The Ivy Room

Feb 28th, 2011 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week
James Joyce’s “Ivy Day in the Committee Room” mourns the state of Irish politics and people’s inability to maintain consistent beliefs. The group of men gathering in the once active and promising room of the national party, which used to be Parnell’s headquarters, show little enthusiasm for the candidate they apparently support, and instead bicker about trivial things.

The men in the story dwell on the past so much that almost no constructive action takes place. The men in the room are paralyzed in a cycle of inactivity and equivocation. At one moment one character bemoans another’s empty promise to send beer, while in the next moment he defends the same person’s sense of honor and recites his promotional speech.

The appearance of a priest indicates that this inability to devote oneself to a cause also applies to religion.

The men in the room are stirred into quiet reflection on their unremarkable contribution to politics. After they applaud his speech, the men sit in silence, respect, and perhaps, guilt. The men of “Ivy Day in the Committee Room” realize they that they are not the ones to lead the charge. Instead, they will sit year after year, impotently wearing their ivy. The story mourns the death of firm political opinion in general.

I often find myself feeling as if I too am sitting in the “Ivy Room.” I join passionate conversations and debates about service of God, only to find that moments after the conversation has ended people’s passion has dissipated. We discuss lofty ideas and ideals, and yet so many of us just sit around like the characters in Joyce’s story. We speak of our concerns, our ideas, our goals, our dreams, only to quickly forget and reinsert ourselves into our lives without any of what we discussed. I hate sitting in the “Ivy Room.”

I can understand motion is strange blessing to the children of Israel upon viewing their completed work for the Mishkan: “May it be your will that God’s Presence dwell in this place.”

Moshe is blessing them with the will and desire to have God’s Presence rest in the building for which they have worked so assiduously. He is blessing them that the Mishkan never become the “Ivy Room.”

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