Printed from ChabadBasel.com

Rabbi's weekly Blog

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

By what right am i requesting anything

Sometimes, when I approach Hashem to pray to Him, a thought goes through my mind, saying, “By what right are you requesting anything?” I’m not talking about ordinary, everyday prayers, but prayers when faced with difficulties, when one is finding it hard to cope, when one is in serious distress.

With Hashem, after all, there’s no room for acting. We don’t fake piety; we don’t boast emptily about what we don’t have, and we don’t even tweak our CV’s. We approach prayer with the clear understanding that He knows what we are thinking deep inside, so how and in what merit do we really dare to ask?

At the beginning of this week’s parasha, Rashi describes prayer by commenting on Moshe Rabbeinu’s prayer, and on the way he also answers our question.

The parasha opens with Moshe Rabbeinu’s beseeching Hashem to allow him to enter the Holy Land. “Va’etchanan (I implored) Hashem at that time,” says Moshe, and Rashi explains: “Va’etchanan – [the word] chanun always implies a matnat chinam – an undeserved gift. Although the righteous could cite their good deeds, all they ask for from Hashem is an undeserved gift.” And little me clings to this idea, is encouraged and understands that imploring Hashem and requesting things from Him is, in its essence, a request for a gift that we have no right to ask for. And therefore, whether you have merits or not, you can ask and beseech.

Rashi goes on to speak about the power of prayer in every situation. Here, Moshe Rabbeinu is asking and imploring even though it has already been decreed by Hashem that he will not enter the land. Therefore, he opens his speech with the words, “You have begun to show Your servant…” Explains Rashi: by saying that, Moshe is saying to Hashem that Hashem began to teach him the power of prayer in any situation.

And then we reach the sweet conclusion of Moshe’s prayer: “for what power is there in the heaven or on earth that can perform [anything like] your deeds and Your mighty acts?” and as Rashi expands this prayer: “You are not like a flesh-and-blood king, who has advisors and associates who protest when he wants to act with lovingkindness and contrary to His usual traits; there is no one who will protest if you forgive me and annul your decree.”

So we see that even the great Moshe Rabbeinu, the person who brought the Ten Plagues on the Egyptians, split the sea, brought down the Tablets of the Law and spoke to Hashem face-to-face, as it were, in the end, when he needed a salvation, he prayed like a Yiddische Mama praying for her children.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

I start with one spoon

Everybody speaks about sinat chinam (baseless hatred) and yearns for ahavat chinam (unconditional love). I read and hear calls that go out into space, and requests aimed at the public, that it is time to stop all this polarization of society and hatred, and to engage in generous amounts of ahavat chinam. And I think that every great thing can be obtained if you start small. For instance, when I want to clear up the playroom after a vacation day, or the kitchen on a long Friday afternoon, at the first moment it seems a difficult task, almost impossible. But as I have experience in these realms, I know that instead of trying to tackle the whole kitchen, I start with one spoon, and then just one cup and one plate, and suddenly it all looks different.

That is the way it is with any change we want to make in our private, neighbourly and even national lives, and of course also when aiming for ahavat chinam. Instead of changing the whole world at once, let’s start from one small act, and then another one, and suddenly we will see how our environment has become more pleasant, and so on.

Here is a story that I heard from my father, may he live, many times; a story that each and every one of us can adopt. A dear and simple chassid lived in Kfar Chabad, and his name was R. Yoshe (Yosef) Levenherz z”l. Yoshe was an honest person, as they say in Yiddish, “an pshetlach” (untranslatable, unfortunately). My father grew up with him and the rest of his brothers, back in Czernowitz in the Ukraine. The Wishedski and Levenherz families were and still are true friends of each other.

One evening, between Mincha and Maariv, R. Yoshe approached my father and asked for a sum of money – not large. It was a request between friends, in the style of “Give me, I need it and I just don’t have it with me. I’ll return it tomorrow.” I assume that he himself had given what had been in his pocket to someone who just happened to need it, as was the custom of the Levenerz family, and now he needed a bit more. Father, who had no money on him, said, “I don’t have.” Yoshe Levenherz looked at him, his face perfectly serious, and scolded (!) him: “How can a Jew walk around with no money in his pocket? What will he do if someone will need money, and ask him to do a favor and lend him some?”

