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Unfair Advantage

Friday, 1 July, 2016 - 2:29 pm

Your competition across the street is clearly not giving his employees benefits. How can you possibly compete against him?

Your friend can eat sixteen steaks with fries and not gain a pound, yet you will need to diet for sixteen months after eating one steak and fries.

Your child cannot figure out the math problem even after you spend two hours helping her. You look with envy at your daughter’s classmate who does it on her own in two minutes.

Do you ever feel like life’s not fair? What can you do to even the playing field?

As a rabbi I am often approached with this argument. “Rabbi, you can’t possibly expect me to keep kosher when it costs so much more.” “Rabbi, how can I take off from work on Shabbat if my competition is open?”  “How can I spend a half hour every morning praying and studying Torah, when I have so many things to catch up on?”

Many of us – even if we value the virtues and ideals of Torah – struggle with the practical relevance of Torah in today’s world.

“I mean, sure, kosher was a wonderful diet back then.  But, today, there are so many better ways to eat healthy. You can’t expect me to keep kosher in the modern world.”

“Yes, it’s wonderful to celebrate Shabbat. And, we do usually have a Friday night family dinner.  But, it’s impossible today – with technology, non-Jewish neighbors, urban sprawl, kids’ schedules, work and domestic responsibilities – to actually observe Shabbat every week. That would be sabotaging so many other values.”

And so, the ultimate question is: How can we possibly live with all of the Torah’s rules? In this week’s parsha, Shelach, G-d offers us an insight.

When commanding the Jewish people to observe His mitzvot (commandments), G-d reminds us that “I am G-d, your G-d, who took you out of Egypt.”

We are obviously thankful for G-d’s benevolence. We have several holidays that point to our recognition of G-d taking us out of Egypt. So, yes, thank you dear Creator. But, really, why does G-d want us to remember it every time we do a mitzvah? Isn’t that a little much? Won’t we eventually be traumatized by the need to constantly pay homage to the Exodus?

Here’s a different take. G-d is not demanding constant subordination to the Exodus. Yes, we must always be grateful about that. But, here, G-d is telling us a different message, one of empowerment.

ZG-d is essentially saying:

“Yes, I know it’s difficult to fathom observing all My commandments and live up to all My expectations under so many different conditions. Oppression and unfair competition are just some of the otherwise-valid excuses you can give. But, you’ve forgotten that it’s Me, the G-d that took you out of Egypt, making these demands.

“According to the laws of nature, there was no way for you to escape Egypt. There was no way for you to divest yourselves of the Egyptian culture. There was no way to overcome the nations that attacked you. There was no way to survive thousands of years of exile, torture, assimilation and success.

“But, I play by different rules.  I am not bound by the limitations of nature; I create nature. I don’t follow the course of history; I define it.

“If you play by My rules, you will survive all of these improbable challenges. If you – when necessary – disregard the limits of reason and rationale, I will put you on my supernatural bandwagon.  I will guarantee your success. I did it in Egypt, and I’ve been doing it for generations.”

I guess the system really is rigged. But, it’s rigged in our favor.

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