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Rabbi's weekly Blog

Yidden, chopt a tantz – Jews, grab a dance!

During the Second World War, many of the Jews in the Soviet Union fled to Uzbekistan. Among them was a large group of Chabad Chassidim, who, as one would expect, immediately began to supply both the material and the spiritual needs of the many refugees. In those days, in order to be an observant Jew one needed much steadfastness, as observing Mitzvot could be life-endangering under those circumstances. The Yeshivas were underground institutions, and the children’s Chadarim (elementary schools) were also hidden from the public eye; and we haven’t even mentioned what performing a Brit Milah (circumcision) entailed.


One especially notable person among the Chabad Chassidim was R. Nissan Nemnov z”l, who was a paragon already in his youth, even among his close friends. In one of the clandestine night joint sessions, in which the Chassidim encouraged one another by singing, learning Torah and of course a bissele L’Chaim on some form of Russian spirits, R. Nissan got up on the table, and, dancing, called out to the Chassidim: “Yidden! Chopt mesirus nefesh (self-sacrifice)!” And he then explained: “Right now we are not permitted to learn Torah and observe the Mitzvot, to the point that we are in danger of losing our lives if we do. In the future, when we get to free countries, we won’t have this opportunity!”


My friends, we are about to enter the forty-eight hours of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah – days in which we celebrate, and mainly dance with the Torah; days in which every Jew’s connection to Torah is lit up, whether he learns and knows Torah or not. Even if he never learned Torah, and doesn’t even know the Aleph-Beit – he too is connected to the Torah. The Torah belongs to each and every one of us, because that’s what Moshe Rabbeinu said before he died: “The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Yaakov.” And a heritage is something that is shared equally by everyone!

The former Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Shneerson, warned in the name of his father, Rabbi Shalom Dover Shneerson that, “The forty-eight hours of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah should be highly valued. Every minute in them one can draw up bucketfuls and barrelfuls of treasures, both in the material and the spiritual – and all of this is done through the dancing. Yidden, chopt a tantz – Jews, grab a dance!”

So great treasures of blessings, both material and spiritual, await us on these days, and all that is demanded of us is to dance in happiness over our heritage – the Torah. So even if you usually stand on the side, and watch the dancers; even if it’s “not your thing” to join them, and of course, if you have a hidden desire to dance, go beyond yourself and grab a dance! For there is one thing certain: These forty-eight hours will be over in exactly forty-eight hours.


“Yidden, chopt a tantz – Jews, grab a dance!”


Shabbat Shalom and Moadim Lesimcha,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

How was your Yom Kippur?

 

So… How was your Yom Kippur?

We fasted, wore white clothes, prayed for 24 hours, felt elevated, excited… We were somewhat spiritual. And the climax, of course was when everyone called out from the depths of their hearts, the hearts of children expressing their love for their Father in Heaven, “Hashem, He is the G-d!” seven times, one after the other. This is a very special moment; there is none other like it during the year. It is the innermost connecting point between us and our Father, our King.


But then, a few moments after that, the spirituality and the elevation remain in the synagogue, and we go off looking for one thing: a cup. It can have water or cola, or, in my case, wine for Havdala. It is not only a natural human urge for a person to have after a fast; Jewish law, too, demands from us that right after the great and awesome Yom Kippur we are to take a hammer and nails in hand – in my case it’s canvas and cable ties – and to begin to build a Succah.


Why so? Why is it demanded from us to make that very sharp transition from “Hashem, He is the G-d” of Ne’ilah, and the hammer and nails of the Succah?

The answer lies in the first Passuk of Parashat Haazinu, the Parasha that we will be reading this Shabbat, the one that comes between Yom Kippur and Succot. “Listen heavens and I will speak, and may the earth hear the words of my mouth.” Chassidut relates this Passuk to the two dimensions with which a human being serves his Creator: one is Shamayim – heaven, a person’s spiritual powers, his brain and heart, where his intellect and personality traits lie, and the other one is Eretz – earth, his material strengths, i.e. his speech and actions.


