Thursday, June 5, 2008

Day 18 - Can The Torah Be Fair?

I'm sorry. I know the title may be offputting to some people, but that's the only way I think to put it. I'll explain what I mean in a moment.

The Torah's ways are meant to be pleasant. Derachecha Darchei Noam is talking about the Torah, right? And yet there are some ways in which it just isn't... noam.

The prime example that comes to my mind is the mitzvah of wiping out Amalek. Yeah, I know that it's moot in this day and age, but the fact remains that it is a valid part of the religion. If a genuine, provable member of Amalek showed up on the streets of Brooklyn or Yerushalayim, his life expectency could probably be measure in hours at best. And while we "like" to think of Amalek as the Hitler-types, there must also be those that are youngsters -- babies, toddlers, etc. And yet, the commandment from God is to kill them. "Shoot 'em all and let God sort 'em out" is aptly applied to Amalek, it seems. But how do you rationalize killing an infant, or a toddler, or even an adult whose done you no wrong? If we are to kill everyone with a certain DNA profile, then how are we really different from those who have tried to kill us through the years? Because we believe God told us to? This is something that I've always had a major problem reconciling in my mind. And the fact that there are no identifiable Amalekim today doesn't really help -- if we say Deracheha Darchei Noam, shouldn't that apply whether we have access to Amalekim or not? Shouldn't the question of whether genocide is right or wrong exist independent of whether or not the subjects of that decree are accessible to us? Because if we believe in an All-Merciful God, then we have to ask where is His mercy to people who have done nothing wrong. All the Amalekim who attacked the Jews in the desert were long dead by the time Saul got his command. All the Amalekim in his day are long dead now, and yet, if people were to show up today and could be verified as a member of Amalek (or the seven Cannani nations), they'd have a price on their heads. But yet, they are not responsible for the attack in the desert that happened 3300 years ago. They're not responsible for Haman's actions. They're not responsible for killing Saul. How can we punish people for acts that aren't their responsibility? In what way is this considered fair?

I suppose the same could be asked about the concept of Mamzerim. I understand the rationale that punishing the woman's children will serve as a deterent on her actions. I understand it, even though I have serious doubts about it. However, it would be one thing if the concept were applied only to those cases where the mother was truly at fault. However, there could be cases where she is not at fault at all (rape, or a false report of her husband's death) and yet the children suffer the consequences. Why? How is this fair?

Granted, the world is not fair. Where human beings devise laws and set up social systems, there will be, inherently, some unfairness. But that's to be expected because we are flawed creatures. But an Omnipotent being should be able to devise a system that punishes those who do wrong while sparing the truly innocent of punishment.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Day 16 -- Shabbos

Sarah is a dear old friend of mine. I've known her for years, ever since we went to school together. While Sarah and I are quite close, I have to admit that I don't tell her everything -- this blog, for starters, is a secret from her too.

Anyway, Sarah and I got together this past Shabbos as we do about every other week. We sit, shmooze, talk about husbands, babies, paying the bills -- just shooting the breeze in general. Rarely do we ever get into philisophical matters or topics that we would consider "heavy." However, she brought up an interesting point this past Shabbos.

Sarah works out of the house. She has a 9-5 job as an administrative assistant in a business. Very often, people in her business have to work over the weekend -- projects are due for "first thing Monday morning," clients need information over the weekend, whatever. People in the office complain about this, but, due to the nature of the business, it has to get done. She tells me that she is so thankful for Shabbos. It's a day that she knows that she's guaranteed to not have to think about the office at all. It doesn't matter if the place burns down -- she's "unavailable." As in "Do Not Call... if you do I won't answer."

I can certainly see the appeal in that and I suppose that is one of the good things about Shabbos. I work part-time as a freelance writer. I can certainly appreciate the fact that clients can't bother me on Shabbos (not that they don't try... after the first two months, I learned that I need to take my phone off the hook before Shabbos). Having a day per week where you have a forced separation from work is certainly a good thing. It's one of the benefits of being observant. Of course, that doesn't make it more spiritually fulfilling, but it certainly is beneficial. I never really quite looked at it the way Sarah does, but now that I think about it, it does make sense. It's a day where we are forcibly removed from our labors and (barring emergencies) come hell or high water, we're forced to take a break.

But what if you don't believe in God? Is it right to tell clients "no, you can't contact me on my Sabbath" if you don't believe in God? Is it moral to "take advantage" of the situation like that and impose restrictions on my clients? While they are willing to "put up" with my limitations for my religion, I don't think they'd do so because I just wanted a day off. For example, suppose I went to them and told them "Well, I'm no longer Sabbath observant, so I'll be available for you on Saturday, but I'd really like Mondays off, so don't contact me then," would they be so understanding? Personally, I don't think so -- I think they respect the fact that I profess to have deeply held religious beliefs and are willing to work with me based on that -- but absent those religious beliefs, they wouldn't be so understanding. That being the case, if I don't believe in God, is it moral to continue using this as a reason to not work on Shabbos.

What if I'm not certain what I believe? To be honest, I don't know if God exists. I don't know if He commanded us to keep Shabbos. It's within the realm of possibility that he did, but I think it's also in the realm of possibility that the whole thing is man made. So where does that leave me then?

The thought of having a day off where I'm "out of touch" is very appealing. The thought of using it as an excuse when it's not warranted is not. The fact that I don't what I believe at present just makes it all the more complicated.