Balancing today's norms

Extremism rarely if ever results in the sanctification of God’s name in the world. 

Rabbi Berel Wein

OpEds Scales of Justice
Scales of Justice

As I thankfully and somewhat less then gracefully age, my sense of physical balance has weakened, gradually but inexorably.   When one has imperfect physical balance one is markedly more prone to fall, and all falls carry unknown consequences with them. There are physical supports such as canes and walkers that are recommended for use and in many cases they are truly mandatory for safe living. Nevertheless, it takes psychological and social courage to use these supports for it is an admission that we are no longer physically the person that we were for most of our previous lives. 

And that requires an emotional sense of balance, which is oftentimes more difficult than the physical sense of balance that we are attempting to achieve. We see that balance in life comes in many different forms, shapes and circumstances. There is no question that a sense of physical balance in human life is a necessity for productive living. 

However, we tend to ignore this tenet as it relates to our spiritual and emotional selves. There, in these equally important and vital spheres of our existence, the necessity for a careful sense of balance does not always exist. And this can lead to disastrous consequences. All of the mental health facilities the world over are filled because people’s lives are so skewed and emotionally unbalanced. 

And when this unhealthy personality imbalance spills over into matters of faith and religious practice, the results are less than encouraging and inspiring.  Extremism rarely if ever results in the sanctification of God’s name in the world. 

The great overriding rule of Torah living, as enunciated by the Rambam, is one of balance. The road to spiritual and emotional greatness lies in the middle. Extremism is only allowed to find one’s place once again in the middle. Rambam allows for extremism only in avoidance of the traits of anger and arrogance. 

The presence of either of these two traits in one’s personality will automatically destroy any sense of harmony and balance in one’s life. They lead to increased personal insecurity and eventually to paranoia and violence towards others. They are usually the culprits of personality imbalance. 

And when one loses one’s sense of balance, falling becomes an inevitable result. Hillel summed up the formula for balanced living in his famous maxim: “Do not do unto others acts that you find hateful if they would be done to you.”   That “golden rule’ is the absolute fulcrum of balance in life and human behavior. It is the standard that measures all of our actions and attitudes. 

It is what the Torah demands for us when it asks the seemingly impossible from us that we “love our friend as we do ourselves.” It is only through emotional and spiritual balance and wellbeing that this level of piety and decency can be realized. For those who are not in balance do not really love themselves. They are frustrated by life and its constant challenges, resentful as to what life has dealt to them. Imbalance with one’s self automatically fosters imbalance with all others in life, often making it impossible to love others.  

Like all tightrope walkers, we should possess and employ auxiliary aids, balanced wands, if you will, to help us navigate.
Like all tightrope walkers, we should possess and employ auxiliary aids, balanced wands, if you will, to help us navigate the yawning chasm of daily life. In Judaism these balancing wands are the commandments and customs of our faith that allow us to live a truly Jewish life no matter what the pressures and culture of other societies may be. But this is only valid if we use the wands themselves in a balanced fashion. 

Holding it in a tilted and unbalanced way will only guarantee our falling off of the tightrope. Judaism presupposes a conflict of values constantly assailing us. Halakha  and good common sense, a rational approach to life and realizing what the consequences of our actions and words will be in the future are the keys to this sense of balance in living a truly Jewish Torah life. 

Unfortunately there are many Jews who no longer possess a sense of balance in dealing with spiritual matters. Rewriting the rules of Judaism to accommodate every current idea and societal norm only skews our assessment of situations and destroys any sense of spiritual balance and eternal perspective. All of Jewish history bears out this truism.