Posted by Rabbi Hyim Shafner
Sometimes the middle path is perceived as that which is noncommittal and lacking passion. But in the realm of religion the opposite is true. It is moderate positions that require more passion and commitment because they tend to be less black and white and thus harder to balance. Extreme ideas in contrast are easy to grasp and hold onto.
Within Judaism, especially within more traditional arenas, there is disagreement regarding to what extent one should put up isolationist walls as a bulwark against western culture for fear of it compromising one’s religious values, or be open to outside people and ideas.
Sometimes those who form more extreme insular communities are seen as more pious. In truth though, every stricture, every religious piety comes with an equal and opposite religious compromise not as readily apparent. For instance, the more isolated and protected a community is the more they may retain their exclusive religious values, but at the same time their religious values will be less able to impact the outside world and thus less able to render them a “Light unto the nations” or as God put the Jewish mission to Abraham in the book of Genesis, “A blessing to all the families of the earth.”
Rabbi Marc Angel makes this point well in a recent article about Passover in the Jerusalem post http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-EdContributors/Article.aspx?id=217325 in which he writes that true religious life is balanced, not veering to the side of “ice” or skepticism and hedonism, nor toward the side of “fire” or religious passion that expresses itself as fanaticism and isolationism.
Yet it is hard to stand for moderation and balance, it is much easier, and I would add more sexy, to take extreme positions. The extremes of “ice” or of “fire” are less complex and at the extremes we are prone to see ourselves as self righteous, a position that, while locking out others, usually makes us feel pretty good.
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May 2, 2011 | 9:30 am
Posted by Rabbi Asher Lopatin
Friends of justice and those who value human life all over the world are celebrating the victory of American forces over one of the great forces of evil in our world in the past two decades, Osama bin Laden, who was killed by American Special Ops in Pakistan. And celebrate we must! On this Yom HaShoah, commemorated in the Diaspora on Sunday and in Israel, today, Monday, we remember the millions for whom there was no worldly justice. So let us celebrate that sometimes we are able to carry out justice on earth; sometimes we are given the power to vanquish our enemies. From the Song at the Sea to the Song of Devorah and to the chants of the Star Spangled Banner and “USA, USA”, let us sing a “shira chadasha”, a new song, that this victory will be only the beginning of a final and sustained victory over hatred, terrorism which usually centers around the Jewish people and the Jewish state. Kudos to President Obama – great work and a great speech – the US military – pulling this off despite a helicopter crashing – and to the United States in general, which is fighting the good war with her greatest ally, Israel. As our great prophetess Devorah said, “Kein yovdu kol oyvecha Hashem” – just as Bin Laden was vanquished so may all of God’s enemies be vanquished, with God’s help and with our efforts.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin