Sunday, April 17, 2011

Freedom

                                                                                                             B-H
What is the freedom? This question has consumed me since my early teen years.
B-H, it was an interesting time in the corner of planet Earth where I used to live when I was trying to understand and experience freedom for the first time.
I didn’t find it in political independence. Although, as you see in my post about Egypt and its revolution, I still relate to the human desire to speak and express oneself freely.
I understand this craving of the masses to break out from the chains of all the “protectors of the people” who most often are protecting nothing but their bloody money--sometimes even not their own families. Dictators are all the same.
I didn’t find freedom even after the shackles of Communism fell off my wrists and the muffle over my mouth was untied. As the Janis Joplin song went, “freedom is just another word for nothing more to lose.” Once I was dreaming that maybe these guys I saw riding their Harley-Davidsons on Nevada’s Highway 50 with the wind caressing their faces and ruffling their hair know what freedom is.
I tried that too...  in our family minivan though. I enjoyed it very much, but when I drove Highway 50 with the wind blowing through the window, waiving my payos, I knew already something more about freedom than those guys on their Harleys would ever know. I knew that freedom given to us from above is about much more than great space around me and blue sky above me.
Most important, I enjoyed having my family with me, my two little boys and my cute little daughter, fighting and hugging each other alternatively on the back seat of our minivan. My wife always worried what would happen next, but was always at my side.
At that time, I knew already that there is more than the starry sky above me and the moral law in my chest.
Chairus on two tablets: don’t read written, says Chazal, but rather read freedom. Freedom on the tablets.
Freedom on the tablets is different from our bechira-freedom of choice; in this freedom we may choose to rebel against the commandments of those tablets. It isn’t the freedom of refusing to believe in the G-dly character of those tablets either. It is Freedom on the tablets. Are those tablets some kind of symbol of Freedom, or perhaps there is a formula in them about how to achieve this Freedom?
It is not a big surprise that the first commandment on the tablets is asking us to be free. Anoichi Hashem Elokeichu asher chotzaisichu mi eretz mitzraim mi bays avudim. I’m the Merciful One who took you out of Egypt – the house of enslavement. Egypt, as Chazal teach us, in the very implication of the shoiresh (the root of the word), means bondage, oppression.
You are free! You are out of oppression! declares our Liberator. As a free man, you are called to do all of following on those tablets: the next nine commandments, and all that those nine represent – the Taryag Mitzvois – 613 commandments of Torah. You may do them, you still may perform those commandments, without being free, but you will lose most of its value.
It is my request from you, says HBH, that you should do what I am asking you to do, not because of any external pressure, but from your free motivation. You should hold back yourself from wrongdoing not because your environment will require it, but because you should seek in My commandments the path to even more perfect freedom – freedom of dominion over your corporeal desires and instincts.
Use that great gift which I invested in you: your Saichel – intellect. Conquer and balance the hormones flowing in your blood, through your heart, with calm and thoughtful self-restraint. Invest your time and property where you may share it with others like you. They are made in My Likeness, they represent Me; by respecting or even noticing them, you respect and recognize Me.
This is what the first commandment of the Luchos Habris (Tablets of the Covenant) seems to tell us. This is how, with great assistance from heaven, the author of these words is trying to direct his life.
We again are exiting Mitzraim, going from bondage of slavery. Let us all with Hashem’s grace understand the gift of freedom and use it wisely, to climb higher and higher; to walk in this freedom and achieve our full potential.
Kushere ve Sameach Pesach.
Matys Weiser

