I will show that these seven great men were similar in their understanding of the Law, but they differed in what they chose to do with that knowledge. I will conclude with some thoughts about how the ideas of these great men can be applied in our everyday lives to lessen the tensions inherent in human interactions.
An error is a wrongful act that is committed at a time when the person does not yet know (or has not yet realized) that such an act should not be committed.
This distinction is important in understanding how each of the seven men came to know the Law, and how they treated others who were yet unenlightened.
Moses' first important error was smiting an Egyptian who was beating a Jew. Moses' act of vengeance was driven by his passion (anger): he met violence with (an even greater) act of violence. After this act, Moses fled into the desert where he remained for many years before returning to Egypt to lead his people to freedom. Moses discovered that his act was an error, but it is unclear to me if he was able to determine a better alternative. Perhaps he only knew for sure that one should not kill or visit a greater hurt on one who has transgressed.
Moses' second important error was striking the rock when God had commanded him to speak to it. (I should call this one a sin because Moses knew he was acting wrongfully, but he didn't know why.) The choice of speaking (asking) versus striking (coercing) appeared to be unimportant, because it led to the same outcome (the rock gave water). What Moses had not considered was the rock's point of view. By striking the rock, Moses forced it to give water. Had he spoken to it, he would have created an opportunity for the rock to do a Mitzvah, a good deed. Moses' error was in depriving the rock of an opportunity to choose to be helpful.
Moses went on to write down the Law. Mostly he wrote it down as rules -- magic recipes if you will -- but there was little explanation of the theory behind the rules.
Hillel remained a scholar, elucidating the Laws of Moses and organizing them, but he did so largely within the confines of his academic universe.
Jesus was able to "save" (i.e. redeem) his followers from their sins through repentance (coming to know that one's conduct is wrong). He did this through love ("I will not punish you for your sins.") and absolution ("I will forgive you for your sins."). Jesus knew that a key step in redeeming the wayward was the purging of the guilt that follows after one comes to know that he has done wrong. Jesus did not have a good solution for how one can make amends after an irreparable act of wrongdoing (a sin for which one will surely go to Hell). Jesus' solution -- personally absolving the repenter -- was an effective solution, but it put him in the position of becoming God (which he did). For this act, Jesus paid with his life.
Unlike Hillel, Jesus was a political activist, using Hillel's Law as a guide, and introducing the use of nonviolence as a tool to effect social change. Consistent with his activism, Jesus restated Hillel's Law from the negative form ("Do not do unto another that which you would not want done to you.") to the positive form ("Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."). In this regard, Jesus also became a role model for correct behavior in the presence of pernicious misbehavior. His message was: Do not copy the bad behavior of others; do copy the good behavior which I and my disciples demonstrate before you.
When civil war broke out in India, and Hindu fought Muslim, Gandhi demonstrated how much it hurt him to see his people violate Hillel's Law: he fasted to dramatize how distressed he was by the fighting and killing. Each time violence broke out, Gandhi fasted nearly unto his death before his people came back to their senses and stopped killing each other.
But Gandhi also contributed one more idea that had eluded Jesus. Gandhi solved the problem of absolution for irreparable past wrongdoing without playing God. Like Jesus, Gandhi knew that the wrongdoer could repent and change his ways, provided the sinner could purge the guilt for his past behavior. Towards the end of his last fast, a Muslim came to Gandhi to confess his sins: he had slain a Hindu child (an irreparable wrong). The Muslim man was in tears, for he had acted in passion (like Moses), and he knew he was now condemned to go to Hell. In one of the most powerful and dramatic moments of Gandhi's life, he rose from his sickbed and said to the Muslim, "I know a way out. Find a child whose parents were killed in the fighting, and raise him in your family. But...," and Gandhi paused here for dramatic effect, "...but make sure the child is a Hindu, and raise him as a Hindu." Gandhi found a way for the Muslim man to make amends, without the arbitrary act of human absolution. Gandhi's method of absolution was to suggest a good deed, a Mitzvah, that was "equal and opposite" to the man's wrongdoing. This is comparable to the Judaic notion that one atones for one's wrongful acts by choosing to do Mitzvot or good deeds.
