Chukas – Letters of Courage

BS”D

Dear Chevra,

The olam is asked to daven for Dr. Avraham Twerski, Avraham Yehoshua Heshel ben Devorah Leah.

Shortly after our marriage, my wife and I were living in Milwaukee, Dr. Twerski’s hometown. On one of his frequent visits, I spoke with him about my difficulty comprehending certain areas of Torah. Dr. Twerski replied that we are responsible to be Amul b’Torah, to toil in Torah; but comprehension, whether of seemingly simple or complex subjects, is a gift from Hashem. He stressed that, while we pray to Hashem that He grant us understanding; our responsibility is only to involve ourselves with Torah — understanding is in God’s hands. While discussing Dr. Twerski’s unique contribution to Am Yisroel with a cousin of his, a contribution that will G-d willing continue in strength for many years to come, his cousin reflected reverently, “my cousin Shea (as he’s called in family circles) is a kasha (a mystery), and not every kasha needs a teretz (an answer).”

While attending the University of Montana, I returned East for several weeks, spending evenings learning b’chevrusa with a local Chabad yungerman. The young rabbi asked me a question for which I had no answer. His reply, “Good. Not knowing is the best place to begin.” Making a mental note of his wise words, I returned to Montana several days later. Back in Montana I ran into Mike, a non-Jewish friend I hadn’t seen for some time. I asked how things were going and he told me not well. He had separated from his wife, she wanting to live in Vermont and he wanting to remain in Montana. He said he was confused and didn’t know the answers. Recalling the Chabad yungerman’s words I suggested, “Well Mike, not knowing is the best place to begin.” Mike was elated. “That’s what I needed to hear,” he exclaimed. Explaining he had been to American Indian Chiefs and other religious consultants who hadn’t provided satisfactory answers while the words of a young Jewish man involved with Torah provided the necessary guidance. Accepting we don’t know, and giving ourselves permission to not know, is the best place to begin knowing. As Yidden, we are obliged to ask questions, seek answers, and look for solutions, and also to accept that there are some things we are not meant to know.

Dr. Twerski is largely responsible for popularizing the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous amongst the Torah world. The first three steps: (1) “We admitted we were powerless…our lives had become unmanageable; (2) We came to believe in a Power greater than ourselves that could restore us to sanity; (3) We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God…” Finance. Health. Perceived injustice. Children. Housing. Life circumstances. Different for everyone, we each have our struggles.  We understand that we do not understand. We come up short on answers. We surrender to Hashem; nullifying our will to His will. As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, “Let go and let God.” And, “God can do for me what I cannot do for myself.”

Parshas Chukas is the Chok of the Torah. We may not understand, but Hashem understands. Sometimes when my yeshus, my ego, demands understanding beyond the limits of my saychel, my intellect, I counter, “I may not understand, but my grandfather’s understood; and if they didn’t understand, so their grandfathers understood; and if they didn’t understand, we have a Torah and a mesorah, a tradition, passed down from Moshe Rabbeinu and he understood. And of course, Hashem understands.” We don’t need to have an answer for every question. Ironically, giving our uncertainties to Hashem frees us from uncertainty. We burn a Parah Adumah, a red heifer, because it’s a mitzvah. Because Hashem told us to. We can try to understand the reasons behind this command, but ultimately, not every kasha needs a teretz.

Gut Shabbos,

Sincerely,

Binyamin Klempner

About the Author
At the age of 17 Binyamin Klempner left Teaneck, NJ to pursue a simple existence on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Northern Montana. While residing on the Blackfeet Reservation he discovered the beauty of his Jewish Heritage and traveled to Boston to learn about Jewish life from the Bostoner Rebber, Reb Levi Yitzchok Horowitz, zy"a. From Boston he traveled to Zichron Yaakov where he studied in Yeshiva for a number of years. From there he married and lived with his wife in Milwaukee, WI while studying under HaRav Michel Twerski, shlita. During this time Binyamin also earned a Masters Degree in Social Work. After working as a social worker for several years he moved with my wife and kids to Tiveria, Israel where he works as an organic farmer and homesteader.
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