Thursday, March 1, 2018

Biegel The Holy ז"ל A Purim Eulogy for the Hero of the Florida School Massacre

guest post


Beigel The Holy


Y.Y. Bar-Chaiim Adar 5778 / Feb. 2018


How great are Your deeds, O’ G~d;
All of them with wisdom have you made;
the earth is filled with

Psalm 104

This is going to be hard.
I have never met Mr. Scott Beigel. Nor do I know much about him. I don’t even understand why his last name is different from that of his parents, the Shulmans. And really now – doesn’t the difference between those names sum up the difference between religious and cultural Judaism to a tee? You know – bagel, that soft round bread nosh associated with Western Jewish culture, versus shul, the Yiddish name for Synagogue?
Bridging those worlds has been a task which many a more talented Jew has struggled to achieve.
Yet the truth is I know all I need from a few news accounts of how Mr. Beigel was murdered by a rampaging young psychopath this last February 14th, in a suburbian American high school with a relatively large Jewish population, along with two other members of the teaching staff and fourteen students (14!), and how his heroic sheltering of more fortunate students was remembered by them and his family. These tidbits have fired my soul with deep love for this simple Jew who, like his name, never lost the sacred space within his middle.
Still, who am I to eulogize him? I was in the midst of writing about an audacious new hasidic high school educating for what I call Three Dimensional Judaism when I read the news on Mr. Beigel. Could there be a connection?
Let me begin this daunting task by following King David’s lead, as he sings “As for me? I am my prayer” (Ps. 69:14). This writing is one long prayer seeking to tap into the kind of selfless love that not only drove the heroine of the Purim story to risk her life and soul to save the her nation, but also a humble American public servant to do his version of what boils down to a similar act. It’s a spiritual quest to understand why the latter eerily mentioned to his fiancé, after watching a report about an earlier school shooting this year (as reported in the New York Post): “Promise me if this ever happens to me, you will tell them the truth — tell them what a jerk I am. Don’t talk about the hero stuff!”
Scott, I am hereby identifying with your cause. I mean, what kind of a j-e-r-k would play with a tragically murdered man’s name like I have?! Only one who believes there must be deep meaning driving someone who prophetically senses how he’ll leave this world to insist on his memory being associated with that fascinating term.
A few weeks before the massacre was the yahrzeit, anniversary of the passing, of one of the early leaders of Hasidism, the Jewish spiritual renewal movement from 18th century Eastern Europe. His name was Rebbe Avraham HaKohen from Kalisk, known today as the Kalisker. He became a legend in his own time in that he was a great religious scholar who had once been associated with the opponents of Hasidism and then suddenly switched camps to become one of its most colorful adherents. It all began when he heard that the leader of the movement at that time, known as the Maggid (storyteller) from Mezritch, was electrifying Jews everywhere with his critical view of the reclusive ways of Torah scholars like him. So the Kalisker sent his good friend, Rabbi Aharon, to meet the Maggid and flesh out his ideology.

Rabbi Aharon returned to find the Kalisker immersed so deeply in study that he didn’t even notice him standing nearby. So he leapt in front of the Kalisker and boomed: “There is such a light shining in Mezritch, enlightening the entire world, and you seclude yourself from it all??” Then he gave over the Maggid’s spin on the last line of the psalm which heads this article. It normally reads:
The world is full of Your (G~d’s) acquisitions

But the Maggid taught it should be read:
The world is full of ways (for us) to acquire You
Hebrew can be interpreted from multi contextual angles like that. The word in question, kinyan-ekha, is a compound of the words “acquisition” and “yours,” but it’s not clear which acquisitions and why the Infinitely Sovereign One would be associated with acquiring anything. One only acquires something he doesn’t have! So the Maggid offered a brilliant new take and the Kalisker was so deeply moved that he sprung to his feet and insisted on going to Mezritch.

The rest is history.
But now let us ask: Was the underlying idea really so novel? Surely it was known to the Kalisker, as per the famous verse (Prov. 3:6): “In all your ways know Him.” In the study hall, the forest, the bathroom, the store – wherever you are, seek to be in line with your Creator. So what’s so different about the call to acquire G~d everywhere?

The answer, according to a teaching I heard on that yahrzeit from Rav Moshe Kapolovitch in Elad, Israel, is that the Maggid’s reading was reflecting the general hasidic orientation of “uplifting this world” as the ideal of Judaism. This is in stark contrast to the ideal of the normative Judaism of that time: Withdrawal from the world as much as is feasible for basic survival and Torah observance, and save all your passion for Torah learning.

The reason why hasidic Jews shifted their passions into much more this worldly activity, the Rav explained, is that they believed it was the best means for building a palpable relationship to G~d, which is the essence of Torah observance, as per the verse (Deut. 10:20): “And to Him you shall cleave.” The power of mitzvos, Torah Commandments, they believed, is in their causing us to ACT for G~d. When that happens, we liberate the divine sparks embedded within the forces used for that action. They are no longer trapped within the upper worlds of the mind and heart. Such liberation makes those sparks so thankful, so to speak, that they immediately join our spiritual war efforts to constantly cleave to Him.

