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26 Old Mill Road, Great Neck, NY 11023 (516) 487-6100                                                                       Shabbat Announcements Naso 5779
         physical world that He created that is, in the first chapter of   These are not just two types of person but two ways of
         Genesis, seven times pronounced “good.” It believes not in   understanding the moral life itself. Is the aim of the moral life
         renouncing pleasure but in sanctifying it.           to achieve personal perfection? Or is it to create gracious
                                                              relationships and a decent, just, compassionate society? The
         What is much more puzzling is the position of Maimonides,   intuitive answer of most people would be to say: both. What
         who holds both views, positive and negative, in the same   makes Maimonides so acute a thinker is that he realizes that
         book, his law code the Mishneh Torah. In Hilchot Deot, he   you cannot have both – that they are in fact different
         adopts the negative position of R. Eliezer HaKappar: A person   enterprises. A saint may give all his money away to the poor.
         may say: “Desire, honor, and the like are bad paths to follow   But what about the members of the saint’s own family? They
         and remove a person from the world; therefore, I will   may suffer because of his extreme self-denial. A saint may
         completely separate myself from them and go to the other   refuse to fight in battle. But what about the saint’s country
         extreme.” As a result, he does not eat meat or drink wine or   and its defense? A saint may forgive all crimes committed
         take a wife or live in a decent house or wear decent clothing…  against him. But what then about the rule of law, and
         This too is bad, and it is forbidden to choose this way. Yet in   justice? Saints are supremely virtuous people, considered as
         Hilchot Nezirut he rules in accordance with the positive   individuals. Yet you cannot build a society out of saints alone.
         evaluation of R. Elazar: “Whoever vows to God [to become a   Indeed, saints are not really interested in society. They have
         Nazirite] by way of holiness, does well and is praiseworthy…  chosen a different, lonely, self-segregating path. I know no
         Indeed Scripture considers him the equal of a prophet.” How   moral philosopher who makes this point as clearly as
         does any writer come to adopt contradictory positions in a   Maimonides – not Plato or Aristotle, not Descartes or Kant.
         single book, let alone one as resolutely logical as Maimonides?
                                                              It was this deep insight that led Maimonides to his seemingly
         The answer lies in a remarkable insight of Maimonides into   contradictory evaluations of the Nazirite. The Nazirite has
         the nature of the moral life as understood by Judaism. What   chosen, at least for a period, to adopt a life of extreme self-
         Maimonides saw is that there is not a single model of the   denial. He is a saint, a chassid. He has adopted the path of
         virtuous life. He identifies two, calling them respectively the   personal perfection. That is noble, commendable, and
         way of the saint (chassid) and the way of the sage   exemplary. That is why Maimonides calls him “praiseworthy”
         (chacham). The saint is a person of extremes. Maimonides   and “the equal of a prophet.” But it is not the way of the sage
         defines chessed as extreme behavior – good behavior, to be   – and you need sages if you seek to perfect society. The sage
         sure, but conduct in excess of what strict justice requires. So,   is not an extremist – because he or she realizes that there
         for example, “If one avoids haughtiness to the utmost extent   are other people at stake. There are the members of one’s
         and becomes exceedingly humble, he is termed a saint   own family as well as the others within one’s community.
         [chassid].” The sage is a different kind of person altogether.   There are colleagues at work. There is a country to defend
         He or she follows the “golden mean,” the “middle way,” the   and a society to help build. The sage knows he or she cannot
         way of moderation and balance. He or she avoids the   leave all these commitments behind to pursue a life of
         extremes of cowardice on the one hand, recklessness on the   solitary virtue. In a strange way, saintliness is a form of self-
         other, and thus acquires the virtue of courage. He or she   indulgence. We are called on by God to live in the world, not
         avoids miserliness in one direction, prodigality in the other,   escape from it; in society not seclusion; to strive to create a
         and instead chooses the middle way of generosity. The sage   balance among the conflicting pressures on us, not to focus
         knows the twin dangers of too much and too little, excess and   on some while neglecting the others. Hence, while from a
         deficiency. He or she weighs the conflicting pressures and   personal perspective the Nazirite is a saint, from a societal
         avoids the extremes.                                 perspective he is, at least figuratively, a “sinner” who has to
                                                              bring an atonement offering.
                                                              Maimonides lived the life he preached. We know from his
                         Great Neck Yoetzet Halacha Lisa Septimus
                           Welcomes your questions about mikvah,            writings that he longed for seclusion. There were years when
                       observance of taharat mishpacha (halacha relating  he worked day and night to write his Commentary to the
                       to married life) and women’s health, as it connects   Mishnah, and later the Mishneh Torah. Yet he also recognized
                             to Jewish law. Reach out to her at:   his responsibilities to his family and to the community. In his
                                  Phone: 516.415.1111
                                                              famous letter to his would-be translator Ibn Tibbon, he gives
                                                              an account of his typical day and week – in which he had to
                              Great Neck Synagogue            carry a double burden as a world-renowned physician and an
                     26 Old Mill Road, Great Neck , NY 11023   internationally sought halachist and sage. He worked to
                                  516-487-6100                exhaustion. Maimonides was a sage who longed to be a saint,
                                                              but knew he could not be, if he was to honor his
                         Rabbi Dale Polakoff, Rabbi           responsibilities to his people. That is a profound and moving
                      Rabbi Ian Lichter, Assistant Rabbi      judgement, and one that still has the power to inspire today.
                    Dr. Ephraim Wolf, z”l, Rabbi Emeritus
                           Yitzy Spinner, Cantor
                    Eleazer Schulman, z”l, Cantor Emeritus
                     Rabbi Sholom Jensen, Youth Director
                  Zehava & Dr. Michael Atlas, Youth Directors
                      Mark Twersky, Executive Director
                     Dr. James Frisch, Assistant Director
                          Erran Kagan, President
                   Harold Domnitch, Chairman of the Board
                  Lisa Septimus, Yoetzet Halacha 516-415-1111
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