Rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
What is Goodness? Or a Gift of Charoset
What is goodness? It’s a question many moral philosophers
have wrestled with. In one of his final works Justice for Hedgehogs, the late
NYU professor of philosophy and law Ronald Dworkin, dealt with the question of the person who is so intent on self-sacrifice that his good intentions become
self-destructive and hence no longer a form of good. In everyday life these
matters come up all the time and homilies like “no good deed goes unpunished”
are a response to these kinds of ethical conundrums. The Jewish holiday of
Passover is a wonderful litmus test for such concerns since people are so
intent on doing good deeds, one of which is contributing dishes to the Seders
to which they have been invited. So let’s take the case of someone who brings
charoset (the mixture of nuts and apples that is put on the matzah along with
the bitter herbs to commemorate the mortar that the Jewish people used when
they were slaves). Sometimes charoset is made with wine and let’s say the
charoset is brought as a contribution to someone who is a recovering alcoholic.
The person would like to show their gratitude for the contribution, but at the
same time is reticent to put the charoset with the wine on the table—as it will
result in a Megillah of explanations. Not wanting to break his or her anonymity
the host might simply give the charoset back, pithily saying that they already
had plenty. On the other hand, choroset can be an exhausting dish to make and
if the host felt that rejection of the charoset contribution was going to cause
unhappiness, he or she might do something (out of guilt) that could end up
being a major discomfort to him or herself. One charoset is
often indistinguishable from another and there is a definite risk of dipping a matzah into the wine infused charoset. Interestingly these kinds
of eventualities are often the stuff of commentary by great Jewish thinkers
like Nahmanides and Maimonides or, though it is unlikely that any of
them ever actually addressed the issue at hand.
Francis Levy's debut novel, Erotomania: A Romance, was released in August 2008 by Two Dollar Radio.
His short stories, criticism, humor, and poetry have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, The Village Voice, The East Hampton Star, The Quarterly, Penthouse, Architectural Digest, TV Guide, The Journal of Irreproducible Results, and other publications. One of his Voice humor pieces was anthologized in The Big Book of New American Humor (HarperCollins). He is presently the Co-Director of The Philoctetes Center for the Multidisciplinary Study of Imagination (philoctetes.org), where he supervises roundtable discussions on topics as varied as “The Psychology of the Modern Nation State” and “Modern Traffic Theory, Behavior, and Imagination”.