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As some of you know, I switched the words in the title of this article. The original phrase is: “from the sublime (of high spiritual, moral, or intellectual worth) to the ridiculous (absurd, preposterous) is but one step.”
The phrase has been attributed to several people including Napoleon and the French statesman Talleyrand. Thomas Paine makes reference to the sublime and the ridiculous in “The Age of Reason” (1794). I’ll start with what I consider ridiculous and hope you agree.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to the Old Orchard Court House with a woman who wanted to get a restraining order (order of protection) against a man she said had threatened her life. According to this woman, the man had a history of cursing and yelling at her. When the woman stood before the judge, the judge asked her a series of questions, but the last question the judge wanted to know was had this woman encountered this man since he made the threat on her life. The woman said “no” because she feared him and made deliberate efforts to avoid him. The judge denied her an order of protection. Actually, the woman sought a “stalking no contact order” because in Illinois, a person has to be a family or household member who is related to or had a “dating relationship or engagement with the offender” in order to get an order of protection against a person. Since this woman had had no further contact with this man because she avoided him, the judge ruled that she was not being stalked. Ridiculous, ridiculous, ridiculous.
Now to the sublime. As this woman and I sat in the County Clerk’s office while she filled out forms, I glanced across the room and saw a white-bearded Jewish man wrapping his arm with leather straps with the small box on his head (t’fillin) for prayer. I could see some of his prayer shawl extending below his coat. “Oh my God,” I said loudly to him, “you make my heart sing.” His wife, who stood in front of me, smiled. I explained that I had grown up near Lakewood, New Jersey. “Ahhh,” they both said knowingly. Lakewood is one of the hubs of Orthodox Judaism with an Orthodox population that comprises more than half of the township’s population. Lakewood had been (is) a resort town to which many Jews went for their Sabbaths and holidays. I had suddenly been overwhelmed by this familiar childhood image.
Today is Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish New Year. HAPPY NEW YEAR!