web analytics
May 29, 2015 / 11 Sivan, 5775
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post


Home » Judaism » Parsha »

Sages And Saints


Yet in the same book, the Mishneh Torah, he writes: “Whoever vows to God [to become a nazirite] by way of holiness does well and is praiseworthy… Indeed Scripture considers him the equal of a prophet” (Hilchot Nezirut 10:14). How does any writer come to adopt so self-contradictory a position – let alone one as resolutely logical as Maimonides?

The answer is profound. According to Maimonides, there is not one model of the virtuous life, but two. He calls them, respectively, the way of the saint (chassid) and the sage (chacham).

The saint is a person of extremes. Maimonides defines chesed as extreme behavior – good behavior, to be sure, but conduct in excess of what strict justice requires (Guide for the Perplexed III, 52). So, for example, “If one avoids haughtiness to the utmost extent and becomes exceedingly humble, he is termed a saint [chassid]” (Hilchot De’ot 1:5).

The sage is a completely different kind of person. He follows the “golden mean,” the “middle way” of moderation and balance. He or she avoids the extremes of cowardice on the one hand, recklessness on the other, and thus acquires the virtue of courage. The sage avoids both miserliness and renunciation of wealth, hoarding or giving away all he has, and thus becomes neither stingy nor foolhardy – but instead generous. He or she knows the twin dangers of too much and too little – excess and deficiency. The sage weighs conflicting pressures and avoids extremes.

These are not just two types of person but two ways of understanding the moral life itself. Is the aim of morality to achieve personal perfection? Or is it to create gracious relationships and a decent, just, compassionate society? The intuitive answer of most people would be to say, “both.” That is what makes Maimonides so acute a thinker. He realizes that you can’t have both – that they are in fact different enterprises.

A saint may give all his money away to the poor. But what about the members of the saint’s own family? A saint may refuse to fight in battle. But what about the saint’s fellow citizens? A saint may forgive all crimes committed against him. But what about the rule of law, and justice? Saints are supremely virtuous people, considered as individuals. But you cannot build a society out of saints alone. Indeed, saints are not really interested in society. They have chosen a different, lonely, self-segregating path. They are seeking personal salvation rather than collective redemption.

It is this deep insight that led Maimonides to his seemingly contradictory evaluations of the nazirite. The nazirite has chosen, at least for a period, to adopt a life of extreme self-denial. He is a saint, a chassid. He has adopted the path of personal perfection. That is noble, commendable, a high ideal.

But it is not the way of the sage – and you need sages if you seek to perfect society. The reason the sage is not an extremist is because he or she realizes that there are other people at stake. There are the members of one’s own family; the others within one’s own community; the colleagues at work; a country to defend and a nation to help build. The sage knows it is dangerous, even morally self-indulgent, to leave all these commitments behind to pursue a life of solitary virtue. For we are called on by God to live in the world, not escape from it; in society, not seclusion; to strive to create a balance among the conflicting pressures on us, not to focus on some while neglecting the others. Hence, while from a personal perspective the nazirite is a saint, from a societal perspective he is, at least figuratively, a “sinner” who has to bring an atonement offering.

Judaism makes room for individuals to escape from the temptations of the world. The supreme example is the nazirite. But this is an exception, not the norm. To be a chacham, a sage, is to have the courage to engage with the world, despite all the spiritual risks, and to help bring a fragment of the Divine presence into the shared spaces of our collective life.

Adapted from “Covenant & Conversation,” a collection of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s parshiyot hashavua essays, to be published by Maggid Books, an imprint of Koren Publishers Jerusalem (www.korenpub.com), in conjunction with the Orthodox Union.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth since 1991, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently “The Koren Sacks Rosh HaShana Mahzor” (Koren Publishers Jerusalem).

About the Author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently “The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.”


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Sages And Saints”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
What's happened to NYC's Celebrate Israel Parade?
Israel Rejects as ‘False’ UJA Federation’s Claims about Israel Parade ‘Inclusion’
Latest Judaism Stories
Torat-Hakehillah-logo-NEW

What if someone would come to you and offer you everything that is desirable in this world, but with one condition: you have to give up your essence.

Rabbi Avi Weiss

Torah learning is valueless unless it enhances personal morality, fostering closer connection to God

Grunfeld-Raphael-logo

Why did so many of our great sages from the Rambam to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein live outside Israel?

Daf-Yomi-logo

Casting A Doubt
‘Shall We Say [They] Are Not Valid?’
(Nedarim 5a-7a)

I was about six years old at the time and recall that very special occasion so well.

Question: Should we wash our hands in the bathroom with soap and water, or by pouring water from a vessel with handles three times, alternating hands? I have heard it said that a vessel is used only in the morning upon awakening. What are the rules pertaining to young children? What is the protocol if no vessel is available? Additionally, may we dry our hands via an electric dryer?

Harry Koenigsberg
(Via E-Mail)

Why was Samson singled out as the only Shofet required to be a nazir from cradle to grave?

“What do you mean?” asked the secretary. “We already issued a ruling and closed the case.”

Tosafos suggests several answers as to how a minor can own an item, m’d’Oraisa.

This week’s video discusses the important connection between the Priestly Blessing and parenting.

Many of us simply don’t get the need for the Torah to list the exact same gift offering, 12 times!

There is a great debate as to whether this story actually took place or is simply a metaphor, a prophetic vision shown to Hoshea by Hashem.

Every person is presented with moments when he/she must make difficult decisions about how to proceed.

One does not necessarily share the opinions of one’s brother. One may disapprove of his actions, values, and/or beliefs. However, with brothers there is a bond of love and caring that transcends all differences.

This Shavuot let’s give G-d a gift too: Let’s make this year different by doing just 1 more mitzvah

More Articles from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

The desert, with its unearthly silence & emptiness, is the condition in which the Word can be heard

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

This week’s parshah inspired the Jubilee 2000 initiative leading to debt cancellation of $34 biilion

Rambam: Eating blood’s forbidden because connected to idolatry;Ramban: We’re affected by what we eat

There is something quite distinctive about the biblical approach to time.

Why should unintentional sins require atonement? What guilt exists when requisite intent is lacking?

Like Shabbat points to something beyond time, the people Israel points to something beyond history

The Sabbath is a full dress rehearsal for an ideal society that has not yet come to pass-but will

Jewish prayer is a convergence of 2 modes of biblical spirituality, exemplified by Moses and Aaron

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/sages-and-saints/2012/06/01/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: