Art connoisseurs the world over are never too far from a venue that fills them with wonder and awe. Europeans have the Tate, the Louvre, Prado, and the vaunted Uffizi Gallery. Americans have the Met, the J. Paul Getty Center, the National Gallery of Art, and the Guggenheim. Then there are the hundreds of smaller museums, galleries, exhibitions, and fairs at which the art lover can spend hours in rapture, drinking from the vast springs of artistic creativity that flow across the planet.
But there is a small subset of art connoisseurs, presumably created by an irregular twisting of chromosomes and alleles, whose love of art is inextricably connected to their love of fast food. These art enthusiasts will never be seen walking the halls of a museum, a dazed look of amazement on their faces. To them, the names Dali, Van Gogh, Degas, Rubens, and Botticelli mean nothing. No, these aficionado’s love of art is limited to large prints found hanging in McDonalds, Burger Kings, Wendy’s, Subways, and their friends.
Who needs the quiet halls of MOMA when McDonalds goes out of their way to provide you with more than enough artistic fulfillment alongside that BigMac, fries and shake? Did you see that poster of the pineapple outside/watermelon inside fruit? Pure Genius! Why waste time waiting on long lines just to see the mysterious smile of the Mona Lisa when Wendys has a Penzoil poster with Dale Earnhart Jr smiling angelically just next to your booth? To this group, there is no greater complement to artistic beauty than some chemical cheese sauce and a large diet Coke.
Every form of art has its patrons and every form has its villains. High art can look to the Medicis of Florence, the Guggenheims of New York and dozens of other families who ensured that art was expressed lavishly even in times of austerity. But they also can’t forget the thieves, scammers, and counterfeiters motivated by the extraordinary high value of paintings. From Vincenzo Peruggia’s abduction of the Mona Lisa in 1911, to Shuinichi Fujikuma the Japanese gangster who in 1985 “acquired” the painting that gave rise to Impressionism, Monet’s “Impression, Soleil Levant.” Still missing today are some of art’s greatest masterpieces, such as Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Cezanne’s The Boy in the Red Vest, and Vermeer’s The Concert.
The world of fast-food art also has its patrons. Chipotle, Steak n’ Shake, IHOP, and KFC are just some of the patrons that keep the printing presses running, spitting our masterpieces every few seconds. And don’t forget about the villains! It ain’t easy to protect art in fast food galleries anymore. Parents have been caught stealing Cars 3 posters, kids steal the Captain Jack Sparrow bobble-heads, and no amount of security seems enough to protect those life size Justin Bieber cutouts!
But undoubtedly some of the most notorious villains of the fast-food art underworld have to be Connie Sumlin, 45, and Gail Johnson, 58 of Erwin, TN. These two cold criminal masterminds had been staking out the art at a local Arby’s for months. Connie was eyeing the framed picture of pears, which happened to perfectly match the 70’s Shagalicious carpet in her mobile home. Gail, more of the avant garde art aficionado was drawn to the metal wall art, a piece so abstract that even the detailed police reports couldn’t describe it with more specificity.
After months of careful planning, they chose September 14, 2011 as the date for the heist. Everything went exactly as planned. Gail went to the counter and ordered a ham and cheddar special with the apple turnover and medium coke. She kept asking for more cheese, extra pickles and more cheese to distract the employees, while Connie lifted the two masterpieces and put them into her van. They then drove off together, and shared the cheddar and ham, which had way too much cheese on it!
Arby’s immediately noticed the missing art, and pulled the security tapes. They could clearly see the thieves’ faces on the tape, but who were these mysterious and audacious bandits? Luckily, they paid with a credit card, and within a half hour a squad car pulled up at Connie’s house, arrested the two masterminds, and impounded the stolen art.
Connie and Gail are now facing theft charges, and both of them may end up spending many moons in a Tennessee correctional facility. The saddest thing about this true story is that I just saw a framed photograph of pears in Marshalls. It had red clearance sticker, and it was selling for $11.00.
The Talmud (Tractate Succah, 52A) describes a scene in the Messianic Era. The evil inclination will be slaughtered and everyone will stand around and cry. The righteous will cry tears of joy and ask themselves “How were we able to conquer such a great mountain?” The wicked will cry tears of sadness and they will say to themselves, “How did we not overcome this strand of hair?” The obvious question is: What is the evil inclination a big mountain or a strand of hair?
Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, OBM, also known as the Bais Halevi for his magnum opus commentary on the Torah explains as follows. All physical pleasures are set up such as that they appear in our minds to be much greater than they are in retrospect after we have indulged in them. A person can crave a particular food for a week and as long as they don’t get it, the desire for it gets bigger and bigger. But two hours after they finish it, they can’t believe how much they wanted it. Sure it was good, but not nearly at the level that they fantasized about, and two hours later they have nothing from it.