Often I hear myself saying that I was there, but not really. My thoughts were in a different place. True, I was present there, physically, but not really, not completely. And there’s also the opposite: there may be a family Simcha, a happy occasion, and we are far away geographically, but in our hearts we are really there, all happy and excited as if we are physically present in that faraway place. But that’s just make- believe, because they were all dressed up and we were in our pajamas, looking at the ZOOM, blinking away some tears.

In order to really do something, completely, one needs both the material and the spiritual, both the heavens and the earth. And that is Moshe Rabbeinu’s guidance to us at the last moments of his life: If you wish to really serve Hashem, then “listen the Heavens and I will speak, and may the earth hear the words of my mouth.”


We just went through the annual checkup, the High Holy Days. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Mainly, we dealt with our spiritual side, and now the holidays of Succot and Simchat Torah are approaching. They will attach the spiritual to the material by the building of the Succah, the taking of the Four Species, eating in the Succah and dancing with our legs on Simchat Torah.


May we be successful!


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

When the Rebbe gave a girl a cigarette lighter

Two weeks ago, I heard, for the first time, a story about a girl from a Chabad family who had found herself a way of life different from that of her parents. I was not told her name, because she has Chabadnik children and grandchildren, and they’d rather maintain their privacy.

It was some time in the 1960’s and her parents asked her to go and meet the Lubavitcher Rebbe one-on-one, in a meeting known as a yechidut. The girl refused. “What’s my connection with Rebbe?” she said. According to her, she no longer had any ties with him or with his way. But the parents pressured her to go, and she agreed, on condition that it be “on my own terms”.

A yechidut was always in the middle of the night. There was always a long line of people waiting, and every such night, many men and women would go in to see the Rebbe, usually only for a few minutes. 

The Rebbe would almost always ask those entering to sit down. Almost always they (certainly, the chassidim), would politely refuse. It was not customary to sit in his presence.

The girl went in, and when the Rebbe offered her a chair, she sat down. And then her moment came. She pulled out a cigarette and matches, and proceeded, supposedly nonchalantly, to light the cigarette. 

Only supposedly nonchalantly, because it did not come naturally for any person to take out a cigarette in the Rebbe’s room, certainly not for a girl who was some 40 years younger than him, and even more certainly not – a girl from a Chabad family. But she had come to make a statement, so she put the cigarette in her mouth and tried to light it, but it didn’t light. Her hands were shaking – that, at least, was a natural phenomenon. 

Confused and stressed, she raised her eyes to the Rebbe, and there he was, offering her a cigarette lighter. 

I told this story this week to a young, pure and holy boy, who came to me wondering: “How will Hashem forgive me on Yom Kippur if I don’t really deserve it?”

First, I told him how Chassidut views the connection and the relationship between a person and his Creator and only at the end did I tell him this story and ask him what he had learned from it.

He understood quite quickly that when you really love someone, and mainly, when you are familiar with the complexities of his heart and soul, you are not afraid of him, nor of the statement he may be making.

That is the way it is with Hashem on Yom Kippur. You repent, you regret your past, take upon yourself to behave better in the future, and Hashem sees into your heart – lovingly.


Shabbat Shalom and Gmar Chatima Tova!

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Are we a team!

 


Some years ago I participated in a course for young rabbis given by the Rabbinical Center of Europe. One of the lecturers, Eitan Eckstein, taught us about teamwork. 


And here is what I remember from that lecture:

Are four people traveling together from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for the same purpose – to attend a wedding, for instance – a team? Obviously not. “Do you know when they will go from being just four people to being a team?” asked the lecturer. “When they have a flat tire, they will immediately become a team.”

He quoted the American expert on organization, William G. Dyer, who wrote that a team is a collection of people who have to make use of group cooperation if each one of them wants to reach optimal success and achieve his goal. 


How is all this connected to us? It’s very simple: We are a team! In other words, we have to remember that we – every member of the Jewish nation, male or female – are a team. For in this week’s Parasha, which is always read before Rosh Hashana, there is the event that is the preparation for that Day of Judgment: “You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem, your G-d.” And then, the text goes on to list ten types of Jews: “the heads of your tribes, your elders and your officers – all the men of Israel. Your small children, your women, and your proselyte who is in the midst of your camp, from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water.”


