Friday, May 29, 2015

Nkandla and the Nazir

This week's Torah reading includes, inter-alia, the laws of the Nazir and the Sotah, two seemingly unrelated personas. A Sotah is a woman who has compromised Kiddushin, the sanctity of her marriage, for lust. Infidelity is more than breaking the trust of one's life-partner, it is an affront to G-d and our own innate hto oliness. 
A Nazir is the complete opposite. He or she is someone who shuns pleasure in order to strengthen a connection with G-d. A Nazir wants to be kadosh, holy and focused.
You'll agree that these two characters are polar opposite, so it is surprising that the Torah desrcibes them one after the other. Why the link? The Talmud says that, if you see someone fall into temptation, like a Sotah, you should abstain from wine, like a Nazir.
In other words, if you see someone else fail, take precautions to ensure you remain beyond reproach.
It is a great lesson, but you have to wonder: Surely, someone who is inclined to take an oath of dedication to G-d is a long stretch from someone who commits adultery. Why the need for an immediate (and drastic) response to someone else's weakness?
Many ugly things happen in society. Thankfully, we remain unaware of most of them. But, when we a scandal catches our eye, we shouldn't just use it as Friday night table content, we should recognize that Hashem is messaging us. When He makes us aware of someone else's wrongdoing, He actually holds a mirror up for us to examine our own weaknesses.
Nkandla has many South Africans, including many of our own community seething; possibly with good reason. How can anyone justify throwing enormous amounts of money away on elaborate entertainment facilites and then claim that these are home essentials? It's obscene.
But, it makes me think of our "keep up with the Cohens" barmis, batties and weddings. South Africa has not yet seen a barmi with a "fire pool" or a battie at a kraal. But, I think we've lost our way pumping big budget into eye-catching decor and outfits, top of the line catering and specialist entertainers. And we've convinced ourselves that all the glitz is a "simcha essential". We can armchair critique the president's spend on his home and become frustrated. We could choose, rather, to rethink our own simcha expenditure and become modest and focused.
I wish for the day when people scale down their simchos, give their children a heimish celebration and share some of the savings with those who can't afford their own celebration. It would even make sense to share the saving with the newlyweds themselves to help them set up their first home. For now, I'm afraid, our whitewash teams will spin a tale on why "my child can't be the only one to have a simple celebration" and the bills will keep growing.

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