Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Seventh One

When I was in first, second, third, fourth (may I help you count, sir?) grades, the rabanim and teachers always reminded us that the fifth commandment is on the right side of the tablets;
According to tradition, the Ten Commandments are divided in two: The first five, on the right tablet, are commandments between man and G-d. The other five are between man and his fellow. But this raises a difficulty in regard with the fifth Commandment: Honoring one’s parents is clearly a man-to-man obligation – why, then, is it on the right side? The answer is, say our Sages, that the honor and respect one owes his father and mother is on an entirely different plan than the honor mutually owed between all people. There is a G-d mandated, sacred honor each man is bound to yield to his parents, independent of the toils, sacrifices, finances and energy they invested in him. This obligation is in place even if one never met his parents – or met them only later in life.

As I grew older, I started to wonder why the Seventh Commandment is on the left, among the man-to-man obligations? If it can count as damage at all, it’s a “הזיק שאינו ניכר” (no material damage) yet capital punishment is in place even if the cuckolded husband didn’t know about his wife’s infidelity. Furthermore, the sinners are liable even if the husband knew and agreed to such behavior! If so, this is clearly not a commandment between man and his fellow, rather a G-d mandated Law.

The simple answer might be that marriage is a sacred pact between humans – that the structure of human society shall forever remain the bond between man and woman, and that this bond should be forever respected. Hence adultery is a crime against all humans – and the offenders are liable regardless of the husband’s ignorance or consent to their destructive behavior – as they sinned against their fellow humans.

The out-of-control promotion of deviant behavior might be an indication of the breakdown of a cohesive society, and humanity’s obligation to live, if not in perfect harmony, at least in a semblance of peace or at least truce. We witness vicious hatred between people of different persuasions – yet there is no substantial difference in their ways of life and daily actions – their hatred stems from their subscribing to different ideologies or beliefs. Or does it? Aren’t those ‘ideologies’ mere excuses for people to vent their hate at each other?

Did we lose focus of our duty in this world? Did we forget that flesh is not the final destination? Isn’t our addiction to the sweetness of the moment, the unprecedented abundance and well-being, the cause of our downfall? Life has never been easier before – and yet… yet spiritually we keep sinking lower and lower. Isn’t a lowly, fanatical, barbaric ‘culture’ here to wake us up? They aren’t impressed with big fancy cars, gold-rimmed toilet seats and comfy air-conditioned parlors (10-ft cathedral ceilings, designer sofas & Persian carpets included) – yet they are willing not only to die, but to live a life of hardship and often suffering for the sake of their beliefs.

Haven’t we committed some sort of adultery? Haven’t we turned our backs on our Sanctuary, our Land, our Father for the sake of a pretty lifestyle?

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