When Double Standards are Virtuous
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
The law of the red heifer is the quintessential example of a Torah law that is completely beyond human comprehension. Perhaps its greatest enigma is that it purifies the contaminated (through contact with the dead) and contaminates the purified (those involved in the purification process.)
Although this law remains an enigma Rabbi Moshe Feinstein states that there is a relevant message in this anomaly. Both pure and impure devices are to be used in the service of God. The pure trait of humility and the contaminated trait of arrogance should both be used in the service of God. When it comes to oneself, one should act with humility and forgo personal honor. However, when it comes to the honor of another one should act like an egotistical person in defending the honor of another person. Similarly, the pure trait of generosity and the impure trait of miserliness should both be used in the service of God. With regards to our own resources we should be generous and forgiving but in regards to the resources of others we should be extremely miserly (In the sense that when managing another’s funds one must be particular about every cent). Rabbi Feinstein suggests that this is the meaning of the Talmudic teaching that one should serve God with both ones good and evil inclinations.
Expecting or instructing others to behave in a way to which one does not personally adhere is holding double standards and indeed abhorrent. However forgoing ones own honor and defending the honor of another, forgoing ones own resources and meticulously protecting the resources of another is indeed a virtuous ‘double standard.’