The Drinks Are On Me

February 25, 2015 by

Reb Levi Yizchok of Berdichev was legendary for his ability to highlight the greatness of the Jewish people even in their ugliest moments. His stories are classics of the Chassidic dynasty, and if I had one that likened to his it would be the following.

It was a mid-summer day and I was walking up Yoel Solomon Street in the Ben-Yehuda District of Downtown Jerusalem. As I cruised through the crowds of window-shoppers and pedestrians which sprinkled the cobblestone street, I notice a woman had stepped into my course of travel and was heading in my direction. Both of us must have been preoccupied in thought, because a few seconds later we collide and the ice-blend drink she was carrying spilled all over my jacket and pants. This time, the drink was definitely on me.

There was a brief pause before she broke the silence with words that still ring in my ear with meaning. This secular Israeli woman, "dressed" in her summer "outfit" tells me: "I'd wipe it off of you, but it's forbidden for me to touch you." She then went her way, and I went mine.

At that point I imagine Reb Levi Yitzchok would have looked to the heavens and said "Master of the Universe! All your people are kadosh! Your spark of holiness never leaves them! They're always looking for mitzvos!

And so ends the Reb Levi Yitzchok portion of this article, and begins the Yitzchok Snyder part.

This incident touches on the cultural dichotomy of the State of Israel. On the one hand a Jewish State gives its people a Jewish identity. Living here, growing up here, even as a secular Israeli you will be exposed to mitzvos and Torah concepts. The Torah way of life is not an alien culture and even the unobservant can blend-in to some degree. It's not absolute, but it is likely. And one can say this is definitely a positive thing. The estranged secular Jew living in Israel may have a hefty amount of Torah knowledge. And relative to the unaffiliated Jew living anywhere else in the world, will seem way ahead in the game.

But at the same time one can claim there is a problem with this. Torah and mitzvos were not given to be a mere cultural practice. Knowing the Torah obligates one to fulfill it. They are the means by which we perfect ourselves and connect to Hashem. Likewise, if one knows about the mitzvos, he is held responsible for transgressing them. This is the downside to the Jewish State. The Torah Ha'Kedosha has, for many, become trivial. You can be fully aware of the Torah and its laws, and choose to not keep them. The woman I "ran into" knew "negia," - cross-gender touching - was forbidden, but it only went "skin deep." It was good manners, as opposed to a mitzvah. Are the Jewish people better off because of this? I honestly believe there are powerful arguments for both sides. Is it good or is it bad?

On Purim we're supposed intoxicate ourselves until we can no longer distinguish between "Blessed is Mordechai" and "Cursed is Haman." The line that divides good and evil is to become so faint that everything blends into one. This can only be done if we see the positive in the negative. If we get beyond the surface of the Purim story and see how even Haman's evil scheme to destroy the Jews was part of Hashem's plan to bring the Jew's of that time back to Him.

How would Reb Levi Yizchok of Berdichev have responded to this predicament? One thing is for sure, the State of Israel would have kept him plenty busy defending his people.

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