Parashat Ki Teitze 5780

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein – 26th August 2020


Reasons to be cheerful: 1, 2, 3!

In the last 6 months, we have all lost so much. For some it has literally been loved ones and none of us have been immune to loss, whether it be of education, income, holidays not to mention social contact.

Sometimes it is hard to be cheerful but Ian Dury and the Blockheads’ song, ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ always gets me smiling, both for its inherent reasons and its connection to Sir Peter Blake, the godfather of British Pop Art.

Blake provided the iconic album cover art for Dury’s album ‘New Boots and Panties’ as, for Live Aid, The Who – ‘Live at Leeds’ – and Paul Weller’s Stanley Road, and probably most famously, for the Beatles Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Music and art were just two of the Pop Art movement’s media that democratized art.

Pop Art makes me smile and only the purest fails to be amused by some of the almost ludicrous images – as my father once pointed out looking at an Andy Warhol ‘Campbell’s Onion with Beef Stock Soup Can,’ “but he’s got the perspective all wrong!”

The specifics of its subject matter may require constant updating but not the general focus of modernity: Consumerism, the elevation of celebrity, fascination with all streams of popular culture, a celebration of everyday objects and surroundings and perhaps a sense of nostalgia.

Beneath the colourful, eye-catching façade, “there was often the subversive international language of protest,” precisely against the subject matter represented, consumerism, celebrity, the mundanity of popular culture, and everyday objects and surroundings, and the mythology of nostalgia. This undertone might knock the smile off our face; not only a pandemic but the manmade disasters of global warming, manifest in many ways and the global refugee crisis.

Our airwaves are full of tragedy, yet this week’s sidrah Ki Tetze also makes me smile. Partly because it was the sidrah for my Bar Mitzvah, partly because it contains one of my favourite instructions, lo tuchal l’hitalaym – do not remain indifferent, and finally because of an innocuous command to build a parapet on your roof.

This makes me smile because if Moses was addressing the generation that had been born and bred in the desert, what were their terms of reference to the flat roofs of a city! This and other commands in this week’s sidrah highlight the authorship of Deuteronomy from a very different time, around that of King Josiah’s reign in Jerusalem in the late 7th century BCE. It makes me smile to know this, just like seeing through the gloss and glare of a pop art print to find a subversive message. There is no devaluation, only a sense of gratitude for the realism and acknowledgment that our lives are not one dimensional.

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