Printed fromChabadBasel.com
ב"ה

Rabbi's weekly Blog

at the Rebbe's table

Reb Meishke Sara's, the son of the renowned Muma Sara Katsenelbogen, may his memory be a blessing, once wrote the following in his notes:

"Once, I entered the Rebbe's chamber, and while I was in the holy presence, the Rebbe mentioned among other things, 'They say that you are proficient in Shulchan Aruch (the Code of Jewish Law).' When I responded with a gesture of negation, the Rebbe said, 'They told me here at the table, and here at the table, one only speaks the truth.'

I won't delve into who Reb Meishke was, nor into the fact that being proficient in Shulchan Aruch in Soviet Russia was nothing trivial, certainly not about his famous mother, or even about his granddaughter, her husband, and their children who serve as emissaries of the Rebbe here in Basel.

I'll only speak about the mentioned anecdote, about the central and powerful, and in my opinion, chilling aspect of the Rebbe's words: 'Here by the table, one speaks only the truth.'

Today, the 11th of Nisan, is the Rebbe's birthday, which essentially means that for every chassid, there is also a birthday, the birthday of being a chassid is today. Much has been said about the Rebbe's greatness, about his genius, about his proficiency in the entire Torah, about the Shluchim worldwide, about the miracles that unfold, and also about his approach or viewpoint on life in general and Jewish life in particular.

Today, on the birthday of our being chassidim, I will attempt, with your permission, to express a few words as a chassid.

The Rebbe is our confidant.

Indeed, the Rebbe is the one who gains access to the most intimate places of our souls. A chassid who enters the Rebbe knew then and knows today as well, that 'Here by the table, one speaks only the truth.' Not only does a chassid know and knew, but from Reb Meishke Sara's story, it is clear that the Rebbe also knew and knows this. He is the one who knows his chassidim and his Shluchim best, he knows better than anyone else, and often better than they themselves, where they are being disingenuous and where they are authentic. He knew how to clearly say, 'Here by the table, one speaks only the truth.' And this is the essence of the chassid's longing. Here lies the essence of the yearning to travel to the Rebbe, to be with him, beside him, to feel close, to know that you are there, touching, present, because it may be the only place and moment in the world and in time where you are by the table where only the truth is spoken.

Yes, this is also the source of the fear of getting closer because you won't always want to be seen, to be seen by others, and if you get closer, you won't be able to hide, because 'Here by the table, one speaks only the truth.'

Oh, Rebbe.

Shabbat Shalom, A kosher and joyous Passover,

Zalman

 

Don't be an animal

I once heard a Darshan (preacher) say: When we call a human being by the name of an animal, whether wild or domesticated (such as: “he’s a snake,” “he’s a mule”), we are actually belittling the animal, since animals fulfill their destiny in this world by just being what they are – animals. But when a human being behaves like an animal he is not fulfilling his destiny – which is to be a human being.

Parashat Tazria, the Parasha that deals with the laws of purity and impurity of human beings, follows Parashat Shemini, which deals with different types of animals and their status – kosher or non-kosher. Rashi says in his commentary on the first verse that there is a reason that the laws regarding human beings come after the laws regarding animals. “The same way Man was created after all the animals and birds, so the laws regarding him were presented after the laws of animals and birds.”

What Rashi does not explain here is why Man was created last, on the sixth day of Creation, when the entire world was already in existence, after the inanimate, the plants and the animals had all been formed?

Our Sages said that Man was created last for two reasons, each one of which embodies a different end of the spectrum:

a. So that he will come to a completed world and will be able to begin to live in it according to human beings’ needs and requirements;

b. So that in case he misbehaves, one can always say to him: “The mosquito was created before you.” Don’t forget who you are and where you come from. Even a tiny and annoying creature like a mosquito came before you and was created before you. And not only was he created before you chronologically, but even in status he is above you, because he is fulfilling his destiny; and what can you say for yourself in that regard?

By the Rebbe, whenever there are two answers given to one question, there must be a connection between them. Here, too, the Rebbe puts the two answers together, making up one wonderful message:

Man is composed of body and soul.

The body is earthy, and has animalistic needs, and in order to ensure that he not degrade himself and become worth less than a mosquito, he has the refined, G-dly, spiritual soul. What he needs is proper management. When the soul manages him and guides the body, then the world will constitute for him a ready tool; but if not – if the body will be the one that manages and guides – then very quickly the person will find himself inferior even to a mosquito.


And I say, May we be successful J!

