Embodying Torah at the Ethical Crossroads

For Judaism to be a fully embodied religious behavior, we need to be aware moment by moment of the actions we are taking and the decisions we are making, and how Jewish wisdom might inform us.  Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, in “The Halakhic Man,” [sic] poetically explains how everything we see, hear, and touch, all of our input, as it were, should pass through the filter of halakha.  For example — the sight of a leafy pear tree might engender thoughts of the appropriate berakha for fruit, the suitability of his branches to use for s’khakh to cover a sukkah, and the impermissibility of building the sukkah under the tree.

As I remember his book, Rabbi Soloveitchik was primarily thinking about traditional Jewish practices such as Shabbat, kashrut, celebration of holidays, prayer, etc.  However, his philosophy also applies to Jewish ethical behavior.  In the course of an average day, how many moments do we experience when we are faced with some kind of ethical decision?  I kept track of a number of those moments over the course of a weekend – questions that did prompt – or should have prompted – thought about the Torah’s response to my situation.

  • • Following services at Ahavas Israel, I was asked to help make another minyan – I declined.  Are we obligated by Jewish ethics to be the 10th person in a minyan?  Does it matter if the minyan is populated by people who would not reciprocate?  Might we ever ethically decline to help another Jew in need of a minyan?
  • • May one publish a possibly embarrassing incident online, if we change the name of the subject of the story?
  • • At what point does a parent helping a child with homework cross the line from teaching the child to doing the child’s work?
  • • Does using profane language violate Jewish ethics?

I’d like to devote occasional posts to Jewish ethics using real world dilemmas.  Would you share with me moments when you were at a crossroads and weren’t sure what to do?  Moments when you might not have turned to Jewish sources for an answer, but made a decision and after reflection you are now curious whether Jewish wisdom might have suggested a different answer?  You may post your moments on the blog in response to this post or you may email them to me at Rabbi@AhavasIsraelGR.org.  If you want them to remain private please indicate this, and I will change enough details so that you cannot be identified.  If I am not sure whether I have sufficiently disguised your identity or if you want to see what I’ve written before I publish it, I will email my response to you before publishing anything.

Remember — The purpose of this blog and the mission of the synagogue is to explore what it means to make our lives embody Torah.  How does our eating, our Shabbat practice, our prayer experience, embody Torah?  How do we internalize and embody our Torah study?  How do we embody Torah in our ethical decision making?  Please join me in this exploration — I welcome your comments and suggestions.

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