Moral Principles and Priorities in a Changing Landscape:
Ethical Pivots in the Age of Corona
July 1, 2020
Examine Your Conduct 1
Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Fasts 1:1-3, 17 1
Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 5a 3
Why Jerusalem was Destroyed 5
Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 9b 5
Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 119b 7
III. “You Shall Live By Them” 9
Leviticus 18:1-5 9
Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 85a-b 10
Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 13
Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 74a 14
Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 46b 16
Render Your Sabbath Profane 19
Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 112a 19
Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:18 21
Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:7 21
“Your Brother Shall Live With You” 22
Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metsia 62a 22
Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metsia 71a 24
Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metsia 31b 26
Mishnah Avot 1:14 28
Sufficient for his Need 29
Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot 67b 29
Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:4 31
VII. A Pit and an Ox in the Communal Space 31
VIII. Beyond the Requirements of the Law 34
.23 Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 5a 36
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I. Examine Your Conduct
1. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Fasts 1:1-3, 17
א מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה מִן הַתּוֹרָה לִזְעֹק וּלְהָרִיעַ בַּחֲצוֹצְרוֹת עַל כָּל צָרָה שֶׁתָּבוֹא עַל הַצִּבּוּר. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (במדבר י ט) “עַל הַצַּר הַצֹּרֵר אֶתְכֶם וַהֲרֵעֹתֶם בַּחֲצֹצְרוֹת”. כְּלוֹמַר כָּל דָּבָר שֶׁיָּצֵר לָכֶם כְּגוֹן בַּצֹּרֶת וְדֶבֶר וְאַרְבֶּה וְכַיּוֹצֵא בָּהֶן זַעֲקוּ עֲלֵיהֶן וְהָרִיעוּ:
ב וְדָבָר זֶה מִדַּרְכֵי הַתְּשׁוּבָה הוּא. שֶׁבִּזְמַן שֶׁתָּבוֹא צָרָה וְיִזְעֲקוּ עָלֶיהָ וְיָרִיעוּ יֵדְעוּ הַכּל שֶׁבִּגְלַל מַעֲשֵׂיהֶם הָרָעִים הוּרַע לָהֶן כַּכָּתוּב (ירמיה ה כה) “עֲוֹנוֹתֵיכֶם הִטּוּ” וְגוֹ’. וְזֶה הוּא שֶׁיִּגְרֹם לָהֶם לְהָסִיר הַצָּרָה מֵעֲלֵיהֶם:
ג אֲבָל אִם לֹא יִזְעֲקוּ וְלֹא יָרִיעוּ אֶלָּא יֹאמְרוּ דָּבָר זֶה מִמִּנְהַג הָעוֹלָם אֵרַע לָנוּ וְצָרָה זוֹ נִקְרָה נִקְרֵית. הֲרֵי זוֹ דֶּרֶךְ אַכְזָרִיּוּת וְגוֹרֶמֶת לָהֶם לְהִדַּבֵּק בְּמַעֲשֵׂיהֶם הָרָעִים. וְתוֹסִיף הַצָּרָה צָרוֹת אֲחֵרוֹת. הוּא שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּתּוֹרָה (ויקרא כו כז) “וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי בְּקֶרִי” (ויקרא כו כח) “וְהָלַכְתִּי גַּם אֲנִי עִמָּכֶם בַּחֲמַת קֶרִי”. כְּלוֹמַר כְּשֶׁאָבִיא עֲלֵיכֶם צָרָה כְּדֵי שֶׁתָּשׁוּבוּ אִם תֹּאמְרוּ שֶׁהִיא קֶרִי אוֹסִיף לָכֶם חֲמַת אוֹתוֹ קֶרִי:
