Sunday, May 12, 2013

Book of gerim

Not too often do I write a review of a book, but the book which I want to recommend for my readers is special. It was published already more than half a year ago, but in the case of this book, if a review were to be written even ten or fifty years later it would still be relevant, for a book like this has not been written for at least a few hundred years—if ever.
“Bnei Avraham Ahuvecha – Gerim in Chassidic Thought,” by Dov ben Avraham, is a milestone in the topic of Jewish converts. It includes the best compendium of the writings of Chazal and Chassidic comments on those writings, and some contemporary stories of gerim, some of whom I have the privilege of knowing in person.
However, the title of the book may be somehow misleading, for as I wrote already, the sefer contains not only Chassidic thoughts on the topic of gerim, but also quotations from Tanach – scriptures, Talmud and later rabbinic authorities. While the Chassidic  interpretation of those earlier passages may give some fresh or alternative enrichment to the classic statements on the topic that have been known to people of Torah for generations, to see those old verses in one book is equally refreshing.
Without a doubt, the first part of Jewish society profiting from this book will be gerim themselves, as they can see their true position within Klal Yisroel and see themselves without either unnecessary complexes or overflowing pride. As always, the holy writings of the true leaders of People of Hashem put things in their right place. In his sefer, Rabbi Dov ben Avraham does everything to bring all the necessary information to achieve this goal, and as long as I know many other gerim than myself, it will help them to understand who they are and what their particular mission in the world is.
While I can imagine multitudes of gerim reaching for this unique sefer for the reasons described above, I strongly believe that there is another group among us who need this sefer even more than gerim – namely, all of the rest of the yidden.
I have to state it one more time: I believe with my whole heart that I joined the most morally advanced society; however, it is not a perfect society.
If someone thinks that the mitzvah of ahavas gerim – the proper relation to converts – was repeated 24 times in the Torah, or according to some other authorities, 36, without reason, a person like this is an apikores. No word, not a letter, not a dot or crown was written in the Torah without a reason, certainly not this most repeated mitzvah of all. While I have some thoughts which are still developing and which I would like IY”H to share in the future as to why this mitzvah is so discussed, I will not go to details in this essay. It shouldn’t be doubtful for anybody that there is something extraordinary about accepting the other—the different—and showing him or her special feeling and sensitivity.
I personally experienced, and I know  from my other gerim friends, that there is a huge number of religious Jews who will make an extraordinary effort to fulfill the earthly, social and spiritual needs of the ger. However, even many of them – the people with all good intentions  --  are operating on a rather superficial level, without a deeper understanding of what they are doing; thus sometimes their help, while initiated from positive feeling and need to fulfill the mitzvah, could turn into something completely the opposite, bringing sometimes deplorable results.
While loving the ger is a mitzvah like tefilin or lulav and esrog, if we do, G-d forbid, something wrong while doing those mitzvos, the damage is rather limited. But if the mitzvah of ahavas gerim is performed superficially and without understanding, the damage could be tragic. To those who, reading these words, will decide to restrain from doing this mitzvah to not cause harm, please know that making you aware of the problem doesn’t mean that you should stop doing good, rather that you should learn and do it the right way.
After writing all the above, I have to admit with sorrow that even among frum society there is plenty of nothing else than what I would describe as an anti-gerism. I will not attempt to prove my point here by bringing some of the stories which I and my family and many friends experienced. I would like not to make them public, but please take into consideration the fact that if such a lover of the chosen people as me issues such a statement, there is something in it. Once more – I joined the best, but not perfect, society.
While I don’t believe that this sefer possesses all the measures to repair this problem, I strongly believe that it can be a huge step for all who will read it.
The only question is whether will they consider it among all the political fiction or even lehavdil some classic positions in Jewish literature, which are without a doubt necessary, but no one is treating this specific topic as deeply as “Bnei Avraham Ahuvecha.”

