In a simplistic view of the world, everything can be classified on some kind of line, using one metric or another. What reasonable person would disagree that it is better to be beautiful than ugly, better to be smart than stupid?
Call me unreasonable. Because the very same logic that suggests that beautiful trumps ugly leads us toward the conclusion that some lives are more valuable or precious than others. Infanticide and euthanasia are logical extensions of the very rational argument than starts with a person’s capabilities and attributes, and ends with ranking them and deciding which ones are good and thus deserving of life, and which ones should be granted a thoughtfully merciful end.
This is straightforward enough when we consider a person: if every person is endowed with a divinely-gifted soul, then every life has value. Those who do not believe a person has a soul, ultimately do not believe in the underlying value of human life.
But it goes well beyond this – and it does so because life is merely an opportunity, it is not an end in itself. What ultimately matters are the choices we make with the life we have.
Take, for example, the value of thought itself. One might be tempted to argue that thoughts, since they separate us from and elevate us above instinct and animalistic mental reflexes, are inherently good. The Torah tells us otherwise, in the very first time the word for “thinking” is given in the text:
And the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Gen 6:5)
At least in this case, mankind’s thoughts make G-d regret having made the world, and are the cause of its destruction! Just because we can think does not necessarily make it a good idea!
The Torah gives us a startling contrast, though. When discussing the creation of the tabernacle, the place on earth where G-d can dwell among us, the Torah commands us to use an “skilful craftsman” – and the word for “skilful” is actually the very same word for “thought.”
Them hath He filled with wisdom of heart, to work all manner of workmanship, of the craftsman, and of the skilful [thoughtful] workman (Ex. 35:35)
The power that mankind possesses is, in the first example, good enough reason to cause a flood and for G-d to “reboot” the world and mankind’s place in it.
But that very same power, in the second example, provides the means for G-d to permanently dwell among the nation, to provide a constant holy presence among the people!
We could suggest that the making of the tabernacle, with thoughtfulness, is in direct contrast with the evil thoughts that led to the flood – that the latter is a corrective for the former. The thoughts that can lead to the end of the world can be used for the insertion of G-d into that same world!
All things are neutral opportunities. What we choose to do with them make the difference between constructive good and destructive evil.