Friday, July 22, 2011

The Little Beis Hamikdash Named Leiby Kletzky

Leiby, it’s been a week since the discovery of your death.  So much has been written about your life and your death.  I don’t have anything to add.  But I need to write because in your death I am revived and compelled to appreciate my life differently.  It’s only been a week since your death.  A week blurred by tears.  Confused by questions that are too raw to ask.  Stymied by the inability to fathom any answers.  Leiby, your death makes no sense to me.  The monstrosity that has been perpetrated on you is beyond anything I have experienced- with all my knowledge of forensic psychology.  The excruciating pain I am in has opened me up to a new reality that I have never experienced before.  And as always, when things affect me so deeply without any iota of logic or understanding I recognize a thunderous albeit hidden message from Hashem to shut my mind off and listen.   Leiby in your death Hashem has my ear.  My life is at a standstill, stunned into paralyses but open to what Hashem wants me to hear.
The unimaginable pain that your parents must feel is something very foreign to me.  I was unable to volunteer in the search for you, I did not get to go to your Levaya and I did not pay a shiva call to your family.  I have not, yet, contributed to the memorial funds or began thinking about how to make a change in my life.  I am technically so distant from you.  Yet, Leiby you are my son, you are my brother, my nephew, my cousin and my friend.  Leiby, you are me.  It’s not about the achdus that all stripes and colors of frum Jews banded together for a week, which of course was beautiful. It was not about the Kiddush Hashem of more than 3000 frum people gathering together to search for you or the 14,000 people who came to your levayah, which was awe-inspiring.   It’s not about the unbelievable resilience that our frum world has in trying to gain Chizuk by turning your death into an opportunity for growth.  It’s not about the plethora of frum Chesed organization with hundreds of volunteers and employees painstakingly working on the forefront of educating our parents on how to talk to our children, helping us cope with the trauma, child safety etc…  All these things are astonishing and amazing and make me proud to be a part of our community. 
But what moved me so profoundly was how personal your death is for me.  Driving into work on Wednesday morning at 6:15 am and hearing about your death on the radio- I cried.  And I cried periodically throughout the entire day and the next day.  And the next.  I cried because, although I have been frum my entire life, I never before felt so keenly connected with you, with every Jew.  You, me, your parents, my parents, my family, friends- all of Klal Yisroel- one being.  Frum, not frum, Yeshivish, Chassidishe, Mordern Orthodox, Lubavitch, Chaim Berlin, Breslov, YU, Brisk, New York, LA, NJ, Israel, South Africa.  I cried because of how deeply I felt in my bones how we are all together members of Hashem’s nation.  I cried because after decades of hearing Shiurim and teaching others about Sinas Chinam have never acutely felt the pain of another “distant Jew” so peronsally.  Experiencing such a deep connection with every other person who has a Neshuma is what moved me. 
Leiby, this Tisha Ba’Av I will cry again.  I will cry because I know that in reality there is so much infighting within our community.  Infighting between Rebbes, within sects of Chassidim, between the Yeshivish and the Modern Orthodox etc etc etc… How day after day there are siblings at each other’s throats.  Only because they have learned to deal with their frustrations by being nasty, after all that’s what their parents did to each other.  I will think about how many friends continue to sling insults and lawsuits against each other for petty and pathetic reasons.  How many couples, even in the midst of the divorce, can’t seem to stop hurting each other.  How many small arguments, hatreds, resentments and stubborn stupuidity infests us.  I will cry over the politics and the Chitzonius.  I will cry over the destruction of Yiddishkeit, burned down to the rubble and ashes of Machlokes.  Your death, the horrible destruction of the little Beis Hamidash named Leiby Kltezky, serves as an acute reminder to me of how connected we really all are. 
May we all be zoche to continue recognizing within ourselves, the deepest connection we have to each other as one big Neshuma and may that affect the way we treat each other.  May we be zoche to the building of the Beis Hamikdash B’Mheira Amen.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tisha Ba'Av 2005- Golden Oldie- revisited

