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Be Normal

Matot-Masay (Numbers 30-36 )

by Rabbi Menachem Weiman

There are 613 commandments in the Torah, but there are also unspoken commandments, common sense things the Almighty wants us to figure out on our own. One of these unspoken commandments is the imperative to "be normal."

There's no lack of weirdos in the world. People who dress odd, act odd, speak oddly, etc. I'm all for individuality and I don't think God wants us to be clones. He made us all different on purpose. But at a certain point, behavior crosses the line of "interesting and unique," to being weird in a way that other people lose respect. As an emissary of the Creator, a person should look and act in a respectable way at all times, in all places.

There's also a time and place for everything. Wearing a sweat suit to exercise is appropriate; wearing it at a wedding is not. To put your feet up on the coffee table in your own home may not be a social gaffe; but to do it at someone else's home may be. You have to take all things into consideration, under a variety of circumstances. As it says in Ecclesiastes: "a time to cry... a time to laugh."

One of the hallmarks of wisdom is referred to in the Talmud (Avot 6:6) as "recognizing your place." An aspect of this character trait is to realize what kinds of behavior are appropriate in the situation you are in. If everyone is praying in the synagogue, then it's appropriate to be praying, not schmoozing. Torah study is a very big mitzvah, but not in the bathroom or near a trash heap.

Wherever you go, there are things appropriate for that place and time. In Talmudic times, we wore robes and sandals. Try walking down the street in Cleveland in a robe and sandals and you just look strange.

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You may be wondering why it seems like some holy people in the Torah do odd things like meditating in caves or wearing sackcloth. Just because the world thinks something is strange, that doesn't mean it is. From our perspective, many of the actions of righteous people may be strange, unless we have the opportunity to discuss it with them, and they explain their actions.

Furthermore, fasting, praying or seclusion may be odd, but they have a function. As long as the person realizes that life is all about being a part of society and living a normal life, then the seclusion can be a temporary means to reach a higher state. Just like we all know that a vacation is not real life, sometimes extreme behavior, as a means to an end, can be appropriate.

An old teacher of mine had visited in pre-War Europe with all the great sages in Poland. He commented that they were all very normal. They ate, drank, had families, and lived normal lives. They were not hermits, recluses, nor had odd behavior.

The secret that holy people seem to realize is that being close to God means elevating normal behavior -- having spiritual thoughts while engaging in mundane activities.

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In Numbers 31:21, the Torah discusses the way to make pots kosher after they have been used for non-kosher food. One might think that such a mundane act has no place in our Holy Book. Isn't this a trivial matter to be amongst laws of holy vows and the division of the holy land of Israel?

Yet it's precisely through eating kosher and keeping our pots kosher that we elevate the mundane act of eating to a service of the Almighty. This is only an example; we must extrapolate to all mundane acts and strive to make them holy.

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Spiritual Exercise:

Take just one meal this week out of all the meals, and try to elevate the meal by thinking only about eating kosher, healthy food, and eating for the sole purpose of gaining the strength to serve God.

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