July 15, 2024
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July 15, 2024
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Sinful or Divine

The first time I heard one of my students exclaim “he’s a sick athlete,” I felt terrible. How sad that such a vibrant and adroit athlete was ill. Before I had a chance to add his name to my Tehillim list, however, my students explained to me that saying an athlete is sick is somehow a good thing. In fact, it’s a big compliment to say that someone is a “sick player,” or that he has a “sick shot.”

It was reminiscent of the first time I heard someone describe a cheesecake as being “sinful.” Then, too, I wondered what was so satanic and devilish about cheesecake. What was even more confusing was when someone else described the same cheesecake as being “heavenly” and “divine,” adding that it was “worth every calorie.”

I couldn’t help but wonder when a cheesecake is “sinful” and when it is “divine.”

No doubt you have been pondering the same thing over the recent Yom Tov of Shavuot. I will enlighten you to what I think is the difference, based on the following parable:

A couple was married for many years. Life took its toll, including the pressures of raising children and the rigors of making a living. Sad to say, they didn’t spend much quality time together. The conversations they did have were mostly about stressful matters, or arguments about the kids or finances.

Their anniversary was approaching, and the husband decided to go all out so they could celebrate and enjoy the day together.

After a great deal of planning, the anniversary arrived. They went on an expensive half-day cruise, complete with sightseeing and a posh lunch and dinner. By the time the day was over, they had spent well beyond their normal allotted budget for such events.

Was it worth it?

The answer depends on what happened afterward. If the day was merely a momentary respite from their monotonous relationship, and the next day they resumed their aloofness toward each other, then the added expenses weren’t really worth it. However, if the day served to reignite the spark of their insipid marriage, and brought back faded emotions for each other, then it was worth every penny. Working toward a better future always requires some investment.

On Shavuot there is a beautiful custom to eat dairy foods, including creamy and delectable cheesecake. The commentators offer numerous reasons why/how eating dairy reminds us of the revelation at Sinai and the giving of the Torah.

If one enjoys all the beautiful customs of the holiday, including eating saturated carbs and buying expensive flowers, but feels no excitement in the essence of the day and recommitment to Torah learning and Torah living, then his indulgences weren’t really worth it.

However, if the customs serve as symbolism that help aid one’s excitement and recommitment to Torah, then it’s worth every bite, and every penny.

So, the question of whether cheesecake is sinful or divine has little to do with the contents of the cake as much as with the attitude of the one eating it.

It all boils down to whether it’s a sick cheesecake or if the cheesecake makes you sick!

By Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW

 Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is the rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead as well as guidance counselor and seventh-grade rebbe in ASHAR, principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor and a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He also presents parenting classes based on the acclaimed Love and Logic methods. His email address is: [email protected]. His website is: www.stamtorah.info.


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