Sunday, January 30, 2005

Him, Me and I

The Tish is for me an opportunity to surreptitiously observe my fellow Chassidim with their guard down. Designed as a confirmation of the Chassidic dogma that God can be served in the mundane and minutiae of everyday life, the Tish is essentially when a crowd of people stand around and watch their Rebbe eat. The meal, it seems, was deemed to be the one Friday-night activity where the individual was most likely to get so carried away by the earthly sensations that he could forget that he was really doing it for God. Watching the Rebbe glide through the process so effortlessly would no doubt inspire our divine souls to convince our debased bodies to follow suit, so we watch him eat. Times were different then I suppose and we should be grateful for that.

I used to think I suffered from a split personality because, in some way, I was able to switch off from being part of the Tish and become an outside observer. I used to refer to it in my head as looking in from inside. It worried me until, in a chat with a fellow shaigetz, I discovered this feeling is not unique to me.

There is a kind of bonding that usually occurs when you are packed into the bleachers at a Tish. It is a feeling very difficult to describe to one who has never felt it. I am told it is similar to the feeling you could have when, say, Spurs play the Gunners and the supporters get really fired up. In fact, I don’t think the feeling can be quite the same because sports is about winning and losing whereas the Tish is just a joining of hearts and minds. Whatever the psychology, I well remember the sensation of losing my individuality and becoming one with the crowd.

Leaning forward to stare rapturously at the Rebbe as he swallowed a morsel of fish. Hardly breathing as he mouthed off his lechaim blessings. Though I was far too far away down the hall to possibly hear a word he was saying, still I leaned forward every week to better hear every holy word not feeling even a tad ridiculous. I sang my heart out lustily and jumped when the Rebbe looked lebbedik, and went all intense and emotional whenever he did too.

Today I no longer get that feeling.
Today after slipping into that place I find myself a tourist looking on in fascination. I notice the one behind me who is flying away, completely oblivious to all around him. The one across from me with the shifty concentration is worried about coming home late but cannot drag himself away. The one over on the right is, like me, looking around and taking-in the scene. I might wink to him, either get a wink back or his face will redden and he will shift position and I will know I have found one still in denial.

I can tell the different personalities within this state. The good-hearted ones who want to share what they are feeling. They look around for someone to give a thumbs-up to when there is a great ‘vort’ in the Torah. They want the stranger, there for the first time, to see all the great bits and feel the sweetness. They will move over and help someone new find a good place to see from before beamingly arranging for a scrap of much fingered gefilte-fish to head his way.

Then you have the exclusionists who have a one to one relationship at the Tish. They are always saying shshhhh, because their transmission with the Rebbe is interrupted. They consider all other people at the tish as superfluous anyway so they are certainly not going to find a place for someone who shaves his beard. As far as they are concerned the beardless should don tichelech (snoods) and toddle off to the Vaibershul!

I miss in some way the feeling I used to have of being totally in the warm embrace of something good. But the thinking part of my personality is in charge today, my emotional still at the Tish and I do not think I am willing to allow them to change roles. I believe I understand in a certain way what the problem was in eating from the tree of knowledge. To be a true Chassid, and enjoy the real benefits of a Chassid, you have to suspend free thought and allow him to think for you.

People like me could be dangerous to the force because looking in from inside you see with more clarity. But we can also be used to provide information they could never get otherwise. I believe the Shgatzim and the Chassidim are using each other blatantly. The Chassidim use the shgatzim as a buffer zone between the world outside, with its vital information, and the rose-coloured world inside the bubble where the truth is what the Rebbe says it is and tomorrow Mashich will come - hopefully before the bailiffs. The Shgatzim meanwhile from inside propogate their agenda of education and cultural awareness.
Who will win? I don’t know. But if the Chassidim do we will all die happily and if the Shgatzim do we will all live and worry so I am not sure yet myself which I prefer.

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