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There are different opinions of what the hardest mitzvah in the Torah is. What’s so ironic is that this week’s parasha has almost all of those hardest mitzvoth in it.

Why is that? The reason is because Kedoshim is the Parasha of those who are Kadosh, the holy people. Holiness in Judaism does not mean being monk- or nun-like, detaching oneself from everything worldly or physical. Kedoshim means being people of a different league, extraordinary people.

Last week, my friend gave a class on Pirkei Avot, and when he read the words, והוי דן את כל האדם לכף זכות, ‘and judge people favorably’, he said that this is the hardest Mitzvah in the Torah.  I was shocked. I always used to think that the hardest mitzvah of the Torah is to bless G-d for the bad, just like you bless Him for the good. וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת יְקֹוָ֣ק אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ… וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶֽךָ   To love G-d and thank Him profusely, no matter what מדה, what measure He metes out for you in life. בכל מאדך – בכל מדה ומדה שהוא מודד לך הוי מודה לו במאד מאד  (Berachot 9;5)

Ever notice how when things are good, when we have parnassah, health, family, relationships all as we expect, we don’t ask G-d, “Why do I deserve this? What made me worthy of all this blessing?”  If so, why do we question G-d, when parnassah, health, family, or relationships go sour; why do we question G-d, asking Him, why do I deserve this? Acceptance of your lot, no matter what it is, is a Halacha in Shulhan Aruch, not just mussar or exhibiting good character! Just like you are a Jew who keeps Halacha because you wear Tzitzit, Tefillin and keep the Shulchan Aruch, one of those Halachot in there is…  חייב אדם לברך על הרעה בדעת שלמה ובנפש חפצה,  כדרך שמברך בשמחה על הטובה, כי הרעה לעובדי השם היא שמחתם וטובתם, כיון שמקבל מאהבה מה שגזר עליו השם נמצא שבקבלת רעה זו הוא עובד את השם, שהיא שמחה לו. One is obligated to bless for the bad occurrences of life, with a full awareness, and with a willing soul, just like one happily blesses G-d for the good occurrences of life. For that which is “bad” is accepted by the “Knights of G-d” as their joy and their goodness. Accepting life-difficulties that G-d decrees with love, is by definition serving G-d, through being happy. (Sh’ A O”h 222;3) So which one is harder? Judging your friend favorably, or accepting G-d and His decrees when your lot goes sour?

I did not interfere with my friend’s class. I kept my thoughts to myself, and, like usual, it’s good that I did. Because this week I found that we are both right, and it is not a contradiction! The same source for judging people favorably, which is from this week’s parasha, בְּצֶ֖דֶק תִּשְׁפֹּ֥ט עֲמִיתֶֽךָ , can mean both!  Although Rashi learns it as referring to judging your friend favorably… Tosafot, in Moshav Zekenim, learns that when G-d brings upon you Midat HaDin, difficult times, the Torah is telling us to judge G-d favorably!! G-d is also, עֲמִיתֶֽךָ, your Friend! If life could be better, it would be better! As Mishna Berurah teaches, כי באמת כל היסורין בין בגוף ובין בממון הוא הכל כפרה על העונות כדי שלא יצטרך להתיסר לעולמי עולמים ששם העונש הוא הרבה יותר גדול Pain and suffering, physical and financial, are all an atonement for sins, so that a person does not need to suffer Eternally. For in the next world, the punishment is much greater!

It is actually a Halacha, that a person should always say, no matter what, that everything G-d does is for the best.  לעולם יהא אדם רגיל לומר: כל מה דעביד רחמנא, לטב עביד. (O”H 230;5) What is strange though, is that the way that a person is supposed to say this, according to the Halacha, is in Aramaic! Why not in Hebrew, just say גם זו לטובה !?

The answer is that when a Jew praises G-d in a way that the Angels cannot fathom, and they would be jealous, we are to say that praise in Aramaic, a language the angels do not understand. An example of this is saying Kadish. So too, we need to say that “all the bad is good”, in Aramaic, so that the Angels won’t be jealous! Angels do not have “bad” things ever happening to them, so they can never make such an amazing statement!

