Parashat Naso

Situational Ethics And God

The importance of preserving the relationship between a husband and wife provides an example of the Torah's use of relative morality.

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Because, according to Midrash Ba-Midbar Rabbah, "in the case of the Holy Name, inscribed in sanctity, Scripture orders that it is to be blotted out in water to bring about peace between a man and his wife."   What God's example teaches is that preserving a relationship is often more important than dignity or honor.  God is willing to forego the normally mandated honor in the service of harmony between people.

God demonstrates the same situational ethics that Dr. Gilligan attributes to women.  Rather than referring to some unchanging rule (ie. "never desecrate God's name"), God's moral imperative is to preserve the relationship between husband and wife.  Toward that end, God mandates what is normally prohibited.  In the service of that higher moral goal, the Torah requires treating God's name with contempt.

The God of Israel mandates ethics that are not immutable and unchanging.  Instead, God, as portrayed in the Torah and in later Jewish traditions, is passionately involved in relationships--with the Jewish people and with all humanity.  Morality, at its best, is in the service of compassionate and caring human living.  Morality, at its core, is about relating.

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Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson?is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.