I’ve always been fond of the metaphoric statement: “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”. Like a good parable should, it provides a fantastic rubric for describing a particular type of situation. My father is full of these pearls of wisdom. Some of his other favorites – which have become my own favorites – include “You can lead a horse to water, but it’s still a horse” and “unless you’re the lead sled dog, the view never changes”.
This morning, I saw the source for the first saying. It appears in Bereishit Rabbah on this week’s parsha, and it is used to explain the verse “tamim haya be-dorotav”. This is also an excellent example of a mashal as a hermeneutic device which provides a rubric or narrative pattern within which one can interpret the verse. See Boyarin’s Intertextuality and the Readiong of Midrash, ve-acm”l.
Here’s the text of the midrash:
רבי יהודה אמר: בדורותיו היה צדיק, הא אילו היה בדורו של משה, או בדורו של שמואל, לא היה צדיק. בשוק סמייא צווחין לעווירא, סגי נהור.
Rabbi Yehuda says: In his generation he was righteous, but had he lived in the generation of Moshe or Shmuel, he would not have been considered righteous. In the blind man’s market, the dim-eyed man is called “flooded with light”.