Matys Weiser

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Toys for Dogs

I have to confess that the writer of this essay is a person who has certain difficulties in choosing the right presents even for his loved ones. A few weeks ago, when I was visiting my home and being visited by my children, I took my two and half year granddaughter to the store so she should have the opportunity to choose something for herself. It is not the first time we have done this together, and as one of the Weisers she seems to have a quiet, mature mindset and she knows what she wants, at least when comes to toys. Part of this mindset is the opposite of it: she certainly knows what she doesn’t want.
We were going from aisle to aisle picking and trying all kinds of toys, but nothing was satisfying my sweet little one. Finally, in one of the department stores which we visited in our search, she picked up a toy like she was actually looking for it. Her decision was made, and even though I still tried to convince her to get something else that looked better to me, she refused everything and stubbornly schlepped the small toy shopping cart for a whole eight American dollars. I gave up, and after choosing a toy for her younger sister, we returned home.
A few days later I was back in the West, but still having the feeling that my granddaughter deserved something more than this, that the shopping cart must be filled with something else.
While traveling (and not only then), I do a lot of my shopping at Costco; even for some smaller items or vegetables, it pays for me to buy there for the quality and price, even if I sometimes have to buy more than I need at the moment.
When I entered the Costco in Albuquerque, New Mexico, right near the door I saw a fantastic basket filled with some plush toys. The most visible were a small teddy bear, a red-and-blue parrot and then three other toys. All five toys were a decent price and the size I imagined would fit in one of the flat rate boxes offered in the post office.
An incredible deal, I thought to myself: within my budget I can make my granddaughter happy by adding something to this cheap shopping cart.
The next day I went to the post office. Unfortunately, the basket with the writing on it saying “My Toys” couldn’t fit in the box. I decided to take the toys out and squish them inside the box. Without the basket they fit perfectly.
A few days later I got this picture and this text message from my son:
Ok, I don’t want you to get a heart attack but why did you send DOG TOYS for your human grandkids?
Recognizing the parrot from the toy set and yet not believing my eyes, I began to laugh almost hysterically. I felt stupid, but at the same time, I was already imagining my great- grandchildren telling the story about how zeidy Matys bought dog toys for his granddaughters. I was seeing the laughter a few generations ahead, and I was fully aware that this is exactly what I deserved for overlooking the white-on-red words: ‘dog toys’ which somehow I unnoticed.
Then slowly my laughter slowed down as I started to think – who got crazy over here, me or the rest of the world?
DOG TOYS? Since when do dogs need something more sophisticated than a stick or something round to play with? Do those countless owners of canine ‘friends’ really believe that their dog appreciates playing with the teddy bear? Do they really believe that they – the owners – are nothing more than friends to their domesticated wolves? Are they aware that ‘appreciation’ is the action of abstract mind which those animals are lacking?
Slowly I felt my heart picking up in my head and back, as I was going through one of those experiences when extreme surprise could cause such a reaction in your body.
Toys for animals… people actually spending their sometimes hard-earned resources on animals. Again, I don’t say to appease their animals because appeasement is a human feeling and cannot be applied to animals.
We, humanity, have a huge problem. I wouldn’t blame only the Darwinian view of the human being for this state of mind, as zoophilia was not something unknown before Darwin, but perhaps more than ever, people think about animals as humans and about themselves as animals. Well… if they think so...
I personally don’t keep or have ever kept any pets, as they give a bad smell and in general are very unhygienic. But I can have some understanding for those people who for some reason may need the company of a dog or another pet for their hobby. But what has happened to humanity if a human being must look for a companion in the form of an animal? Where are the children and grandchildren of those elderly citizens who can talk only to their dogs or cats? Are some of those young people fighting perhaps for animal ‘rights’? What has happened to humanity where some are spending millions of dollars and a great chunk of their human lives on fighting for animals? Somewhere in their country or even in other countries, people – human children – are dying from hunger or an epidemic, lacking basic human living conditions, while some of those animal defenders call their effort 'humanism’.
Sure – adopting a human child may not be more expensive than buying food, medicine, and TOYS for DOGS, but it does require some greater responsibility. But what about spending the same money by giving it to some legitimate charity helping under-developed human societies to survive or even to develop? Why do dogs deserve better in their minds, and why do those people see themselves as more humane than others? I’m sure that if they would look harder they would find some fellow human beings in need on their street, around the corner, somewhere in a close neighborhood. How crocked is a society that spends billions of dollars a year for treating animals better than humans? Is there any hope?

Let me tell you a story about one of my favorite presidents, President Lincoln himself.
While without a doubt he was a man of higher conscience, my story will illustrate something that the Tanya describes in one of its chapters – go and see.
President Lincoln was traveling in a horse and wagon through heavy rain. The road was muddy and streams of water and mud were flowing from the hill on the side of the road. He spotted a sow trying to help her piglet to climb up the small mound, but every time the piglet was pushed up by his mother it would slide down on the liquid mud. President Lincoln jumped out of the wagon and ran through the rain,  picked up the piglet and put it on the top of the hill.
When he returned to his wagon he was asked by the driver of the wagon –
-         Mr. President, you must be a very altruistic person to do such a thing for that animal, especially in such harsh conditions.
-         No – answered President Lincoln – not in this case at least; I did it for myself. I couldn’t watch this struggling animal, and that’s why I did it.
This nice story shows us perhaps something greater about President Lincoln than most people can see in it. He admitted that it was HIS bad feeling which was discomforting him and not exactly caring about animal.
This story happened around the time when Charles Darwin, with his book “Origin of Species,” initiated a new epoch in the history of mankind – an epoch when people began to think about animals as humans and themselves as animals. This time the idea was not part of some morally declined animistic culture or religion, but a part of society considering themselves the leading moral force of humanity, coming, however, with nothing more than a self-pleasing, egocentric approach. Since then it only became worst.

Matys Weiser

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Jewish Butchers


A butcher according to the dictionary:
- A person who slaughters certain animals, or who dresses the flesh of animals, fish, or poultry, for food or market.
- A person guilty of brutal or indiscriminate slaughter or murder.
It is self-understood that the second definition comes from the first one, as both definitions are associated with the spill of blood. But there is something more about it, I believe: in all languages in which I communicate, butcher is synonymous with a rough, uncultured, almost primitive individual. Perhaps because that’s the type of man butchers are usually recruited from? Well… as I remember from my youth, most of the butchers working in the meat plant were convicts. I don’t say all and I don’t say everywhere, but that was the situation back then.

