God Squad: Mercy given and received

God Squad

Rabbi Marc Gellman God Squad

Rabbi Marc Gellman writes about religion for Newsday.

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Q. In a recent article, someone asked about being perfect and you quoted the verse in Micah 6:8:

"He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"

The KJV [King James Version] has the second proclamation as "to love mercy." I have thought of this as me being thankful for the kindness shown to me by others and for God's mercy unto me. I was wondering, does the Hebrew indicate mercy (kindness) as being received or as being given to others or both?-- B, via email

A. The question was from a sixth-grader about what God wanted from good people. The verse from Micah seemed to me the perfect answer. Your thoughts about mercy are wonderful, and I think you are right. Mercy goes both ways. We are expected to show mercy to others, and we hope to receive merciful treatment from others.

However, the Hebrew word for mercy used by Micah (or I should say used by God through Micah) is hesed. This Hebrew word means so much more than just mercy. Hesed is actually closer in meaning to the Christian concept of Grace. Grace/hesed is the word used to describe what has been given to us that we do not deserve.

Justice is the first of Micah's moral demands from God and justice is getting what we deserve.

If we are guilty of a moral offense, it means we are punished properly and justly. Mercy is what happens when we are saved from punishment and treated mercifully despite our failings.

Knowing that each one of us has been blessed in excess of our virtue is the beginning of humility and gratitude that, as it happens, is Micah's third moral virtue. Trying to always do the right thing, knowing that we are blessed even when we fail, and being humbly grateful for this salvation is the essence of the religious life. Micah said everything because God says everything and Micah was listening to God.


Commandment contenders

In last week's column, I made the case that there are really only nine commandments, not 10, and readers were wonderful in their suggestions for a new 10th commandment. Here are just a few of them:

--Don't pass judgment upon anyone whose religion is not your own. (J)

--Thou shall not willingly harm the Earth or any of its creatures. (C)

--Be kind to all living things. (R from Sea Cliff)

--Help repair the world. (D & J from Woodside)

--Study, learn and live every day by these 10 words. (E)

--Love and respect all that exists as God loves you. (S)

Many of you voted to include Golden Rule in the New Big Ten:

--Treat everyone the way you wish to be treated, G and several others suggested. But then G quickly emailed me again, saying, "I should have known that my answer was too easy to be correct. In reviewing the commandments, I realized that a 'Golden Rule' commandment would effectively make the commandments 'don't murder,' 'don't be an adulterer,' 'don't steal' and 'don't commit perjury' all redundant. So, in effect, adding that commandment would reduce the number of commandments to 6.''

--Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. This suggestion came from D, who went on to say, "We should not love others more than ourselves because then it would be idolatry. We should not love each other less because then it would be pity and that is not the same as love. We should love them as we would dear cousins. Sometimes you would not like them too much because they skipped you over in turn to play a PlayStation game. You wouldn't like what they did either, but you know that you are family and the members of your family are not perfect or very lovable sometimes. You just know that they are there and when you cut the cake at your birthday party, you must give them a piece as big as your own."

--Do the right thing. (E)

This suggestion is the winner (according to me) so far. E continues, "The longer I'm around, I've come to understand that it's not enough to just avoid being "bad." I believe God calls me to be of service to others and to put the gifts He has given me to good use. It would also help to close any open loopholes that I still try to slip through."

Thank God. We are now back to 10!