The Torah, Survival, and 'Survivor'

The ethics of the 'jungle' vs. the ethics of the Torah

OK, I'll admit it up front. I'm not one of the 40 million people who watched the final episode of the television show "Survivor" last year. I'm a complete "Survivor" virgin; I didn't tune in to see people eat rats and insects. I missed the mud wrestling. I did other things while the 16 contestants held their breath underwater. I was out at the movies, reading a book, or napping while duplicity, betrayal, and manipulation were touted as laudable interpersonal skills. Somehow, I just can't believe this is what it takes to be a "survivor," even in the primitive tribal society that the series attempts to evoke.

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What then does it take to survive? This is exactly the subject of this week's Torah portion, Shoftim. These chapters of the book of Deuteronomy outline the core rules and values for the society the Jewish people will create in the Promised Land. The Torah states, "When you enter the land which Adonai your God gives you, do not imitate the abhorrent practices of those who are there" (18:9).

Of all the peoples of the ancient Middle Eastern world, only the Jewish people today can claim a culture that has survived continuously for 3,000 years. There are no more Jebusites or Moabites, Ammonites or Hittites, but there are still Jews. No one really knows the "secret" of the survival of the Jewish people, but it certainly makes sense that one factor is the moral code promulgated in the Torah.

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