The Torah1 states: “Righteousness, righteousness, you shall pursue.” To what does the double mention of righteousness refer? One refers to justice, and one to compromise. How are these two approaches to be implemented?

Consider two ships passing along a river in opposite directions and they encounter one another in a narrow channel. If both attempt to pass at the same time, they will collide and both will sink; whereas if they pass through one after the other, both will pass unharmed. The question is, therefore, who has to give way?

Similarly, suppose two camels were ascending from opposite sides the narrow and steep ascents of Beit Choron and they encounter one another near the summit. If both attempt to pass across the summit at the same time, both will fall; whereas if they ascend the summit one after the other, both will be able to pass unharmed. How should these situations be resolved?

If one boat or camel is loaded and the other is not loaded, the one that is not loaded should give way to the one that is loaded. Or, if one is close to its city (of departure) and the other is not, the one that is close should give way to the one that is not close2. (In other words, whenever it is less trouble for one of the ships or camels to yield than the other, justice should prevail and that one should yield.) If, however, both were equidistant from their cities, arrange a compromise between them and let them compensate one another. (Gemara Sanhedrin 32b)

When the government of Israel wished to pass a law requiring all girls to serve in the army, the Chazon Ish3 and many other Rabbinic leaders were steadfast in their ruling that the girls should literally die rather than allow themselves to be conscripted for any reason. David Ben-Gurion met the Chazon Ish in an effort to persuade him to submit to the law, or at least to convince him to withdraw his ruling that conscription of girls was an issue of Tehareg v’Al Taavor (be killed rather than transgress).

When Ben-Gurion asked the Chazon Ish how the secular and religious elements of Israeli society could possibly find a way to bridge the gap between them, the Chazon Ish replied with a parable based on our Gemara. “Our sages teach that if there are two wagons on a narrow road, one full and one empty, which wagon must accommodate its counterpart?

“Surely the empty one must make space for the full wagon to pass first. The wagon of the religious has been filled with Torah and Mitzvot for thousands of years, ever since the Sinai Revelation. Your wagon is empty since you only began to fill it a comparatively short time ago. You must make space to accommodate the religious community.”

The Chazon Ish added: “You should not misunderstand me when I say our wagon is full and yours is empty. Our wagon is full of the many Halachot such as Shabbat and Kashrut that we are required to observe. Your wagon is ideologically flexible enough to accommodate us, since you are not required to eat non-kosher and you need not profane Shabbat to be an upstanding member of secular society. You can give in to our approach and lose nothing by it. We cannot.”4


1.       Devarim 16:20

2.       It is apparently less of a burden on someone who has only recently set out on his trip to detour than it is for someone who has been travelling for a long time.

3.       Rabbi Avraham Yeshayah Karelitz, 1878-1953


4.       Based on the article “Yielding the Right of Way” in the Daf Yomi Digest Number 1842 from the Chicago Centre for Torah & Chesed

Add comment

Have something to say?
Please make your comment below!
All comments are reviewed prior to publication. Absolutely NO loshon hara or anything derogatory or hurtful to anyone will be permitted on the website.

Security code