Thursday, September 4, 2008

Parah Aduma Syndrome: Pop Music and Paper Tigers - Part 1

Author's note: this post is in reference to a current feature article in the Jerusalem Post. As of the last time I checked, this article has generated no less than 150 Talkbacks - more than the item about Tony Blair's sil stuck in Gaza. This post is a first draft and may go through future updates. This deals with the subject of the article but not the article itself. That is planned for Part 2 (if I find the time).

Re: Haredim move to eradicate 'foreign' pop

What's good and what's bad?

Well, we can figure out the answer if we substitute some words. Let's substitute the word good with beneficial and substitute the word bad with harmful.

Now, let's ask again - what's beneficial and what's harmful?

It all depends on what or whom we are trying to benefit and what or whom we don't want to harm. If something benefits what we want to benefit, it's good. If it harms what we want to benefit, it's bad.

Is music good or bad? Or, as Don McLean put it: Can music save your [im]mortal soul?(My answer: Yes it can, but not Don Mclean's music)

And the answer is: it depends on what you want the music to do for you. It depends on what is your ultimate goal, your agenda. If the music helps you get there, it is beneficial - and something beneficial is good. If it hampers your progress, it is harmful - and something harmful is bad.

But, if this is true, then the good/bad ratio depends more on the person than it does on the music. It is possible that the same music may help one person achieve a positive goal and it may hamper somebody else. This means that the same music may be good for one person and bad for another.

We chareidim have a term for something that is good for one person and not good for another. We call it a Parah Adumah - a red heifer. The sages said that the red heifer is illogical. It is illogical because it purifies the contaminated and contaminates the pure. All things that can help some people and hurt others are Parah Adumas. There are so many Parah Adumahs in this world and music is just one example. Prescription drugs are Parah Adumahs for all of humanity. Any specific one will help some people and harm others. And in the Jewish world, there is a plethora of Parah Adumas - wealth is a Parah Adumah, vacations and summer camps are Parah Adumahs, secular education and Torah u'Madda is a Parah Adumah and Nachal Chareidi is a Parah Adumah.

So, now the question becomes -are Parah Adumahs good or bad?

On an individual level there is no question. To the individuals that they benefit they are good and to the individuals that they harm they are bad. The question is on the societal level. Are they good for the Jews or bad for the Jews?

And here the answer must me: if they do more good than bad, then it is יצא הפסדו בשכרו - the loss is absorbed in the gain - but if they do more bad than good, it is יצא שכרו בהפסדו - the gain is absorbed in the loss.

So now the question is: should we banish the Parah Adumahs from the Jewish world?

And to answer that, let's ask this: why are there so many Parah Adumas in the Jewish world?

The answer is: because of the erev rav, the mixed multitudes. It is because this is the curse of the eitz haDaas. The tree was the tree of knowing good and bad. It changed a world of only good into a world of good and bad mixed together. A world of Parah Adumahs. When we received the Torah, we briefly restored the world to the way it was before the sin of the tree of knowledge. A world of only good. It was good, and it was brief (just like the first time). And then... it happened again.

The first time it was the serpent. But the second time it was the erev rav. The erev rav could not live in a truly good world that was mostly intangible. They needed a tangible world. So they petitioned for a golden calf. The rationale behind the golden calf was to have a tangible intermediary between them and G-d. The problem with the rationale is that it immediately changes from rationale to rationalization and they forget about G-d and just worship the intermediary.

G-d wasn't happy. He said (not a real quote), "I'll let you off the hook from this golden calf if you deal with this Parah Adumah".

They're ba-a-a-a-ack!!!

So G-d gave us these Parah Adumahs because we need them. We worship the golden calf and we have the mixed multitudes in our midst and we need them. We need music and wealth and vacations and summer camps and secular education and Nachal Chareidi. All these things can help people. They can help purify the "contaminated". But they all have risks. They can contaminate the pure. But G-d said of the Parah Adumah (real quote): "This is the law of the Torah." We cannot banish it.

Or can we?

There is a part of us that wants to banish the Parah Adumahs. Who are they?

They are the Bnei Levy. The Bnei Levy are the Torah scholars of Israel. They are the idealists of Israel. They are the zealots of Israel. Moshe was a Levy, Korach was a Levy, Pinchas was a Levy, Shmuel was a Levy. They defied Pharoah's decrees in Egypt. They circumcised their young in the desert. They carry the Holy Ark. Oh, and one other thing. They are the musicians of Israel.

The Bnei Levy did not worship the golden calf, and so, do not require a Parah Adumah.

We who worship the golden calf cannot banish the Parah Adumah. But the Bnei Levy can.

Perhaps, as Rambam writes (Sefer Zerayim, Hilchos Shmittah V'Yovel 13:12-13) It is our job to emulate the Bnei Levy and to grind the golden calf to dust. With the dust of the golden calf we can replace the ashes of the Parah Adumah. Those who can do it will restore the unequivocal good. And for those who cannot the Bnei Levy will...

"...say to his father and his mother, 'I did not see him' and to his brother 'I do not recognize you' and to his son, 'I do not know you'..." (Devarim 33:9, see Rashi ad loc.)

4 comments:

G said...

There is so much here it is hard to know where to start.

And in the Jewish world, there is a plethora of Parah Adumas - wealth is a Parah Adumah, vacations and summer camps are Parah Adumahs, secular education and Torah u'Madda is a Parah Adumah and Nachal Chareidi is a Parah Adumah.

Huh? Parah Adumah is unique in that when used as instructed it makes one person tamei and another tahor.
Are you saying that all of the things listed above, when used as they should, elicit that same outcome?

And here the answer must me: if they do more good than bad, then it is יצא הפסדו בשכרו - the loss is absorbed in the gain - but if they do more bad than good, it is יצא שכרו בהפסדו - the gain is absorbed in the loss.

So if there is a net loss, regardless of all else, then the item in question should be done away with?

The Bnei Levy did not worship the golden calf, and so, do not require a Parah Adumah.
We who worship the golden calf cannot banish the Parah Adumah. But the Bnei Levy can.


Too true, and yet it is precisely the Bnei Levi that God commands to handle the Parah Adumah when purifying Klal Yisroel and thereby become tamei in the process.
It is their role to come in contact with the Parah Adumah, not to divorce themselves from it. To work in concert with that wich by definition makes them tamei so that it will be available for those who need it to make them tahor. And they have that ability, to become tamei through it but yet not be defined by that tumah because they ARE different. Or at least they are supposed to be confident enough in their position to know that they are different and need not fear handling the Parah Adumah in the first place.

The Bnei Levy did not worship the golden calf, and so, do not require a Parah Adumah.

Even if they are to divorce from 'Parei Dumah', they are to be one tribe from amongst twelve.
A man apart - their definition not to be that of all the other tribes. A Levi is not a Yehuda and a Yehuda is not a Levi, and neither is allowed to be the other or expect the other to be them.

G said...

Almost forgot-

So one is either erev rav or Bnei Levi, that's it - those are the only choices?

G said...

Those who can do it will restore the unequivocal good. And for those who cannot the Bnei Levy will...
"...say to his father and his mother, 'I did not see him' and to his brother 'I do not recognize you' and to his son, 'I do not know you'..."


Huh?
The pasuk is talking about shevet Levi themselves. That they will not 'know' their parents, brother or family due to their total immersion in the Word of God. What does that have to do with their relationship/attitude with those people?

G said...

The pasuk is talking about shevet Levi themselves. That they will not 'know' their parents, brother or family due to their total immersion in the Word of God. What does that have to do with their relationship/attitude with those people?

-Withdrawn-