Monday, February 27, 2012

can you drive a Lamborghini to olam ha'ba?

I posted this yesterday, but decided to try to tone it down a bit, though I don't know if I succeeded any better the second time around.  While driving somewhere yesterday afternoon my wife and I noticed a flaming orange sportscar with a unusual shape ahead of us. It looked like this:

I am not a maven in these things, so when I caught up to it at the light I took at look at the wheels and saw the name of the manufacturer -- Lamborghini. And I also had a chance to notice the kid in the passenger seat was wearing a kipa, as was his dad, the driver. Imagine that -- a frum Yid driving a Lamborghini! A nice little "toy" car to have.  Curious, when I got home later I took a look at what one of these things cost. Here's a link because I would not believe it if I didn't see the MSRP myself: $376,000.

I spent the rest of the day cynically wondering how a person wearing a kipa is mechanech his children in the mitzvah of kedoshim te'hiyu or the dinim of tzenius while driving down the street b'farhesya in a bright orange sportscar that costs way more than the price of my first home (and I'm not that old).

After some calmer (relatively speaking) reflection, I've realized that this gentleman has nothing to answer for. His behavior is symptomatic of what passes for normal -- he's in step with orthodox culture and I'm the sore thumb that sticks out.  The luxurious Pesach vacations, the $3000 European human hair sheitels, the $8000+ summer camp for your kid, etc. have all become not excesses of the super rich, but the norm of what a "kosher" frum lifestyle is all about.

Your typical orthodox American family's shabbos dinner conversation:
"Iran is working on a nuclear bomb...."
"Gedolei yisrael are in the hospital suffering..."
"Can you please pass the brisket, and try to make the next slice a little thicker?"

Ho hum and lad dee da, as long as the roast beef is rare and the kugel is tasty and maybe there is some single malt scotch l'kavod shabbos for desert, what's there to worry about?  Am I not a good Jew? I keep kosher, observe Shabbos (OK, so I sleep 14 of the 25 hours and slip into dockers and a polo shirt right after shul, but the shulchan aruch says you should enjoy shabbos, doesn't it?), and wrote a nice check at the last shul function.  What more do you want from me?  What does the Lamborghini have to do with religion?

I don't have in mind a gripe against anyone in particular when I write this (and I beg mechila of the Lamborghini driver who is probably a wonderful person, just his car caught my attention as a symbol) -- it's the whole culture of superficial adherence to ritual technicalities while missing the point of it all that turns me off.  How can you feel in the mood to write posts about difficult Rambams or sugyos in the parsha when it just seems like fiddling as Rome burns around us?

Of course I know I should qualify what I am writing.  There are wonderful people who use their money wisely for great things, who do chessed b'hatzneya leches and devote themselves to talmud torah. There are people who do "get it" and who are moseir nefesh for and who embody the best ideals. I just wish there were more people of this type who stood out at the forefront of defining orthodoxy instead of their being the miyut if not the miyuta sheb'miyuta.  As I've said before, I don't read Jewish periodicals if I can avoid them -- I don't want to see ads for resorts, vacations, Pesach cruises or what-not, for glamorous summer programs, for sheitels that require a second mortgage, for restaurant after restaurant, etc.  Yet, this is the face of orthodoxy today, in newspapers, magazines, radio ads, etc.  I would rather keep my tunnel vision focused on the faces I see at night in the beis medrash.

This post is still pretty harsh even after repeated editing -- sorry, I just had to get it out of my system.  It's  not aimed at any target; I'm just venting my thoughts.  Maybe I'll take it down later when my head clears.


  1. Another way of seeing this: when she was young my wife attended the bar mitzvah of some very rich cousins. Rich enough that the bentchers were Artscroll siddurim, one for every person and it was a big affair.
    Later on though she found out that the family had set a goal - for every dollar they spent on the bar mitzvah they would donate one dollar to tzedakah.
    Perhaps the lamborghini driver did the same.

  2. Anonymous10:56 AM

    A friend of mine built himself a magnificent home, with the usual swimming pool in the basement etc. He said he asked Reb Shmuel Kaminetsky whether it was appropriate to do so, and Reb Shmuel said yes. I was surprised. I later realized that this person's cohort, the people with whom he does business, his social milieu, all live in houses at least as fancy. For him, it is not fancy at all. For him, it is the standard house. That for us it is extravagant and shtechedik is irrelevant. Our problem, not his. The fact is that we could all get by with cheaper cars and cheaper houses, but we hew to the norm. For them, this is the norm.

