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Don’t think, Don’t feel, Don’t ask

brainlessGone are the days where the Chassidic tales were understood though the lens of Martin Buber’s classic folktales.  Most people understood these fables were Buber’s romanticisms of Eastern European folk heroes.  And somehow things evolved into a new type of story: a fusion of Chassidus and Musser — Mussidus?.  I heard such a story recently in the context of a scary dvar torah delivered recently who was describing why we suffer the punishment of Amalek –it’s due to thinking, feeling, and asking.  (disclosure: I heard this second-hand from someone who was there — and the Rabbi who gave this d’var Torah said this story was told to him by R’ Shlomo Carlebach, which I don’t believe, BTW).

A man attends the tish of the Karliner Rebbe.  He is standing far in the back of the room and wondering to himself  ”Why am I here?  I’m going to be waiting for a long time, for a small morsel of food.  What is so special about this food?  The Rebbe eats, and I eat.  What’s the difference?”

Suddenly the Rebbe tells his gabbai to grab this man in the back and bring him forward.

The Rebbe says “Do you know what the difference between me and you is? When you eat, you make a brocho, because you know that you have to make a brocho in order to eat.  But I’m different, I eat because I want to make a brocho.”

The lessons?  a few pop-out at me.  1. Rebbes are clairvoyant.  Of course, they are super-human too, nay, they are demi-gods. Note to self, don’t think when you are near them.  Hint: that’s why the smart chassidim booze up. 2. if you ask questions you will be punished.  So don’t ask.  3. It’s perfectly OK to embarrass someone who is a doubter.  They are asking for it. And don’t get me started with the “I eat in order to make brochos”.

The Rabbi who gave this dvar Torah continued on to say that we see God punished the Israelites by sending them Amalek because they questioned if God was with them (Ex 17:7 -8).  So,  God and the Karliner Rebbe, don’t like questions.

And that was the D’var Torah.  If only this was satire, indeed it was just sad.  What do you say about this?  What do you think? feel? or ask?

{ 53 comments… add one }
  • Bubba Metzia May 30, 2011, 3:41 PM

    Another example of why the Vilna Gaon was correct in his concern about the rise of the Chasidic movement. The way that many of these groups view their rebbes (especially in certain segments of Lubavitch and Breslov) isn’t that different from the followers of Shabbatai Tzvi or Jacob Frank or Yeshka.

    • whoah5771 May 30, 2011, 7:08 PM

      the way many litvaks view the vilna gaon and modern gedloim isnt that different from the way that Chassidim view Rebbes

      • whoah5771 May 30, 2011, 7:15 PM

        its called awe, everyone has some, yes you are going to quote the moshiach business…well something you forget is that a leader of people is viewed with a certain awe that he is the greatest in a certain way…the Rebbe constnatly brought up moshiach as a final and ultimate goal…ergo when people wanted to credit him they credited him as moshiach, because it was everything that he described as being amazing…u can tell this based on the fact that the end of every chabad speech ends with “with the coming of moshiach…”
        litvaks on the other hand end their speeches with “that we should see more chidushim of toyrah and mussar” (why mussar is separate idk), so people view gedolim as being the greatest of talmudei chachim…the vilna gaon was called “gaon” meaning that to them the greatest title they could bestow is that of talmud chacham…if they were heavy on moshiach then i could almost garuntee you that we would see signs saying “HaRav Shmuel Kaminestky Melech HaMoshiach”

        • OfftheDwannaB May 31, 2011, 12:00 AM

          Your first comment is right. Your second one is wrong on just about every point. Most of Chabad treats the Rebbe as Mosiach because he said he was, and cultivated the moshiach cult to an extreme fervor. Here’s one chabadnik who isn’t pulling any punches:


          As a side point, being a litvak, I know that we do end speeches with moshiach. I’ve never even heard of “that we should see more chidushim of toyrah and mussar”. This must be some chabad story passed down from 200 years ago where one guy met a litvak who didn’t know anything and made the chabadsker feel special.