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

 

The Gift of Rest

One day, during the corona pandemic, on yet another day of partial lockdowns and social distancing, I took a one-day train trip to the mountains. I wanted to get away for a few hours from the noise of the world and enjoy some internal peace and quiet, and therefore I decided to leave my phone at home, taking a book along instead. The book I took was Zman Shabbat (original English title: The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath) which had just been published in Hebrew by Maggid, translated by Ayelet Sackstein.

This wonderful book, written by the highest-ranking Jew in American politics, was eminently suitable for my day off. In it, Lieberman describes Shabbat, starting from the preparations on Friday and going all the way to havdala on Motzai Shabbat. It is laced with fine Jewish American humor and stories about special Shabbatot, and explains some Shabbat halachas as well.

Americans familiar with American politics would have enjoyed the book much more than an Israeli like me, but, in any case, what fascinated me most was the gap between the everyday senator and the Yosef of Shabbat, between the six-day-a-week vice-presidential candidate and the Jewish child he became on the seventh. Here is one example: “On Friday afternoon I would arrive home from school and immediately breathe in the fragrance of chicken soup, meat or kugel, or anything else that was cooking. I would go to the stove, remove the pot cover of the chicken soup, take a whiff and a spoonful. Years later, when for the first time Hadassah saw me doing this in my mother’s kitchen, she was upset.

“’How could you do such a thing?’ she asked me in her most well-brought-up tone.

“’It’s my tradition,’ I answered, smiling broadly, as if I were Tevye the milkman in Fiddler on the Roof.”

Too many times I hear and read that the Shabbat is seen as something heavy, hard, a day of forbidden things and permitted things, and even a day of bitter strife and subject to various political views. Joe Lieberman describes Shabbat as it is experienced by those who observe it – an enchanting, pleasant and elevated day, a day of different rhythms and flavors. For instance: “Among the special flavors of Shabbat there is also the flavor of instant coffee. You might think that the flavor of instant coffee is inferior to that of coffee from the coffee-making machine. I agree, but on Shabbat its advantage is that it is different.”

Even his description of walking in Washington rain at night for an hour-and-a-half, soaked to the skin, has a sort of softness to it, and describes the wonderful submission of a Jew who observes Shabbat.

Not for nothing does he say in the introduction to the book: “When people ask me: How can you stop all your work as a senator to keep Shabbos every week? I answer: How could I have done all my work as a senator if I wouldn’t have stopped and kept Shabbos every week?”

I remembered all of this because Yosef Lieberman z”l passed away last week, and I so much want to transmit his Shabbos experience, which is quite similar to my own, to anyone who thinks or feels differently, and also, because he deserves much honor for representing Judaism with such pride.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

When the cloud rises

Likutei Sichot, a 39-volume set of books, contains scores of deep and distinctive interpretations of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, mostly connected to the weekly Parshas.

There are Sichot (lessons) that delve into deep ideas, and there are those that analyze Torah concepts meticulously. There are seemingly simple explanations, and there are those that require many hours of perusal in order to fully understand them. There is one theme that shines through all of them, though, and that is that each and every one of them contains a message pertinent to our lives. Every Dvar Torah (literally – “word of Torah”) of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, be it a deep Chassidic idea or a fascinating yeshiva-style analysis, will always lead toward such a meaningful message, one that gives the reader a new outlook on the world and about his/her role in it.

We have such a message this week in Parshat Pekudei – at the end of it, which is also the end of the book of Shemot.

After summing up the building of the Mishkan, with all its details, it says: “When the Cloud was raised up from upon the Mishkan, Bnei Yisrael would embark on their journeys” (Shemot 40:36). You would think this verse contains merely technical information, and that’s how the commentators generally relate to it. There is information here for Bnei Yisrael: How will you know when to dismantle the Mishkan and start to travel? Very simple. The cloud of Hashem’s glory rests above the Mishkan, symbolizing the resting of the Divine Presence on the House of G-d – that Mishkan that you have just finished constructing. So look at it and see: If the cloud is still situated above the Mishkan, then stay in your place. But if you see that the cloud has risen and gone away, that is a sign that you should move on as well – “and when the cloud was raised up… Bnei Yisrael would embark on their journeys.”

But, wait a minute: the journey we are talking about consists of traveling towards the Land of Israel. It is actually one long journey of leaving Egypt and going through a desert on the way to the Promised Land. Why does the cloud rise and go away specifically during those difficult moments of having to move on? Isn’t it more fitting that specifically at those times the cloud should have descended and been with them “throughout their journeys”?

