("Let's table the discussion" is a new Adath Israel Shul initiative where a story or thought is presented in order to stimulate exciting and constructive discussion around our Shabbos table or among friends and children.)
They tell the story of a certain horse who worked on a small farm. Daily, he was led out to the fields in order to pull loads, plow fields and any other general farm labor that he was needed for. At the end of the work day, the horse was brought back to the barn and his saddles and bridles removed. He was left alone in the stall with his feed for the evening.
One evening, upon his return, the horse discovered a crack in the walls of the barn at about his eye level. From his vantage point, the horse was going to be able to see everything that went on after the farmer locked him in for the night. Imagine his wonderment when he saw the farmer approach the other building on the property that was clearly the farmer’s home. He saw the farmer’s wife bring out a pitcher of water onto the country porch and called for him to sit down and relax until supper.
Suddenly, the horse noticed a barking sound. Watching carefully, he noticed the farmer’s dog playfully bound up the steps, with his tail wagging behind him. The excited dog clearly inspired the farmer who called for him to come over. As if on cue, the farmer said some word – “sit” it sounded like to the horse – and the dog sat up on its hind legs jumping toward the farmer. For his performance, the dog received high praise from the farmer, a pat on the head, some treats and a bone.
The horse observed all of this carefully and came up with a plan. “If the farmer enjoys seeing four-legged animals get excited and sit up on their hind legs, let me do it too,” he thought. “I’m sure if I put on a good show, I too, will be appropriately rewarded.” And so, the horse practiced repeatedly throughout the night.
The next day, as the horse was being led back to the barn, he knew his big chance was upon him. As soon as the saddle and the bridle were removed from him, the horse rose up on his hind legs and lunged toward the farmer with excitement too. However, instead of getting high praise out of the startled farmer, he was beaten down and subdued.
Rav Volch uses the above story to highlight the importance of mitigated emotional reactions and spiritual experiences. Like the horse who sees certain experiences and misapplies them to himself, a person must understand that not all emotional experiences are meant to be offered to Hashem in an indiscriminant, raw state.
This, says Rav Volch, was the sin of Nadav V’Avihu who offered a fire to Hashem that He did not request. Although their intention was pure, they merely want to express their fervor for connection to Hashem, their actions were improper and misguided. Torah and Mitzvos provide us with the proper vehicles to express devotion to Hashem and it is through doing them, that we best connect to Hashem.
Today’s world presents a strong tension between those who argue that we need more adherence to Halacha in our orthodox practice of Judaism while others stress that “we are missing the point” and forgetting the role of spirituality in Judaism – often losing the forest in the trees in the process.
How are WE supposed to make priorities in our homes and community – do we focus on the letter of the law or on the spiritual environment? Is there a way to balance the two? Do we assume that actions follow the heart or that the spirit will inspire more full and complete action?
What about for our children? How do we create an environment that on the one hand adheres to Halacha while cultivating spirituality at the same time?
Let’s “table” the discussion – by discussing it with our children, spouses, families and guests and open an exciting discussion into our homes and communities.