Friday, September 16, 2011

It'll Drive You Crazy

Parshat Ki Tavo

by Rabbi Avi Billet

Some of the curses in the tokhacha are meant to hit so close to home. Verses 28:29-33 describe how some things we might take for granted could easily be unequivocally stripped from us. The most poetically chilling is verse 30 in which the betrothed woman, the new house and the new vineyard will all be enjoyed by someone else. These recall the three individuals (other than the coward) who are recalled from the battlefield before going out to fight "lest another man enjoy" the beginning fruits of these new projects before the one meant to benefit has a chance to see them through their fruition.

 As a result of these terrible losses, the Torah says "You will go insane from what you will have to witness"

Some of the commentaries express tremendous creativity in their attempt to explain what the insanity will be or where it will come from.

Ibn Ezra says the "insanity" will come from the Egyptian boils coming upon the people in verse 27. The Sha"kh says one will be like a crazy-man on account of all the happy occasions one will have shared with others. Whether he is being serious or speaking tongue-in-cheek is open to anyone's interpretation. [The word "smachot" is sometimes used as a euphemisim for 'sad events.']

The Netziv is a little more practical in his explanation as he says "You'll be dumbstruck over how much damage so few instigators can cause you. The overwhelming feeling will cause you to lose your reason."

In essence, these commentaries look at the afflictions which precede this statement of insanity and attach a direct connection – cause and effect.

One can also look at this statement with a contemporary eye and, when looked at by itself, out of the context of the verses surrounding it, a significantly modern lesson can be taken away.

The translation of the verse I provided before is from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's "Living Torah." However, it can also be translated, "You will go crazy on account of the things you see."

Israeli motivational speaker Rabbi Avner Kavas suggested that we live in a world in which the sights we see can literally drive a person crazy.

It doesn't take much imagination to understand exactly what he's talking about. Stand at a checkout counter and you're overwhelmed with magazine covers containing images and tabloid headlines you'd rather not be exposed to.

Think about our own feelings of the "Arab Spring" that is rising now, with the discussion over the state that might be declared by the United Nations.

Consider the climbing rate of divorce in our communities.

Wonder about the "singles scene," and if the challenge so many face in finding a mate will be overcome in the near future.

Take note of the drug abuse, sexual abuse, and physical abuse which sometimes make it to the newspapers. Particularly physical abuse between spouses, once unheard of in the Jewish community, is now flickering on a radar screen.

The endless addiction that comes from using electronics, the internet, etc. Even if all of these uses are good or pareve, the inability to communicate normally with another person is becoming a lost art, and the amount of time spent online versus in other intellectual and spiritual pursuits can drive the objective observer mad.

Our eyes are our portal to the world, and it is through them that we see the things that can literally drive us crazy. There is no room to preach filtering, because only the true ascetic can filter out the images and the madness that challenge us on a daily basis in our world and contemporary society.

May we not only pray that the world change in a manner that will make us see a different light, but may we also merit to see a world in which even this kind of fulfillment of the tokhacha turns into a figment of only our wildest imagination.

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