Sunday, July 13, 2008


To me, Moshe symbolizes purity.

By this I mean purity of the soul, purity of his search for truth, purity in the way that he strives after his God and his religion, the way in which he second guesses himself and tries to ensure that everything he does is for the right and the good. Moshe is not the sort to take, but rather to give. He has had an absolutely beautiful journey, and the process has taken its toll on him. But Moshe exists in the here and now to give, to illuminate, to shed light upon others and to redeem them from the suffering that looms ahead. Moshe exists to be a saviour.

It is in this way that the Moshe I know in many ways reminds me of the Moshe in the Bible. Unassuming, humble and truly modest, what is most important is the quest he has had, the fight for the truth while at the same time retaining his tolerance and appreciation for all others. Moshe grew up in a black-and-white world, a world where ideas were clearly delineated and fell into camps of true and false. Growing up under the auspices of such a world, where all was regulated and understood, he experienced much that was beautiful. Moshe learned to serve God with a passion that he still retains, to pray before him and learn in a service that took all his mental acuity and caused him to smoulder with caring. The way in which he relates to God, the meaning behind his very religion, is something that has been taught and modeled for him by people whom he respects, despite the fact that he has chosen to live a lifestyle that deviates from theirs.

Moshe is courageous in that he had the ability to stand firm, to work it through and choose the philosophy which he believes is true, the one by which he will lead his life. But what is far more beautiful about Moshe is his caring and reverence for those whom he still honors and respects, for those who have been important and influential in his life. There are many who believe that they owe their parents nothing, they owe those who have helped to form and transform them nothing, so long as they themselves are happy. This pursuit of happiness is ultimately doomed to failure, for it is a pursuit that does not take into account others, that does not demonstrate to them how integral and important they have been in the process, in the very journey that has made them the person that they are today. But Moshe takes all that into account. And in this way, Moshe reminds me of the Moses in the Bible, the one who was forbidden to hit the sand or the water due to the concept of gratitude, for it was the sand and water that had saved his life even as a child.

Moshe practices gratitude in a way that puts others to shame. He is very aware of the different influences upon his life, and the different worlds that have created him. Born in what I shall loosely term the Haredi world, Moshe has steadily moved into more of the Modern Orthodox realm. But in reality, he has that rare power and ability to walk both worlds. One would initially think this a blessing, but in truth it is more of a curse. Part of both camps, able to see both sides, Moshe does not want to betray either one- he does not wish to hurt those he loves, but at the same time he does not wish to give up his ideals. And so he walks the tightrope, and prays he does not fall.

There is so much that goes into the making of a person, so much that transforms and creates him. There are the worlds in which he lives, the ideas to which he is exposed, his family life and structure, and what is perhaps most important, the others who touch his life. Moshe has taken everything he can from his meetings with different people, always striving to see what is unique in that particular individual and learn from them, perhaps wishing to possess the quality that comes so naturally to them. He has done his best to see all that is cheerful in the world, in the hopes that he might cheer another person when they are down. The very profession that he has chosen, that of medicine, allows him to be a saviour in yet another form. There are different kinds of doctors- those who know what it means to be human, and those who have hardened, and no longer see their patients as people with lives and backstories, only as subjects. Moshe is the sort who sees his patients as human, and whom I believe always well. He has an exquisite ability to feel pain and to feel compassion. And it is this, perhaps more than anything, that allows him the unique insight into the lives of others that causes him the pain which has created him.

What can one do if one is Moshe? Here he is, watching the world, observing it, allowing it to touch him and affect him. The world is not a disconnected entity but part of him, part of what causes him to live and breathe, to make him move, to cause him to feel. The sun rises and Moshe feels joy- the touch of nature in the world, the greenery, the summer day with its lazy breeze- all this invigorates Moshe, allowing him access to part of the beauty that exists in our world. And yet, all this is forgotten when Moshe is at work and sees a patient who is being eaten alive by cancer- a sight so awful that he will almost cry. And this is because Moshe has not forgotten what it means to be human, but chooses to keep hold of it, chooses to remind himself that every person he sees is a man, a man to be respected, understood and to whom one must listen, a man who is an exquisite creation of God's. It would be easy for Moshe to accustom himself to the dead- to treat the cadavers as simple subjects, to make callous jokes about them. But Moshe forbids himself this luxury, because he prefers to feel the pain of what it means to be human.

