Jewish and Christian Ethics/Chapter VIII

Jewish and Christian Ethics by Elijah Benamozegh, translator not mentioned

Chapter VIII

Personal Enemies

Mosaic Precepts and Pharisaical Interpretations.—Forgiveness of Injuries.—Moses, the Prophets, and the Pharisees.—Reward of Pardon.—The Pardon of God.—Duties of the Injurer; Those of the Injured.—Examples of the Pharisees.—What enhances their Morality.

The restrictions to universal charity can refer to but three classes, viz: to the political, the personal, and the religious enemy. Since it is denied that Judaism has universal charity, and since special election, if not Jewish egotism, is spoken of, we have asked ourselves at which of these three classes has Jewish charity perchance stopped. As to the last, we have seen that it is an exotic, unknown to Judaism; while of Christianity, on the contrary, it is the natural product.

Aside from the political enemy, we have seen the stranger, the non-Israelite, our brother, through Adam, ranked with the Israelite himself, and loved in a degree unknown to ancient or modern times. There remains, then, only the personal enemy, and to this we direct our attention. Is it true that Judaism does not enjoin charity towards our personal enemies, or checks it on account of some miserable interest, some blind antipathy or tyrannical passion? Is it true, in short, that forgiveness of injury, charity, and love towards our enemies are the special traits of Christianity, and constitute a new doctrine introduced by Jesus? This is the apparent inference from his words: (Mat. v. 43), "You have heard that it was said in old times: Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy." We have, it will be remembered, proved by the best arguments that it is the Law of Moses itself which is here attacked, and that it is the personal enemy alone to which the last words refer; moreover, that no such precept as the last is to be found either in the Law or the Rabbinical writings, but precepts far different in spirit from any such "hate." We have said enough as to the stranger, and now let us see about the personal enemy.

Shall we say that Jesus forgot the most formal prescriptions of the Mosaic law? There are two passages where charity to one's enemy is enjoined, and in both, the Mosaic precept, sufficiently noble in itself, is ten times more exalted and refined through the interpretation of the Pharisees. Singular destiny of their writings—to rebut, at each step, the extraordinary imputations of the Gospel! I say extraordinary, unless they are made against those false Pharisees, rebuked by the Talmud itself, as we have said. "Hate not thy brother inwardly, but censure him for his error, and thou shalt be blameless," says Moses. Would it be less strict in practice? "Take not vengeance, and bear no ill will towards thy fellow-citizens, but love thy neighbor (who is created) like thyself: I am the Everlasting." (Lev. xix. 17, 18). That is, no vengeance on any one, as the last words of the precept show. If the Mosaic language appear sometimes confined to the Jewish circle, it is, I think, because no regular connections existed with those outside it. But hear the Pharisees on this law of pardon. "What is vengeance?" ask they: Lend me thy hook. No, I shall not lend it thee, as thou didst refuse me thine the other day: here is revenge.—Lend me thy hook. Yes; though thou didst refuse me thine the other day; here is ill will." What delicate sentiments, and not found in the Mosaic text! Moses says elsewhere, "Shouldst thou see thine enemy's ox or ass strayed, return it him." ... "Shouldst thou see," say the Pharisees, "thine enemy's ass bending under a burden and withhold thine aid? No; help to relieve his animal." What enemy is here meant? We have already seen; although the Talmud excludes the political enemy, the Mekhilta, a much older, more venerable text, includes not only the political enemy, but the renegade idolatrous Jew, the personal enemy. But how do the Pharisees understand this precept as to charity? A friend, they say, bends under his burden, and at the same time an enemy asks your help to load. What strong reasons for preferring to assist the friend! And the Law tells us not what we should do; but the Pharisees do, saying expressly that the enemy must first get our aid. Are we not right in saying that the Pharisees of history are not those of the Gospel? But Moses does not confine the keeping of his precepts to individuals—he cites, as an example, a whole nation generously pardoning one that had enslaved it for centuries; as in the case of the Egyptians and Jews. And what does Moses enjoin on the latter, just escaped from the yoke of Egypt? Naught but pardon and love to their most cruel foes. Forgetting, with admirable charity, the sanguinary laws that from time to time fell upon his people, Moses sees in their sojourn in Egypt only that an asylum was given to Israel—air, water, and burial ground;—and yet the waters were reddened with their blood, the air still rang with their cries, the earth was bedewed with their tears. The words of Moses: Thou shall not hate the Egyptian, for thou hast been a stranger in his land, would be the bitterest irony, were they not the most refined charity. Is this to hate one's enemies? So the prophets did but follow the Mosaic spirit in urging the forgiveness of injury. Did not Solomon say, (Pro. xxiv. 17, 18): "If thou seest thine enemy fall or err, rejoice not, lest the Eternal see it, condemn thee, and bring all the evil on thy head." "The reasonable mania noble, he glories in pardoning injury." (Prov. xix. 11.) And elsewhere (Ib. xvii. 5) "He who rejoiceth at another's misfortune shall himself receive no pardon." "Do not say, 'I shall pay evil with evil;' trust in God and he will assist thee: nor, 'As he has done to me, so shall I to him; I shall pay him according to his deeds.'" (Prov. xx. 22; xxiv. 29) Did not his father David say (Ps. vii. 5, 6), "O God, have I paid evil with evil? ... Let mine enemy persecute, strike, trample me under foot, and sink my glory for ever!" Was Paul the first to say what we read in the Epistle to the Romans (xii. 20): "If thine enemy hunger, give him to eat, be thirsty, give him to drink, for by so doing thou shalt heap burning coals on his head." No; these are the exact words of Solomon (Prov. xxv. 22) from whom Paul took them. And in Job what language! " I call God to witness that I never rejoiced at mine enemy's hurt." (xxxi. 29) And is not the voice of the Pharisees heard too in this touching concert? Samuel the Little, the colleague of the Gamaliel who was Paul's teacher, adopted as a motto the abovecited words of Solomon, "If thou see thine enemy fall, &c."; repeating them with such a preference that, though Solomon's, they are found in the Mischna under his name. We have seen Ben Azai front the whole law with these words from Genesis, "God created man in his own image," and why he took them as his principle of action in preference to all others. "Give not evil for evil," says the Zohar, "but trust thou in God." If Solomon (Prov. xvii. 13) says, "Evil will always be with the ungrateful man, with him who pays good with evil," the Pharisees push this severity much farther, saying: Yes, and upon him too who gives evil for evil let the same curse fall. Does not the Law say, If thou see thine enemy's ox strayed, return it to him?" Moses complains to God, that the Israelites threaten to stone him—"Go," says God, "before all the people"; meaning, as says the Midrasch Rabbi, Imitate me; does not God pay evil with good? Well, thou too shouldst give Israel good for evil.

