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Be Proud of Who You Are!

Thursday, 15 May, 2014 - 7:04 am

The Talmud tells a story that in 70 CE the Roman Empire forbade the Jews from observing the Sabbath, circumcising their sons and keeping the laws of family purity. The sages, desiring to nullify the decree, sent Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai to the Roman Emperor to placate him. When Rabbi Shimon arrived, the palace was in a state of commotion as the emperor’s daughter had fallen ill. Rabbi Shimon performed a miracle, thus saving the king’s daughter from an unknown fate.  In appreciation, the emperor brought Rabbi Shimon to the treasure house and said to him: I will give you any one item that you ask for. When Rabbi Shimon saw the written decree about the Jews, he asked for it. Rabbi Shimon then tore it up, hence nullifying it.

Although the Roman king respected and appreciated Rabbi Shimon, his life under Roman rule was difficult. The Romans imposed many decrees on the Jews. His great mentor, Rabbi Akiva , was brutally executed. Rabbi Shimon himself was persecuted; they sentenced him to death, forcing him to flee. Rabbi Shimon hid in a cave for 12 years with his son and survived on a diet consisting of carob and water from a spring. His life was a paradox! He was persecuted and respected at the same time!

This contrast in Rabbi Shimon’s life teaches us a message in our own lives. 

The world hates the Jew. Anti-Semitisim is still prevalent. As of 2013, Israel had been condemned in 45 resolutions by United Nations Human Rights Council since its creation in 2006. The Council had resolved almost more resolutions condemning Israel than on the rest of the world combined. The 45 resolutions comprised almost half (45.9%) of all country-specific resolutions passed by the Council. In the words of Rabbi Shimon: " Esau hates Jacob".  Simultaneously, and I quote Former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “Non-Jews respect Jews who respect Judaism & Non-Jews are embarrassed by Jews who are embarrassed by Judaism.”

The Rebbe taught us how to fulfill “verau kol amei haaretz ki shem hashem nikra alecha” - let all the world see we are never ashamed to stand tall as Jews.

This is the message of Rabbi Shimon’s life: be proud of who you are and you will be respected!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

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