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Thursday, 26 May 2016

Brush with Royalty

Daf Yomi Kiddushin 76

A couple of years ago, my friend Rabbi M. was invited to the grand opening of the British Jewish museum.  In attendance were prominent members of the Jewish community as well as VIPs from political and cultural circles.  When Rabbi M. spotted Prince Harry enter the event, his mind turned to some of the poor press the prince has received over the years.  A quick glance at the tabloids suggests Harry is quite a flawed character.  He has been photographed in a number of compromising situations, including one Halloween when he immaturely dressed up as a Nazi officer.

Rabbi M. was mulling over his distaste in his mind, when suddenly the Chief Rabbi comes over and introduces Prince Harry to him.  A little taken aback, he begins chatting with him and the discussion goes spectacularly well.   At the end of the conversation, the prince says to Rabbi M., “You know, Rabbi, I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you.  We should get together again some time.  If I invited you over to Buckingham and arranged everything kosher, would you consider joining me for dinner?”

If you were Rabbi M., how would you have responded?  After all, is Prince Harry really the kind of person you would like to befriend?

When investigating the lineage of bride and groom seeking to get married, one need not look into cohanim (priests) serving at the altar, nor Levites serving in the Temple, nor members of the Sanhedrin (high court).  Likewise, we may marry off any person whose forebears served as communal officials or charity collectors to priestly families and we need not investigate their lineage.

When a couple asks me to officiate at their wedding, one of my first responsibilities to the Jewish people is to ascertain that both bride and groom are indeed ‘members of the tribe.’  I will ask them for proof, such as their parents’ ketubahs.  But the Mishnah here teaches that certain classes of families do not require investigation.  Simply by virtue of the office they hold, we assume they have been ‘pre-screened.’

Two such groups are the community officials and charity collectors.  Why would we grant a free pass to the shul board members and the fundraisers?  Obviously, the Mishnah does not mean that we grant them a pass; rather, in days of yore, they would have to be pre-screened in order to enter such leadership positions.  But on a deeper level, the Mishnah is imparting a profound lesson about communal service.

How do you know if someone is truly Jewish?  If they are utterly dedicated to the welfare of the Jewish people.  The individuals who are prepared to sit on the shul and school boards and put up with all the harassment at the hands and mouths of unthinking constituents, they are the true Jews.  The people who are prepared to go door-to-door collecting for the poor and for community institutions – and be subjected to all manner of excuse and rejection – they are the true Jews.

When you ask regular people why they won’t volunteer on a community board, the answer is pretty much the same: “I don’t need the heartache and headache in my life.  I have enough of my own problems to deal with, thank you very much.”  But somehow there are a handful of tzaddikim (righteous souls) who will suffer the abuse and bend over backwards to help their brethren.  What makes them tick?

Let’s return to the British Jewish museum and our conversation between Prince Harry and Rabbi M.  How do you think Rabbi M. responded?  Let me tell you: When the prince asks if you’d like to hang out with him, suddenly all your misgivings fall by the wayside!  Who cares if he’s flawed?  Nobody’s perfect!  Why?  Because he’s the Prince of England.  He’s royalty.  And everybody wants to be close to royalty.

When you realize that every single Jew, warts and all, is a prince or princess of Heaven, you jump at the opportunity to serve them.  Their character flaws and faults pale into insignificance next to the knowledge that they are royalty!  That they are children of the Holy One, blessed be He!  People who serve the community faithfully do so with the knowledge and appreciation that they are personally attending to the Almighty’s kinderlach, to princes and princesses!

Only true Jews have the love and appreciation of Heaven to serve their brothers and sisters and only see the G-dliness shining through.  And so when their children come to get married, you needn’t investigate them – the parents’ actions have already proven that they are genealogically pure.  May you merit serving princes and princesses with endless love and devotion!  

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