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Appreciate Being a Jew(Adapted from a lecture by Rav Ezriel Tauber)
In our Yom Tov davening we recite:
åÀäÇùÌÒÄéàÅðåÌ ä' àÁìÉ÷ÅéðåÌ àÆú áÌÄøÀëÌÇú îåÉòÂãÆéêÈ.
"And You Hashem should lift up for us the bracha of your Fesitvals."
What is this blessing of the Holidays that we mention every Yom Tov? What bracha are we asking to receive?
àÇúÌÈä áÀçÇøÀúÌÈðåÌ îÄëÌÈì äÈòÇîÌÄéí àÈäÇáÀúÌÈ àåÉúÈðåÌ åÀøÈöÄéúÈ áÌÈðåÌ åÀøåÉîÇîÀúÌÈðåÌ îÄëÌÈì äÇìÌÀùÑåÉðåÉú åÀ÷ÄãÌÇùÑÀúÌÈðåÌ áÌÀîÄöÀåÉúÆéêÈ åÀ÷ÅøÇáÀúÌÈðåÌ îÇìÀëÌÅðåÌ ìÇòÂáåÉãÈúÆêÈ åÀùÑÄîÀêÈ äÇâÌÈãåÉì åÀäÇ÷ÌÈãåÉùÑ òÈìÅéðåÌ ÷ÈøÈàúÈ:
"You have chosen us from all peoples; You have loved us and wanted us, and have lifted us above (people of) all the languages."
These are no doubt, very noble and uplifting words. They reinforce within us the recognition that we are indeed very fortunate to be Jewish. This is the purpose of Yom Tov, to establish in our hearts the great joy in our Jewishness. This is the bracha of Yom Tov.
åÀùÒÈîÇçÀúÌÈ áÌÀçÇâÌÆêÈ ... åÀäÈéÄéúÈ àÇêÀ ùÒÈîÅçÇ:
"You shall be happy on your Festival, …and you shall be only happy."
Rashi comments that simple pshat is that this is a promise. This means that there is a Divine promise that we will attain Simcha. This obviously doesn't mean that on Yom Tov we will have other things to make us happy, that we will have a good time and so be in a good mood. That is simcha which comes from external sources. The possuk is discussing an internal and real feeling of simcha. Divinely inspired simcha is eternal and emanates from our recognition of our good fortune to be Jewish. This is the joy that draws its power from the eternal words: You have chosen us.
During Pesach, the first Yom Tov in the yearly cycle, we meet our birthday as a nation, when we became a distinct people, separate from all others. During the other Yomim Tovim we come into contact with various exalted virtues which crown the Jewish nation and single us out from all the other peoples. At Shavuous, Klal Yisroel participated in the covenant of Sinai. This was similar to the covenant of marriage. Succos is the time when the Heavenly Presence, the Divine Shechina, established itself in the midst of the Jewish people.
Each festival builds an additional appreciation of the lofty prominence of Judaism. It reveals its special uniqueness which separates us from the goyim. It is this appreciation and recognition which bestows the special bracha of Yom Tov: Simcha, "And you shall be joyous." There are innumerous levels of joy, and it is possible to rise without limit in recognition of the loftiness of being a Jew. It starts with Pesach when Hashem revealed Himself to us, and continues from one festival to the next in the yearly cycle, continually emplanting Joy in our hearts at the idea that "You chose us."
A very sad, but important, incident occurred several years ago in the US. A Jewish couple adopted a non-Jewish baby. According to Halacha when that child reached Bar Mitzvah he was supposed to make a conscious decision if he wants to accept the conversion upon himself or not. Without willful acceptance of the geirus he would be considered a 100% bonafide goy.
The parents, for various reasons, preferred not to tell the child that he was adopted and thus he never confirmed his Jewishness according to Halacha. This child grew up, studying in various yeshivos. He studied with diligence and observed all the mitzvos scrupulously. At 23, when he reached the age to start shidduchim, his parents decided that they were now forced to tell him the truth.
They brought him into a room and revealed the secret. He was adopted, and wasn't born Jewish. He must now decide and certify his Jewishness and become a full-fledged Jew. OF course, no one would have to know anything about this. They would quietly go to a Rabbi and finalize everything and that would be that. They assumed that the boy would be shocked to find out he was adopted, and even more shocking, that he was a goy, and he would immediately run to the rabbi to make an official conversion. The matter would be finished in no time.
