Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Pre-Kol Nidre story C.A heard at his frum neighbor's house

Dear Mr. Bear:

I pass this story on to you in hopes that you will publish it in your blog and I can get some reactions from your (mostly) Orthodox readership. The fact that this story is presented fir children as an example if proper teshuvah has, I fear, the potential to warp the moral sensibilities of the next generation of frum kids.

Basically, what happened was that Ms. Apikoris and I were invited over to our frum neighbors for a pre-fast meal. Naturally, we take any opportunity for a free feed, especially in this case, Ms. S____, the Ba'alat Habayit is an excellent cook, even better than me, and the daas Torah of the S family is that while it's a big mitzva to fast on Yom Kippur, it's an even bigger mitzva to eat well the day before Yom Kippur. During the meal, Poppa S____ read this little tale from one of the frum papers to his kids as an example of teshuva, which, of course, we were supposed to be doing big-time during the upcoming hours.

The story concerns a certain Reb Mendel (not the name used, I don't remember the exact names used in the story), who was a chasid of the Seer of Lublin back in the old country. Anyway, Reb S. had three daughters of marriageable age, but they were stuck in spinsterhood because Reb M. had no money for dowries. Why? Because he learned Torah full time. (At this point, one of Poppa S___'s teenaged daughters said, sotto voce, "why din't the guy get a job?" There may, indeed be hope for the next generation of frum children.)

Anyway after much nagging from his wife, Reb M., goes to Lublin and scores an appointment with the Seer in hopes of getting a handout of some sort. The Seer isn't such a frier, he tells Reb M. to go to a certain hick rural town, check into a motel and see what happens. (If this chasid is so poor he can't marry his daughters, where does he get the money for the motel -- ok, it was an "Inn," they didn't have motels back when the Seer of Lublin lived.).

So Reb M. goes to the inn, where he meets the innkeeper, Reb Baruch, who is a very nice guy and gets Reb M. all set up. Some time later, late one night while Reb M. is studying the Holy texts by the light of a guttering candle, he gets a late night visitor. No, it's not Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Yom Kippur, past presents, and future. It's a guy who used to work at the inn, was trusted by Reb Baruch (he was the melamed for Reb Baruch' kids!), and for that trust, embezzled a big bag of cash from the innkeeper. Now, after some years, he is consumed with guilt, and never having spent the stolen money, he wants to do teshuva and return it.

Now if I were Reb M., I would have told him to stop bothering me, but go downstairs to return the money and apologize the Reb Baruch. Wouldn't you? But apparently this penitent thief didn't have the guts to do that, and so he dropped the bag at Reb M.'s feet and slunk away, especting Reb M. to clean up the mess. I'm sure Reb M. felt real good spending the night with a bag of stolen money in his possession.

So the next morning, Reb M. goes to Reb Baruch with the money and concocts a story about getting a dream to remove some floorboards where he found it. It's not clear why he felt the need to do that. Reb Baruch is, indeed pleased to get his money back, and says that he had figured the thief was the sleazy melamed, but now he ses that the mealed is innocent, it was obviously the black janitor (OK, I guess they didn't have African-American janitors in 19th century Poland, but you get the idea.) He is so grateful to get the money back, that he gives Reb M. a nice reward, a reward large enough to marry off his three daughters.

And everyone lived happily ever after. (Except the janitor, who''s going to get falsely accused of the theft.)

How can anyone use this tale as an example of real teshuva? I should leave it as a class exercise for the DovBear community to explain why it's not, but what the heck. How can you call it teshuva when the thief melamed didn't face the person he harmed (Reb Baruch)? How can one consider justice to be done if the thief gets totally off the hook and suspicion falls on an innocent person (the janitor)? Shouldn't Reb M. have told the truth about how the money was returned? This is the worst of all possible endings: The melamed doesn't do real teshuva, and will get hammered by the Abishter in olam haba (if you believe in such things), Reb Baruch is going to falsely accuse an innocent person, and Reb M. is going to get money without getting a job, furthering the unproductive chassidic lifestyle. Oh yes, and there will also be three unlucky guys ho will have the unproductive luftmensch Reb M. as a father-in-law.

Of course, I was too polite to call BS on my host for reading this story, but I thought it might provoke some interesting discussion (anything being more interesting than politics) amongst the DB community.

Sincerely yours,
Conservative Apikoris

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