2 Shevat 5765
“French Toast, Without the Syrup”
By Rabbi Hadar Margolin
After I returned home from a recent trip abroad, my friend asked me: “in what did you find the greatest illustration of ‘galus’, on your trip”? Meaning: after being somewhat immersed in western culture by virtue of just being in the States, could I point out anything that was a real symbol of USA culture, one little episode that says it all?
Indeed, there was such a happening, which I want to share with you.
It happened in a hotel at breakfast. The main table was set shmorgasboard style (I’m not sure I spelled it right, but that’s definitely what it sounds like), with everything you could possibly want to eat, all so easily available. There it all was – eggs, cheeses, veggies, fruits, drinks, all of them in every different variety. There was also french toast, which will feature prominently in our story.
A man was standing near the whole spread, taking in – and carefully weighing – all the available options, until he finally expressed the problem that had caught his attention. “They gave french toast, but there ain’t no maple syrup”, he said.
The guy standing near him neatly caught the tragedy in its entirety, as he added a sigh and commented: “it’s been a long, bitter galus…”.
I myself was too entranced by the huge variety of breakfast options available. I didn’t even notice what was missing, nor that maple syrup was so prominently and simply not there.
Gashmiyus does have its place. It is true that we are expected to partake of Hashem’s creations. But when the focus on gashmiyus becomes too pronounced, when it occupies a vital – or central – location in one’s life, then it has gone too far. Often in galus it becomes harder for us to tune into ruchniyus, to feel the closeness to Hashem. This is not to say that if you live in America you are doomed. Rather the challenge, which we all have the ability to overcome, becomes intensified. We have to have to fight harder so that the American standards of gashmiyus to overtake them. It is our responsibility to maintain the balance expected of us by Yiddeshkeit, and no other culture.
Pursuing the extravagant delicacies of galus blurs a person’s vision of the true life goals of a Yid. Simplicity has little to do with pleasure, but it has a lot to do with happiness, with true simcha. The Maharal writes often about pshitus (simplicity), and how this is the true life as it should be (see, for example, Netzach Yisrael Chap. 13). This is a deep concept, not easy to understand or explain.
Somehow, I feel my understanding was made easier by a simple comment on the missing maple syrup.