The weirdest compliment. (Tiferes Part I)

Of all the English words I’ve heard re-defined in the Yeshiva dialect, the most unusual, and even humorous, is the word, “Normal.” As in,

“You know what I admire so much about Rav Ploni? He’s so normal!”

“You know what’s so wonderful about that Yeshiva? The boys who go there are so normal!”

As awkward as this sounds to a native English-speaker, it is a term that is used repeatedly. What does it mean? And whatever it means, if it’s a wonderful thing, why is such a bland word used to convey the idea?

The answer is given via a lesson in cultural context. The ideal in any religious framework would be to go higher and higher, achieving some sort of heaven’s-eye view of the world. But such people are very difficult to talk to. In a non-Torah world setting, such people are called “crunchy”. I don’t know why. Someone once told me that it had to do with these people’s affinity for granola. In any case, that type of person, with his head and heart in the clouds, or Halachic concerns, is often not grounded in thinking about real-life consequences.

But there is a subset of this group that has managed to remain grounded. They love and appreciate the depth of Torah and Mitzvos and Heaven, but are just as aware that there is a world, and that gravity exists. These are the people called “normal.”

Those who are grounded but never had any thought to climb the mountain are not called “normal”. They are just earth-bound people.

Those who have achieved a real balance, a harmony between their heaven-awareness and their earth-awareness are “normal”. The Rambam calls such a person a “chacham” in his Hilchos Deios, Laws of Character. Kabbala calls this harmony and balance “Tiferes”.

There are other forms of balance too.  This is one of them.

 

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