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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

 

REBBE SHLOIME TWERSKI ZTUK"L - A DARING BEGINNING

This week, on Sunday, Isru Chag [Simchas Torah in Chutz L’aretz, the Diaspora], was the 25th yahrzeit of Rebbe Ben Zion Chaim Shlomo Meshulam Zusia Twerski, ztz”l, Admor of Hornosteipel and Rav of Denver, one of the foremost Rebbes, in my opinion, of the 20th Century. The Rebbe’s words reverberate in our hearts, and continue to inspire us till this very day. [See also last year's posting, here.]
I am proud to present some of them below, a dvar Torah of his that was put into writing – something that was done only rarely. But first, I would like to present a short glimpse into some aspects of his personality, which I have excerpted from an article written by someone who was privileged to live in his home. I strongly suggest reading the entire article, which is linked below. I addition, I will discuss a bit more about the Rebbe ZT”L’s negina.

***

the following is excerpted from “Missing the Rabbi,” an article in memory of Rabbi Shlomo Twerski, by Varda Branfman:

The Rabbi was incorruptible. I knew it when I sat across from him during one of our private talks, and I knew it as I watched him speak in front of a group. He spoke slowly, and everything outside of his very presence went on hold. Even a person without much discernment or taste for truth might know that they were hearing something out of the ordinary. It was a rare exposure to truth. But that wasn’t all. I had known people who called a spade a spade. In the past, I had gravitated to poets and artists who were busy trying to unearth it. But this was different. His truth was inseparable from himself. He was truth…
He didn’t talk about “easy” things. If we wanted the truth, we knew it wouldn’t be easy… His answers were never predictable, hardly ever black and white. I remember him saying that truth is an area rather than only one point. With his guidance, we found places in ourselves that we never knew existed – reservoirs of strength that gave us greater clarity…
In the Rabbi’s presence, we felt connected to eternal truths. Elsewhere, there might be ready answers to our questions, but here we glimpsed the light of eternity clarifying the issues that troubled us… With the Rabbi, we felt that we stood in the presence of a whole person, a totally “real” person who never, for a moment, took his finger from the pulse of reality…
The Rabbi didn’t make baalei teshuva, he made people. He didn’t have to sell the Torah, because he trusted that it was compelling enough to sell itself. What the Jewish world needed was real people who were fulfilling their individual potential instead of being the shadow of what they could be by simply taking on the roles and uniforms of Jews committed to Torah observance…
and finally:
A friend from that time in the Rabbi’s house came to visit us in Jerusalem recently, and he told us a story that reminded me what it was like to encounter the Rabbi.
My friend had met the Rabbi when he flew out to Denver for my wedding. A few weeks later he was faced with a vitally important life decision. He had asked various people for advice, and he had heard a lot of opinions supporting one or the other choice. It seemed to him that his whole life depended on making the right decision.
He was unable to decide by himself, and he felt so strongly that the Rabbi would be able to help him that he flew out to Denver again, just a month after he’d been there for my wedding.
They sat face to face at the Rabbi’s dining room table, and my friend presented the pros and cons of choosing one or the other. It took him about a quarter of an hour to lay the whole thing out, and the Rabbi sat silently and listened. Until that moment the Rabbi hadn’t said anything, but then he stood up and slapped my friend on the back, “Well, take a shot at one or the other.” And then he left the room.
At first, my friend was stymied. He wasn’t sure if the Rabbi had really understood his dilemma, but then he reflected on the confrontation he had just experienced and realized that the Rabbi was telling him something he hadn’t expected to hear. The Rabbi was telling him that the choice between one or the other was not the crux of the matter. His own personal growth might not depend so much on the environment he found himself in, but rather on the way he, himself, chose to respond. The Rabbi had swerved him away from obsessing about the external factors and had changed the emphasis to the quality of his inner life and depth of commitment.
At another time, the Rabbi told one of his closest students, who also came to him with a difficult life-decision question: “Listen, my friend. I wish I could tell you what to do, but you have to know that the place of a decision is the loneliest place in the world.”


***

Which brings us to the Rabbi’s, or Rebbe’s own words and inspiration for this week, Parshas Breishis. Although they were intended for Rosh Hashana, they have to do with the creation of Man and his purpose in this world; and are thus certainly appropriate to this week. Please note how the last sentence quoted above aligns with the end of the Rebbe’s piece below.

