Eye On Hollywood
As a child, I recall the expression, “How Sweet It Is” as the hallmark of that immortal comedian, Jackie Gleason. In the 1960’s and 70’s, Hollywood and television stars were our sages, their mottos – our mantras. “How Sweet It Is!”
Their theme songs became our anthems: If only Skipper and Gilligan had prepared more carefully for what they thought was a mere three-hour tour!
Wisdom of Our Sages
How wise were the scholars of the Talmud who taught that גירסא דינקותא – what we learn when we’re young – makes an indelible impression on our souls. It frames our reality.
By my mid-teens, I started grasping that there was more to life. But the gradual re-shifting of my focus to moral and spiritual role models was excruciating.
Counting Up – A Real Downer?
The upcoming holiday of Shavuot has a surprising dearth of halachot. For the day on which our Torah was given, Shavuot is, at first blush, a colossal anti-climax of a holiday.
What do I mean?
In anticipation of Pesach, we spend weeks plumbing the depths of the intricate laws of Chametz, kashering of utensils and the Seder Night. Last-minute phonecalls to our halachic advisors…..
What follows is 49 days of spiritual exertion, the culmination of which is………
- A batch of blintzes.
- A chunk of cheesecake.
- A lump of lasagne.
Since food is such a meaningful component of Jewish religious life, it behooves us to ask the obvious question:
What’s with the sugary, dairy focus?
For Non-Vegans Only!
11. Your lips drip flowing honey, O bride; honey and milk are under your tongue, and the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon. (Song of Songs, Ch. 4)
This verse generated much interest amongst our sages: Speaking eighteen hundred years ago, Rebbe Yosi observed, “Anyone who utters words of Torah in public – and these words are not sweet to the listeners as honey from the honeycomb – should rather not have said them.”
Lovers of naturally sweetened yogurt will appreciate the addition made by other scholars, who noted, “Anyone who utters words of Torah in public – and these words are not sweet to the listeners as honey and milk mixed together – should rather not have said them.”
For the classical Jew, Jewish life centers around the fulfillment of mitzvot, of commandments, with G-d the ultimate moral authority. Would one dare say about an Army General or those speaking on his behalf, “If the command was not delivered to his soldiers as sweetly as honey and milk mixed together – he should rather not have uttered it ?” Why, then, must a Jewish educator ‘candy-coat’ G-d’s eternal Torah?
Forming A Relationship
The answer, I believe, lies in the fundamental distinction between soldiers who unemotionally implement orders from above vs. the man-G-d relationship.
In the daily blessings on the Torah, we say:
Blessed art Thou, LORD our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to engross ourselves with the words of Torah.
Please LORD, our G-d, sweeten the words of Your Torah in our mouths and in the mouths of all Your people Israel. May we and our offspring, and the offspring of Your people, the House of Israel, may we all, together, know Your Name and study Your Torah for the sake of fulfilling Your desire. Blessed are You, LORD, Who teaches Torah to His people Israel.
As we partake of the Torah, we ask for Divine aid in helping us actually enjoy our learning. So much so, says the Holy Ishbitzer Rebbe, that we beseech G-d to give us the same desire to learn the next folio of Talmud as one who would – after savoring Pralines ‘n’ Cream on a hot summer day – naturally request a second heaping scoop.
As important as mitzvah fulfillment is, G-d looks to us to relish every halachic morsel, delight in every drop of guidance.
After Pesach, we push ourselves to become uplifted by the obligations we will assume; we seek to foster a thirst for Torah that enriches our mitzvah performance and our relationship with G-d.
If we do so, explains the Tiferet Shlomo, our inspiration will be contagious, and we will naturally merit that “our offspring, and the offspring of Your people, the House of Israel” will “together, know Your Name and study Your Torah for the sake of fulfilling Your desire.”
“How Sweet It Is!”