In my traveling I meet all kinds of people, but I always look especially for fellow Jews. I have spent Shabbosim in many towns, cities and types of communities. Most of what I see and experience teaches me humility, as I see Jewish children struggle for their Yiddishkeit in a way unknown to most of us Monsey-ers or Boro-Parkers.
Not that long ago, I got halfway between big cities with organized Jewish communities and had to spend Shabbos with Shochtim – in Hebrew, people occupied with slaughter of certain animals, who also dress the flesh of animals for food.
I got the phone number from my office, and on Friday I called to ask for directions and when it would be good to come. I also asked if there was a minyan and a sefer Torah. The answer for the last questions was negative, but nevertheless I was happy to see at the end of the week some yidishe punim – my fellow Jews.
The yid on the other side of the line told me in a characteristically “hasidishe” way how to get to him:
- You get out of the highway and after a mile or so you will see the gas station on the left, and soon after on your right there is a company of such-and-such a name. You will make a right and I will wait for you at the back of the building.
Regrettably I couldn’t put anything in my GPS, so I began to follow his directions, which I had already put on a piece of paper.
Soon I encountered the yid, with a white helmet and galoshes all the way to his knees. A bloodstained white apron complemented the picture. But, like mine, the big smile expressing his happiness from seeing another Jew in this remote place was one of the warmest I have seen for a long time.
He told me how to get to his apartment, which was not so far away, and that he had left it open for me and I could use it as my own, as he still had to finish some work in the plant.
In fact, there were five yidden working in the plant, and soon after Shabbos began I met them all: two Hasidim, two Litvaks and one modern.
After davening we came to hear kiddush from the eldest, who happened to be not only a shochet, but also a rabbi ( not a convert himself) who wrote commentaries on , well…Targum Onkelos in few volumes.
Surprisingly the flat challah baked by one of the men was tasty and soft. We enjoyed the rest of the food as well, which was all prepared by my hosts with meat from their own shechita. It was fantastic to find well-prepared and nicer dishes in a place where I hadn’t expected anything sophisticated.
But soon after the fish they began to discuss what yidden are made for – the Torah. It started with Chumash, but soon they were discussing mishnayos with some early commentaries, and not that much later it was the Zohar itself which was used to explain certain higher ideas from the parsha. I could only listen and try to follow, as the discussion was way above my level of knowledge or understanding.
It was fascinating to see those butchers engage in discussions which you can maybe hear somewhere in Lakewood, but not here in the plains. Soon I found that indeed Lakewood was the place where their Torah had originated, at least for some of them. On the other side of the table, however, we had Chassidim, and the least I can say is that they were not am-ha'aretzim at all. The discussion went high, and the dialectics of the discussed Gemaras was on the level which Hegel may have only dreamed about (dialectics not Gemara of course :) ).
Here, in a cheap neighborhood, by a PVC table covered with a white plastic sheet, a few butchers were bringing the heavenly realm down to earth, while taking the physical realm of fish, fleish and shnapps to the heavenly realm.
Soon the Chasidim had had a few too many shnapps, and the Litvishe Rav declared that at that moment we could discuss everything but halachic issues, the matters of the Jewish law. That’s how the rest of the evening went.
Later I heard them talking about some fascinating details of their profession and how they were making sure that their Kabbalah – the tradition which they learned from their teachers regarding shechita – was being kept to the last detail. After Shabbos  they showed me some of the chalafim, the huge knives, some of them hundreds of years old and valued at thousands of dollars. Even the sharpening stones can have a value of half a thousand or so if they are made from a unique stone. Language, law, philosophy, spirituality and psychology were discussed by those butchers, occupied all week long with making sure that rest of klal Yisroel, the Jewish people, have on their tables kosher meat from animals slaughtered according to 3300-year-old regulations and traditions.
If we have butchers like this, what should the rest of us be like?
Matys Weiser

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Coincident - Coincident?

