Monday, February 09, 2009

Question & Answer With A Wondering Jew - Learning Degel Machaneh Ephraim

A Simple Jew asks:

What prompted you to start learning Degel Machaneh Ephraim and what do you feel you have gotten out of learning this sefer?

A Wondering Jew answers:

In order to answer this question, please allow me to preface with a brief personal history. Although I grew up in a secular Jewish home, my connection to the Chassidic movement began twenty years prior to my birth. On my book shelf is a copy of Buber's Tales of the Hasidim. By its inscription, it is clear that this book was a gift to my maternal grandfather in the 1950's. Although he died when I was six months old, he was alive long enough be the sandek at my bris. I am still not sure exactly how I inherited this book. Unfortunately, I had not even peaked inside it until I was around 20 years old...

Well, life as a secular, searching Jew led me to study various religions in university. While making plans for a study abroad program in Bali, I met my (eventual) wife. She advised me to consider Israel. After some thought and the fear of required immunizations in order to travel to Indonesia, I began exploring Judasim in preparation for a 9 month journey to Israel. I remember sitting in the library at Florida State University being captivated by the fire and passion of the spiritual revivalist movement, known in the religion department, as 'Hasidism'. Something resonated within me. While in Israel, I became a full-fledged 'Groovy T'shoovy'. Fast forwarding 10 years with a wife and four kids, my family found themselves in an established Orthodox community in South Florida. I would often daydream about the long-lost thrill and excitement of being a fresh Baal Teshuva.

About three years ago, thanks to some help from the Kedushas Levi, I was alight again burning with the desire to understand the movement that had so captivated me. Just as the Besh"t sought to inject vitality into a cold, ritualistic Judaism, so too, chassidus was beginning to resurrect 'Hislahavus' within my own Yiddishkeit. I felt like I needed to get inside the mind and times of the movement's founder. I began a systematic quest to understand the origins of this movement whose deconstructionist approach infused G-dliness into every aspect of being. I began studying its historical background, its opponents, and its philosophies. (And here is the answer to your first question of, “What prompted you to start learning Degel Machaneh Ephraim?”) What better way to understand the original thoughts and philosohpies of the founder than to study the writings of his family members? The 'Degel', who grew up on his Zaide's lap, writes so personally about his grandfather in a way one might submit entries into a diary. Selecting this sefer to learn would have made perfect sense. However, this is not at all how I found the Degel. As matter of fact, the Degel found me. I remember the day clearly. I walked into the local Jewish bookstore and a small book on the shelf caught my attention. I opened it up and, gevalt, the front page said that it was from the grandson of the Besht. For $6.95 I had a first hand witness of the holy Baal Shem Tov.

Now for your second question, "What have I gotten out of learning this sefer? " Spending time with the Degel is the closest thing to being a fly on the wall in the home of the Baal Shem Tov. This cannot be overemphasized. But, in addition to this, I have grown from his warm and personal style. The Degel, I believe, is raw Chassidus. There was not yet a plethora of Chassidishe seforim from which to quote nor were there generations of potentially inaccurate transmission. What exists in this sefer is direct Chassidic philosophy straight from the 'wellspring'. Learning the Degel is like drinking from the water fountain. It is this that I have gotten from learning the sefer.


At February 9, 2009 at 8:47:00 AM EST, Anonymous YY said...

A wonderful story from a wondering Jew! Yasher Koiach. I took the liberty to follow your link and enjoyed what I saw. I can certainly identify with your need to provide an authentic derech for your kinderlach. I'm sure Hashem will continue to help you in leaps and bounds as long as thier chinnuch remains your priority.

Btw, I'm also just starting to appreciate this blog since ASJ contacted me, asking for my perspective on Slonimer Chossidus! Iy"H, it will be posted next week. I think you'll find it enriching. I also have something on blogspot that I once thought I'd keep up, but actually only get to every few months or so. Still, you may like perusing.

At February 9, 2009 at 9:53:00 AM EST, Anonymous A wondering jew said...

YY, thanks for the feedback. I look forward to checking out your blog.

At February 10, 2009 at 1:10:00 AM EST, Anonymous Ap Halevi said...

Not really connected, but i wanted to know if you knew anything about or ever posted anything on: if there is any specific order to lekutei maharan. Thanks
gut purim


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