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Rabbi's weekly Blog

don't let anyone or anything ruin your day

 One of the children that Hashem has entrusted us with, so that we will educate him and raise him for Torah and Chuppah and good deeds, is a particularly sensitive one; I would say he is naive and pure. When he was supposed to fly to a summer camp in a different country for three weeks, we were very concerned. Flying alone (though we did make sure that he would be entrusted to a flight attendant, but he was really flying alone) and staying in a strange place for three weeks seemed to us to be too much for him. Who knows what other children would be there – would they hurt him, and if so, how would he respond? Suffice it to say that it reached the point that we considered not sending him. But then we understood that that would be a mistake, because we won’t be able to protect him forever. It might even cause him harm in the long run, for sooner or later he will have to go out and face the world. And the world outside, as everyone knows, does not always welcome you with a red carpet. We understood that we had no choice – we must let go and allow him to cope alone. Difficult – but that’s life.

We had some deep conversations with him, being careful not to blacken the world and life for him. We explained to him situations that he might encounter. We described to him situations of insults, laughter, mocking and others that he might encounter. We did all this in order to hear from him how, in his opinion, he should respond. I told him stories from my own life and childhood, how I had been hurt, and difficult days I had had, and how I had responded. The principle idea was: you are the one who decides what will hurt you and what not; you are the one to decide how to respond to an attack or an insult, and always, always, before responding, even before you burst into tears or are badly insulted, you should go aside and have a cup of water, calm down and tell yourself: I won’t let anyone or anything ruin the day for me!

Every year, when parashat Vayetze comes around, I think about this. Rivka and Yitzchak send Yaakov from Charan, called by Chazal the “Charon af” – anger – of Hashem. It is enough to be somewhat familiar with Yaakov’s dear uncle in order to understand that his stay in Charan was going to be very challenging for a “wholesome man, a tent-dweller” like Yaakov. And what did they send with him for the journey? What emotional strengths did they give him? How much did they worry about him for so many years? Spending 22 years far away and alone is not an enjoyable three-week summer camp.

True, living with Esav had hardened him more than a bit. There are those who will say that his mother, when sending him to impersonate Esav and receive the blessings, was really teaching him how to get along with cheats such as Lavan; after all, who knew Lavan like she did? He also learned Torah and observed the mitzvot, and that is surely strengthening; and then there were those ascending and descending angels who accompanied him on his way.

And still, I thought that there was one essential thing in Yaakov’s education, and that was the fact that he came from a home that did what seemed right, without relating to what the surrounding culture had to say. His grandfather, Avraham, was the person who invented the famous Jewish Chutzpah. He never got to know Sarah, but he surely heard stories about her courage in going with Avraham to an unfamiliar land – one couple facing the whole world. He saw his father, Yitzchak, behaving proudly and confidently towards Avimelech. And his mother – from age three she knew to choose right and not to be impressed by what the rest of the world had to say. Growing up in a home like that meant growing up with an inner strength that no wind could sway.

And indeed, when we read the rest of the story in the Torah, there are no surprises. Life in Charan was very challenging for Yaakov. “Whether it was stolen by day or by night,” he said, describing in four words his life beside his uncle; but he got through it all courageously and successfully.

What happened to Yaakov happened to many thousands of his offspring throughout the generations. His handling of the situations was and still is and inspiration for the following generations; it would be good to take it on as an inspiration for us, too.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Only a great person can express weakness

 Certain politicians are known for their skill in identifying people around them who are too successful, that is, they do their work and receive fame and love from the public. These politicians wait for an opportunity and in one fell swoop they destroy them politically. Whether this is good or not, that is the nature of politics.

Unfortunately, we all know stories of conflict and splits that started with the fears of one of the sides that his colleague was getting too big and powerful; and the result was quarreling, slander and humiliating the other. More than a few of us, myself included, have experienced this personally. The big problem, in my opinion, is less the fact that a person is afraid that his friend will overshadow him, because that is, after all, human nature; it is logical and even understandable. The problem is the lies that accompany this process – that is the great injustice. If the boss firing an employee would speak honestly to his worker and say, “Listen, my friend. I’m afraid of your success; it is putting me in a bad light. I’m sorry, but I must fire you,” the one being fired would not be so hurt. For the person doing the firing, it seems that this is an expression of weakness, but it has long been acknowledged that the ability to express weakness is really a sign of greatness. Only a great person can express weakness without being shaken by it.