As was said in one of the previous essays, in order to meet the ends which are to short to meet just from my touring activity I travel around the west and selling some beautiful merchandise.
One Wednesday evening, I came with my product to some gift shop located in the valley somewhere close to the west coast of our country. Shop was selling stuff which didn't match anything what I have to offer but the company which product I sell, sold already in this place for few hundred dollars so I was hoping that maybe this time also they will buy enough to cover cost of my lodging or gas.
I entered the store and introduced myself to the older lady which she later told me she was born in NY in the family of Italian immigrants. The man who was helping her in the store was half Native American and descendant of the famous and proud chief Joseph.
I walked out of the store to bring my merchandise and when I was schlepping it in to the store some young fellows parked their small car at the front and entered with few cardboard boxes which were giving glassy noise. When I came to the store the husky blond fellow was presenting his product to the owner of the store. He was selling glass pipes which are smilingly popular in certain milieu as I saw it in many stores around the country. The young fellow claimed to manufacture pipes by himself.
The lady, owner of the store, apologized to them and asked if they can wait as I was first who came to the store. Seeing that the other guy has some two small boxes of pipes I proposed that she may go ached with picking his merchandise as my needs more attention i.e. time. We all agreed.
While the lady was picking glass pipes from the guy and his friend I began to converse with the salesman of the store, the grand son of Chief Joseph. At certain moment he asked me loud: Are you Jewish?
- Sure - I answered short and equally loud with my big smile on the face.
When I travel alone I usually hide my payos under the yarmulke and black cowboy heat, but I know that even if I would stay there whit my curled payos on the side of my face and wearing my lange rekel (long Hasidic coat) still such question may be asked in most of the places of this country. Most of the people are identifying us as kind of Amish rather than Jews.
When my identity became clear in the crowded back room of the store, the young guy who was selling pipes left the business to his friend and began to tell me the story of his family.
- You know – he said- my family escaped Russia during the communist revolution and via China came her to America. I’m the fourth generation American but I don’t know anything about my heritage.
Listening to him I was not sure what heritage is he talking about, is it Russian heritage which he is referring to, as I reviled somewhere during the conversation that I came from east part of Europe and I speak Russian, or is he referring to different heritage?
I asked him straight forward if his great grandparents were Jewish. He said almost the way as I did it before:
- Sure they were Jewish; they are coming from my mother side.
I asked if his mother was Jewish which I told him it would mean that he is also Jewish.
He answered – I’m hundred percent Jewish but as I told you, I don’t know anything about our heritage. I wanted to know something but I don’t know anybody and there is no Jewish community in my town so I don’t know where to turn for information – he explained.
In further conversation I advised him to look for Jewish community in the capital of the state which I knew has few synagogues and even Kolel. Told him to try in Bays Chabad explaining to him that particularly this community is helping people like himself to rediscover lost treasure of belonging to spiritual elite of humanity.
His friend concluded his sell and they were leaving, so quickly that I forgot to ask my new friend of his name. It was Halloween night and his other friends dressed accordingly were already inpatient with his prolonging conversation.
They left and I began my sell.
The sell went the way that the next morning I asked the office of the company which I working for not to send anybody ever to this place. Took hours of picking and re picking and than triple selection, so by the end, the sell didn't even cover gas which my car burned to come to this place. More than that, while I looked around the store I found that our merchandise completely doesn't match to what the store is selling otherwise.
The very next morning I have to drive four hours trough the mountains to the town located on the beautiful Pacific coast. I knew this part of the coast from our trips with my family in the past but it is always exiting to came one more time and scream the bruche ‘Oseh Maseh Bereishis’ (blessing for the Creator) trying to be louder than mighty waves of the Ocean.
On appointed time I parked my car on the front of up class antique store. While I was preparing to exit my car some SUV parked in the front of me. I noticed four or so inches big star of David above registration plate. It is not common view in this part of the country but I have met already some Jews working in remote places like this in the past and I wouldn't wonder if this would be the case one more time.
Indeed the owner of the store was a Jew. Few minutes later to our conversation, while my merchandise was laying already on the table he began to tell me his family story.
- My grand parents – he told me – escape the Bolsheviks revolution in 1917. First they came to China and than they settled her on the west coast of United States.
Hearing this I scratched my yarmulke and told him:
- Interesting, you know just last evening, four hours of drive from her, I met a young fellow who told me very similar story of his family escape.
- O! Really? - He asked.
- Yeah, he was selling glass pipes in the store where I have had my last appointment yesterday.
- I have a nephew who is making glass pipes but could it be it was him? - He asked.
- I don’t know… but I wonder how many Jewish kids with this kind of family story is making and selling glass pipes in entire country?
After I gave more description of the young fellow, his uncle didn't have any more doubts that indeed it was his nephew Nate whom I met night before.
This was not the end of Jewish topics in our few hours’ conversation while selling my beautiful merchandise.

But it was not the end of ‘coincident’ which experienced in this week.
Thursday afternoon I got the email with the address of the place where my office made arrangement for me to spent Shabes.
I was surprised that in this town there was Jewish community, and more surprised that Jewish population in the town is estimated for few thousand neshumois.
Unfortunately two orthodox shuls in town are struggling for minian and only chance to daven with minian is Shabes morning.
I was sitting in the Bays medrysh in my usual shabes attire together with my fellow Jews of mostly rather older age. Without surprise I was a major attraction for them and with few of them I have longer conversations after the services, including ex NY Times journalist who settled there on the west coast after writing articles for the paper including tree interviews of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shnerson – the last Lubavicher rebbe. I got some insights of those interviews which dint go to the press.
Later at local rabbi’s house we sated to eat the seauda when other older Jew came to the room invited by rebetzin to taste at least the some of the delicious salad.
He sat across the table from me and unsurprisingly began to ask me the questions. Everything from the way how I dress to the bestial murder of Layby Kletzky who was a grandson of my friend and accountant.
I have to explain that murderer was not Chasidic Jew as some of the press have described him including not so sympathetic to Chasidim Jewish magazines.
I learned that the Jew whom I talking to, was attending afternoon Cheder in his youth but quitted yidishkeit soon after his bar Mitzva after traumatic experience of how he described it, being suffocated by his rebbe who himself, he learned it after the event, was Auschwitz survivor.
Nevertheless most of his life he spent leaving as not Jewish only now getting interest in Yidishkeit. After being turned off by lack of knowledge in reform institution in his town he began to attend orthodox synagogue and ask orthodox rabbi the questions which was turned away by reform clergy person.
At certain moment during our interesting discussion he mentioned Heidegger and was surprised that I know who was Heidegger. He almost jumped out of his shoes when I told him about his teacher Huserl and his phenomenology branch of existentialism.  We spoke about his works, Edith Stein, Heidegger membership in NSDAP and hidden anti-Semitism of Huserl and Karl Joung.
I learned from him that he is working on the book on phenomenology and later from the rabbi that our fellow Jew is recognized psychologist.
At the end of our ‘accidental’ meeting he reviled to me that he tried in the other places to learn about his lost Judaism but only her he was allowed to ask the questions but more than that he was happy with the answers. Which I answered to him, that what I saying to him is only what I learned from my leaving and past away rabbis, and with my very limited knowledge and skills, just trying to share with him.
Hmm… coincident.

