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Rabbi's weekly Blog

The Tithe from What I Own

Last week on Friday, when I was cutting up the potatoes for the Chabad House cholent(by the way, one of the best cholents in Europe), a man called me with a question: “I bought potatoes in a store in Germany on the border, and when I got home I saw that they came from Israel. What about ma’aser? (taking tithes).

Well, since we have no assurance that the potatoes intended for export undergo the separating of the tithes by the Rabbinate in Israel, our custom is to take ma’aser without making a bracha on it. So I sent him the text of ma’aser-taking and remembered suddenly that I buy my vegetables in the same store – so my cholent too needs to be tithed. I took the text and began to prepare myself for the mitzvah of ma’aser, while feeling uncomfortable. What am I doing? Where is there a poor person or a cohen? Why am I taking ma’aser from my cholent? But I’ve been a Jew for enough years to know that one does mitzvos even without understanding them exactly. And that it was what I did, with care. A moment after I finished, I suddenly understood everything. I suddenly grasped the idea that the very fact that I stopped everything I was doing, went to get the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, washed my hands, took the ma’aser and said the proper words as dictated – that is the issue itself. That is precisely the goal, that every once in a while I’ll stop everything and remember that not everything here is mine, not everything is in my possession, or in my hands. Moreover, I myself am in G-d’s hands, his Torah and mitzvos. And this is the proof of it.

This week I studied parashat Emor, which we will read tomorrow outside of Eretz Yisrael. I took some time while studying the mitzvos of leket, shichecha and peah (leaving behind in the field the few stalks that fall out of the grasp of the harvester, leaving behind whatever has been forgotten in the field and leaving the edge of the field unharvested – all for the poor). Unlike ma’aser, we don’t encounter leket, shichecha and peah in our daily life, and only know it from the books, and, of course, from the megillah of Ruth. Most of us do not have fields and we really don’t know any poor people who go to the fields to collect the leftovers that the owner of the field is commanded to leave behind. By Divine Providence, I happened upon a wonderful explanation of Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, who worked out last Friday’s ma’aser question as well. So I am sharing it with you:

“But this is the reason: while harvesting wheat or grapes a person looks at what nature has done for him, and what he will be bringing to his house as the fruit of his labors. At that time a person says that proud and highly-consequential word: “mine”. And now (from the moment that the mitzvah of giving to the poor is mentioned), every citizen in the nation will remember and express in action that every person who says “this is mine” has already been obligated to take care of others. His vineyard and field did not give their crops to him alone; while laboring in the field, he was not working only for himself. Because in Hashem’s land the caring for the poor person and the ger is not given over to the feelings of commiseration; it is not dependent on the fear of the owners from the danger they face from the despair of the poor, but it is a merit that Hashem gave to the poor, and it is an obligation that Hashem has placed on the landowners.”

A bit of perspective in life – that’s how what this mitzvah gives us can be expressed in one word.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

The Rabbi and the washing machine

I will start with something personal. For over six years I have been writing this column every week, usually about something connected to the weekly parasha. Having been raised on the educational principles of the Rebbe, I try to make sure that there will always be something practical mentioned so that the reader – if he wants too – will be able to implement it in his life. It is not always easy. Not because it is hard for me to write, or because the preparations and the writing take a long time – these are technical matters that can be dealt with, with proper planning. No, it is not always easy because I try very hard not to write about things that I’m not holding with myself. Because if there is something that they managed to instill me of the Chassidic education, it is not to talk and certainly not to demand from another something that you’re not doing yourself.

This week I will depart from this custom of mine and my message will be a goal that I plan to make an effort to reach, and may we all be successful in this endeavor!

Rabbi Reuven Donin z”l was probably the Chabadnik that influenced the most Jews over the years and brought them closer to their souls and Source of Life. I don’t have any numbers, but today we are talking about generations, since there are children today whose grandfather found his way to our Father in Heaven through “the house on 3 Borochov Street.” Much has been said and written about Reuven and his way, a man in whom the truth shone; indeed, it shone through him, “al emet,” he would have said – “really”.

