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Sunday, 21 June 2015

Is all fat bad for you?

Daf Yomi Nedarim 26

In Minhag Yisrael Torah, Rabbi Daniel Sperber tells the story of a certain community in an Algerian village that would eat chametz (bread) on the last day of Pesach.  A traveller happened upon the community, and was shocked at their practice.  Resolving to get to the bottom of it, he went about interviewing the elders of the town.   Finally, one old man related the following story.

‘Our custom goes back eighty years.  I was not quite bar-mitzvah age and I remember a big rabbi visiting us for Pesach from the Land of Israel.  Everyone gathered around to drink his holy words thirstily.  On the final day of the festival, he was nowhere to be found.  We searched high and low until someone found him on the outskirts of town eating a sandwich.  Ever since then, on the eighth day of Pesach, we have adopted this practice of taking our freshly-baked challah and eating it on the outskirts of town.

If one said, “I hereby vow to abstain from onions because they are bad for the heart,” and then they told him, “But village onions are good for the heart!” not only is he permitted to eat village onions, but he may have any onions, since the vow is now void. 

Sometimes we do things a certain way for many years before we find out that we were acting in error.  Many of us have perspectives that we were brought up with and have held for a lifetime.  But as we mature we begin to realize that these attitudes might not be entirely accurate.   

Clearly in Rabbi Sperber’s tale, an ignorant community had failed to realize that the guest rabbi was from Israel and therefore only needed to observe seven days of Pesach.  And yet, good luck trying to convince these poor souls that they had been desecrating the festival for years and years and they must change their ‘minhag’!

If you had sworn off onions because you were under the impression that they were bad for you, only to later learn that ‘village onions’ are good for you, how quick would you be to change your long established habits?   Science and food technology are constantly reassessing which fats are bad for us and what forms of exercise are best.  But most people are resistant to change, particularly changes that disrupt what they’ve been doing for a lifetime.

This resistance to change is especially prevalent when it comes to religious practice.  How many of us are willing to reconsider what we’ve been doing throughout our lives even when provided with strong evidence as to the veracity of our Torah tradition?  Even when we see that a commitment to Torah and mitzvos is the only way to ensure Jewish continuity?

Are you stuck in your lifelong mindset and unable to break free from the way you’ve always been doing things?  Do you feel that improving your commitment to Torah and mitzvos would cast aspersions on everything you’ve done until now?  Or the practices you were brought up with?

It’s time to escape those captive attitudes!  Emancipate yourself from the mental malady of doing the same thing over and over again, despite the inadequate results that never evince change.  Life is about spiritual growth and transformation.  If you were brought up a certain way and are now beginning to recognize your higher purpose that may be the very reason you were sent down here!  Hashem wants you to overcome your psychological barriers and start down a fresh spiritual path.  That’s your special challenge in life!

It’s never easy to make major changes in life.  But successful people are those who are willing to break out of the mold they’ve always known.  May you merit spiritual success by constantly questioning your direction in life and never being afraid to implement the changes those mental conversations engender!