Matys  Weiser

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Gun Control

For those who have been reading my essays for a while it should be clear what my stand is on this topic, especially if someone has taken on himself to read the beautiful fragments of writings of Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch, which I 've posted on my blog many times in the past and whose words I acknowledge and say hundred times 'Amen.' In his writings particularly do I find the best expression of the Jewish attitude about violence and use of weapons. He is not the only one who writes about it; we can go through the ages and follow many teachings of Chazal on this topic, which are always consistent and based on the example of our father Yaakov, who taught his children how to behave in the future, especially how to act in times of golus and  having on our collective Jewish focus the end of  history and goal of our national existence. For details please read what Rav Hirsch has to say about it here: From commentary on Chumash of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch:
But let me go to the story which happened just last week.
I came to sell my merchandise in a town somewhere in the South. The type of  goods which I sell is usually used by ladies, but purchased many times by men. After waiting for the owner of the business for a while he came to me from the back of the store, and with a not so apologetic voice, began to explain:
- I’m sorry, my friend, but this time I can’t buy anything, for the season wasn’t that good and I have still most of the products from your company from my previous purchase.
- What happened – I asked him – is the economy that bad in this part of the state? I see operating oil wells everywhere and new wells being drilled, which indicates that people have money; why are they not buying?
- You see, maybe there in New York, from where you came, you don’t believe it, but here we believe in the second amendment of American Constitution, and you know what is going on -- they want to take our guns away from us – so every man here spent all his extra money for ammunition. That’s why they didn’t have enough money for gifts for their ladies.
I opened my eyes broad and felt my jaw slowly dropping. But then a few seconds later I couldn’t stop my laughing. And believe me, in my life I have been in many challenges when I must keep my face straight despite situations where it was almost impossible, yet here I couldn’t.
I was laughing bitterly,  being sorry for all those ladies, partially because they didn’t get presents, but also for being married to idiots who can’t even understand the law and reality of the world.
- But you see – I told the guy – up there in New York we have the same constitution as you have it here, and most of the people also respect the second amendment, as the Constitution is the means to make us as a nation. As far as I know no one is talking about banning weapons entirely. What some lawmakers want is better background checking and the prohibition of military-style weapons, which anyhow some of them like tanks or nuclear weapon are prohibited for the public despite the second amendment.
- Yeah, but hunting and reliance on weapons for any other life situations is deep in our culture here in the South.
Well, I thought to myself, deciding not to engage in possibly hostile and certainly fruitless discussion, I know what he's talking about. Here in the Bible Belt it should be understood better than anyplace else, if only their reading of Bible would be more than superficial.
Among our Jewish relatives’ ancestors, there was one individual who is the prototype of all of those who like to hunt and have inclination toward use of  weapons. He took over the mode of suppressive civilization of conquerors and physical domination based on military force from another one. His name was Esav, the twin brother of our father Yaakov. He – Esav – was the one who killed Nimrod to take over his ‘empire’ mode of civilization from him and to continue the form of culture glorifying physical power and industrial achievements. Nimrod was also the originator of all governments submitting the individual freedom to service of the regime.

What boggles my mind is how many of us, the children of Yaakov, have become, especially in the past seventy years, adherents of this strange ideology -- the ideology where some people think that weapons will give them freedom from the government.
For others, it is the ideology where the government is the one that we are supposed to serve and submit to. They seem to forget that it is the government which is supposed to serve the individual to allow him to be, to live in peace and freedom, and to pursue happiness, as the Bible-inspired document declares.
And perhaps the most bizarre thought: some believe that it was and it is in our hands to gain freedom and protection for ourselves. However, this particular assumption should be the one which we Jewish children should be trying to eradicate from the minds and hearts of humanity by our own example.
Hu g'malanu – Hu Gomlaynu – Hu yigmelaynu, are the words which we  say every time we finish eating bread. Rav Hirsch explains those words in his commentary to Birkat Hamazon: after tragedy of Beytar at the time of the Bar Kochba uprising, our sages composed this blessing to make us remember forever –that we have only one Savior, one Defender, and one King who has all the powers necessary to keep us alive and well – Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
If a calamity comes over us, it happens only because He withdraws His shielding power due to our sins; as Rav Hirsch has written in another place, “we have no other enemy than sin and we have no other protection than innocence.”
I can hear already all of those who will call me unrealistic, or even going against established Halacha – Jewish law – which allows self-defense.
Well, let me make it clear that it is a mitzvah to kill someone who wants to kill you. But the holy Rashi explains the words of the Torah describing Yaakov before meeting his brother as “being afraid and in distress.” He was afraid that he might lose his life, and he was in distress that perhaps he would have to take life of  another human being.
This thought is precisely what the civilization called “Israel” represents. This is how this nation outlived greater and more powerful nations in history. Not because we were using our hands or political manipulation to engage others in war – which are means of Esav, but because we used voice, thought, idea as our weapon. There is no blessing if we use “stolen” means of violence, not belonging to us Jews, as Shimon and Levi did once (see Rashi where Yaakov Avinu ‘blessed’ his sons).
Rabbi Nachman from Breslov writes that one day humanity will mature to a higher understanding and they will resign from use of lethal tools, the same as they understood that serving Avoda Zarah is just stupid.
One more time, I will bring the fundamental teachings of Rav Hirsch: we Jews are the progressive vanguard of humanity.
Hope, that day will came when we understand this.

