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Rabbi's weekly Blog

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

the secret of faith

At the beginning of the summer I went through three weeks of waiting for an answer regarding something that was very important to me. As usual, my heart was telling me that the answer would be negative, or at least not satisfactory, and I was pretty tense and troubled about it.

My wise wife, seeing the pressure I was under, said to me: “You have three weeks to wait: twenty-one days, each one made up of twenty-four hours. Right now you have the choice of being optimistic or pessimistic for that length of time. If you choose to be pessimistic, then you and the people around you will be facing twenty-one days of tension and unpleasantness. And then, even if the answer will be positive, you will have gone through twenty unpleasant days, and one happy one. And if you choose to be optimistic about the results, you will have three calm and happy weeks. And then, even if the answer will end up being negative, you will have had twenty happy days and one sad one.”

She was right. The choice to be optimistic proved to be more than worthwhile, because the answer in the end was positive.

After Shirat Hayam (The Song of the Sea) in parashat Beshalach, it says, “And Miriam the prophetess, Aharon’s sister, took the drum in her hands, and all the women went forth after her with drums and dances.” Rashi wonders where they obtained drums in the desert. And he explains: “The righteous women of the generation were certain that Hashem would be making miracles for them, and they took drums out of Egypt.”

It was not easy to be optimistic in Egypt, while suffering pain and difficulties. It is not simple to live with the faith that things will be good when one is in the midst of subjugation, slavery and oppression. But the women of that generation chose to maintain their positive thinking in spite of everything, and even more so: in the midst of the bitter exile they lived with complete faith and trust that the redemption would come. So certain were they, that they had their drums ready. I can imagine a sweet child seeing the suffering of his family and nation and asking his mother: Why do you have a drum up in the closet? And she smiles and whispers to him: “Sweety, the day will come when Hashem will make miracles for us. We will be free of the evil Egyptians. And then, when everyone will sing and be happy, we will take out our drums and make sounds of merriness.”

So if you are facing a situation involving difficulty and pain, or are just feeling tense and burdened, it is a good idea to have a “happy” drum stored away, to look at it every morning and to smile quietly, as if keeping a secret: a secret of faith, the secret of faith.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

in every joke there is a bit of joking

A well-known joke claims that in Israel, if you have connections you don’t need protektzia. My grandfather used to say that in every joke there is a bit of joking, but the rest is true. So, that is the truth: when you know someone and he feels he owes you something, he’ll help you, or at least not interfere with your needs.

These days there is a too-quick tendency to connect any help given by friends with bribery and corruption. In my opinion, not only is this not true and not proper to say, but it’s also not healthy for society and for the world’s existence. If someone helped you, it’s only right that you should help him. Chazal already said so in the midrash: “Don’t cast a rock into a water hole that you drank from.”

In this week’s parasha, Moshe Rabbeinu reaches the stage of the first plague, the plague of blood. After all the warnings and threats to Pharaoh, the moment comes when it is time to lift up the special staff and strike the Ye’or, the river. But then Hashem stops Moshe: “Hashem said to Moshe, say to Aharon…” Chazal said in the Midrash Rabbah: Rabbi Tanchum said: Why wasn’t the water struck by Moshe? The Kadosh Baruch Hu said to him: It is not right that the water that protected you when you were thrown into the Ye’or should be struck with a plague by you. Rather, they ot struck only by Aharon.”

How simple, and how beautiful.

When I was a child I used to wonder: Many Jewish babies were cast into the Ye’or and drowned to death in it. Hundreds, maybe thousands? The Ye’or indeed saved Moshe, but many others died in it. What merits does it have?

And the answer is that the Ye’or really deserved to be plagued. It had to also turn into blood, to punish the Egyptians who were being cruel to the beaten, bruised Jews. There is no argument as to that. But the actual striking will not be done by Moshe, because Mosh must feel beholden to the Ye’or.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

from a plain and simple human point of view

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

simple Jewish strength and fortitude

Recently I had the opportunity of seeing simple Jewish strength and fortitude.

