Posted by: R Jonathan Gewirtz | May 16, 2018

Kiddush on Sour Grapes

sour-grapesI generally don’t write halacha in my columns, and this one will be no different.  Despite the title of this article, I’m not going into the topic of what is suitable for making Kiddush on Friday night.  True, wine that smells bad is not fit for Kiddush use, but that’s not what I mean here.

Many of us have heard of Aesop, the Greek slave who may or may not have really existed, but to whom hundreds of fables are attributed.  These stories have a lesson in them and even if you’ve never heard of Aesop or his fables, you’ve likely heard the phrase, “The moral of the story,” which is common in their English presentation.

I’ve long felt that there must be some reason why he warranted such fame, that thousands of years from his death (or supposed life,) people would still quote his name and his lessons.  To me, it seemed pretty simple that many of them contain Torah or hashkafic concepts that work.  One of his most famous ones, for example, has as its main characters an ant and a grasshopper, which definitely has Jewish connotations vis–à–vis the meraglim.  But that’s not for now.

One of Aesop’s stories is about a fox who wanted to get some grapes. This short version was originally written in Latin: “Driven by hunger, a fox tried to reach some grapes hanging high on the vine but was unable to, although he leaped with all his strength. As he went away, the fox remarked ‘Oh, you aren’t even ripe yet! I don’t need any sour grapes.’ People who speak disparagingly of things that they cannot attain would do well to apply this story to themselves.”

The point made is that when people are jealous of something and frustrated in their attempts to get it, they will disdain the item and speak ill of it.  One psychological approach is that this is trying to reduce the strain of cognitive dissonance, holding two opposing views, that of wanting something and not being able to have it.  By saying the grapes were sour, the fox was lessening his desire for them, thus easing the contradiction.

Most people view this as a negative trait.  The fox was upset he couldn’t have his way so he trash-talked the object of his desire.  Most folks would say he should have risen above his pettiness and been able to say, “It’s not meant to be and I’m ok with it.”

Now, we often tell my kids, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset,” and that HaShem makes sure you get what you are supposed to and nobody can take it away from you.  [If you disagree with my last premise, please take your argument to R’ Bachya ibn Pakuda who wrote the Chovos HaLevavos.  I got it from him.]  It’s a great level to be at, but one that is hard to achieve.

When I look at the fox and the sour grapes, I don’t recommend bad-mouthing the items or persons who are causing you frustration but I do suggest that the approach isn’t all bad.

The last of the Ten Commandments is not to covet, meaning to desire or yearn for, the possessions of another.   Some say that you can’t control the jealousy and the prohibition is to do things to try and get the item for yourself.  Since feelings are natural, you can’t be commanded to simply “feel” differently.

I’d like to suggest that there are things we can do to control our feelings.  Did you know that when you smile you are activating pressure points that relieve tension and anger?  Simply putting a smile on your face, even if you don’t feel like it, can start you off on feeling better.

The fox story gives another method.  If you don’t have something, it’s because HaShem doesn’t want you to have it.  It isn’t right for you.  The jealousy you feel is ridiculous because if it was good for you, you would have it.  If you don’t, it must not be.

By recognizing that for you this item is sour, or unfit, you will lessen your desire for it.  I’ve looked with envy at some fancy, expensive sports cars, then laughingly realized I’d never fit in them.  Presto! I no longer coveted them!

When you see something (or someone) that you wish was yours, remind yourself it’s like a pair of shoes two sizes too small for you that may look nice but would pinch and cause you pain.

For me, the moral of the story is: When something is out of your reach, but you think it will make you happier, the smart thing to do is remind yourself that it’s out of your reach for a reason, then praise HaShem (that’s the Kiddush) and be happy you’ve been spared the suffering.


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