Ever wonder when King David wrote the following Mizmor?  מִזְמ֥וֹר לְדָוִ֑ד יְקֹוָ֥ק רֹ֝עִ֗י לֹ֣א אֶחְסָֽר: A Mizmor to David, YKVK is my Shepherd, I will not lack! … גַּ֤ם כִּֽי־אֵלֵ֨ךְ בְּגֵ֢יא צַלְמָ֡וֶת לֹא־אִ֮ירָ֤א רָ֗ע כִּי־אַתָּ֥ה עִמָּדִ֑י שִׁבְטְךָ֥ וּ֝מִשְׁעַנְתֶּ֗ךָ הֵ֣מָּה יְנַֽחֲמֻֽנִי: Even though I walk in the valley of death, I will not fear evil, for You are with me! Your staff and Your walking-stick, they will console me! When did King David write this Psalm??? In Yaar Heret! (Shmuel A 22;5) (Midrash Shochar Tov) What happened right before King David arrived at Yaar Heret??? When King David was fleeing from King Shaul, and his family was in danger, he entrusted his entire family, his father, mother, and all his brothers in the hands of the king of Moab, his relative, hoping they would be protected from King Shaul’s wrath. But instead, the Moabite king killed King David’s entire family, his father and mother and all his brothers, except one! (Rashi from M. Tanhuma) That is when King David composed this psalm!

Shockingly, though, the hardest mitzvah of the Torah, according to R’ Eliezer ben Hurkenus is not this or that. It is respecting your parents. To treat them as great, respectable people. (Chaye Adam) The Halacha is that even if a parent throws one’s purse into the sea or spits in one’s face in front of a large crowd, an individual is still not allowed to act disrespectfully toward him. (Yore Deah 240;8)

This great respect due to your parents is not only when you are dependent on them, for the first 20 years of your life, when you are guests in their home. This Mitzvah of respecting your parents is even when you are not dependent on them, when you are a grown man. As the passuk in this week’s parasha says, אִ֣ישׁ אִמּ֤וֹ וְאָבִיו֙ תִּירָ֔אוּ. (Ktav Sofer) It could be that you are the one who is supporting them, and they still throw all your money away, or show disrespect for you in public… You still have to respect them!!!

The Ktav Sofer (57) writes that there is a different Mitzvah that is the hardest Mitzvah. The mitzvah of הוֹכֵ֤חַ תּוֹכִ֙יחַ֙ אֶת־עֲמִיתֶ֔ךָ וְלֹא־תִשָּׂ֥א עָלָ֖יו חֵֽטְא You need to rebuke your friend when he is doing something wrong. do not sin when rebuking. If one does not know how to give rebuke softly, not in public, … if you know that your words will not be accepted, you have a Mitvah not to speak, not say a word! Most people don’t know how to rebuke!ואמר רבי אילעא משום ר’ אלעזר בר’ שמעון: כשם שמצוה על אדם לומר דבר הנשמע, כך מצוה על אדם שלא לומר דבר שאינו נשמע. (Yevamot 65b) As hard as the mitzvah of Kibud Av Vaem is to respect your parents, it is an equally hard mitzvah for parents to keep their mouths closed when they see their children misbehaving, and they know that their children won’t listen to their rebuke anyway! In those scenarios, מָ֣וֶת וְ֭חַיִּים בְּיַד־לָשׁ֑וֹן  One word to the child, can destroy the kid, or build the kid, forever.

Other opinions are that the hardest mitzvah is forbidden relationships, עריות. Still other opinions are that it is to not hold a grudge.  לֹֽא־תִקֹּ֤ם וְלֹֽא־תִטֹּר֙. You have to let go of the anger in your heart. Either take the person to Beit Din, or don’t; just don’t hate him! Instead, approach him and tell him your feelings!! It can be so hard! All these difficult Mitzvoth are listed in our Parasha, Parashat Kedoshim, and all of these are superhuman mitzvoth, mitzvoth that make us extraordinary!

