Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Learning Aleph-Bais from An Illiterate

Imagine a person to ashamed to acknowledge his own identity; or, sadder yet, a person who doesn’t even know his own identity. Picture a soul so lacking in self-confidence that it cannot look you in the eye; or, sadder yet, cannot even look itself in the eye. Think of a mind so devoid of education that it rots away in its own ignorance, but not ignorant enough for the rotting to be in bliss.

Now imagine the potential such a person, such a soul, such a mind must have. It has no limits. It has nothing, and thus has nothing in its way. It is a raw receptacle, a budding flower, an innocent child. It is the reason I left the comforts of home for the unknowns of the road; it is my mission. It is the reason we all leave the comforts of heaven for the unknowns of earth; it is our mission.

I sit in Vasvari Pal Utca, number 5, reading the Aleph-Bais with a man named Shuni. Do you know what it’s like to teach a grown man both the literal and the figurative Aleph-Bais? It is like nourishing a starved child; like pulling a drowned ship from the swirling waves.

You, dear reader, may think that when I talk of starved children, of drowning ships, of ignorant minds, of unidentified identities, of self-conscious souls, I talk of the people here in Budapest, people other then myself. But reader, if you were to think thus, you would be terribly mistaken. True, they may be some – or maybe even all – of these things, but, then, how would I know?

When I talk of these things, I only talk about myself:

Before I left for Hungary, I was an ignorant child – even if I knew cerebrally that there is a purpose for all things and an underlying and unifying message, it was, like I said, only cerebrally; it wasn’t factual, or even actual; it was nothing more then a novel idea. I was living in a personal ghetto, though it is hard to admit, where all was sheltered, or shall I say, imprisoned, within the confines of self.

Only after entering 5 Vasvari Pal Ut. and teaching Aleph-Bais to a man named Shuni, have I begun to teach the “Aleph-Bais” to myself. Only by helping somebody else find his way, have I begun finding my own way. Only by changing somebody else have I begun changing myself.

If not for Shuni’s Aleph-Bais I wouldn’t know how to “read”; or, sadder yet, without Shuni’s Aleph-Bais I would still think that I know how to “read”, I would still think that I know it all. It takes someone who is as pure as Shuni, with no ghetto barbed-wire distorting his view, to show me that I am more ignorant then he is: he is taking a step in life which I, for better or for worse, never had to take – until now: now, when it isn’t about me anymore, I must decide is this what I want or is this not what I want. When sitting in Yeshiva, in a cozy blanket, shied away from the outside world, what I do has no real affect on people; however, now that I learn with others and am no longer in the “comforts of home”, I must decide: do I or don’t I want to live this life; otherwise, not only am lying to myself, I am lying to others, and once they see my insincerity, how can they remain sincere?

I only wonder if Shuni, and all those like him, know what type of affect they have on their so-called “teacher”. And, as I can now relate to the words of the Sages, “I’ve learnt much from my teachers, I’ve learnt much from my friends, and, from my students, have I learnt the most”, I can only hope that Shuni, and all those other pure souls out there, have learnt, from me, just one iota of what I have learnt from them.

6 Comments:

Blogger Dovid said...

Jakey, your words are true and they capture the "shlichus experience" like no other words I have read.
Great writing. I'm going to continue working my way up your blog (I like starting from the begining). Take care and keep on sharing.

5/23/2005 1:44 AM  
Anonymous Yossi said...

Right on brother!

From Lighterblog.blogspot.com

Go inspire....
I am in touch with a person who has recently started becoming more religious. Each step of the way is an inspiration for me. See, I was brought up religious. As can be expected, I take allot of Yiddishkeyt for granted. But to watch a person transform themselves before my very eyes is an inspiration each and every time that - does not get old.
When she kept her first Shabbos and then could not stop talking about how beautiful it was - I began to feel like I was keeping Shabbos for the first time. Actually appreciating Shabbos for what it really is supposed to be.
When she began to keep Kosher, I not only got a good refreshing of the laws of Kashrut, but began to be more careful with my own Kashrut. It became alive. Each stringency, the reasons and the logic, all became so clear in my head.
She is (too) often apologetic about the nuisance she is to me. She feels bad asking so many questions and thinks she is wasting my time with her ignorance. I just cant seem to find the right words to make her believe me that every time I speak to her about Yiddishkeyt I am the one who is benefiting, and so much more. Maybe it will take a couple years, when she is helping someone else out to become closer to Yiddishkeyt, until she will fully appreciate what I am saying.
Mitalmiday yoiser mikulom. I am not a teacher and she is certainly not my Talmid but you understand what I mean......

5/26/2005 12:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're writing is beautiful- it would be even more beautiful if there were more of it to read on your blog:)

6/23/2005 12:03 AM  
Anonymous A Friend said...

You blog has some potential, but it wont go anywhere if you don’t relax and just be yourself.
The whole attraction of a blog is that you get to see the person unmasked, you gain a glimpse of another person life, if he is an interesting person with a interesting life his blog will be interesting if he is a smart person with a thoughtful life his blog will be sophisticated.
You blog feels like a showcase like a glass cage in other words it doesn’t feel like you are letting us in your life it feels like you are trying to make on us an impression.
You give this impression with the melodramatic tone of your articles; additionally you are towing the party line saying all the nice, right, things a Chabad boy is supposed to say. If you want to go anywhere show us some individuality, some of your doubts, and a general unorthodox side.
The problem seems to start with the fact that you are not posting anonymously, everyone knows who you are: and in you crowded community if you won’t post the right things you wont get a good shidduch!

6/27/2005 5:20 PM  
Blogger The Bearded One said...

hmm, that would suck, not getting a shidduch. shape up!

8/06/2005 5:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are asking him to be himself

But what is "Himself"?

Are we what we feel or what we are?

9/28/2005 1:50 AM  

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