`162 Ancient Common Sense
Chananya Weissman
November 30, 2021

There's an old aphorism that the fifth volume of the four-volume Shulchan Aruch (one of the primary compendiums of Jewish law) is seichel, common sense. In addition to book knowledge, one must be guided by the ability to see clearly and draw obvious conclusions.

Generally speaking, the more intellectual and “enlightened” someone is, the less common sense they have. After all, common sense is for common folk, and common folk are the bane of enlightened people. How are enlightened people supposed to distinguish themselves if not by advocating mind-bending notions in defiance of common sense? Only a genius can be the greatest of fools.

Chazal knew more about human psychology than today's technocrats will ever “discover”. They also recognized the wisdom of the common folk. The Gemara frequently refers to popular sayings of the time – never to make fun of them, as we might expect scholars to do, but with deference for the sagacity of people who interact with the world and each other.

In Bava Kama 92B Rava asked Rabba bar Mari how we know from the Torah various bits of wisdom that people say. Chazal recognized that all wisdom is contained in the Torah; anything people figure out on their own was there all along.

Here are some examples that are particularly relevant for our times, 1500 years later.

 א"ל רבא לרבה בר מרי מנא הא מילתא דאמרי אינשי מטייל ואזיל דיקלא בישא גבי קינא דשרכי אמר ליה דבר זה כתוב בתורה שנוי בנביאים ומשולש בכתובים ותנן במתניתין ותנינא בברייתא כתוב בתורה דכתיב (בראשית כח:ט) וילך עשו אל ישמעאל שנוי בנביאים דכתיב (שופטים יא:ג) ויתלקטו אל יפתח אנשים רקים ויהיו עמו ומשולש בכתובים דכתיב (בן סירא יג) כל עוף למינו ישכון ובני אדם לדומה לו תנן במתניתין כל המחובר לטמא טמא כל המחובר לטהור טהור ותנינא בברייתא רבי אליעזר אומר לא לחנם הלך זרזיר אצל עורב אלא מפני שהוא מינו

Rava said to Rabba bar Mari, From where is it that people say, 'A bad palm tree goes by barren trees'? He said to him, This is written in the Torah, repeated in the Prophets, repeated a third time in the Writings, taught in a Mishna, and taught in a Baraysa. It is written in the Torah, as it is written (Bereishis 28:9) “And Eisav went to Yishmael”; it is repeated in the Prophets, as it is written (Shoftim 11:3) “And empty people gathered to Yiftach and they were with him”; it is repeated a third time in the Writings, as it is written (Ben Sira 13) “All birds dwell by their kind, and people with those who are similar”; it is taught in a Mishna (Keilim 12:2) “Anything that is attached to [a vessel that is] impure is impure, and anything that is attached to [a vessel that is] pure is pure; it is taught in a Baraysa (Chulin 65A) “Rabbi Eliezer said, it's not for nothing that the zarzir [an impure bird] went with the raven, but because it is its type.”

Birds of a feather flock together.

It is no coincidence that the rich and powerful people saving humanity by destroying it all seem to gravitate to pedophiles, brutal dictators, and other such wretches. Evil people hang out with other evil people and conspire to do evil things together. We don't need to be experts in any particular field to recognize this, and to be leery of anything these bad characters want to foist on us for our own good. It's found all over the Torah, and it's common sense.


 אמר ליה רבא לרבה בר מרי מנא הא מילתא דאמרי אינשי אי דלית דורא דלינא ואי לא לא דלינא אמר ליה דכתיב (שופטים ד:ח) ויאמר אליה ברק אם תלכי עמי והלכתי ואם לא תלכי עמי לא אלך

Rava said to Rabba bar Mari, From where is it that people say, 'If you lift the burden with me, I will lift it, and if not, I won't lift it'? He said to him, as it is written (Shoftim 4:8) “And Barak said to her [Devora], 'If you go with me I will go, and if you won't go with me I won't go.'

The self-proclaimed “elites” ask and demand that we make all sorts of “sacrifices” for the nebulous “greater good”, while they pamper themselves in every way. They impose draconian restrictions and flout them in our faces. Occasionally, in a brief moment of honesty, they openly admit their belief that the rules shouldn't apply to them, because they are superior and more important.

The very first time a politician was caught not wearing a mask, or violating the lockdown, everyone should have rebelled at once. That would have been the end of it, and there is no doubt the world would be a much happier place right now. Instead, we continued to lift the burden while the privileged class enriched themselves even more on our suffering and expanded their own powers with impunity.


אמר ליה רבא לרבה בר מרי מנא הא מילתא דאמרי אינשי קרית חברך ולא ענך רמי גודא רבה שדי ביה א"ל (יחזקאל כד:יג) יען טהרתיך ולא טהרת מטומאתך לא תטהרי עוד

Rava said to Rabba bar Mari, From where is it that people say, 'If you called your friend and he didn't answer, cast a great wall and throw it on him'? He said to him (Yechzekel 24:13) “Because I purified you, but you did not purify yourselves from your impurity, you will not be purified again.”

Rashi explains this to mean that if you reprove your friend and he doesn't answer you, let him fall with his wickedness.

This is a difficult one; we all have people close to us who have made very poor decisions in the last couple of years and gone down a dark path. I don't want to give up on anyone, but at some point – depending on our relationship with the person and how they relate to us – we are absolved and need to let it go. Sometimes it's better for there to be a wall between people, and even to cut certain people out of our lives.


Here's some bonus common sense from Bava Kama 85A, which discusses the laws of monetary restitution for injuring someone. This includes paying for the victim's medical treatment. What if the guilty party offers some alternatives?

 ואי א"ל אסייך אנא א"ל דמית עלי כאריא ארבא

If he tells him 'I am a doctor' [and I will treat you myself] he can say 'You seem to me like a lion lying in wait.'

 ואי א"ל מייתינא אסיא דמגן במגן א"ל אסיא דמגן מגן מגן שוה

And if he tells him 'I will bring a doctor who heals for nothing' he can say 'A doctor who heals for nothing is worth nothing.'

ואי אמר מייתינא לך אסיא רחיקא אמר ליה אסיא רחיקא עינא עוירא

And if he says 'I will bring you a doctor from a distant place' [who will heal you for less money] he can say 'A doctor from a distant place will blind an eye' [he will go on his way and not be concerned about consequences if he harms me].

The conventional wisdom today says it's a great idea for pharmaceutical companies with a long history of criminal behavior and carnage to continue bringing us miracle drugs, without being thought of as lions lying in wait. We are supposed to trust that their “free” shots are so safe and effective that everyone should be forced to take them.

And, of course, they and everyone promoting their chemical junk should rake in unlimited profits, yet be immune from liability. (As someone aptly noted, they are the only ones receiving immunity of any kind in this bargain.) They are doing a lot more than blinding eyes, yet they are marching on their merry way without fear of consequences.

We need to stop giving credence to clever peddlers of nonsense, who redefine words, make faulty comparisons, split the wrong hairs, and invent new standards whenever it suits them. There is nothing enlightened about them; they have less wisdom than common folk, and less clarity than children. No wonder they are waging war on both.

If we hold fast to our ancient wisdom and our common sense, we will prevail.