Who can guarantee that he knows what is just? Sometimes life is full of surprises, What I thought was a good opportunity proves to be a disaster, but who knows if something positive will arise from it? One who is believed guilty is declared innocent because the facts that have been presented may be interpreted differently. That is the lesson that the prophet Elijah taught to his dear friend, Rabbi Joshua ben Levi.
The prophet Elijah proposed that he fulfill one of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi’s wishes. What would be most desirable to him was traveling alongside the prophet. Elijah agreed that they could travel together but placed one restriction on Rabbi Joshua, that his friend refrain from any comments and questions.
They began their journey, arriving at the door of a poor couple whose only signficant possession was a cow.
Despite their poverty, they welcomed the travelers as best they could. When they departed, Elijah predicted that their cow would die, which occurred immediately. Was this a way to thank generous hosts who could not afford to lose their cow, asked Rabbi Joshua? Elias reminded his friend of his promise to remain silent.
The pair next arrived at the house of a wealthy merchant, who received them in his house but offered them neither food nor drink nor spoke to them. On their departure, Elijah informed the merchant that the wall of a room, which needed to be repaired, would be soon be strong and solid. Why would Elijah reward an undeserving individual? With great difficulty, Rabbi Joshua managed to keep his promise to remain silent.
In a beautiful and wealthy synagogue where Elijah and Rabbi Joshua were greeted coldly, Elijah awarded every member the stature of leaders; but when the pair were received hospitably by a generous and kind couple at their orderly, well-kept home, he predicted that their house would be turned upside down! Rabbi Joshua could no longer remain si-lent and told Elijah of his astonishment and revulsion. Elijah agreed to answer his questions but informed him that they would travel separately afterward.
Then Elijah set about repairing the damage he had caused. Knowing that his prediction had ruined the life of the poor couple, Elijah prayed for a quick replacement for their cow. The wall of the unfriendly merchant would contain a hidden treasure; by praying for a miraculous repair, the merchant had been deprived of that treasure, which would even-tually fall into the hands of others. The inhospitable synagogue, full of people fighting for the leadership, was to lose some of its wealth and influence, while the upside-down house of the kind couple would be a sign that they would soon have children they desired!
And what, you may ask, is the lesson we should derive from this story? Would the lesson be, as some believe, that we should not disavow the Eternal when unfair things seem to occur? Or, that we should not try to unravel the
mysteries of life as Rabbi Joshua did? Should we understand that we must choose between living in this world and accepting that we cannot know or control everything, or should we try to fully understand everything but remain inactive and only question what occurs? Perhaps we should learn that we must never despair despite how bad a situation seems. Or that Rabbi Joshua ben Levi should have seized his chance to accompany Elijah without giving up his right to question his actions. Should Rabbi Joshua have considered that the situation could change and that he would return to the normal course of his life? Must we give the benefit of the doubt? Should we learn that there are some issues and questions that should remain unanswered? Or perhaps this story teaches us about the power of friendship, which led Rabbi Joshua to this extraordinary adventure?
Can we make sure that our friends, our children, our partners in all our projects, in family, love, or profession-ally, grasp the reasons why we make our decisions? Do we try to see things from their perspectives? Do our decisions seem unfair from their points of view? We can encourage other people’s questions and raise our own. And if this becomes impossible, we will have to leave room for trust or take separate paths.
Our parashah teaches that one should step out of a straight line, but not right or left.
Several commentators offered opposing answers to the question of who can define the right and left. What should we do if “the commentator of the day” tells us “the (old) right is (now) left and (old) left is (now) right”? How do we know which way is the correct path?
There are things that one sees, and others that one ignores. If we want to remain a Community and people demand on one hand that we respect one another’s visions and opinions but also retain a joint vision, we must realize that we will never have 100% agreement on issues.
May we have the opportunity to reflect on this during these coming week and Shabbat, with friends, family, and synagogue.