Ethical Issues in the Historical Books of Tanach;
JOSHUA, JUDGES, SAMUEL, KINGS (Nevi’im Rishonim)
These four books ostensibly are merely the history of Israel from the entry into the Promised Land until the destruction of the Temple and the temporary loss of independent statehood. In fact they are actually, in a specifically Jewish sense, the most deeply religious and spiritual books of the Bible. One does not have to be specifically Jewish to see or feel the religion and spirituality in the revelations of the prophetic writings or in the words of the Tehillim. They speak to all people, as evidenced by the fact that the Bible is still the world's bestseller and there are millions of non-Jews who regularly recite the Psalms. However, it is specifically and intrinsically Jewish to understand that G-d is revealed in the prosaic material, in the political, social and military events in the lives of ordinary men and women, kings and leaders that are described in the Nevim Rishonim. Here are described the ideology and religious thoughts in Judaism, while in Chronicles we have the purely historical.
“IVRI ANOCHI” (Yonah 1:7-10)
"What is your work and from where do you come? What's your land, and from what people?" (verse 8).
What is your work - perhaps you were negligent in your work [Rashi], perhaps it is an occupation of deceit and fraud [Redak], or perhaps you are a sorcerer [Rabbenu Bechayeh]. How often have we been accused of falsifying coinage and weights, how often of money lending, of exploitation and coercion? What about the blood libels and the poisoning of the wells when we have been accused of an alliance with the evil sprits?
Where do you come from - perhaps the people there will suffer if you are not returned [Rashi], perhaps you fled because of a crime you committed there [Radak], or perhaps you are a shaliach of sorcerers [Rabbenu Bechayeh]? These sound like the accusations against us as the eternal stranger and as the feared outsider.
What is your land - perhaps the people of your land are evil [Radak] or perhaps the land is hateful to G-d [Rabbenu Bechayeh].? Have we not always been the landless one, those without the roots in a soil? Even though the Land is holy to G-d, we have been exiled because of our sins.
From what people are you - perhaps your people have sinned [Rashi] or perhaps your people are hated of G-d [Radak]. A whole theology has been woven around these ideas; the Christian church as chosen instead of the sinful Judea or the triumphant Islam as supplanting a subservient Israel
Metzudat David explains their questions in the light of the ways of doing T'shuva. "If your sin concerns monetary injustice, you can return it to the person that you cheated, and if it is personal insults, you can appease him with money. Is your work such that you have cheated so many people so that you do not know to whom to return the money to [as in false weights or stock fraud or confidence schemes]. Perhaps you come from a distant land so that it is to far to go and return the stolen wealth or perhaps you violated the laws of your land [tax evasion or defrauding the customs], which is a sin against all the citizens, and it is impossible to compensate all of them? It may be these were sins against your G-d and then money won't help". For all these sins one can do T'shuva, so they queried why Yonah did not repent and save them and himself.
"And he said to them. IVRI ANOCHI, I am a Hebrew and I fear the Lord G-d of heaven who made the sea and the dry land" [verse 9].
In that verse he answered all their questions. I fear G-d so do not engage in any dishonesty, or fraud or falsehood [Radak]. Here was no thief, no swindler and no magician; as Bilaam said, "He [Hashem] perceived no sin in Jacob and saw no perversity in Israel. There is no divination in Jacob and no sorcery in Israel" (B'midbar23:21-23).
For 4000 years we have lived by that credo despite the pejorative term 'to jew' appearing in the dictionaries and the Shylocks and Fagins depicted in literature. Of Avraham, Hashem said: "For I know him, he will teach his household to keep the ways of the Lord, doing acts of Righteousness and Justice" (B'reishit 18:19).Ya'akov recalls to Lavan his exemplary ethical behavior as an employee (B'reishit 31:36-42), an Ish Tam, complete; "Hashem will grant truth to Ya'akov" (Micha 7:20). Yosef precedes Yonah when he says, " I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews". He replies to Potiphar's wife when rejecting adultery, "How can I sin before G-d", while to Par'o, he disavows sorcery saying, "It is G-d Who will respond" (B'reishit 41:16). "He merited burial in Eretz Yisrael because he admitted his origin, while Moshe was refused such entry since the daughters of Yitro told their father, "An Egyptian saved us"" (Bereishit Rabbah).
The very predominance of banking, money lending and international trade in the Jewish economy throughout much of our history, attests to the truth of Yonah's moral statement. When Richard the Lion-Hearted had to leave England, he left control of his money with the Jews as he could not trust his brother John, and the Elector of Hesse didn't leave his wealth in trust to any of the great German bankers but to Meir Anshel Rothschild; banking after all is primarily a matter of trust.
"The Jewish role model, the Talmid Chacham, has to act in truth and faith in commerce. His yes is yes and his no, no. He forces himself to be exact in calculations when he is paying, but is willing to be lenient when others are his debtors. He should keep his obligations in commerce, even when the law permits him to withdraw or retract; but of others have obligations to him he should deal mercifully, forgiving and extending credit.
He should be careful not to deprive others of their livelihood [through competition even where this is legal] or cause hardship and anguish to others [either physically or financially]. He who acts in this way is the one referred to by the prophet Isaiah, when he said in G-d's Name: "You are My servant Israel, in whom Iexalt " (Rambam Hilkhot De'ot 5:13). "Ivri Anochi".
This is the 85th installment in Dr. Tamari’s series on “Tanach and its messages for our times”