Monday, March 15, 2010

Missing The Forest For The Trees

Allow me to introduce you to Shimon. Shimon is a fellow who davens in a shul in my neighborhood. I only know Shimon by sight -- to the point where I have no idea what his name actually is (for all I know, it really could be Shimon). He seems to be an affable fellow -- he comes to shul with a smile on his face and is well-liked by his fellow congregants. I've never seen him upset about anything. He sits in the back of the shul with a few friends.

This past Friday night, I was davening in that selfsame shul. Although I don't normally daven in that shul, I do find myself there on Friday nights sometimes - very often sitting near or next to Shimon.

This past Friday night, Shimon came in late -- and when I say late, I mean very late. He arrived at shul after Borchu. OK, so he came late -- we all do it from time to time. Perhaps he had some minor emergency that needed to be taken care of. Perhaps he was helping someone else with last-minute Shabbos preparations. Let's be dan l'kaf z'chus here.

After he arrives and grabs a siddur, he then proceeds to quickly daven Mincha, opens his siddur to Kabbolos Shabbos, davens a paragraph or two -- and then begin talking to three other people at the same table. And so it goes -- he quickly davens a paragraph or two and then goes back to the conversation. Through all this, in the time that the congregation davened Ma'ariv, he davened Mincha, Kabbolos Shabbos and Ma'ariv -- and spent about 50% of the time talking to his neighbors.

Finally, after davening, he gets ready to leave. He grabs his siddur and heads to the bookcases and doors. His friend reaches for the hand that holds his siddur. "Just leave it there for tomorrow morning," he says.

"No," replies Shimon. "It's a segulah for parnassah to put your siddur away after davening."

Now, I have no idea if this is a legitimate segulah or not -- but let's say, for the sake of argument, that is. Talk about missing the forest for the trees! He arrives late to davening, barely prays at all -- and when he does he interrupts it with unnecessary conversation -- and then thinks that putting his siddur back on the shelf is somehow going to grant him extra income. How about spending more time and attention and showing greater respect to the prayers and the One to whom you are praying? It's Him -- not the siddur on the shelf -- that provides your parnassah. I somehow find it hard to believe that God looks favorably on the act of putting the siddur back on the shelf after showing active disrespect for God, His prayers and services and the fellow congregants who are trying to daven undisturbed by unnecessary conversation. I'd be willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that God would be far more pleased if you arrived on time, didn't talk through davening and simply left your siddur on the table at the end of davening.

The Wolf

20 comments:

G*3 said...

The answer is that it's magic. Davening is a magic spell where the important thing is to say the words, and segulos are magic rituals that produce specific results.

Chances are he doesn't explicitly think of it that way, but in practice that's how many people treat religion.

Mike S said...

Maybe so, G*3, but it seems to me that that is pretty close to the essence of Avodah Zarah. We are supposed to be serving God, not tricking, coaxing or compelling Him to serve us. To the extent we are rewarded in this world for mitzvot, it is to enable us to continue to do them.

JRS said...

smart & smarter:
I once heard someone quoted as saying the best segulah for a parnassah is to daven to Hashem for a parnasah.

Subsequently, I heard the best segulah for a parnassah is to actually work for a living.

Offwinger said...

What exactly do you mean by "legitimate segula?"

You mean legitimate - as in someone famous and legitimately accepted as a scholar/rav/leader once said this was a segulah?

Or legitimate - as in it actually 'works' and provides more parnassah?

BrooklynWolf said...

Offwinger,

Take your pick. In the context of the case presented, I don't think it matters.

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...

JRS,

And the absolute best apporach... do both. :)

The Wolf

JRS said...

Wolf,
Your comments about the inherent silliness of doing a segula involving a siddur while ignoring the PURPOSE of the siddur are right on (as often the case w/your posts, I was thinking "I've always said the exact same thing!")
.....but they inevitably highlight the problem with segulos in general. Segulos undermine our whole intricate concept of precise Godly justice that we so proudly lay claim to. We're taught that even pulling the wrong change out of your pocket is a tiny "oinesh," an inconvenience to help pay for some tiny part of our "debt" of sins. That always struck me as cool. But this whole compex system is hugely compromised if some people can get an edge by doing little magical acts---i.e., actions that are not inherently moral or virtuous, even in the religious sense.

Commenter Abbi said...

Are you sure he wasn't being sarcastic?

BrooklynWolf said...

Are you sure he wasn't being sarcastic?

Pretty sure. To say it sarcastically in that situation makes no sense. In addition, he seemed sincere about it.

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...

JRS,

I've had similar problems with segulos for a long time.

The Wolf

JRS said...

...Not to mention the "problem" that many segulos are really, really likely to have their origins in something other than Jewish monotheism. You can give people the facts---names, dates, cave-drawings, showing that the wiccans or snail-worshippers or druids did a certain thing 4000 years ago--- and they'll still cling to their "belief". "My zaidy did it" always trumps the fact that Zaidy's great-great-zaidy may have gotten it from his neighbor, the witch-doctor.

mlevin said...

I loved your post so much that it prompted me to make my own blog post. The very first one. Here it is. http://ritasblog-mlevin.blogspot.com/2010/03/segulas.html

Anonymous said...

It's very simple, really. Hashem is basically a very large vending machine.

If you say the tefillas haShalo on erev Rosh chodesh sivan, you'll have good kids. If you sleep through daf yomi, you'll have a good life. Travel to the grave of...you get the idea.

The flip side of that is that your personal behavior doesn't matter. You can be a crook, a fraud, lie, cheat, steal, as long as you do the magic movements and wear the right outfit, you go straight to Heaven.

Starting to sound like some other religions, doesn't it?

Yossi Ginzberg

Larry Lennhoff said...

and they'll still cling to their "belief". "My zaidy did it" always trumps the fact that Zaidy's great-great-zaidy may have gotten it from his neighbor, the witch-doctor.

I'd go with 'almost always' rather than literally always, but I find the notion that there is a pure and uncontaminated Judaism that was never influenced by its neighbors to be as much a fiction as any segula.

Personally, I find kapparot to be a completely pagan ritual (and IIRC the Rema agrees). And Dov Bear has shown how the custom of the Purim masquerade was picked up from the surrounding cultures. How many rituals shall we throw over the side in the interest of ideological purity?

ZachM said...

I heard an amazing speech by Rav Zev Leff, and in it he said that "segulot are like the icing on the cake, without a cake it's just disgusting--no one wants a cake of just icing"
His point, clearly, i think, is that we need our cake--we need to do mitzvot and daven etc etc--before our "frosting" is even a positive thing.

mlevin said...

I happen to know lots of people who buy icing and eat it out of a jar. Without a cake. They don't think it's disgusting.

I happen to think that all icing is disgusting and when I eat the cake I usually leave the icing on my plate.

So, cake/icing is a bad analogy to excuse a bad practice.

Jewish Atheist said...

I don't think that's the way segulahs are thought to work. It's more like (seriously) magic, not requiring God's conscious involvement. So putting your siddur away would just somehow mysteriously cause your income to increase -- it's not that it would convince God to increase your income.

Aaron S. said...

Wolf - This is one of the few (if not only) post of yours that I can agree with.

BrooklynWolf said...

Wolf - This is one of the few (if not only) post of yours that I can agree with.

What? You can't agree that the comments on my old posts are missing? :)

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...

I don't think that's the way segulahs are thought to work. It's more like (seriously) magic, not requiring God's conscious involvement.

Interesting idea, except that it goes against the concept that God determines how much income we receive yearly.

The Wolf