It’s not so hard to understand the harsh human call for austerity. There is a need -I feel it in my gut this morning – to execute tough measures in response to prior greed. This happens all the time and in many means and ways, not always the most healthy and helpful. Take technology, for instance. In the Ultra Orthodox world this morning there’s a top-rabbinic call for burning Iphones (!) – those are seen as weapons for destruction of the will and mind. They have a point there. (Never mind that the Iphone5 is now ridiculed and hated for terrible Map App which is the fallout of the Apple Hubris Project – it is still the current icon of excess, too much distraction and the bringer-on-of-sin through too much information and the temptation to click here and there and there again. And never mind that workers’ conditions do not improve oh so far away in China, as they basically slave to supply the sleek smartphone to the rest of us who look the other way. And never mind that where you burn smartphones you will end up burning people too.)
Burning phones is extreme but this new ban is coming from the ranks of extremists who wear 18th century clothes in response to the threat of modernity, so this type of fundamentalist all or nothing fire is an ideological truth that reflects a bigger worldview based in fear.
This morning I am hesitant to mock or roll my eyes because I’m drawn, a bit more than I care to admit, to harsher measures – as a way to get back on track. Mine is more basic than the smartphone and goes back to gut.
Blame the home-baked challah. It was so delicious that before I know it half of it is gone, and after kids are put to sleep and sabbath candles still flicker, the rest of us stay up to chat and nibble. The challah leads to cookies with the tea and a pomegranate later the snacks just go on. Blame the Bat Mitzvah the next day with those lovely little trays of this and that going around, and an open bar. Blame the leftovers on Saturday Night. Either way, by late last night it’s a problem and a harsh call for austerity and intestinal detox and a fast is proclaimed. Tough times demand tough measures. Water only, maybe juice, some tea – and go. At least until this evening.
Enter – world war within. Is a fast too much – I know it’s good for me and makes me feel better but I’m tired and cranky and got so much work to do a snack will help the energy, let along some eggs for breakfast. Am I going to walk my talk and listen to my higher (other? deeper? meaner?) voices and obey a home-made rule that takes a lot of will power and is not a ton of fun?
There is a pull to all or nothing – full on fast, ban on smartphones, cover women up, abstain from all that’s pleasure. Our human yearning for some control, order, things simpler and neat (best when order from above, with consequences)has a built-in receptor to this pull. If only as a way to balance out the constant yearning for just another cookie or distraction or delight. The push and pull of free will and higher will and all that’s in between.
This is something else I’m learning from the kids – there are loving ways to curb enthusiasm and the want for more (just one more video!) and humor helps, and clear instructions, and replacements – and a middle path.
That famous golden path – the Maimonides Middle – is the goal. How to get there is the challenge. Today’s solution – exercise harsh discipline but with a smile, and not from hatred of the self. Practice for Kippur. Liquids only till lunch and then negotiation. Find the balanced moderation that is firm, and wise and kind, and full of love, and with a simple goal in mind.
No need to burn the Iphones, rabbis, just learn to put them down.