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HolyGround >> The history of Kindness

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5/25/10 11:27 AM
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Edited: 05/25/10 11:36 AM
Member Since: 7/24/08
Posts: 1352

In an intricate teaching by Joshua Ben Levi, a Rabbi of the Talmud, it's asserted that Moses had an agrument with the angeles atop Mt. Sinai regarding humanity receiving the Torah. 


Rabbi Joshua ben Levi taught that when Moses ascended on high (as Exodus 19:20 reports), the ministering angels asked God what business one born of woman had among them. God told them that Moses had come to receive the Torah. The angels questioned why God was giving to flesh and blood the secret treasure that God had hidden for 974 generations before God created the world. The angels asked, in the words of Psalm 8:8, “What is man, that You are mindful of him, and the son of man, that You think of him?” God told Moses to answer the angels. Moses asked God what was written in the Torah. In Exodus 20:2, God said, “I am the Lord your God, Who brought you out of the Land of Egypt.” So Moses asked the angels whether the angels had gone down to Egypt or were enslaved to Pharaoh. As the angels had not, Moses asked them why then God should give them the Torah. Again, Exodus 20:3 says, “You shall have no other gods,” so Moses asked the angels whether they lived among peoples that engage in idol worship. Again, Exodus 20:7 (20:8 in the NJPS) says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” so Moses asked the angels whether they performed work from which they needed to rest. Again, Exodus 20:6 (20:7 in the NJPS) says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,” so Moses asked the angels whether there were any business dealings among them in which they might swear oaths. Again, Exodus 20:11 (20:12 in the NJPS) says, “Honor your father and your mother,” so Moses asked the angels whether they had fathers and mothers. Again, Exodus 20:12 (20:13 in the NJPS) says, “You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal,” so Moses asked the angels whether there was jealousy among them and whether the Evil Tempter was among them. Immediately, the angels conceded that God’s plan was correct, and each angel felt moved to love Moses and give him gifts. Even the Angel of Death confided his secret to Moses, and that is how Moses knew what to do when, as Numbers 17:11–13 reports, Moses told Aaron what to do to make atonement for the people, to stand between the dead and the living, and to check the plague. (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 88b–89a.)

Interestingly enough there is a midrash on this teaching. 

At that moment the ministering angels sought to harm Moshe. God shaped Moshe’s face to appear like that of Avraham, and God said to the angels, “Are you not embarrassed before him? Is this not the one to whom you descended and in whose home you ate?” God then turned to Moshe and said, “The Torah was given to you only in the merit of Avraham.

Even more interesting was another connection further back.  Adam and Eve were charged with working in their garden and protecting it, and they would have been the sole beneficiaries of their work; every plant they grew, nearly every fruit they cultivated, was theirs to eat. (Gen 2:15) Only one case they were told to work without expectation of reward: The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil would receive their care, but provide no benefit. All work for that tree would be purely kindness without any anticipation of reciprocation. This was their own opportunity to bring into reality a world founded on kindness. Instead, though, the first human beings took that fruit for themselves.

The sin of the tree of knowledge was a flaw in Kindness, in acting for the other with no intent to get benefit from it. I would suggest that this notion of was the very action the tree was supposed to impart.

And it’s not until we get to Avraham, who is not only kind but commits to transmitting it down the generations that Hashem finds a nation worthy of the Torah. This is the reason why humanity required 26 generations between the giving the land of Israel and the Torah.

So who is kind?  The Saint:
(From Rabbi Jonathan Sachs)
Is the aim of the moral life to achieve personal perfection? Or is it to create gracious relationships and a decent, just, compassionate society? The intuitive answer of most people would be to say: both. That is what makes Maimonides so acute a thinker on this subject. He realises that you can’t have both – that they are in fact different enterprises.

A saint may give all his money away to the poor. But what about the members of the saint’s own family? A saint may refuse to fight in battle. But what about the saint’s own country? A saint may forgive all crimes committed against him. But what about the rule of law, and justice? Saints are supremely virtuous people, considered as individuals. Yet you cannot build a society out of saints alone. Indeed, saints are not really interested in society. They have chosen a different, lonely, self-segregating path. I know no one who makes this point as clearly as Maimonides – not Plato, not Aristotle, not Descartes, not Kant.

The Sage:
The sage is a different kind of person altogether. He follows the “golden mean”, the “middle way”, the way of moderation and balance. He or she avoids the extremes of cowardice on the one hand, recklessness on the other, and thus acquires the virtue of courage. He or she avoids miserliness on the one hand, giving away all one has on the other, and thus becomes generous. The sage knows the twin dangers of too much and too little – excess and deficiency. He or she weighs the conflicting pressures and avoids the extremes.



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