Posts tagged " Exodus 20 "

Why doesn’t “Do Not Kill” apply to war and law?

September 23rd, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 5 comments

In the 10 commandments, it says, “Thou shalt not kill.”  So if a police officer shoots a burglar breaking into your home, is God happy or displeased?  What about the military whose job it is to kill people?  Is God happy or angry?  Does it make a difference which army you are in?  Is a German soldier in WW2 treated the same as a soldier in the Israeli army?

Peter H.

Dear Peter,

Your question is one that we have received from many people so we are delighted to answer. Actually, though, your question is based on a mistaken premise.  This is because the sixth commandment does not state, “Thou shall not kill.” It says in Hebrew, לא תרצח, for which ‘thou shall not kill’ is a poor translation.   

Every legal system differentiates between varied aspects of killing.   These different words for killing carry different connotations and, when appropriate, different legal penalties. There are major differences between execution, killing, murder, manslaughter, assassination, as well as degrees such as 2nd-degree manslaughter. In the Hebrew language and Biblical culture, there are also different ways in which a life can be taken.   

God’s law requires that we punish some transgressions with the death penalty handed down and carried out by a legally constituted court. The laws surrounding the court and such a verdict are extremely tightly drawn, but the idea that a person can forfeit his life through certain actions is an important one. War is also part of God’s picture and, once again, while a soldier’s behavior is tightly regulated, killing one’s enemy on the battlefield is a reality.

When it comes to war, there are extremely complex issues. Is your country asking you to do something in opposition to God’s will? This issue can come up, not only in war but in other ways as well. To our disgrace and dismay, it is not far-fetched to imagine these days that a nurse might be ordered to participate in killing a perfectly viable newborn baby, whether through an action or through neglect. The bottom line is, that while respect for country and civil law is a Biblical value, respect for God’s law trumps that. This isn’t a “do what you want” card; it is a serious commitment of faith for which one is willing to sacrifice one’s own life.

When it comes to war, once the war itself is moral, there is still behavior within that war that must be followed. However, killing is an inevitable part of war and while we have great admiration for communities like the Quakers who shun violence no matter the cost, ancient Jewish wisdom posits that refusal to use violence will cause more bloodshed and evil in the long term. War and killing are sometimes necessary.

Similarly, the Bible stresses the need for a safe and stable society and the establishment of law and justice. Police, judges and legislators have an authority that can extend to killing within the parameters of a just legal system. Questions may arise about how the system works but not on whether killing is ever allowed. On that, there is no question.

You ask about a police officer killing a burglar breaking into your home. It doesn’t have to be a police officer. If you have reason to believe that the burglar might use force against you or your family, you shouldn’t wait for law enforcement to arrive.  You should prevent the intruder from inflicting bodily harm by whatever means necessary, including killing him.

A better translation of the sixth commandment would be, “Thou shalt not murder.” (And that is the translation our recommended Bible uses*.) Even so, there is nothing simplistic about this sentence just as there is nothing simplistic about any law or command given in the Five Books of Moses.

We hope this gives you the beginning of a path to understanding,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

*In our recommended Bible:

Page 226, top line, middle two words: Thou Shalt Not Murder לא תרצח

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Trust Folks with Jobs

September 8th, 2020 Posted by Thought Tools 16 comments

In dozens of cities around the world, as darkness descends, barbarians emerge to enjoy their orgies of plunder and destruction. As if intoxicated by the absence of defenders, they are unable fully to comprehend that nobody is defying them.

I think of you, my readers, as noble knights defending the fortress of civilization against the hordes of scheming and surging savages trying to invade and conquer what you and your fathers have built.  The barbarians know that even after they destroy the civilization you built, as they loot its stores and wretchedly crawl through its wrecked ruins, they will still live better than in anything they could ever have built themselves.

Who are these people?  Who is the 23-year-old arrested for the second time in Green Bay, WI, on his way to a riot with guns and explosives?  Does he have parents? If so, do they know what has become of their baby? Above all, how does he eat? From where does he have money for clothing and food, not to mention weapons?

Who is the 40-year-old killer arrested at a Portland riot? We know that he has a baby daughter but no wife. We know that he seems not to have held down any kind of job, listing his occupation as a professional protester.  From where does he have money for all of life’s basic necessities?

We know two things for sure about the rioters: They do receive money and they do not have jobs.  They’re not dressed in rags and they don’t walk to riot locations; they have money. People with jobs tend to sleep at night so they are ready for work the next morning. Even when the prize is a few flat-screen TVs, people who riot all night don’t work all day.  These people have no jobs.

They are probably getting money from groups led by people like George Soros. They are also probably getting money confiscated from their fellow Americans and transferred to them in the form of welfare and COVID payments. Some of them are probably getting money from proud parents eagerly reliving the 1960s. Some of them are probably getting money from various criminal endeavors.

