By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 11 – What a Zechus it is to be a Jew
Ger katan. Definitely one of those topics that grabs people’s attention. Perhaps because the concept is so fascinating, perhaps also because it can be extremely nogeiah l’maaseh. Imagine, you can take a little baby who was born a Gentile, who has no daas whatsoever, and make him into a Jew! Completely without his awareness! Tosafos does have a tzad that this only works m’drabanan but stimas ha’Poskim would certainly seem to indicate that l’halacha we hold that this works m’doraysoh (also, see Piskei Tosafos).
And what is the rationale behind this amazing phenomenon? Zachin l’adam sheh’lo b’fanav, you can do something on someone’s behalf that is a benefit to him even without his awareness. The Gemara has a kashya on this. Don’t we assume that a Gentile would prefer a non-restrictive lifestyle in which he can indulge his desires in a relatively unchecked manner? Yes, answers the Gemara, but that is only once he has grown and become habituated to such a way of life. A child, though, does not have that baggage and it is therefore assumed to be a zechus for him to become a Jew.
Now, that is quite interesting, because it wasn’t so long ago that we learned in Yevamos about the procedure Beis Din follows when a Gentile comes requesting to be converted to Judaism. We do an awful lot of discouraging to try to dissuade him from taking such a drastic step, not the least of which is telling him about how the Jews are a tormented People!
It should be emphasized that the tzad in Tosafos that converting a child works m’doraysoh is that we say the fact that children generally cannot transfer power of attorney (shlichus) is only regarding that which entails at least some element of drawback for him – for example tithing, wherein one can never know if perhaps he would have wanted to give more or less – but when it comes to conversion to Judaism which is a full-fledged zechus the power of shlichus can work for him.
What we see from this sugyah, then, is that being a Jew – despite the difficult challenges that comes along with that status – is a flawless benefit. It is 100% good, without a trace of a drawback. Apparently, the procedure of Beis Din trying to discourage potential, adult Geirim is only to weed out those that are not completely sincere. The truth is, though, as the sincere ones recognize, that all that hardship is as nothing, literally nothing, compared to the inestimable zechus of being a Jew.
Rabbi Nachman Seltzer has a fantastic story in his book, Stories with a Twist, which illustrates just this point. A non-observant couple began learning with a local Rabbi and at some point discovered that the wife’s Conservative conversion was meaningless. Having recognized the truth of the Torah, though, she genuinely wanted to become Jewish. The process was long and drawn out, as it usually is. Matters came to a head, though, when her husband got hit by a car. At some point during his rehabilitation, she called up her contact Rabbi on an erev Rosh Ha’Shana morning. Despite the extremely inconvenient timing she insisted that she needed him to come over to her house immediately.
When he arrived, she told him that she suddenly realized that it could have just as easily been her who got hit by a car, and that she may not have made it. If that would have happened, she realized, that would have meant that she would have died a non-Jew. “Rabbi,” she said with fire in her eyes, “I cannot live with that thought. I have to know that I am going to die a Jew!”
Suffice it to say, he called up the Beis Din and the tevilah was done post haste.
Sometimes, having been born Jewish and never really knowing anything different, we may not fully realize how truly lucky we are. This woman, who was not yet Jewish, was driven simply by the burning need to know that she would die a Jew!
Yes, it really is a tremendous zechus to be a Jew. And you know what, there’s a lot that we can learn about that from the Geirei Tzedek who join us. Who knows, maybe that is one of the reasons why Hashem commanded us so many times to treat them so well, because there is such a great benefit we can gain from them in terms of enhancing our appreciation of who and what we are; of what a zechus it is to be a Jew.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. In addition to having authored Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim on Halacha and Hashkafa, writes comprehensive chazara questions (in Hebrew) for the advanced Daf Yomi learner, and weekly words of inspiration from the Parsha. Rabbi Berman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.