D’var Torah: If the World Stands on Three Things, What’s on Your List?
רַבָּן שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן גַּמְלִיאֵל אוֹמֵר, עַל שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים הָעוֹלָם עוֹמֵד, עַל הַדִּין וְעַל הָאֱמֶת וְעַל הַשָּׁלוֹם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (זכריה ח) אֱמֶת וּמִשְׁפַּט שָׁלוֹם שִׁפְטוּ בְּשַׁעֲרֵיכֶם
In Pirkei Avot, 1:18, we read: “Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel used to say: on three things does the world stand: On justice, on truth and on peace, as it is said: ‘execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates’” (Zechariah 8:16).
If I were going to pick three values that the world stands on, would I make the same choices as Rabban Gamaliel? Justice, truth and peace are excellent values and in combination help to ensure a just society. However, truth and peace don’t always go hand in hand. In discussions about when it is permissible to lie, the Talmud says that sometimes lies can be told to keep the peace between people. The quote from Zechariah, which says that judgment must include both truth and peace, seems to have this in mind. The quote from Zachariah indicates a judgment “in your gates.” This suggests that public and transparent justice is also central to a working society.
So what would be my three things that the world stands on?
I think kindness has to be one because it has the biggest impact on people. If we are kind to someone, we not only impact that person but we also create a generally positive environment. Kindness is something we give to others. It isn’t based on give and take.
Justice would make my list. It is essential to both the individual and the society that people have a right to justice and a place to seek a remedy for transgressions. That everyone is subject to the same rules and no one is above the law is critical to me.
Humility is probably my third. I think that often mistakes are made when we are convinced that we know better and aren’t open to the possibility that someone else may be right. By recognizing that we are human and can make mistakes, we can be open to other values like empathy, forgiveness and just being present to others.
What’s on your list?