OpinionJewish & Israeli Holidays

Beyond boredom

The intriguing Jewish life cycle.

Challah bread, shabbat wine and candles on wooden table. Credit: BigNazik/Shutterstock.
Challah bread, shabbat wine and candles on wooden table. Credit: BigNazik/Shutterstock.
Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Rabbi Yossy Goldman is Life Rabbi Emeritus of Sydenham Shul in Johannesburg and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. He is the author of From Where I Stand, on the weekly Torah readings, available from Ktav.com and Amazon.

So, what is the greatest mystery in the universe? Those black holes in outer space? Where to find diamonds or strike oil? Personally, my vote goes to nothing other than that fascinating thing we call human nature. It is an absolute mystery, completely unfathomable. No one can work out human nature. We seem to be pretty much indecipherable.

In the Torah portion of Beha’alotecha, read this week in the Diaspora, we find the story of the manna that fell from heaven to sustain the Israelites in the wilderness. According to our commentaries, it was a miraculous, magical food. Not only did it come down from the sky every day, but it had the incredible property of being able to taste like whatever the person who was eating it desired.

You like steak and fries? Sushi? Pizza? Pasta? You got it. You prefer cheesecake and chocolate mousse? No problem. You can have that too. You name it and it’s yours to enjoy. The miraculous manna caused no digestive problems either. No heartburn, no reflux, not even cholesterol.

Yet the people were unhappy with manna: “The children of Israel wept. They said, ‘Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt for free, the cucumbers, watermelons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now our souls are parched, for there is nothing to eat except this manna before our eyes.’ ”

I don’t get it. If the manna could taste like anything they wanted, why were they tired of it? They could have gone through every gourmet cookbook and still get a new taste every day. You can have everything from fillet mignon to ice cream and you’re still not happy? Talk about human nature…

I think the answer is that the people were simply bored by the very same pieces of cake coming down every day. Yes, the flavor could have changed regularly to suit their appetites and taste buds, but the manna itself didn’t change. It still looked the same, day in and day out. They found that boring.

I guess you can have the best things in life and still be unhappy.

Maybe that’s why there are confirmed bachelors out there. They cannot accept committing themselves to a monogamous lifestyle: “I like blondes, but then I like brunettes too, and the occasional redhead makes life interesting. How can I commit to one woman for the rest of my life? How boring!”

So, what is the response? What does Judaism offer to solve the problem of boredom?

I think the Jewish way of life answers that question quite well. Just look at our calendar. Sure, a certain amount of routine in life is necessary, but before you get a chance to be bored, along comes Shabbat. Six days a week of routine and then we have a special day to add flavor to our lives.

If that routine becomes humdrum, then we have our beautiful chagim, the festivals of the Jewish annual cycle, which are interspersed throughout the year. Pesach is followed by Shavuot seven weeks later. Then, a few months down the line, it is already Rosh Hashanah. That is followed by Yom Kippur and Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. Two months later, it’s Hanukkah and then Purim a month before Pesach. How can you possibly be bored?

What about our poor bachelors who are afraid to sign up for a life of eternal boredom?

Judaism has an answer for them too. It’s called the mikvah system for married couples, which introduces a cycle of intimacy and privacy, separation and reunion in the relationship between husbands and wives that guarantees there is absolutely no boredom whatsoever.

There is more than ample opportunity for total satisfaction, but there is also a checks and balances system to ensure we never suffer from sexual indigestion or boredom. A woman’s monthly visit to the mikvah signals a romantic reunion after the interruption of physical contact brought on by her monthly period.

The mikvah system virtually guarantees an exciting and passionate relationship for decades and has been described by its devoted practitioners as nothing less than a “Honeymoon a Month Club.” Or, as others have put it, “Mikvah takes the monotony out of monogamy.”

Judaism has always been able to offer good answers to the many mysteries and challenges of life. The creator who made us and knows us better than we know ourselves has given us a “way of life,” a plan—an eating plan, a sleeping plan and a life plan. If we keep to it, not only will we not be bored, we will be blessed.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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