Much of life is lived in pain, for pain is transformative, and it creates people. Moshe has had his share of pain. How could it be otherwise? Loving his parents and his family, he nevertheless chose to pursue his dream and his calling, living by a set of ideals which are more true for him. At the same time, how could this not feel like a betrayal? And how could it be possible for him of all people to perpetrate this upon someone else, to cause another to suffer, to cause them any unhappiness? It has not been easy for him. But Moshe is not the sort to focus upon the difficulty caused him- on the contrary, it is the pain he believes he has caused others which occupies his mind. Moshe would never desire to cause anyone he loves any kind of hurt; it is the one thought that wounds him. He has never desired to be and never would want to take pleasure in another's pain, even to do something self-serving, where he will benefit at the expense of another.

Moshe gives, and he gives whole-heartedly. I personally know of people whom Moshe has driven to their destination and back, all with a smile, without the faintest touch of resentment or the least desire to receive something in return. I know of times where Moshe has made time he did not have, created an opportunity to listen to someone despite the fact that it required rearranging his schedule. I know of his humility, his sweetness, his caring, his thoughtfulness. I know how refined and pure a soul he has, of the ways in which he has struggled in order to retain that purity. And I know, too, that he has had his own descent into darkness, and he has also had the wherewithal to withstand it, and to look past its seductive lure.

To be a doctor requires one to understand pain, to understand human suffering. If you do not understand, how can you serve the needs of others? How will you stand before your patients and see them for who they are, despite the way in which they might behave, despite the testiness, anger or irritation they might exhibit? For Moshe, this will not be a problem. For Moshe is an empath, a man who truly feels for others in pain. He feels so deeply that at times he must not show it, lest he break. These are the times when he must take refuge in something else, anything else, so as to escape from his own mind and his thoughts, the sadness that holds him captive.

It is difficult to be extraordinary. It is not a task that is assigned to everyone, nor a burden that is placed on everyone. Not everyone has the capacity to tolerate that much confusion, the mental indecision and the ultimate realization that one must fight through everything important, create a mentality and worldview that is binding, after thinking and rethinking to ensure one has not made mistakes. Not everyone has the ability to care so much for those whom they have, in the eyes of others, abandoned due to their choices. Not everyone walks around shouldering the burdens of others, and not everyone makes it his life's work to give to others, to give to them in every way possible, through every action, at every moment. But there could be no more fitting profession for Moshe than that of physician. Because there is no man more suited to give, to serve his people and his God in this way, to cure the ailments which torture him, to bring a little joy into a world which has its share of darkness. Moshe was born to be extraordinary, and it is a task which marks him, creates him as someone separate, someone special, someone different, someone chosen. It is never easy to be chosen.

But there are some who have no choice.

Moshe, the path you walk is difficult, and if there could have been another way, another way in truth, that you would honestly feel to be true, you would have taken it. But you can only walk the road that you see as true, and do your utmost while on that path, to dispense kindness to all, to teach as many as you can, to give in every way possible, to cure to fulfill, not only the oath you have sworn, but the deep need within yourself to do so. You are one who must make the world a better place tangibly, so as to give himself purpose and meaning. You exist for this.

And due to your existence, the world has been made more beautiful, brighter, a place in which I and many others feel welcome. For we have been touched by the hand of a saviour, by the light of a smile that never fails to warm. On behalf of all of us- and for myself most of all- I thank you for that. When all else fails, we still have trust in you. For we believe in you during all the times you do not believe in yourself. You shall be blessed and only blessed, for you live your life for the sake of truth, and strive for God in your every action. It is difficult to be extraordinary- but you handle it with aplomb. Your eyes are those that can see into many different people, from many different backgrounds and many different worlds. But what is more important, you can identify the commonality between these people, and in this way, bring them together, make them closer, create the world as it should have been made, a world of loving-kindness where you fulfill the function of seer in order to give back.

