Printed from ChabadBasel.com

Rabbi's weekly Blog

A guardrail for undue pride

One of the good things that come with age is humility.

I don’t mean the humility in the sense that the word is usually used, which is humility in face of other people. That, actually, does not always come with age, and sometimes the opposite happens. I mean humility in face of the world, in face of the processes that we see, in face of Hashem.

The attribute of pride has earned many condemnations, and in my opinion justly. In this week’s parasha, on the passuk “You shall make a fence for your roof,” the Rebbe says that in terms of a person’s spiritual labors, this means a fence in front of the attribute of pride. If the simple meaning is dealing with the roof of an ordinary house, which needs a guardrail constructed so that no one will fall, when it comes to serving the Creator, the roof symbolizes rising up and feeling proud. And pride, as everyone knows, must have a railing and a fence that will limit it and prevent a person from falling as a result.

Usually, when we speak of pride, we imagine a person looking down his nose on others; perhaps even an arrogant person, who thinks and feels that everybody owes him something and that he is above everybody else. This is true, of course, but that is the easy form of pride. It can be seen clearly, and it is rather simple to know what to fix and how, because it is all out in the open. (By the way, usually we see this in another person and not in ourselves, but that is already a different topic.) The other form of the pride, the pride in face of the world, in face of the processes that take place in this world, which is really a pride in face of Hashem, the Creator of the World and its ruler – that is harder to identify. It’s a slippery attribute; the person doesn’t feel that he’s being arrogant.

For instance, if a person is working on a new project – a business one, or a social one – it is clear to him that if he does everything correctly and according to the book, he can expect that the result will be perfect. But life is not like that – there are always surprises, and then one can see if he is proud or humble. A person who relates to the world with unwarranted pride will get angry, will take it to heart and perhaps even fall into despair: I did everything right, so why isn’t it succeeding? But the humble person, the one who has already learned a thing or two in life, will accept the events with submission, maybe even with a smile, and say: “Well, everything is under Hashgacha Pratit (Divine Providence). I guess it still needs to percolate some more. Maybe there is a need here for a longer “cooking” period. And in general, no one owes me anything. The proud person might be angry, perhaps he will scowl and usually he will give up. The humble will take a deep breath, go off for Mincha and Maariv and start again the next day. Here comes the mitzvah of the guardrail – if you are like a roof, make yourself a guardrail.

So too in serving Hashem. The proud person will despair every time he stumbles and does an aveirah or engages in some forbidden pleasure. The humble person will feel pain, but will continue onward with the knowledge that he wasn’t born a tzaddik and that that’s the way of the world: failing is part of the process of serving Hashem.

The Admor Hazaken writes in Chapter 27 of the Tanya that if someone is saddened by his status and lowly spiritual condition, that means he is a proud person “who does not know his place, and therefore will feel bad that he is not on the level of a tzaddik.” A humble person is a person who knows his place, and someone like that, even if it hurts him that he did an aveirah or fell in some other way, will not fall into sadness and despair, because he knows that that is the way he was created: with a good inclination and a bad one. He knows his place. And the Admor Hazaken writes on in the Tanya that “therefore, a person’s heart should not despair and not feel so bad even if he spends his entire life on this war, because perhaps that is what he was created for, and this is his work.” In my opinion, this is the guardrail that a person should create for himself: not to fall into sadness and despair.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Soul Hunger

You know that sometimes you engage in emotional eating? It usually happens when the heart is suffering from emotional overload, and then we search for chocolate or ice cream, or both of them together, in order to calm down some inner discomfort that we can’t identify. A brave, wise and open person will know to look inward and will see that he has within him some sort of deep emotional hunger and the chocolate and ice cream do indeed help, but only for a short time, a very short time.

One doesn’t always have to fight it; usually the very recognition that it is emotional hunger already influences the internal feeling of fullness favorably. And the main thing is that the person knows that after he finishes the ice cream and the chocolate he has some emotional work to do.

There is also soul hunger. The soul is hungry for some nutrition. There are many ways to feed the soul. One of the easier ones is, simply, food. When a person eats in order to accomplish something positive by the eating itself, he is extracting the G-dly spark that is embedded in the food, and with it he feeds his neshama, his soul. Of course, this is true if the food is kosher. One cannot extract the G-dly spark that sustains non-kosher food by eating it.

When one is choosing food for the soul, it is preferable to choose a plant, a fruit or a vegetable. On the famous pasuk from parashat Shoftim, “For man is a tree of the field,” Chazal say, “This teaches us that a person’s life is only from the tree.” This is puzzling, because we also eat food that comes from animals, preferably medium/medium well, and there are those that I know personally who eat mainly meat.

