Cookie cutter greatness

Rabbi Weiman is a speaker, teaches Jewish history at Esther Miller Bais Yaakov, and is author of the new book, “48 Things, 49 Days,” (Targum Press) as well as “A Simple Guide to Happiness,” “A Map of the Universe,” and “the Everything Learning Hebrew Book.”

BY RABBI MAX WEIMAN

“The Men Who Stare at Goats” was a movie made about a real experiment the U.S. government tried in the 1970s where they attempted to employ all available resources, including New Age tools, to create “warrior/monks” capable of psychic abilities, martial arts, etc. 

If it hadn’t been a real endeavor you’d say it was too farfetched an idea even for Hollywood.

Go figure.

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While this initiative was based on a paranormal-policeman-paradigm, we have other examples of a system that tries to create the perfect person, so to speak, like the Boy Scouts model. Here’s what they say “a program for young people that builds character, trains them in the responsibilities of participating citizenship, and develops personal fitness,” which includes merit badges that encourage achievements of all kinds of skills including lifesaving, bugling and golf. The achievements are standards set for all people, and the uniform with patches enhances the objectivity and unanimity. Girl Scouts have the cookies; Boy Scouts are cookie cutter.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not knocking the Boy Scouts. I was a Boy Scout. My two older boys were Boy Scouts. My father-in-law has a “silver beaver.” It’s fun, educational and practical.

While many skills can be gained from these types of programs where some type of ubermensch is the goal, humanity doesn’t seem to thrive on being molded as such. Nobody has been able to make us into the perfect mold. Nobody has ever been successful with a factory for Supermen/women.

And of all places, you’d expect such a manual for the perfect person coming from the Torah, a guidebook from the Creator for humanity on how to get the most out of life. Yet it doesn’t contain one, and the nation of Israel has never tried to make one. Hopefully, they never will.

A Renaissance Man

On the other hand, developing various talents revs our motors and is encouraged by the Torah in many ways. In fact, if you were all by yourself on a desert island and had to keep a holiday like Rosh Hashanah, you’d have to gain a tremendous amount of knowledge and skill. In order to know what date the holiday is you’d need to study the stars until you were astronomically astute, and be able to plot the lunar and solar cycles yourself. To make the shofar you’d have to have some zoological knowledge about which species of animal have the right type of horn, and how to make and blow it. You’d have to know how to skin an animal to make the parchment, how to make a quill from a bird feather, and make proper ink, not to mention the art and skill of being a scribe to make the Torah scroll to be read from for that holiday.

Aside from Rosh Hashanah’s knowledge and skill, for Sukkot we learn about the botanical aspects of the four species of plants that are waved, and some rudimentary building skills for the sukkah. Numerous commandments include all kinds of specialized knowledge of animals, botany, and agriculture that are applicable to those living in Israel.

God wants us all to be layman/scientists. Certain commandments encourage a profound philosophical outlook and grounding in logic, like understanding the oneness of the Infinite. And while much of these special abilities or specialized knowledge is not necessarily obligatory, we are all encouraged to reach as much proficiency as we can in all areas. It might be rabbis job to know everything, but Judaism encourages us all to know as much as the rabbis. We should be holy philosopher scientist craftsmen.

On becoming a student of the universe

How could you not be voraciously curious about every branch of knowledge? We should not all be scientists, philosophers, mathematicians and rabbis, but we should be insatiably inquisitive about the universe, because that’s God’s canvass. A wise and infinite being created all this great stuff, and we can come closer to the Infinite.

Rabbi Max Weiman is Director of Kabbalah Made Easy and author of ‘A Simple Guide to Happiness,’ available on Amazon.com. More of his articles are found online at www.kabbalahmadeeasy.com.