There is, though, something special that fascinates me: Reuven was totally dedicated to doing good to others. He did it as though it were his official job. From everything I have read about him, it is the story of the washing machine that doesn’t leave me. Reuven had a knack for technical things; in his youth he even fixed washing machines. An older person named “Barry” told that “for close to forty years Reuven would come to help me as necessary, in fixing the washing machine. During his last years it was hard for him to climb the steps up to my apartment because of breathing problems he had. I remember how he once arrived at my house huffing and puffing, and said, “Give me a moment to catch my breath, and I will start working immediately.”

How many Rabbis and spiritual influencers do you know who show up with a tool chest, catch their breath and then bend over the washing machine, getting themselves wet and dirty, and fixing the machine?

 

In parashat Kedoshom that will we read tomorrow outside of Eretz Israel, we have the well-known pasuk, “You shall love your fellow as yourself.” On Shavuot, 5718 (1958), the Rebbe told over something that he had heard from his father-in-law, the Rietz, who had heard in the name of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov, who had heard from the Ba’al Shem Tov: It says in Pirkei Avot “Any Torah that has no melacha (craft) with it – ends up being null and void.” The Ba’al Shem Tov said that “melacha” here refers to involving oneself with the love of Jews. In order for the Torah to continue to exist, this melacha has to join it. This idea influenced the Berditchov Rav, and all his life his behavior consisted of dealing with loving other Jews. The Rebbe continues: “The meaning of ‘dealing with’ is like that of a business. A businessman, a merchant, does not sit at home with his merchandise and wait until someone finds out he has something to sell and know its value and come to buy some. The merchant opens a store in a place where people go by, and hangs a sign so that all those passersby will know that there is merchandise here. He doesn’t stop there either: he goes and publicizes his merchandise, stating its good quality and trying to convince people to buy from him. He makes great efforts so that people will buy what he has to sell.” Yes, this is the way the involvement with the love of Jews should be according to the Ba’al Shem Tov – it should be like a trade. Doing chessed in material ways influences a person no less – and sometimes more – than doing chessed in spiritual matters.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

A moment of silence

Like most of you, as of last Friday I didn’t know who Rabbi Yisrael Goldstein is. Like almost everyone, I had never heard about Laurie Kay Hy”d, and I didn’t know that there is a city named Poway in California. But the Rebbe knew Rabbi Goldstein, knew that there is such a place as Poway and that there are not a few “Laurie Kays” who need Judaism in their lives. On December 12th 1980 Poway was declared a city and in 1986 Rabbi Goldstein was sent there and opened a Chabad House.

Like everyone, I view Rabbi Goldstein with much admiration. It seems that this person never gets confused; is always focused, whether when walking into the gunfire in order to save as many congregants as possible, or when refusing to be removed from the scene until everything has calmed down. He even remained standing on a chair facing the congregation, with his hand bandaged with a blood-soaked tallit covering his amputated fingers, and called to his flock to never to recoil or be afraid. One can see that this man is infused – to his fingertips – with a clear and sharp faith in the Torah, with love for other Jews and with faith in the G-d of the Jews.

Like many millions, I too watched his speech on the White House lawn, and there too, he remained focused. He knows exactly who he is, who sent him there and for what purpose. His goal is clear to him, and he knows how he is going to make use of the few minutes given to him in front an audience of millions. It seems he never heard the term “politically correct”. He stands there, tie-less and without any airs, in a chassidic coat showing signs of matzah and the four cups of wine, and, using his bandaged hands, he asks for a moment of silence. Why a moment of silence?

This is what the Rebbe said on the 11th of Nissan, 5744, 1984, about two years before the Chabad House opened in Poway: “In the month of spring the renewal of the entire creation happens; as you can see, during this period the trees and the grasses etc. start to bloom, and this is reflected in halacha as well – ‘He who goes out during the days of Nissan and sees trees blooming, makes the blessing,Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the World, Who didn’t leave anything out of his world, and created in it good creations and good trees for the pleasure of human beings’. This is a special blessing connected with the renewal of the world. And therefore this is the most fitting time to act so that the running of the entire world – which is being renewed during this period – will be based on justice and honesty.”