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Every Journey has a meaning

When one encounters a mashal – a parable – brought by Chazal, it is worthwhile to spend some time thinking about every detail in it, because Chazal chose each and every one of their words carefully.

On the second pasuk in parashat Masei, which says, “Moshe wrote their goings forth according to their journeys,” Rashi brings the following mashal: What is this like? Like a king whose son was sick, and he took him somewhere to heal him. When they were on their way back (home), his father started counting all the journeys, and said to him: “Here we slept,” Here something happened to us,” “Here you were afraid.”

In other words, it is quite clear that Rashi is explaining to us, through this parable, that the reason for noting all of Bnei Yisrael’s journeys in the wilderness was not just in order to keep a record of them, but so that we will understand that these journeys had meaning, a goal and a reason. Therefore, the father, with his now-healthy son, retraces these moments of challenge when he was sick, because that way he shows him that they are meaningful.

And why is it emphasized in the mashal that the father is mentioning the journeys particularly when they are on their way back? Because many times during a journey, especially when it is difficult, it is impossible to understand it and its reason. Moreover, sometimes it is extremely hard to digest it. But when the father is returning with his recovered son, he is able to look back and see how each step of the journey was really a step towards good health.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Greatness

 In this week’s parasha,Hashem agrees to accept the demand of the daughters of Tzelofchad, who had insisted that they receive their rights in inheriting property in the Land of Israel – as it says, “The daughters of Tzelofchad speak properly; you shall surely give them a possession of inheritance”. A moment later, Moshe Rabbeinu, too, had the courage to stand his ground and asked that his sons inherit him. As Rashi says, “The time has come for me to demand my needs, that my sons will inherit my greatness.”

As is known, Hashem did not accept this request and instructed him to appoint Yehoshua as his heir, but the request was actually rather reasonable. A person has devoted his entire life to some cause – isn’t it understandable that he should ask that his sons inherit his status?

We have all seen how Moshe Rabbeinu suffered with Bnei Yisrael. Every two weeks or so, everyone someone was shaming him for some reason or other. They spoke and incited against him, complained endlessly, and once almost stoned him. Moreover, he himself once said to Hashem at a particularly difficult moment, “Did I conceive this entire people or did I give birth to it, that you say to me ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a suckling?” On another occasion he said, “How can I bear by myself your contentiousness, your burdens and your quarrels?” after all this, if he loves his own sons, why should he request that they carry on with this exhausting work that he himself calls “slavery”?

This question arises in me every time I see Chabad shluchim, who after years of self-sacrifice and hard work, search for a similar mission for their married children. Moreover, many children of shluchim themselves search for the opportunity to engage in that same kind of self-sacrifice, even though no one knows better than them the difficulties and the challenges of their parents.

My daughter Mossi gave me the answer to this question before last Purim. She is learning in a Chabad school in Israel, and asked to come home for Purim. It seemed a bit unreasonable and farfetched to fly home for a weekend, when two weeks later she would be coming anyway for Pesach vacation, even if the flight is rather cheap. Furthermore, in Israel she would be able to rest among members of the extended family, whereas at home she would be working around the clock. She insisted, so I said, “You know what, Mossi? Explain to me why it is important for you to be with us for Purim, and convince me of this importance.”

There was silence on the line, and then she said. “I’m not used to experiencing the holidays in a regular community. It’s beautiful and pure and great to celebrate with family, but I miss the belonging to that great thing – I miss the meaningfulness of the shlichut. Purim for me is the work and the unending running around in the attempt to bring the holiday to every Jew – that’s why I want to come.”

I thought that that, possibly, is the reason that Moshe Rabbeinu asked that his sons inherit his position. He knew how hard it could be, but he also knew how much greatness there is in his work, and he wanted to give that to his sons. Perhaps that is why Rashi uses the expression, “That my sons will inherit my greatness”?

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Shem Hachiluf and Shem Hama’alah

 

Shem Hachiluf and Shem Hama’alah – ever heard of them?

Sefer Hama’amarim (Book of Essays), written by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn in Yiddish (there is a translation as well), is a wonderful book with easily understood Chassidic sayings. In it, it is mentioned that there is a difference between the two times in the Torah when it says, “Your name shall no longer be…” Once, it is in connection to Avraham Avinu, when a heh was added to his name – “Your name shall no longer be called Avram, but your name shall be Avraham.” The second time is in connection to Yaakov Avinu, when he received the name Yisrael: “Your name is Yaakov. Your name shall no always be called Yaakov, but Yisrael shall be your name.”