In other words, Rav Kapolovitch concluded, the rule of war is that when you enter enemy territory you’re in grave danger. Even if you have a powerfully victorious momentum, all it takes is one slip and you’re surrounded. But if you have behind you a whole camp of reinforcements, you have the opportunity for recovering and re-advancing. And that’s why we bless the performance of each mitzvah: Barukh… asher kidshanu b’mitzvosav, Blessed be … He who makes us holy through His mitzvos.

Blessed be the Provider of holy war reinforcements.
In the Book of Esther we learn the origin of Jewish holy war. It took place when the clandestinely Jewish Queen Esther approached the clownishly anti-Semitic King Akhashverosh, at a time normally forbidden for doing so, in order to plead for her people about whom he had just decreed genocide (Est. 4:11). Her bravery was not just in risking the death penalty if he’d reject her unconventional timing or the actual audacious request, but in risking her spiritual well-being to assure her success. She did that by conveying to the king that she deeply desired his intimacy. As the Talmud delicately puts it (Megilla 15B): “Until now she came to him under duress, but now she did so with will.”
In light of the Maggid’s teaching and the amazingly vibrant piety movement that emerged for over two hundred nears now, we can understand that the Talmud is teaching us about the passion she poured into that marriage, even though she was repulsed by it! That is, her nature was repulsed, but her soul knew differently after being guided by the saintly leader of the Jewish People at that time, Mordecai, to do everything possible to cancel that decree. In a flash, she realized that by engaging this extremely non-holy man’s intimacy with all of her holy being, she’d be making kinyanekha, an acquisition on her relationship with G~d through that normally very forbidden marriage, liberating myriads of divine sparks to rush in as powerful reinforcements for the overwhelmingly beleaguered Jewish war effort of that time.
The novelty of this spiritually-uplift-or-bust orientation cannot be understated. Never before had it been achieved on a completely unified, national level. Moses had come close in his response to the Golden Calf fiasco by grinding up the calf and having the former idol worshipping Israelites drink it, and then praying with them for forgiveness on that first unbelievable Yom Kippur (cf. the classic teaching about this day being merely K - a lesser version of - Purim). But as we know, many Israelites were lost in the civil war which preceded that. In contrast, Esther’s entire generation succeeded in accepting, for the first time in Jewish history, the Torah through love (Talmud, Shab. 88:A, Rash”y).
The Nesivos Sholom, the contemporary hasidic classic (Maamrei Purim, pp 46-51), offers us psycho-spiritual context. There are three dimensions, it explains, through which to serve G~d.
Teva, disciplining nature; reverence
M’al HaTeva, transcending nature; love
M’al U’m’al HaTeva, Uplifting nature; selfless love
The second category requires Mesiras Nefesh, sacrificing our physical needs. The third requires Mesiras Ruakh, sacrificing our spiritual needs.
Historically, the patriarchs worked primarily through the first dimension, which is what is meant by G~d’s declaring to Moses (Ex.2) that He had made Himself known to the forefathers through the name E-l Sh-dai – the divine force guiding nature. They respectively stood out for serving Him through acts of social kindness, digging wells, raising children, etc. Of course we all know of their unparalleled ventures into dimensions far above nature, but it was in the first dimension where they made their biggest impact.
In Egypt, however, as that verse comparing Moses to the patriarchs goes on to announce, the Israelites were being guided into the second dimension, indicated by the extensive usage in the Exodus narrative of the main Divine Name – Yod-Hei-Vav-Hei – which we reverently refer to as HaShem, THE Name. THE dimension within which the Jewish people, as a nation, were born. This dimension is all about Mesiras Nefesh, proving the limitations of physical nature in the face of spiritual truth. Which is what our Passover retelling of our newfound faith at that time is all about. It’s not that the Israelites had lost and regained mankind’s most basic faith in the existence of the Creator. Rather, they suddenly learned an entirely new dimension of how He facilitates our connecting with Him.

Serving Him through nature is only the beginning.

Alas, before we knew it, this brand new two dimensional faith hit its limit as well. The Israelites were hemmed in between the sea and their pursuant tormentors. So they did all they knew how to do – cry out to the trans-natural One. His response (Ex.14:15): “Why cry to Me? Go forward!” Of course this couldn’t mean that G~d doesn’t value prayers. He had explicitly answered their prayers in Egypt (Ex. 3:7, 4:31)! Rather, the Nesivos Sholom carefully explains, He was nudging this nation uniquely chosen for their capacity to learn how to fully serve Him, beyond “Me.”
Beyond all agendas.

The Israelites took Him up on it. They would cross the sea with only love in their hearts. No panic nor desperation nor comfort-seeking of any sort. Only pure, unadulterated desire to cleave to their Creator especially through this world.

This is what the saintly Rebbe Shmuel Weinberg (1849-1915, author of the Divrei Shmuel hasidic commentary on the Torah and holydays) etched into eternal relief when he asked on his death bed why the Israelites sang as they crossed the sea (Ex.15:2): Zeh E-lee v’anvehu, “This is my God and I will glorify Him.” How could anyone claim the Creator is his?, the dying saint beseeched. “Only when you give up everything to serve Him!”
E-v-e-r-y thing. Even your spiritual agendas.