The empathic doctor whose only creed is loving-kindness- yes, this is Moshe, and I am proud to be his friend.


SemGirl said...

Another wonderfully written story. You always make the characters come alive in stories. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I'm pre-med . This story inspires me so. Chana,you have amazing friends. And they have an incredibly caring friend in you.
I'm jealous.

Anonymous said...

I find it very interesting that you mingle equally well with friends who are MO as well as Haredi. You really do love every jew. Your upbringing must have been superb. Are your parents teachers of some kind or another? It's difficult to nurture the concept of achavas Isroel in students. I know this since I teach Jewish Studies- High school level and know how very challenging this is.
Very impressed!

Anonymous said...

Chana/Reb Nathan,
"I find it very interesting that you mingle equally well with friends who are MO as well as Haredi. You really do love every jew. "

I agree that this is an excellent midda (although I would explicitly add non-orthodox jews to the list). My point in earlier postings was that imho orthodoxy is an approach that includes a strong emphasis on the kahal. IN the world today most, if not all, of us have to choose a community (geographical/hashkafic) that we will engage in. I suppose one could remain a gadfly and seek to be a part of multiple communities but imho this would take an extremely unique individual/family to impact more than 1 community in a meaningful way. Thus one tends to pick where one most identifies and works to improve. This doesn't men one doesn't love/respect others.

Joel Rich

Anonymous said...

You have great friends!

Anonymous said...

"Unassuming, humble and truly modest"

First off, please tell me the difference between "modest" and "truly modest."

Second, can you define the difference between humility and modesty? How did Moshe exhibit each distinctly?

Finally, what does "unassuming" add to the equation? If one is humble and/or modest, what additional quality of his makes him "unassuming"?

Words are powerful. Each one has value. You are a talented writer. Justify each word you use.

CJ Srullowitz said...

"I find it very interesting that you mingle equally well with friends who are MO as well as Haredi." -Reb Nathan

This is a sad commentary. It is also, lulei demistafina, inaccurate.

Any good Jew, who has middos tovos and ahavas Hashem, will get along fine with Modern Orthodox, Yeshivish, Chasidish, non religious, and gentiles. This notion that there is a huge barrier between two "worlds" is chimerical.

If Reb Nathan sees it in his students, I would argue that high school cliques are a product of adolescence and not hashkafic disputes.

Anonymous said...

Ckoojew,it's not good to generalize. Achavas Yisroel is something that needs to be nurtured and cultivated with love.. Middot tovot and achavat Hashem are not allways a prerequisite for achavas Yisroel.Also,students' homes have a lot to do with one's upbringing,values,tolerance and such. You do need to think about this.

Chana said...

Unforgiving Editor,

I'm so glad you noticed my nuance of words. I was referring, of course, to the description of Moshe Rabeinu in Bamidbar 12:3, "Vha'ish Moshe Anav M'od". Some people act modest, but Moshe follows in the path of Moshe Rabeinu, as an "Anav M'od". Hence my words of 'truly modest'. It is also not modesty for show, a kind of modesty which is a sham- and that too is what I connote by "truly" modest.

When I say unassuming, I mean it exactly as I said- there are people who initially think Moshe is not smart because he is so unassuming; he does not force his presence upon others, announce himself and take up space in an attempt to have others listen to him. He is there, to guide or to listen as needed, but he is not trying to be the star of the show. It is in this way that he is unassuming (which is different from being modest about his accomplishments.)

Humility too connotes something else. While unassuming refers to his sense of presence, and modesty to the way he speaks of his own accomplishments, humility is the understanding that another in your shoes could potentially have mastered what you have mastered, and therefore an utter lack of arrogance. This too is a quality that Moshe possesses...

As far as his acts of modesty, I cannot elaborate, as 'Miktzas Shvacho L'fanan, etc..."

Anonymous said...


I'm willing to accept that you chose these words carefully, however you did not do so accurately.

First, the Hebrew term "anivut" lines up with the English word "humility." For "modesty," you are looking at "tzniut," as in "Hatznei'a lechet im Elokecha."