To put it simply: Today, Rosh Hashana, the day of judgment, you are standing together – the heads of your tribes and the drawers of your water, your elders and the hewers of your wood. You are one team! True, you are not equal, but that is because you are not meant to be equal. You are supposed to be different from one another because only that way, with every person contributing his different skills and abilities, will the team achieve its goal. 


The problem is that we remember that we’re a team and not just a collection of people only when we get a flat tire… For example, last summer the war turned all of us into a real team – a team that recognized the value of each and every individual and the real connection that we have with each other as a people. 


The Parasha of Nitzavim comes to tell us that we should remember that we are a team even when there is no flat tire. We should love and respect each other and deal with each other with love even when there are no sirens or missiles. 


My friends, there is no better preparation than that for Rosh Hashana; really, there isn’t. 


Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

 

No evil comes down from above

 “Please come home,” I said to him. He refused. It was the day before Purim. Ten-year-old Natan was already in the Chabad House, wearing an original costume and armed with the Purim spirit. Soon we would start reading the megillah.


His older sister had surprised us by telling us that she had arrived from Israel, hitherto unannounced, and was already on the way home from the airport. In order to maximize the surprise, the children were supposed to be in the house until she came. 

And so, first I asked nicely that he come up to the house. He refused, because he didn’t understand why he had to leave the fun of Purim and come home instead. Then I demanded sternly from him that he come home: “Come up now!” He was angry and complained, stamped his feet and shouted, “But why???” “I can’t tell you why; just do what I say,” I replied. He came home half a minute before the surprise, and the minute his sister walked in the door he jumped on her happily, roaring his astonishment. And then, he came to me quietly and said, “Thank you, Abba, for forcing me to come up; thank you for refusing to tell me why, and I apologize for being angry and for complaining.” 

This true story is my mashal – parable – for the hidden good that we experience occasionally in life. 


“No evil comes down from above,” so says Ba’al Hatanya in the famous Iggeret Hakodesh, named “To Teach You Understanding.” But if there is no evil, so what are those things that we see as evil? In parashat Ki Tavo there are 98 harsh rebukes voiced as terrible curses that will come to pass if the Jewish People will not observe the mitzvot. What are those curses, if “no evil comes down from above”? 


There is revealed good, and there is hidden good. We do not need to explain the revealed good – it is clear, it can be seen. The hidden good is an experience that we see as being bad, when really it is something good that we are unable to understand, because it has to be covered. Just like Natan saw my request that he come upstairs as an annoying punishment, and yet my request was hiding from him a higher good – an exciting surprise. 


Sometimes during our short lives we merit to see and understand the good that was hidden, and sometimes not. Sometimes only a generation or two later can one see the good that was hidden. 


So when you read the curses on Shabbat, or even if, G-d forbid, you experience something that seems bad to you, remember that “No evil comes down from above.”


Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

“I’m on it.”

 “I’m on it.”

Many new expressions – in other words, slang ones – have been added to the Hebrew language in Israel during the years that I have been living abroad.

One of my favorite slang expressions is “Ani al zeh”, “I’m on it,” the emphasis being on al/on. Once upon a time, when someone wanted to say that he is taking care of something, he would say, “Zeh alai” – it’s on me. Today we say Ani al zeh. I think that’s better, closer to the truth.


Why? Because when a person comes to take care of something, be it a financial challenge or a managerial task, a medical treatment or an emotional process, he should approach it with his head held high, feeling that he will surely succeed. He should know that he’s coming from above, he’s on it. His chances of success will be in proportion to this attitude. On the other hand, if he says “Zeh alai” – meaning that a heavy load has been placed on his shoulders, he will approach the project bowed down. If he will feel inferior, and lack confidence or faith in his success, his chances of success will be in accordance with this.


“When you will go out to war against your enemies, and Hashem, your G-d, will deliver him into your hand...” The Chassidic explanation of this pasuk, which appears in our parasha, is the source for what I said above. There is no lack of wars, struggles or challenges in a person’s life, be they material, spiritual or both together. So the first pasuk in the parasha tells us that when you go out to war, you should go out with the clear knowledge and faith that you are “on” your enemies, and then, when you will feel such a momentum, victory is sure to come, as the pasuk continues: “and Hashem, your G-d, will deliver him into your hand.”


