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Sunday, 9 November 2014

Get out of your bubble

Daf Yomi Yevamos 35

Rabbi Moshe White learns in the local Kollel.  He tells the story of how, after many years of learning in Edmonton he began to think of himself as a talmid chacham (Torah scholar).  One day, he took a trip back to Israel and spent a summer in Jerusalem.  
“Suddenly, I was a nobody,” he recalls, “The grocery store owner was more learned than me.  The local doctor had been through Shas (the Talmud) five times and was well-versed in the Jewish legal codes.  I had gotten so used to being known as learned in Edmonton, that I’d forgotten what it meant to be a true talmid chacham!”

The Mishnah states:  If two men married two women and after the chuppah they were (inadvertently) switched, they are guilty of adultery.  We must separate them for three months in case she is pregnant, unless they were minors in which case one is not yet able to give birth and so she may return to her husband immediately.

Shmuel taught: All women who had relations and subsequently wished to get married must wait first three months.   The Rabbis decreed that even a minor must wait on account of the fact that adults must wait. 
The Gemara asks: Do we indeed decree that minors must wait on account of adults?  We learned in our Mishnah “unless they were minors in which case one is not yet able to give birth and so she may return to her husband immediately”!

In response, Rabbi Gidel quoted Rav: The case of the Mishnah was merely a once-off ruling.
The Gemara asks: Are you then suggesting that the matter actually took place?  (Most of these cases in the Mishnah are purely hypothetical).
The Gemara concludes: Rather, let us say that it was like a once-off ruling since wife-switching is not a normal occurrence. 

Sadly, we live in an age of decadence, when anything goes and everything is okay.   We read all about depraved behaviour in magazines and newspapers, we are bombarded with it on TV and in movies and it becomes the new reality.  But despite what we see in the heathen culture around us, the Talmud reminds us that ‘swinging’ is not normal! 

The problem with our current state of affairs is that our society’s moral depravity is compounded by technology.  Let’s say you want to engage in abnormal behaviour, but your conscience tells you that it is unacceptable.  But then you go online and sure enough you find that ‘everyone’s doing it!’  But of course, not everyone’s doing it; you’ve just found a group of people with likeminded fetishes. 

And in the information age, where you can connect with people on the other side of the world in an instant, it’s not difficult to find enough similar individuals to justify and rationalize your inappropriate desires.  That’s what happened to popular Canadian broadcaster, Jian Ghomeshi.  He believed that his private life was normal when in fact it was terrible.  All this time, he had been living in a bubble where everybody was acting abnormally and believing it to be the norm.

That’s why you need a good peer group.  When Rabbi White got to Israel, he realized that the standard he was holding himself to was not the true standard of what it takes to be a talmid chacham.  He was living in a bubble in Edmonton where it didn’t take very much to be ‘top of the class.’  The real standard of Torah scholarship can only be measured in a Torah community.  

That’s not to say that one must live in Lakewood.  Thank G-d, Rabbi Weiss continues to live in Edmonton and teach Torah to our community.  But he realizes that Edmonton is a bubble and the goal is much higher than his current environment suggests.

You need to constantly ask yourself if your behaviour is up to par or if you’re living in a bubble.  Who are your friends?  Who are your peers?  Whose standard are you holding yourself to?  Never fool yourself about what is normal or abnormal desires and behaviour.  You must strive to be the best no matter what anyone else around you appears to be doing!