The is an edited and adapted transcript of a talk given in
The yesod hayesodos, the basis of the possibility of
having an Am Yisroel, the most important thing that
children can be taught in cheder to both boys and
girls, is Atoh bechartonu. If we do not appreciate
what it means to be Jewish, the Atoh bechartonu, the
rest of Torah disappears.
Torah cannot exist until there is an understanding, an
acceptance, an awareness and an appreciation of Atoh
bechartonu. We say it in the posuk "Torah tzivoh
lonu Moshe, moroshoh Kehillas Yaakov." The Torah is a
moroshoh Kehillas Yaakov.
If I would ask: What is the most important single posuk
that we Jews learn? What is the single, most important
posuk in all of Torah that a Jew has to learn and to
know and to keep and to do?
I think that everyone would say that it is, "Shema Yisroel
Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echod."
What is the first thing we do in the morning, and also in the
evening, before we go to sleep? What would a Jew die for? And
when he is dying, what does he die with? What posuk
does he want on his lips? Shema Yisroel Hashem
Elokeinu Hashem Echod!
It is the posuk of kiddush Hashem. It is a
posuk of commitment. It is the posuk of
yiras Shomayim, a posuk that includes the all-
and-all of being a Yid.
Yet, the gemora says that the first posuk that
we teach our children is not Shema Yisroel. Shema
Yisroel is the second posuk that we teach our
The first posuk is Torah tzivoh lonu Moshe,
moroshoh Kehillas Yaakov (Succah 42a). There is no
Shema Yisroel unless there is Torah tzivoh lonu
Moshe, moroshoh Kehillas Yaakov.
Asher bochar bonu micol ho'amim venosan lonu es
Toroso. The reason Klal Yisroel was chosen was to
get the Torah. Without the Torah there is no Shema
Yisroel. Without the choice of Klal Yisroel, there
The first and most important thing we can give over to
ourselves and to our children is what it is to be a Jew: that
it is something special and that it is worth whatever it
costs. Because unless we realize what is very, very special
about being a Jew, we do not understand our place in the
In many ways it is easier to be a goy. There are not
so many restrictions. And the goy can even get Olam
Habo, too. So what is the big deal to be a Jew?
An appreciation of being a Jew is the basis of there being an
Am Yisroel. And the Atoh bechartonu is the
first and most important thing that all the schools must
Atoh bechartonu -- to recognize that we were chosen
and are special -- is the heart of being a Jew.
But it goes beyond that. You have to understand it very
deeply. How does Torah itself start? When the Ribono Shel
Olom came to give us His Torah, He spoke to Moshe Rabbenu
and said, "Go and speak to the Jews to offer them the
What did He say that Moshe Rabbenu should tell them? Atem
re'isem asher osisi leMitzrayim, vo'eso eschem al kanfei
neshorim, vo'ovi eschem Eilai (Shemos 19:4). He said to
them, "You saw what I did to the Egyptians."
Rashi explains that Hashem said: The Egyptians did many
aveiros. They sinned against Me for many years, but I
left them alone. But when they hurt Yisroel, then I sent the
makkos, the plagues. So Hashem is saying to us in this
phrase: You saw how much I care for you.
How does Rashi know that is what it means? Maybe it means
that Hashem is telling us that we saw His power exercised
against the Egyptians?
Because if it referred to Hashem's power it would have said
"bemitzrayim." When it says "lemitzrayim" it
means to stress that the Egyptians paid a price for what they
The main point is that the Ribono Shel Olom is saying
to Moshe Rabbenu: If I want Klal Yisroel to become
Mine and to accept My Torah, I first have to show them how
much I love them and care for them and how special they are
And again in the next phrase of the posuk: vo'eso eschem
al kanfei neshorim. Rashi says that the nesher
keeps her children above her, on her back, while carrying
them, because the only thing she fears is the arrow. Thus she
puts her own body between her children and the arrows.
That, Hashem says, is the way I feel about you, My children,
That, in turn, is the reason for the consequence: . . .
veheyisem Li seguloh -- you will be a special thing,
mikol ho'amim -- out of all the nations.