It was not a speech in front of thousands of people, nor did it have the background of a heroic story; all it was, was a short conversation between two people. One of them was my good friend, Rabbi Asher Krichevsky, who was expelled just a month ago from his city and community in Omsk, after seventeen years of constructing there an impressive Jewish empire. He and his family left behind a nice, well-equipped home and were deported from the country even though they were totally innocent of any wrongdoing. They left behind not only a home, but the stability in their lives. On the other end was my dear older brother, Rabbi Pinchas Wishedski, who several years ago was forced to leave his city, community and Jewish empire as well – which he had built with his family for twenty years in the city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine – because of the war that is going on there. He, too, left an orderly, pleasant and well-equipped home, and like many Jews throughout the generations, locked the door and came away with just a few possessions.

I just stood on the side and watched this meeting between two people who understand each other very well, as well as any two people can. There was a pause after their mutual “Shalom Aleichem”s. Their eyes locked, and then, my brother, who in the meantime has managed to set up a thriving community in Kiev, said: “Asher, I understand you more than anyone in the world. I feel what you feel, but I promise you that you will see with your own eyes the words of Yosef Hatzaddik in parashat Vayechi, ‘You intended me harm, but G-d intended it for good.’ You are, indeed, experiencing a ‘hiding of the face’, but in the future you’ll see visible and revealed good.” Asher listened and responded. “I am sure of that; I haven’t the slightest doubt.”

They went on their way and I continue to reconstruct that meeting from time to time. I don’t want to forget it – both in order to follow things and see how it will all work out, like with Yaakov after he heard the dreams of Yosef, and “kept the matter in mind,” and also because such simple and quiet fortitude, faith and trust in the Divine Providence of the world’s Creator and Ruler means much to me and even gives me the strength to cope with the challenges laid before me.

True, Yosef Hatzaddik did say that sentence, “G-d intended it for good” after he was already king, after the good had already been revealed to him, but I’m sure that he knew during the terrible period of the hiding the face that he experienced that “G-d intended it for good.”

The Rebbe, when he would wish someone good, would make sure to spell out that it was “the visible and revealed good” that he was wishing him or her. I join in this blessing to all of us that we should see only good and chesed, preferably of the kind that doesn’t need to be explained.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

No need, don’t bother, we’ll come to you

 

This week’s parasha is downright exciting – a suspense story reaching its climax. Yosef cannot restrain himself anymore and he makes himself known to his brothers. No less moving is the fact that in the same sentence in which he reveals himself and says, “I am Yosef,” he adds something, thus revealing how much he had been missing his father: “Is my father still alive?”

Very soon afterwards he sends an invitation to his father to come to Egypt, and even tells his brothers, the bearers of this message: “Take wagons for yourself from Egypt.” Afterwards, when the brothers come to Yaakov and tell him that Yosef is alive, he doesn’t believe them so easily – after all, they had already sold him a story about a wild animal that never was – but when he sees the wagons that Yosef sent him, immediately “And the spirit of Yaakov their father was revived.’

Why? What was in those wagons that revived Yaakov’s spirit?

Rashi explains that sending those wagons was a hint to Yaakov: “When I left you… I was dealing with the parasha of eglah arufah” (the procedure to be done when a dead body is found, the murderer unknown, which includes beheading a female calf; eglah hinting to agalah – wagon). The last topic that Yosef learned from his father was about eglah arufah, and he was the only one who knew what he had studied with his father. Therefore, when Yaakov saw the wagons he understood the hint and knew that indeed, “My son Yosef is alive.”

I heard another interpretation – very humane and beautiful – from my colleague and friend, Rabbi Shalom Rosenfeld of Zurich. If the children go and live far away, and every time that the parents want to come and visit they say, “No need, don’t bother, we’ll come to you,” this should raise concern. It’s a sign that they have what to hide; they’re afraid that the parents will be upset when they see how their homes are being run. But when your son has lived away from home for many years, moreover, lived alone among other nations, and he sends you wagons and asks: “Abba, come to my home,” then you know that everything is alright, that he is proud of who and what he is, that he has nothing to hide from you. So it is clear why, when Yaakov saw the wagons, immediately, “And the spirit of Yaakov their father was revived.”

