Wednesday, March 30, 2005

INTELLIGENCE AND JUSTICE

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Witnessing what is going on around us would be a good lesson in reinforcing in our psyches the eternal wisdom of the Torah and the perception of Chazal.

We all know the story of Shlomo Hamelech and how he advised two women who were arguing which of them was the real mother of a baby to cut the child in half and share it. He told them it was too difficult for him to decide which mother had actually given birth to the child and that this was the best solution to their quarrel.

One of the women readily accepted the ruling and marveled at the king’s genius. The other responded that she could not bear to see her baby harmed and would rather lose the child to the imposter than see it cut in half.

Shlomo Hamelech had his answer. The woman who rejected his ruling was obviously the baby’s mother. Anyone who could countenance killing the baby could not possibly be the true mother.

When you first learn that story in Nach you probably wondered how it can be that a woman would actually fall for that Solomonic reasoning and you wonder how Shlomo even suggested it. How did he think she would fall for it?

HE KNEW HUMAN NATURE

To appreciate how accurate was Shlomo’s reading of human nature, all one has to do is to read about the Schiavo travesty. In its botch-up of this case, the American system of justice is exhibiting the same twisted logic and moral bankruptcy as the phony mother in the story in Tanach.

The court’s biased reading of the letter of the law has granted a husband the license to kill his disabled wife—while her parents and siblings are begging for the right to care for her. What is this but a staggering failure of intelligence and morality?

A man fights to have his wife killed and the judicial system supports him. Incredible. How does that happen? Eight years ago this man decided that his wife had told him, before she suddenly got sick, that she would never want to be kept alive were she to be incapacitated.

Never mind that she entered her vegetative state at age 25, well before most people consider such matters. Never mind that he had forgotten about that conversation for the first seven years of her illness. There were no written instructions from the wife and no evidence at all to support the husband’s claim.

Once the judge decided to take the husband’s word at face value, in essence the case was over. Despite sworn affidavits testifying that the husband had mistreated his wife and other testimony that the woman had a strong will to live, none of this was allowed to influence the case.

The medical finding used as the basis for the judge’s decision to remove the feeding tube, that Terri Schiavo was in a “persistent vegetative state,” was written by a single doctor after a 45 minute examination. That doctor is on record as advocating the removal of feeding tubes in patients who are in a severely disabled state. It has been alleged that his findings were thus tainted to promote his agenda.

Distinguished doctors were not so sure that her condition qualified as “permanently vegetative” and believe that she could have been rehabilitated. Nurses who cared for her are on record stating that the woman was able to crudely communicate and respond at times, and was not unconscious.

In fact, one nurse swore that Terri was in distress after her husband had visited. The nurse claimed in sworn testimony that she had evidence that Mr. Schiavo had attempted to harm his wife.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST IGNORED

It certainly appears that there were grounds to warrant a more careful investigation in light of these troubling claims. But in the eyes of the law, the above considerations carry no weight. Once the original judge ruled in favor of the husband’s “testimony” as to his wife’s wishes, no court was willing to overrule the judge’s “finding of fact.” In the eyes of the law, the so-called facts are immutable and cannot be appealed.

How can any judge in his or her right mind look into the eyes of the man who desperately seeks to end his wife’s life –so that he can carry out his stated plans to marry another woman—and believe that this man is motivated purely by regard for his disabled wife’s supposed “wishes?” Shouldn’t such a major conflict of interest disqualify the husband as his wife’s legal guardian?

How can a person who tramples on the feelings of his wife’s father, mother, brother and sister, retain the slightest credibility? How can the suspect testimony of any person who exhibits such cold-heartedness be used as the basis for a judicial decision weighing life and death?

Even more to the point: How can a judge ignore the pleas of grieving parents who pledge to care for their ill daughter? While rejecting the parents’ fervent desire to keep their daughter alive, the court instead honors the husband’s claims that he is acting out of devotion to his disabled wife by honoring her so-called “wishes” to end her life! What kind of love is it that wants the object of one’s love dead?

Can such Orwellian “logic” and perversion of justice prevail in an enlightened, humanitarian and moral nation?

Think back to the wisdom of Shlomo Hamelech and how he would rule.

Think of the posuk in Mishlei (3: 16) which states “Mekom hamishpot shamah haresha,” Where justice is administered, there wickedness is found, and gain a new appreciation for the wisdom of Shlomo Hamelech.

This is not to impugn in any way the United States of America and the civil liberties it affords its citizens. Indeed, this country has been a standard bearer to the nations of the world who have much to learn from its ideals of freedom, justice and equal treatment for all.

