Sunday, July 22, 2012

Flowing With the Stream, By my uncle, Moshe Teitelbaum

This essay was taken from a book my uncle, Moshe Teitelbaum, published for the family. Here is the intro by Rabbi Nosson Scherman The Teitelbaums – Indomitable and Triumphant By Rabbi Nosson Scherman

"Our brother, Uncle Eli, had that ability, to initiate change for the better. It is due to his lack of fear, or rather his willingness and courage to act in spite of fear, which enabled him to be so successful in the tasks that he undertook."
Elul 5770 August 2010

Some people live their entire lives doing things just because everyone else does it. In other words, performing “Mitzvas anushim milmudah” (Yeshaya 29 13), i.e. performing Mitzvos perfunctory, by rote, merely as a matter of habit, and even worse, living a life of doings things only because “That’s’ the way it is done”, not at all because you truly believe in what you are doing. One can thus go through a whole life of superficial Torah, Mitzvos and Tefilla, basically, just a play act.

A person needs to live a life where he does things and leads a life in accordance with what he believes is right and wrong, not because of what everyone else does, or what other people will say or how it looks. A person acting in this manner can turn himself into being merely a robot, without any degree of self-independence.

There is the Gemara in Brachos (28b), where Rebbi Yochanan Ben Zakai wished his students that they should fear Hashem at least as much as a person fears a person. Yes, Rebbi Yochanan Ben Zakai fully understood and bemoaned human nature, where a person is inclined to fear what others say more than fearing Hashem, yet it is necessary for a person to do his best to counter this natural human tendency, as most certainly Rebbi Yochanan Ben Zakai himself did.

The Rambam states in Hilchos Dayos (6,1), that it is the nature of a person to be influenced by the environment in which he is surrounded. How true! The Rambam then adds, that if a person is in a bad environment, it is incumbent upon him to move elsewhere.

Certainly, there are extremes from which to stay away. There are people who do things such a dress in a peculiar and different manner, either by picking this up as a trend from general society or from people on the fringes of society, or else simply just for the sake of being different and contrary.

Either extreme manner (that of blindly imitating others or acting contrary to everyone else) is incorrect, as extremes are no good, as the Rambam states (Hilchos Dayos 1,4), to stay away from extremes, but stick to the middle path.

It is true that, as the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, or as Chazal put it regarding Minhag Hamokom, “Do not change from the custom of the place in which you find yourself”, (Pesachim 50a). Therefore, it is essential that one needs to conform to a degree. Rules, guidelines, proper behavior, and conforming to proper manners are necessary when one lives among human beings. 

But there is also the need sometimes to try to fix things that need fixing, opposing things that are wrong, and certainly, people who have the ability to lead and the vision to fix things that appear not to be working, should do so. Those that have the ability and the courage to buck the trends of their environment and act for the sake of heaven should not be hesitant to do so. One needs only to go back to what Yiddishkeit was like in America of the early 20th century for an example of this.

Current examples of lifestyles that would seemingly need fixing is the common trend of lack of schooling for almost three full summer months, and the trend among many towards living elaborate lifestyles. Nearby where we live, there is a monstrous private home being built, more like a castle, that had been under construction for a number of years, but has now been at a standstill for the past several years for various reasons. Also nearby, there is a most elaborate wedding hall, that was completed after being under construction for many years, built to cater to elaborate high cost weddings, which is now standing empty, after catering to perhaps a handful of weddings. Not that I personally have any concern with anyone making any type of wedding that one wishes. It is also true that people are not all the same and have their different natures, and also have to deal with different circumstances. Yet it seems that people at this time are not interested in spending fortunes on makes a wedding, perhaps due to the general financial meltdown. By the same token, Eretz Yisroel has its own issues, which are far different than the problems in America, which ought to be dealt with.

