Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Police Mashal

Around the time of the Yomim Noraim, and even throughout the rest of the year, people constantly condemn us for not feeling the same fear on Yom Kippur as we do when we're pulled over for a ticket, or we see a police car. (Depending on your level of paranoia)

A while ago, a cop car was behind me for 5 blocks, which felt like an eternity. Suddenly, my heart was racing, my vision almost blurred, and my judgement impaired. In other words, I was shaking in my pants. So, of course, that ubiquitous Mashal entered my mind.

According to that mashal, I should feel that way all day, every day, knowing that G-d's spirit is with me always. So I condemned myself for not living fearfully, constantly trembling, and nervous. Surely, the same way I wouldn't dream of plugging in my headset and calling a friend at that moment, I'd never come close to a TV, I'd never read a newspaper, I wouldn't talk to anyone out of fear of Lashon Hora. I wouldn't walk in the street lest I see or hear something inappropriate.

Do the Gedolei HaDor seem to live this way? They seem to be at peace. They're not shivering with sweaty palms, and talking fast, and all that stuff.

The difference is, also with G-d, it's Avinu Malkeinu, He is our Father, and our G-d. We have to love Him, and have an awe of Him all the same. L'HAvdil-do I love the police? When they're doing what they should: preventing REAL crimes, protecting citizens from criminals, drug busts, and on Shabbos.

You can't live panicked. Certainly there are people who are more relaxed in the presence of police, which would completely eliminate the use of this Mashal.

Certainly people could say that the Yomim Nora'im are like the 5 blocks. But G-d is everywhere, and there is no human error involved. Like I got a traffic ticket for doing nothing wrong. That doesn't happen in the "real world." If someone was too lazy to Daven, G-d knows it. And if someone did his best to do a Mitzvah, but wasn't successful, G-d knows that too.

So what's the merit in this Mashal?

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21 Comments:

At 11/29/2006 8:58 PM, Anonymous gavi said...

I don't see that much merit in it, because of two main reasons:

1. Yom Kippur is my favourite day of the year.

2. Police don't make me nervous.

I prefer the mishna in Pirkei Avos: "ayin ro'ah, ozen shoma'as, etc." Or the way my rebbe Rav Eliyahu Sofer put it: a tape recorder is a "mussar haskel," in that it reminds us that everything is written in the book Above. as well, cf. Unesaneh tokef.

My "humble" take on why the "gedolim" don't appear nervous: they have made their peace with their existance, know what they need to accomplish, and try their best to do it.

Finally, the last rema in orach chaim - vetub lev mishteh tamid.

 
At 11/30/2006 4:29 AM, Blogger anonym00kie said...

maybe its not about the fear youre supposed to feel but about the respect and the desire to do whats right when youre focused on whats right. when the cops are around i dont start shaking and sweating and panicknig.. why would i?! (unless i was just doing something wrong). but when the cops are around, ill focus a little more, ill be more careful, im more aware that its not all up to me, and that someone is watching, involved. when the cops are around people dont pick up their cells, or speed.. not because they are so afraid, but because they are reminded that there are laws and regulations and they cant do whatever they feel like.

so.. on yk, and the holidays.. and really all the time, we should be AWARE that g-d is there with us. i dont think we're supposed to be petrified, shaking in our pants- just aware and more focused on our purpose.

also, its interesting you compared it to avinu. a little kid wont act inaprorpriately in front of their parent from fear or punishment, but an adult wont misbave in front of their parent out of respect and wanting to please the parent and to be close to their parent.

 
At 11/30/2006 6:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course you are supposed to have a fear of g-d and imagine his presence in front of you at all times. But, there is also a big emphasis in judaism on living in a happy manner. In the part of the torah that has all the curses that will befall the jews it says that the reason that these bad thingsd happen is because we didnt serve hashem happily.

 
At 11/30/2006 6:29 AM, Blogger Michelle said...

gavi-why is YK your favorite day?
anonymookie--excellent points, thanks. You're right. Interesting distinction. Just shows the diff between a normal person (you) and a paranoid one (me).
Truth be told, that ticket that I got when I was falsely accused was pretty traumatizing so I guess I'm a little more afriad than most.

 
At 11/30/2006 2:09 PM, Anonymous big bro said...

Interesting post. This mashal is no good only because it encourages a generalization that G-d is watching each and every thing that you do and you are expected to be a "malach" because if have a cop car behind you and you run a red light - you will almost certainly get a ticket.

I think there is overemphasis in yeshivos and BYs on this type of approach, which is unhealthy. In many people, especially those who are emotionally fragile, the feeling of constant fear (in the police sense) leads to feelings of guilt and self-hatred and causes more harm than good. While some level of this is necessary, I think it is also important to recognize that while G-d is everywhere and watching everything that you do, that an expectation of perfection not be created. Each person has their own battles on an individual basis and has to grow step-by-step . Therefore, even though there is a police car behind you, you are allowed to run a red light sometimes on your path to growth in a healthy way.

 
At 12/01/2006 6:43 AM, Anonymous Gary said...

Totally agree with big bro. Yeshivos and BYs are concerned with kids following their rules, and they'll say anything to make that happen, including the whole police BS. Most people realize this for what it is, and Michelle, I'm surprised you didn't.

