Printed fromChabadBasel.com
ב"ה

Rabbi's weekly Blog

As i walked down Clarastrasse

It was one of those hot days. I was walking down Clarastrasse in Basel, dressed in a suit and hat, my white Tzitzit showing, while underneath I was being roasted by its woolen material. “People are probably sure that I’ve gone crazy,” I thought.

Three girls were walking towards me, laughing. I understand them: dressing this way on such a hot day is indeed ludicrous. But then, one of them suddenly approached me and said in English: “I’m Jewish too. Look – I even have a ‘Chai’ necklace. I hid it under my clothes because I was embarrassed to show it. But when I see you walking like this – walking proudly as a Jew – I also want to be that way.’ And as she was talking she pulled out the hidden “Chai” pendant and walked on, head up.

The Tzitzit was still roasting me, but the heat I felt was that of Jewish pride.

This week’s Parasha (outside of Eretz Yisrael) is “Behar” – “at the mountain.” I haven’t yet gone on a trip to Mount Sinai, but during a visit to Pilatus near Luzern, and to Brunni in Engelberg, I saw the power that a mountain projects. A mountain symbolizes pride, power, firmness and height.

“The soul did not go into exile, and it was not enslaved by the nations,” so said the Rebbe in his talks about Parashat Behar. The soul is a tall, firm, powerful mountain. The message the Rebbe gets from the name of the Parasha is firm and powerful as well: a Jew should be proud of his Jewishness; he shouldn’t hide it, neither from the backward nor from the enlightened. One shouldn’t hide a “Chai” from anti-Semites, nor remove a yarmulke in face of patronizing looks.

The motto of “Jewish pride” is a central point in all of the Rebbe’s activities, starting from when he was a boy. Activities such as menorahs in city centers, Tefillin in central bus stations, Mitzvah Tanks and Lag Ba’Omer parades are meant to show firmness and power as well, to be a mountain.

 

So, next time you walk down the street, remember: You are a “mountain”!

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

I pray for my children

“I pray for my children, that they won’t inherit my complexes” (in the original Hebrew: seritot – scratches, wounds), so sings the talented Chanan Ben Ari, and he is joined – both out loud and silently – by thousands of parents. This talented man manages to take everyday words and touch people from all sectors of society. He sings everyone’s feelings, and the truth is that he doesn’t sing at all – he prays; and tens of thousands pray with him. because that’s the way it is: Who doesn’t want to pray for his or her children? There is even a Yiddish version of this prayer.

I have Zoom sessions with parents who are searching for advice how to improve themselves. These are courageous people who look themselves in the face and wish to fix whatever is broken, heal the wound – and perhaps also the wounded – improve their listening skills, and, overall, know how to correctly express the love their hearts are filled with, allowing it to reach the son or daughter who are hiding behind a wall of silence, thinking that no one cares about them.

In one of these discussions, someone mentioned that song and said, “I really do pray that they won’t inherit my complexes.” I thought about it a lot and said to him, that so far as I know, even if I will succeed and they won’t inherit my complexes, they will probably acquire fresh, new ones – straight from me. Because that’s the way the world works. We pass on these things from one generation to another, get wounded or burned, deal with our wounds, but, apparently, we have no choice but to create new wounds in our children.

“You have seven children,” I said to him, “all sweet and good, may they be healthy. Each one is a world to himself, a completely different person, not only physically, but also emotionally; not only in the way he or she thinks, but in the way he or she feels. That is the reason that you can see children of the exact same parents, some of which will grow up and live with the feeling that their mother and father are the best in the world, and others will say otherwise, or even the opposite. Two children of the same parents, of the same family. One will live with the feeling that her mother is always there for her, and the other will perhaps experience the mother as someone who cannot accept her. And there isn’t much we can do about it. Every person has different feelings of deprivation, different tools they were given, and they will experience life in their own way. We cannot force them to feel what we want them to feel.

We can, though, wish to become better, more authentic human beings; so that the people closest to us will be able to really know us, know our hearts, know what really makes us happy and also what really saddens or worries us. They should be able to really get acquainted with us.

Pray that you should know to give your children at any given moment what you can give. But remember, there are times when you can give your all, and there are moments when you can’t – and that’s okay.

Pray that you will know to give them the tools to cope with the wounds that you and your wife will cause them, that they should know to rise above them and through them.

We will pray for ourselves – that we will enable the souls that Hashem has placed in our care to perform their mission in the world without fear.

“I pray for my children,” I sang with him, “that they won’t be afraid of my complexes, that they won’t be deterred by their own complexes, that they should always be happy.”

In honor of parashat Emor that we will be reading this Shabbat in the diaspora. This is a parasha of child education. As Rashi says about the first passuk: “Emor ve’amarta – ‘Say’ and ‘You will say’ – to warn the big ones about the little ones”. And the Rebbe was particular to understand the word lehazhir – to warn – as coming from zohar – to glow. In other words, the adults should make sure that the children shine like the heavenly lights.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

He who can do this, his portion is to be praised

 Last night, Yonatan Chavakuk, May Hashem avenge his blood, battled axe-wielding murderers; by doing so, he gave other people the precious minutes they needed to escape and save their own lives. But Yonatan himself was murdered, leaving a wife and five children.

