Elie's Expositions

A bereaved father blogging for catharsis... and for distraction. Accordingly, you'll see a diverse set of topics and posts here, from the affecting to the analytical to the absurd. Something for everyone, but all, at the core, meeting a personal need.

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Inheritance and Inspiration

Soccer Dad's moving article today about his chassidic ancestor, R' Leib Sarahs, motivated me to finally finish a post that's been on my drawing board for a while.

I'm personally the product of the gentler breed of "mixed marriage". My dad was a died-in-the-wool litvak in his learning style, personality, and philosophy - though in fact his side of the family did somehow pick up a few chassidish or semi-chassidish minhagim. My mom, on the other hand, comes from a long line of chassidim, with my zaideh Z'L, a Belzer, tracing his descent to his namesake, Rav Tzvi Elimelech Shapiro of Dinov.

Though in the main I'm very much a product of my father's outlook and approach, I've always had an attraction to certain aspects of chassidism. I have no interest in the garb, to be sure - in fact my zaideh himself did not wear it (according to family legend he sold his to get money to help a poor holocaust survivor). Nor do I have patience for the typically chassidish, drawn out, singing/dancing style of davening. And the over-reliance on a Rebbi-figure, which has now spilled over from chassidism into the non-chassidish yeshiva world in the guise of "daas torah", goes against my core Jewish beliefs.

But... but. As a child I was fascinated by chassidish stories. At the age of 9 or 10, eager to explore my roots, I devoured book after book of them. Some of the stories surprised and upset me - I used to have nightmares about one in which a rebbe deliberately allowed ants to bite him until his flesh became swollen. But a few stayed with me, and came to form an integral portion of my eclectic (a nice word for "confused") belief system.

There are two in particular that I'd like to share, two that I believe lay out, in simple language and images, very deep and profound truths. I would be pretentious, and less than honest, if I said that I lived my life according to these insights. But I can at least say that they inspire me deeply, and that I aspire - on my good days - to approach life according to these wise words.

Without further ado:

1) Be Your Best Self
The famous tzaddik, Reb Zusia, once exclaimed, "When I pass from this world and appear before the Heavenly Tribunal, they won't ask me, 'Zusia, why weren't you as wise as Moses? Zusia, why weren't you as great as Abraham?' Rather, they will ask me, 'Zusia, why weren't you Zusia?'"
2) See The Good In Others
A chassidic rebbe and some of his students were walking along the fields one weekday morning. Suddenly they came across a man who was fixing a wheel on his wagon, clad in tallis and tefillin and chanting the morning prayers as he worked.

"How disgusting!" "What a sinner!" the students began to mutter to one another. "In the middle of davening, he has the nerve to be fixing his wagon wheel!"

Hearing this reaction, the rebbe turned to his students and exclaimed, "What a great and holy man this must be! Even in the middle of fixing his wagon wheel, he takes the time to daven!"


At 3/10/06, 1:29 AM, Blogger Mirty said...

I've always liked that Zusia story.

At 3/10/06, 8:55 AM, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

...and I always liked the wagon wheel story. I

f my memory serves me correctly, the chassidic rebbe referred to was Rebbe Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, known for his great Ahavas Yisroel.

At 3/10/06, 2:17 PM, Blogger Jack's Shack said...

Those are very smart words to live by.

At 3/10/06, 2:26 PM, Blogger Ezzie said...

I love both stories. :)


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