Wednesday, September 3, 2008
When Means Become Ends - A Lament on Shallow Frumkeit
I heard a story in the name of my Rebbe, Rav Moshe Weinberger, from my friend Rabbi Reuven Boshnack. He said that a talmidah of Rav Weinberger's, a Ba'alas Teshuva, who sang in front of all-women groups, finally made her big break into a Brooklyn school. She was ecstatic to share her music and Emunah with the girls in this school. But, as she later told Rav Weinberger, when she met with the Menaheles, the Principal, before the event, she said that there was something important that she hoped that this young woman could fit into the performance. She wanted to make sure that before the end of the night, if she could somehow fit into her speaking or music something about... ... knee highs (!), that this would be very meaningful to the girls there.
She came to Rav Weinberger for advice after the event feeling confused. She didn't understand. She sang and spoke with these girls for a couple of hours and they had so many issues and they were struggling with so many things in Emunah and personally, that knee-highs were so so far from what they needed to hear about. Needless to say, she didn't get around to cheppering them about knee-highs at the event.
This reminds me of another story I have heard from Rav Weinberger, in the name of Reb Simcha Bunim of Peshischa, called "The Missing Horse." You can hear Rav Weinberger telling over this ma'aseh in the video above (minute marker 1:00-7:00), in reference to the importance of the sefer Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh at this point in history.
There was a g'vir in Poland who very much wanted to have the most expensive and beautiful horse in all of Europe. He therefore spent a fortune on purchasing this horse. However, once he had purchased the finest horse available, he realized that he had to have a fitting place to keep the horse. Therefore, he had the finest and most expensive stable built to house this excellent horse. But without security, this stable would not adequately protect the horse, so he bought the most expensive lock to place on the stable. But just to be sure, he also hired guards to watch the stable 24 hours a day.
On the first night, the g'vir was both excited and apprehensive about the new guard who he expected to stay awake throughout the night. He went to bed at night, but he couldn't sleep, worrying about whether the guard had fallen asleep at his post. So he got up and went out to check on the guard and sure enough, the guard was still awake. So he told him he was doing a good job, and asked him how he was able to keep himself awake. The guard answered him that he was pondering a difficult question. So the g'vir asked him what the question was. And the guard answered that he was wondering about where the wood that a nail pushes aside goes to, when a nail goes into a piece of wood. The g'vir congratulated him for working on this and suggested that he keep thinking about it, and to let him know in the morning when he comes up with an answer.
The g'vir went back to bed but still kept tossing and turning, wondering whether the guard had fallen asleep. So a couple of hours later, he goes out again to check on the guard. And sure enough, the guard is still awake. "How did you stay awake into the middle of the night?" The guard answered that, again, he was thinking about a difficult problem. So the g'vir asked him what the problem was that he was thinking about. So he says that he was thinking about when people make bagels, where does the part of the bagel where the hole is, disappear to? The g'vir again congratulated the man on coming up with a problem that is so perplexing that it keeps him up through the night and he encouraged him to continue working on it and to let him know in the morning if he came up with an answer.
Very late at night the g'vir finally gets to sleep a little bit, but wakes up just as the morning breaks. In a panic, wondering whether the guard had fallen asleep, the g'vir runs out to the stable, and finds that the guard is still awake. Relieved, the g'vir asked him how he was able to stay awake throughout the whole night. So the man answers that he was working on a difficult problem. What's the problem? He was wondering: "You bought the most beautiful horse in the world. And for that horse you built to most expensive stable in the world. And for that stable you installed the most expensive lock in the world. And not only that, you hired guards to watch the stable 24 hours a day. So I'm wondering, with all of that, how could the horse have disappeared?! End of story.
To explain the nimshal, the message, of the story, some alter chassidim of Reb Simcha Bunim clarified what they thought the Rebbe was teaching. We may have all of the right things in Yiddishkeit. We have our yeshivos, our Bais Yaakovs, our Shuls, our Mikva'os, our Daf Yomi shiurim, our Batei Midrash, our knee-highs and our jackets and hats. But why do we have all of these things? What is their purpose? What is their tachlis!? Their purpose is to make us proper keilim, vessels, for the kedusha of hashro'as haShechina, the Divine Presence. But if the horse is missing, if Hashem is absent from our lives, then everything else is pointless!
My wife was talking with a 14 year old girl who attends a Bais Yaakov-esque school. My wife commented that it would be nice if she had a certain kind of shirt that said some message on the front. The girl complained that she would too, but that in her school, they didn't allow them to wear shirts with anything imprinted on the front. And my wife told her that of course, she also wouldn't wear a shirt like that in public, because she didn't want to draw people's attention below her face with the logo of the shirt, but that she just wanted to wear it at home. My wife could tell that the girl got to actually thinking that the logic of not wearing a logo-shirt actually had a reason to it that made sense, such that someone who wasn't forced to do so would actually think of the same rule on their own. This student's reaction to my wife's explanation brought home to me that the external rules are often taught without any feeling for the sense and meaning behind them.
If we want to lift our children and ourselves up, we have to keep track of the horse. We must remember not to just focus on the external shell of Yiddishkeit, but rather on the point, the tachlis, the purpose of Yiddishkeit, which is a system designed to create Deveikus, cleaving, to Hashem.
May Hashem help us to constantly remember the tachlis of life, which is Deveikus BaShem, and to help us to properly observe all of the external safeguards of that relationship in order to facilitate that Avodas Hashem and not end up as ends unto themselves!
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