We have seen Moses command his people, whose wounds, from their Egyptian servitude, were still bleeding, to love their enemies, and what is more, their political enemies. Here is an example of the constant reaction of Jewish ethics upon the civil polity, ruling this polity and making it noble and clement. But in whom is the spirit of nationality more quick and keen than in the Pharisees,—as witness the austere dispositions and extreme precautions with which they are reproached? Still, have they never raised themselves to those serene heights, where even the mast generous passions are hushed, and where the peace that pervades you leaves nothing possible but love? Yes, the Pharisees have had such moments,—when their weeping country herself could extract from them only a cry of pardon. The Bible says that, on their return from battle, flushed with victory, the Israelite soldiers sang: Praise the Lord, for his love is everlasting. A word is, however, wanting to this formula, viz: for it is good (ki tob). Is it chance or design? No one knows. The Pharisees have always regarded it as a sign of mourning, avoid in the national joy; for God, they say, rejoices not at the fall of the wicked. A still more delicate thought—On the morning of the day the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea, the angels, they say, presented themselves before the throne of God to sing as usual his praise. "Silence," says the Eternal, "my creatures are about to perish in the waters and ye would sing!" The Israelites, too, even to this day, imitate the angels, and on the seventh day of Passover, by the express order of their masters the Pharisees, do not complete the praise-formula (Hallel), their joy is not unalloyed, there is a void—it is sorrow for the Egyptians. Is it at least permitted to invoke divine vengeance upon the head of our persecutors? And did Paul teach something new when he said: Bless those who persecute you and do not curse them? The Pharisees say as much, and perhaps more; for not only will they not curse their enemy, but they will not even complain of him at the divine bar. "Woe to the accuser, still more than to the accused!" They add, "If thou accuse thy brother, thine own case shall be examined before his; thy punishment shall precede that for which thou askest against him." "What ought we do?" says Paul (Rom. xii. 19). "Not to take vengeance, but leave it to God." This is a little different from the command given in verse 14, to bless one's enemies; still it suffices for poor human nature, and is moreover what the doctors require. "What shall I do to these men who persecute me and whom I could hand over to the authorities?" asks one of his colleague. "Be resigned," says the other, "and trust in God; he will render them powerless." Or again: "Let the dawn and the evening twilight always find thee in the Beth Hamidrasch, and they will cease of themselves." Are we allowed at least to reply to those who insult us? Those who answer not insult by insult, who bear injury without murmur, who act from love and rejoice not at misfortune, for them has it been written: 'The friends of God shall be as the sun in all his strength.'

