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Sunday, 18 October 2015

Keeping up with the Moseses

Daf Yomi Nazir 57


A fashion-conscious friend related the following episode to me:  A couple of years ago, he read that the must-have piece of the season was a corduroy suit.  He immediately set out to his favourite menswear stores on the hunt for his must-have.  Alas, none of the stores had a corduroy suit.  So of course, he then went online in search for the season’s must-have.  But none of the decent places seemed to stock it.  Feeling a little exasperated, he almost went out to buy material to take to his tailor to have one made.  And then it occurred to him: if none of the stores are stocking it, it can hardly be a must-have, right?

Concerning the prohibition against shaving and removing payos, the Torah declares, “You shall not round the corners of your face.”
Rav Huna taught: A man who shaves the head of a child is guilty.
Rav Ada bar Ahava said to him, “Who then shaves your children?” ‘Rashi’ notes: Shaving the whole head was the contemporary practice.  
“Chovah,” he answered.  Tosfos explains: Chovah was Rav Huna’s wife and he maintained that women are not bound by the prohibition.
“Chovah is burying her children!” came the reply.  Tosfos explains: For she is committing a transgression.
Tragically, throughout Rav Ada bar Ahava’s lifetime, Rav Huna’s children all perished, on account of his admonition.

Every Jewish name has deep spiritual significance.   The name your parents give you has great impact on your life.  Nevertheless, you still have free choice and so with any name, it could go either way.  For example, if your name is Shimon, you’re probably a good listener, from the root word shema.  You might, however, choose to misuse your gift and be a good listener to lashon hara (gossip).  If your name is Chaya, you’re probably the life of the party, from the root word chai.  You just need to make sure you’re hanging out at the right parties, where good, spiritual pursuits are being celebrated. 

Rav Huna’s wife’s name was Chovah, meaning obligation.   Ideally, she should have channelled her nature to excel in her Heavenly obligations.  Unfortunately, instead she felt obligated to make sure that her kids were up-to-date with the latest fashion trends, even if that meant hairstyles that ran counter to the Torah’s guidelines.

In This is My God, Herman Wouk compares Americanism to the days of Hellenism.  During Greek and Roman rule, Jewish rituals were banned and Jews were compelled to adopt the local culture.   In contrast, nowadays, we live in a free, democratic society.  But as Alexander de Tocqueville declared, ‘Democracy is the tyranny of the majority.’  In this case, says Wouk, the tyranny in America is that you feel obligated to follow the trends of the majority.  Or, in today’s parlance: we feel we must keep up with the Joneses.

He talks about a teenage girl who came to see him with her parents.  She felt distant from a Judaism that encourages such uniform practice.  He chuckled inside as he looked at this young lady, dressed and talking like every other suburban teenager at the time.  We’re always following a trend; the question is do you feel more obligated to conform to the must-haves that you see around you or to Heaven’s must-haves?


Sometimes it is spiritually unhealthy to ‘go with the flow.’  If you find yourself going crazy over a physical ‘must-have,’ it’s time to remind yourself that your mission and obligation transcend the fleeting desires of the day.  May you always remember where your true obligations lie and never feel compelled to keep pace with the Joneses of this world!