In Chassidut it is explained that the meaning is not how much and from where man chooses to get his sustenance, but from where will he receive higher quality spiritual food. We have learned that “Not by bread alone does Man live, but by everything that emanates from G-d’s mouth does Man live.” According to Chassidut the meaning is that it is not the bread that is sustaining, but, rather, Hashem’s speech. The G-dly spark in the bread is what sustains you. And since the G-dly spark in the vegetable world, the emanation from G-d’s mouth that sustains the growing plant, comes from a higher root than that which sustains the animal, then vegetarian food feeds the soul better. And when Chazal said that the life of a person comes from the vegetable world, they are saying exactly that – that from the vegetable world he will receive better nutrition. It is superfood for the soul, or, to put it differently: start eating lettuce.

One way or another, a bit like with emotional hunger, the very knowledge and recognition that we are eating in order to satisfy the hunger of the soul is enough to put us in a better place, because then we will relate to everything we put into our mouth as something spiritual, with a goal, and not just another satisfaction of a desire.

 

May we succeed!

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

The Path to Wealth

 A Jew of German background heard the rabbi in Schul, on the Shabbat when parashat Re’eh is read, mention the pasuk, Aser te’aser - You shall surely tithe the entire crop of your planting, the produce of the field, year by year.” He listened carefully. The Rabbi brought the wonderful conversation between Rabbi Yochanan and his young nephew, the son of his sister and his friend and famous challenger, Reish Lakish.

Rabbi Yochanan said to his nephew: “Say a pasuk.”

The nephew then quoted the pasuk of “You shall tithe…” and asked his uncle, “What does the expression there, aser te’aser?”

“It means: tithe so that you will get rich (aser bishvil shetitasher),” replied Rabbi Yochanan. In other words, a person who is careful to give his tithes is promised that he will be wealthy.

The young boy didn’t let it go at that (see the beauty of the Gemara, which considers it legitimate for the young nephew to argue with his great uncle, Rabbi Yochanan): “How do you know that?” How do you know that a person who tithes indeed becomes wealthy?

Rabbi Yochanan replied: “Go try it.” Give the tithe and test Hashem.

The nephew still wasn’t satisfied: “Is one allowed to test Hashem?”

Said Rabbi Yochanan: “You are right. Ordinarily one should not test Hashem. But in anything connected to ma’aser, it is permitted.” And he brought, as proof, the pasuk from the Prophet Malachi, where Hashem says, “Test me.” “Bring all the tithes to the storage house… Test me if you will, with this, says Hashem Tzva’ot; see if I do not open up for you the windows of the heavens and pour out upon you blessing without end.”

So, said the Rabbi in his Shabbat sermon, whoever brings tzedaka to the Schul has Hashem’s promise that he will be rich and get back at least ten times what he gave.

On Motzai Shabbat, when the Rabbi was still putting drops of wine into his pocket for mazel and bracha, the Jew knocked on his door, holding an envelope that contained one thousand dollars. When the Rabbi finished counting the money in Yiddish, this Jew said to the Rabbi: “You said this morning that I will get ten times that amount, right? I’m expecting to receive ten thousand dollars in return.” The Rabbi became alarmed and said, “Listen, see, I meant that…” But the man was already out the door, happy with the promise.

For three weeks the man pursued the Rabbi: “You promised me ten times the amount. You said Hashem promises wealth. Where’s the money?” This – for three weeks. Every time the poor Rabbi would see this man in the street he would immediately cross the street or turn around and hide until he was gone.

One day, the Jew chased after the Rabbi. The Rabbi tried to run away, but the Jew caught up with him and said, “Kvod HaRav, listen: Hashem paid me back. Today I made a deal and earned ten times the amount. I wanted to tell you that you were right.” And then he continued in Yiddish: “Hashem’s word is reliable, but he doesn’t quite stick to schedules.”…

I heard this so-Jewish story from my friend, R. Benny Ben Ami z”l, who passed away suddenly around this time of year, two years ago. Whenever Benny had a chance, he would give tzedaka, more than the conventional amounts. He would give happily and with a full heart; and his heart was as wide as his shoulders. His broad grin and his laughter appear in front of my eyes whenever I think of him. I have a feeling that he tells this story in Gan Eden as well.

We are not supposed to observe the mitzvot in order to receive the reward for them, but even if we do so, Hashem’s promise still stands. The Rebbe once wrote on this topic: “In spite of the fact the mitzvahs in general, tzedaka included, should not be done for the reward, but rather because Hashem, the Creator and Master of the World commanded us to do so, still, Hashem promised aser te’aser – that you will become wealthy both materially and spiritually.”

And anyone who is not sure of this is told by Rabbi Yochanan: “Go try it.”