In this week’s parasha, parashat Toldot, we encounter such a classic story. Yitzchak goes to live in Gerar, in the land of the Plishtim. He is greeted relatively nicely by Avimelech, taking into account the morals of the times, but he is too successful: “The man became great and continued getting greater until he was very great. He had acquired flocks and herds and many enterprises; and the Philistines envied him.” this is what happens, sadly enough. When a person is too successful, jealousy appears with hatred in its wake. Any person who is considered to be successful can bear witness to that. But here Avimelech comes and shows straightforwardness and greatness. When he speaks to Yitzchak he says, “”Go away from us for you have become much mightier than we.” Without libeling him in any way or blaming him for some side issue; without making life difficult for him so that he will leave on his own, Avimelech simply admits his weakness and requests: Please go somewhere else; you’re too big for us.

Yitzchak, on his part, does not give up and does not stop his doing. He moves elsewhere and starts over again. He is so successful in his new place that he calls it “Rechovot”, explaining that “Now Hashem has granted us ample space and we can be fruitful in the land.”

If we are speaking of banishment, I cannot refrain from expressing my severe pain and feelings of helplessness in face of a terrible wrongdoing. My dear friend, who is like a brother to me, Rabbi Asher Krichevsky and his wife Rachel and children were expelled from Omsk, Russia, the city where he served as the Rebbe’s Shaliach, for the past 17 years.Asher was very successful. He became great and then greater, until he was very great; he had a school and kindergartens, a shul and a mikveh. He and his wife created Jewish life in the Siberian frost, and this week a great wrongdoing was done to him and he was expelled. I have already written the following sentence: “Seventeen years of activity have been written off,” but I erased it immediately, because nothing has been written off. What is instilled in the heart of a Jewish child exists forever, and Jewish life in Omsk will never stop. The chill will not return to the hearts of the Jews of Omsk, because the activities of Rabbi Asher and Rebbetzin Rachel Krichevsky will exist forever. Asher, look: Since the days of Avraham and Yitzchak, successful Jews have been expelled from their homes. So you are standing today together with tens of thousands of Jews, headed by the Chabad chassidim of all generations, who were also expelled, and all these people are telling you, with loving smiles: “Welcome to the club.” And you should know, it’s a very respectable club – the club of the people in whose light we were educated and in whose path we have walked. But there is one significant difference: They were exiled to Siberia, and you have been exiled from Siberia. Remember Yitzchak as well, and take note how and when he named a place Rechovot.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Old and comes with his days

I always loved to read biographies, to see how the deceased person had lived, and what journeys he undertook in his life. I knew that usually there were some cosmetic changes in the facts. I understood that frequently the author had to be somewhat flexible, and yet, it was still fascinating to read.

Today, in the here-and-now era, Facebook allows one to meet young people who are in the middle of their lives. You can see how they handle life, what they have done and what they are doing. There is no need even for cosmetic changes, because everything that was once considered to be a blemish, today collects Likes from everyone who identifies with that blemish – and there are a lot of Likes.

I learned to see that there are people who have dealt mainly with personal growth; they have invested years in study and have acquired titles of one sort or another; they indeed learned much and have extensive knowledge in their chosen discipline; alternatively, they have sat for years in yeshiva and have become Torah scholars.

I have also seen those who deal mainly with others – “social activists”, as they are known. Young men and women invest themselves in helping others, either materially or spiritually.

These are dynamic, live and kicking biographies – in the positive sense.

In our parasha, too we find a biography – that of Avraham Avinu – except that it consists of three words and no more, and encompasses two concepts: a. zaken (old), and b. ba bayamim (“comes with his days”).

The Rebbe in his Likutei Sichot, part 3, explains that zaken defines a human being’s personal growth, the work one does on oneself. As the Gemara says, zaken is an acronym for zeh shekana chochma – “the one who has acquired wisdom”. And ba bayamim defines his social activities, his work with and for the other. As Chazal explain, Avraham came with his days that were full of doing.

I don’t think that we can achieve the level of perfection that Avraham reached, but it is indeed possible, and even demanded of us, to learn from him the direction and the way. The direction is to try to act on both levels at the same time, each person according to his abilities and G-d-given talents. The social activist who helps others ought to find time for personal growth, and certainly for spiritual growth, in order to improve himself as well. And it is recommended that the eternal student should go out occasionally and make use of the knowledge that he has acquired in order to act and influence the world.

In case you were wondering, the Rebbe gives clear preference to a ba bayamim.

Old and comes with his days.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

“Empty vessels” – that is the secret.

