Sunday, June 12, 2005

Russell Crowe Meets the Baal Shem Tov

I stayed up the other night to watch David Letterman interview Russell Crowe. Crowe surprised me with a sincere appeal for teshuvah.

For those of you who don't live in New York and/or don't follow entertainment news, Russell Crowe was arrested last week for throwing a telephone at a hotel employee. Not that throwing a phone is a crime in New York, but this particular phone hit the man in the face, sending him to the hospital for stitiches. Crowe was upset because, while paying $4000 a night to stay at the Mercer hotel (note to Russ: I'll let you stay at my place next time for half that), he was not able to get a phone call through to Australia, where his wife and young son are.

Crowe was contrite but tried to give people some insight to his thought process that evening. "There's nothing you can say to people to explain the combination of jet lag, loneliness, adrenalin.... [N]ot being able to tell your wife that you're home and safe and you're okay is frustrating, particularly with the time thing. I'm, you know, trying to fill my basic obligations to my wife who needs to know that I'm at home, I'm in bed, I haven't had too much to drink and, primely important, that I'm alone," he said.

Still, Crowe was not making excuses. "One thing that I don't want to do is imply that I'm trying to make out it's somebody else's fault," he said. "It's not, I know it's my fault, I've got to face up to it and deal with it. This is possibly the most shameful situation I've ever gotten myself in in my life, and I've done some pretty dumb things in my life. So to actually make a new number one is spectacularly stupid."

"I'm at the bottom of a well. I can't communicate how dark my life is right now," Crowe said. "I'm in a lot of trouble. I'll do my best to solve the situation in an honorable way. I'm very sorry for my actions."

So far so good. Despite being an Academy Award-winning actor and possessing a famously volatile temper, I genuinely believed he was repentant. But what really stunned me was a comment not quoted in most papers. That moment came when Dave, doing his best Dr. Phil impression, tries to analyze how Crowe will go from feeling sorry to making the necessary changes in his life.

Then Dave asked, "How can we change the behavior? You say you can sort it out – I mean, how will you do that now, because I know that changing human behavior is the most difficult thing a person can do?"

So there's Dave quoting the Baal Shem Tov, who famously said that breaking one character trait is more difficult than studying the entire Talmud.

And to this Russell Crowe answers: "I don't think it's necessarily a matter of change; it's a matter of emphasis." And I thought, "Wow. He really has something there."

The Torah teaches us that G-d "created the evil impulse and created the Torah as it's antidote." At least that's how it's taught in most yeshivos.

But the Hebrew word used in this oft-quoted phrase does not mean "antidote." The word is tavlin, which literally means "spice." In other words, Rav Shimon Schwab, zt"l, once explained, the Torah is not a medicine, per se, for the elimination of the yeitzer hara, but rather a "spice," a means of changing the "flavor" of one's natural, "evil" impulses.

The Talmud states, for example, that a violent person should become a butcher. It's a matter of emphasis! Where do we place our passions--for good or for evil?

I don't know where Russell Crowe will end up. Will his teshuvah be accepted or will he land in jail? My guess is he won't be named the mashgiach ruchani of a yeshiva anytime soon. But for now he has taught a valuable lesson.


Anonymous daat y said...

its called sublimation.The mitzvot were given to sublimate the human drives.-R.A.Soloveichik
good thought-provoking post.

Tue Jun 14, 08:19:00 PM  
Blogger Mirty said...

Nice post.

Wed Jun 15, 12:10:00 AM  
Blogger Chai18 said...

we take that which is mundane and make it holy

Wed Jun 15, 04:50:00 AM  
Blogger The Rabbi's Kid said...

I would so go and learn at a place that has Russel Crowe as a mashgiach. The shmuessen would be incredible. And G-d help you if you are late for davening!

I vote for Harrison Ford as Rosh Yeshiva, Clooney, Cruise and Depp as Maggidey Shiur, Pitt for Halacha Seder and Jim Carrey as Madrich. I'm there!


Wed Jun 15, 05:46:00 AM  
Blogger Veev said...

The theory of 'changing the "flavor" of one's natural, "evil" impulses' is so obvious here in your example.

Even in the world of television, the "Nazi-Box," as it was referred to at the Agudah Convention, there is Torah to be found.

But we can talk about that term, and how it offends me, at another time!

Fri Jun 17, 11:03:00 AM  
Blogger ClooJew said...