 

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

the technological innovations

I hereby state that we have filtered internet in our home.

The charedi public in general has decided to disconnect from the new technology. Many do not have a computer at home, no email, no WhatsApp – and not even SMS on their phones. Sometimes it seems that they are afraid of all technological innovations.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe had a different approach to the issue.

In 1960 (5720), Rabbi Nachum Goldschmid began to broadcast classes on the Tanya on Kol Yisrael. That same year, Rabbi Yosel Weinberg began to broadcast classes on the Tanya on the American radio. In 1970 (5730) the Rebbe’s hitva’adut was broadcast live for the first time – worldwide, and a year later, in 1971, there were already advanced video cameras at 770 that filmed the Rebbe’s hitva’adut. From the beginning of the 1980’s, when in Israel there was still only one television station, the Rebbe’s hitva’aduyot during the week were being broadcast on cable TV in the United States.

On Shabbat parashat Ekev, 5748 (1988), the Rebbe brought a proof from the week’s parasha that one shouldn’t be afraid of the world and of what it has to offer. Moshe Rabbeinu tells in the parasha how after the Sin of the Golden Calf and the breaking of the Tablets, Hashem said to him: “Make for yourself two stone tablets like the first ones.” In other words, one should go forward with the building of a Mishkan (Tabernacle) for Hashem, with the new Tablets being the first sign of the decision to build it.

But, wait a minute – at the beginning of the book of Devarim, where the words “Di Zahav” are mentioned, Rashi says that those words hint to the fact that they sinned because of the gold. “He (Moshe) rebuked them about the Calf that they made because of all the gold they had, as it says, ‘I gave them much silver, and gold they used for the Ba’al’” and then the Rebbe asks: If they sinned because of the gold, why didn’t Moshe Rabbeinu forbid them the use of gold – forever?

But we see the exact opposite: In order to show them that they were forgiven for the Golden Calf they had made, they were told to use gold for the Temple. In other words, not only did Moshe not fear gold; he went even further and used it for holy purposes.

The Rebbe learns from this that “even when we encounter something that others use for the opposite of kedusha, there is no need to get excited about this, and it must be used for its true purpose, which is the honor of Hashem.” In a footnote, he continues: “And according to this, in relation to the development and revealing of gadgets that were discovered in recent generations, that in spite of the fact that they can be used for purposes that are the opposite of Torah, and as we indeed see that some do, Rachmana litzlan – in any case they should be used for holy purposes – the dissemination of Torah and Judaism and such like. And especially those who use them for trade, it is for things like that that these natural powers were created and that these aspects of wisdom were revealed.”

It is known that chassidim are wise, and a chasid knows when not to go overboard. With the clear knowledge that everything was created for Hashem’s honor, a person also has to set limits for himself before he goes into all types of media in order increase Hashem’s honor: to examine where, how much, and for what purpose.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

I used to believe; now I simply know.

 I used to believe; now I simply know.

I used to believe in Divine Providence (hashgacha pratit). I heard stories, listened to lectures and went to classes, studied essays; this belief was also instilled in me at home, from the moment I was born. I believed in it.

Nowadays I don’t believe in Divine Providence – now I can see it; I know that it exists.

For the first thirty years of my life, more or less, when something happened that seemed to be upside-down, illogical, leaving me stuck or getting in the way, I needed the faith that I had saved up, all those stories and classes.

Nowadays, when something like that happens, I smile at it and know that it is for my own good, and sometimes also try to guess what the future will bring: “It will be interesting to see how all this will turn out to be for the good, and when exactly I will see it happening.”

Why is that so? It is very simple. When you live with an awareness of Divine Providence, and learn to look at everything that is happening around you as coming from that Divine Providence, you get used to seeing how Hashem arranges the puzzle of life in a wonderful way. You also learn that He is a bit wiser than you.

I used to say that “If the Master of the World would just listen to my advice, everything would be better.” Today I say, “It’s a good thing that He doesn’t listen to my wise ideas.”

 

On Shavuot 5723 (1963) the Rebbe explained the famous passuk from this week’s parasha, parashat Va’etchanan, “Ata horeta – You have been shown in order to know that Hashem, He is the G-d. There is none beside him.” Also, the passuk shortly after that, “You shall know this day and take to your heart that Hashem, He is the G-d in heaven above and on the earth below – there is none other.”

The first verse is describing a relationship that comes down from above: You, Hashem, are the one who showed us to know that You are the G-d.” that is the faith that we received, the one we learned and read about, and received at home as well. The second is describing a relationship from the bottom up. Here, it is not Hashem who is teaching, but rather the human being, out of his life experience and with his own resources, reaches the understanding that “You shall know this day.” It is more knowledge, less belief.