 Installing navigating systems in our cars has proved to me very convenient and beneficial. We can reach places relatively easy, and we save time and trouble. But the best outcome of this is that men can now avoid humiliation when trying to find their way. Why men? Because women have long known of a simple trick: One opens the window and asks some passers-by, “Excuse me, how do I get to…?” But men are not capable of asking; they, after all, know already… But why should I generalize – I’ll speak of myself. I was capable of roaming around for quite a while, depending on my assessment that was based on a rare combination of gut feelings and sense of direction; the main thing was not to ask. And also, what can a man in the street know that I don’t?

The truth is that not only on the road, but in almost every realm of my life I wasn’t really able to consult with others, and even when I did, it came out in the end that I did the talking and the counselor listened. I was full of myself, and had no room to receive from others.

This changed when sometime or other I understood there are, here and there, a few people who are wiser and more experienced than I am. I admit that it was painful to internalize this, but from the moment I did internalize it, I was saved. Because when I internalized, I actually made space inside, and began to really and truly listen – even humbly – to what others had to say. And the truth is that wisdom, good advice, understanding and an abundance of good were around me all the time, and if I hadn’t been so full of myself, I could have benefited from this abundance long ago already.

This week’s haftarah tells the special story of the wife of Ovadiah who comes and pleads with Elisha the Prophet. She needs help and the prophet wants to find out if she is prepared to receive the abundance: Does she have empty vessels or full ones? Because in order to receive, one has to clear some space. When she says she has only one vessel, Elisha says to her: “Go and borrow vessels from outside, from all your neighbors, empty vessels – do not make do with a few,” and then the famous miracle happens – the vessels fill with oil, and selling all that oil provides her with the money she needs to save herself.

When did the miracle end? When did this abundance cease? The moment she had no more empty vessels left – “And when the vessels were full she said to her son: hand me another vessel. He said to her, there is no other vessel. And the oil ceased.”

“Empty vessels” – that is the secret.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

to give up control.

 I once participated in a teachers’ course sponsored by the umbrella organization of Swiss Jewry – SIG. At the time I was a teacher in the Basel community, the IGB. In one of the workshops the facilitator tried to teach us to work together, to trust each other, so that we can become a good team. He divided us up into pairs, and each time asked one of the two partners to stand behind the other’s back and be ready to catch him when he falls back. From the other he requested that he allow himself to fall back without looking, just trusting his friend to catch him. Does this sound easy? Maybe. But it is very difficult. I think no one managed to do that, certainly not the first few times. (Even my partner in this task, Dr. Yuval Rubin, did not succeed in throwing himself back. And the truth is that I was very surprised by this, because I was the one who was supposed to catch him…).

We are so used to trusting ourselves and controlling our lives that we are not capable of letting go and agreeing to give up control.

As the years go by I learn how much we really do not control our lives, how, in the end, there is somebody or something much greater than ourselves who runs our lives and if we will just be able to surrender and agree to let go bit, it will be easier and better for us – and in addition we will enjoy more happiness and contentment in our lives. I am speaking from experience.

“Go for yourself from your land and your place of birth and the house of your father to the land I will show you.” This is the first task in the Torah, given to the first Jew by the Creator. There are endless explanations, commentaries and messages connected to this passuk. They are all wonderful, but sometimes one ought to just read the passuk in its simplest meaning. It says here clearly: Start your journey without knowing where you are going. Throw yourself back, knowing that I will catch you. Release control and trust Me.

This of course does not mean that a person should sit and do nothing, G-d forbid; or that he should not think and plan ahead or prepare himself for the near or distant future. Of course not. A person must work, study, prepare himself, plan what has to be planned. But what should be at the base of his life, his plans, his calculations and his dreams is the knowledge that in the end the control is not in his hands. If something goes wrong on the way, is altered, exchanged for something else or even cancelled, give in to it. Trust Hashem that everything is for the good and He will show you the way.

And if there is a challenging moment, one can always sing the prayer of Rabbi Meir of Apta, as put to music so nicely by R. Avraham Shabtai Hacohen Friedman: “Master of the Worlds, yadati – I know that I am in Your hands alone.”

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Not many people know this

 

Not many people know this, but once upon a time I had a big white van, on which there was a lit-up yellow advertisement that proclaimed such things as “Love your fellow as yourself,” and “Mashiach Now”. I was young and newly married and my father-in-law, Rabbi Mordechai Gorelick, had given us his old Volkswagen Transporter for our use. Except that this gift came with a string in the form of a plastic light on the roof, as mentioned.

Once, my father-in-law and I were driving down a street in Bnei Brak. As usual, we were having a light argument. I was claiming that the advertisement on the vehicle brings about the opposite of what we want – Look, people are looking at us and laughing. My father-in-law, though, was claiming that this was positive propaganda and that it is important. Besides, the people are not laughing: they are smiling and happy to see our van.