Ashrei chelko – He who can do this, his portion is to be praised,” wrote Rabbi David ben Zimra approximately five hundred years ago, about actions like those of Yonatan. The Radbaz, who served as Chief Rabbi and leader of Egyptian Jewry at the time, was asked whether a person is obligated to sacrifice one of his limbs in order to save his fellow Jew.

“You asked me, and I will let you know my opinion about what you saw written, if the authorities tell a Yisrael (a Jew): Allow me to sever one of your limbs, which will not cause your death, or else I will kill a fellow Yisrael of yours, there are those who say he must allow them to sever the limb, since he will not die from that.”

The Radbaz’s answer defines Yonatan’s actions and qualities, but first of all, I must say that this discussion, the question and the answer, are connected and, indeed, arise from the passuk “You shall not stand aside while your fellow’s blood is shed,” a passuk that we will be reading in the diaspora tomorrow in parashat Kedoshim. This passuk actually demands that a Jew exert himself and even endanger himself in order to save his fellow. This, by the way, is a Jewish law that has been entered in the statute book of the State of Israel. I believe there is nothing like it in any statute book of any Western country.

The Radbaz sums up his responsum like this: “The civil laws of our Torah must go along with logic and reason; how could we think that a person should allow others to blind him in one eye or to sever his hand or foot so that his fellow not be killed? Therefore, I see no sense in this law.” In other words, there is no obligation to endanger oneself to that extent in order to save one’s fellow.

But then, the Rabbi of Egypt adds a few more words: “But it is a midat chassidut”, in other words, it is something that goes beyond the letter of the law, with a person doing something beyond what he is obligated to do. And he adds: “And he who can do this, his portion is to be praised.”

I don’t really think that Yonatan or any other person who ran towards the murderers in Elad barehanded thought at that moment about this responsum of the Radbaz, or even about the passuk,“You shall not stand aside while your fellow’s blood is shed,” but I do know clearly that this passuk is part and parcel of the education and values of the martyrs who were murdered, including Yonatan, and really part and parcel of each and every Jew. It is in our blood, in our mothers’ milk.

“And he who can do this, his portion is to be praised.”

My friends, we are still in exile. The Mashiach has not come yet, the redemption is not here yet. Jews are still being murdered just because they are Jews; our neighboring nation still teaches its children to murder. Normative people who know to love their own children go out and give out candies, indicating their joy over the brutal murder of Jews. 

If we continue to pray and ask Hashem that He declare an end to our suffering, we will merit the true and complete Redemption very soon.


Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

We bear the yoke – assuming responsibility

I was 14 years old on that confusing motzai Shabbos at the end of Nissan, 5751 (1991). On the Thursday before that, the 27th of Nissan, in the evening, after Ma’ariv, the Rebbe spoke, saying things that were surprising, awe-inspiring and scary in their severity and tone of speech. In the records, they wrote about this that it was “a strong and big voice, and the sight was threatened, alarming and scary.” In a short speech (11 minutes in all) the Rebbe passed on the responsibility to his chassidim and said, with pain in his voice: “I did all I can, and from now on I am passing it all on to you. Do everything you can to bring the Mashiach immediately, really, causing that there should be lights of tohu, but in vessels of tikkun.” The following motzai Shabbos, those who were then the leaders of the chassidim in Israel got up and spoke, one after the other. It is said that people don’t remember what you said to them, but they remember what you made them feel. So, I don’t remember what exactly they said, but I do remember what I felt. I felt that they were confused, helpless, and they radiated this. They transmitted their anxiety and confusion to others, and I remember this in my entire body; when I remember it now, I feel a shiver, accompanied by a certain kind of anxiety. I assume that at this stage, anyone who is not a Chabadnik will just leave off reading and get on with life. Perhaps that is good; I don’t know. That’s the way it is – I have no way to explain the essence of the connection between a Rebbe and a chassid to someone who is not a chassid. I read and hear texts and lectures on the subject and always, always come out with the feeling that the speaker or the writer just touched on some rather superficial aspect when it comes to this connection between a chassid and his Rebbe. I only ask that you believe me when I say that it is not only I, but all my friends and all Chabad chassidim who remember those minutes that way. It was a moment when even someone who did not consider himself so “connected” (which is more or less everybody), knew in his body that he is really connected and tied to the Rebbe in every way. This shiver reminds him of that fact to this day. It’s as simple as that. Today, I think we understand already that the Rebbe asked his chassidim to assume responsibility, to grow up a bit. The world is moving forward, and the further it goes, the more Hashem makes sure that the Jewish world will be less centrally managed and exhibit more decentralization. One of the first shluchim of Chabad, one the famous ones, would ask the Rebbe about every step he took. This went on for about ten years, starting from when his shlichut started. He would ask and receive an answer regarding every single act of his. But then, at one moment, when he was at a yechidut (private audience) with the Rebbe, the Rebbe said to him: “Until when will I carry you like a babe in arms? Think Chabad (acronym for chochma, bina and da’at – wisdom, understanding and knowledge) and you’ll know what to do.” Since then, the man stopped asking about every little thing. He began to use his own chochma, bina and da’at and took personal responsibility for his decisions. That is where the world is going. I think that already today there is no Jewish community that has a leader who takes full responsibility. The great leaders of all the sectors have passed away and have left their disciples the task of growing up and taking responsibility for their decisions. Yes, spiritually they have not stopped helping, and I, for one, know and live this every day, every hour. But in material matters, in the end all of us have taken upon ourselves the yoke for the sake of Judaism. “All of us” means every living man, woman and child. Each and every one has a role and a goal, a destiny and a mission. Not everyone knows this; and we are not always willing to assume this responsibility; but that doesn’t change the simple fact that we have a role, a goal, a mission and a destiny to bring light into the world for man, materially and spiritually. It is clear to me why this was so frightening and confusing on the 28th of Nissan, 5751: Taking responsibility is what we fear most. Especially when everyone knows himself well and says to himself: If it is given to me to move the world a step forward, then we will go backward; what a pity. But that is not the truth. The truth is that we can, and not only can we, we also do it every day, all the time, baby step by baby step, but we move forward. Dear friends, the 28th of Nissan is the day when this call renews itself. It is the day on which we are requested once again to grow up, by one year, to continue to bear the yoke and to do so with joy, faith and trust that we are going to be witnessing the coming of the Mashiach very soon. Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Zalman Wishedski