And here the Rebbe brings a powerful message, which can influence each and every one of us, each person according to his/her challenges and difficulties.

It is much easier to work and to do things when Hashem’s cloud is resting upon us – viewable, giving light and warmth; but in order to succeed, to move forward and to grow during our journey we must know how to labor on even when it is dark and cold.

Specifically when the cloud rises, then – and only then – Bnei Yisrael are to journey.

A person who travels a long way in a comfortable, air-conditioned car, will not grow or learn from the trip. A trip that makes one grow, that empowers one, is one that takes place with difficulty, in heat and cold, through fields, deserts, mountains and hills. I'm not asking to choose it, just to know it each time when Desert is before me and the cloud is not there.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Different social statuses

In every society and within every group of people there are people of different social statuses. This is something intrinsic to society, and it has existed since the human race appeared.

All through history, human beings not only failed to minimize this phenomenon, but rather increased it. True, every few decades demonstrations and unrest broke out, to the point of violent uprisings against the discrimination that was the result of the class differences, especially in the past few generations, with the communism that promised that everyone would be ‘comrades’. But in the end, even when the uprising was successful and even when it brought about a revolution, it didn’t take long at all for the revolutionaries themselves to create an elite, leading once again to discrimination and to class differences.

This week’s parashaparashat Vayakhel, relates to this topic and there is even an example of a behavior that would be worthwhile to adopt.

Two artists are mentioned in the Torah as those who were responsible for the building of the Mishkan. One, Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur, and the other, Oholiav ben Achisamach. Betzalel was of the elite par excellence – he belonged to the most important family in the desert, being a great-grandson of Miriam and Calev ben Yefuneh. Besides that, he had a family issue that needed his closure: His grandfather, Chur, was killed when trying to prevent Bnei Yisrael from making the Golden Calf, and the Mishkan that Betzalel was appointed to build was intended to atone for that exact sin. In other words, Betzalel is continuing the campaign that his grandfather died for, and therefore the Torah mentions his grandfather in his lineage. Oholiav ben Achisamach, on the other hand, is from the tribe of Dan, the second son of Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid. They were called “The children of the handmaids” – and were not regarded very highly. As mentioned, these were natural status differences, though not fair.

The Torah mentions Oholiav together with Betzalel, to teach us that when it comes to Hashem, there are no class differences! And also, perhaps, to make us do something to correct it – to search particularly for someone on the sidelines and bring him to the front of the stage? Maybe.

Here is what Rashi said:

“Oholiav was from the tribe of Dan, from the lesser of the tribes, the children of the handmaids. And Hashem placed him on equal level with Betzalel for the building of the Mishkan, and he is from the greatest of the tribes, to bring about what it says (Iyov 34:19): “nor lets a noble be given recognition over a pauper”.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

 

Rome isn’t beautiful as much as it exhibits power.

Rome isn’t beautiful as much as it exhibits power.

I have been in Paris as well as in Rome, Prague, Budapest and Vienna. They are more beautiful than Rome, but Rome’s might is evident in every spot in it. 

Without knowing anything about the city and its story, you can see that this is an old-world capital. During my recent visit there, my eight-year-old Chani asked me all the time: “But why did they build everything so big?” Here is a girl who has grown up in little Basel, which is like a village compared with a city like Rome. She sees the wide open spaces, the broad streets and the large buildings that send out the message of tremendous power; she sees the monuments that every general or Caesar left there so that everyone would see how great they were. Chani noticed the size and the exhibition of power immediately and was trying to understand the rationale behind it. 

Chazal called this “hamona shel Romi” in several places, which I would translate as “Rome’s might”. When I was sitting at the foot of the enormous Colosseum, I realized that now, for the first time, I could understand what the Gemara in masechet Makkot meant when it said hamona shel Romi. There is a well-known story about Rabbi Akiva, Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya and Rabbi Yehoshua reaching a point that was one hundred and twenty mil away from Rome (about 120 kilometers) and hearing the sound of hamona shel Romi. Three of them cried, but Rabbi Akiva laughed. 

For the first time, I understood how it is possible to hear hamona shel Romi from such a distance. I understood that it wasn’t that they physically heard the roar of the city, but rather they could imagine Rome’s power, its greatness. They heard and saw everywhere they went the overpowering din of the Roman Empire, which took the world by storm and created a new order. Spiritual figures such as Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues could barely hear themselves and their teachings due to that din of Rome that ruled everywhere.

