Sunday, December 17, 2006

Do the Ends always justify the Means?
Power, Shakespeare, and the Nevim

posted by Rachael R.


I was writing an essay about Richard III (Mr. Virgilio’s class) and it got me thinking about the philosophy of holding power. I wonder how the Nevim were able to retain power, can we justify every Navi because he/she was supposedly acting on behalf of Hashem? After all, Yonah is famous for having actually run from Hashem. Moshe was considered to be the greatest Navi that ever lived, yet we know that he was a flawed too (he hit the rock etc..). Hoping to achieve Geulah traditionally means that we believe that a theocratic system, perhaps that of the Naviim, will be reinstated in Israel. Maybe we should try to define for ourselves what it means to be both a Navi and a leader.

How is it possible for a Navi to remain connected to God enough to have a nevuah, but connected to man enough to be an effective leader? I know that certain Nevim, such as Yonah, did feel desperate at times, but somehow, they turned the people around and the people did Teshuvah. If the Nevim held power, then I assume there must have been some competition, and if there was some competition, then there must have been some people who were left out. Perhaps, by holding positions of power, the Nevim caused others to feel desperate. If they caused despair in the world, however inadvertently, was this not a little sinful? How did a truly just theocratic system exist? If the Nevim were human and had human flaws, how did they manage their power effectively? Can we reconcile modern methods of leadership with those of the Nevim?

Going back to Richard III, Shakespeare portrays Richard as the ultimate villain. Yes, Shakespeare wrote from a western perspective and he wrote years after the Nevim, but even so some of his root Judeo-Christian values are the same as ours. Richard is considered to be so evil because he first sacrifices just about all of his morality to gain the throne. Likewise, when it comes down to the final battle between him and Richmond, he despairs. He listens to the ghosts of the people he murdered who come to him the night before his battle and tell him “Despair and Die”. Shakespeare considers despair to be the ultimate level of evil. Similarly, for Dante, despair is the lowest level of Hell. According to the Rambam, the ultimate form of despair-suicide is considered to be “death by the hands of heaven”. In other words, one who commits suicide has no share in the world to come (MyJewishLearning.com). Suicide obviously has a pretty severe punishment. Why do you think, from a Jewish perspective, suicide is the ultimate evil? Are attitudes relating to suicide (i.e. despair) inherently evil?

Was Machiavelli right, do the ends ( the Nevim holding power albeit L’shem Shamayim) justify the means (the way the various Nevim held the perhaps inherently evil power) ?

19 Comments:

Anonymous LISA AMY said...

Ok so first to focus on the question: is despair inherently evil?- i would say absolutely not. yes, it may be the step before suicide or something but it is not there yet. There is still time to redeem onesself, and i would actually say that this helps a person redeem themself. Because if a person is going along on a downwads spiral they're probably not going to stop themselves from continuing to spiral unless they have a lot of outside support. They are stuck in that downward motion, and i dont know about you guys, but i remember those downward spiraly slides on the playground and it sure was hard to turn around and climb up if you were in the middle of spiraling down. HOWEVER, once someone finishes sliding, you're on a ledge before you fall off the slide, and you're stopped. you can look up and see what you've done and question what you want. this is the despair point, i belive. and then its much easier to a. climb up the slide or b. you can even get off and walk around to the ladder.
so no despair isnt bad. sorry i took forever to explain that point.
so going on to: is it bad if leaders/prophets use despair to rule over their people.- i would say no becuse even if they give the people despair- the people were probably doing avodah zara- so it would be enable them to do teshuva easier.
just a thought, lisa

December 26, 2006 1:08 PM  
Anonymous dasi said...

Wow!
There were many different thoughts addressed in this blog. I'm not exactly sure if this is what you were getting at, but there are many times when I think about the Jewish theocratic system becoming corrupt. Should the Neviim have a Machiavellian connection to power? Should they do anything to "get to the top", in other words, get to the ears of the people? Well, we learned in class in some sources that the Navi has to be somewhat disconnected form the material and ignorant world. True, immoral power tactics do sometimes get one to the top, but in a Navi's case, the person should be well listened to. If not, the choice is ultimately to listen to the Navi or suffer the consequences. Finally, I disagree with lisa that according to Judaism, despair can kind of be legitimate. When Jonah "went to sleep" in the bottom of the boat, one of the things we learned is that this is his expression of despair. He has had it, he realizes Hashem is going to get him; he will embrace his stormy death. Hashem sends cues however to keep going. We learn from this that despair brings sus to our very lowest (literally) but Hashem will also try and pull us up as often as possible.
-Das