Nevertheless, all this provides me with a moral lesson, as the focus on building castles and palaces, at least to me, counters a proper hashkafa (outlook) by focusing on Olom Hazeh rather than on Olom Habo. After all, how long does one expect to live in a house? It is all just temporary, even if it is sixty years or so. I believe this type of focus is generally due to people being concerned with catering as to what impression will be made on others. (However, I do not mean to exclude a reasonable middle way, and certainly not everyone is the same, so one must leave room for flexibility. It is the focus on ostentatiousness, and sometimes the lack of common sense, that is my area of concern.)

In “Lessons From Our Past”, I mentioned the importance of learning from our family history depicting the kinds of attitudes we were brought up with.

“Histapek b’muet” is a challenge today, and more so, to even be happy with what one has. Also, a goal that we were brought up with, is to learn to think independently, so long as we do what is right, and that one should not be afraid of doing what he believes to be correct. Listen to others and consult with people who are greater than you are, and always be willing to subject yourself to the views of Gedolei Yisroel. In fact, it is the ability to absorb and understand the goals of Gedolei Yisroel that help guide a person towards a proper approach in life, as our father numerous times delineated in his sefer, “Kol Yaakov”.

There is an English book that discusses by way of example, a group of imaginary mice that lived in a maze with many paths, and grew up always knowing their way to a hoard of cheese. When the hoard of cheese was mysteriously moved elsewhere, one mouse with ambition made it his business to painstakingly track down the route to the new location of the cheese. On the other hand, another mouse committed to his old ways and unable to adjust to new circumstances, able to follow only the way he knew, could never find his way to the new location. 

Some people can change when necessary and have no compulsion about trying out a new route, one that is potentially quicker. There are other people who always follow the familiar route that they know, being reluctant to explore a new route for fear of making a mistake, believing it safer to simply stick with what you know, even if a different way is potentially much quicker. Similarly, when the Holocaust turned the word upside down and forced people into an unfamiliar new world, some had the ability to adjust to their changing circumstances, and other simply could not do so. (When and what is worthy of change is, of course, subject to consideration.)

It is interesting that in this weeks Hamodia, there is a letter written by a number of Roshei Yeshiva, requesting that all boys and girls schools of High School age, ban the use of cell phones by their students either in or out of the school. This letter is followed up by a long list of schools of both boys and girls, who are complying with this dictate.

We all know that cell phones are a marvelous invention and have their appropriate use, especially in emergency situations. Yet these Roshei Yeshiva and the menahelim who are in accordance with their view, feel that that the drawbacks as are explained in detail (in an accompanying letter by a menahel) outweigh the benefits, and it is therefore better to do without.

Of course, we constantly have to deal with new technology. In the past 100 years, the world has changed in ways no one could have envisioned. Changes are coming continuously ever quicker and significantly, and we cannot foresee or even imagine the changes that will take place in the next 100 years. It is our challenge and it is absolutely necessary, for us to master the ever new-coming technology, else it will master and ultimately control us. One cannot dispute the need for rules and for control over the technology, and as was pointed out in the ban of cell phones for high school students, the lack of ability to control proper usage, although there are obvious benefits, caused the educators to judge that the negatives outweigh the positives.

An example of an invention that has major consequences is the invention of the Atomic Bomb, which was actually utilized in wartime only twice to end World War II in Japan. The Atomic Bomb clearly has the power to destroy civilization, chas v’sholom, and to date, has brought the world close to the brink of destruction on several occasions. This is not the place to discuss the pros and cons of America using the Atomic Bomb in World War II to end the war, as many believe that it ultimately saved many American lives, and in spite of the many Japanese that were killed, it undoubtedly also saved many Japanese lives. It is just an example of how difficult it is to control the genie once it gets out of the bottle, that therefore made others feel that it should never have been built and used. 

Currently, we have the cell phone to deal with. Remember that in the not so distance past, before cell phones, it was the beeper. There was the issue of television, then videos, followed by computers and the Internet, and who know what the future holds. These are examples when it is necessary to go against the stream depending upon the situation.

