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

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Family by Rav Hirsch

We are already thinking about the summer, Pesach is long forgotten but here is a belated (it seems to be that I am posting late more and more!) essay containing commentary from my beloved Rav Hirsch. It is a commentary on Passover but I guarantee you that it will serve you for the coming summer as well, these words will serve you in life. Don’t wait till the next Pesach to read this! Any time is the right time for chizuk and inspiration!
Matys Weiser

(Subtitles are mine)


Ish "every one of them!" This is the first feature in the character-formation of this people raised upright by God. Every one of them! God has built His Nation upon the personal self-awareness of each individual member of His People; not upon a vague national consciousness finding no response in the warm and feeling hearts of its citizenry. God does not envision His spiritual task undertaken by agents who, as representatives of the people, absolve them from their individual duty.
Ish "every one of them!" was the rousing call which summoned Israel out of its darkest night. And if they were as numerous as the sand on the seashore, one and all would be expected to answer God's call. God has asked and continues to ask each one to help in building His Nation. This Nation cannot dispense with a single member.
Veyikcho luhem ish – (for themselves – each man) God has granted each one independence and human dignity by means of His "unburdening" and "liberating" acts of
Redemption. The Pessach offering, this Jewish declaration of independence, was simultaneously Korban Tzibur and Korban Yichud, and remains so for all time; it was a national act which had to be put into effect, not by national representatives, but by every individual. It became a national act precisely because the nation and all of its members participated in it at the same time and in the same manner.
Thus the first and fundamental feature of the Jewish national character is pride. It is the pride of human dignity and human awareness. It is the proud awareness not of what a person is, but rather of what a person should be. This is the powerful feeling of human worth that never lets a person give up completely but urges him on to reach the pinnacle of self-awareness attainable by all.

Seh The "lamb"—the creature which joyfully follows God as its Shepherd—was the first object demanded by God from His newly independent nation. The "ox," the "ram," the "goat"— strength, power, and energy respectively—these had been surrendered up to God by three misery-laden generations. Centuries of death-dealing suffering had taught them simply to endure their pain with loyal resignation. Joyful submission to the guidance of their life's Guardian; willing obedience to God, their Shepherd—that, they were now to learn. At the moment of redemption, they all became "Lambs"- His sheep, "Sheep of His pasture." All of them allowed themselves to be led by Him to life, just as they had allowed themselves to be led by Him to death. This obedience to God is the second characteristic in the image of the People of God. All of them stand independent, equal, conscious of their equal worth and their equal dignity; but all of them stand equal also in their equal subordination to God: Ish Seh


