#200 (s5761-47 / posted 26 Av 5761)


He told the rabbi about life with the Indians on the reservation.


In the early 70's, a young man from a Torah observant home in New York strayed from his roots. Instead, he became very interested in American Indian culture, to the extent that he eventually decided to relocate to Montana and take up residence on a tribal reservation. There he immersed himself in their life and customs, and even studied their religious practices intensively with different Native American shamans ("medicine men").

After some time, he heard that the greatest shaman of all was an old squaw associated with a tribe that lived in Newfoundland, on the Atlantic coast in the northeast of Canada. He made the long journey there and was able to arrange to be admitted into her presence. He was very excited. Such a privilege! And what an opportunity to grow in knowledge at the highest level.

The moment came. He went in. He started to introduce himself and state his purpose in coming. Before he could do so, she interrupted him: "Go away. You don't belong here. Go home."


"No 'but's. Leave."

"But I've studied so hard. I've learned so much already. I live on a reservation. I…"

"As I said, you don't belong here. You are not one of us and never will be. Go back to where you come from."

There was nothing more he could say. He had come to her, the master, and she had dismissed him. And not just from her presence, from the path itself. His chosen way and now it was barred to him.

And the words she had said: Go back to where you come from. Did he really have to go again to New York and get back into Judaism? After all, he had gone to her as the ultimate teacher, committed to do whatever she would tell him.

He decided he had no choice. At the least he would have to check out the Jewish scene, and that inevitably entailed a return to New York.

When he arrived in New York he discovered there were not so many choices available to him. Very few yeshivas or rabbis in those days were prepared to deal with someone who had left Judaism as a teenager and had for years been living as an Indian. After one or two false leads, he found himself headed to Far Rockaway, hoping to speak to Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld ob'm, rosh yeshiva of Sha'ar Yashuv.

If Rabbi Freifeld was shocked by the young man's appearance, he didn't show it. He invited him cordially into his office and they sat and spoke. Perhaps the young man himself was surprised at seeing Rabbi Freifeld, who was somewhat of giant physique. At the rabbi's prompting, he began to describe life on the reservation and Indian beliefs. After a while Rabbi Freifeld told him that he was enjoying the conversation very much, but that since he had come suddenly and unannounced he was not prepared to speak to him any longer that day; would he please come again the next week when he would be able to talk at length. They arranged it for a mutually agreeable hour.

The young man left. Although he had agreed to go back in a week, he still didn't feel sure that he should keep the appointment. On the one hand, he felt he had been cut off somewhat abruptly. Also, the yeshiva life that he had glimpsed seemed strange and alien to the frontier sensibilities to which he had trained himself. On the other hand, the rabbi was certainly an interesting fellow, not at all like the ones he remembered from his school days; plus, he had been very warm to him and seemed sincere in wanting him to return. After some mulling, he decided to go back on the agreed day.

Rabbi Freifeld greeted him heartily. Again the young man explained to him in considerable detail his life with the Indians. This time the rabbi interrupted him with a number of astute questions. They had been speaking for quite a while when there was a knock on the rabbi's door. He was needed in the Beit Midrash (study hall) to resolve a complicated question. Rabbi Freifeld excused himself and said that he would return as soon as he could.

After a few minutes the young man stood up from his chair and started to wander around the office. He was amazed by how many books were crammed on the wall-to-wall shelves. At that moment he noticed out of the corner of his eye that there were two books on the floor next to the rabbi's chair. Surprised that the rabbi would allow any of his holy books to remain on the floor, he bent over to pick them up. At that moment took place the epiphany that changed his life.

What he found in his hands were two books from the local public library about Native American culture and reservation life. Rabbi Freifeld had bothered himself to acquire them in order to be better able to discuss and interact with him! Well, if the Rabbi cared so much about him, certainly he should care about the Rabbi and his values.***

From that day it was but a short time until he enrolled at Sha'ar Yashuv and after that at the famed Lakewood Yeshiva in New Jersey. Today he is a significant member of that community and the head of a large family.

[Adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles after hearing it from noted author and lecturer, Paysach Krohn,who said that the identity of the young man of the story is known to him, but that he has not the permission to reveal his name.]


Biographical note:
Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld (1928-1990), a main disciple of the famed Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner of Yeshivat Chaim Berlin, was the charismatic rosh yeshiva of Sh'or Yoshuv in Far Rockaway NY, one of the first non-Chassidic yeshivos to have programs for Baalei Teshuva.

***According to R. Freifeld's daughter, as submitted by Olivia Schwartz, he stayed up all night before reading those books.

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