These people, who differentiated between the temporary and eternal lives, holy tanna’im who learned and taught Torah and mitzvahs, exalted the life of the soul over that of the material, physical life – were surrounded by the notion that what is considered most meaningful is who is going to win by force, who hits harder. He who has a place in the Colosseum’s arena is the world’s VIP; he whose body is stronger is cheered, while his fellow, who sits in the corner and learns Talmud, doesn’t deserve to live. He who has the big money, the biggest palace, the carriage with the fine horses, is the successful one, while the person who knows how to listen to the troubles of other people, who gives to others, who chooses to forego honor, is considered a nobody.

Of course they cried – if not about this, then about what?

But I too was in a shul in Rome, for mincha and Shacharit. Rabbi Akiva’s descendants were sitting there wearing the same tefillin that Rabbi Akiva wore when he taught, wrapped in the same tallit that he taught about, and said “Shema Yisrael,” and Rabbi Akiva, who had looked ahead, and had actually predicted this back then, laughed. Of course he laughed!

The Colosseum and the Pantheon, as well as the Arch of Titus have no present and no future. They are museums. While the house of Hashem, the beautiful, magnificent shul, is still active. It is still populated by praying Jews enlivened by their spirit.

Our might was never physical, military nor political. Our power lay and still lies in our faith, which is expressed in many small everyday acts, Torah and mitzvahs. Today’s Rome speaks without words of what is passing and what is eternal; what is gone and what continues to exist forever. 

Am Yisrael Chai.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

In the picture: A Roman dressed up as a Roman – but he is really a Yaakov

Believe in it and go search for it

Almost everyday I help people – sometimes face-to-face and sometimes via Zoom. It is almost always a person or a couple who are not feeling good about themselves, each person in his own realm. Almost always it is a person who is saying, “I can’t,” “I’m not successful,” “I am not going to succeed,” “I don’t have the ability and I don’t have the strength.” We are so good at convincing ourselves, that sometimes we can’t see anything else, and that is paralyzing and painful.

My role at that moment is to look inside them, beyond what they are saying, and see their abilities and powers. I admit that sometimes it is not easy. Sometimes the people in front of me are wrapped in many layers of low self-esteem, so that at least regarding the points being discussed it is impossible to see the existing ability. So what helps me to see beyond those layers? The simple belief that every person has a set of tools that he received from Hashem, unique to him. By using those tools he is able to overcome and cope with everything that he encounters in life.

And how is all this connected to parashat Terumah?

When we read the pasuk, “You shall make the planks of the Mishkan of acacia wood,” a question arises: where did Bnei Yisrael obtain those trees, in the middle of the desert? The Midrash Tanchuma has a famous explanation, which Rashi, who usually sticks to the simple meaning of the scriptures, brings in his commentary on this pasuk: “Yaakov Avinu saw by holy spirit that Yisrael were going to build the Mishkan in the desert, and he brought cedar trees to Egypt and planted them and commanded his sons to take them with them when they go out of Egypt.” Let’s forget about Yaakov coming down to Egypt and bringing seedlings for the Mishkan; it is not surprising that someone like Yaakov Avinu took everything into account and already when going into exile was preparing for the redemption from it. Try, instead, to think for a moment about Bnei Yisrael, slaves, suffering under the Egyptians. I imagine that many of them completely forgot that there are acacia trees ready for the Mishkan. Possibly, the young people didn’t know anything about it at all. People were busy trying to survive, to get through the day and the month. Who could think about these trees growing in some forest at the edge of the land of Goshen, planted there two hundred years before by Yaakov?

And when they started to think about the Mishkan, they looked around for trees. I can assume that there were probably many who said to Moshe: “Rabbeinu, where are we going to get trees from in this desert?” And Moshe just looked into them, beyond their words, and told them, “You have trees, they exist. I know they exist, believe me. So instead of saying that there aren’t any, go look around for them and then you will discover, much to your surprise,  that they were with you all the time.”

This is quite a message. When we are sure we lack the ability, that we are incapable of doing something, unfit for it, it’s probably a good idea to remember the acacia trees of the Mishkan and think that maybe, just maybe, someone has already planted in us everything that is needed in order to move forward. All we have to do is recognize this, believe in it and go search for it.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Happy father = happy family

I was invited some time ago to speak before a group of fathers in the Chabad community in Israel. It was during the month of Adar, and I was asked to speak about joy and happiness – as it says, “When Adar comes in, we increase happiness.” 

I chose to speak about “Happy father = happy family.”


