Mesorah (Jewish stuff)

Blinded By Emotion

This past Friday was a fast day, and after waking up with a mild headache, I sensed I might not have the stamina to make food for Shabbos.  My freezer was sadly devoid of anything I could pull out in a pinch, so I went to a nearby restaurant to pick up some eats.  As I was deliberating between the chickpea salad and the potato salad, a gust of cold air and the tinkle of a bell signaled a new customer.  Some disgruntled muttering and profanity signaled the state of mind of said customer.

Kosher food makes me sick.  I wouldn’t eat this stuff if you paid me.”

I’m cleaning his language up for you (you’re welcome).

Almost involuntary, I turned toward whoever was making such an entrance.  He was a tall, stately man, with well-coiffed silver hair and an elegant black overcoat.  Perhaps in his seventies, though I’ve never been great at estimating age.  He was now standing right next to me.

To no one in particular, he said,

“You people don’t know what you’re missing.”

Upset at the uncouth nature of his remarks, I replied.

“Actually, I do know what I’m missing.  I ate treif for years, and now I keep kosher and I love it.”

He had no congruent response to that, and I went on to attempt at engaging him in small talk so he would at least stop swearing for a few minutes.  It turned out that he had a friend who ordered food from the store and he was picking it up.  The light conversation worked to some degree, but when it was my turn to order, he went back to his colorful recriminations of the Orthodox lifestyle.

It was a bizarre experience, and I found myself wondering, “what can I learn from this?”

Not that I could ever truly know why he was behaving in such a rude fashion, but the first thing that came to mind is that maybe he had had some extremely negative experience with Orthodoxy, or kosher food, that would result in such a visceral reaction.  It’s one thing to disapprove of organized religion, or think keeping kosher is a backward practice, or whatever, but it’s another thing to go into a kosher establishment, surrounded by Jews who are buying kosher food, and start cursing about it.

You know?  It just reminded me of emotional reaction.

And that made me think about how, when we’re in the middle of a reaction, we don’t always make great choices, and we don’t always react in socially acceptable ways.  We all have triggers; we all have buttons that get pushed.  And I know that I can look a little ridiculous when I’m reacting to pushed buttons.  Who doesn’t?

Something that I have really come to appreciate in my practice of Judaism is the concept that we can rise above our buttons being pushed.  We don’t have to live in a world of blind emotional reaction.  We can transcend that and live in the present, experiencing our emotions instead of being held hostage by them.

It’s the idea of perfecting one’s middos, or character traits.   Some call it mussar.

Basically, Judaism rejects the concept of “That’s just how I am.  I’m just angry/jealous/lazy.  There’s nothing I can do about it.”  No.  There is absolutely something you can do about it.  It’s not easy, and Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, the great authority on mussar stated that it’s easier to learn the entire Talmud that perfect one character trait (translation: it’s pretty hard).  But the working on it, the humility that comes with acknowledging our failings, and the self-love that comes with cutting ourselves some slack when we fail, but giving ourselves reasonable goals to achieve?  That is invaluable.  Like Ruchi Koval has said, the prize is the process.

Am I still sometimes blinded by emotion?  Absolutely.  Have I seen progress in the areas that I’ve worked on?  Thankfully, yes.  So even though I’m not exactly Rebbetzin Kanievsky at this point in my life, I know that I am doing what I can to work on myself, and that I am doing so through the long chain of tradition that includes things like keeping kosher.  And I wish that I could have told that to the disgruntled customer, that I could have shown him the beauty and meaning I see in the tradition that he was disparaging.

totally kosher turkey right there

And that kosher food is really very tasty.

30 thoughts on “Blinded By Emotion

  1. That turkey looks divinely delicious. Unfortunately, I’m a Horwitz, so that’s treif for me. But my mouth is nevertheless watering and I can almost smell the aroma wafting through the web!

    1. Haha, yeah, I wanted to post a picture of something more universally kosher, like potato kugel. Or a knish. But it was late by the time I was finishing up the post, so I had no more energy to search for another picture. And yes, it was absolutely delicious! Mmmmmm!

