Haredi sages do not make yourself overly wise

Our Torah warns Haredi Jews not make themselves too wise. “Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? (Ecclesiastes 7:16)

The Talmud gives a good example of this when it relates the following incident.

[The sage] Peleimu had the habit to say every day: An arrow in the eye of Satan, mocking the evil inclination. One day, it was the eve of Yom Kippur, Satan appeared to him as a pauper who came and called him to the door, requesting alms. Peleimu brought out bread to him.

Satan said to him: On a [holy] day like today everyone is inside eating; shall I stand outside and eat? Peleimu brought him inside and gave him bread.

Satan said to Peleimu: On a [holy] day like today, everyone is sitting at the table; shall I sit by myself?

They brought him and sat him at the table. Satan sat and covered himself with boils and pus, and did repulsive things at the table.

Peleimu said to the pauper: Sit properly and do not act in a revolting manner. Satan then said to him: Give me a cup. They gave him a cup.

He coughed up his phlegm and spat it into the cup. They berated him for acting this way, at which point Satan pretended to sink down and die.

They heard people around them saying: Peleimu killed a man! Peleimu killed a man!

Peleimu fled and hid himself in the bathroom. Satan followed him and fell before him. Upon seeing that Peleimu was suffering, Satan revealed himself to Peleimu saying: What is the reason that you spoke this way, provoking me by saying: An arrow in the eye of Satan?

Peleimu replied: But what then should I say? Satan said to him: Let the Master [Peleimu], say:‘May the Merciful One rebuke Satan. (Kidushin 81a-b)

In other words, do not be be so personally judgmental; you are not so wise a judge.

“Do not judge your fellow until you have been in his place.” (Avot 2:4) for as Rabbi Shalomo ibn Gabirol says: “A man is wise while he seeks wisdom; but when he thinks he knows it all, he becomes a fool.”

And the Bible adds, “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Proverbs 26:12)

Wisdom without humility leads to arrogance; and the destructive sin of “Sinat Khinam”—unrestrained hatred and excessive negativity; which doomed Jerusalem in the first century.

As the Talmudic sage, Joshua ben Perahiah said: “When you judge anyone, tip the scale in his/her favor. Judge the whole of a person favorably.” (Pirkei Avot 1:6)

Since Mishnah Avot says that we should always judge other people favorably. “We must also judge ourselves favorably” said Rabbi Nachman of Breslov because for many super-pious Hardim, piety does not confirm belief but only serves to protect one against the threatening experience of a world awash in unbelief and doubt.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov also suggests that even if oneself or one’s rivals seem to have no redeeming qualities [like Reform Rabbis], search further.”

In politics that means always remembering that the opposition is the “loyal opposition” In religious disputes that means always remembering that both first century religious parties; the school of Hillel and the school of Shammai, differed from each other on more than 400 points of Jewish law; yet the two schools were very tolerant of each other.

“Rabbi Abba said in the name of Samuel: For three years there was a dispute between the school of Shammai and the school of Hillel. Each said: The law is according to our views. Then an echo of a divine voice declared, “Both are the words of the living God, but the law is fixed according to the school of Hillel.”

Since both parties spoke the words of the living God; what entitled the school of Hillel to have the law fixed according to their rulings?

Because they [the school of Hillel] were kindly and humble; they presented their own rulings and also presented the rulings of the school of Shammai, and even more, they taught the school of Shammai’s rulings before they taught their own.” (Eruvin 13b)

From this echo of a heavenly voice we learn two important lessons. First, the religious belief that “both are the words of the living God” can help reduce widespread religious rivalry and tension.

Second, both religious and political leaders need to embrace the philosophy of not demonizing the “other”.

Following these two lessons would have reduced the emotional volatility that led to the destructive sin of “Sinat Khinam” the unrestrained hatred that doomed the Second Commonwealth.

May God help us prevent our generation from repeating the destructive sin of “Sinat Khinam” and destroy ourselves; and the Land of Israel.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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