Adventures of a Chief Rabbi: The Seduction of Insanity

Reader feedback, from my good friend Egbert Pijfers of Norway on the halacha of not cooking meat with oil that was previously used to cook fish:

“Dear Bentzi, you made a very good decision from a nutritional point of view, because when vegetable oil is heated, many of the poly- and monounsaturated fats turn into saturated fats. You don’t want to fry meat in saturated fats, because then you get cholesterol-bombs.”


Sunday May 12, 2013

The Seduction of Insanity

There is something scarily compelling about insanity. I was walking from my hosts beautiful apartment, overlooking the ocean, towards the Maimonides synagogue where I was to give my inaugural sermon. I was walking across the street from the Rambla. Suddenly, a few meters in front of me, bags and bottles clang onto the busy street. Cars honk their horns and my first instinct is to assist.

But then I saw the man who had dropped his things and in a fraction of a second I understood he was homeless. Perhaps more than homeless (or perhaps the two unfortunately often go together) – he was deranged. He was shoeless and the only possessions on his thin tanned body were a pair of shorts and a baseball cap worn tightly at an abnormal angle. The youngish man (20-30s?) had an unkempt thick dark beard and the hair that stuck out of his hat seemed as he may have tried to cut it himself in the past.

My New York/Caracas/Rio de Janeiro instincts kicked in and I kept walking rapidly, passing and distancing myself from the troubled man. He picked up the things that he had dropped and then proceeded to throw them again at the fast-moving incoming traffic of the Rambla. Cars screeched, honked and barely avoided the man and his garbage in the middle of the road. The man repeated the exercise, yelling at the cars and the world, like a mad conductor directing a discordant symphony of metal and trash.

I kept walking, but had trouble pulling my eyes away. I was agonizingly curious as to what the man’s fate would be. Would some less than alert driver run him over? Would he fight with someone? At the same time I didn’t want to remain close to this obviously dangerous man.

I kept moving and reached the Maimonides synagogue. There was a crowd of around 120 people, more than had been in the synagogue in many years. I had made calls before Shabbat to a list of people inviting them. Synagogue members also made calls to their own list and there was also a Bar-Mitzvah this Shabbat which always brings more people. Perhaps inspired by the insanity I had witnessed, I tried something different for my sermon. I called up the Bar-Mitzvah boy to the podium at the beginning of my talk. I announced that he represented the camp of Israel in the desert. I then called up his father, mother, brother and uncle and had them represent East, West, North and South respectively. They became living and fairly successful visual aids for my sermon, based on something I wrote on the parasha (which you can conveniently read about here on my blog). Not sure what trick I’m going to do next time…

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