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Beit Midrash Family and Society Understanding Circumstances

Common Sence

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One of the problems of the concept of common sense is that it is really an oxymoron. Sense is anything but common in human affairs and amongst human beings. King Solomon, in the book of Proverbs, devotes much of its contents explaining that fools in this world far outnumber those that are wise and sensible. There are many things in life that should be self-evident to anyone that bothers to explore and analyze the issues or challenges that exists before one's own eyes.

We are truly creatures of instinct and emotion, and common sense has little to do with either of those attributes. It is obvious that many more mistaken choices and foolish ideas are adopted than wise decisions and intelligent choices. Wisdom is not necessarily a product of higher education or advanced, professional degrees. Innate human wisdom is built upon the existence of common sense, which allows one to use one's own life experiences to arrive at correct decisions. Yet, because of our natural tendency to be influenced by preconceived ideas and agendas, common sense hardly ever comes to our rescue.

We have discarded it in favor of imaginary notions and wishful thinking. The prophets of Israel long warned of the consequences of abandoning common sense in favor of following currently popular and accepted social norms. And common sense, once lost and abandoned, is difficult to find again and restore to its rightful place at the head of normative and productive human behavior.

At the time of the American Revolution in the 1770's, the first American best seller was published and distributed in the thousands. It was written by Thomas Paine and entitled "Common Sense." This book served as the justification for the American Revolution against the British crown, and, in a broader sense. became the parameter for early American democracy later embodied in the American Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. The main thrust of the book was not an emotional appeal to arms, but, rather, a cool analytical discussion of the important issues of the day that lay at the core of the dispute of the colonists with the British mother country.

The book intended to show that common sense dictates that relinquishing the American colonies and granting them independence would be in the best interests not only of the colonists, but also to the British Empire itself. But empires rarely use common sense. If they had, they would not have attempted to create empires and rulership over others in far distant lands. Common sense could have prevented the death of thousands in the long-protracted war for American Independence. Common sense could have also prevented the death of 630,000 Americans in the American Civil War 85 years later. Sadly, politicians and governments are not governed by common sense, but follow policies and ideals that may seem noble, but that almost always turn out to be of little lasting value. This leads to disruption of the society that they are supposed to improve and elevate.

Part of the wisdom contained in the idea of common sense is the dreaded law of unintended consequences. Legislation and governmental policies are often instituted to help the nation or certain groups that feel themselves to be disadvantaged and require governmental interference to create a more level playing field. So, legislation is passed, to enable and accomplish this goal of fairness for all. However, almost without exception, every one of those pieces of legislation, instead of benefiting the group for which it was intended to help, only made the situation worse by perpetuating social and economic ills that lasted for decades on end. These regulations served, instead, to exacerbate the problems that the intended laws were supposed to eliminate and heal.

Common sense always includes the warning that one's actions may have unintended and harmful consequences, which were never imagined or foreseen. We have all learned through bitter experience that no matter what country or society we live in, simply throwing money at a problem rarely, if ever. solves that problem or helps those burdened by it. We should all pray that our leaders, in all facets of life, should be blessed by heaven with common sense, so that they can be truly productive and effective.

Shabbat shalom

Berel Wein


Rabbi Dov Berl Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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