The website 18FORTY has a fantastic and thoughtful multimedia post on OTD that is worth watching, reading, and listening to. If you are reading this then you know I don’t post or link things too often. What 18FORTY is doing is totally worth your time to check out.
Spoiler, there isn’t much substance to I what have to say. Also, I am spoiling the end of the Skywalker saga. After reading an excellent essay by Rabbi Harry Maryles that was a reaction to an eloquently writing article by the OU’s President, Rabb Mark Bane (whose writing I absolutely love) I decided to do something that I normally don’t do when after reading a post by Rabbi Maryles, I went to the comments. Reading them, it hit me, all of his readers must be Star Wars fans. Why, because the joke is that no one hates Star Wars more than Star Wars fans. Let me explain.
Like many fans, I can be biased and critical when it comes to change, innovation, or retcon (retroactive continuity) of Star Wars mythology. Many hardcore fans will scream until they are blue in the face about changes in “Force powers”, feminism, Social Justice Wars, lack of lack of race inclusion, and more. Reading over many comments on Rabbi Maryles’ post it seems that most people feel comfortable pushing their agendas as cornerstones of why there can be no Achdus among frum Jews. I even pushed my own agenda by commenting that I’d be embarrassed if a non-Orthodox friend were to read the comments because it’s obvious that we can’t get along. We, frum Jews, are more critical of our brethren than any other group and I believe this is traffic jam stopping the Geulah.
Why, because, as a Star Wars fan, I fell prey to losing sight of the big picture. That picture is that each of us need to celebrate the common ground that we share. No matter if it’s the Yid that complains that the Agudath Israel takes ownership for the Siyum (well, they did organize the thing) or Star Wars fan that complains that Rey was too over-powered of a character the big picture is lost. That picture, in my own little view, is that in the end good triumphs over evil.
Trust me, no legit Star Wars fan is complaining after seeing THE RISE OF SKYWALKER that the Jedi won the ultimate battle. There are no people on Reddit writing posts that express their dismay that the Sith lost. Achdus is about putting aside the things that make us different and focusing of each of us being an eved Hashem and loving Hashem’s Jews, those that follow the Torah like we do and those who don’t. They all count.
I checked my recent writing history today and the last legit post of mine was really 3.5 years ago. For some that’s a long chunk of time. In that time I have seen my kids grow older, starting with my son who is returning next week from his first post high school year learning in Eretz Yisrael, to my oldest daughter officially a senior in high school, to our youngest daughter now having the status of an 8th grader.
I have seen my wife and I go through not so fun times, grown closer together, sat shiva and been in an aveilus for my mother (erev Pesach 2018). I have spent hours over the past few years exploring abandonments, yet not truly exploring the special חלק אלוק ממעל, chelek Elokei mi’maal, that portion of Hashem from above that is with me. I say I am exploring myself, but I don’t think that’s really the case.
I’ve listened, learned, read things that have helped me to continue my growth in Torah and avodas Hashem. I have gone from a state of total social withdrawal from friend to a point where I am on the footpath toward bridges. I have laughed and cried over meaningless things in 2 Avengers movies. I have experienced the death of a former NCSYer/friend.
If I had to pick a highlight of the past year it is seeing my daughter grow as people. I am nervous to see what changes have taken place with my son, but I have a whole summer to spend with him.
Without any pretense I feel that I haven’t changed. I am still a slave to habits, not so nice stellar middos, and a fixed mindset. Despite all my davening and learning I still find it a struggle to redirect these behaviors to something good.
With all that I sit erev Shabbos and write, because, “I don’t have the strength to remain silent,” to quote Rav Kook zya.
My wife’s comment on Simchas Torah pretty much summed it up, “I feel like this is the biggest tease for you.” You see, my mom a”h was niftar right before Pesach and when I asked a shiloh about how I should observe dancing on Simchas Torah I was told that I should just dance once during each hakafah. In a way it was the biggest tease. I was in a shul whose Morah d’Asra is the person I have learned more Torah from than anyone else in my adult life. I was surrounded by both baalei batim and klei kodesh that were inspired and on fire for Yiddishkeit. While not being the most physically active dude I really do live for dancing on Simchas Torah. Yet, I spent a majority of the night and day sitting with a sefer. I felt as if I’d been put on “pause” while the rest of the world kept moving.
