Is ethics eternal?
As in, can we suppose that ethical behavior that applies at one point in human history be necessarily applicable at all points in time and relevant regardless of what conditions exist in the outside world?
Whenever we speak of ethics, there is always the argument that what existed in the past is no longer important for today. The adherents of that position say that because conditions have changed and the factors which drive human behavior and morality are wholly different from what once was, ethics should similarly adjust..
This position certainly has validity in certain respects. But one can also make the argument that there are specific ethical values that hold true regardless of the time and environment in which they should be imposed.
Most notably, the value of “that which is hateful to you, will be hateful to others.”
This is the very foundation of ethics and is undoubtable an eternal ethos.
But what other ethical values hold true regardless of our time and place?
One such ethical concept which emerges from our Torah Portion of Bo is the concept of offering praise to those who have done good unto us.
Or in general terms, the idea of “giving credit where credit is due.”
This understanding is in fact at the heart of many of the Torah’s commandments.
The very nature of our relationship with Hashem is that God doesn’t need our thanks.
God is a force that is all-knowing and all-encompassing whose very existence is not dependent upon us “giving” anything. Because there can be know meaningful “giving” to an entity that already has everything.
However, to imply that we therefore don’t need to give credit to God would be missing the point because in fact to give credit is something which WE need.
We need to give thanks where it is deserved and to recognize where the good in the world comes from. This is critical to ensure we retain a life of balance, of truth and of justice- and indeed of ethics.
Ethical behavior emanates from an appreciation that we owe others gratitude for the good that exists in our world and this serves as the basis for how we will act to others and others will act to us.
Our Torah portion stresses this point with a focus on a series of commandments connected to the Exodus from Egypt. In addition to other more practical issues of why we remember the Exodus that will be discussed in later portions, it is incumbent that we appreciate that this value of giving credit is one which is as relevant then as it is today.
By appreciating the intrinsic nature of this value and incorporating it into our daily lives, we can be sure that it will strengthen both our relationship with Hashem as well as the people around us.