Volume 2 Issue 45
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
LEFT, RIGHT & THE POLITICS OF MISCONSTRUCTION
In an era when political opinions are so clearly aggrandized -- one is
pigeonholed as liberal or conservative, a rightist or leftist -- this
week's portion shines a new perspective on right and wrong, and even left
In describing the importance of following the advice of our sages, the
Torah uses an interesting expression. "Do not stray from the path of their
counsel, neither to the left or to the right." The Talmud espouses the
faith we are to have in the wisdom of the sages by explaining: "Even if
they tell you that left is right and right is left, and surely when they
tell you that right is right and left is left."
I was always puzzled by the interpretation. Theological insights into
events are subject to interpretations as varied as the eye-colors of the
viewers. Even rabbinical conjectures can be objectively understood from
varied perspectives and lifestyles. But direction? How can we misconstrue
directional accuracy? Either something is right or it is left.
Back in the old country, a notorious miser was castigated by members of his
community, for his lack of involvement in charitable endeavors. He was
urged to begin inviting the poor to his home. He was even advised of how
good the mitzvah would make him feel.
Reluctantly, the next Friday afternoon he gave his son a few coins and told
him to buy the cheapest piece of fish. He warned him not to spend more
than an amount that would buy the lowest quality fish. He also cautioned
him to buy it just before the shop was to close for the Sabbath when the
price was sure to be at it's lowest. He was not to worry about freshness or
appearance, just size and price. The son did exactly as he was told and
brought back an excellent bargain: a large fish, thoroughly rancid.
Pleased with his purchase, the miser went to synagogue that evening and was
proud to invite a pauper to his home. For the first time in memory he had a
stranger actually eat with him. True to what he had been told, he really
did feel wonderful. The beggar didn't. His weak stomach could not take the
putrid fish and he became seriously ill.
That Monday, the miser went with his son to visit the ailing beggar in the
community ward of the local hospital. When the poor soul died of food
poisoning, he proudly attended the funeral. He even paid his respects to
the relatives who sat shiva at their hovel.
Upon leaving the home of the mourners, the miser remarked proudly to his
son, "Isn't it wonderful that we got involved with this beggar? Look how
many mitzvos we have already performed. And it didn't even cost us more
than a few pennies!"
Often, perceptions of right and wrong are discerned, formulated, and
executed according to a warped sense of justice. Personal perspectives,
attitudes, and experiences greatly influence our Torah-values and
attitudes. Political correctness often hampers proper rebuke. Is it that we
would not want to offend an overt transgressor or do we just not want to
get involved? Does overzealous rebuke stem from our concern for the word
of Hashem? Or are we just upset at the individual because we have a debt
to settle with him?
When we see a definitive right and left, perhaps we are looking from the
wrong angle. It may very well be that our right is the Torah's left, and
the same is true of the reverse.
We are told to follow our sages whether they tell us that right is left and
left is right. In a confusing world, they may be the only ones who really
know which way is east.