D’varim: How Good Is Good?

When More Is Less
There is an old saying, “if good is good, is better not better?” Contrast that with the saying, “everything is good, but only in moderation.” Which is true?
Ice cream is good, but too much of it gives you a stomach ache. Vacations are good, but too much of it leaves you bored and penniless. Would anyone suggest that these things are bad in moderation? On balance, the answer is no. But that is not the right question. The question is this, are these things entirely good in moderation?
If something is entirely good, then more of it is even better. Good plus good, doesn’t equal bad. It equals very good. The good things that are bad for you when you have too much of them are not entirely good. There is a little bad in them too. The little bit of bad is drowned out by the overwhelming good so you don’t feel it when you take it in small measures. But when you have too much of it, the little measures of bad pile up and become discernible.
Ice cream is overloaded with sugar, which is mostly bad for you. But sugar is also sweet so when you have it in moderation you can enjoy the sweetness while handling the negative. The fact is that nothing in life is a hundred percent good. Ours, is a world of good and bad. Everything is a mix of positive and negative. All we can hope for is a balance of good, but there will always be something bad in it too.
The only exception is Torah. Torah is pure and there is nothing wrong with it. No part of it is negative. That is why you can never have too much Torah. This is a perfect example of good plus more good equals very good. Torah and more Torah amounts to a very good life.
Three is a Crowd
We now understand the saying, “Two is company, three is a crowd.” If having one friend is good, shouldn’t two friends be better? The answer would have been a resounding yes if friendship was entirely good. But since there is something uncomfortable about surrendering our privacy and personal space, we are willing to sacrifice it for friendship, but only to a degree. We are willing to share it with one friend, but bringing in more, can crowd us out.
Just look at the highways and roadways of our beautiful country. So long as you are alone on the road, the scenery is beautiful. The moment you are stuck in traffic, you forget the scenery. You are in competition with everyone around you and they all annoy you.
Byways of Heaven
This makes it all the more amazing that the highways of heaven are packed with billions of stars and they all share their space peacefully. There are billions of heavenly bodies, all hurtling through the skies at incredible speeds and they all get along. You never get a traffic accident in heaven and you surely never hear of a traffic pile up. Why do they get along so nicely up there? In heaven it seems that three or even three billion does not a crowd make. So what is their secret?
There is no ego in heaven. The heavenly bodies are in constant orbit rushing along the path that G-d sets for them. They don’t travel because they want to, they travel for G-d. Their overriding desire is to sing G-d’s praises and out of sheer exultation they dance across the skies. When you are united around a common focal point, when you stop being yourself and coalesce around something larger than you, you can share space. More is not less. More is actually better.
In our lives we see this when family comes for a visit. “When there is room in the heart,” goes the saying, “there is room in the hearth.” Where there is love, you make space. People who need an entire bedroom for themselves, don’t mind sharing their space with the people they love.
But because we are on earth, our love has its limits. We can handle a family visit for a while, but after a while it grows old and we want our space back. Love on earth is not absolutely pure. Even love between husband and wife has its ups and downs. Even parents need time and space away from their children. At some point we feel crowded even by those we love, but at least for a while we can surrender our space for love. We are familiar with the concept.
In heaven, love is pure. Billions of heavenly bodies can share the same pathways without a traffic pileup because they are truly connected. They aren’t self-focused. They are all centered on G-d. Driven to things beyond themselves. When you aren’t focused on yourself, when you are not living inside yourself, you don’t need nearly as much space. Rabbi Manis Friedman offered a funny example.  Ten drunks can share one couch, but as soon as they sober they feel crowded. A drunk isn’t self-focused or even self-aware. When we aren’t focused on ourselves, we require less space.
The heavenly bodies aren’t drunk, that’s true, but they are heavenly. They are G-d centered and thus can share their space. The old rule, “The more, the merrier,” fits them well.
The Stars in the Skies
This brings us to a peculiar Biblical episode. G-d blessed our nation to be as numerous as the stars. Moses blessed our ancestors that their numbers grow a thousand fold. The people protested, “G-d promised us the stars, why do you limit us to a thousand fold? Moses replied, “A thousand fold is from me, let G-d add to that as many as He sees fit.”[1]
The question becomes, if G-d already gave us as many as the stars, why did Moses limit it to a thousand fold and then leave it to G-d to bump it up higher? Why didn’t Moses leave it alone?
The answer should be obvious by now. Having more Jews is not necessarily a good thing. If we are purely good and absolutely holy, then more Jews will translate into merrier Jews. But if we are egocentric and self-centered, more Jews will simply crowd us. Having too much of a good thing is not good, when it isn’t absolutely good.
So Moses came along and said, so long as you are ordinary humans with faults and weaknesses, you are better off with a limited blessing. If you receive the unlimited blessing it will lead to discontent and divisiveness. But should G-d look down and see that you are purely G-d centered, then He will reward you with more. Then you will be able to receive the blessing as the stars in the sky. Just as the stars don’t feel crowded in the sky, so will you not feel crowded on earth.
A Time for Love
The Temple was destroyed because our nation was fractured. Each faction denounced the others. We had Jerusalem, but we couldn’t share its space. We therefore lost it. The solution is to focus on our common bond through G-d. We all love G-d and are all committed to the Torah. Just as there cannot be too much Torah so can there not be too many Torah loving Jews.

[1] Sifri cited by Rashi on Deuteronomy 1: 11. The following explanation is from Maharam Shik ad loc.