Be a Jew Through and Through

Another guest entry. The following was originally submitted to (but not picked up by) Hamodia. Rav Hirsch’s quoted words are clearly the predecessor of R’ Breuer’s talk on “Glatt Yoshor“, which was also posted to this blog from an email by R’ Dr Levine.

-micha

Be A Jew Through and Through!
Dr. Yitzchok Levine
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Stevens Institute of Technology
Hoboken, NJ 07030
llevine@stevens.edu

A number of years ago we had a student from Stevens as our guest for the last days of Pesach. He came from a non-religious home and had become observant. At one point he confided in me, “My father once told me that every time he had business dealings with an observant Jew he felt that he was being cheated.” To put it mildly I was taken aback by what he had said.

I explained to him that what his father told him was clearly a broad generalization that could not be the truth about how all observant Jews behaved in their business dealings. I also pointed out that the Torah requires us to deal honestly and fairly with all people – Jew and Gentile.

Nonetheless, what he said has remained with me, and even now I find such a statement disturbing. Sadly, there are some “frum” Jews whose dealings with others are not in accordance with what Yiddishkeit demands from its adherents.

Recently I came across something from the writings of Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch that deals with this topic. In his essay “Tammuz I” found in the Collected Writings of Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, Volume I, pages 279 – 281, Rav Hirsch points out that one of the five tragedies that took place on the Seventeenth of Tammuz was that “The tablets [Luchos] were broken when Moshe descended from the mountain.” He then goes on to point out

“And the tables were written on both their sides, , on the one side and on the other were they written.” (Exodus 32, 15.)

The word from Sinai must not grip us only superficially and one-sidedly. It must penetrate us through and through, it must set its stamp indelibly on every part of our being, and whichever way we are turned the writing of God must everywhere be visible on us clearly and legibly. See the Divine tables of testimony! On them there was no above and below, no front and back. The writing pierced right through them, and yet they could be read on both sides. This must be a model for you. Be a Jew through and through. Whichever way you are turned, be a Jew. Do not engrave the Divine writing only on one side, one part, one aspect of your being, so that you will appear a Jew and a missioner of the Divine name and the Divine will only when regarded from one side and one aspect, but when you turn your back and enter into other relationships you will appear as anything but a Jew, a missioner for anything but the name and the will of God; or at any rate you will not be so completely a Jew, you will not be so clearly stamped as a missioner of God’s will. Be a Jew through and through on all sides and in all aspects. And do not esteem one side as facing more directly towards the Godhead. Do not imagine that you have received the stamp of the Divine word with more emphasis on this one side, and that you can allow the other side to be content with the after-effects of this stamp and with the mere traces of this imprint. Do not think that people as they look on one side can discern that the force of the Divine word has penetrated to the other, when you speak of what you call the main sides and the main periods and the main items and the main articles of your Judaism. In relation to God there is no reverse side and no opposite side; everything is turned to God and must be taken equally seriously, on every side the stamp of the Divine will is to be placed with the same force and care and directness. Let yourself be penetrated through and through from all sides with the Divine word!

We have recently observed the Fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz and are now in the midst of the Three Weeks. It should be a time of introspection for all of us, given the calamities that we have experienced during this sad period. Perhaps each of us should now commit to striving to be a Jew through and through in all that we do.

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  1. David Bildner says:

    The comparison of the Jew to the tablets is intriguing. Another aspect of this comparison that can be developed in various directions is the fact that the miraculous “through and through” tablets that were provided through Divine miracle, the ones discussed by Dr. Levine, were shattered by Moses when he returned to the Israelite emcampment and saw that the Jews were not yet ready to live up to them. The replacement tablets prepared by Moses were one-sided, produced by (and for?) human abilities. Those are the ones that were actually “used” by the Jews. However, the original Divinely-produced tablets were placed in the ark in the center of the Israelite encampment. Perhaps this is a reminder to the Jews to aspire to the “through and through” status of the original tablets and Dr. Levine’s comparison.

  2. The tail end of the hashkafic portion of the introduction to Shaarei Yosher also compares self refinement to carving the luchos. Rav Shimon Shkop suggests that the reason why Moshe had to discard the first luchos, which were carved by Hashem, in favor of luchos that he was commanded “pesal lekha” — to carve for himself.

    He writes (tr. mine):

    The beginning of the receiving of the Torah through Moses was a symbol and sign for all of the Jewish people who receive the Torah [since]. Just as Hashem told Moses, “Carve for yourself two stone Tablets”, so too it is advice for all who receive the Torah. Each must prepare Tablets for himself, to write upon them the word of Hashem. According to his readiness in preparing the Tablets, so will be his ability to receive. If in the beginning or even any time after that his Tablets are ruined, then his Torah will not remain. This removes much of Moses’ fear, because according to the value and greatness of the person in Awe/Fear of Hashem and in middos, which are the Tablet of his heart, this will be the measure by which heaven will give him acquisition of Torah. And if he falls from his level, by that amount he will forget his Torah, just as our sages said of a number of things that cause Torah to be forgotten. About this great concept our sages told us to explain the text at the conclusion of the Torah, “and all the great Awe Inspiring acts which Moses wrought before the eyes of all of Israel.” 27

    To my mind this can be connected to what our sages explained in Nedarim (folio 38) on the verse “carve for yourself”. Moses didn’t get rich except through the extras of the Tablets. 28 This is an amazing idea – [is it possible that] Hashem couldn’t find any way to make Moses wealthy except through the extras of the Tablets? But through what we said, we can explain this. Through this change of how Tablets are to be readied, there was given opportunity for those who receive the Torah to fear, to accept upon themselves the yoke of Torah. Through this it becomes appropriate for anyone entering the gates of Torah to separate themselves from all the preoccupations of his world. As they interpret the verse “‘it is not on the other side of the sea’ 29 it is not found at salesman or importers.” 30 However, if the first Tablets had remained, then it would be sufficient to establish an easy hour for Torah, and spend most of your time trading and buying. For this reason the Holy One showed Moses as a sign to all who accept the Torah that He would prepare for them their income through the making of the Tablet; any “extras that are carved away” will provide them with income.

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