Shoftim
For the week of August 30, 2003 / 2 Elul 5763
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 16:18 - 21:9
Haftarah: Isaiah 51:12 - 52:12

A Time for Wisdom

Otherwise they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God (Devarim / Deuteronomy 20:18).

Last week we looked at the modern version of the value of tolerance. The need for tolerance towards others and their opinions does not mean that we should accept all opinions as equally valid.

There is a lot of confusion today regarding how to deal with differing viewpoints. One of the reasons for that confusion, I believe, is that there is a tendency to take what might be an appropriate course of action in one situation and misapply it in another situation.

Knowing the right thing to do in a given situation is called wisdom. Value-driven people often hold their values in such a way that in their concern to do the right thing, they can miss what the most appropriate and effective course of action might be. When these types of people hear this kind of language they might feel that their commitment to absolutes is being threatened. But I believe in absolutes. The God of the Torah has established a system of right and wrong, but how that system is applied in each situation can be different. That's where wisdom comes in.

In this week's portion we read of how the people of Israel were told to follow a different course of action depending on the situation. The issue addressed here is about how they were to deal with people of other nations and religions. The measures they were to take were to be different if the people were living outside of the Land of Israel in contrast to those who lived in the Land.

We see therefore that there was not one course of action with regard to all foreigners. In fact in other passages we learn that there are also exceptions to these rules. We see this in the case of Rahab, whose family was spared in the destruction of Jericho (see Joshua 2 6). Exceptions don't negate the rule, but they should help us realize that we need to take care in how we apply God's instructions in life.

Today many of our societies are undergoing major moral changes. Those of us who cherish biblical values are deeply troubled. But what are we to do? The issues at hand are complex and far reaching. Those of us who live in countries that in the past have upheld biblical values seem to live in a state of shock that many of these values are almost completely lost. As we look at what is going on, we feel overwhelmed, being slow to accept that this is really happening. Others are calling for various courses of action. Still others, having no hope in societal change, prefer to do nothing about it.

Yet something needs to be done. There will be many suggestions coming forth. But before taking action, we need to discern exactly what God wants us to do, and how he wants us to do it. He will give us the wisdom, if we ask.

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