We can’t stop Soros from doing what he wishes with his own money and we can’t do much to stop parents from encouraging their children to commit mayhem. But we ought to be able to stop financial reward from criminal enterprise and we surely ought to be able to end rioters obtaining the money that the government transfers to them from hard-working citizens.  In other words, if we took the steps necessary to make having a job the best way of obtaining money, we’d be taking an enormous step towards tranquility.

Sadly, since the early 1960s, we began downgrading the value of work and elevating educational credentials so that many people who could have joined the real world by starting work instead extended adolescence indefinitely by spending years taking useless courses in colleges and universities.  On most campuses (on my podcast, I disparagingly refer to universities as kindergartens) a degree in gender studies or on racial bias in French movies is considered the equivalent in terms of rigor and objectivity as a degree in Russian literature or physics.

An unintended side effect of the then necessary and positive child-labor laws enacted throughout the West by the early twentieth century was to lower the social acceptability of work among young people. Though teenagers in most of the United States may legally work many hours a week in so-called safe industries, few do. This is a shame since work is uplifting and stabilizing.

Consider the first time Scripture discusses the relationship between man and work:

And no shrub of the field was yet on earth and no grasses of the field had yet sprouted, because the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth
and there was no man to work the ground.

(Genesis 2:5) [page 5*]

Not surprisingly, within no more than ten words, God was busy creating man. Clearly, in order to exist, creation needs man to work.  But does man need to work?

It would appear so because the Fourth Commandment could merely have prohibited work on the seventh day. It goes further, directing us indeed to work the other six days:

Six days you shall work and do all your work.
(Exodus 20:9) [page 225*]

The King James translation, recognizing that Hebrew has two different words for “work” translates Exodus 20:9 this way:

Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work…

But what actually defines those two different words for work, AVoDaH and MeLaCHaH?

See both words and compare their appearance in the Hebrew [page 224, 7 lines up, 3rd last word and 7 lines up, 1st word*]

The first one, AVoDaH, means work in a more general sense. It is used extensively in describing the Egyptian servitude in Exodus.  See the same word in Genesis 2:5 [page 4 last line, 3rd word*. You’ll easily spot the same 3 letter root even if you don’t know any Hebrew. Yet!]

The second word for work used in Exodus 20:9, meaning a more specific work designed to attain an intended goal, is MeLaCHaH. For instance, general work like moving a table from one room to another is permissible on the Sabbath. However, specific work intended to increase my revenue is explicitly prohibited.

Six days should work (MeLaCHaH) be done and on the seventh,
a sabbath, a special sabbath holy to the Lord, all who do work (MeLaCHaH)
on the sabbath day shall die.
(Exodus 31:15)  [See the Hebrew word MeLaCHaH page 264, 9 lines down, 2nd word*]

In most parts of the world, ice cream is ice cream, but in Italy, there are many different names for different types of ice cream because Italians specialize in ice cream and love it.

In English work is work. Occasionally you might say labor, but it is all pretty much indistinguishable. However, in the Lord’s language, Hebrew, there are two important and distinctive words for work.  That is because the Hebrew culture specializes in work and loves it.  Doing one’s work when it should be done is an act of serving God and is an avenue to greatness.

See a man quick & diligent in his work (MeLaCHaH) he will stand before kings…
(Proverbs 22:29) [page 2010, 9 lines up, 3rd last word*]

At speeches and appearances, when I have the privilege of greeting families who come to hear me, I nearly always smilingly ask the teenage children what work they do. I can’t stop myself from breaking into a broad grin when the youngster enthusiastically tells me about his job.

In some countries today,  we’ve made a terrible mistake by making it possible, no, we’ve made it easy, for so many to live without working. Work was needed to make the garden grow and it is still needed today.

* all page and line references are from Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s recommended Hebrew/English Bible.

Recommended Hebrew/English Bible ON SALE: Dear Rabbi and Susan: 101 Ask the Rabbi Questions and Answers.

Angels, Actions and Achievements

March 4th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

Gender is a smoking hot topic right now.  Depending on your world-view, you’ll either be offended or relieved to hear that for the purposes of this Thought Tool, there is no gender confusion.  The defining axiom is found as early as the 27th verse of the Bible—“…male and female He created them.” 

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the implications of this verse go way beyond the creation of Adam and Eve.  Not only does biological reproduction of humans, animals and vegetables depend upon the collaboration of male and female, but all creativity springs from the engagement of those two complementary opposites.  In trying to understand how the world REALLY works, this sexual insight is so foundational that God even gave every noun in His language a gender.

The chief difference between a feminine noun and a masculine one is that typically the feminine noun describes something capable of ‘giving birth’.  For instance, the word for a minor argument, RIV,  is masculine while the word for an ongoing feud in which every disagreement gives birth to yet another, MeRiVaH, is, not surprisingly, a feminine word. 

The Hebrew words for a cup, KoS, or ball, KaDuR, are both masculine because neither gives birth to anything else, however the Hebrew word for a thought, MaCHSHaVaH is feminine since every thought can give birth to another thought.  Similarly, the Hebrew word for an investment, HaSHKaaH, is feminine for the same reason.

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