Characteristics that work against us and are a cause of many problems, and must therefore be avoided include a lack of sensitivity, harmful talk, not to think before you talk thereby letting words come out of the mouth naturally, and an inability to get along with others who are different.

I am writing this on the grounds of a camp that was formerly a well-known major frum hotel that burnt to the ground some 35 years ago. There was another major frum hotel that also burnt to the ground over 40 years ago. Both had at least one thing in common, that although they had frum owners who well knew that mixed swimming is forbidden, they nonetheless allowed mixed swimming in their hotel. They claimed that their cliental demanded it, and they did not have the courage do go against the tide. It is hard for us to understand in today’s climate, merely a few decades later, how a frum hotel could permit mixed swimming and sponsor indecent shows which many attended. So, while we may not understand all this now, it goes to show how times and circumstances have changed.

As mentioned, the same goes for those who fought to build Yeshivos and implant Torah on American soil a hundred years ago. They faced an enormity of Yiush Midaas, as people simple gave up, abandoning even Shemiras Shabbos, as people never believed that Yiddishkeit and Torah could ever be made to bloom upon American soil. It is those few individuals who dared to oppose the trend, who provided the groundwork in America, and built the nucleus, which was then reinforced by the survivors of the European Holocaust who came later, to help build American Yiddishkeit to where it is today.

There is a common human phenomena, which can be referred to as a herd mentality, which is common to, among many other things, professional sports, as for example, l’havdil, at the recent World Soccer matches in South Africa, which became a worldwide craze. It is most difficult but necessary to fight a herd mentality, just as it is so difficult to swim against a heavy current.

Our brother, Uncle Eli, had that ability, to initiate change for the better. It is due to his lack of fear, or rather his willingness and courage to act in spite of fear, which enabled him to be so successful in the tasks that he undertook. Uncle Eli just jumped, not knowing where he would land, while I need to know where I will land before I jump, which is why he was so much more successful, daring to tread where others were afraid. He had the confidence and the faith when he jumped, that that was the proper thing to do in spite of all obstacles. Our father had that ability as well, a real pioneer spirit to tread on new ground, to fight apathy by speaking out, to fight for what he believed was the truth, to build on uncharted territory, and act for the sake of L‘Shem Shomayim.

To summarize, to do what is right in spite of it not being easy, and even when faced with opposition in the court of public opinion, that in the end will prove to be the best approach. In the end, surely Hashem will help, if one acts always L’Shem Shomayim, that one will not be inhibited from finding proper and suitable shidduchim for the children. Ultimately, taking that approach will result in being successful in all that one undertakes.

Let me close with a vort on the subject of jealousy, which is peripherally related to the subject at hand. Seder Mishnayis ends with the last Mishnah in Meseches Uktzin stating, “L’hanchil oihavai yesh”, which means that every righteous person will inherit 310 worlds. Why would anyone need so many worlds? Perhaps, the Mishnah is telling us to look up at the sky to see how vast a universe The Creator has put into place, and how many myriad worlds exist, in what seems to be an endless universe. A person is usually jealous of someone else because the other person seemingly has something that the first person does not have. Look therefore, at what Hashem has potentially in store for an individual. Surely, 310 worlds suffice for anyone. What can one really do with so many worlds? Therefore, it is to show a person, that there is no need for a one to be jealous of someone else, as Hashem has more than enough to provide for the needs of every single individual. However, one can use the quality of jealousy for good purposes, by learning from and imitating someone else’s good qualities.

Moshe Teitelbaum

Read Preface by: Rabbi Nosson Scherman The Teitelbaums – Indomitable and Triumphant

Choosing a spouse
Choosing a way of Life
Lessons From Our Past
My Years at Work
Seminary: A Mother’s Anguish
Birchas Hachama of Our Past

No comments:

Post a Comment

When posting please be careful about Loshon Hara