Saturday, December 20, 2008

"I Want To Be a Rebbe" Video: My Comments

It was with sadness that I watched the video "I Want To Be a Rebbe" on You Tube. I am told that it has been pulled numerous times and keeps showing up again. I do not believe that suppressing it is the answer.

The video shows the encroachment of materialism upon chassidic Jewish values. The portrayal of identifiable rebbes does not seem to be an identification of them specifically but of the general problem of inordinate respect for the wealthy and the desire to join their ranks. It is satire that has a connection to reality.

Chassidic Judaism is just one range of "flavours" in spectrum of Jewish orthodoxy from mizrachi to mainstream orthodox, from modern to Litvish. The general question of the spiritual challenges of wealth is not unique to this generation or to chassidim. The attitude that the poor and the struggling are "children of a lesser god" presents a big temptation to those who have "made it". It would be unfortunate if people other than chassidim were to smugly point fingers at chassidim when the same behavior may exist in their own community in different garb. It would be an even greater mistake to think that the challenge of wealth and accompanying pride is unique to Jews.

We are the only nation that canonises its protest literature . Our prophets do not pat the reader on the back. Some prophets were even killed. Jeremiahu was a political dissident, stating truths that his generation did not want to hear. He was devoted to Judaism and loved his people. It can not be said that his criticism was that of someone who opposed the Torah. That is what made his admonitions so hard to take. It is all too easy to dismiss someone who has discarded their faith. Jeremiah did not offer that easy way out.

Do we have any prophets today? Do we have anyone who surveys the whole range of our shortcomings from those of the rich to those of the poor , from the learned to the ignorant and admonishes us in a manner that touches the heart?

I feel that the way to make our prophets come live is to compare their words to our generation. I once heard a story about a Jewish drunkard in a shul in Boston who was thrown out whenever his alcoholic scent crossed the synagogue threshhold. In the declining years of the shul, when most congregants had left for the suburbs, the remaining members struggleg to maintain a minyan, a quorum for prayer. They ended up paying the drunkard to remain in shul for the duration of a minyan. In his declining years and that of the congregation, his value was appreciated.

The lesson of the drunkard is one that I reflect upon frequently. Without even knowing his name, he has taught me a great deal. Every person is born with a value and a potential that is not ours to scorn.

The State of Israel has a Law of Return. According to it, every Jew has the right to come and claim citizenship. The term for coming to Israel to live is "aliyah" or "going up". There are more commandments that can be observed in Israel, It is the land G-d promised us. That is why coming to Israel is viewed as an ascent.

Observant Jews believe that the Torah is true and that its commandments are meant for every Jew, that it contains also universal laws incumbent upon all. If you honestly believe that, then observant communities are a place in which one can spiritually ascend, to make an "aliyah".

The Right of Return is very important. Every Jew should feel a connection to the land that G-d gave us. I believe that there should be an additional Right of Return in exile. Every Jew should be offered a place in which to observe Judaism fully, and most importantly a Jewish education. No one should be turned away from Jewish education. From the gifted and devout to the dull and cynical, there should be a place for all. We have no right to appraise a Jewish soul as worthless, to treat a person who seems materially or spiritually poorer than us with scorn.

This attitude requires a realignment of communal priorities. It entails sacrifice. It will ultimately change the way we see ourselves , our value and our mission. We need to realise that it is a loss to the Jewish people when one of our number does not choose to learn and transmit our tradition. If we are not bothered by that, on a certain level it reflects upon the deepness of our commitment.

I have spent many of my working years among Jews whose level of observance ranged across a wide spectrum from Jewish in name only to very observant. The common purpose provided by a working environment enabled us to see value in each other. It is an experience that spreads to our life outside of work. Such awareness should shape the policy of Jewish organisations.

I am presenting this video at the end of this posting. I am asking my readers to view it as a mirror of themselves rather than a caricature of others. If you visualise materialism in different garments, even your own, then you will in my opinion be viewing it in the proper light. When we say the al chet, the confession of sins in the daily prayers, we thump our chests with our fists. We do so gently, hitting our own chest and not that of our neighbour. It is in that spirit that I am presenting this video.

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