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Home » K'doshim

Kedoshim: The Inner Jew

Submitted by on May 8, 2016 – 12:21 amNo Comment | 1,353 views

A Confusion

One thing you could always assume in years past was that holy Jews looked the part. Long beard, wrinkled forehead, sparkling eyes and visage filled with wisdom. Bent over ancient tomes, or lovingly performing a Mitzvah, these people were energetic, learned, pious and driven. Their outer appearance reflected their inner Jew.

Today, everything is confused. The holiest people are caught in the worst scandals and the worst sinners are capable of the holiest endeavors. People that cheat on their spouses, share millions of their hard earned dollars with the wretched and poor. People who steal millions, pray daily with the utmost sincerity. Scholars of the highest repute, are caught abusing children and Jews that attend church with their non Jewish friends, are genuinely inspired at the Synagogue on Yom Kippur.

What is it with us? Are we the generation of hypocrites? Isn’t there anything to be said for consistency?

Worst and Best

It boils down to this. Are the best capable of the worst or are the worst capable of the best? Rabbi Levik of Berdichiv was once told of a wagon driver who was so careless in prayer that he oiled his wagon wheels during prayer. Wow, responded Reb Levik, even as he oils his wheels, he continues to pray.

How do you judge the Jew who abuses his employees and dotes on his children? Do you see him as a good father gone bad or as a bad employer gone good? Do you reflect and say, wow, even a hard man melts before his children or do you say, even a loving man succumbs to the corruption of power?

A wonderful old man once told me that G-d switched the pre Holocaust Jew for the post Holocaust Jew, but G-d lost out. The post holocaust generation is much less religious. Is he right? The post Holocaust generation is perhaps less observant, but is much holier. In previous generations one had to choose. You could either be holy or not, pious or not, observant or not, you had to choose your side of the line. Today’s Jew can pull of the greatest trick. Even in the pit of depravity you find sacred gems of deep inspiration. Holy souls with their inner Jew intact.

Adultery in Sanctity?

The name of this week’s Torah portion is Kedoshim, which means sacred. The Torah lists the behavioral norms that render a person holy. It includes, chastity, charity, honesty, love, respect, forbearance and many more. In the same Parsha the Torah forbids carnal sins such as adultery, incest and bestiality.

If you have to preclude such behaviors, you are obviously talking to people capable of it and even drawn to it. Are these the people you address when you call on the Jew to be holy? In the midst of His sermon on holiness, G-d needs to address the lower base attractions of the human condition?

The answer is yes. Very few people are firmly planted on either side of the line. Most of us cross the line back and forth several times daily. Most of us commit harsh sins at least on occasion when no one, but G-d, is watching. Yet, we all have genuine moments of true inspiration when love for G-d beats in our hearts and fear of G-d pulses through our veins.

This is the nature of our times. Give up on no one for no one is beyond hope. There is redemptive hope for every Jew. This is implied in the first chapter of Ethics of Our fathers. “Be patient in judgement,” advise our sages and “establish many students.” The link between the two instructions is obvious. If you are not hasty in judgement, if you seek the best in everyone, you will eventually come to guide many.

The Inner Jew

This is best illustrated by the following story. A chassid by the name of Reb Shmuel Munkes was looking for the home of the famed teacher and Rebbe, Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi. It was late at night, when Reb Shmuel arrived and he had no idea where the Rebbe lived. Only one house in town was filled with light and he figured it must be the Rebbe’s. He knocked on the door, the Rebbe opened and a strange conversation ensued.

“How can I help,” asked the Rebbe. “I’m seek lodgings,” replied Reb Shmuel. “Is this the only home available,” asked the Rebbe? “This too is a Jewish home,” replied Reb Shmuel. “In that case, I can call the Goy (Non-Jew, literally member of the nations) and have him drive you out,” replied the Rebbe. Reb Shmuel broke into tears, “Rebbe,” he cried, “my Goy is stronger than your Goy.”

The story begs for an explanation. Why would a Rebbe refuse to open his home to a fellow Jew?

The Rebbe understood that Reb Shmuel was not an ordinary person seeking ordinary lodgings. He was a Chassid seeking guidance. He was a broken Jew, who had dabbled in selfishness and coarseness and he wanted to be inspired. He was seeking a Jewish home and how do you identify a Jewish home? By its light. A shining beacon on a darkened hill.

“What do you seek?” “I seek a Jewish home.” Of course Reb Shmuel had a home, but in his own home he was susceptible to sin, to moments of spiritual weakness and he wanted a home with Jewish light, a place where he would feel inspired Jewishly all the time.

Said the Rebbe, but if you are not feeling Jewish inside, if your inner Jew is silent, what good will it do to enter a Jewish home? You can’t change within, simply by basking in an outer holy environment. Even if the environment is holy, your inner Goy will come and drive you out. If you find something unholy and un-kosher in my home, if you encounter even a small a Goy in my home, it will awaken your goy all over again and it will drive you out of my home. If I as much as tempt you to something non Kosher and Non Jewish, you will succumb and flee this house. So what good will it do you to enter?

Reb Shmuel acknowledged this with bitter tears and cried, my goy is stronger than your Goy. If I don’t enter the home, I have no hope. My strong inner Goy will take over completely. Here, in this home, I have hope. Yes, anything can happen even here. I can be tempted and I can slide backward, but here I can at least start my work. In my home, I have no hope at all.

As soon as the Rebbe heard that Reb Shmuel had a realistic grasp of his situation and was prepared to work hard, he took him in. Reb Shmuel became one of the prominent Chassidim in the annals of Chabad.

Up To Us

This story teaches us a powerful lesson. No matter where we are in our spiritual path, we are never beyond hope. We can always find a holy wave of inspiration and ride it to a new Mitzvah, a new resolution. So long as we realize that we have a long road to travel and are willing to take the first step, the progress we will make is a foregone conclusion. There will be forward steps and backward slides, but we will make progress. [1]

[1] This essay is based on Toras Menachem v. 19, page 300 and 365.

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