Monday, March 31, 2008

My Grandfather A'H and Olam Haba.

My grandfather, my mother’s father, Reb Mendel Gottesfeld A’H, (see Rabbi Broyde’s article in Hakirah 3 ), was a Talmid muvhak of Reb Israel Hager of Viznitz. All his life he was a hard worker delivering bread by horse drawn carriage in Arad, Rumania. My Grandmother A’H used to complain that he did not bring home enough because he used to stop in the middle of the day to say Tehilim which he used to say all the time by heart. I do not remember if he finished it daily or weekly but I do know that Shabbat he used to say it loud from beginning to end. At 50, by now in London with grown kids, he decided to retire and dedicate his life to as he put it “arbetten oif oilom habu”. As it was anathema to him to receive money even from his children, he was the fire stoker in my uncle’s bakery, Woodbury Downs Bakery in Stamford Hill, going at 3 AM to light the fire. He also delivered Chalot for Shabbat on Fridays and that gave him enough to live on.

I was the first child in the family to be born after the war and was very much doted on. I got very close with my grandfather as my parents lived in Paris and used to send me for extended periods to my Zaidy in London. In fact, I learned Aleph Beis in Pfeffer’s cheder with the first group of survivor’s children.

My grandfather’s day revolved around davening and learning. It took him from the wee hours of the morning until quite late, the last minyan for Shacharit at Pinter’s Shul, to get ready for Tefilah. It involved learning, Mikvah, Tehilim and bodily functions to have a Guf Naki for Tefillin. When I questioned him about the latter, he showed me the Gemara about Elisha Ba’al Kenafayim and the Tosafot there. As I grew older, we talked about some of his struggles with himself as they related to Avodat hashem. He feared an Aveirah like the plague but he also struggled with understanding the deeper issues of schar ve’onesh and what happens at death and the meaning of life. He chose Massechet Archin as the tractate to learn and know thoroughly so that when he comes up to the Olam Ha’emet and they ask him what he learned he should at least have one Massechet in his pocket.

My grandfather was a character and stood out among all the older people, his contemporaries, by his idiosyncrasies, simplicity and lack of any self-consciousness about doing the things he understood to be right. The older cousins who knew him during this period, before his stroke, Parkinson’s and the decline at the end of his life, were all very strongly influenced by him and when we meet we reminisce and share our experiences. We all have assimilated some of his ways and they live within us.

I can only talk from my personal experience. He is always in my mind and there is not a day that I do not find myself thinking about him. I always understood the Midrash about Yaakov appearing to Yosef when confronted with the temptation of Potiphar’s wife, not that it worked for me as well as it did for Yosef – unfortunately. I have assimilated him and internalized him and I believe that in a certain sense he is still active even after having died over 30 years ago. My son Alex met him as a child and I know he still remembers him and we both told his children, my grandchildren, about him the past Shabbat. I know I will tell them more about him as they grow up. I also know that some of his values are ingrained in me and I passed them along to my two sons, whether they know it or not.

Why do I write all this? The question that I pose to myself is whether my grandfather fulfilled his role in the world? I believe he did. He has brought a family into existence that has since branched out all over Europe, America and Israel with the majority of his descendants dealing with their own responsibility to fulfill their role in life. Each one has some part of my grandfather in them as he, my grandfather, had parts and ideas of his father and grandfather in his transmission to us. He lives, not through us, but in us. We all assimilated him and made him part of us, whether we know it or not. What brought us all together with him was his love for God, His Torah and his strong conviction that a man has to serve God with all his strength. This is not exactly the personal Olam Haba that we all try to understand, the intellectual connection with the Active intellect and HKBH. It however certainly is a Chelek, a part in Olam Haba. My grandfather, whatever his personal OH meant to him, Massechet Archin or whatever else went through his mind, his love for Torah and the love to it that he inculcated in us, became part of our collective Olam Haba. He certainly had a Chelek in Olam Haba.

I believe this is what the Rav was telling us in the quote in my previous post. It is not only the ignoramus per se but the ignoramus in us all, the emotional part that the intellect triggers, that focuses all of us on a common idea and feeling, that gives us all this collective Olam Haba, the Chelek Le’olam Haba.


  1. Very moving and similar in many ways to my own extended family's experience. In fact I passed your post on to other family members.

    I am happily in sync with most everything you said with two small exceptions.(What would a comment be without a IMHO?)I wouldn't describe our emotional identifications with important figures in our past as the ignoramus inside us. Nor do I feel our emotions are triggered by our intellect or ought necessarily always to be "governed" by our intellect. Sometimes our intellect ought to listen to our emotions, your inspiring narrative being a very good example.

