Monday, December 1, 2008

Guest thoughts

A couple of things happened to me today that restored my faith in mankind. Number one, I, along with a bunch of guys here, was interviewed by the New Jersey Jewish News for an article they're doing about our response to the attack this past week. I didn't say anything particularly brilliant, and if I make it into the article I'll make sure to post a link. In general, we just said the usual trite things, as can be found in any of the many articles currently posted on shmais etc.

The second thing which happened to me today was that I received the following email from Harotze B'ilam Shmo. I don't necessarily agree with everything he said, but at the exact same time, I think he does make a lot of sense. So please, ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, and fish of all ages, lend your eyes and hearts to the following:

Since you were bemoaning the scarce activity in your pathetic inbox I decided to have pity on your wretched existence and send you something. Truth to be told, I'm sending it more for me than for you. It seems I need to vent; it seems you are the perfect outlet.

The following are jottings of a somewhat incoherent thought process [if you can call it that]. Take it or leave it. Feel free to comment or to completely ignore it. In short do with it as you please.

ג כסלו תשס''ט

Yesterday I saw an open letter by a Shliach addressed to G-d. It made me laugh. It was a cynical, bitter "you think He's listening?!" laugh.

Over Shabbos a senior community figurehead was trying to sell the whole positive spin thing typical of the party line. Something about there not being a newspaper in the world that doesn't have "Chabad House" on the front page, "יש נביא בישראל" and other such nonsense. I lashed out at him.

I'm just a young pisher who refuses to leave his brains at the door. I don't think I said anything that others weren't thinking – whether the fundamentalist inside of them admits it or not.

The raw emotion pain is only one aspect of it. There is also the resurfacing of the philosophical/theological problems which are older than time - The Problem of Evil, G-d being all benevolent, and His השגחה [or lack thereof]. It's events like these that shake the very bedrock of out belief system.

Don't get me wrong, I may not be Augustine but I do know that there may be no good answers to many of these questions [if there are any at all]. There's a reason why they call it faith. Fine, I'm ok with that. I can accept that we need to bite the bullet and tough luck. But why the pathetic need to grab at intellectual straws. Be human. Say I don't know. Let it hurt. Can we let the bodies cool off before we it.

I have no doubt that by the time the Kinnus HaShluchos comes around, if not before then, a tear-jerking video presentation will be put together. When it will be shown there won't be a dry eye in the room. They'll be 10 more Shluchim sent to India and we'll be able to say "See, we don't back down. We only get bigger and stronger". Whoopie doo! How does that answer any questions? Do you feel placated? Vindicated?

Again, I'm no idiot and I understand the need to capitalize on the זמן התעוררות when we can reach people normally beyond our scope, and of course time is of essence, but even the Rebbe only responded to the Kfar Chabad massacre three days later. It's as if, if one is to be a proper chossid or Shliach they must have the robotic mechanical auto-pilot divorced from any human emotion. As if we lost the capacity to feel.

I'm not sure what I want with this. It seems I'm rambling. I probably am. I'm fine with that.

Of course in retrospect we will look back and see how we have grown stronger, how we did transform the pain, loss and grief into comfort, rebirth and newfound positive energy. That's what we do; that's who we are - As Jews in general and Chassdim in particular. What bothers me is when people mistake futuristic retrospect [how's that for an oxymoron] with the very painful present.

If there would have not been a Churban Bayis would Judaism have flourished in the Diaspora? If there would have not been the holocaust would an independent State of Israel [whether you like it or not] exist? If there would have not been Gimmel Tammuz would there be 4000 Shluchim across the globe? In all probability the answer to all those questions is a resounding no. Therefore what?

Our brave responses to those horrific happenings are only testimony to the greatness of our people, not greatness of our G-d. Our response does not justify His actions.

You can all me a heretic [I can back these statements up with traditional sources jftr], but by the Churban G-d slept, during the holocaust – He slept. He slept on Gimmel Tammuz. And on Rosh Chodesh Kislev 2008 once again – G-d slept.


Nemo said...

Dear Mr. Ilam Shmoe,

It seems that you have a problem with our people's compulsion to respond to tragedy. I ask you - is there any other way? Shall we, as a community, endlessly wallow in sorrow before looking for for inspiration and life again?

It is necessary to have a response in this internet age, where the Lubavitch families without cable television are nonetheless exposed to all the graphic horrors piped in to their computers by Indian television. Impatiently waiting while Indian forces dallied around outside the Nariman House and mumbling Tehillim beneath our breath, we have been dealt a heavy blow.

Our unshakable faith has been shaken by a death that, by our estimation, could not happen. The murders butress the age-old philosophic query "why do bad things happen to good people?" Gabi HY"D was that person who we Lubavitchers aspire to be. He was a chossid, yirei shomayim, lamdan, practiced what he preached, loved every type of Jew. He was a true shliach who gave up all the amenities of a frum community for the Rebbe and klal Yisroel. He was friendly, outgoing, loved by all the Jews that he encountered and made them want to come back to his Chabad House over and over. Rivky HY"D was the epitome of a Shlucha and a loving mother. These two individuals were the archetype of chassidus today. According to our worldview and conception of reward and punishment, they should have been spared. "Shluchei mitzvah ainan nizakein." Yet they were ruthlessly killed.

So, while it may seem obsessive to " it" so quickly, it is essential to our faith that we find some way to conceptualize G-d's deleterious treatment of good people. Within the first 12 hours of the 36 hour siege, almost every Lubavitcher in the world knew who Gabi and Rivky Holzberg were. We attached ourselves to them and prayed that they would be saved. Every Chabad institution as well as many regular Jewish schools, shuls and yeshivos, were saying Tehillim for them. If the couple's merits alone couldn't save them, surely hundreds and thousands of praying Jews should have evoked G-d's mercy. Alas, that was not the ultimate outcome. As we watched the events in India unfurl and prayed for some bit of good news, our faith was being challenged. Even the most faithful (or intellectual) of chassidim do not understand why G-d would do such a thing.

