|Image by me
It was pointed out very clearly to me in the beginning of the summer that I am not so “mainstream”. What this really means, I still am trying to figure out, but I took it to imply that even though I might go to minyan, learn some, dress in a way that doesn’t draw too much attention to myself, look enough like everyone else on Shabbos Kodesh, I am, never the less, not so mainstream.
So, I decided that this would be my summer of mainstreaming. I tried, really, I did. Away went the printouts that I would bring to shul in my tallis bag on Shabbos Kodesh. I only learned seforim that could be bought on Amazon (BH, A Simple Jew’s sefer is available there), I stopped quoting sources that are not available in Artscroll translations, I only listened to music that Nahum Segal would play, I only ate foods from recipes in the “Kosher By Design” series, I didn’t eat salmon (because they swim upstream), and I only attempted to only use references that most people would get.
It has been, and still is, a challenge to be “mainstream’. I’m just not a “top 40” type of guy. I never was. It has nothing to do with being b’davka counter-culture or anti-establishment. I tried. Even at the Siyum HaShas in Chicago, I found myself sitting next to a yid I didn’t know and I really tried to be just like everyone else and not get sucked into “stranger danger”, but I couldn’t hold out. I had to say, “Hi, my name is Neil. I wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight if I didn’t find out your name. There’s no achdus in this whole event if I leave not knowing who I was sitting next to.”
Truth be told, most of those that I admire were not mainstream. They went against the grain of their times: Reb Nachman of Breslov, Rav Yisrael Salanter (and his talmidim), Rav Hirsch, Rav Dessler, Rav Shimon Schwab, Rav Moshe Weinberger. Each gadol b’Torah has his own derech and machshavos that set him apart from those within his generation. That’s just the Torah way.
In my contemplation about the importance of being mainstream, I kept on thinking of this teaching, related by Rav Shlomo Friefeld zt’l, as printed in the book In Search of Greatness, (on page 14) quoting the Midrash, that “explains why Avraham was called Avraham the Ivri. What is an Ivri? The Midrash says that the term Ivri come from the word ever, which means a side. It is often used for a riverbank. Every river has two sides, this riverbank and the opposite one. Avraham was called Avraham the Ivri, the “sider,” or one who stood on the side. What does that mean? The Gemara says that Avraham stood on one side and the entire world stood on the other. He had his beliefs, and the entire world was opposed to them.
I know, in my heart of hearts that the kuntz of being mainstream is that you are able to have a voice of individuality that is accepted by the majority of the kehillah. That being written, I will end with two quotes to ponder. One, from my copy of the Hirsch Siddur and the other from my very non-mainstream print-out of an article in Tradition.
“Hillel would say: Do not separate yourself from the community.”
Rav Hirsch zt’l: It is not to the individual, but to the community, Morasha Kellios Yaakov, that God entrusted His Torah as an inheritance for all the generations to come. For this reason every individual is duty bound to join forces with his community in thought, in word and in deed and loyally to share in its tasks and obligations, so long as that community proves to be a faithful guardian and supporter of the Torah. Indeed, it is essential in the discharge of his own life’s task that the individual be part of a larger community. For whatever he may be able to do on his own is inadequate and short-lived; it is only in conjunction with the achievements of others that his own actions can have importance. Moreover, his good principles and convictions will gain considerable strength and support from the fact that he hold them in common with the whole of a genuinely Jewish community.
Rav Soloveitchik zt’l from “The Community”
The presonalistic unity and reality of a community, such as Knesset Israel, is due to the philosophy of existential complementary of individuals belonging to Knesset Israel. The individuals belonging to the community compliment one another existentially. Each individual possesses something unique, rare, which is unknown to the others; each individual has a unique message to communicate, a special color to add to the communal spectrum. Hence, when lonely man joins the community, he adds a new dimension to the community awareness. He contributes something which no one else could have contributed. He enriches the community existentially; he is irreplaceable. Judaism has always looked upon the individual as if he were a little world (microcosm); with the death of the individual, this little world come to an end. A vacuum which other individuals cannot fill is left.