The Kotzker Rebbe was once asked by a student, “Who is a good Jew?” The Rebbe replied, “Anyone who wants to be a good Jew.” The student look puzzled and asked, “Who wouldn’t want to be a good Jew?” The Rebbe replied, “That’s easy, someone who thinks he is a good Jew already.”
In the Haftara for Parshat Balak, the prophet Micha, like prophets often do, blasts the Jewish people for not obeying God’s laws. Instead of insisting that they are innocent of all charges (as modern people are wont to do) they agree that they have sinned and ask about what they can do to get back in God’s good graces. They ask, and you can hear the panic in their voices, “With what shall I approach the Lord?” they ask; “with what shall I pay homage to God on high? Shall I approach God with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Would the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with myriad streams of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for my sins?” (6:6-7).
Rabbi Shai Held notes in his weekly Torah lesson (6/30/2015) that with this declaration, the people show that they have entirely missed the point of what God wants. God does not want any of those things. God doesn’t need them at all. According to Micha, “You know what God wants and what God desires from you, Only to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God”(6:8).
We go to doctors and ask them about which pill we can take to lose weight, to end our bad habits. Sometimes the doctor gives us something; sometimes there is nothing to give. We go to a gym or a sports equipment store and ask how much it will cost to get us in shape and to be healthy. We go to synagogue and ask the Rabbi,” what do we have to do to be good Jews? How long do we have to sit in shul? What words do we have to pray? How much will it cost us to be a good Jew?”
We already know the answer. We have always known the answer. If we want to feel better we need to watch what we eat and be mindful of the foods we consume. If we want to be fit, we need to make exercise a regular part of our lives; fancy equipment will only work if we use it regularly. If we want to feel spiritually closer to God, the answer is not found outside of ourselves. We already have what we need. We are looking for easy answers but there are no easy answers. Our ancestors already searched those roads and found only meaningless lives and useless deaths.
If we aspire to be more than we are now, we have to make the changes in lifestyle that will bring to our lives all that we desire. Good health does not come from a pill; fitness cannot be bought with money. Spirituality will not come if we are trying to “do” something. What we need is a change in attitude. We already know how to find everything we need to know about God so that God will be a personal part of our lives. All we need to do (all we need to try and do) is to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God”. The Kotzker Rebbe says all we need to do is want to be a good Jew. Rabbi Held says that we are just looking for God in all the wrong places.
And I am always here to assist good Jews in process.