***

A Daring Beginning
Rosh Hashana, from a published pamphlet by Rabbi BZ Shloime Twerski ZTUK"L

We confront and experience the Days of Awe every year and as a consequence, take them for granted. Rarely do we feel that these days have a lasting effect on us. I am sure that the greater impression is made on our hidden personality, and that our Neshamos (inner life spark) are enriched by the sanctity of these days. Is there a way to tap this huge potential?
Torah has told us long ago, and it has recently been reaffirmed by our accumulating knowledge about the human mentality, that the soul and the subconscious are great absorbers of experience. Then what stands in the way between this inner expanding and the outer awareness? When the first man ate from the Tree of Knowledge, what perverse turn did Man's ability to know take? Perhaps the answer lies in the words to ''know'' good and evil. Another way of saying it might be that we ''know'' before we learn.
Education, especially self-education, should be with some kind of open mind. If there is no freedom of thinking, all new knowledge merely becomes an adjunct to previous prejudices. If we cannot question our premises, we use all experiences only to reinforce what we already know. Instead of growing, we stagnate and become rigid. The mechanism that we use is “control”. Before we enter any experience, we project ahead of time what it is that we will learn and what we expect to be as an end result of the experience.
The emotional background for this is blind, overwhelming fear. We are terrorized by the idea of change and of a new experience. No matter how deeply we hurt, no matter how impossible our present state may be, the fear of the unknown, of what might happen if we are open to change, is even more painful.
If we look at our society, at our government, at our institutions, we will see that they are all aimed at one and the same goal: preserving the status quo. All efforts are concentrated on making the world more predictable. The constant spread of government into all areas of life, the increase of regulation, the stereotyping of education, the stifling growth of organized living, all reflect the terror we have of change and taking chances.
If we know what we're going into before we grow, how free and expanded can growth be?
The Shofar of Rosh Hashana is the voice of freedom, but do we truly realize the content of the shofar?
The first shofar comes from the ram that substituted for the attempted sacrifice of Yitzchak by Avraham. We don't see what tremendous chances Avraham was taking. Besides his own parental feeling, he was putting his whole ideology into question; he was putting his entire posterity in doubt. What happened in this cosmic gamble is the prerequisite that is unavoidable. Fear and control are the arch-enemies of self-discovery.
The only strength that can serve as a basis to overcome fear is trust.
Trust in G-d and thereby trust in that which He created in His own image: us. The inner person can be the source of new life only if we believe in the existence of this hidden energy.
Rosh Hashana is the day of the creation of mankind. It must be realized that the man the story of creation tells us about is a human being capable of free choice.
If we accept man as the victim of his heredity and environment, we are rejecting the man of creation.
To accept man of creation, of a being created by G-d with an inner energy capable of constant growth and modification, takes courage and daring.
Has modern life and technological society strapped us of our courage and willingness to dare?
Every individual must confront this question in painful loneliness.

***

THE REBBE’S NIGGUNIM:
As mentioned last year, the Rebbe composed a stirring niggun for “Pis’chu Li” in Hallel; actually, it begins from the words, “Lo Amus.” In addition, he composed “Hishbati” [from Shir HaShirim], "Yodu LaShem" [Tehillim 107]; and collaborated with his son, Rebbe Mordechai Dov Ber Shlita, on the "Denver March" and “B’Rosh Hashana” [from Unsaneh Tokef]. All of these can be found on an 1987 recording called “Heart Work” by Rabbi Mordechai Twerski and Klezmer V’od, which is currently out of circulation. However, “Hishbati” also appears on “Rabbi Israel Sings: Mi Kamocha” by Yisrael Rabinovich [may be available only in Israel]. And finally, Rabbi Menachem Goldberger has a song on his L’cha Dodi recording dedicated to the Rebbe called, “Simchas Torah.”

Zechuso Yagein Aleinu - May the Rebbe's merit indeed protect us all!

UPDATE:
Varda Branfman's husband Yaakov, has an article on Rabbi Twerski that can be found here.

Comments:
We were glad to see my wife's article getting around. For those who are interested, it was excerpted from a chapter in her book, "I Remembered in the Night Your Name," subtitled: "About Finding Our Way Back to Places We've Never Been." If anyone wants more information about the book, or to order it, she can be reached at vardab@netvision.net.il.
Or you can view the book on our website: www.carobspring.com. (Bookstore).
Also on the website is another article about Rabbi Twerski,ztzal, by me, called, "Pulse."
I also have an article by the Rabbi about taharas ha mishpacha, if anyone's interested.

B'brocha,
Yaakov Branfman
 
Your story about the Rav's instructions about crucial decisions, the person must commit to something by himself, reminds me of the children's classic "Wizard of Oz." Dorothy had the power to go home all along.
 
Rabbi Twerski's grandson, Yankie Nisan, has just published a book called Malchus Shlomo.
It's a collection of all the Rabbis tapes, student notes and minhagim.
It's translated from English into Hebrew.
Biegeleisen's has the book.
 
Hornosteipel is against breslev, no?
 
I asked Rabbi Twerski, ztzal, about Rebbe Nachman, and he was very enthusiastic about him.
 
sounds rare 'cause the skver dinasty is aginast breslev...so maybe all the twersky are against, maybe not...baruch HaShem maybe the hornisteipeler not.
 
Yaakov & Varda Branfman: Thanks so much for sharing "the Rabbi" with us! I've added a link to your "Pulse" article as well.

Batya: thanks for your insight. As you pointed out privately, Oz = strength. And I'll add that it appears that the author of Wizard was Jewish - his name was L. Frank Baum.

Nama: thanks for stopping by. It's great to hear from old friends [Nama was our shadchanit, among other things].

Ilan: I don't think it's so important to see who's for and against Breslov; rather, you should appreciate R. Yaakov's answer.
 
Its very, very important...
 
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