May 20, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Moments pass and memories fade, yet the soul’s truth is everlasting. The spiritual mountain top of meaning is where clarity prevails, yet the steep physical climb and descent sees freedom fleeting. Such is the tale of the Wandering Jew navigating the ultimate showdown between guf (body) and neshama.

While the path of Pesach is paved with freedom, the target for many is off-center at best. Is freedom simply a physical “get out of jail” card? Absent a clear internalization of truth, the result for many will be far astray.

The Sfas Emes profoundly explains that humans are a synthesis emanating from both the upper and lower worlds. This reality necessitates a life of spiritual ascents and descents, waxing and waning, slips and rebirths, full moons and new moons.

The mission of a Jew is to descend to the depths of this lower world, collecting inner sparks from the physically mundane and elevating them back to the side of holiness. Unlike malachim who are locked in at levels upon high (referred to as “standing” or “omdim”), by overcoming the obstacles of life, a Jew can soar ever higher.

A life immersed in Torah is the Jew’s ultimate key to unlocking the shackles of our personal “Mitzrayim.” The Sfas Emes compares a free-flying bird spanning the world before returning to its nest with its “finds” to a Jew searching for the hidden spark of holiness in the physical world and returning it up above.

I am moved by the powerful story of the character known as Brooks in the classic movie, “Shawshank Redemption.” While serving a decades-long prison sentence, Brooks becomes known as the prison’s beloved librarian. Finally paroled as an old man, Brooks symbolically releases his bird “Jake” before nervously stepping outside the prison walls to embark on his maiden steps of freedom. Unable to cope beyond the prison walls, Brooks tragically brings himself to his final demise.

I have long perceived Brooks’ story as representative of the fact that freedom from rules is not freedom at all. A Jewish life bereft of meaningful connection to Torah and service of Hashem leaves one to despair in the prison of emptiness, while the opposite is fuel for a true life of freedom and happiness.

The individual’s path to freedom is true for the collective as well. While current events of recent months leave one to despair, emunah in Hashem’s ultimate plan helps remind us that amidst the storied history of our exile, our destiny has never been closer.

There is a powerful story, “Choice of Time Machine Travel,” penned by Rav Guy Aleluf and shared by Rav Ari Waxman:

“Somebody once asked me, “If you were in a time machine with the possibility of going back to any point of time, which time would you choose? Ma’amad Har Sinai? The Chanukas Habayis of Bayis Rishon” (Dedication of the First Temple)? My answer was much more modest. I said that I would want to go back 80 years to the “Schultz Shop,” the shoe factory in the Warsaw Ghetto where they made and fixed shoes for soldiers in the German Wehrmacht.

There, amongst the famous Rabbanim, I would hear the Rav of Kozhiglov, Rav Aryeh Tzvi Frumer, who was the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin, having a deep conversation with the Admor of Piaseczna. I would hear them being oseik (conversing) in Torah with malachim of shamayim above them. I am sure I would hear the great Rebbe of Alexander speaking about matters of Chasidus with his friend, the Admor of Sokolov, and I would hear the Goan Rav Menachem Zemba explain deep and detailed sugyas of Gemara.

When they would notice me, they would probably be taken aback. Immediately, they would notice that I don’t look like someone from their time and place.

Ver biztu?” (Who are you?) they would cautiously ask me. And I would respond, “Mein Yiddish iz nisht azoi gut. Ich beser tzu reden in Lashon Hakodesh, Ivrit” (My Yiddish is not so good. I speak better in Hebrew, the Holy Tongue).

“Hebrew?”They would seem shocked.

“Yes. That is my language. That is what I am familiar with.”

I would tell them that I come from the future, not that far away, all-in-all 80 years ahead, and I wanted to see the awesome scene of Gedolei Hador being oseik in Torah as they fix the shoes of the vicious German enemy. Then the obvious question would be asked. “What will be with us?” they would ask with a heavy Ashkenazi accent. “How will it end?”

I will choke on my tears, swallow my saliva, and tell them that nobody will survive. They will all be killed by the evil enemy.

There will be a moment of silence. Each of them is deep in thought. And then, all of a sudden, one of them will jump forward and ask, “But if all of us die, who are you? You look like a Jew.”

“Yes, I am a Jew. I came from Eretz Hakodesh, Eretz Yisrael. We have built a Jewish state there, “Ish tachat gafno v’tachat teanato”(Every man (sitting) under his grape vine and fig tree).

A look of shock will replace their look of pain. “Eretz Yisrael? A medina (state)? Jews? It’s unfathomable!”

“Yes,” I will continue, “exactly that. Already five years from now, the Jews will establish an independent Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael. At the beginning, it will be very difficult with wars and deaths, however, we will have our own army, and we will win the wars, and already during my lifetime we will live with great security and we will be one of the leading countries of the world in many areas.”

The joy amongst them will be overflowing. One of the Chasidishe rebbes whom I didn’t recognize will start singing a niggun. In a moment, all of the voices will join with a deafening sound which will seem to cause their imminent death to be forgotten. Suddenly the rav of Kozhiglov, who was known for his extreme sharpness, quieted everyone down in a matter of rebuke and forcibly asked, “But what will become of the Torah? We will all die al kiddush Hashem. This I can accept. But what will be with the heilgeh Torah?” he will cry bitterly.

“I am happy that the Rav asked,” I will respond with a smile. “Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin, which the Rav heads, will be re-established in Eretz Yisrael. Thousands of talmidim will learn there and some will become great Rabbanim and Admorim. The writings of the Piaseczna Rebbe, who sits here in a quiet tefilla, will be learned by thousands, and maybe hundreds of thousands of people, more than the number of Jews in all the Warsaw Ghetto. The seforim of Rav Menachem Zemba will be famous in yeshivas, and in general, the world of Torah and Chassidus will blossom like never before. In our medina,” I will note with pride, “there are more people learning Torah than there ever were in Jewish history.”

The joy on their faces will make me qualify my words. “There are some problems. Not everything is perfect.” However, after everything that I told them, they will probably tell me that compared to what they’re facing in the ghetto these problems sound trivial.

And then at the moment that I’m getting ready to leave them, the Alexander Rebbe, filled with life experience and an understanding of the depths of the nefesh, will stop me and ask, “But if you have a time machine and you could’ve visited any time and place, why did you choose to visit us?”

And shyly I will respond, “I knew that only you would understand that I live in the greatest time ever.”


Daniel Gibber is a longtime resident of Teaneck and is a VP of Sales at Deb El Food Products. In addition to learning as much Torah as he can, he is also privileged to speak periodically on the topic of emunah and be involved in Jewish outreach through Olami Manhattan. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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