By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER
To King Solomon is attributed the dual counsel, “Don’t overdo goodness… Don’t overdo wickedness” (Ecclesiastes 7:16-17, JPS translation). The virtue of moderation is here written into the moral vision of the wisest of men!
The Talmud relates the story of Honi “The Circle Drawer.” Honi offered prayers of intercession for a community suffering from a drought. As Honi began, rain fell in insufficient quantities. Upon Honi’s continued prayer, rain fell in vast, destructive torrents. Finally, Honi’s persistent petitions secured a welcome, moderate, salubrious level of precipitation. He observed that the People Israel “can endure neither an excess of good nor an excess of misfortune!” (Taanit 23A).
Maimonides (echoing Aristotle) advocated for principled moderation: the Golden Mean (with notable exceptions). “The way of moderation is the correct way. Once you find this path, follow it all the days of your life.” (Hilchot De’ot 2:2).
Moderation enhances peaceful coexistence by facilitating communication between those with differing approaches, and by reducing the perceived need for entrenched, political posturing.
According to English modernist author Virginia Woolf, “All extremes are dangerous. It is best to keep in the middle of the road, in the common ruts, however muddy.”
Notwithstanding murk or mud, Jewish morality has never treated moderation as a dirty word.
(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)