Wake Up and Smell the Bacon

It was my first visit back to my parents’ house since I became frum. Over a year had passed, a year without the king-size bed in their guest room, without central heating, without 24/7 access to a fully stocked fridge and cupboard. My mother had, most graciously, stocked up on every kind of O-U foodstuff she could find on the supermarket shelves.

My father, on the other hand, hadn’t spoken to me for half a year.

I felt some trepidation, leaving the womb of yeshiva for the spiritual wilderness of Palm Springs, CA and a secular home. I hardly felt competent to survive without my rabbeim at arm’s reach and without a local makolet that stocked only glatt-kosher food. I had no notion what I would do if a question came up on Shabbos that wasn’t addressed in my English translation of Shemirath Shabbath. I wasn’t even certain how to manage lighting my oil menorah for Chanukah — I had never used anything other than 30 minute candles.

But what I really wasn’t ready for was the first real evidence of how much I had changed.

I woke up my first morning back, not contemplating the luxury of my overlarge bed, but rather with mild bewilderment as my first conscious thought formed around the question, “What is that horrible smell?” It permeated my room, suggesting something dead and rancid, and it seemed incongruous with the obsessive cleanliness that dominated every corner of my mother’s house.

I don’t remember whether I finally identified the odor on my own, or whether I actually had to go out and investigate. But I do remember the source.

Bacon. A whole pound of bacon sizzling in the oven.

Let me explain. Before becoming frum, there was no food in the world that I enjoyed more than bacon. I could eat as much of it as anyone could cook up and serve me. Forget the eggs. Skip the flapjacks. Pass on the toast. Nothing else was worth eating if bacon was on the menu.

So that first morning back my father had started cooking, hoping that powerful aroma of cured pig flesh would penetrate my sinuses and my psyche, vanquishing the religious fanaticism that had taken hold of his once-sensible son.

It’s not remarkable that Dad’s plan didn’t work. Anyone who exchanges a year’s commitment to Torah for a whiff of bacon was never really committed to begin with. What is so remarkable is that an aroma that had previously aroused my senses like the fragrance of Gan Eden now turned my stomach before I even recognized what it was.

This, I realized, is the power of Torah. The power to transform us, to change who we are so that even our temptations change. I would later hear my Rosh Yeshiva say many times that, more than anything else, our yeitzer hara shows us where we are up to in the world. The desires that tempt us at one point in our development later hold no attraction for us because we are no longer the people we once were. As we become more spiritually refined, so too do our physical and material impulses adapt to challenge us on our new level.

I often wonder if, as ba’alei tshuva, we sell ourselves short, waxing nostalgic over the days when we were “free” to do as we pleased, or setting too modest goals because we think it unreasonable to expect more from ourselves. What a pity if we don’t appreciate how much we have changed, and how we can continue changing and growing with every day and week and year.

First published Jun 14, 2006

66 comments on “Wake Up and Smell the Bacon

  1. Chaim G asked what rubrick of halacha would RYBS place Lashon Hara. RHS stated that RYBS viewed lashon hara as part of the generalized issur of causing injury ( “issur mazik”) to one’s fellow Jew.

  2. Weighing in from the non-Jewish point of view… I found this post interesting as last Thursday an Orthodox friend of mine and I decided to spend a day in the country. The area we were visiting is heavily populated by Mennonites (which is my own religious/ethnic background, although I am from modern Mennonites and these are Old Order, horse-and-buggy-driving types). We brought along a delicious kosher picnic lunch because I knew we wouldn’t find anything with a hechsher available in this little town. Still, we took a turn through a farmer’s market because I wanted to pick up cheese curds, which my husband and I both love. My friend has been frum for many (more than 25) years and she still found it hard walking past the food stalls. She said “Your senses don’t know it’s traif!” Even though we had tons of kosher food in the car I think it was *psychologically* difficult for her to be in an environment where there was tons of food (and not just meat, either, but baking, preserves, etc) that was all off-limits. I don’t think she was tempted by bacon or pork sausage, but perhaps by the cheeses and apple fritters and other baked goods which were less obviously traif but still not kosher. As we talked about it I got the impression that it was the sense of being in an environment so far removed from our Toronto neighbourhood, where kosher restaurants, grocery aieles/etc. are everywhere, that was the greatest challenge for her. It’s not especially difficult to keep kosher in the city… but less than 100 miles away it can be a different story.

    Anyway, we didn’t stay long in the farmer’s market – and I restrained myself from dipping into the traif cheese curds till I got home – so the trip was generally a success. We were also able to pick up some delicious fresh-picked strawberries at a local farm, so we were both able to come home with some fresh country produce. :)

    I’m glad to hear that Rabbi Goldson’s father is now more considerate as well.

  3. DK : thanks though actually on the eight quotes – I can only take actual credit for the lateral thinking one and the bacon/spiritual one, the others are either quoted by author or author uknown. My favorite is definitely Don Quixote’s “He jumped up on his horse and rode off in all directions”.

    Chaim G, “Opaque as the Cantos of Ezra Pound” love the analogies …….”unrocking paste jewelry cherishing” LOL , OK you definitely know how to package the criticism with plenty of real humor and connect all the quotes even the faith and reason one -that was good !! Firstly, only the bacon/spiritual and the lateral -thinking quotes r homemade/mine,the other quotes are either quoted by author or author unknown…. so i dont get no personal credit on those …..with that being said, I will definitely do the linear thinking /writing and refrain from using the lateral/global everywhere approach.Its interesting cuz in real life, I talk faster than the speed of lighting and by the time I get fifteen different thoughts across the person listening has barely gotten one across and listened to one ……. anyway – please do not hesitate to ask- if you have any questions… as a really smart ,learned /linear blogger once quoted “v’ain Habayshan lomaid”……….. speaking of which you r way too well versed in the quotes and sources and stuff half the time i’m lost in translation trying to figure out your sources .You know alot of sources and your stuff is great, I liked #24 . So I guess were even in the long run ;-) The way you connected all the quotes was seriously AwesomE and really funny .

    Rabbi Goldson – Thats awesome that your parents are moving to be near you and your family in St Louis .I wish them the best most awesome luck and happiness in their new home.