For many years I kept this conversation with my father-in-law in mind. Every once in a while I would learn something more from it. At the beginning I learned that one can sit in the same car and have relatively loaded conversation, but conduct it calmly and lovingly. Afterwards I learned that every situation can be viewed from different angles, even opposite ones. Then I learned that you yourself choose how to view a situation you’re facing. If you choose to see the people smiling, you will feel great; and if you choose to see them laughing at you, you will feel uncomfortable. This is an extremely important message, especially for a Chabadnik who runs a Chabad House: the definition of his job includes going against conventions and in addition, every few years one has to go against one’s own conventions. But the main point I learned only in the past few years: The main thing is that you see in others what you have in yourself. And if I see that people are laughing at me, it is because inside I too am laughing at myself and at what I represent. (And yes, at the time I laughed at what my car represented.) If I would have been sure of myself and of what I was representing, I would have seen that they were smiling, like my father-in-law saw.

And why did I remember all this this week? Because for many years Noach built an ark, and he and his family were against the entire world. Every day people laughed at him, and, as the Gemara in masechet Sanhedrin says, they would “disgrace him. They said to him: Old man, what it is this ark for?”

I don’t know what he felt while he was doing this. Did he do it happily, or did he complain along the way about his miserable fate? Were his children proud of his actions or did they feel inferior to the whole world? Did he say at home, “What a great merit I have”? Or did his wife, Naama, hear him complaining and voicing bleak thoughts?

Because if he would have been with me in the van at that time, certainly he would have learned that almost everything is dependent on one’s own viewpoint, and one’s own viewpoint depends on what one feels inside.

One thing is for sure: In the end he completed the task – perfectly.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Not 100% succes, but 100% effort

 

“I’m not asking for 100% success; I’m asking for 100% effort.”

That is a sentence that I have said and continue to say, in myriad variations, to my children before school tests, and it doesn’t matter what subject is involved. If you didn’t make an effort and received a mark of 100, I will join you in your happiness about the high mark, but it will bother me that you didn’t make an effort. If you made an effort and scored 70, I will feel your pain for the low mark, but I will be very proud of you for the effort you invested. When it comes to marks you are perhaps showing your abilities; but when it comes to effort and making an attempt, you are bringing yourself.

Tomorrow we will read in the Torah one of the most fascinating parashasparashat Bereishit. The story that I find most gripping in the parasha is the story of the offerings brought by the two brothers, Cain and Abel, to Hashem. The story is fascinating, painful, and mainly teaches us many lessons.

What exactly was the problem with Cain’s offering, causing Hashem not to pay attention to it?

From the simple reading of the text one can see that Cain brought “from the fruit of the earth,” whereas Abel brought “from the firstborn of his flock.” Two essential differences can be seen between these two offerings: a. With Abel it says “from the firstborn”, noting that he brought his offering from the best of his sheep and goats. b. With Abel it says “his flock” – he brought his own, from himself and perhaps himself as well, while by Cain it says “from the fruit of the land”, and not “from the fruit of his land.” He didn’t bring something that was his, and probably didn’t bring himself, either.

Put simply, it seems that Abel invested thought and effort, while Cain invested less. So it seems that we are requested to show 100% effort and not just achieve 100% success.

And if we are talking about effort, here’s another small point. In my opinion, when we talk about effort and making an attempt in all realms of our lives – whether it is in work, parenting or marriage, one should invest thought and perhaps also consult with professionals or experienced people, how and on what to focus in order to maximize the result. For, many times there are shortcuts or highways that when we discover them we will feel that there is a better balance between the effort and the result.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

a personal story

 

This time I am going to tell you a personal story.

For several years I had the sweet dream of traveling to New York together with my whole family. Not to New York for the sake of New York, but, rather, to the Rebbe, to his beit midrash in Brooklyn and to his tziyun in the holy Ohel in Queens. In other words, to take my children to the Rebbe. All of them had gone separately with me, but the dream was to go as a family. Dreams are intended to be realized – that’s what I believe, anyway. And so, we saved up our pennies, and planned the trip so that it would coincide with our son Mendel’s first haircut as he turned three. Like good Swiss residents, we purchased the tickets six months in advance, and so we allowed our excitement to grow.

On the day of the flight we got up early; everything was packed, and we were about to leave the house. One last look at the documents – everyone had visas, Baruch Hashem, but another glance at the passports showed me that the passports of the two oldest children would become invalid the following day… in other words, they had no passports – and therefore couldn’t fly. It’s hard for me to describe to you the shock that hit us. It was something that had never happened to me before. I confess that I felt completely broken. Usually I don’t collapse so easily. I’ve coped with crises in my life, but for some reason this left me in pieces. The shattering of the dream hit me like a wave – it was as if I could hear pieces of glass breaking again and again.

