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    Who is a good Jew? – Ki Tissa

    cantor moshe oysher prayerThis is the accepted translation of the opening words of the sidra: “When you take a count of the Children of Israel according to their number, each one shall pay a ransom for his soul.”

    The message seems to be that every soldier enrolled in an army is a potential taker of life, and therefore must ask for atonement before the fighting begins.

    A radically different translation is offered by the Or P’nei Moshe: “If you would raise the standard of the Children of Israel with their defects, each one must work on his own soul.”

    There is a recurrent debate on the question, “What is a Jew?” Equally important is the question, “What is a good Jew?” And the alternative approach to the commencement of the sidra helps in the search for an answer. For normally people offer you the “but” answer… “I don’t go to shulebut I am a good Jew.” “I don’t keep kosher, but I am a good Jew.” “I don’t give to Israel (or to charity or to education), but I am a good Jew.” The idea seems to be, “How much of Judaism can I be and still be a good Jew?”

    But there is a much better, worthier, more significant way of looking at the “good Jew” issue: the good Jew is the one who is prepared to “work on his own soul”. We judge whether you are a good Jew not by what you leave out of Judaism but by how hard you work on being Jewish. A good Jew is someone trying to become a better Jew.

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