The Ancestral Roots of our Morals

Vayikra By :  Abigail Treu Posted On May 21, 2011 / 5771 | Midrash: Between the Lines

תלמוד בבלי יומא ד:ב

אמר רבי (מוסיא בר בריה דרבי מסיא משמיה דרבי מוסיא) רבה: מניין לאומר דבר לחבירו שהוא בבל יאמר, עד שיאמר לו לך אמור – שנאמר  “וידבר ה’ אליו מאהל מועד לאמר” (ויקרא א)

Babylonian Talmud Yoma 4b

Rabbi Menasya grandson of Rabbi Menasya said in the name of Rabbi Menasya the Elder: What is the proof that when a man says something to his friend, the latter may not repeat it unless the man says, “You may go and say it?” The verse, “The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, that he was to say (le’mor)…”

(Leviticus 1:1)

How wonderful to derive a great lesson from such a simple turn of phrase. We are not to go about “tale-bearing” or repeating secrets shared privately with us. We know this from a gut sense of probably universally held ethical standards; here we see proof from our own tradition that such a value is indeed “Jewish” and one that we should uphold not only as respectable world citizens, but as Jews honoring our own culture’s ethical teachings.

That this teaching is given by a named Sage, who offers it in the name of his grandfather in whose honor he was likely named, impresses the lesson with an even deeper imprint. Values are passed on from generation to generation. The parentheses around the names in the Hebrew indicate some disagreement about the tradition here, but the value of the received text is clear: our children and grandchildren learn from the words and actions of those who came before them. These values are rooted in the Torah, our people’s great literary heritage. As Rabbi Menasya grandson of Rabbi Menasya was proud to speak in his grandfather’s name, so too we should proudly proclaim the worthy moral ideals that are our Jewish heritage.