“We’re not going!” I announced as the tears fell, and shut myself in my room, overcome with pain.

Five minutes later the door opened gently. Thirteen-year-old Mossi and eleven-year-old Moshe came in, tears still in their eyes, but their voices steady. They looked at me and said: “Abba, you taught us that everything happens by hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence). You say all the time that Hashem is running the world, not us. Now is the moment of truth. Go with the rest of the family; we’ll spend the week by friends, and with Hashem’s help we will go with you some other time.”

It struck home. Perhaps I should have felt ashamed for collapsing? Perhaps I should have berated myself for breaking down? Perhaps. But I just remember a powerful feeling of happiness that filled me completely. I looked at them: a moment ago they were little children in my eyes, but now they were so big… It’s called nachat.

Only when we were already on the plane, calm and collected, did Devora and I understand that without the “mistake” with the passports we wouldn’t have experienced our children in that way that morning.

Tomorrow we will read Shirat Haazinu in the schul. This song includes praise of Hashem for “finding” us in the desert and watching over us like the apple of His eye. But also that we grew fat and rebelled against his Torah and mitzvot. The Leviyim would sing this song in parts every Shabbat, in spite of the fact that later on in the song there is talk about Hashem hiding His face, and that “I will use up my arrows against them,” - not only the good part at the end, that tells of the Redemption: “Nations, sing the praises of His people for He will avenge the blood of His servants.” Why, then, is the entire poem considered to be a “song”? Why do we sing to Hashem also about the moments of His hiding his face from us and the accompanying arrows?

That answer is that we sing and thank Hashem for the entire journey, and the journey of a man’s life is like the journey of a nation, including moments of beauty, redemption and salvation, but also moments of face-hiding that are not easy. And whoever knows how to look, will be able to see beauty and happiness popping up, paradoxically enough, especially at the times of the difficulty and the face-hiding.

 

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Same’ach!

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

a personal story

 

This time I am going to tell you a personal story.

For several years I had the sweet dream of traveling to New York together with my whole family. Not to New York for the sake of New York, but, rather, to the Rebbe, to his beit midrash in Brooklyn and to his tziyun in the holy Ohel in Queens. In other words, to take my children to the Rebbe. All of them had gone separately with me, but the dream was to go as a family. Dreams are intended to be realized – that’s what I believe, anyway. And so, we saved up our pennies, and planned the trip so that it would coincide with our son Mendel’s first haircut as he turned three. Like good Swiss residents, we purchased the tickets six months in advance, and so we allowed our excitement to grow.

On the day of the flight we got up early; everything was packed, and we were about to leave the house. One last look at the documents – everyone had visas, Baruch Hashem, but another glance at the passports showed me that the passports of the two oldest children would become invalid the following day… in other words, they had no passports – and therefore couldn’t fly. It’s hard for me to describe to you the shock that hit us. It was something that had never happened to me before. I confess that I felt completely broken. Usually I don’t collapse so easily. I’ve coped with crises in my life, but for some reason this left me in pieces. The shattering of the dream hit me like a wave – it was as if I could hear pieces of glass breaking again and again.

“We’re not going!” I announced as the tears fell, and shut myself in my room, overcome with pain.

Five minutes later the door opened gently. Thirteen-year-old Mossi and eleven-year-old Moshe came in, tears still in their eyes, but their voices steady. They looked at me and said: “Abba, you taught us that everything happens by hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence). You say all the time that Hashem is running the world, not us. Now is the moment of truth. Go with the rest of the family; we’ll spend the week by friends, and with Hashem’s help we will go with you some other time.”

It struck home. Perhaps I should have felt ashamed for collapsing? Perhaps I should have berated myself for breaking down? Perhaps. But I just remember a powerful feeling of happiness that filled me completely. I looked at them: a moment ago they were little children in my eyes, but now they were so big… It’s called nachat.

Only when we were already on the plane, calm and collected, did Devora and I understand that without the “mistake” with the passports we wouldn’t have experienced our children in that way that morning.

Tomorrow we will read Shirat Haazinu in the schul. This song includes praise of Hashem for “finding” us in the desert and watching over us like the apple of His eye. But also that we grew fat and rebelled against his Torah and mitzvot. The Leviyim would sing this song in parts every Shabbat, in spite of the fact that later on in the song there is talk about Hashem hiding His face, and that “I will use up my arrows against them,” - not only the good part at the end, that tells of the Redemption: “Nations, sing the praises of His people for He will avenge the blood of His servants.” Why, then, is the entire poem considered to be a “song”? Why do we sing to Hashem also about the moments of His hiding his face from us and the accompanying arrows?

