Daily dose of wisdom, Brakhot 20. The red dress: taking a stand against indecent behavior, defining social norms

Gentlemen, today’s learning has a amazing story that took place about 1800 years ago but is so relevant to us today.

Rav Adda son of Ahava saw a woman wearing a Carbalta, (some kind of revealing garment).  Rav Adda, thinking this woman was Jewish, tore her Carbalta, since a Jewish woman should never wear such a thing.

It turned out she was not Jewish, and the local court fined him 400 coins, much more than the actual value of the clothing.  Rav Adda accepted this judgment and quipped that his act was worth paying the fine.

Maharsha explains this Carbalta was a bright red clothing made in a way to be attractive and eye catching.

Rav Adda was willing to take a public stand and a major risk to prevent indecent behavior in his community.  He was happy to lose a large sum of money to remind Jewish women of the traditional expectation of modesty, even though the non-Jewish women in the town were becoming less modest.

Outrage over inappropriate behaviors is something that has all but disappeared in modern America.  In fact, there is much more outrage leveled against someone who dares to speak a word against indecency.

Mainstream society actively tears down existing boundaries between decent and indecent.  We live in a time with minimal respect for traditions, so it is impossible to appeal to tradition to influence behaviors.

However, not everything is morally acceptable just because there are some people who push society to accept their desire as normal.  This leads us to the critical question: who gets to define normal for you?

This is the question of who sets the frame you live in.  For conventional Jews, God sets our frame through the Bible and traditional Jewish practice.  We know what is decent and have objective moral standards.  I won’t tell you to become Jewish or even religious at all, you don’t need that to be a moral person.

However, you need to be the one who decides for yourself what is normal, acceptable, and decent to your own moral sensibilities.  Be keenly aware of when outside actors want you to stifle your natural objections to their behavior, or want you to start becoming outraged by the things they want to vilify.  Things that you didn’t think were bad at all.

If you are a moral person, why let others define and frame what is moral for you?

This is a struggle if you are living in modern society.  Many agendas want you to accept their version of moral and decent as your own.  They want to program you to think and act in lock step with their narrative, to accept what they believe is fine and decent and to be offended by what bothers them.

How can you identify this?  The more aggressive a group is in attacking anyone who questions their behavior, the more they demand exemptions from criticism, then the more they know deep down that their behavior is wrong.

Some groups and lifestyles want zero criticism, and try to ruin the lives of people who speak out or question them.  They cannot tolerate critique because they realize subconsciously that their ideology has no real moral truth and their behavior is truly immoral. 

If someone you interact with demands a total exemption from criticism, or responds aggressively to critique,  then there is something really wrong with that person.  Maintain your chosen boundaries of right and wrong, your own frame and interpretation of what is appropriate behavior for you and those around you.  Don’t be swayed by the media promoted framework of “morality”.  There is no real substance to it.

Any serious student of history can tell you that in a totalitarian society, the first thing the dictator does is stamp out any criticism of their regime, while massively promoting his own narrative through propaganda.  If the dictator can co-opt or corrupt the media to make it appear that he enjoys wide support, then use the media to denounce critics as foreign agents, anti-social, or mentally ill, then it is easy to sway the minds of the masses to evil and immoral acts.

A major tool used in this is outrage.  Evil regimes desensitize people to stifle their natural outrage at human rights violations, claiming that discrimination and dehumanization of critics of the regime is needed for public safety.  Then by indoctrinating the public to feel outraged by the people the regime wants to denigrate, totalitarians can turn can easily turn gullible citizens against their fellows.
Another quick idea from today’s Daf: while a son can recite the blessings after bread on behalf of his father, or a wife for her husband, our sages said that a curse will fall on the man who needs his wife and children to recite the blessings for him.
This man is illiterate or incapable of memorizing the blessings, and needs his wife or children to read or recite for him.
If the man cannot fulfill basic spiritual and intellectual obligations and needs to rely on others, he cannot be the leader.  Our sages are not giving such Man a curse, but warning him that his illiteracy will profoundly damage his closest relationships.
The husband and father needs to be the leader in wisdom and set the example.  He undermines his authority if he must ask his wife and children to be responsible for obligations he himself cannot carry out.  See also The first family regarding Abraham’s spiritual leadership.


9 thoughts on “Daily dose of wisdom, Brakhot 20. The red dress: taking a stand against indecent behavior, defining social norms

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