 
At 12/01/2006 12:08 PM, Blogger Independant Frum Thinker said...

Michelle, your Mashal about the police is predated - Shevisi Hashem Linegdi Tamid.
By doing so we will all be better people. It could lead to unnecessary fear. However, truly living with Hashem is comforting and should leave us feeling serene and calm.

 
At 12/02/2006 8:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

IFT

Don't understand what you mean by "truly living with Hashem". The problem is how do you do this in traditional Judaism without having the fear. But if you didn't have the unnecessary fear, you wouldn't need so much comfort in the first place.

Another anon

 
At 12/04/2006 2:22 PM, Anonymous Gavi said...

Michelle, sorry to take so long to respond to your question... Just handed in a major immunology term paper today, so was pretty busy (not much blog reading the past few days).

Yom Kippur is my favourite day of the year for many reasons. One of them is the liturgy: the tefillos of yamin nora'im, and especially the piyyuttim and tefillos of yom kippur: the selichos at night, the yotzros and kerovos, seder ha'avodah in mussaf (I say Meshullam bar Kalonomus' version, if you daven nusach sefarad you probably say the version written by Yosi ben Yosi kohen gadol), etc. are all amazing: they are written in such beautiful language, have such deep meaning, and are great learning. And the nusach (i.e. tunes for davening) of yamim nora'im is my favourite: it is so majestic and regal. Hey, that's why we use those tunes - we are in the palace of the King.

Take the viddui: we (ashkenazim) sing it in a happy tune, because we are happy to accept our shortcomings, try to better ourselves, and try to not succumb to temptation in the future. How else can you smile through the "oshamnu, bogadnu," litany? A "normal" person who realises that they are guilty of all the things listen in the al cheit (which the Rambam seems to imply that we all are, to some extent - see sefer hatoda'ah by Eliyahu Kitov on Yom Kippur, specifically the vidui) would not even dare speak the sins, let alone say them aloud and in public? But we Jews know that we can improve ourselves, and use Yom Kippur to do so.

I also like the fact that I get to daven all day long, with nothing else to do. Any other weekday, shabbos, or holiday, there is other stuff going on: working, eating, sleeping, schmoozing, other mitzvos of the day, learning - but on Yom Kippur, all we do is pray (fine, my shul has a shiur in between mussaf and mincha, but I think you understand my point). This allows us to really become like angels, who have no corporeal needs. You'll tell me that the fasting is too hard, and I will retort that "on Yom Kippur you don't need to eat" (quote fom Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik).

I also like the idea that on Yom Kippur, we almost order God to forgive us. We say "ve'atah kerachum selach lanu" - which can be read as "God, since you are merciful, you must forgive us." And think about ne'ilah, where we say "atoh nosein yad laposhim" - we characterise God as the ultimate merciful and forgiving character. A far cry from Rosh Hashana, where we say "hayom haras olam etc." (haras, in the eyes of the Ra'avan, is related to "reses", trembling).

-----------------

Personally, I enjoy the siyatta dishemaya ('cause there is no other way to explain it) that I get that allows me to stand for pretty much the entire day: through selichos, chazaras hashatz and laining for all the tefillos. On a normal weekday, I couldn't stand for 5 hours, but I manage somehow on yom kippur.

Finally, I probably like it a lot more than most people because of where I daven. We go to a shul where there is no talking, and people come because they want to daven. It also helps that my best friend is the ba'al shachris/mincha, and he has an amazing voice. His father, who is the most erudite person I know when it comes to tefilla, is the ba'al mussaf/neilah. So I get a quiet, nice davening from people who understand what they are saying, and with a kahal that appreciates the service for what it is. (It almost goes without saying that we don't skip the majority of the service like the majority of synagogues - skippers have to answer to the Bach in Orach Chaim 68, the mishna brurah in 112, and Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv - all of whom rule unequivocally that one must say the piyyutim).

Also: who doesn't love singing "mareh kohein" at the end of seder ha'avodah, (right before the kinnos)? It is such a fun song...

So that's why Yom Kippur is my favourite day of the year. And I am not the only person who thinks like this - my brother and wife both agree.

But enough raving about Yom Kippur for now - I really should be getting back to immunology (final exam on Thursday) :-(

-----------------

PS: If anyone out there in the blogosphere wants some clarification of what is admittedly a bit of a hodge-podge posting which presupposes some technical knowledge, just comment back...

 
At 12/04/2006 5:26 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

Gavi-wow
I guess it's weird to talk about Yom Kippur in December, but perhaps it IS something to keep in mind all year.
I agree with you. I daven in two different shuls on Yom Kippur, one at night and one in the day. The one in the daytime is so much better (It's a Young Israel, so of course it is!) But the tunes there are so much more enjoyable and all. It's just a better experience. And when you can atually see what's going on, you feel like you're part of the shul. I mean, I mostly look in my machzor, but the Aron is there, the Chazzan is there, and all that, when I look up. And it's so diff.
What you said about Viddui---i dont remember the tune in the Young Israel, but the other shul, the chazzan says it as if he's crying. Maybe that's why I felt that way.

 
At 12/04/2006 8:04 PM, Anonymous gavi said...

If you are curious, I can make a short MP3 clip of the tunes for "oshamnu" and "ve'al kulam" - I just wouldn't know how to post it...

 
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