יז בְּכָל יוֹם תַּעֲנִית שֶׁגּוֹזְרִין עַל הַצִּבּוּר מִפְּנֵי הַצָּרוֹת. בֵּית דִּין וְהַזְּקֵנִים יוֹשְׁבִין בְּבֵית הַכְּנֶסֶת וּבוֹדְקִים עַל מַעֲשֵׂי אַנְשֵׁי הָעִיר מֵאַחַר תְּפִלַּת שַׁחֲרִית עַד חֲצוֹת הַיּוֹם. וּמְסִירִין הַמִּכְשׁוֹלוֹת שֶׁל עֲבֵרוֹת. וּמַזְהִירִין וְדוֹרְשִׁין וְחוֹקְרִין עַל בַּעֲלֵי חָמָס וַעֲבֵרוֹת וּמַפְרִישִׁין אוֹתָן. וְעַל בַּעֲלֵי זְרוֹעַ וּמַשְׁפִּילִין אוֹתָן. וְכַיּוֹצֵא בִּדְבָרִים אֵלּוּ. וּמֵחֲצִי הַיּוֹם וְלָעֶרֶב רְבִיעַ הַיּוֹם קוֹרְאִין בִּבְרָכוֹת וּקְלָלוֹת שֶׁבַּתּוֹרָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (משלי ג יא) “מוּסַר ה’ בְּנִי אַל תִּמְאָס וְאַל תָּקֹץ בְּתוֹכַחְתּוֹ”. וּמַפְטִירִין בַּנָּבִיא בְּתוֹכָחוֹת מֵעִנְיַן הַצָּרָה. וּרְבִיעַ הַיּוֹם הָאַחֲרוֹן מִתְפַּלְּלִים מִנְחָה וּמִתְחַנְּנִים וְזוֹעֲקִים וּמִתְוַדִּים כְּפִי כֹּחָם:
1 It is a positive Torah commandment to cry out and to sound trumpets in the event of any difficulty that arises which affects the community, as [Numbers 10:9] states: “[When you go out to war… against] an enemy who attacks you and you sound the trumpets….”
[This commandment is not restricted to such a limited scope; rather] the intent is: Whenever you are distressed by difficulties – e.g., famine, plague, locusts, or the like – cry out [to God] because of them and sound the trumpets.
2 This practice is one of the paths of repentance, for when a difficulty arises, and the people cry out [to God] and sound the trumpets, everyone will realize that [the difficulty] occurred because of their evil conduct, as [Jeremiah 5:25] states: “Your sins have turned away [the rains and the harvest climate].” This [realization] will cause the removal of this difficulty.
3 Conversely, should the people fail to cry out [to God] and sound the trumpets, and instead say, “What has happened to us is merely a natural phenomenon and this difficulty is merely a chance occurrence,” this is a cruel conception of things, which causes them to remain attached to their wicked deeds. Thus, this time of distress will lead to further distresses.
This is implied by the Torah’s statement [Leviticus 26:27-28]: “If you remain indifferent to Me, I will be indifferent to you with a vengeance.” The implication of the verse is: When I bring difficulties upon you so that you shall repent and you say it is a chance occurrence, I will add to your [punishment] an expression of vengeance for that indifference [to Divine Providence].
17 Whenever there is a communal fast that was instituted for a distressing circumstance, the [community’s] court and [its] elders sit in the synagogue and review the conduct of the city’s [inhabitants] from the time the morning prayers were concluded until noon. They remove the stumbling blocks that lead to sin. They give warnings, enquire, and investigate all those who pursue violence and sin, and [encourage them] to depart [from these ways]. Similarly, [they investigate] people who coerce others and humble them. They also occupy themselves with other similar matters.
[This is what would happen] from noon until the evening: During the [third] quarter of the day, they would read the blessings and the curses in the Torah [as implied by Proverbs 3:11]: “My son, do not despise the instruction of the Lord, and do not reject His rebuke.” As the haftarah, they would read a portion from the prophets appropriate to the distress [for which they are fasting].
During the [fourth] quarter of the day, the afternoon service is recited, supplications are made, [the people] cry out [to God] and confess according to their capability.
2. Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 5a
Raba (some say, R. Hisda) says: If a man sees that painful sufferings visit him, let him examine his conduct. For it is said: “Let us search and try our ways, and return unto the Lord.” If he examines and finds nothing [objectionable], let him attribute it to the neglect of the study of the Torah. For it is said: “Happy is the man whom Thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest out of Thy law.” If he did attribute it [thus], and still did not find [this to be the cause], let him be sure that these are chastenings of love. For it is said: “For whom the Lord loveth He correcteth.”
II. Why Jerusalem was Destroyed
3. Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 9b
Why was the first Sanctuary destroyed? Because of three [evil] things which prevailed there: idolatry, immorality, bloodshed…
But why was the second Sanctuary destroyed, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves with Torah, [observance of] precepts, and the practice of charity? Because therein prevailed hatred without cause. That teaches you that groundless hatred is considered as of even gravity with the three sins of idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed together.
4. Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 119b
Abaye said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because the Sabbath was desecrated therein, as it is said, and they have hid their eyes from My sabbaths, therefore I am profaned among them.
Abbahu said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because the reading of the shema’ morning and evening was neglected [therein], for it is said, Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink [etc.]; and it is written, And the harp and the lute, the tabret and the pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the Lord; and it is written, Therefore my people are gone into captivity, for lack of knowledge.
Hamnuna said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because they neglected [the education of] school children; for it is said, pour it out [sc. God’s wrath] because of the children in the street: why pour it out? Because the child is in the street.
‘Ulla said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because they [its inhabitants] were not ashamed of each other, for it is written, Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed [… therefore they shall fall].
Isaac said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because the small and the great were made equal, for it is said, And it shall be, like people like priest; which is followed by, The earth shall be utterly emptied.
Amram son of R. Simeon b. Abba said in R. Simeon b. Abba’s name in R. Hanina’s name: Jerusalem was destroyed only because they did not rebuke each other: for it is said, Her princes are become like harts that find no pasture: Just as the hart, the head of one is at the side of the other’s tail, so Israel of that generation hid their faces in the earth, and did not rebuke each other.
Rab Judah said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because scholars were despised therein: for it is said, but they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and scoffed at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy. What does ‘till there was no remedy’ intimate? Said Rab Judah in Rab’s name: He who despises a scholar, has no remedy for his wounds
III. “You Shall Live By Them”
5. Leviticus 18:1-5
וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר׃ דַּבֵּר אֶל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם׃ כְּמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ־מִצְרַיִם אֲשֶׁר יְשַׁבְתֶּם־בָּהּ לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וּכְמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ־כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מֵבִיא אֶתְכֶם שָׁמָּה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וּבְחֻקֹּתֵיהֶם לֹא תֵלֵכוּ׃ אֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַי תַּעֲשׂוּ וְאֶת־חֻקֹּתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ לָלֶכֶת בָּהֶם אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם׃ וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת־חֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַי אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה אֹתָם הָאָדָם וָחַי בָּהֶם אֲנִי יְהוָה׃
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: I the Lord am your God. You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt where you dwelt, or of the land of Canaan to which I am taking you; nor shall you follow their laws. My rules alone shall you observe, and faithfully follow My laws: I the Lord am your God. You shall keep My laws and My rules, by the pursuit of which man shall live: I am the Lord.
6. Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 85a-b
Ishmael, R. Akiba and R. Eleazar b. Azariah were once on a journey, with Levi ha-Saddar and R. Ishmael son of R. Eleazar b. Azariah following them. Then this question was asked of them: Whence do we know that in the case of danger to human life the laws of the Sabbath are suspended?…
Jose son of R. Judah said: Only ye shall keep My Sabbaths,’ one might assume under all circumstances, therefore the text reads: ‘Only’ viz, allowing for exceptions. R. Jonathan b. Joseph said: For it is holy unto you; I.e., it [the Sabbath] is committed to your hands, not you to its hands. R. Simeon b. Menassia said: And the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath. The Torah said: Profane for his sake one Sabbath, so that he may keep many Sabbaths. Rab Judah said in the name of Samuel: If I had been there, I should have told them something better than what they said: He shall live by them, but he shall not die because of them. Raba said: [The exposition] of all of them could be refuted, except that of Samuel, which cannot be refuted.
7. Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5
לְפִיכָךְ נִבְרָא אָדָם יְחִידִי, לְלַמֶּדְךָ, שֶׁכָּל הַמְאַבֵּד נֶפֶשׁ אַחַת, מַעֲלֶה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ אִבֵּד עוֹלָם מָלֵא. וְכָל הַמְקַיֵּם נֶפֶשׁ אַחַת, מַעֲלֶה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ קִיֵּם עוֹלָם מָלֵא. וּמִפְּנֵי שְׁלוֹם הַבְּרִיּוֹת, שֶׁלֹּא יֹאמַר אָדָם לַחֲבֵרוֹ אַבָּא גָדוֹל מֵאָבִיךָ
Therefore but a single person was created in the world, to teach that if any man has caused a single life to perish, he is deemed by Scripture as if he had caused a whole world to perish; and anyone who saves a single soul, he is deemed by Scripture as if he had saved a whole world. Again [but a single person was created] for the sake of peace among humankind, that one should not say to another, “My father was greater than your father”.
8. Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 74a
Johanan said in the name of R. Simeon b. Jehozadak: By a majority vote, it was resolved in the upper chambers of the house of Nithza in Lydda that in every [other] law of the Torah, if a man is commanded: ‘Transgress and suffer not death’ he may transgress and not suffer death, excepting idolatry, incest, [which includes adultery] and murder…
And how do we know this of murder itself? — It is common sense. Even as one who came before Raba and said to him, ‘The governor of my town has ordered me, “Go and kill so and so; if not, I will slay thee”’. He answered him, ‘Let him rather slay you than that you should commit murder; who knows that your blood is redder? Perhaps his blood is redder.’
9. Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 46b
MISHNAH. If a man sells himself and his children to a heathen, he is not to be redeemed. His children, however, are to be redeemed after the death of their father.
GEMARA.R. Assi said: This rule applies only if he sold himself a second and a third time…
A certain man sold himself to the Lydians and then appealed to R. Ammi saying, Redeem me. So he said: We have learnt, if a man sells himself and his children to a heathen he is not to be redeemed, but his children are to be redeemed after the death of their father, to prevent their going astray. All the more so then here, where there is a danger of their being killed.
IV. Render Your Sabbath Profane
10. Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 112a
Our Rabbis taught: Seven things did R. Akiba charge his son R. Joshua: My son, do not sit and study at the highest point of the town; do not dwell in a town whose leaders are scholars; do not enter your own house suddenly, and a the more your neighbour’s house; and do not withhold shoes from your feet. Arise early and eat, in summer on account of the sun [i.e., heat] and in winter on account of the cold; treat your Sabbath like a weekday rather than be dependent on man , and strive to be on good terms with the man upon whom the hour smiles.
11. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:18
לְעוֹלָם יִדְחֹק אָדָם עַצְמוֹ וְיִתְגַּלְגֵּל בְּצַעַר וְאַל יִצְטָרֵךְ לַבְּרִיּוֹת וְאַל יַשְׁלִיךְ עַצְמוֹ עַל הַצִּבּוּר. וְכֵן צִוּוּ חֲכָמִים וְאָמְרוּ עֲשֵׂה שַׁבַּתְּךָ חֹל וְאַל תִּצְטָרֵךְ לַבְּרִיּוֹת. וַאֲפִלּוּ הָיָה חָכָם וּמְכֻבָּד וְהֶעֱנִי יַעֲסֹק בְּאֻמְּנוּת וַאֲפִלּוּ בְּאֻמְּנוּת מְנֻוֶּלֶת וְלֹא יִצְטָרֵךְ לַבְּרִיּוֹת. מוּטָב לִפְשֹׁט עוֹר בְּהֵמוֹת נְבֵלוֹת וְלֹא יֹאמַר לָעָם חָכָם גָּדוֹל אֲנִי כֹּהֵן אֲנִי פַּרְנְסוּנִי. וּבְכָךְ צִוּוּ חֲכָמִים. גְּדוֹלֵי הַחֲכָמִים הָיוּ מֵהֶם חוֹטְבֵי עֵצִים וְנוֹשְׂאֵי הַקּוֹרוֹת וְשׁוֹאֲבֵי מַיִם לַגִּנּוֹת וְעוֹשֵׂי הַבַּרְזֶל וְהַפֶּחָמִים וְלֹא שָׁאֲלוּ מִן הַצִּבּוּר וְלֹא קִבְּלוּ מֵהֶם כְּשֶׁנָּתְנוּ לָהֶם:
A person should always construct himself and bear hardship rather than appeal to people at large and make himself a burden on the community. Our Sages commanded, saying: “Make your Sabbaths as weekdays, and do not appeal to people at large.” Even a distinguished sage who becomes poor should involve himself in a profession – even a degrading one – rather than appeal to people at large. It is preferable for a person to skin the hide of animal carcasses, rather than tell people: “I am a great sage…” or “I am a priest, grant me sustenance.” Our Sages commanded conducting oneself in such a manner.
There were great sages who were woodchoppers, porters of beams, water-carriers for gardens, and iron-smelters and makers of charcoal, but they did not ask anything from the community, nor did they accept gifts that were given to them.
12. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:7
שְׁמוֹנֶה מַעֲלוֹת יֵשׁ בַּצְּדָקָה זוֹ לְמַעְלָה מִזּוֹ. מַעֲלָה גְּדוֹלָה שֶׁאֵין לְמַעְלָה מִמֶּנָּה זֶה הַמַּחֲזִיק בְּיַד יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁמָּךְ וְנוֹתֵן לוֹ מַתָּנָה אוֹ הַלְוָאָה אוֹ עוֹשֶׂה עִמּוֹ שֻׁתָּפוּת אוֹ מַמְצִיא לוֹ מְלָאכָה כְּדֵי לְחַזֵּק אֶת יָדוֹ עַד שֶׁלֹּא יִצְטָרֵךְ לַבְּרִיּוֹת לִשְׁאל. וְעַל זֶה נֶאֱמַר (ויקרא כה לה) “וְהֶחֱזַקְתָּ בּוֹ גֵּר וְתוֹשָׁב וָחַי עִמָּךְ” כְּלוֹמַר הַחֲזֵק בּוֹ עַד שֶׁלֹּא יִפּל וְיִצְטָרֵךְ:
There are eight levels in charity, each level surpassing the other. The highest level beyond which there is none is a person who supports a Jew who has fallen into poverty [by] giving him a present or a loan, entering into partnership with him, or finding him work so that his hand will be fortified so that he will not have to ask others [for alms]. Concerning this [Leviticus 25:35] states: “You shall support him, the stranger, the resident, and he shall live among you.” Implied is that you should support him before he falls and becomes needy.
V. “Your Brother Shall Live With You”
13. Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metsia 62a
If two are travelling on a journey [far from civilisation], and one has a pitcher of water, if both drink, they will [both] die, but if one only drinks, he can reach civilisation, — The Son of Patura taught: It is better that both should drink and die, rather than that one should behold his companion’s death. Until R. Akiba came and taught: ‘that thy brother may live with thee:’ thy life takes precedence over his life.
14. Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metsia 71a
Joseph learnt: If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee: [this teaches, if the choice lies between] my people and a heathen, ‘my people’ has preference; the poor or the rich — the ‘poor’ takes precedence; thy poor [sc. thy relatives] and the [general] poor of thy town — thy poor come first; the poor of thy city and the poor of another town — the poor of thine own town have prior rights.