Hanging on my wall, I have a photo of my great great uncle, Reb Levi Yitzchok Haberman, ay’d. I received the photo from my Aunt Pearl before becoming bar mitzvah. Reb Levi Yitzchok was a talmid of the Minchas Elazar. The photo captures his face with fiery beard and eyes both stern and gentle. Demanding greatness. Demanding authentic Yiddishkeit. I mentioned to the Ungvarer Rav, Reb Menashe Klein zt”l, who knew Reb Levi Yitzchok well, that when I saw the photo of my great great uncle, I saw what a Yid looks like. Looking at the face of Reb Levi Yitzchok reminds me of our privilege and obligation to follow in the ways of the grandfathers, to uphold their way of life in a way that gives them nachas, in a way that makes them proud. Although I may not yet understand words of Torah and Teffilah as they did, I can occupy myself with those same pure words of connection to Hashem, and aspire to their greatness.
People ask me how I came to Yiddishkeit in Montana. People in Montana have an appreciation for heritage, tradition, ancestry. As one of the few Yidden in Montana, people would ask me to research how my ancestors approached Jewish life and observance. Through the research I learned about Yiddishkeit and developed a connection to ziedies, to grandfathers, long deceased.
When the Chasam Sofer would travel to a certain village he was always hosted by the same man, a local Talmid Chacham. One year, upon his arrival, the Chasam Sofer was informed that his usual host had passed away, but arrangements had been made for him to be hosted elsewhere with a different talmid chacham. The Chasam Sofer, remembering that his previous host had a son, suggested it would be appropriate to be hosted by the son. It was explained to the Chasam Sofer that the son was ignorant of Torah and that staying there might be awkward. Regardless, that’s where the Chasam Sofer decided to stay. That leil Shabbos, the Chasam Sofer’s new host came running to the local Rav. The man was incredulous, insisting that the Chasam Sofer was an impostor, explaining that, as ignorant as he may be, his father was a Talmid Chacham and knew how to make kiddush, but the visiting Rav didn’t make kiddush like his father, and hence, must not be legitimate. The local Rav went to the Chasam Sofer to apologize for the insolence of his host; but the Chasam Sofer was joyous. He explained that this is how every Jew should be: Insistent on maintaining the Torah of his father and grandfathers.
Korach tried making improvements. Innovating. Doing things differently. Moshe Rabbeinu told Korach that the ways of the zeides are the ways of the Torah and perfect as such. Korach said an entire garment of techeilis, blue dyed thread is such an improvement upon a single strand that one need not wear a single strand of techeilis if one is wearing an entire garment of techeilis. Moshe countered: the ziedies wore strands, we wear strands. We don’t add. We don’t subtract. We don’t improve. We don’t disprove. We maintain and go in the ways of our grandfathers.
While in Yerushalayim, the Satmar Rebbe once called upon the son of the Brisker Rav, Rav Dovid Solovetchik Shlita, current Rosh Yeshiva of Brisk. The young Reb Dovid sat across from the revered elder Satmar Rav as the Satmar Rav attempted to persuade him to dismiss the approach of his forbearers and begin approaching Yiddishkeit differently. When Reb Dovid went back to his father and reported on his visit, the Brisker Rav rebuked him saying, “The Satmar Rav wasn’t trying to change your views; he was testing your resolve!”
The world around us is full of Korachs trying to persuade us to do things differently. To be “smarter” than our grandfathers and our leaders. To make “improvements” in our Yiddishkeit. We can easily flounder, mistaking fault for asset. One thing we can be sure of is the holiness and clear understanding of our Jewish ancestors. If we go in their ways and strive to maintain what they maintained, then we can rest assured that they are proud of us, and with that, we can be proud of ourselves, and strive to reach their level.