This Jewish faith-based logic is based on what Chazal say in Tractate Ketubot, “According to the camel is the load,” as Rashi explains, “A camel is loaded with burdens according to his strength.” In other words, when Hashem gives a person a challenge, a test, a journey, a project or some other hurdle, he gives that person the power to succeed. He will not place upon him or her a burden that cannot be borne. With such faith, whenever a person is facing a challenge, he knows he has the strength to deal with it. True – sometimes it’s a good idea to consult with others and to think how to make the best use of the existing strengths one has, but all that has to be done while realizing that “I am on it.”


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Do not judge

If I had my way, there would be an eleventh commandment: “Do not judge,” continuing the Ten Commandments we all know about: Do not steal, do not murder, do not covet and… do not judge.

Twenty years of work with the public have taught me that you can never really be in the other person’s shoes. You can think something about a person, and then suddenly you receive more information about him that changes your viewpoint entirely.

The Rebbe learns this specifically from this week’s Parasha, Parashat Shoftim:

The Torah says, “Judges and officers you shall appoint in all your cities.” Our Sages learn from the phrase ‘in all your cities,” that judges should be appointed not only in the Land of Israel, but rather in every place where Jews live. Why? Because the judges of the Land of Israel cannot really understand a person who lives abroad, and a judge who cannot understand you, cannot judge you, either!

“Do not judge your friend until you reach his place,” says Hillel the Elder in Pirkei Avot. “The satiated does not understand the hungry,” people say, and it’s true; oy, is it true.

So one needs judges and officers, but when the Torah says that officers are needed it says in the same sentence “in all your cities.” A judge can judge only after he has reached the place of the judged; only if he is able to open his mind and understand the defendant and his situation – his weaknesses and his difficulties.

That is exactly my message this week for all of us. As we stand, right before the Yamim Nora’im (High Holy Days), in the days of Selichot, it would be good – a moment before asking forgiveness – to make a resolution not to judge another person “until you reach his place.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

what a father must give his son

On Monday, the 12th of Tammuz, 5653 – 1893, at six in the evening, the bar mitzvah Se’udah (meal) of Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn – who was to become the sixth Rebbe of the Chabad dynasty – was taking place in the town of Lubavitch. During the meal, the father of the boy, Rabbi Shalom DovBer, turned to his son and said: “It is customary in Chabad that every Rebbe turns to his son on the day of his bar mitzvah and says to him, ‘Ask a question.’ In other words, present me with a question, and I will answer it. And so, Yosef Yitzchak, ask a question.” 


Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak (known as the Rayatz), recorded the next few moments in his diary:

“I asked my father: In the Siddur it says that ‘it is proper to say before davening, “I take upon myself the positive mitzvah of You shall love your fellow like yourself.” Why was this statement placed before the davening?’


“’When a father has many sons,’ my father answered me, ‘his main pleasure is seeing that they are all united and love each other. Davening is asking Hashem for one’s personal needs, both material and spiritual, and before asking, we should give our Father in Heaven some Nachas, some pleasure, and therefore it was decided that one should accept upon oneself the positive mitzvah of loving other Jews particularly before davening.’”


And the Rebbe continues to write in his diary: “I’m telling this so that you will understand what a father must give his son, and what guidance he should give him on the day of his bar mitzvah.


“Simply put: Before you ask for something from Hashem for yourself, give Him something for his children. It is logical, it is fair, and it works!”


Tomorrow, the Shabbat when we will read Parashat Re’eh, is “Shabbat Mevarchin” the Shabbat before the beginning of Elul, and, of course, there is a connection between the two things. In Parashat Re’eh we are commanded to give Tzedaka: “If there shall be a destitute person among you… you shall open your hand to him.” in the month of Elul, the month of compassion and Selichot (prayers for forgiveness), which begins tomorrow, there is an emphasis on the mitzvah of Tzedaka. Here is what the Rambam says when he speaks about the Teshuva – repentance – that one should engage in during the High Holy Days (Hilchot Teshuva, 3:9): “All of Israel have the custom of giving much Tzedaka and doing many good deeds.”


Why Tzedaka? What’s the connection between giving alms to the poor and the month of Elul, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur? 


