Return to the Knotted Cord

As a (very) recent college grad with, shall we say, flexible plans for the upcoming months before I leave for Israel, I rather wonder what to do with myself. Of course, there are the usual grand notions of waking up at 6:30 am to walk six miles through the park after davening all of Shacharis beautifully, then eating a healthful breakfast and breezing through a day of productivity and summery bliss… But I fancy myself a pragmatist, and not a dreamer, so I shall temper my delusions (“Once it’s June I just know I’ll be a morning person!”) with some goal-setting.

Simplicity is on my mind these days. I am hyper-aware of the absurd luxury in which I’ve lived as a college student: I’ve had few responsibilities and bushels of free time to fill with all kinds of nonsense. And it’s not just the excess of this lifestyle that irks me. I’ve grown and refined myself in many positive ways throughout my collegiate career, but much to my dismay I have also allowed myself to be sucked into the self-important egoism of academia. Higher education has many things to recommend it, but, as David Orr points out in this fantastic article, “…education is no guarantee of decency, prudence, or wisdom.” Intellectualism is a huge part of my identity, but I know that unless it’s tempered with humility and conscience, it becomes an exercise in arrogance, or worse.

“Let the people go back to tying knots to keep records,” the Dao De Jing suggests. “Let their food be savory, their clothes beautiful, their customs pleasurable, their dwellings secure.” Sounds good to me, except that the Dao De Jing also expounds on the evils of education and intellectualism. I’d like to think we can have it both ways – we can be philosophers without losing touch with reality, if only we remember this wisdom, from Proverbs (15:17):

טוב ארחת ירק ואהבה–שם משור אבוס ושנאה–בו

Better is a meal of greens, where love is, than a plump ox and hatred with it.

In other words, intellectualism for its own sake is pretty worthless. It’s worthless unless it comes in the service of love, for even simplicity with love is superior to extravagance without.

What’s that you say? I was supposed to be setting a pragmatic goal for the summer? Here it is: live simply. Enjoy my friends, eat fruit, take walks, do free things in the park, make things with my hands. Somehow I feel that through picking my own peaches, my eyes will be opened to the bounty of goodness with which God has blessed me, and I will simply know what to say in thanks.


All words in italics can be found in the Glossary. 


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