I went to a funeral of a man who will never make the headline His name was Reb Ephraim Mintzer. He was a member of a generation that is fast disappearing.
When he was a child in Galicia in a small village near Cracow, he went to cheder (basic Torah elementary school) like all of the other boys. Although Jewish Poland was being swept away by the enlightenment and its various offshoots, his parents were untouched. They sent him to learn in another village at the age of twelve (can you imagine anyone doing this today? The authorities would have them put away...). When he was thirteen they brought him to the Bobover Rebbe of the time, who was known as the Kedushas Tzion. He never forgot this experience. The warmth and the sanctity turned him into a chossid from that moment onward and became part of his essence. When the war was over he was left with the scars and memories that no one in our generation can begin to imagine. Almost all of the survivors were l young. They were the only ones with the physical strength to endure the five years of horror. So many of them embraced the world on its terms. There was enough food, at last. They didn’t want ask too many questions about kashrus. There were places to go, and finally some pleasure to grasp. Shabbos was a memory of a home that no longer existed. Not for Ephraim Mintzer. He knew who he was, and where he came from and who he wanted to be. When he made his way to America, he walked two hours to strengthen the court of the Bobover Rebbe who was a father to the surviving chassidim.
Reb Ephraim’s daughter Raizel is my friend for most of my life. We met in high school. I spent a lot of time in her parent’s home in Crown Heights when I was in Bais Yaakov with her. They had records (remember what a record is?). My favorite was one with Yiddish songs sung by Yom Tov Ehrlich, another survivor who kept his dreams alive. He was actually the hero of one of his own songs, “Yaakov” about a young boy who escaped from Eastern Europe and somehow made his way to Central Asia. He worked on a collective farm, and did so well that he was something of a star. While he was out harvesting on his tractor, he would mentally live in the world of the scholars of the Talmud. The headman of the tribe wanted him for his daughter, and it was clear that the only way out of this forced marriage was to run into the vast plains with nothing, which is what he did. The song and what it reflected was very much at home at the Mintzers. The culture of the MInzer house was Yiddishkeit, survival, and simchah. I never met a more easy going man than the father of the family, or a happier one. He loved every mitzvah, every person and every act of chessed that came his way. He loved learning although his education was interrupted by the war, and was quite an expert in Chumash and Rashi. His children and grandchildren picked up on it; they saw him learning the daf yomi and not skipping even the most challenging sections. It’s in their blood.
The reason that I am sharing this with you is that I have a theory about mezuzos. A mezuzah makes you aware of Hashem’s presence and unity as you leave your home. For many people, living with Hashem is real only in a conducive environment. Once they are in the outside world, the rules are no longer binding. They become barracudas when they do business, or pleasure oriented pseudo hedonists. There are others who maintain a façade of decency we dealing with others but do a Jekyll and Hyde style changeover as soon as the door closes, and permit themselves to turn their homes into a nether world where the rules aren’t binding any longer. There are other people, who to me are like mezuzos. They are the same in any circumstance, in any surrounding, and with any group of people.
It’s good to see a mezuzah when you go out, and when you come in. The actual mezuzah in fact is a Torah requirement. It’s good to collect people who act as your mezuzah. Who remind you of what living consistently is about. When they appear in your life, don’t let them fade from your inner world.
You may be the only mezuzah that the people around you get to see. You have no idea of how many people you influence.
Love, and have a good week,