So in the pesukim there, what does the Ribono Shel
Olom say to us in order to enable us to accept His yoke,
that is, in order for us to be able to say to Him: Na'aseh
venishma? He shows us: I love you; I care for you; you
are special to Me.
We should note that if He needs to say that to us in order
for us to be able to say to Him Na'aseh venishma -- do
we not still need it now in order to remain His people?
Therefore to appreciate what it is to be a Jew, is the basis
of kabolas haTorah and kabolas mitzvos and that
is the key to our acceptance upon ourselves of the burden of
remaining Jews whatever the cost.
Make no mistake: it was not only in the past that we had to
pay a heavy price for being Jews. We continue to pay that
price today. In the past there were times our blood was
hefker lekol ho'amim. Today it is still hefker
to a large extent. The nations of the world become indignant
at the loss of any human life unless it happens to be a
Jewish life. Then it is acceptable. Am I exaggerating or am I
stating facts? Facts. That is the fact; that is the way it
is. Our lives are still hefker to the goyim.
And the truth is that if anybody pays a price, it is the
noshim tzidkonios on whom we depend for our existence,
and for our yeshuo.
The gemora (Sotoh 11b) says that in the
zchus of noshim tzidkonios nig'alu -- we were
redeemed from Mitzrayim.
Noshim tzidkonios are the source of our existence in
the past and the source of our continuity for all times in
the future. The noshim of Klal Yisroel are
those who make possible the physical continuity and existence
of Klal Yisroel.
I don't just mean that they bear the children, though that is
absolutely true. I don't just mean that they nurture the
children, though that is absolutely true.
I mean that they create the setting and the bayis out
of which their husbands and their sons are able to accept the
burden by which to maintain their existence as Yidden.
Those are the nondramatic, the non-spiritually-
stimulating parts of life that the woman has to conduct and
that are the basis of Jewish existence. Our noshim
tzidkonios pay the price by giving up prestige, by giving
up the dramatic undertakings and fancy careers.
What does the Yiddishe woman do? She cannot be
president of the United States. She cannot take the time off
from her relationship with family, or the building of her
home. She has to be involved in the non-glamorous,
nondramatic, day-to-day details -- of making a Jewish
We Jews have been accused throughout the ages by the
neighbors amongst whom we live: "You Jews have a kitchen
Yes, we have a kitchen religion. Christianity is a religion
that is concerned with love, with brightness, with
What do the Jews worry about? Whether you have a milchige
pot there. Did he shecht the animal properly? Did
he salt it? Kitchen details; a kitchen religion. So much of
our energy goes into determining if it is kosher.
Chazal tell us in several places: Ein Hakodosh Boruch Hu
nosein geduloh le'odom ad shemenas'eihu bedovor kotton.
Hashem Yisborach does not give greatness to a man
until he tests him with little things.
Before Moshe Rabbenu is appointed as the leader of all Jewry
and the one who is going to take them out of Mitzrayim and
give them the Torah and guide them in the desert, G-d tested
him, Chazal tell us, with small things. He wanted to see
whether Moshe would take his sheep out far away, where there
was no chance of them stealing by eating other people's
HaRav Tzadok Hacohen, the Lubliner Rov, asked the kashye
which all of us would automatically ask: If you are going
to give greatness, if you're going to make Moshe the teacher
and leader of Klal Yisroel -- do you try him out to
see if he is going to engage in petty theft?
It would seem that you would try to see whether he is
prepared for mesirus nefesh. Is he ready to give his
life? That's what you would test him with. Would you test him
as to whether he is a gazlan or not? The same applies
to other great leaders: Dovid Hamelech, for example, was also
tested as a shepherd.
However, with a dramatic, profound test of faith, everyone
might draw from himself -- for the moment -- the power and
the courage to give life itself away. It's glamorous. It's
dramatic. We have a spiritual adrenalin that runs through our
bodies and in a time of danger we are capable of so much more
than we are capable of normally.
The real test is if you can stand the drudgery, the
nondramatic, unglamorous drudgery, day in-day out -- doing
the things that are right. Will you go far away into the
desert, day in-day out, to make sure your sheep do not wander
into a stranger's field? That is the test of a godol
beYisroel. That is test of how a Klal Yisroel can
continue to exist.