Bauen Sie gut!

Bauen Sie gut!” – “Build well!” That’s what German Ashkenazic Jews, the Yekes, wish each other before Seder night. This is an ancient custom that most of world Jewry knows nothing about. What a pity.

During the years I’ve spent in Switzerland I’ve learned that every local custom has ancient sources. We’re talking about communities that are hundreds of years old. Regarding this particular custom, for instance, Alsace Jews were wishing each other “Bauen Sie gut!” long before the Ba’al Shem Tov was born.

So what does this “Build well” mean?

Its source (as my friend, the historian Dr. Simon Erlanger explained to me) is a medieval translation of the song “Adir Hu, Yivneh Beito Bekarov” that appears in some versions of the Pesach Haggadah, the emphasis being on the word “Yivneh” – “will build.”

My learned friend Edouard Selig OB”M added to this that hundreds of years ago German Jews did not have Seder plates; they built from the matzahs and from the other components of the Seder a sort of “castle”, and that is the source of the wish, “Build well.”

Whatever the source is, this congratulation is seen as a Segulah that says: When you observe the Pesach Seder with all its halachas, you are thereby building the Holy Temple; in other words, you are furthering the coming of the Mashiach, an event that will include the building of the Temple.

If you ask me, I think all Jews should adopt that wonderful wish – Bauen Sie gut!

 

My friends, if you did not wish each other “Bauen Sie gut” on Seder night, you have a second chance this coming Shabbat, the last day of Pesach.

Whereas Ashkenazic Jews build the Temple at the first meal of Pesach, the Ba’al Shem Tov does that at the last one. The Ba’al Shem Tov declared the Se’udah (meal) of the last day of Pesach to be “Se’udat Mashiach” – the meal of the Messiah – since on this day the light of the Mashiach is present in the world. ( you welcome to join us at the Seudat Mashiachon Shabbat April 23rd 6PM)

Ribono shel Olam, Master of the World, ‘Mashiach now’ Or ‘Bauen Sie gut’, Choose either one, as You like; in any case, we’re ready!

Chag Same’ach!

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Which son are you?

 

One of the students of my dear wife Devorah, who is an interesting and intelligent young woman, asked her this week: “Which son are you?”

They were learning the Haggadah, and they learned about the four sons mentioned in it: the wise, the wicked, the simple and the one who does not know how to ask. They even learned about the fifth son the Rebbe spoke about – the one who is not even present at the Seder. And then, the girl looked at her teacher and asked: “Which son are you?”

Devorah, who always says only what she can really relate to, didn’t know what to answer.

The wise son – I cannot say that I am him. The wicked one – I think I’m not. The simple – well, sometimes I am naïve. I don’t know. The one who does not know how to ask, I don’t think so. The fifth – of course not; I have always been present at the Seder table.

“It’s not clear to me,” she responded finally, and then asked immediately: “And you? Which son are you?”

The girl thought for a bit and said: “I think I’m a bit of all of them. You as my teacher know that sometimes I am like the wise son who asks pertinent questions; indeed, you even tell me so. But you also know that often I ask provocative questions, like the wicked son; often I am also really simple and naïve, and there are definitely situations in which I don’t even know what to ask.”

This brave, mature and special answer of this lovely student stayed with us during our quiet talks of early morning or late evening. To tell the truth, she made us think and see in ourselves as well something of every one of the sons in the Haggadah.

And you?

Which son are you?

Stop a moment when you read the Haggadah this year, and try to test yourself in its light. It will be interesting.

Wishing you Shabbat Shalom, and a Happy and Kosher Pesach!

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Only until Mashiach comes

A few years ago, we had the privilege of hosting a supper for a group of senior officials from non-Chassidic (known also as “Litvak”) organizations that are active in kiruv and in disseminating Judaism in Israel and abroad. When I say senior, I mean those who are in truth responsible for the organizations, top to bottom, including (and mainly) the financial aspects. These are talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars), very intense on the one hand, but very pleasant on the other. They happened to be in Basel and a joint friend, who is a Chabadnik, gave them my number.