That answer is that we sing and thank Hashem for the entire journey, and the journey of a man’s life is like the journey of a nation, including moments of beauty, redemption and salvation, but also moments of face-hiding that are not easy. And whoever knows how to look, will be able to see beauty and happiness popping up, paradoxically enough, especially at the times of the difficulty and the face-hiding.

 

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Same’ach!

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

I’m all for copy-and-paste

I’m all for copy-and-paste when it comes to greetings and good wishes. Why not, after all? I choose to believe anyone who sends me a copy-and-paste, even if I’ve received that particular picture sixty-seven times, because every person has his own specific intention in sending that greeting and picture, and this is his way of blessing me, and it’s nice and pleasant. And, besides, I have 256 gigabytes in my iPhone, so I can receive good wishes until Chanukah without any problem.

And still, when you finish wishing everybody on your contact list “Shana Tova”, stop for a moment and wish yourself a good year. But this time not a copy-and-paste, and not just as a nice picture, rather, tell yourselves decisively, clearly and firmly: This year I will have a good year!

This is not a joke, and not a segulah – it’s not magic either. It is simply a worthwhile, practical way of doing things. This is how it works: there is a lot of good around us. Hashem gave all of us much good and has showered us with lovingkindness. If we just look around ourselves with a positive outlook, divested of jealousy and competition, and see how our bodies and souls are doing their jobs faithfully, day after day, and view our home and its inhabitants non-judgmentally, we will see how much good they have in them. The same is true of the society and country we live in; the chair and the bed; the slice of bread on the table. Viewing them that way, we will be able to say wholeheartedly, and even sing: “Thank You for everything that you have created, Thank You for what You gave me.”

If we do this, we will have a good year, because every morning will start well, and every day will be happy. A happy father infects the entire house with happiness, and a happy mother, too, infects the entire household with joy. And not only that – it reaches Hashem as well, because happiness is catching.

Here is what it says in the Zohar on parashat Tetzaveh

"תא חזי אי איהו קיימא בנהירו דאנפין מתתא, כדי הכי נהרין ליה מעילא כו' חדוא דבר נש משיך לגביה חדוא אחרא עילאה".

Translation from the Aramaic: “Come and see, if he is standing with a lit-up face from below, so too they light up for him from above etc. The joy of a person brings upon him a different joy from Above.”

In short, copy-and-paste is not an invention of the WhatsApp generation; the Zohar wrote about it two thousand years ago.

 

Gmar Chatima Tova – may you be sealed for a good life -  

Wishing you a good and sweet year, and Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalman Wishedski

In his present state

 It’s the morning of Rosh Hashana. The Rabbi is walking to Shul and on the way he sees old Isaac sitting in a coffee shop with a newspaper. “Isaac!” says the Rabbi, almost shouting. “Isaac! Today is Rosh Hashana; today Hashem is judging everyone for the coming year, and you are sitting in a coffee shop?”

Isaac smiles and answers: “Rabbi, I am 95 years old already. All my friends have gone to Heaven a long time ago. I have a feeling that the Master of the World has simply forgotten about me. Believe me, Rabbi, the last thing I want to do now is to come to Shul and remind him that I exist.”

Now, seriously: someone once asked me a simple question:

“Hashem knows me, after all. He knows what I’ve done in the past and knows how I will behave in the future. Do you really think that if I do a one-day teshuva, on Rosh Hashana, this will help? Can teshuva for one day affect an entire year?”

I told him the story about Yishmael, the story that we will read in the Torah on the first day of Rosh Hashana. Yishmael and his mother Hagar were sent away from Avraham and Sarah’s house. They were in the dry desert, and their water ran out. Yishmael cried and asked for water, but his mother couldn’t help him. She had no water in the desert and she left him in a shady spot and went to cry out her heart far away. “And she went and sat herself down at a distance, some bowshots away, for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat at a distance, lifted her voice, and wept.”

A shocking scene – the worst thing that can happen to a mother.

But then there is a turnaround: “An angel of G-d called Hagar from heaven and said to her, What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for G-d has heeded the cry of the youth in his present state.” The angel called out to Hagar and said, “Calm yourself, Hashem wants to help him. He won’t die.”

In the Midrash it says that at that moment angels appeared before Hashem and said, “Master of the World, you know that his descendants are going to put your children to death by thirst, and now you’re giving him water in the desert?”

