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Shabbat Parashat Vayeilech 5777

Ein Ayah: A Head Speaker Sees the Good from All

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 2:259-260)

Gemara: Why was Rabbi Yehuda called “the head speaker in every place”? Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yossi, and Rabbi Shimon were sitting, and Yehuda from a family of converts was sitting near them. Rabbi Yehuda opened up and said: “How pleasant are the actions of this nation [the Romans]. They set up marketplaces, set up bridges, and set up bathhouses.” Rabbi Yossi was silent. Rabbi Shimon said: “All that they did, they did for their own sake …Yehuda from the family of converts told what they said, and the rulers found out. They said: “Yehuda who found a good thing to say will be elevated …”   


Ein Ayah: The purpose of human society creating improvements is certainly something that can be seen differently from different perspectives. Just as there is a great distinction between Israel and the nations as far as our being holy among the mundane, so too is there a difference in regard to the purpose for striving to improve the world. Certainly our intentions and those of the Romans were very different.

Undoubtedly, the different intentions behind actions impact on some of the details of how the actions are carried out. Even so, there are things that overlap, in that they are helpful both for the Romans’ coarse materialistic goals and for Israel’s holy purposes. These matters can be called pleasant and constructive.

It is positive for someone to always seek out the shared accomplishments and use them for positive purposes. He can enjoy them and praise them even if they come from a source that is coarse and whose purposes are diametrically opposed to the proper ones that the “kingdom of priests and holy nation” has. Such a person, who can still appreciate the good, is fit to be the head spokesman in all places. With all his connection to sanctity, to Torah, and to the holiness of Israel, he can still find a place in his heart for the good he comes in contact with, even from an evil nation.

One of the important things in society is that one can acquire that which others have produced so that various people can be involved in different occupations and provide that which is useful to others. This is the benefit of marketplaces. Another benefit is to allow people from distant places to be unified. This is the gain made possible by bridges. Above all the others is the benefit of creating things that bring good health to all members of society so that they will be able to continue to be productive members of society. The cleanliness that is gained by the existence of bathhouses is such a matter. These three elements, which Rabbi Yehuda noted, are pleasant enterprises, which, no matter the intention of the one who made them, can be used for the loftiest of goals.

Rabbi Yossi was silent, as he had a different approach to good things that come from a bad source. Admittedly, it is not possible to deny that good comes from such sources. However, we always have a fear that the bad part of the internal inclination will cause greater destruction than the good that emanates from it. Therefore, one can neither protest the good nor rejoice in something that comes from a totally negative source. The heart of the perceiver is cast into a storm, as the feeling of recognition of good is opposed by concern for the strengthening of the evil people through their successes. In such a case, the heart prevents a person from reacting positively or negatively. Like Rabbi Yossi, such a person is silent.


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