People will work themselves to the bone to be able to have the money to buy a particular car, handbag, house, vacation, etc. In the process they may ignore their family members, health, and friends. And two months after they get it, the pleasure is almost gone and they are searching for the next pleasure.
The great people are those who ignore the temptations and instead focus on building family, community, and spirituality. In order to challenge them, the temptations need to get stronger and bigger, and yet they keep ignoring them. They look back and say how did we conquer such a mountain. Yet for those who constantly indulged their basest desires, and tried to fulfill every physical whim, they can look back at a life of opportunities missed and say, “What? We gave up on our life, our family, our health for a corner office? For a trip to Tahiti? A BMW? We lost a friend just to speak a few words of gossip?” How did we not conquer that little strand of hair?
Connie and Gail, may be asking themselves that question right now, as they fold sheets in the prison laundry, or stamp out license plates on the prison work floor. What? We gave up our freedom just for an $11 picture of pears? We can’t see our children because of a piece of metal wall art? How did we not conquer that little strand of hair?
But we who still have our freedoms, when we find ourselves facing a mountain, a strong need for some physical experience, we can ask ourselves, “what will this mountain look like from the other side? Will it be a mountain or a molehill?” Is it worth expending great effort for it? Or perhaps I would be better off investing in something a bit more eternal? Perhaps I should bring out my inner artist and create a masterpiece?
Parsha Dvar Torah
In this week’s Parsha we are introduced to the first shadchan (matchmaker). Avraham sends out his trusted aide, Eliezer, to find a shidduch for his son Yitzchak. Understandably, this woman would need to be quite a remarkable individual if she were to marry one of the three patriarchs! Eliezer, recognizing that his task was immense, asks G-d to help him in finding the proper girl. He even devises a challenge that he asks G-d to use as the litmus test to determine the future matriarch of the Jewish nation.
According to his plan, Eliezer would ask a number of girls for a drink as they drew water from the well for their families. The one that would say, “not only will I give you a drink, but I will also water your camels,” would be the one to prove herself worthy of marrying into the house of kindness established by Avraham, and continued by his son, Yitzchak. Let’s see what happened…
He had not yet finished speaking and, behold, Rivkah came out… Her pitcher was on her shoulder… She went down to the well, filled her pitcher, and came up. The servant ran toward her and said, “Please let me sip a little water from your pitcher.” She said, “Drink, my master,” and she quickly lowered her pitcher to her hand, and let him drink. When she had finished giving him to drink, she said, “I will also draw water for your camels, until they will have finished drinking.”
She quickly emptied her pitcher into the trough and she ran to the well again to draw water. And she drew water for all his camels. The man, wondering at her, remained silent, waiting to determine whether Ad-noy had made his mission successful, or not. When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold nose ring weighing half a shekel and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekel. (Gen. 24: 15-22)
There seems to be one big question on this passage. Eliezer devises a test and he barely finishes making this request of G-d, when along comes a girl who seems to fit the bill perfectly. She not only gives him water (when many girls would have told him to, “Get some water yourself!”) but she even offers to water his thirsty camels which, after arriving from a long trip, could drink hundreds of quarts of water.
But even after all that, Eliezer stood there “wondering at her, remained silent, waiting to determine whether Ad-noy had made his mission successful, or not” and only after the camels finished drinking does he give her gifts, sure that she is the proper one for his master’s son. What was he waiting for? This sounds more like the classic young Jewish doctor (who only became a doctor because his mother always told him he would be a doctor) who is having commitment problems after dating a wonderful girl for too long! What is the waiting all about?
Today there is a new phenomenon called pet obesity. As a matter of fact, a recent report from the National Academy of Science shows that one in four pets is overweight or obese. This is a result of pet owners who are either too lazy to walk their pets, or pet owners who “spoil” their pets with too much food. Animals, unlike humans, have a very strong inner discipline, and there are no obese animals in the wild. However, once they are put in the homes of “caring and loving” people they suddenly become obese. What this really means is that the owners don’t love the pet, they love themselves and they feel good when they put out another dish of pet food for their “best friend,” and another and another. It may make them feel good, but it sure don’t make their “best friend” too healthy.
This doesn’t stop with pets. Today over 15.3% of children are clinically obese, up from 7% in the late seventies. These kids aren’t getting obese on their own, many times it is the fault of parents who are just too “kind and loving” to hold their child back from a sweet or a third helping of lasagna. This kind of unchecked kindness is actually not kindness, it is cruelty.
