This is my blog for topics of general, Jewish interest, named for the magazine I launched in 2005. I have additional blogs for other areas. Follow on Twitter or on Google+ under Ariella Brown. Please note that comment moderation is on, which could keep your comment from appearing right away.
I started reading Dan Ariely’s latest book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone – Especially Ourselves.(Harper Collins). In the course of the book, he recounts what seems to make people more apt to cheat and what seems to dampen the effect. One of the measures that he found works in an experiment is to have people recall the Ten Commandments. “It seemed that merely trying to recall moral standards was enough to improve moral behavior” (p. 40). It also works to remind students of standards by having them sign an honor code when taking a test --even in universities that don’t have an official one (p. 43).
In connection to this, I thought about two Gemoros, and as I want to do whatever I can to bring geula at this time in the year, I want to credit my son, Eliezer, with finding the pages for me (sparing me from trying to find them via Google). Tractate Nidda (73)ends on a nice note that works well for a siyum. That’s where Ra’ Eliyahu is quoted as saying “Kol hashoneh halachose bechol yom muvtach lo shehu ben haolam haba sheneamar ‘halichos olam lo,’ Al tikri halichos ela halachos.” [Anyone who learns 2 laws each day is guaranteed that he is destined for the World to Come, as it says the path of the world is for him. Don’t read it as halichos- paths but as halachos- laws.]
Learning Torah is what connects one to the World to Come, and that would work in understanding this assertion. Even a minimal amount of learning – 2 halachos – can establish this connection. However, it may extend beyond that. Learning the halchos can also set the tone for each day, keeping the individual on the straight path in all matters after the reminder of the fact that we maintain guides for our behavior. In that way, it could have the Ten Commandments effect that Ariely referred to.
As for signing one’s name on the honor code, an which Ariely also found works by having an individual sign a (mock) tax return before filling it out (47-49) that made me think of a point we invoke at this time of year in particular. In Bava Metziah 85b we get the answer to the question “Al ma avda ha’aretz?” [Why did was the land lost?] from Hashem himself who says, “al azvam es Tolrati asher nathati lifneyhem” [for they left my Torah that I gave them]. R’ Yehuda says that Rav said “shelo bircho baTorah techila” [they didn’t say the blessing on the Torah before learning it.] Not saying the blessing signifies a lack of appreciation for the great gift of Torah. But still: Torah is Torah, and one would expect it would have its spiritual effect nonetheless. However, the lack of the blessing may form a type of disassociation of the individual from the learning, which is like knowing there is an honor code but not putting down one’s own signature on it to bind one’s own word.
Ariely also relates the story in the Talmud [he does not cite the page] of the man who attempted to patronize a prostitute but “Seeing the tztzit remind him of the mitzvoth [why does he use the th the tes here and the t for tzitit?] (religious observations), and he quickly turns around and leave s the room without violating his religious standards” (p. 45). Now that is an extremely simplified version of the story, which leaves out some essential points about his interaction with this prostitute, something I’ll look into in another post because it is something I’ve been thinking through for a while. See http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2012/07/the-persistent-prostitute.html