Sunday, February 8, 2009

Dead pages of Gemara

It is amazing how Frierdiker Rebbe’s stories are no less important and poignant today than they were 100 years ago in his time, or 300 years ago in Baal Shem Tov’s time.

There are two types of people who learn Gemara on a subway. Those who elevate the subway and those that lower the Gemara. How do you know which one you belong to? Are you learning Hashem’s Will and Wisdom or are you learning a detective story about oxes and cows?

Alter Rebbe writes in one of his letters that one who lacks bittul, whenever he doesn’t understand something in a work of nigleh — he is right, and the seifer is wrong. When a chossid doesn’t understand something — he is wrong, and the seifer is right. This, the Rebbe says, is what Ramac (Reb Moiseh Cardovero) meant that someone who doesn’t learn pnimiyus of Torah (Kabbala — and, in our times, Chassidus) is a heretic. What he meant is that he has a very good chance of becoming a heretic.

Knowing Shas be’al’peh never prevented someone from becoming an apikoires. It is very difficult to see how someone can learn in depth and understand Chassidus Chabad and not see Hashem in Torah and in the world.

Now, on with The Making of Chassidim:

They had been singing for quite some time when Reb Mordechai reached a high level of excitement and began to deliver a fiery lecture on the subject of "a mitzvah done without its inner intent is like a body without a soul."

In concise terms, Reb Mordechai explained to them what avodah is all about; for without avodah, all the Torah that they studied and all the mitzvos that they did amounted to no more than lifeless corpses.

"A vast cemetery!" declared Reb Mordechai, looking at the young scholars, including Reb Sholom Ivansker's sons-in-law, and particularly at the foremost scholars among them. "A vast cemetery filled with the corpses of your dead pages of Gemara is what you've built up in the World of Truth. You lead the sages of the Talmud around bound up in the chains of your vanity and arrogance.

"The only thing any one of you is concerned with is that people acknowledge that you are right; each one desires to be known as the foremost scholar; none of you cares about the true essence of Torah - that the Torah is the Word of G-d. How much longer will this sinful situation continue? Young fellows," the maggid cried out in a tearful voice, "take pity on yourselves and on your own souls that have entered your bodies to perfect the world around you.

"[It is written]: 'Bathe yourselves and purify yourselves, ... study well, seek out justice.' [The meaning is] 'bathe yourselves' - wash away your haughty spirits; 'purify yourselves' - become cleansed of your arrogance; 'study well' - put your soul into your study; 'seek out justice' - apply whatever you study in judging your own conduct, and determining whether your behavior conforms to the character traits demanded by the Torah you are studying."

Reb Mordechai related how the Baal Shem Tov had sent a great scholar and tzaddik, the Rabbi of a large congregation, to a butcher, to learn the trait of fearing G-d; another great scholar and tzaddik, who had lived a solitary and chaste life for many years, was sent to the shammes of a beis hamedrash to learn the trait of humility.

"The Rebbe," said Reb Mordechai, "is very fond of the simple Jews, with their unpretentious davening and Tehillim. The Rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov, says that the most unsophisticated Jew is an eternal, untapped treasury of faith and trust in G-d, and possesses the finest character traits."

All the while Reb Mordechai was speaking, Reb Chayim sat and wept silently. Reb Mordechai's lecture comparing mitzvos without their inner intent to a body without a soul affected him greatly. Having sat for so many years in the grave diggers' beis hamedrash, and having attended so many funerals (may we be spared), an image of the faces of several corpses had remained engraved upon his mind. Now when Reb Mordechai compared study without vitality to a corpse without a soul, and he spoke about the cemetery of the dead pages of Gemara that they had studied, Reb Chayim was deeply moved.

In his imagination he pictured the cemetery for the pages of the Gemara, and a chevrah kadishah of angels performing the funeral rites for the dead pages. As Reb Mordechai continued speaking, Reb Chayim, lost in the crowd and crammed among the people, continued to weep. The more Reb Mordechai spoke words of arousal, the more bitterly Reb Chayim cried. When Reb Mordechai reached the part about "take pity on yourselves and on your own souls, that have entered your bodies to perfect the world around you ... bathe yourselves ... purify yourselves," Reb Chayim began weeping violently; this made a deep impact upon all who were present in the beis hamedrash.

