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.