JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review May 23, 2003 / 21 Iyar, 5763

To be a Jew

By Rabbi Berel Wein

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | In a world of slippery moral equivalency and a general discomfort at being forced to make hard choices, this week's Torah - Bible -- portion of Bechukosai comes to remind us of the realities of life and especially of Jewish history and destiny.

Rashi, the foremost commentator, comments that Bechukosai instructs that one must toil in Torah and not merely pay it lip service, compliments or engage in nostalgia. Living a Jewish life requires daily effort and commitment. It is a task, albeit an uplifting and noble one.

Being a Jew and living a Torah life was never for the fainthearted. It has always required a strong sense of duty, self-restraint, individualism, and proud identity. These traits are not easily acquired and require constant nurturing throughout a person's lifetime in order to be sustained.

Though we all undergo change during our lifetimes, hopefully always for the better, the Torah does not seek or approve of zigzag behavior and sudden shocking epiphanies. Rather, it points towards constant toil, towards grinding it out day-by-day, action-by-action, and attitude-by-attitude.

Judaism is not a quick-fix faith. It carries with it myriad obligations and sees life as a marathon run and not as a sprint race. This is what the rabbis of the Mishna had in mind when they taught, "the reward is consistent with the effort and toil." Life is not a lottery where a lucky ticket solves all problems. This may not be too popular a message but it is a true one and honesty always brings its own rewards.

In this spirit, we can appreciate the presence of the doleful message of the "tochacha" in this week's Torah portion. To our sorrow, but to the vindication of the Torah as being G-d's word, every single event foretold in the "tochacha" has actually occurred over the span of our history.

G-d's warning as to the consequences of abandoning the ways of the Divine and Israel, of attempting to be just like "everyone else," of refusing to toil in the vineyard of Torah remains as relevant as ever. The message of harsh realism that this Bible portion conveys is that there are serious consequences, both individually and nationally, to our behavior and attitudes. All bills must eventually be paid and all shortcomings made good.

The "tochacha," with its litany of punishments and sad events, is the stark reminder of the realities of Jewish life. Warnings may perhaps be ignored since they are uncomfortable. But actual events afford us very little room to wriggle our way out of the realities of life. The sweep of Jewish history -- especially of the past century -- leaves little room for indolence and apathy.

Since this Torah portion concludes the Book of Vayikra/Leviticus, the custom in the synagogue is to rise at the end of the Torah reading and to recite in unison the hope "chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek" "to be strong, to be strong and to strengthen each other." Over the long centuries of the Jewish experience, in spite of the "tochacha" and its punishments, Jews have strengthened themselves and others by toiling in the Torah and by building -- against very formidable odds and obstacles -- a Torah society and a vision of future hope and betterment.

Let us renew ourselves in that spirit as well.

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JWR contributor Rabbi Berel Wein is one of Jewry's foremost historians and founder of the Destiny Foundation. He has authored over 650 tapes, books and videos which you can purchase at RabbiWein.com. Comment by clicking here or calling 1-800-499-WEIN (9346).


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© 2002, Rabbi Berel Wein