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A hard Mitzvah

Whilst not actually sure whether it is a Mitzvah to be positive, for the purposes of this post I would like to assume that it is both philosophically and practically important to be happy and to see the best in every experience and situation.

If this is a command, as good Talmudic thinkers we then need to ask, is this a positive or negative Mitzvah?  In other words, does the command itself read “Thou shalt be positive”, or does it read “Thou shalt not be negative”?

There is a lot happening at the moment.  Some of the discussions on this list about politics, and about Jewish communal matters such as education, kashrut, and the Jewish media are all very highly charged and emotive issues.  It is easy to be too critical and in the process demonstrate a lack of appreciation for all that is good.  We do have it better than most, and in historical terms, better than ever for any era of Jewish freedom and resources to support our lifestyle.

That’s the positive side.  The negative is that it will never be good enough.  That in itself is a consequence and lesson of exile. 

I learnt something this weekend that was on the negative side of the ledger, and for the sake of avoiding controvesy and loshan hara, I have chosen not to specifically elaborate.  The general conclusion however is worth stating.  When one is in a professional role charged with the responsibility of an outcome, it is incumbent on them to perform, and it will be both upon their consience and career record if they don’t.  However a voluntary based communal position does not come with the same baggage.  One can claim that someone is giving of their time, that they are contributing, and therefore mediocre is sufficient.  This is WRONG.  Community responsibility is Kal Vechomer more important when it comes to showing leadership and driving an agenda forward.  Put simply, beyond the status of a voluntary role comes an awesome responsibility to perform and acheive.  If that can’t be done then a person should not be offering to drive a community function forward.

Some examples where this may be applicable, that are relevant to recent Jewgle postings. 

– If a person is an elected official of a modern Orthodox Jewish school, and does not have the inclination or share the belief that the school should act and behave according to its constitutional mandate, then that person should not be part of the administration.

– If a person is an appointed representative of a kosher authority, they should ensure that the services and outcomes of the organisation are advanced and that acheivements should be identifiable.

– If a person is involved in the publication of Jewish media, they have a responsibility to produce a publication that profiles and promotes Jewish ideas, and an obligation to edit against ideas and “shtuss” that are damaging to the integrity and beliefs of mainstream Judaism.

– If a person is elected to Parliament they have a responsibility to represent their electorate, advocate for resources, and hold by the manifesto by which they were elected.  They have a responsibility to report back to their electors with a demonstration of their political accomplishments.

Take your pick of issue, and revert back to our so called Mitzvah to apply the power of positive thinking.  Then ask, how is one supposed to observe the Mitzvah to be positive, and how, as much as one tries, can one see the good in everything when there is so much that is just not right and kosher about various functions within the community due to intransigent people? 

For this reason, the Mitzvah to be positive can then be interpreted as a negative command to not be anti-establishment, and not to be critical of that which can’t be controlled.  It would be so easy to simply call it as it is – a ridiculous state of affairs where the wrong people are in critical leadership roles.  But in the absence of a suitable alternative, we have to take what we have and make the most of it.  With this approach, I am chayiv my obligation, if you follow the logic?

Iz Tur tu Zein a Yid.  We are a stubborn bunch of people who sometimes make upon ourselves situations where we are our own worst enemy.  Take the Government of Israel that seems intent on rejecting Jewish nationalist ideals, historical rights, and Torah based opportunities that are available to us for the first time in 2000 years, and instead destroying the fabric of Israel as a Jewish state for Jewish people. 

There is a time where we have to not accept the insanity of it all, but to at least be positive about what we do have, and then use the constructive energy that results to influence those around us.  When it is so obvious and so right, yet collectively we get it so wrong it is a very frustrating feeling. 

So the lesson of all of this is quite simple.  There is a Mitzvah to be positive, and the way to observe this Mitzvah is very very easy.  That is: when you know you are right, never give up.  All else, in the words of the sage of Hillel, is mere commentary, and will follow in kind.

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