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Equality

by Rabbi Manis Friedman

  

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It is very disturbing to the Western mind, to the American mind in particular, to suggest that one group of people is superior to another. Perhaps this is so because in the past, the belief or the argument that one group of people is inferior to another has led to genocide. So Americans have become deeply committed to ideas of equality, and it has become a goal, a moral virtue to which American society aspires. But there is something inherently mistaken with this attitude or belief in equality as a means of attaining greater good, a greater morality.

Our ideas of equality have their origins in Thomas Jefferson's claim, that all men are created equal. Obviously, Jefferson did not mean that literally. He was not speaking of the differences between individuals that make some stronger, smarter, and better than others. He was speaking of a universal principle by virtue of which all men are equal. But our society has become so focused on achieving equality, that we insist on "equality" as a criterion and virtue in life. In doing so, we pretend to ignore the differences between people. Equality, however, is not a virtue.

The Torah says that morality means that the strong may not take advantage of the weak
We cannot demand anything on the grounds of equality, because equality remains to be seen. People are different, and necessarily so. Some are brighter, more talented and more beautiful than others. Some are better at some things and others are better at other things. And there is no morality in denying our differences. In fact, it is dangerous and immoral to predicate morality on the assumption that we are all equal, because that leaves open the possibility that, should you discover that I am in fact inferior to you, then it's all right for you to abuse me. What really is morality?

Briefly stated, the Torah says that morality means that the strong may not take advantage of the weak. Where there are no strong and no weak, if everybody is the same, there is no need for morality. It is precisely where there can be abuse, that we need morality. Which is why the Torah says that we may not be cruel to animals. No one is going to argue that animals are our equal. Certainly, the animal is inferior to human beings. The human being has many advantages over the animal which make it possible for him to outwit it, to torture it and do nearly anything he wants with it. Yet the Torah says, "You may not be cruel to animals."


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