Most of the people assembled in the beis hamedrash took special delight in Reb Mordechai's stories about how the Baal Shem Tov held simple Jews in such high esteem, and even sent great scholars to simple Jews so they could learn good character traits from them. The Baal Shem Tov's saying, that "Every Jew, even the most unsophisticated, is an eternal untapped treasury of innocent faith and trust in G-d," became etched in everyone's mind and heart.

Suddenly, Reb Mordechai remembered where he had been at that same time a year earlier, and he began singing a passionate niggun, one of those that were regularly sung at the Baal Shem Tov's table. This particular niggun was called the "Search and Find" niggun. It consists of three movements, and each movement contains three themes. The first theme of the first movement of the "Search and Find" niggun depicts a mood of solitude, creating an image of someone sitting isolated in a field deeply hidden among the mountains, next to a blue stream of running water. In the distance, at the other end of this valley, appears a rocky precipice upon which a few sparse trees grow; here, the singer sits alone and sings his song of solitude.

The second theme depicts a mood of introspective meditation; the solitary singer becomes more introverted, debating with himself and subjecting himself to rigorous self-examination. The longer he sings, the more deeply introverted his thoughts become; he is dissatisfied with himself, and begins to discover certain flaws in his own character. Now comes the third theme, in which the singer breaks into weeping - at first silently, but becoming progressively more intense.

The niggun's second movement also contains three themes; although they differ in sequence and key, they possess a common motif: a song of searching and of longing. This movement creates an image of a person searching for some elusive object for which he longs. Suddenly, he perceives a ray of hope, a promise that he will eventually find the thing for which he seeks and craves; but this ray of hope evaporates, for it turns out that the object is not what he was hoping for after all. Once more, he becomes submerged in melancholy, until finally he finds the thing he has been seeking.

Then comes the niggun's third movement, also containing three themes. The overall mood of this movement begins in a joyous mode, with a beat that make one lift his feet to dance. As the niggun progresses, the beat becomes faster and more fervent, reaching a fiery crescendo that leaves the singer panting for breath. The music now consists of only a few isolated notes issuing forth from the depths of the heart, creating the impression of musical notes chasing after and desperately trying to keep up with the rapidly moving, feverishly dancing feet, and evoking images of the impassioned but content faces of the dancers.

This was the niggun that Reb Mordechai wished to teach the young folk and bochurim. To everyone's amazement, they assimilated the whole niggun after the first three repetitions, and by the fourth time the young folk were singing the song correctly by themselves. Some of the bystanders were able to join in with a few bars of the melody. When they came to the third movement, Reb Mordechai took hold of Reb Chayim and began to dance with him in earnest, requesting that everyone present join them in the dancing.

[Several generations later,] Reb Berel Ivansker related that whenever Hirshel, the son of Reb Sholom Ivansker, told the story of what happened in the large beis hamedrash on that night after Yom Kippur, it was a pleasure to listen. In spite of Reb Hirshel ben Reb Sholom's advanced age, he would demonstrate the brisk steps with which Reb Mordechai and Reb Chayim had danced while singing the third movement of the "Search and Find" niggun.

Everyone was astounded that Reb Mordechai and Reb Chayim were able to dance for so long, and with such a quick step that their slippers barely touched the floor. They were especially amazed by Reb Chayim's performance, for he was no more than skin and bones. It was obvious that they were possessed by some supernatural power. Everyone else, including the youngest, had collapsed like bundles of straw, and they lay there drenched with perspiration, without a drop of strength remaining, but Reb Mordechai and Reb Chayim were still dancing. Their faces were flaming red, their eyes shut, and their hot breath - along with extremely rapid panting sounds - issued from their mouths. Finally, Reb Chayim began to waver and drop, and a few of the bystanders caught him and led him to a bench to rest.

Reb Mordechai managed to continue dancing a bit longer, but then he emerged from his deveikus and inquired what time it was. Upon learning that it was almost two o'clock in the morning, he sighed and went into to his private room, saying that it was time to recite Tikkun Chatzos.


theRealPianist said...


Crawling Axe said...

You're calling FR's diary spam?!

tRp said...

why isn't there any option to share via facebook? :|