Most people think that being extraordinary is not for them… Most people feel that they are so far from spirituality…What is interesting, though, is that the passuk that commands us not to serve idols is adjacent to the mitzvah of being holy. קְדֹשִׁ֣ים תִּהְי֑וּ כִּ֣י קָד֔וֹשׁ אֲנִ֖י יְקֹוָ֥ק אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם: You should be holy, because I am holy… And then the passuk says    אַל־תִּפְנוּ֙ אֶל־הָ֣אֱלִילִ֔םDon’t turn to the gods! How can G-d command the one who is struggling with idol worship to become someone who is holy or spiritually extraordinary?? To teach you that even if someone is fighting just for basic faith, he can find inside the extraordinary power to realize, that אין עוד מבלדו! There is nothing in the world other than the Will of G-d!  Whatever level of spirituality you’re on, even from the lowest of the low, … G-d expects you to rise above ordinariness and be extraordinary.

So here is this week’s story from R’ Goel Elkarif. A Jew who visited Italy told him this story. That Jew heard the story from a tour guide there, about a group of Hassidic Jews who had been in Italy a week previously.

This Hassidic group was travelling on a private bus on the highway with many lanes, a highway that rarely has traffic. They intended to pray Minha upon their return to the hotel. For whatever reason, there was suddenly a big traffic jam on their highway. The Hassidim knew that they would not be able to arrive at the hotel before sunset. The told their guide that they wanted to stop at the nearby gas station to wash their hands and pray Minha properly.

The tour guide told them, “Just pray on the bus.”

The said, “What? On the bus? There is no chance! We want to pray standing up, we want to wash our hands first…”

The tour guide responded, “Are you insane? This is Italy! There is antisemitism around here! If people see you praying at the gas station, who knows what they will do to you!” But the Hassidim insisted. “Someone who beautifies a Mitzvah, nothing bad will happen to them!”

The guide stopped the bus. The Hassidim got off the bus, washed their hands, and got ready to pray, deciding who among them should be the Hazzan. Suddenly, they see a huge motorcycle pull up right next to them, with a very loud and obnoxious engine-sound.  The motor-biker had a ponytail and looked scary. He pulled off his helmet, and looked at the Hassidic group. “Minha?” he asked.

They said, Yes. He said, Great. He prayed Minha with them, and then said Kaddish. One of the guys approached him, and asked, “Excuse me. But the way you look, I would have never thought that you knew what Minha or Kaddish is, or what it even means to be a Jew…”

The biker said, “I grew up in Jerusalem, in Beit Yisrael neighborhood, in a Hareidi home. I went to Chutz La-aretz, and I went down in my spirituality, and in my religious observance. My father died a few years ago. Shortly before he passed, when we knew that his days were limited, he asked to speak with me. He said, “I begged you, that you put on Tefillin and keep Shabbat; but it seems that I have no one to talk to. One thing I am asking from you, please say Kaddish for me!”

I said to my father, You want me to say Kaddish!?! Better that I should not say Kaddish! I eat pork with my mouth, and I use my mouth to speak inappropriate talk. My mouth won’t be able to help your soul with its Kaddish!!!

My father responded, “It seems that this is the Kaddish that I deserve… But all I am asking of you is to say Kaddish, once a year, on my Yahrzeit. That is it. Once a year!

O.k. No problem.

I said Kaddish each year on his yahrzeit.  But today, I planned on travelling from my city in Italy, where I live, to Merce. 700 kilometers. As I was in middle of my trip, I remembered that today is my father’s Yahrzeit.  But as I was on the road, I realized that in all these small cities on the road, there are no minyanim, no Kaddish. As I road my bike, I turned to G-d and said, Master of the World! If you want me to say Kaddish for my father, please make it that I will have a minyan! This will be the sign. If my Kaddish is worth anything, I will find a minyan! But if my kaddish is not worth anything, I will not find a minyan!

I kept riding my bike, and the sun was setting. I understood that my Kaddish was not worth anything. Suddenly, I see a group of Hassidim at a gas station, out of nowhere, getting ready to pray. My heart jumped! G-d made it possible for me to say Kaddish on my father! G-d showed me that my Kaddish is worth something!

The Hassid told the man: G-d made this whole traffic jam, out of nowhere, in Italy, and a bunch of Hassidim who are not afraid of antisemitism, and who will do anything to pray the best Minha they can, because there is nothing in the world that is precious to G-d, like your Kaddish!!! So why do you say Kaddish once a year?! Say it as often as you can!


About the author, Yosef

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