Ethical Behavior and Moral Values in Noahide Law
Rabbi Yoel Schwartz (Jerusalem Court for Bnei Noah)
1. A person should strive for better ethical and moral values. He should be merciful and should not harm animals unless it is for the benefit of humans, such as food, medical experiments and for work. Hunting just for sport and not to eat the animal’s flesh or use its fur, is seen as cruelty to an animal and is inappropriate. A person must also be merciful and just toward his employees and servants. He is not allowed to overwork or bring grief to his servants. According to the Rambam (Avadim 9:3), “A person must first feed his animals and servants before he sits to eat his own meal.”
2. A person should strive not to be extreme in any character trait. For example, he should not be stingy; on the other hand, he should not overspend.
3. A person should strive to be humble. As Abraham said about himself, “and I am just dirt and ashes” (Genesis 18: 2 7)
4. A person should strive to be truthful except in instances that the truth can bring harm to himself or others. An example is Abraham in the book of Genesis who said that his wife was his sister so that he would not be killed. In his defense, there was truth in his saying that she is his sister since his father was also her ancestor. Abraham was Sarah’s uncle!
It is also permissible to change wording to preserve peace, but one must still be very careful about what he says. If the truth can bring harm, then it is not the truth. If the truth is harmful or shameful to the innocent, it should not be repeated. However, one should try not to lie to conceal the truth even for a good reason. He can simply refuse to comment or respond. Instead of saying, “? do not know” when you do know, say rather, “I cannot say,” or “I have no comment.” In explanation of this, the sages teach that when God wanted to create man, the angels were split on this issue. There were those who requested that G-d should not create man since mankind finds it difficult to say the truth, and their peace is full of disputes and fights. On the other hand, the angels that represented justice, grace, goodness, love, mercy, charity and benevolence called on G-d to create man. G-d threw truth to the ground, but not peace. From this the sages learned that truth that brings destruction and does not build is not truth. Thus a person is allowed to change his wording to bring peace.
5. A person must be grateful to whoever was kind and good to him. Joseph in his confrontation with Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39: 9) explains his loyalty to a person that has been good to him which is reason enough not to sin, not to mention, that G-d also forbids it. Therefore a person must also honor his parents. One that disgraces his parents is liable to be punished.
6. Protecting the ecology is very important as long as it does not endanger human life.
7. A person should not be jealous. Cain killed Abel because of jealousy. In Pirkey Avot (4:20) it says that, “jealousy, lust and pursuit of honor remove a man from this world.”
8. A person should be modest and chaste in his clothing. One of the sins that brought about the flood was that the people of that time wore clothing that left inappropriate portions of the body exposed. He should be dressed appropriately for the occasion, be clean but not too conspicuous. According to Rashi, among the reasons that Jacob told his sons to go down to Egypt, (Genesis 42:1) was so that they would not be conspicuous in appearing as if the famine didn’t concern them. From this we learn that a person should not be ostentatious, neither regarding himself nor his deeds.
9. A person should work even if he is financially well off. Agriculture is recommended since it brings him closer to G-d as he realizes that his welfare is dependent upon the rain that is in His hands. Today, agricultural work is not as it used to be, so if he tries to find another work he should look for something that will have a minimal danger of temptation and bring positive results.
10. A person should strive to be a peacemaker amongst the nations of the world and between fellow men. Rashi, in his commentary to Genesis 11:9, brings some sayings of the sages who explain why the generation of the tower of Babel, whose sins were worse than the sins of the generation of the flood, was punished less severely than the generation of the flood was punished. The reason is that there was love and peace among the generation of the tower. This goes to show to what high esteem G-d holds those who love peace.