Rabbi David Benjamin Fainsilber and the Slonimer Rebbe
May 26, 2017 // 2 Sivan 5777
The picture opens with a view of a mountain,
smoke is everywhere.
Slowly it becomes clear that the lighting
that is coming down from various directions
is catching the trees on fire.
The fire is spreading; the smoke increases.
Rain is pouring out from the sky too.
A noticeable, but tiny individual
is seen from the distance at the top of the mountain.
The people hear the faint rumblings of a voice.
They are frightened.
G-d speaks to Moses in the wilderness. (Bemidbar 1:1)
Cut to a 12th century Beit Midrash/House of Study.
Even though it is daylight, there is little light in the building;
but we can still make out two old men hunched over several books,
facing each other at opposite ends of a table.
Books are strewn everywhere.
One of the old men turns to the other and asks:
“Really? Are we really to understand that the Torah
was only given through wilderness? What does that even mean?”
“No! The Torah was given by three means:
by fire (eish), by water (mayim), and by wilderness (midbar).”
For it says in Exodus:
For Mount Sinai was smoking, entirely.” (Exodus 19).
Without that fire, we would not have received the Torah.
Plus, it says in Judges (5):
“The heavens dripped water, the clouds dripped water too.”
“Clearly, as water comes from the heavens,
so too does Torah!” (Bamidbar Rabbah 1)
The man speaking sits back in his chair,
as if there is more to say, but he cannot yet find the words.
Cut to a street on Mea She’arim, 1995,
an ultra orthodox area of Jerusalem.
Men, women and children are walking down the street,
tzitzit/fringes flying at their wastes.
Cut to the end of the block,
facing one unassuming, large building,
bricks crumbling slightly.
Cut inside to the Slonimer Rebbe’s Beit Midrash/House of Study,
disciples pouring over large books of Talmud;
piles of books are stacked on each table.
At the end of the room,
the Slonimer Rebbe is sitting in the corner of the study hall,
studying from a small book with tiny writing
about the week’s parashah Bemidbar.
Cut to close up of the Slonimer Rebbe face.
The struggle on his face is from disbelief.
He says: “Fire, water and wilderness
can all become ‘spiritually impure (tamei)’!
How could they possibly give way to the holiness of Torah?”
He ponders a few moments.
The Slonimer Rebbe’s face contorts, a light bulb gone off in his head.
His expression goes from one of struggle to an expression of new insight.
Banging his fist on the table loudly,
he grabs the attention of his disciples.
Everyone quickly goes quiet.
He calls out across the study hall:
“It is the task of each of us to bring
fire, water and wilderness into holiness (into kedushah),
for by way of doing so, one merits to receive the Torah.”
A fast-paced, disjointed scene
as two thieves scouring a Tel Aviv high-rise apartment
look for items of value.
In the background, the apartment is already a wreck.
The thieves have turned everything inside out.
Cut to one thief who opens an underwear drawer,
tearing through the drawer,
as he throws socks and underwear in all directions.
He finds a bundle of cash, held together with an elastic.
He sticks it in his pocket.
The other thief opens a mid-sized jewelry box,
turns it over, casting all of its contents into a small bag.
The thief who found the cash begins
to spray lighter fluid on the drapes.
As they run out of the door,
leaving the door open behind them,
we see the apartment littered with clothes,
several chairs and one table turned over.
the second thief lights a match
and throws it against the drapes.
The drapes are immediately set on fire.
Cut back to the Meah Shearim House of Study.
The Slonimer Rebbe’s face is growing redder.
He calls out louder than before:
“Fire’s spiritually impure element
is the power of the evil inclination (the yetzer harah)
which can burn like a fire.”
It can seduce us to evil desires and evil qualities (of living).”
Picking up a handkerchief,
he wipes sweat off his brow and continues.
“It is upon us to bring those powers of fire into holiness,
catching the fires of holiness firstly, in the fire of the Torah,
as it says in Jeremiah:
“for are not my words like a fire, declares G-d”; (23:29)
and secondly, by the burning fire of service of G-d.
For then…fire consumes fire.
The fire of Torah and holiness burns up
the entirety of desire.”
A man and woman are pictured sitting by the beach,
seen from a slight distance.
We can only hear the sound of the ocean.
The water is rippling with lite waves,
glistening with the glow of the early onset of sunset.
The man leans in towards the woman with a caress,
brushing her hair back.
He quickly moves closer,
hand on her waist now.
The woman withdraws slightly.
He comes closer, but she leans in the other direction.
He reaches for her arm and tries to get even closer.
She attempts to get her arm out of his grip, but cannot.
He holds on tighter.
She struggles for a few moments, until finally she breaks free.
Jumping up, she makes her way across the beach away from him.
He gets up, makes a light-hearted dash for her, but quickly gives up.
Cut back to the Jerusalem House of Study.
The disciples are in the forefront,
and the Slonimer Rebbe is pictures at a distance
in the corner of the room.
His voice is heard more faintly now.
“Water is the attribute
of lovingkindness (chesed) and love (ahavah), as is known.
But this includes the attribute of lust and passion (t’shuka),
which is the greatest, strongest power.
Lust is from the spiritually impure side,
— evil loves and evil passions pour fourth from it.
It is the task of each of us who wants to receive Torah
to bring the attribute of lust into holiness.
(This is achieved) through passionate longing (hishtokekut)
for the Blessed Name, as Maimonides said:
“Love of G-d needs to feel like the illness of one who is in love.”
(This is also achieved) by means of passionate longing for Torah,
as it is written in Proverbs:
“Through Her love you shall be ravished always” (5).
A woman with a large backpack, camping gear attached,
water bottle dangling from the side,
is pictured walking through the wilderness.
Everything is clearly untouched by humans.
There is no path; just bumbling hills, open fields, trees and brush.
We hear her deep breathing from the rigour of hiking.
After several twists and turns, she comes across a small pond.
In astonishment, she throws her backpack on the floor with a thump.
Setting her hands in the water,
she washes her sweaty face.
Cupping both hands together,
she then drinks several handfuls of water.
She stands up and looks ahead.
An enormous mountain is pictured in the distance,
snow capped top, despite the obvious hot weather.
She throws her hands out on either side of her.
She lifts her face to the sky to take in the sunshine,
and she smiles.
Cut to 12th century House of Study.
The two sages are still sitting across from each other.
One man asks the other:
“What is meant by this week’s parashah
when it says that the Torah was given in the wilderness?” (Numbers 1)
The other sage barely lifts his head from his dusty book and remarks:
“Anyone who does not make oneself like an ownerless wilderness,
cannot acquire the Torah.” (Bamidbar Rabbah 1)
Scene 10/Final Scene
Cut to another close up of the Slonimer Rebbe,
sweat on his brow. He says:
“Wilderness is an ownerless place.”
In its spiritually impure state, it is like unmanaged behaviour,
without fences or boundaries,
which can help restrain the animalistic part of the soul.
The wicked makes oneself “humble like a boast”
in matters of the fullness of their lusts.
The wicked do matters like these that even they themselves
look at as absolutely contemptible.
It is upon each of us to bring this attribute into holiness,
to make oneself an ownerless wilderness,
to abandon oneself entirely.”
The scene goes completely black.
A few deep breaths are heard.
Then heard is the voice of the Slonimer Rebbe,
lowered to an audible, struggling whisper:
“To abandon oneself entirely…”