Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Warden, the Jester, and the Lawyer - Chizuk from Slabodka

My friend Marc Rossen shared this great piece with my after a conversation we had on the train the other day. It's very important chizuk for those of us in the trenches of the business world. It also sounds like chassidus. Enjoy.

SLOBODKA'S VISION: STRIVING TO BE HUMAN
Insights from the Alter of Slobodka
Transcribed by Rav Nachum Meir Karelitz
Chut Hashani Hilchos Shabbas Page 31

People think that service of God (being religious) is limited to specific ritual deeds, at specific times and in specific places like mitzvoth, Torah or times for prayer. When a person finds himself outside of these boundaries he feels himself empty and distant from serving God and good deeds. This creates a situation that when people go to work and involve themselves in the ways of the world their hearts are filled with despair and their minds are disconnected from learning Torah and Divine service. They say: "since our lives are entangled in ephemeral business concerns and trivial pursuits even if we find a few moments in the day for Torah and service what have I accomplished… I am lost, certainly I am lost."

However, pinch yourself (wake up), since God's essence and glory fill the whole world and since there is no place empty of His glory all the deeds of man, in all places he exists, in all the times he experiences are connected to God's glory. If reality is connected and supported by God and all expressions come from God's decrees how is it possible that there is a place or time in which we can't serve God?

In truth we find this vision in the Talmud Taanis 22a:
R. Beroka Hoza'ah used to frequent the market at Be Lapat where Elijah often appeared to him. Once he asked [Elijah], is there anyone in this market who is "a ben olam haba"? He replied, No. Meanwhile Elijah caught sight of a man wearing black shoes and who had no thread of blue on the corners of his garment and Elijah exclaimed, This man is a "ben olam haba" has a share in the world to come. R. Beroka ran after him and asked him, What is your occupation? And the man replied: Go away and come back tomorrow. Next day he asked him again, What is your occupation? And he replied: I am a warden and I keep the men and women separate and I place my bed between them so that they may not come to sin; when I see a Jewish girl upon whom the non Jews cast their eyes I risk my life and save her. Once there was amongst us a betrothed girl upon whom the non Jews cast their eyes. I therefore took lees of [red] wine and put them in her skirt and I told them that she was unclean. [R. Beroka further] asked the man, Why have you no fringes and why do you wear black shoes? He replied: That the non Jews amongst whom I move may not know that I am a Jew, so that when a harsh decree is made [against Jews] I inform the rabbis and they pray [to God] and the decree is annulled. He further asked him, When I asked you, What is your occupation, why did you say to me, Go away now and come back tomorrow? He answered, They had just issued a harsh decree and I said I would first go and acquaint the rabbis of it so that they might pray to God.

When[they were conversing] two [men] passed by and [Elijah] remarked, These two are also "binai olam haba.". R. Beroka then approached and asked them, What is your occupation? They replied, We are jesters, when we see men depressed we cheer them up; furthermore when we see two people quarrelling we strive to make peace between them.
Please come let's understand this Talmudic insight. Who in the world should feel more distant and empty from serving God than these people? A warden of prisoners -- he must feel he's as distant from religious society as if he was sold as a slave to an idol worshiper. Or jesters who fill their lives with jokes and deeds of little import. Nevertheless these jesters with their levity and the warden achieved the worthy title of "men of the world to come". Their professions were service to God and fulfilled His desires. In truth if there exists a profession in the world since it was created with God's will it must be used as a tool to accomplish God's will. These people were worthy to perform their professions with proper intention and as expressions fitting to a path of completion to acquire their spiritual world. If people don't uplift themselves to be involved in their professions with a shelamus and understanding that for these professions the world was created they can lose their merit that these professions are crucial to the world and transform their professions into missions of little import since they are not being done with the goal of fulfilling God's will…

These insights are not only relevant to professions but even more so to the essence of the life of each person and his mission to live as a human being. Only when people live in harmony with God's will and their actions and deeds are appropriate to their spiritual potential and abilities are they called "humans" and only then are their lives true lives…. In truth one moment of true living as a human being makes it worthwhile for him to have been created. "More beautiful is a moment of repentance and good deeds than the entire world to come" (Avos)…

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12 comments:

Menachem Mendel said...

Wow. Thanks for sharing.

The story of Abba Umenah can be found right before that Gemarah on Taanis 21b. Abba was a surgeon who was zoche to a bas kol everyday while other great sages only recieved a bas kol once every Erev Shabbos or once every Yom Kippur.

The Gemarah goes on to explain that Abba was zoche to this bas kol because of the special deeds he would do as a surgeon. He separated the men and the women in his waiting room, he made a robe for women to wear so they would be tznius during operations and only the necessary body parts would show, he wouldn't charge people who couldn't afford it and made a private place for payment outside so they wouldn't be embarrassed, and he wouldn't charge talmidei chachomim.

Abba did his job everyday with Yiras Shomaim and that is why he was zoche to a bas kol every day.

Neil Harris said...

Amazing. Thanks for posting this!!!

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

Menachem Mendel thank you for sharing that!

Very inspiring. It's an avodah for us to figure out how to serve Hashem at work, whether through doing one's work honestly to be mekayem the dinim of Chosen Mishpat, by injecting more kedusha into the workplace as the people in those Gemaras did, or by focusing on Emunah and bitachon in the doing of one's work (or all of the above).

Yasher koach.

micha said...

DY: I intend to share this with Avodah.

Two questions first, though... Is the mechaber of Chut haShani R' Nachum Meir Karelitz, or R' Nissim Karelitz? And who is the translator, Marc Rossen? You?

-micha

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

Isn't the Alter of Slobodka Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel?

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

I think R' Shemaryahu Yosef Nisim Karelitz is the transcriber of the Alter's shiurim. I don't know who the translator is. Maybe Marc knows. I forwarded him your question.

http://www.hebrewbooks.org/9277

micha said...

I took the intro to mean that it was something included in shu"t Chut haShani (Hil Shabbos pg 31) repeated in the name of R' Nosson Tzvi Finkel, der Alter.

I thought the name of the author of ChS was R' Nissim Karelitz (Av Beis Din of the BD of Bnei Braq and the CI's nephew), not R' "Nachum Meir", which is why I asked about the attribution.

-micha

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

I'm not sure.

Marc said...

Hi Micha, I believe the translation was done by Rav Nachum Meir Karelitz. So it was included in R'N Karelitz sefer originally written by Alter of Slobodka.

Marc

micha said...

Thanks Marc, but ... (I'm never easy, am I?)

We found one volume of the sefer in question on HebrewBooks, and it was written by R' Shemaryahu Yosef Nissim ben Nachum Meir Karelitz, the av beis din in Bnei Braq, who for some reason goes by his third name (see his wikipedia entry). You are saying it was written by his father.

Second, there are at least 3 pg 31s in Chut haShani - Hil' Shabbos, because the volume on Hebrew Books is cheileq gimel. I looked at page 31, and also search for ta'anis (the mesechta quoted) and "avodas Hashem", and couldn't find the quote on another page. I got hopeful when I found the word "ta'anis" on page 41 that it was a simple 4->3 typo, but no. I'm guessing therefore it's from another volume.

Third and last, I was asking who translated the Hebrew to English, not who translated der Alter's Yiddish to Hebrew.

-micha

Marc said...

Micha, I can't offer anymore help (or lack there of) than I already have. Appreciate you wanting to identify the exact sources. I'll reach back out to my friend who sent it to me to see if he knows and follow up if I hear anything.

Interested Reader said...

Did you ever find the original source material? Thanks!