When Eliezer saw a girl who was so willing to help that she offered to water his camels, he was concerned that this girl may feel a need to “do good” in order to feel good, even where it is uncalled for. So he waited until the camels finished. Would she try to keep watering them to feed that “do-good” feeling inside her, or would she understand that the camels were full and stop, knowing that any more water would harm them?
This is what Eliezer was waiting to see. Was this girl’s kindness the genuine kind of kindness that would fit perfectly into his master’s house, or was it the self-serving kindness that often turns into cruelty, which needs to be kept far away from a patriarch of the Jewish people? As soon as he saw that when the camels were finished drinking she stopped, he immediately began to give her gifts of jewelry, knowing that she was the proper shidduch!
This is an important lesson for us. Sometimes we need to examine even our acts of kindness and ensure that they are achieving the right ends. Are we sure that the mourner wants us to stay right now and ask more questions about the deceased? Are we sure that the sick person we have come to visit doesn’t really need some more sleep right now? Are we sure that we should continue to be “kind” and let our neighbor continue invade our privacy and ask too much of us? Are we being kind when we volunteer until 8PM at the soup kitchen, while we leave our kids at home with a babysitter? What kind of kindness do we have – disciplined kindness that empowers us and the people around us, or chaotic kindness, that gives too much in the wrong places, and sometimes not at all in the right places? Let us learn from our blessed matriarch Rivka, and give in the right places, and stop giving when the giving becomes taking!!
This week’s Parsha begins with the passing of the first of the matriarchs, Sara. The Torah tells us about the difficulty that Avraham underwent trying to buy the proper burial place for his family from a person that would make used car salesmen look like saints. The place was called Me’arat Hamachpela, the Doubled Cave as it had two levels, and in it were buried a number of couples. At the time of Sara’s death only Adam and Eve were buried there, but now Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivka, and Jacob and Leah, have joined them. You can still visit this holy site in Israel today, although Arabs control Hebron where the Me’arat Hamachpela is located and you need a military escort.
Efron the Chiti pretends to want to give the field to Avraham for free, knowing that Avraham won’t take it. This prevents Avraham from bargaining when Efron says, “So let’s just get the deal over with. Here, just give me $40,000,000 which is nothing between friends, and you can go bury your deceased.” (The number wasn’t in USD; I’m using a little writer’s license.) Parenthetically, this was another challenge Avraham had to face, paying an exorbitant price for his wife’s burial place, when G-d had promised him the entire land! But Avraham, pays the money without complaint (even while he was paying the sneaky Efron kept slipping away the money, so in reality Avraham ended up paying more than the agreed 400 coins).
After burying Sara, Avraham immediately starts to work on finding a mate for his son. With the Akeida fresh in his mind, Avraham feels the urgency of continuing the line of his progeny and dispatches Eleizer, the person he trusts most, to find a wife for his son. Avraham makes Eliezer swear before he leaves that he will make every attempt to find a wife from Avraham’s family and not from the Canaanites living in the land.
Eliezer devises the test discussed in the Dvar Torah above, and finds Rivkah, a daughter of Besuel, granddaughter of Avraham’s brother Haran. When Eliezer goes to meet the parents he tells over the whole story of how he got there, and the miracle of finding Rivka immediately after devising the test. Besuel and Lavan, Rivka’s brother, try to kill Eliezer so that they could steal the great wealth that Eliezer had brought with him to give to the prospective bride. They put poison in Eliezer’s food but an angel miraculously switches the dishes, and Besuel ends up dead instead. Lavan and his mother try to convince Rivka to stay, but she declares that she wants to go with Eliezer to her future husband, Yitzchak.
Rivka catches sight of her husband for the first time as he is returning from praying in the field, and she is overwhelmed by his greatness. They soon marry and, as the Torah tells us, “Yitzchok brought her into the tent of his mother, Sarah. He married Rivkah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. Yitzchok was then consoled for the loss of his mother.” (Gen. 24:67) This shows us that the Torah’s view of love is something that comes after marriage, after one makes the ultimate commitment to a partner, not the infatuation people often feel and describe as “love at first sight” or “falling head over heels in love!”
The Torah then mentions some of the genealogy of Avraham, and Yishmael. It also describes the death of Avraham at the ripe old age of 175. He was buried with his wife in the Me’arat Hamachpela. The Torah concludes the Parsha with a description of Yishmael’s genealogy, indicating that Avraham treated him as a true son, despite the fact that he had a child from his primary wife, Sara.
That’s all Folks!