Tuesday, April 24, 2012


After last week long posting of Rav Hirsch’s writing which I titled ‘Family” perhaps nothing else should be said. He writes on this topic in such a beautiful and meaningful way that I can’t imagine anyone else being able to add to his words. Nevertheless I decided to write a second post titled “Family”.  No, I don’t think that my writing can be compared to that of my Rav and Master, neither in content nor in style. I rather want to share with the reader my personal experiences and convictions hoping that the fact that they do not come  from the great Rav with his exceptional knowledge, understanding and vocabulary but come from a simple person like me with his simple almost clumsy language, will add an additional shade to this discussion.

“And than they shall became one flesh.”

This is first mitzvah in the Torah, a call from the Creator of humanity to his creation. This mitzvah requires both parts of mankind, those obligated to keep the seven commandments for the descendents of Noah and those who were chosen among the sons of Abraham to perform 613 commandments – Jews. Since it is first of the commandments it indicates a high if not the highest value of this mitzvah.

There was a boy thirty years ago growing in Poland. A country separated from the world by the iron curtain and shackled by the chains of official atheism and cultural anti-Semitism. This boy was just a little bit more than 16 years old but after a few disappointments with his political activities and after discovering the falsehood of the world around him, began to look for the real meaning of life. He was surrounded by friends of both sexes  but something inside was telling him that what encircled him was not the truth; he started to recognize that  what people are saying and what they believe in is not real, in fact it is false.
With his friends he discussed everything, from Schopenhauer and Nietzsche to Marx and Engels, from LaSalle and Kropotkin to the old Greek classics. But much time other then when he was not in the library he spent on his couch at his home. Sometimes sitting, other times lying and looking at the ceiling above, but many times he was also kneeling next to this couch. He tried to understand why everything exists, why he was born what is his role in this reality, how to achieve the goals and Who is standing behind all of this. Weeks of this intense thinking and analysis soon bore fruit with conclusions that drew for him the path of his future life. He found out about G-d even though at the time he still defined Him in the form of  a trinity as he was taught in his youth. He discovered the reason and meaning of life and he understood the right means to achieve the goals of life.
Not bad as for a 16 year old considering the fact that thousands of others have spilled oceans of ink to come to the same conclusion. Without a doubt, he didn’t understand everything and learned much more later in his life but he grasped certain fundamentals upon which everything he learned later in life was built on. Without a doubt it happened with the help of Heaven which he continuously asked for answers and providence.
One of these fundamentals ideas which he understood was the magnitude of the institution of the family. The conclusions came from two facts. One of them was the unique and different way that humanity was designed: man and woman, she and he, male and female. It was self evident for him that in this design must be something so profound that if any goal for humanity exists it must be achieved through the unification of these two elements. From the reality surrounding him he understood that if this unification takes place between more than one male and female, if this unification is betrayed, ruined or corrupted somehow, than the means to this lofty goal is ruined and the goal of humanity can not be achieved. He understood that all his male potential should be reserved to one mate whom he was hoping to meet at some point of his life and build a future together with her. He didn’t understand the details of what the goal is about, but he knew at the time, that it was the Creator Himself who designed it this way and marriage is part of His service – it is the way to fulfill His will. Surely he didn’t know or have any access to the source of knowledge of how to build a family or how to express his love to his wife or by what means a marriage can be ruined, he didn’t have any patterns or tradition of how to give a proper upbringing to his future children. For him all of the above was an experiment yet to take place.
Those revelations were result of the time the boy spent on the couch and next to it. It happened in the weeks between September and October of ‘82. In November of that year his new conclusions were subject to a trial. He went to a Blues festival in a far away town where Polish hippies used to gather to share the music, pot or even syringes. Various promiscuous & other immoral acts were also commonplace. At this time he was still a boy, young of age but wise in his self consciousness. With a couple of his friends he made a pledge to keep clean, clean from smoking, drinking and promiscuous behavior. Behavior which he understood should take place only under the covenant of marriage. Heaven watched over him and he kept his pledge.
The following January he went with his friend on a road trip. Trains, train stations, hitchhiking, towns and people, he saw it all. By the guidance of a Higher power he ended his trip in the only store in Poland selling Bibles. He bought his first Bible! Among other surprising revelations of the book of revelation there was the first commandment of the Creator: “and they will became one flesh”. This was one of the matters which convinced him to recognize this Book, the Bible as the Message of G-d to humanity. Among many other important issues which he recognized at that time as essential to leading a life serving his Creator the issue of Family Philosophy and moral purity was without a doubt the leading one. All of the other matters he was ready to learn and change if necessary, however all the other desires were not as strong as basic instinct – the result of testosterone flowing in his veins. Because he recognized that since the primal desire to procreate is the strongest and most basic of all desires it must be the one most watched and controlled. It is never easy for a man to restrain himself from wrongdoing. It wasn’t easy for this young man whose life was open before him and promising fulfillment of all of his craving and desires. With the help of Heaven he decided to withhold from promiscuous behavior and invest all of his potential in the service of G-d and his sexual potential only with his wife, the woman of his future. It was not easy, not only because nature doesn't work in this direction but also because his friends and the environment were not supportive. There was a popular nicely rhymed saying in Polish about such weirdo’s like him – “ doesn't smoke, doesn’t drink, doesn’t … and his name is a.. hole!” Not once and not twice was he ridiculed for his convictions, for being faithful to his beliefs but he seemed to the only one with these beliefs.