How will we act upon the world, so that it will be run according to justice and honesty? Through the young people. How will we influence the young people? By instilling in them the simple faith in the Creator of the World, Who hears and sees everything. And how will we instill within them this simple recognition? Not by talking or persuading, and certainly not through shouting. Yes, by silence. It’s always good to be silent for a bit. “A moment of silence” every morning, sixty seconds during which the child will stop and think about the Creator of the World, about the wonderful world that He created, about how he is here for a certain purpose, and mainly, that Hashem can see and hear anything; He even reads thoughts. To quote the Rebbe: “The advantage of thinking is that it doesn’t have to ‘imitate” another, and there is no need to fear the other, because no one knows what one is thinking – besides the Creator of the World and its ruler.” Because simple faith in the fact that there is a ruler to the world – that and only that has the power to influence a person to act right even when there is no policeman around, and to be honest even when no one is watching.

And then the Rebbe continues and asks to establish a “moment of silence” in all schools – of all types, ethnicities, religions, nations – and in a few words he gives a wonderful guideline to his chassidim how to do it right: “When one comes to do an act whose point is to fulfill the will of the Creator – one must remember that the Creator wants it done pleasantly and peacefully, bringing hearts closer, and certainly not from a place of war and victory.” One can tell that Rabbi Yisrael Goldstein is quite well versed in his Rebbe’s writings.

Not only the children – the parents will be influenced by this as well, because they will be the ones who will have to explain to their children how to make good use of this moment of silence, “so that together with the material food – a sandwich – which one gives a child when he goes to school, they will feed him some spiritual food as well – the recognition of the Creator of the World and its Ruler, which is the only guarantee that people will behave according to the rules of justice and honesty.”

Rabbi Goldstein, I salute you!

Shabbat Shalom, and have a healthy summer,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

who doesn’t know to ask

I think it is very good of our Sages to take a somewhat irritating Jewish characteristic and give it a place of honor. Jews are known for their expertise in asking questions. And not only do they ask, but they even answer a question with another question. This is how it is, was and will be. It will not change. So what did Chazal do? They created one special night and made the question a supreme goal of that night. An entire evening of strange behavior, the goal being to make the children ask – among other things – “Why is this night different from all other nights?” I think this is brilliant.

Not only are questions sanctified and emphasized, but among the four sons, the son who is least sharp is the one “who doesn’t know to ask.” For, as long as you know to ask, you may be wicked and maybe simple, but you are okay. You are involved in what is going on. If you don’t know to ask, we fear that something in you is seriously wrong.

This is not a joke – the entire Torah would not have existed and certainly wouldn’t have developed if we hadn’t known to ask questions, even though they may be hard ones.

This week I saw a wonderful explanation from Rabbi Gershon Chanoch of Izbitza, about the meaning of the son “who doesn’t know to ask.” The Izbitzer Rebbe takes this a few steps ahead and decrees that someone who doesn’t know how to ask has apparently not really learned Torah. Because the Torah logic, in its essence, has to contradict the logic of life in this world, and therefore, actually, the most legitimate and expected thing is that a flesh-and-blood human being jump up and ask difficult questions when he’s learning Torah. Here is the wonderful part: whoever learns Torah and doesn’t find anything difficult, no kushiya – that is a clear sign that he hasn’t yet engaged in Torah. Because the Torah mind is really the exact opposite of a this-world mind, and so, how could everything seem straight in his eyes, with no difficulties? But someone who has questions about the Torah – that is the way of the Torah.

So, first of all, go ask questions. Secondly, when you are keeping the customs of your forefathers, and someone who does not recognize this way of life asks questions, know that that is legitimate. The question is in place, and it is even to be expected, because that is the way of the Torah.

A kosher and happy Pesach to all!

Rabbi Zalmen Wishdeski

When the Rebbe cries

 When a person cries, that means that he is emotionally moved. If he is emotionally moved, that means that the issue is very close to his heart.

In his writings and talks, the Lubavitcher Rebbe touched upon almost everything that was or is in the world – he related to almost every existing topic and realm. But when all of a sudden, you hear him choked up and stop talking, you feel that you are privy to a moment of self-revelation, as if something very internal and personal of the Rebbe is being revealed to you.

The chassidim did a great kindness to us by recording the Rebbe’s weekday talks for forty years. I am extremely grateful to them and to everyone involved every time I operate the iPod and listen to the Rebbe’s voice, recorded when I was still a child, or even before I was born. For reading or learning out of a book is not like listening to a recording. The recording enables me to notice and hear the tone and the intonation, expressions of pain or joy, and, as mentioned, moments of emotion and weeping.