          • Yoreh K'chetz May 31, 2011, 6:02 AM


            The Rebbe NEVER said he was moshiach, and frequently asked people not to do so as well. After he had his stroke and was unable to speak, the yechi clan started their crap. Today, most of the “proofs” are misquoated statements taken out of context.

            That being said, every group and sect revers their leaders, but chassidim are “rebbe centric”. Just had this discussion with the local Lubavitch yeshiva administrator a couple weeks ago. I pointed out that every kid knows the dates of birth, death weddings of not only all the rabbeim, but their extended families as well. Ask them the same about the patriarchs or Moshe Rabbeinu, they are clueless.

            For the record, the alter rebbe (baal hatanya) was from Lithunia, so was was more of a “litvak” than most litvaks.

            • OfftheDwannaB May 31, 2011, 4:09 PM

              I think you should read that article I linked to. I’m not saying everybody feels that way, but judging from what my Lubavitch friends and posts like that say, the majority did at one point, and many people still do.

          • whoa5771 May 31, 2011, 7:45 AM

            Of all the kollel, yeshiva, aish you name it litvish speakers i have never heard the ending of moshiach…always about more chidushim in torah

      • G*3 May 30, 2011, 8:08 PM

        > the way many litvaks view the vilna gaon and modern gedloim isnt that different from the way that Chassidim view Rebbes

        That’s becuase the Chassidim won.

        • trolly mctrollerson May 30, 2011, 11:58 PM

          it’s not only that chassidus won, its that litvaks now act like chassidim.
          i.e., they:
          1) venerate their infallible rebbeim
          2) grow long peyos
          3) cut their kids hair at 3
          I’m too tired to think of more, but i’m sure others could add to this list.

    • Synapse May 31, 2011, 12:22 PM

      And yet, I’m more worried about the litvish movement messing up Jewry than the chassidish one. Wonder why that is?

      I’d actually go so far as to say Chassidim knew when to stop. Sure Rebbes are magical, but that didn’t transfer over to the scary kind of Judaism you find coming from the so called Haredi sector today which elevated Gedolim to the level of gods.

      • Yoreh K'chetz May 31, 2011, 12:40 PM


        You need to realize that pirkei avot tells us to fear/respect your Rabbi as you would God himself, so it’s probably the basis for what you see happening today.

        Modern litvish have basically evolved into “chassidim”. They call themselves “chassidish”, place their gedolim on the same pedestals as chassidic sects do with rebbes, and have even gone into outreach (decades after Chabad pioneered it).

        A funny story to illustrate my point. We live in a Chabad Lubavitch community. My eldest son went through school there until Mesivta. This year, I switched him into a Chofetz Chaim based mesivta.

        A few months ago, R. Mattisyahu Solomon came to visit their yeshiva. He called me all excited telling me that he got to shake his hand and get a bracha. I jokingly asked him if he made sure to go to the mikvah first. Very surprisingly he answered that the entire yeshiva went to the mikvah before meeting him.

        • whoah5771 May 31, 2011, 3:33 PM

          there is awe…

        • A. Nuran May 31, 2011, 4:06 PM

          Then the Pirkei Avoth is wrong. Plain. Simple. Wrong.
          Only God is worthy of being feared and respected like God.
          Anything else is the worst sort of idolatrous blasphemy.

          • whoah5771 May 31, 2011, 5:08 PM

            not neccesarly, it does say in the torah that “vayaminu behashem u’moshe avdo”

            • A. Nuran May 31, 2011, 5:51 PM

              I must disagree with appropriate respect. In this one the Muslims are right. “There is nothing worthy of worship except God.” Rabbis are people. Fallible, imperfect, flawed, sinful people. Treating them like God is just as much idolatry as treating a piece of bronze or a pile of rocks like it was God.

              • whoah5771 May 31, 2011, 8:13 PM

                not believe in them as G-d, but to respect them as people who nullified to G-d

              • Yoreh K'chetz May 31, 2011, 8:43 PM


                Read that particular mishna in Avot. It’s clear that the point of it is to teach utmost respect for your fellow man, and especially your rav/teacher. No one asked anyone to bow down to a rabbi, or to woership him, it simply said to fear and respect him. How is that idolatry?

