14 Sep HAZINU- THE TRAMPLED FIELD SYNDROME
Many people enter the season of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur asking themselves, “What’s the point? I went through all this last year, and here I am, the same person as I was a year ago. Why should I brother?”
Indeed, most of us find that we are not that much different than we were a year ago on Rosh Hashanah. Why is this the case? Why is it so hard to change, and what can we do to make this year different?
There are several reasons for this phenomenon, but here we will speak of just one cause, which we might term the “trampled field phenomenon.”
The Girl Who Stumped the Rabbi
The Gemara in Masechet Eruvin (53b) cites Rabbi Yehoshua as telling of three times in his life when he was “stumped.” He relates three stories when people – once it was a woman, another time a young girl, and another time a young boy – called into question something he did, and he could not defend himself. He had no response, and was forced to concede that they were right and he was wrong. The Hid”a (Rav Haim Yosef David Azulai) explains that all these stories convey profound lessons for life that we need to learn. In the interest of brevity, we will focus our attention on the second of these stories.
Rabbi Yehoshua was once traveling, and he followed a path that extended through a field. After he crossed the field, he was met by a young girl who asked him why he had walked through somebody’s field, ruining the produce. He explained that there was a well-treaded path going through the field, and everything in that path had already been trampled on. Therefore, it was perfectly legitimate for him to follow that route.
The girl boldly shouted, “Robbers like you paved that path!” There was not supposed to be a path through this field. But inconsiderate people who wanted to take a shortcut through the field, disregarding the owner’s property rights and without any concern for the damage they caused, stepped and made a path. This did not give Rabbi Yehoshua the right to walk through the field.
Rabbi Yehoshua admitted that he had no response, that the girl stumped him and correctly criticized him.
The Hid”a explained that Rabbi Yehoshua here draws our attention to one of the most common reasons why we resist change: because the path has already been trampled on. If there’s something incorrect that we and others have always been doing, that has become “normal” and common, we just assume that we can follow that path. Even though we know, or would know if we stopped to think about it, that this is not the proper path to follow, once we see that it had already been trampled, we assume we can follow it, too. Even the great sage Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hanania made this mistake. He saw a trampled path and figured it was legal. But in truth, as the little girl said, he was a thief.
This story is so relevant for us, always, but especially during this time of year, when we are supposed to be thinking about how we can grow and improve ourselves. The trampled path, the path that everyone follows, and the one we’ve been following, is not necessarily the right path. Sometimes, the answer to the question, “Is it possible that everyone is wrong?” is a resounding “YES.” In many areas, indeed, everyone has it wrong.
The style of language that is common in today’s society is not acceptable for a religious Jew. Even if it seems that “everyone talks that way,” this does not make it acceptable. Just because everyone watches a certain television program, has seen a certain movie, or listens to a certain kind of music, this does not mean that it is acceptable. Just because everyone buys their adolescent children devices with unfiltered internet access, this does not mean that this is acceptable. The path that everyone follows is not necessarily the correct path.