The Construct of Destruction

What does a building that was destroyed over 2,000 years ago have anything to do with me?  Why should I care?  What am I supposed to feel bad about it?  How am I supposed to internalize whatever message is meant for me?  These questions plague me every year and as the years go by I have developed some thoughts on the subject. 
The story is told of a Hasidic Rabbi who was found dancing vigorously on Tisha Ba'Av.  When asked why he was so happy he responded by saying that he was ecstatic over being able to fulfill the mitzvah of aveilus, mourning, over the destruction of the Temple.  Any rational person would say that this sounds nuts... I would like to offer an explanation to this puzzling story. 
We all know that God created this world and therefore everything in this world is a manifestation of God.  Human beings, trees, animals, air, water etc… everything is a manifestation of God.  Everything that I come into contact with is a manifestation of God in this world.  If somebody loves me, it is God showing me love, if someone hurts me, it is God showing me pain etc… So far so good?
We all know that the essence of God is Love.  All there is in this world is a manifestation of God’s love for His creations.  Namely, God’s love for His people, for the Jewish people.  So, everything I come into contact with is a manifestation of God in this world and therefore anything I come into contact with is a manifestation of God’s love for me.  Whether it is good or bad, happy or sad, difficult or easy, it doesn’t make a difference what it is; it is all a sign from God that he loves me. 
Of course it is not easy to tell how every situation I am in is about God’s infinite love for me- that is really the essence of life.  So a story to illustrate:  A wealthy man offers a baker top dollar to make the very purest bread possible- from scratch.  Being that he is paying top dollar, he demands to observe the baker every step of the way.  So the next morning the rich man and the baker set off on a journey to find the most fertile land which they find and buy.  The rich man, thrilled at how beautiful the lush green grass is, invites all his friends to see his acquisition.  Upon arriving with his guests, he finds the baker hard at work destroying the entire field with picks, hoes and shovels.  “What do you think you are doing to my beautiful land,” he yells at the baker.  The baker reassures the wealthy man, “Trust me and relax,” he replies.  The very next day the baker and his grumpy employer set out looking for seeds.  After a few days of searching they find highest quality wheat seeds, the wealthy man insisting on paying for the most elite high quality, frost resistant organic wheat seeds.  The wealthy man already anxious after the land incident is skeptical to see how the baker will form bread from these seeds.  They arrange to meet at the plot of land the next day and upon arrival the wealthy man is greeted by the baker pouring his precious new investment all over the already destroyed ground.  “You idiot,” the rich man yells, “first you waste my money on destroying my land that you suggested I buy and now you destroy the most expensive seeds by throwing them on the group!  What do you think you are doing?”  “Stop whining,” replies the baker, “one day you will understand why all this destruction is necessary.”  And the story goes on; at each step the wealthy man sees destruction and whenever he sees something that looks good to him, the baker immediately destroys it.  He busts a capillary when the baker drowns his seeds in water.  He sulks for a year until he is able to take a little comfort in the perfectly tall stalks of wheat he sees.  His anger is unbearable when the baker cuts every last stalk down.  The most pristine white flower jerks the rich man back into his happy state.  Then further confusing and enraging the man again when his pristine flour is drowned yet again in water and thrown into a burning hot oven.  At the end, of course, the man is presented with the purest, freshest, tastiest bread he’s ever tasted- you could only imagine how much he will savor that bread!. 

There is no purpose to destruction alone.  It always exists to serve a higher purpose, a purpose that ultimately purifies us.  A purpose that ultimately shows us God’s furiously intoxicating love for each and every one of us.  Yes, we experience heartbreak, pain and suffering.  We experience stress, difficulties, challenges and even evil.  At times we get some nechoma by seeing Hashem’s rays of love trickling into our live between the hardships.  But it is only when we are aware of the ultimate purpose of it can we recognize the hardships for what they are.  We don’t need to live our lives with the roller coaster of the wealthy ignorant man in this story.  We know the goal of all the destruction.  Let us live it.

My plan this year- I will let the pain of what is lacking in my life seep into me and feel the hurt and send it directly up to God through my prayers.  No, I won’t get depressed about my shortcomings and negativities, I know what they are, God knows what they are, I know I am working with every fiber in my body to overcome and grow, and God knows that as well.  I am going to mourn the fact that I don’t feel close enough to God.  Not that I am not close enough to God, I am. I am going to mourn the fact that I don’t feel the closeness.  I am going to mourn the fact that I don’t feel that God loves me as much as he really does.  I am going to mourn that I don’t talk to God enough.  Can you imagine?  God loves me so much and he gives me a day to think about how much he loves me and that I am oblivious to it.  I am going to mourn my not being so utterly in love with God, my not living every second in total euphoria and obsession with God.  On Tisha Ba’Av I relearn that all the pain of my shortcoming, suffering, depression, frustration and anxiety all come from God.  I am reminded that these characteristics are not evident that God dislikes me in anyway but exactly the opposite- it is God’s love for me. I focus on destruction and negativity and realize that it is an opportunity for me to see the depths of evil as Love.  After a Tisha B’av like that who won’t dance?  After spending a day searching my heart and my world looking at what is lacking in my life and knowing that how much God loves me and how oblivious I am to it, how can I not dance?

