Friday, January 7, 2011

More Suspension of Disbelief

I usually ignore the letters Rabbi Wagner sends his alumni, but this one grabbed my attention and didn't let go. (Although I did skim. The rabbi is a tad a verbose.) Enjoy!

Boruch G. was a regular chassidisher Lubavitcher bochur. He went through the system, learning diligently in Yeshiva, and internalizing the teachings and ideals of chassidus. When he came of age, he married a girl of equal caliber, and, predictably, they both resolved to dedicate their lives to shlichus.
Fortunately, just over a year after their marriage, the young couple found a city that would become their “post”. The city, in Middle America, was not especially large, nor did it boast a sizeable Jewish population. There were no known wealthy philanthropists residing there, nor was there much of a foundation on which to build.
But it had its’ Jewish community, who were in urgent need of the services that a Chabad House could provide.
Their work was cut out for them. They had their shlichus.
Before long, however, they encountered an unexpected obstacle. The small Jewish community was already being serviced by a Conservative and a Reconstructionist Temple, as well as a Synagogue that was the remnant of what had once been an Orthodox Synagogue. The leaders of each of these communities were very wary of the newcomer, who they feared, perhaps justifiably, would be an unwelcome competition to them. Their best defense, they decided, would be a concerted and timely offence.
Subsequently, shortly after the G. family settled into their new home, they were shocked to see some very negative publicity about Lubavitch in the local press. While stopping short of open warfare, the article went to great lengths to portray Lubavitch as outdated and queer, their customs as antiquated, and the religious services they offered as medieval. Boruch’s first visits to local community members turned out to be an uphill battle, being met with indifference or open hostility.
Sadly, the G’s realized that the minds of the populace had already been poisoned against them without their even being given a chance and their initial enthusiasm was quickly being replaced by frustration and disillusionment. At every opportunity, there would be negative publicity about Chabad in general and the new shluchim in particular. Any strange or bizarre story involving Lubavitchers managed to find its’ way to the sleepy little city’s newspapers.
To be honest, they even considered throwing in the towel and starting anew somewhere else – they, after all, were plainly not wanted here. But their mashpi’im, and any older shluchim that they consulted with, strongly negated this idea, and deep down they knew as well that this was not the approach that the Rebbe had taught.
So, the G’s held an urgent staff meeting, attended by Boruch, his wife, and their baby daughter, at which they resolved to renew and redouble their efforts, and work tirelessly to undo the damage that had preceded them here, and create a new image of Lubavitch that would command respect, admiration and love. Indeed, no sooner was the meeting adjourned, and the young family went on the offensive to secure their place in the inhospitable neighborhood.
Slowly but surely their efforts bore fruit, and people began to see the G’s for who they were, and to start viewing the negativity with skepticism and suspicion. Gradually, their circle of acquaintances became a widening circle of loyal friends, admirers, and (perhaps most importantly) staunch supporters. To be sure, not everyone was rejoicing in the turnaround. Their original adversaries were chagrined that their plans were thwarted, and they continued to seek every opportunity to undermine the young couple.
But the shluchim refused to be provoked, retaining their positivity and friendliness to all. And this approach was clearly paying off. The distrust and rejection that they had encountered when they had first arrived, had become replaced with deep respect and love. They remembered their early troubles, and thanked Hashem every day for the wondrous metamorphosis.
The turning point came some five and one half years after they had embarked on their shlichus. After much planning and arranging – and a large dosage of help from Above – they managed to organize their first major public event. It was to be a massive public menorah lighting in a high class city park, that would be attended by the mayor, various politicians and dignitaries, and practically all of the ‘who’s who’ of the Jewish community. Their first event on such a scale – or even close to it -, it was expected to catapult them into new heights and status.
The standard legal challenges and red tape were overcome, and the Chabad house for weeks was the scene of nervous energy and frenzied activity in anticipation of the momentous event.
Finally the big day arrived. With a beating heart, Boruch thought about anything that could possibly go wrong, and davened fervently to Hashem that there should be no last minute glitches.
But he needn’t have worried.
As people began to arrive, they realized that it was turning into a success beyond anything they could have hoped for. Everyone, but everyone, of any importance was there, and the mood was celebratory. Boruch spent a few minutes shaking hands with the more important guests. Suddenly he had another pleasant surprise. Not only were the press and radio stations recording the event, but there were two television crews filming relentlessly.
The highlights of the event would be viewed by millions of people on national TV!