                Since you seem to like muslims so much, take an example on them. Anyone dare say something about mohamed and you’ve millions of people rioting across the globe. Last I checked, mohamed wasn’t god, yet they treat him and even the mention of him with more respect than any chassid treats their rebbe.

          • Yoreh K'chetz May 31, 2011, 8:38 PM


            There you go again with your (very) limited knowledge of Judaism, challenging the Tanaim that instituted Judasim as we know it. You a karaite by any chance?

          • max June 2, 2011, 5:34 PM

            Apparently the rabbis in the Talmud were idol worshippers. That explains a lot.

            “Rabbi Elazar ben (son of) Shamua said: The honor of your student should be as dear to you as your own; the honor of your colleague should be as the fear of your [Torah] teacher; and the fear of your teacher should be as the fear of Heaven.”

      • Bubba Metzia June 1, 2011, 7:49 PM

        The modern concept of viewing rabbis like they were priests only started very recently, in the aftermath of the Khmelnytsky Pogroms. The way that most Chasidic groups (and in more recent years other Chareidi groups, including many Litvaks) view their rabbis goes against our Mesorah.

        Historically, rabbis have been respected members of the community like teachers, but they weren’t viewed as above people spiritually like they are viewed in some communities today.

        • Yoreh K'chetz June 1, 2011, 8:15 PM


          I disagree. The talmud states that each yeshiva at the time regarded their rosh yeshiva as Mashiach. If that’s not placing your rabbi on a pedestal, I don’t know what is.

          • Bubba Metzia June 1, 2011, 9:14 PM

            Well, I don’t know enough Talmud to comment one way or another on that. But what I do know is that when my grandfather was in yeshiva in the late 1940s/early 1950s things weren’t the way they are today, at least not in the Litvish and Sephardi communities. It wasn’t really until after that that there started to be this concept of Da’as Torah as it’s viewed today where you basically get the rabbi’s opinion on pretty much everything, even issues that don’t really have much to do with Halacha.

            • max June 2, 2011, 5:37 PM

              First you say this changed after the Khmelnytsky Pogroms (almost 400 years ago), then you say it changed less than 60 years ago. Which one is it?

  • BoxedWhine May 30, 2011, 3:51 PM

    Rebbe says i’m better than you…… News at 11.

    • batsheva May 30, 2011, 6:48 PM


  • Seriously? May 30, 2011, 4:22 PM

    I try not to get between people and these kinds of beliefs. No good comes from it – just sinas chinam.

    It is like a political argument with someone who is *very* different. No good outcome is possible, since you cannot even agree on first principles. So let them believe what they will – it is harmless enough to you. Walk away, and leave them alone.

  • chevramaidel May 30, 2011, 4:42 PM

    All I can say is that I never heard Reb Shlomo tell this particular story. If someone heard it from him, it has been since twisted beyond recognition. When he would tell stories of the Rebbes, and other great rabbis and people throughout our tradition, the message was never “See how much better than you I am.” It was always, “See how holy a Jew can be, how any Jew can be. See how holy a human being can be. See how holy you can be, how holy you already are.”

    • BoxedWhine May 30, 2011, 7:50 PM

      “See how holy a Jew can be, how any Jew can be. See how holy a human being can be. See how holy you can be, how holy you already are.”

      Yes, Dvar Torahs are supposed to be uplifting. A good Dvar Torah is supposed to give ruach and make it’s listeners feel something sweet and deep. It’s not supposed to make you feel like the lowest scum on earth like this. If this is what is considered a Dvar Torah today, we are in some serious trouble.

      Yes, you saw my sarcastic comments here, but those are because I have grown so sick, so sad over what the community has become. I wish I was not as cynical as I am, but I have had it up to here.

      The orthodox community is supposed to be the jewel in the crown that is Judaism. I simply do not see them worthy of that anymore.

  • Schwartzie May 30, 2011, 5:08 PM

    It sounds like two stories I heard mixed together to form the basis for a non sequitorial (I made that word up) dvar torah.