Matys Weiser

Thursday, January 31, 2013



As a member of the Torah True community, I recognize only one day of commemoration for all of the tragedies in Jewish history – the Ninth day of Av – Tisha B’Av. 
The fragment which I want to share with my readers has nothing to do with any other recent or other days of remembrance.
The reason why, all of the sudden, I want to share something with you that I have never written about or posted on my blog is simple: I only recently found the book, three pages of which I will post below. It is the first book about the Holocaust that I have read in probably the last 25 years. The memoir was written by Dr. Hillel Seidman, the archivist of the Judenratt in the Warsaw Ghetto which was the biggest Ghetto under Nazi occupation.
Some 25 years ago I read a memoir from the Warsaw Ghetto written by an eye witness, Henryk Makover. He was the chief doctor of the Warsaw ghetto Jewish police. After the liquidation of the Ghetto he survived the rest of the War on the Polish side of the hideous division wall. Later he worked in Institute of Immunology located across the street from the Military hospital where as Continence Objector; I served my army substitute service.
He was an assimilated Jew and his descriptions of the events in the Ghetto bore a strong mark of Weltanschauung, of the Jew estranged from his heritage, similar in nature to the famous Emanuel Ringelblum. Dr. Makover’s diaries give over the impression that somehow by describing the horrible reality of the Ghetto where his brothers were dying day and night deprived of basic human needs, he finds almost justification for his own moral failings. It seemed as if by describing children dying from hunger in front of a bakery or Jewish policemen stabbing people marching to Umshlagplatz he was trying to say that since there is no compassion there is no morality and therefore he, too, is free from what his ancestors considered moral.
I know that what I just wrote may look simplistic but I believe that in many, although not all, of the cases of renegades from the Jewish faith, it works along those lines. I will stress however, that I recognize the fact that people may lose their faith due to some events which no human being is able to understand or even grasp.
When I saw the book, fragments of which I reprinted below, it didn’t pull me at first. I was somewhat immune since at the dawn of my twenties, soon after I discovered the horrible past of the land where I was born and raised, I had retrieved all possible material about the Holocaust. From when I was eighteen, I had read every book or press release, I had watched every documentary and listened to every radio broadcast.  Most of all, I spoke to everyone who had something to say about the topic – Jew and Gentile alike.
What I came to appreciate in this particular fragment of memory, recorded for posterity on paper, is the Emuna, Emuna of  the children of Abraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov.
Those words and events took place exactly 70 years ago in January 1943.

From "The Warsaw Ghetto Diaries" of Dr. Hillel Seidman


Orphaned Sefarim

Like hungry and exhausted travelers braving the snow and freezing cold, we creep past abandoned apartment blocks and courtyards searching for sefarim from a lost civilization to transfer to the Judenrat archives. We enter the second story of 28 Muranowska Street where we have been told there are many sefarim. Indeed, large bookcases are filled to overflowing with sacred literature. I open a Gemara at random and read "Shaiyach l’Rabi Yosef Albinger — Belonging to R. Yosef Albinger.- The next sefer has the same inscription, and I recall this is where Kehillah committee member Albinger lived.
In fact during the War, the Sochatchover Rebbe, R. Dovid Bornstein, zt"I, secretly stayed here, too. His grandson Nosson Bahariah, a talented young man, managed to conceal him throughout the terror, and the Rebbe merited to survive the most difficult stages of the deportations. The Rebbe died from causes and received a proper Jewish burial (in the Ghetto this was known as a - luxury death"). I actually took part in the Sochatchover Rebbe’s levaya, but only a small crowd was present.
Now I find a small sefer Torah in the bookcase and the tables are full of Chasidic sefarim, Gemaras, and Zohar as well as rabbinical response - a classical Chasidic household. Everything has already been looted: furniture, utensils, and possessions. Only the sefarim remain. Apparently Albinger enjoyed other interests too. We discover copies of the publication: Hatzefira. Hamagid, Hamelitz and Hayom. Ali of it is carted off to the archives.
We cross over to Nalewki Street and enter the Chevra Shass Shul at number 41. Piles of sefurim lie heaped on the tables and benches. Many are worn and tattered from heavy use — how much Torah has been learned here! Then we visit the Sardinar Shtiebl at 15 Nalewki Street. Here we find many siddurirm, machzorim, Tehillim, and a few Chumashim.
One imagines how all these prayer books must have absorbed decades of tefillah — how many tear-laden sighs were uttered here! How many heartfelt tefillas! This shtiebl used to be filled with minyanim all day long. Where are all those many Jews now! Can I still hear their faint echo here?
After this sobering experience we walked to Nowiniarska Street where HaRav Avraham Weinberg (also popularly known as "Reb Avrumele Stitziner") lived. He was a famous laimdan, renowned too for his piety, a talmid of the Avnei Nezer (the first Sochatchover Rebbe), and one of Poland's prominent rabbanim. I recollect his noble appearance, which spoke volumes of spiritualism. He was fairly short, but his deep-set eyes shone with an ethereal light. He spent day and night studying or teaching talmidim; though he was far removed from everyday affairs, he was not a "batlan."
I remember when the Kehillah shammas., the famous "Reb Don," once attempted to deliver Reb Avrumele's stipend and reported to me that his door was locked. He surmised that he was probably working officially as a "shoemaker" at Schultz since Reb Avrumele's brother (surprisingly, not religious) Was a large factory owner and a top manager at Schultz. But "Reb Don" was wrong. Reb Avraham Weinberg remained at home during the German occupation — learning diligently until he and his family were deported, after the 2nd of August. Apparently he was taken in the middle of his shiur, since a number of Gemaras Bechoros are laid out on his table still open at the page at which they were disturbed.
in my imagination the empty room reverberates to the ancient tune "Hoi, omar Rava, Hoi, v’omar Abaye - Rava said... and Abave replied...." But the familiar cadences sound mournful and depressed. The abandoned Gemaras stare at us reproachfully, asking those eternal questions: Why? What for? These tomes of Talmud mount a challenge for which we have no adequate answer. I order my team to leave the Gemaras as they are, untouched, as if they were holy relics.
Perhaps one day, when a better world arises from the ruins of the present one, we shall gather the world leaders who now remain so silent and persuade them to file past these orphaned Gemaras, abandoned in the middle of a sugya, and see if they can answer these penetrating questions. Where were you, we shall ask them, when this pure innocent world was being destroyed? Let those who pontificate endlessly about democracy and justice give a decent reply to these tattered and well-worn Gemaras.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Pan Twardowski, Faust, Matasyahu and Mephispheles

