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Monday, 18 August 2014

No pain no gain


Moed Katan 7

Chasidim tell the story of the Jew who is working up in the Northwest Territories.  It’s quite lonely doing Shabbos and festivals by himself, never having a minyan (community) to pray with.

One day his daughter calls him from Toronto to let him know she’s engaged to a nice Jewish boy.  He can’t control his joy and decides that he must celebrate.  He goes to the local pub and that night all the drinks are on him.  Everyone is as merry as can be.  He’s joyous on account of his mazaltov; they, on account of the booze.  But for once, he’s happy just to be able to celebrate in the company of others.

The Mishnah states: One may mend a hole in the fence on Chol Hamoed (the intermediate days of the festival, when only certain types of urgent work are permissible).  And during the sabbatical year, one may even build a new fence.
The Beraisa further teaches: A wall that is leaning treacherously into the public thoroughfare, one may destroy and build in the regular way, due to the danger.

The Gemara asks: One should indeed be permitted to demolish a dangerous fence.  But why is it permissible to rebuild the fence on Chol Hamoed?
The Gemara answers: If we would not permit one to rebuild the fence, he would refrain from demolishing it, preferring to protect his field rather than attend to the public danger. 

Torah and mitzvos are designed to refine us spiritually, emotionally and mentally.  But not everyone is ready for the requisite hard work and dedication.  To the uninitiated, the work seems discomforting and almost a negative experience.  People come to religion expecting comfort and positivity, not hard work and challenge. 

And so, in an effort to motivate people to one day demolish their precarious fences, we stimulate them today by offering them a Judaism that is completely positive – it’s all about building the fence.  We encourage the building of the fence in order that people will eventually be inspired to demolish their damaged structures.  If we would not allow the building of the fence, people would refrain from demolishing them.

But sometimes you can get caught up in all the fun of building and positivity and forget the ultimate goal of Judaism of becoming a better person, spiritually and emotionally.  Are you drinking because you truly have a mazaltov to celebrate or just because the alcohol is on the house?  Is your Judaism deep and meaningful or shallow and superficial?

We have lavish synagogue kiddushes (repasts), but if you’re a JFK – you come Just For Kiddush – you’ve missed the critical purpose of the exercise.  Sure, the kiddush is important in terms of community-building and congregational comradery, but its main aim is to increase attendance at the service.   The service, at least to begin with, seems daunting and tiresome.  But the more you apply yourself, the more refined you will become and the more you will get out of it.


Anything of value in this world demands hard work and effort.  Your Judaism is no different.  Sometimes we allow building which will lead to demolition.  Don’t let the fun, comfortable aspects of your Judaism get in the way of the character-changing and soul-building elements!  They’re hard work but well worth the effort!