Like most people of my generation, I cringe when I hear the M word.

When I hear the M word, I feel hot air breathed down my back. Mental flags go up, signaling, "Someone's got an agenda here, and the agenda is to take you over." The fight-or-flight reflexes kick in. A recurrent nightmare flashes before my eyes: I've been transformed into a goose, and they're about to stuff formula down my throat.

M is for Morality. Not that I have anything against morals. I bring my kids up as moral, ethical people. It's the word's associations that bug me.

As an old survivor once told me concerning brainwashing, "There's nothing wrong with having a clean mind, but I'd rather wash mine myself, thank you."

So you can imagine what went on when we had over for dinner a nice rabbi who started talking about morality.

"The problem today," he began his stereotyped tirade, "is that everyone makes their own rules! And they change them at whim! Which means there just isn't any..."

Yes, I could hear it coming. I went into deep breathing mode, relaxing my extremities, concentrating on my mantra: Stay cool. Keep control. Fear nothing.

And then it came:


As if on cue, a police car sped by outside, its siren blasting. I felt my hands jerk, but immediately regained my inner calm. At least superficially.

Interpreting my composure as consent, the dear rabbi continued. "It's this humanism thing," he ranted. "This idea that the human being is the measure of all things. The philosophers of the Enlightenment believed rationalism and knowledge to be the panacea to all ills. Well, now we know they were wrong! Look at where human reason has taken us to!"

"Good point." I interjected, bending painfully backward to be a nice host. My wife hates it when I argue with the guests. (If you want guests, don't annoy your wife when they come.)

I continued. "Germany was the zenith of intellectual achievement. Yet deans of universities, Nobel prize winners and great philosophers were among those to support Hitler's racist policies. They allowed morality to be redefined for the sake of their prime value of Deutschland Uber Alles!"

"Excellent example!" he announced as his fist pounded on our dinner table and the cutlery rearranged itself in the air.

"So what's your alternative?" I innocently inquired.

"There must be standards set by a Higher Authority," he immediately replied. "Absolute standards that humans cannot tamper with. An immutable morality."

"So you want people to accept authority?" I was stepping on dangerous ground, but my dear wife was out of the room at the moment. "But isn't that what happened in Nazi Germany? I mean, it was only possible due to the nation's ingrained tradition of utter submission to authority."

Our guest was caught off guard for a moment, but soon enough sputtered, "Would you then side with Korach?"

I was in hot trouble. Dear wife had just re-entered. Worst of all, I had never gotten over my sympathy for Korach, the first anarchist of recorded history. His classic words ring with the indignation of all those who have fought for human rights and dignity throughout the ages, "All the people, all of them are holy, and G‑d is within them! So what gives you the right to raise yourselves over the community of the Eternal One?"

So, in classic Jewish form, I countered his question with my own. "What's wrong with Korach? He had a valid platform, after all."

"Korach went against Moses!" he retorted. And then, realizing that wouldn't quite cut it, "And he had his own hidden agenda, whereas Moses was following instructions from On High!"

At that point, from On High, mercy descended upon me. My dear wife took my side. I guess she has her rebellious streak as well. We're both Jewish, after all. No wonder Korach was such a popular leader. All the major Jewish leaders started off by countering the establishment. Look at Moses himself.

She asked the typical Jewish question, perhaps the most asked question in the entire Talmud, "How do you know?"

"Well, Korach was just jealous and wanted a more prestigious position. He was a rabble-rouser."

"Yes, but how do you know?" I insisted. "Maybe G‑d spoke to Korach as well."

"But we heard for ourselves G‑d speak to Moses!" the rabbi cried, exasperated. "At Mount Sinai. Nobody ever saw Korach and G‑d in conversation. At least, it's not reported. And if it happened in a public setting, you'd expect it to be reported."

"So we accepted Moses on our own judgment," she suggested in the typical feminine fashion of making you think you came up with the solution yourself and thereby avoiding the whole masculine package of one-upmanship. "You're saying that our belief in Moses is based on an experience shared by a large mass of people who unanimously agreed that it was G‑d speaking to them."

"Yes," he explained. "But they accepted the rules not because they found them suitable, but because of their Divine origin. That makes those rules absolute."

"Wouldn't it make things so much easier," I complained, "if we could have another Mount Sinai experience every twenty years or so? We could have the media there, video tape the whole thing..."

"Oh, the story of Mount Sinai itself explains why that can't be," the nice rabbi explained. "The people couldn't bear it. They came to Moses and said, 'We're going to die if this keeps up. We've had our proof. Now you go to G‑d and report to us what He has to say.' Ever since then, there have been prophets and holy men and women—but only to confirm for us that G‑d speaking to Man is not an impossibility. And to keep the channels of communication open both ways. But none of them can add a thing onto the Torah. The public experience only happened once."

"Besides which, Tzvi," my dear wife pitched in, "What kind of a world would it be if the Creator openly asserted His authority on a regular basis? Our free choice would be severely hindered. We'd have no sense of independence. Nor the fulfillment of self-achievement."

"So what's a person supposed to do nowadays?" I complained. "How can we know that this absolute morality is really Divine and not just someone else's agenda shoved down our throats?"

"We can look inside," the rabbi opined, "take a clear, objective stance, and decide for ourselves. Does it look like something someone could have made it up—including this whole Exodus and Sinai Revelation event? Or is that just too preposterous?"

I could go into my thoughts on this at length—but that's for a different story. The short side of it is that to me, personally, it seems ludicrous to imagine people fabricated a story such as this about a hugely public event—and then convinced everyone to agree on a single version. I don't go for conspiracy theories.

Of course, the Infinite Creator of the cosmos speaking to us finite beings at Mount Sinai is also rather difficult to conceive. But then, what alternative does He have if He wants us humans to accept fixed ethics and not tear His world apart?

At any rate, you can't accept or reject facts on the basis of whether you can visualize them or not—lots of good science is impossible to visualize. The evidence is there, so we know it happened. Only those with their own agenda reject such things.

And finally: Read it and you'll see it's not human work.

So the rabbi turned out a nice guy after all, and his moral strictures certainly didn't prevent him from enjoying an ice-cream dessert. And I'm glad to continue my rebellion against social norms by embracing the system that doesn't change. Or maybe I should call it the un-system. After all, there's nobody's agenda in there but my own Creator's.