  4. Jaded-
    Amazing! I always suspected that there was a keen mind and wry sense of humor deep there in your posts yet I have found them as opaque as the Cantos of Ezra Pound. Maybe its just a case of “Lateral /everywhere thinking rocks” is from Mars and linear thinking is from Venus, but your last post was the most comprehensible one I’ve ever read. I must own up to my inadequacies and admit that most of what I’ve read from you in the past has seemed like “He jumped up on his horse and rode off in all directions”

    As I really enjoy blogging on BeyondBT and as you are one of the more frequent commenters who I read fairly regularly I beseech you for the benefit of decidedly unrocking, paste jewelry cherishing, Linear thinkers (I think?) like me-could you please say EVERYTHING you write again three, no eight times, fast? Basically until that last post of yours my “faith (that something cogent and insightful was being expressed) has had to begin where your reason ended”

  5. Post Script:

    My father has since become extremely supportive. He and my mother are moving to St. Louis next week, IY”H, to be closer to their children and grandchildren.

  6. DK,
    Let go already. Something has set you off that none of your replies has really explained. We can agree to disagree.

  7. Rabbi Goldson,

    When you bring up a personal detail of someone’s life after a debate where you accused them of calling you a liar, I think it is normal to have some suspicions as to why that personal detail is being brought up. An no– I remember your name, but am still not sure which guy you were.

  8. Oh yes, Chaim:

    I never interpreted any attack on my story. Neither was I making a blanket statement concerning people who fail in their nisyonos. I’ve certainly failed plenty. Which puts me in the company of such as Dovid HaMelech, which is fine by me.

    As for my intent, see Ora’s remarks in Comment #5.

  9. Jaded:

    Well done.


    One of my roshei yeshiva plays the violin, as does my wife. I wasn’t suggesting a correlation between music and lack of commitment.

  10. DK: What is it exactly that you object to? To the phrase “the power of Torah”? What’s wrong with saying that the Torah, when followed, has the power to change us? To me that seems fairly straightforward, while it may not happen to everyone, there are many examples of people whose values, middot, and yes, even personal tastes have been changed by following Torah.

    Also, I don’t understand why it matters that a Muslim or Hindu could have had a similar experience. Many issues that come up with Jewish BTs (staying connected to non-religious family, modesty between genders, financing a large family, dealing with gender-specific roles in the era of modern feminism, etc) come up with practitioners of other faiths as well. That doesn’t mean that these issues are no longer relevant or worth talking about.

    Also, nowhere in the article was it written that Rav Goldson thinks or thought that all of his problems were solved in a year, that his experience is normal and one that all BTs should aim for, or that BTs should give up perfectly acceptable activities such as listening to classical or jazz music. Read the last couple of paragraphs again–the point is, before limiting your goals for the future, look back at the past and realize how much you’ve already accomplished (that doesn’t mean “look back at your past and be disgusted at your ‘pre-frum’ self,” just “look back and realize that positive change has been made”).

    In Rav Goldson’s case, his olfactory experience helped him to see that he had changed. For you or me or other readers, it will most likely be something different–realizing that we now davven every morning without thinking twice about it, seeing a beggar and giving them a quarter or two automatically, holding back from a nasty comment we were about to make, etc–that will be our big “hey wow, I’ve really changed” moment. The fact that you or I or anyone has made a particular change doesn’t mean that the rest of us should hang our heads in shame if we still struggle with the issue that they’ve conquered. Ideally, we can take inspiration from their success (and from our own successes in other areas), and use it to move forward with more energy.

  11. Rabbi Goldson , Absolutely , actually i’ll say it 8 times (emur meh-at, vaaseh har-beh ) real fast (in 8 different formats) here goes :

    “The art of good leadership is to consider everyones opinion, but to make up your own mind”

    “Indecision is the key to flexibility”

    “Lateral /everywhere thinking rocks, but sometimes linear thinking needs to be used .

    “Open your arms to change, but dont let go of your values”

    “Bacon is not kosher and being spiritual will help you not want to eat it”

    “Faith begins where reason ends”

    “Consistency is a paste jewel only cheap men cherish”

    “Live with intention.walk to the edge.listen hard.practice wellness.play with abandon.laugh.choose with no regret.Continue to Learn.appreciate your friends . do what you love.live as if this is all there is” . Mary Anne Radmacher

    “He jumped up on his horse and rode off in all directions ” Don Quixote…..

    “Life – its nothing like the brochure”

  12. Chaim Grossferstant,

    My apologies for misrepresenting you on any level. Obviously I read something quite different from the quote you brought than you did.

    And Chaim, I never doubted the facts of the story — only the interpretation and darshening. Please be clear about that. I was not suggesting what Rabbi Goldson accused me of.

    I remain concerned that there is too much attention to making “chassidim” out of ba’alei tshuvahs, and that this can be destructive. When I feel it is based on nonsense, it is an opening (to me) to attack it.

    I personally think a Ba’al Tshuvah has a hard enough time in his newly religious lifestyle without being driven meshugah by rediculous and excessive demands, such as realigning his senses. I would rather see more focus on how to live a functional lifestyle within Torah law. And by functional, I mean we should avoid enouraging Born Again phrases like “before I was frum” or the Power of Torah to transform your senses, but rather, offer change within a continuum, not categorical contempt for everything you were. Not all of us are willing to see our past in such horrible terms as some, and should not be made to feel we should. Perhaps not all of us come from as materialistic backgrounds as those in sunny California.

    And anyway, not everything can be solved in a year. No matter what one’s sense of smell suggests.

    And yes, Rabbi Goldson, I played the violin. So perhaps that proves I never was “serious” enough in some way, even in my (relatively) blackest period.

    Perhaps that is true, from a certain perspective.

    Certainly my sense of hearing certainly never changed. And when my parents played jazz or classical music when I was home, I was always happy to wake up to it.

  13. DK-haven’t read you around here in a while. Thanks for the props in comment 39. But I want to clarify something.

    I do believe that the Torah has a unique “particularistic” transformative power that you’ll find nowhere else (I’ve created the Yetzer Harah and the Torah as it’s tavlin=spice/antidote). I enthusiastically read the Rabbi Goldson’s largely upbeat message of can-do/think-big transformative growth. I never doubted Rabbi Goldson’s facts or interpretations for a moment.

