Burden or Privilege?

Thursday, 29 August, 2019 - 10:46 pm

Over the past several weeks I have had several discussions with people about the question of whether Jewish obligations are a burden or a privilege. If, to paraphrase Pirkei Avot, against our will we are formed, born, live, die and give an accounting before G-d, then why should we not see it as a burden from which we cannot even opt out?

A Jew once came to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the foremost Halachic authority in post-war USA, and asked why so many Jewish immigrants to the US had such a hard time keeping their children connected to Jewish observance. He replied, that many of them struggled. Often a father came home every Friday, and he was just fired from his job for keeping Shabbos. If his reaction was “es is shver tzu zein a yid – it is difficult to be a Jew” then the children absorb the message that Yiddishkeit is a burden, of which they want no part. But if a parent, despite all of the challenges, declares “es is gut tzu zein a yid – it is good to be a Jew” then that attitude would be conveyed to the children.

To use an analogy. Two men were carrying equally heavy sacks on the road into town. One was sighing and kvetching the whole way. The second was whooping with joy and couldn’t contain his excitement. The first man had a sack filled with rocks. The second’s sack was filled with diamonds. The same weight, different attitude.

If we see serving Hashem – our Jewish obligations - as a burden, then sure, we’d want to opt out as soon as possible, or at the very least, decreasing the burden with minimal devotion. If, however, we view our Jewish obligations as the greatest privilege, then our sack, albeit heavy, is filled with diamonds. The more the better. Instead of saying I wish I could opt out, we consider how much was invested in us by Hashem to enable our success.

It’s all about perspective…

As Elul comes marching in, let me wish each and every one of you to be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet year of health, prosperity and spiritual meaning.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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