No! Do Not Turn Your Brain Off – The Divinity Within The Mundane

By Rabbi Yoseph Kahanov, Jacksonville, FL

When Minister Joe Wright was asked to open the new session of the Kansas State Senate, everyone was expecting the usual generalities, but this is what they heard:

“Heavenly Father, we come before You today to ask Your forgiveness and to seek Your direction and guidance. We know Your word says, ‘Woe to those who call evil good,’ but that is exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values.

We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.
We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.
We have killed our unborn and called it choice.
We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.
We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self esteem.
We have abused power and called it politics.
We have coveted our neighbor’s possessions and called it ambition.
We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.
We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.

Search us, oh God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and set us free. Amen!”

The response was immediate. A number of legislators walked out during the prayer in protest.

However, during the 6 short weeks that followed, Central Christian Church, where Rev. Wright is pastor, logged more than 5,000 phone calls with only 47 of those calls responding negatively.

The church has received requests for copies of this prayer from India, Africa and Korea. Commentator Paul Harvey aired this prayer on his radio program, ‘The Rest of the Story,’ and received a larger response to this program than any other he has ever aired.

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Upon returning from a recent Simcha, my wife and I arrived at the gate of our connecting flight only to discover that the flight was delayed, this was after the first leg of our trip had been postponed and rerouted. Of course, it was all “Due to weather conditions.” So what else is new?

I don’t really expect your sympathy. I’m quite aware of the prevailing mentality: “When you travel by air you need to pack your patience, turn off your brain and submit yourself to the airline’s abuse.” But I’m one stubborn dummy who just doesn’t get it.

To add insult to injury, the electronic sign at the gate stated that the new time of departure was 8:30 pm, which meant that we should have been starting to board at 8:00 pm, but strangely, at 8:00 pm there was neither an airplane at the gate nor an agent at the podium. This was more than I could handle.

At about 8:10 when there was still no sign of a plane or an agent, I started to get agitated. I began to fuss to my wife, loud enough for others to hear, that this was ridiculous and unacceptable. “The least they can do is to let us know what’s going on,” I muttered. My wife was clearly uncomfortable with my behavior. “Why must you make a nuisance of yourself,” she demanded, “How come everyone else is calm, but you?”

I looked around and sure enough everybody else appeared relaxed, chatting, watching CNN, and talking on their cell phones. They all seemed to have done a very good job at packing their patience and turning their brains off, which made me wonder, “What was wrong with me?” Was my time so much more important than everyone else’s? Was I such a prima donna, so petulant that I could not come to grips with a little inconvenience?

As I sat there reflecting on this question, it dawned upon me that my distaste of the airline industry was far deeper than a tad of inconvenience. What I could not seem to come to grips with was their institutionalized dishonesty and immorality.

Their duplicity begins the moment you setout to purchase a ticket, and endures throughout the entire travel experience. What other industry has twenty different prices for the same product? Who else does not allow you to transfer your purchase to another party?

Is there another industry that’s gets paid whether or not they deliver the goods in a timely and agreed upon fashion or not? Who else can get away with abusing their customers, i.e. holding them hostage for six hours on a runway, without fresh supplies? The list of treachery and abuse goes on and on.

But that in itself is still not the entire reason for my deep resentment. My true aversion stems from their immorality. Immorality! You wonder, what immorality? The immorality I speak of is the industry’s systematic course of desensitization; their objective of stripping people (no pun intended) of their civil liberties and their natural inclination to speak out.

The thought of people turning off their brains and accepting whatever happens be it just or unjust – which is what the airlines demands of its customers – is frightening to me. It conjures up images of another time and place where people were taught to close their eyes and turn off their minds.

The notion of us sending our young men and women all over the world into harm’s way to defend liberty and freedom, only for us to throw it away in our local airports, is frankly absurd and disconcerting.

How many of us have had to put up with airline injustice because we were afraid or ashamed to open our mouth? How many have watched a passenger being “Escorted away” for standing up to airline abuse, only to look away or bury our head in a newspaper, because we didn’t want to get involved?

And it’s not just the airline industry that systematically gnaws at our liberties and human rights; there are a whole slew of enterprises, not the least of which is the medical field that disrespects our time and civil liberties. Would you believe it if I told you that I recently waited almost three hours in the waiting room for a doctor’s appointment, or that someone I know spent six hours in the emergency room waiting to see a doctor who spent less than five minutes with him before moving on?

The prevailing mood of entitlement and mortgage evasion which is currently sweeping through our country is but another example of the deteriorating sense of justice and morality that has gripped entire segments of our society. But this is not the time and place for this discussion.

What’s important is that societies don’t become barbaric and murderous over night; they gradually decline through a slow process of desensitization and indifference, kind of like the boiling frog syndrome.

The boiling frog syndrome, for those who are not familiar, is the proven idea that when you throw a frog into a boiling pot of water it will jump right out because of the intense heat. However, if you put a frog into a cool pot and then turn on the heat it will gladly boil to death.

The short of it all is that liberty is a very delicate thing – its rights are inextricably bound up and dependent upon its responsibilities. One who is callus about his civil responsibilities is inevitably causing the destruction of his civil rights and liberty. This, in a nutshell, is what our Parsha, Mishpatim, is all about.

One cannot help but note the anticlimactic nature of our Parsha by comparison with last week’s.