  • A. Nuran May 30, 2011, 6:11 PM

    You can learn a lot about a culture from its teaching stories.

    I left a martial arts tradition early on partly because its teaching stories were all about how nothing was more important than being a member and samurai who were willing to betray their best friends. Later it turned out my doubts were abs0lutely spot on.

    The stories you’re talking about aren’t stories. They are loud warning sirens. The Rabbi is smarter than you. The Rabbi is holy. You’re a pimple on God’s ass. Don’t ask questions. If you do you’ll be publicly humiliated and punished. Shut up and bow before your Master, slave.

    Screw that. No sane free person would stand for it.

    • batsheva May 30, 2011, 6:50 PM


    • BoxedWhine May 30, 2011, 7:41 PM

      The number one rule of Project Mayhem is that you do not ask questions about Project Mayhem.

  • Yoreh K'chetz May 30, 2011, 6:46 PM

    I heard that story before, expect that it had nothing to do with any particular rebbe, and certanly didn’t happen at a tish where the rebbe called the guy in front of everybody. I doubt anyone calling themselves a rebbe would have the nerve to judge/embarass soemone like that in public.

  • kishmir May 30, 2011, 7:17 PM

    I call bullshit

  • G*3 May 30, 2011, 8:12 PM

    > So, God and the Karliner Rebbe, don’t like questions.

    And this surprises you? Or does Telz allow bochurim to ask questions that don’t have pat answers?

    • ReadingRailroadRabbi May 30, 2011, 9:44 PM


      The saying goes, Brisk asks, how? Telz asks, why?

      If it don’t make sense to a telzer (and no answer is given that is satisfactory) , it’s either a ‘chok’ or BS.

      Telz is the anti-chassid

      • Telz Angel May 31, 2011, 12:12 PM

        Dear ReadingRailroadRabbi
        > Telz is the anti-chassid

        I remember when one of my rabeyim commented about few chassidm who attended there and wore gartels during davenning. He said that the easiest way to tell the difference between a kosher and treif sefer torah is to see that the treif torahs have the gartel on the outside.

    • A. Nuran May 31, 2011, 5:45 AM

      The only questions that are ultimately worth asking don’t have pat answers.

      • Seriously? May 31, 2011, 6:06 AM

        Sort of. The *really* good questions are about a person’s own choices and destiny – and I agree wholeheartedly that the answer depends a LOT on the questioner.

        But questions that are “universal” in the sense that they are about the natural world, or about Torah, can indeed have straightforward answers. I think they probably all do.

        • A. Nuran May 31, 2011, 1:25 PM

          Let’s say the really important questions are the ones which get past what everyone knows and expand into what is not known. The questions which change you or where finding the answer is an important exercise in itself can be the most worthwhile. If you ask your favorite Authority and he opens his mouth, furrows his brow and bites off his next word you may be onto something good.

          There’s a simple answer to “Why is the sky blue in the day and red at sunset?” Once you start digging past that you end up learning a lot and can quickly end up in territory for which there are currently no answers. Finding them is one of the most worthwhile human endeavors.

      • ReadingRailroadRabbi May 31, 2011, 7:40 AM

        No one has the answers to those. Thats why its called Belief, or Emunah. It’s kind of a fundamental part of our religion, this faith thing.

        I mean, if there are E.T.s does it really affect Jews? Our religion has been around for a long long long time through many many cultures. The USA might not be here in 200 years but 200 years is nothing when it comes to Jews.

        • Seriously? May 31, 2011, 9:49 AM

          Either we *have* answers (ex. Can we logically prove that G-d does or does not exist? The answer is no.)

          Or we do NOT have answers (ex. Do ETs exist? We do not know) – but the question is irrelevant to us as Jews.

          OR the answers are unique to a person (ex. what is *my* unique contribution to this world?) and in which case the answers are never easy.

          But Emunah is not for any of these questions. It is, instead, needed for questions like, “Should *I* behave like I believe in G-d?” In all of these cases, the answer cannot be logically or factually produced. We choose A or we choose B. That choice is its own answer; there is no objective truth for this kind of question, beyond what we make ourselves.

