The sun is finally upon us!! If you live anywhere in the New York metro area, you're probably dusting off your flip-flops and realzing that half of last summer's t-shirts don't fit you anymore. Not to worry--Target runs perpetual sales, and they sell bona-fide Hendrix and Zeppelin shirts for cheap. Now, I'm no meteorologist, but I want to get together a pool for the exact date that everybody will start complaining about the heat/humidity. My guess is May 5, which I'm choosing for no other reason than that it's far enough away to sound reasonable even if I lose. If I chose a day in April and it turns out to be balmy, I'll have my roommates laughing at me for days about how I'm a stupid idiot who can't pick stupid days for the idiot weather to get hot. They'll call me a freak, and they'll tell me to go hang-gliding. But I love them. So there.
The NCAA tourney has not turned out as it was supposed to. My Facebook pool was submarined by Texas, which lost in the second round because of bad coaching, non-existent passing, and a game plan that curiously and inexplicably bypassed Kevin Durant. That may not sound too terrible, but that would be like the 1993 Chicago Bulls playing in the NBA finals and never once running a play for Michael Jordan or Scottie Pippen. That's how important Durant is for Texas--or, how important he was, since he's going to bolt to the NBA for better coaching and zillions of dollars in contracts and endorsements.
All this talk of money, though, recalls an interesting conversation I had with Avi Shimon Christopherson, who at the time was driving on the Nassau Expressway towards Queens, and regaling this shotgun passenger with his worldview: in essence, he said, the world's populace mainly busies itself with acquiring those things it deems important--money, prestige, status, possessions, property, etc. He, on the other hand, accrued that which made him "truly wealthy," in his words: good deeds, precepts, afterlife points, all the things that go into building a spiritual, somewhat ascetic existence. At the time, I told him to pull over so I could buy some more beer. Besides, I'd heard nothing but those exact words from him for months and months in Tsfat, so I didn't take the time to invest in the repetition.
The thing is, he's either completely right or he's completely wrong. Either way, it's admirable that he's chosen to live on the extreme he finds to be true. Let me explain--Judaism offers a certain conception of the world, one which posits a God and a Bible and a certain purpose and objective for humanity. Now, you either believe that or you don't. Many, many people are somewhere in between, but the ideological decision ultimately boils down to whether or not you accept this stance.
This is a society in which people are free to actualize their desires and let their beliefs steer their behaviors (and we'll assume, for the purposes of this conversation, that this is the world we're living in. At least I am. If you're not, get the hell in right now before your mother tells you to put out that joint and get a job, you're 35 goddammit, all you do is sit at home on that couch watching Court TV and cartoons, I can't believe you, I can't believe you turned out this way, why won't my son ever be like my daughter? Jill is a lawyer and has kids, and you're a bum on my couch! A BUM ON MY COUCH!!! Shut up mom, you don't know anything about me. No, you shut up, son, I can't believe you. Well, fuck you mom. Well, fuck you too).
So--and this is the essential Jewish question--if you believe in the "God construct," we'll say, then there's really no reason to bother with achieveing wealth and prestige, since you know that all that matters, lasts, lives, and has effect has nothing to do with cars and houses. It has everything to do with studying the Bible and the holy books, living a Jewish lifestyle, and devoting oneself to gathering afterlife points and a healthy celestial standing.
The converse is just as defined. If one does not accept the "God construct," and does not believe that this world exists purely for the revelation of God's presence and influence, and does not put any weight into performing the corresponding tasks and affecting the appropriately observant lifestyle choices, then there is no reason at all to be mildly religious. That mindset necesssitates, in a very profound sense, a secular lifestyle.
And that is why Avi Shimon Christopherson has the right idea, as far as I can tell. "Modern" Judaism, in all its subgenres--Orthodoxy, Conservadoxy, Conservitavism, Reformism, and Reconstructionism--contains the tacit admission that you're not completely sure about how this world works. Or, if you are, then you're not willing, for whatever reason, to pack in the 9-5, the two cars, and the summers in the Hamptons (or, in some cases, the mistress, the second family, the bank account no one knows about, and the sanitation business). Living a dualistic lifestyle is undeniably not ideal, and though it may serve very functionally, and it provides a comfortable compromise of relgious and secular values, it is just that: a compromise. If it was gambling, it would be placing a small or moderate bet, as oppposed to going all in. You risk less, but you stand to gain less as well.
Stay moderate, modernity,