Well, this is where I remembered Rabbi Shalom DovBer’s answer to his son on the day of his bar mitzvah: During Elul and the High Holy Days, when we come to plead for ourselves and for our children and request an abundance of blessing, good health, a good livelihood, Nachas from the children, happiness in the home – we should first give Him something from ourselves.

Hashem treats us using the principle of “measure for measure”: When we give to His children, he gives to us, and when we give a lot, he showers much good upon us. It is logical, it is fair and it works! 


Shabbat Shalom, Chodesh Tov and K’tiva V’Chatima Tova,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Laugh at it

My morning started with a one-word message that made me very happy: I passed.

Made me happy is not the right word, I really enjoyed it, the joy was a roar of wow and then a burst of loose laughter.

It was a friend who was facing a process of contraction and reduction in his work, he was under not simple pressure and asked me for a blessing.

He already knows me, he knows from experience that this means that he will go to the mikveh and write a letter to the Rebbe, and when he is finished I will send it via email to the Ohel Chabad where they will tear the letter on the Rebbe's resting place.

So we met recently at six in the morning, he went to the mikveh, then sat down to write in a language that was comfortable for him, he described the situation, how everything he had was in danger, he was under not simple pressure and he asked for a blessing that everything would be successful and go well. And all this pressure, as mentioned, was released this morning.

And then, as always, I thought, why could we not laugh a laugh of joy even in the moment of difficulty? Is it impossible to laugh and rejoice even when there is only hope and not beyond? Is the belief that all what Hashem does is all for the best, not strong enough?

I guess everyone knows the story about Rabbi Akiva and his friends who saw a fox coming out of the place of the destroyed temple in Jerusalem, they cried and he laughed. The gap was even bigger, they did not understand why he was laughing, and he did not understand why they were crying. Finally he explained to them that for him when he sees the destruction, he already sees the redemption, how? For both destruction and redemption are written in the words of the prophets, this and that came as a prophecy, and the fact that the prophecy of destruction came true and here is this fox coming out of the Holy of Holies, It is this fact that clarifies and strengthens, that the prophecy of redemption will also be fulfilled and to the highest level. So he sees the fox and laughs, really laughs.

Apparently the standards of Rabbi Akiva are quite high, even his friends were not with him at first, but, From the moment he showed it was possible, then it’s possible for everyone. his friends said to him: Akiva, you comfort us, Akiva, you comfort us. And probably we too, you and I, can, if only we gather strength, look reality into the eyes of Rabbi Akiva. See the fox and laugh.

This Shabbat, is called Shabbat Nachmu, following the haftarah that begins with the words 'Nechamu Nachmu Ami', Consolation, it must be remembered, comes at the time of coping and difficulty, and not when the difficulty is gone, because then there is no need for comfort anymore.

Laugh at it.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

 

Regards from the Torah world

I am on my way home from Antwerp, Belgium. My good friend, Rabbi Chaim Druckman from Luzern, is sitting next to me. The trip takes six hours; we will be in Switzerland by evening, G-d willing.

Yesterday, on the way there, it was only the two of us. Now we have our children with us: his son, Levi, and my son, Natan. Both of them have completed their year of study at the Chabad Yeshiva in Antwerp.

So, here I am, sitting in the car next to him, lost in thought. The difference between the life I live and the life our children live in the yeshiva is so great, that sometimes it seems that we live in parallel universes.

A few hours ago, I was still surrounded with these young boys, the “Temimim”, as they are called in Chabad. The discussions were only around Torah issues. For the past few weeks they have been trying to make use of every minute to learn yet another daf of Gemara, and in the past week they stayed up late in order to be ready for the big exam that they had last night – on five whole chapters from Bava Metzia.. Anyone who has ever learned in a yeshiva knows how much one has to invest and how dedicated one must be in order to be prepared for such an exam.

And here’s the gap between us: My friend and I are coming from a world of public activity – we have offices, and meetings and email and WhatsApp. True, we have Torah classes, and we too open Torah books and learn, but there’s no comparison between that and the lives of Temimim, Torah students. The only thing they have in their world is Torah.