  2. Hi Rivki, I’ve been reading your blog for the past several months, and I love it! I’m sorry you had such a negative experience! There must be something in the water lately. I had a similar experience recently, as have a few friends of mine. I completely agree that it’s important to reject the “It’s just how I am” mentality. Easier said than done at times, but extremely important! And on a random note, I concur with everyone else that the turkey looks delicious! :)

    1. Thank you, Kati! As far as negative experiences go, it was pretty tame, thankfully. I wonder what’s up with the mass negative experience thing? That turkey is the star of the post! Go turkey!

  3. Hi! I’m just really, really puzzled by his reaction. Kosher food – like all food – can be awful or fabulous or somewhere in between. Grilled marinated salmon with olive oil-garlic roasted potatoes and chocolate cake ….. Hmm, doesn’t sound too bad to me :) Perhaps he would prefer a bologna-cheese sandwich with some macaroni-pea-cheese chunk salad – now that’s nice and not kosher :)

    1. haha, I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with the objective quality of the food, and more to do with the religious requirements that designate a food as kosher. But again, one can never truly know the motivations behind the actions of another person. I’m only speculating here.

  4. It’s called discernment. We are supposed to respond rather than react. We’re all on the path, Rivki. I find it helps when I give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Mane he has early dementia? Surely we could forgive someone who is ill, yes? Great post AND great use of restraint! You, m’dear, are not lazy!

        1. Absolutely. I agree, and I’ll take it a little further to say that reframing unusual behavior helps all the time!

          I’m glad you came back and commented again, because I wanted to give you some credit, here on the post. Your initial comment inspired me to modify the language of this post a bit. It used to read “it just screamed emotional reaction” and I changed it to “It just reminded me of emotional reaction.” I realized that in the initial wording, which was strong and finite, I was suggesting that I had “figured out” why he was behaving in that way, and, in essence, closing the door to any other explanation. And he deserves that door to be open. We all do. xo

          1. Rivki, it is my plan to meet you in real life one day. You are so gracious and giving. I wish the world was made up of people with your spirit.

            It is so easy to judge other people, as we both know. The trick is to recognize when we are doing it and correct ourselves. We’re all on the path, sistah.

  5. Maybe he has an illness, or bad experience, maybe his wife, or his boss, or both have been giving him a hard time, or maybe he’s just stupid and impolite (that’s probably neither a very Christian nor Jewish thought, but it’s also a possibility..). I find it a very noble idea, trying to show him the beauty you find in eating kosher food. (The first thing that crossed my mind was some answer like “fortunately no one forces you to eat kosher food” or “You know what makes me sick? People who can’t keep their mouth shut.”)

    1. Those are all good thoughts for giving the benefit of the doubt (and you made me chuckle, as usual!). Sometimes all you can do is respond kindly to someone, and hope that it makes an impression.

      1. Yeah, actually there was a second part to that idea too. It’s good to let them get out all that frustration and confusion… and then you can go in for the kill, and fill the void with some goodness. It’s difficult not to get poisoned by their negativity in the mean time though.

        Thanks for bringing up the topic.

  6. I used to run a kosher food program for senior citizens. Although it was housed in a JCC, it was open to all. I often heard from dubious new visitors that they “didn’t like kosher food.” A little good-natured exploration (“You don’t like chicken? Potatoes? Fish? Hamburgers?”) usually showed them that they actually had no idea what kosher food was. A touch of education and they all stayed and came back for more – kosher food AND JCC activities.

  7. Wow. As if kosher food all tastes the same… Thanks for being non-judgmental. And I agree that we can rise above pushing buttons. There have been things I thought I would never be able to change but over time (think, several years) there has been great improvement!

  8. I loved this so much. No exaggeration. I’ve never had the word for it (middos) but I do feel it’s what I try to do often. Some friends find me over analytical about myself and about society. I look at it different–I’m always trying to improve. Maybe I get too frustrated when I see others’ complacency. And surely that’s not fair of me. There have been a few times in the past few years when I have reacted out of emotion. I’ve always regretted what I’ve said in those moments. It’s never worth it.

    1. When I learned about middos, my mind was blown. Judaism is all about trying to improve, and being analytical of ourselves and society! I can relate to being frustrated at others’ complacency, but I guess that’s just one more thing for me to work on, right? :)

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