Life is sometimes filled with contradictions. The author of the ethical tract Paths of the Righteous points out, for example, that love can be the greatest virtue when expressed appropriately or the greatest vice when expressed inappropriately (Gate 5). Parents love their children and that love is indispensable to developing self-esteem and good character. But when parents fail to correct and reprimand their children because they love them too much to punish them, then their love will ultimately prove harmful. Similarly, love of money can engender healthy competition among people. But that same love of money may compel a competitor to adopt dishonest practices. The same powerful emotion can yield diametrically opposite results.
This insights was noticed long before it was articulated by the moralist author of Paths of the Righteous. In juxtaposed passages, the Torah gives an example of how the same thing can be the source of opposite reactions. The investiture of the priests to serve in the Tabernacle was completed on the eighth day. At that time the altar was used initially for the performance of sacrificial rites on behalf of the people Israel. But the inaugural offering was not consumed by fire lit by human hands. Fire cam forth “from before God” (Leviticus 9:24) to consume the sacrifice. Supernatural fire is cause for rejoicing. Two verses later (Leviticus 10:2) Scripture narrates another instance of fire coming forth from God. However, this second instance was cause for lamenting. Committing a serious offence, Nadav and Avihu, Aaron’s eldest sons, were burned to death. In the first instance, divine fire brings exultation. In the second instance, divine fire is a source of bereavement. The same divine fire cause opposite reactions.
One chapter later the Torah emphasizes the point that when water touches seeds it renders them susceptible to impurity (Leviticus 11:38). But when water is applied to the impure, it relieves impurity (Leviticus 14:8, 9). The same water that putrifies, purifies. The same element can cause opposite results.
What seems to emerge from all of this is that everything in life is potentially beneficial or harmful, depending upon circumstances alone. Fire can create or destroy. Rains can nurture or erode. Money can sustain or corrupt. Every element, every emotion, every action can be the source of good or bad. This certainly makes for confusion. But that is the nature of life.