The Rise of The Mediums
It's a balancing act
Generally speaking in the world of Hassidut, there are three categories of people: the righteous, the wicked, and the mediums. That last category is known in Hebrew as Beinoni. While in common parlance, medium takes on a somewhat “meh” like quality, it’s more complicated in this realm of thinking. This notion is developed by the Noam Elimelech1 on the opening of this week’s Torah portion.
Deuteronomy 16:18 tells us the following:
שֹׁפְטִ֣ים וְשֹֽׁטְרִ֗ים תִּֽתֶּן־לְךָ֙ בְּכׇל־שְׁעָרֶ֔יךָ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יְהֹוָ֧ה אֱלֹהֶ֛יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לְךָ֖ לִשְׁבָטֶ֑יךָ וְשָׁפְט֥וּ אֶת־הָעָ֖ם מִשְׁפַּט־צֶֽדֶק׃
You shall appoint judges and officials for your tribes, in all the gates that your God יהוה is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice.
The simple read of this text is about justice and order in a society. Establish a legal system with proper enforcement.
The Noam Elimelech, as is the case with all Hasidic Rebbes, takes this to the internal dimensions of a person.
It is the way of the righteous that they have (internally) a rebuker that rebukes them on every action they take.
In his eyes, a truly righteous person never rests on their laurels. No matter what they do, they are always seeing a lacking. To you and me, this might seem reflective of an unhealthy demeanor. Telling yourself that you’re never good enough doesn’t usually lead to good results. But in this world, that is what makes a righteous person so righteous; they never stop trying to improve.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the wicked person:
This is not what happens to the evil ones, to whom all is upside down. All their deeds are good in their eyes, and even the evil deeds they do, their wicked inclination shows them that they did a good thing.
This is a clear perversion. To always believe that everything you do is good, even when you objectively know it’s bad puts you into this negative category. Here too, good results don’t usually result from someone who always views their actions positively. It’s selfish, destructive, and lacking in awareness.
So who should we be? This is where the “mediums” come in. They thread the needle.
a middle person needs to strengthen oneself with these two ways, to always dispute internally regarding one's deeds…and yet one should not, God forbid, go so far as hold oneself to be evil, because in that case one won't be able to have heart to do a mitzvah or [study] Torah or pray.
That is to say, be self-scrutinizing to a point. Take stock often of how you’re practicing in the world and recognize that you always have room for improvement. BUT, don’t go so far to constantly paint yourself as wholly lacking in all regards. You’ll bury yourself so far that you won’t have any energy left to give to yourself or others.
I find this idea deeply resonant. I struggle with that voice of self-beratement constantly. When I make mistakes, I can pile on, making the situation a whole lot worse. This text unlocks a key balancing act.
Rummaging through our deeds is the vital action of this period up to the High Holidays. What the Noam Elimelech is arguing is that this should be the balance we strike all year round. It’s why, he notes, the verse above uses both “judges and officers.”
You are your life’s judge and officer. It’s up to you to use that voice healthily within yourself. This is also why the text uses the language of “in your gates-בְּכׇל־שְׁעָרֶ֔יךָ”
Every time you can find this happy medium, you advance forward through another path in life. Although a bit granular, every act in life is a potential growth opportunity. Sure, there will be moments that pass by without a fleeting thought. But the more we can attune ourselves to our progress while paying attention to our behaviors, the better Mediums we can be.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Weekend!
Rav Elimelech of Lizhensk-1717-1787