A couple of months ago I was talking to my Rebbe
about Jewish music. A couple of folk-rocky, post Carlebach, non-Shiny Shoe CDs had been released in the previous few months. It seemed clear that the artists and producers putting out these CDs were motivated by all the right things and were not doing it for the money or fame. Nevertheless, the CDs were, IMHO, derivative and not particularly melodic. Mediocre, at best.
(Indeed, there are many groups like that out there and I have met a number of them. They are very sweet and real and all they want to do is inspire other Jews with their music. Unfortunately, they simply aren't particularly original or good.)
So, I asked my Rebbe: "I understand why Shiny Shoe music stinks. Most of it is written with gaiva
(conceit) and is motivated by money. But these guys are motivated by the right things, are not ba'alei gaiva
and are not in it for the money. Rebbe, why does their music stink?"
Expecting a very deep, Kabbalistic response, I was surprised by his simple answer: "Because they have no talent. You can have all the right motivations but if you have no talent you will not produce nice music."
We talked for another few minutes. The Rebbe pointed out that this applies to many people in many pursuits. You can have the purest intentions but if you are not suited to the task it can be a bracha livatalah
(lit. wasted blessing).
My Rebbe has often explained that part of the avodah
of a G-d fearing Jew is to figure out why he was put on this Earth. He has often told the story of the stingy gvir
(rich person) who was saying Tehillim after davening on Kol Nidre night. The Rebbe (I forget which one) approached. The gvir
expected the Rebbe to sing his praises for his diligence. Instead, the Rebbe admonished him. He said being a Tehillim zuger
is nice but your tafkid
is to give tzedakah. You can leave the Tehillim for the aniyim
I have repeatedly seen people doing things for which they are either unsuited or, at best, have no distinctive talent.
At the silliest level, it seems that the men who have the biggest taiva
for the amud
are the ones with the least amount of talent. On a more serious note, I have met people who, with great mesiras nefesh
, learn all day (I'm talking about diligent people, not jokers supposedly in kollel who roll into the bais medrash at 10 a.m.) who, nebech
, are just not that sharp and will never be talmidei chachamim. I have met many teachers who have absolutely no aptitude for the calling but feel that it is their life's work. If these people are fortunate, they soon discover for themselves that they are not meant for the job and find something else to do. If they are not so fortunate, the consequences, both to them and the children they teach, can be very sad.
(The flip side of this is that there are many professionals who give shiurim who are such spectacular teachers that one feels it is a shame that they are 'wasting their time' in a courtroom or office and not teaching our kids.)
Getting back to my starting point, I think that it is probably easier to delude oneself when it comes to music or the arts, which are so subjective, and where, I suspect, the taiva
is the greatest.
May we all be zoche to figure out what it is the Master of the Universe really wants us to be doing.