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Home » Free Choice, Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah: Pickled Meat and Free Choice

Submitted by on September 16, 2017 – 10:41 pmNo Comment | 43 views

Surface Attraction
A man once went to the butcher and saw two bins, one filled with fresh meat, the other, with pickled meat. The pickled meat smelled good and drew his attention. He bought five pounds of the it and returned the next day with terrible stomach pains. Why didn’t you tell me that the meat had gone bad, he complained to the butcher? But I did, replied the butcher. I pickled it…

Fresh meat doesn’t require pickling because customers will buy it for its own value. When meat grows old, people won’t touch it unless it is pickled. The pickled veneer disguises its defect and gives it an allure despite its drawback. I have a general rule when it comes to food: It either healthy or yummy. Manufactures don’t need to dress up healthy food because customers buy it for its own value, but unhealthy food would be utterly neglected unless flavor were added.

This tells you something important. When you see something that is overly attractive on the surface, check beneath the surface to see if it is healthy. If someone went out of his way to make it look good, you need to ask yourself why it needed to be dressed up. If you didn’t check and tore into the delicacy with gusto, don’t complain that no one told you it wasn’t healthy. It’s very allure was the giveaway.

The Attraction of Sin

In the Torah G-d wrote, “Behold, I place before you, life and goodness, death and evil . . . and you should choose life.”

On the surface, this doesn’t seem to be a choice at all. On the one hand, there is goodness and life, on the other hand there is evil and death. What kind of choice is that? If I offered you a choice between diamonds and manure, would you even consider it a choice? Of course, you would pick the diamonds!

Yet, G-d tells us that we are given a choice, which implies equal options. How can that be?

The answer is that G-d disguises the allure of the goodness and enhances the allure of sin. Since no one in their right mind would choose a path that moves them away from goodness, G-d had to make that path more alluring if he wanted us to have free choice.[1]

King Solomon wrote that stolen waters are sweeter. It is our nature to be drawn to the forbidden. If it is permissible and easy to get, we dismiss it. If it is forbidden and hard to get, we want it. We convince ourselves that if we only had that forbidden thing, we would be happy. We would enjoy it to the end of times.

Yet sin is never as enjoyable as we thought it would be. The titillation never lives up to its promise. The reason is as obvious as it is simple. Forbidden things are inherently not enjoyable because they are not good for us. But we are made to feel tantalized by them because otherwise we would never have considered it an option. To have free choice, we need an equal playing field with equal choices. G-d therefore enhanced the allure of the forbidden, which gave us a choice.

In A Book

Rabbi Levik of Bardichev once complained that G-d treats us unfairly. Had He placed Himself before our eyes and the allure of the forbidden in a book, we could have been reasonably expected to choose the right thing. But He placed the allure of the forbidden before our eyes, and concealed Himself in a book. Under these conditions, how can He expect Jews to make the right choice?

While Reb Levik, the advocate par excellence of the Jewish people, meant to advocate for the Jews, the simple fact remains that had G-d done what Reb Levik proposed, we would not have had free choice. Surely, we would have opted for G-d, but not out of choice. It would have been out of necessity. There would have been no other legitimate choice. Who in their right mind would abandon G-d for a piece of bacon?

By hiding Himself in a book and placing the alluring sin before our eyes, He evened the playing field and gave us a choice. Of course, Reb Levik’s question still stands. How can G-d expect us to make the right choice, now that He concealed Himself and made the forbidden seem so alluring?

The answer is the same one that the butcher gave his customer. When something is alluring, it tells us that it is unhealthy. Although G-d concealed Himself in the book, He left very clear signs atop the forbidden choices that scream STAY AWAY. That sign is the allure that we feel for it. If it were a healthy choice, if it were a holy choice, it would not have gotten us excited.

Of course, we can be drawn to a Mitzvah and feel fulfilled by it. But the raw surge of excitement that comes over us when we anticipate a physical pleasure doesn’t usually come from holy things. It comes from the forbidden because like the butcher’s pickled meat, G-d wanted to cover over the spiritual corruption of this choice.

The Delicious Kugel

There was once a Chassid by the name Shmuel Munkes. Reb Shmuel attended a wonderful luncheon in his synagogue following Shabbat services, but when the Kugel was served, he ran and grabbed the tray. Everyone chased Reb Shmuel reaching for the tray, but Reb Shmuel held it aloft, as he danced across the room. He kept dancing until he reached the garbage can and dumped the entire kugel!

A hush spread across the room as the crowd took in Reb Shmuel’s brazen act. But before a peep could be heard, the cook rushed in and screamed, I hope no one ate the Kugel. It turned out that the Kugel was not kosher and was erroneously served to the table.

Now everyone was curious. How did you know, they asked Reb Shmuel, that the Kugel wasn’t kosher? I didn’t, replied the Chassid. All I knew is that when the Kugel was served, I was struck with an unusual desire for it. It felt more tantalizing than Kugel usually feels and this drew my attention. To a Chassid, extra desire is a clear sign of danger. Stay away–it is extra tantalizing. Check beneath the surface because something must be wrong. So, I took no chances; I grabbed the kugel and chucked in the trash.

The New Year

As the new year approaches, let us commit ourselves to stop and take note before tearing into pleasurable endeavors and checking first whether it is healthy and permitted. In turn, may the new year come upon us with abundance of blessing as we embark on a year of good choices.

[1] He wants to give us free choice because we can only be rewarded if we made a choice. If goodness is our only option, we can’t receive credit for being good and therefore can’t be rewarded. Another reason is because He wanted us to transform a world that equates sin and holiness, into a world that is truly holy. To accomplish this, we must live in this world and to live in it, sin and holiness must be equal options for us too.

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