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Common sense

Written by the rabbi

The problem with common sense is that it is none too common. In fact, one could characterize it as a rare commodity or even as an endangered species. Does not common sense tell us that Shas, United Torah Judaism and Bayit Hayehudi, all of whom proclaim their loyalty to Torah, should form one bloc in order to influence the country and its government?

Yet we are witness to terribly vicious and damaging infighting between them that can only weaken their influence and erode the respect for Torah amongst the general population. Bayit Hayehudi needlessly excluded Shas and United Torah Judaism when forming its coalition cabinet. In turn, parts of the Haredi sector publicly declare they will boycott products from the settlements in Judea and Samaria.

Europe, are you listening? Is there a greater insanity than this? Self- inflicted wounds go deepest and are the most painful of all blows. Of course Bayit Hayehudi is exacting revenge for the passive attitude (and sometimes active support of the Rabin and Sharon governments) during the debates on the Oslo Accords and later with regard to the destruction of Gush Katif.

Anger against the Haredim may be justified for their past mistakes and policies but common sense should be able to overcome inner anger. Tearing the religious world in Israel asunder will accomplish little for any of the antagonists and nothing positive for the society as a whole. Believing ones own political rhetoric is a sign of the lack of common sense.

Common sense also tells us that sanctions and diplomacy are not likely to deter Iran from pursuing its decades-long goal of possessing nuclear weapons of mass destruction. For over a half century the world has tried to control North Korea in this fashion. As the current situation indicates, these policies have in no way deterred the mad leaders of North Korea from pursuing their risky game of atomic chicken.

Common sense and history, past and recent, has taught us that megalomaniac dictators can never really be appeased. Sooner or later they have to be confronted and usually the sooner is better. Common sense teaches us that there is good and evil, right and wrong, aggressor and victims in the world. Common sense excludes concepts of moral equivalency and the thinking that everybody is okay no matter what.

Common sense impels nations and individuals to defend themselves against unwarranted assaults and terror. Common sense prohibits relinquishing the existing tangible assets for intangible promises of the future. Munich and Oslo are pretty good examples of the lack of common sense. Churchill famously said that at Munich, Chamberlain sacrificed honor in order to avoid war - but that he then had both dishonor and war. And so it was.

The reason that common sense is so often ignored is that it usually leaves one with a painful decision to make. Human nature abhors having to make painful decisions. Hence, common sense is relegated to ones subconscious and reappears as regret and attempted repentance.

It is interesting to note that Judaism and Jewish tradition placed great emphasis on common sense. The two books of the Bible authored by King Solomon, Kohelet and Mishlei, are books of common sense with their universal qualities and practical views of life and the world. My teachers in the yeshiva would often refute some ingenious answer that I would come up with to answer a difficult Talmudic conundrum by simply saying that it did not fit the common sense of the subject under discussion.

Basically they taught that if it does not make sense then it is not Torah true. In Judaism, faith and the unknown is balanced by logic and good common sense. Even rigorous scholarship has to be tempered by common sense. In Mishlei, King Solomons main object of scorn is not so much the sinner for who does not sin at some point of life but the fool, the one who lacks common sense.

In King Solomons view, as expressed in this immortal book, the lack of common sense will inevitably lead to profound error and eventual disaster. No one sets out to make disastrous errors or foolish judgments. Yet if ones thought processes are not distilled through the instinctive common sense that exists within all of us, grave mistakes of judgment will continually plague us. Judaism believes in a collective common sense in society as a whole. "See what the people think" is a common refrain in the Talmud, We should strive to make common sense more common in our daily personal and national life.

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