www.LubavitchArchives.com - Chabad history on the web
Is Jewish ethics enough?
Part three of a series of an audience with the Rebbe, of Blessed Memory in the year 1963
Student: Do you believe that the Jews are the Chosen People?
Rebbe: Yes. Not because of our endeavors, but we are given additional obligations; and additional obligations require additional powers in order to fulfill them. That is, "you're expected to follow these instructions, and if not, you are wasting your possibilities and distorting everything for all around you. In a system that is very settled and everything is calculated, every part must be used to the full capacity for which it was meant.
If an individual - and certainly a society - has certain possibilities, it is not only their own private business, but it concerns the entire society around; and in a larger outlook, it concerns the entire universe.
Modern science teaches that all parts of the universe influence each other. And if one has additional powers, they must be used in the right direction, not only for one's own benefit, but also for all the people around.
Student: What has kept the Jews together, and has caused the Jews to last all these years?
Rebbe: According to the approach of science to all historic events, we must study history and find out the common points and denominators that have not changed. If for three thousand years we withstood all the persecution and all the pogroms and all pressures, then there must be something special during all these three thousand years. For if there were a stop for a certain period, then the Jewish people could not possibly have overcome the persecution and pogroms during the period when the common point was not present.
If we study Jewish history, we see that all things change, the language, the territory, the government, the clothing, the culture and the outside world. Here we speak English; in Russia the Jews speak Russian; in the land of Israel, Hebrew. The same differences existed one thousand years ago also, and the only unchanged thing in all these years is the commandments, the precepts we perform in daily life.
The Tefillin have not changed all these three thousand years. The same goes for Shabbos and the Dietary Laws. We have the same Torah as one thousand and two thousand and two thousand five hundred years ago.
At all times certain groups and individuals deviated from the course. Some of these groups were mighty, but no trace was left of them five or six generations after their activity. Forty days after the giving of the Torah a mighty group made the Golden Calf. During the time of the Temple there were idol worshipers, as during the Second Temple. In Spain, at the time of the Inquisition, there was a mighty influential circle. Strictly from a point of historical research, we must accept the facts even if we don't understand them: the common point has been the practical Mitzvos.
Student: Would you explain the Chabad Movement?
Rebbe: It would be better if you would study this from printed literature. It is difficult to explain in a nutshell, and it is not fair to all the members of the group, who might have studied some (and don't want to hear it now.) You can get literature in English in the office, which you can study at your leisure, and will be able to study it more deeply than through conversation and my English explanation.
Student: How can we use our knowledge of the Torah in everyday life?
Rebbe: Study the Torah, Prophets, Scriptures, their commentaries, and afterwards it is not difficult; when you are not prejudiced, if you are ready to make small sacrifices. You cannot expect to achieve everything right now but every day there must be self-sacrifice. You must accept... The same condition applies to all who have an ideal in life - they cannot have all the same pleasures as those without a certain goal.
Student: How can a Jewish teenager behave within the Jewish religion, to be strong enough to follow the kind of social behavior you mentioned?
Rebbe: Follow the instructions of the code of Jewish law. This is the simple way. My reasoning before is not only applicable to the Jewish community, but is valid for a gentile also. He expects real happiness of marriage, something he evaluates as pure and untouched. If there was too much before marriage, it is not the same thing. But on top of all that, are the restrictions of the code of Jewish law. If something is special about a Jewish teenager, in addition to what was said before, it is that everyone looks upon the Jews who received the Torah many thousands of years before society was established, expecting and believing — rightly — that the Jew should be a role model. He is expected to be more exact about what is necessary than the gentiles around him.
Representative: We discussed this point in class, why can one not better himself without keeping Kosher and the Jewish holidays, through good ethical practices?
Rebbe: To illustrate my point: It is the same as a human body, which has many limbs and members. You can do something to better every part, and you can restrict medical care to one part. You can observe only the rules applying to health of the hands, but not of the feet, or only the rules for health of the respiratory organs and not the digestive organs, there may be good results to this part, but not to all parts. And in the long run, since all the limbs are connected, the condition of one influences all the others.
If it is good, it makes them good; and if it is worse, it influences the others in the wrong direction. If you are observing a certain part of the 613 Mitzvos you are doing a good job, however, this does not exempt you from observing the others. Even more so, not observing one disturbs also that category which is observed.
Representative: Do you say that if one does not keep Shabbos, he can't keep the laws of ethics?
Rebbe: I cannot deny the fact that many people keep the ethics and not Shabbos, and many observe Shabbos but not the ethics. Each has its own merits, and cannot be substituted, and all are connected. Each brings another, “a good deed brings another good deed”, and by not observing – “a bad deed causes another bad deed”
Many groups study the “Ethics of our Fathers”, which has a curious beginning. It is one of the tractates of the section of damages, and in that section it is one of the last; yet the beginning of “Ethics of our Fathers” tells us that Moses received the Torah on Mount Sinai and gave it to Joshua, and so it was passed on to our times. This ‘Mishnah’ surely belongs at the beginning of the entire Torah Oral Torah - at the beginning of the tractate of ‘Blessings’, to tell us that all the rulings of the oral Torah were given on Mount Sinai.
Nevertheless, we find it in “Ethics of our Fathers”, with the ethical rules. For it is not necessary for putting on phylacteries (which can be done without believing)... There is no condition that one must know what is the reason for fulfilling the commandment of phylacteries. But if one is ready to keep the moral laws all his life, they can't be based only on human reasoning and consulting friends. For then, one can deviate and stretch until you distort a mitzvah. From an ethical rule you make a sin, and from a sin, an ethical rule. And therefore we find this introduction, which was expressly meant to introduce the tractate which contains ethical rules.
To our sorrow, in our era and generation we saw all the distortion, in Germany. I studied in Germany for many years, before Hitler, and people in influential circles always quoted from Kant, Goethe and the ethical philosophers. They made no move without a footnote - with the book and page number. Then Hitler came to power with a new theory and philosophy, and an overwhelming majority of people, in my opinion 99 percent, were on his side — not after rejecting Goethe, Kant, but continuing to accept them, and they joined Hitler in all his actions, even the massacre of people.
This is an illustration of an ethical system based on philosophical theories
and human reasoning, without a solid basis which will not change.
If you have any comments
or additions please E-mail us
© All rights reserved to