And from this comes the other difference between the two psukim. What a person receives from an external source will not settle completely in his heart. The person might be convinced, and certainly he or she will believe, but the heart will still have its doubts – it has its own rules. But when a person reaches an understanding through life’s experience, working from the bottom up, then immediately after “You shall know this day,” he will experience “and take to your heart.”

Shabbat Shalom – and smile, because all is for the good!

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Go towards the lands of the Amorites

Enough of sitting here near Mount Sinai – get up and go towards the lands of the Amorites, the Ammonites and Moabites. That’s what Moshe Rabbeinu said to the Jewish People at the beginning of parashat Devarim, thousands of years ago: “Enough of your dwelling by this mountain. Turn yourselves around and journey, and come to the Amorite mountain and all its neighbors.” Leave the pure and holy place where you are now living; get up and come to a place that is considered to be distant, alien and even against Torah and mitzvot.

So said the Lubavitcher Rebbe to his chassidim over sixty years ago.

In a wonderful letter to the directors of the younger faction of Chabad, dated Rosh Chodesh Shevat, 5718 (1958) the Rebbe encouraged them, based on the above-mentioned passuk from Devarim, not to remain at home but to go out and be active; not to stand, but to walk. In today’s language we would say, “Step out of your comfort zone and go seek challenges.”

As usual, the Rebbe says it better than me, and therefore I will quote: “’Enough of your dwelling by this mountain,’ even though this is the place where the Torah was given, because a person should go from strength to strength, and also – not be satisfied with his actions and self-decoration, but also influence others, including the others who are outside. Therefore, ‘Turn yourselves… and journey’ – but the journey in itself and passing through a place is not enough, rather ‘come’ – in pnimiyut.”

But wait a minute, the Amorites and their neighbors symbolize the opposite of kedushah, holiness. They symbolize a place where there is distance from, alienation and even resistance to Torah, kedushah and anything holy. But is there a place in the world that we can define as such, like the Amorites and their neighbors? One who is familiar with the Rebbe’s Torah knows already that by him there was no place that was distant, no place that was alien, because the world belongs to Hashem. Moreover, the Shluchim of the Rebbe in the world know that every place they arrived in and was considered cold and alienated, pretty soon showed itself to contain kedushah and the warmth of Torah and mitzvot despite what it looked like to anyone who lived in what is generally called a “city of Torah” and the like. Therefore, one should pay attention to the wonderful careful reading of the Rebbe’s words, when he is defining a place that is like the Mountain of the Amorites: a place where in face of the nation, all of whom are tzaddikim, it seems to them “the Amorite mountain and all its neighbors.”

It is clear from the letter that he doesn’t want all its readers to get up physically and change their geographic location. It is also clear that the Rebbe is asking every one of his readers to move a bit, to advance, to walk, to be a walker, to leave the place he is used to, his comfort zone, and move along.

The letter opens with praise to the addressees for the many activities they are already engaged in, but as usual, the Rebbe immediately warns them that the place they have arrived at and that has become a spiritual comfort zone, like Mount Sinai was for those who left Egypt, is a place where one can stagnate, and therefore he immediately mentions the passuk: “Enough of your dwelling by this mountain. Turn yourselves around and journey…” Move on, don’t stay in place.

The Rebbe concludes with the rest of the passuk, wishing them well but also guiding them to a destiny: And by doing so they will fulfill the destiny of “When Hashem your G-d will broaden your boundary until the great river, the River of Prat (Euphrates).” In other words, the goal they should aim for is the complete and true Redemption.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

A letter to a friend

Change the curse into a blessing – if not all of it, at least see part of it as a blessing.

In parashat Balak, which we will read this week in the diaspora, there is one central story: Bilaam goes to curse the Jewish People and Hashem changes the curse into a blessing. How simple it seems when Hashem arranges everything in a moment. But, my friend, believe me, we too have the ability to turn a curse into a blessing, and, as mentioned, if not all if it, as Hashem did with Bilaam, then at least part of it can be seen by us as a blessing.

We are coming from the days of the geulah – the 12th and 13th of Tammuz, the days when we mark the release of the Rietz (the sixth Rebbe of Chabad) from the Soviet jail in 1927 – 5687. He and his chassidim struggled to maintain their Judaism in Russia. The Russian authorities didn’t like this very much, and the Rebbe suffered greatly in their jail, but was finally released. You know very well the extent of the Rebbe’s suffering – both material and spiritual – in that jail. But still, here is what he wrote seven years later, written like only he could write:

“A person, besides having set periods during his life – childhood, youth, young adulthood, marriage, the days of full adulthood, old age – and besides the state of his talents, be they ordinary and mediocre, or shining and wonderful, and his nature, whether he is shy and sad or happy and gregarious, besides all that, the Supreme Divine Providence arranges for him special periods that sometimes change the person’s nature and develop his talents, placing him on a special height, from where he can see the purpose of a person’s life on this earth.  