    Rav Chaim Vital in part 1 Gate 3 of the Sha’arei K’dusha writes that the main difference between a Tsadik and a Chasid is that the former still grapples with his yetzer while the latter “naturally wants and dislikes whatever is consistent with the Torah “as if those traits were born with him”. I even belief that segments of this level of “Chasid” can be fast-tracked by some BTs b/c of their extra dose of Divine assistance as in the stirring words of Rabenu Yonah “HaShem will assist the Ba’al T’shuva when their own natures are inadequate”.

    The one and only thing that bothered me about the original post was the implied allegation that people who fail in nisyonot weren’t committed enough in the first place. By quoting the Rashi I challenged (if you can even call it that) the Rabbi’s disgust with bacon not because I was dubious that HE really felt it but b/c I read it as a lead-in to the part that I found unduly harsh. I saw a logical development that went something like; if you are committed G-d will alter your very nature/tastes-if your nature changes not only will you be equal to the tests/nisyonot you will be way more than equal since your old guilty pleasures no longer tempt you but positively revolt you. (you’ve “outgrown” them!) Consequently if you do fail it follows that you weren’t committed enough or trying hard enough. It is this conclusion, as a universal principle, that I disagreed, and continue to disagree, with.

    Rabbi..(hope your still following the thread) If you or any other reader of the blog construed my earlier comments to mean I didn’t believe the facts of the story or that you were repulsed by the smell of the bacon I apologize.

  14. Correction re my comment (11): I remembered the speaker but not the source, which is Maimonides in the 6th chapter of the Sh’mone P’rakim (his preface to the Commentary on Pirkai Avot)

  15. DK , wow!!!!! nice reasoning powers, u got there , I guess both you and Rabbi Goldson have definite valid points ,albeit coming from two different angles and visuo spatial areas of the same square (always think outside the box but keep the box visible for reference purposes) .DK, you think subconscious disgust or even a conscious distaste or discipline on the bacon ,is not actual religion specific and basically just a universal nicety or feature and a habit cultivated by default of having joined an organized religion and adhering to the rules -True . Sort of like the discipline exhibited when alchoholic turned really devout AA member and automatically by default learns to refuse all drinks. If I had your reasoning skills and finely tuned sense of lateral /global could go off on sixteen paths and still stick to the one path thinking ,i’d definitely have a real hard time finding stuff to inspire me.(I can only go off on eight paths and still stick to the same path sort of ) But I guess the moral of the story, is focusing on the particular variable in the story (torah) that facilitated on the no bacon liking/eating and general subconcious disgust (again -inspired by the torah learning and ultra religious focus) and how being spiritual can change a person though I’ve yet to experience the default side effects of supposed spiritualism personally .

    But I guess ure sort of right with your point regarding the lack of a comparative theological advantange to the story.But from a global perspective that doesnt always really need to be a part of the equation on all local level inspiration generators or does it .Since i’m not the author I dont actually know the intended objective and focus of this particular story, but sometimes simple powerful local stories of inspiration can help focus and channel inherent but latent spiritual energies that already exist sort of focus on a continuous cumulative sort of spiritual journey as opposed to actual beginning …. .

    yeah obviously there are times when a general audience is having a hard time choosing between the Hindu/Muslim/Jewish/Catholic or Protestant religions and crave stories of inspiration that would be the deciding factor on which religion sounds more exciting/real/user friendly/powerful , this story would not necessarily fill that sort of niche on a global level or even get on the how to market Judaism specificially strategy board.And I guess there are or will be individuals reading the article that have given other religions a chance or question and may not understand why torah would be a wiser choice than other religions as a structure or discipline system … sometimes i dont either, other times I do ,but I guess the general point from my perspective is that basically just focusing on the local level of the story (including variable of torah) and subsequent inspiration one can integrate …. and only in this instance not taking the global so many other paths picture so literally(which is usually a good thing ) might facilitate in the perspective and focus the author is trying to convey with his spiritual journey and what changed him specifically .

  16. My original point, as amplified in Comment #21, was to bring a personal example of the transformative power of Torah and the refinement of the individual yeitzer hara as an indicator of personal progress.

    Indeed, the same may be true for other religions or even non-religious disciplines. I imagine that a second year law student has less trouble applying himself to his studies than a first year.

    Nevertheless, it is our commitment to Torah that drives us to push ourselves past our comfort level, not merely observing the letter of the law (which, Chazal tell us, was one cause of the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash) but challenging ourselves to reach for fulfillment of our potential.

    Part of that is learning increasingly sophisticated understanding of mitzvos, even chukim. Part of it is attaining ever increasing levels of mitzvah performance. As we strive to come closer to HaShem, we should find that we are no longer tempted by the same yeitzer haras as before. Why anyone should be offended by these notions remains a mystery to me.

    Incidentally, DK, do you play the violin?

  17. DK-one more point-For some BTs, kashrus and tznius (both for men and women) can be tougher to negotiate with one’s family than Shabbos and Yom Tov. First of all, families eat and spend some spare time together (or used to) and by declining to share the treif pizza, chinese food or delicious seafood or a day at the beach or pool club, that can be even more divisive than just going to shul and not watching TV. I wouldn’t doubt the veracity of the story for a minute. Could I ascribe a different rationale than disgust at the smell of the food-that depends on whether one views Maacalos Assuros as good but prohibited ala the Rambam or having negative qualities that affect one’s spiritual levels ala Ramban and other Rishonim. However, the rationale in this case is ultimately irrelevant because R Goldson maintained his level of observance despite maacalos assuros being prepared by his father in his presence.

  18. Rabbi Goldson, you wrote,

    “So far this debate is like trying to nail jelly to the wall. I’ve tried to respond to your points but each time you slip away to a different objection.”

    No. My objection has been the same from the start. You have attempted to avoid discussing it even going so far as to suggest I was calling you a liar when I was not.

    “Are you suggesting that we should all try to cultivate a desire for treif food?”

    No. I am saying it doesn’t matter if we have a desire or don’t have a desire. The mitzvah is to refrain from eating them.

