Wednesday, July 25, 2007

That was Nice

Tisha B'Av ended up being more meaningful than expected, despite having to work. I'm not sure if that was because I actually made it through all the Kinnos for a change, or because I showed up in our corporate office wearing only my socks, but I really felt penetrated by the mournful spirit. Maybe it's time for Prozac.

I picked up on two themes from the day's review of Jewish history, both complex questions that, if real, would have a relevant impact on the future of Jewry, as well as mankind. The first was the tendency of the persecuted Jews to passively accept their fate. While certainly not universal, it seems that the records are full of Jews moving along with their conquerors, from Temple times to the previous century. More noteworthy seems to be the fact that within the religious sources, this course of action seems to be the only praiseworthy choice. There are no vindictive heroes in our religious lore, only martyrs who chose death over dehumanification. Can our people's passive prodding through the painful path of persecution be traced to a religiously informed propensity? Or do our religious teachings merely reflect some sort of endowed cultural heritage, a meek, accepting characteristic shared by Isaac and his descendents? More importantly, is accepting our fate the secret to our survival as a minority, or is it the reason for our continued subservience?

The second theme is the tendency of people to return to their animalistic roots during times of immense suffering. Like the tales of the martyrs, our history is also rife with unedurable stories of desperation. The depths that human nature sinks when forced to fight for its most basic needs is frightening. But the reaction to this in the traditional texts is amazingly non-judgemental. And if our spiritual sources are meant to inform us of appropriate behavior, then while we can't determine whether the ideal is to fight for our lives or defend our dignity, we do see that, above all, we are asked not to judge others in situations we can't comprehend.

Driving home from work, I proceeded straight through an intersection after the light turned green, only to be deterred by a continuing line of people turning left in front of me, after their turn signal had expired. Not one to let an opportunity pass, I inched forward as much as possible, so as to make it apparent to the turning cars that their right of way had passed, and to make it increasingly difficult for them to even proceed. As the final turning car just made it past my bumper, the driver of the car behind her calmly told me through his open window the title phrase.

Having made an effort to curb my speech on Tisha B'Av, I gave no indication of my thoughts. But here I have the opportunity to explain why I think my intentional act was the proper decision. Those drivers cutting me off where performing an illegal act, failure to yield. Had I allowed them to pass unheeded, I would have been providing them positive reinforcement for their poor decision. In fact, taking the right of way when it's not yours may get you to your destination faster, but it causes countless others to arrive tardier, as traffic progression is blocked. If that behavior (which I've found very common in the area) is enabled, it only encourages the guilty drivers to repeat their actions, as they learn that their "me-first" attitude gets them to their destination earlier. But that attitude is nary the Jewish one, and I believe the firm, yet reasoned response is. Maintaining the expectation for orderly behavior and a non-vindictive, yet stubborn approach appear to trace through Jewish tradition.

So next time there is construction and a lane is closed, and everyone except you has merged in advance while you speed past on the ending lane, you can wave at me as you fly by, but don't be surprised when I don't let you merge at the end.

What Does The Bee Do?
What does the bee do?

Bring home honey.

And what does Father do?

Bring home money.

And what does Mother do?

Lay out the money.

And what does baby do?

Eat up the honey.

--------- by Age Of Conan gold
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