Rabbi Ezriel Tauber Speaks
Holocaust survivor, businessman, lecturer to the non-observant, teacher to baalei tshuva, Chassidim, and talmidei chachamim, founder of a kollel for dayanim, a man sought after equally for his advice on practical matters as well as deep philosophical issues, Rabbi Tauber often draws on his vast store of personal stories and experiences to convey his message. A former student of Rabbi Michoel Dov Weissmandel, z”l, in the Yeshiva of Nitra, Mount Kisco, he has been the driving force behind a number of institutions which are dedicated to the entire scope of Torah dissemination.
He has been holding weekend seminars for over 40 years. For over 15 years, he has been reserving 70 or 80 rooms, at intervals during each year, in the luxurious Nir Etzion Hotel in the Carmel Mountains near Haifa. Families, couples, and individuals come from Thursday afternoon until Motzei Shabbos, during which time they enjoy the extraordinary amenities in the hotel, including the swimming pool with separate hours for men and women, beautifully landscaped grounds, stunning views of the hills in the Carmel, and plentiful, fresh, delicious food served at every meal in buffet style.
This is my first time at one of Rabbi Tauber’s Shabbatons.
Soon after I arrive on Thursday evening, I feel that my mind has been freed somewhat of all those tensions I carried with me on my way to this picturesque spot in the Carmel. After checking into my room and having dinner, I go to the first of Rabbi Tauber’s lectures where I hear amazing things, some of them more startling than I’ve heard in a long time.
From the beginning, I’m challenged when he starts out asking, “What is a Jew? Who am I? We say our brochas in the morning and right away we’re lying when we say them and don’t really know who is the ‘ani’ in ‘Modeh Ani,’ and Who it is being said to. You can learn Tanach all day, be very knowledgeable in all of Torah, yet until you identify yourself and where you are, you can’t make any use of the Torah.”
Now I’m beginning to get inspired, and Rabbi Tauber continues, always gently, always with conviction. “Awesome things are taking place in the world. Yet our hearts are so blocked that we remain unmoved and forget that it’s the Creator who is running it all. And the events of our times are awesome and earthshaking to such an extent that they demand a more profound response on our part. Avinu sh’b’Shamayim wants us to undergo an inner revolution.
“All the wild things that are happening today are from HaKodesh Boruch Hu. Aren’t you wondering how to respond? Don’t you want to learn what’s required of you?”
At this point, I want to jump up and yell, “Yes! I do!” But before I have a chance, he continues, “We have to think.”
I’m glad to hear him say that.
I had been beginning to believe that thinking was a lost art. It seems like there’s so much to do, simply to keep up with everything. I sit back down in my chair and begin to think as he speaks.
He describes how all the enticements so readily available today have one main purpose: to stop us from thinking, to put us to sleep. The nations are not so much after our bodies or our neshomas now. We can do whatever we want, go wherever we want. All they want is that we shouldn’t think. And then we’re lost. We’ve turned our nefesh over to them.
“Stop searching,” they’re telling us. “You’ve found it. With satellite discs you can instantly travel under water, over sky, through jungles, deserts, and cities. There’s so much to do and no time to think, no need to think. Glide over the surface, surf over everything, surf your life away. Everything you could want is under your feet, under your thumb and index finger, where you start out with your curiosity, and then click your way into any reality you want.”
Today we are in Mashiach times, Rabbi Tauber points out.
“Melech HaMashiach will come soon, but we’re already in the times of Mashiach,” The words that the Masters of Illusion use do reflect truth, but their intentions are false, with no more reality than a mirror, a shadow with no substance. We can glide into any reality we want. Will we choose fantasy, virtual reality, or will we use our power of imagination to imagine the emes, which is netzach netzachim, forever?
Rabbi Tauber throws out a challenge again:
“Today you have to make a decision. You have to ask: ‘What am I doing?’ Nobody can protect you. Not the school, not the teachers. Nobody knows where you are. All of a sudden you find yourself, right there inside of you. And you sense that no matter how many friends you have, it’s only you in this place. ‘Am I loyal to Hashem? Am I a partner? Hashem gave me the opportunity to use the nefesh. For what?’
“How come the nations are so nice to us? For 2500 years they were hurting us, hitting us, restricting us, pillaging us, expelling us, killing us. They were taking away the neshoma and the body.
“All of a sudden they’re so nice. They give us on a silver platter democracy, freedom, freedom of speech. Everything that is in the world runs after us, ‘Look at me…Take me…With the press of a button you can have me.’
“Nobody’s oppressing us. We have everything. For 2500 years they fought us, body and soul. What happened all of a sudden? What do they want?”
“Now they’re after our minds, kidnapping our nefesh, our thoughts. The only way to avoid it is to know your self,” Rabbi Tauber says. We have a new, new battle now, and we don’t have the tools for it. We’re using the old tools for the new battle.
“When I was growing up, the world was not available for us. In the yeshivas and in the chassidus, I was safe. They were like bunkers to hide in safety. Today, there’s no safe place in the world. You can live in the nicest family, go to the best yeshiva, nicest seminary, you’re learning Torah But nobody knows what you’re joining up with, where your head is.
“Are you joining Gog and Magog? Magog is Ishmael, filth, tyvas, arroyos, immorality. Gog is kefira, all the isms, and they’re all bankrupt – communism, socialism, athiesm, etc.”
So the question becomes: “Who am I? What am I? What is a Jew? Which reality will I choose?”
“In order to answer that, you can’t fall asleep, you can’t have hesech ha daas. But that’s what they want from us. “Take it. Take it all. It’s all available for you. Fall asleep. Don’t think. Glide over the surface of everything. So interesting, so beautiful, and it doesn’t even have to be ossur.”
