Friday, December 19, 2008

1:6:171 - Rav Ashi and Menashe

"Menashe appeared to Rav Ashi in his dream. Rav Ashi said to him, 'Why did you commit idolatry?' He said, 'If you had been in that generation, you would have grabbed onto my coattails and run after me.'" (my translation)

This is an astonishing assertion, made more astonishing by its abruptness and the paucity of explanation. Menashe was perhaps the most reviled Jewish king in the Tanach. Rav Ashi was one of the greatest Amoraim; he was the long-time head of the Sura academy and was one of the two principal editors of the Gemara. Yet he is told flatly and firmly that, had he been in different circumstances, he would have succumbed to Menashe's charisma and joined in, enthusiastically, the Bible's number one bad practice, idolatry.

This midrash resonated when I read a story today about collaboration (or alleged collaboration) by celebrated authors with totalitarian governments -- Gunter Grass, Ignazio Silone, and, alleged most recently, Milan Kundera. (See It's not an argument for non-judgmentalism, but it is a lesson in humility and in the need for vigilance against possible seductive influences on one's own conduct.

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