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Parshas Acharei Mos/Kedoshim - Living Jewish or Jewish Living       10 Iyar 5781

04/23/2021 09:10:17 AM


This Dvar Torah is L'Ilui Nishmas IMO Yehuda Leib Ben Yehoshua Heshel Bogopulsky z"l on his Yahrzeit 10 Iyar 

There is an old Yiddish expression “Shver tsu zayn ah Yid”: “It's hard to be a Jew”. This expression, or figure of speech, was used in a 1920 Yiddish-language comedy written by Sholom Aleichem about the difficulties dealing with Jewish-Gentile relationships in the Russian Empire. Throughout Eastern Europe, this expression was well known to every Yiddish-speaking Jew -  for good reason. Jews were routinely marginalized and discriminated against—if not flat-out persecuted—throughout every European country. In the United States this phrase took on a different slant, to the effect that in America it is difficult to be an observant, practicing Jew. At first, this was due to the rigors of obtaining the amenities and affordability to be an observant Jew. But in today’s day and age, it is more about the difficulties and downright interference of simply living the American lifestyle.

Too often people tend to contemplate the difficulties of being a Jew, frequently relating these difficulties to the Mitzvos/commandments that are forced upon them. There are many such Mitzvos which are commonly perceived as invasions to a person’s lifestyle - such as keeping kosher in and out of the home, observing Shabbos and the laws of family purity,  to name only a few. I would bet most people feel these difficulties primarily centered around Mitzvos between man and God. Those Mitzvos I mentioned earlier are prime examples of commandments that do not affect interpersonal relationships. Overall, people do not associate the principle of “Shver tsu zayn ah Yid” with the Mitzvos Bein Adam LaChaveiro, - the Mitzvos between man and man. ”Surely”, most would emphatically state, “we act appropriately with people.” Regrettably, this is the farthest thing from the truth; it is just as difficult, if not more so, to fully observe the laws between man and our fellow man. I believe that we, the Jewish People, do not comprehend the significance of the Mitzvos between man and man due to the influence of the secular world around us. It is rare to find a gentile who would be able to conceive some of the unique Mitzvos Hashem gave us. For example, one would think that it is fair to charge interest when loaning someone money. The money that I am giving as a loan will no longer be able to generate more income for myself, so why not at least recoup some of that potential loss? If someone wronged me, why couldn’t I take revenge to get even, wouldn’t that be fair? Who would not think it is a good idea to give special consideration to the poor? These, and countless other interactions among people, are everyday situations that the non-Jewish world is not commanded to observe, and yet we, the Jewish people, are required to adhere to all of them. Each member of the society in which we live plays a major part in our lives, influencing us greatly.  Therefore, each of the commandments affecting our interpersonal relationships – the commandments between man and man – prove throughout our lives to be both difficult and challenging.

In this week’s Parshios Acharei Mos/Kedoshim the Torah states in Vayikra 19:15 "לא תעשו עול במשפט לא תשא פני דל ולא תהדר פני גדול, בצדק תשפט עמיתך"   “Do not pervert justice. Do not give special consideration to the poor nor show respect. Judge your people fairly”. Rashi interprets the words ‘Judge your people fairly’ according to the plain meaning. There is, however, another interpretation regarding this line.  It reads: "הוי דן את חברך לכף זכות" Judge your fellowman in the scale of merit.”  I heard a remarkable new understanding of this concept. Being “Dan L’Kaf Zchus” - giving someone the benefit of the doubt - is not, L’Chatchila, done in the best possible way or occurring at the beginning, at first, initially. Rather, L’Chatchila, you should mind your own business. But, B’Dieved (in retrospect), you were judging somebody in a certain situation, and you should not have done so; therefore, at least now you need to judge that person favorably.  The reason we need to judge favorably is clear and basic: Who are we to judge at all! God is the only ‘Judge’ to whom a person ultimately answers, and this seems to be something we tend to forget about all the time.

This lesson of not judging and, of even greater import, understanding why we should not judge, can be taken to another level of appreciation. In Vayikra 19:3 the Torah states: "איש אמו ואביו תיראו ואת שבתתי תשמרו, אני ה' אלקיכם"  “Every person must respect his mother and father and keep my Sabbaths. I am God your Lord”. The Gemara Kiddushin 31 asks how do we show reverence or what constitutes ‘Morah’? The Gemara answers, ”He [the son] shall not sit in his [the father’s] place, nor speak in his place, nor contradict his words.” This Gemara is commenting on the ‘why’ when speaking of honoring a parent. The Torah concludes with, ‘I am Hashem your God’. Both you [the children] and your parents are obligated to honor Me. Therefore, do not listen to him [your father] to void My words. Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, also known by the title of his main work, the Sfas Emes, writes in his maamar of 1871 that this line is a hint by Hashem that we, the children, should not sit in the place of our father….our Father in Heaven! The Zohar HaKadosh writes that Hashem is the Father of the Jewish people. Hashem is telling us not to sit in His place.

In the words of Kedusha, the angels call out how Holy Hashem is, and that He fills the world with His honor. Hashem’s honor reigns throughout the world; we need to be careful where we sit - definitely not in God’s chair and place. The message is that we need to stop trying to run the world. Hashem is commanding us not to sit in His place and try to run the world. Why are we agitating, fooling ourselves to believe that by doing this or that we will be saved? Rather, we need to just do our Hishtadlus, our effort, and just sit back and comment as a devout Jew would say, ‘a Jew ought to allow himself to be led by Hashem’. The subtle reminder that ‘Hashem/ God runs the world’ is also learned out from the few key words in the verse ‘and keep My Sabbaths’. The declaration of Shabbos makes it clear that in six days God created the world and on the seventh day He rested. This expresses His kingdom.; it is Shabbos testifies that Hashem is the Creator of the world and runs and sustains all.

The phrase “shver tsu zayn ah Yid” – “It's Hard to be a Jew” caused great damage, pushing away an entire generation of those ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ stereotypical Jews from Judaism. I believe it was Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l who told parents to be careful of the message your children are getting from you when they hear you say those sighing, woeful words.  To summarize, I would like to rephrase that famous old Yiddish expression and say, “Shver tsu zayn ah Yid Ahn Gut” It's Hard to be a Jew without God”. If we connect our existence to remembering who is really running the show, then it will be much easier, and actually deeply fulfilling, to be a God-fearing observant and dedicated Jew!    

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


Tue, October 3 2023 18 Tishrei 5784