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Thought for the Day: Learning What It Means To Be A Good Jew From What It Means To Be A Good Non-Jew

One of the most (on the surface) Chazals that I know is brought by Rashi at the end of parshas Vayikra (5:17): R' Yosi says:
 “If you wish to know the reward of the righteous, go and learn it from Adam, the first man. He was given only [one] negative commandment, and he transgressed it; see how many deaths were decreed upon him and his descendants!”
Umm... huh?!  If I want to know the reward of the righteous, look at the horrendous punishment that Adam earned?  This Chazal, by the way, goes on to say that the HaShem bestows goodness in a measure that is hundreds of times the measure in which He metes out punishment; but still, funny way to start, no?  Right; no, it is not  at all a funny way to start.  There is no way to possibly comprehend the overwhelming goodness in which the righteous will bask, so the best we can do is compare it to the negative.

Similarly, when we want to understand what it means to be the best Jew you can be, it can be overwhelming.  Let's begin, therefore, to understand what it means for a non-Jew to excel.  I just heard this incident this morning, quoted by R' Efraim Twerski in the name of his cousin R' Chaim Twerski, who heard if directly from the "ba'al ma'aseh", R' Yaakov Weinberg.

A young lady (quite obviously non-Jewish) came to R' Weinberg with question.  She wanted to know if she needed to buy only kosher meat.  R' Weinberg asked if she was Jewish just to confirm), and she confirmed that, no, she was not Jewish.  Why, then, queried R' Weinberg, would she thinks she needs to keep kosher.  "Because," she replied, "I know that a non-Jew is forbidden to eat a limb that was cut from a living animal.  The only way I know to insure that is to buy kosher meat."  R' Weinberg explained that we rely on "majority" and since the majority of meat produced is not from limbs cut form still living animals, that she was ok.  She thanked him and said good-bye.

The same lady appeared a few weeks later.  She had been doing more reading and found that a non-Jew is culpable for stealing on even the smallest measure.  She lived with roommates, though, and it was impossible to ensure that everything was accounted for to the exact penny.  R' Weinberg suggested she make an agreement with her roommates to not be exacting with each other for small benefits.  She thanked the rabbi again and left.

She came back a few weeks later, though.  She was dating a Jewish boy and wanted to know if she was culpable for "lifnei iver"/putting a stumbling block before the blind.  She knew, of course, that as a descendant of Noah she was permitted to marry a Jew; he, as a Jew, though, was forbidden to marry her.  She wouldn't be doing anything directly wrong by marrying him, but she was worried that by encouraging him she might be culpable for aiding him in sinning.  The rabbi confirmed that she was indeed culpable and should stop dating him.  R' Weinberg then asked her if she had ever considered converting?  "Oh no!  I have enough trouble with seven mitzvos; how would I ever manage 613?!"

It is very easy to just go through the day davening, pulling kosher food from the pantry, even resting on Shabbos without thinking about the myriad of details that each entails.  It's nice to be reminded that we have been given a tremendous opportunity -- life in this world; but it comes with tremendous responsibility.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life.  Get going.

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