QUEST FOR AUTHENTICITY: The Thought of Reb Simhah Bunim

QUEST FOR AUTHENTICITY: The Thought of Reb Simhah Bunim
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    QUEST FOR AUTHENTICITY: The Thought of Reb Simhah Bunim


    by Michael Rosen

    Hardcover, 415 pages (including a 9 page index)
    ISBN 13: 978-965-524-003-0
    ISBN 10: 965-524-003-7
    publication: 2008


    The Przysucha (Yiddish: Pshiskha, pronounced Pe-shis-kha) school of Hasidism believed in a service of God that demanded both passion and analytical study. There was little or no study of kabbalah in Przysucha, and the emphasis was not on trying to understand God, but on trying to understand the human being. It was clear to them that one could not stand with any sense of integrity before the Divine Presence unless one first had some clarity of who one really was.

    Directly or indirectly, Przysucha had declared an internal war upon the hasidic leadership of its time. It simply refused to accept anything that smelled of falseness and self-deception, be it the honor due to a zaddik or a particular religious practice. Przysucha equated pretension and self-deceit with idol worship.

    During the early part of the nineteenth century, when the center of the hasidic world was in Poland, R. Simhah Bunim transformed Przysucha Hasidism into a movement and thus rose to become a, if not the, dominant personality in the Hasidic community.


    About R. Simhah Bunim of Przysucha

    Przysucha began with the Yehudi (1766- 1814), was continued after his death by his disciple R. Simhah Bunim (1765-1827), and was led in the third generation by R. Menahem Mendel of Kotzk (1787-1859).

    Przysucha challenged its rivals for the dominance of Polish Hasidism and, under R. Bunim's leadership, it became the major force in Poland, which was the main center of Hasidism at the time. R. Bunim revolutionized Hasidism in Poland, and many of the basic ideas of nineteenth-century Polish Hasidism have their source in his exegesis.


    About the Author

    Michael Rosen is the founder of Yakar (Jewish Center for Tradition and Creativity) in London, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. He received his rabbinical ordination from Yeshivat Beer Yakov and from Chief Rabbi Unterman (Israel). Rabbi Dr. Michael (Mickey) Rosen received his Ph.D. from University College in London for his thesis entitled "A Commentary on Job Attributed to Rashbam."


    Sayings from the Rebbes of Przysucha


    "I could revive the dead, but I have more difficulty reviving the living."
    -R. Simhah Bunim and Menahem Mendel of Kotzk

    "There are no rules in the service of God, and this itself is no rule."
    -The Yehudi

    "There are three levels of service. The highest level is that of one who performs good deeds the whole day and yet feels that he has not achieved anything. The second level is someone who, though he has not done anything, knows that he has not corrected anything in this world. This is good, and there is hope for him that he might correct his ways. However, someone who is righteous in his own eyes deceives himself all his life; his good deeds will be lost."
    �The Yehudi

    "The slightest [sense of] depression is clothed in pride."
    -R. Simhah Bunim

    "All existence, other than man, can only comprehend itself. But God created human beings, who contain within themselves the higher and lower worlds, so that they can imagine everything in their souls. That is the essence of humanity - that human beings can understand and imagine something other than themselves."
    -R. Simhah Bunim

    "A person should have two pieces of paper, one in each pocket, to be used as necessary. On one of them [is written] 'The world was created for me,' and on the other, 'I am dust and ashes.'"
    -R. Simhah Bunim

    "Anyone who performs a commandment (mitzvah) whose ego is involved is like one who worships idols. There is no difference between someone who worships idols and someone who worships himself."
    -Menahem Mendel of Kotzk

    "If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you. But if I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you."
    -Menahem Mendel of Kotzk

    Menahem Mendel of Kotzk said that the mitnagged served the Shulhan Aruch (the Law), but the hasid served Ha-Kadosh Baruch Hu (God).


    Praise for The Quest for Authenticity:


    It is a pleasure to warmly recommend the publication of Dr. Michael Rosen's monograph on Rabbi Simhah Bunim of Przyshusha. I read the various drafts of the book and I can testify that this is an important and original contribution for understanding the nineteenth century Hasidism. Especially conspicuous is the analysis of the original theory of the Righteous terms which constitutes the most paramount contribution of R. Simhah to a phenomenology of religion.
    Sincerely,
    Prof. Mosh Idel
    Hebrew University


    What happens when a Hasid and a Litvak get together? Well, according to Rabbi Rosen, this is to be the wave of the future. The ideal is not "Torah uMadda" or "Torah and Derekh Eretz," but a synthesis of emotional-inspirational Hasidut with rational Lithuanian type thinking. These can and should be joined in one personality, indeed in one synagogue. This is an innovative creation of Rabbi Dr. Michael Rosen, founder of Yakar, a community center/synagogue in Jerusalem and now also in Tel Aviv. Not only has he brought two seemingly opposing bedfellows to dwell comfortably in the space of Yakar, but this past week he published a fascinating new book, QUEST FOR AUTHENTICITY: The Thought of Reb Simhah Bunim of Przysucha (Urim Publications).

