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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Pardoner's Tale

Absolution*

`absu'looshun

    1. an absolving or setting free from guilt, sin or penalty; forgiveness of an offense.
    2. the exercise of priestly jurisdiction in the sacrament penance, by which Catholics believe that the sins of the truly penitent are forgiven.
    3. an absolving from ecclesiastical penalties; -- for example excommunication.

[First off, I can't tell you how happy I am to be back in Israel.  I'm sorry for the light blogging while I was away, but the combination of a packed schedule, jet lag and an epileptic iMac conspired to keep treppenwitz dark for a few days.  Somehow I imagine you all managed just fine without me.]

I borrowed the title for today's entry from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales for a very specific reason.  Chaucer's Pardoner's Tale pokes fun at a phenomenon that existed during his lifetime whereby the Church granted licenses to professional confessors, or 'Pardoners' who would travel around selling absolution to anyone with money enough to pay.  Today, the idea of paying a professional pardoner is ridiculous... especially now that there are so many of us that are available to do it for free!

As a rule, when I travel I tend to wear baseball hats rather than my kippah (yarmulke).  The reason for this is that invariably I will be approached by people on the plane who feel the need to tell me that they were once observant... that their parents or grandparents were very religious people... that their brother-in-law's half brother once kept kosher... that they had wanted to have a Passover Seder last year but they suddenly found themselves on vacation in Sri Lanka  during the holiday and there was no place to buy matzoh...

I don't know exactly what motivates these impromptu confessions, but the end result is that I end up being placed in the unenviable position of having to somehow make them feel OK about the fact that they (or their various relations) are no longer interested in being observant Jews. 

The truth is, I have enough trouble keeping myself on the straight and narrow... I can't possibly help anyone else deal with their personal crisis of faith.  Therefore, I don't wear my kipah anymore on planes... just my trusty 'Bosox' cap.

However, on last week's whirlwind speaking tour around Connecticut and New York I was obviously unable to keep a low profile as an observant Jew, and as an Israeli.  This combination seems to have brought out many people who are genuinely interested in moving to Israel... as well as a few in search of absolution for NOT wanting to move there!

Let me give you a 'for instance':

"Hi, my wife Vashti and I really, really want to move to Israel but we're concerned about a couple of small issues.  I have a doctorate in an extremely obscure sub-dialect of Sanskrit poetry and my wife has an asthmatic condition that requires that she live in a humidity free area that has a constant ambient temperature of between 76 and 81 degrees Fahrenheit.  In addition, all 8 of our children have a rare behavioral disorder that requires them to be given special medication and several hours of 'restrained quiet time' during the middle of the school day.  We have been very fortunate to live near the world expert in this particular problem, and he is always available to us when one of the kids needs a supplemental dose of Thorazine.  Up until this point the only thing keeping us from packing up and moving to Israel has been that my mother has become too frail to look after her 37 cats by herself.  Can you give us some advice on how to put our Israel plans on the fast-track?"

Whenever I had one of these encounters (and I'm really not exaggerating), I felt like I should make the sign of the cross and say, "I absolve you... you are forgiven". 

C'mon people... it's really OK to not want to live in Israel.  Really.

You have to understand that what people like this are looking for is permission to stop feeling guilty about not moving to Israel.  What they want is the smallest sign of hesitation on your part so they can spend the rest of their lives confidently telling people "we would have gladly moved to Israel... but we met someone who said it really wouldn't be the right place for us".

[sigh]

Don't get me wrong.  I met many, many wonderful people on my trip who are quite serious about their plans to move to Israel. 

I also met many, many wonderful people who are quite comfortable with their decision to live their lives outside of Israel.

Either way is really okeeydokey with me.  Really.

My role on this trip was to offer limited advice to people who are thinking about moving and to share my own personal experiences (having gone through the process of moving to Israel in the not-too-distant past).  It was not to assuage or escalate anyone's guilt over decisions they have already made!

There is something called 'Free Will' (no people, not Free Willy) that each of us was given at birth.  Some of the choices we make require us to act decisively... and other choices are made by simply taking no action.  Yes, inaction can also be a decision.

