Not every question has an answer and not every problem has a solution. This may be depressing for some, especially the young and idealistic (all too often, they tend to be one and the same), but this is something one realizes more and more as one gains life experience. This may be frustrating, but it is also ennobling, pushing us to search further and further to find solutions. While some questions may eventually find answers, some may not; often, a new answer is needed for an old question. Different circumstances require different approaches.
Thoughts from the Daf
Judaism has long rejected the notion that the ends justify the means. One of the most basic of Talmudic rules is that a mitzvah haba b’aveirah, a mitzvah enabled through the commission of sin, is rendered invalid. The third chapter of masechet Sukkah, lulav hagazul, the stolen lulav, gets its name from the fact that a stolen lulav is an invalid lulav and one gains nothing by using one, but may indeed be helping to create a desecration of the name of G-d.
In his best-selling book, Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely notes how very rare it is for humans to make decisions in absolute terms. Rather, we weigh our options, compare one choice to another, and decide accordingly. It is the relative merits of one choice against another that determines our actions. Truly, everything is relative and context is crucial.
In the days before instant replay took over much of sports officiating, the rule of thumb was that the ‘umpire is right even when he is wrong’. In the fast paced nature of sports it is inevitable that the umpire (or referee) will make the occasional mistake and such was accepted as part of the game. Occasionally, actually very rarely, games were won or lost due to a “bad call” but such was the price of live action.
One of the most inspiring aspects of the Torah is its very real portrayal of its personalities. People—heroes and villains alike – are presented in all their complexity. The sins of our greats are not only not whitewashed, but are often highlighted and punished all too severely. As Nehama Leibowitz often noted, the Torah is no respecter of persons. The Torah does not hesitate to tell us that “the brothers hated Yosef” (if they did not, we might be eating bread now!) or even that Leah was the hated wife.
It is the rare business that looks to create competition for itself. In fact, the success of a CEO is often judged less by profits than by market share. Growing the latter, even at the expense of the former, is generally viewed as a mark of success; whereas rising profits often will not save the job of a CEO if accompanied by a shrinking market share. Reaching effective monopoly status is the ticket to great riches.
Imagine going to the barber and fearing that barber may take his razor and slit your throat. Or going to a doctor who may purposely give you medicine that is designed to kill you. What if one had to live in constant fear of one’s neighbours, never knowing whom to trust? Sadly, such was the reality for much of our history.
It is axiomatic that Biblical laws are of greater importance than rabbinic laws. After all, the former emanate from a Divine Creator, whereas the latter are enacted by human beings, here today and in the grave tomorrow. While in practice we are to observe them with equal care (see Pirkei Avot 2:1), the line between them must never be crossed.
“The age of five for the study of Tanach, the age of ten for Mishna and the age of fifteen for Talmud” (Pirkei Avot 5:21). Our Sages clearly spell out the age-appropriate subject matter we should be teaching our children.