Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Rav Eliashiv: Moderation is normally required but extremism is required in times of spiritual danger BK (60b)

Bava Kama(60b): Our Rabbis taught: When there is an epidemic in a town, one should not walk in the middle of the road, as the Angel of Death walks then in the middle of the road, for since permission has been granted him, he stalks along openly. But when there is peace in the town, one should not walk at the sides of the road, for since [the Angel of Death] has no permission he slinks along in hiding.

This is explained by Rav Eliashiv (Yeshurun #28) in his commentary to Avos to refer to one's approach to religious observance. This is elaborated by Orech Yesharim.

Orech Yesharim (brought by Daf ahl Daf to Bava Kama 60b): As a general rule a person should always go in the moderate path and not be an extremist. However when there is an epidemic in the city i.e., there are many people who deviate from the proper path of observance – then one can no longer take a moderate position and he should not follow the majority in sin. Rather he should take an extreme position. That is because the Angel of Death who is Satan can easily seduce people to sin at this time. It is only during a time of peace i.e., when people are observant and attached to G‑d – then it is necessary to take a moderate position. In fact if a person takes an extreme position during times of general religous observance he places himself in great spiritual danger. Because at that time Satan has domain over those who conduct themselves as fanatics and extremists since their conduct is not for the sake of heaven.


  1. I am of course not on the level of Rav Elyashiv, but the way it seems to me:

    Satan knows how to confuse extremists as much as moderates.

    -ben dov

  2. Does anyone possess a photo of a smiling Rav Elyashiv? Or is there an eyewitness who ever saw him smile?

  3. The original extremists, the kanoim, or zealots, were largely responsible for inciting wars against the Romans, leading to the Hurban. This was done without siyata d'shamayim - contrast to the Maccabees, where the war was sanctioned by the Maccabee Kohen Gadol.
    The maccabees won, but the zealots lost.

  4. The maccaabees were the kanoyim of their time.

  5. The would-be extremist has many possible forms of extremism and types of extremist actions to choose from. In a given situation, some or all of these could cause more overall harm than good. In context, do we know what exact sort of extremism was meant in the quoted paragraphs here? For example, is it the type that makes a person take on chumros for himself, as opposed to the type that makes him try to force chumros onto others?

  6. Original citation in DAD here:

    "there are many people who deviate from the proper path of observance – then one can no longer take a moderate position and he should not follow the majority in sin."

    Certainly one shouldn't sin, even if this is what the majority is doing. Is that the "moderation" that he is referring to- lax observance? In such a situation, one who follows halacha, even without chumras and indeed without stridency, may very well be labeled as extreme.


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