Agreed! The offensive N-word is bandied so casually it's disgusting. Bush is a nazi? OPRAH is a nazi?

Have these people ever met a real nazi.

It pisses me off, man!

Mon Jun 20, 07:58:00 PM  
Blogger Chai18 said...

kind off like the attempt to compare the disengagement, as horrible, immoral, illegal, and assur, as it is, to the deportation and exiling of the jews during the holocaust.

Mon Jun 20, 08:51:00 PM  
Blogger Veev said...

My father-in-law, born to straight-out Yankee Doodles born themselves in West Virginia, called TV a Nazi Box a few months ago. I was so taken aback and offended, I was speechless (which is rare). I asked him where he heard that expression. He told me he heard it at the Agudah Convention.

Apparently, one of the speakers believed that TV was creating our "spiritual holocaust".

I had no words, but the next day I called MY dad and asked him if he's ever heard the expression and what he thought of it. He told me it is used for shock effect in the Yeshivish world (of which he and I are not a part), and that there is much insensitivity to the term. So it's not just me.

And it looks like ClooJew agrees with us.

Tue Jun 21, 10:33:00 PM  
Blogger ClooJew said...

I don't believe you will ever hear someone who went through the Holocaust use the term Nazi (as a noun or adjective) so lightly.

Thu Jun 23, 12:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great blog, when will you update?

Thu Jun 23, 12:53:00 AM  
Blogger Veev said...

Cloo, I believe you are correct. But as far as I'm concerned, the Holocuast should be treated as if we ALL went through it.

Thu Jun 23, 09:21:00 PM  
Blogger Eliyahu said...

good blog....maybe we can get clarence thomas and russell crowe togther!

Thu Jun 23, 09:59:00 PM  
Blogger ClooJew said...

My plan is to publish once a week. I've been pretty much on target with that. I'm trying to get on a schedule so that a new post appears each Thursday.

Fri Jun 24, 06:46:00 PM  
Blogger Esther said...

Great post, cloojew. And thanks for visiting my blog. As for Crowe, I don't hold out a lot of hope -- for his staying out of jail OR his marriage. Sounds like he's been in trouble before with her.

Wed Jun 29, 01:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Ruth said...

Is that photo you?! Russell Crowe is a fellow New Zealander. He used to be a shy man before he hit the big time.

Wed Jun 29, 04:01:00 AM  
Anonymous rabbifleischmann said...

I believe that it was Rav Yisrael Salanter who said that it's harder to change one trait than to learn all of the Talmud. Do you have a source for it being The Baal Shem Tov. While they were both revolutionaries, the saying fits more with rabbi Salanter's focus.

Wed Jun 29, 10:36:00 AM  
Blogger ClooJew said...


I was waiting for someone to nail me on that one. I had a lingering feeling it was RYS--and it sounds more like him too.

So should I change the post or just leave my mea culpa here in the footnotes? I'll let you make the call.

Wed Jun 29, 04:32:00 PM  
Blogger TRW said...

Just thought of something-with the word tavlin and the concept of flavors that connects.

Isn't it the Mor that smells bad and there's that whole question of why it's in the ketores?

The answer: 'cause all bad things can be used for good...even spices that smell bad can be used in one of the holiest offerings in the Beis Hamikdash. So even the worst inclinations can be used for's ALL about intention.

Wed Jun 29, 08:00:00 PM  
Blogger ClooJew said...


I like that pshat very much!

Wed Jun 29, 08:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is perhaps the dumbest blog I have EVER read, and considering that it's the ONLY one I have ever read that equals 100% dumbness

Hot sara

Fri Jul 01, 02:22:00 PM  
Blogger Zoe Strickman said...

I wanted to bury this message deep in your site so that it doesn't interrupt the flow of the discussions that are going on. Please don't hate me for asking you this, but you've seen my site and the content that gets posted there.

I was wondering how you got such an avid readership in such a short time of having the blog up.

My site is seriously lacking in Jewish readership and I could use the increased traffic (and more importantly, the feedback) on topics that I am writing about on the blog, and I don't know how to attract more Jewish readers. I'd appreciate any suggestions you have. Thanks. -Zoe

Sun Jul 24, 12:06:00 PM  
Blogger callieischatty said...

Wow that is so profound. I agree a violent person should of course be a butcher!

I can't bear to even look at stuff in the butcher shop hardly, I would never be able to do it I love animals.

Wed Aug 31, 12:11:00 AM  

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