This post has been cross-posted to DovBear – more discussion there.
The newswires have been full reporting the massive scandal in NY / NJ the last few days. There is a strong correlation between the scandal and something prevalent in contemporary Orthodox Jewish society.
You may think you are far from a money-laundering, tax evading, kidney-dealing, FBI snitching, tax-evading, “knucklehead”. You may even be have the cleanest books on Wall Street and third party audits to prove it. Yet, our entire generation is infected with the same virus that the “knucklehead” are carrying.
The instant gratification / no effort, big payoff virus. (Yeah, I know, the name needs work, help me out in the comments.)
We, as a group are all looking for shortcuts. For some folks, the shortcuts are business shortcuts. Those are the “knuckleheads” who are going to jail. For others, the shortcuts are in the form of Jewish Magic (sometimes known as Segulos).
We have become overly reliant on the practice of Segulos. We want instant answers, we want instant gratification, we want an incantation to make things better, we want protection from evil all with minimal effort.
(There may be a place for Segulos in Judaism. What irks me is the proliferation of pop-Segulos. I may have mentioned this with regard to Kupat Ha’ir as well.)
Case in point: The Brachos Party (aka the Amen Party). Women (usually younger women) gather on a weekday evening. A little bit of food from each of the Brachos categories are brought to the table, beginning with some grape juice and ending with a jelly bean. Prior to each blessing a kabbalistic interpretation is provided including ideas like “making a mezonos will provide parnasa” and “making a haetz will bring children”. Then the blessing is made, a resounding amen is heard. People really do this. I am not kidding.
There also less formal, impromptu amen parties. Like in a summer camp, when everyone goes to wash netilas yadayim, girls calls over all of their friends (waiting for them to come, motioning and making a halachic hefsek) so they can hear her blessing and say amen.
Sounds pretty harmless, right? I disagree.
This is another shortcut.
Chazal reported that there are special benefits to a blessing and an amen recited properly. The point of this is to remind us to take our blessings seriously and to constantly include God in our physical lives. In fact this is a main theme throughout Torah. We are physical beings with the ability to transform the mundane into the sublime by our actions. One of the beautiful parts of Judaism is the constant tension and connection between our physical and spiritual existence. Blessings are a major part of that connection.
By relegating blessings to magic tricks, we lose the whole point of the blessing.
Further, the Aruch HaShulchan writes that one may not use “tricks” to get to the 100 blessing a day threshold mentioned in halacha. It must come organically. Additionally, he writes, saying amen to an “unnecessary blessing” is a terrible thing to do. These are not “unnecessary blessings” but a random drink of grape juice on a Wednesday, purely for the sake of making a blessing is awfully close.
When challenged, an “on the fence Brachos Party participant” told me that she learned that the whole reason we eat is to make blessings, so it is harmless to make more.
That really got me. The reason we eat is to live. When we are eating to live we make blessings. This integrates spirituality into our physical life as stated above. Further, the food “belongs to God”, making a blessing gives us the right to enjoy His world as per His instructions to us.
Eating so we make brachos is like going to the bathroom so we can make an Asher Yatzar. We go to the bathroom because otherwise we would burst. When we go successfully we acknowledge and thank God.
Here’s an idea. When you are done eating and drinking at the brachos party, go make an Asher Yatzar party!
I truly believe this is another symptom of the instant gratification / no effort, big payoff virus. We want to reap the benefits of the blessing so we invent ways to try and get those benefits.
It doesn’t work like that. There are no freebies in Judaism. Judaism is about working hard to follow the Mitzvos and refine one’s character. If the bored women want to do something to help the world, volunteer at Tomche Shabbos or homeless shelter, or go to a Torah class, or even say some Tehillim.
You can’t fool God. You can try and scam the government, you can try and scam your business associates and you will probably get caught or turned in, but please do not try and scam God.