The central message is twofold:

a.       A father should understand that he has the role of head of the family – the one who leads – and every act of his has meaning and consequences for the entire household, like in the food chain. And before you start imagining an Arabian sheikh, I will say that when I speak of the “head of the family,” I mean not so much the rights involved, but mainly the obligations.

b.      Speaking of happiness, the head of the family must understand that it is in his hands to make the day a happy day, or the evening a happy evening, and, in general, that the family should be happy.

I also quoted what the Rebbe said at the beginning of the month of Adar 1992 (5752), when he spoke about increasing happiness in Adar. He went into detail: “[This means] to make oneself happy, as well as to make others happy, starting from the members of his household – the husband increases his efforts to make his wife happy, and the parents increase their efforts to make their children happy, in ways that naturally make them happy.” I think the message is clear. Anyone who has ever tried it has seen that it works. When the father comes home happy, he infects everybody else with his joyful state of mind.

I remembered my wife’s uncle, Rabbi Shalom Ber Gorelick z”l, who was, by all definitions – a happy Jew; not so-so, not sort of, and not even “In principle, I’m happy”. He was simply a happy Jew.

I thought it would be interesting to hear from his children what it is like to be the children of a happy father. I called up one of his daughters and asked her about this. It didn’t take her long to come up with an answer. Here is what she said:

A.    Forever young. I had a father who was forever young, even when he was sick, and even when he was in his last days, he was young. Because a person who is happy remains forever young.

B.     Happiness with mitzvot. Nothing was too hard. Even if there are many guests and it was very busy and crowded, when your father is happy and excited, you don’t feel the difficulty. Or, for instance, complete strictness when it came to the Chabad laws of Pesach – when it is combined with joy, you don’t feel the difficulty or the pressure – just the joy.

C.     As children and as adults we always felt comfortable asking, wanting to be spoiled and sneaking in requests even in matters beyond the letter of the law, because as a happy person, he would say to himself, “Nu, how wonderful it is that they are healthy children and that they have an appetite for something yummy, or that they want something or other. Baruch Hashem that they ask, Baruch Hashem that they want.”

D.    It’s catching – it was passed on to us, the children, and from us to the grandchildren; which means that my father has especially happy grandchildren, and he has only himself to thank.

One more note from me: there are only a few things that we can do and see instant results. Usually it’s a matter of a process, but here there are immediate results. A father who comes home with an approach of expansiveness and happiness will see the immediate results in his own family.

 

So – go for it!

 

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

The Na’aseh Venishma Syndrome

A couple came into my office. He is a Israeli Jew, she’s a European Jew. They were thinking of getting married and had come to find out about the procedure.

When I started to explain to them what is expected of them, the husband-to-be said that he already knows everything. His cousin’s friend had become a Ba’al Teshuva, his brother had been to Uman two years ago, and his grandfather (of course!) had been a Rabbi.


I just smiled to myself and said, “The Na’aseh Venishma (we will do and we will hear) Syndrome.”

“Na’aseh Venishma,” he repeated. “That’s what the Jews said on Mount Sinai, right?”

“Yes,” I answered. “Na’aseh Venishma is what we said when we received the Torah. But the Na’aseh Venishma Syndrome is what you are doing right now.”

And so, maintaining a pleasant demeanor, I told him of the interpretation that we have attached to Na’aseh Venishma. Originally, as we know, it is an expression of obedience to Hashem and unconditional acceptance of the Torah. But we, over the years, have turned it into “First we’ll do what seems right to us, and then we’ll hear what you have to say.”

The young man understood me immediately, and from then on listened seriously to what I had to say.


I myself experienced the Na’aseh Venishma Syndrome, when I first bought a closet from Ikea. As a proud Israeli, I didn’t think that I needed to take lessons from the Swedes of Ikea. I put together the closet – “did” it – and then, when I noticed that it was somewhat wobbly, I opened the instruction booklet and “heard” about the mistakes that I had made. Taking apart the closet and starting all over again, while muttering my frank opinion of the Swedes, taught me the hard way that one must first hear, first listen, try to understand, and only then – do.

We are about to hear tomorrow the Ten Commandments 'All that the Lord has spoken we will do and we will hear,' the children of Israel said then. 'We will do and we will hear,' we say practically every morning when we rise, 'we will do and we will hear' we implement mainly on difficult and painful days when questions and doubts arise .But please do not confuse Na’aseh Venishma with the Na’aseh Venishma Syndrome.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalman Wishedski

Bring this “other” person closer

 

to bring this “other” person closer

“And Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him.” So it says in the description of the Exodus from Egypt at the beginning of Parashat Beshalach that we will read tomorrow. Why did Moshe Rabbeinu take them? “Because he (Yosef) had firmly adjured the Children of Israel, saying, God will surely remember you, and you shall bring up my bones from here with you.”