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lamed Voov Tzadik

                                                                                                            B-H
A great Tzadik left us last Shabes (Zuchor).
No, you didn’t hear about him; he was one of the Lamed Voov – the hidden Tzadikim in whose merit the world exists. Thanks to those few individuals, we have an opportunity to struggle to elevate ourselves to the level of who we should be.
The first time I read about Rav Zev Vava Moreino, I was just beginning to learn about my country’s horrible past, about the Holocaust which happened there and about the stand of my landsman and coreligionists at that horrifying time. This was still in the hardest years of communist Poland, when the state of war imposed on its citizens by the communist regime was merely suspended.
In the main communist weekly ‘Polityka’ there was article about Rav Moreino, the last chief rabbi of Poland. Actually, most of the article was criticizing the municipal government of city of Lodz, which had seized the apartment of Rabbi Moreino and tossed all the furniture and Sefurim (sacred books) through the window into the melting snow of the Polish spring. Among the books were some historic manuscripts recognized as such by the communist journalist who himself was Jewish.
You may wonder if such criticism of the government was possible at all under communism. Well… it was possible for Warsaw to criticize lower levels of government, but it was punishable to criticize the communist establishment from the Polish capital.
It was I think 1985 or 1986 when I read this article; Rav Moreino left Poland in 1973. For ten years there was no one single rabbi in the country which for at least 500 years has probably had more rabbis than all the rest of the world together.
I spoke then with some of the members of the local synagogue who knew him personally. Everybody agreed that this man was simply not normal. He was a good man, they said, but he was too extreme.
Only many years later I understood what was so abnormal about Rav Moreino. He was living as if the war just didn’t exist, as if there was no communism in his country. Only the pain of losing six million of his brothers and sisters affected him.
He stayed a Shomer Torah ve Mitzvois (a Servant of the G-d of his ancestors) and ohev Yisruel (lover of every Jew) while thousands of others lost most of their faith. Among them were those who told me about the ‘mental condition’ of Rav Moreino.
I can not judge them, but I can admire him.
When I came to this country I learn about Rav Moreino more from my rebbi, Yosef Bruzda ZTL. Rabbi Bruzda, himself a Lamed Vuv Tzadik, remembered Rav Moreino from after the war in Lodz, where Rabbi Bruzda spend two years before escaping from the communists to France. He spoke about Rav Moreino with great esteem, wondering about his Geoinus (scholarship), unknown in post-war Poland and superior even to the knowledge of our brothers who were less harmed by the war.
Yet as long as there were people in Poland who needed him, he stayed, even while others were rebuilding their moisdois in different parts of the world.
Rav Moreino possessed all the organizational skills needed to establish himself somewhere else. He was a lawyer, speaking Latin and French. This last skill helped him to survive the war as POW in a German camp for French soldiers. Above of all of this, he studied the Heilige Toirah in Baranovitch and Kamenetz Yeshivos.
Just these two lines are fascinating in the overall description of this Tzadik, aren’t they?
I didn’t meet Rav Moreino until few years ago. I was sitting in my car on the corner of 15th Avenue and 46th street in Boro Park where I was building a house for someone. Almost everyday I saw this, an alte Yid mit a rabeishe Poilishe Hit vus hot gevokt yeide tug mit zain yinger Rebbetzin – an old Jew with hat characteristic for rabbis from Poland, who walked with his much younger Rebbetzin taking the stroll to refresh rigid bones. But one day while they passed my car I was stunned when I overheard their conversation. No, I didn’t listen to what about they were speaking about, but in those days you couldn’t here my native Polish on the streets of Boro Park, at least not coming from people looking like this. At first I didn’t know even who it might be, but after evaluating the facts it came to my mind that it could be Rav Moreino. I had assumed if he was still alive he lived somewhere else besides BP.
I visited Rav Moreino and his Rebbetzin, together with my wife and my brother and sister in law. My brother-in-law wanted Rav Moreino to play significant role in his upcoming Hasune (wedding). Unfortunately, Rav Moreino, at the time over 90 years old, was not able to participate. That meeting will be not forgotten, as I was already aware of with whom I was visiting.
Two weeks ago a great man left this reality. He was one of those who others see--through the prism of the confusion of this world--as individuals going against the stream; not normal, they say.
Like his great-grandfather Avraham, Rav Moreino was not worried what others will say. He did what was right.
Matys Weiser