          Emunah is needed when we don’t have answers?

          Pose the question:

          • ReadingRailroadRabbi May 31, 2011, 1:16 PM

            You sound like a telzer

        • A. Nuran May 31, 2011, 1:32 PM

          RRR – Thank you. You have given me the opportunity to pull out one of the best quotes ever, courtesy of Roger Zelazny ztl

          Ah, but it makes a great difference, you see. It is the difference between the unknown and the unknowable, between science and fantasy — it is a matter of essence. The four points of the compass be logic, knowledge, wisdom and the unknown. Some do bow in that final direction. Others advance upon it. To bow before the one is to lose sight of the three. I may submit to the unknown, but never to the unknowable. The man who bows in that final direction is either a saint or a fool. I have no use for either

          If it weren’t for the willingness to advance on the unknown we would still be wearing animal skins and huddling in the cold because we never learned how to make our own fire. There would be no Written Torah because we never would have developed writing. There would be no Talmud because Chazal would avoid questions without simple formulaic answers.

          Faith has its place. But it is not a substitute for thought, and it is not properly used as a bludgeon to beat down the nobility of the human spirit and our precious gift of curiosity.

          • ReadingRailroadRabbi May 31, 2011, 4:53 PM


  • Frumsatire Fan May 31, 2011, 7:20 AM

    Rebbes are clairvoyant! That must be why Hassidim wear a hat on top of a kipa, it’s their damper mechanism.

  • BZ May 31, 2011, 9:55 AM

    I think it’s a matter of attitude. When you ask a question, if what you’re looking for is to better understand why things are the way they are, that’s perfectly fine. If the attitude is “I don’t understand why something is the way it is therefore it’s wrong” then no answer will satisfy you. If we feel something we are told to do, we are instructed to ask to better understand why we’re told to do these things. It may even turn out that we were right once the person thinks it over, but the attitude is everything.

  • Leibel May 31, 2011, 11:22 AM

    I found the story to be proof that being a rebbe doesn’t make you holy. Publicly humiliating someone is equated with murder in the Gemara and even rebuke is supposed to be done in private, you don’t call someone out in public.

    Also Yeshivish people and litvacks might revere their rabbi, but they never claim he’s the Mashiach, doven to him, give him aliyot after he’s dead, put a fax machine in his coffin so he can answer shailos, etc. Also the Lubavitch Rebbe never claimed to be Mashiach.

    • Telz Angel May 31, 2011, 12:18 PM

      Seriously now — I doubt that the story is true. Really would a Rebbe do this? of course not! The problem with the maiyse is not that it was true (which I doubt) and not that it was fiction (so many are anyway) — but that it was told to reflect the values of the speaker — that this is the way it “should be”.

      It was mussar in the form of a chassidic tale. It was mussar. Don’t think don’t ask. Just do. That’s what God wants.

      My problem is not with the chassidim or their attachment to their rebbes. It is with an immorality of religious cultism that is cast in the holy trappings of a chassidic story. I preferred the Bubber-style stories, although they also poked fun at the chassidim, they did so in an endearing and inspiring way.

      • A. Nuran May 31, 2011, 1:37 PM

        If he were a petty-minded egomaniac who enjoyed lording it over others he might. Smicha doesn’t make you immune from that. And if you have a tendency towards pride it can make it worse because it lets you parade your knowledge of esoteric legal points in front of the less educated.

      • talking stam May 31, 2011, 7:34 PM

        telz, so well put!
        i have heard this story (or similar story?) before, the rebbe reading the man’s mind, embarrassing the man and saying he only eats in order to say a bracha were exactly as i heard it. i also don’t think its true, but rather reflective of a mindset and indoctrination of chasidic culture. cloaked in a sweet and holy fairytale is the treat of repercussions for deviating even in thought from the wishes of the rebbe.

  • OfftheDwannaB May 31, 2011, 12:30 PM

    Who doesn’t like a good buber-maise?

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