The neat (and difficult) part of the whole 'free will' thing is that very few choices we make during our lives are clearly wrong or right.  They are simply small decisions whose ramifications may or may not become clear to us before the end of our lives. 

Some of us make most of our decisions without input or advice from others (kind of like the way I drive without ever asking directions, or put together the Ikea stuff without ever glancing at the instructions), and others are diligent about doing extensive research and looking directions up on Mapquest. 

In my experience there is merit to both approaches to decision making.  Just please, please take some personal responsibility for whichever way you decide to live your life.   If at some point you decide to change your mind... that's OK too.

As the song goes"

"Yes there are two paths you can go by
but in the long run
There's still time to change the road you're on"

Just don't look to me for absolution.

* 3 of the 6 definitions from Webster's 1913 Dictionary

221_3

Posted by David Bogner on March 8, 2005 | Permalink

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My favorite comment is "I would love to move to Israel but I'd miss my family too much."

Right, because everyone who makes aliyah is from a dysfunctional one and hates theirs.

Blah.

Posted by: Harry | Mar 8, 2005 8:20:50 PM

I'm sure I'm not half as happy you're home as your wonderful wife is to have you home! She's an amazing lady, ya know!
So you got me thinking...Would I recommend me making aliyah? Now? knowing what I know?
I don't want to really think of how I would answer that.
But you are right. My parents always taught me to be responsible in and to the decisions I made. Choices and consequences - my favorite motto!
Welcome home!
Love, sarahb

Posted by: sarahb | Mar 8, 2005 11:14:09 PM

Harry... My personal fave is the compliment that is really designed as a form of misdirection:

"I so admire you for living in Israel... you're so brave!"

Sarahb... Thanks! I didn't realize your hubby was on my flight until I saw him by the baggage claim area. I could have used his comfy seat... I had one of those rear coach seats that didn't even recline! [yes, I already sent a nastygram to my travel agent].

Posted by: David | Mar 9, 2005 12:27:58 AM

Great post, as usual. Welcome back to blog world.

Posted by: Gail | Mar 9, 2005 12:32:35 AM

Gail... Thanks! I've missed being able to write (and of course, to read). Looking forward to catching up on your good stuff.

Posted by: David | Mar 9, 2005 12:35:34 AM

Apropos of your title, I'm surprised no one's welcomed you back with a "Howdy, Pardoner!" yet.

Posted by: efrex | Mar 9, 2005 4:08:21 AM

"And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left." Isaiah 30:21

Some people, like me, are constantly seeking the approval of others. When faced with a decision, we usually know the choice we want to make, but we are weighed down with guilt. We wonder..is this the selfish choice? Does everybody approve this choice? What if this is a choice I'll regret later? Am I missing a crucial detail that could affect my choice? Is there an escape route open in case this turns out for the worst?

It's bondage. It's slavery to this world. I don't want to be a slave of indecision. I want to trust that God will guide and take care of me. As a wise man once said, "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?"

Good post!

Posted by: Joel | Mar 9, 2005 4:45:03 AM

Welcome back.

I've commented ad nauseum at treppenwitz about my choice to live in the states, so I'll spare you more, but at least I never made excuses or looked for approval. So I've got that going for me. :-)

I absolve you for the extra eating you did in the States. It was a vacation. It's not your fault.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Mar 9, 2005 8:04:09 AM

We have a good friend who wears a kippah in his daily life. He says that it invites comments from all sorts of people (meaning not only Jews) on the problems they have with G-d. I can think of few things more annoying. Except maybe people searching for absolution.

Posted by: Ball-and-chain | Mar 9, 2005 8:35:14 AM

When studying at Pardes someone phrased it very well. "Do you want to live in Israel or do you think you should live in Israel?"

There are lots of people that think if you are a super-Zionist you must be in Israel, but sometimes the reality of Israel is too difficult for them.

Posted by: Safranit | Mar 9, 2005 9:04:59 AM

I want to know if the Vashti in your story danced, or did her Uncle Morty spirit her away to protect her virtue. I know, I am mixing names and people but you can label as being practice for Purim. ;)

Posted by: Jack | Mar 9, 2005 9:26:45 AM

Welcome back ! I really missed reading you .

Posted by: Jany | Mar 9, 2005 9:39:00 AM

Welcome back, David! The neighborhood missed you.