  3. I think the issue is consumption vs conspicuous consumption.


  4. (BTW, what happened to subscribing to the comment chain?)

  5. Related to conspicuous consumption and being blameworthy for not watching out for how your style-of-living gap is affecting others...

    Compare the mishnaic concept of ayin ra with the later idiom of ayin hara. It would seem that ayin hara is the onesh for being willing to trip others up WRT ayin ra.

  6. @Mighty Garnel. There are two ways to look at that story. One is the way you presented it: the more they spent on the affair, the more they will give to tzedaka, so more is more all around. But the other way is to realize that even for very rich people, money is a limited resource. Though you may have set yourself a goal of matching funds on your own account, the fact is that if you would spend less on the affair, you would actually have more money left over to possibly donate to tzedaka or, say, sponsor a sefer Torah, or some such thing.

    The way they set it up seems to be conspicuous consumption partnered with the self-satisfaction (I really intended to write smugness) one can feel in showing off both one's wealth and one's generosity in one impressive affair -- for maximum status and kavod.

    Now it is possible to say that people can spend their own money however they see fit. If it gives them pleasure to burn hundred dollar bills just to show that they can, they have a right to do so. But that does not necessarily make it right when there is so much poverty in the world. Even if you eliminate the destitute from the equation, the escalation of standards that results from the rich raising the bar on affairs makes it harder for the middle class who now have to do more if they are not to be looked down on.

    I see this all the time. As I tell my kids, even the richest girls in my class had their bat mitzvah celebrations in their houses. Now, a poorer bat mitzvah is done in the hall in the school, more lavish ones in shuls, and yet more lavish ones in restaurants (technically banned by their school) and more lavish yet in wedding halls (as a relative of theirs who receives school scholarships had it).

  7. chaim b.6:34 PM

    >>>Later on though she found out that the family had set a goal - for every dollar they spent on the bar mitzvah they would donate one dollar to tzedakah.
    Perhaps the lamborghini driver did the same.

    So if someone pledges a dollar to tzedaka for every big mac that he eats then tarfus are OK?

    >>>I later realized that this person's cohort, the people with whom he does business, his social milieu, all live in houses at least as fancy.

    So keeping up with the Joneses is OK - as long as you are not the first person starting the trend and just follow along to keep up, do as you please.

  8. Anonymous9:53 PM

    What I meant was that if Lamborghinis were more common, say as common as Infinitis, you wouldn't have a problem with it, or at least you wouldn't go ballistic about it. Its the extreme extravagance that bothers you. In that guy's circles, Lamborghinis are not so unusual. Just that his business associates mostly live in White Plains, and he lives in Boro Park because he needs to daven with a minyan and raise his children among Jews.

  9. Anonymous2:04 PM

    Orthodox Jews often have to move for job-related reasons (transfer or new job). This triggers a search for housing in a suitable Orthodox Jewish community to commute from. What if the commutable Jewish community had a lavish lifestyle not for ego reasons at all but only because that's how their social class/inner circle/business associates lived? A merely middle class Jew would not only feel out of place, he'd have no way to afford that lifestyle or even to buy or rent a place to live there. Such situations are now pretty common!

  10. Anonymous2:08 PM

    By the way, I (2:04 PM) am a "new" Anonymous. Oh, well...sorry for the confusion.

  11. Anonymous4:48 PM

    I just figured out that I actually could afford a lamborghini if I didn't have the privilege of supporting my kids and grandchildren in Kollel. I don't know whether to be chagrined or proud.

  12. Tal Benschar11:13 PM

    While I sympathize with the sentiment of what you posted, forgive me if I give you a piece of counter-mussar. Remember that the thing about chitzoniyus vs. pnimiyus is that outsiders can only see the former but not the latter. Unless you are the Almighty, who is boichen kelayos va lev, you have no idea about the level of someone else's pnimiyus, only their chitzoniyus.

    IOW, you only saw the guy drive the Lamborghini. You did not see what was in his heart, nor what kinds of kavanos he has, nor his level of devotion to Torah and mitzvos. Granted that is simply a function of your being a basar va dam, but it seems a bit unfair to judge someone when all you are capable of seeing is his outside.

  13. I don't think an infinity and a Lamborghini can even be compared.