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pastures

                                                                                                             B-H
I write this blog because I read the blogs.
I’ve enjoyed others people’s writings my whole life (except for six years of my childhood and three years after immigrating to this country). Then, after settling in the US, I neither spoke nor wrote English at all. Now B-H I’m trying both. Before that happened however, I read blogs by other people.
One of them is the blog of Hershel Tzig (my neighbor), called Circus Tent. I don’t even remember for how long he has written it. Even though I have disagreed with his opinions and conclusions countless times, I have enjoyed it for many years.
He is alumni of the Spinka Hader (a stream of Satmar, for those who are not familiar) who became Lubavicher; I’m a ger who is Satmar-affiliated. I never had much exposure to contemporary Lubavich, besides studying Tanya on a regular basis with one of Bnay Maluchim (sort of Satmar-affiliated Lubavichers, for those who are not familiar).
Although I often disagree with Hershel Tzig, I never posted my comments on his blog because of my poor English skills. He doesn’t even know that I exist, but I like his writings. Why? The answer is simple: I see him as genuine seeker of the Derech Hashem (path of service of G-d) that is proper for him.
From time to time he hosts other writers who post their articles on his blog. Most of the time, I enjoy those essays, too. Last week Reb Hershel posted an essay by an individual calling himself Meyer Shimanowitz. I read this essay with the great sadness and pain. The flow of words and ideas served only one reason: self-justification of the author’s weakness, going as far as threatening the world with a self-pitying suicide.
I’m certain that author of this post is highly intelligent person; his English skills are superior. His ability to observe the world is truly unique. Unfortunately he uses his talent to justify his own moral degradation, blaming his faults on a lack of scholarly freedom and intellectual inability, and, more than that, on intellectual slavery by the members of frum community.
He writes supposedly about himself: “His eyes are wide open; a Heimishe yingerman’s olfactory receptor cells have picked up tantalizing scents of fresh intellectual pasture.”
But soon he describes his conscious submission to desire. Men of all intellectual levels have these desires, the strongest ones in our bodies. He actually suggests the one was the result of the other: that his intellectual struggle and striving pushed him straight to the open arms of a woman who is not the mother of his three daughters.
Then he describes different types of human characters, suggesting that in fact there is no difference between adherents of Torah and, let’s say, big game watchers. Among both these and those are some who are fans, some who are to a certain extent skeptics, some who are intelligent observers, and some who stay where they are just for the comfort of being there.
I have to admit that his observation of different characters and temperaments is brilliantly and skillfully described. He dreams perhaps that no one before him did this job of classifying and categorizing humans. He must enjoy his writing as I enjoy mine. Does it make us equal?
Like him, in certain moments of my life my “olfactory receptor cells have picked up tantalizing scents of fresh intellectual pasture”--or pastures, rather. I read and read and read. Everything. From classic and existential philosophy to social philosophy. I read theology and history books and then the history of theology. (Rarely classics of world literature, as I saw them too diluted with ideas, but nevertheless I enjoyed some of those works as well.)
I went through these pastures in all possible directions, but I was not content with what my eye could grasp on the surface; I wanted to know more. I cannot make the claim that I left no stone unturned in this field of ideas and ideologies, but I certainly can make the claim that I picked up all the major stones, regardless of size and weight. I ended, and in part went through this adventure with my wife and three kids.
Today, I wear a shtreimel and shainy beketche on Shabes. I know, it is only outward, it does not necessarily represent the value of the person inside the beketche. I may be na├»ve, but I’m not an idiot. But I chose it carefully and after years of observation.
I learned Mussar Sefurim, the best descriptions of human characters and personality... books which open my inner eyes to see myself--who I am and what life is about. Hey, Shimanowitz! When you’ve stuffed yourself with these strange grasses, let me know what you found there that I did not.
Or maybe it is not the pasture that attracts you …
Matys Weiser