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

from conservative Bnei Brak To liberal Tel Aviv

 Various guests eat at our table on Shabbats. They add to the atmosphere, and the topics of conversation around the table are varied and interesting. A few years ago we hosted a young couple of Gerrer Chassidim from Israel and the young man told me about an inner debate he was having. He was looking to make a decent living and had already found a profession that could serve as a very good source of income. But there was one problem that was preventing him from going ahead – the workplaces for that type of work were all in Tel Aviv. The workers were all of liberal/secular bent and from his point of view, if he would spend all day in such an environment it might have a negative effect on him. He asked straightforwardly and honestly: “How can a yeshiva bochur from conservative Bnei Brak work in liberal Tel Aviv and remain a Bnei Brak Chasid?”

I told him that that question had already been asked by his forefathers, the sons of Yaakov, when they met Yosef as the viceroy of Egypt. “And Yosef recognized his brothers,” says the Torah in parashat Miketz, and immediately goes on to add, “and they did not recognize him.” According to the simple understanding, the passuk is telling us that they didn’t recognize him because he was a seventeen-year-old when he had been sold to Egypt, and now, twenty-two years later, it was hard for them to recognize him, since he was so changed. But according to the pnimiyut, inner Torah, the Torah of Chassidut, we learn a deeper meaning. “They didn’t recognize him” – they didn’t know and weren’t aware of the possibility of being a conservative Jew who serves G-d in the advanced and developing world that Egypt represented. They had chosen to be shepherds because it is an occupation that keeps a person far from society. A shepherd is alone in the field with his flocks and his G-d. They didn’t know of any other options. And here stood their younger brother, a Bnei Brak yeshiva bochur who had remained conservative in the Egyptian royal palace. Well, “they didn’t recognize him.” Yosef was the first to prove that it is possible to be a viceroy and remain Yosef hatzaddik – the righteous.

I turned to my guest and told him, “Go to your Rebbe, and do what he suggests to you. I don’t know you well enough in order to know if you are up to this work or not.”

A few months later he called to tell me that the Gerrer Rebbe said that he trusts him, and instructed him to take that job.

 

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Be Yosef

 “Every week one should live with the weekly parasha, and learn from it for our lives. Sometimes one has to delve deeply into the words of the commentators and put some effort into studying it in order to understand what is being said and its connection to our lives, but in the parashas of Vayeshev and Miketz, which deal with the life of Yosef Hatzaddik, there is no need to expend effort and delve deeply. If we just translate the story into Yiddish or into any other language we understand, one can acquire from Yosef instructions and guidance as to how a Jew is supposed to behave.” This is how the Rebbe started his discourse on the weekly parasha on Shabbat parashat Vayeshev, 5728 (1967).

Following that introduction, the Rebbe continued to describe Yosef’s trials and travails in flowery language (tzuros un churbanos) – how he was sold as a slave, and as Yosef himself described it, “For I was surely stolen from the land of the Hebrew.” He was torn away suddenly from his father and grandfather, and from his natural environment in general, and he had to learn skills, ways of life and methods of survival that were foreign to him.

His grandfather, Yitzchak, who had lived in a protected environment most of his life, certainly never needed this kind of life wisdom. Even his father Yaakov, who had been alone in Lavan’s house for 20 years, didn’t have to cope the way Yosef had to. For Yaakov, even though he was in Charan, from the moment that he built his home with his wives and children was in charge of his life, at least in regard to everything connected to his private home. He ran his house as he saw fit, to the point that he could say, “I lived with Lavan and observed the 613 mitzvot” (Rashi). But Yosef for many years did not have a household of his own – he didn’t even have a private abode at all. At the beginning he was a slave in the home of his master, and afterwards he was in prison and so on.

And all this through no fault of his own. He went through trouble after trouble. His situation got worse from moment to moment. First he was in the pit, then he was sold to the Yishmaelim and the Midyanim, and they sold him to the Egyptians. Try to imagine how slaves used to be sold, and imagine a seventeen-year old lad, orphaned and pampered, all alone in a strange land, and finally bought by Potiphar. I would expect him to be resentful and sad, in despair, bitter. But no. Yosef got up every morning and worked faithfully for his master, not like a miserable wretch, but like a successful person, and he was, indeed, very successful. But the troubles didn’t leave him. Again, in the same way, not only did Potiphar not thank him for his work, but he even threw him into jail even though he was innocent – and even more so, he was thrown into jail because he didn’t want to abuse his master’s trust in him. Did he become bitter and resentful in the jail? Not there, either. There, too, he arose every morning like new and did what he thought was the right thing and was very successful at it, to the point that he became the manager of the jail. And the story repeats itself; he helps the king’s cupbearer by interpreting his dream, and he has only one request: Mention me to Pharaoh. Not money, not gifts – nothing that will cost you anything or necessitate any effort. But the cupbearer forgot about him the very next morning.

