A Post-Simchat Torah Open Letter
to both my Frenzied & Rational Friends
Fervent, zealous, fanatical frenzy.
Rational, calm, serene.
Which one would you like to be?
Here are selections from my post-Simchat Torah diary.
Simchat Torah, Sunday, September 30
Had the unique opportunity to see life in its
full glory play itself out right before my eyes, with its
multi-paradoxical flavors and nuances.
First I see a group of my friends finish dancing
at 9:30 PM, walk home with their spouses – how sweet! – with
their cleanly pressed clothing and self-satisfied faces.
Pathetic! For years on end we saw the Rebbe
dance until the wee hours of the night, in a never-ending
surge of energy. How can you now complacently walk home and
go to sleep before curfew?!
Good news is that this first group is quite
I then see, on the other end of the scale, thousands
of Chassidim celebrate with frenzy in an intoxicated dance
that stretched hour after hour into the night, and then some,
continuing into the morning. Yes, frenzy. I had no idea where
it was coming from, but as I saw multitudes reach an infatuated
fervor, I hear the skeptic inside of me wonder: “what distinguishes
this passionate fervor from those of brainless cult followers?”
The first were normal, the second crazy. The
first balanced the second radical. The first calmly walked
home, the second probably forgot about their homes.
Which way of being is better? Is there an in-between
option? Can a soul be on fire and remain grounded?
These and many other questions roil my mind
as I recognize how these two extremes reflect the spectrum
of life all over. Which is better: raw, untamed energy of
youth or the balanced experience (resignation?) of seasoned
adults. Are we doomed to embrace one or the other?
This struggle also captures the troubles plaguing
our religious communities. Reminds me of the words I always
speak when I visit the Carlebach Shul in the Upper West Side
of Manhattan: “There are no perfect communities and shuls
in the world today. In some places Rosh Hashana feels like
Simchat Torah, and in others Simchat Torah feels like Rosh
Hashana. Some synagogues celebrate Purim very well, and others
specialize in Tisha B’av (saddest day in the year)… Some have
love without discipline; others discipline without love.
And finally on the political scene, extremists
seem to always take center stage. Left and right. Chesed and
gevurah. Tiferet – the center path – is a rare and elusive
commodity. Balance and harmony of both extremes fused together
is hard to find. We have ‘centrists’ that are ‘weak in the
middle’ and uncertain or vague, they either don’t take a position
or take a weak position, or they straddle the fence and ‘tantz
oif aleh chasunas’ (‘dance at all weddings’ – a favorite Yiddishism
expressing insecure ambiguity). Tiferet is the strength to
synthesize passion and control. To reach an equilibrium between
tension and resolution. Rotzo and shuv. Reaching, reaching,
reaching upward – the fire of Simchat Torah, and then drawing,
drawing, drawing downward.
All these thoughts whizzed by me as I watched
the two different groups celebrating Simchat Torah.
Yes, for several hours unrealizingly I sadly
became an observant Jew – observing events instead of creating
them. Until I caught myself and surrendered my ego, throwing
myself into the impassioned frenzy.
So here’s my open letter and plea to both my
Oh rational ones, inject yourself with some
passion, even frenzy. Learn from your brothers how to break
out of your smug attitudes and self-imposed boundaries. Get
out of your mediocre structures, let loose and dance, truly
Oh frenzied ones, ground yourselves. Study and
internalize your passion. Build something. Take all your frenzy
and passion and channel it into a productive spiritual revolution.
Let us recreate the world anew – as we begin
the new Torah reading cycle and read: “Bereishis boro Elokim
es hashomayim v’es ha’aretz” (In the beginning G-d created
heaven and Earth) – a new world order, radically different
than the one we lived through last year. Enough complacency.
Let us set the world on fire – the fire of spiritual passion
that transforms rather than destroys.
Together let us create a true revolution: Passion
with poise. Using structure to defy structure.