It was a fascinating evening – several hours of deep and razor-sharp discussions. Neither side was apologetic or unduly ingratiating. I had never met them before, and they didn’t know me either. But they said, “Listen, Reb Zalman, we get the impression that we can be completely candid with you. Is that correct? You are the host and we are your guests. We don’t want to be impolite, but we have many questions about Chabad in general and about the shelichut network in particular. May we speak freely?” I said they could, but only on condition that I may be allowed to answer freely as well.

They asked every question that a non-Chabadnik might ask. Starting from the classical questions regarding the question as to whether the Rebbe is the Mashiach or not, and all the way to questions about Chabad’s attitude towards political Zionism.

One of the questions was this: “We send out couples of shlichim to places throughout the world. As you know, in many places we are the “competitors” of the Chabad shlichim. Our shlichim serve for a set period, usually five years, and some of them even for ten years, but then they return home and others take their places. The Chabad shlichim, though, take upon themselves to stay for their whole lives. Why is this so? What is the idea behind it?”

L’chaim!” I said, and finished off my shot of whisky. First of all, because a Chabadnik must have a L’chaim, and also because I needed that whisky in order to answer the question. “So,” I said, “first of all, we don’t intend to serve for the rest of our lives, only until the Mashiach comes. Secondly – and this is the main point – anyone who goes to be a shaliach, and it doesn’t matter which organization or group is sending him, will encounter a brick wall, sooner or later. At some point he will have to face a solid wall that cannot be overcome. He wants to move forward; he understands that it is necessary to break through some boundaries – but there is that wall in front of him. It could be a financial barrier, or an emotional one, people interfering with his activities, or bureaucratic issues such as building permits or the use of certain real estate.

“It’s like this: if he has committed to five years, and this is his fourth, if he is sane, he will probably not clamber to the top of the wall, and certainly he will not break through it. Because when one climbs a wall, and certainly when one breaks through one, one gets injured, and that is painful. So he says to himself: There’s only one year to go. Let’s get through it in peace. Why go crazy now?

“But if his mission is lifelong (“until Mashiach comes”, they corrected me this time), he understands that if he does not overcome this wall now, he will remain behind it for the rest of his life. So he will do everything, everything, to break it down. And he will succeed.”

They liked that answer, but then one of them immediately asked the obvious question: “Okay, but how, really, do you overcome or break down such a wall?”

My wife, who had just at that moment come in with medium-rare delicacies, said: “I’ll answer that one. He packs a small bag and says to me: ‘I’m going to New York, to the Rebbe, for one day, or maybe for Shabbat.’ And that’s it.”

The next question was, “What happens when you are at the Rebbe’s gravesite? Does the miracle always happen? You come, write to the Rebbe, put the note on the tziyun and the wall disappears?”

“There are plenty of miracles,” I said. “But what really happens is that I get the strength to cope with what I’m facing. It is still possible to get hurt; one still has to cope with pain or difficulties, but when you return to your mission with the knowledge that Hashem gives you the strength to deal with everything, when you come back with the powerful understanding that you can beat this world, then the world can’t beat you.”

Dear friends, this coming Tuesday we will be marking 120 years since the Rebbe’s birth. Like every sort of light and abundance in the world, one can obtain some of it, or miss it. Whoever shows up with a suitable container – receives some of it. Whoever doesn’t – doesn’t.

I believe wholeheartedly that on the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s birthday a wondrous light of Jewish pride and might appears in the world, an unequivocal statement to each and every one of us: “You can do it.” Anyone who will be willing to let go of their sarcasm and joking, cynicism and pessimism, and perhaps also of their limited realism, for just a moment, will know how to fuel themselves with a feeling of mission that will place them on a higher spot in terms of this world. A mission that has the power to break through and overcome any inhibiting factor. A Chabad-like mission. And don’t worry, it’s not lifelong – it’s only until the Mashiach will come, speedily, in our days, Amen.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Do you know how to say “no”?

