By Rabbi Shimon Posner for COLlive.com
“Chatzkel Brod is toilet trained,” said one preschool morah to another. If you are of a certain age and upbringing, you laughed when you heard “Chatzkel Brod is toilet trained”. (If you didn’t laugh, read on anyhow.) Indeed, as Peretz Mochkin maintains, “In Lubavitch, there is a certain age bracket that when they hear my name they gasp, swallow hard and blurt out, ‘I didn’t realize Peretz Mochkin is gone that long’.”
I did laugh when told about the Morahs’ shop-talk because the name Chatzkel Brod does not speak to me of a toddler – presumably the great-grandson — but of a Russian-born, Kingston-Avenue butcher who had the nuance and sensitivity to recognize a newly-married couple needed something more than a cut of meat.
“This one is easy,” he said in either Yiddish or his richly-accented English, depending on the customer, “Dice the onion, (he would mime, never losing eye contact with his soulful eyes) and fry ’til they’re brown, add a little pepper. Salt. Nothing more. And you can do it on the stove top, too!” It wasn’t customer service, it was empathy, compassion for those haltingly navigating a new station in life. And for those he found too hard to please he rolled his eyes: “what should I do for them? (he raised his palms in submission) they want thirteen eggs to a dozen!”
He was revered for his dancing at chasunas. How he danced! Swirling and shouting and prancing up on top of the chairs wildly swinging his arms, demanding a faster and faster tempo: “Hup! Hup! Hup!” he bellowed in his native Russian. And then exhausted, he sat on the floor by the chossen’s feet. He was the reliable life of the party, I don’t know from whence it came, but he continued his virile swirls well into his older years.
In the early nineties, a woman was brutally, savagely murdered in her home in Crown Heights, leaving behind a houseful of orphans, and as we walked out of the Shiva (neither of us had personally known the family before this happened) I offered him a ride. Dejected, broken, he looked at me from the passenger’s seat. “Do you know how exhausted I am after a wedding? Do you know I can’t move for days? I take aspirin before and after. But I’d take ten chasunas over one of these shivas.” This is the Chatzkel Brod I remember.
Other giggle lines:
One Pesach, the Rubashkin family came to our Moshiach’s Seuda, and Sholom Posner sat on Getzel Rubashkin‘s lap.
Or that this same Sholom Posner’s roommate was Kehos Weiss.
Or, as I overheard two bochurim a number of years back (this one is so good it’s bad), Sadya Liberow and Bentze Shemtov are going skiing next week.
It’s funny and it’s beautiful, comical and touching, this continuum of values and namesakes in incongruous connections. But… what about those who’ve read this far without getting the punchline? The non-Gezhe, BT, tzu-gekuminner, gevoreneh, etc.? Yes, we know that their sincerity and mesirus nefesh can compete with or surpass anyone’s, but…
I was asked to speak to Anash in Minnesota and encouraged that questions — the type you’d prefer not to share with anyone who knows you — be posted anonymously on Google Docs. The theme of several questions was: does Lubavitch really have a place socially for the baal teshuva?
It’s is a fair and brutally honest question. Lubavitch is in many ways a village. A global village in a sense that Marshall McLuhan, who coined the term, could have never imagined. People are amazed at the “contacts” I have. Everywhere. And no, I didn’t meet them at a “convention” and how do I explain that I know them before I meet them? Our identity as Lubavitchers is founded on vignettes along with irreducible values. And lineage is an undeniable element of village life; you are never simply an individual. Family background cannot be discounted without losing something meaningful and worthy and indispensable in our self-definition as Anash, as Lubavicth. To surrender it would be a loss, and yet to maintain it seems to leave many, if not a growing most, in near orphanhood.
Before you advocate for either, consider that the answer might be money: Yichus is an asset. Like money. And assets are good things to have. About money they say, it’s not what you have – it’s what you keep. And how you invest. An old fox who’s done well for himself schooled me that there are three elements to wealth: making money, saving money and investing money. Each is an independent skill and outlook — and pitifully few master all three. And being born with money is a bad predictor of whether you will live with money; more likely is that one who is born with money never feels compelled to develop the sensibility and skill to manage their wealth well. It’s the ones who are born without that create the rags to riches inspirations. The born-wealthy might increase the wealth but rarely exponentially, remarkably. It’s like the distinction Chasiddus makes between the tzaddik and the… baal teshuva!
A baal teshuva in SoCal, let’s call him Berel Sanders, commented to me that while two or three of his children are Shluchiim in the boondocks, he rarely sees that in FFB’s his age; those born on Shlichus are most often within 50 miles of their parents. He has a point. And he misses a point, too.
Those shluchim of his age-bracket went to Timbuktu and from there experienced spectacular growth and incredible hatzlacha. And that exponential growth is more readily available to the Shluchim, his -Berel Sander’s – children, out yonder than those close to home.
The second-generation Shluchim can build on the efforts of those who came there — and that is vitally important — but it would be a mistake to think that those just going out are at a disadvantage. To put it another way. Think who are the big-name families in Lubavitch, or the old Shlichus dynasties. Sixty years ago they were unknowns, and in many cases, newcomers. Without Nevel yichus. And on some level, they too experienced the same angst of which Berel Sanders speaks.
Like the story of the Magid as a boy, whose mother was weeping over the fire that burnt down her home, including a Sefer Yuchsin going back to Dovid Hamelech. Don’t worry, the young tzaddik told his mother, I will write for you a new yichus.
Building wealth is not for a microwave mentality, it’s more crockpot than flash-in-the-pan. The brand-name Shluchim made their covered-wagon trek over fifty years ago. Fifty years is not long when you’re building a dynasty, a destiny. Stop one of these gents (or their wives) and ask them if joining the village was quick and easy or was it worthwhile.
I don’t know how things will work after Moshiach comes, but I can’t imagine our sense of humor will suffer. So one day, you too, Berel Sanders, your name will evoke a giggle just as Chatzkel Brod’s name does, because, well, Chatzkel Brod is toilet trained.