Facing a challenge is a noble endeavor. Putting yourself in a dangerous situation may be stupid.
Take four "committed couples," add 26 scantily clad singles, mix with 380 bottles of suntan lotion and endless cases of fruit-flavored alcoholic beverages -- and put them all on a remote island.
No, this isn't a recipe for "How to Ruin Any Committed Relationship." It's a description of Fox TV's new reality show called "Temptation Island."
To explain the show briefly, Fox has taken four unmarried "committed" couples to a remote island along with 26 attractive singles, and separated the couples for a three-week period where they will "date" the various singles on the island. The purpose of the show, or so we are told, is to see if the relationships can last.
If the relationships are "meant to be," then presumably they will be able to withstand the temptation of the attractive singles on the island -- whose expressed raison d'etre is to wrestle the couples away from one another. However, if they fail the test and succumb to their passions, then (says the Fox theory) it's a good thing those relationships are now over. They should be grateful because, apparently, the relationship was not strong enough in the first place.
Before the show aired, late night talk shows, and water cooler conversations looked disdainfully on Fox's invention. But after the first few episodes, many have slowly gotten used to the idea that relationships are disposable and tempting yourself is natural.
FIGHTING THE URGE
Judaism says differently. On one hand, every test in life is something positive which we can learn and grow from. However, we are not supposed to test ourselves. We are not supposed to put ourselves in compromising situations in the hope that we may come out unscathed.
Let's say, for example, that someone has just decided to keep kosher, but he still has an insatiable urge for cheeseburgers.
Imagine this scene. Our hero is sitting by his desk doing work. The door to his office is opened briefly by a co-worker and a wisp of a cheeseburger passing in the hallway floats invitingly through the opened door and seductively over to our friend's nostrils. He now begins to think of having a cheeseburger.
However, he continues working...
It's now lunchtime. Our hero heads out of the office to grab a bite to eat. He's thinking about a cheeseburger now, but the urge is not out of control.
After leaving the office, he can either turn right toward the kosher deli, or turn left toward McDonald's.
He makes a fateful left turn -- supposedly to speak to a friend -- and finds himself moving quickly almost out of control. He approaches McDonald's, trying to convince himself that he'll only buy a Coke. As he enters McDonald's, he is immediately blasted by the smell of the freshly grilled cheeseburgers and French fries -- which drives his passion into uncontrollable proportions.
Before he knows it, he is swallowing deeply a robust blend of beef, cheese, and special sauce.
At what point did our friend lose the battle?
It was not inside McDonald's. It was when he turned left instead of right after leaving the office. Because at that point he created a situation that afforded him the opportunity to act on his desire.
Not only that, but the urge only reached frenzied proportions as he got closer and closer to McDonald's.
Judaism says that although we may crave that which is forbidden, if we can keep away from situations where we could slip into the negative behavior, then we will be spared the challenge of stumbling.
This is not a cop-out. It is an effective strategy.
In the Fox TV metaphor, it would be considered a bad idea to visit a secluded island while 500 cheeseburgers prance on the beach in their own barely-concealing wax wrappers. Our hero should stay as far away from Cheeseburger Island as he can.
DYNAMICS OF FAILURE
Now what if he gives into his desires one night, and goes on a binge eating every cheeseburger on the island? Would we call him a bad Jew? No, we'd say that he is human. It was a mistake to have put himself in that position in the first place -- precisely because humans are not perfect and our desires can get the better of us.
Yet Judaism says the difference between a righteous person and a non-righteous person is not "that one makes mistakes and one does not."
Rather, the difference is that the righteous person makes mistakes and refuses to give up.
When we set out to conquer an urge, we must know that it is a process that takes time. If you are not getting where you want to be, don't be discouraged. Just remember: Even when you fall down, it is an essential stepping-stone to your ultimate success.
The big question about Temptation Island is whether millions of TV viewers are hoping for the contestants to come off the island having withstood the test, or are secretly waiting for them to fail.
Why would viewers hope they fail? Perhaps it's because their downfall somehow that gives the rest of us permission to fail in our own growth.
The Jewish perspective is to encourage them to pass the test.
On second thought, it would be better if they'd never had the test in the first place.
Avoid Cheeseburger Island. We're better off saving our money for a vacation on Matzah Ball Island instead.
With thanks to Rabbi Mordecai Rottman