Like his father, Yosef wanted to be buried in the Holy Land, and therefore he made a special request, which was fulfilled by Bnei Yisrael. He was buried, as we all know, in Shechem, in Samaria.


The Lubavitcher Rebbe objects to the use of the words “bones” – “Atzamot”. We are talking here about a truly special person: he was the viceroy of Egypt, and we call him “Yosef HaTzaddik.” It would have been more fitting to say, “And Moshe took Yosef’s coffin.” This would have been the minimal amount of respect shown to Yosef, what anyone would have wanted said in reference to a relative of his. But, instead, we have here, “Yosef’s bones.”

But if that is the way it is expressed, there must be some special meaning attached to it, and the meaning of “Yosef’s bones” is that, beyond the fact that Moshe personally, physically, brought Yosef’s body to the land of Israel, together with this body he also brought Yosef’s “Atzmiyut” – Yosef HaTzaddik’s essence, for the benefit of all future generations. What was Yosef’s essence? Helping others. He devoted his life to other people. Every public figure today says that he is on “a mission.” Yosef was the role model for people whose mission is to work for the benefit of the public.


Even his name includes a similar message: “And she named him Yosef, saying, May Hashem add to me another son.” So said Rachel, Yosef’s mother, when he was born. The inner meaning of this, says the Rebbe, is that there is a son who is considered the “other” son, because he is different in his behavior, his deeds and perhaps even in his looks, and Yosef’s mission is to bring this “other” person closer and give him the true feeling that he is a son, for that is the truth: we are all members of this nation, the Children of Israel. How typical for the Rebbe to espouse such a commentary.


And so, Moshe Rabbeinu brought to the land of Israel not only Yosef’s casket, but also Yosef’s “Atzmiyut” – Yosef’s acknowledgment and understanding, outlook and perspective, that perspective that will teach all of us to look at the other and understand that he is also a child. In every class in school there is that “other”, and every one of us, each one from his point of view, has such an “other” among his acquaintances, and certainly among those who are not his friends and acquaintances. Here one must bring up the awareness of the “bones of Yosef” and remember that these “other” people are his brothers and sisters, the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah. And in the merit of this, we will be granted that most desired blessing, “Bless us all, our father, as one, with the light of Your face (= the Heavenly Light).”

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Mind changing words

I was nine years old, and didn’t quite understand. The Rebbe spoke for many hours. I understood the Yiddish, the words themselves, but I did not understand the message, nor did I remember it. When I complained, my father said that my soul understands.

It was at the Hitva’adut of the 10th of Shvat, 5746 (1986), the first Hitva’adut that I participated in. Since then, I have gone back to its printed version it from time to time, and each time something else there touches me for the first time, as if it was intended precisely for me.

The 10th of Shvat was the day in 5710 (1950), when Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Chabad Rabbi, passed away. It is the also the day when, a year later, in 5711 (1951), the seventh Rebbe, known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, accepted upon himself the leadership the Chabad movement. As such, this day is a very significant one for me, as Chabad chassid. To tell the truth, this is a significant day for every Jew who has ever been influenced by the Rebbe, whether directly or via his chassidim and shluchim, his words and his many writings.

But back to me: The Rebbe accepted upon himself the leadership long before I was born, and certainly influenced my life through my parents, may they live, but the first direct, internal connection with him for me was made actually on the 10th of Shvat, 5746. And so, I return to my first Hitva’adut, study it once more. I would like to share with you a few lines from it that for me are mind changing. I will not explain, I will not go into details; I will just bring them word for word (in translation, of course), as they are written down in the book:

Regarding all the calculations about the state of the world and his personal state – whether he is worthy or not worthy etc. – he should know and remember that he is not being requested to do something new that never was before, change the state of the world or change his personal state, but rather to return the world or himself to its real state as it was created by the Holy One, Blessed be He – “To gani (My garden), to ganunei (My very own garden), to the place that was the main place in the beginning.”

In simpler words:

When a Jew sees something undesirable in the world or in himself, he should know that it is not coming from Creation itself, for the creation of the world and of man – both Jew and non-Jew – was in the form of “And G-d saw everything that He did and behold, it was very good.” – not just “good”, but “very good”. So, anything undesirable was a change in the reality of creation. Therefore, his work in fixing this thing is not doing something new, but rather returning it to its true state, as it was created by the Holy One, Blessed be He.”