When it comes to Avraham, from the moment his name was changed, he was no longer referred to by his former name, Avram; whereas in the case of Yaakov, the Torah continues to call him by both names – sometimes Yaakov and sometimes Yisrael.

In Sefer Hama’amarim, the Rebbe teaches us that Avraham is a “changed name” – Shem Chiluf. In other words, it completely replaces the former name. But the name Yisrael is Shem Hama’alah, meaning, it is a step up from the former name, but does not replace it.

The difference between them is as mentioned in the Gemara in masechet Nedarim (32b): Avram in Gematriya is 243, symbolizing the fact that in his service of Hashem he had reached the level of controlling 243 out of his 248 limbs, and then Hashem added the letter heh, which expresses his achieving control over five more limbs that are especially hard to control, such as eyes and ears. Since then, he becomes Avraham = 248.

In contrast to that, the name Yisrael is coming to express another way of serving Hashem – indeed, loftier and different, but an additional way, and not coming to take the place of the previous way. The name Yaakov symbolizes the service of a slave, as it says, “And now, hear Yaakov, my slave.” A slave does anything his master tells him to do, but not always with feelings of love and heart-penetrating joy. The name Yisrael symbolizes the service of a son, as it says, “My son, my firstborn, Yisrael.” A son serves his father with love and inner joy.

That’s what it says in parashat Balak: “How good are your tents, Yaakov, your dwelling-places, Yisrael.” The service of a slave, Yaakov, is practical and important, but external; it doesn’t penetrate. Therefore, it is like a tent, an external cover. The name Yisrael, on the other hand, represents the service of a son. It is an internal service that arises from the heart of the person. Therefore, it is like a dwelling place – it dwells in the innermost parts of his heart and soul.

The service of a son is indeed loftier than that of a slave, but both of them are necessary. Sometimes we wake up in the morning full of joy and excitement connected to the feeling of holiness and mitzvot, and we do our work with heartfelt enthusiasm, like a son who serves his beloved father. But there are times when we get up feeling weakened and lacking desire to serve, and yet, we still get up and do what has to be done, even if it is without much joy and enthusiasm – like a slave serving a master.

Therefore, on the Yamim Noraim (High Holy Days), we beseech Hashem: “If like sons, if like slaves. If like sons, have mercy on us like a father has mercy on his sons. And if like slaves, our eyes turn to you that you should favor us.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedsk

to close a deal with G-d

As I was driving along yesterday, I was listening to an Israeli radio program. A snake catcher was talking about his rather challenging and somewhat dangerous work. When the interviewer asked him, “What interests you about snakes?” he answered: “There is something mysterious about snakes. The word nachash (snake) has the same root as the word nachesh (to guess). Why? Because with snakes you never know what its response will be. It’s all guesses.” And then he told how he once crawled in the dark under a house in order to catch a snake, and the snake was in a position of victory. “I was already beginning to close a deal with G-d about a good place in Gan Eden, but the snake decided to have mercy on me; he didn’t bite me, but instead passed over me and disappeared.”

Whoever knows this week’s parasha and me, understand that at that moment I knew that I had my weekly post…

In parashat Chukat, Bnei Yisrael once again complained about Moshe and Aharon, and, in response, Hashem sent poisonous snakes to attack them. “And they bit the people, and many of the people of Israel died.” It seems that snakes can be very convincing: the fact is that it didn’t take long for Bnei Yisrael to come and say, “We have sinned, as we have spoken against Hashem and you.” Moshe went to pray for the people, and Hashem instructed him to create a snake out of copper and to place it up high. “Make for yourself a fiery serpent and place it on a pole, and it will be that anyone who was bitten will look at it and live.”

Chazal in masechet Rosh Hashana say: “Can a snake kill or bring to life? But, rather, when Yisrael would look up and subject their heart to their Father in Heaven, they would be healed.” In other words, the purpose of the copper snake that was on a pole was that Bnei Yisrael would look up to Heaven and do teshuva, or, perhaps, as the snake catcher said so aptly, “close a deal with G-d about a good place in Gan Eden.”

