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Jews and Judaism

Grave of the Rebbe of Kotzk, master of the aphorism. He once said: "I would rather deal with a wicked man who knows that he’s a wicked man, than with a righteous man who knows that he’s a righteous man."

Grave of the Rebbe of Kotzk, master of the aphorism. He once said: “I would rather deal with a wicked man who knows that he’s a wicked man, than with a righteous man who knows that he’s a righteous man.”

I had a rabbi in the yeshiva who taught us very many great things, none of which we appreciated fully at the time. The Talmud tells us that a person doesn’t understand his teacher until 40 years later. Now, some 40 years later, I’m beginning to get the picture a little. One of things that he always used to say was never confuse Jews with Judaism. A Jew’s shortcomings have nothing to do with Judaism. No matter how disappointed you are in Jews, it should in no way diminish the beauty and greatness of Judaism.

Now, in every generation there are righteous people who more than live up to our expectations. However, most of us don’t know people like that and if we do we don’t know that they are righteous that way. One of the hallmarks of the righteous person is that he’s unknown. It’s a catch-22 situation. There is a famous aphorism by the Rabbi of Kotzk: “I would rather deal with a wicked man who knows that he’s a wicked man, than with a righteous man who knows that he’s a righteous man.” Anybody who knows he’s righteous is not righteous. God help us from such people.

The reality of the Jew rarely if ever equals the dream of Judaism. Most of us make compromises. We are able to make allowances for human weaknesses and foibles and understand that many times the reality is not quite the dream. I think that that’s a very important lesson that we have to learn, for instance, how we deal with Israel. We want it to be perfect. However, there is no perfect state in the world. Yet we expect it; the world expects that it should be perfect. We cannot be guilty of any of the sins that all other nations are guilty of. We have to be above everything. It’s very hard, especially since it’s composed of ordinary people who have a daily struggle for existence and survival. It’s hard to live up to a dream.

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Posted in:
Biographies, Jewish Thought
by
Rabbi Berel Wein
  • Comments Off on Jews and Judaism
  • March 20, 2013

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