The Rambam is not necessarily describing someone who does עבירות. Rather, even if he is personally observant, by choosing to cut his connection and empathy with the Jewish People he writes himself out of their story; and once he stands outside that story, he is lost.
Conversely, when a non-Jew wishes to convert to Judaism, the Rambam writes that we tell him the following:
“כיצד מקבלין גירי הצדק כשיבוא אחד להתגייר מן העכו”ם ויבדקו אחריו ולא ימצאו עילה, אומרים לו מה ראית שבאת להתגייר, אי אתה יודע שישראל בזמן הזה דוויים ודחופים ומסוחפין ומטורפין ויסורין באין עליהן, אם אמר אני יודע ואיני כדאי מקבלין אותו מיד (הלכות איסורי ביאה פרק יד הלכה א).
How do we accept a convert? … We say to him: Why do you wish to convert? Don’t you know that Israel in these times are suffering, oppressed, downtrodden, and troubles afflict them? If he responds: Yes, I know, and I am not worthy in sharing in that burden, we accept him immediately.”
A גר is not just accepting a set of rules. He is attaching himself to Jewish history and must recognize that becoming part of that history – with all its difficulties – is a gift. יודע אני ואיני כדאי – I know, and I don’t deserve it.
The model גר צדק is Rut. When Naomi tried to dissuade her, to send her back to Moav, she responded: “עמך עמי, ואלקיך אלקי“. With these words she expressed two commitments: One to the Jewish people, and one to the Jewish G-d. And every גר צדק must likewise make these two commitments: Through קבלת המצוות he says, along with Rut: אלקיך אלקי; and by saying יודע אני ואיני כדאי, I am not worthy to share the burden of Jewish history, he says, along with her, עמך עמי.
To be a Jew doesn’t mean only to do מצות and avoid doing עבירות. To be a Jew means to live beyond our particular small lives; it means to live with an abiding sense that my individual story is part of a larger story. It means to be held in the grip of history and destiny; and to share that history and destiny with every other Jew. It means to carry the freight of our shared past, to share in the burden of our collective present, and to be responsible towards our united future.
כל המתאבל על ירושלים זוכה ורואה בנחמתה. To mourn for ירושלים means to feel our collective loss as a personal loss, and our national degradation as a personal degradation. It means to attach oneself to Jewish history, by saying: יודע אני ואיני כדאי, I know it is hard, and I am not worthy of the privilege of sharing that hardship.
By identifying with the Jewish past, we become part of the Jewish future, because the two are connected. It’s all one story, with many different chapters, but one Author, and one connected narrative.
I once heard a stunning observation: We end קינות with אלי ציון, a song of mourning for ציון. The melody is very old – as old, perhaps, as the קינה itself. That same melody occurs in another place in davening, in the חזרת הש”ץ of יום טוב: בנה ביתך כבתחילה וכונן מקדשך על מכונו. Our tragic past and our triumphant future are part of the same melody.
As we pass from שבת חזון through תשעה באב to שבת נחמו, and as we go from the three weeks of mourning to the seven weeks of comfort, let us use this time to root ourselves in the past of our people, and thereby prepare ourselves to share in its future. Let us not forget what a privilege it is to be part of this unique history, with all of its pain, saying – יודע אני ואיני כדאי. Let us be attuned to the sweep and grandeur of the chords that bind אלי ציון to בנה ביתך כבתחילה, and may we soon hear their triumphant crescendo, בביאת גואל צדק בב”א.Rabbi Eli Baruch Shulman
About the Author: Rabbi Eli Baruch Shulman serves as Rosh Yeshiva and holds the Rabbi Henry H. Guterman Chair in Talmud at YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.
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