Gnawing at me was a story that Rav Moshe Weinberger, Rav of Cong. Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, NY always tells before Maariv of Simchas Torah.
Rav Isaac l’Kalover recounted that there was once a Jew who came to a trade show in Leipzig to sell his merchandise. He planned to make a lot of money so he stayed in the nicest hotel he could find. While things didn’t workout as he planned in terms of selling his merchandise, he had a great time in the hotel. He ate the nicest meals that he had even eaten in his life and the bed and room were more comfortable than he had ever experienced in his little town. After a few days, the management began to get a bit worried. They noticed that he wore the same clothes every day, seemed to be enjoying the food a bit too much, and generally didn’t act like someone accustomed to such wealth. One day after this Jew enjoyed a big meal the manager came over to him about his stay and the food. He assured the manager that the had never experienced such nice accommodations or such delicious food and that he was very satisfied.
Still concerned, the manager showed him the bill and asked whether he thought there would be a problem paying it. The man admitted that while he had intended to make a lot of money at the big trade show, things had not worked out and he had no money to pay the bill. Infuriated, the manager grabbed the man and was about to take him to the police who were likely to beat him up and kill him. Protesting, the man said, “Wait! You won’t get any of your money back by handing me over to the police. But I will make an arrangement with you. I am a very talented dancer and I attract big crowds back home. Let me dance outside the restaurant and you will see that my performance will attract a crowd and you will see that the additional business brought into your restaurant will far exceed my bill.
Indeed, the Jew danced up such a storm that a large crowd gathered and ultimately, the business brought in by his dancing far outweighed the cost of his own hotel stay and use of the restaurant. Reb Isaac’l concluded that during the previous year and even Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we have enjoyed the beautiful accommodations of this world, but that we do not have the Torah and mitzvos to “pay” for our stay here. But as the days of judgment come to an end on Hoshana Raba, we say to Hashem that he should not take us away from the world. The dead cannot serve Hashem. Rather, we promise that we will dance in honor of Hashem and the Torah on Simchas Torah and that our dancing will bring so much honor to heaven, that it will more than “pay” for our stay in this world. (Adapted from Rav Weinberger’s 5775 drasha by Binyomin Wolf)
So, I was left with the question of how effective was my “payment” this year if I was only dancing once per hakafah? Aside from the learning I attempted do do using hakafos this question was running hakafos in my head. I tried to have the kavanah of being as “Simchas Torahdik” as possible while not going as nuts as I would had I not been in a a a aveilus. Even when I came home that night I still wasn’t sure if I had fulfilled my chei’uv by dancing.
However, what questions and reservations I had were washed away when I recalled an offhand remark I heard on my way to shul just the day before on Shabbos morning. I had the honor of waking my friend’s mother to shul (she uses a walker and I had trouble keeping up with her). She mentioned that like myself, she had a son-in-law that was also in aveilus. In the course of our conversation, she said that the whole year of mourning is the last act of kibud av v’em that a person can do, even if it means curtailing your dancing.
“Make His will like your will,” says Rabban Gamliel ben Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi in Pirkei Avos 2:4. I often find ascribing ideas like ‘being m’vater’ (to give up) or ‘bittul’ (to nullify or be selfless) my actions or lack of actions as something of an afterthought. I’m probably not as mindful as I should be about putting my wants or ‘will’ in the proverbial back seat in my Avodas Hashem. In this case the back seat ended up being a front role seat in the social hall/basement of a shul. All in all, not too shabby.
When today comes around I usually think about things my father missed since he has been gone. I decided that this year I’ll attempt to list a number of things my father knowingly and unknowingly accomplished.
