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04/06/2015 07:14:00 AM


Numbers 25:10 - 30:1 / I Kings 18:46 - 19:21
Ode to Angelyne
by Rabbi Edward Feinstein

You can't miss her. All over town, huge billboards advertising not cigarettes. Automobiles or banking services, but adorned with the image of a scantily clad young woman, and bearing the caption "Angelyne". Her image is a caricature of male fantasies. What was once confined to the back pages of so-called "men's magazines", now decorates the public thoroughfare. From street level it's virtually impossible to miss her -- her gigantic voluptuousness measured not in inches but in yards. But having grown immune to every conceivable urban aberration, I hardly notice anymore. It was my son who paid attention: "Abba, who is that lady, Angelyne, and why is she on that billboard? What is she selling?" Good question. Why is this lady all over town? What do you tell a child about this phenomenon?

Well kids, in our culture, and especially in this city, being famous is dearly valued. Fame conveys validation, fulfilling a deep need to be recognized. Celebrity is ontology -- you're not anyone until you're on TV. "Is that someone?" I ask my wife, pointing to a lesser known character actor sitting across a restaurant. Most of all, fame is immortality. There are people so terribly anxious that their lives amount to nothing -- people who worry that they will live and die and leave no trace of themselves in the world, their lives touching no one, accomplishing nothing, making no difference -- they fear no one will ever know that they lived. Somehow, being famous relieves them of this terror of oblivion.

For most, fame is earned through the contribution of some talent or gift like a star athlete, actor, author or musician. Then, there are people who become famous accidentally like Kato Kalin or people who are famous for no reason at all, like Oprah Winfrey or Regis Philbin. Saddest of all, there are people so desperate to be known they will do anything, even buy up billboards just to be famous for a few moments. They will do anything to gain fame because only in fame will they ever feel important, will they ever feel real.

"Maybe she's trying to make friends," suggests my young daughter. Indeed. What an image to set before a little girl -- a woman who buys her place in the world with peroxide and silicone. Evidence again that, for such a sophisticated culture, our appreciation and mastery of the mysterious power of sexuality remains so crude. Of course it's not just Angelyne. The equation of a woman's worth with the measure of her bust is a common American tale. It just seems to have gotten worse lately. Consider the phenomenon of the "super-model". Once an anonymous mannequin for the display of clothing, now they've become cultural heroes. For doing what? I want my daughter to emulate Golda Meir, Margaret Mead, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but she's constantly confronted with Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer. For a culture that has come so far in liberating women from all that bound them for centuries, we have yet so far to go. Women today govern nations, manage major corporations, direct scientific missions to Mars. But the leading consumer product in America in the 1990's remains the "wonder bra".

In this week's Haftarah, the section of the Prophets read along with the weekly Torah portion, a desperate Elijah running for his life from the murderous designs of the Queen Jezebel seeks the presence of God. He finds God not in the fire, the earthquake or the tempest. Not in any experience that is loud, public, impressive, or flashy, but rather kol d'mama daka, in the still, small voice of delicate silence. The pursuit of renown, fame and celebrity is a hollow idolatry and brings only futility and hopelessness. Only in an exquisite moment of inwardness can we hear the voice of Eternity validating our struggle, renewing our strength, and sending us on life's mission. And if you don't believe Elijah, just ask Angelyne.

* This document, or any portion thereof, may not be reproduced without the written permission of the author.


Tue, August 11 2020 21 Av 5780