Every single person in the room was transfixed. Reuven had never seen anyone speak this way, so honest and raw
For the first few minutes of Heshy’s speech, Reuven Stagler was uncomfortable. He had expected a regular devar Torah, maybe a joke or two, a story about a gadol. The usual.
He had not expected this. But once it became obvious that Heshy Brucker was turning what was meant to be a conventional neighborhood meeting into a Ted Talk, Reuven decided that he would not react. He would act leaderly instead, keeping his face stoic, looking straight ahead and showing nothing.
He would not have anyone saying, “Stagler looked like he was going to explode, you should have seen him.”
At a certain point though, he realized that if Heshy wouldn’t stop talking, the meeting would never happen, and he looked around, if only for encouragement to put an end to it. He would do it gracefully, with a note, no making a scene for him.
He was astonished to see that the people were enjoying the speech. Pressman, who had only come out of respect, had moved to within two feet of Heshy, and Lax and Malavsky, who had been schmoozing at the door, had come all the way in, their expressions serious.
Heshy had left the podium, and he was walking back and forth now, completely in his zone.
“We decided to move to Meron, not just to go up on a leil shishi or for the occasional Shabbos, but to actually live there. My wife was even more excited than I was,” Heshy was saying. Reuven realized that Heshy was in the middle of a story, and he scrambled to figure out what had come first.
“Imagine, no rushing to make the bus back to Yerushalayim, no worrying about the crowds, it would be our place. Our shul would be the me’arah.” Heshy waited a second for that to sink in, then went on. “So we sublet our apartment in Yerushalayim for three months and signed a rental there, a small room and a half on the mountain, with a huge porch and a view straight to Tzfas. It was perfect.”
He closed his eyes, indicating his bliss, but then he said, “Guess what? It didn’t work. We didn’t love it. We didn’t even like it. And we couldn’t figure out why, we’re such Meron people.”
Heshy paused and took a deep breath.
Every single person in the room was transfixed. Reuven had never seen anyone speak this way, so honest and raw, sharing personal reflections as if he were in conversation with one or two dear friends.
“Then we realized what it was. Until we lived there, every trip to Meron came with anticipation, with excitement. Before we left Yerushalayim, we prepared lists of names for davening. We made sure the baby would be okay. We figured out how to get there, and when we did, we had limited time, so we made each moment count. Until we got to the me’arah, until we got a space, until we were in the right frame of mind…it was fleeting, and we davened with all our hearts and souls. Of course, the experience left us uplifted, going home on a high. But when we lived there, when we could walk five minutes up the hill whenever we wanted, it wasn’t the same.”
People were nodding, as if they knew exactly what he was talking about. Reuven Stagler did not. All he knew was that it was seven minutes since Heshy had started and he hadn’t said a single devar Torah or a word about the neighborhood meeting.
“It was charming and it was special, but we always had this feeling of frustration, like okay, now we’re here, but the intensity isn’t. What should I tell you, rabboisai? When the three months were up, we ran back to Yerushalayim, to our regular apartment. A few weeks after that, we made it up to Meron to daven and it was special again…”
Heshy paused now, closing his eyes and shaking his head back and forth, like a rebbe in the middle of a tisch.
“And my friends, that’s what many of you are feeling tonight, right?”
If there had been a microphone system, Reuven might have considered cutting it, but Heshy had long ago walked away from the standing table mic, speaking in his regular voice, and still somehow having drawn everyone in.
“You guys all loved coming to visit Lakewood,” he told the group of older men. “It was a treat to visit the kids, the whole matzav was so special. You enjoyed every minute. One day, you said, you would retire and buy in one of those new developments, a bit longer, a bit more, next year…and here you are, but for some reason, it’s not mamesh as exciting as you thought, right?”
Now, Reuven Stagler’s head swung around. He didn’t care who saw anymore. This was ridiculous, a twenty-three-year-old guy who lived in his parents’ basement patronizing a room full of people twice his age. He coughed, preparing to stand up and end it.
It wasn’t what he had in mind.
But then he saw Korn, who was the type who looked at his phone during chazaras hashatz and was always moving, pull his chair even closer, and he decided to wait a moment longer. Heshy Brucker was certainly keeping the people engaged.
“Being free, not having responsibility, isn’t enough of a reason to get out of bed in the morning. There needs to be some tension in the day to give it meaning. That’s why Daf Yomi is so popular, by the way, that’s a holy way to create challenge, real goals you have to face every day, right?”
People were looking at each other and smiling, as if he was revealing the lottery numbers for next week, when really, Reuven thought what he was saying was fairly obvious.
“In the world of Alcoholics Anonymous, there is a term they use, ‘doing a geographical.’ It’s when someone goes to a new place to start again — rather than facing the real issues, they run somewhere else and pretend that they’re new people, when really they’re not.”
Heshy headed back to his seat, pulling it out as if to indicate he was done.
He sighed. “So that’s the avodah, the work ahead of us. Not to slip into a rut of living empty days and relaxing, but to find the tension and struggle that makes life enjoyable, to confront those issues inside of us that maybe we never had the time or koach to address, and everyone here knows what they are. That’s all I wanted to say, I thank you for the opportunity and I thank my dear friend Reb Reuven for asking me to share a few words. It was very gracious of him.”
The applause was real and it was long, close to a minute of clapping from people who were not the clapping type.
And if not for the fact that Reuven stood up and asked that they immediately turn to the schedule, Heshy would have been mobbed.
“Heshy will stay after to answer questions,” Reuven said smoothly. “Now let’s start with the first order of business, a vote on using the simchah hall for tzedakah causes.”
Late that night, when he should have been sleeping, he was still responding to text messages from people who had been at the meeting. Not one was about the landscaping, the extra parking lot, the shul or even the new rav discussion. Every single one was about Heshy, and they all wanted to know, in different words, if and when he would be speaking to them again.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 900)
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