Maybe after reading this title all has been said already. Indeed for those that know the story or Faust, Dr. Faustus or Pan Twardowski the message of the title is clear.

From all the personalities listed above Pan (Mr.) Twardowski is the lesser known one, especially to those living outside of Poland but I will remember him perhaps forever.
The Polish romantic writer Adam Mickiewicz wrote a poem about this anti hero and when I was in school we received a home assignment to study the poem until we could recite it from memory, Now that my children are grown I can admit that I almost never did any home work Not only didn’t I do homework but for years I didn’t even use notebooks to take notes during classes. My teachers were quite upset with me, but they lacked any understanding of why I was unable to write properly especially in the Polish language which is extremely twisted. Well, we were living in the times when understanding of dyslexia or dysgraphia was unknown. So… we receive an assignment to memorize the Pan Twardowski poem. And it is quiet a long poem, the longest poem that I have ever memorized! I got one of the best marks in my life for I recited it with ‘feeling”. Once I decided to do something it would come quite easy for me. Otherwise my records at school were more than awful.

Pan Twardowski was a legendary noble man who had a talent to perform magic tricks and eventually sold his soul to Chort – Slavic kind of devil. Pan Twardowski is the Polish version of the German Faust story written by Goethe. In Goethe’s story, Faust sold his soul to Mephistopheles for fame and money. Goethe also wrote at the time when romance was the most popular literature genre in Europe. From what I remember from school and from a theater performance that I saw over 25 years ago, the Faust story goes something like this: His Faust wants to achieve happiness which he believes will be attained when he gains the love of Gretchen and for this he was ready to sell his soul. At the end of the story things get rather messy as he destroys the tranquility of Gretchen’s family and only her true love and Christian forgiveness were able to save the Faust’s soul from the torments of hell.

Thomas Mann, another famous German writer wrote a different story based on the legend of Faust – the story of Dr. Faustus. I would say that this story dressed in novel, carries a mark of post existential period of European philosophy, when some of the ideas of Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer and later Huserl and Heidegger were popularized by the publication of the novels.  Thomas Mann’s hero doesn’t aspire for magic trickery or just romantic (somatic) love, he wants to understand the meaning of life, and this is what he is ready to sell his soul for.

Depending on the winds blowing around the globe at different times people crave different ideals and desire different earthly aspects of life. Even Faustus if I remember correctly is involved with a woman, so in the end it is always about fame, domination, money and sex.

If you read however all those narratives from the beginning, we see in those stories personalities of almost crystal clear honesty and their only desire is the good of humanity. Somewhere though, along the way, something happened which turned these people to Chort, Mephistopheles, Devil or as we would say in the Hebrew, Sitra Achra – the 'Other Side'.

In today’s days, what our body and corrupted minds desire, is not that much different than what was desired in years before, it has just different manifestations. Every time I see pictures of people standing in line somewhere in Hollywood to get their chance, their big break, it stuns me! People are ready to do anything, including things that go beyond humiliation to join the monstrous mind controlling machine north of LA. They desire to gain their moment of attention like nothing else in their lives. And to a certain extent I don’t blame them; they didn’t get any attention from their parents, because on average they don’t have family. They don’t have a father and mother that can teach them proper values…any values. The only thing they have is a huge TV with hundreds of channels of s…ewage on them as Roger Waters use to sing in his famous song. And then millions of zombies spend their lives watching these and other shows of stupidity and shamelessness.
What boggles my mind is, how some of us who claim to be part of the Torah world are falling into this honey trap that is filled with decay and excrement? (I am not talking now about our holy people who deliberately as an act of separation from this oilom hasheker – the world of falsehood, don’t even have TV’s)

In our Jewish realm we also have a few stories (not novels but historical events) which illustrate this path of self-destruction. In Jewish stories however (Lehavdil), it is usually not limited to the selling of someone’s soul to the other side for private gain, rather it is usually the story of the wholesale selling of Jewish souls to the sitra achra, which usually follows the rejection of the Only True Source.  
While Shaul is an example of one such tragic individual who did not schlep neshamos after him, this can not be said about Yochanan Kohen Gadol or Menelaus who influenced an entire generation to leave the Torah and turn to the idolatrous Hellenistic life style – though not much religion was involved, this time the subject of worship was human body and human mind.
We will never understand the story of Acher who according to the Gemara was judged by Heaven in a special manner allowing him to enter gehinnom for purification. The stories of Hanania, Shabsay Tzvi or other detractors of True Torah Judaism closer to our times are tragic and catastrophic. Tragic, not only because of the personal calamity of these individuals, but also catastrophic as thousands of other Yiden, lost their bond to the Eternal One because of their unshakable trust in their false leaders.

