Tuesday, December 12, 2006
What's in a picture?
Hirshel Tzig asked me, Mekushor, to assist him with his blog duties. Since he pays so well, I agreed to occasionally post my thoughts (he pays extra for each comment, so keep the conversation going - ok?. Today's submission:
About a year ago, someone came to my house and informed me:
"You know, you have over 10 pictures of the Lubavtcher Rebbe in your home."
I said: "Interesting, I hadn’t ever counted."
He said: "So, you really think you need that many?"
I said: “I probably need more."
He said: "Why would you?"
I said: "Because I often forget the proper way to behave - I'm weak that way - if I would see a picture of a tzaddik this helps me. Those who don't have my problems don't need pictures - they themselves are their own Rebbes. You probably fit into that category"
He said: “I have no pictures of Rebbes in my home."
I said: "I thought so - you have a mirror instead, right?"
He was speechless, so I smiled and said, "What were you asking again?"
No big deal. But since then I’ve noticed that this is not an exclusively Chassidic practice these days. I see picture books of Litvishe gedolim past & present and I see homes with pictures of many Roshei Yeshiva and Litvishe figures. Why, on my block there is a house where they make a minyan for ma’ariv Motzoi Shabbos; I have been there a few times – a very nice Litvishe guy, described by a fellow there as the “last bastion of normalcy in an ever growing Chassidic Brooklyn” (they daven nussach Ashkenaz, of course) – and I noticed the pictures on the wall of the Vilna Goan and a couple other Litvishe figures, and it stuck me as odd: Since when did the Litvishe make their godolim into Rebbes? How old is this custom if hanging Litvishe gedolim on the wall? Does anyone oppose this practice?
Seems to me that this is an example of the world we live in: Oppose, lose, adopt the approach of the enemy, claim them as your own, claim yourself the victor. Yea, yea, politics as usual I guess. But I wonder, isn’t there a Litvak out there saddened by this?
But it’s really not the same anyway. When a Litvak hangs a picture on his wall, it doesn’t mean the same thing – they weren’t brought up with the concept of a Tzaddik/Rebbe figure.
I have an old friend from 8th grade - a Litvishe fellow; we don’t live close to each other, but we were good friends. He got a job as a rov out-of-town, but he would come to visit me from time to time. We spoke quite a bit, and I found it odd that in his life – even though he would, from time to time, speak to his former Rosh Yeshiva – he was quite sure of himself as the sole decision maker. He was very confident that as a rov, he was above the masses and atop the community. He isn’t an ego maniac or anything – he’s a very down to earth and friendly guy, but he doesn’t have the concept of bittul to someone else.
In truth, the vast majority of Litvishe folks that I’ve known – quite many – don’t relate at all to the concept of our individual smallness. It seems that without a Rebbe they don’t really have to take a backseat to anyone, so, they have a much easier time being comfortable putting themselves on equal footing with anyone. This seems to be somewhat of a Korach-ian ideal: who needs Moshe and Aharon? Veameich kulam kedoshim! Isn’t there something terribly lacking when the concept of tzaddikim is eroded to the point that we are all on one level?
I know that Mussar deals with this, but I haven’t seen it in practice; I went to some Litvishe yeshivos, and I lived near, and was friendly with, many fine Litvishe Yidden, but I feel bad for them in this way – you just can’t have it without a Chossid-Rebbe concept. This is not to say that everything is rosy in Chassidic-land, but on the conceptual level, this is a sad lack for them to live with.