Of Mathematics & Morality: A Ten Commandments’ Tale

sometimes, things don’t add up. rather, they are multiplied.

multiplication’s properties are quite different properties than either addition and subtraction. multiplication amplifies numbers.

in mathematics, there are “negative” numbers. they are used in addition and multiplication. the results generated, however, are strikingly different. for instance, if i add “a million and one” to a “negative one”, i get a million. in contrast, if i take “a million and one” and multiply it by “negative one” i get a “negative” million and one. thus, with multiplication, a small negative number has the power to transform a larger number into a “negative.”

the same arguable is true with morality. small amounts of immorality are amplified akin to multiplication as opposed to being additive.

once piece of graffiti in a neighborhood is seen by all. it invites each and every individual to engage in immoral activity. a collective message is sent. likewise, the community all feels diminished by the ugliness and disrespect for property. everyday, this type of moral negativity is played out when, as a society, we see videos of shoplifters running out of stores with large bags of ill gotten gains. we all think less of our society. likewise, we invite the further bad conduct.

the torah has a troubling passage to many. numbers 15:32-36, reports of the man was caught gathering wood on the sabbath- “when the children of israel were in the desert, they found a man gathering wood on the sabbath day. those who found him gathering wood presented him before moses and aaron and before the entire congregation. they put him under guard, since it was not specified what was to be done to him. the lord said to moses, the man shall be put to death; the entire congregation shall pelt him with stones outside the camp. so the entire congregation took him outside the camp, and they pelted him to death with stones, as the lord had commanded moses.”

as the passage indicates, every person in the congregation took part in the taking the individual’s life. many people would argue that, in contrast to such sins as murder, theft and adultery, that a a death sentence for a sabbath violation is outrageous. one could say that punishment was a “negative” act with respect to morality.

we return to mathematics. with multiplication, a “negative” times a “negative” becomes a “positive.” in some strange way, one could argue that with the entire congregation acting to stone the individual, and all involved viewed as “negative” actors, the scales of morality were re-set back to normal. a “negative” times a “negative” is a positive.

translating this story into an analogy, one can argue that an “entire” community’s acting is required to keep a society morally balanced. likewise, attention must be given to each and every violation. thus, no immoral act is too small to address. this is especially the case with children. for those with children, each and every immoral act of a child should be addressed. they should be aware that their conduct is unacceptable. they should be afforded the opportunity to correct their behavior. many times, the full weight of the household must be behind such measures. mothers and fathers must coordinate and act in concert when it comes to right and wrong.

the sabbath stoning is followed by an important passage. right after the incident, the commandment to wear fringes for the purposes of remembering the commandments. thus, this incident perhaps prompted the notion of a “positive” expression meant to amplify. both those who wear fringes aka talit remind both themselves and others as to the commandments as they go about their daily activity. thus, the community, as a whole, is constantly reminded of the need for a moral society.

in sum, there is a need for vigilant within a community. small amounts of immorality with their multiplicative qualities always place society at risk.

be well!!

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Published by biblelifestudies

I am a practicing lawyer and long term admirer of the bible

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