To their consternation, the boy sat there calmly, listening to their revelation. Without hesitation he announced confidently that he isn't interested in being Jewish. He explained that if he accepted Judaism upon himself, he would be obligated in the 613 mitzvos in their entirety. It is extremely difficult to observe everything scrupulously. And if he slips up, he would be liable to Heavenly retribution. On the other hand, he was born a goy, and according to the Torah, he only has to observe the 7 Noachide commandments. If he wants he can be a righteous goy and easily find his perfection in this world without taking upon himself any unnecessary risks. Torah doesn't encourage proselytizing, so what does he need it for?
And thus he left the house, after first thanking his foster parents for raising and taking care of him. Since then, he has lived as a 100% goy, with no recollection of his past or of his Jewish education.
This incident created a turmoil in the yeshivos in America. Many Roshei Yeshivos came to the conclusion that all their efforts at chinuch were in vain. This masmid of a yeshiva bochur chose to be a goy! Worse than that. This proved that it was possible for a bochur to be totally meticulous with all the stringencies of the mitvos, and yet his Yiddishkeit is a burden and an encumbrance. His entire fulfillment of mitzvos was without joy or free will. This is the question that each and every one of us must ask himself: are you really proud and happy to be a Yid? Do you really want it? Or do you feel forced to observe Torah and Mitzvos merely because of the fact that you were born a Jew? If things were different, and we weren't born Jewish, would we run to convert willingly? Do we have a powerful and undefeatable response to that bochur? Or perhaps some slight thought has crept into the depths of our being, and deep down we feel that perhaps the bochur is right, chas v'sholom.
To impress upon us the seriousness of this concern, let us imagine a religious kehilla. It is a tight knit community and it is literally one big happy family, everyone being cousins and intimately related to each other having all descended from one common ancestor. Every Friday afternoon everyone walks joyfully to Shul to greet the Shabbos Queen.
One Erev Shabbos, everyone went to Shul as normal, and suddenly word spread that this Friday night the rabbi was going to make an important announcement. Everyone, man, woman, and child, was to gather in the central synagogue. Their dear respected rabbi had a very dramatic speech to make which related to each and every one of the kehilla.
Understandably, everyone was curious and anxious what the important announcement was and so the shul was full to capacity. There was no place to sit even in the ezras nashim. Everyone was anxiously waiting to hear what the Rav would announce.
Before Kabbolas Shabbos the Rav got up to the podium and started speaking.
"My dear and beloved congregants, I have a very important announcement to tell you. It has recently become clear that your great great grandmother, who was the ancestress of the entire kehilla, was in fact adopted. She never underwent a proper conversion. We have had this shaala investigated by the top Batei Dinim in the country. They have researched it thoroughly, through absolutely trustworthy testimony. They have unanimously come to the conclusion that this entire kehilla has the din of goy!
"Now everyone here knows that the din is that it is a capital crime for a goy to keep Shabbos. Therefore, I was asked to gather you all together before Shabbos and instruct each and every one of you to violate the Shabbos! In order to prove to you the genuineness of this matter, I shall be the first to go and be mechalel Shabbos!"
With that the Rav went straight to the light switch and turned the lights on!
Everyone in shul was electrified. Instead of being Mekabel Shabbos with all its severity, here was their devoted and respected Rav violating Shabbos in public right in front of everyone! And what was worse, he wanted everyone to join him!
"And so, my dear congregation," continued the Rabbi, "now that we are exactly like goyim, we have to decide. Do we want to convert and continue being a Jewish Kehilla, or do we want to remain goyim?"
All the town machers called an emergency meeting. After a stormy session, they unanimously decided, "We shall remain being a holy Kehilla together with our righteous Rav. However, we shall no longer be a Jewish Kehilla, but rather a community of Bnei Noach. We shall be righteous goyim observing scrupulously the 7 mitzvos of Bnei Noach."
Now, let us stop a moment and think to ourselves: what would we do if we were part of that kehilla? Would we leave the community and decide to undergo conversion and live like observant Jews. That would entail leaving our homes, leaving our jobs and parnossa, our friends, our status in life, for something we never were obligated to do? Would we recognize the value of Yiddishkeit? Or would we prefer to remain with our friends in a community of righteous Bnei Noach?
This is the test. Are we preforming the mitzvos out of a true recognition of their value? Or are we performing mitzvos out of lack of choice, just because that's the way we were raised, that's the way we were educated, and just because everyone's doing it - FFB - Frum From Birth.
They tell a story about a Jewish actor who suddenly found himself without employment. One day he saw an ad, "Professional actor needed. Applications are being received at…."
This Yid arrived at the address and discovered that it was the office of the city zoo. He entered the main office and asked the supervisor about the ad. The supervisor brought him into his private office, locked the door behind them and started whispering in his ear. "We had a chimpanzee. A very special chimpanzee. It was as big as a person, with a very fine appearance, and very intelligent. He acted almost like a human. Everyone loved him and they thronged to our zoo just to see him. He was the center of attraction. Last week tragedy struck. He got sick and died. And now we can't find a replacement.