    Hasidut Przysucha began with the Yehudi, R. Jacob Isaac ben Asher (1766-1814), the favorite disciple of the Seer of Lublin (R. Jacob Isaac, 1740-1815). It continued with R. Simhah Bunim (1765-1827), who in his twelve years of leadership (1815-1827), turned Przysucha into a vibrant force in Polish Hasidut, and according to R. Rosen, the major one. Then, when R. Bunim died, "Kotzk became the main magnet of Polish Hasidism", and R. Menahem Mendel of Kotzk (1787-1859), "its pillar of fire" (Quest, pg. 291). R. Rosen depicts the historical background, psychological insights, theological inspirations and emotional struggles in these successive three generations. His thesis is that there is a continuity of thought and direction, and this is the unique quest of Hasidut Przysucha.

    R. Rosen demonstrates how Przysucha Hasidut fuses personal authenticity, intellectual integrity and human inquiry. The demand is for truth. "I know who I am irrespective of how I am perceived by others" (Quest, pg. 138). Sincerity is paramount. Externals are not to be tolerated. "Frumkeit" of a social norm is to be rejected if a person's behavior is not "true to himself" (Quest, pg. 142). Authenticity requires a willingness to challenge one's pious behavior - is it motivated by pride or fear?

    The Przysucha school of Hasidism, says R. Rosen, believes that devotion to God demands both passion in the heart and an analytical quest in the mind. The emphasis in Przysucha is not on trying to fathom God, but in feeling and understanding His Reality in the human being. Thus for example, the prerequisite to praying with integrity is first to clarify who and what you are. The Yehudi could postpone speaking to God in prayer until he first made "contact with himself", and was "able to hear the voice within" (Quest, pg. 16).

    Once the Yehudi went for a walk with his pupil R. Peretz and saw birds flying and chirping. R. Peretz exclaimed, I should like to understand their chirping. Whereupon, the Yehudi replied: "When you really understand the words that you speak, then you will fathom the words that they speak".

    A famous parable of R. Bunim is the tale of R. Isaac of Cracow who journeyed to Prague to dig for the treasure of his dreams only to discover from a non-Jew, that the "treasure" lay buried at his own home in Cracow. R. Bunim is quoted as adding. "Every Jew has to believe that there is a treasure in his heart, a hidden fortune, only he doesn't realize it."

    R. Simhah Bunim: "All existence, other than man, can only comprehend itself. But God created human beings, who contain within themselves the higher and lower worlds, so that they can imagine everything in their souls. That is the essence of humanity - that human beings can understand and imagine something other than themselves."

    R. Menahem Mendel: The mitnagged serves the Shulhan Aruch, but the hasid serves Ha-Kadosh Baruch Hu. His unrelenting quest for truth and authenticity is illustrated in these sample quotes: "Anyone who performs a mitzvah with his ego is like one who worships idols. There is no difference between someone who worships idols and someone who worships himself." "If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you. But if I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you" (Quest, pg. 144).

    Rabbi Rosen received his rabbinical ordination from Yeshivat Beer Yakov and from Chief Rabbi Unterman (Israel), and his Ph.D. from University College in London. This 400 page book reflects extensive academic research coupled with a passionate statement for the modern relevance of the Przysucha quest for spirituality.

    No more "herem," no splits between the Gaon of Vilna and R. Shneyur Zalman of Ladi, now there is a new found harmony. QUEST FOR AUTHENTICITY is worthwhile reading both academically and spiritually. R. Rosen's magnum opus paints a vivid picture of how Hasidut Przysucha wrought a revolution in Polish Hasidism. According to R. Rosen, this is also the future hope for a vibrant and healthy Judaism.
    -Rabbi Dr. Natan Ophir (Offenbacher)
    Lookstein Digest


    My brother Mickey Rosen has just produced a very important book. If anyone wants to know what has gone wrong with Orthodoxy today you only need to read "The Quest For Authenticity: The Thought of Reb Simcha Bunim" published by Urim.

