I learned about Black Friday when a friend asked me what it was. My first thought was that it was some sort of religious holiday. But then I checked it out on the internet. Though western culture is enthusiastically accepted in our country, there are many aspects of western life that haven’t made it here, and some things that are virtually unknown. Thanksgiving, for instance, as beautiful as it is, is a holiday we don’t celebrate. The act of giving thanks for what we have received is an integral part of our heritage. Likewise, Black Friday is unknown here.
But yesterday, when hearing of lines of people waiting to be admitted to certain department stores, in anticipation of the sales available on black Friday, I was led to thoughts concerning our relationship to physical possessions.
For me, religion is a vehicle for dealing with the conflicts and difficulties inherent in our human existence. And it occurs to me, that one of the characteristics of religion, even before the advent of monotheism, was giving and sacrifice. For some reason, man felt a need to give of himself to god. Today, we tend to look at idolatry and primitive religions, as something of a caricature. For many, the idea of a rain god, or god of the seas, a fertility god, or some special god who watches over the harvest, is patently absurd. But even today, many people remember or pray to a special saint when they’re worried about some aspect of their day to day lives.
In our time, the mall has become one of the most visited and beloved institutions of the western world. It is not just a place to visit when you need clothing or tools with which to work. Most people go there for pleasure. They enjoy examining the wares on display. Time there, is considered entertainment, and I’ve often heard people describe the experience as a pleasurable one; improving their mood, and inspiring them to feel good.
The photos shown here are of the Haas promenade in Armon Hanatziv, opposite the walls of the old city of Jerusalem. One can see Kipat Haselah, and the El Aktza mosque from the promenade, as well as many other parts of our city. The promenade was built in 1987, and people come every day to look at the city of Jerusalem, and to contemplate the holy temple which once stood on the temple mount, also known as Mt Moriah.
The holy temple was an institution that provided health care, and psychological treatment, as well as religious counseling and ceremony. It was also a source of entertainment and learning. There were great concerts there with an in-house orchestra. People went to give thanks to god, and to pray for relief and success. On the three pilgrimage holidays, the city was filled with pilgrims who came from all over the country to bring s sacrifices to the holy temple. Those sacrifices included beasts that they raised, as well as fowl, fruit and grain. It was customary to choose the finest of one’s agricultural yield, as a sacrifice for the temple.
Why this need for sacrifice? In English, we’re familiar with the proverb, ‘you can’t take it with you’. Most people, as they grow in awareness, become aware of the limits to the pleasure taken from physical objects. True, there is pleasure in a nice car and a beautiful house, and in fine tools, and art objects, comfortable furniture and toys. But there is also pleasure in knowing that that isn’t us. That these things are just an envelope surrounding us. And that in our center, there is something, almost indescribably, that is beyond the physical nature surrounding us.
Those of us who eat meat deal with yet another paradox. We prefer to buy the meat as small geometric objects wrapped in nylon, ready to be roasted or cooked. The meat iyself has been disassociated from the animals from which it is taken. In the days of the temple, people brought their finest well loved farm animals as sacrifices, and these sacrifices reminded them of the temporary nature of all life. It inspired them to contemplate on their own impermanent presence in this world.
I am sure that many of the people lining up to buy commodities on Black Friday are hoping to bring joy to their loved ones. And that, of course, is a worth while endeavor. But I can’t help wonder of those who throng the malls, haven’t chosen to distract themselves from the universal questions that trouble a man’s soul. Are we still missing something we had in the temple?