A few years ago I listened to an hour-and-a-half long hitva’adut that was given on the day before Rosh Hashana 5737 (1977). Among other things, the Rebbe spoke about eating kosher food. And then he told “a wondrous story that I heard just yesterday, a story that expresses a Jew’s essence.” The story is about a Jew who grew up in an observant home, but life in Soviet Russia eventually prevented him from keeping kosher. In 1977 they were already living in the U.S., but he had never entered a synagogue. His son turned to him and asked: “You grew up and were educated in a Jewishly observant home until you were bar mitzvah and even beyond that; why, then, do you not enter a synagogue?” His father replied – and here there is a long silence, during which one can sense that the Rebbe is attempting to control himself – “When one has a situation of decades during which one could not observe the laws of kashrut” – and once again the Rebbe’s voice becomes choked up and tearful, to the point that he cannot continue the sentence, and when he does continue he is crying – “When one eats what is called the opposite of kashrut, kan men nit ariengen in schul – he is incapable of entering a synagogue.”

The Lubavitcher Rebbe was truly world-encompassing; even then his shluchim were spread far and wide. Heads of state, generals, top academic figures, as well as gedolei Torah came to see him. Thousands of chassidim sat in his beit midrash as he would encourage them to move forward and achieve more, with the great goal of preparing the world for the coming of the Mashiach. And here comes a simple and real story like this, and he, the great Rebbe, is moved to tears when he talks about the pure and aching heart of a Jew who does not feel able to enter a synagogue because he feels he is not worthy of it.

This coming Tuesday, the 11th of Nissan, we will mark 117 years to the Rebbe’s birth. In my opinion this is a day that is a compass. With this compass we can examine what really excites us, what really touches us, and also see if in this cynical realm that we live in there is still one corner of purity and simplicity. If not – we ought to create such a spot in the world.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

The inner voice

 For these past two weeks I have been participating in a Swiss coachers’ course, which is taking place in the picturesque city of Salzburg, Austria. There are 20 people participating, most of them coming from the realms of the free market, some from the realm of finances. Almost all of them have been successful in life.

An essential part of the process is to search for the inner voice that a person carries with him/her from infancy, childhood or adolescence. To put it very mildly, I will define it as a voice that weakens, in spite of the fact that almost everyone in the course discovered a hurtful voice as well.

During the coaching and the learning I have understood and internalized to what extent we, the adults, as parents and educators, and perhaps also as aunts/uncles or mere acquaintances, might influence – for better or for worse – the emotions of a child we encounter; how careful we have to be with every word, and sometimes with even a possibly unnecessary grimace or eyebrow raised.

And yes, of course this connects with this week’s parasha.

In this week’s parasha, when dealing with the laws of the metzora (“leper”), there is an interesting halacha: a person who is metzora is tamei (ritually impure) and he must leave the camp for a week, until the lesion is healed and then he will be tahor (ritually pure). “He shall dwell in isolation; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.”

There are two stages in determining whether a person’s tzara’at is impure or not:

First of all, he must be examined by a Torah sage (not necessarily a kohen), who is an expert in the laws of tzara’at, so that the type of lesion can be determined.

But even after the expert’s decision, the metzora is not yet tamei. He/she must go on to the next stage: go to the kohen, who, on the basis of the professional decision of the sage, will declare that person tamei. As long as the kohen has not declared that the person is tamei, the person is not, and it doesn’t matter whether the kohen knows anything about tzara’at or not.

A question can be asked: Why is it necessary to involve the kohen? Why isn’t it enough to have the diagnosis of the Torah sage?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe gives one of his typical explanations, an explanation that is relevant to each and every one of us every single day: the minute that the metzora is defined as being tamei, he has to leave the camp and sit alone, ashamed and embarrassed – a terrible feeling. Therefore, the Torah says that only a kohen can determine such a fate for a person, because the kohanim are considered to be people of loving-kindness. Aharon was the symbol of a person of love and brotherhood, kindness and giving. In the blessing said before blessing the congregation, the kohanim say: “…Who sanctified us with his mitzvot and commanded us to bless His people, Israel, with love.”

