A few weeks ago, I wrote about the value/attribute of goodness. At that time I wrote that people generally see themselves as good and therefore pay little attention to this attribute. If we think we are good and we think this is a natural part of who we are, why focus on it? We must first acknowledge and understand that goodness does not come naturally. Each and everyday we must work at it. In order to do that, we first must recognize that there are moral and ethical imperatives, demands that come from God, to which we are required to aspire. For many, this is an uncomfortable paradigm. Without getting into a theological argument, let’s, for a moment, just agree that there is a God who demands justice, compassion and a commitment to build a better world.
Let’s assume this God expects each individual to treat life as sacred and therefore our treatment of every individual must be sacred, even when we may not agree with another person or even like the other person. Let’s assume this God demands that we all work together to fight poverty, crime and injustice wherever they are present. Let’s assume this God demands we give of ourselves, both in time and tzedakah (charity), to help others. Suppose this God gave this world as a gift to us, and in exchange, demands that we appreciate, care for and respect our environment. What kind of world would we then create?
Now, suppose we just assume we are good, and give no real thought to these issues or imperatives? Once again, events in our society give us the answer. The sexual abuse scandal rocking PSU is such an example. I am fairly confident that had you asked Mike McQueary, who allegedly witnessed a child being raped by Sandusky and allegedly did not attempt to stop it, let alone report it to the police, or “legendary” coach Joe Paterno, or athletic director Tim Curley if they are good people, each one would have said “yes.” Really? If the allegations prove true, they each miserably failed morally and ethically, and perhaps legally.
How can good people witness a child being raped or ignore such accusations, or even worse, cover up such unimaginable abuse for the sake of an institution or more influential individuals? Does a good person, obligated to God’s moral imperatives do something like that? Would a person who is obligated to do the right thing, regardless of the consequence, be as likely to make the same choice?
President Obama, when asked about the PSU scandal, suggested that we had to do some soul-searching about what our priorities are [as a nation]. When the ultimate value becomes winning, success, power, or prestige, it is within human nature to rationalize immoral decisions, even on a so-called one-time basis, to achieve an end.
Our soul-searching should be leading each one of us to the realization that we must make moral education a top priority. As we, rightfully, focus and place a great deal of energy on creating a school that inspires a passion for learning – the learning must include, as a top priority, values.
At Hillel Day School, a Jewish day school, Jewish education is our reason for existing. While our commitment is unwavering as it pertains to a quality general education, history has reminded us, time and again, that human brilliance, talent and creativity in any individual does not guarantee that a person will use those gifts for good. Too often, power, intelligence and creativity have been used for evil. Goodness must be learned and practiced daily. Adults and children alike must constantly be diligent about this through study, through actions and through positive role models.
The Jewish tradition and our laws provide us the blueprint for living such a life. Through the study of Torah, an adherence to our core values and mitzvot (commandments), we are more likely to stay on the path of goodness and truly “walk in God’s ways.” Other faiths have their moral paths for their members to do the same. Our world needs more people who are winners when it comes to goodness, justice and compassion. We need champions of Tikun Olam, making the world a better place – and we need to celebrate those who make the right choices in quiet, yet powerful ways on a daily basis.