    In it he describes the "court" of Peshischa in Poland under its leading eighteenth and nineteenth century charismatic leaders, Yehudi, Simcha Bunim and Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, charismatic, fiercely honest individuals who were opposed to conformity. Sadly the rest of the Hassidic world closed ranks against them. The movement was suppressed by the miracle working, rebbe worshipping, hereditary, reactionary, pseudo mystical Hassidism that now dominates much of Judaism. They didn't much like Simcha Bunim either because he had trained as a chemist, supported himself, had travelled, spoke many languages and, crime of crimes, wore normal western dress.

    It is so ironic that Hassidism founded by the Baal Shem Tov (1690-1760) itself started out as a challenge to conventional religious norms. It was strongly opposed as "dumbing down" Judaism and spreading popular Kabbala by the great Vilna Gaon. Those who rejected Hassidism were known as the Mitnagdim, the opponents. The movement was excommunicated by the Jewish establishment in Eastern Europe twice in 1722. Yet a hundred years on, it did virtually the same to its own radicals. The moves to officially excommunicate Peshischa were initiated in 1820 and 1822 but in practice it was not necessary to ban the movement to suppress it. Some argue it was the tempestuous and then reclusive character of the brilliant Kotzker rebbe that ceded the territory to the more stable and controlling, if reactionary, Chidushei HaRim of Ger. Whatever the reason, creativity and non conformity lost out. There is nothing new under the sun!

    The founder wanted to reach out to the masses of Eastern European Jews who were not scholars, lived predominantly in rural communities and suffered a sense of isolation and alienation in the wake of the terrible Cossack and Anti Semitic pogroms from 1648 to 1680. There was a tremendous gulf between the rabbinic authorities who tended to ally themselves with and marry into the small wealthy oligarchy of most Jewish communities. Mysticism was one response to this need, with its emphasis on experience and charisma, feeling over study and the messianic belief in imminent redemption, an attractive antidote to desperation and one that led controversial to a spate of False Messiahs. The Baal Shem Tov himself although not the humble school teacher as is often made out, was certainly incredibly popular and charismatic.

    When he died he passed his mantle on not to a son but to two other great leaders the Maggid of Mezeritz and Yaakov Yosef of Pollonoye and a sort of unofficial committee of other leaders. In the next generation it was Rebbi Elimelech of Lizhensk who developed the idea of the Tsaddik and the Rebbe and his genealogy became so central an ideology to Hassidism. Despite the opposition, Hassidism clearly met a growing need for it spread like wildfire and then branched out into different, distinct zones and styles. The Lithuanian branch came to be dominated by what is now called Chabad or Lubavitch. The Ukranian is now mainly represented by Bratslav whose last rebbe, Reb Nachman (died in 1810) remains the lone symbol of non conventional Hassidism nowadays. The Hungarians and Carpathians are dominated by Satmar and Vishnitz and the Polish by Ger and Belz. Around them were and are a whole range of satellites and dynastic break-aways. It's almost the norm nowadays for dynasties to split. There are competing Rebbes in Satmar and Viznitz to mention only two big ones. The only precaution against splits seems to be if like Lubavitch and Bratslav you just don't appoint a successor altogether.

    The Polish movement initiated by Yehudi (died 1814) and expanded by Simcha Bunim (died 1827) stood out because it opposed worship of rebbes and miracles. It demanded self analysis, honesty and a sincere attempt to establish a direct relationship with God. Its detractors accused it of being too free and easy with ritual demands but in practice it was as committed to Torah and to halacha as any other Hassidic group. But in undermining the worship of the Tsaddik and minimizing the importance of miracles it threatened the power base and indeed the financial underpinning of the Hassidic movement. As a result leadership based on charisma lost out to hereditary empires. Belief that the Rebbe would get you into heaven and cure all your ills together with a nice donation. This emphasis on heredity as with all aristocracies led to a leadership that notoriously failed in the nineteenth and twentieth century to offer any solution to social, political or theological challenges other than obedience. In practice this might have worked magnificently as a social mechanism for control and expansion. And perhaps that is what the post Holocaust world required. But it is far removed from the world of Simcha Bunim. Reading this book only makes one sadder that his movement was obliterated. For it represented the very features of a great spiritual tradition that nowadays so many Jews find missing in the public face of Judaism on almost all levels.