    “Most of the people commenting have found the post inspiring rather than black. What makes it black?”

    Because of your overt attempt to mishpatize the chukim on a personal level, and casting the experience in terms of Before You Were Frum to After the Transformation. There is no need to put it into such Manichean Light and Dark terms, nor restrict it even in Jewish terms. Before you were secular, afterwards you were religious. Before you had no negative connontations towards bacon or it’s smell, afterwards you did. Just like a Muslim or Hindu would have in a similar situation. Not because of the Power of Torah.

    I wrote,

    “Even your story of the Rabbi who would tie his shoelace in a different manner reads better as an undertanding of the process of human nature and the ability and process to change generally and gradually, nothing more.”

    You wrote,

    “Correct. But nothing here contradicts my point.”

    And nothing bolsters it either. So why did you bring it?

    “I’m afraid that I’m not convinced that you have carefully considered my arguments.”

    Maybe I’m just not as smart as you. Help me understand then, as it still makes no sense to me.

    “Where is the conscious decision to rebel against my father that you seem determined to read into the story?”

    Who says it is just about your father? It is about a choice to live a very different lifestyle and a very different value system. Just like the Muslim or Hindu in a similar situation.

    Your story is an “inspiration” to all secular people who became religious and whose religioun requires dietary restrictions. But there is nothing particular to Judaism to be gained from this story. Not even the bacon. You should cross post this story and put it on beliefnet.com, to be read by Muslims and Hindus as well, and take out the part about crediting the experience specifically to the Power of Torah, and make it more ecumenical, as there is no comparative theological advatange to this story anyway.

  19. DK-FYI, many BTs have to deal at some point with the attitudes of their families on issues such as Kashrus, Shabbos and many other issues.Why not assume as pointed out by RYBS that perhaps R Goldson really wanted to eat the tarfus, but surrendured his will to the Divine Will and refused to eat it?

  20. “It is much more preferred in certain circles to avoid universal lessons and truths of human nature from our heritage in favor of limited, particularist ones,”

    Could someone provide any sources to back up the concept of “universal lessons of truth”. I’m not (yet) suggesting that they are necessarily nonexistent but it would provide some credibility if it could be backed up by some…let’s day Divrei Chazal and not just rely on speculation of a “particular” individual.

  21. Bob Miller,

    When we claim that the Torah and Judaism is uniquely special because it can specifically do what other religions in fact can achieve as well, we are in fact, implicitly denying the uniqueness of Judaism.

    For instance — It’s like claiming someone Judaism is the true religion because G-d spoke to Moses, and Moses said he was in touch with G-d. Other religions claim their great prophet spoke to G-d. What would be a much better example is to put forward that all the Jewish people heard G-d speak at Sinai. Isn’t that a better narrative to utilize? No one else has such a narrative.

  22. When I was a kid, my family and I spent Memorial Day weekend by a family in upstate NY who had a Pig farm. There I tasted fresh bacon, and realized that it had NO TASTE. In other words, the taste we associate with Bacon is actually added via the process of smoking and preparing the meat; it is not inherient in the meat itself.
    Furthermore, in many kosher markets you can buy beef strips that cook up and taste just like “bacon”. So if you have been craving that sweet smoky taste, go ahead.

  23. DK:

    So far this debate is like trying to nail jelly to the wall. I’ve tried to respond to your points but each time you slip away to a different objection.

    You wrote:

    I am “emotionally invested” because you are presenting traditional Judaism in the blackest version possible, and that is unfortunate, because here, it is inaccurate.

    Most of the people commenting have found the post inspiring rather than black. What makes it black?

    As for inaccurate, you still haven’t responded to my rebuttal that the story describes a subconcious reaction, not a conscious decision or an attitude. As Ora articulated way back in Comment #5, I wasn’t trying to dislike pork — that was simply my unconscious reaction. And please take a look at my remarks concerning lobster and ham in Comment #10.

    You wrote:

    All the proofs you brought don’t work as well as the one Chaim Grossferstant does.

    Sorry, but it’s the same problem. DECIDING that something should be disgusting is very different from EXPERIENCING genuine disgust. Are you suggesting that we should all try to cultivate a desire for treif food?

    You wrote:

    Even your story of the Rabbi who would tie his shoelace in a different manner reads better as an undertanding of the process of human nature and the ability and process to change generally and gradually, nothing more.

    Correct. But nothing here contradicts my point.

    You wrote:

    It is much more preferred in certain circles to avoid universal lessons and truths of human nature from our heritage in favor of limited, particularist ones, but that is not always what is there. When you attempt to force it, it has weakness.

    Correct again. But any conclusion that precedes the facts brought in evidence is weak. Intellectual integrity demands that we understand the arguments against us before we attempt to refute them. I’m afraid that I’m not convinced that you have carefully considered my arguments.

    You wrote:

    Which is why Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah said something very different. You should think a bit more as to why he said differently than you. Sometimes our ancient sages understood things better than we do.

    Not sometimes. Always. Even when their understanding forces us to reconsider ours.

    I wrote:

    Where is the conscious decision to rebel against my father that you seem determined to read into the story?

    If you can answer that question, perhaps we can take a step forward to reach some meeting of minds.

  24. DK,

    Why not let Rabbi Goldson tell his story the way he did, precisely as he experienced it? As Jews, we ought to accept that Torah has greater and more positive transformative powers than the alternatives—that does not mean that other ideologies can’t cause transformation in some situations on some levels for some people.

  25. Rabbi Yonason Goldson,

    I don’t agree that this situation would have transpired any differently if you had been Muslim in a similar situation. It would be the same. So too with a hindu if Dad was making burgers.

    I am “emotionally invested” because you are presenting traditional Judaism in the blackest version possible, and that is unfortunate, because here, it is inaccurate.

    All the proofs you brought don’t work as well as the one Chaim Grossferstant does.

    Even your story of the Rabbi who would tie his shoelace in a different manner reads better as an undertanding of the process of human nature and the ability and process to change generally and gradually, nothing more.

    It is much more preferred in certain circles to avoid universal lessons and truths of human nature from our heritage in favor of limited, particularist ones, but that is not always what is there. When you attempt to force it, it has weakness.