December 26, 2006 4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, I might be completely misunderstanding this post but here goes---
The major question I think Rachel addressed in her blog is what is the relationship between power and the Navi. I don't think all neviim are inherently "powerful" people-look at Amos, Moses, Jeremiah, Ezra, Haggai, Samuel, and practically every prophet, at one point during his or her career. In fact, what certain ones, such as Jeremiah and Moses, are remembered for is their lack of power. I would like to postulate that this is yet another reason why the system of judges was faulty---maybe being a navi inherently prevents you from having the strong personality that is required of a leader. This distingushes our prophets from the villanous Richard, who thrived off of a thirst for power, and sacrificed all of his moral values for the throne. Neviim, I think, are fundamentally unable to stoop to this level, to feed that need. So when Bilaam goes to curse Israel, maybe it is not God, but rather his Godliness (or neshama) that prevents him from uttering these words for personal gain. I may be completely off anyway enjoy the break!!

-Tali

December 26, 2006 6:46 PM  
Anonymous eliana said...

I think my comment is going to tie in a lot to Dasis. It may be the complete opposite thought. Anyeway, here goes.

So I'm first going to deal with whether the navi should have a machieavellan attitude towards power. I would say no. First of all, i'm not sure any navi relaly had any power over israel. Sure, moshe was a navi. But he was a leader first. Hes not known as Moshe the Navi, hes moshe rabeinu. same with avraham and all those other people. if navis were supposed to be coercive and have complete power over bnei yisroel (im so jewish) it would be completely against he idea of a navi. a navi gives his message t the people and it is the people's FREE WILL to listen or not. A machivellian navi would not allow the peopl to be able to choose. free will is key... it makes the act yours and no one elses. if teshuva was forced down your throat it woudln't be teshuva.

to the other question about suicide. i completely disagree anda lot of people have with that opinion. when one decides to commit suicide one is sick. its not really their choice to commit suicide depression has overtaken their mind and they cannot think normally. its not their fault. they get the insanity plea and they should still get olam haba.

December 26, 2006 10:21 PM  
Anonymous Shira Moer said...

so first I want to address the question "if the end justifies the means." So I am not sure if i understood this question correctly but I think that there were some nevim who were both leaders and prophets, but some that were just prophets. The ones that were just prophets did not have this problem. However the ones that were also leaders had to listen to both Hashem and the people. Obviously the Navi should ultimately listen to Hashem since He knows best but sometimes this can be a little decieving as in the story of Yonah. I think the ends do justify the means because the prophets are doing it leshaim shamaim. If they are listening to Hashem they are doing the right thing.
Now the next question "why is suicide the ultimate evil." ok this is a very hard question toanswer and extremely thought provoking. I think that suicide is the ultimate evil in the sense that the person is trying to kill everything God has made and done for them. However at the same time I agree with Eliana and it is not their fault. Suicide is the ultimate evil howver the person comitting the suicide does not always choose to do it. Depression or something has overtaken them and it is not usually their fault. I also do not think people can always understand this because if you yourself are not going throught depression or something than you cannot compare your situation with one who is. Suicide is the ultmiate wrong thing a person can do but this person usually does not have the right mindset when the commit suicide.

December 26, 2006 10:57 PM  
Blogger saragaut said...

i agree partially with eliana and partially with everyone else. The most important thing to remember here is that power=control and part of what a navi does is help the people to see what they should do,not force them into it. why should anyone be forced into repenting or anything else for that matter. Hashem would never, in my opinion pick someone who holds power to be a navi because a navi's job is not to take over and anyone who holds power will think hashem is giving him all the control. In my opinion a navi must be someone humble and someone who understands that Hashem has the final say. A navi must be someone who is able to shed light among the people without bossing them around. Just like chagai had to help the people see that they were doing something wrong but if he forced them they would've made the same mistakes again because they need to learn the lessons by themselves. a Navi is simply there to aid them through hashem's wishes.
As for suicide, at a certain point suicide is no longer your choice. When it comes to despair, that is a long way away from suicide. Although suicide may be a sin , i do not see how despair and things that lead to it, even suicide itself, can be considered the ultimate evil. It all comes from emotions and how can emotion be controlled? so no, i dont think it's evil.
--sry i tend to blab a little
-sara

