Question & Answer With Neil Harris Of Modern Uberdox - Different Paths In Serving Hashem
A Simple Jew asks:
How has your background as a Litvak influenced you in terms of your choice of seforim that you learn and your general outlook on Yiddishkeit?
Neil Harris from Modern Uberdox answers:
My background as a Litvak (and I admit, I dislike most labels, with the exception of “Torah observant”) is really a label by genealogical association. My great-great-great grandfather was originally from Lithuania. As the first Torah Observant Jew of my family in, at least, three generations, I consider myself a Litvak.
I’ve been taught that the neshamah naturally gravitates towards Torah and Mitzvos. It’s how we are created. Environmental factors (where/how we are brought up or the traditions, if any, of our parents ) might block our natural flow towards Yiddishkeit, but the spark is there. Most people have found memories of the place where they grow up. When traveling to a new city, I always smile when I see something familiar like a particular bank chain, drug store, or a 7-11. It’s a landmark that I can reference. This reflects our neshmah’s recognition of Hashem and his Torah. Our neshamah connects to Torah.
I think that as someone who’s relatives came from Lithuania, I have over the years gravitated towards more towards the study of mussar than anything else. While becoming frum I was exposed the writings of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan zt’l, who’s knowledge and love of chassidus, and specifically Reb Nachman also has had an impact on me, but it’s not as noticeable within my personality. Not like mussar. While an understanding of Halacha is key of any Torah observant Jew, there is something about mussar seforim that resonates in me. From the time I first read the introduction to Messilas Yesharim I was hooked. I found that the sefer spoke to me in a way that other works hadn’t before. My mind was opened up to an entire system of ethical perfection that completely clicked with what I had studied in psychology classes. For me, the search for wholeness brought me to mussar.
My general outlook on Yiddishkeit most probably stems from the emphasis on emes within mussar, when ultimately stems from Torah. For me, the vehicle for emes is the Litvish tradition of mussar. No one group or sub-culture with Torah Judaism holds the copyright on emes. Torah is emes and the emes is Torah. They are one.
Each shevet had its’ own flag and individual identity, yet together formed National Achdus. Each shevet also had their own nusach of tefillah, yet Hashem accepts all of the tefillos of klal Yisrael. My desire to grow as a Jews and display an attitude of respect and tolerance for others is expressed through my willingness to read and learn from various sources. As children of an ‘orphaned generation’, as expressed in Eyes to See by Rav Yom Tov Schwartz, we must strive to reclaim a sense of Achdus, tolerance, and Kiddush Hashem regardless of our background.