So passed a few years of disappointment from the world: suffering, humiliation and shameful behavior of people. I would have expected him to give up on this world, to run away from people and go live alone in the desert. But no, Yosef continued to run his life as he saw fit. And the reason for that was that Yosef had grown up in a home that had taught him one central thing: that everything that happens in the world comes from Divine Providence, and everything has a reason, and as he himself said to his brothers when they were afraid that he would pay them in kind: “it was not you who sent me here, but G-d.” When a person lives with such a deep awareness, nothing that happens to him can knock him down.

This is the central message for anyone who reads Yosef’s life story. Everyone has the possibility of collapsing, giving up and being sad as he tries to cope with difficulties and challenges, and there is also the possibility of lifting up one’s head, looking forward and understanding that everything has a reason and a goal – like Yosef did.

In the book “Hayom-Yom” for the 1st of Cheshvan, the Rebbe spells this out even more: Since Hashsem said to Avraham Avinu “Go forth from you land etc.” the secret of beirurim (extracting) started, and by the decree of the superior Providence, a person goes his ways in the places where the sparks that need to be discovered by him are waiting for their salvation.

Be Yosef.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Listen to your heart?

“Go with your heart,” coaches say today. “Listen to your heart,” say the counselors.

But once upon a time – not so long ago – it wasn’t like that. In the previous generation people not only didn’t dare to go with their hearts, but didn’t even try to see what those hearts wanted. What one wanted didn’t matter; people just did what they had to do.

My generation was educated this way as well, but at a certain stage and age people started to dare to ask – quietly, feeling almost ashamed of themselves – “What do I want?”, and not only “What do I have to do?” The next generation, the younger one, already asks to start with “What do I want?” – and that almost exclusively. This is the generation of “Go with your heart” and most people choose only work that they like. “To do something you love” has become the call of the times, a privilege that did not exist before.

This, apparently, is the result of the economic situation as well as the general and personal security situation that the world enjoys right now – the best since the world was created. The previous generations dealt with life itself, struggling to cope with it. But today people are busy dealing with quality of life. In the past, ordinary people had a bicycle, and today they have two cars, from which we see that there is the privilege of checking out what one wants, and not only what one has to do.

Truthfully, it is not right to do only what one has to; rather, it is right to choose and adapt the doing and the work to a person’s characteristics, because one should listen to the heart. On the other hand, it is not possible to go only with the heart, because the puzzle called “life” is made up of many pieces and it is impossible to love them all. A person who loves to teach might not like to grade exams. And a person who loves to design clothes won’t necessarily enjoy the bookkeeping that goes with it.

So what should one do? This is what Yaakov Avinu did in this week’s parasha, parashat Vayishlach.

According to Chazal,before his meeting with his brother, Esav, Yaakov “hitkin (readied) himself for three things: gift, prayer, and war.” The Rebbe emphasizes the word “hitkin” and differentiates it from the word “prepared.” According to Rashi, Yaakov didn’t really want to give his brother a gift that was undeserved in his opinion. He also didn’t want to pray, because he was afraid that he had sinned, and then the prayer wouldn’t help. From war he was truly afraid, as it says in the Torah, “And he was distressed.” But in life there are times when one simply has to do what needs to be done, even if one doesn’t want to. “Preparing” is not enough here; there is the need to ready oneself with new powers. Hitkin possibly comes from the word tikkun – correction, or, perhaps one should say that Yaakov installed in his heart new hardware or software, so that he would be able to cope with what he was going to be facing, and to do those three things that were necessary before the meeting.

So, yes, I am all for people generally working at what they love and what they are good at, but they should also know to ready themselves to do what has to be done when necessary, even when they don’t want to do so.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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

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