What is the reward of this pardon of our enemies? It is pardon for ourselves. He who forgives not, shall not get forgiveness himself. We read in Matthew (vi. 14): "If you pardon men their offenses, your heavenly Father will pardon yours, but if you," &c. Is not this the thousand-times repeated doctrine of the Pharisees? If Moses says that God has tolerance for sin, and pardons rebellion, the Pharisees interpret this after their fashion: "Whose sins does God pardon? His, who himself pardons injury." "Whoever is quick, they say, to forgive, his sins too shall be forgiven."

But the practice of the Pharisees is no less eloquent. Prayers were offered against a great drought that was producing famine. R. Eliezar, R. Akiba's master, fasts and prays to no purpose; rain is far off. R. Akiba fasts likewise and prays: Our Father, our King, we have no other King but thee! Pity us, O Father, for thine own love's sake! And clouds soon covered the sky and an abundant rain fell. "Is it that the one of these doctors is greater or holier than the other?" asks the Talmud. No, it is simply that he forgives more easily. This same Akiba one day asks R. Nehounia the Elder: "By what merit hast thou reached this great age?" "My son," said the holy old man, "I have never taken presents and never refused forgiveness." And to a similar question another doctor replied: "I have never lain down with hatred to my brother in my breast." "God is my witness," said another, "that my head has never rested on the pillow, before I pardoned all who injured me;" and through these examples Israel repeats every evening before lying down: "Master of the world, I pardon every sin and every wrong done to my person, to my property, to my honor, or to all that I have; let no one be punished on my account." This is not all, adds another authority: "No person has ever done me evil, that I have not pardoned him, and even from that day done what I could to serve him" (Zohar).

The Gospel prescribes also the offender's duty. "If thou bring thine offering to the altar, and then remember that thy brother hath aught against thee, be thou first reconciled to thy brother" (Mat. v. 23). Is not this the echo of the ancient Baraita? "Though the offender should sacrifice all the sheep of Arabia, he shall not be free before asking the pardon of the offended." Charity is more than all sacrifices. "I love mercy and not sacrifice," said the prophet. When there is charity, say in their turn the Pharisees, even idolatry is tolerated. The holy name of God is often blotted out by the bitter waters, that the married may be reconciled (Numb. v. 25), say they elsewhere. But in vain shall we search in the Pharisaical writings for what immediately follows the Gospel precept,—viz., the motive of the reconciliation: Agree, says Jesus, quickly with thine adversary, while thou art in the way with him, lest he deliver thee to the judge and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence till thou hast paid the last farthing (Mat. v. 25). We would, for the honor of the Jewish name, interpret this passage in a sense altogether spiritual, but the context forbids it, and the parallel passage in Luke is perhaps still more explicit (Luke xii. 58).

Both sides have given our duties on this score. The Gospels, as well as the Talmud, have laid down the methods to be followed in its performance. If thy brother has erred against thee, go and tell him his fault privately; if he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother; but if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established; and if he neglect to hear them, tell it to the Church; but if he neglect to hear the Church let him be unto thee as a heathen and a publican" (Mat. xviii. 15 and seq.)

Let us now hear the Pharisees. "Sins against our neighbor are not pardoned on the Day of Atonement before our having sought a reconciliation with him. If he refuses forgiveness, return a second and a third time taking with us three witnesses; if he still remain obstinate, declare to ten persons (the Church) that apologies have been made him and that he refuses to accept them." And furthermore they say: "Let not the injured refuse his forgiveness; for it has been said of the Gabaonites when they demanded the lives of Saul's children: They were not of the family of Israel, whose special character is modesty, mercy, and charity; and for the Pagan only is it written: They keep their wrath forever (Amos i. 11). Is it for actual injury only that apologies should be made?—Are they not required as well for ungracious words and proposals? Whoever, says the Talmud, afflicts his neighbor, even by mere words, is obliged to ask his pardon. And if the offended man has died, then take ten persons with thee, stand before his tomb, and say: 'I have sinned against the God of Israel and against thee' (the dead).