Immediately on schedule, the formal part of the program began. Mr. M, one of the most prominent members of the Jewish community, introduced the event. Warmly praising the Rabbi and Rebbetzin, he made subtle references to the early accusations against them, and to how wrong they proved to be. He then introduced the (black) Mayor, who spoke with tremendous enthusiasm about the wonderful work of Chabad, and how crucial the Rabbi was for the community. When Boruch went over to shake his hand and thank him, the Mayor spontaneously reached over, and warmly embraced him.
Boruch was overcome, while vaguely aware of the furious whirring of the cameras. It registered at the edge of his consciousness that this was a picture that would undoubtedly take up the front page of all of the local publications! Then the moment was over, and it was Boruch’s turn to speak, just prior to the actual lighting of the menorah.
He was thinking that things couldn’t get any better, as he confidently strode over to the microphone, while reaching into his pocket for his speech.
But his hand was groping in vain. There was no speech to be found in his pocket.
For a split second, his hand froze in his pocket, when, to his horror, it suddenly dawned on him why there was no speech.
And the least of his problems was the missing speech!
You see, Boruch had recently purchased two brand new suits, in a sale at the local Gap store. Dutifully, he sent them both off to be checked for shatnez (a service not available yet in his own city). They were returned with the verdict: one was OK, while the other was 100% shatnez. So he used the good one, and put the other aside to be returned.
What Boruch realized in that terrifying moment, while reaching unsuccessfully for the elusive speech, was that, in his haste and nervousness that morning, he had inadvertently put on the wrong suit, the non-kosher suit, the shatnez suit!
After being alerted to this fact by the missing speech, it took only another split second for him to verify this fact 100% conclusively. He was, without any doubt, wearing a suit of pure shatnez. Shatnez d’orayso!
Remember, Boruch was standing in a large, open public area. There was nowhere to go, and nowhere to hide. The attention of several hundred people in attendance was all on him. The reporters and television cameras were recording his every move.
They were watching and waiting, what is he going to do now.
What indeed?!
He remembered, instantly, the halacha (brochos 19B, Yoreh Deiah 303), that one who discovers that he is wearing shatnez must remove it, even if he is in a public place (אין עצה ואין חכמה ואין תבונה נגד ה'). He knew that there was no loophole to get around this. It was an issur d’orayso r”l.
On the other hand, how could he even imagine doing such a thing (he was vaguely conscious of the fact that, were he to take such a step, there would most definitely be another choice for the front-page picture, - if the censors would let it by).
Never mind his embarrassment, never mind that he would probably go to jail, never mind that all the work that he did all these years would go down the drain in an instant, what he was contemplating would amount to a chilul Hashem of unprecedented proportions! And, on national television, no less!
[And this was not one of those places where he would score points for disrobing in front of an audience . . ]
He would, with that one move, confirm the worst of the accusations made against him. And much worse that the worst accusations.
Yet, he knew that he is first and foremost a Jew, and his first responsibility is to the Eibishter.
But, on the other hand, isn’t it the Eibishter who wants all of these people to have a positive perspective of Yiddishkeit (so that they would start practicing it)? Isn’t it for the Eibishter’s sake that he put in all the work, that he was so keen on making a good impression? Wasn’t it the name of the Eibishter that was at risk of being desecrated in such a terrible way? Could that be what He wants?
On the other hand, he knew that the Eibishter made it quite clear what He wants, through Torah and Mitzvos. Could he consider disobeying them?
But, then he thought, what right did he have to worry about his own frumkeit at the expense of the religious observance of hundreds of people, at the expense of destroying any chance of any Chabad Rabbi ever establishing himself in this city forever!
He reminded himself of the gemoro (Nozir 23B) “Gedolah aveirah l’shmoh”, an aveirah for a good cause is sometimes virtuous. He further reminded himself of the story with the melamed of the Rebbe, who, when discovered learning on Tisha B’Av, said ‘I’ll go to gehinom anyway, let them punish me for this; - for learning Torah’.
‘I can say the same’, Boruch mused, ‘I’m ready to go to gehinom, to endure any punishment imaginable, as long as I don’t have to be responsible for such a horrible scandal!’
All of these musings took less than a second, while Boruch stood there, at the microphone, facing the cameras, a big smile still on his face, but more torn than he’d ever been in his life.
What to do?!
He felt as if he’s aged a hundred years in that moment!
He could just imagine the headlines, the reactions, if he chose one course of action, and the resulting desecration of all that he held holy.
But to deliberately, knowingly, transgress an issur d’oyraysao r”l?!
What, indeed, does he do?
What should he do?
What would YOU do? And why?
Since I have to run now, I’ll stop here for now, and eagerly await your responses.
L’chaim! May we always have the wisdom and courage to make the right decisions (and when in doubt, to consult with our Rav, mashpia, or chassidisher Rov, and act accordingly, an option that wasn’t available to Boruch under the circumstances). And may the Eibishter show His Wisdom and Courage in making the proper, vital, crucial and necessary decision NOW, to bring us the Geula HoAmitis VeHashleima through Moshiach Tzidkeinu TUMYM!!!