End of quote.

L’chaim, Jews! L’chaim v’livracha!

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

He who works all day has no time to make money

 “He who works all day has no time to make money.” Are you familiar with this capitalistic sentence? I love this sentence. I think there’s a lot of truth to it. Not only in terms of finances, but in terms of life in general. Sometimes we are so immersed in what we are doing that we forget to live.

In this week’s parasha, parashat Va’era, it says, “And Moshe spoke thus to Bnei Yisrael, but they didn’t heed Moshe, because of shortness of breath and hard work.” Rashi defines “shortness of breath” in a few simple words: “Anyone who is troubled, his breath is short and he cannot draw long breaths.” Bnei Yisrael believed Moshe Rabbeinu, as it said in the previous parasha: “And the people believed and they heard that Hashem had remembered Bnei Yisrael.” They also heard what Moshe Rabbeinu said. They heard what he said – but they didn’t heed him. They were not open emotionally to really listen to what he was saying, for, as we said, they were in a state of “shortness of breath and hard work.” They could barely breathe.

How many times have you heard yourself saying: “There’s no way I find time now to go to a lecture of a class! I would like to be with my family, if I could. But I am working hard, I can barely breath”? How many times do we miss the good things in life due to shortness of breath and hard work?

We are not in the Egyptian exile. We are not enslaved to a cruel ruler and subject to beatings like our forefathers were in Egypt. But we are enslaved sometimes to technology, to modernization, to Western conventions. Most of the time we manage quite well, but we don’t really live. Because someone who works hard has no time to make money. 

And someone whose breath is short cannot lift up his head and see that there is a rich spiritual and value-based life that is within easy reach.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

From a plain and simple human point of view

Two sons are born to Moshe Rabbeinu in this week’s parasha, parashat Shemot. Both their names refer to his situation in Midian, with each of them describing a different feeling. The first he named Gershom, explaining: “For I was a stranger (ger) in a foreign land.” The second he named Eliezer – “Because the G-d of my father helped me (be’ezri)and saved me from Pharaoh’s sword.”

The commentators bring up the question as to why he didn’t name them according to the chronological order of these events – first he was saved from Pharaoh’s sword, when the latter wanted to kill him, and only afterwards he escaped to Midian and became a stranger in a foreign land. It would have been more fitting, then, to name his eldest son Eliezer, and his second one Gershom. The commentators bring various explanations for this.

The central commentary says that when Moshe’s eldest son was born, Pharaoh was still alive, and therefore he could not say outright “and saved me from Pharaoh’s sword.” Pharaoh died before his second son was born, and only then could he name his son Eliezer.

Sometimes I like to read the scriptures from a plain and simple human point of view. It seems to me that it is possible to see here an interesting human process.

When a believing person goes through a difficult period in his life, there are two main feelings that will arise in him, at least initially.

One of them, usually the first, will be recognition of his condition. This is accompanied by some pain, of course. It is not always easy or pleasant to face reality straight on, but it is very important to know the situation, be familiar with it and recognize it. The second feeling, which often comes later, will be that of gratitude. It is amazing to me that the faith of people who are going through a difficult and challenging experience is actually strengthened, and they are filled with gratitude. Perhaps this is because during difficult moments we learn that nothing can be taken for granted. In one minute life can be shaken up, turned upside-down. We learn to appreciate the regular, routine stability when it exists. And yes, we feel a need to thank Hashem for what we have, even if at the same time we will be putting in our petition for what we don’t yet have.

Perhaps that is why Moshe decided to name his first son Gershom, and his second – Eliezer.

A similar process can be seen with Yosef Hatzaddik. He named his first son Menashe, which refers to the difficulty and the distance from his family and his father’s home, saying “G-d has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s household.” His second son he named Efraim, referring to his thankfulness and gratitude: “G-d has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”

It is important to recognize reality; it is no less important to thank Hashem.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

He is not cursed – he is blessed

Everybody agrees that when a child is caught lying, one doesn’t say to him: “You’re a liar.” Rather, one says: “You lied.”

Why? That’s pretty obvious. You don’t want to label the child as a liar, but rather to talk about the lie. You don’t want to speak about the child, but about his deeds. You mainly want him to know to differentiate between the “I” and “my actions”. You know that when he remembers all the time that he is good and worthy and honest and correct, then there is a chance he will change his ways, whether in regard to lying, as an example, or any other negative behavior.

