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    Two extremes – Naso

    Maimonides

    There couldn’t be a greater contrast than that of the two extremes that are depicted in this week’s parashah.

    There is the sotah, the woman who allows herself the extreme of licence, and the nazir, the person who is so strict that no transgression could ever arise on their radar screen.

    Both types are found in the society around us – people who always go for latitude and leniency even when it is unwarranted, and people who retreat into fanaticism out of fear that they will tie the wrong shoelace. Judaism regards both as sinful.

    Maimonides, writing in his Eight Chapters on Ethics, is not a great believer in extremes and urges the sh’vil hazahav, the golden mean.

    He says that the only way a person can justifiably go to one extreme is if they have found themselves at the opposite one, and in order to correct their conduct they should move towards the other extreme and eventually settle down in the middle.

    Some people hear this today and get the wrong impression. They think that there is a strain of religious politics in the “golden mean” idea and interpret it as saying, “Don’t be too orthodox, nor too reform”.

    That’s not what Maimonides is talking about at all. He is not speaking about how observant one must be of the commandments: for him there is only one Judaism, orthodoxy (though the term had not yet been coined).

    What he is talking about is ethical attitudes and character traits and the way towards personal equilibrium.

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