Monday, January 2, 2012

No Such Thing As A Human Herd

The recent social media discussions about the meaning of the Jewish reggae star Matisyahu’s shaving his beard has raised many issues: the significance of a beard in general, Chassidic verses non-Chassidic lifestyles, and being a religious public celebrity are just a few of the topics bandied about. But one cannot help noting how much of the criticisms leveled against him are influenced by the visual expectations we have of other people.

An outsider looking in at the Chassidic world sees men and women striving to be as much like other Chassidic men and women as possible. In almost every Chassidic sect there is a “dress code.” For the men, they all wear the same hats, beards and long jackets...and the women too, seem to blend together with similarly muted colors and specific ways of covering their heads.

It is human nature that when one sees a group of people dressed the same and following a unique set of rules, one assumes that they are all simply followers who have lost their human individuality.

The next time you see such a group of people, hundred or thousands of people who seem homogeneous (perhaps a large group of black hatted men in front of Jerusalem's Western Wall), remember the following insightful blessing that the sages mandated to be recited if one sees a very large group of Jews: “Blessed is He who understands secrets, for the mind of each is different from that of the other, just as the face of each is different from that of the other” (Berachot 58a).

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