A friend comes over to you in a huff, his face a picture of disgust and indignation. “Somebody drops garbage bags by my door from time to time,” he huffs, “and I go through them, and I’ll admit that I often find some pretty offensive stuff in them. This week, though,” he shudders, “was just sickening. Really disgusting. I mean forget that the stuff is usually gooey and dirty and smelly. This time, there was something inside that was must have been rotting for months! I honestly couldn’t breathe. Just to touch it, to see it… How horrible of someone to give me such garbage!”
For your part, chances are that you’d be scratching your head in puzzlement. After all, while the find in the garbage indeed sounds revolting, why would anyone ever go through a garbage bag in the first place? One who does do so is sort of inviting such disgust, is he not?
While it can be said in defense of the garbage-rummager that the bag was dropped off on his property after all, even so, what can one expect when he sifts through garbage? A bed of roses?! Should he not have simply disposed of the bag into the garbage receptacle where it belonged? Or perhaps sent it back to whomever dropped it off on his property?
Why he’s been getting such distasteful deliveries in the first place is beside the point. Perhaps he once requested the service, thinking that the deliveries would contain something more exciting than garbage. Perhaps he does at times find worthwhile items in these waste-bags. Perhaps he never asked for it and should complain.
Whatever the reason, nothing changes the fact that one hardly has a right to be surprised or indignant at finding garbage when he’d been going through a garbage bag!
• • • •
While the above seems self-explanatory, I was taken aback not long ago when faced with an almost identical scenario in which people seemed pretty upset about just that: finding garbage in a garbage receptacle. In this case, the garbage was not of the household variety, but was rather more cerebral in nature. People were upset that a certain entertainment venue – which was never known to provide intellect, substance or spirituality – featured an item which was trash at best or outright wrong at worst.
“How dare we be treated to such garbage?!” was the cry.
It was difficult to understand, though, from whence the outrage. Imagine going to a movie theater and complaining about what one saw. Or inviting an individual who calls himself “Open Orthodox” to address your shul, and then being up in arms when he announces from the pulpit that he worships not the Jewish G-d, but rather the god of ever-changing social justice.
We would not argue with how terrible the theater or the speaker truly was. Even so, one can hardly claim “outrage” after himself inviting such horror into his life. Yet, too often, we allow ourselves certain clearly-dubious practices, and then act as if caught completely by surprise when the results of our own actions cannot be excused away.
In a way, it’s as if we’ve become conditioned by the fact that almost anything one buys today (at least from most superstores) comes with a money-back guarantee. You don’t like it? Bring it back, no questions asked. If the store or company no longer covers the item in question, there’s always the credit card you charged it to, which usually doubles the warranty period.
Someone will take care of any negative fallout from an unwise or erroneous purchase I made. That I may have to actually take responsibility for my actions, and thus be extra careful with my purchases in the first place, rarely happens anymore. Consequently, we engage in all manner of activities – not only monetary purchases – with the same mindset.
We give our children freedoms and devices that we know – deep down – may not be the best for their emotional, intellectual or spiritual development. After all, is it so difficult to constantly say no, to put up with their whining and tantrums, and so much easier to look away and tell ourselves that hopefully nothing too adverse will result.
We allow various items to enter our homes that we know – if we’d have to be truthful – are demeaning to our own values and glorify and extol everything shallow and superficial, everything we want our children to believe do not really count in life. It’s easier to let these things slip in, to convince ourselves that they are not that bad, than to put in the effort required to keep our homes happy, healthy and wholesome the way we envisioned we would when we were young and idealistic.
When something then goes awry and a negative consequence does actually result from something we were doing or allowing, we almost automatically look for where we can get our money-back guarantee. Somebody has to be able to take care of the fact that one’s child became hooked on something his own parents allowed him to have. There must be someone who can undo the influence and damage done to the sensitivities and emotions of children and teens from exposure, week after week, to reading material we knew was devoid of any values.
It’s the merchant’s fault. It’s the item’s fault. It’s the deliveryman’s fault. It’s someone’s fault, but our own. It’s not that we’re seeking to lay the blame elsewhere. It’s simply that we’re not used to thinking our actions all the way through, because normally even if we err, there is someone providing a money-back guarantee to make it right.
Thus we have the unreal scene of someone rummaging through the garbage, yet expressing shock at discovering that his actions have led him to be exposed to some quite disgusting and unpalatable items.
• • • •
As Rosh Hashanah nears and we seek to begin a new slate, having expressed true regret for any previous errors or lapses, it may be the perfect time to look at everything anew. What can we do to bring about better results this coming year?
It’s easy to blame someone or something else. It was the app that caused ruin, the type of friends, the sevivah, etc., etc. Perhaps there is truth to all of these claims as well, and there is blame to be placed in those directions. Still, could we have perhaps removed ourselves, our homes, our children, from those negative influences? Did we have to allow all of it or was it simply the easier route to take?
We can take charge of our lives. We can decide – to a great extent, at least – what we want to see, where we want to go, what types of influences we wish to bring in to our homes. We are so much better than to simply rummage through whatever garbage happens to be available locally or makes its way to our homes. We can take charge.
Then, the next time someone approaches you all up in arms about the distasteful things he found in the trash, you can smile sweetly and say, “Oh, I wouldn’t know. I’ve stopped going through the trash, and boruch Hashem, ever since, my life and my home’s been looking a lot nicer.”