Sometimes there is no choice, and a person must be judged, his fate determined regarding some matter, big or small. But this must be done from a viewpoint of love and kindness – and respect. It has to be done by someone who can feel the pain and the distress of the one being judged before he makes such a fateful decision.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Why? Because!

Today I am going to annoy some people – not intentionally, and not because I enjoy doing so, but because sometimes the simplest truth can be most annoying to hear.

I’ll begin with a story from my childhood. Yitzchak Shamir, who was then the prime Minister of the State of Israel, was known for his stubborn stance when it came to any suggestion that parts of the Land of Israel should be given over to our enemies. Once, when he was on a state visit to the U.S., he was invited to speak to a group of several hundred Jewish youths. When the question-and-answer period arrived at the end of his speech, one young man got up and asked: “Mr. Prime Minister, why do you absolutely refuse to give up East Jerusalem, and are not even willing to discuss the issue?” The audience was expecting a reasoned, learned answer, but was surprised to hear the prime minister give a two-word response: “Why? Because!”

When the press attacked him later, asking, “What kind of answer was that?” He answered: “A Jewish child has to know that there are questions that the answer to them is, ‘because!’.”

Annoying, isn’t it?

Well, Parashat Para that we will read tomorrow brings with it exactly this message of Shamir. A person (such as a Chevra Kadisha worker) who comes into contact with a dead person, becomes Tameh – ritually impure – and is not allowed to enter the Beit Hamikdash, the holy Temple. He cannot take part in bringing offerings such as Korban Pesach (the Passover sacrifice) etc. How will he become pure? The Torah says: “And they will take to you a red, unblemished cow.”

Here are some more details regarding this cow: It has to be at least three years old, it is slaughtered on the Mount of Olives and burned together with a piece of cedar wood, hyssop and crimson thread. The ashes are mixed with spring water, and it is this water that is sprinkled on the person who is Tameh (The Chevra Kadisha guy, poor thing…) on two separate occasions. And then, the person becomes pure and can once again enter the Beit Hamikdash.

You may ask, Why? Why a cow? Why a red cow? Why burn it? And the answer is: Because! Just like that. Hashem did not provide us with any explanation for this mitzvah, because there are some things, for which the answer to any questions regarding them is, “Because!”

It is true that on one hand we have been spending the last 3,300 years learning the Torah, understanding what it says and explaining it. The Mishnah and the Talmud, from the sages to the young boys who are sitting in yeshivahs and learning Torah – they’re all busy with trying to understand the Torah, and they actually do ask a lot of “why’s.” They also receive answers, usually several answers to every question. But at the base of this nation’s existence is a deep knowledge and strong faith that there are questions that the answer for which is “because!” And let us not forget that when we were offered the Torah we didn’t exactly ask why and how, but merely said, “We shall do and we shall hear.”

 

I don’t want to touch on politics, but in the case of Jerusalem, I agree with Mr. Shamir z”l. Why? Because!

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Do you intend to drink a lot?

 

Last Friday, a beloved friend of mine whom I met through Facebook (and, to tell the truth, our friendship is still rather virtual) asked me: “Do you intend to drink a lot?” “I won’t drink a lot,” I answered, simply because I have a lot of work to do on this day. I meet a lot of people and do not have the privilege of losing my faculties. “So how will you fulfill the obligation of ‘until he doesn’t know the difference between Cursed is Haman and Blessed is Mordechai’?” He persisted. I thought a bit. I admit that his question awakened something inside me. I didn’t have much time to respond, since he lives in Israel, and over there it was almost Shabbat and I was afraid that if I didn’t answer him immediately, he would continue to ask and would desecrate the Shabbat. After a moment of thought, this is what I wrote: “From my point of view, this is a spiritual matter. I have to try to take my conventions of ‘Cursed’ and ‘Blessed’ and reexamine them. This requires one to be humble.” He answered with a “Shabbat Shalom,” and I responded: “Umevorach”. And then, during Shabbat, I was left with the thoughts about what I had written.

Purim is a compact holiday. It possesses a very sublime spiritual power. But it comes and goes. It’s here for only one day, not for a week, like Pesach, and not for eight days, like Chanukah. It is not preceded by seven weeks of counting the Omer, and not even by ten days of doing teshuva. It comes with a bang and disappears after twenty-four hours. And I am thinking to myself: Am I really ready on this day to examine my “Cursed and Blessed”?