    One of the features of orthodoxy nowadays is the way Hassidism has effectively taken over the whole of the Orthodox world. Now even Lithuanian Rabbis behave the same way Hassidic rebbes do with their courts, their handlers, protocol, money making machinery and hereditary succession. Although one might argue that closed shops encourage other ways of getting there. But is sad how conformity rules and the world of spirit has been relegated to the world of blind routine.

    You need to read this book to realize it needn't be the way it is. We should all be grateful to my brother for bringing Pshischa to a wider audience.
    -Rabbi Jeremy Rosen


    Authentic individualism

    Peshischa Hassidism was a movement in early 19th century Polish Hassidism that emphasized a philosophy of optimistic individualism, a belief that human beings, when free from various inhibitions imposed upon them by society or by their own misguided selfishness, are capable of achieving the greatest heights of spiritual success.

    The three rebbes of the Peshischa tradition, the Holy Yehudi (Rabbi Ya'acov Yitzhak of Peshischa), Rabbi Simha Bunim of Peshischa and Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Kotzk, often met with great opposition from the rest of the hassidic world for their faith in radical individualism. As Michael Rosen's new book, The Quest for Authenticity, describes, the philosophy of Peshischa made enemies within Hassidism by advocating against the subjugation of the individual to the tzaddik's influence, which had become a central tenet for a majority of the hassidim in Poland at the time.

    A number of other positions also added to their near ostracism by the other rebbes, undoubtedly aided by the acerbic barbs with which the Peshischers, especially Rabbi Menahem Mendel (the Kotzker), were known to use. ("I could revive the dead, but I have more difficulty reviving the living.") In addition to redefining the hassidic rebbe as a role model and teacher rather than an intermediary to the divine, the Peshischa tradition expressed an insistent intolerance for rote in the service of God. It was preoccupied with the idea of probing one's own intentions for fear that ulterior motives (negiot) would interfere with the ideal of perfect devotion. And it scorned asceticism, considering it a violation of a human being's role to pursue devotion to God within the confines of reality.

    "The Nazirite, who accepted upon himself to be abstinent, and forbade himself permitted things because of frumkeit, had impurity thrust upon him," Rabbi Simha Bunim said.

    But the defining characteristic of Peshischa was its demand for self-honesty, for a constant probing of one's character to discover any selfishness or self-interest that would interfere with the yearnings inherent in one's soul. Perhaps this is best illustrated by the attitude of Peshischa toward prayer. The rebbes of Peshischa would spend a great deal of time before prayer preparing themselves and probing their inner motives. Sometimes, in disregard of Halacha and disdain for public opinion, these preparations would last well past the required times for prayer. But when they finally did pray, their prayer was not accompanied by ecstatic motions or loud shouts, but was characterized by an internal energy, said to be seen as a fire on the rebbe's face.

    Peshischa waged a constant war against what it perceived as the hypocrisy and pretension found among many rebbes and disciples of the Hassidism of those times. Not surprisingly, referring to certain rebbes as "Esau dressed in white," or charging that certain groups of hassidim would be ashamed of their rebbes when the messiah came, did not help to pacify those who already stood against Peshischa for ideological reasons.

    Rosen's book spends a great deal of time detailing these brewing animosities, which culminated in an attempted excommunication in 1822. His research in that regard is extensive, though the strength of his arguments with major historians of Hassidism such as Gershom Scholem and others is sometimes debatable.

    From the point of view of academic history, Hassidism in general and Peshischa specifically pose a difficult subject. A dearth, or, in the case of Peshischa, a complete lack of written material means researchers need to be very particular in dissecting the secondary sources to differentiate the authentic from that which has been revised. This could be considered a "quest" in and of itself.

    The historical discussion, which makes up the first part of the book, may leave many lay readers unenthused, especially those who are intimidated by difficult-to-pronounce Polish place names (Kozienice, Miedzyrcz, etc.). Also, one couldn't help wondering if the discussion of the conflicts and rivalries doesn't divert attention from the book's main focus, namely, the presentation of the thought of Peshischa.

    It does serve as a reminder of the Jewish capability for innumerable divisions and subdivisions. The Hassidism, which was itself the subject of a great rift with the mitnagdim, found itself being splintered further, even as challenges such as the spread of the Enlightenment would have certainly justified unity. Now, after waves of emigration, assimilation and, finally, the Holocaust have almost completely wiped away the various sects which had been at one another's throats, these rivalries seem petty, even childish. And what might such a perspective suggest about the fate of today's intractable factions?