People don’t know how to say “no”. I don’t mean that people don’t respond negatively, and never say “no”. They definitely do say it when necessary, and sometimes too quickly, and sometimes when it is not really necessary. It’s just that they don’t know how to say it. When someone asks for something and the answer is yes, it is very easy to respond nicely and say, “Yes, of course.” It’s also easy to smile at that moment. But what happens when the answer is negative, when there is no choice but to say “no”? That is already not simple and not easy. Too often I encounter people who say a very unpleasant, rough “no”; they said it coldly, and of course without a smile. A gevurah (strictness) “no”. Too infrequently I encounter people who know how to give a negative response in a positive way - A chessed (loving kindness) “no”. I do not blame these people whose refusals are unpleasant, because saying “no” is an art in itself. We do not feel comfortable saying “no”, so we tend to say it laconically, quickly – we want to get it over with. If we stop a moment and think of the person we are facing, then we add a word of compassion, or perhaps just a loving smile. or sometimes just a gesture of placing the hand on the heart, or a sweet emoji of some sort, which makes the “no” a chessed “no”. From my experience, it’s possible to do so – and important. Very important. The Rebbe speaks about this in parashat Tazria. It can happen that a person becomes a metzora (leper) and must therefore be defined and declared to be tameh (ritually impure). He then goes into isolation, outside of the camp. The Torah determines that only a cohen may decide and determine that a person is indeed tameh. Why a cohen? Why not a doctor? Why not some other specialist? Wouldn’t it be better if this act was performed by some professional? Moreover, the Rambam writes that in the case that a cohen doesn’t know, one should go to an expert, who will determine that it is indeed tzara’at; and then the cohen is called to make the declaration – he is the person who can define the man as a metzora and therefore tameh, necessitating isolation. Why? In other words: What exactly does a cohen know that no one else knows? What is it in the very fact that he was born to a father who is a cohen that makes him worthy of determining the fate of others? The Rebbe explains that a cohen, in his essence, is a person of chessed, a person whose role is to bless the Jewish people. Someone who blesses, must love. And, indeed, the cohanim are commanded to do so, and even mention it in the blessing they make before blessing the people: “Who sanctified us with his mitzvahs and commanded us to bless His nation, Israel, with love.” Imagine for a moment that someone is standing in front of you and asking you for a blessing that he should recover from an illness. I assume that you wouldn’t just mumble some words, but you would take the time to think and give him a heartfelt blessing of love, right? Because without love it is not really possible to bless. Therefore, when there is a situation in which there is no choice but to give a negative answer, when there is no choice but to declare that a person is metzora and tameh, we need someone who knows how to say a “no” of chessed. We need the cohen, who will come with all his love and empathy, because it is not only blessings that cannot be said without love: stern words, too, cannot be said without love. Try this at home. Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov, Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Every respectable synagogue has its beggars.

Dear Friends, Every respectable synagogue has its beggars. They come every day, stand there for a few hours and give the praying men the merit of giving tzedakah. In the famous Beit Midrash of Chabad, 770, in Brooklyn, there is group of elderly beggars of Russian origin. They have been there for several decades, and are an integral part of the scenery. The Yeshiva boys once asked one of them: “If you were to win the American lottery of hundreds of millions of dollars, what would you do?” The man answered immediately: “I would give every one of my beggar colleagues a million dollars so that they won’t come anymore, so that I’ll have the whole synagogue to myself.” Funny, isn’t it? I would call it a galut (exile) mentality. Even when the poor man becomes rich he thinks like a beggar. A person with a geulah (redemption) mentality will not go back to being a beggar after he has won the lottery. But don’t we think the same way in our lives? Do we know to dream, at least, beyond the limitations and conventions of the galut way of life? How many times do we want to do something but are certain that we will fail? How many times do we not even dare to dream of something, because it is beyond our conception? But if we take upon ourselves a geulah mentality, we will see that we can do so much more – and then we might even dare to dream big. Rabbi Shlomo Efraim of Luntschitz, the author of the “Kli Yakar” commentary, explains at the beginning of parashat Shemini that the number eight is beyond nature, since the nature of the world, since creation, is connected to the number seven. The world, after all, was created in seven days, and continues to work in cycles of seven. He brings what Chazal say in masechet Arachin, that in the times of Mashiach the kinor (lyre) will have eight strings. To my understanding, the kinor of the Leviyim in the Beit Mikdash had seven strings, while in the times of Mashiach it will have eight. Why eight? Because the days of the Mashiach will be something beyond nature. And so, there is no more opportune time than this Shabbat to look into this idea, to test our way of thinking and to attempt to think in a “shmoneh” mode – that of geulah. We should think like masters and not like hired help, because otherwise, even if we win the lottery, we will go back to being beggars. Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

The Chabadniks’ talking points

A stranger who would have heard them this week would have thought that they have a list of talking points, or at least one message that they received from above to pass on.

Dryly and laconically, but simply, and with much confidence, they say: We’re simply doing what has to be done.

“We salute you,” I wrote to Rabbi Avremi Wolff, Odessa’s rabbi, a moment after he waved goodbye to the buses of orphans and remained behind in the city. He replied to me laconically: “It’s nothing. We’re just doing what has to be done.”

My wife spoke with her good friend, Chani Gopin. She and her husband Rabbi Shalom Gopin left Kiev, reached Iași, which they had just looked up in Wikipedia, and instead of resting after dozens of hours of travel, they boiled up a huge pot of eggs and their young children prepared cucumbers and other vegetables, so that the next batch of refugees, whom they hadn’t met yet, would have something to eat. “You’re super,” my wife told her, and she answered with the same message: “We’re just doing what has to be done, nothing special.”

Rabbi Mendy Glitzenstein, his wife Penina and their family took care of thousands of refugees, for days on end, without sleep. “Mendy, you are our heroes,” I said to him. but he just replied from the Chabad list of talking points: “We just did what was needed at that moment.”

Should I continue? This is what I heard from Rabbi Yossi Wolff, who remained in Kherson, under siege; from my brother Rabbi Pinchas, with all his activities, and so on all of them, even Rabbi Dover Orgad from Cluj (Klausenberg), who worked day and night to feed whoever showed up – and there were hundreds – and replied simply and confidently, stating that same dry and laconic point: “We are simply doing what is needed right now.”