December 27, 2006 1:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

k so iwanna begin with the whole idea of the navi being a human leader as well as conencted to Gos, we learned in Chumash that the best leaders werea c ouple, a navi/religious leader and a political leader who oftenr listened to the navi in order to make desicions.
secondly i want to appraoch the MAchiavellian piont of view, he said that a ruler msut do anything he can in order to be an absolute ruler, he also said that despite the fact that the ruler must be feared and ruthless, he msut put on a facade of mercy and religiousness that way the people woul d follow him. i tihnk that htis is a cruel way of ruling, and it kind of connects to the nevi'ay sheker [false neviim] the nevi'ah sheker used God/relgiousness to gain power. these nevi'ay sheker were persecuted agianst by jewish law showing that judaism does not agree that the ends jsutify the means.
~tamar schneck

December 27, 2006 5:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok, so first off, nevuah is not an evil power; it was a way God communicates to people inorder to better their actions and therefore in no way, personally, do i see a connection between nevuah, which is divine, to a thrown which can be overtaken simply by the means of strengnth. Nevuah is not something, i think, whcih can be competed for similarly like a race. I don't see any proof of there being people who wanted to "overtake" the thrown of power of nevuah in tanach, and therefore am a bit skeptical with that conclusion or assumption. Addtionally, unlike a royal thrown, the action of designating a navi involves two factors: Hashem and the person. Clearly, unlike with the taking of a thrown, Hashem determines the leader; it's not solely or at all in that leader's descretion. We see this in yonah. clearly, it was complete divine intervention which determined that yonah become the prophet because yonah did not want the job. I dont see why people would fight for the navi job because it wasnt up to them who got the job-it was entirely Hashem's decision. Therefore, throughout tanach, when there is mention of a navi, Hashem is always the one choosing them-they never just declare themselves to be neviim unless they were fake nevvim (nviay sheker). Therefore, aside from what wev'e learnt in class about preparation for nevuah in navi school(supposedly), i see no other means mentioned in tanach with which people tried to obtain the role of a navi. though i understand to some extent your argument, i think that the preparation for nevuah and the actual leading are two different things-one can potentially happen when a person is entirely passive and Hashem makes the decision, and the other is a joint effort with Hashem and the navi in order to ensure that the people follow him/her.
-have a good break,
-Arella

December 28, 2006 10:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, there were alot of Q's in this blog, so this may be long.
First, I've always been taught that Judaism is very much against the Machiavellian view that "the end justifies the means". You can't justify evil actions by thier intentions(what you mean for the end to be). Next, I feel like if there were people competing to be a navi, the ones who were competing were never actually eligable b/c those are the people more susceptible to corruption, which is not what Hashem would want for a navi. The people chosen as the neviim had to be in some way qualified, thereby not corrupt, thereby not competing for the holy position. As for despair, I think there are 2 kinds. One is the despair of "all is over, there is not way back, I have no hope, etc." this I may consider sinful b/c it shows a lack of emunah, which is also saying that you don't think G-d has the power to help you, which is denying G-d's limitlessness. I know some of the others have said that you can always turn back and depression says this not the person, but I have retorts for that. 1) I only consider it despair if the person wont turn back. If they will turn back, it isn't absolute despair. 2)Depression infects your mind, but it does not control it. A person with depression can still seek help, can still hold back, can still hold on. It's not like they become a suicidal robot. I don't know if I would label despair as "inerently evil," but it certainly is a sin of some sort. The other type of despair is that of Yonah, "all is over, I have a certain fate and I must accept it." That way of thinking may not be correct (b/c Yonah did end up going to Ninveh) but shows some form of emunah. The reason why suicide is considered so bad is b/c it is acting upon my first type of despain, which deny's G-d's power.
-Laya

December 28, 2006 12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow tons of good questions!
first off, i dont think that the neviim were machiavellian charachters. take yonah or moshe for example. they held power not because they beleived that the end justifies the means, but b/c they were good ppl and wanted the best for bnei israel. moshe was the greatest navi that ever walked the sands of the desert, not b/c he was corrupt and wanted power for the sake of ruling others. if anything, he didnt think he was worthy to lead the jews out of egypt, he didnt want the power, it was given to him and he used it to bnei israel's advantage, not his own.

