Friday, February 20, 2009

Parshat Mishpatim - פרשת משפטים

Unfortunately this week I flew back to England. Even worse, I have not had as much time as I would like to prepare a D'var Torah. It is now about an hour and a half before Shabbat comes in here in London, and though I tried to spend an hour in a local Bet Hamedrash last night to find something interesting for my weekly D'var Torah, my plans were dashed when my friends came over to me after Ma'ariv, happy to see me after a lengthy absence. After excusing myself, another friend attacked me, and once I finally got down to learning, I found my contact lenses were giving me real trouble. Oh well.

So I had a quick look around the internet for inspiration. I found lots of meaty Divrei Torah which I can't really split up so easily, but this D'var Torah on the website, particularly the last four paragraphs, really struck a chord with me. In fact, I strongly encourage practically everyone I know to read this "vort." R' Weisz's point is extremely well made - I feel that he has really hit the nail on the head here.

The D'var Torah got me thinking. Over the last year or two, I have heard an acronym emerge: "Fomo." Fomo stands for Fear of Missing Out, a condition that practically everyone I know suffers from. People are willing to stick around with a group of friends till 3 in the morning, even though all the fun conversation died out hours ago, just in case somebody comes out with a line that proves to be "unmissable." In today's society, sometimes the worst thing to hear is the dreaded line, "Oh, you had to be there..." The society we live in today can certainly be fun and addicting, but unfortunately is almost diametrically opposed to Torah values.

On Wednesday morning, I was concerned about a small halachic problem; I was unsure whether I had slept the minimum amount of time in order to say Birchat HaTorah, and didn't know what to do. After I landed at Heathrow, I walked past a charedi man and teenager learning Gemara together while waiting to head to the check in desk. I walked past them, but then checked myself and realised that I could ask them my problem.

It is easy to think of the stereotype of a typical Yeshiva Bochur passionately arguing with some hapless "normal" Jew over some arcane point in Halacha, delving into the relative merits of what in essence are minutiae, and essentially practically irrelevant details to the problem being faced with in real life. But if we take a close look at ourselves, are we really able to judge? Are our endless mundane conversations so much more worthy? We must be kidding ourselves to imagine that engaging in daily conversations about the weather, politics or sport are an effective and honest use of our time. For all the hours I can talk about politics, it is most unlikely I will change a thing. Take a ride with a London taxi driver, and he will most likely soon start mouthing off to you about the state of London's roads, or the transport system, or the Olympics cost and how the public will have to fund it, but ultimately he will not effect any change whatsoever.

When I turned back to the two Charedi men at Heathrow, I might well have been encountering strangers, but we were familiar with each other in a very special way. Within seconds we were debating the case in question, and anybody walking by would have though we'd known each other for years. I have been fortunate over the last few years to have lived in the Old City of Jerusalem, and I saw many tzadikim in the Shul I davenned at. The Chief Rabbi of the Old City got to know me a little and as we walked in to shul together from time to time, he would ask me how I was. I would respond, enquire after his health, and then he would go his way, and I would go mine. He is a rather quiet man, as are a lot of these tzadikim I met, but as soon as he is engaged in Torah, he transforms into another person entirely. It's not that Yeshiva Bochurim and Talmidei Chachamim are one-dimensional and have no character to them, rather they are the way they are because they see the essence of what this life is about, and direct their energies almost exclusively towards the service of Hashem.

Living in London, I have learned that one must keep a "stiff upper lip," that it is not quite normal to approach strangers and that we don't discuss anything of any value or importance with anyone until you have come to know them rather well. Instead we prefer to talk about neutral topics. We employ small talk and touch on things that we can all smirk about. And if we want to break the ice, we can always gossip a little. I can't tell you how many people I have encountered and after a rather lengthy chat, I have walked away having gained absolutely nothing from our conversation. How many times do friends meet up for a cozy evening together and talk about nothing of value together, but have a great time together?

The contrast between this lifestyle and the way in which Jews can engage one another in meaningful and practical conversation could not be greater. A thought has gone through my mind for a while now that the Torah, if followed correctly, is the greatest tool to help a man find happiness. If one follows the Torah honestly, then he can face the greatest pain and understand that Hashem's hand is behind all that happens. He can live life till the very end and never be bored because he will always have his mission busying himself with learning Torah. And here we can understand how living a Torah lifestyle can build fundamentally healthier human relationships. We can chose to indulge ourselves in temporarily fulfilling idle chatter, or alternatively we can be careful with our words and realise their power by utilising them for debating and exploring something so much more relevant than what really are "mere details." If we follow the Torah carefully, we may learn how to act correctly and how to talk correctly. By moulding ourselves to the requirements of Torah law, we are able to build our characters and become people of real value.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

No comments:

Post a Comment