Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – As the World Turns

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Operation Inspiration

By These days, it seems everyone with a video camera (or phone) can become an expert and begin sharing their wisdom with the world. This is a precursor to the apocalypse. Trust me on this; a completely free exchange of ideas is not good for anyone because there’s a lot of crazy stuff out there.

Case in point. Someone made a video revealing the shocking truth they’d just discovered, that trash bags come in the box with the seams on the outside. Instead of flapping them to fill them with air as most normal people do, this brilliant scientist of a teenager or twenty-something, pulled the bag open, placed the rim over the outer edges of the can, then proceeded to push it down into the can, having effectively inverted the bag.

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This grand revelation came with the “I was today years old when I learned…” comment. The idea, in case you missed it, is that for years, everyone in the world has been putting garbage bags in the kitchen can incorrectly; or maybe, everyone else knew how to do it right, and this Einstein just learned she’d been doing it wrong (which meant her parents had been doing it wrong, since they taught her, and probably their parents too, for the same reason.)

What got to me was how ridiculous this was. OK, the seams are on the outside. Yes, that’s a function of production. It’s not a pillow case that needs the seams inside so it doesn’t scratch your face, or a dress that has to look finished, so the seams are hidden. Maybe on a garbage bag the seams are meant to be on the outside for strength or ease of making the bags. Just because they’re there doesn’t mean you turn the world on its head and start putting garbage bags ON the cans instead of IN the cans.

Then there’s another video I saw. A woman has a pot of water and pasta. She takes it off the stove and brings it to the sink, where a large metal colander is waiting. She puts the pot down and waggles her finger to say, “no-no” we’re not going to pour the pasta into the colander. Instead, this nuclear physicist of an amateur chef places the bottom of the colander into the pot, requiring, of course, that they be matched for size, and then, holding both pot and colander handles, she tilts them forward so the water spills through the colander and when she’s done, the pasta has never left the pot! Wow! Amazing! Why didn’t I ever think of that? Oh, yeah. Because it’s ridiculous, that’s why.

Why on earth would you do it so backwards? It’s extra effort to hold the two utensils together, and instead of letting gravity separate the water from the pasta as it sits in the colander, you now have to hold both items as the water drains away. Then, what if you want to rinse the pasta? (I know, if you want sauce to stick to it you don’t, but what if?)

And is it so difficult to flip the colander of pasta over so it falls back into the pot? It seems like less work to me. And yet, this woman acted like she was revealing the secrets of the cosmos. Do you know what she revealed to me? That this world is topsy-turvy. Things that don’t make sense are portrayed as normal and intelligent.

The Gemara in Pesachim and other places records that the son of R’ Yehoshua ben Levi had a near-death experience. His father asked what he’d seen. He replied, “I saw an upside-down world! The top people (those who are rich and admired on earth) were on the bottom and the bottom people were on top.” “What about Torah scholars?” asked his father. “They were there, as they are here,” replied the boy. “You didn’t see an upside-down world,” said R’ Yehoshua ben Levi, “You saw the true world.”

When the Jews were in Egypt, they were ridiculed and mistreated as lowly individuals. Even the children of the maidservants who sat behind the stoves looked down on them. However, when we left Mitzrayim, that world was turned upside-down and everyone understood that we were Hashem’s chosen people, chosen because we could be entrusted with His Torah and Mitzvos. The inherent greatness within each of us was visible. This model has repeated itself time and time again, as Jews are disdained for being subhuman, when we’re actually superhuman.

As I think of the world we live in today, where you don’t need a out-of-body experience to see that things are backwards and upside-down, I am comforted in the knowledge that soon, the whole world will be privy to the knowledge and revelation we discuss at the Seder each year. The knowledge that we, who have learned from our parents and they from theirs, are doing it right, even if others things we’ve got it inside out. We have to make sure that each of us knows it, regardless of which of the four sons we most-closely resemble.

Our Torah and traditions are the truth, and they teach us how things ought to go. No matter how adamant the others are at telling us we’re wrong, we can ignore them because we really do know the truth. Don’t worry; we’ve got this. Yes, it’s totally in the bag.

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