"Shoot!" (Q & A)

The Ascent Question & Answer Forum

conducted by Yrachmiel Tilles, Editor of the Ascent Quarterly


"In his talk before Yom Kippur, I heard a Rabbi speak about how good Jews are supposed to show "bad" Jews the way of G-d and tell them about the Messiah. I had to do a double-take on whether this was Christianity or Judaism."


I find it hard to believe that a legitimate rabbi would speak in terms of "good" and "bad" Jews, as reported. Here at Ascent, we wouldn't hire anyone who even thinks in those terms. We are committed to the teaching of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, that all Jews are good Jews, by virtue of the Jewish soul within them.

Since you write that it was around Yom Kippur time, perhaps the rabbi cited the traditional teaching about how the Four Species that we combine and shake on Sukkot represent four types of Jews. The etrog, which has both taste and odor, represents those Jews who are strong in Torah study and fulfillment of the commandments; the lulav (date palm), having taste but no odor, symbolizes those Jews that specialize in study over deed; the hadas (myrtle), which has odor but no taste, stands for the Jews that do the commandments but don't study so much; while the aravah (willow), which has neither taste nor odor, is a metaphor for the Jews that are weak in Torah study and fulfillment of the commandments. Shaking the Four Species together shows the desirability of unifying Jews at different levels of observance.

We join the etrog in our left hand to the other three species in our right, together, continues the Midrash, so that the etrog Jews can influence the willow Jews and the others.

This "etrog/willow" analogy introduces a distinction between "mitzvah observant" and "not yet observant" Jews, which is not at all the same as saying "good/bad" Jews, although perhaps you 'translated' it into those terms. The former is based on empirical observation rather than subjective moral judgment. The proof is that the aravah is an essential, indispensable ingredient of the mitzvah, equal to the others.

I was also surprised that you could consider "bringing others closer to G?d" and "Messiah" to be "Christian" concepts. A fervent request for the Messiah was built into the thrice-daily Amidah prayer hundreds of years before the advent of Christianity. Even most Christians will tell you that Messiah is an "Old Testament" concept!

As for trying to bring other Jews closer to G-d, there is no basis for confusing it with Christian proselytizing. We are not seeking converts, only to return to every Jew what is rightfully theirs. As I implied in the first paragraph in the name of the Baal Shem Tov, all Jews are good Jews and seek, whether consciously or not, to fulfill G-d's will. Every Jew at least deserves the option to enjoy a closer relationship with G-d in the unique Jewish manner, and should be held back only by personal choice, not by lack of exposure and education so that the possibility is not even perceived.

Yrachmiel Tilles

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