The immediacy of the responses served two purposes. First is because those authors and speakers are searching in their faith and knowledge a way to explain the tragedy to themselves. Second, because we need it for ourselves, for our own communities, to assure us that what we are doing is what G-d wants of us and that he will protect us in it.

It is true that all this is also an Eis L'asos to be mekarev others, but it really is there for us. We need to know how we should react to the unfortunate events.



Just like a guy said...

I'm not going to respond, but let me just say that your response was pretty darned good. I'll see if Mr. Anon says anything in his defense before saying anything myself.

Anonymous said...

I too felt that the articles were written just a tad too early in this instance. Guessing Rivky's thoughts just before she died, writing letters to moishele...All beautiful and good-intentioned, but before the couple is even buried? Its too fresh, too painful to subdue or justify it through mere words. There are no words.

Nemo said...

TRS: I was not trying to quash Harotze B'ilem Shmo's (hereinafter HBS) gripes so much as I was trying put forward a little perspective. He needn't defend himself because his complaints are not without substance. Indeed, the phenomenon of trying to find meaning in madness, to devise a transcendental explanation in sheer terror, has always been fruitless. Can writing the same old thoughts - substituting new names - really make these deaths more fathomable?

HBS is right, there is no point to explanations where human explanation miserably fails. Stating that this is all part of some grand divine scheme or that we mustn't answer for G-d is hardly satisfying.

But it reminds us of our belief system, I suppose. It gives us some comfort. Lets us know that part of our philosophy is that we may never fully understand philosophy. It's not a fault; in some way it's a human need. Some people, recognizing the circular nature of all philosophic inquest, take comfort in believing that there is more to life than what satisfies us intellectually.

e said...

HBS, I really like what you wrote. I felt that you were expressing real human emotion rather than the "right" responses from the books.

People: before you religify the whole thing, just take time to feel.

e said...

I'll tell you what, was right to " it" while the bodies were still warm. We are in danger of religifying the experience too soon and not feeling any real emotion, just statements from books. But the regular visitor has had so little religification of suffering, that he could use a good dose of to mitigate his grief.

Anonymous said...

I concur with your second comment. I too do not believe that our statements need reconciliation, rather מר אמר חד...ולא פליגי.

I, for one, have no problem with peoples 'compulsion to respond to tragedy' at all. I do sometimes take issue with how the choose to do so.

As I wrote to TRS, mine were some very raw and unsystematic thoughts. That's all. I had no specific message or purpose. My response to the tragedy if you will.

I didn't write this to mimic Boteachesque sensationalism, my intention was not that it should even be 'published'. I was merely jotting down my hurting thoughts that UI shared with a friend.

Of course should it. I recognize that and agree with that. In fact, knowing many of the staff I know that carried out their thankless task with teary eyes and a heavy heart.

My beef was is with sensationalist hyenas who exploit anything and everyone for a shred of popularity. Who feel the need to sloganeer, captionize and systemize everything they touch. I apologize for using the term.

Just like a guy said...

Oh man, what's with all the touchy-feely garbage? Can't you people fight or anything?

Just like a guy said...

Oh yes, and I would like to say that I'm quite proud of us here at TRS for coming up with a new verb, "to," meaning, "to interpret events in the context or religion to the exclusion of all other implications." Yes, when this verb makes it into the OED I certainly hope that proper credit is given to TRS and his faithful minions.

Nemo said...

And here I thought we took it to mean: "to interpret events in the context of religious agenda-driven emotional expression to the exclusion of all rational thought."

Nemo said...


Anonymous said...

My beef was is with sensationalist hyenas who exploit anything and everyone for a shred of popularity. Who feel the need to sloganeer, captionize and systemize everything they touch.

Wait, "Rabbi" Getzy M., doesn't publish his Simple Thoughts until Thursday.

e said...

Oh, won't that include sensational hyena-like exploitation of anything and everyone, lots of sloganeering, and hopes of increased popularity for the Jewish thinker of simple words. And best of all, anyone who balks and barfs at Getzy's drivel will be accused of not mourning the Holtzbergs enough.

Anonymous said...

More so, they are the living legacy of the dead terrorists.

Anonymous said...


the "" term has been coined and copyrighted by me and i retain all exclusive rights.

I appreciate your understanding.

Just like a guy said...

Touched: I like your cynicism, please come back every day and share some more.

HBS: who are you? What are you talking about? Who do you think wrote this whole post exactly?

Anonymous said...

It's me. The one who sent it to you. Using the pseudonym I was given here.

Just like a guy said...

Yeah, sure. Who says that I'm not just having a conversation with myself here?

Nemo said...

Probably. It seems like all of us are taking on fake personalities here.

Nemo said...

HBS, your predictions are coming true all too soon. JEM and JLI have already released their dedication videos. Even the Hareidi music industry is also capitalizing on the opportunity with a music video.

P.S. I wonder why JEM couldn't get a decent voice-over to do their production.

Nemo said...

Oh, and as long as I'm being critical, the fake Israeli accent in the JLI video was just offensive to English-speaking Israelis everywhere.

e said...


I wrote earlier that for, it's appropriate to things. And for JLI and JEM, it's appropriate to JLI and to JEM (respectively, of course). Chill this wasn't for you.

RE: voice overs. I don't know. I haven't watched the videos. I know that the ppl here at are raving over it.

TRS, could you had an option in the poll "who the blet is naftali?"

Just like a guy said...

I could have, but then naftali wouldn't have found out if he should get a haircut or not. Everyone would have voted for that third option.