Saturday, April 28, 2007

A Religion of Extremes

Posted by Tamar

Judaism is a religion of contrasting commandments; as opposed to finding a balance between two different types of things, Judaism calls for an extreme depending on the holiday/mitzvah. Fast days, for example, are one of the ultimate ascetic things, depriving oneself of ones basic needs, food and drink. However, the Torah also commands us to be indulgent especially during specific holidays. This is most starkly seen between Ta'anit Esther and Purim, just a couple of days before the holiday in which we are commanded to indulge in food and drink; we are commanded to deprive ourselves of those basic human necessities. This fast then indulgence is again seen with Pesach, Erev Pesach the firstborns are supposed to fast but on Pesach we are told to have large meals. Similarly an ordinary Israelite who wants "separate themselves to God" ( ) has to take a "Nazarite vow of abstinence for the sake of Hashem" (Parshat Nasso, 6:2) he doesn't shave, doesn't drink, and doesn't cut his hair all to become closer to God. Additionally, although his economic status doesn't seem lowered, if one were to look at him, the observer would assume he was poor. The Nazir does all of this in order to reach the level of Holiness that a Cohen has innately. The Cohen though is commanded to wear specific clothes and look presentable at all times as well as to have wealth. In order to achieve a higher level of holiness, one must be either acetic or born into an inherently holy and wealthy class. Lastly, another type of contrasts within Judaism has to do with the emotional, not the physical and spiritual acts seen above. S'firat Ha'omer, logically, should be a happy time, for it is the time which we are counting down towards the days of our obtainment of the Torah and our closer connection with God, the rise of our spiritual level (


Anonymous tova said...

the fact that we now a days do contrasting minhagim is becuase at the time that the story actually happened, the two eotmions contrasted as well. for example the happiness of the end of the story of purim, is only an effect of esthers mourning/plead on behalf of the jewish nation. esther was the cause, the happy purim sotry that we know of it as now is the effect. therefore it would not be coreect for us to only celebrate the happiness for it never would have come into play without the mourning as well.
so to with pesach....the fact that the first born sons fdast echoes machat bichorim back in eygpyt. again, the happiness of the exile from epgypt never would have happened withouth the death of those during machat bichorim.
the sad contrasting with happy that we commemorate/ celebrate now, is only as a respond to remeber exactly what happened in the tanach.
however, besides that....i think when sad is put next to happy it leaves a greater effect on a person. for example the fact that yom hazikaron is placed right next to yom haatzmaut. yom hazikaron is a memorial holiday that could have been on any date, yet the rabanut spacificly piked the day right before israel independace day (basiclly the happiest day for the state of israel). this was obviously a concious decision becuase the sad leading into happy leaves a greater effect on a person. they are supposed to realize that althought we of course should celebrate the happy, we must realize that happy can never occur wihtout sacrifices, in this case the state of israel never would have been able to happen without those who sacrificed for the states sake.
yes judaism has many days of these contrasts...wether it is like that because that it how it layed out in history (purim for example) or wether it was conciously like that (yom hazikaron for example) both ways leave a greater impact then they would if they stood by themselves. by the fac tthat happy is right after sad, makes us realize that the success/hjappyness could not occur without the loses/sacrifices (sad)

May 01, 2007 12:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Tovaleh on this one. Judisim is very instersting, but i think a very big reason is to why things are this way. Jewish holidays are very strange and they are plaaced next to eachother very strangley. Just today, in my SAT essay I was writing, I wrote about Pesach. And as I was wrting it I thoguht to myself, we are nuts. Who cleans their entire house of leavened bread? Who can only eat matzah for 8 days? It realy is crazy, but its exactly my point, who does do all these things? us. The Jews. The chosen nation. Who has fasts rigiht before holidays? We do and these things, these even small things, keep us sepereate, and " a light upon other nations". Without these traditions, it would be eaiser to assimilate and be like everyone else, but we arent and we should thank these crazy traditions and holidays for the power to be differnt.
Have a good night!
Shira Zurndorfer

May 13, 2007 11:17 PM  
Anonymous lisa amy said...

Yes, i think that people can come up with reasons about the sadness and happiness of people and events (on pesach, purim...) to justify fasts and celebrations to each individual event. however, though i think those reasonings are true, i think there is a general rule for why judaism has contradictions. Everything in the world needs to be balanced. too much or too little anything, a substance, emotion, or anything is bad for you. we are learning in toshba about kavod with torah's and how in the gemarh there was a contradicting opinion whether you stand up for the object itself(the torah), or whether you stand up for those who learn and practice the torah. Now if you only stand up for one you are neglecting the other. Thus, you stand up for both and give balanced honor to the toarh and its scholars. So too, with judaism in general. If the religion was only made up of happy events it would be to lighthearted and there would be no serious or meaningful components. However, if judaism was only made up of fasts and nezirim, the religion probably would be too somber and unappealing. Thus, judaism is a balance between the two; fascillated like so as that as many people as possible can connect with hashem.

