My great week
by Jonathan Rosenblum
January 5, 2005
Actually no one whose heart is not dead flesh had a great week last week. The traumatic events half way around the world and closer – much closer – to home dominated our thoughts too much for that.
Destruction on the magnitude of last week’s – whether it be the loss of more than 100,000 lives or the closing of a yeshiva for even a day – cry out for some response. Hashem’s deepest Will is not to destroy the world that He created, and certainly not to stop the learning of Torah, upon which the continued existence of the world depends. If, nevertheless, Hashem acts contrary to His deepest Will, we must all tremble.
But even though we cannot remain unmoved by hearing the tragic news of last week, absent prophecy we have, at most, a glimmer of what is demanded of us. The resulting confusion reminds us of our good fortune when the messages come in easily discerned packages, and without tragic consequences for others. It was a few of the latter sort that made my week.
Tuesday afternoon I was supposed to meet a friend to go to the gym (another future topic). We arranged for him to pick me up at the first light on a certain street. The first light, it turns out, depends a great deal on where one enters the street.
After my friend failed to reach the designated meeting place, I called him (yes, cell-phones do have their uses), only to find that he was searching for me at the other end of the road. I made what I thought was a cute little joke, but which contained an implicit barb suggesting that my choice of traffic lights was the more reasonable.
In any case, that offhand remark hit a tripwire. My closest friend for more than a decade let me have it with both barrels. Why did I always have to be right? Why did he always have to play the role of the court jester? he demanded to know. I was too shocked to reply. In all the years that we have been close, I had never experiened even the vaguest hint of disapproval or anger from him.
Yet one remark could not possibly have elicited that barrage. My last witticism was obviously the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
In a curious way, I’m glad that my friend blew up at me. If he hadn’t I would never have been forced to confront how much pain my teasing caused him. And without confronting it, I would have had no chance of changing either.
The next day brought another wake-up call. I had set myself the task of making the case in the Jerusalem Post for the counter-intuitive (for secular readers) position that the State should continue to fund chareidi education without telling us what or how to teach. (In the United States, the situation is the exact opposite: religious schools receive no state funding, but the state nevertheless imposes a wide variety of curricular requirements.)
I had been thinking about the topic for a long time, and had even taken a few preliminary stabs at it for Maariv. But what came out in the little more than two hours I allotted to the Post column was something less than compelling, and perhaps less than coherent. I had simply not given myself enough time to think through a complex issue.
Even my famously loyal secretary felt compelled to mention that the column was lousy. And again I’m glad she did. For too long I’d been pardoning myself for weaker columns with a remark one of my sons once made: "Every week can’t be the best, Abba." True enough. But some week can be the worst.
By growing overconfident, thinking that whatever flies off the keyboard is imbued with self-evident insight and elegance, I had ended writing junk. (True, the Viennese wit Karl Kraus once defined a journalist as someone who given more time would write worse, but I never accepted the job description of journalist.)
My wonderful week ended with a letter to the Jerusalem Post by a woman from Mevasseret Zion. The writer allowed that "Rosenblum often has interesting points to make, as with regard to cellphone[s]." But, she added, by viewing the world as split between "ethical haredi and hedonist secular life" and turning every issue "into the clean-living and caring chareidi world versus the promiscuous and indifferent secular one," I had made my message much harder to accept. (Followers of this column please note that to the secular world I’m considered an apologist for the absolute perfection of the chareidi world.)
The whole purpose of the Post column is to provide secular readers with a greater appreciation of the Torah world. I had been careful to write that the problem of cell phones is one for thoughtful secular parents as well. But even if I thought that was sufficient to prevent me from coming across as holier-than-thou, it obviously was not enough for my critic. And hers is the only vote that counts. So I owe her a debt of gratitude as well for pointing out my failure.
So while all of us were receiving messages last week that were at once overwhelming and unfathomable, I at least had the good fortune to receive some other messages in individualized and easily understood form.
Related Topics: Jewish Ethics
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