Last week’s Torah reading recalls the dramatic revelation at Sinai which accompanied the Divine conferral of the sacred Ten Commandments – the most holy and auspicious event in the annals of human history.

Beginning with the words: “And these are the ordinances,” our portion is entirely preoccupied with the markedly subdued, day to day social laws. How do we explain this anticlimactic sequence? Is it not somewhat backwards? Is this really where we should find ourselves after the height of our spiritual encounter?

It would, seemingly, make more sense for the order to be reversed, first the laws human decency and coexistence and then the lofty spiritual revelations. Doesn’t the order of things dictate that one discover how to be a Mentch before straddling the peaks of holiness and higher transcendental achievement?

The answer is quite simple; according to our religion the laws of civil coexistence are rooted in the selfsame source as the most sacred and spiritual commands. They are equally as important and holy. This is to say that the law regarding a person who strikes the eye of his slave, for example, or a person whose ox gores a man or a woman, is no less sacred and Divine as the command of “I am G-d your G-d . . .” or the injunction to “Keep the Shabbos holy. . .” in fact, as Rashi points out the very basis of our civil laws is the Divine Sinaitic revelation.

The juxtaposition of our portion – which deals primarily with civil and tort law – and the Ten Commandments discussed last week, comes, according to Rashi, to teach us that: “Just as the Ten Commandments originated at Sinai [and are, hence, imbued with sanctity and holiness], so too are these [civil laws] from Sinai” – they are permeated with the same Divine spirit and eminence.

This classic Rashi, note the commentaries, contains profound insight into our role and responsibility vis-a-vis our ordinary social activities. In Judaism there is nothing mundane about the ordinary and nothing ordinary about the mundane. We serve G-d when we interact in the marketplace no less than when we rest on the Shabbos.

Indeed, if the basic laws of morality and civility are not the product of a higher spiritual authority from where else do such rules stem?

Moreover can spirituality and holiness really endure in absence of a civilly wholesome and moral environment? Has there ever been a society that has lost its civility and maintained its spirituality?

The lesson of our Parsha, as well as its chronological order in the Torah is that Mishpatim – social law and decency – and spirituality are two sides of the same coin, one no less critical and Divine than the other.

May our careful observance of our social responsibilities – laws between man and man – as well as our more spiritual responsibilities – laws between man and G-d – hasten the arrival of the righteous Moshiach BBA.

The author welcomes your feedback: rabbi@chabadjacksonville.org

13 Comments

  • 2. Response to Average Jew wrote:

    A universal truth is by nature, universal, regardless if it is spoken by a Rabbi, a Minister or Paul Harvey. There was nothing inherently wrong with the message.

  • 4. Eli wrote:

    Let’s quote the Pope next time! Heck, lets invite a priest to 770 for a speech! The khal is ready for the 2nd coming already!

  • 7. Chaim Hershkop wrote:

    It would be safe to say that those who rushed to criticized didn’t even bother reading till the end.

    I think it was great.
    I really enjoy Rabbi Kahanov’s way of bringing things down to realty, just like the Lubavitcher Rebbe did.

  • 8. zev wrote:

    While Kabel Es Haemes Mimee Sheamro is true, we do not need to hear a preist talking about “his G-d” in order to learn the Oibershter’s Torah. We have enough beautiful sources of our to quote!

    Such craziness is due only to the “liberalism” this minister referred to in his speech and is going on in the chabad house that are out on the prairies. What would our Rabeeim think of such talk, and then exuse it by putting their name on it?!

  • 9. sara l. wrote:

    i was always taught not to enjoy or listen to any program or speeches made by galochim. it causes doubts in emunas Hashem. so although the speech may have been pareve, the source is coming from one who symbolizes klipa. it definitely shouldn’t have been printed here and he shouldn’t have been listening to it and weaving it into a dvar torah.

  • 10. Great speech wrote:

    This is a great speech
    LESAKEN HAOLAM

    His speech is so true.

    Truth ultimitly wins!

    Its even better to here this from a GOY lehavdil!!!

  • 11. proud 2 be chabad wrote:

    yoy dont need to impress us with the words of a galach or to validate emes from other sources. beware the kluginka that is bringing the galach into the house where it does not belong. your article would have been just as powerful without the galachs introduction. you are trying so hard to be openminded that your chasssidshe brains are falling out . though your first reaction to this might be negative , t h i n k ……….. the time spent listening to and writing down his quotes would have been better served in a more kedushadike way… this is not what you need to impress us with..though there may be universl truths in nature.. our job is to e l e v a t e and transcend nature and i dont need a galoch to point out the way. much continued growth and hatzlocha. try not to get caught up in the peh rach of paroh that led to only one fifth being redeemed.

  • 12. chabadnik that was educated by chassidim wrote:

    absolutely horrified that one who clais to represemt chabad would use a galach in his speech and not even care to pretend it came from somewhere else.

    it is clearly against the rebbes strong opinion and direction.

    you would do well to talk to some older more experienced shluchim to clarify the rebbes directives in this matterissue

    although i must add that in general the article was well presented and

  • 13. Sarah Leah wrote:

    I don’t see the relevance of putting Wright’s Jan.23, 2006 address to the Kansas Legislature into this at all. I am confused as to why this piece was chosen in the first place.

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