Personal Destruction

The Maharal and many other great Torah leaders explain a passage written by the Rabbis thousands of years ago.  The passage says (beginning of Yoma), “He who does not see the rebuilding of the Temple in his days, it is as if the destruction of the Temple took place in his days.”  They explain that if you don’t know how to mourn the destruction of the Temple mourn the areas in your life that you can improve, the areas of your life that are lacking.  Here is another anecdote: 
A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on the end of a pole, which he carried across his neck. One of the pots was perfectly made and never leaked. The other pot had a crack in it and by the time the water bearer reached his master's house it had leaked much of it's water and was only half full. For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water to his master's house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.  After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. "I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you." "Why?" asked the bearer. "What are you ashamed of?" "I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master's house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don't get full value from your efforts," the pot said.  The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, "As we return to the master's house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path."  Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again the pot apologized to the bearer for its failure.  The bearer said to the pot, "Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pot's side? That's because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you've watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master's table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house." 

See, the destruction of the Temple is the catalyst for the Jews being in exile, the catalyst for every Jew to feel (and only feel, because it is not true) as if he or she is disconnected from God.  The catalyst for every Jew to feel sadness, pain and hurt.  The catalyst for all negativities in this world.  Rebbe Nachman from Breslov writes that people should always be happy and only devote an hour a day to feeling bad about their faults and negativities.  Tisha B’av is a sad time, no doubt.  But just like a person is supposed to feel bad for his or her negativities only once a day, only once a year is a person allowed to feel bad about his or her negativities.  Tisha B’av is the preparation for Elul, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the time of year that we are closest to Hashem.  The time of year when our connection to God comes to full bloom.
Rebbe Nachman writes that depression is the worst sin a person can commit.  “He who commits suicide does so only once, but he who is depressed does so (commits suicide) thousands and thousands of times a day”.  Each of us has our own unique flaws. We are all cracked pots (crack-pots lol). But if we will allow it, God will use our flaws to grace his table. In God's great economy, nothing goes to waste. Don't be afraid of your flaws. Acknowledge them, and you too can be the cause of beauty. Know that in our weakness we find our strength. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Levy Aron

I am not yet ready to think about Leiby or his family. 

After perusing the frum blogs and hearing the rumblings within our community I must respond with the following: There is nothing that this situation calls to our attention.  There is nothing that this situation teaches us about how we care for our children.  No Mussar lesson, no lesson in Emunah or Bitachon.  No extorting people to do Teshuvah.  Yes we need to be careful and we need to teach our children about safety, and we all have to try an be better in our lives.  But this travesty is way beyond the comprehension and has no connection to our daily lives.  And even so, we are certainly not ready to begin discussing lessons learned, Mussar, Emunah and Bitachon.  We need to be human and allow ourselves to experience the raw pain of having a member of our own community, a man with a Neshoma commit the most atrocious act on an innocent boy, another Neshoma.  No one can fathom this craziness.  It is above and beyond any atrocities we have ever been exposed to.  Theft, adultery, drug abuse, even child molestation do not enter the realm of this monstrosity.  The dismemberment of a child, compounded by the fact that the murderer has a Neshoma can only be categorized as Ra- evil.  I don't think, especially this soon in the game, it is appropriate to compare any of the other maladies in our lives and community to this.  It is almost impossible to wrap our minds around this evil.

                             The only thing appropriate right now is tears.

Yes, the stigma of mental health might have contributed to years of sick fetishistic fantasies to fester within this murderer's mind and heart and we could shout form the rooftop how this guy might have gotten help years ago had mental health not been so stigmatized in our community.  Yes, he might have been molested himself and therefore acted out his pain by committing this gross offense against us a people and against society at large.  All of this might be true but when we get lost in the gossip we lose sight of the bigger picture. 

                             The only thing appropriate right now is tears.

I am not a history buff but after perusing my knowledge, my memory, the Kinnus we say on Tisha Ba'Av and discussing this with a few people I conclude that our community has never experienced this type of evil from within.  Yes there are rotzchim, killers in the form of Rabbonim who sanction abusive relationships, parents who cover up sexual molestation,  mechanchim who try and stuff their students into small robotic boxes, internet and sex addicts who rip their families apart etc... but murder?  Chopping another frum boy's body up with a butcher knife and cutting board?  That is sick.

                             The only thing appropriate right now is tears.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Back Online

So it seems like an eternity since I died in the blogosphere.  I don't know what this blog will turn into, I just know that I miss the debate.  My life is so different now. I'm married.  I have children.  I have a house.  I have a job.  I have the best of both worlds.  I have a head.  I have a heart.  Most of all, for all of you, I have what to say- Torah.  The frum world.  Politics (rarely).  Philosophy (mostly).  The few random thoughts.  I'm looking forward to interacting with the blog-o-sphere again!