suicide is the ultimate paradox of power. by commiting suicide a person is completly giving up any power he she might have had, and ultimately desroying any right once owned. i think that suicide is the ultimate evil in judaism b/c although power can make one corrupt and give a machiavellianly "the end justifies the means" perspective,but at the same time power can be a wonderful thing. the neviim had power, and most used it well. we should learn from them, suicide is not the ansswer b/c everyone deserves a little power, a little control, and then some control on their control (scratch the last part)

aviva

December 28, 2006 8:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with some, but most of all with Laya and Aviva(Although, I'm not trying to sound like I know it all or anything).
Hashem tests people and gives them options everyday (ex. pray, bracha, being nice to people, being a good person, helping others in need, etc.). When Hashem hardened Pharoh's heart it was because He knew that Pharoh was too far down the wrong path to be redeemed or turn back and do teshuvah. It's like that quote: "Hashem follows you in the path that you chose to go in"..or something like that. Whatever you decide to do/ whichever path you pick, Hashem will always be there (even if you are not aware of it/ think it). Even though Hashem might not be pleased with your decision, He is still everywhere. Just like in Yonah, Yonah couldn't run away from Hashem. I think that people always need to think about and carefully decide which path they want to take in life. Because if they go down the wrong path far enough, then they are kind of digging their own grave. If you are not careful enough and do not have self control or mind-control, then you are just acting out of your feelings, emotions, and just being impulsive. A person needs to control his/ her actions. Of course there is always the other side of the road waiting for you (being able to do teshuvah), but if you don't realize what you're doing or if you are doing something wrong, then you are sinning. One needs to be very cautious and mindful to freeing oneself from his/ her doom. Also, every decision has a lesson or meaning you can learn from. But I don't think by being depressed and killing yourself is the most evil thing, and therefore should be sent to Gehenum.
Also, I don't think that it's just black and white, like I mentioned, but rather, I think that Hashem tries to help you/ stear you in the correct path- along your (windy) journey.
You have the choice which path to take...choose wisely.

-Yaelle

December 31, 2006 10:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to also comment that the end does not always justifies the means. Example, there are starving people all around the world, not everyone is bad and are thieves. But if a person lives in extreme conditions and they and their family are starving day in and day out, one is bound to loose hope for survival and happiness. That is why a lot of people steal food from the markets and from other's possession. Though people steal food, most do it for the right intentions...either to keep their family/themselves alive, or something else. Normally people don't just go stealing food unless they are just mean, not all mentally there, and/ or robbers. Perhaps a different example may be better... If a person is normal, well balanced, and good intentioned person and is somehow lured into doing something bad, while unaware of this "evil" plan, put in the end helps accomplish the "evil" plan, then I would say that the end did not justify the means/ intentions of the person who was being tricked into doing something completely different.
Anyways I'm going to stop now, but hopefully I made my point.

-Yaelle

December 31, 2006 10:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First off, Rachael excellent blog – I like your ability to relate two seemingly different topics.
So, when Shakespeare writes “despair and die” I think he has a somewhat different meaning. I think he is saying that for this character to despair would mean to give up the fight. For this character giving up would assuredly mean death. One who is in great despair can either give up or fight back. In this case if this character were to despair there would be no fighting back, it would be a form of suicide. With regard to suicide, I believe there are two forms of suicide: suicide as a form of escape and suicide as a form of defiance. When Rambam and others write that there is no place in heaven for one who commits suicide, I believe he means one who tries to escape through death. People can not take their own lives when life gets challenging – people must face their own problems. As for suicide as a form of defiance – there are many examples: on Masada, in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, and many other historical and literary examples. The Jews on Masada fought back against the enemy through suicide. In The Crucible, the main character commits suicide (chooses to be hanged instead of admitting to being a warlock) to save his most precious possession- his reputation. In these example suicide turns out to be the more honorable option.
Second point, Rachael brings up the prophets causing people despair. She says that by creating competition on who receives prophecy naturally people will feel left out. I believe this is a true statement; however, we differ in where we place the fault. If Hashem spoke to every person on earth there would be no competition on who was chosen, and nobody would feel left out. It is only because Hashem has chosen to deliver messages through certain individuals that anyone feels despair because of prophecy. Because Hashem has chosen this method of communication people will ineveitably feel excluded, however, as people discussed in my blog Hashem could not possibly speak to everyone. Hashem must be feared (Machiavelli, again) and to be feared means exclusivity.
Third point, I do not believe that prophets ever held that much power. The Torah establishes that no one person has too much power. Hashem is in charge and we are all his servants. We have no intermediaries in Judaism – no son of G-d, no holy spirit. When Yitro told Moshe that he had to establish courts to show a balance of power. Everybody has to be kept in check. Throughout Jewish history no one person has ever held power individually – Moses and Aaron, king and high priest. Prophets have always held a secondary level of importance. Nathan the Prophet assisted David in his decision-making – he never really held too much power.
Sorry this is so long!
-Rebecca

January 01, 2007 6:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ack! I wrote an entire comment, tried to send it in, and the computer ate it and didn't give it back. Garg. So if this one is stinky, blame cyberland, 'mkay?

I can see why suicide would be seen as the ultimate evil. Even when life gets bad, shouldn't you persevere and trust that Hashem will eventually reward you? Or at least that it's all part of some master plan? That your suffering is not all in vain? Suicide, in this mindset, is downright blasphemous. I'm not saying I agree with this sentiment, and we understand nowadays that suicide is caused by illness, not by malice. I don't think you can blame people who despair and commit suicide. (And definately not blame them if you did nothing to ease their suffering!) See, to pull yourself out of any negative mindset, you need hope. Despair, by definition, is the absence of hope. Hope keeps people going. Hope gives people more hope. It's not your fault if you lose it. Without that, it's unreasonable to expect a person to be able to see anything else.

And about Machiavelli (his name is an insane amount of fun to pronounce!) I think you'll find more rampant mis-use of power among the kings (really, it's quite ridiculously rampant.) The prophets, because of their very nature, probably avoided this. They were handpicked by God, were probably righteous individuals to begin with, and as we see from Yonah, did face consequences if they did not behave well. It's a very ingenious system.

January 04, 2007 7:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

*The above is by Miriam, by the way.*

January 04, 2007 7:38 PM  
Anonymous dani said...

i disagree with what you said about the nevaim causing despair. if a person becomes a navi then they obviously deserve it and the people around them probably respected them for it. If some one is elected for somthing, even if we dont agree with the appointment, we have a certain level of respct for them becuase they must deserve it. also what you said about the nevaiim being flawed... just because they were flawed doesnt mean they were not good leaders. We actually learned today is chumash how all hte people thT had leprosy were leaders. hashem just held them higher hen other people. If we made the same mistakes as moshe they would probably go un noticed becuase hashem hold them higher hen he holds everyone else.

January 04, 2007 10:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A little off topic, but in response to Dani's statement:

Do you think it's fair that leaders are held to a higher standard? From a warped perspective, it's not fair to either party.

The leader suffers, even if he's just being human. Why should he get punished and embarrassed in front of people who'd do no differently in his situation. I guess it all boils down to society's demands. Society needs strong leaders, and if its a punishment that will keep them in line, it's a smal price to pay for the greater good. (That made me sound mean...)

Is it fair that the masses aren't held up to as high a standard? Wouldn't we have the opportunity to be even greater if we faced worse threats for doing evil? Maybe it's simply impossible, and if Hashem had to punish us there would be no society to improve (think Sodom.)

Or maybe that's the real challenge: Motivating ourselves to improve when we can easily hide behind the curtain of anonymaty.

Sorry about the off-topic digression...

~Grinlord

January 07, 2007 10:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Above comment is by miriam, by the way.

January 11, 2007 10:21 PM  
Anonymous chavie said...

okay, i have a lot to agree with and disagree with. here goes nothin...or something..dun dun dun!
anyways...firstly i agree with eliana about the navi and power. the navi does not have complete power over b'nei; his job is to simply give over God's messages...from there, it is b'neis choice to either follow through or not...thats the great thing about free will, which eliana so intelligently pointed out. Additionally, i would like to say that the thing about it being unfair that leaders are on such a high level is wrong. God wouldn't chose ppl to be leaders if they were gonna stay on the same level as everyone else- that would defeat the whole point. and what dani said about leprocy...sure, the leaders made mistakes, but hashem put them ona higher pedestal ..((that doesnt make any sense, does it?)...
Also--, regarding suicide, i'm gonna have to disagree with anyone that says its not the person's fault. Now dont get me wrong- im not judging anyone for being depressed. But God gives us life for a reason--I don't necessarily think someone is an evil sinner for committing suicide, but i dont think that olam habah is the place for them. Taking ones own life is taking God's life. Even though someone is depressed and their minds are so overwhelmed with horrible thoughs and whatnot and all they wanna do is end it all, they still have the will not to do it.
And finally, to answer the general question, i dont think despair is inherently evil. dont think thats counterintuitive to the suicide thing. remember- i said suicidal ppl arent evil....i think many prophets and leaders had despair but they had the opportunity (like lisa said) to climb back up and make it right.
i hope that made sense. shabbat shalom girlies! (and rabbi) !

January 12, 2007 2:48 PM  

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