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.
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