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Shabbat Parashat Haazinu 5777

Ein Ayah: Protesting the Worthless

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 2:261)

Gemara: 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. They made marketplaces, to put brothels, bathhouses to indulge themselves, bridges to collect tolls.”  

 

Ein Ayah: Rabbi Shimon protested against the actions of the powers of evil even when it stretched out its hooves and cloaked itself in the clothes of goodness and kindness (Rome is compared to a pig, which is not kosher despite the split hooves it “likes to display.”) Rabbi Shimon penetrated into the depth of the ostensibly good actions themselves to demonstrate the degree of bad that comes out of the actions of evil people. It is not just that there are negative consequences that accompany a basically good idea. If that were the case, there would be room for a thinker to treat the matter as a narrow pathway that can be traversed carefully, without straying to the right or to the left. Rather, the actions in and of themselves are far from any positive purpose, even an ostensibly clear purpose.

This is because a basis of evil turns everything into a pitfall, as it is done for the evil entity’s own purposes and is bad for human society as a whole. The Romans’ actions added an element of pain to the existing pressure from their heavy hand and the burden of their haughty government. They had no outlook of justice, and no spirit of divinely inspired kindness had an impact on the soul of this evil nation. Therefore, there are no elements in which they chose a good course of action due to love of mankind. Rather, there was only self-love in their hearts, with the goal of subjugating the whole world under their dominion. That, in turn, enabled them to fulfill their lowly animalistic desires. Thus, the actions did not fulfill even the direct benefit for which they were ostensibly designed.

They made marketplaces, which ostensibly are to increase commerce and thereby make society more affluent. However, their perverse approach was that the marketplaces serve as a place for brothels. This, besides the spiritual destructiveness, also impoverished those who frequented the marketplace more than the commerce enriched them (see Mishlei 6:26 & 29:3, which bemoan how frequently such “institutions” rob one of his money). Therefore, the population gained nothing in the greater picture from the marketplace, certainly not spiritually, but not even materially.

The marketplaces, in terms of their ostensible purpose, had more to do with bathhouses than with bridges, but this too is in a negative way. The Roman bathhouse were not instituted in order to clean people from their inclination toward animalistic lowliness but to pursue lowly pleasures, not health. Such places weakened and pampered the bathers, distancing them from a willingness to work or making them physically heartier. It goes without question that it did not provide them with any success of real value.

The bridges they built, which could have helped unite people, were done in order to take tolls. These taxes impoverished the many people who rushed to use the bridges, so that the flow of people did not bring “revenues” to the users. It provided a rouse of benefit, while actually causing a reduction in real commerce which outweighed benefit. Therefore, [reasoned Rabbi Shimon], there was no room to remain silent [as Rabbi Yossi did] because there are not considerations for both gratefulness and complaint, but just for protest against the overarching evil of the regime. The Romans projected much positive pomp to others, which caused the view of many to be distorted, but Rabbi Shimon removed the veil that protected the image of Rome. 
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