And that’s what happened, as we know. The Babylonians who destroyed the Temple and exiled the Jews from the land allowed many of them to die of thirst. To this day, we suffer quite a bit at the hands of Yishmael’s descendants.

So why? Asked the angels. What are you helping him and giving him water?

I judge a person only according to his situation at the time of the trial – “in his present state,” replied Hashem. “I don’t judge his future or his descendants. I judge him at this moment, as he is now. “In his present state.”!

This is said in the Gemara in masechet Rosh Hashana as well: Rabbi Yitzchak said, a person is judged only according his deeds at that moment. In other words, a person who did Teshuva, regretted his past actions and resolved to do good deeds in the future, Hashem relates in his judgment to his actions today.

How does this work?

In the Chassidic teachings it is explained thus: It says in the Gemara in masechet Kiddushin, “A good thought is added on to a deed.” In other words, when we make a good resolution, Hashem gives us a chance and already takes into account the thought and the resolution we have made in our heart as if we have already done these deeds, as if we are already like that, and even gives us an advance salary, as it were. And so, there is definitely power and meaning to my acts and thoughts on this one day, especially if it is Rosh Hashana, because when he judges me, he is judging me according to who I am after I have done teshuva, even if this is so far confined to the heart alone.

That is the reason that we read the story about Hagar and Yishmael on Tosh Hashana. We must know one very clear thing: as with Yishmael, we too are judged according to our situation today.

And Isaac, if he would have known this, certainly would not have remained in the coffee shop on Rosh Hashana.

Wishing everyone a k’tiva v’chatima tova – to be written and sealed for the good, a good, sweet year, a year of happiness and joy, good health and wealth,

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

The hidden good

 

“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 Hatanyain 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.”

By the way, it is recommended to study the Iggeret Hakodesh no. 11, “Lehaskilcha Bina”, in the Tanya.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

don’t google the situation

A good friend of mine is going through difficult times. Two days ago he was told that he and his family are about to embark on a long, challenging path. To him, and to anyone who has challenges, I am writing the following words:

“Judges and officers you shall place in all your cities (literally: gates),” this week’s parasha tells us. One of the most popular commentaries on this passuk is the wonderful comment of Rabbi Mordechai Cohen of Tzfat in his book “Siftei Cohen al HaTorah”. This is what he says: “in all your cities/gates: those are the gates that are in a human being’s body – the eyes, ears, nose and mouth.” The Torah’s instruction to post judges and officers at all the gates, means that a person must judge well everything that goes in and out of his body’s gates. He has to go through a checkpoint every time something is entering or exiting. He has to stop for a moment, think and use his mind to decide what’s proper and what isn’t.

Not everything that can be seen should be seen. One must involve the judge at the eyes’ gate, and ask him to examine what is right and what is less than right; and if necessary, one may make use of the officer – the policeman. So it is with hearing. Not everything should be heard, certainly not lashon hara – derogatory, negative speech. The mouth should be subject to a thorough examination, to make sure that everything that goes in should be kosher, as well as everything that comes out of it.

This is the gist of the Siftei Cohen’s commentary.

I thought to add that when one is coping with challenges, one has to guard himself or herself from seeing everything as being black and negative; one should refrain from listening to pessimistic predictions and of course be careful not to speak of them. Judges and policemen should be placed at all the gates, in order to maintain constant optimism, and if necessary, simple-minded naivete.

These days, one must add another level: to make sure the eyes don’t google the situation. It’s permitted and the information is available, but a stern judge and an equally stern policeman should be posted there. One should also guard the ears and examine very carefully all the advice that comes through them. There is lots of advice. Most of the advice-givers mean well, but the judge and the policeman of the ears should sift through all of it and decide what’s suitable for you. And yes, one should guard one’s thinking. There’s no opening there where one can post a judge, but one does need a policeman who will reject negative thoughts, and leave only the happy ones.

And if one should ask: “How will I succeed?” the Torah says in the continuation of the passuk: “Which Hashem, your G-d, gives you”. Hashem gave us judges and policeman, together with the strength to use them. May we all be successful!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

How to strengthen someone who is experiencing difficulty?

 

How does one comfort and strengthen someone who is experiencing a real difficulty? Usually, one speaks of the future. “Things will be better,” he will be told. “You’ll see how good everything will be,” they’ll sing to him, in the words of a famous Israeli song. But this doesn’t always help. When a person is trying to cope with a problem, it is hard for him to see the good and the beauty in the future.