The yeshiva’s Rabbis, the heads of the metivta and the mashpi’im speak. Their language is that of Torah and chassidut – the language of a holy yeshiva, the language of Abayei and Rabba, Rashi and Rambam, the Admor Hazaken and the Rebbe. They are looking at their students, whose lives they have lit up, with much joy and pleasure, and the young men’s faces are shining. A halo of Torah and kedusha rests above their heads and lights up the world. What a wonderful sight – heavenly, yet down here on earth.

“Give me Yavne and its sages,” requested Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai a few days before the destruction of the Temple, approximately two thousand years ago. What can I say? Rabbi Yochanan was successful. Yavne and its sages have continued to exist all these years and they are now gushing forth.

Ribbono shel Olam, Master of the World, look down from heaven on us. See their faces, see their studying, see their purity; check out their wishes. They are Yours, and they deserve – and in their merit we all deserve – to see the true and complete Redemption speedily in our days, Amen!


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

I am on the way

 “I am on the way.” A short sentence that I say, or, rather, send by SMS, a few times a day.

What meaning does the “way” have? Is it just a means to get from one point to another, or does it have an inherent meaning and purpose? Forty-two journeys are summarized in this week’s Parsha; forty-two stops that the Jewish People made during their forty years in the wilderness, starting from the Exodus from Egypt and ending in the Promised Land.

The stops were very different from one another. In one of them the people said, “Everything that Hashem said, we shall do and we shall hear,” and received the Torah. At another, they complained to Moshe, saying “If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or in this wilderness – if only we had died.”

One way or another, each one of the forty-two stops was an important part of the Jewish people’s journey on their way to becoming Hashem’s nation, chosen to bring the holiness of Torah and Mitzvot into this world.

That is the reason that the Parsha is not called Chanayot (stops), but Masei (journeys) – because every stage of the traveling, with all its ups and downs, was significant in terms of the forming of the Jewish People’s character.

Rabbi Yisrael Ba’al Shem Tov said this week, over 250 years ago, that every person – just like the Jewish People in the wilderness – goes through forty-two journeys, adding up to one long personal voyage. And like the Jewish People’s travels, our travels include ups and downs, all of which – the downs as well – are important to the forming of our characters.

So if yesterday you slipped and fell, and feel terrible, remember: that slip is just one more journey, one of the forty-two you have to go through as you move towards the Promised Land. And there is only one crucial condition: You must not to wallow in your downs; you are obligated to get up and go on.

Another point: When the people were in the wilderness, some of the stops lasted many long years, and others – only one day. In our own personal journeys, as well, there are processes that take years, and others that occur in the space of a few days. So it’s a good idea to be patient.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

the letter reader

 Once upon a time there was such a profession as a “letter reader”. This reader would sit by the village’s post office and for the price of a couple of kopeks would read or write letters for the illiterate. (Today it would probably be dubbed “The Reading and Writing Co., Ltd.)

One day a young man came to the reader; he had just emerged from the post office, having just received a letter from his parents who lived far away. The reader, with a suitably self-important expression on his face, opened the letter and began to read it slowly, with proper enunciation. But suddenly he noticed that the young customer had burst out sobbing and had even fainted. 

He aroused him from his faint and asked, “What happened, young man? Why are you crying and fainting?”

The young man was astonished. “Did you really pay no attention to what you just read? It’s a letter from my mother telling me to return home immediately, because my beloved father has just died, and I have to sit Shiva… is it any wonder that I cried?! And you’re wondering at my fainting?!”

The wise reader asked him, “but wait a minute, you don’t know how to read at all, and all the information you have, you got from me – so why did you cry and I didn’t?”

“Foolish man,” answered the young man. “You don’t care about a man who died yesterday, far away. You didn’t know him, so why should you cry? But I – it’s my own father!”

Dear friends, Parashat Pinchas has many messages in it for us, but allow me to bring forth one central message that the story of Pinchas has for us: Pinchas cared!

Zimri ben Salu was from the tribe of Shimon, and he did what he did with Cozbi bat Tzur, who was a Midianite. What does that have to do with Pinchas? Why should it touch him? Why should it hurt him when something is happening to someone else from a different tribe? He’s not a close relative of his, and certainly not his father!

