Beit Midrash

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To dedicate this lesson

When to Worry About Suspicion and When Not


Various Rabbis

Gemara: There are six things that are negative for a talmid chacham to do: ... he should not go out alone at night ...because of suspicion [he is going to an illicit meeting]. This was said only when he does not have a set time to learn [at night], but if he has a set time, people will say he is going to his set learning.

Ein Ayah: It is an important principle that is fitting of a man of stature to avoid unusual activity that could look suspicious to the outside observer, due to the bad impression it leaves. However, this does not apply when that activity is a necessary outgrowth of his high-level way of life. If the latter is the case, we apply the pasuk: "Wisdom is the strength of the wise" (Kohelet 7:19). His wholehearted involvement in good will protect him from people finding fault in him because they will see that a special person has special ways. They will understand that just as he is different in intellect and spirituality, so is he different in his behavior, thus justifying his unusual activities.
While the gemara discusses this idea regarding going out alone at night to learn, one can extrapolate from there to all areas of his service of Hashem. It is true also in regard to unusual ideas that a person may have. One should generally not share unusual ideas that people will not be able to cope with (parallel to going out alone). However, if it is part of a consistent approach of pure ideas, then people will not be able to suspect him of impropriety, and at the end the goals he strove for will be met.

Extreme Modesty
(condensed from Ein Ayah, Berachot 6:55)

Gemara: There are six things that are negative for a talmid chacham to do: ... he should not talk to a woman in the marketplace ... Rav Chisda says that this is so even if she is his wife.

Ein Ayah: It is extremely important to safeguard modest behavior, as it is protection from the damage that natural promiscuity can cause to the individual and the group. If one is not careful, modesty can wane from the hearts of people due to the impact of regularity. It is, therefore, proper to keep a distance between the genders and attach an element of embarrassment when people fail to do so. This stresses the important role that modesty has in completing a person as he strives for sanctity.
Embarrassment is always measured in comparison to the standards followed by the people of the highest standing, in our case, by scholars and people of good reputation. Although people of lower standing do not quite keep to that level, they can still maintain enough for the world to continue reasonably. For example, when important people wear particularly dignified clothes and act in a very distinguished manner, simpler people, while understanding that they are of a lower stature, will not allow themselves to sink to the lowest level either. From the top, a feeling trickles down that human beings must act differently than animals in their daily life. When the highest level people do not act with an extra level of dignity, matters will deteriorate by degree until simple people lose all semblance of self-dignity. With this come the dangers of people not holding back their inclinations due to embarrassment.
This is the reason that a Torah scholar should not speak even to his wife in the marketplace. It is not merely because some may not know that it is his wife, which is a matter of suspicion, but because intrinsically a scholar should demand a higher level of himself. He must go beyond the letter of the law to insure the strength of the moral structure of society as a whole.
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