Es Pas Nisht – What Does That Mean?
I have often heard the expression, “es pas nisht” which I believe means “it’s not nice behaviour for a Jew. How does one define this? Who gets to decide what is appropriate behaviour for a Jew so long as it’s not in violation of actual Jewish law?
The famed Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk was once conducting a Friday night gathering on the Shabbat when reading the portion of the Exodus story. In attendance was a disciple, Reb Moshe Leib Sasover – who later went on to become a great leader in his own right. At one point Reb Elimelech encouraged his saintly disciple to share some inspiration. The latter made the following observation: “The festival of Pesach is so-called because the Almighty jumped ‘over’ the houses of the Jewish nation.” Thus it is called Passover. “But,” he pointed out, “if you look carefully at the wording in the Torah it says, asher posach al botei Bnei Yisroel – G-d jumped – al –on – the Jewish homes. How does that figure?”
He went on to explain: “G-d gave the Jewish nation an instruction to take a sheep to be brought as a sacrifice. The sheep was a deity of the Egyptians hence it was a great risk and a sacrifice in itself. When G-d came with angels down into Egypt as it were and saw the extreme and exalted self-sacrifice being demonstrated by the Jewish nation, they proceeded to posach al botai Bnei Yisroel – jump and dance on the Jewish homes, singing, oht doh voint a Yid, oht doi voint a Yid – “here lives a Jew, here lives Jew.”
In Egypt we were strangers; we were different. And while that difference sometimes seems to haunt us, it is precisely that difference that enables us to ultimately persevere – against the Egyptians, against the Romans, against the Greeks, against Communism, against Nazi persecution and against whatever Anti-Semitic threat we might face today as well.
Inasmuch as there are certain things which though not halachically forbidden are nevertheless deemed not in the spirit of Shabbat because they detract from the sanctity of Shabbat, there are certain things that are not in the spirit of Jewishness – es pas nisht – because it depreciates the sanctity of the Jew.
While some conduct is more obvious, other types of behaviour may be more subjective. The onus is on each individual to be their own judge and jury, but the basic guiding criteria is to remember that others will be pointing at him/her and saying oht doh voint a Yid oht doh gait a Yid – “here lives a Jew, here goes a Jew” and to conduct oneself accordingly.
Is Kosher Bacon, Kosher?
I was visiting in the States recently and in a particular kosher restaurant they were serving “imitation prawns” and “artificial bacon.” Is this even allowed? Isn’t there a concern of giving the wrong impressed to consumers?
The primary concern of eating imitation prawns and the like is that of marat ayin – which means enabling a false impression which could be misleading. So if I’m going to go into McDonalds for a business meeting over cans of coke and a congregant walks by, I am giving him cause to think that I am eating in a non-kosher establishment 9and maybe even think, if it’s good enough for the Rabbi…)
Intriguingly, this issue of marat ayin conflicts with the broader principle of judging people favourably. Essentially the Rabbinic concern was implemented precisely because there may be those who will make false assumptions. The real question therefore becomes one of how concerned one must be against someone else looking upon them unfavourably.
While once there was more of an issue of cooking meat in non-dairy milk because the casual observer might get the wrong idea, today most contend that associated concerns (e.g. soya milk after a meaty meal) don’t apply. As the market is saturated with non-dairy milk, no false assumptions are likely to be made.
If kosher bacon is a readily recognised delicacy then I need not deny myself the pleasure on account of the possibility of someone wrongly accusing me.
But I do have to wonder: Why was kosher imitation bacon, prawns etc. introduced to the market? Is it to satiate a curiosity because I can’t have the real thing? There’s no lack of variety of kosher products, is it really so necessary to add alternatives to non-kosher delicacies? What does it say about my character when I can’t curb my appetitive powers and must seek out pleasure in these “optional extras?”
There’s an ancient Chassidic adage: “What you must not do, you don’t do, and what you’re allowed, you don’t need to do.” It might be halachically acceptable to eat kosher bacon, but, as per the question above, “es past nisht” – it’s not necessarily appropriate.
A Diamond In The Rough
I’m going to be upfront. I picked up the Jewish Weekly recently and held my breath. But there was no retorts, no sharp rebuttals – in fact beautiful insightful thoughts. I checked the picture – it was you. So now I know you’re a diamond in the rough. More of the same please.
What was it Confucius said? “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without one.” Sometimes sparkling, sometimes in the rough, sometimes blood diamonds. I guess it depends on the questionnaire and my tolerance levels. Either way, diamonds are forever so you might want to get used to me.