Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Conversation With Chabakuk Elisha - Bombarded

(Picture courtesy of

This morning, I noticed a large poster while taking public transportation that had an advertisement for "Bodies: The Exhibition". The advertisement featured a macabre image. I was a little disturbed by what I saw, but I later checked out the website for more details about it. The website noted that the purpose of this exhibition is:

"To help you see what a body really looks like on the inside, this Exhibition uses real human bodies that have been preserved so they do not decay. A human specimen is first preserved according to standard mortuary science. The specimen is then dissected to show whatever it is that someone wants to display. Once dissected, the specimen is immersed in acetone, which eliminates all body water. The specimen is then placed in a large bath of silicone, or polymer, and sealed in a vacuum chamber. Under vacuum, acetone leaves the body in the form of gas and the polymer replaces it, entering each cell and body tissue. A catalyst is then applied to the specimen, hardening it and completing the process. This method of preservation creates a specimen that will not decay. This offers thousands of unique teaching possibilities for educators at all levels, including medical professionals, archeologists and other scientists."

Seeing this, compounded with my recent experience at a funeral, made me acutely aware of just how wide the gulf is between my thoughts and beliefs and those of the society surrounding me. A television set mounted on the wall in an elevator lobby at work constantly displays the latest news and also reminds me of this gulf. Pedophiles stalking children on the internet, campus shootings, celebrity suicides, soldiers killed in combat……all of these images and sounds bombard me on a daily basis in just the few moments that I wait to take the elevator down to the lobby. I don't need to watch the news when I return home each night since these few seconds show me a world that I am almost scared to acknowledge exists.

I know that it is foolish to believe that one cannot make this world of chaos go away by closing my eyes. So instead, I prefer to stare up at the clouds above me, or run away to the sanctuary of a sefer where Hashem's presence is more clearly revealed.

Chabakuk Elisha, in the past you addressed the negative aspects of isolation. However, our holy Torah also tells us (Vayikra 19:2 ) "kedoshim tihiyu" - be holy. Rashi noted that this means that at times we should separate and isolate ourselves. Additionally, the Degel Machaneh Ephraim taught, "The secret of Israel's survival among the nations is the fact that the Jewish people have gone their own way and have lived their own lives, regardless of what the other nations might think or say of them in scorn or in praise."

Since you have acknowledged the negative aspects of isolation, perhaps you might now address the positive aspects of this isolation, and perhaps suggest ways in which we can still live in this world spinning around us.

Chabakuk Elisha comments:

Unfortunately, the society and culture in which we live is full of values that are antithetical to those of a religious and sensitive individual. Moreover, the media is especially twisted - reporting things better left unreported and focusing on sensationalism rather than useful news or the like. It doest take a rocket scientist to know that this fosters and brings out the worst elements of human nature, as well as adding to the erosion and eventual collapse of the structure of our civilization.

Indeed, this is not a small matter, and the results that we already see are tragic, which causes the pessimist, or perhaps the realist, to repeat the refrain, "It's sick and getting sicker." Obviously, our environment has an influence on us, and it is a natural reaction to feel inclined follow the Rambam's advise that if one finds that he cannot live in society, he should move to the desert.

Yet, I do believe that this is a last case scenario. I don't think that Torah really expects us to take this action unless there is absolutely no chose; and that is the question: are we at that point? To that, I maintain that the Rambam's advise is not merely a physical one - rather, we can attempt at least to live in the bustling city, while at the same time, creating a "desert environment," isolating ourselves from our surroundings to a certain extant. And like we mentioned in the past regarding the concept of "Mach da Eretz Yisroel" (transform your current environment into the Holy land), we are advised to insulate ourselves to a reasonable extent and make our surroundings more sensitive and holy.

But this is not without problems. In attempting to doing this, we can easily run into a grey area of what to allow in and what to fence out, not to mention that how this is done can sometimes be worse than the initial problem. Rabbi Hershel Fried does a nice job of pointing this out in his recent article on the problems in chareidi chinuch. So while I can sympathize with your frustration, we must understand, as R' Nachman of Breslov said: "Kol Haolam kulo gesher tzar meod - v'haikkar, lo lefacheid klal!"


At May 10, 2007 at 10:20:00 AM EDT, Blogger AS said...

There is a story said about a famous Rabbi who had come to Brooklyn and was part of the Mir Yeshiva. After a while he decided he must return to Israel. When asked why he replied: When I first came to NY and I saw how many Jews did not observe the shabbos and it bothered me to no end. After a while the feeling started to deaden so it's time for me to return.. Excellent post.

At May 10, 2007 at 11:07:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks - you reminded me of this:

The old Shoproner Rov Z”L was asked to be a rov in a small community (1930's? 1940's?). After visiting the community for a Shabbos he said (paraphrasing):

In Europe the towns were saturated with generations of Ehrliche, Yiddishe, thought, deed and action - but, here in the USA there is none of that. Recently, specific areas – most of all, Williamsburg – have begun to develop a Torahdike, Yiddishe, atmosphere, making it somewhat possible to live there. However, I see now that there is no way that I could live anywhere else and stand the impurity.

(Others, of course, felt that we should spead out and recreate the atmosphere)

At May 10, 2007 at 11:59:00 AM EDT, Blogger Alice said...

Haven't Jewish people always lived amongst people who have no idea how to be moral? I thought that the whole point of Judaism was to move humanity along. Start with monotheism, move people away from human sacrifice, establish courts of justice, teach how to be kind to animals, how to eat in an elevated manner, etc.

Imagine what it was like to live amongst the pagan Romans. Research the festival of Saturnalia. Jewish people managed to survive and influence the world greatly amongst such trying times, times so awful I can't even imagine. It would seem that there is a mandate to be very tough.

Please correct me if I'm wrong.


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