A Rapper and a 19th-Century Jewish Text | Kitzur Shulchan Aruch Notes

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Siman/Chapter 3: Differentiating Yourself & Contentment

One of the struggles of this series is finding something in the text of Kitzur Shulchan Aruch that can apply to anyone — Jew and non-Jew alike. Chapter 3 holds one of those more difficult topics, but I believe that anyone can profit from it. 

So, what on earth am I talking about? This chapter discusses not dressing as they do. Who are they? Well, to put it bluntly…well…non-Jews. 

“We are not permitted to follow the ways of the gentiles, nor adopt their styles in dress or in hair style or similar things, as it is said: ‘You shall not follow the ways of the gentile.’”

Before my non-Jewish readers are quick to turn the page and feel “well, this obviously isn’t for me,” I do feel there is something that everyone can apply. 

  • “…our heritage demands of us to be modest and humble, and not be influenced by the haughty.”
  • “You should not dress in extravagant clothing because such a practice brings a person to haughtiness…”

We live in a world where the red carpet has found its way to our magazines, television, and even the devices in our pockets. It’s easy to be caught up in the world of luxury, glamour, and expensive taste. While an escape to this world is fine and dandy for an occasional “wouldn’t that life be grand?” daydream, the rate at which we are inundated with the exterior symbols of success is unparalleled…and for many, crippling. 

These exterior indicators of success can make us feel like inferior second or third class members of society. However, we need to recall one detail about those donning these “haughty” displays: many of them are completely miserable. 

We imagine these successful individuals to have their lives completely together. Donned in the finest clothing, equipped with a fleet of luxury cars, living it up in mansions or even yachts in exotic locations, many of these are also those we later read about in the news checking into rehabilitation facilities for depression, drug abuse, or that we even younger celebrities in the obituary pages. It turns out that these outward images of wealth and success are often but a mirage. 

One such case was the late rapper, Mac Miller. Almost overnight success gave this 20-something musician a net worth in the millions of dollars. What it couldn’t give him was inner peace. 

In the lyrics to his song “Small World”, Miller rapped,
“You never told me being rich was so lonely.
Nobody know me.
Oh well.
Hard to complain from this five-star hotel.”

On September 7, 2018, Miller was found unresponsive in his home by his assistant, who tried to perform CRP. Paramedics pronounced Miller dead at the scene. The cause of death was ruled an accidental overdose — a combination of fentanyl, alcohol, and cocaine. He was buried in his home city of Pittsburgh in a Jewish funeral.

Many idolized Miller for his talent and fame. Meanwhile, he was crying out for help in his own lyrics. 

What the text is telling us is to not forget who we are on the inside. While the rest of the world tries to sell you an image of success, the text tells us,
“…rather you should be distinct, in your clothing and speech and all other endeavors just as you are distinct in your perspectives and concepts.”

Anytime you start to feel inferior to those adorned in fancy clothing or living an extravagantly wealthy lifestyle, remember that these are not indicators of inner peace. The simple pleasures of life — community, family, passion, contentment — are worth more than all of the world’s riches. 

“Who is rich? He who rejoices in his lot.”
– Ben Zoma, Pirkei Avot 4:1

“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”
Jim Carrey

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