The Jewish Eye
Introduction: Bright Lights, Small City
After years of hearing about the legendary place called Kotzk, I decided to take a journey there myself and see it firsthand. Although times have changed drastically since the first half of the 19th century, the message of Kotzk cuts so close to one's innermost personality that it is very relevant even today. The outside world would be unrecognizable to someone who travelled forward through time. Inwardly however we haven't changed one iota. In the piercing character analysis of Kotzk the outside is not relevant, therefore a Kotzker would not even notice any change.
Not surprisingly when I arrived at the gates of Kotzk only my inner self was allowed entry. My outer shell was sent home. Only deep and honest introspection is allowed in this town. Therefore I will be in contact with my outer self via mail.
The first thing I noticed about Kotzk is that I found it unusually hot. They say there is no separate place called heaven and hell. Once you reach the Olam HaEmes there is only truth; pure unadulterated truth. In this environment you live eternally with your lifetime of memories. Every action is remembered. Not even one off the cuff comment or thought is lost. Somehow during our life we manage to justify everything we do and say, however once the shield of falsehood is removed many of our memories turn out to be extremely painful. Each good memory gives us eternal pleasure while our bad deeds haunt us and cause us unimaginable pain. (see Nedarin 8b: Ein Gehinom L'Olam Haba)
They tell a story about a talmid in the Mir Yeshiva who wanted to travel to Warsaw to take care of some personal business. In order to leave the Yeshiva it was necessary to get permission from the Mashgiach, Reb Yeruchom. Knowing this wouldn't be easy he prepared his reasons and justifications very carefully. After a week of thinking it over he finally felt prepared to speak to the mashgiach. That evening he went to Reb Yeruchom's apartment. As he slowly and nervously walked up the steps he reviewed his reasons and arguments over and over in his head. Finally he reached the top step and knocked on the door. Soon enough the door opened and he found himself standing face to face with the Holy Reb Yeruchom and his shining countenance. Reb Yeruchom asked him what he came to discuss. At that point the boy replied "nothing" and ran back to Bais Medrash. What happened?
To fool ourselves is very easy. We are judge and jury and we unfortunately always side with ourselves. It is very easy to build a case for almost any activity or behavior we want to justify. As soon as we come to a situation where the real truth is demanded we quickly realize we have spent too much time selling ourselves nonsensical logic and ideas. This is the literal meaning of the phrase "the moment of truth". In Kotzk every moment is a moment of truth. Yet even in Kotzk truth comes only through toil. Sifting through our inner motives and tearing away our biases is ones lifelong goal in Kotzk.
Everyone is welcome to join us on our journey through Kotzk but keep in mind Kotzk is a tough town. If you are faint of heart forget Kotzk. Book yourself reservations to Disneyland this summer.
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