Blaming Society

We should strive to emulate Abraham and Isaac, who integrated their senses of self with values of Torah, rather than emulating Lavan who compartmentalized his values and the values of his surrounding society.

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Blaming The System

By blaming the system--and each of us does this from time to time--a person splits himself in two: there is the personal “I,” who always does what is pleasant and right, and there is the “I” that is part of an abstract corpus (the Public, the State, the Community, the Organization, etc.). He compartmentalizes himself but demonstrates a shocking disregard for moral responsibility. Once begun, it is a hard habit to break, and the results can be terrifying: moral schizophrenia.

Judaism insists that each person be one fully integrated “I,” that he take full responsibility for his actions, and act according to what the Torah says is right.

The Talmud teaches (Kiddushin 42b, ff.) that “there is no agency for sinful acts.” This means that if I am appointed by another to commit a sin, I cannot excuse my actions by claiming “He made me do it.” I am responsible for my actions, not anyone else, not the society, not even another part of myself. At times, this might require standing in opposition to and resisting the nameless, faceless “Them.”

This is the central theme of the approaching holiday of Chanukah. During the Second Temple period the world was greatly influenced by Greek culture and its outlook on life. The Jewish people also saw value in Greek civilization and philosophy. However, there came a point when fitting in with the Greek lifestyle would have meant abandoning Torah values. 

The Greeks admired physical perfection, and thus condemned the observance of Brit Milah (circumcision) as mutilation. Shabbat and Kashrut became social barriers, and were compromised, then abandoned.  Worshipping the Greek gods became a step towards social acceptance. The primacy of man in Greek philosophy supplanted the primacy of God. Many Jews rationalized their adherence to Greek values by referring to the “spirit of the times.”  The entire world was falling in line. To be modern was to be Greek.

Against this background, it was extremely difficult for some Jews to insist on drawing the line between fitting in and selling out.  In effect, they were saying that they would not join the modern trend of dividing their identities between their Jewish selves and their citizen-of-the-world (that is, Greek) selves. They proclaimed, in the words of Mattityahu (Mattathias), “Whoever is for Hashem, to me!” There is only one “me,” the one who is defined by loyalty to Hashem.  Even when I participate in the secular world, I do so as a Jew.

Ivri

The Torah teaches otherwise. The first Patriarch, Abraham, is called Ivri, “the one on the other side.” Abraham courageously, and at great personal risk, did not fall in line with the masses. He opposed the idolatry of his environment, with all its immorality and cruelty.

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Rabbi Avraham Fischer

Avraham Fischer is a rabbi at Darche Noam Institutions.