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Should You Attack a Mugger?

Thursday, 28 November, 2019 - 9:28 pm

 

Question of the Week:

 

I don't need the 613 laws of the Torah to be a good person. I live by one simple rule: Do whatever you want, as long as you're not hurting anyone. Who needs hundreds of complicated laws when you can break it down into one?

 

Answer:

 

Your rule sounds so nice. I wish things were so simple. But let's test it and see how your rule applies to real life situations.

 

You're walking down the street. You see a violent criminal mugging an old lady for her wallet. You could save her by tackling him from behind.

 

What do you do? Subdue the thug and save the lady? That would be hurting someone, which contravenes your rule.

 

Unless you make an exception to your rule: Do whatever you want, as long as you're not hurting anyone, except when preventing a violent crime.

 

But here's another case. Your child gets a splinter in his finger. Are you allowed to remove it? Same question would apply to a doctor giving an injection, or performing an operation. These things cause pain. Your rule doesn't allow hurting others. So I guess you need another clause: Do whatever you want, as long as you're not hurting anyone, except when preventing a violent crime, or for medical purposes.

 

Let's look at another scenario. What if a starving man asks you for food. According to your rule, you could politely refuse to help him. You aren't actually hurting him by doing so. But is it moral to reject the plea of a dying man?

 

You are not a good person just because you don't hurt anyone. We are here to help others, not avoid them. You can't excuse yourself from helping someone in pain just because you didn't cause it. Doing whatever you want means leading a hedonistic, selfish and callous existence. You're not hurting anyone, but you're not helping anyone either. That cannot be called good.

 

So you'll need to add another clause, that says not only should you not inflict pain, you also have an obligation to try and alleviate pain.

 

Your original rule was "Do whatever you want, as long as you're not hurting anyone." But now we have adjusted it to "Do whatever you want, as long as you don't hurt anyone, except to stop a violent crime or for valid medical reasons. And not hurting anyone includes not allowing someone to suffer when you can help."

 

Oh, and one more question. What if the thug attacking the old woman is actually starving? He is taking her wallet to buy food and save his own life. But the old woman is fighting back. Can you hurt him, or her, or nobody?

 

Being a good person is not always so simple. There are times when we aren't even sure what is right and what is wrong. Hurting someone may be a moral thing to do, like taking out your kid's splinter. And doing nothing when innocents are suffering is cruel.

 

The laws of Torah cover every possible scenario. They give us clear answers for the myriad of nuanced moral questions life throws at us. Your over-simplified rule is not enough. You will need to add many more clauses, maybe even hundreds. Like about 613.

 

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Moss

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