Monday, May 24, 2010

A Rebbe and His Chassid

At a wayside inn, a dozen chassidic merchants were warming themselves at the fire. The group included men from towns and villages across Russia and Poland, all traveling to the great annual fair at Leipzig. The conversation soon turned to the greatness of their rebbes, as each extoled the virtues of his master.
One by one, the chassidim told stories about the miraculous powers of their rebbes. One told how for fifteen years he and his wife had yearned for a child, until they received a blessing from their rebbe: within a year, they were cradling their newborn son in their arms. A second told of how his rebbe had neutralized the Jew-hating, pogrom-inciting priest in their village, while a third related how his rebbe's blessing and special instructions had brought home his wayward son. And so they passed the hours, recounting the wonders performed by their holy mentors.

Finally, they all turned to the one chassid who had listened in silence to their stories. "Let's hear something about your rebbe."
The chassid said: "I deal in lumber, and several years ago I was offered a forest for sale. The price was high, but the opportunities were even greater -- there was talk of a railroad to be constructed, raising the demand for and profitability of the local lumber. As I do with all major decisions in my life, I consulted with my Rebbe. He advised me to buy the forest.
"The purchase ruined me. The railroad project fell through and I was left with a basically worthless forest. I lost my entire fortune and was cast heavily into debt."
After a lengthy pause, one of the listeners asked, "And then? What happened?"
"Nothing," said the chassid. "I am still struggling to feed my family and repay my debts."
"So what's the miracle?" they all asked.
"That my relationship with the Rebbe has nothing to do with his wonder-working powers. That I continue to follow his directives in every area of my life. The miracle is that I am still his chassid."

I envy people with this kind of faith. I envy them every time I have to make a difficult decision. These are people who leave full responsibility for every important decision in their lives to someone they trust so completely...someone they believe lives in a world beyond ours.

These are true chassidim.

I've always believed that there are leaders who are worthy of that kind of reverence. I believe that there are Rebbes who have some sort of Divine Inspiration...a kind of prophecy, maybe. A higher vision. I don't know exactly what it is, but it doesn't really matter to their followers. A true chassid is willing to hear what their Rebbe says, and to accept it unhesitatingly. There are no questions. No doubts.

It seems so easy, in a way. Someone takes the crushing weight off your shoulders. He tells you what to do. He guides you. And he is someone who sees deeper than ordinary human beings, with a clarity that goes beyond ordinary intuition. So easy...

It's not. I discovered that today.

During the year my son spent in Israel, he formed an attachment to a specific chassidic group. He davened there as often as he could, and he has tremendous respect for the Rebbe.

We had a monumental decision to make. We spoke to our Rav and followed his advice. We spent hours on the phone. And we arrived at a decision. We would go ahead. But before we do, we agreed to seek a bracha from this Rebbe. A mere formality, I thought. It was what my son wanted.

We didn't get it. There was no bracha. The Rebbe said no.

I want to believe that the Rebbe sees something I cannot see. I want to feel know that we were just saved from making the biggest mistake of our lives. I want to know with certainty that this is the right decision. The only decision. I want to believe.

But I don't. My heart is not at peace.

I am not a true chassid.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


My little boy is on the phone. He sounds upset. Something's wrong.

"I lost my yarmulka," he said, his voice breaking. "And today is picture day."

My heart sinks. I'm busy at work. It's the end of the week, and there are so many things I need to finish before I leave today. And I walked to work today.

I stall.

"Well...what are you wearing now?" I ask.

"Nothing. My hand."

"I'm sure they have something in the office," I suggest hopefully.

"They do, but it's so big it almost covers my eyes." He's near tears.


Twenty minutes to his yeshiva if I walk fast. Twenty minutes back. Plus some time to stop at a store and get a new yarmulka.

"Can you do something?" He asks plaintively.

Of course I can.

It's so easy when they're nine years old.

But then they grow up. And they enter the world of shidduchim.

The amount of parental involvement in a shidduch differs among the different communities.

In the chassidic community, the parents choose the child's spouse. The child has veto power, but that is rarely exercised. The children trust that their parents know what is best for them, and have the maturity and life experience necessary to make this decision.

In the yeshivish community, parents are involved. They look for the best mate, ask a lot of questions, and gather information. But the decisions are left to the children. Boys and girls go out and see if they are compatible. If a shidduch doesn't work out, the parents go to the next in line. Dating a number of potential mates is the norm.

I am somewhere between the chassidic community and the yeshivish community. My children will 'date' and spend time with a potential to see if they are compatible. The number of dates will be more than in the chassidic community, but a lot less than the yeshivish. The decision is not completely up to the parents. But by the time boy meets girl, most of the work, as far as background, family, personality, goals, etc., is done. It's a match on paper, and now it's up to them to decide.

Sounds simple enough.

But sometimes things don't follow the script. Sometimes, you find what seems to be a perfect match, they go out, and then some new information comes to light.

In the chassidic community, the parents would make a decision. They would seriously consider the issue, maybe take their child's feelings into account to some extent, but at the end, the decision is theirs.

In the yeshivish community, once they've gone out several times, the parents will have input, but the ultimate decision would most likely be the child's.

Where I am, things are not as well defined.

We have a decision to make. My son's opinion will tremendously affect the final decision, but the burden rests on us, his parents. It is the most agonizing, gut wrenching decision I've ever had to make.

What to do? What to do?

It was so much easier when he was nine...