Friday, June 14, 2024

Agudath Israel of Florida Mission to Washington

Shver tsu zayn a Yid — It's hard to be a Jew, said the old Yiddish proverb. Many of us have verbalized this phrase for a long time in one iteration or another, from the Kosher consumer in the grocery store who realizes that record inflation does not even take the skyrocketing prices of kosher groceries into account. It also may be uttered by any one of tens of thousands of Jewish parents who are committed to providing a K-12 Jewish education to their children and realizing that their tuition bill is north of fifty thousand dollars. Since October 7, this phrase has been uttered by countless Jewish university students as they are physically bullied and intimidated by rising Jewish hatred. There is a fascinating insight at the beginning of this week's parsha that helps reframe the issue. The Torah articulates the different roles and responsibilities of the Levites, the spiritual custodians of the Mishkan. There were three primary families from the tribe of Levi, and each had distinct roles assigned. The three Levite families were Kehas, Gershon, and Merari. In describing the role of the family of Gershon, the Torah uses interesting language. The Torah states, זֹ֣את עֲבֹדַ֔ת מִשְׁפְּחֹ֖ת הַגֵּרְשֻׁנִּ֑י לַעֲבֹ֖ד וּלְמַשָּֽׂא. It is translated as, "These are the duties of the Gershonite families as to serve and porterage." Was this a noble service or a mundane task of schlepping (another Yiddish word)? One idea that is offered is that there are two general ways we can embrace our communal responsibilities in particular and obligations as Jews in general. We can view it as part of a higher calling that we have been chosen and have a special destiny in history. Part of having a higher calling comes with more responsibilities. If someone embraces this worldview, they can view their Jewish responsibilities as a privilege and badge of honor. Another view is to view responsibilities in life as a Jew as nothing short of a burden. Such a person will regularly lament about how burdensome or unfair it is to lead a Jewish life. The Torah taught the Gershon family that they can choose how to embrace their communal responsibilities. They can view them as a privilege for which they can be thankful, or as a burden for which they can resent. While we may not belong to the Gershon section of the tribe of Levi, we are regularly asked to choose how we view our approach to Jews. How is it for you? A privilege or a burden? Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

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