We live on this earth for many years. Everything seems clear and obvious to us. No questions, no answers. Who has time to stop and look? But then Purim comes and compels us to try to develop a different perspective. For instance, how does the world look through the eyes of a clown? And how does it look through the eyes of a king?

For dozens of years I’ve known what’s good and what’s bad, what’s cursed and what’s blessed. About what one says, “Great”, and about what one says “Oh vey!” Do I have the courage to attach question marks to these fixed ideas? According to the notions of the Western World, the main ingredient in the recipe for happiness is success in one’s professional life. Is that the truth, the only truth? For while we need a one-family house and a car in order to be happy, in villages in India or Africa you see people who will kept happy for a day by one apple, and for two days – by two apples.

Shall I go deeper? Do I have the courage to do so? It is possible that I will discover that things that I have strived for and even achieved are not really blessings, and the opposite is not really a curse? Maybe yes, maybe no, I’m not sure. It is possible that I will discover that what I’m doing is great, that the Cursed and the Blessed are in their right places. But one does have to check! To stop and allow ourselves to reach a state of “Until he doesn’t know between Cursed and Blessed.” It’s important. An honest venahafochu – flipping things over – for one day can bring us to a healthy venahafochu for many years to come.

Good friends of ours, who have acquired everything that the Western World has to offer in terms of advancing in life, were staying by us a while ago and said, “We did and still do everything according to the book. As you can see, we have been successful. But every once in a while we sit down at the end of another ‘good’ day and feel like mice in a laboratory, running around and around without having time to breathe.”

It’s wonderful to have friends like that; this way, I can talk about them and not about myself. For in order to question myself, I must be humble, as I have said already.

 

Happy Purim!!

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

A Rebbe’s education

 How does one educate children the right way? This is perhaps the most frequently asked question in the world. Every parent is concerned with it, examining the various systems, and I hope also consulting with professionals. In 1966, the Rebbe told a story that he heard from his father-in-law about the Ba’al Hatanya, the Admor Hazaken – the first Lubavitcher Rebbe – and his grandson, who later became the third Rebbe, the author of the Tzemach Tzedek. The story allows us a peek into the education he gave his grandson, who had been orphaned from his mother, and his grandfather, the Ba’al Hatanya, was responsible for his upbringing.

The Admor Hazaken enrolled his grandson in the Cheder, and told the teacher to learn with his grandson the first parasha in the book of Vayikra, the parasha we will read tomorrow morning in shul. After learning it, the child asked his grandfather: “Why is the aleph in the word ‘Vayikra’ small?”

Upon hearing the question, the Admor Hazaken sank into deveikus for a while and then said: “Adam Harishon was created by Hashem, and Hashem says about him (in a midrash) that his wisdom was greater than that of the heavenly angels. Adam Harishon knew how great he was but he was full of this awareness, and that led him to stumble on the matter of the Tree of Knowledge. Moshe Rabbeinu also knew how great he was, but not only was Moshe not full of this knowledge, but this knowledge actually led him to great humility. He thought, if another Jew who is not the son of Amram and not even the seventh generation from Avraham Avinu would have received a great soul like Moshe’s and if he also had the zechut Avot as Moshe had, that Jew would have been in a better spiritual state than Moshe Rabbeinu. About this is says in the Torah: ‘And the man Moshe was more humble than any man on earth.’ Because, upon meeting any other person, Moshe would think to himself: If he would have gotten the gifts that I received, the soul and the special zechut Avot, he would certain have been better than me.”

At the point the Admor Hazaken returned to his grandson’s question and said: “There are three types of letters that Hashem gave at Sinai large letters – about Adam Harishon, there is a large Aleph in Divrei Hayamim. Medium letters – most of the letters of the Torah are of medium size. Small – like the aleph that’s written at the end of the word Vayikra, indicating Moshe Rabbeinu. The Torah was written in medium-sized letters because a person should be medium, as the Rambam wrote in Hilchot De’ot, 4: The straight path is the medium path of every trait. Therefore, the early sages commanded that a person should assess his traits all the time and estimate them, and aim towards the middle path. The Torah is the means to reach this.