It is not difficult to recognize in this story the author of this essay. I describe some more details of what happened during those months of my life in my book “Another Convert”.

I will again share a few of the other aspects of this spiritual-intellectual experience which happened to me during at my mid teenage years. Upon discovering that there are different forms of Christianity I found in one of the small Christian denominations fulfillment of my higher desires and a path helpful to live a G-dly life. A few years later I met my future wife the one I wanted to grow old with and to be the mother of my children. We got married and than I found that my religion could not give me the spiritual growth which my heart desired. After a long search I found that Judaism offered me not only a life according to the commandments revealing the ‘Character’ of G-d but also has incredible means for family development and preservation. The problem was that my family was not ready for that step, to leave Christianity and to become Jewish. While there were possibilities and offers to convert with a non orthodox conversion together with family or an orthodox conversion without my wife and children I had strong convictions that love for my wife and children is of the highest value. For a non Jewish gentile person, to destroy his marriage and abandon his family so as to achieve many more mitzvos is great disservice to Hashem the Giver of life. I waited. I greatly desired to fulfill the other mitzvos given by Hashem to his chosen people but I chose to continue to be faithful to the commitments and convictions of the ‘revelation’ of my youth without converting to Judaism. After six long years of waiting, Hashem blessed us with a unified decision to undertake the yoke of Torah by my whole family. Together with my wife and growing children we now discovered much more about family than we ever expected.
The institution of Mechitza, the separation between the sexes in public events was one of those discoveries, the great Jewish tradition of protecting a woman’s dignity and man from impure thoughts. Laws of yichud – preventing men and women (excluding the closest members of the family) to be secluded alone with each other was another important discovery. Those were a few of the most profound, important and yes enjoyable institutions, as those laws gave the married couple even more trust and faith than just relying on positive connections between the spouses. Love and trust are of course fundamental for a healthy family, and protecting mechanisms serve only as devices helping to keep higher standards of morality and love between the married couple.
But there were more such devices and procedures in Judaism promising the ability to build a family of more than one or two generations. 
Those were building binders which allowed assembling the structures which Rav Hirsch describes in the post which I posted on my blog last week. The ‘family minhag’, the custom binding members of the same family unit to something greater, to something lasting for generations, is the most profound of all. The way how the family dresses and cuts their hair, the way how they cut the chala at the Shabbos table, the daily behavior which is common and specific only for this family and no others. All the other cultural and sociological aspects used also by others but employed in specific arrangements within the family unit. Judaism gives an opportunity to establish and reinforce families for generations while at the same time giving the means of developing the individuality and specific talents of its members. With growing children there is a possibility to establish something which will serve them and their future offspring.
Rav Hirsch writes, the payment for the parents for their toil with their children is seeing the care which is taken for their children’s children. When the old zaide and babbe see their aineklech and ihr ainklech following the path which they designated for them, this is the only payment for their investment. No money, not even the care which children owe to their parents according to halacha are considered payment but the awareness that here are people who will remember their grandparents as the ones who established them as a family ready to live and die for Hashem and each other, this is the greatest achievement of life. This and more is what Yidishkeit has to offer. Life without this is not worthy to exist. This is what began as an intellectual and spiritual kernel in the minds of those 16 years olds back in Poland

Matys Weiser

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