Have you ever noticed that people seem to have a fascination with miniatures? I’m not talking about dollhouses specifically, though those are great examples. I understand why children might like to play with them because it makes the world smaller and more manageable for their little hands and sometimes less-than-perfect coordination. The little world they control is open to the limits of their imaginations and that’s great.
Did you know that originally, dollhouses were not child’s play? They were actually the domain of the wealthy adults who were able to pay for the fine craftsmanship needed to make the smaller versions of full-size objects. It took true artistry to make a miniature chair or cake that looked just like the real thing. There was a great appreciation for such work. It was only later on, as machinery became more widespread that dollhouses were made available to the children’s market, though this by no means put an end to the adult appreciation of such things. My own mother had two dollhouses which she purchased and furnished as a married adult whose children had mostly grown up.
Some of the most-prized pieces in her collection were miniatures of actual products on the market, like a miniature Ivory soap or a red metal gumball machine. In fact, in 2019, one of the popular toys was a plastic sphere that contained 5 miniature brand-name items like Skippy peanut butter or Kikkoman soy sauce. It was not a clear wrapper so kids were surprised by the chatchkes they got, adding to the fun.
When Purim comes around, many stores sell mini grape juice or liquor bottles that are shaped just like their full-size counterparts, or miniature versions of candy bars, and there’s a fascination with these things that are small. One company even made a whole ad campaign around their full-size blue bottle and its “little brother.”
Travel-size toiletries are often much more expensive than the full-size bottle of shampoo or stick of deodorant per ounce, but they still maintain the identifiable shape and if you find these in your hotel room or a Shabbos gift basket they’re coveted items. So, what is it about miniatures?
Lest you think that I’m the only one who thinks of this, let me assure you that numerous articles have been written and studies done about this topic. Some people say that the infatuation with miniatures is because we feel out of control in this hectic world and find comfort in being able to hold an entire scene in the palms of our hands. A 1-inch Rembrandt reproduction is a lot more affordable than a full-sized original so we feel gratified to be able to possess it.
Others suggest the fact that our brains are wired to favor “baby schema,” looks or features that make us think of babies, and find them pleasant. This was instilled in us by Hashem so that we would be more likely to care for babies because we see them as so cute.
Think about it. If your twenty-seven-year-old son burped and spit up all over you, ruining your shirt, couch, and carpet, you’d be a lot less likely to say, “Oy shaefelah! What’s wrong, sweetie???” while rubbing his back and trying to calm him down. More than likely you’d send him packing to his in-laws for Purim next year.
When we see animals with small faces and big eyes, we find them adorable. Why? Same reason. They match the “baby schema” of features associated with our young and our brains perceive them as cute.
All this may be true, but I’m rarely satisfied with the superficial answers. If Hashem made us think babies are cute, why did this have to run over into seeing animals or little plastic bottles of Head and Shoulders? I mean, nothing says adorable like a little dandruff shampoo, am I right?
As I thought about it, I got to thinking of the fact that Man is called an Olam Katan, a miniature world. We each have within us all the diverse qualities of the animal kingdom and everything in Creation. This is the Malbim’s approach to why Adam HaRishon had to name the animals. By identifying their essences and natures, Adam was actually identifying his own innate characteristics and learning about himself.
When we think of the world and wish we could change it, it seems too large and beyond our grasp. There’s no way we can make sufficient impact. Perhaps individuals can, but not the average person. That’s when our message hits home.
Each of us is a microcosm corresponding to the entire Universe. That’s why Chazal say that one who saves a single life is as if he’s saved an entire world. Just as the child can use his or her imagination to manipulate the pieces in their world of play, we can each manipulate the pieces in our lives to achieve a desired result.
We don’t need to change anyone else to change the world. We only need to change ourselves, to imagine the limitless possibilities, and take control of our choices and behaviors. That’s what Hashem was signaling to us with this appreciation for miniature replicas of larger items. He wants us to recognize the power that we have to make great changes in the Universe because each of us is a small world, after all.
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