Is Right right and is Left wrong?

March 4th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 17 comments

Could you please explain Ecclesiastes 10, especially verse 2?  (The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.)

As you have taught me, this can’t be a coincidence to today’s political description of the two parties.  What is the Biblical explanation for left and right in this context? 

Thanks in advance.

Brad

Dear Brad,

Your question gives us an opportunity to point out how much influence Biblical language has had throughout centuries and throughout the world.

So many of the words for left such as sinister in Latin and gauche in French have negative connotations. In contrast, droit means right in French. You don’t want to be called maladroit or ‘not right’ as that suggests clumsiness. Right carries the implication of correct while left has overtones of left out, left behind and leftovers.

These linguistic customs stem from the verse in Ecclesiastes that you quoted. Misinterpretation of this verse combined with superstition led to the practice of punishing children who primarily used their left hands. (Susan Lapin is a Lefty!)

We also see these words in the final verse in the book of Jonah talking of 20,000 people who don’t know right from wrong, or as the verse puts it, “Right from left”. 

These overtones entered politics as well in the National Assembly during the period of the French Revolution. Those who supported the monarchy sat on the right of the parliamentary president while those looking to overthrow the king and start a new regime sat on the left. The terminology carried over to England in the late 1700s as defining political leanings.

Various words in the Bible carry nuance. To the dismay of the Amelia Bedelias among us (RDL doubts that many will catch this literary allusion) who expect every word to have a literal meaning, in the Torah, many words also convey a deeper meaning. A camel represents transportation while a horse represents military power. And yes, right represents the correct path while left represents going wrong. This does not mean that you cannot travel on a horse or that a horse cannot be a gentle companion.

In general, to the extent that the left in politics represents shattering of tradition, it often opposes respect for and fealty to God’s path. However, at various times and in various places both the right and left in politics veer away from the proper road. Today, we personally see those more towards the right side, seen as the conservative side in the United States, as more faithful to God’s word, however, were circumstances to change neither this verse or any similar ones in the Bible would require us to cling to a party that contradicts Biblical values because it identifies as the right.

Vote your values,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Want a Biblical inside peek at socialism? (While saving money with a capitalist sale? )
Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of Babel

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17 comments

Don Mullet says:

I understood your Amelia Bedelia reference. It gave me a chuckle.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Don–
You are far too literate!
Cordially
RDL

Steve says:

Hi Rav!

Hope you’re well. MI hasn’t been the same without you and the Lapin family. We miss you and wish you the best!

All our love,

The Clark family

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Steve–
And we surely miss y’all! And the Pacific northwest where our souls find solace.
Regards to all,
Cordially
RDL

Ellen Dimmitt says:

We (my now grown daughters and I) always got a kick out of Amelia Bedelia’s literal interpretation of things and the messes that followed!

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Oh no, Ellen,
I can’t believe I am wrong again. Repeatedly I am dumbfounded by the broad literary fluency of our readers! I am going to stop betting against you; I’m tired of losing
Cordially
RDL

Kristy says:

Ha ha! My daughter and I loved reading Ameila Bedelia and how she “dusted” the house! 😂 We even knew the word Maladroit from an Adventures in Odyssey episode. Thank you for all the in site you give. Blessings!

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Kristy–
I hereby withdraw my slur; clearly our readers are far more broadly literate than I had dreamed. You obviously were a practitioner of wise and dedicated parenting by reading together with your daughter. Thanks for being one of our readers
Cordially
RDL

Cheri Way says:

I love to read your responses. My family has always used words that were exceptional in describing things. My grand kids use an extended vocabulary, and then they ask us “now what does that mean?” They use the word correctly in context, so we give them a little bit more information on this word that they have adopted. I have recently started reading them children stories from the early 20th century. It’s amazing how much larger their vocabularies were back then. Thank you not only for your wisdom, but for making us more literate.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thanks Cheri-
Yes, even children 100 years ago knew better English (and more arithmetic) than college freshmen today. Wonderful to hear that you’re reading to your children. We strongly recommend that activity.
Cordially
RDL

CK says:

Amelia Bedelia?! Have not heard that name since,,, about the early moon-mission days. I do recall her ‘dressing’ a chicken for dinner. Literally. Good use of the reference for the lesson.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear CK-
You are obviously a widely read and literate citizen! My admiration knows no bounds. I have learned my lesson.
Cordially
RDL

James says:

Indeed, it seems many of us have had to read Amelia Bedelia to children or grandchildren. SO have I!
The Scriptural preference for the RIGHT and honoring the RIGHT runs deep. Two curious references to the right eye may be found:
1Sam.11: And Nahash the Ammonite answered them, On this condition will I make a covenant with you, that I may thrust out all your RIGHT eyes, and lay it for a reproach upon all Israel.
Zech.11: Woe to the idol shepherd that leaveth the flock! the sword shall be upon his arm, and upon his right eye: his arm shall be clean dried up, and his RIGHT eye shall be utterly darkened.
One wonders whether the RIGHT eye is held to be the spiritual guide or the discerner of truth. Thanks!

Susan Lapin says:

James, just today I did a Bible study on 1 Samuel 11 (What a coincidence, right? NOT) and it focused on that very phrase. You are right. Ancient Jewish wisdom sees much behind the literal words.

Karyn says:

Rabbi, I loved seeing the reference to Amelia Bedelia. It was a series that i read to my daughter’s way beyond the reading stage. We all loved laughing at her antics. What enjoyable memories!!! Thank you

Neweverymoment, Deb: ‘Tis said that a horse is a camel designed by a committee!

Trifany says:

Hi there! Amelia Bedelia was spot on. Be care not to ask a child to throw something out; you may hear the door open & shut!

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