But Pinchas showed us that one should care. If something happens, even if it’s in another place, even it’s far away, it should touch us. We should care!

We should not read the letter like that letter reader.

The days of Bein Hametzarim (the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av) are days when one should look upon the Jewish People favorably. I think that we have inherited from Pinchas this trait of caring. I live in Switzerland, but visit Israel a lot, and the differences are quite clear. The people in Israel care very much. They will be happy to direct you to your destination, will tell you what your mistake is, where the best falafel is sold and what’s best for you – even if they met you for the first time exactly one minute ago. 

Because that’s what we’re like. We care. And it’s good that we care. 

Shabbat Shalom, 


Zalmen Wishedski

When Rabin met the Rebbe

Around the beginning of the 1970s, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l asked to meet with some Chabad Chassidim who had just left Soviet Russia. In the meeting between R. Moshe and R. Yankel Notik z”l, who was one of those unsung heroes who risked everything in order to maintain their observance of Torah and mitzvot day by day and hour by hour, R. Moshe asked him: How did you do it? Where did you find the strength to be so particular on every small detail of observance, in the face of the evil regime?”

 

R. Yankel Notik, in his characteristic humility and simplicity, merely answered: Did we have any other choice?”

R. Moshe Feinstein well knew that there was a choice; for, halachically speaking, there are leniencies meant for cases where there is danger to life, and in Stalins Russia, Khrushchev and Brezhnev, observing Torah and mitzvot was indeed life-endangering. But R. Yankel Notik did not look for leniencies or the easy way out. He knew one rule from this weeks Parasha, Parashat Balak, a rule stated by a non-Jewish prophet: For it is a nation dwells in solitude, and is not reckoned among the nations.”

 

What Notik and his friends did in Russia is a realization of what the Rebbe said to the late Prime Minister, Yitzchak Rabin. Rabin was Israels ambassador in Washington in 1972, and in honor of the Rebbes 70th birthday, he came to congratulate him in the name of the State of Israel. And here is the story he told:

“I was privileged to have a private audience with the Rebbe. It lasted forty-five minutes, and various matters came up. But, more than anything else, I remember the Rebbes eyes: blue, piercing eyes, expressing wisdom and awareness.

“The Rebbe opened the interview with a question: Do I not, as the representative of the State of Israel feel alone among the 120 nations and states represented in Washington?

“Later on in the conversation, the Rebbe developed the idea behind the verse, For it is a nation that dwells in solitude.” The Jewish People, the Rebbe said, will always be alone among all the other nations.

 

“The Rebbe pointed to this verse as the secret to the Jewish Peoples miraculous survival. For generation upon generation, even when we had no state of our own, we survived, and continued to exist, in spite of the Inquisition, the expulsions and the pogroms. The secret of this survival was the dwelling in solitude” – the devotion to the tradition and to the Torah, as well as the threats to annihilate us, that do not allow us to assimilate among the other nations.

“I left this meeting inspired. I felt that I had met a distinguished Jewish leader.”

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Why did you sell the stocks?

 The story is told about a rich Jew who chose a learned husband for his daughter. The agreement between son-in-law and father-in-law was that the son-in-law would learn Torah all day, and the father-in-law would transfer a respectable stock portfolio to his name. “Once a month,” said the father-in-law, “call the banker to hear what’s new, but don’t sell anything. Just sit and learn Torah.” The son-in-law agreed to these terms.

Two months later, the father-in-law discovered that the young man had given an order to sell the entire portfolio. Both surprised and angry, he called him up: “Why did you break the agreement? Why did you sell the stocks?”

“I spoke with the banker, as you told me to,” replied the son-in-law, “and whenever I asked him questions, at the end of every answer he would add, ‘and with G-d’s help Mashiach will come soon.’ My dear father-in-law, do you understand that when I heard a banker praying for the coming of the Mashiach, I understood that I should sell everything, the sooner the better?...”

This is not a joke; this is reality. For many of us the blessing or the yearning for the coming of Mashiach just makes us smile, or is considered unrealistic. Since we started our Shlichut in Basel, when people ask us the inevitable question, “So are you here for a limited amount of time, or for life?” we answer: “For a limited time – only until Mashiach comes.” And then they smile at us politely, and ask again: “But, seriously, are you here for a limited period or are you staying here for good?”