His disciples suddenly understood the story within the story of the Exodus. The greatest miracle was not that a menacing body of water split for rescuing distraught victims of a cruel empire, but that those “victims” danced and sang and savored every single step through the journey! No rush, no hysteria. Only unbelievably joyous service. As the Noam EliMelekh hasidic commentary teaches on the verse (Ex.14:29): “And the children of Israel walked on solid ground within the sea”– they entered the sea with the intention to never stop walking, even once they got to solid ground, with the same joy and gratitude as they were experiencing through the muddy sea bed!
That’s called spiritual transcendence.

Three dimensional Judaism.
And yet, it didn’t last. What happened? Doesn’t reaching the highest dimension assure eternity? Nope. The forces of this world never relent in their counter attacks. Our only hope is to maintain and continually supplement our reinforcements. Mitzvos, divine Commandments, at every opportunity. Of which at that moment, before receiving the Torah, the Israelites had woefully few.
But Esther’s generation was different. Centuries had passed since receiving the Torah, entering the Land and building the Temple. She knew that the Jewish people had a humongous arsenal of mitzvah-merits upon which to draw. And so she famously sent word to the entire nation to pray for her as she prayed E-lee, E-lee … (Midrash on Ps.22:2).
Why twice, when only one E-lee at the sea was sufficient?
Because the Israelites needed only one kinyan, acquisition, for making it faithfully through the sea. But Esther’s Jews needed one on the king and one on the subsequent war which they had to wage entirely on their own against the king’s subjects who had not been directly affected by Esther. Unbelievably, this totally non-military, outrageously persecuted minority stepped up to the plate, Warsaw ghetto style, and without anyone explicitly leading them, nor outright miracles of any sort, totally succeeded in that war.
V’nahafokh hu / And all was upside down !
(Est. 9:1)
That three dimensional war effort caused an unbelievable turn around, within and without. As the Book of Esther concludes (8:16): “The Jews had light and happiness and jubilance and glory.” It’s alluding to specific mitzvos (Talmud, Meg. 16B):
Light = Torah,
Happiness = Holydays,
Jubilance = Circumcision
Glory = Prayer-focus (tefillin from the root tefilla)

They now “had,” in the sense of acquisition, a stable cleaving to their Creator through these mitzvos.
But wait. Didn’t we say that there’s a difference between Torah learning and action mitzvos? Indeed, the metaphor of Light is intrinsically different than the others, which are human experiences. It therefore stands to reason that their “having” Light is referring to how we approach the Torah, as expressed through these representative mitzvos.
Happiness/Holydays = mitzvos within nature.
Jubilance/Circumcision = mitzvos transcending nature.
Glory/Prayer-focus = mitzvos uplifting nature.

They had become Three Dimensional Jews.
Back to Scott Beigel.

How did this sweet, all-American Jew manage to muster up such selflessly responsible thinking at such a totally panicky moment? He must’ve had a whole slew of mitzvos behind him. I have no idea which they are, but I do know this: They revolved around the attitude he seared into the heart of his fiancé.

“A jerk; not a hero!”

Dr. Stephanie Sarkis wrote on the Psychology Today website, back in 2012, a refreshingly real-life article called 6 Reasons Why You're a Jerk. Those reasons are subtitled: 1) You only talk about yourself, 2) You use offensive language, 3) You’re pushy and intrusive, 4) You’re mean, 5) You disrespect other opinions, 6) You whine. She gives some great examples, which in my view all come down to the idea of cavalierly screwing up a good situation. Talking about yourself to someone who wants to hear does not make a jerk. Being pushy to those who could care less doesn’t either. A bona fide jerk is the guy we had presumed is cool, kind and caring and then he j-e-r-k-s our sensibilities to the contrary.

Oy yoy yoy, dear Scott. I know that issue. How often does our Maker do for us a kindness and we repay Him as jerks? Pushing our agenda over His Torah. Disrespecting His multi-dimensional reality and then trying to make ourselves out as heroes for being so “independently” minded.

I hear, loud and clear, that your soul knew something very deep when you asked that of your beloved. A jerk is not naturally heroic. He needs mitzvos. In contrast to those typically hailed as heroes, who are trumped up to appear wired as such from birth. It just doesn’t work that way. Truly heroic acts are caused by jerks who never stop seeking mitzvos.

Thank you, Mr. Beigel, for teaching me, and perhaps many others, that.
May your family be comforted this Purim when we all celebrate as holy beigels! When we relish how even the biggest jerk in history – King Ahashverosh – could come around to serve G~d without even knowing it.

It’s because he made sure, in his own bizarrely clownish way, that he too had a sacred space wherein Divine light could enter when it counts.

A faith opening through which three dimensional religiosity could sprout and thrive.

1983 -2018

May His Memory Be
for a Blessing

For Information

On Educating For

Three Dimensional Judaism

Please Check Out:

Torah Academy
המדרשה החסידית

For an excellent video documentary, click here:

No comments :

Post a Comment

please use either your real name or a pseudonym.