In some ways, I think that Moses' acceptance of the awesome task of leading his people out of slavery was Moses' way of making amends for his crime of passion in killing the Egyptian.
It is clear that failure to follow the Fundamental Law leads to a
breakdown of trust with consequential insecurity
(not knowing when the next counterblow is going to come).
What is less obvious is how to drive a relationship toward
the desirable equilibrium point that Hillel envisioned
when it is not already there.
Here, the techniques of Jesus, Thoreau, Gandhi, and King come into play.
(Remember especially Rule 1 -- do not "show" them how you
were hurt by deliberately hurting them back.
One reason this doesn't work is because not everybody gets
the same feeling as a result of a given action.)
Another reason is that the offender is usually unaware
of the precise behavior that constitutes the offense.
What should one do if he finds himself on the receiving end
of a violation of Rule 4?
If an order should have been a request ("Are you
asking me or telling me?"), consider refusal.
The consequences may be anger and retribution,
but then one can proceed from Rule 1 to handle that.
Keep in mind that to correct a bad situation, one has to catch
the offender in the act of offending, which means enduring
some unjust treatment.
Nonviolence -- do not hurt someone back who has just hurt you. This Rule is the most important, but is also the hardest one of all to follow. Like Moses' smiting of the Egyptian, we all too often let our passions rule our behavior. In order to apply Rule 1, one needs enormous self-discipline -- the discipline to decouple our actions from our feelings.
Awareness -- make the offender aware of the act committed (simply tell him or her exactly what he/she did).
Exhibit the Damage -- show the offender the harmful consequences of the act just committed. If the hurt is to one's feelings, tell the offender how you feel about what they did.
Free Choice -- If you want someone to do something, ask them if they would be willing. Give them free choice to acquiesce or refuse, but do not tell them what they have to do. Failure to ask is the most common way we violate Rule 1, for we typically want free choice for ourselves but obedience from others.
Teach Rules 1-4 to your family, your friends, and especially to those who seek to harm you or others. Teach the Rules by using them.
(Remember especially Rule 1 -- do not "show" them how you were hurt by deliberately hurting them back. One reason this doesn't work is because not everybody gets the same feeling as a result of a given action.) Another reason is that the offender is usually unaware of the precise behavior that constitutes the offense.
What should one do if he finds himself on the receiving end of a violation of Rule 4? If an order should have been a request ("Are you asking me or telling me?"), consider refusal. The consequences may be anger and retribution, but then one can proceed from Rule 1 to handle that. Keep in mind that to correct a bad situation, one has to catch the offender in the act of offending, which means enduring some unjust treatment.
The other way to respond to a hurt is to simply tell the other person what they did, then tell them how you feel. The other person then can legitimately feel bad about his or her behavior and can express sorrow, make amends, and restore balance. (Feel bad about what you did, apologize and make amends, then feel good about yourself.) Now the score is +1 to +1 (it's still even but everybody feels good instead of bad). The key is to make the other person feel bad about his behavior (something he can change) rather than trying to make him feel bad about what he is (something he can't change). The key psychological concept is to continue to love the person, even as you express your distress about their misbehavior.
For this process to work, a person has to be completely honest. If you hide the fact that you are hurt, the other person will very likely not become aware of your hurt.
It appears to me that the only sound way to provide protection is to allow the protected to learn how to protect themselves (protect themselves not from the enemy without, but from the enemy within). This conclusion follows from Rule 4: The protector inevitably violates Rule 4 (telling the protected what they have to do), thereby turning the act of protection into the act of oppression. Hence Rule 5 -- replace the protector (a person or governmental authority) by a system of self-protection based on Rules 1-4.
This last principle applies to society at all levels from the mightiest empire down to the single family unit, and even to one person's treatment of himself. To avoid turning the act of protection into an act of oppression, teach all the Rules to those who you would protect. And as they mature and begin to assume the role of protector in their own right, be sure they learn Rule 5.