Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Guest Posting From Chabakuk Elisha - Isolation

(Picture courtesy of a friend of Chabakuk Elisha)

Chazal say no two opinions are exactly alike, and lehavdil, Winston Churchill summed it up nicely when he said, "The best argument against Democracy is to speak five minutes to the man in the street."

My wife often tells me that I'm too opinionated. I generally have found great canyons of difference between myself and the people that I interact with. Thought my life, I have felt somewhat isolated and frustrated by the people – be they Jewish, non-Jewish, religious or non-religious – that I am surrounded with. At times I have felt as if I was indeed an Alien that somehow landed on some far flung planet for whom there is little if any common ground. But I imagine that this not all that uncommon – every individual is an entire world, and although I'm sure that some experience this more than others, in many ways we really all are an island.

I have often thought about Avrohom Avinu in this context. The passuk tells us "echod hoya Avrohom" – Avrohom was alone – and we can imagine how isolated he should have felt… one man who's views and ideals differed so completely with everyone he ran into; we can imagine what that must have been like. And while it would have been quite understandable for him to pack up his things and move to Walden Pond, nevertheless he maintained quite a strong connection with his fellow man. Yiddishkeit is interesting this way, we are given two messages, one of individual asceticism of sorts, and another of communal interaction: We are obligated to marry; we need to join (at least) 10 people 3 times a day, we have many social responsibilities and we're constantly told of our deep internal connection to our fellow man. Judaism seems to eschew the idea of living isolated atop a mountain in Tibet.

So, while I sometimes think that I would be better off far away from the rest of the human race, I realize that in-truth, although many things obscure this, the similarities are actually far greater than our differences. And when I think about it, I must admit that why shouldn't I feel completely at odds with the guy sitting next to me? I certainly know that I would be completely at odds with the person I was, say, 10 years ago – shouldn't I give everyone else that same luxury? Often this feeling of isolation comes from, a perhaps subtle or subconscious sense of superiority. It's often the ego that wants to build an ivory tower for our personal opinions and look down at the rest of humanity with disdain for their pedestrian or unenlightened ideas. It reminds me of a story that I have thought of many times in my life:

There was a Chabad Chossid that came to America before the war. He didn't like this new modernity that he saw among chassidim, especially the dress and appearance that he felt was quite un-Chassidic. He was known to rant on about those who came to the USA and started wearing these fedora hats in place of the Russian kasket – indeed this was one of his pet peeves. But one day, to everyone's surprise, he showed up in the very object that he had scored – a brand new fedora hat. The others asked him how he could have such a change of heart after making is opinion to the contrary so well known! So, he answered them: The Rebbe Rashab had often said that one should not make himself too different from his peers, because doing so is ego – so, once he had made peace with the fact that the kasket was a thing of the past, he recognized that he must conform.

Similarly, although I do often find myself on a completely different page than virtually everyone that I know, I realize that I have no higher standing than the next guy. I may feel somewhat estranged perhaps – just as I hope to progress in life to have further developed my thinking to a point that I am estranged from my current ideas – but it's important that this doesn't just become one big ego trip…

12 Comments:

At January 30, 2007 at 11:07:00 AM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

Question lemayse. Why did Chabad fell into this "modernity" mood? It dropped the levush (long), kasket etc. The levush is more or less understandable (it started long before America with the gzeyroys of the Nikolay I yimach shmoy in Russia). But somehow other chasidim restored the levush when they were able to (at least to some degree). Chabad didn't, and adopted maskilisher "daytchl" (short jacket) not unlike most litvaks did.

Kasket is less clear. Why did ALL russian chasidim dropped it so quickly and easily?

 
At January 30, 2007 at 11:21:00 AM EST, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

It's muvan v'gam pashut - the Rebbe dressed that way, and as Rebbe he saw himself as taking Chabad Chassidus and packaging it for the Modern - pretty alienated from Chassidic life - world (but really it was after the fact).

Someone once the Previous Rebbe why his son-in-law wore a modern hat with the brim bent down, and he said: "Mendel's zach is dira bitachteinim."

 
At January 30, 2007 at 11:33:00 AM EST, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

I also must say that, by far, most of the time Lubavitch shares the customs of the Lita.

 
At January 30, 2007 at 11:58:00 AM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

Customs yes, but not dropping of customs supposely :) Or they go together?

 
At January 30, 2007 at 12:37:00 PM EST, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

The cultural connections seem to show that as the Lita goes, so goes Lubavitch.
It seems to me that in general we each belong to our specific cultures more than theologies, etc...

 
At January 30, 2007 at 1:18:00 PM EST, Blogger Yosef said...

Was this post partly inspired by my comment to ASJ's post "conflicting emotions"? I translated a short piece from Likutei Moharan based on that pasuk, "Echad haya Avraham".

 
At January 30, 2007 at 2:29:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Yosef: No, it actually stemmed from an e-mail conversation between Chabakuk Elisha and myself in which we both expressed the feeling that we sometimes feel like aliens stuck on this planet.

 
At January 30, 2007 at 2:45:00 PM EST, Anonymous Breslov Shoemaker said...

CE:

So the Jewish "mountaintop" is in the middle of the congregation, while the Tibetan "congregation" is there on the mountaintop.

The trick, it seems, is to let the congregation be a congregation, and the mountaintop, a mountaintop!

 
At January 30, 2007 at 2:50:00 PM EST, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

Breslov Saposnik,

Well said!

Or as the Noam Elimelech taught - True hisbodedus is when is able to be in a state of deveikus and hisbodedus while going about their life amid other people...

 
At January 30, 2007 at 3:33:00 PM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

chabakuk elisha: And with such true hisboydedus Baal Shem Tov had such hardships, that his rebe - Achia haShiloyni had to help him.

Rebe himself also said, that he struggled to achieve such state, when one can be in dveykus while amidst people, and he did. But don't make a mistake from Noam Elimelech that it's one two three. On the contrary, as you can see it is very hard.

 
At January 30, 2007 at 3:41:00 PM EST, Anonymous moshe said...

"Or as the Noam Elimelech taught - True hisbodedus is when is able to be in a state of deveikus and hisbodedus while going about their life amid other people... "
The questin then is, if one is unable to reach true dvekus amid other people, which should be one's priority?...

 
At January 30, 2007 at 4:19:00 PM EST, Anonymous AlexJ said...

ASJ, Chabakuk Elisha, good news: you're not the only aliens on earth!... I feel the same as well... Great post, really: thank you ASJ, you put words on a feeling I oftenly have. Basically, I think it comes from the fact that our Neshoma is 'Helek Eloka mimaal mamash': that is, like G-d is One, we also feel like being 'one'...

 

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