I was watching TV last night when this commercial came on:
It’s as ad for what’s essentially two frying pans hinged together so that you can flip pancakes or eggs by flipping the whole pan over. It’s actually not a bad idea. But, in true infomercial style, it first shows a bunch of incompetent people poking at their eggs with spatulas and making a mess of their pancakes and splattering batter all over the pan and the stove. It’s supposed to provide a contrast with how easy their product makes it to flip a pancake, but just left me wondering who these people were who had such trouble doing something as simple as making pancakes. You find this sort of thing in every infomercial.
It occurred to me that there’s another place you find these sorts of characters: people who you’d never meet in the real world, people who behave in inexplicable and moronic ways in order to be contrasted with something superior in the second half of the story. We run into these characters all the times in the divrie torah floating around the frum world which contrast “us” with “them.” In these divrei torah we hear about “the goyim,” valueless, immoral people who sleep with a different person every night and indulge every whim. These people are then contrasted with the righteous, upstanding, holy people of the frum world, and we are shown how torah umitzvos makes us so much better than everyone else.
The immoral people described in the divrei torah do exist, just like there really are people so incompetent that they’d make a huge mess trying to make a pancake. But they are a tiny, tiny, tiny minority.
So why do these characters exist in infomercials and divrei torah? Because both are trying to sell us something. The infomercial is trying to sell us a product. The dvar torah is trying to sell us a lifestyle.