Friday, August 3, 2012

Pride in Prejudice

Shabbat Nahamu
Parshat VaEthanan
15 Av, 5772
August 3rd, 2012

I end up thinking about guilt a lot.

This is not by choice.

Guilt is the disease of those whose cultures have survived long enough to abrogate their own expectations. It is the byproduct of being told what to do since time immemorial, but choosing to do something different. So, for Jews, Catholics, and many others, it’s mother’s milk.

It is also a major motivator of human behavior, and I am confronted with it daily. As a rabbi, I represent the segment of life about which people have the deepest ambivalence. Thus I have developed the superpower of inducing guilt merely by walking into a room, and I have become quite a student of how it manifests.

By far, guilt’s most interesting expression is through pride. One sees this, especially in the states: a prideful, often scorning, relish in a real or perceived deficiency: “book-learning is a waste of time;” “I would never lower myself by thinking of something so common as money;” and my personal favorite, “I’m a terrible Jew – I’ve broken the entire Torah.” (which is not possible, and really, all I wanted was some ice-cream from your shop.)

What links all three is the admixture of a choice – not to pursue higher learning, not to learn business, not to be observant – and an unconscious fear that somehow one is living in error. How else to explain the aggression towards those who have walked said path?

The incomparable Rav Kook, writing to his students, once said, “One who is inclined towards piety, to the highest possible spiritual wisdom, should know that it was for this [purpose] that he was created…and therefore be happy in his lots; however, never should they be despised in his eyes, nor should he demean the lots of others – even though they are very far (from this wisdom), for in certainty they have other vocations which are good and useful, and are very far from [the student].

It is our ability to accept the lots of others with grace and joy, different though they may be from ours, that attests to the rightness of our own lives.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting that you should note this reaction "especially in the states." I've felt this reaction(or perhaps the converse) in Israel: "I'm so glad my grandparents gave up that superstitious nonsense years ago." That may be the same chiloni guilt, or it may be just outright hostility.

    In fact, it would be surprising if Rav Kook never encountered that sort of hostility, as it was surely worse in his day than today. I've always assumed his tolerance was tactical (someone's got to run the electricity and the water systems on Shabbat). Otherwise, his acceptance could be seen as downright...Christian.