There is a large aleph in reference to Adam Harishon, because he was full of recognition of his status, and that, as mentioned, was the cause of his downfall.

Moshe Rabbeinu, on the other hand, received a small aleph, because through his inner work he brought himself to true humility, even though he was really very great.”

When the Rebbe brought this story in 1966, he said, among other things, that the reason the Admor Hazaken described the differences between those two great people, Moshe and Adam Harishon, at such great length, was that he knew that he was educating a child who was going to be a tzaddik and a great Jew, as the Tzemach Tzedek indeed became. So the educating grandfather was making it clear to his grandson: You have received many gifts – a very holy neshama as well as an especially illustrious lineage. But remember: if you don’t know how to lead your life right, if you will be full of your own greatness, you will be in danger of falling like Adam Harishon. In order to succeed, be like Moshe Rabbeinu. When you meet a Jew, think of the fact that if he had been the grandson of the Admor Hazaken, raised in his home and under his tutelage, perhaps he would have been better than you.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

crazily wonderful Shabbat!

 One of the friends of the Chabad House in Florida came to the Rebbe once with a complaint: “Your Shaliach in Florida, Rabbi Avraham Karf, has gone mad - Meshuge. He gives his all to the Chabad House; he has even mortgaged his own home for the Chabad House. There are limits!”

The Rebbe answered him, smiling: “Every town has its town Meshuge; my Shaliach is Miami’s town fool.”

In Parashat Pekudei we learn that when Moshe built the Mishkan (Tabernacle) he did something strange.

He brought the various components in, one by one, and immediately put them to use: “He put the Shulchan (table)… He prepared on it the setting of bread…; he placed the Menorah… He kindled the lamps…; He placed the Mizbach Hazahav (gold altar)… and on it he burned incense.” Only afterwards did he finish the construction of the Mishkan itself – “He placed the curtain of the entrance of the Mishkan.”

In the same way, offerings were brought on the main altar, and only afterwards did Moshe “erect the courtyard around the Mishkan and the Mizbe’ach.”

So, true, Moshe Rabbeinu was not a Yekke (Sorry, Baselers!), but the truth is that not only a Yekke but any orderly person would have completed the construction of the Mishkan and its courtyard, and only afterwards would have started the services there, right?

No, not always. There are two kinds of service, when it comes to service of Hashem. One is normal and logical, orderly and structured, going from the easier to the harder, step by step, without skipping any of them. But there are times in the lives of a person, as there are in the life of a nation, when things must be done differently: There is a need to jump ahead, to do what can be done as fast as possible, in order to acquire or save as much as possible. When Moshe Rabbeinu was finally putting together the Mishkan, which was meant to complete the atonement on the Sin of the Golden Calf and to bring the people closer to their Creator, he hadn’t a moment to lose. He therefore lit the Menorah – and started the other services as well – at the very first moment it was possible to do so, even though not everything was in place yet.

Forty years ago, the Shaliach in Miami knew that Jews were coming to Miami in an attempt to forget about Mother’s Friday night chicken soup, or Father’s moving Kiddush, and he had been sent by the Rebbe in order to remind them, to point the way, to bring light to these people. He hadn’t the time nor the luxury to wait until everything was worked out in an orderly fashion; rather, he had to do whatever he could, as fast as he could. And if they say that he’s crazy? Nu, he can’t really deny that.

 

May it be a crazily wonderful Shabbat!

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

there are no class differences!

 

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 parasha, parashat 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

 

 

People with independent and powerful self-presence

Eighty percent of the drashas that the rabbis will give this Shabbat will deal with Moshe Rabbeinu’s personality. They will speak about the meaning of his name, about his humility, about his devotion to his flock – and about the fact that his name is not mentioned in this parasha. There are many parshiot in the Torah in which Moshe is the central character. He is mentioned, on average, twenty times in every parasha, but specifically in parashat Tetzaveh, the parasha in which his name is not mentioned, he is discussed more than usual. And not only by the sermonizers; Hashem Himself is standing close by him, so-to-speak, talking to him in the second person: “And you shall command”, “[they] will bring you” etc.

To put it another way, the parasha in which Moshe Rabbeinu is hidden is the parasha in which he is present the most.

