Handing over the torch of Yiddishkeit

Handing over the torch of Yiddishkeit

By Harav Y. Reuven Rubin Shlita

Sadly, as the last boxes of Pesachdik pots return to their usual home in the garage, the feeling of Yom Tov seeps away and the daily hustle of the everyday regains its residence in our reality. All those wondrous shared moments seem as distant as another planet, and one can barely remember that uplifting vort heard from a Rav or perhaps a loved one.

Personally, over the Yom Tov period I cherish the opportunity to hear what the youngsters are talking about, and despite the fact that Boruch Hashem the youngsters seem younger as I must seem older, with each passing year, I still am intrigued at what they are thinking. There are certain subjects that can always spark energetic discussion and which bridge the generational divide, none more so than the state of “todays” society. Having lived through several “todays”, I sense that each “today” is just yesterday’s wearing a new coat of whatever passes for current trends. The nucleus of all human endeavour is the stuff of what humans have always been. We are all prone to the same foibles and have been so since Odom Harishon left Gan Aden.

“Transmitting to the next generation must come with the fire of emotional attachment, not just the cold ticking of scholastic boxes”

I have mentioned before that the Piaseczna Rebbe ztl wrote in one of his holy seforim: “The soul of a person loves to feel. It yearns not only for feelings of happiness but even for melancholy and tearful feelings. A person will listen to horror stories and watch violent horrifying scenes which actually bring him to tears, just so he will be able to feel. Emotion is the food of the soul; it is as much a need of the soul as food is to the body. A person who fulfills this need with emotional tefillah and study is nourishing the soul correctly. Prayer and study without emotion will leave a vacuum that will force the soul to search for emotion anywhere, even in sinful behaviour.” (Tzav VeZiruz)

I sense that the crux of much that we are seeing as “children going off the derech” can be found in the Rebbe’s profound understanding. His was another generation, one facing its own challenges, witnessing thousands leaving the hallowed halls of our traditions for pastures thought to be greener. Yet, he touches on the nub of the problem: youth (and the not so youthful) who are empty of any real enthusiastic Torah life are living with an aching void in their hearts which can soon be filled with the  excitement of the street. In my conversations with youngsters I sense this malaise. Kids can go to cheder and then on to yeshivas and sadly never feel the fire of what it is to be an Oved Hashem. Without that bren the young mind becomes a tinderbox waiting to be ignited by any passing madness making the rounds.

Over Yom Tov I came across this vort from Rav Yaakov Haber which illustrates this aspect: The Eastern gates to the Courtyard of the Beis Hamikdosh in Yerusholayim were called Shaarei Nikanor- the gates of Nikanor. They were beautiful, bronze structures that greeted the guests as they arrived from all over the Land.

Why are they called “Gates of Nikanor”? Nikanor was a Greek general during the Chashmonoim era. When Antiochus’s nephew decided to remodel the Beis Hamikdosh, he used his resources to import artifacts from the best craftsmen in the known world. He commissioned his general Nikanor to travel to Alexandria in Egypt to have these bronze gates custom-made. Nikanor decided to transport the cumbersome gates by ship, and while out on his Mediterranean voyage he encountered a life-threatening storm.

The general, seeing that the weight of the ship was too much to survive the storm, ordered one of the doors be thrown overboard. The storm, however, continued, and the boat rocked even more. The crew were ready to throw the next gate into the sea. Nikanor watched as the group hoisted the heavy bronze door into the air – and something happened. Nikanor ran to the gate and began to hug it. “If this gate goes into the sea, so do I.” The storm immediately subsided. Realizing what had just taken place, Nikanor began to cry over the first door that he had thrown overboard. When they finally reached the port of Acco and docked their ship, they found the missing door – under the ship – and promptly hung both doors in the Beis Hamikdosh. To remember this miracle the gates were called Shaarei Nikanor. (Talmud Yoma 38).

What stopped the storm? The fact that the future gates to holiness were on board was not enough to ward off the storm. The doors needed to be hugged!

Yiddishkeit starts with such hugging! Transmitting to the next generation must come with the fire of emotional attachment, not just the cold ticking of scholastic boxes.

The initial reaction to the storm affecting the boat was to throw the doors to Yerusholayim overboard. Lives are at stake – don’t rock the boat! But that didn’t help; Yerusholayim works on a different level: if we love the doors, if we express our passion for them, they remain with us, even if it takes a miracle.

I was captivated by some of my conversations with young men who are on fire with Yiddishkeit. They will argue their point with all the animated verve of those fabled Chassidim of old.

The Beis Yisroel zt”l would often quip that in today’s world, if a young man walks in the streets of Tel Aviv and keeps his focus on Hashem, he is a greater Chassid than those of the previous generations.

The task of today is to fill our hearts with the genuine fire that should be our love for Hashem. It will be this fire that will ignite the hearts of our young, and create the torches that will illuminate our tomorrows.


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