I was watching the career of my namesake Matisyahu from the very beginning. While I didn’t consider the first album of Matisyahu as something artistically special (maybe, because I like my reggae performed by guys from Jamaica and not from Westchester!), according to Jewish music standards it was still a great achievement and a step up in professionalism and artistic performance.  I was surprised though, of the rise of Matasyahu’s star in the non Jewish music market but understood that it was in a large part a result of him being something totally exotic to the music canals and studios.

I always wondered how a bal teshuva like Matis could place himself in an environment that is so viciously opposed to our values. I couldn’t understand how someone who learned Torah for years is still lacking basic knowledge of Tsniyus and Shmiras Aynayim!

Than Matisyahu left Chabad and I heard that he was scouting around in Karlin Stolin. It happens to be that I have some contacts and venues of inside information in this Chasidus and I knew that if he wouldn’t be serious about his life as a Chasid they wouldn’t tolerate him no matter how open minded they are. Was he perhaps looking for some depth which he didn't find in Chabad? Or was Karlin just a step to an even more exotic look and behavior? I don’t know but it was also at this time that I saw some alarming interviews with him which clearly showed his disillusionment not only with this or that Chasidic group but with Torah and Yidishkeit in general.

We, gerim and baaley teshuva have a tendency to schlep our prior experiences and impressions with us to Torah observing community. It can be ok as long as we remember that we have come to learn from those who have had the Torah for generations without interruption. We can share with them our enthusiasm and some chidush from time to time but it is them, our leaders and frum Yiden in general who serve us as guides to follow.

In interviews from a few years ago, Matisyahu didn’t seem to understand this fundamental truth and expressed some strange thoughts which were perhaps undetected by most, but for someone like me who knows the thought process of people who join the Jewish world, it was clear that he is on a dangerous path. In addition, the environment which he was surrounded himself with, requires superhuman moral powers or even a miracle to keep him straight on the path of Torah.

His last appearance in the movie ‘Possession’ proved to me that he treated his Chasidic appearance instrumentally, using it for monetary gain and nothing else. His participation in picturing the Chasidic word as a caricatured reality of dark rooms filled up with Jews that were pushed up from the street by some barkers is just horrible. Using Judaism or any aspect of it for some foolish horror story (more foolish than even other Hollywood products) is no less than treason and a rejection of what every honest Jew treasures most. The pronunciation of Hashem’s holy Name for monetary gain leaves no doubt who the guy with big yarmulke and long payos really is. He can’t fool us, but he certainly fooled thousands if not millions of people. And by presenting a distorted picture of the revelation of Torah, he created a tremendous Chillul Hashem.

From the events which unfolded last year, we know that Matisyahu might be a superstar but he’s definitely not superhuman. As great as his accomplishments were in causing thousands of kids to seek a higher level of life values and spirituality, even greater was his own destruction and failure and the disappointment of all those young people who saw their hero, their leader, rejecting and changing something which for years was a symbol of his spirituality. I don’t buy his explanations that his external appearance doesn’t matter and only what he is inside matters. If he looked as he did it was probably important to him, wasn’t it? It was an external declaration of his convictions and if he changed it, his convictions changed as well. Only stubborn fanatics can follow every move of their leader with blind admiration like those who followed Shabsai in his conversion to Islam or Jones in the Guyana jungle.
While the damage which the fall of Matisyahu wrought, is not of Shabsai Tzvi proportions the damage and indirect influence is still developing.

We are the last group in society at large who still appreciate the word ‘sage’. This is so because we still have a few sages among us and we treasure them and keep them in the highest esteem.
Today the sages in the secular world hiding out in universities are not asked anymore about lessons of history, about our social problems or future of this country and humanity. In the Hollywood culture of today who are the leaders and “Sages” that are asked profound questions? People with brains the size and pattern of a ping pong ball. The Bibers, Rihanas and Lohans - the singers and performers! Who may have G-d given talent to sing or perform but their talent is located in their throats and not in the organ located above it! They can sing but shouldn't advise us about social or political issues! They only know things that come from their kishkes! And all the well dressed and smart appearing journalists asking them such questions are even bigger idiots than those whom they ask. Idiots – are those that ask and idiots are those who answer!

The old Jewish saying goes that – “As the goyim go, so go the yiden.” We are witnessing already this poisonous wind blowing in our streets. We see some performers who because of their popularity imagine that they possess not only superior Chochma, and life experience but they even have the humility which allows them to lead our young along the proper path. Meanwhile they are selling their souls to Mephistopheles or Hormuz (In Talmud Ahura Mazda represents evil) or whoever the name of the 'Other Side' is. They are only performers and they should stay performers. Warm our hearts with song & dance, if you learn enough and have some spiritual qualities you can even lead the minyan but that’s it! Leave the leadership to leaders qualified to lead! If you think we don’t have them in our generation than do nothing! Less you cause even greater harm to your people.

Matys Weiser