He had 3 successful service oriented businesses • He visited Israel • He passed down his love of nature, Frank Lloyd Wright, short road trips, and chopped liver to my brother, David, and I • He turned a hobby of collecting etchings and art into an impressive eBay Store • Was actively involved the the Jewish Burial Society in Wichita, KS • He lived to see his 3 grandchildren • He conditioned me to only eating latkes with sugar sprinkled on top of them • He and Indiana Jones shared a massive dislike of snakes • He left a void in both his family and community • He showed us the challenge of a snipe hunt, the adventure of Bear Rocks in Cooks Forest, PA, and musical antics of Sha Na Na • He happily took me anywhere that interested me including galleries in SoHo, the Guggenheim (a few times), and dozens of bad movies during high school and beyond • He once let me drag him to 5 different Starbucks in one afternoon • He survived multiple trips to zoos, children’s museums, and even Six Flags Great America • When visiting he’d help stock my freezer and occasionally hangers in my closet • He would always try to go to the Lower East Side and take a peek inside Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem, or as he called it the, “Time Warp Yeshiva.” • He showed my family that you could take an RV into almost any neighborhood in Indianapolis and feel safe • He drove hours upon hours to make sure I got to youth group retreats • He taught me that it’s never too late to change no matter if it involves smoking or working on relationships.
Walking out of shul, the morning after Yom Kippur, a follow early Sunday morning riser casually said to me, “Back to normal, right?”
I was taken off guard (and also hadn’t had any coffee) and responded, “Some may say.” As I got into my car I realized that I really should have told him that I think the whole point isn’t to go “back to normal”, but to have a new normal. If after the past 40 days my habits and attitudes are supposed to go back to the way they were then I have missed the point. I know in the next hour or days or weeks I will be challenged and tested; the decisions, kabballos, and raw confessions I made to Hashem can go either way.
My new normal is one in which I dedicate myself and my energy to the Rabbono Shel Olam. It’s a normal where I think for 30 seconds before I open my mouth to someone in my family when I feel that I am losing my patience. It’s a normal where I constantly ask Hashem to help me find the Simchas haChaim that is within me. It’s a normal where Shevisi Hashem isn’t just a concept but a reality. It’s a normal where I will make mistakes, push myself away from Hashem by aveiros, and know that coming back is my choice. Back to normal, I hope not.
I have started this post about 2 dozen times over the past 3 years and I never seem to get more than about 300 words written about why I stopped blogging. Looking back, it's been just over a year since my last post and prior to that there were a few postings every 6-9 months all the back to 2014. I guess the good thing about writing now is that the odds are good that no one will read this and it allows me a little wiggle room with being real about things.
I can pinpoint the moment that I decided to stop writing, it was when I had conveniced myself that I didn't really have anything to say. This was my conclusion after getting dealt a humbling and embarrassing blow, that forced me to be truthful and re-evaluate my middos and myself. Needless to say, it wasn't the best day ever. I lost confidence in myself on multiple levels and found myself retreating, withdrawing both from friends in my community as well as those I had "met" online. I found myself for the next 5 months terribly introverted (not my nature) and unsure of much, besides the fact that my wife and kids loved me. Slowly I got back into the groove of things, but the desire to write seemed overruled by the desire to think I didn't have much to offer online.
I found myself self stuck with a creative desire to express myself and no outlet. Then I succumbed to my official midlife crisis (not the pretend one of forming a band), my hobby of urban exploration and documenting neglected architecture. This was the furthest thing from writing a blog. Writing reveals what we are thinking, what is behind and under the surface. Photography, at its esssence, captures an image as we see it and freezes it. It's two dimensional, it starts and stops. Of course, the right picture or portrait, can convey emotion but the shots I have been taking since the beginning of 2015 are of buildings that have been abandoned and forgotten. Many of the buildings have historical value and their owners were happy to have their properties documented. Honestly, most people don't see why I enjoy these kind of photos. As my wife astutely suggested, it might be because I feel dilapidated and abandoned from who I can truthfully be.
So, this is where I am holding, not quite sure what I can bring to the digital table, but attempting to be the guy Hashem knows I can be and who I need to be.
Well, thanks to my good friend, Micha Berger, I have made the switch to WordPress. An original post is coming after Shabbos. Thanks for stopping by!