But it is a far from perfect system, depending as it does upon the wisdom of fallible human beings—who easily fall prey to pride and arrogance. Once a judge has ruled, his arrogance will not permit him to admit his error in the light of new information or a more accurate reading of the old facts. Appellate courts will follow legal precedent and not challenge a “finding of fact,” preposterous as it may seem.

A life may hang in the balance, but basic human intelligence will not be allowed to play a role in how the case is decided. An innocent person is thus sentenced to death at the hands of the courts.

DENYING THE CREATOR

At the heart of this tragedy is a simple truth: Those who advocate pulling the plug are “nogim badavar,” they have a vested interest in the case that flows from a worldview that excludes a Creator. To rule that Terri Schiavo’s life in its current state still has meaning would presuppose that there is more to human life than eating, drinking, and physical enjoyment.

To support the reinsertion of the feeding tube in someone in Terri Schiavo’s condition implies that human life is inherently a spiritual undertaking, beyond the grasp of the microscope or the human eye.

Supporters of assisted suicide are fearful of anything that would hint at a Creator. Culture-of-death adherents close their eyes to any evidence that would obligate them to adhere to a Divine code of morality. Once they acknowledge that human beings are more than animals endowed with speech, it may follow that their lives require some tweaking.

That fear leads them to espouse views that are so skewed it would be comical if it were not so tragic.

As we watch the unfolding of the Schiavo saga, we are reminded of man’s power to rationalize anything at all, even outright evil, in the service of protecting his ego and bolstering his self-importance. We must take a good like at ourselves to ensure that we do not fall victim to the same kind of self-delusion.

In Parshas Shemini (10: 1) we read of the deaths of two sons of Aharon Hakohein at the time of the Chanukas Hamishkon. Nadav and Avihu brought an eish zarah and were consumed by a Heavenly fire.

They thought they were assisting the consecration of the mizbei’ach. Their intentions were of the highest order. But they were out of place; the fire they brought was one the posuk describes as asher lo tzivah osum, it was not commanded by Hashem. To them it appeared as if their contribution was necessary, but they neglected to consult with Moshe Rabbeinu.

Nadav and Avihu were swayed by their reliance on their own intelligence. Human intelligence is just that—human; subject to error.

Whenever a Jew acts, he must question whether he is doing asher tzivah Hashem. We have to be certain we are following G-d’s commandment –not our own concept of what makes sense in a given situation— but which may in fact be totally misguided.

In parshas Ki Sisa (31: 6), when referring to the people entrusted to build the mishkon, the posuk states, “U’vleiv kol chacham lev nosati chochma, in the hearts of the wise people I have inserted wisdom.”

The question is obvious. If the people were wise to begin with, why did Hakadosh Boruch Hu have to grant them wisdom? It could be they required—over and above their own gifted intelligence—Divine wisdom to be able to comprehend Hashem’s instructions for the construction of the mishkon.

The ending of the above-mentioned posuk seems to attest to that. Ve’asu kasher tzivisichah, they shall do as I have commanded you.

FLAWED AND FINITE

Man’s intelligence is finite and flawed. A person who thinks he is smart enough to figure everything out by himself will ultimately fail. Only he who follows the tzivuy Hashem will be successful in his undertaking. The ability to comprehend that fundamental truth requires extra chochmah; that is the chochmah which Hakadosh Boruch Hu placed in the hearts of the wise men.

As we go through life, we have to grapple with the temptation to think that we understand better, that we have a better way to get things accomplished. We forget our limitations and our capacity for human error. We prefer not to acknowledge our biases and our inadequacies.

We are tempered by negios; our thought process clouded by subjective thinking. We can only succeed if we are intelligent enough to follow the tzivuy Hashem. The only guaranteed formula for success is to follow the Divine path, clearly laid out for us in Tanach, Gemorah and Shulchan Aruch, as taught by the mamshichei mesorah.

When we deviate from the time-tested path we end up without our feeding tubes, without any options for appeal or avenues of retreat.

At the completion of the mishkon, Moshe Rabbeinu offered a prayer, Yehi ratzon shetishreh Shechinah bema’asei yedeichem, May it be His will that the Shechinah will rest upon your handiwork.”

Those who follow the tzivuy Hashem are blessed that the Shechinah rests upon their work. May Hashem shower this brochah upon us and all that we do.

1 Comments:

Blogger Josh said...

thanks much for sharing your writings...clearly much time and energy goes into producing them. are these articles published anywhere else?

thought i'd point out - no need to subtitle the posts with your name, as it already at the end of each one and the header of the page.

much hatzlocheh.

7:40 AM  

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