May 17, 2007 9:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps extremeties signify the range of Judaism's influence on our lives, for "better" or "worse". Essentially, living in the middle is dull, people like to live on the edge; to feel excitement and fulfilling in surpassing normal expectations. Perhaps contrasting extremes are a religious form of "living on the edge", for we see that Judaism applies to our lives through both sad and enjoyable times. For example, during a wedding, there is a mournful aspect in breaking the cup. Conversely, when one is mourning, one is restricted to a 7 day period of morning, as shown through Avraham's mourning for his wife. Judaism does have extremes, yet there always seems to be some form of balance. Jews abide by stringent rules, principles, and guidelines, yet these are not to be scorned for their radical extremeties. On the contrary, by practicing Judaism to such an extreme, Jews display the moderate way we approach life, for we do not go to extremes and allow our intrinsic nature to take over us, but we go to the extremes in order to ensure that we do not fall victim to instinct. Ironically, extremes in Judaism seem to balance. For insatnce, though we celebrate our triumphant salvation from Egypt, we simultaneously mourn the fallen Egyptian soldiers through refraining from reciting Hallel. It seems that extremes are imposed on us in order to keep us from goining "wrongly" extreme to becoming sinful. Consequently, i do not view these as extreme but as necessary measures to keep us on the balanced path of righteousness. -Arella

May 29, 2007 6:04 PM  
Anonymous Shira M. said...

I agree with Tova and Arella. We have these contrasting emotions and contrasting principles because of how we actually felt and because it impacts us greater, but also to show the extremes in Judaism. Having a fast, and then having a mitzvah to eat afterwards really shows extremes but also gives us an impact on what has happened. When we fast, we deprive ourselves of something we need. It reminds us of a certain hardship, and we are supposed to feel saddened and mournful for something that has occured. However, feeling lots of happiness and eating a lot after this extreme sadness puts us into perspective. I think the underlying concept is in order to be happy we must feel sadness. In order to succeed there must be some mistakes or some failures. A person cannot go to the best of their ability of achieve complete happiness without some setbacks or sadness. I know this might seem a bit pessimistic but its true, because once you see these sad things or mistakes you realize what you can do to fix it and how you can become better. I am not sure if I am right, but all of the contrasting ideas that I can think about in our religion or contrasting themes over a holiday, are usually first the negative or sad part (fasting) and go into the happy and joyful part(eating). Hashem is showing us we cannot live withoutt the other and even though they are both extremes they both impact us.

May 29, 2007 9:26 PM  
Blogger Sara Laya said...

I agree with Lisa within the fact that the torah is trying to teach us balance. we cannot have one extreme without the other because to much of an extreme in either direction is unhealthy. I believe it was Rambam who said that there should be a middle path where everything is taken in moderation. judiasim is all about balances. if on purim we were only 'feasting' and 'drinking' and being happy, we would lose sight of the story. We were in great peril and Hashem saved us. Also by juxtaposing the two emotions next to each other it brings more out of each emotion and aspect of the holiday. Judiasm may seem crazy, but i really think its just trying to balance us out.

June 03, 2007 9:48 PM  
Anonymous Kel said...

i wrote on this like a million years ago but apparently it got erased//it didnt post? anywhooo now that every1 stole my ideas i will repeat them anyways.p.s. plz dont count this as late cos i wrote it on timmeee!!!
i agree with tova and what she said, but furthermore i think the reason why not only did Hashem make those events with such contrast but commemorates these events with contrast as well because we should always acknowledge Hashems super being and the fact that he can have such devastating events happen, such as the killing of the firstborn, yet right after have one of the most amazing miracles in judaism happen right after. It shows how powerful hashem is and shows how much he loves our nation. Yes, the first borns all got killed, but maybe it served a purpose, and then Hashem,made a huge miracle(for many purposes) but one of them being to show that he loves us and can do that for us. Hashem is also proving to us at how great he is, only god could create devastating events and then create huge miracle and do happy things for us. These contrasts are what make our faith even stronger and shows Hashems greatness.

June 06, 2007 7:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i dont agree with Tamar I think that though the torah at first glance seems to have contridictions I think ultimatly it just tries to help every person to become close to Hashem in what ever ways they can connect with Him. for example some people need a more stuctered, strict life to become close (such as being a nazir) while we arent all commanded to do this because you are only supposed to deny yhourself things if it helps you become closer to Hashem

June 08, 2007 6:06 PM  

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