The Rambam in the Halachas of the Para Aduma (Red Heifer), which we read this week as part of Parashat Chukat, says: “Nine Red Heifers were prepared from the time [Moshe Rabbeinu] was commanded regarding this Mitzvah, until the destruction of the Second Temple. The first was prepared by Moshe Rabbeinu, the second was prepared by Ezra and then seven [more] until the destruction of the Temple. And the tenth – the Melech Hamashiach will make, may he be revealed soon, Amen, may it be [Hashem’s] will.”

Friends, the Rambam was not joking about the Mashiach. He, who is viewed by all as a rational Jewish scholar, when he wrote about the coming of the Mashiach, immediately added, with yearning: “May he be revealed soon, Amen, may it be [Hashem’s] will.” The Lubavitcher Rebbe, when learning this Halacha, wondered how blessings and yearnings connect to a dry Halacha book? In articles and sermons and when praying it is suitable to write and hope for the speedy revelation etc., but to have such a thing in a Halacha book, and, moreover, one written by the Rambam? How could it be?

Maimonides, said the Rebbe, wrote it in the Halacha book in order to teach us something about the Halachas of awaiting the Mashiach, and that is that when the topic of the future Redemption comes up in conversation or in learning, it is expected of the believing Jew that strong feelings of expectation and looking forward to the Redemption should arise within his heart, and as a result he will immediately burst out with “May he be revealed soon, Amen, may it be [Hashem’s] will.”

“For Your salvation we hope all day,” so have Jews prayed three times a day for thousands of years already. There is meaning and intention behind every word.

Shabbat Shalom and Mashiach Now,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

I am cutting off relations with my mother

She was an American girl from California who had just discovered her Jewish roots. She was learning in a girls’ seminary for people just like her. But her mother had not yet accepted this determination of hers to become religious, and every visit to her home in California ended up being a nightmare of disagreements and explosions.

“That’s it!” She told her friends. “I am cutting off relations with my mother. If she isn’t willing to accept me, then I won’t accept her.”

Her friends begged her: “This is a fateful move. Go the Rebbe, ask him for his advice.” Reluctantly, she agreed to do so.

In the Rebbe’s room, overawed, she told the Rebbe of her decision.

The Rebbe then began to do something very uncharacteristic: he began to talk of himself, of his greatness and of the great honor he enjoyed. “Were you here for Shabbat? Did you see the thousands who wait on my every word? Did you notice how much they respect me? Did you see how, with one wave of my hand, they start dancing? You surely know as well, that each and every one of the Chassidim there, if I just say so, will pick up and leave immediately on a mission from me to any part of the world.”

“Yes, Rebbe, I saw everything,” the young woman answered, surprised at what she was hearing, which seemed to be bordering on pride, even haughtiness.

“Well,” said the Rebbe, “I am willing to give all of this up – all of it! In order to meet my mother of blessed memory even one more time. And you – you can just get on a plane any time and meet your mother, and this is your attitude?

“So it’s a little hard for you. With Hashem’s help you will find the right way to cope. But to give up on your mother? No! No!”

 

Moshe Rabbeinu did a similar thing, as told in this week’s Parasha. After Korach and his people, headed by Datan and Aviram, refused to come and meet him, Moshe got up with all his eminence and glory, causing the seventy Elders to follow him to the encampment of the troublemakers. Moshe hoped and expected that perhaps his greatness and eminence, glory and distinction would cause Korach’s people to respect him and to agree to sit down with him and settle the differences between them.

“Moshe arose and went to Datan and Aviram, and the Elders of Israel went after him.” Datan and Aviram didn’t change their minds – for them it was too late – but we can learn from this that when the need arises, one should present things as they are, because perhaps that will bring some peace to the world.

This coming Sunday, the third of the month of Tammuz we will mark the Yarzeit day of the lubavitcher Rebbe, it is a day of inner gathering and contemplation in order to learn more from him, to adopt his way and attitude towards each person. for some it will be a real paradigm shift, and for others, extra Power for what we already believe in, one way or another, we have something to work on.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski 

תמונה של הרבי עוצמתית מהאוטו.jpg 

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