I suppose this is fiction. Had I known all along, I don't think I would have been engaged enough to read it. Suspension of disbelief is tricky, eh?


  1. Sort of like the ending of the The Cat in the Hat.

  2. I supposed. The story is very generic (there's nothing that makes this town different from other towns; the rabbi makes a menorah lighting, the classic Chabad event) but also very specific (he bought the suit on sale at Gap, the mayor was black, it was shaatnez d'orayso). It just makes sense that the rabbi made it up.

    I may be wrong. I once claimed on the internal forum of my former employer that one of Rabbi Wagner's stories were fiction, and a whole army of Rabbi-Wagner fans berated me on the forum.

    I didn't even read the story carefully. So I may be wrong.

  3. Yeah, it could easily go either way. But I think that if it was real, he'd have provided the ending.

  4. indeed. the clincher that was.

  5. Like they say about the Ba'al Shemtov . . . oh wait.

  6. You're on a blogging spree.
    If it is true, and if the suit was publicly discarded I think the whole CH community would be chatting about it just because that's what happens with occurrences like these.

  7. And who buys suits at the Gap anyway?

  8. But anyhow, what would you do?

  9. Not saying that's the right thing to do, just what I would probably do.

  10. trs=anti=makes cheshbonos.January 10, 2011 at 12:57 PM

    The shliach took it off. everyone was alarmed. there was media at the menorah lighting, but when the suit came off the really big media got involved. the shliach got interviewed on many national tv stations and explained to ppl the importance of shaatnez. the locals saw what a sincere guy he is. They said, "If he takes that religion so seriously, i bet there's something to it." They all came to chabad and became frum, just like Onekleus' soldiers. and the shliach taught them, "Always follow shulchan aruch without cheshbonos. nothing bad can come from doing god's will."

  11. The trouble is identifying what G-d's will is.

  12. shulchan aruch=set table=god's will

  13. And the Beis Yosef and Ramah are arguing about...?

  14. I was so distracted that I by mistake stole e's computer.January 10, 2011 at 8:24 PM

    eilu v'eilu da"ch

  15. (that comment was regarding arguments)

  16. sarabone=am ha'aratz'te

  17. amar reb lezer, az men tzubrecht glezerJanuary 10, 2011 at 8:32 PM

    go you learn some gemara.

  18. go blog some gemara and maybe I will.

  19. advocate of the free worldJanuary 10, 2011 at 8:44 PM

    sarabone=am ha'aratz'te but sarabonne=perfect in every way.

  20. amar abaya, men darf koifn naye.January 10, 2011 at 8:47 PM

    listen here advocate, go buck a fuffalo.

  21. same advocate, shorter nameJanuary 10, 2011 at 9:00 PM

    with such an attitude, e is hardly positive.

  22. it's ε, not e.

  23. Then my reputation has been cleared?

  24. you trust the opinion of someone from fuffalo?

  25. what does buffalo have to do with it

  26. sorry, someone who "bucks" would trust their opinion?

  27. ≠≠≠≠≠≠≠≠≠≠January 10, 2011 at 10:21 PM

    sarabone ≠ sarabonne => buffalo ≠ fuffalo

  28. advocate of somethingJanuary 10, 2011 at 10:41 PM

    then ε can be positive and e can be negative.

  29. This possibility cannot be excluded.

  30. can e ever be ε though?

  31. I suppose it can, if you're transliterating something from Greek

  32. Epsilon is a completely legitimate choice of a variable, but using "e" would be bad form since e is a constant, approximately equal to 2.718281828459045

  33. Gedolah aveirah l’shmoh sounds like an argument some Conservative Jewish scholar would make. The same way they abuse eilu v'eilu da"ch.

  34. Speaking of Heterodox teshuvot,

  35. Excerpt from this week's letterJanuary 13, 2011 at 11:19 AM

    First of all, I have an apology to make. I realize that I used bad judgment, and it was a mistake to send out the e-mail that I sent last week.
    Apparently, it caused a lot of people to be glued to their television sets, so that – just in case Boruch decides to take something off – they can catch a glimpse before the censors block it . . .
    At any rate, let’s leave Boruch to his own devices for another few moments, and let me share with you a true story:

  36. meichashuvei habnei akivaJanuary 13, 2011 at 11:20 AM

    Rabbi Wagner's talmidim have television sets? Oy, meh hah lonu!


Forth shall ye all hold.