He is right, that anonymous snake catcher. A snake is guesswork. One cannot know whether he will kill or give life. On one hand, death came to the world because of him. After the sin of eating from the tree of Knowledge, which he engineered successfully, Hashem said to Adam: “For you are earth and to earth you shall return.” In our parasha, as well, the fiery serpents bit and killed many Jews.

On the other hand, it seems that the cure for death is that copper snake. Anyone who looks at it is healed, and lives. The snake has also become an international symbol of medicine, as one can see in the logo of the World Health Organization.

So, as Chazal asked: Does a snake kill or does it bring to life?

And the answer is exactly their answer: the snake, like any creature in this world – and it doesn’t matter whether it crawls on the ground, walks on four legs or on two – is an agent of Hashem. If Hashem wants – it will kill. If Hashem wants a person to live – he will. And all we have to do is look up to Heaven and close a good deal with Him.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Go out and act

The Rabbi of St. Petersburg came into the office of the head of the community, placed his keys on the table and said, “I am resigning my position as rabbi!”

The head of the community was startled: “Rabbi, why?”

And the Rabbi answered: I am resigning because an old lady came to me yesterday and asked a question for which I had no answer. And since I see my role as being that of answering questions, I am resigning.”

The head of community, still in shock, asked some more: “Rabbi, what question could an old, simple Jewish lady ask for which the rabbi of St. Petersburg has no answer?”

“The old lady, came in,” answered the Rabbi, “banged on the table and shouted: “Rabbi, who needs you here?!?”

“And I,” continued the Rabbi, “have been walking around for two days trying unsuccessfully to figure out the answer to that question.”

In this week’s parasha, we see that Moshe Rabbeinu had to cope with the same question. But his solution was not to resign, not even to stay within the confines of his office; rather, he went out and acted.

The war of Korach and his group – headed by the troublemakers Datan and Aviram – was coming to a head. They, in their audacity, were shouting and saying to Moshe Rabbeinu: Rabbi, who needs you here? And Moshe, he sent for them; he just wanted to plead with them. Bu they refused to his request, and said, “We will not come up.” Hashem had already told Moshe to move away from them, because soon the earth will open up and swallow Korach and all of his cohorts. “Come up from around the dwelling of Korach, Datan and Aviram.” But Moshe did not give up yet. He put his own personal honor and reputation on the line and still tried to talk to them. “And Moshe got up and went to Datan and Aviram.” The faithful shepherd didn’t give up as long as there was some hope. He got up and went to them in one last attempt to return them to the fold.

Moshe Rabbeinu’s way of handling things as the leader of the nation is the essence of the shlichut – the mission – that the Lubavitcher Rebbe taught everyone. The Rebbe demanded from everyone – his shluchim, his chassidim, and really from anyone who came in contact with him, directly or through his teachings – that they be activists; that they should set aside their own honor and egoistic calculations that say, “He should come to me if he wants me.” Go out into the world, said the Rebbe. Go out to every man, woman and child, with light, love and authentic Jewish warmth. Bring the good that is within you to every place and every person.

Today is the day before the 24th anniversary of the Rebbe’s passing, which will be noted tomorrow. It is only right that we should remember this message. This is the task of Moshe Rabbeinu. This is the approach of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and also that of anyone who wishes to devote himself or herself to his way: to leave the warm and comfortable haven, to move beyond one’s emotional limitations – to go out there and disseminate warmth, love and joy.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

try the large map

The military cabinet of the Russian Tsar was in despair. Napoleon’s army was in the process of conquering vast tracts of land; cities and villages were overtaken easily, and he was close to St. Petersburg, the capital. The Tsar was listening to the army generals, and they were showing him on the map how close the French army was. “In such a situation,” they summed up the discussion, “we haven’t any way at all to prepare a counter attack.”

The Tsar nodded, and then motioned to his personal military secretary to come to him. “Go to my office,” he said to him, “and bring back the large map of Russia that is hanging on the wall.” This map was ten times bigger than the map in the war cabinet room.

The map was brought, and then the Tsar turned to the army generals and said: “Now, explain the situation again. How close is Napoleon, and why don’t we have any chance of advancing?” On the large map, Napoleon didn’t look so close anymore, and suddenly it seemed that there was hope and that it wasn’t too late to go out on an offensive and save the situation.