"The board of directors had an emergency meeting. One of the directors raised an innovative suggestion. We should skin the monkey, and find an actor who's willing to wear the monkey suit. He would act as if he were the moneky and everyone would continue to flock to our zoo. They'll be happy, and we'll be happy. Of course, you understand that we are offering a handsome salary."
This Yid decided to try it out. It would be a good challenge for him. He accepted. He put on the monkey suit and he started performing monkey antics. He was a star! The audience loved him. He was so successful, everyone said he was better than the chimp himself. He swung from tree to tree, he waved at the crowd, climbed monkey ladders…. Everyone loved him and cheered him on.
One day, he was in an exceptionally good mood. But he got a little too exuberant and didn't look where he was swinging to. He jumped too high and over reached his mark and landed in the lions' den. He was terrified. He shook uncontrollably as he saw the lion slowly coming towards him.
The lion stopped right in front of him and he let out a screech, "Shema Yisroel." To his surprise the lion answered him, "Hashem Elokeinu!" And from a third pen came, "Hey stupid, zeit shtill!"
Is life merely a zoo? Are we merely "actors" dressed in the right costumes, jumping around, waving our hands? What are we really? Are we really Yidden, or are we at most living in a play? Do we keep Shabbos, learn Torah, and observe the mitzvos like robots. Or do we live our Yiddishkeit out of a deep conviction and joy? This is what the Navi Yirmiyahu lamented, "Those who cling to the Torah don't know Me" (Yirmiyahu 2:8). They learn Torah, daven, but they don't know Me. They have no connection to their Yiddishkeit. Maybe, chas v'shalom, it's all a game?
And if you'll ask, what's so important about observance with a deep conviction and a close connection to the Ribono Shel Olam? What's wrong with performing the mitzvos artificially? He's doing the same actions. What's the difference if he's not happy about it?
Let's explain with a moshol. Today you can manufacture almost anything synthetically. Not only can you imitate the original, you can make it better than the original. You can manufacture flowers in more magnificent colors, with a more attractive fragrance. You can make a potato that tastes better, looks nicer, and has a longer shelf life…
There's only one thing they haven't succeeded in synthesizing. They will never be able to reproduce life. All these synthetics will never grow, will never produce fruit, will never bud, will never develop. Every synthetic flower or fruit has what it has, and no more. It can't develop anything else, it can never reproduce.
Similarly there is an authentic Jew, and a synthetic Jew. The authentic Jew is full of simcha and pride in his Yiddishkeit. Every mitzvah he does is done with joy and whole heartedly. This is a Jew who grows, blossoms, develops. He passes on his lifeblood to generations to come. His mitzvos generate new mitzvos. And he influences others to wake up and perform mitzvos in his zechus.
One the other side is the synthetic Jew. He performs mitzvos robotically, out of habit. He does this all unwillingly with no internal motivation. Perhaps he exhibits fantastic hand or body gestures. But since he has no internal simcha in the mitzvos, his frolics cannot draw anyone else into mitzvah observance. Simcha is the basis for the spiritual blossoming of a person. And with simcha and a good heart he can even induce others to blossom and produce. Simcha and blossoming are related words: ùîçä - öîéçä. The ù and the ö are interchangeable.
They once asked Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt"l, about the beginning stages of the Jewish community in the USA. There were many Yidden who were willing to suffer tremendous sacrifice for the sake of keeping Shabbos. And yet their children abandoned their faith entirely. And on the other hand, there were those who experienced the exact same tests, and they merited raising children who became upstanding and righteous Jews.
Rav Moshe answered, the reason for this is that those children who went off and left Yiddishkeit saw their parents forcing themselves to observe the mitzvos. The house was empty of joy of mitzvos. They came home after a hard week of toil and suffering and at the Shabbos table they just krechsed and sat there grumpy and glumpy. "Oy, Oy. Why is this happening to me? Why am I suffering so much?" Therefore, even the self-sacrifice of the parents was synthetic, dead. lifeless, lacking any ability to grow and produce. It had no life to influence the next generation.
On the other hand, their friends who experienced the same difficulties, held on to their simcha. They were able to pass on to their children their Yiddishkeit as a higher value. They were happy they were strong enough to observe the Shabbos. The parents' Yiddishkeit wasn't artificial, they were real Jews. They saw in their Yiddishkeit something that was good and worthwhile to suffer self-sacrifice for. Understandably, when their children experienced similar tests, they were successful.
Wishing everyone a Gut Yom Tov!!
Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!
Shema Yisrael Torah Network