    Which is why Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah said something very different. You should think a bit more as to why he said differently than you. Sometimes our ancient sages understood things better than we do.

  26. DK:

    I’m not sure why you’re so emotionally invested here.

    You did write, “I don’t buy this story as you portrayed it.” That suggested to me that you don’t accept the facts.

    Leaving that aside, I defend my interpretation for reasons explained in the post. My visceral (sp?) reaction, BEFORE I knew what I was smelling, was the opposite of my reaction to the same odor before I became observant. Where is the conscious decision to rebel against my father that you seem determined to read into the story?

  27. I absolutely believe the story happened. I don’t believe your interpretation of the story in terms of why it happened. Again, let me explain — it isn’t that hard to find the flaw here.

    If a Muslim student had studied the Koran for a year, and had the same experience with his secular father when he returned, he would have done the same thing, and felt similarly.

    Stop pretending an event has mystical attributes, and don’t try to avoid my point by suggesting I was calling you a liar. I was not.

  28. DK:

    First you tell me that you don’t believe the story, then you argue with my interpretation of what it means.

    You can’t have it both ways. You are certainly free not to believe me. But if you accept the events as I have reported them, then I really don’t understand your objection to my analysis.

  29. To me, the point of the bacon story was that, over time, a Torah way of thinking and living can modify one’s everyday perceptions, habits, and reactions. The outside world tries to fool us into believing that these things are hard-wired into us.

  30. Rabbi Yonason Goldson,

    I don’t buy this story as you portrayed it. This was a case of your father challenging you directly. And this was something no child would accept if in your shoes. This had nothing to do specifically with the Power of Torah, which is not to say there is no power, but this story does not illustrate it.

    If you had joined an organic raw foods group, maybe you would have caved in a different scenario, unlike your choice to become an ultra-Orthodox Jew, but you would still not have caved here, and you would have had no craving to do so.

    Do you really not see this?

  31. Jaded:

    One of the sages was once accosted by a woman who accused the Jewish people of “impetuosity” because they had declared Naaseh V’Nishmah — We will do, and we will hear.

    The answer is not difficult. If G-d says, “Here, I want you to have this,” it is hardly “blind faith” to conclude that “if G-d wants me to have this then it must be good for me.”

    Coming to a recognition of G-d may require investigation and understanding, which creates a foundation far more solid than the Christian “leap of faith.” Once rational belief in HaShem is achieved, then I follow His commands because they are HIS COMMANDS, not because they appeal to my sense of logic or morality.

    The final step is to develop an understanding so that mitzvah observance does not devolve into meaningless ritual.

  32. Ora : Dont worry we all make (spelling) mistakes as long as one doesnt make the same mistake twice;-) ……… if u look closely althought i’m not suggesting that you do, one of my comments has components spelled wrong …

  33. Rabbi Goldson , appreciate the bright and erudite insights ….. 3 quick thoughts A) regarding your comment “Every time we conquer our yeitzer hara, we grow stronger and less suseptable to its influence, so it has to grow with us to preserve our free will. If we never conquer the yeitzer hara, we never grow so it doesn’t need to either”.

    Firstly,many times the evil inclination hangs around and remains just the way he is and not changing personalities or levels even after one has conquered him or whatever and not given in to temptations .Sometimes the same temptations can stay with a person all the way through his climbing the spiritual ladder with the very same temptations at the very same levels of potency hanging out with him one rusty rung at a time sometimes till the top of the ladder or many times even being the catalyst between said individual and a whole new shorter step stool for regression purposes…….

    B) Regarding your point that all laws should be first classfied as chukim and then one should learn the reasoning behind them, that is placing way too much emphasis on blind faith ,shouldnt there be a little more logic and reasoning in the initial learning and registering of the laws on the emotional database hard drive or is the no questioning faith the basis of judaism . I guess now would be a good time to take a look at that lengthy essay R hirsch wrote on milk and meat …………
    C) Great post, awesome spiritual story and insights.

  34. I must say I never imagined precipitating such extensive forays into chemistry, biology, and physiology. Is this what’s called “bio-diversity?” :-)


    I must take exception with your comment in #22 that … “there is no inherent immoral behavior associated with pork .A person could associate different behaviors with different sinnings but inherently ,there are no immoral compononents on the pork eating .Second ,some temptations and activities that are forbidden by the [T]orah dont necessarily have a rhyme or a reason for that matter on as to why they are forbidden.”

    Rav Hirsch writes in many places debunking the misconception that a chok is a mitzvah with no reason. Rather, HaShem’s logic transcends human logic, and it is fundamental to “naaseh v’nishmah” that we strive to keep every mitzvah first as a chok — because HaShem commanded us — and second as a mishpat — seeking an understanding that makes the mitzvah meaningful. Just take a look at the lengthy essay Rav Hirsch has in Parshas Mishpatim on mixing meat and milk to get an idea of the inherent morality of even the most seemingly arcane commandment.

    Part of our avodah should be to cultivate within ourselves a sensitivity for the Torah’s standard of morality, especially where it is not what we intuitively believe. To supplant our own notions of right and wrong with those based in Torah may ultimately define our primary avodah, that of transforming ourselves into a closer image of HaShem.

  35. Jaded T: I was hoping that my Israeli status would get me an official “get out of spelling free” card. It’s been a long time since anyone actually tested me on this spelling thing…

  36. Bob – spelling correction on my previous comment to you “peristalsis” …. (at least i wont get advice on spelling 101)

    Ora -Just as an added FYI – when said that “coveted miss holier than thou awards seem to be rampant around here” I was not referring to this blogsite I was referring to the state I live in …….

  37. Bob , appreciate the sentiment and creative writing skills 101 advice but reverse peristalisis used to be one of my favorite words right up there with jaded and disconcerting .Trust me i never feel the need to embellish on stuff it just comes naturally ;) (kidding). Authoritative is one adjective that i dont think has ever been applied to my essence or my writing never enjoyed that concept nor did i ever feel the need to be authoritative.