  2. EJ,

    I guess I had to appeal to emotions to have you see eye to eye with me!
    So concede a little and limit it to "intellectually" triggered emotions!


  3. This question is for evanstonjew but i am also intersted in R' David's response as well.

    evanstonjew, you write "Sometimes our intellect ought to listen to our emotions" my question is: what determines when its appropriate to listen to which?

    Thank you.

    David W.

  4. David W.

    You probably know my answer, it is always dangerous to let the emotions take the lead. Emotions are triggered by the imaginative faculty. I guess in modern parlance it would be the subconscious that replays old experiences.

  5. R' David,

    I wholeheartedly agree, however, my question was'nt which should be listened to, rather what would be the determining factor as to which to listen to.


    David W.

  6. anonymous...I didn't expect this question so I have nothing thought out. Off the top of my head I would say experience. How does a trader or poker player know when to hold them, when to fold them, when to follow one's emotions when not, when to make an exception to a long standing rule? Does or need he have a meta rule book, and a meta-meta rule book governing the meta rule book? I am reminded of Marvin Minsky's homunculi theory of AI.
    (Proceed with caution lest you never return.LOL)

    There is a deeper point, I reject outright (don't tell David) the faculty theory of the mind. Imagination requires intelligence, intelligence needs imagination, the possible combinations and mizugim are many and hard to catalog.

    As we mature, and provided we do not want to govern ourselves top down, recognizing that the sadism of the superego frequently disguises itself as the satyr called rationality,we learn to trust our emotions and free associate around them. We govern ourselves gently by experiencing the interaction of our values and ideals & our desires and feelings, paying special attention not to do violence to any of these parts of our self. And over time we get good at it or better at it, recognizing that although we continue to make mistakes, it is far superior to the tyranny of reason.

    Not exactly the sort of thing the Alter of Kelm might say, but I take it you didn't expect a musar sort of answer when you asked me the question.(:

  7. evanstonjew,


    what would you say about the following case:

    A first time mother constantly showers her child with lavish gifts and constant atttention. She feels great about this and the child seems very happy. Now, her mother in law steps in and says" you are creating a spoiled child who will be unable to deal with reality and wont learn to sublimate etc. The new mother does some research and discovers (miracle of miracles) that the data supports her mother in law. However, it feels wrong to stop her current approach.

    the question is what should the new mother do; 1) listen to her mind and change her approach or 2) trust her instincts (after all raising a child is natural and how can her instints be wrong)?

    A second question would be what aspect of her humaness is she using to "negotiate" the two possibilities?

    Thank you.

    David W.

  8. I didn't mean to imply that we should not use knowledge about the world in our practical reasoning. What I did want to assert is that it's a matter of negotiation between vaules, and sometimes between desires and values, and to talk of reason dictating anything like a unique solution is not the way it does work or should work. Since my point was that it is a matter of negotiations, and not all conflicts are necessarily solvable in some mechanical way, I don't think I should be asked to answer hypothetical cases as if there is a shulchan aruch involved.

    I also meant to assert that wisdom suggests we should give the devil its due, and try to some extent to satisfy some of our desires, in a way commensurate with our values. There is an interesting post this morning by Rabbi Maryles, tentatively applying this idea to issues of tznius. The deeper question is whether recognizing that some desires have to be satisfied at least some of the time can be worked into a model where desires and appetites are identified with the yetzer harah.

    I can't answer the second question. I used to think that the id, ego, superego model was adequate.

  9. evanstonjew,

    An essential part of being human is that we are beings of actions; does not one need to have a general strategic approach to life? Does'nt the recognition that he is a complicated being made up of thoughts, ideas, logics, insticts, guts and emotions mean that he must have a prepared method of dealing w/ these constant internal conflicts? Does'nt the resolution of these internal conflicts defines ones actions?

    Could'nt we go so far as to say that ones values are nothing more then what one holds to be true? And if so, is not what one holds to be true contigent on how he resolves these internal conflicts?

    I wonder, if this is true, then isnt ones guts, instincts and emotions an evolution based on his values which are based on that which he holds to be true.

    If we believe that one can choose to follow that which is true must he not be clear on his method? Does'nt it all come down to that essential question?

    I must admit that I have an opinion on this (as we all really do), however, I am most interested in whether you see all this in a different light (which i suspect you do) and would love to see if I can understand it.

    Thank you for your patience and indulgence!

    David W.

  10. I can't answer your question. I have no prepared method. Maybe Rabbi Guttman has some thoughts on this topic.