On the void that is a parent

There are many people who say,

“A day doesn’t go by when I don’t think about my father”,

after their father (or mother) has departed this world. I don’t doubt them. Thinking about my father ע’’ה is scratching the surface. I don’t think about him 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There isn’t a day, however, that doesn’t pass wherein I don’t reflect, either during the day, or as I try to fall asleep. I sometimes reflect on things I may or may have not done which would have met with his approval or disapproval. At other times it is surface tension.

The irony is that we have been married for more than 3 decades. During that time, I couldn’t put my hand on my heart and say I listened to everything he suggested. There were times we disagreed. However, I rarely over-argued my position, and if I we chose to take a slightly different path, I did so without fanfare or disrespect. I tried to make him unaware, but that was nigh on impossible. He had a sixth sense, and could simply tell from my voice on the phone in the car, if I had a good day.

What I have become acutely aware of during his physical void from this world, is a magnification and perhaps even the creation of my own frailties. It is true that some of those frailties were born because of the vacuüm connected to the history from whence they germinated.

A good analogy might be marking your own test. Until then, I may not have been aware or concerned to compare my test results with those of my fathers. It just wasn’t on the agenda. I was living life from day-to-day, navigating through morass and happiness (comprising much more of the latter). Comparison of test results or similar weren’t remotely registered or on any agenda.

It is only now that there are occasions where I am sure that

  • I know how my father would have wanted me to react and pass on the values of the Mesora/tradition;
  • there are instances where I am not sure, and indeed, others are also not sure.
  • the remote: the new situation that he may not have encountered where one needs to extrapolate.

That is the most difficult of all because subjective influences will doubtless infiltrate what might have been a logical or historical process.

Professor R’ Chaym Soloveitchik, the son of the Rav, wrote a seminal essay in Tradition magazine, many years ago, about the mimetic (think mime) tradition. I tended then to look at his thoughts through a more prism vis a vis Halacha recorded and the growing paper trails versus the מסורה/tradition handed down manually from family to family (and sung so well by Topol in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’). Tradition can subsume technico-legal aspects of Halacha and extends to Middos and behavioural mores.

One of my teachers, R’ Nochem Zalman Gurewicz ע’’ה had an uncompromising view of Halacha. He also had an uncompromising love of Jews. Although we were ostensibly learning Gemora with him in Year 12, the refrain, often accompanied by a bang on his desk was that we needed to self-imbue ourselves/become acquainted with the so called “missing” tome of Shulchan Aruch, known as the “Fifter Chelek”. This mythical tome, of course doesn’t exist in writing. R’ Chaym Soloveitchyk would probably identify some of the fifth tome as osmosis from one’s parents and grandparents.

I have heard (to the best of my recollection) Mori V’Rabbi, R’ Hershel Schachter talk about the fifth chelek of Shulchan Aruch. Likely he used that terminology as it is the terminology that is common today.

Again, to the best of my recollection, the Rav, Rav Soltoveitchik, didn’t use this terminology as much if at all. His main language: and the main language if R’ Hershel  was the terminology of

והלכת בדרכיו

Go in His ways

Based on the Ramban, this is an onus we carry each day. We are to conduct ourselves in ways that God would conduct himself. We know many of God’s traits (values is probably a better word). These are enunciated. The Rav and his father R’ Moshe and his father R’ Chaim of Brisk (after whom Professor R’ Chaym was named) held that the contents of the fifth chelek if you will, are in-between the lines of the other four chalokim. One needs to develop an acute sense of how to read a line of anything: be it Shulchan Aruch and Gemora (for which the Rav did have a formal Mesora passed down to him) and even Chumash (for which the Rav bemoaned that he never went through the exercise of reading between the lines with his father or Grandfather (The Rav does identify the Ramban, though, as the most outstanding pirush in that direction).

So, you are probably wondering why I am allowing a conscious and personal stream burst forth onto the internet about my father ע’’ה all of a sudden.

To be honest, I was re-arranging pictures, and each time his visage confronted me the פסוק of והלכת בדרכיו based on the foundation of מסורה confronted me and disturbed my status quo.

והיו עיניך רואות את מוריך

 

Back to work.

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia although my views have nought to do with my employer. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

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