Choosing Role Models

Next time you hear a speaker or a rabbi speak about “the goyim” in some disparaging stereotype, ask them about this gemara.

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi asks about an apparent contradiction in seifer Yechezqeil. The first pasuq (5:7):

לָכֵ֞ן כֹּֽה־אָמַ֣ר ׀ אֲ-דֹנָ֣י ה֗’ יַ֤עַן הֲמָנְכֶם֙ מִן־הַגּוֹיִם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר סְבִיבֽוֹתֵיכֶ֔ם בְּחֻקּוֹתַי֙ לֹ֣א הֲלַכְתֶּ֔ם וְאֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַ֖י לֹ֣א עֲשִׂיתֶ֑ם וּֽכְמִשְׁפְּטֵ֧י הַגּוֹיִ֛ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר סְבִיבוֹתֵיכֶ֖ם לֹ֥א עֲשִׂיתֶֽם׃

Assuredly, thus said the L-rd Hashem: Because you have outdone the nations that are round about you – My decrees you have not followed, my laws you have not kept, and the laws of the nations around you you have not kept.

And the second pasuq (11:12):

וִֽידַעְתֶּם֙ כִּֽי־אֲנִ֣י ה֔’ אֲשֶׁ֤ר בְּחֻקַּי֙ לֹ֣א הֲלַכְתֶּ֔ם וּמִשְׁפָּטַ֖י לֹ֣א עֲשִׂיתֶ֑ם וּֽכְמִשְׁפְּטֵ֧י הַגּוֹיִ֛ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר סְבִיבוֹתֵיכֶ֖ם עֲשִׂיתֶֽם׃

Then you will know that I am Hashem, Whose decrees you did not follow and Whose laws you did not keep, but the laws of the nations around you you did keep.

So, is Yechzeqeil faulting our ancestors for assimilating and following the mishpatim, the logical and just laws of the non-Jews around them, or for not following them? Did we or didn’t we follow their mishpatim? And why would Hashem condemn us for both, literally “d*mned if you do, d*mned if you don’t”?

Here was Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s resolution. Sanhedrin 39b:

דר’ יהושע בן לוי רמי:
כתיב “וּֽכְמִשְׁפְּטֵ֧י הַגּוֹיִ֛ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר סְבִיבוֹתֵיכֶ֖ם לֹ֥א עֲשִׂיתֶֽם׃” וכתיב “וּֽכְמִשְׁפְּטֵ֧י הַגּוֹיִ֛ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר סְבִיבוֹתֵיכֶ֖ם עֲשִׂיתֶֽם׃”?!
כמתוקנין שבהם לא עשיתם, כמקולקלין שבהם עשיתם.

For Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi raises a contradiction:
It is written [concerning the Jewish people], “and the laws of the nations around you you have not kept”, and [yet] it is [also] written: “but the laws of the nations around you you did keep.”?!
Like the proper ones among [the nations] you did not act, but like the flawed ones among them you did act.

What do you know. This amora acknowledges that there are bad people and good people in this world. Even when speaking of the Kenaanim that the Jews of Yechezqeil’s day lived among, finding role models should have been easy enough that we were held accountable to choosing the flawed Kenaanim and not not the righteous ones.

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