Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Bigger Picture

Quick question: why do some folks seem to think wearing a black hat while davening is mandatory?  Superficial answer: Because the Mishnah Berurah says you have to.
Deeper answer: No, it doesn't.
Look carefully at the part of the Mishnah Berurah where hats during prayers is mentioned and you'll see that the Chofetz Chayim, zt"kl, says something different.  He points out that where and when he lived hats were part of daily formal wear.  If you wanted to dress neatly and formally you wore a hat.  Therefore, since during prayers we strive to appear appropriate before the Ribono shel Olam and since if you were to stand before the local governor or king you'd wear a nice suit and hat, when you daven you should wear a nice suit and hat.
This is quite different from what people think after a superficial reading.  What it means is that whatever is considered neat and formal in any given place and time is what is appropriate for prayers.  The point isn't the black hat.  The point is standing respectfully before God.  When we focus on the former we risk forgetting the latter.  When that happens we have a cultural devolution where not only is a hat a di rigeur requirement but also a sign of religious allegiance.  Forget everything else, the hat you wear determines the type of Jew you are, not your actions, not your neshamah.
Here's another quick question: if the reason we don't take medications on Shabbos is because of the prohibition of grinding (back then a 'script from a doctor meant going to the local apothecary and having him grind up your personal recipe) then what's the problem with taking pills nowadays?  Big Pharma doesn't care when I take my acetaminophen (paracetamol for my Israeli readers) and doesn't change their assembly lines based on my usage.  Yet if there is no sakkanah then I am not to take acetaminophen on Shabbos.
The answer is given by the Nishmas Avraham and fits in perfectly with my thesis.  The taking of pills on Shabbos in non-dangerous situations is forbidden.  Our Chazal, when faced with having to categorize this prohibition, stuck it under the heading "Grinding" because back in their day that's where it went.  But even nowadays when that classification no longer fit we still avoid the pills because, in the bigger picture, that's what's forbidden.
This bigger picture is something often missing from our Judaism today.  We are, as people go, petty and small-minded.  We therefore focus on petty, small-minded things.  We segregate people by accent, by type of kippah, by how much swaying one does while learning and the like.  We seek truth but only from those with whom we already agree.
Consider something I've heard a couple of time.  There is apparently a school of thought out there that says that unless you're using a Vilna Shas format in your Talmud study that you're not really learning Talmud.  I first heard this when, while sitting in a yeshivah in Israel waiting for someone, I cracked open a Steinsaltz Talmud I'd just purchased.  "Ah," said an unhelpful passerby in an uninvited comment, "you know you're not really learning if you use that, right?"
But if the point of learning is to develop a great knowledge of Torah, to engage in the religious requirement to learn and to come closer to the Ribono shel Olam, and if by using the Steinsaltz Talmud I do all that then why doesn't it count?
What is the purpose of being a Jew?  To create a dveikus between oneself and the Creator.  To bring His holiness down into this world and make it a better place.  Since Matan Torah this has meant performance of the mitzvos and the learning of Torah.  If one is doing that properly then where does this attitude of "one size fits all" come in?"
We all of us need to remember the bigger picture because it brings more meaning to our learning and our mitzvos performance.  Without it we start to do things without deeper intention and by rote, something we all need to avoid.

10 comments:

Adam Zur said...

According to the Rambam in Sefer HaMitzvot you need to wear the type of clothings that Jews wore at the time of Mount Sinai. Check it out and you will see. he considers all clothing worn by Jews today to be levush akum. Especially the black hat.

JayJay said...

You basically said that Chazal wanted to prohibit taking medicine on Shabbos and used 'grinding' as the category for that.

Why do you think that they didn't simply prohibit taking medicine because they were afraid it might cause people to grind?

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

No, that's the point. Medicine was forbidden but why? What was wrong with refuah that it shouldn't be permitted? Chazal felt it was because people would come to grind.

moshe moshel said...

The layout of the steinzaltz gemara was a side issue. The real issue was his disrespect to the words of Chazal.

I dont have the reference handy, but I believe that Rav Ahron Felman's recent book dealt with the issue.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Having met with Rav Steinsaltz a few times I can assure you that the entire "disrespect" issue was a cover for a predetermined agenda. They were going to find a way to put him into "cherem" no matter what. The Rav has zero (nada, null, goonisht) disrespect for Chazal and probably understands them better than many of his opponents.

JT said...

I was told that the disrespect shown by R' Steinsaltz was that, in the first, Hebrew, edition of his Gemara, he displaced Tosfos with his perush. Tosfos was still on the daf, but its usual column opposite Rash"i was occupied by R' Steinsaltz. That was an unforgivable show of ga'ava. After all, if Chaza"l learned Gemara with Tosfos on the outside column - who is Adin Steinsaltz to replace them?

SJ said...

JP closed his blog.

T.P.V said...

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Adam Zur said...

the problem with the stenitz thing was that in fact the things that he said over in his public classes were along the lines that only chabad people are actually Jewish and the Jewish people are only potentially Jewish. This potential can be realized if they become chabad. This he said many time sin many different ways and it is no secret among Israelis that actually heard this first hand.

Atheodox Jew said...

A black hat is a uniform.

And uniforms are at once totally superficial (after all, just a "levush") but at the same time carry a great deal of psychological/behavioral impact, both in the way the wearer perceives and conducts him/herself, and in the way the wearer perceived by others (which then feeds back on self-image and behavior).

A uniform is also the sign of affiliation with a community. The black hat (95% of the time) means identification with the charedi world. Again, completely superficial, but with major implications for oneself and one's children.

Re: taking medicine on Shabbos, I imagine you're up on these halachot but I thought I'd clarify that if one is in such discomfort that they have to lie down, then they've met the conditions permitting them to take medicine.