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Friday, April 18, 2008

Juvenal Behavior: Matzah and Circuses

Excess is not foreign to modern American Jewry. The prickling sense of shame that would naturally mitigate this dissipate and vulgar profligacy has been supplanted by a brazen, even militant, attitude of entitlement: I work like a dog all year, I’m entitled to enjoy myself for a week; it’s for oneg yomtov; it’s for my daughter’s wedding; my pride in outdoing the neighbors is my greatest motivator, and so on. This is unattractive behavior, and it doesn’t contribute to spiritual growth.

Now, I know that when that old Roman satirist, Juvenal, wrote "duas tantum res anxius optat-- panem et circenses," (the people) anxiously await only two things, bread and circuses, he was referring to the decline in vigor and courage and self reliance and pride that accompanied such indulgence, and this obviously does not apply to us.  Also, he said "panem," bread, not 'matzah,' and we are makpid on gebrokst, to say nothing of panem. Still, one might profitably spend a few moments, as we look to the Ramban's lesson of temperance that begins Parshas Kedoshim, considering whether virtue is comprised exclusively of observing mandates, or perhaps also of choosing wisely.

This post will be, I think, deleted after a few days. I believe that with the onset of Nissan, there are two special dates, although they are not marked on most people's calendars. One is what I call the Chag HaHamasa. Some people call it Chag HaHafshara.  On, or about, Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the freezer magically opens its doors, and wonderful hidden treats become available. This is when the Baalas Habayis empties out the freezer because Pesach is around the corner, and starts to serve the jelly cookies, kreplach, and helzlach that she hid during the year (in case "mentchen" came and she needed to serve them something special.) This is Chag Hahamasa-- the Defrosting Holiday. The other is the Chag HaBoser, the Month of Sour Grapes, which begins right after Purim. This is the season when people start stressing about the work and expense of Pesach, and look next door and see that their neighbor is out shopping for sandals to wear at the resort they're flying off to for Pesach. Suddenly, they develop a full blown sense of Puritan glower, and decry the wastefulness and immodesty that characterizes "some people's" holiday plans.  So, maybe if I were going to Acapulco I would have an entirely different perspective.

In my case, my baruch hashem fruitful progeny require my presence, so attending an organized program is not an option. But I know how dangerous the Chag Haboser syndrome can be, and how it can makes fools of us all. I have a neighbor whose son was in shiduchim, and we asked his mother if he would be interested in a relative of ours, and she answered I can't even think about it, we have a long list, and it wouldn't be fair, etc. Two months later: not ten years, or one year, but two months later, she came moaning to us that her daughter has such trouble finding a shidduch, "every good boy has lists. Lists!" she said, "The injustice! Why should 'Lists' matter in such important things like shiduchim!" Our neighbor was not kidding. There wasn't a trace of an ironic smile on her face. She honestly couldn't associate her attitude on the 'girl' side of the fence with her attitude when she was on the 'boy' side of the fence. Apparently, an element of this syndrome is unwittingly making an

fool of yourself. I can't say that I'm immune to this problem. Envy and honest self-awareness are antagonists. So, just in case this post was influenced by the Chag Haboser, I am making this post temporary.

Addendum 4/28/08:
Out of respect for the kind comments, I am going to leave this as it is. Anyway, I don't have the heart to delete the eizel.


Anonymous said...

This post is very true. Those of us who agree with you need you to keep this posted for all to see. May sanity begin to return to our people!
Gut yomtov!

Chaim B. said...

Why temporary? great post!

Ariella said...

Chaim directed me to your post. It's amazing how peole lack the ability to even perceive the irony of their situation.

Anonymous said...

Well if you dont have one i will give you 3 I got that I saw around
Parshas Kedoshim

דַּבֵּר אֶל-כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם
Rashi says: This teaches that this Parasha was said during an assembly. What is the significance of the fact that it was said in the assembly? What is Rashi's underlying message? The Chasam Sofer gives a simple yet profound answer. Kedoshim means to be holy, but says Rashi even when you are Holy you still must be among the assembly. The Jewish religion does not have the concept of the Monk who is a hermit separating himself for G-d. The Jewish religion says no you must be amongst people, and none the less be holy. This means to behave on a higher moral level, even against the tide. Our Halachos are structured purposefully make us go out and be among others. Mitzvahs like Minyan and Hachnosas Orchim and Kiruv are prime examples. It is our Job to go out and live on a higher level and serve as Hashem's prototypes. Thereby showing that living on a higher spiritual plain is the definition of being a proper Jew.

לֹא תֹאכְלוּ עַל-הַדָּם לֹא תְנַחֲשׁוּ וְלֹא תְעוֹנֵנוּ
The Halacha we learn out of this Posuk is that we do not eat before Davening. What is the correlation between this Posuk and Davening? The Chasam Sofer offers an Intriguing answer. A person's essence is Blood: דָּם it is his life-force which his body needs for its every day functions and the posuk says כי הדם הוא הנפש. Therefore a man is דָּם .Now we know Hashem is the first as he created all creations including time therefore he is Aleph the first letter in the Aleph Beis. The second way we relate to Hashem is as a commander Known as the Aluf .The fact that it is phonetically similar is not by chance it is becuase Hashem is represented by the letter Aleph. The way we connect to the Aleph meaning Hashem is of course through Davening .Now we take the דָּם the base character of man and Daven thereby adding the א you now become an אדם.Therefore we now understand the meaning of the Posuk לֹא תֹאכְלוּ עַל-הַדָּם Don’t eat while we are still the דָּם before Davening only after we join the Aleph then we are an אדם and now we can Halachicly eat.

וִהְיִיתֶם לִי קְדֹשִׁים כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי יְהוָה וָאַבְדִּל אֶתְכֶם מִן-הָעַמִּים
Rashi says on this Posuk If you are separated from them, behold, you are Mine, but if not, behold, you are Nebuchadnezzar's. What message is Rashi trying to send us? There is an Idea in Halacha of going after the Majority הולכים אחרי הרוב. The Medrash in Vayikra brings a story where an Emperor asked if you have this concept then you should join us as idol worshippers after all we are the majority? The Sefer Pilpul Chariftah uses our Posuk as the answer. It explains if you behave as קְדֹשִׁים meaning separate in your behavior defined as acting on a higher moral level then the concept of majority no longer applies. This is because nullification only applies when the object is indistinct. This means the emperor's question is legitimate only when we behave as those around us. It is only then we are בטול ברוב nullified among the majority .If we follow the advice of the Posuk and act as וָאַבְדִּל אֶתְכֶם מִן-הָעַמִּים by acting in distinction then a second law of nullification comes to the forefront. That is that an object that is distinct does not become nullified דבר הניכר איני בטל. Therefore Rashi tells if you don’t take the moral high road you are Nebuchadnezzar's because of the din of Bittul.

Barzilai said...

Yes, Mr. Anonymous at 1:38 am, thank you and very nice, but do you have any pictures? What good is a dvar torah without pictures?