This is what is happening in the haftarot of past few Shabbatot, the seven haftarot of consolation that we read in the weeks following Tisha b’Av. These are Yeshayahu’s words of comfort to the Jewish People, for after the destruction.

This week’s haftara begins with the words “Oh aniyah,afflicted, storm-tossed one, who has not been consoled”. The aniyah, the poor one, is the Jewish People, whose heart is stormy because of her troubles, and therefore cannot be consoled. 

Those who read these chapters of consolation will see something somewhat surprising. Throughout these chapters there many beautiful words of comfort, full of beauty and joy, and yet, the aniyah is still afflicted, and not at all comforted.

“Kings will be your nurturers and princesses your wet-nurses,” “And the redeemed of Hashem will return and come to Zion with glad song, with eternal gladness upon their head,” “Hashem has bared His holy arm before the eyes of all the nations and all ends of the earth will see the salvation of our G-d,” “For you will burst out to the right and to the left, your offspring will inherit nations,” “For but a brief moment have I forsaken you, and with abundant mercy will I gather you in.” these are unquestionably wonderful promises that speak of a truly marvellous future. How, then, is the poor woman still not consoled?

The answer, in my opinion, lies in what I said above. Sometimes, when a person is facing a stormy present, it is difficult for him to see the glowing future. True – the aniyah is being promised a lavish, rebuilt Jerusalem, but all she can see now is ruins, and she refuses to be comforted. Therefore, after “who has not been consoled,” Hashem comforts her in present tense and says, “Behold, I am setting down gems as your flooring stones and am laying your foundation with sapphires.” Right now, in these moments of difficulty and exile, I am already building the foundations of the future. I have already begun to lay the flooring stones. Hashem is saying, simply: The future promises that I have given you in the previous chapters are not only in the future, but are definitely the present as well; they are already being fulfilled. We can’t see them yet, but that is only because they are at the level of foundations, and therefore still hidden. A building’s foundations are the most important of all – they are what support the building, but still, they are hidden from everyone.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

p.s. According to the custom of the Ashkenazim, this week’s haftara is not Aniyah so’ara, but the haftarah ofa Shabbat rosh chodesh, since, besides being Shabbos, it is also rosh chodesh.

Mezuzah like a compass

 

It was a few years ago, on Chanuka. She was looking for a menorah and for candles. She had been living here for years already, but only now, when her eight-year-old daughter had asked for a Christmas tree, she had decided the time had come, and had come to ask for a menorah.

As she was leaving, I placed my hand on the mezuzah and asked her: “Do you know what this is?” “It’s a mezuzah,” she replied, “but in our family we don’t put up mezuzahs,” immediately going on to explain: “Rabbi, please understand. My grandmother was in the camps and after she was saved and had a family she said to us: Do everything to hide your identity, so that if they come again, they won’t identify you as Jews.” “If that is so,” I said, “I have a question to ask you: If Hitler (May his name be blotted out) were to meet both of us, who would please him more? I, who am fearlessly proud of my Judaism, or you, who four generations later is still afraid of him?”

In the evening I received an email: “Rabbi, I have nine doorways. When can you come?”

The mitzvah of the mezuzah is given us this week in parashat Eikev. It is an easy mitzvah to perform, perhaps one of the easiest. All you have to do is affix a mezuzah to the doorpost and that’s it; almost no more work involved. It says in the Shulchan Aruch that one should place one’s hand on the mezuzah when one goes out or comes in. As is known, some have the custom of kissing the mezuzah lovingly. Apart from that nothing more has to be done – not even a daily blessing to make. Tefillin, for instance, must be donned every day, a blessing is made on them and one should pray while wearing them. In order to fulfil the mitzvah of tzitzit,a person must make a blessing “al mitzvat tzitzit” every morning, and, of course, wear a tallit katan (a garment with the tzitzit), even on hot summer days.

But still, the mezuzah conveys several significant messages that are not part of other mitzvahs.

A house that has a mezuzah on its doorpost is making a clear statement: The dwellers of this house are proud Jews; they are unafraid. In the doorway of this house there is a piece of parchment on which it is written: “Shema Yisrael, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One.”

Moreover, tefillin or tzitzit, and other mitzvahs as well, are internally-oriented mitzvahs, an act between a person and his/her Creator. The point of the mezuzah, though, is to be affixed to the doorpost on the outside. It is there in order to remind a person of G-d even when he ventures into to the outside world. The Rambam says that the mezuzah in the doorway is like a compass, helping us not to lose our way, on condition, of course, that we take the trouble to look at it and consult with it. When we meet Hashem’s Name every time we enter or exit our home, it should cause us to “awake from our sleep and from our being lost in the inanities of the times.”

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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