Aristotle is quoted as saying, “Virtue is the golden mean between two extremes." In my forty years of Rabbanus, I have never seen our society as polarized as it is today. My question is what draws people to a unbending belief or behavior? I found the following in Scientific American: “Until recently, researchers believed that the main principle involved in how we select our social ties has been what the ancient Greeks called homophily, or love of the similar. Political homophily—love of those who are politically similar—is one of the strongest and best-documented phenomena in social science. It influences how we choose the city we live in, our schools, partners, hobbies, and even music.” However over the past ten years there has been a marked increase in acrophily, or love of extremes. Many years ago, Rav Moshe Tendler zt”l told me, “ for some unknown reason fanaticism sells!” All of this is a very sad and disturbing commentary about today’s society.
In parshat Nasso we see two examples of extreme behavior. The Torah discusses the Sotah procedure where a wife is suspected of adulterous behavior. The second extreme behavior is the Nazir. He or she takes a vow to remove oneself from the physical pleasures of life. The two examples are literally polar opposites. Yet, as Reb Moshe Feinstein, points out, Birkat Kohanim immediately follows these two extreme cases. The last word of the priestly benediction is Shalom. The word may be translated as peace, wholeness, tranquility. When society is polarized and people sit at opposite ends of the spectrum, any type of meaningful dialogue or consensus is impossible. Serenity and well being are at best dreams or ideals out of reach.
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes: “The Golden mean, which is the middle way in between extremes…is the basis of Maimonides’ ethical theory. Maimonides speaks of avoiding extremism and choosing the moderate way in between extremes as the apex of Jewish and human elevation.”
As we read Parshat Nasso let us all realize the dangers we face on our road of life. The middle lane is the safest. At all costs avoid the extreme behavior that has affected so many negatively.
I look forward to seeing you in shul on Shabbas.
Rabbi Evan Shore