The Relationship between Personal Morals and Social Values

There is an inherent difference between personal morals and external values, with the main difference, as I see it, being the internal nature of personal morals and the external nature of social values. A person's morals, as far as is popular to consider it today, are nobody's business but the individual's. For example, a person's sexual viewpoints and behavior are his or hers alone, for he or she is the master of his or her own destiny. Social values, on the other hand, are external, and should be everybody's business because the world is truly affected by the maintenance (or dissolution) of ethical social and political mechanics. What is not realized from time to time is that, what to one is an attack on corrupted social values, to another is a rescue from corrupted personal morals.

For example, to us living in America, the attempt to end the genocide occuring in Sudan as we speak is an expression of the desire to bring social justice, but to them, to the people living (and dying) through it, those who are personally experiencing it, their own extermination is indicative of people that don't care, which signifies the hatred between one person and another. It is easy to believe that a problem occuring overseas is political, stripped of personal content, but the people living it are inescapably aware of the individualistic nature of that hatred.

To offer another example, it is easy for someone fighting against the genocide in Sudan to believe that rape is a political tool, but the victim does not rationalize the political nature of the act, nor does the perpetuaor, for their experience tells them that they are being violated, or are violating another, in one of the worst ways that a person can. What is one person's public war is another person's personal war.

Both of these concepts are inherent to the Torah, and indeed, the entire Torah stands on them. For example, the commandments are both personal and communal in nature, and in fact, they are delivered with the distinguishing lines already removed; it is truly wondrous that no distinction is made between their importance to both the individual and to the community, and to another degree, the entire world.

The prophets directed their potent words towards the corrupted. "Hear this, you who devour the needy, decimating the poor of the land, saying, 'When will the month pass, so that we can sell grain; the Sabbatical Year, so we can open the stores of grain; reduce the ephah (a unit of measurement) and increase the shekel (the monetary unit), and distort the scales of deceit, to purchase the poor with silver and the destitute for shoes; and we will sell the refuse of grain?'"(Amos 8:4-7)

When the Torah was given, long before the time of the prophets, the commandments referring to communal civility were set down. "If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him, proselyte or resident, so that he can live with you. Do not take from him interest and increase; and you shall fear your God, and let your brother live with you. Do not give your money for interest, and do not give your food for increase." (Leviticus 25:35-38)

The prophets also criticized people for their personal short-comings, "Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and in their own view, understanding. Woe to those who are mighty in drinking wine and are men of accomplishment in pouring liquor. The acquit the wicked one because of a bribe, and strip the righteous one of his innocence." (Isaiah 5:21-23)

So what am I trying to say? As human beings, it is not enough to be inspired by a desire for social justice but to be lacking in personal morals. Conversely, it is also not enough to be personally moral but to lack a desire for social justice. Both are necessary components for a holistic understanding of what it means to be good, to be Godly.

If we peer accurately enough into society, past the layers, we see the breakdown of the borders that separate private and public morality, and we see just how strongly the two are interwoven. At a certain point the distinguishing lines between public morality (i.e., social justice) and private morality (i.e., drug use) become the same thing. In reality, there is no particular difference between morality or immorality in regards to what sphere of society that particular thing is relegated to; compassion is compassion across the board, whether it is directed towards the self, another person, or an entire group of people. In the same exact way, hatred is also hatred across the board, whether it's directed at the self, another, or a whole group of people. Morality is transcendent, affecting all of society simultaneously wherever it exists, and so is immorality.

If we are people that are truly dedicated to improvement of the human condition, known in the Torah as "Tikkun Olam," repair of the world, it can only be accomplished through simultaneous personal and public maintenance.

The most important thing to realize is that the Torah and the prophets do not make these bold assertions simply out of the kindness of their hearts, but rather, personal and public morality and ethics are expressions of Godliness. Amos describes that there will be a day where people will desire Godliness more than they desire food, "Behold, days are coming, the word of the Lord Hashem/Elokim, when I will send hunger into the land; not a hunger for bread nor a thirst for water, but to hear the words of Hashem." (Amos 8:11-12)

The verse from Leviticus previously quoted finishes off by saying, "I am Hashem, your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be God unto you." (Leviticus 25:38)

Isaiah also says, "Woe to those who arise early in the morning to pursue liquor, who stay up late at night while wine inflames them. There are harp and lyre and drum and flute, and wine at their drinking parties; but they would not contemplate the deed of Hashem, and would not look at the work of His hands." (Isaiah 5:11-13)

Morality is not divorced from Godliness, in fact, it is His command.

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