Being a Mensch Part II

(must read post of November 2 with this)

I talked over with a colleague my analysis of the Rambam that I made yesterday and I’ve come to the conclusion that she is right and I was wrong. The Rambam is not saying what I said he was saying.

My points were

• that the middle path, rather than being on the same plane as the extremes, is on a higher dimension.

• that the word the Rambam uses for the middle path – yashar – harks back to the same word in Ecclesiastes that describes human beings having been created essentially good and therefore this “upright path” leads us back to our essential goodness

• that the extremes are not an excess or absence of the middle quality as much as they are a distortion of it. Recklessness is not an excess of courage but a distortion of it. I compared this to Rambam’s usage of the word tosefet [adding] and said that adding more of the same quality distorts its essence much the same way that adding to the commandments distorts their essence (hence the ban against putting five sections of scripture in the phylacteries instead of four for example). I could add that the word chesed, which is kindness means the opposite of kindness when it is exaggerated to the point of breaking down all personal boundaries.

• that the middle path is not just an expression of moderation or being balanced but is worthy of being called the path of God because it is a path of expressing God-like qualities

• that the middle path actually incorporates both extremes within it and gives the person a view from above, similar to the way God unifies all of existence and looks at the world from above

• that the middle path is therefore a path in its own right, different not just quantitatively but also qualitatively from the extremes.

All of this is not in the Rambam’s words. All Rambam says is that the middle path is at the midpoint between the two extremes and that one extreme is excess, more than the degree of the quality in the middle and the other extreme is a complete absence of the quality in the middle.

Perhaps it is enough to say that the way to emulate God is to avoid extreme behavior and this will be a way of approximating God ‘s behavior and being, since we cannot be God in any case.

However, I still believe that although my points are not explicitly in the Rambam’s words, they are an extension and development of it and that they are true.

We can and should strive to be upright in the way we were created to be – not just balanced between extremes but to see God’s compassion, grace and holiness as a model to emulate as far as is humanly possible and to walk in a qualitatively different path.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to hear a personal message a) through life and b) through the text that relates to this.

a) The personal message through life was “Batya, you’re wrong. The Rambam is not saying what you say he’s saying.” A couple of days ago I wrote about admitting you are wrong as one of the characteristics of responsibility. Here was my call to responsibility and I had to admit I was wrong.

b) The personal message through text came from the part of the Rambam (which I did understand correctly) which said the middle path in kindness is when you help the other person in a reasonable way, not going to one extreme of holding back from helping even when it’s no big deal for you to do it and not going to the other extreme of rushing in to help when you’re severely hurting yourself in the process.

Here I was yesterday, writing my post for the blog and my husband calls and says he just found out he has to travel to a different city for his work today and he left his lunch and lap top computer at home. I was presented in this scenario with the call on my life to sham de’otav [evaluate my path/inner qualities/perspective] along the lines of the Rambam. Should I offer to bring him his lunch and computer if it means going into work myself much earlier than I had planned? I won’t be able to do things in the house before I leave if I do this. But it won’t hurt me that much to do it. I don’t want him to have to go home first and then have to drive back and even further again. So I quickly finished up the post and brought him his stuff.

As usual, this was a question that could only be answered for that moment. This was the meaning of the moment for me. The text, by reminding me of the meaning of the upright path, was part and parcel of the reality that was calling me to evaluate and respond correctly.

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