Friday, July 15, 2011

Yud Beis Tammuz and Parshas Pinchas

Farbrenging today in the local shull, with Rabbi Lieberman, Rabbi Yaffe and Rabbi Krinsky (and other chassidim), I heard the following idea:

Many people wish to portray Pinchas as a radical. Or as a first revolutionary. The truth is: he was not a radical. Before he did what he did he consulted with Moshe Rabbeinu, asking him: "Didn't you tell us...?" And then he did something which was, on the surface, extreme. But he did not do it for the purpose of being extreme, or a zealot, or a radical. He did it because it was necessary at the moment.

The same can be said about the Frierdiker Rebbe. On Tuesday, I picked up my grandmother, who, boruch Hashem, had come to US for a visit from Israel. She told me that in our city, in Ukraine, there were many frum families who were not able to pass on their frumkeit fully, because the process of passing was crushed by the Soviets. Speaking in Yiddish could hurt one's prospects at work, in school, or in one's social circles. In secular schools, children obviously were not taught Yiddishkeit, but, what was worse, they were implanted with anti-Jewish ideas. (And the parents that did not send their kids to the government schools could be jailed or worse.) Shulls, schools, mikvehs were closed. My grandmother said: everyone lived in fear. Rabbis of the city (including the Rebbe's father) had been arrested.

So, there were Yidden who remained frum, in private. There was a schochet, to whom our family (and others) brought chickens to be schechted, but he sent his kids to the government school, gave them Russian names, then sent them to universities to get secular professions, and who knows if his kids grew up frum or remained frum.

So, one can't really blame the families for letting go of their Yiddishkeit under the conditions. People retained what they could, but their survival was their first priority.

On the other hand, Frierdiker Rebbe went on the path of mesirus nefesh and demanded the same from his chassidim. He demanded that they did not send their kids to secular schools (and many would not, despite knowing that they were going to be sent to Siberia). He would send a telegram to a chossid to become a melamed. In two months, the chossid would get arrested. Frierdiker Rebbe would then send another telegram to another chossid to replace the first one. And the story would repeat itself.

And he himself lived on the level of mesirus nefesh, for which he was jailed, beaten, and almost murdered by the Communists, y"sh. But, even while being jailed, he did not give in to them. He would speak Yiddish. He would demand his tallis and tefillin. When he had left Russia, he left after himself an underground network of chassidim keeping Yiddishkeit alive, like heat burning inside a coal, ready to spring into a full flame. And I saw that happen. When the Rebbe's shliach came to my city in early 90s, the effect on the Jews of the city was that of bringing a match close to a powder keg.

Frierdiker Rebbe and his chassidim lived on the level of everyday mesirus nefesh. But that was not because they were radicals. That was because it was what was necessary. They did not seek out mesirus nefesh like Rabbi Akiva. They just served Eibeshter b'emes. And when they encountered a need to do mesirus nefesh, they did it, like Avraham Avinu (which, the Rebbe says in his first ma'amor Bosi L'Gani, is a higher level of avoida).

So, nowadays, in America, we also encounter need to live on the level of mesirus nefesh. For each person, it includes different things. Keeping Halacha. Keeping Halacha b'hidur. Learning more than we are accustomed to. Davening every day. Davening b'kavana every day. Not speaking during davening. Learning Chitas and Rambam. Keeping a higher standard of kashrus. Not eating food with unpeeled vegetables on Peisach. Not saying loshon horah. Being nice to others and giving them benefit of the doubt. Controlling yourself and not getting angry. Sending one's kids to a Jewish school. Sending one's kids to a better Jewish school with worse secular program and then supplementing their secular education with private lessons. Approaching someone to do a mitzva, though you're not comfortable. The list goes on...

For each person, at different moment of his or her life, it's something different, and once one reaches a certain level, it's important to continue pushing oneself further. As Reb Zushe said: "They won't ask me: 'Why weren't you Avraham Avinu?' They will ask me: 'Why weren't you Zushe?'"

All these things to us are mesirus nefesh, because we are giving up an aspect of our lives, an aspect of our identity, or desires and thoughts for Hashem. Other people (our friends, our family members) will say that we are radicals. That we are crazy. That there are people who are perfectly frum and don't do X or Y.

But we are not doing this because we are radicals or are crazy. (And it is important to make sure that we takeh are not being radicals — because then it's not frumkeit, but ga'ava. I am talking about taking extra chumros, etc.) We are doing this because this is emes. Because this is what is necessary nowadays.

How do we know what's necessary? We have a Rebbe.

We are not asked to do much. But for us, that's everything. And so it is for Hashem and for the Rebbe. As my rabbi's father said, we are not just the heels of Am Yisroel. We are the dead skin on the heels. But we are the ones who will bring Moshiach.


menachem said...

This is very powerful.

Certified Ashkenazi said...