Posted by: Tanya C. | Mar 9, 2005 10:51:14 AM

Looks like your trip had some undesirable results. 221? Fess up! What did you give in to? ;)

Posted by: jennifer | Mar 9, 2005 11:38:09 AM

Loved this post, Harry.

And don't let anyone needle you about a measly one pound weight gain. It's just water retention from the flight. ;)

Posted by: Lisa | Mar 9, 2005 12:25:20 PM

What a great thought. I'm beginning to think it as a market niche. There are so many jobless students here, and wouldn't they make a better personal pardonner rather than a sleaky, unshapy Santa Claus once a year? We could train them to make really serious looking gestures, and they would utter these archaic phrases and impress people, "Te absolvo!". I know, there are seven or eight reasons why it cannot work out around here big style. Alas. But who knows...who knows....

I can't thank you enough for blogging my mind.

ברוך שובך
!

Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Mar 9, 2005 1:18:24 PM

Efrex... ouch!

Joel... Thanks.

Doctor Bean... thanks for noticing the weight gain. I need to make the weight graphic a little smaller or change the colors to soething less eye-catching. :-)

Ball & Chain... It could always be worse. Instead of a fairly passive pest such as those I discibed, I could get the really active pests ("Have you accepted J... as your personal savior?") who take it as their mission in life to save my soul. [shudder]

Safranit... Well put.

Jack... I used the name Vashti here because I actually once met a girl whose parents had given her that name. They felt it was a feminist statement because Vashti from the Purim story had refused to appear naked (except for her crown) when commanded to do so by the king.

I little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Jany... Not only did I miss writing, but I also missed being read. Thanks.

TanyaC... It's good to be home. I look forward to seeing you and peekatchoo (sp?) in the neighborhood.

Jennifer... It wasn't any one thing. My parents always make their entire house kosher when anyone from my family comes to visit... boiing... self cleaning oven... the whole 9 yards! I didn't think I could gracefully subject them to the atkins issues as well. I basically ate everything that was put in front of me. =:~0

Lisa... I am guessing you have trouble keeping Harry's writing talent and my good looks sorted out. I'll admit it is an easy mistake to make, but I'll give you a trick to help you keep us straight:

Harry does funny and edgy while I do touchy and feely (with the occasional rant thrown in for good measure). :-)

mademoiselle a. ... Thanks, I had a feeling from our chats on this subject that this might strike a chord with you. Oh, and before I forget, thanks for checking in with Zahava while I was away. It really meant a lot to her (and to me).

Posted by: David | Mar 9, 2005 1:50:23 PM

DAVID: I think I mix you and Harry up because you're both so endearing and witty.

I think my problem with names is just some weird form of dyslexia or something. Forgive me. ;)

Posted by: Lisa | Mar 9, 2005 3:29:21 PM

I'm loooking forward to the Florida Tour.. I promise I won't ask for absolution

Posted by: oceanguy | Mar 9, 2005 3:47:11 PM

I've been reading your blog for a while now but haven't commented. I have really enjoyed your writing and especially "Photo Friday". Is there really going to be a Florida Tour? Just wondering, as I live there.

Posted by: einsof | Mar 9, 2005 7:57:24 PM

Lisa... No problem here... although Harry might mind the comparison. :-)

Oceanguy... I wish. If anyone visits Florida it will be Zahava (her dad and brother live there now).

einsof... As I said to Oceanguy, there is (unfortunately) not Florida trip planned. However, from looking over your blog it seems I will have a chance to see you here before long!

Posted by: David | Mar 9, 2005 9:39:34 PM

How about absolution for those of us who moved here without being Zionists or observant Jews? Mea culpa.

Posted by: savtadotty | Mar 9, 2005 10:02:53 PM

Your line about inaction reminded me of this line from Neal Peart of Rush. Fittingly, the song is titled "Free Will":

"If you choose not to decide,
you still have made a choice"

Posted by: mike | Mar 10, 2005 3:25:04 AM

Savtadotty... I absolve you. :-)

Mike... You're right, that would have been an even better choice. Wish I'd thought of it.

Posted by: David | Mar 10, 2005 6:22:34 PM

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