I don’t know if this story really happened or not, but I use it often when I have to explain this concept to myself or to someone else who is at a crossroads in his life, and it seems to him that all is lost – it’s too late and all that can be done, as the saying goes, will be too little and too late. At that point I try to enlarge the map, stretch the picture of the situation both vertically and horizontally, and suddenly it seems that every step and action, which on the small map seemed barely noticeable and unimportant, can be seen on the large map as being significant and very impressive. And then one acquires the desire and the strength to prepare an offensive.

Presented in honor of the story of “Pesach Sheni” that appears in this week’s parasha, parashat Beha’alotcha. There, too, it seemed that all was lost, and that there was no way to make up for the missed Pesach. But the bigger picture told another story, and they were granted another chance.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Anyone can be a Levi

One of the most famous schul jokes is about a man who wanted to be a Cohen. He plunked thousands of dollars on the rabbi’s desk, a donation to the schul, so that the rabbi would authorize his being a Cohen. In the discussion that followed, the rabbi asked the man why it was so important for him to be a Cohen. “Well, my grandfather was a Cohen, my father was a Cohen, so I too want to be a Cohen,” answered the man petulantly.

I don’t know about Cohanim, but the Rambam says that anyone can be a Levi.

In chapter 13 of the halachas of Shmittah  and Yovel in the book of Zera’im, the Rambam has thirteen paragraphs in which he lists the laws pertaining to Leviyim. And at the end he says: “And not the tribe of Levi, alone, but rather any person in the world whose spirit has moved him and his knowledge has taught him to separate himself to stand before Hashem, to serve Him, to know Hashem, and he went straight just as G-d made him, and removed from his neck the yoke of the many calculations that people seek – he has become sanctified, kodesh kodashim, and Hashem will be his lot and inheritance for ever and ever; and Hashem will give him in this world what is enough for him, just like He gave the Cohanim and the Leviyim.”

The essence of the tribe of Levi is a true willingness “to stand before Hashem and to serve him.” and this comes, of course, together with a real ability to elevate oneself up above the vanities of this world and even above what is considered by people to be appropriate. This, after all, is the meaning of the name of this week’s parasha, parashat Nasso. When Hashem says, “Nasso – raise up – the heads of the sons of Gershon,” He is commanding Moshe Rabbeinu to count the Levites between the ages of 30 and 50. After he has counted the rest of Bnei Yisrael in parashat Bamidbar, it is now the turn of the Levites to be counted. They are counted separately, because they are different. They have been sanctified “to stand before Hashem and serve Him.” The Rebbe said several times that the word Nasso was chosen intentionally, because it expresses the power that they received from Hashem to rise up and be above all the materialism of the world, its limitations and the supposedly enlightened conventions of human society.

And then the Rambam comes and declares that not only descendants of Levi can do so, but “any person in the world” can do so. In spite of the fact that such a person can never be counted among the tribe of Levi, he has the possibility to choose to live in a world of devotion to a greater goal, and that way he will be elevated above the vanities of this world. Chassidim call this in Yiddish “a tefach hecher” – one handbreath above the world.

May we be successful!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

you should have a picture of King David

 

Are you a Rabbi? Well, if so, you should have a big picture of David Hamelech hanging in your office.

When you find a person sitting in front of you, whom, in your opinion, has no yichus (illustrious lineage), raise your eyes, look at the picture and see the picture of the person who is possibly the most important figure in Judaism – David Hamelech.

His great-grandmother was called Ruth. She was a convert, who, once she told Naomi, her mother-in-law, “Your nation is my nation and your G-d is my G-d, wherever you die I shall die, and there I will be buried”, started on a long and difficult journey.

Ruth’s husband, Boaz, was descended from Peretz, the son of Yehudah, who was born with his brother Zerach as a result of an unpleasant extra-marital affair that took place between Yehudah and Tamar, his former daughter-in-law.

So look again at the person in front of you and think: is there a good chance that this person will be a king? Maybe, if we give him a real chance.

And if the person sitting in front of you looks strange and alien; perhaps there are even bad, unpleasant rumors about him, look again at the picture and remember that the “illustrious” lineage of David Hamelech was only the introduction. “I was strange to my brothers, and alien to the sons of my mother,” said David Hamelech about himself, and he knew what he was talking about. His father, Yishai, despised him, thinking that he was a mamzer – illegitimate. His family rejected him and sent him to shepherd the sheep, far away from home. He was so much disregarded, that when the prophet Shmuel came with the anointing oil to anoint one of the Yishai’s sons as king, Yishai presented only seven out of his eight children – those whom he considered worthy of kingship. David wasn’t even an option, in his father’s mind.

