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Wednesday, 15 July 2015

You are an egghead

Daf Yomi Nedarim 52

Prior to coming to Edmonton, I worked for a financial firm in New York.  As you can imagine, many of my colleagues were Jewish, of varying levels of commitment to religious observance.  I was once out for a lunch meeting with a client, accompanied by a colleague who purported to keep kosher.  The restaurant wasn’t kosher, so I just ordered a glass of Coke.  My colleague, however, ordered an egg sandwich. 

After lunch, I decided to bring it up with him. 
“What’s the problem with an egg sandwich?” he responded incredulously, “bread is flour and water and eggs don’t need a hechsher.  They’re pareve.  All eggs are kosher.”
“Well apart from whatever issues there are with the bread,” I replied, “how do you know what the eggs were cooked with?  Maybe they were cooked with pig-fat and you just had a bacon and egg sandwich for lunch!”
“What are you talking about?” he said, “They were cooked in the shell; hard-boiled.  The shell keeps out any pork or anything else.  Eggs are eggs.  They’re kosher, period.”

One who vows to abstain from meat may still eat the gravy and the tiny meat shreds.  Rabbi Yossi prohibits it.
Rabbi Yehuda taught: We once cooked meat in the same pot as eggs and Rabbi Tarfon prohibited us from eating the eggs.

Eggshells are porous.  They most certainly absorb any substances they are cooked together with.  That’s the process of osmosis.  Yes, they were pareve when they were raw, but just like vegetables, they assume the status of whatever they are cooked with.  If you cook potatoes with chicken, they become fleishig.  Likewise, if you boil eggs in a non-kosher pot, they become non-kosher by osmosis.

On Pesach, we say that the Jewish people are like eggs: just like eggs (unlike vegetables) get harder the longer you cook them, similarly the more they persecute us, the tougher we get.  But we are like eggs in so many other ways.  Just like eggs appear to have a hard shell and yet absorb by osmosis, we too may appear to put our guard up so as not to be influenced by the assimilationist culture around us, but with time, we run the risk of becoming affected by osmosis.

Many people start out with a thick shell – committed to Torah and mitzvos – but with the passage of time, weaken in their devotion.  Initially we believe that our shell is thick enough to withstand the tests of the environment, but when we place ourselves into boiling water, osmosis is inevitable.
Think back and be honest with yourself.  Was there a time you were more into your spirituality but somehow the influence of those around you has seeped through the shell?  Have you unwittingly absorbed the flavour of your environment?

What’s the solution?  How do you avoid osmosis?  The secret is to constantly be illuminating spirituality.  When you are dishing out spirituality, when you are a spiritual giver, you are less prone to absorbing the spiritual malaise of those around you. 

After my all-boys high school and gap year in yeshiva, I attended a coed university.   It didn’t take long to realize that it wasn’t the healthiest environment for sustained spiritual growth.  And so I made a point of setting up weekly chavrusas (study sessions) with my university friends.  That way, I was ensuring that any relationship contained an element of spiritual giving – because the only way to avoid osmosis is to be that spiritual light.

Spread the light of Torah to your friends!  Don’t be shy to invite them over for a Shabbos meal.  Unabashedly sing zemiros and talk about the parsha at the table!  Set up a chavrusa with a colleague at work!   Start a lunch ‘n’ learn at the office!  Invite your next door neighbour over to your sukka!

But you say: that sounds very nice in theory, Rabbi, but I don’t know want to sound like I’m preaching to my friends.  They won’t want to be my friends anymore!  I want you to know this: you’ll be surprised at how interested in Torah and spirituality they actually are.  If they’re truly your friends, they’ll appreciate everything about you.  Maybe they’ll just humour you.  Or maybe they’ll take you seriously.  But whatever the case, if they’re real friends, they won’t rue you for your convictions.  They’ll respect you all the more. 

Of course you shouldn’t be pushy.  Nobody wants to have religion rammed down their throats.  But don’t be afraid to gently suggest that you’d love to be spiritual partners and grow together – or at the very least, investigate together – with those whom you consider to be your close friends.  Once again, if they’re real friends, they’ll appreciate the whole you.  You shouldn’t have to put on a show for them and pretend to be something different to make them like you.

We are all eggheads, by default.  We absorb from our environment by osmosis.  But always remember that you are in control of the flow of energy.  May you never be ashamed of being a spiritual luminary so that the energy flows out from your source and others absorb all the positive spiritual energy you have to offer!