If you think about it a bit, and go into it more deeply, you will see that indeed that has been the central message of Lubavitch ever since it was established: Before all and after all you just do what needs doing at that moment.

In the early 1970’s, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l asked to meet Chabad chassidim who had just managed to leave Soviet Russia. In the meeting between Rav Moshe and R. Yankel Notick z”l, who was one of those unknown heroes who were willing to give up their lives in order to observe the mitzvos of the Torah in Russia on a daily basis, Rav Moshe asked him: “How did you do this? To insist this way on every mitzvah, big and small, in face of the forces of evil?”

And R. Yankel Notick voiced the same message, from those same ancient Lubavitcher talking points: “Did we have any other choice?” That was what was needed, so that was what we did.

I don’t know, but I find this deeply moving – so dry and laconic but so simple a statement, said with such confidence.

Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur, of the tribe of Yehuda, was the leading artisan in the construction of the Mishkan for Hashem. He ran everything, he was consulted about everything. He knew everything. He actually was the person who built the Mishkan. My friend, Rabbi Auriel Silbiger, rabbi of Agudat Achim in Basel, told me last night that Betzalel is very special to him. He did everything, organized everything, and the moment after the construction was completed, he disappeared from the radar (almost completely). We hear nothing more about him, read nothing more. He just did what he was supposed to do and went back to his anonymity.

If you check, you will see that, in the second passuk already, the Torah sums up everything that Betzalel did in the following words: “And Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur of the tribe of Yehuda did all that Hashem commanded Moshe.” How dry, how laconic, how simple and confident.

A kind of talking point.

עושה שלום במרומיו, הוא יעשה שלום עלינו.

He Who makes peace in His Heavens, will make peace upon us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

On the way to the banquet

He sat next to me on the bus on the way to the main banquet of the World Conference of Shluchim. He is a shaliach of my age, somewhere in the world. After a short getting-to-know- you conversation he said, “I would like to work out with you a matter that is disturbing me.” I thought he was about to bring up a “standard” dilemma in the life of a shaliach – perhaps what to say to a regular donator whose feelings were hurt, or how to start a new class. But he lowered his eyes for a minute and said: “Don’t expect some great issue. This is not something that is dealt with in the shluchim’s workshops. It’s not in the conference’s schedule. It’s just a small thing, but, as I said already, I find it disturbing.” 

Well, like most of us, his life had fallen into a routine and slowly he began to feel that there is a lack of feeling of kedusha, sanctity, in the family’s life. Everybody was of course observing mitzvot properly, but mostly out of habit, and he felt that there was something lacking and that he wanted Hashem to be more present in his home. 

I listened carefully to the end. I admired his courage to speak so openly about such an important issue, even if it’s not so popular and not discussed very much. I thought that it is really beautiful, that on the way to the grandiose event of the World Conference of Shluchim, an event in which VIP’s will gather and speak about the Rebbe’s actions and his shluchim, he, the shaliach sitting next to me, did not lose his way and managed to focus on something relevant to him. But most of all, his words touched me deeply, because I too felt like him during that period about my home and my family. Therefore, I also had a ready answer for him, based on the pasuk in this week’s parasha, Ki Tisa, about Shabbat.

“Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, Now you speak to Bnei Yisrael, saying: However, you must observe My Shabattot, for it is a sign between Me and you for your generations to know that I am Hashem, Who makes you holy.” There is probably quite a bit to learn from this pasuk, especially about the relationship between building the Mishkan and observing the Shabbat laws. But I read the pasuk in its most simple sense: Do you want to bring Hashem into your home? Invest in Shabbat, because “it is a sign between Me and you.” Do you want to add holiness at home? Shabbat is the key. For it says, “to know that I am Hashem, Who makes you holy.” If Shabbat is just another day during which one goes to shul, and the Friday night meal is just another meal with a few extra dishes, then the Shabbat will have less of an influence on the home. But if we relate to Shabbat as the connecting factor between the days of the week, if we see it as the central day of the week, the whole household will look different.

My advice to my new friend was very simple and practical – make the Shabbat holy, and it will make your home holy. Relate to Shabbat seriously, as one relates to something especially important. Take upon yourself to think during the week how to upgrade the Shabbat meals. I don’t mean in terms of food and table-setting – that’s very important, but we have not gathered together in order to load more tasks on your wife. We came to talk about me and you. And so, sit down on Thursday to prepare a nice story that will be suitable for the Shabbat meal; perhaps also a joke, and if you’re up to it, maybe also a small quiz. And when you prepare a story, try to think how you can tell it so that your children will enjoy it. we don’t always know how to tell a story so that the children will find it gripping. A first grade teacher doesn’t know how to teach teenagers in a yeshiva, but a Rabbi in a yeshiva for adults doesn’t necessarily know, or is able, to teach first grade children. So one ought to put some thought into it, and maybe consult with someone. Sometimes it is necessary to think of some suitable parable or of an example from the child’s daily life. In short, run your Shabbat table in a way that will make the family await it, that it will be exciting. This is not always easy, but it is definitely possible, each person according to his abilities and the makeup of his household and guests. 

