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ITíS HARD TO BE A JEW BE A JEW?

by Rabbi Shmuel Weiss    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

At the end of this weekís Torah portion, Hashem commands Jacob to leave the house of Laban, who has consistently swindled him and was a bad influence on the children.

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At the end of this weekís Torah portion, Hashem commands Jacob to leave the house of Laban, who has consistently swindled him and was a bad influence on the children. Before actually leaving, however, Jacob consults his wives--Labanís daughters--Leah and Rachel. The women concur with Jacobís decision and reply: "Why should we stay? Hasnít our father cheated us out, too? We are like strangers in his house!"

Why did Jacob not simply tell his wives that he had received a direct command from Hashem to leave? And why did Leah and Rachel justify their leaving, instead of merely accepting G-dís dictate on its own terms?

On the one hand, we can say that Jacobís pow-wow with his wives represents a refreshing and proper attitude. Remember that Abraham had quarreled with his wife Sarah over Ishmael, agreeing to a decision only at Hashemís intervention. And Isaac and Rebeccah? They never even discussed Esauís evil ways. So Jacob was indicating that the path to peace and harmony in the home comes through communication and mutual assent, not confrontation.

But Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a great Torah giant of the previous generation, adds a brilliant insight to this issue. He says that, while every commandment is justified by its emanation from Hashem, there is a tremendously positive merit to be had when we see the mitzvot not as dictates, but as something inherently good for us. By Rachel and Leah expressing the rightness and benefits attached to the command, they were showing their innate understanding that mitzvot are truly for our benefit, not Hashemís.

Rabbi Feinstein urges us to approach all mitzvot similarly. When you view kashruth, prayer, and charity as elements of your own self-worth, you will do them with a special enthusiasm, energy and ease. But when you view mitzvot as imposed upon you, you will react to them as a drudgery, a hardship, a restriction on your freedoms.

In times gone by, when Shabbat observance was not a protected right--even in the free world--many people would lose their jobs in order not to desecrate Shabbat. They would come home on Friday with no employment for the week ahead. But what message would they convey to their family at the Shabbat table that evening? Would they emphasize the hardship of keeping mitzvot, the costly price attached? Or would they exhibit pride at their spiritual strength and faith in Hashem as the just and perfect employer, who pays all debts and would not let them suffer for their adherence to the mitzvot? Their attitude could mean the difference between the next generation respecting and keeping the mitzvot, or resenting the Torah and throwing off the yoke of mitzvot altogether.

A most dangerous, false credo of Judaism is "Shver tzu zayn a Yid--Itís hard being a Jew." It is so much better--and more accurate--to instead say, "Itís great to be a Jew!"

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Rabbi Shmuel Weiss, a close friend of the Torah from Dixie family, is the director of the Jewish Outreach Center in Ranaíana, Israel. He is also the author of Shammes: Stories of the Jewish Experience.

You are invited to read more Parshat Vayeitzei articles.

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