from conservative Bnei Brak To liberal Tel Aviv

Friday, 15 December, 2023 - 3:16 am

Various guests eat at our table on Shabbats. They add to the atmosphere, and the topics of conversation around the table are varied and interesting. 

A few years ago we hosted a young couple of Gerrer Chassidim from Israel and the young man told me about an inner debate he was having. He was looking to make a decent living and had already found a profession that could serve as a very good source of income. But there was one problem that was preventing him from going ahead – the workplaces for that type of work were all in Tel Aviv. The workers were all of liberal/secular bent and from his point of view, if he would spend all day in such an environment it might have a negative effect on him. He asked straightforwardly and honestly: “How can a yeshiva bochur from conservative Bnei Brak work in liberal Tel Aviv and remain a Bnei Brak Chasid?”

I told him that that question had already been asked by his forefathers, the sons of Yaakov, when they met Yosef as the viceroy of Egypt. “And Yosef recognized his brothers,” says the Torah in parashat Miketz, and immediately goes on to add, “and they did not recognize him.” According to the simple understanding, the passuk is telling us that they didn’t recognize him because he was a seventeen-year-old when he had been sold to Egypt, and now, twenty-two years later, it was hard for them to recognize him, since he was so changed. 

But according to the pnimiyut, inner Torah, the Torah of Chassidut, we learn a deeper meaning. “They didn’t recognize him” – they didn’t know and weren’t aware of the possibility of being a conservative Jew who serves G-d in the advanced and developing world that Egypt represented. They had chosen to be shepherds because it is an occupation that keeps a person far from society. A shepherd is alone in the field with his flocks and his G-d. They didn’t know of any other options. And here stood their younger brother, a Bnei Brak yeshiva bochur who had remained conservative in the Egyptian royal palace. Well, “they didn’t recognize him.” Yosef was the first to prove that it is possible to be a viceroy and remain Yosef hatzaddik – the righteous.

I turned to my guest and told him, “Go to your Rebbe, and do what he suggests to you. I don’t know you well enough in order to know if you are up to this work or not.”

A few months later he called to tell me that the Gerrer Rebbe said that he trusts him, and instructed him to take that job.


Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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