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  • Leon Gork Jerusalem

Ethics of the fathers


"He also saw a skull floating upon the water. Said he to it: Because you drowned others, you were drowned; and those who drowned you, will themselves be drowned." Ethics of the fathers Ch 2:6

A news item about murder in feuding criminal families in Rehovot, Israel, (Ynet.co.il translation) reminded me of the truth of the above saying of the fathers and how wise those sages were.

But really, I don't think that one has to be very wise to reach the conclusion that one murder leads to another, it's just human nature to want to kill the murderer of one's friend or one's brother and isn't it foolishness and not wisdom to want to change human nature?

There is no wisdom in telling people to behave according to their natural instincts. There is wisdom, in my opinion, in telling people to control and change their natural instincts. One doesn't require wisdom to act according to one's instincts. Instincts are built into human nature. no thought is required, no decision needs to be taken.

Not so with controlling our behavior, here instincts are suppressed and thought is required to decide on alternative action. Controlling our behavior means thinking about minor things like what to eat as well as major issues, such as should we take revenge on our brother's murderer or not.

There is no possibility for these two approaches to life to live side in civilized society. The one must vanquish the other and control all of society. Society must make a choice between living like animals according to its instincts or living like civilized human beings, co-operating with one another, mutually helping each other and tolerating one another's different cultural habits.

The war between the two goes on all the time, as we see in the events reported in the news. The police fight this fierce battle in the name of civilization and ordinary people aren't involved and only read about the struggle in the media.

It all seems so unreal to us, even a kind of fiction. I am shocked every time I read about these crimes. That's why I write about it, but I have the feeling that many people are nonchalant, saying "oh well those are just criminals killing each other, decent people don't do that sort of thing".

Unfortunately it isn't so easy to turn a blind eye to these killings, because if we aren't on our guard criminals can take over all of society and force us to become a society that lives by its instincts instead of a society that controls its instincts.

The task of civilized man is to study, to be educated, because without education he can't think what action to take to replace the action that his instincts demand. Thought and decision require knowledge, according to which the human decides on proper action.

This brings me to another saying in the Ethics of the Fathers, which is:

"He (Hillel) would also say: A boor cannot be sin-fearing,"Ethics of the fathers Ch 2:5

It's obvious that a boor (unlearned person) would not know how to decide and would act according to his instincts and the result would be sin (stealing, murdering etc.)

The subject one studies is also obvious according to the Fathers, namely the Torah, meaning the wisdom of God, which according to them is contained in the Tanach, which consists of the following:

Tanach - The Jewish Bible

1 Torah - The 5 books of Moses

Bereshit (בְּרֵאשִׁית, literally "In the beginning")—Genesis

Shemot (שִׁמוֹת, literally "Names")—Exodus

Vayikra (ויקרא, literally "And He called")—Leviticus

Bəmidbar (במדבר, literally "In the desert [of]")—Numbers

Devarim (דברים, literally "Things" or "Words")—Deuteronomy

2 Neviim - The Prophets

  • (יְהוֹשֻעַ / Yĕhôshúa‘)—Joshua

  • (שופטים / Shophtim)—Judges

  • (שְׁמוּאֵל / Shmû’ēl)—Samuel

  • (מלכים / M'lakhim)—Kings

  • (יְשַׁעְיָהוּ / Yĕsha‘ăyāhû)—Isaiah

  • (יִרְמְיָהוּ / Yirmyāhû)—Jeremiah

  • (יְחֶזְקֵיאל / Yĕkhezqiēl)—Ezekiel

  • (הוֹשֵׁעַ / Hôshēa‘)—Hosea

  • (יוֹאֵל / Yô’ēl)—Joel

  • (עָמוֹס / ‘Āmôs)—Amos

  • (עֹבַדְיָה / ‘Ōvadhyāh)—Obadiah

  • (יוֹנָה / Yônāh)—Jonah

  • (מִיכָה / Mîkhāh)—Micah

  • (נַחוּם / Nakḥûm)—Nahum

  • (חֲבַקּוּק /Khăvhakûk)—Habakkuk

  • (צְפַנְיָה / Tsĕphanyāh)—Zephaniah

  • (חַגַּי / Khaggai)—Haggai

  • (זְכַרְיָה / Zkharyāh)—Zechariah

  • (מַלְאָכִי / Mal’ākhî)—Malachi

3 Ketuvim - The writings

The three poetic books (Sifrei Emet)

  • Tehillim (Psalms) תְהִלִּים

  • Mishlei (Book of Proverbs) מִשְלֵי

  • Iyyôbh (Book of Job) אִיּוֹב

The Five Megillot (Hamesh Megillot). These books are read aloud in the synagogue on particular occasions, the occasion listed below in parenthesis.

  • Shīr Hashīrīm (Song of Songs) or (Song of Solomon) שִׁיר הַשִׁירִים (Passover)

  • Rūth (Book of Ruth) רוּת (Shavuot)

  • Eikhah (Lamentations) איכה (Tisha B'Av) [Also called Kinnot in Hebrew.]

  • Qōheleth (Ecclesiastes) קהלת (Sukkot)

  • Estēr (Book of Esther) אֶסְתֵר (Purim)

Other books

  • Dānî'ēl (Book of Daniel) דָּנִיֵּאל

  • ‘Ezrā (Book of Ezra—Book of Nehemiah) עזרא

  • Divrei ha-Yamim (Chronicles) דברי הימים

Read more articles by Leon

#pirkeavot #ethicsofthefathers #instinct #society #civilization #tanach #wisdom

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