Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Zeh Katan Gadol Yihieh

I was going to write about Purim Katan again, but then I learned a Sicha on this week's Haftora, which just happens to be my favorite, and I decided to write about that instead. Oh, a quick note about Shmuley Boteach, who I've savaged in the past. Last night I watched a recent debate of his with Christopher Hitchens, and I must say that I was very impressed. I had previously seen Mr. Hitchens savaging Mother Theresa, quite rightly I believe, and he didn't disappoint in this argument either. Shmuley also performed quite well, and even though I didn't agree with several of his points I still think that he had an admirable performance.
OK, enough praise. This week's Haftora is the famous one of Elijah the prophet on Mount Carmel, exhorting his people to follow their true G-d with the famous words, "Until when will you limp with two opinions? Either to Hashem, or to Baal!" The reason this is my favorite Haftora is that it's so quotable-if ever someone is wishy-washy, or is being hypocritical, this line is great. Not that I'm not guilty of being wishy-washy and hypocritical, but at least I feel bad about it afterwards. Sometimes.
Anyway, the Rebbe (in Likkutei Sichos 1) asks two basic questions: Why does Elijah give the Jews the option of going to Baal? And why does he accuse them (merely) of having two opinions; why not say that they are worshiping the idol, which is in fact what many of them were doing.
The Rebbe's essential point is that wavering on a theology as a whole, being an agnostic, is worse than completely believing in the power of the idol. At least when you believe in Baal, you believe in something. The same point extends to repentance; when you know you've done something wrong, it's much easier to return than when you can justify it to yourself.
The obvious question is, how does this apply to our times? The Rebbe explains that there is a world which proclaims certain things, especially with regard to a person's livelihood, and it's very difficult to break free of these expectations. We are taught to believe that certain behaviors will ensure our financial success, like going to college, while others, like staying in Yeshiva, spell financial ruin. The Rebbe is not saying here that getting a job is a bad thing; what he is saying is that believing solely in capitalism, communism, or any other 'ism to get you through life is our equivalent of idol worship. Even saying that a person can do both is not acceptable, because this is wavering with two opinions, believing both in G-d and the almighty dollar.


Anonymous said...

I Think A Better Translation Would Be "Until When Will You Skip On Both Posts." Pardon The Caps. Im On My Phone.