Monday, March 19, 2012

For the love of a black man

All of you who know me, know that I have a love hate relationship with the frum community, mostly hate about the time of disappointment and then somehow a deep love because I have spent so much of the most vibrant, energized years of my youth striving to make the walls of the beis medrash my eternal abode. For those of you who have had that experience you would know. The thoughts, and feelings and joys of learning a blat of gemara, never leave they just twist and turn as they continue to wind their way through my mind and soul, influencing in new ways the the thoughts and challenges of today. Perhaps Abaye and Rava make their way into a research paper influencing my way of understanding both sides of an argument, perhaps a story about R Akiva can help me understand Homer. Either way, gemara, I shall never forget the thousands of hours we have spent together.

Recently I had an experience which brought me right back to all those good times without any memory of the bad. In my youth I use to collect old seforim and occasionally kisvei yad of some kind. I had taught in an old shul, and the rabbi, one day hearing of my hobby, handed me a stack of kisvei yad, being young, I was excited, I had never owned something like this before. I had old seforim that I had found. I had a gemara with teeny letters from 1680. I once owned a sefer by R efraim ha kohen from 1701 ( I think he was the one blamed for some kind of fire that broke out in Frankfurt) it had a special looking stamp one of the pages, perhaps it belonged to some important library. I also had an old kav ha yashar. amongst, or tucked in to these various seforim there were some short kisvei yad, but no one who was famous. This stack of kisvei yad that the Rabbi gave me was the first that had some promise. I had no idea who wrote it, but I knew that they must have known something and it was clear that a lot of work went into it. Hundreds of thousands of little small twirls and swirls-letters, written, lines measures with a ruler, perfectly to make sure that it was readable. One large folded paper looked like an actual teshuva because it had a signature. some of the others were short books, one a commentary on the Ramban on chumash, which looked like it was being prepared for print, name of author and date of writing.

In this pile there were a few different authors. were they famous? Had anyone heard of them? I had no idea. Over the years. I had done some research. There were a few names that were clearly associated with the books. R Eliezer Levi Helperin of Karlin. who was he? what he related to the karliner Rebbe? Did every author who lived in Karlin call themselves "from Karlin"?
Another author called themselves Noah ben yakov Pines.

I had had these writings sitting in my parents home for 15 years or so. I finally decided, I wasn't doing anything with them, lets figure out if they are worth anything to anyone. Karlin in the 1850's was a happening place. It was about 60 years after some of the most intense conflict that happened between chassidim and misnagdim, mostly in vilna, and it seems that, contrary to what I had thought, it was mostly litvishe rabbonim with a sprinkling of chassidim. To my regret, my writing was not written by any of the Karliner Rabbeim. Their name was Aron, that would have been far more lucrative. It seems that wealthy chassidim are the ones that are paying the most for kisvei yad these days, and they are particularly looking for kesavim of chassidishe rabbeim.

So who was this Eliezer Halevi? After much research it is clear that he was a successful business man who devoted much of his time to learning torah, and so he wrote a lot of his thought down, and here I am 150 years later, holding the sweat of his brow and the work of his hands. How lucky was I ? Who was Noach Pines? Well I heard that Pines was the real name of R Aron Kotler and so perhaps he was a relative of theirs. I did make one call to a friend of mine to see if he could find out if R Noach Pines was related to the Kotlers. He said " I'll call R Malkiel right now, and I'll call you back in a minute" That was 2 months ago. I decided I'm not going to wait. I'd rather get it into the hands of someone who appreciates it, and move it along.

My friend Tzvi told me of someone in Boro Park, a talmid chochom who knows about kesavim. He was the son of a well known rosh yeshiva. I must admit, I was quite hesitant going to meet him. I was so distant in my heart and soul from this man. He was the ordinary hard core boro park person with whom, I wouldn't even care to talk to under normal circumstances. Our views were as from each other as the heavens are from the earth. He was in his stubborn closed world and I was in my open, free, all encompassing way of thinking.

I met with him once. We looked through some books, that might help us understand who was this R Eliezer Levi Helperin. Did he have anything to do with any of the Rabbi's of his time? Was he well known at all. I must say, sitting there in his typical boro park dining room, I was un at ease. Although, I can talk the talk, but I had to make sure to remember where I was and not so say anything offensive. Of course I knew to make sure not to mention anything that would hint in the slightest way to my real views.

I needed his help here, so I was being nice and respectful, but also make sure to keep a comfortable distance. If he got to close, maybe he would see something.

That was the first time I met him. The second time was different.Something changed.