The Rebbe quoted many times the words of the Zohar, “Shabbat, from it all the days are blessed,” both the days before Shabbat and the days after it. It blesses in both directions. These are not just pretty words; they have a practical meaning, “for it is a sign between Me and You.” Sanctify the Shabbat and it will sanctify your home.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

You can, but you don’t want to

Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov was once sitting with his disciples in his Beit Midrash (study hall). They were learning or praying. Outside, in the street, a non-Jewish wagon-driver was going by in his wagon, but because of the winter mud he could not continue. The wagon was heavy, and the horse just couldn’t pull it through the mire. The wagon-driver therefore stuck his head through the window of the Beit Midrash and asked the Baal Shem Tov’s students to help him extricate the wagon from the deep mud.

When the students saw how heavily-loaded the wagon was, and how deep the mud puddle was, they said to him, “We can’t.”

“You can, but you don’t want to,” responded the wagon-driver.

The Baal Shem Tov, who had the principle of learning something from everything that one sees and hears, said to his disciples: “Listen to what the wagon-driver is saying. It is a message for life. It’s easiest to say ‘I can’t,’ but most of the time it’s really ‘I don’t want to.’”

 

After last week’s Parasha, in which we learned about the contents of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), this week, in Parashat Tetzave, we learn about the special garments that the Cohanim wore, their different types, design, components etc. Rashi, when relating to the prohibition of tearing the priestly garments, mentions also the Holy Ark’s wooden shafts, which we learned about last week.

These shafts were attached on either side of the Holy Ark. They were meant to be used when the Jewish People traveled, as a means of lifting the Holy Ark and carrying it. It turns out that these wooden bars must be attached to the Ark at all times, even when no traveling is being done and the Ark is sitting in the Holy of Holies. It is even a Torah commandment: “They shall not be removed from it.”

The Ark is taken out from the Holy of Holies when there is a war, and then it is carried before the camp and helps Bnei Yisrael in their battle. But this doesn’t happen every day, certainly not when they are already settled in Jerusalem, in the Temple. What is the reason, then, that they have to always be inserted into their rings in the Ark?

The Sefer Hachinuch explains simply: “We were commanded not to remove the Ark’s shafts from it, in case we will have to go out with it quickly to some place.” Because you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow, the Ark has to always be ready to go.

From this the Lubavitcher Rebbe learned the most important thing: Even if you consider yourself to be a Holy Ark, and perhaps you are indeed a learned Torah scholar, holy and righteous, you must still learn from the Holy Ark, in which the Tablets are kept. Like the Ark and its wooden bars that are always in place, you too have to be always ready to go out in response to any call for help that reaches you. Even when a person is learning or praying, or doing anything else, as important as it may be, he must be ready to move, as if the bars were attached to him; he must be willing to go out and lend a hand.

And if you say that you are busy, or you can’t, the Ukrainian wagon-driver will stick his head through the window and tell you, loudly: “You can, but you don’t want to.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

where there is light and warmth, it is also kosher

There was once a very special and beloved person in Kfar Chabad. His name was R. Meir Friedman, and he used to tell the following story:

As is usual among Jews, a rumor started going around the village that the village’s Shochet (slaughterer) is not G-d fearing and therefore one cannot rely on his Shechitah. This, of course, affected his livelihood – negatively.

The Ruzhiner Rebbe heard about this, and he decided to send a Chassid of his to the home of the Shochet.

The Chassid knocked on the door of the Shochet without telling him the reason for his visit. The Shochet and his family welcomed him warmly, lit candles for him and gave him a bowl of hot soup to warm him up after being out in the cold winter weather.

When the Chassid returned to the Ruzhiner Rebbe and told him about the visit, the Ruzhiner got up and announced: “Where there is light and warmth, it is also kosher.”

In this week’s Parasha, Parashat Terumah, we learn about the making of the golden Menorah. It had branches decorated with “Kaftorim” (“knobs), “Prachim” (“flowers”) and also “Gevi’im” (“cups”). There were twenty-two cups altogether, three on each of the six branches, and four on the central branch – all made of pure gold. The Rambam, when drawing the Menorah, positioned the cups upside-down, so that the wider rims of the cups point downward, and the narrower bottoms – upwards.

The Rebbe in his Likutei Sichot, 21, gives a special (and characteristic) meaning to the reason for the upside-down cups, and connects it with the overall goal of the Beit Mikdash (Temple), which is to light up the world with goodness and holiness. Says the Rebbe: When the cup is not upside-down, it is a vessel that can hold something. In other words, it can hold the wine or the water that is put into it, and it keeps it to itself. But when one wants to give and influence, to pour from the cup, one turns the cup over, so that its wide rim faces downward.

The Menorah of the Temple was not intended only to light up the sanctuary itself, as Rabbi Zerikah says in the name of Rabbi Elazar in tractate Menachot (86b): “I don’t need its light… it is evidence to the whole world that the Shechinah (Divine Presence) rests upon Israel.” The Menorah was intended to give light and Heavenly warmth to everyone in this world.

And so, it is fitting that the Menorah should have upside-down cups, indicating an act of pouring out and giving, and not a state of storing, holding onto the contents.

