Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Don't Use Rav Alleh's Hechsher - It's a Kuntz!
I have placed life and death before you, blessing and curse.
Choose life! (30:19)
"Perhaps Israel will say: Hashem has placed two paths
before us - the path of life and the path of death - it is
our choice to take whichever path we desire... Therefore
the Torah concludes: Choose life!" (Sifri Parshas Re'eh
Apparently, were it not that Hashem concluded with the words, "Choose
life!" there would have been some confusion as to which is the right path
to take. Why? Isn't the "living" path of the Torah and its holy mitzvos
easily distinguishable from the "deathly" path of sin and immorality?
In the beginning of parshas Re'eh we find a verse almost identical to the
above pasuk. "Behold I have placed before you today blessing and curse... "
Interestingly, though, there the pasuk uses the plural form, "Behold I have
placed before you (lifneichem = you (plural))." Here, the pasuk uses the
singular form, lifanecha.
I know a very talented person. He can sing, dance, and compose rhyming
verse on the spot. Once, after attending a chasunah (wedding) in
Williamsburg, he stood outside the hall trying to find a ride back to Boro
Park. Someone picked him up. Seeing who his passenger was, the driver
asked, "How come you didn't come with your own car?"
"Actually," he answered, "I don't know how to drive."
"What - you don't know how to drive? But you're so talented - you know all
the kuntzen! (Kuntz is a Yiddish word, not easily translatable. The best I
can do is 'trick' or 'feat'.)"
"True," he answered, "and were it a kuntz to drive, I would surely be able
to do that too!"
It has been said that it is no kuntz to do good when everyone else is doing
good. What distinguishes the true G-d-fearing individual from the rest of
the crowd is that he is doing the right thing even when everyone else is
not. That is a kuntz!
Does Hashem want us to be kuntz-machers? No. The point is not to go around
looking for the difficult situations in life. They present themselves all
the time. Situations where it's so easy to just "go with the flow."
Everyone else is doing this. All my friends do it. So it must be all right.
I once attended a shiur (lecture) on kashrus by Rav Heinemann of Baltimore.
"Who can name," he threw out a question to the audience, "the most popular
hechsher (kashrus supervision) in our generation? OU? OK? No. It's the
hechsher of Rav Alleh. 'Who's this Rav Alleh?' you ask. You never heard of
him? He's the one giving the hechsher on the bakery down the street, and
the pizza shop around the corner. I walk into these stores, and see
religious Jews eating there. 'Who supervises this place?' I ask them. They
shrug their shoulders. 'Alleh essen du - Everyone ('alleh' in Yiddish) eats
here,' they answer."
This is the hechsher of Rav Alleh. His kosher stamp of approval is not only
found on the food we eat. He also supervises the words we speak, the places
we go, the way we do business and deal with people. This prodigious rav
ha-machshir gives us instruction and guidance in all aspects of our lives.
That's why teshuvah (repentence) is such an individualistic process. It's
not okay just to follow the crowd. What everyone else is doing might not
necessarily be right for you. Whether it's right for them or not is their
responsibility to decide. But each person has to look inside himself and
ask: Is what I am doing right for me, or am I just getting caught up in
whatever everyone else is doing? This process requires deep introspection
and self-honesty. It's not easy to divorce one's thought process from
societal norms, and completely expose himself to the penetrating light of
One might at first be tempted to say that this "hechsher of Rav Alleh"
actually makes some sense. After all, everyone can't have their heads
screwed on backwards, can they?
No? How about Beanie Babies - do they make any sense? Their success is not
because of any inherent value they might possess, but because "everyone's
talking about them." It's not to say that everything people do is wrong
or makes no sense, but that not everything people do makes sense. Our job
is to take the time and effort to separate the chaff from the grain. In
real life it's a lot harder than exposing the Beanie Babies farce - it's a
This, explain mefarshim (commentators), is why the first time the choice
between "life and death" is mentioned, it's done so in the plural. The
choice is out there for everyone to make. But the second time, in our
parshah, when the Torah urges, "Choose life!", it is written in the
singular. To choose "life" is something which can only be done by the
individual. It demands that one separate himself from conventional "wisdom"
and make a decision about what's right for me.
This also, says Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank ("Har Tzvi"), explains the above
Midrash. The choice between "life and death", between blessing and curse,
is in and of itself clear and obvious. Our clarity, however, is blurred by
what those around us do. What's the right way - do I blindly do as others
do, or do I bravely attempt to forge my own path? Choose life! urges
Hashem. The choice isn't always an easy one.
There's never a bad time for cheshbon ha-nefesh (introspection). The month
of Elul is especially good - it's set aside for it. Shulchan Aruch (603:1)
writes, "Even one who is not meticulous not to eat bread from a gentile
baker a whole year should be meticulous during the Ten Days of Teshuva
(repentence)." The days of teshuva are a time to inspect the hechsherim we
rely on all year. Watch out for the hechsher of Rav Alleh!
Text Copyright © 1998 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.