I remember sitting in Tanya class when I was about 13 years old. We were studying Chapter 7, which discusses the spiritual essences in every being. Our teacher explained that there is a spiritual difference between forbidden and permissible items. While all living and non-living objects have a spiritual essence, the essences are derived and powered from different spiritual sources and levels. The source of objects essence is the determining factor whether an item is allowed for Jewish people.
For example – Pork has a different spiritual source than beef – therefore pork is not allowed while kosher beef is.
(If I have not confused you yet, congratulations! For more explanation, click here after reading the rest of my blog)
My Rabbi teacher then continued to explain the following concept:
“Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should.”
So there I am, a 13 year old kid, and in simple terms my teacher basically just told me that just because ice cream is kosher, doesn’t mean I should have it.
WHAT!! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! (I even asked him this exact ice cream analogy)
He explained that when you hold yourself to a higher standard – you refrain from things you urge and desire. By doing so you break the hold that the urge had over you. (Hayom Yom Shevat 27)
Needless to say, at age 13 I thought this was totally bogus. First, you tell me all the things I’m not allowed to do. And trust me, in Judaism there is a WHOLE lot of “not allowed” – but now you’re telling me that even things that are labeled “kosher” I should refrain? Who am I, Gandhi or something? This upset me greatly and I never liked this attitude. I understood that these were men who lived a few hundred years ago who led simpler lives, but we always learn that we live IN the world, and not on some mountain top in Tibet. That is exactly why we have KOSHER ice cream so we can enjoy the pleasures of the world but in a way that’s allowed according to Torah.
Well, I’m happy to say I’m no longer 13.
Recently, I decided to research this concept, so I’d like to thank my Dad who found me numerous places where this concept is discussed. One place is the Hayom Yom. The Hayom Yom for the 25th of Adar Sheini tells of a disciple who came to learn from the Alter Rebbe. He said that the first concept he ever learned was the following:
“What is forbidden is forbidden and what is permitted is unnecessary.”
He goes on to say that they studied this concept until it was drilled into their systems and only then could they go on a path of service to G-d.
This year, as I get ready for Chanukah (along with the rest of you) I recalled my post last year about 8 Tips for a Healthy Chanukah . One of the items in that post is about the dangers (yes DANGERS) of giving 8 gifts, one for every night of Chanukah. I’m aware that many parents don’t give presents at all (which is cool) but the more I thought about this 8 gifts concept, the more I realized that not only is it a warped tradition but it really is an unhealthy attitude to teach our next generation. (feel free to read last years post for more details).
Just because you Can Doesn’t Mean You Should.
This extends to more than just Chanukah gifts. This is a year round concept that we as Americans need to learn. We live in a society of abundance (and for those of us who don’t have, try to emulate that abundance through Credit Card debt ) Abundance is a beautiful thing… it means we can do more, give more, and celebrate more, but we mustn’t forget to teach our kids the work that came BEFORE the abundance.
Very often I see families who give their kids EVERYTHING they need and EVERYTHING they want. (big difference) I believe I’ve blogged about this before.
Raise your hand if you know a 3 year old kid who has a favorite flavor sushi ? Or a young child who already has a “usual” at Starbucks?
Just because you CAN – just because you may have the money, or the resources, – doesn’t mean you should – doesn’t mean that you should be showering your kids (or loved ones) with lavish clothes and bedrooms and every new toy on the shelf.
So I’m no longer 13. I finally see the wisdom behind: “What is forbidden is forbidden and what is permitted is unnecessary” – As we thank G-d that we don’t live on a mountain in Tibet but in the Abundant America, – we also need to remember that it’s all about balance and responsibility. About leading a spiritually driven life, and not just accumulating “stuff” (I’m sure you’ve heard of George Carlin’s famous “Stuff” Routine). So yes, I’ll be buying my Chanukah gifts for my loved ones (and hopefully I’ll be receiving some too!) but I will try my best to see beyond the gift wrapping and fancy packaging. I’ll try to see and feel the intentions of the giver and therefore really appreciate the presents.
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Want More? Check out some past Chanukah related Dubyisms