“Yishai passed his seven sons before Shmuel. And Shmuel said to Yishai: Hashem has not chosen these.” And then Shmuel asks Yishai: “Are these all the boys?” And Yishai answers, almost against his will, “there is one more little one, and he shepherds the sheep.” I have another young son, but he is out of the question. He is a shepherd. By the way, this “little son” was twenty-nine years old already. Yishai sent for David, “and he was ruddy, with fair eyes and a pleasing appearance.” Immediately, Hashem said to Shmuel: “Arise and anoint him, for this is he!”

The Gemara in mashechet Pesachim, 119, discusses the psukim of Hallel that we sing so beautifully on festivals, but perhaps don’t always know or think about their meaning:

Rav Shmuel bar Nachmani says there that these verses contain a fascinating, moving and even painful discussion between David, Yishai and the other brothers.

David thanks Hashem for all the suffering he went through until he was appointed king and says: “I thank you, Hashem, for answering me and becoming my salvation.”

Yishai, his father, admits having despised David, and responds, perhaps with shame, maybe in surprise, but certainly with joy: “The stone the builders despised has become the cornerstone.”

David’s brothers, still in complete shock from the wonder they have witnessed, say: “This emanated from Hashem; it is wondrous in our eyes.”

And the prophet Shmuel said, “This is the day Hashem has made; let us rejoice and be glad on it.”

The holiday of Shavuot is the also the day of David Hamelech’s death. Perhaps this is the time for each and every one of us to remember: it doesn’t matter what people think and say about you; Hashem knows exactly who you are. And if He knows to appreciate you, what more do you need?

 

Shabbat Shalom, and Happy Shavuot,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

a sweet candy

There are Curses that are mentioned in this weeks torah portion Parshat Bechukotai, that are not easy to digest. The Torah tells us in detailed description what will happen in times of concealment. It will be really difficult, with severe hunger, poverty, torturing and pressing enemies, which is all very difficult to digest. But when you carefully study the verses, You see that hidden among the curses,  are promises of love and care, a sweet candy among all the bitterness and sourness. 
After G-d says that the land will be desolate because our enemies will drive us out of it, suddenly it adds a few more words, "and it will become desolate [also] of your enemies who live in it." 
That is the candy I'm referring to!!! Hashem promises that He will expel us from the land by saying, "I will make the Land desolate" but at the same time G-d adds and continues, He will guard it for us until we return. Any nation which will try to settle in it, will not succeed. As the verse says "and it will become desolate [also] of your enemies who live in it".

Behold, that promise has been kept!!
It's almost two thousands years in which G-d has kept that sweet promise which was mentioned among the curses "and it will become desolate [also] of your enemies who live in it".

In the Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, the sages speak of the signs of the end of days. Rabbi Abba brings the words of Ezekiel, in which he speaks to the "mountains of Israel" and says to them, "You will produce your branches, and you will bear your fruit for My people Israel." Says Rabbi Abba, "when you see the days when the Land of Israel ceases to be desolate, when the mountains of Israel give fruitful branches, then you will know that we are very close to redemption".

Not only the fact that now the Holy Land bears fruit, as it did not for the past two thousand years is a sign that the redemption is imminent. Also Isaiah's prophecy of the disarmament of weapons, attests to this as well. 
Like he says, "And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks". 
This verse, which is engraved on the wall of the United Nations building in New York, is materializing right now, before our very eyes, as the 'Democratic People's Republic of Korea' declares its willingness to disassociate itself from the most lethal weapons.

So what do WE do? We should ready ourselves for the coming of the Messiah speedily in our days.



Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalman Wishedski

I like Jewish jokes

 I like Jewish jokes. One of the better-known ones tells about Moishe who wanted to sell his car. On Friday night, in schul, between one Lecha Dodi and another, he remarked to his friend, Yankel: “Nicht Shabbos geret (not on Shabbat), but I’m selling my car.” Yankel thought and said, “Nicht Shabbos geret, I think it would be suitable for us. I’ll speak with my wife.” The next morning, during Shacharit, before the reading of the Torah, Yankel asked Moishe: “Nicht Shabbos geret, how much do you want for it?” “Nicht Shabbos geret,” answered Moishe, “Fifty-seven thousand.”

