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Monday, 21 March 2016

Take ownership of your Judaism

Daf Yomi Kiddushin 6

For the first fifteen years of their married life, Fraidy and Jonny would go away for Pesach.  Either to his parents or to her parents, as well as a couple of times that they spent the festival on a Pesach program at a hotel.  And then one year, things didn’t work out.  His parents were off to Israel for Pesach, and her parents were doing Pesach, but simply didn’t have enough room to host all the children and grandchildren. 

Fraidy and Jonny found themselves in a quandary – with seven kids, they couldn’t afford to go away for Pesach!  Suddenly, for the first time, they would have to make their own Pesach!  They were confused and concerned – they had never done it before!  Would they be able to handle it?

Immediately after Purim, they began cleaning their house.  They went through every drawer, pulled out every piece of furniture, looked through every book for crumbs – it’s amazing what you find after all those years!  They then proceeded to kasher their kitchen.  They purchased new pots and pans and new sets of dishes.  It wasn’t cheap and it was hard work.

But then the seder night finally arrived.  The smell and feel of Pesach permeated the home. Fraidy and Jonny looked at one another beaming. 
‘We did it!’ they exclaimed with joy.
For the first time in their lives, they felt that they had earned the joy of Pesach.  They were no longer mere guests of the festival, now it was theirs.

It was Rava who said that a gift given on condition that it will be returned is still called a gift.  For Rava taught: If a person said to his friend, ‘Take this etrog and perform the mitzvah with it, on condition that you return it to me,’ if he took it and returned it, he has fulfilled the mitzvah.  But if he failed to return it, he has not fulfilled the mitzvah.
Rashi explains: It is considered retroactive theft.

In order to fulfil the mitzvah of lulav and etrog on the first day of the festival of Sukkot, you must personally own your etrog.  It can’t be borrowed, it must be yours.  But what do you if you can’t afford your own etrog?  Rava presents a creative way to fulfil the mitzvah with someone else’s etrog – they can give it to you as a present, on condition that following your fulfilment of the mitzvah, you return it to them!

Seriously?!  Who are we kidding?  Isn’t that a little dodgy?  If your entire ownership is conditioned on your promise to return the etrog, what’s the point of this little ‘charade’?  Effectively you’re borrowing it, so what’s the purpose of the Torah’s directive that you must ‘own’ it, even if that ownership is temporary?

Today, throughout the Jewish world, we are witnessing unprecedented levels of assimilation.  Young people just aren’t interested in the edifices and institutions their parents and grandparents built.  They walk into shul and feel somehow detached.  They just don’t feel like they are truly a part of what’s going on.  Why not?

Because it’s not theirs.  It’s a Judaism that feels borrowed.  They’re not invested in it the same way their parents were.   That’s the difference between a non-member who shows up to shul on occasion versus a shul member who might only show up twice a year.  Even so, the twice a year member feels comfortable and confident walking into shul, because they own it.  The non-member feels awkward, like they somehow don’t really belong.  Because it’s just borrowed.  They don’t own it.

That’s why the Torah insists you own your etrog.  Our natural instinct would be ‘why should I invest in something I am only going to need for the next week and then will be worthless?’  And so nobody would bother investing in a lulav and etrog, figuring that they could just borrow one.  And bentching (blessing) the lulav would be a meaningless gesture.  Instead, you must own it; be invested in it!  And then you feel a part of it.

And that’s really how Hashem wants you to feel about every one of His mitzvos.  You need to take ownership of your Judaism.  As long as you’re ‘borrowing’ it, you’re not really experiencing it.  Whether it’s the sukkah you’re building or the Pesach you’re making, the tallis you’re wearing or the challah you’re baking – only once you do these mitzvos with your own elbow grease do you truly begin to appreciate and feel they are yours.

Take ownership of your Judaism.  Even temporary ownership is better than a borrowed mitzvah.  May you and your children and grandchildren merit owning every mitzvah you perform!

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