Susan Boyle

Reports have it that she did it again, turning in another magnificent performance on Britain’s Got Talent. Boyle is the kind of frumpy looking 47 year old with unkempt hair who elicited snickers from the audience when she first appeared on the talent show a few weeks ago, and then left the viewing world stunned. She became an icon overnight – a symbol of the overlooked and ignored, of those who have the talent to make it to the top, even while defying pop-culture’s expectations of youth and physical beauty.

A frequently repeated motif of the coverage she received is that she was deprived of years of her life because she devoted them to the care of her aged mother. She was underemployed, and sang only at the church she regularly attended. It was only after her mother’s death that she thought of publicly competing, something she had tried decades earlier without much success. Devoting her life to her mother made her pitiable; people were delighted that at times, the loser can turn things around.

In our circles, of course, we’ve heard the story before. Had Dama ben Nesina (Kiddushin 31A) lived today, he would probably also be seen as a loser, for losing an opportunity for a windfall profit because he did not want to dishonor his father by rousing him from his sleep. We can imagine the looks of condescension he received for an entire year. “Poor chap. It’s lovely that he still cherishes that old value of caring for the old folks, but he took it a wee too far, didn’t he?” When an extremely rare parah adumah was born to him a year later, and he sold it for a handsome profit after all, some of those former critics might have cheered. Nice guys sometimes do come out ahead – despite themselves.

Chazal, of course, saw things very differently. The red heifer was born to Dama ben Nesina because he honored his father, not despite it.

Chazal knew things that we cannot know. They could see a causal relationship between Dama’s mitzvah of kibud av and his later reward. We have no way of knowing whether Susan Boyle just lucked out, or was rewarded by Divine Providence for the simple, unvarnished goodness she displayed for years. It is interesting – and disappointing – that so few people even considered the latter possibility.

Chazal relate to the 127 years of Soro’s life by noting their equivalence. She was as beautiful at 20 as she was at seven; as innocent at 100 as she was at 20. Wait a minute, cries R. Shamshon Raphael Hirsch. Didn’t they get this wrong? Surely we would associate the age of 20 with beauty, not the age of seven. We would also figure that 20 is the worst choice to associate with innocence. Seven would be a much better choice!

Pity, says, Rav Hirsch, that we have our heads screwed on wrong. Chazal were correct in their world view. People today are the ones who have it backwards.

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4 Responses

  1. One Christian's perspective says:

    Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein thank you for writing such a beautiful picture of humanity as G-d intended it to be. I liked your presentation of the two viewers. The audience who viewed Susan Boyle before she began to sing and Susan Boyle who viewed the judges/audience without judging but with eager anticipation of using the gift G-d had given her to give to them. When people act different from the world but without malice or judgment of the world but with love and “charity”, the world notices………and hearts are softened. G-d is simply amazing in how He loves those who need Him the most.

  2. Raymond says:

    Somehow, this reminds me of Adolf Hitler (doesn’t everything?).

    The common conception that people have of that most evil of sub-humans, is that he was a racist who despised anybody who did not have blonde hair and blue eyes. Aside from the fact that he himself had neither physical trait, this notion is simply not true. Had he truly felt that way, he would have never allied himself with the Italians and Japanese. Keep in mind that he was an idealist, so he would not have allied himself with those nations even for the sake of political expediency.

    Adolf Hitler’s war was against the Jews. And why did he hate the Jews? He was not a stupid or even uneducated man. He knew that the Jews, by bringing the Torah into the world, also brought morality whose source is Divine, and therefore beyond the reach of any rational human being to challenge. Put another way, he knew that the Jews had brought moral conscience to the world, and it was because of this that he hated the Jews. In his mind, might made right, but the message that we Jews bring to the world is exactly the opposite, that right makes might, that there is inner, spiritual power in practicing goodness.

    So the way I figure it, one can relate to the world in one of two ways: either one values morality, in which case one is siding with G-d’s Torah and us Jews, or one belittles the very notion of morality, in which case one is siding with Adolf Hitler. Those people who were mocking Susan Boyle, were in a subtle way, acting a bit like the nazis of yesterday and the islamofascists of today, behave toward us Jews.

  3. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    IT should be pointed out that other girsaot say that she was as innocent at 20 as she was at 7 and as beautiful at 100 as she was at 20.

    Very well put- although for the sake of accuracy, it should be pointed out that other girsaot say that she was as innocent at 20 as she was at 7 and as beautiful at 100 as she was at 20.

    True, and there are some indications that it is the older girsa. (See, e.g., Karnei Ohr, in Mechokekei Yehudah on Ibn Ezra, beginning of Chayei Soroh, and the sources he cites.) But Rashi and his girsa aren’t chopped liver either.

  4. Nachum Lamm says:

    Very well put- although for the sake of accuracy, it should be pointed out that other girsaot say that she was as innocent at 20 as she was at 7 and as beautiful at 100 as she was at 20.