Did the Pharisees, so prone to forgiveness, always wait, as was their privilege, till apologies were made them? We have already seen that their custom was to close each day by a general and spontaneous forgiveness. Did they never push their humility to the degree of provoking by all means a reconciliation? Their history furnishes us with more than one example of this noble virtue. It tells us that Rabbi Zera did not cease to put himself in the way of an offender waiting impatiently for the least indication of a wish on his part for reconciliation. But their heroism went further still. Rab (Abba Arikha), the immediate disciple of Juda the Holy, and whose name is one of the most illustrious in Talmudical annals, was affronted by a butcher. Twelve whole months passed and the butcher showed no sign of sorrow. The evening of the day of Atonement at length arrived. What does the Pharisee Doctor do? He simply goes himself to ask pardon of the butcher. He knocks at his door. The butcher, not deigning even to open the door for him, looks out the window "'T is thou, Abba?" he says. "Away with thee, then; I have naught to do with thee." Tradition adds that as he was cutting a cow's head, the knife struck him on the head and he died.

Does all this mean that the Talmud does not show the explosions which suffering, grief, and insult will sometimes cause? We are far from saying so. The Pharisees were not creatures of pure reason, of abstractions made to idealize some virtue; but real living beings, with strong and generous passions and most sensitive to the humiliations and calumnies of which they were constantly the objects. So, nothing wonderful that we have to deplore in the Talmud expressions that ordinary grief could not force from them. And the Gospels—far less excusable however—the Gospels, whose example and worth are a thousand times greater, have they nothing analogous? Does Christian charity never falsify itself? Beside maxims or acts whose merit cannot be too highly appreciated, are truly others that bring these books to a mere human level. In this light must we view the terrible threats Jesus utters against those towns that would not receive his apostles? Must not the tree that bears no fruit "be uprooted and cast into hell-fire?" Are not the Pagans called dogs, to whom must not be given the bread intended for the house of Israel? Does not the habitual meekness of Jesus continually falsify itself whenever he has some reproach to make against his enemies the Pharisees? What become of all those tender reproaches, those mild corrections, that patience and indulgence lavished upon thieves and adulterers, when he has to address those detested Pharisees? For them the most cruel imputations, opprobrious epithets of hypocrites, fools, blind, whited sepulchres, serpents, race of vipers, and in short the most dreadful imprecations. Father, mother, sisters, wife, children—all must be sacrificed to Jesus to be worthy of him. To follow him, the last duties to the remains of a father must be refused. The brother must deliver the brother to death, the father the child, and children rise against their parents. In judgment-day who shall be placed on the right hand of the son of man; who shall inherit the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world? Those who shall have done acts of kindness to the least of his brethren. And does not the remembrance of unjust persecutions make Paul too sometimes forget the duties and language of charity? One Alexander, a smith, caused him, it appears, some trouble. What does the abolisher of the Law, the greatest of the Apostles, say regarding him? "Alexander, the smith, has caused me much trouble; the Lord shall recompense him according to his deeds" (II Tim. iv. 14). Is this indeed from the same man that wrote, "Bless those who persecute you and curse them not"? (Rom. xii. 14).

And yet how far is the Gospel from the Talmud? The Talmudists yield sometimes to passions far different from those excited by private quarrels with third parties, viz, to the love of country, of nation, enslaved and trodden down by barbarian idolaters. Had Christianity these legitimate excuses of patriotism and nationality? The impatience and imprecations of the former are less personal and consequently less odious. Much more—have the Talmud and the Talmudists as much weight in Judaism, as the apostles in Christianity? The Gospel language is divine and infallible; the Talmudical (in what does not regard precept or dogma) is in no respect so. No Jew concedes inspiration to the Pharisees, as no Christian refuses it to the Gospels. Paul is the Moses of Christians. The Pharisees are the Fathers of the Jewish Church. Can the words of the one have the same weight, the same value, as those of the other? No one will say so. Besides, when the Jewish Church formulized its doctrines it was dominant. All its words and teachings are stamped with the most absolute independence; it had not to conquer souls, its temples overflowed with adherents; it had, above all, no need to refine on some anterior ethics, to flatter the poor and the humble, to make a party; it had one already, a very grand and imposing one, the nation. Whatever it speaks comes simply from the source of its doctrine, a natural, spontaneous jet; it has no poses, it speaks and acts naturally, because, far from thinking it needs the assumption of airs of charity and love to excite desertions, it is thwarted from without in its generous impulses; it is tempted rather to stifle the words of love ready to escape it, to display an excessive austerity, in order to ward off attacks. We ask furthermore, has the ethical charity of the one the same value as the charity of the other? Is not one word from the Pharisees worth two from the Gospels? And these words, of which external circumstances give no explanation, and the natural kindness of the utterer as little, traversing as they do many generations,—to what are we to ascribe them? To circumstances? Or to men? Either, doubtless, would have killed all generous expansion, all charitable impulses. The glory must lawfully revert to but one source, and that is Judaism.