  38. Ora, A) your spelling is off on the “peristalsis”.B)According to Urban dictionary Reverse Peristalsis is : n. the act of vomitting. (Peristalsis being the sequence of muscular contractions that moves food down the esophagus, the reverse of which would bring food up the esophagus.) Brian drank too much. He’s in the bathroom engaging in reverse peristalsis.C) Since it was just a figuretive puking imagery thing I was trying to convey i guess your definition would also work , though I actually first heard of puking referred to as reverse peristalsis from an actual biology teacher ……………..

    The actual coveted miss holier than thou awards seem to be rampant around here .The contests are ongoing and seem to be stretching into infinity.

    Brain Circuitry can take its cue from the pscyhe, but short circuits can sometimes change the psyche.Perspective shapes reality but what shapes perspective? emotions ? what shapes emotions ? the circuitry systems /chemical balances or imbalances the neural pathways/ Torah learning ….. yeah it does get sort of complicated ,but my point with the programming the brain thing is that sometimes there is nothing negative to register the sin with on the emotional database sinning hard drive and so the psyche would still be under the impression that the sin is just feel good material and registering the sin under g-d would not be very happy if you do this sin is not always enough if there is no actual reasoning .

  39. JT said,
    “it just sounds more grown up to use Reverse Peristalsis”

    This is the basic problem with a lot of things people write. We feel we must pad and embellish basically simple ideas to sound more authoritative. Resist the urge and your message will come through better.

  40. Rabbi-
    V’Amaich Kulam Tsadikim
    Everyone ,with G-d’s help, is climbing mountains and will eventually view their Yetzer Haras’ as mountains and not motes. All I’m saying is that while some climbers can take a direct steep route to the summit others must ascend on a snaky path that zigzags back and forth and seems almost flat while still others stumble and fall back multiple times at nearly every twist and turn while stubbornly refusing to quit climbing.

    Rav Nachman Breslover zy”a said (I paraphrase)”For every madreiga that I was koneh (acquired permanently) I had it and then lost it 1000 times.”

  41. Yaakov A: Thanks, you made me blush :). I’m not in med school, just a regular (or maybe somewhat extra-enthusiastic) bio major.

    Jaded T: You try to out-bio-geek me, but it will never work :). Reverse persitalsis is a phenomena that sometimes occurs before vomiting, but vomiting is its own physiological category. As for brain circuitry, it takes its cue from the psyche. Hence my example of vegetarianism–while there is nothing morally wrong with eating meat, if someone feels that there is, they may nonetheless program their brain to find meat disgusting. In the specific case of pork, I used the word “immoral” to refer to breaking Hashem’s word, not to the pork itself.

    Also, when I tell stories from my own life, I’m not doing so in an effort to establish myself as the norm. These are just my own experiences; I’m not naive enough to think that everyone else goes through life on the same path. I do think it’s safe to say that most people see that at some point during their teshuva process, certain things become easier. Whether it’s Shabbat observance, as per my experience, or the extra spirituality and understanding that you refer to, some growth is happening.

    How does one receive one of these coveted “miss holier than thou” awards? I’ve never heard of it, must be an American thing?

  42. Ora, regarding your bio-insight on the reasoning behind literal and figuretive taste changing , firstly just as an FYA – there is no inherent immoral behavior associated with pork .A person could associate different behaviors with different sinnings but inherently ,there are no immoral compononents on the pork eating .Second ,some temptations and activities that are forbidden by the torah dont necessarily have a rhyme or a reason for that matter on as to why they are forbidden .So there is nothing what can be associating these tempations with when deciding to classify the temptation as repulsive and leading to moral decay and spiritual danger …… in order for the brain circuitry systems to register the acitivity as reverse peristalsis worthy and one that should be avoided at all costs.Some temptations will just be registered permanently as awesome and g-d I cant believe thats not allowed classifications with no sign of moral or spiritual decay in sight .

    On a brighter note regarding your comment: “as we move forward our nisayonot change .What used to be a challenge becomes simple while new challenges arise”

    This concept can be challenged on a thousand different levels.Im real happy that for you computer and phone challenges on shabbas dont exist any longer but for others the temptation to check their blackberry or treo or phone /computer may always exist long after theyve attained coveted miss holier than thou awards.”Used to be challenges” dont always “become simple” .for some they do for some they dont definitely End User Specific .So for many there are no moments to remember as inspiration down the road when things get rockier .for some individuals everything is always difficult even though they have become more spiritual and understanding of the workings of the world and g-d and existence and reason for creation .

    Chaim G ; Peristalsis is: successive waves of involuntary contraction passing along the walls of a hollow muscular structure (as the esophagus or intestine) and forcing the contents onward ,So Reverse Peristalsis would be whats commonly known as puking or throwing up it just sounds more grown up to use Reverse Peristalsis as opposed to just plain puking I guess .

  43. I once heard the following story:

    A student asked his rebbe: What would you do first if every prohibition in the Torah became permitted?

    The rebbe thought for a few moments before answering: I’d tie my right shoelace first.

    (For the uninitiated, according to common practice, the left shoelace is tied first in memory of the mitzvah of tefillin, since Avrohom was rewarded by HaShem for refusing to accept even a “shoe strap” as a gift from the wicked King of S’dom.)

    I believe the point of the story is not that we should aspire to negate our natural inclinations but, as I tried to articulate in my post, that as we grow spiritually we discover that the yeitzer hara has to adjust to tempt us at our new level.

    The Talmud (Sukkah 52?) teaches that every person will be shown his yeitzer hara in the world to come. A tzaddik will see a high mountain and ask, “How did I conquer that?” A rasha will see a speck on the ground and ask, “Why couldn’t I conquer that?”

    Every time we conquer our yeitzer hara, we grow stronger and less suseptable to its influence, so it has to grow with us to preserve our free will. If we never conquer the yeitzer hara, we never grow so it doesn’t need to either.

    I submit that, as I quoted from my rebbe, that our yeitzer hara provides us the surest sign of progress. Truly, some temptations will take us longer to conquer than others, but if we don’t see progress on ANY front then we are probably not exerting ourselves spiritually to the extent that we should be.

  44. Bob-“linear thinkers”
    “random modular speech generator”

    At the risk of further embarrrasing myself I repeat: HUH?