Second, Moses was anything but "unassuming." He stood ten amot tall, according to the Midrash, and had to wear a mask to hide the Divine radiance upon his face. Furthermore, he did force his presence on others. He had to. He was the leader.

Finally, your argument on "truly" does not wash. Modesty without the qualifier does not connote false modesty. Also, it does not help your cause that this is a pet peeve of mine. "Truly" truly wastes my time. There is no difference between a tzaddik and a "true" tzaddik. That the author cannot convey the depth of of his subject's tzidkus is his problem, not mine.

Eilu Ve'Eilu Fellowship said...
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Eilu Ve'Eilu Fellowship said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eilu Ve'Eilu Fellowship said...

Unforgiving Editor,
You made some grammatical errors that cannot be ignored.
First, words in different languages do not "line up." They may "roughly parallel" or "translate as" but they do not "line up" as they are inanimate objects.

Second,you repeated the word "of" in the second to last line of your comments.

And while on the topic of improper usages - its ironic that you berate Chana for misusing the word "unassuming" when in fact you are the one misusing it. translates (it doesn't "line up")unassuming as: "Exhibiting no pretensions, boastfulness, or ostentation; modest." Being exceedingly tall (which, as you yourself noted, is a Midrash - if you want Mikorot of those who say Midrashim should not be taken literally [the list includes the Rambam, Rabbi Hai Gaon, Rabbi Sherira Gaon, Rabbi Saadya Gaon, Meiri etc] they aren't too difficult to find) and being a leader in no way requires one to be pretentious.

Similarly, Moshe did not "hide" the divine presence, so that no one could find it. He may have "concealed" it, or more likely "veiled it" but he definitely did not "hide it."

I am so sorry to be so picky, but "words are powerful. Each one has value. You are a talented writer. Justify each word you use."

Anonymous said...


Thank you for your kind words and for pointing out the typo in my comment.

While the use of terms like "line up" may offend the sort of folk who read literary journals and run to the OED for clarity, I can assure you that in the real world of William Safire and John Leo the term is perfectly acceptable and fitting.

Second, I would not go so far as to say that I "berated" Chana, the connontation of which is a personal attack. My critique of Chana is strictly constructive; if I didn't think so highly of her, I wouldn't waste my time.

I hear you on "unassuming," but would continue to contend that the connotation (and you must respect connotations despite what tells you) of the word would render it an unfit description of Moshe Rabbeinu.

As for using "hide," I am completely correct.

Respectfully yours,

Thomas D said...


I'm repeating myself, but you really do write beautifully. I don't think I've read anything this good from someone your age--and I like to read. (I'm sure you hear that too often for it to matter)

faithfully reading,


Anonymous said...

CJ is someone who doesn't let her writing talent go to her head. She writes daily and reads a tremendous amount. I'm sure she appreciates your compliment.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...seems you have a lot of "friends" on this blog. A classmate here, an admirer there. And they all seem to know you and your background and your likes and dislikes so well.

Is it at all possible that perhaps maybe you are leaving these comments yourself? Because it would be unseemly to sign your own name? Hmmm... C'mon, you, fess up.

Thomas D said...

...Although I must say; the people who comment here are a bit weird--but perhaps I only understand half of it because I'm merely curious, and not a Jew.


SemGirl said...

FinancialArtist: are you perhaps a bit jealous. I have personally met two ppl that know Chana personally, and they couldnt stop praising Chana..

But now I see why the Chofetz Chaim, advise never to praise someone too much in public as it will lead to ppl saying negative things..

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...the plot just thickened Sem...

I am assuming that Chana here is blogging anonymously. If so, how can you have possibly met two people who know her. Did they just walk over to you at a kiddush and introduce themselves as FOCs?

I'm thinking perhaps YOU are Chana. I have long believed, btw, that you, SemGirl, are not actually a girl but a fairly well-educated yeshiva guy.

Lots of conspiracy theories to ponder, eh?

Moshe said...

Some of these comments are simply scary/creepy.

SemGirl said...

No, actually, the blogger Patchwork girl came to my house for Shabbos, and we spoke about Chana.

But you are free to ponder any conspiracy theory you like, if unfortunately, you have no life.