Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got
(And other lessons from Tetzaveh)

--By Heinz 57

When I was 17, I had my timeline set in what I believed to be stone. Really. Emphasis placed on stone. I had my first serious boyfriend, and I envisioned a diamond ring by 20, marriage by 22 and the first kid by 24. In college, I admit, I even went to a jeweler and picked out that ring. It wasn’t the classiest of moves, but what do you expect from Kay’s Jeweler at the Holyoke Mall? The four Cs became my friend (cut, clarity, color & carats), as I picked out my ideal ring: round-cut, three stone (a .75 carat in the middle, .5 for the others), size 6, platinum band. Creepy as it sounds, my ring was so vivid that I could feel the weight of it on my finger and even caught the glare of it out of the corner of my eye.

At 26 1/2 (okay, 2/3), my plan hasn’t gone exactly the way I imagined. For one, the last conversation I had with my b'esheret of the high school days involved him asking me -- quite nicely -- not to post on his Facebook wall, as it made his current girlfriend irrationally jealous. My finger is still empty, and my tastes have shifted slightly (feel free to google “Cartier, honeymoon ring”). Don’t get me wrong (particularly you, Boyfriend), I’m happy with my life as it is. I’m in school, doing that independent woman in the big city thing, complete with a few sets of knee-high boots and a taste for fruity martinis. I’m two years past my self-prescribed due date, and I’m more than okay with that.

But as I watch my friends get engaged, I can’t help but think to myself “Princess Cut ... really?!” or “Check out the clarity on that baby!” and of course, “Three months salary, my ass.” There’s something about the diamond ring that makes me weak in the knees. It’s not just that it represents a commitment, a declaration of love or a promise to stand by each other. It’s that they are so gosh darn pretty.

Before I go any further, a confession: I fall somewhere into the vast void between hippie and JAP. I'll admit I had dreadlocks, I’m generally dirty and saving the world is top on my list of priorities. I cringe at girls whose bags cost more than my rent, or whose shoes could pay my grocery bill for a month. Fair trade is a mantra I might not live by, but a goal I hope to one day embody. I’ve belonged to such Facebook groups as “Recycle that bottle or I’ll Recycle your face” and the only reason I use plastic shopping bags is so I can recycle them when cleaning out my cat’s litter box. My SIGG water bottle is always in my backpack and I spent about 10 years of my childhood at outdoorsy environmental camps.

I also own not one, but two pairs of Uggs. I currently have a Tiffany's necklace around my neck, and my nails are freshly polished. I don’t think it’s contradictory, I just consider it my own unique style.

How can I be an environmentalist, and still drool at the site of something like jewelry? What does it really mean, at least in this day and age? We all know about blood diamonds. We all know about the pollution caused by gold mining.* We generally don’t care. Sure, I care in the hypothetical. But, I’ll tell you right now, if Boyfriend were about to propose, I wouldn’t take him off of that knee to drill him on the social awareness of his purchase.

The issue probably takes its root in the plan I made at 17. The diamond was a symbol, not of love, but of conquest. I thought that rock on my finger meant my life itself would be solid. I’ve learned now that love doesn’t really make your life solid. Love means excitement. It means fights, it means storms, it means compromises. It means being picked up and twirled. It means staying on your toes, always moving, always growing, always improving. Love is being constantly surprised by what you learn about your partner, and what it shows you about yourself. It means never knowing what might happen next, and being okay with that.

I’m sure Judaism has some straight forward lessons for love. And ... I’m not really interested in that right now. I want to know how I can show up at my next PETA meeting, look my patchouli-smoking friends in the eye and say, “Heck yeah. Diamond!” I suppose it’s safe to say that we like to see things dressed up. Whether its a clean-water inspired scarf (they exist) or the fabled solid-gold toilet of Donald Trump, we generally enjoy the pretty.

And back in the day -- way, way back in the day -- the Jewish High Priests were all about the pretty. They wore gold-adorned frocks, complete with precious stones. Think Gucci meets the Pope. The altar was about as flashy as it could be, putting those Oscar afterparties to shame. The Torah goes into extreme detail about the ornate decoration of the Tabernacle. We’re not a religion with extra words; these descriptions serve a purpose. They teach us something. They offer us a glimpse into the past. And they reassure me that it’s clearly not absurd to find beauty in the shiny.

Jennifer Lopez, not particularly the patron saint of Jews (humor me here) wisely stated, “Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got, I’m still, I’m still Jenny from the block.” Nowadays, our bling is simply that: bling. Jenny claims her bling didn’t change her. What’s its purpose then, if not to demonstrate a rise to extreme wealth and pop-stardom?

And what was it like in the time of the Temple? The gold cherubs that sat upon the ark weren’t there simply to show off, they demonstrated a grandeur unlike anything else found on earth. The priests' golden frocks demonstrated not only that they themselves were to be admired, but also that their work was Holy. Was the gold necessary back then? Can we transfer that meaning into today's bling? Am I shallow for thinking "Yes"?

We would like to say inner beauty is what counts, and I think -- at least I hope -- that when you’re at the point in your life where that diamond ring is encroaching, you see the inner beauty above all in your partner. But our religion shows us that dressing up a priest is okay. It’s a reflection, not only of the inner, but also of the beauty of a wonderful thing: God. The gold that coated the altar came from the community as a whole, a tangible gift of something precious to celebrate something even more valuable. We like fancy.

Sometimes, we like fancy for the wrong reason. We celebrate in the superficiality. We compromise our ideals. But if we're celebrating something that is beautiful no matter how it's dressed, like the holies of Judaism or a real love, then the extra glitter is simply reflecting that majesty. It might be a stretch to say I want a diamond to worship God. But, I think it’s fair to worship Love ... and we might as well do that with something gosh darn pretty.

*(To learn more.... check out No Dirty Gold to learn more about environmentally friendly jewelry companies, or feel free to purchase something from Brilliant Earth> for yours truly. To learn more about the interplay between Judaism and the environment, take a look at Canfei Nesharim, Hazon or COEJL

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