    (Hey it’s on the masthead^Learning^ v’ain Habayshan lomaid)

  45. You, Chaim, must be one of those old-time linear thinkers! Sprint to the nearest electronics store and get the random modular speech generator before they run out.

  46. Ora, thank you for that perspective. My husband and I have been mulling over asking a shaila about eating chalav stam when in his parents’ kosher home. But even though we have made compromises on kashrut with our rav’s guidance in many, many circumstances in consideration of bein adam le’chavero mitzvot, I get kind of nauseated when I think about eating regular old kosher dairy products! I was wondering why that was, since I can’t defend it rationally. Reading what you wrote, I guess that in the process of taking on chalav yisrael several years back, I sort of made the food taboo in my mind. I would eat shrimp in a second if I could, though, LOL.

  47. Ora, I don’t know if being a “bio-geek” means you’re in Medical School, but your psychological insights make me think you are worthy of becoming a psychiatrist… or a rebbetzin. ;-)

  48. A bio-geek insight (before I have to head off to bio class): Dramatic taste changes are actually quite normal, and not “miraculous” (well, no more than anything else in life). In the animal kingdom, if animals eat a certain food and then get sick, they will avoid that food, whether or not it had to do with the sickness. This same phenomena of avoiding certain foods based on perceived physical danger, occurs in humans on the mental/spiritual level as well, and we learn to avoid foods that we associate with immorality/uncleanliness. So, for example, most Americans are disgusted at the thought of eating bugs, which may actually be quite tasty, and many vegetarians find themselves disgusted by the smell of meat, even though they once found it delicious. Once their brain associates meat with moral badness/danger, their bodies begin to react to it with revulsion. So when Rav Goldson learned to associate pork with immoral behavior, he found it repulsive.

    Chaim: There’s a difference between remembering surf and turf as tasty, and being willing to give up your whole commitment to Torah for it. The dad in this story seemed to be hoping that his son would say “Wow, I forgot how tasty bacon is. You know what? Forget yeshiva. What kind of silly religion prohibits bacon?” A BT, or anyone for that matter, can be tempted into aveirot even if their commitment to Torah is genuine, but they will be very unlikely to give up their entire belief system for a piece of meat.

    As we move forward, our nisayonot change. What used to be a challenge becomes simple, while new challenges arise. Years ago, keeping my computer and cell phone off for all of Shabbat was practically physically painful; today I don’t think twice about it. To me, that’s what this story is about. Sometimes you have these moments where you realize how far you’ve come, such as realizing that bacon/frat parties/ shabbat computers are not even a test anymore. If we remember those moments, they can be an inspiration down the road, when we hit the inevitable downswings in life. After all, there was a time when I thought that basic Shabbat observance would always be difficult, and I was underestimating myself. Perhaps I’m underestimating myself in my current struggles as well.

  49. I think it is amazing how our spirit can wipe out the so-called physical temptations when we are really focused. Very inspiring post.

  50. The concept of physical and material impulses adapting to us on our new level as we become more spiritually refined is a great concept in theory, but a little difficult to comprehend.The Torah has the power to transform and change who we are ,but this does not mean that by default that our temptations and what we are attracted to change also. Being holy and spiritual and ultra religious for a year or long period of time albeit being the objective , does not actually guarantee or even sort of promise that whiffs of bacon /bar hopping /bed hopping will suddenly become alien concepts and reverse peristalsis facilitators .Even though one may no longer be the same kind of person he or she once was the temptations dont necessarily or usually dont dissapear into thin air or evolve into holier or next level temptations. And actual temptations are not necessarily an indicator of the level of spirituality or observance.Its a more of a end user specific kind of thing .Sometimes a really holy person can have a way greater desire for something forbidden than say a less than holy person .

  51. Ora re:”“they can apply the words and wisdom of Chazal. Maybe something like “I want to listen to this lashon hara, but what can I do..?”

    IMO the reason people have a greater craving for lashon hara, is b/c it is the ultimate high stakes sin. The #1 impediment to the coming of Moshiach is lashon hara. (See almost the entire body of the Chofetz Chaim’s Torah output). As such the Yetzer Hara works time and a half to keep us longing for of this sin and is, sadly, quite successful. (a self-fulfilling comment if I ever wrote one!). Increased difficulty of observance and regularity of failure to observe has led to increased community acceptance of a nasty aviera. However, just because more people find lashon hara more challenging than pork doesn’t mean that the frum community as a whole should put down and belittle those who are still battling their tailor –made battles.

    I once heard a taped shiur by Rav Y. B. Solovetchik z”l where he made the following distinction about the Chazal I previously quoted: It only applies to Chukim, (Mitzvahs a human lawmaker would never have legislated) not to mishpatim (mitzvahs with a more immediately recognizable rationale). If someone says “I would love to murder, steal and abuse my parents but what can I do… the Torah forbids it” what you have on your hands is a sociopath not someone engaging in the normal human battle against their evil inclinations.

    Rav Solovetchik’s insight then begs the question: Which category of Mitzvahs does lashon hara fall under? I tend to think that, as is the case with the lion’s share of interpersonal mitzvahs, it is obviously rational not to gossip or slander. Most legal systems criminalize libel and slander (even if it is with many different details than our own lashon hara code) but very few criminalize particular diets. The upshot being that IMO I don’t think lashon hara is what Chazal are referring to. (Although I agree that it is not limited to pork consumption or the wearing of Shatnez the other example cited by Rashi).

  52. Ora:

    Thanks for saving me the time to rebut. You said what I would have (and you probably said it better).

    As for temptation, if ham and cheese sandwiches become kosher tomorrow, I don’t think I’d hesitate for a moment to indulge. My wife still makes an occasionally wistful comment about Maine lobster. And there are a few movies from my pre-frum days I’d like to see again but won’t because of their content.

    Newcomer: I envy you back. With the paucity of kosher restaurants here in St. Louis, people spend a lot of time TALKING about food. Well, my wife’s cooking is better than most restaurants, anyway.

  53. I’m jealous that I didn’t have the common sense like you to go home and smell the bacon. I stayed two years straight in Israel without getting a reality check. I remember others who stayed two years; however, they made frequent trips home and they always seemed to be more with it.