“The period that is strongest in its action on a person’s psyche and the development of his talents is the period rich with suffering and torture due to propagandizing vigorously for some idea, especially someone who struggles and fights with his persecutors for the sake of the upholding and strengthening of his religion. Such a period, while it means body and soul torture and suffering, is rich in strong effects and they are the days of light in a person’s life.”

It is not pleasant to go through difficult times. No one chooses to do so and may it be that no person will have to experience periods of difficulty and trial anymore, but – and that is a big and important but – when it comes already, the person can turn the curse into a blessing, or at least find and see the blessing hidden in the curse, to the point that he will be able to say, as the Rebbe wrote, “And they are the days of light in a person’s life.”

Blessing you with a geulah sheleimah, when we won’t need special abilities to see the good in everything,

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Law of soul and faith

 First, a spoiler: Many of the rabbis outside Eretz Yisrael will devote their sermons tomorrow to the concept of chukah. Parashat Chukat, which will be read tomorrow in the diaspora, opens with the words “Zot chukat haTorah” (This is the decree of the Torah) and goes on to describe the mitzvah of Parah Adumah (Red Heifer).

The speakers will talk about the three types of mitzvos: mishpatim, eduyot and chukim, and then they will most probably go on to speak of the sublimity of the chukim – those mitzvos like tum’a and tahara (ritual purity and impurity), kashrut, and, of course, the Parah Adumah about which Hashem said: “I made a statute, I made a decree.” These mitzvos seemingly have no reason or explanation; we simply do not understand them. We were not told why and for what purpose they should be done. We observe them just because we were commanded to do so by the Creator. And that’s all there is to it.

In the past year, I have had the opportunity to encounter a chok of a slightly different type: a law relating to our souls and our faith. I noticed that at particularly challenging moments, when a person might be in a state of not having the strength to continue, he has to continue anyway – for no reason and without any explanation, as in “This is the decree of the Torah”. This is the way things are.

Sometimes he has to carry with him other people who might be awaiting his smile, and he finds he cannot supply it. People are depending on his strength and he feels he has none. They want to hear his words, and they have disappeared. He is silent. Then he will be able, if he will only wish it, to meet that soul-and-faith law that was instilled in him and says to him: You do have the strength to go on; you do have the ability to smile and to be joyous; you do have those words of encouragement and empowerment for others. You have all this because Hashem instilled these abilities in you, as a hard-core decree.

And I saw something else: I saw that when people believe in this soul-and-faith law, they can lift themselves up and continue forward, their heads held high, with confidence, emunah and joy.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Do You Believe In Young People?

 

Dear Friends,

 

I am only 42 years old, and I admit that I don’t listen very seriously to young people, say, 22-year-olds. That is, I do listen but I don’t consider their opinions and abilities to be very important. Something in me says, “Well, when you grow up, you’ll understand.”

I admit that I was also on the other side – more than once. When I was much younger, people who were older than me – double my age – didn’t always take me and my abilities seriously. The truth is, looking down from the height of my 42 years of being on this earth, I rather understand them.

My mother, may she live, was 22 years old when she went into a yechidut (personal meeting with the Rebbe) for the first time. She came for a visit that included her older brother’s wedding, and went into the Rebbe to be blessed. But the Rebbe, who was over sixty years old, saw this little 22-year-old girl and said to her: “You have strengths, you have abilities. Go speak to girls in the summer camps: you can influence them. Do it.” She tried to object, perhaps argue with him. After all, a young woman from a small settlement in Israel that has one car, a few telephone lines and many horses and cars can travel all over the United States and speak in public? And influence people?

My mother didn’t believe at the time in herself and her abilities, but the Rebbe believed in her. And whoever knows her today knows that he was right – very right. Today there are hundreds and perhaps thousands of women who have been influenced by her. It may be right to say that Rebbe not only believed in her: he actually revealed her, revealed her to herself, revealed to her what her true abilities are.

I didn’t come to write about my mother, but about the Rebbe. Because what the Rebbe did with my mother he did with everyone he was in contact with. He told all of them: “You don’t really know yourselves; you can do more.” And actually, he didn’t only say it in the past – he’s still saying it. Whoever is willing to open his heart and mind will know to go to the books and the recordings and there he (or she) will hear that the Lubavitcher Rebbe believes in him much more than he believes in himself.