The irritants, the pettiness, of day in-day out. Of worrying
about getting up in time for the davening, about what
we eat, about how we prepare the food, about what you can
prepare on Shabbos and what you can't, about what the
children can wear, about how long the sleeve is, about how
long the skirt is. Day in-day out. Non-glamorous,
nondramatic, drudgery, small details.
That's where the power of a life dedicated to the Ribono
Shel Olom is to be found. That's from where the strength
of Klal Yisroel is derived. That is the chiyuv
of the existence of Klal Yisroel. That is the particular
koach of the ishoh, the noshim
tzidkonios who give existence and continuity to Am
And it is what a man is not really able to do. He needs
stimulation, he needs growth, he needs a feeling of
accomplishment, he needs a feeling of great things that are
being done -- of building, of learning, of expanding. He
cannot live with the day in-day out -- which is really the
basis of Jewish existence. His daily life needs to be
supported by his wife or his mother. That is where he derives
the ability to continue. She is the source of the
koach and the commitment of that ultimate mesirus
Mesirus nefesh does not just mean to be ready to die.
Mesirus nefesh means that I give my entire life to the
Ribono Shel Olom. If necessary I will of course die
for Him too, because I give my life to Him without
But it is better to live than to die. I give it to Him to use
for His purposes, to use for His desires, to use for His
wishes. That is the mesirus nefesh that the Torah
demands, and that is the particular koach of the
noshim of Yisroel. They undertake that ultimate and
grandest mesirus nefesh in being able to serve Him.
These small things are not pettiness. They are the actual
life of Klal Yisroel. They are the lungs and the heart
through which Klal Yisroel maintains its existence.
And that is how to appreciate it. Even though it may seem to
be so pedestrian and so small. The answer of course is to
recognize and to know that these apparently small things are
very very great. They encompass a binah, they
encompass an awareness and an understanding which animates,
There must be a deep understanding of oneself and of other
human beings. There must be a great deal of balance and
judgment, of balancing the needs of my family with the needs
of chesed, of balancing that which will contribute to
the health of my children, and my husband and those dependent
on me. The balancing must make sure that there is no
selfishness, that there is a full acceptance of the need of
chesed and rachamim to others as well.
There is a tremendous burden of judgment that a woman has to
bear. A daily ongoing of measuring and balancing. The doing
for others against the doing for self. Appreciating others.
The recognition of gadlus for others. The recognition
of helping other children not only her own, and helping her
own primarily because that is her first responsibility and
one that should not encroach upon the other. The need of
understanding, the need of judgment. A continuous ongoing
decision-making process. That is the lot by which she can
manage to do so much, by which she can manage to give
chinuch to Klal Yisroel.
To recognize that the task that she has been given is the
task that is not only the most important but also the most
meaningful, the most significant. To find the Ribono Shel
Olom, the kedushoh of the daily ongoing reality of
a human existence.
Sefer Kedushoh in the Rambam includes only those areas
that apply to the body and its needs. Because it is only
there that we can lift the world up to the higher realms, to
give sanctity to our lives. It is in the care we take to
preserve our tznius, in the care in doing that which
we must do to maintain our daily physical existence, eating
and drinking. It is there -- in the most physical areas in
which we are immersed. There you find true
To recognize this is to find the ultimate holiness by which
we raise ourselves to the shaarei Shomayim. That is a
difficult task but it is the most inspiring one the Ribono
Shel Olom has offered to the Jews. To recognize that it
is within the body that one finds the neshomoh, and
that through the proper maintenance of the lowest level of
the body one is lifted up to the highest levels of
kedushoh and can achieve the highest level of
hashro'as HaShechina itself.
That is why the word Shechina has the feminine gender:
because it is in these areas that we achieve it. It is these
areas which the Ribono Shel Olom gave to the noshim
of Klal Yisroel.
To recognize and realize what these obligations and burdens
and duties signify and do, is to appreciate what it is to be
a Jew. This is what it means to recognize the true meaning of
Atoh bechartonu since it is through this that Klal
Yisroel maintains its ongoing existence.
HaRav Yaakov Weinberg, zt"l, was rosh yeshivas Ner
Israel in Baltimore. This year on 17 Tammuz was his fifth