Posted by: R Jonathan Gewirtz | July 12, 2018

Gee, That’s Too Bad

Walking into a truck stop on Route 80 in our youth, my friend Yosef and I were keenly aware of a song playing loudly on the radio or speaker system.  With high-torque riffs and a grinding melody, the singer belted out the unforgettable words… “I’m b-b-b-b-b-b-bad — bad to the bone.”


We joked about it and imitated it when back on the road, and from time to time, it would come up in conversation with a shake of the head and a deprecating smile indicating our feeling towards the ridiculous lyrics.

Over the years, the song gained in popularity and was used in many different media outlets to announce the arrival of a “bad guy” in the story.  However, it isn’t usually a completely negative connotation.  Instead, it comes across rather proud and powerful, making the villain seem cool and with it.

I noticed that I never heard a song that went, “I’m g-g-g-g-g-good – good to the core.”  It would seem that being good isn’t so exciting and isn’t something that people want to announce.

We have expressions such as “bad-boy good looks.”  What is that?  Do the black eye or missing teeth make him more attractive?  Not at all.  What they usually mean is this is a guy who doesn’t care what people think about him, who will wear his hair messy, his clothes unkempt, and is arrogant enough to “know” he looks good that way.  There’s something appealing about that brazen sassiness, something that people find attractive.

Again, we have no phrase for the person who wears neat, appropriate clothing, who is careful to conform and speak pleasantly.  We might call him a nerd, or a nebbish, or a goody-two-shoes, but those are not complimentary terms.

Why is it that when someone dresses like he shouldn’t, we’re ok with it, but when he dresses properly, we wryly suggest his mother dressed him that way?

How about the way he speaks?  Usually the one who is chutzpadik is viewed as the chacham, even if the phrase wise guy isn’t entirely flattering. (Though it is considered high praise in certain Sicilian social circles I’m told.)  The fellow who is polite and speaks softly and considerately is once again viewed as having somewhat diminished mental capacity, and definitely no social standing.  It’s an embarrassment to be seen with him.  What’s going on; why is it this way?

It’s pretty simple actually.  When we see someone who is rebellious yet prosperous, wild but self-assured, nasty but popular, we begin to think that we can behave that way and get away with it.  In other words, it’s just another trick of the Yetzer Hara who makes people see things upside down.

He wants us to view mitzvos as something old-fashioned, nerdy, or to be embarrassed about.  He wants us to feel we can do what we want, when we want, with no qualms and no repercussions.  It’s not a new concept, just updated packaging.

If we were to stop a moment and realize that this tough guy can’t fit in with society, and his manners rival those of a lower life form, we might stop idolizing him.  Sure, the motorcycle and sneer are exciting, but would you want to be married to that?  What will happen when he’s sixty and still acting like a seventeen-year old?  What will he contribute to the world and how will others feel about themselves after an encounter with him?  What trouble will he get into and what price will he have to pay?

We romanticize characters like Robin Hood who stole from the rich and gave to the poor (any resemblance to politicians living or dead is purely coincidental) but in plain truth, he was just a thief!  You can’t steal and then give tzedaka with that money.  It’s called a mitzvah ha’ba b’aveira, a good deed that comes through a sin, and it’s not a mitzvah anymore.  By Jewish standards, in fact, Robin Hood, or people like him, cause G-d more work by making Him put things back where they belong.

The world around us pushes pirates, gangsters, punks, and tough guys as models for us to emulate.  There is a glitz and glamour to it; it is shiny and has bling.

But that is just misdirection on the part of our Evil Inclination, who is trying his hardest to keep us from being good, wholesome, righteous people.  We don’t often see people treating tzaddikim or those who serve HaShem as role models.  And that’s a pity.

If we were in the right frame of mind, THESE are the people we would be emulating.  Now, I’m not advocating a “Steipler” T-shirt or “R’ Ovadya Yosef” designer sunglasses, but I must admit that when I get a call from R’ Moshe Meir Weiss or R’ Paysach Krohn I feel like I’m talking to a rockstar.  Here are people who are out there doing what HaShem wants, trying to teach and inspire people; how can that not be the coolest thing on earth?

When you see a person stand there in silence, maintaining equilibrium and even a sense of pity, while someone verbally abuses him with rancor, can there be a tougher, stronger, wiser guy than that?

I hope that I’ve been able to change your outlook just a bit, and that now when you see these stereotypical characters being showered with praise you’ll recognize it for the falsehood that it is.  If not?  Well, I guess that’s just too b-b-b-b-bad.


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