far you haven't brought even one proof to your warped way of thinking in this matter, claiming the natural goodhearted feelings which Hashem created us with, are in fact not good. So, I guess according to you evil/cruel feelings within us are in fact not bad either, only "neutral" and depending on circumstances? So there is no essence of tov or ra within us at all?

Yitayningwut says:
How do you see/prove otherwise?

I think that if the Torah says not to have pity, it is telling us that the feeling of pity is bad in this situation. Which leads me to believe that the goodness of this feeling is not absolute/inherent. Same with love. I think this is "pashut pshat."

Hashem is kiveyachol defined with midas harachamim...

The Rambam says it the way I said it. (Guide 1:58)

So, I guess according to you evil/cruel feelings within us are in fact not bad either, only "neutral" and depending on circumstances? So there is no essence of tov or ra within us at all?

Exactly. You start off with a blank slate and have the capacity to define yourself through your actions as either good or bad.

I don't believe I must provide proof for my way of thinking. Any philosophical/theological inquiry should start with nothing, or at least only with the indisputable dogmas. Saying that man is born with a blank slate is assuming less then saying that God endowed him with some kind of prophecy; that his emotions are inherently good. You are the only one saying a chiddush here.

Lomed Mkol Adam says:
It's a ridiculous statement to say that the Torah doesn’t believe in the inherently good nature of ahava/love over sin’ah/hatred, and rachamim/compassion over achzarios/cruelty. The Torah in numerous places commands us to love others and not feel any hatred; “Lo sisna,” “lo sachmod,” “lo sitor,” “betzedek tishpot,” “lo se’ametz es levavcha”; so to claim that all these commandments don't refer to our natural understanding that love is inherently good and hatred is inherently evil, is actually absurd.

The Ramban in Chumash explains the reason why Sodom was punished for gezel even though they hadn't received the Torah; because mitzvos bein adam lachaveiro are mitzvos sichliyos/logical mitzvos; so even without the Torah a person understands good from evil. This also proves my understanding that the underlying reasoning and purpose of the Torah mitzvos of bein adam lachaveiro is identical to our natural understanding that love/compassion is good and hatred/cruelty is evil.

Additionally, it is not possible for a human being to be both good hearted and evil hearted; it's either one or the other. So, since the Torah wants us to be goodhearted in order to fulfill all mitzvos bain adam l'chaveiro, then obviously when the Torah commands in specific circumstances to act cruelly, the intention of the Torah is that we should merely act cruelly but not feel cruelly; since if we were to feel cruelly, than obviously that would mean that we are cruel hearted, and then it would be impossible for us to fulfill the mitzvos bein adam lachaveiro.

Yitayningwut says:
Yes, the Torah says that in specific cases you should direct certain emotions to certain people. And the Torah also says to shake a lulav. That doesn’t mean that palm branches are “inherently good.” That would be a ridiculous jump. So why in the world should I assume that any emotions are inherently good? They simply are a cheftza shel mitzva when they are nogeia, and nothing more.

As for “mitzvos sichliyos,” it isn’t the Ramban’s chiddush, and I already mentioned those. מצות שכליות are those inferred by reason, not by emotion. According to you they should be called מצות הרגשיות.

Additionally, it is not possible for a human being to be both good hearted and evil hearted; it's either one or the other.

I don’t know what that means. Is this another one of your assumptions?

Lomed Mkol Adam says:
1) Your comparison to the mitzva of Lulav is way off. Lulav is a mitzva bein adam lamakom, and we're discussing bein adam lachaveiro mitzvos. Rabbi Akiva in the end of Maseches Yuma clearly separates the essence of bein adam lachaveiro mitzvos from the essence of bein adam lamakom mitzvos.

2) The reason why they are mitzvos sichliyos is because they are mitzvos hergeshiyos. Our natural instincts/feelings guide our logical thinking.

3) I will reiterate again, it is not possible to fulfill properly the mitzvos bein adam lachaveiro of the Torah if we are not good hearted in nature.

3 comments:

  1. Enjoy this entry with a bottle of basil hayden ;-)

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  2. PSA: I don't agree anymore with the moral nihilistic attitude I portrayed in the above discussion. See here, for example: http://themaskil.blogspot.com/2014/09/morality.html

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