This Shabbat is the 3 rd of Tammuz, the day that the Rebbe left this material world and moved on to the spiritual one. And as strange as this might sound, and as surprising as this may be, the Rebbe is present in our world more and more every year. But this recognition is the lot only of those who are willing, as mentioned, to open their hearts and minds.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

80% or 20%?

Listen to something that for me is a key point in life.

A friend of mine was about to open a new business in a field that was quite crowded. I am not a businessman, and I don’t understand much about these things, but this was a long time ago, when I saw myself as being very wise, and I thought it only right to inform him that the market is very crowded in the area he is going into. He is taking a great risk, I said, and added a few more things that clueless people say to someone who is trying to open a new business. The friend, who is about twenty years older than me, said: “From my experience, the founders of eighty percent of the businesses you see around her were told by eighty percent of the people they spoke to that the business will not succeed due to some “logical” reason or another. The businesses that survived were those of good businessmen who listened to only twenty percent of their advisors.”

His business, by the way, is alive and kicking and producing a good living for his family, Thank G-d.

And, also by the way, since then I don’t feel so wise anymore.

Parashat Shelach is a lesson for life.

Before facing any challenge, and during one as well, it is worthwhile to open the parasha and study it – or even just read it as a story.

In any challenging situation or before any fateful decision we have in front of us the data. The data is dry, almost black-and-white. Our decision will depend on our interpretation of these data or events – the color we will give them. Will we leave them in black, will we paint them in glowing colors of pink and yellow, or will we choose heavy, dark grays and browns?

Twelve leaders of the nation went to tour the land. They were in it for forty days, saw all of it: the giant, fierce people, the beautiful vistas, its large and well-fortified cities and its mountains, some of which were settled by the Hittites, the Yevusites and the Emorites. They saw and even carried jointly its huge, heavy fruits. They also toured its streams and rivers, where the Canaanites lived. They all agreed that it was a land flowing with milk and honey.

These were the data. The rest was interpretation.

Almost like in my friend’s statement, here, too, eighty-three percent of the twelve people sent painted the data black, gray and brown. “But the people that dwell in the land are powerful… We cannot ascend to that people for it is too strong for us… the land devours its inhabitants.” And, of course, the wonderful summary that explains all: “and we were like grasshoppers in our eyes,” so, naturally, “so we were in their eyes.”

But Calev ben Yefuneh, a bit like my friend, painted those exact same details in entirely different colors: We shall surely ascend and conquer it… the land that we passed through to spy it out – the land is very, very good! If Hashem desires us, He will bring us to this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey.”

And this, friends, is the entire story – the story of the lives of all of us.

May we be successful in our endeavors!

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

I could see the pain in their eyes

Last Tuesday I was invited to an evening in the home of some friends in Jerusalem. On the right there was a long table, beautifully and elegantly set, and on the left there was a trio of musicians with their instruments. The room was brilliantly lit. Slowly it filled with people. Most of them I didn’t know, but very soon I understood that all those sitting around me are coping these days with a relative who has some form of cancer, with all the difficult treatments involved. For one it was his wife, for another it was a young son, and by the third it was a daughter. In the fourth case it was the person himself who was about to complete treatment, and a fifth had either a grandson or a nephew with the disease.

The musicians played, the hosts took out the best of their drinks, until one would have thought that we are all brothers celebrating a happy family event. We said “L’chaim” to each other, and even added some words of encouragement.

Suddenly all became quiet, and the oldest in the group, an impressive person with a long white beard, began to speak. He too has a child in his family who is in the midst of difficult treatments. “Master of all Worlds… Melech Abir (Mighty King)” he began, quoting from a wonderful prayer said after Shalom Aleichem on Friday night in many communities. And immediately, without waiting or even checking to see if anyone was listening to him, he continued with another quote from that same prayer, a quote that explained what was happening in front of our eyes, around that table: “I thank you, Hashem, my G-d and the G-d of my forefathers, for all the chesed that you have done with me and will do for me and my family in the future.”

The man explained himself at length, but I didn’t need anything more. I looked around me: Jews were sitting here while in their homes or in the hospital there was right then a little boy whose hair has fallen out; perhaps there was a little girl who was very weak after a treatment. They were singing and dancing, saying “L’chaim” out of a sense of joy, with complete trust and fiery faith exhibited by their entire body, without a sound, without a word: “Master of the all Worlds,Mighty King, I thank you for all the chesed that you will do with me in the future.”

When the man finished speaking, we jumped up spontaneously and started to dance – a dance of true joy, a dance of Jews sharing a similar trial, a dance of solid faith that nothing bad comes down from Heaven and that everything is for the good. But in it was also a heartfelt beseeching that this good be revealed, seeable. It was a dance of a child who is sure that his father just wants the best for him.