And Ish seh lbais avos seh lbais (each man – a lamb for the father’s house a lamb for each household)—underlines the third and fourth characteristic of Israel. Each Jew, in the full feeling of independence, subordinating himself to God with complete devotion; each is closely attached to the house of his parents, symbolizing the past, and to the house that he will build, symbolizing the future! Ish lbais avos vlbais, (man for his parental home – man for himself) that is the cornerstone of the Jewish People: to bring forward the traditions of yesterday into the world of today. Every Jew comes forth out of the love of his parents who look after his physical and moral well-being. Every Jew recognizes as the prime purpose of his own striving the task of building another house. By looking after the physical, moral and spiritual needs of his children, he pays the debt of gratitude owed to his parents.
It is not without good reason that family purity is such an essential precondition for Jewish national existence; it is not without good reason that their adherence to family purity lo gilu arayos—was the first merit that made Israel worthy of Redemption and of its selection for its great historic task. Consequently lo shinu shmom vleshonom. Subjected to terror and persecution, Israel did not lose the consciousness of its special mission. Could this have been achieved through any other virtue than the chaste purity of the generations? No Jewish child was exposed to a casual education or entrusted to the care of chance. Was this not achieved because both father and mother were present and available for every Jewish child from birth onwards! Upbringing is the spiritual and moral completion of the physical process begun with conception and birth. All of Judaism is built upon the fact that every Jew is born for one specific life vocation and task; that every Jew must be educated for this life task, and that this spiritual bequeathal of a Divinely revealed vocation is transmitted from generation to generation. Can this Judaism then be truly realized if the child, who is the key to the coming generation, has no father who transmits the Jewish spiritual legacy to him; if the child has no home in which he thrives in the formative atmosphere of the pure Jewish life required for this spiritual legacy?
To be descended from a proper home and to build another such home—bais avois ubais—comprises, therefore, all the good fortune, all the earthly blessings, and all the ethical Calling of the Jew.—And is this not actually basic to all men? Is this not likewise the basic condi-tion for the well-being and ethical perfection of the nations? Is it not also the precondition for all the hopes of mankind?
O that wherever people deliberate about the fortunes of nations and national welfare, about the morals and the culture of nations, about the well-being and tranquility of people and of mankind; O that they would look at this first page of the Magna Charta of the People of God which was bestowed upon them by God! Not at the council tables of princes, not on the fields of battle, not in the factories of the industrialists, not in the halls of business establishments, not even in the lecture halls and educational institutions of, the arts and sciences, and also not in the temples where God is glorified—not there, but in the homes is decided the fortune or misfortune, the prosperity or misery of nations and men. Do you desire good fortune and prosperity? Procreate in purity, take care that in palaces and ordinary homes every new child that is born is looked after, reared, and educated with the love of his mother and father. Facilitate, encourage, and support this ethical building of human households. "Create homes!"—and you will have provided for the well-being of your families, peoples and states; you will have ensured—whether in palaces or in ordinary homes—that human affairs, from the sublime to the most ordinary, are entrusted to clean hands, pure minds and unsullied spirits. The spirit of morality, the spirit of love which can flourish and be practiced only in homes, that spirit will permeate and govern ruler and subject, industry and trade, science and art, religions and temples. That spirit—and no other—will bring about well-being and peace.
There is no surrogate for the home. Let immorality increasingly make a mockery of ethical family life and let children without fathers proliferate in the streets, then all of your politics and diplomacy, all your institutions of culture and learning will not save you from ruin.
Truly, the sages of old probed deeply into the problem of the well-being of nations. They noted that in the Divine Scriptures there is a repeated counting of the people by families and houses. The sages then comment as follows: "When Israel received the Law, the nations of the world were envious, saying: Why are these people deemed worthy to stand nearer to God than others? The All-Holy One silenced them with the words: Bring Me the records of your ancestry. You cannot! Only my sons are able to furnish evidence of their birth according to their families! Therefore, He counted Israel—at the beginning of the fourth Book—after the conclusion of the Giving of the Law in the third Book: Count the members of the entire congregation of the sons of Israel according to their families, according to the houses of their parents! Thus begins the fourth book; because Israel became worthy to receive the Law only through the purity of the lineage of their families. Israel wavered in this purity. They came to Shittim. The people began to go astray. The nations were delighted, saying: The crown they had worn has been taken from them! The glory in which they prided themselves is gone! They are now equal to us!—God then slew all who were morally corrupt and restored the rest to their purity. And then it says again: It was after the dying that God spoke to Moses and to Elazar: Count the members of the entire congregation of the sons of Israel!"—(Yalkut to Numbers I, 1).
And seh lbais avos seh lbais, and now every home, with its manifold filial and parental concerns and efforts, tasks and exertions, seh, must be the object of the loving care and guidance of God and must follow with trusting devotion the provident guidance of God, Ish seh lbais avos seh lbais, and every member of the household, relative to his or her position, as son or daughter, brother or sister. Father or mother, husband or wife, must present themselves to God only as a unit within that household, aware that only in this manner are they the focus of attention of Divine Providence. These are the people with which God built His Nation: Veyas lahem batim – “He built them houses" first.

"Collected Writings" V1 Nissan VI by Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch

Monday, April 2, 2012

Holy People

It’s been few weeks since I posted last time and this kind of neglect of my blog doesn’t happen too often. From the blog statistics I see that people are visiting this blog even more than before and they are reading my old essays as they are not finding anything new since Purim. I apologize to all of my regular readers and the only excuse that I can provide is that some of my last essays were so long that they may last for a couple of weeks. So… this week I’ll post something different than the previous topics of bashing unfaithful, unorthodox and confused.

Holy People 

Saints of the nations - especially devoted individuals who according to their beliefs undertake steps and actions that are supposed to appease their deities.

For example those religious folks who make a yearly pilgrimage to their holy sanctuaries, their version of “Bumois” – high places, who sometimes walk for miles on their knees or even crawl or roll on the ground toward their temples and chapels. Exhausted and bleeding, they believe they are committing the highest possible service to their god thus assuring them good fortune or even a place in heaven.

Or the others, who as a commemoration of the death of their god, allow themselves to be nailed through their palms to a tree. They understand this to be the way they can participate to a certain extent in this human sacrifice, which as they were taught by their priests, happened two thousand years ago in the Holy Land.

Yet others sit for hours and days in the same position while waiting for enlightenment.  They deny their bodies its basic needs, causing themselves pain, they call it meditation. They believe that their corporeal bodies are hampering them on their way to nirvana.

There are also those who take it to the other extreme. In their desire for higher reality, they commit suicide. But it is not plain primitive self killing. The kind of death which they choose, gives them glory in this world as well.