I learn from this that a person’s presence is not necessarily connected to what he or she is called and whether he or she is being mentioned by name. There are people who make sure that their names be mentioned with their proper and dignified titles in certain places and at certain events, but the others present there won’t necessarily remember or even feel the presence of these people. But there are people who have powerful inner presence. They don’t need to be announced and will not mind if they are not called by their proper title. They don’t need that in order to be present; their surroundings will sense it.

The truth must be told: a name is an important thing. And one should mention the title as well, if there is one. This is a useful thing in our lives and particularly in any official function. But it is worth something only if the bearer of the name and title is really worthy of them.

How will we bring ourselves to be people with independent and powerful self-presence? In my opinion, only if we connect to a clean and internal truth, to the real essence of our being, the foundation of our existence.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Believe in it and go search for it

Occasionally I help people – sometimes face-to-face and sometimes via Skype. 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

a process takes time

I was driving my car this week, while listening to an interview being conducted on Israel’s radio with Gilad Sharon, the son of the late Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon. Gilad Sharon is trying to get into politics. He turned to the Likud official institutions so that they will allow him to run in the primaries and earn a place in the Likud’s list for the Knesset. These institutions prevented him from doing so, and he turned to the organization’s court, and there too it was decided that he will not run. In this radio interview his response was requested. Gilad said: “I have time. My desire to get there and influence through politics is a long process that takes time. Right now I am being prevented from running. I will wait for next time, in a few years, and then I will be able to run.” At the end of the interview I turned off the radio, looked around me as I was driving through the carpet of snow on the sides of the road, and thought again and again about what I had just heard. “I have time. This is a long process that takes time. If not now, I’ll wait for next time.” There is nothing really new in this; it is not even a brilliant statement. Simple words, but of the type that are taken from life itself, perhaps especially from the life of a farmer who really understands what a process is, and that it takes time and that patience is required.

When the Torah speaks of the conquering of the land from the other nations it says, “I shall not drive them away from you in a single year… Little by little I shall drive them away from you, until you become fruitful and make the Land your heritage.” In my opinion, these words have national significance, coping with other nations who are fighting over our little strip of land, and there is also personal significance – coping with and struggling against inner forces over our personal land – our souls, hearts and our entire existence. We have inner work; there is what to drive away from inside us – each person has his own list: inappropriate pride, disdain for others, an inferiority complex, self-flagellation, fear of success, fear of failure, shyness etc. etc. Often, we want to do battle over our small personal piece of land and win quickly, in a one-time blow. But reality has its own sense of humor, as well as its own special timetable, and things don’t always happen the way we would like them to. We might fall into despair. In such moments one should remember what the Torah says this week, “I shall not drive them away from you in a single year… Little by little I shall drive them away from you.” Every process has its own pace. On one hand, one shouldn’t give up and one must continue to do constantly, but on the other hand, much patience and persistence is required.

Little by little, but in the end “you will become fruitful and will make the Land your heritage.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

In Cambodia it is cheaper

 Listen to a… vort (short lesson in Torah). We live it every day.

After the Torah lists in the Ten Commandments, “You shall not covet the house of your fellow, the wife of your fellow and his slave and maidservant and his ox and his donkey,” it adds: “And anything that belongs to your fellow.” Why does one need this general statement after all the details given before?

The pasuk comes to teach us a rule for life: If you want something that your fellow person has, there is no problem – you’ll get it, but then you’ll also have to accept everything that person has – it’s a package deal.

I heard that in Cambodia the fee of cleaning ladies went up recently from 25 cents per hour to 75 cents. Here in Basel we pay about 25 dollars per hour, and that definitely can be a cause for envy. Who wouldn’t covet the possibility of paying so little for this service? But precisely at that moment the Torah comes and says, “No problem, you’ll get a cleaning lady at 75 cents per hour, but for that you’ll have to go live in Cambodia – ‘anything that belongs to your fellow’.”

A package deal.

By the way, Cambodia seems to me to be a lovely place.

And when your child says “I want a bicycle like he has,” I reply, “No problem, you’ll get it. But then you’ll get his parents as well.”

As it is said, “and anything that belongs to your fellow.”

 

May we be successful in our endeavors,

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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