We Jews are all brought up with many laws that are difficult to understand. Laws like keeping kosher, erroneously connected to health, taking the four species (Palm, Willow, Myrtle and Citron) on Sukkot, the Red Cow used for spiritual purification in the Temple, and many others generally leave us dumbfounded as to their practicality.
“Why?” we ask. “Why do such things when we don’t understand the reasons behind them?”
Sure, there have been volumes and volumes written, explaining these laws in terms we can understand, such as the connection between the four species and the four key parts of the body (spine, heart, eyes and lips) that are involved with observing mitzvot, but those aren’t really explanations. They’re simply creative takes on issues that only God understands.
These laws are called “Chukim,” and throughout the centuries the tradition is that we are simply to observe them, whether we understand them or not.
Then, there are laws that we do understand, such as treating widows, orphans and converts with an extra degree of sensitivity. That makes sense. Widows and orphans have a challenging lot in life, and we, as Jews, are supposed to – at the very least – keep from contributing to their challenges, and – preferably – provide them with assistance, when needed. Converts perhaps do not feel completely “at home” in Jewish settings, so it is important for non-converts to embrace these Jews-by-choice, increasing their comfort level among us.
Every once in a while, we come across a situation that gives us – perhaps – a glimpse into the wisdom of the laws we do not understand.
Last night, I had the honor of experiencing such a glimpse … twice.
My wife and I attended a wedding. The bride was the daughter of good friends, so we decided to really enjoy ourselves, and stick around for the whole reception … something quite rare for us.
Midway through the ceremony, a friend of mine gave me the news. Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were found, and the story would not have the happy ending we had all prayed it would have.
I began to cry …
My wife saw my face and knew something horrible had happened. I told her, and she immediately burst into tears as well.
But we had a problem on our hands. Jewish law dictates that we must increase the happiness of the bride and groom at their wedding.
So we forced our tears to stop and we put on masks of happiness. This was their wedding night, and we would not allow ourselves to play a role in this wonderful, exciting day being ruined for them. We clapped, we sang and we danced. And throughout the evening, we and other friends of ours kept repeating to each other, almost like a mantra … “It’s a mitzva to increase the bride and groom’s happiness.”
We live in a generation where life is pretty darn good. Today’s poverty isn’t like the poverty of Jews in Eastern Europe in the 17th Century. Today’s persecution for Jews around the world isn’t like it was 100 years – or even 50 years – ago. And for someone like me, who grew up fairly safe in America, it was almost like this mitzva of increasing the happiness of the bride and groom was one of those laws that I couldn’t understand. They’re getting married! They’re as happy as can be, almost by definition! What do they need me for?!
But last night, the wisdom of that law became so clear to me. Sure, on the average day, at the average wedding, the obligation to make the bride and groom happy seems a little silly. But last night, it wasn’t silly at all. It was crucial to helping them begin their life together with positive momentum.
There’s a second law that also became clearer to me last night, and even clearer while I write this early in the morning now. It’s a law I’ve always known about, but never understood how it could ever be practical in my life, save for the situation – God forbid – of an armed burglar entering my home.
We are obligated to rise up and kill first someone who is intending to kill us.
Unfortunately, that one is beyond my control on this national day of mourning and uncertainty, but it is certainly not beyond the control of the Israeli Government and our IDF, the Jewish Army.
Will they see this law as one that must be observed, or, like so many times in the past, will they cave to irrational internal and external pressure to restrain ourselves from such obligatory action?
Last night I came to understand to a much stronger degree the wisdom of two Jewish laws. My wife and I acted on the first, and played a role in preserving the wonderful wedding of our friends’ daughter.
Now, it is up to our leaders to act on the second, and preserve the lives of us all …