    But to return from the fleeting to the enduring, that is, the perspectives and spiritual instruction of the rebbes of Peshischa. They used a particularly sharp form of classical Eastern European cynicism to highlight the shortcomings of their age, indeed of the human species as a whole - especially the tendency toward self-delusion in the face of the challenge of authenticity.

    "If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you. But if I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you," said Menahem Mendel of Kotzk.

    The goal of "I being I," for Peshischa, is pursued chiefly through the exposition and expurgation of that which is "not I." Thus, the "quest for authenticity" in Peshischa is concentrated heavily on the flight from its opposite.

    What is left undeveloped is the positive side of the equation. I do not mean to say that Peshischa was not optimistic in its teachings, for example in admonishing its adherents to beware of depression as a pitfall to growth. Rather, it is a negative philosophy in that it is often chiefly concerned with exposing what is rotten and laying bare the ground for new development, rather than addressing that development specifically.

    The philosophical justification for that priority is the assertion of every human being's natural ability to develop him or herself, so long as negative influences are kept in check. The end result is that Peshischa is focused on a flight from falsehood, and the "quest for authenticity" is left to every individual.
    -JJ Levine
    Jerusalem Post


    The Przysucha school of Hasidism, as articulated by the Yehudi, Reb Simha Bunim, and then Reb Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, offered the 19th century world of Polish Jewry a fascinating and somewhat iconoclastic alternative to other prevalent Hasidic approaches. It was singularly nonkabbalistic focused and non-Zaddik focused, while emphasizing both intellectual study and prayer. Its cornerstone was an unyielding pursuit for personal authenticity as the path to coming closer to God. It rose to a position of dominance and the ensuing opposition by other Hasidic groups makes for fascinating reading, as does the immensely psychological orientation of the various sayings and perspectives attributed to its three leaders, none of whom committed their thoughts to written form... I would encourage all those fascinated by Hasidism and its development to discover a surprisingly open, progressive, and "counterculture" worldview, with lessons relevant for the thoughtful spiritual life in the 21st century. Addenda, bibliography, glossary, indices, sources.
    -William Liss-Levinson
    Jewish Book World


    Rosen's book is scholarly without being overly academic. It is a complex essay of ideas and shows how these ideas sometimes unite but, more often, divide people and communities. Reb Bunim's obvious attraction for a modern Orthodox rabbi like Rosen are to be found in the use of the imagination, of daring, of the indifference to baseless criticism. Coming from a rabbinical family himself, the author may be personally attracted to the study of spiritual dynasties and their fate, something that makes his book even more intriguing. Ultimately, the Przysucha dynasty suggests to me something very radical indeed. Authenticity to oneself outweighs in many fundamental ways conformity to a creed or ideology. Paradoxically the human self is the instrument that God has chosen to express His presence in the world. Loyalty to a code, or a group, or a rebbe - is no substitute for the hard graft needed to discover the unique self within the individual. Going with the ideological or theological flow - whether the stream is religious or secular - invariably poses a threat of drowning the individual, thus depriving us and those around us - of a revelation of our own authentic, inner selves.
    -Mordechai Beck
    The Jerusalem Report


    A rebbe who does not speak Yiddish; a rebbe who speaks a fluent German; a rebbe who dresses in the "modern" garb of his day; a rebbe who does not center his beliefs in Kabbalah; a rebbe whose main preoccupation is that of being a businessman. What kind of a rebbe is that?

    With all the controversy over rebbes visiting our community the book under review this week should be a refreshing change in the tone of the discussion. Each and every consideration enumerated above describes a real Chassidic spiritual leader from almost two centuries ago who was to set the standard for honest and sincere belief for many in the Chassidic world.

    Surprising, but true.

    The book, "The Quest for Authenticity" [Urim, 2008] is the story of the legendary Reb Simhah Bunim of Przysucha [1765-1827], and is written by Rabbi Dr. Michael Rosen, of blessed memory, whose first yahrtzeit will be commemorated this week by his family and his many followers in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

    This review will deal both with the subject of this book as well as the life's work of its late and beloved author. Both had so much in common and I thought that you would appreciate knowing more about them.

    Reb Simhah assumed the helm of Przysucha chassidus after the passing of his rebbe, the Yehudi [1766-1814]. Their version of Chassidic tradition was very different from others, just as their new rebbe was different from other rebbes.

    Despite these differences, under Reb Simhah, this Chassidic tradition was to develop the future leaders of 19th century Polish chassidus: the rebbes of Warka [Vorki], Kotzk, Gur, Alexander and Izbitz. While not fitting the stereotypical image that we have today of a rebbe, Reb Simhah's teachings and his personal path in the integrity of our faith was to leave an indelible mark upon all of Polish Chassidim.

