Words to the Wise – Chapter 7

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The following is from our work on Sefer Mishlei, the Book of Proverbs.

Words to the Wise

MishleiChapter 7

By Rabbi Y Reuven Rubin

Nothing had been left to chance, no expense spared; the marriage of Rochel to Chaim would be an affair that would long live in everyone’s memory. Rochel’s parents had started off with nothing and had worked hard for years. Now they were in a position to show the world that they had arrived, and obviously to thank Hashem as well.

The first thing Rochel’s mother did was to begin visiting other weddings. She would bring a small camera with her and surreptitiously take photos of anything that seemed new and trendy. She then hired a party planner to build the event around a theme. Notice that the chasunah was now an event, and its planning took on a whole new dynamic. Table settings were devised and discarded, everything had to be different, unique, special. The chuppah was going to be built by a world-famous carpenter, its top woven of real silk. In a moment of sheer genius, the planner came up with a unique theme for the night. “Let’s create a chuppah as it would have been in a shtetl in the heim.”

Now this was intriguing! Yes, they could create an ambience of rustic charm, harking back to those long-forgotten days of yesteryear. A venue was discovered – a huge, ancient hotel that had never seen a kosher pot or pan. It was far enough outside the city limits so as to make the trip a substantial adventure in itself. A caterer was found who was willing (at a huge premium) to schlep out all the necessary crockery and such, and in the end he and his staff camped out in this far-flung place for over a week. Kitchens were kashered and everything was prepared under the eye of a shomer, who was staying out there for the duration.

On the great day, the place truly looked like the heim. Every table was lit by candles, everything was as it must have been some hundred years ago. In fact, the only modern convenience seemed to have been the huge loudspeakers that were set up so the band (when does a band become an orchestra?) that had been brought from France could wow the participants and no doubt contribute to their future hearing problems.

The entire place reeked from the energy of money spent and wasted, and all in attendance looked around them with bemused smiles. The kallah was brought to the chuppah in an open-air droshky (a horse-drawn carriage), and all the youngsters of the family were dressed in old-fashioned peasant garb. It took a chashuv Rav who had come from that heim to say what was on everyone’s mind. “Nu, Just like the heim in Poland – the candles, the straw, the ferd and vogen, its all here … and I thought we were glad to see the end of the Poilisheh galus.”

Now, you may think that I am just snipping at some innocent foolishness that sometimes seems to carry a few of our brethren to extremes. This is unfortunately not the case, as we can detect more and more excesses on many fronts. There may be any number of reasons to explain why this is happening, but we all suffer from a certain degree of insecurity, and we often think that by flashing our money we will be seen as more “chashuv.”

Certainly you have heard all this before; I am not exposing anything that has not already been spoken of thousands of times. Still, I sometimes have to catch my breath at the utter abandon with which otherwise pleasant folk take to spending their money on complete foolishness. Some communities have tried to take a stand – not always successfully. Many people just seem to have a certain need to be gaudy and totally devoid of good taste, and Heaven help anyone who protests.

Mishlei speaks in euphemistic terms and in a poetic style that should be read on many levels. In the seventh chapter, Shlomo Hamelech starts off by begging our young to be connected to our Torah heritage – not just in our minds, but in the physical sense as well. Heed my commandments and live, and heed my Torah like the apple of your eyes” (7:2). Listen to the Torah and its message if you want to truly live. I often find people who are afraid to do what is right, because they fear ridicule or because they fear being seen as somehow lacking. I once heard from a “gutta Yid,” “Time is a gift, and it is up to you to make it into a life. You can go through time and never really live. The choice is yours.”

Bind them on your fingers; inscribe them on the tablet of your heart” (7:3). By doing Hashem’s will with your very body, you are forging its truth onto your heart. On the other hand, if you don’t follow the spirit of Hashem’s Will in your physical world, then your heart will be bereft of Hashem’s Truth.

Do you think that the road away from Hashem’s blessing is a drastic turn from where the truth lies? No; it’s just a footstep to the side. No one starts in open rebellion. Loss of one’s attachment to Hashem begins in small increments. Glatt-kosher foolishness, with a hechsher to boot, can be the first step. (Have you heard some of the music served up at fruma weddings lately?) The yetzer hara has been at his game from the very beginning, and he knows how to capture his prey. It’s a lot like the scene depicted in Pharaoh’s dreams: The thin cattle slowly sidled up to the fat ones, then they stood side by side, and finally they overwhelmed the healthy-looking ones. The madness of consumer over consumption, of the extraordinarily high level of spending, starts off with a mitzvah or two, and slowly spirals into overindulgence.

Shlomo Hamelech depicts evil as a creature that speaks first of holiness – I have vowed to bring peace offerings, and today I have fulfilled my vow” (7:14). Listen to this: I am a holy soul; I have brought offerings, given tzedakah, done everything that is considered right and proper. Now let’s enjoy ourselves and, as the passage says, Sate ourselves with pleasures until the morning” (7:18).

We may indulge ourselves to our hearts’ content, but, Shlomo Hamelech tells us, no one can distance himself from G-d without experiencing the consequences. “He follows unsuspected, like an ox to the slaughter; like a venomous snake to discipline the fool” (7:22). We are caught up in new ideas that coax us to new degrees of wastefulness. We end up being bitten by the snake of Eden that spoke perfidy when Adam and Chavah thought his words carried beauty.

So now, children, listen to me, and heed the words of my mouth” (7:24). There is but one way to escape this tyranny of foolishness: Listen to the Torah and let its words become part of what you are.

We are so blessed today. We have more opportunity to learn than we ever had before. There are shiurim at every turn, and Torah teachers willing and able to share their wisdom. The only problem is that some don’t know how to absorb these lessons, or perhaps they are too fearful of the results. You need not fear; we all have in us the ability to be wise, and for that you don’t need a party planner.

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