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Commentary on Tanakh Discussion June 7, 2021: Striking the Proper Balance

Don Perlmutter

We continued our discussion of the principles of Pirkei Avot as they relate to our daily lives. The recurring message was to carefully consider your decisions and weigh the consequences. While there are many rules to guide our behavior, either legal or Talmudic, it may be necessary to violate them if there is a “greater good” to be gained. A prime example is the principle of pikuach nefesh which positions the preservation of human life as a priority above keeping Shabbat, ritual fasting, etc.  

Do you want to be right or happy?
Adhering to and promoting principles in an extreme or dogmatic manner can lead to an unbalanced life and cause distorted and unhappy relationships. Consider the zealot who, in his strident extremism, loses his audience and ends up shouting in an empty room. What has he gained? A pyrrhic victory is a win, but at what cost?    

What is God’s Will?  
Our discussion turned to the subject of God’s will. In this context, Rabbi Edery reminded us of the Micah Mandate: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Justice without mercy, or mercy without justice—or either, without spiritual humility—are biblically impossible. Again, this seems to be a call to strive for balance in our interactions with others. 

Unfortunately, the notion of God’s will, at times, has been appropriated by some unscrupulous individuals for selfish or political purposes. They claim to have special insight into God’s will with the aim of manipulating their naïve followers. Here, in the absence of spiritual humility, Micah’s Mandate has clearly been violated.  

When facts are not facts…
In another turn, we discussed how two opposing sides can reconcile their conflict when they fail even to agree on basic facts. Rabbi Edery cited the novel Apeirogon by Colum McCann. The context is the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. He described the search for common understanding by establishing human contact and ongoing conversation which leads to empathy. 

Fri, December 3 2021 29 Kislev 5782