Gershon Hepner

Each Man Must be True to His Selves

“Each man must be true to his selves, in the plural,”

declares Zadie Smith. The problem is neural.

The brain on the left side must speak to the right,

in the same way that right-minded people don’t fight

with those they think wrong, except when it’s time

to vote or to pray. I have two selves that rhyme,

there’s one that is always correct: when dissected;

it’s views don’t need to be changed or corrected

for views that may also be be wrong, which one

that thinks it is right won’t mind, since it’s fun

to have someone to play with and tease, as a brother

and sister will do all the time. Do not smother

one self with another, but let them have plural,

opinions despite resonances that are neural,

like twins who’re identical. It’s not erroneous

to one’s selves being true, updating thus Polonius.

If this should challenge you to change your mind,

do this, with one self leaving one self behind.

“What have I in common,” asked Kafka, “with Jews?”

The answer’s, “One self plus another. Both choose!”

In a podcast before Shabbat Shemini, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, quoted an opinion given by Justice Antonin Scalia’s in a graduation speech that he made for the graduation of a son, proposing that Shakespeare must have considered Polonius’s rule, “To thine own self be true” to be a foolish rule, since the Bard portrays Polonius as a fool.  Scalia’s interpretation of Polonius inspired Rabbi Soloveichik to attribute the fiery fall of Nadab and Abihu described in Leviticus 10 to the fact that their conduct at the inauguration of the tabernacle anticipated Polonius’s foolish rule, since they were never commanded to bring incense for the inauguration ceremony.  Soloveichik mentioned that Samson Raphael Hirsch makes this suggestion when he points out that Nadab and Abihu brought the incense in their own, personal pans. Lev. 10:1 states:

וַיִּקְח֣וּ בְנֵֽי־אַ֠הֲרֹ֠ן נָדָ֨ב וַאֲבִיה֜וּא אִ֣ישׁ מַחְתָּת֗וֹ וַיִּתְּנ֤וּ בָהֵן֙ אֵ֔שׁ וַיָּשִׂ֥ימוּ עָלֶ֖יהָ קְטֹ֑רֶת וַיַּקְרִ֜יבוּ לִפְנֵ֤י יְהֹוָה֙ אֵ֣שׁ זָרָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֧ר לֹ֦א צִוָּ֖ה אֹתָֽם׃

And Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu each took his fire pan, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and they offered before יהוה alien fire, which had not been commanded to them.

Soloveichik suggests that God killed Nadab and Abihu during the inauguration of the tabernacle not for any specific violation of the Torah’s rules but for following Polonius’s foolish one which Scalia indicted. The final words of Lev. 10:1 confirm this suggestion. It was the fact that they brought fire that they had not been commanded to bring that made their fire אֵ֣שׁ זָרָ֔ה, alien fire.

My son. Rabbi Zachary Hepner, suggested that the last verse in Judges attributes the chaotic behavior of Israelites described in the Book of Judges to the fact that they foolishly followed Polonius’s rule, reading Judges 21:25 as an indictment of their conduct that anticipated Scalia’s indictment of  Polonius’s rule when it states:

בַּיָּמִ֣ים הָהֵ֔ם אֵ֥ין מֶ֖לֶךְ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל אִ֛ישׁ הַיָּשָׁ֥ר בְּעֵינָ֖יו יַעֲשֶֽׂה׃

In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did as seemed correct in their eyes.

On the other hand, the biblical commentator Metsudat David, David Altschuler of Prague (1687-1769), interprets this verse very differently, suggesting that this verse praises the Israelites for having preserved the tribe of Benjamin when it was threatened with annihilation, behaving ethically despite אֵ֥ין מֶ֖לֶךְ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל, there was no king in Israel.  Based on what I have written, it is as if Metsudat Davi reads איש הישר , ish hayashar, meaning “everyone correct” as אש הישר, esh hayashar, “correct fire.”

About the Author
Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored "Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel." He can be reached at
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