Escaping Modern-Day Slavery
By Garet Benson
My aunt's apartment in LA was immaculate. The living room looked like it had never been lived in and the kitchen never cooked in.
"Are you having a nice time?" my mother asked me on the phone.
"Sure. Yesterday Tante Lilly took me to Fairfax and bought me a chocolate rum ball," I reported, but Mom could hear right through my feigned cheerfulness. I was only ten and unskilled in the art of subterfuge. She started gently interrogating me. Eventually I broke.
"Tante Lilly got upset with me," I admitted glumly.
My mother wanted to know what crime I had committed.
"She said I left some toothpaste in the bathroom sink."
"Uh huh." Mom sounded pensive for a moment. "Benjamin," she began, and I braced myself for a lecture. Usually I was just Ben. "Your Tante Lilly is very particular about cleanliness. Everyone has their own meshugas (idiosyncrasy) - some are better and others are worse. Cleanliness and hygiene is her thing. You just have to learn to live with it."
* * *
When I went away to college I had to share a room for the first time. Roommates came and went, but all of them had one thing in common: each had his own meshugas of one kind or another. Some of their habits, compulsions and addictions were very harmful while others were quite innocuous.
I had roommates who were extremely neat, others who were obsessive about their personal possessions and still others who were constantly on guard against the slightest encroachment on their space. (And some were even wary against encroachments on their mental and emotional space. From across the room one could face a charge of "I feel like you're invading my space.")
But keeping my mother's invaluable pearl of wisdom in mind, I was able to adapt to every quirk and eccentricity.
Years later I was out of college, out of the army and in yeshiva. And still I had roommates to deal with.
Passover came and along with it another pearl of wisdom, this time from the rabbis at my yeshiva: Although the Jews were officially released from slavery in Egypt - shi'ebud Mitzrayim - 3,319 thousand years ago, we are still enslaved in various ways. Some people are addicted to cigarettes, while other people let food or other physical urges rule their lives. Some people spend most of their waking hours obsessed with efforts to "get ahead," while others will do anything to gain attention or honor. And nearly all of us - at least one time or another - allow the chase after the material lord over us.
How can we escape this modern-day slavery? One strategy is to consciously choose our shi'ebud, (dependency) i.e. to channel this innate urge toward healthy outlets. If you have an addictive personality, find a worthy habit and get addicted to it. And if you're the type of person who's always trying to "get ahead," try to get ahead in the eyes of your Maker rather than your neighbor.
from the March Passover 2007 Edition of the Jewish Magazine