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Struggling with Choices: The Interconnectedness of Good and Evil



Competing interests and making hard choices are inherent aspects of ethical dilemmas that challenge us to navigate the complexities of life. Choices between clearly "right" and wrong" are easy – or should be. One of my favorite Monty Python skits is when the prison guard offers the prisoners two choices: "cake or death" – until they run out of cake. However, the tension between two seemingly right decisions can create moral ambiguity and force us to confront the limitations of human understanding in discerning the ultimate truth.

 

The Complexity of Moral Dilemmas

 

For example, killing people is "wrong." Check out the news on any given day, and you will be greeted with horrific stories of people making bad choices. And yet, when killing bumps up against the scenario of self-defense, for example, killing is not just permissible; it is the "right" thing to do. Lying is wrong. But when Nazis demand to know if you are hiding Jews in the cellar, you get a pass for sending them on their way.

 

When there is a struggle between a "right" and a "right," the prevailing principle will vary depending on politics, worldviews, and mindset. There is a current clash between the rights of criminals versus victims and correct terminology. Treating all individuals respectfully and upholding their inherent worth, regardless of their background or circumstances, is undeniably important. However, there are situations where precise language is necessary for clarity and justice.

 

This clash epitomizes the struggle between compassion and truth, prompting us to grapple with the competing virtues of kindness and accountability. This delicate balance requires a nuanced understanding of competing interests and a willingness to confront the inherent tensions between them.

 

But whose worldview should prevail? Whose outrage should win the day? Is it just a free-for-all, with everyone clinging to their views as inarguably correct?

 

The Spiritual Paradox

 

I was mulling this over when I was in shul last week, and we were reading yet another Torah portion about the building of the Mishkan (portable Tabernacle in the desert), which was to be the sacred dwelling place for God. Despite its lofty purpose and significance, it was prohibited to work on building the Mishkan on the Sabbath, a day dedicated to rest and worship. This paradoxical injunction underscores the prioritization of observing the Sabbath over engaging in even the holiest of tasks, emphasizing the nuanced interplay between sacred duties and moral imperatives.

 

The divine wisdom inherent in these teachings challenges us to recognize the inherent limitations of human understanding in discerning right from wrong. Just as the observance of the Sabbath takes precedence over the construction of the Mishkan, there are moments when the clarity of moral guidance transcends our rational comprehension, calling for a deeper reliance on divine wisdom and guidance.

 

Does Purim Blur the Line Between Good and Evil?

 

The concept of Purim adds another layer of complexity to this discussion. The tradition of drinking to the point of not distinguishing between Mordechai and Haman challenges our conventional notions of moral clarity.

 

The gematria (the value of the Hebrew letters) of "cursed be Haman" and "blessed be Mordechai" is the same! However, it is not that Haman and Mordechai are the same, but that the downfall of evil and the ascent of righteousness are one and the same.

 

While it may seem like a blurring of distinctions, it actually reinforces the fundamental importance of discerning between good and evil in our everyday lives. We must know the difference so that when faced with a hard decision of competing interests and moral dilemmas, we elevate the right thing at the right time.

 

The Interconnected Struggle

 

Haman and Mordechai are diametrically opposed. But when you elevate one, you defeat the other, and vice versa, and that is how they are inextricably linked. As distasteful as it may be to some, we must defeat Hamas utterly to ascend to righteousness.

 

Ethical decision-making can be an intricate web of complexity as we juggle compassion and truth, sacred duties and moral imperatives, divine wisdom, and human understanding. But the guiding question should be this: Which decision tilts this world towards the good—or away from evil?

 

Internalize and Actualize:

 

·      Reflect on a time when you faced a situation where the "right" decision was not clear-cut. How did you navigate the moral ambiguity, and what factors influenced your choice?

 

·      How do you balance the virtues of kindness and accountability in your own ethical decision-making? Have there been instances where these values have clashed, and how did you resolve the tension?

 

·      In what ways do you see the interplay between divine wisdom and human understanding in ethical dilemmas? Have you ever relied on a deeper sense of guidance or intuition when faced with a difficult moral choice?

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