We have no Beit Mikdash today, but we can warm the world and light it up, and we are even commanded to do so. We can even pour for others: hot soup, a cup of tea, or a cup of L’Chaim if necessary. The main thing is to influence, give, radiate light and warmth, because then it becomes evident, as the Ruzhiner said: “where there is light and warmth, it is also kosher.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

 

he spoiled the party

More than a decade ago I attended a Bar Mitzvah in the family of Rabbi Sholom Rosenfeld, from the Ezra Chabad House in Zurich. The celebration was very impressive. It was clear that everyone had been preparing for it for a long time. The Bar Mitzvah boy, who today is already a young father, was suitably dressed, full of joy, excitement and the Kedusha of Mitzvah observance. 

A special moment was when the grandfather, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Rosenfeld, rabbi of the Chabad community in Boro Park, Brooklyn, was called up to speak. Rabbi Rosenfeld is a tall, impressive individual, with smiling eyes that express much wisdom. But here he was an excited grandfather who was about to bless his grandson, whose name was Mendel, of course. This is what he said: 

“Dear Mendel, I know how much you’ve prepared yourself for this moment. I know how many hours you spent learning to read the Torah. I heard how hard you worked on preparing your Drasha (sermon) and the words of Chassidut that you spoke here tonight. I saw how happy you were with your new, expensive Tefillin and I know how excited you are about being called up to the Torah for the first time, this coming Shabbat, since you are now obligated in all the Mitzvahs. Mendel, I am sorry to spoil your enthusiasm and excitement, but it is important for you to remember that your first Mitzvah as a Bar Mitzvah boy is saying the Shema tonight. It says in the Torah that one should say it ‘when you lie down and when you get up’. And so, tonight, after this big party, find yourself a quiet corner in the house and say, with much concentration, “Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad,” thus fulfilling your first Mitzvah as a Bar Mitzvah – as one obligated to observe the Mitzvahs. 

Having Parashat Mishpatim immediately after Parashat Yitro rather spoils the party. After the great excitement around the giving of the Torah, the loud noises, the smoke and the lightning, with Hashem Himself coming down on Mount Sinai and speaking, causing the Jews to lose their faculties - after all that what we get is the law regarding an ox that gored a cow, and the laws of a Jewish slave? 

The Rebbe explain this in his Likutei Sichot, section 16: Our goal here in this world is to bring the holiness of the Torah and Mitzvahs into this material world, in two stages. The first stage is to stop the world in its steps by way of loud noise, lightning and smoke, to the point of Hashem Himself coming down on Mount Sinai. But this has a disadvantage: it is not natural for the world, since the world is basically material and tangible. The second stage is to install the Torah into the limits and laws of the material nature of the world. This cannot be done by loud voices and lightning, but by way of simple dry laws such as those brought in Parashat Mishpatim. 

To have Parashat Mishpatim right after Parashat Yitro does not spoil the party, but rather substantiates it. 

Grandfather Rosenfeld basically told his grandson that all that celebration and enthusiasm, holiness and joy – everything is important and dear to us. It’s all great, but only if one knows to concentrate all of it into one moment at the end of the evening, in which one stands in a quiet corner and says, “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalman Wishedski

What are the Ten Commandments all about?

If you were asked to give a one-word definition of what the Ten Commandments are about, what would you say?

This week, I spoke with a young man who said: “I know that this week we will be reading the Ten Commandments. I know they are considered very important. The whole world, and certainly the Jewish People, consider the giving of the Ten Commandments to be the moment of Hashem’s revelation to the Jewish people. I also know that on Shabbat, when we will read the Torah, you will bang on the bimah, and everyone will understand that they are supposed to stand in honor of the reading of the Ten Commandments. But how does this influence my life today?

“I believe in Hashem, I don’t make idols, I keep Shabbat, respect my parents, don’t murder or steal, don’t covet either. I am, after all, a normative person. What are they, then, for me today? So I have to improve here and there? Okay. Upgrade my acquaintance with the laws of Shabbat, improve in honoring my parents, make more of an effort not to covet? Okay. But is that all?”

In response, like any good Jew, I asked him the question above: If you were asked to give a one-word definition of what the Ten Commandments are about, what would you say?

Together, we reached the conclusion that perhaps we might say that the Ten Commandments are all about “vitur”. There is no good translation for this word in English. It’s a form of “giving in”, or “relinquishing”, but willingly, voluntarily. In this case, being willing to relinquish our immediate responses, our natural tendencies and inclinations.

It means relinquishing fear, in favor of faith; relinquishing the desire to do something on Shabbat, for the sake of Shabbat; giving up important things for the sake of honoring parents, relinquishing the desire to write something nasty that will reward one with pleasurable attention from others, for the sake of “Do not murder”; the desire to trick someone, for the sake of “Do not steal”, the natural tendency to covet, in favor of “Do not covet”; one’s bodily desires, for the sake of “Do not commit adultery.”

Relinquishing my basest tendencies, in favor of my most sublime ones.

In the language of chassidut this is called “bitul”, which means, in general, to be willing to negate the animal aspects in me, in favor of the divine ones.

What’s wonderful about it, is that while at the beginning there is a feeling that you are lessening yourself with every relinquishment and bitul, slowly-slowly you discover that the opposite is true: The more you minimize the animal side and enable the divine side, the bigger and more significant you become. 

So what do you say? What are the Ten Commandments all about?


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.