I was standing a bit to the side, looking at them. Me they could not fool: I could see the pain in their eyes. I well recognized it – their pain – too well, but alongside the pain I saw the hope, the faith and the thankfulness for the chesed that will come. I was witness to what this nation, which I love so much – the Jewish nation – is made of.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

the people were completely different

 We are facing the longest parasha in the Torah: Parashat Naso, which we will read tomorrow outside of Eretz Yisrael, has one hundred and seventy-six psukim in it. I don’t know if there is a connection, but it is interesting to note that that is exactly the same number of psukim as Psalm 119 – the longest one in Tehillim, also one hundred and seventy six. It is also the same number of dapim (double-sided pages) in the longest masechet (tractate) in the Gemara, masechet Bava Batra: one hundred and seventy-six.

Parashat Naso will be the bar mitzvah parasha of our son Natan next year. In his excitement he has already checked and counted – and gotten scared, as well. One hundred and seventy-six psukim? How will I learn so many? But I have already reassured him, saying that seventy-one of the psukim repeat themselves, word for word and in the same te’amim (cantillation). So no need to worry.

The seventy-one psukim that repeat themselves in the parasha are those that describe the offerings brought by the nesi’im, the leaders of the tribes. So except for the different names of the nesi’im, the description of the offerings is completely identical. Natan asked me: Why? If everything is the same, the Torah could have described these offerings and sacrifices once and mention that there were twelve of each. An obvious question.

But the point is that the Torah could not have done so. Because the Torah is not a storybook or an accountant’s ledger. The Torah is a book of deeds, and therefore the offering of each and every nasi of each and every tribe has to be counted, read and described. Although the offerings and their description were identical, the sacrifices and offerings themselves were not: they were different oxen, different rams, different silver bowls etc. Secondly, and in my opinion much more significant, is that the person bringing the offerings was an entirely different person, having different intentions, different prayers, different needs, besides the fact that he was representing a different tribe.

It is like women lighting Shabbat candles. The candles are of the same type, the blessing is the same blessing, and the intention of doing so for the honor of Shabbat is also the same in every Jewish home every Friday. But can we say that the mother lighting the candles is also the same as the others? Would anyone think that her thoughts are the same thoughts? Are the mothers’ prayers and supplications when they cover their faces identical and equal in every Jewish home? On those same candles, one prays that her son will develop a desire to learn Torah; another prays for good health for her children; a third will ask that peace will reign between all the segments of the nation, and the fourth will beg for love, brotherhood, peace and friendship in her own home.

So too, regarding the nesi’im and their offerings. The numbers were the same, the materials the same, but the people bringing these offerings were completely different; their prayers and supplications were unique to each and every one of them.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

A personal talk

 I have a memory of an event that I assume a few of the readers also experienced in their childhood. I did something not so good in school. The principal came into the classroom and started reprimanding all of us: “You cannot behave this way to teachers. It is forbidden to show such chutzpah to them, and it is forbidden to disrupt the learning” etc. from my point of view, that was just fine – because he was speaking to the entire class in general, leaving me out of it. But suddenly, without any prior warning, the principal said: “I mean you, Zalmen.”

Oops. At that moment everything changed. From my point of view this was no longer a general mussar lesson for the class, but a personal talk aimed at me. The entire event went from being general to being particular. Before this I wasn’t really listening and didn’t care that much; and suddenly I was in the center – listening to every word, and every word was relevant to me – right on target.

Such an event happened on the sixth of Sivan, 3331 years ago in the Sinai desert. An entire nation gathered at the foot of Har Sinai. Just the men, ages twenty and over, numbered about 600,000. Together with the women and children, the number probably came to a few million. The Creator came down onto the mountain to give His commandments to His people. But already at the third word everyone understood that this was not a general speech but a personal talk; not a class event but a private conversation. “Anochi Hashem Elokeicha” – I am Hashem, your (in the singular) G-d – He said, and not “Anochi Hashem Elokeichem” (in the plural). And so, commandment after commandment: “Remember the day of the Sabbath” – again, in the singular. “Honor your father and your mother” – the same. “Do not steal.” I don’t know how many of them were called Zalman, but it is clear that they understood at that moment that the principal had said, “I mean you, Zalmen.”

Because that is the Torah. The relationship is personal; the contact direct. Every act is connected; every action has its influence. Every individual can change. Every person is worth the entire world.

 

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Same’ach,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

The Eggplant Effect

 

Ever heard of the Eggplant Effect?

