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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Do the Right Thing

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

The Rambam, Maimonides, wrote a book of Jewish Law. He wrote other books of philosophy and many letters which addressed the soaring needs of his time. But, Mishneh Torah is a Book of Law.

He begins the section on the laws of ‘Idolatry’ or Avodas Kochavim, with a brief history of how, in the second millennium, paganism took over from a monotheistic world.

It is there that he tells us about the important contribution of the Patriarch Avraham. He describes how Avraham HaIvri was entirely immersed in a culture of idolatry. He explains that at the time of Abraham, there was hardly any culture other than the worship of graven images. Paganism was a given. His parents, wider family, everyone he knew, was part of this idolatrous fabric of life. And, “He too worshipped with them.”

However, explains the Rambam, from his earliest childhood Avrohom began his own intellectual search for truth and against all the currents of the world he realized the folly of idolatry. As the original iconoclast (1 a person who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions. 2 a destroyer of images used in religious worship. - Oxford English Dictionary) he clarified his thoughts about monotheism.

Why the history in a book of Halachah? Such extensive narrative is not used elsewhere in the whole Mishneh Torah.

An answer becomes apparent as he continues:

Avraham’s recognition of the One G-d brought him to make people aware of this newly re-discovered truth and, in gathering followers, he attracted the anger of Nimrod, the king of that region and the strongest leader in the world. Nimrod saw him as a rebel and sentenced Avraham to death. Avraham miraculously escaped Nimrod’s attempt to kill him and left for Charan where he made great efforts to tell people the truth about idolatry and, notably, to tell each individual in a unique way suitable for that person about serving the One and only G-d.

I believe that the Rambam’s purpose, consistent with this being a book of Law, was to teach a Halachic principle that is relevant to every person in every generation. His purpose was not to explain the importance of G-d or to explain Avraham’s intellectual genius, or his ability at public speaking.

The Rambam taught the obligation to follow one’s belief of truth, Emes, no matter where it may take you and whatever the consequences. His message was simply, “Do what is true because it is true” or “Do the right thing, simply because it is the right thing to do.”

Once it is established what the ‘right thing’ is there can be no further consideration of consequences. Just do the right thing and let the chips fall where they may. Whatever the social consequences, financial consequences or even life and death, do the right thing.

This is a tall order for the children of Avraham Avinu - but perhaps the essence of what it means to be a Jew.

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