    I deluded myself that the only proper way is to act like Rabbi Akiva and stay away from home as long as you can. When speakers lecture about Rabbi Akiva or anyone else they should make sure how to apply it.

  54. Re: FFBs who don’t know what they’re missing…

    I introduced my FFB wife and her family (all FFB) to Bacos on salad. At first they were very leary, but gave it a try (after triple checking the OU heshcher and ingredients). Then they started asking me if that is what bacon tastes like. I stopped eating pork over 10 years ago, but I don’t remember it tasting quite like bacos. Of course then they wanted to know how bacon does taste. How do you describe a taste? Especially after so long.

    But I understand Rabbi Goldson’s view. When I gave up pork (didn’t go totally kosher, just gave up pork) my dad gave me a bit of a hard time, and enjoyed cooking up bbq baby back ribs, something my family used to eat often. I was so glad when my wife (then girlfriend) took me to Dougies in NYC. BBQ Beef ribs!! Yum!

  55. Ora-

    I found it harsh because of the generalization “anyone”. And while what you say “no one really expects people in the frum community to have a big craving for pork.” IMO a) No one’s taken a poll and b) even if you are correct(I acknowledge you probably are) that’s b/c the community is still primarily comprised of FFBs who don’t know what they’re missing. If you polled BTs exclusively who knows? Replace the word’s “surf and turf” in the poll question for the words “pork and bacon” and the uncertainty of how the poll would turn out rises.

  56. I think it’s a great post and I love the strength and commitment it shows, but I also understand where Chaim was coming from – because that part of the post puzzled me too…

    When you enjoy the taste and smell of something, you enjoy it. And to quote the movie Pulp Fiction, “Bacon is goooood.” ;) I have a hard time embracing the writer’s complete turnaround, suddenly finding an intoxicating smell has miraculously become a disgusting one, as somehing everyone should attain, or even strive for. Not that I don’t believe it’s possible. But I think a more true-to-life (or at least more likely) example would be smelling it, and realizing that even though you loved it and remember it fondly (whatever the “it” is – bacon or sundresses or Saturday Little League… every BT has their own list) you know that you don’t need it in your life to be happy and fulfilled. Or that it’s worth giving up for what you get in exchange.

    Sometimes trading your old life in for a Torah life is a really hard road. And there’s nothing wrong with missing things, especially at first. Especially things you really loved. It’s human. If anything, remembering what you miss and still being able to commit to the lifestyle you’ve chosen is a constant renewal of faith. A total 100% flip-flop in tastes and personality could be an amazing commitment to Torah – or it could be a sign of losing yourself in the idea of frumkeit, without remembering who you are underneath. And that can lead to burnout.

    Meanwhile, if there are things you miss and there are ways to not give them up and still stay true to halacha, then everyone wins – not always possible, but sometimes Hashem leaves loopholes… (For example, if you roast a duck just right, the crispy part of the skin tastes almost – not quite but almost – exactly like you-know-what…) ;)

  57. Chaim: I think that Chazal are referring to a general attitude towards aveirot/the yetzer hara. So while they mention pork specifically, noone really expects people in the frum community to have a big craving for pork. They face different challenges, to which they can apply the words and wisdom of Chazal. Maybe something like “I want to listen to this lashon hara, but what can I do..?”

    In either case, he wasn’t trying to be disgusted by pork, he just is.

    Do you really think that what he said was so harsh? He didn’t say that being tempted would have been failure, but for someone to commit to a Torah lifestyle for an entire year and then actually eat pork would have been pretty unusual. The situation would be different if he were talking about someone who just a couple of weeks ago resolved to eat kosher. In that case, giving in and eating some tasty bacon would be understandable. But someone who’s spent a year keeping kosher is hopefully past that.

  58. “Rebee Elazar ben Azaryah Omer: al yomar odom ‘nafshi kotse mib’sar chazir’… yomar ‘efshee! umah e’eseh V’ovee shebashomayim gozar olay’”

    “Rabbi Elazar son of Azaryah taught: A person ought not to say ‘I am disgusted by pork’ rather they should say ‘I do desire (pork) yet what can I do since my Father in heaven has decreed upon me (that I not ingest it)’ –Rashi to Vayikra 20:26 from the Sifra.

    How does this post square with the above quoted Chazal?

    Also, while I agree with the general tone of the post calling upon BTs to “think big” in spiritual growth matters I think that saying “Anyone who exchanges a year’s commitment to Torah for a whiff of bacon was never really committed to begin with” is extremely harsh and judgmental. If the author was already transformed to the point that he was no longer tempted… more power to him. But I hardly think that another person being tempted or even, G-d forbid, giving in to the test “proves” a lack of commitment. Are we ready to put forward that the fact that we sin during the year “proves” that our regret and resolution the previous Yom Kippur was therefore insincere and lacked true commitment? Does this mean that G-d, with his omniscient foreknowledge, automatically rejects our T’shuva every Yom Kippur?

  59. “Dad, watching me devour the steak, remarked: ‘Leave him alone, he’s doing a lot better than I am!’ ”

    Classic BT story!

  60. Fantastic post, Rabbi Goldson.

    “as ba’alei tshuva, we sell ourselves short, waxing nostalgic over the days when we were “free” to do as we pleased”

    In truth, not acting within any prescribed boundries doesn’t make on “free”. It took me a long time to swallow that pill. True freedom, as you indicated, is our ability to choose.

    My brother-in-law (not-yet-observant) always comments on how my wife and I have so much conviction when it comes to things like Kashrus. People notice when we are being constistant with our Judaism.

  61. A wonderfully written post! I hope your father has a more positive attitude.

    I’ll share a tidbit from my first trip back. My parents took me to LA for kosher shopping, and with a brand new toaster oven I was in business (after tovelling the racks and some utensils in the Pacific Ocean).

    One suppertime, I broiled a nice steak and a baked a potato in the toaster oven. As we sat down to eat, my parents with their Weight Watchers’ miniscule portions and salad, and me with the steak and potatoes, Mom started to comment how I’d have to learn to be more flexible and compromise, etc. How could I expect to be so kosher all the time?

    Dad, watching me devour the steak, remarked: “Leave him alone, he’s doing a lot better than I am!”

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