If you will ever happen to stay in our house and listen to our conversations, you might hear me or my wife suddenly saying, “Yes, that’s the Eggplant Effect.” No, it’s not that we have invented a mysterious family code or set up a secret society; it is just something that happened to us and since then it has come to symbolize a state of affairs.

It goes like this: For years we made an eggplant and mayonnaise salad – known in America, strangely enough, as baba ghanoush – the following way: we would roast eggplants on a skillet (there are no gas ranges here) until they soften, mash them manually with a fork, add fresh crushed garlic, a touch of salt and Thomy mayonnaise, and the salad would be ready. We used to say that there is no such thing as a guest who could withstand this salad. It would always be gobbled up quickly, and when no one was looking, people would even mop up the remnants with challah.

But, things changed. Due to life’s pressures and having young children we made a few changes. At the beginning we just softened the eggplants in the oven, without roasting them; after a while we began to use a food processor to mash them, not a fork. Later on, we were often short for time and instead of fresh crushed garlic we would put in garlic powder. Well, at that point we noticed that our eggplant salad remained on the plates. People wouldn’t take much, wouldn’t eat much, and certainly wouldn’t mop up what remained. That was the moment that we understood that we had gone too far and that the rules of preparing eggplant must be abided. We looked into the matter, and very quickly returned to the original recipe: roasting, mashing, crushing. And the guests went back to mopping.

Since then, whenever we notice changes in how things are going, we know that the Eggplant Effect is at work. We immediately check to see where we have drifted away from the recipe. If you see that a certain child is behaving differently – perhaps his marks are dropping – see what has been changed in the recipe. Is it possible that once upon a time you used to put more time into learning the material with him? If people treat you differently at work, is it possible that you are being less friendly and outgoing? If your success rate has decreased, it’s a good idea to check what has changed in the process. Have you skipped something, or perhaps you are cutting corners? There is a pretty good chance that what is going on here is the Eggplant Effect.

Why was I reminded of all this today? Because today I was visited by a dear Jew who went through a long process of doing teshuva, but recently he has been investing less in his spiritual life – he comes less, claims to be too busy. We learned the first pasuk of parashat Bechukotai, which we will read this Shabbat outside of Eretz Yisrael. “If you will walk in My statutes…” I said to him: “Listen, my friend. The statutes and their details have meaning. They influence us and our way of life.” I told him about our Eggplant Effect and he understood that if he changes even the seemingly minor aspects of his behavior, it is like exchanging fresh crushed garlic with garlic powder: the result just won’t be the same.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

What’s your center?

Have you heard about the “center”?

If you have seen a coach recently, or if you have even read articles by coaches of this generation, you must have encountered the concept of “center”. Life coaches will tell you that in everything you do in life – any job or project, task or even trip – you should make sure that you are not losing your center – in other words, that you are not losing your focus. When one knows why one is getting up in the morning – that is one’s center. And if one’s day is built around it, one’s schedule and choices will be clear and correct, and have a minimum of frustrations. When a family goes off on a trip, and knows the trip’s purpose, that is the trip’s center, and from then one the choice of sites or the effort and cost of the choice will be right, and healthier, because they will mirror the trip’s center.

By the way, when a man or woman are searching for a life-partner, they can save themselves most of the doubts and deliberations if they know what their center is in life.

In the second passuk of parashat Behar, the Torah tells us what the center of our life is.

Parashat Behar, which we will read tomorrow outside of Eretz Yisrael, opens with the mitzvah of Shmittah, but the order of the psukim is somewhat puzzling. The command to make a year of Shmittah, a year during which one does not work the land, comes before the Torah tells us to work the land for six years. “When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Sabbath rest of Hashem. Six years you may sow your field and for six years you may prune your vineyard.” Logically, the correct order should have been: come into the land, work for six years and then make a Sabbath year, a shmittah. Why did the Torah write it that way?

In a general letter that the Rebbe wrote during the days of Selichot of 1965 “to sons and daughters of Israel in every place,” he brought up this question, and explained: “The order in the Torah is also a teaching in itself. The order in relation to the shmittah teaches us what our approach to life should be: when a person comes to a land and has to arrange his life, he should know that the foremost, most important thing, both in terms of worldview and as a goal, is ‘Sabbath for Hashem.’ Not the material, earthly pursuits, but the spiritual and holiness-oriented ones. This approach ensures that he will not drown in material, earthly matters. Moreover, when this idea is always in front of him, the six days of grey routine change; they lose a great part of their everyday-ness. They send out more light and are fuller with content. This is the way to create a full and harmonious life.”

The Shmittah, which is a Sabbath for Hashem, is what should be the “center” of the six years of plowing and sowing, just like the weekly Shabbat and what it represents should be the center of the six days of the week. And if there is a clear center, everything is much simpler.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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