    Ideology aside, it was the persona of the rebbe that fascinated me and inspired me to consider reading this book and researching both the subject and the life's work of its author. Given the greatness of its author, I chose this time, his first yahrtzeit, to give you a taste of a little known chapter of Jewish history for you to further explore.

    Reb Simhah was opposed to allowing the rebbe to be the subject of hero worship. According to Rabbi Rosen, Reb Simhah strongly held to the opinion that "all a zaddik could do was to be a guide, a role model."

    "By his very presence, by his own spiritual integrity, the student could find his own integrity as well," writes Rabbi Rosen. "The function of the rebbe was to help people become themselves and to serve G-d in their own truth. Vicarious redemption runs counter to the most basic values of Przysucha."

    Absent were the nonsensical ideas of a rebbe being some sort of Jewish witch doctor dispensing all sorts of spiritual potions and notions to gullible and mindless followers. How refreshing indeed this is and how urgently needed is this approach today, especially as witnessed by the acrimony that some in chassidus have, as they so brazenly comported themselves in our holy land and beyond these past few months.

    This book continues with numerous other examples of the rebbe's theology, thinking, and behavior that both demonstrate his uniqueness as a people's rebbe, and as a spiritual leader in constant "quest" for the authentic interpretation of our faith. The iconoclastic manner of Reb Simhah follows throughout, touching upon every aspect of his life's journey.

    And the author of this biography follows his subject.

    Rabbi Dr. Michael [Mickey] Rosen z"l, was a very special person. This book was his life's work, which, according to his publisher Tzvi Mauer took over ten years to research and complete - ten years that would be the last of his 63.

    According to his brother Rabbi Jeremy Rosen, Rabbi Michael Rosen was profoundly influenced by the charisma of his father, the illustrious Rav Kopul Rosen of London and a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva in Lithuania. Mickey, who was ordained in 1973 by Rav Unterman, fused the zeitgeist together with a strong passion for social justice. British born and bred, it wasn't until he made aliya when Mickey's rabbinate finally came into his own.

    After establishing his own shul, YAKAR -- Center for Tradition and Creativity -- in Jerusalem, he attracted many followers who were searching for a modern orthodox alternative to the establishment alternatives that were the only ones available till that time. According to one of Jerusalem's leading theologians, Rabbi Nathan Lopez Cardozo, Mickey was a "fantastic person, independent, a real yirei shamayim who was most influential on Jerusalem's spiritual scene."

    At YAKAR, Mickey utilized the Carlebach musical mode of worship together with the strict orthodox liturgy. While modern in approach, Mickey never bought into any notion of compromise when it came to a woman's role in the shul. The mechitzah was inviolable. Yet, he supported a woman's right to the public recitation of kaddish and in the governance of the shul, something often frowned upon in more traditional worship settings. He was a spiritual leader who had his feet firmly planted in both the traditional and modern spiritual venues of our faith.

    I choose to end this essay with the following note sent to me by Mickey's brother, Rabbi David Rosen, the former chief rabbi of Ireland who now resides in Jerusalem. It is a heartfelt dvar Torah [that relates to this very week's parsha] that he attributes to one of his nephews:

    "Appropriately, the parsha before his [Mickey's] death was Vayeitzei -- appropriate not just because of his having left this world at that time but especially because of an insight concerning Yaacov Avinu which seemed to me to be so appropriate for Mickey.

    "At the end of the parsha, on his return to Eretz Yisrael, Yaakov comes across a group of angels and he said that this is a divine group. Rashi explains that Yaakov recognized them as the angels he had seen in the dream of the ladder. In his commentary, Rav Yaakov Duschinsky suggests that the Torah tells us this to reveal something very special about Yaakov; namely, that the vision that he had as a young man remained as vivid with him even more so a generation later and indeed throughout the rest of his life.

    More often than not, we start out life with all kinds of great visions and good intentions, but they all too often get tarnished if not jettisoned on the path of our 'maturity.' Yaakov did not allow life's difficulties and vicissitudes to lessen his vision, passion and commitment.

    I think that this image is beautifully apposite of Mickey. He was a visionary as a young man and remained a visionary throughout his too short life, with passion and conviction and a remarkable talent to turn vision into concrete substance." Were this to be so for all of us, our leaders, as well as for our spiritual guides.
    -Alan Jay Gerber
    The Jewish Star