Monday, January 13, 2014

Of Toys and Treasures and Hagbah and High School

[If you are interested in the Controversial Talmud panel discussion I mentioned here, it is now available on here, and should be on soon as well.]

I was recently asked for counsel on explaining to high school-aged boys that hagbah should not be a weight-lifting contest. I came up with the following idea:

The entities surrounding us may be defined, in their relationship with us, as either Treasures or Toys. Treasures are entities we serve; Toys are entities we use to serve ourselves. Or to say it more accurately, it's probably a spectrum of Treasures/Toys, and these entities fit somewhere on that spectrum. And of course, this is not only true regarding objects; this is also true regarding people.

Certain entities begin as Treasures, but evolve into Toys; familarity breeds contempt, after all. Therefore, we establish principles to guard ourselves from forgetting that these are Treasures: Human Dignity (כבוד הבריות), Honouring our Parents (כיבוד הורים), Domestic Peace (שלום בית).

When it comes to religion, we have the honour of the Torah (כבוד התורה), too, so that we don't touch the Torah directly, we don't sit on the same surface with it, and we lift it in a way that displays it to the community with respect. This is important; a religion that becomes a Toy is a poor religion, indeed.

Of course, the division between which items are Treasures and which items are Toys doesn't say much about the items themselves; after all, one man's Toy is another man's Treasure. However, it says a great deal about ourselves. If everything is my Toy, what does that say about me?

So here is my question to you, reader: I think this is a serviceable way to explain the special ways we conduct ourselves around and with a Torah scroll. But is it accurate? Or are there things which are neither Toy nor Treasure?

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