In Mashiach Times, the underlying fabric, the structure of reality, is being revealed and made available, and it’s much, much deeper and fuller than the deepest parts of the ocean, and infinitely more beautiful. “Don’t be crass. Don’t sell yourselves short,” is Rabbi Tauber’s message. “Find the tools we need for these days. Let go of all those tempting voices, even though it’s so easy and so pleasant to simply follow them.”
What he‘s saying is: “You have a chance now. This is Mashiach-tzeit. So many opportunities for kedusha if you just let go of all those curiosities and enticements. Make a place for your innate kedusha to rise up. Each one of us has our own individual tafkid to fulfill. If we know what ours is, that’s what brings us in the quickest way to simcha. Simcha is tzimcha; you flourish.”
Then comes in the Rav Weissmandl in him: “I feel like it’s 70 years ago. We lived in Czechoslovakia under Nazi occupation from the beginning of the war. Then we ran to Hungary. The Nazis came in the next year. We knew what was going on. We knew that three million Jews were already killed. My father worked with Rav Weissmandl. My father went around in Hungary saying, ‘Rabosai, prepare yourselves! It’s going to get you too! Don’t think they’re going to stop! Get papers! Hide! Prepare bunkers!’
“They laughed, ‘Nothing’s going to happen to us. We’re safe.’
“Everyone knows history. In the last year of the war, almost 80% of the Hungarian Jews were killed; they got the last million Hungarian Jews.
“I feel like that when I go around from place to place. We’re in the middle of a holocaust! It’s more than three million Jews. Do you know how many beautiful homes have been destroyed? How many boys, how many girls, are totally destroyed and have fallen into addictions? And every other problem you can possibly think of is running rampant right in our own communities.
“And I’m saying it again, like my father said in Hungary: ‘Save yourself! You don’t know what’s awaiting you! It’s getting worse and worse, and if you don’t save yourself, they’ll kidnap your children! You’ll have no children!’
“They want to kidnap our minds. In the beginning of getting into that world of fantasy, it’s just curiosity. ‘Just a little bit, a little bit. It’s culture. Just for curiosity.’
“Before you know it, you’re addicted. It’s a world of addictions today. We’re losing our minds. We haven’t got the freedom to choose what we are recording in our nefesh, and that’s what’s going to remain with us.
“When you’re addicted, your mind is blank. You’re just not here. You’re blank.
“The best you can say is: ‘I won’t do bad things, averas.’ But at the time of blankness, you allow yourself to be kidnapped, which means that you have no control over your thoughts. That’s called addiction.
“And if you have a blank mind, even if it’s a kosher blank mind, it’s hesech ha daas; you’ve been distracted from who you are and what you are about, and you’re finished. The world has a grip on you, it’s tofes you. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can be the one to hold onto the world, to tofes the world.”
Once again in the seminar we are confronted with that question, “Who am I? What am I really about?” Maybe we asked that question a few times in our lives, and it may have propelled us forward. But a Jew is compelled to ask that question all the time, whenever he confronts a new ol malchus Shamayim, and when doesn’t he confront that? A new way of understanding a pshat in gemara, a child and their needs, the question of parnossa, or any of the other myriad of our experiences that ask us for a fresh viewpoint.
That’s why Rav Tauber says, “I’m not here to make baal tshuvas. I’m here to make gerim.” It took me a while to understand that statement until I heard him say that every time we take upon ourselves a new ol malchus Shamyim, it’s so totally revolutionary that it’s like you’re becoming a Jew for the first time.
I thought to myself, Things aren’t that bad for me; a lot of things are good, in fact, boruch Hashem. But I’m ready for that kind of action, ready to become the Jew I always knew I could become.
I slowed down, moving into a more peaceful pace during these days of the seminar, while being filled with profound perceptions of reality.
My mind began to awaken to itself. I knew that there was too much there for me to process at one time, but the relaxation I felt enabled these perceptions to be quietly placed within me, even if my intellect didn’t immediately realize what they were. As Chazal say, “mazleh chazi” – even if a person doesn’t consciously understand something, there are times that it’s placed directly into his subconscious.
I realized that I had to do my “homework” and turn away from the distractions that would put the mind to sleep again. I had to continue asking: “Who am I? What is a Jew?” The innate kedusha of a Jew will surely surface. It takes awareness and determination. It’s not an easy avodah, but it’s one that’s been tried and tested.
“You can exercise your freedom of choice for the first time in your life,” Rabbi Tauber explains: “You can choose to become a partner. Until Avraham Avinu, no one chose to become a partner. They were all Bnai Noach, wanting to serve Hashem with seven mitzvos. For 2000 years, until Avraham Avinu, nobody volunteered to become a partner. Avraham Avinu came along and said, ‘I want to become a partner. I want to take responsibility.’
“A Bnai Noach doesn’t take any risks. Just gets his paycheck. But someone who is a partner with Hashem realizes he’s a tzelem Elokim, and exists because Hashem is breathing life into him. And as a partner, he is also breathing life back to Hashem. This is when he becomes filled with content and substance. His Partner, Hashem, is filling him with it, and he in turn is passing it on to others, which is how he returns life to Hashem.”
And then we begin our real job of seeing and revealing Hashem in every event, and in every detail of our lives.
At this point in history, in Mashiach-times, we have the ability to perceive Hashem in every part of lives and in our whole history and our futures also. To truly become partners with Hashem, more than at any other time in the past. “How rich and how happy we are if we know why we are here. This is the true simcha. ‘Az yimale sichok pinu – Then our mouths will be filled with laughter.’ ”
©2019 Yaakov Branfman