At minchah on Shabbos, Yankel stretched after his Shabbat afternoon nap and said: “My wife and I want to buy your car, nicht Shabbos geret, of course.” “Sorry,” answered Moishe, “but, nicht Shabbos geret, the car has been sold already.”

 

We all know that it is prohibited to work on Shabbat, and it is also prohibited to speak about business matters on Shabbat. Shabbat is kodesh LaShem – it is to be devoted to Hashem. But we don’t always remember clearly that just like it is prohibited to work on Shabbat, so it is incumbent upon us to labor during the six days of the week. As it says in parashat Emor, which we will read tomorrow (in the diaspora) in schul: “For six days labor may be done and on the seventh day is a day of complete rest.”

We are coming from Lag ba’Omer, the day of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the great disciple of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is associated mainly with the Zohar, but there is another well-known book that is called “Mechilta d’Rashbi.” So, in addition to the Mishnah and the Talmud we also have the Mechilta. The Mechilta is a collection of sayings, directions and midrashim of our Sages. Mechilta d’Rashbi, as one can imagine from its name, is considered to have been written by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, and one can say that its content comes from Rabbi Akiva’s study circle. This is logical, of course, when we know that Rabbi Akiva was Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s rebbe.

On the pasuk “Six days you shall work,” it says as follows: “The same way that Yisrael were commanded about the positive mitzvah of Shabbat, so they were commanded about the labor.” In other words, it’s not only a recommendation, but an actual mitzvah: it’s a mitzvah to work and make a living.

May we all have a Shabbat of rest and peace, preferably without “Nicht Shabbos geret.”

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

People give advice unthinkingly.

People give advice unthinkingly. Yes, unfortunately, this is really so. As an adult I have learned that much of the advice that people offer to others are not the result of an overall assessment of the situation. Usually the details are not completely accurate, and do not necessarily apply to the person who requested the advice.

Over the years I have learned whom to listen to anyway. Usually it is a person whom I consider to be a friend, with no agenda of his own beyond wanting to help me and who is a maven in realm in question.

For instance, when, over ten years ago, I wanted to buy a sefer Torah for the Chabad House, I heard all kinds of numbers and received all sorts of advice from people whose expertise consisted of having once heard the reading of the Torah. In the end, I set all of this aside, asked for writing examples from ten sofrim (ritual scribes), took them to a friend who is a sofer Stam, but who writes only tefillin and mezuzahs and not sifrei Torah, and he gave his completely objective and professional recommendation as to which sofer out of the ten to choose.

In parashat Kedoshim, which we will read tomorrow in all the communities outside of the Land of Israel, the Torah says, “Do not put a stumbling block in front of the blind.” Rashi explains with wonderful exactitude: “in front of someone who is blind in this area – don’t give him unsuitable advice.” In other words, included in this prohibition is giving advice without thinking the matter over carefully. Because if the advice is not good for him, it is like a stumbling block.

On Shabbat parashat Beshalach, 5748 (1984), as part of what seems to me to be the Rebbe’s preparing his chassidim for his passing, the Rebbe gave a number of pieces of advice and guidelines as to how to live one’s life. “In everything connected to livelihood and getting along in life,” said the Rebbe, “one must do things according to the advice of understanding friends, according to what it says in Mishlei, ‘salvation is in abundant counsel.’ In other words, one must be a maven, and then one can be an advisor. And ‘friends’ who want only good for him, they will look into his situation as necessary and give him good advice.”

And so, when we give someone advice, we must remember that in order to do so one needs an overall view, an understanding of the person’s situation, correct understanding of the topic and mainly, true caring. If we are not sure, it is better not to give advice.

And here is what the Rebbe said on Shabbat parashat Kedoshim, 5741 (1981): From those words of Rashi, one must learn to what extent one should enter into doing a favor for another Jew: It is not enough for your advice to be good; your ‘way’ of giving advice is also very important. When you do a favor to someone, you must divest yourself of your own interests and enter completely into the other’s situation, so that your advice will not be contaminated by self-interest. And that is the fulfillment of the mitzvah of loving Jews, as written in the parasha: “you shall love your fellow as yourself.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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