Our Sages tell us that Jews should strive to choose the middle path in life. We should try to seek a balance in our everyday dealings and not engage in extremism. Again and again, we are told to act moderately toward others, to be a good neighbor and to respect all people, whether Jewish or not. Our Sages comment, “Beloved is humankind to G-d, for they were created in His image.” Notice the text emphasizes “humankind,” not differentiating between male and female or Jew or non-Jew. Everyone was created in the image of G-d.
We see this message of moderation across Jewish history—from King Solomon, who stated, “Don’t be too great a tzaddik, nor too much a wicked person,” to Maimonides, who taught that we should follow the “golden path.”
The Talmud declares in many instances “ko’ach d’hetera adif,” meaning that when faced a question of whether something is permissible or not, it is preferable for a rabbi to find a halachic allowance. Anyone can say “no.” The tzaddik seeks, whenever possible, ways to make life for the Jewish people just a little bit easier. We have so many laws, so many restrictions—why must we impose upon ourselves additional stringencies?
Before you stone me and call me a heretic, consider carefully that these are not my ideas. These are the words of our holy, revered sages.
Unfortunately, among many Orthodox Jews today, this is not the prevailing approach. There seems to be a tendency to favor the extreme, to always say “no” in any matter of Jewish law. In fact, it is difficult to find Orthodox Jews today who seek the middle road.
Day Schools and synagogues that present a centrist point of view are looked upon by much of the Jewish community as “treif,” when in essence their direction should be the preferred way. They present a balanced view, a middle of the road orientation, one that seeks to find that “golden path” so passionately espoused by our Sages.
It should be an honor to be associated with such a school or shul. However, parents are often reluctant to join these institutions for fear of being alienated by the general “holier than thou” Jewish community. They are afraid that their children will be denied a good shidduch because their family will be perceived as not religious enough.
Have we all gone mad? Since when are tolerance and moderation bad qualities? When did following the middle road go out of style?
My children jokingly remarked to me one day, “Abba, we finally found something that you are machmir (stringent) about.” Curiously, I asked them what they were referring to. They responded: “You are machmir to always find a heter (permissibility) when answering sha’aylot (questions of Jewish law).” To which I responded, “To be known as someone who always looks for a heter is truly a great honor.”
Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, the grandfather of “the Rav,” Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, as reported many times by the Rav in his writings and lectures, always sought ways to help people and to be meikel (permissive), finding the easier and more accommodating direction in Jewish law.
The Jewish people have changed greatly in recent years. We have lost sight of what our true religious goals should be. We have adopted the undesirable approach of extremism in our observance of mitzvot, when in essence our goal should be to strike a balance between the permissive and forbidden. Extremism and zealotry are not traits to be lauded. Quite the contrary, they should be shunned and frowned upon.
Isn’t it time to finally refocus on what our Sages teach is the ideal approach to life? To seek a balance in all our ways!