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Understanding Moral Hierarchy

May 12th, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi No Comment yet

Question:

“I’m listening to your radio podcast from the Blaze Radio and find such clarity in your positions. You were discussing moral hierarchy and giving examples in relationship to immigrants and I had come to the same conclusion but had no idea of the rationale to back up what I thought.

Can you share some resources which would be helpful in understanding this basic principal which is completely missing from our culture today.”

Thank you,

∼ Kathy B.

Answer:

Dear Kathy,

Anyone above toddler age knows that good intentions don’t always lead to good results. There’s a popular and true aphorism that reads, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  Wise people also know that insisting on perfection leads to misery. We are saved by the crucial idea of a moral hierarchy that provides structure to ensure that we do the best we can within the limitations we have.

For example, we owe respect to all human beings. However, the Fifth Commandment refines that idea, insisting that we owe our parents over and above what we owe others. We not only have the right, but the obligation to take greater care of our own children than of children in general.

Similarly, there is a moral hierarchy for charity. It would be wonderful to eliminate all illness, poverty and suffering in the world, though it is completely unrealistic and contrary to Biblical truth to think we can do so.  We can easily become discouraged and end up doing nothing (or very little) because we can’t help everyone, or we can understand the priorities including helping those with whom we have more points of intersection, such as family and community, before we help those farther away. This doesn’t mean we can’t respond to a natural disaster in a country we’ve never visited. It does mean that while we want to encourage empathy with all human beings, it would be misplaced to send so many resources there that we leave our own siblings or fellow citizens in dire want.

A teacher must prioritize the needs of the students in his class and the leader of a country must place his or her country’s needs above those of other countries. It’s easy to get thrown by someone asking, “Isn’t that selfish?” but in the way the world really works, the end result of a moral hierarchy allows more, not fewer, people to live well.

Try looking at Scripture with this idea in mind and you will find many references to expanding circles of closeness such as family and tribe.

Thanks for listening,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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