Friday, December 10, 2010

VAYIGASH 5771

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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayigash

3 Teves 5771/December 10, 2010

A noted therapist once quipped that the best psychologists are not doing private consultations or helping people on an individual basis. Rather, they are involved in advertising, helping to guide and advise mega-million dollar companies how to best promulgate and publicize their product to the public. There is an incredible amount of psychology that is involved in advertising, and it is truly fascinating just how much discussion and thought goes in to every commercial, billboard, and advertisement. It is an extremely lucrative field, hence the involvement of many of the wittiest and most innovative minds.

As much as we hate to admit it, our culture has been somewhat shaped by mass advertising. We are inundated by mass advertising and it unquestionably manipulates our attitudes and thinking. With slogans like “you deserve it” and “if you don’t have it someone else will”, we are lured into believing that the latest cultures and styles are de rigueur. Those ads that we breeze by on the highway, or glance at in public places, have a profound effect on our attitude and way of thinking.

Every individual who owns a car has a little space where he can do his own advertising, i.e. on the car’s rear bumper. We have full authority to announce to the world (or at least to the car behind us when we’re stuck in traffic) whatever we desire in that space.

Some use that space to broadcast their child’s accomplishments as an Honor Student. Others use it to preach their personal religious or political beliefs. Still others feel the need to tell everybody that the car they are driving drove up Mount Washington. It is in fact a profound accomplishment and why should they not boost their car’s ego (especially after they burned out its engine getting to the top).

When Chani and I went to visit Mount Washington in New Hampshire a number of years ago, I asked the cashier in the souvenir shop if they had a bumper sticker which read, “Aint no way this car could make it up Mount Washington”. At the time the car that I drove looked like it fell off the top of Mount Washington (driving that car was like experiencing the Chanukah miracle all year round). The cashier replied that although she did not have such a bumper sticker, she was confident that everyone would realize the car didn’t have much of a chance up Mount Washington, even without the bumper sticker.

What do billboards and advertising have to do with Chanukah, you ask? More than you think. The Medrash relates that aside for all of their other nefarious decrees barring the Jews from observing Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh, and Milah, the Greeks also insisted that the Jews engrave on the horns of their oxen the words, “I have no portion in the G-d of Israel”.

It seems that the ancient Greeks were very privy to understanding the effect of advertised messages. As the Jews plowed their fields, goading their oxen from behind, the Greeks wanted them to stare at that message all day long. It is inevitable that staring at something for so many hours consecutively will have a profound effect on one’s thinking.

The holiday of Chanukah affords us the opportunity to battle the media’s relentless advertising campaign. For eight nights we light our small candles facing the outside world. How strange! It is the only time throughout the year that we seek to perform a mitzvah ostentatiously, for the outside world to see. I love to drive through the streets of Jewish neighborhoods in the early evenings on Chanukah with my children and look at all the candles in the windows.

The message is that if something one sees repeatedly has an effect on him in a negative fashion, it can do so in a positive fashion as well.

As we place our menorahs back on the shelves until next year we have to hold onto the message of the candles we lit for the last eight nights. There is a profound message contained in the candles. Those candles remind us that there is holy light everywhere. But to find it we have to stop looking at all the advertisements in bright, jarring, neon lights. The Chanukah candles are lit relatively low (preferably between 3-10 tefachim). We have to look more humbly, more inwards and introspectively, to find that real light. Those candles are our bumper stickers which read “I/we have a portion in the G-d of Israel.”

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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