This kind of devotion is extremely difficult and sometimes it can take even years of effort to achieve this single goal – their spirit departing from their body. After denying themselves food and liquids, they starve to death in one of the yoga positions, later to be hung under the ceiling of the temple. Yes! Their dried corpses can be admired by every visitor who can reflect on the holiness of these holiest of people!

Some of these and others, less extreme people, have on their mind such simple transactions which in relations between humans would be called a - bribe. “Hello! god! I will show you my devotion and then you will give me what I want.” This is what many of them really have in their consciousness or sub consciousness. In other words a penitent in his religious action is trying to purchase the favor of god or sometimes even G-d by doing something which he, the penitent, considers as fulfilling the will of his deity. A person doing this act believes that he can manipulate heaven by his actions, by pushing certain so to say buttons of the heavenly machine and this action will result with heaven fulfilling his will or desire.  Yet for others, these kind of acts have a sacrificial character, supposedly to show the deity that the subjects of such atonement are punishing themselves for their sins, as they understand the meaning of sin.

Can we admire such devotion? Can we comprehend the dedication of these saints of the nations to their beliefs, to what they consider holy? Is there anything that we, Jews can learn from such religious acts, something what we can apply in our service to Hashem?

No! Chas VaChalila! G-d forbid! There is nothing here which we can emulate.
I purposely didn’t use quotation marks to describe these people as saints and their acts as holy, I wanted you to believe for a moment that in reality there may be something to consider, something to pursue, and something to learn and perhaps even to follow. But No, No and one more time No!  Such or similar behavior was never known within the main stream of our spiritual path, our Derech Hatorah.

If you look at the translation of the words Korban and Kapura from the Holy Tongue to English, you will see that Korban and Kapura translate to Sacrifice and Atonement. However this translation has no correlation to the original Hebrew meaning. They are used because English has no words to express those specific concepts of Torah.

Our bodies were given to us in order to engage them in truthful service of Almighty. Not by damaging them but the opposite, as Jewish Law requires, giving them all the necessary care. Food, sleep, garb, shelter, marriage, exercise, social life and all other necessities that support the body for the highest of services.

This is not a place to discuss this topic in detail and for the same reason I will not dwell on the story of Akeidas Yitzchok – the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham. Volumes were written already on this subject and it is impossible to expound on this topic in a short essay like this one. Nevertheless, I will write B-H a few words, as Akeidas Yitzchok is one of the most known accounts of dedication in the history of mankind.
Yes, it showed to us that in certain circumstances without hesitation we should be ready to give back what is in essence a gift! - Our lives. And yes, G-d considered what Avraham and his son did as if this ultimate act of devotion really happened, as the Machzor for Yom Kippur says – Hashem is taking under consideration the ashes of Yitzchok. But no, it was never intended to make our service harmful in any way or destructive to our bodies.

There is however great difficulty in all of the elements listed above of earthly life which constitutes the essence of this service of G-d. What is this difficulty with performing all of these earthly, mundane actions? Our creator requires us to use and achieve all those means in a moral and ethical way. Ethics and morals are not created by man but are the revealed regulations and laws of the Torah, and this causes a double dose of complexity.
The first difficulty is that these requirements of Torah are specifically designed as a counter balance against the nature of man or corporeality which we also received from the same Creator. The Creator created us with our natural and corporeal desires but later in the Torah He asks us to put restrictions on our nature and corporeal desires. This is one of the difficulties. The second difficulty is that our service is based solely on our faith in His Torah. It is Torah and only Torah which decides what is good and what is evil for us. There are no other criteria of good and evil besides what He revealed to the Jewish nation - the Torah.
Only the children of Abraham, Yitzchok and Yaacov are able to express such faith and prove by their daily devoted lives that they are worthy to carry this most difficult task and test.  It is much easer to undertake from time to time some self-destructive act or even die for G-d. What is really difficult is for a man to live for G-d!, to work on self-control over our thoughts, speech and body for 70, 80 or 120 years, in this unfriendly environment. It is a most thorny task to submit the corporeal to the spiritual as corporeal seems to be so close and spiritual is invisible and remote. The Torah is asking nothing more than to work on, to change but to change ourselves and not to try to manipulate the Heaven with our actions! To subordinate us to the Creator’s will and not the other way around. Then and only than, we may find favor in His eyes and our requests for what is good and helpful can be answered.

I will conclude this essay; like the saying goes to add sweet raisins to the dough, with a sweet morsel from my beloved Rabbi Hirsch, Parshas Vaigash 46:1 “Yaacov’s life up till now had really been little else but an Akeida being realized concretely in actual every-day life.”  To paraphrase, one long Akeida lasting for the whole of Yaackov’s life.

Matys Weiser