You know as well that if he identifies himself with his deeds, then there is a good chance that he will despair of making any change, because he will feel that “Again, I remain a liar, I remain a cheat. Again, I am not good, not worthy. I don’t fit in,” with the emphasis on “I”. If he remembers that it is not him, but rather his deeds, if he will know to say to himself, “I am good and worthy; my actions are not,” there is a better chance that he will rectify his ways. 

And not only actions – traits as well. A person who thinks that he is irritable, or quick to anger, if he defines himself as such, the chance that he will change and mend these traits is smaller than that of a person who will know to say to himself, “I am a good person, created by the Holy One, Blessed Be He; it’s just a pity that I get angry too easily. I am a worthy person, the crown of Creation, but, unfortunately, quick to anger.” The latter’s chances of succeeding in making a change will be much, much greater.

And before you tell me that these is coaching- and New Age-speak, I wish to quote Yaakov’s words to his sons when he blessed them before his demise, an event we will read about tomorrow in the Torah reading, Parashat Vayechi:

Shimon and Levi are severely reprimanded by their father Yaakov. For a moment you wonder whether this is a blessing or the opposite. Yaakov Avinu doesn’t mince words and the climax is the passuk beginning with the word “Cursed…”: “Cursed be their anger, for it is most fierce, and their fury, for it is most cruel. I will divide them up in Yaakov and scatter them in Yisrael.” He condemns their fierce anger, in other words, furious in their anger. And then Rashi comes, and chooses particularly at this point to sweeten the statement: “Cursed be their anger, for it is most fierce – even when he was rebuking them, he cursed only their anger.” Wow. It is a time of rebuke, and Yaakov curses – but not them, not the good boys, rather their character traits. A boy is not cursed – he is blessed. What is cursed is the trait of anger.

Have you understood this?

A moment before one rebukes a child or any other person – and, if you ask me, the most important is the moment before a person engages in self-flagellation – he should stop for a moment and remember that he is not cursed – he is blessed. It is his deeds, or perhaps a habit that he has adopted that is cursed.


May we be successful in becoming better people!


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

When was the last time you played “hide and seek”?

Remember the game “hide and seek”? When was the last time you played it?

The trick is to hide so well, that the seeker won’t find you; if he finds you, you’re “out”. 

But that is not the worse thing. Do you know what is worse than being found? Having no one look for you; that’s far worse. When you are hiding and suddenly realize that no one is searching for you, you feel just terrible.

So when recently have you played “hide and seek”?

I’ve noticed that we play “hide and seek” quite often in this life.

Almost always, when someone is hiding from you, or acting coldly towards you, it is not because he wants you to stay away from him, but because he wants you to seek him even more.

But before I go on, I must clarify: Of course, I am not talking about some unknown stranger, but rather about people we are in touch with, sometimes daily. 

How do I know this? The truth is, I know it from myself. In all honesty, I can see that when I behave distantly towards someone close who has annoyed me or hurt me, it is not in order to refrain from contact with him; my real goal is that he should make the extra effort to approach me.

Is this manipulation? I call it “hide and seek”.

It’s true in all types of relationships, even with our children, when they sometimes are angry with us or push us away. The idea is not that we should indeed stay away from them, but that we should continue to seek them. They are not distancing themselves from us – rather, they are hiding. 

This is true mainly of marital relationships. Often the woman will withdraw from her husband – with a show of words, sounds, tears and perhaps also with rebuke. And the husband, with his masculine tendency to see things technically, responds by retreating and running away. But the truth is that she is just hiding and digging in, and her true desire is that he not run away or distance himself, but, rather, fight for the relationship and search for the way to become even closer; she wants him to show some manly courage, overcome the seeming rejection and approach her anyway. 

True, sometimes one has to be creative in order to find the right way to approach the other person anew, but the attitude should be to approach and not to turn tail; to come closer, not to shy away.

So when was the last time you played “hide and seek”?

In this week’s parashaparashat Vayigash, it happens. Yehuda understands that the “Master of the Land” is playing “hide and seek” with them. He understands that while he is acting coldly and harshly, he is actually seeking closeness. He is rejecting them with harsh words and even unpleasant actions, but really all he is asking is that they not give up on him, not leave him and go away once again.

So Yehuda approaches him. Vayigash Yehuda.He gathers together all his lion-like courage, and, head held high, he approaches Yosef – and, just moments later, Yosef cannot control himself any longer, and bursts into tears. 


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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