02 September 2016

Parashat Re'eh 5776: "The Jew Is Never Mediocre"

29 Menachem Av 5776
Erev Shabbat Kodesh
Erev Rosh Chodesh
Parashat Re'eh


Rabbi Binyamin Kahane - Parshat Re'eh

To be a Jew is a great responsibility. It comes with great privileges, but there are great obligations as well. This double-edged sword hovers over the Jew and obligates him from the moment he is born til the moment he dies.

But what if a Jew doesn't want the responsibility? Can a Jew get up one day and say, "I didn't choose this destiny, I didn't ask for it, I don't want any part of it"? Perhaps a Jew doesn't want to be "chosen" or "special." He simply wants to be a member of "humanity," free to do as he pleases, without being restricted by the 613 mitzvot of the Torah and the countless ordinances of the Rabbis. Is he allowed to opt out?

The answer, as we all know, is "NO." If a person is born a Jew, he remains a Jew - with all the rights and obligations. He is similar to a prince. Despite the grandeur and honor that is intrinsically his the minute he is born, he is also subject to all kinds of restrictions. Throughout history we have seen people born into royalty who despised their destiny and felt miserable. And yet, they had no real choice- they were bound forever. A prince may embrace his position and achieve greatness or reject it and live an ignominious life. One thing he can't do, however, is be "ordinary" and live an "ordinary" life.

The same is true of the Jew. As the Torah states, "Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse - a blessing if you obey the commandments of the L-rd, your G-d...and a curse if you do not obey the commandments of the L-rd, your G-d" (Deuteronomy 11:26-28). What is the meaning of such a choice? Does it mean that a Jew is given the right to choose his own way in life, to determine his own destiny? Not quite.

The commentary of the Sforno on this verse is revealing: "Behold: Your affairs will not be ordinary, or run-of-the-mill, like those of other nations. Rather, 'I set before you this day a blessing and a curse' - which represent two extremes: the blessing is tremendous success beyond what you need, while the curse is an affliction of inadequacy. One or the other will be your fate, depending on what you choose." 

In other words, G-d gives us two options. The first option is to be blessed, the second option is to be cursed. There is NO THIRD OPTION. There is no option of mediocrity - of being neither blessed nor cursed, "just one of the guys." Either a Jew fulfills his destiny, and is blessed, or he fails to fulfill his destiny, and is consequently cursed and punished.

The truth is that a Jew who wants to escape his destiny can only be pitied. He really is an unfortunate nebbish - not because he was born a Jew, but because he does not understand the special greatness for which he was intended. He is like a mentally crazed man who finds gold and throws it away in disgust.

Darka shel Torah 1993
Shabbat Shalom!

If you are interested in reading more divrei Torah from Rabbi Meir and Binyamin Kahane Hy"d, you can purchase the book here or here.