Printed from ChabadBasel.com

Rabbi's weekly Blog

even in the concealment within the concealment

 

Dear Friends,

 

"ואפילו בהסתרה, שבתוך ההסתרה"“And even in the concealment within the concealment, certainly Hashem Yitbarach (May He be blessed) is there, too.” If this song does not start running through your mind immediately, it must be that you haven’t attended a Charedi/religious wedding or bar mitzvah in the past few months. I haven’t attended such a function either, but I have been exposed to this powerful song, which has taken over the Charedi/religious world.

There are songs whose lyrics are nothing special, but their tune is catchy. There are songs whose tune is not so powerful, but the lyrics touch the soul. I am not a music critic, but it seems to me that in this recent hit, “And even in the concealment,” of Yoeli Klein, it is the lyrics, more than the tune, that touch us and carry us away.

The text comes from Rabbi Nachman of Breslav, relating to Hashem’s words in Devarim (31:18) “And I will surely conceal my face on that day.” The subject is the concealment of Hashem’s face (“Hester Panim”) from us sometimes. Rabbi Nachman reminds us that even on days of a double concealment – “concealment within concealment”, Hashem is still there. He is telling us, “I stand behind the difficult experiences you are going through, too.”

This text is so touching, so moving, because it is expressing the central axis of the Jewish faith. It is an inner but powerful point, and it stands at the foundation of our faith, that foundation that has upheld us so many times at moments of Hester Panim: whether as a nation during dark and terrible periods or whether as individual Jews who have faced ruin and have stood there, helpless. But they didn’t question and didn’t complain, only looked inside and connected themselves to the rock-hard foundation of faith that says, “And even in the concealment with the concealment, certainly Hashem Yitbarach is there, too.”

We have had this foundation for 4000 years, ever since Avraham Avinu – whom we discover in this week’s Parasha, Parashat Lech Lecha – recognized his Creator. It was he who understood that everything we have here is really Hashem: both the revelation and the sweet smile, as well as the concealment of the face, so burning and painful. Our first forefather bequeathed us this strong faith, even while he waited for a son for 99 years, and even when he walked with this 40-year-old “child” to the Akeidah (binding) that would have overturned all his dreams and aspirations. He walked with his head high, and probably sang to himself on the way, “And even in the concealment with the concealment, certainly Hashem Yitbarach is there, too.”

Since the days of Avraham, this foundation has been passed on from father to son and from mother to daughter, from generation to generation, from community to community and from exile to exile. From Moshe Rabbeinu to Mordechai; from the martyrs of the Crusades to those exiled from Spain; from the survivors of the Holocaust who rose from the ashes to that amazing woman, Racheli Frankel, the mother of Naftali who was kidnapped and murdered together with his friends Eyal and Gil-Ad just 4 months ago. All of them had the benefit of the light of that powerful faith. They knew what Avraham Avinu had bequeathed us, and Rabbi Nachman of Breslav wrote it out so simply: “I stand even behind the difficult experiences you are going through. I stand, I stand, I stand.”

 

May we have a Shabbat of joy and revealment of Hashem’s face, from now on and forever.

 

Zalmen Wishedski

'Deadline' or Due Date'?

 “Check your mailbox.” That was the email message that I received last Wednesday, a short while before Yom Tov came in. I checked it, and there the book “Rebbe” was waiting for me with a very moving dedication from the dear friend who sent me the email.

I admit that it is an effort for me to read English on the level of the book “Rebbe.” And yet, since then, whenever there’s a free moment, I find myself enchanted by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s flowing narrative and the fascinating analysis. It took four years of work to publish this 500-page-plus biography of the Rebbe. I fully understand how the book quickly became a bestseller in the United States, by any standard.

In the introduction, Telushkin describes his work, and reveals that writing the book changed his life. He acquired the Rebbe’s positive, optimistic outlook on the world and on life – mainly thanks to changing his style of talking and thinking. This might sound insignificant, or at least minor, but changing one’s speech influences one’s thinking, and a style of thinking that is positive and optimistic is a guarantee to a certain frame of mind, and therefore also for a positive and optimistic running of one’s life.

He brings two examples for this. One is the Rebbe’s suggestion not to use the term “Beit Cholim” (house of the sick) for a hospital, as it is a negative and pessimistic expression. Instead of that, he said, one should use the positive and optimistic expression “Beit Refuah” (house of healing) or “medical center.” The second is that Telushkin, when he wants to set a last date for a project, no longer uses the English term “deadline,” and instead uses the term “due date,” which in colloquial English means the estimated date of birth. The difference is obvious: the first expression uses the word “dead”, whereas the second expression expresses “life”!

How is this all connected to Parashat Noach? Don’t worry; it’s very connected.

In this week’s Parasha we find the first source in the Torah for the use of positive words vs. negative ones. The Torah is not stingy with words when it comes to describing Noach’s entrance into the ark: the text gives us full details as to who joins Noach and who enters the ark with him. In the description of the animals the Torah does not use the term “Tameh (unclean) animals,” but, rather, describes them as “animals that are not Tahor (not clean).” Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi (Tractate Pesachim 3a) comments about this: “One should never say an indecent word, for the Torah added on eight letters and did not use an indecent word, as it says, ‘from the clean animals and from the animals that are not clean.’”

The distinguished writer, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, says that these changes made him into a happier and more positive person. Sounds like it’s worth trying, doesn’t it?

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

Concentrate of joy

 A simple Jew once approached the Admor Hazaken (Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Lyadi, the founder of Chabad) and asked: “Rebbe, what is it about this festival of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah that makes us dance and be so happy?” The Rebbe thought for a moment and answered: “Shemini Atzeret is like a sweet concentrate that one prepares and keeps in a jar in the kitchen. When one needs some, one takes just a bit, mixes it with water, and then the food or drink are sweetened by it. So, too, are Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah: They have in them concentrated joy, and it is from them that we take joy for the entire year.”

 

When I read this I understood that if the dancing and the great rejoicing are like a concentrate, then the more of the concentrate we have – both in quantity and in quality – the more joy we will have – both in quantity and in quality – throughout the year. And between us: Is there anything that we need more in our lives than joy?

 

So I ask you, seriously, does one need anything more than that in order to drop everything else and just dance?

 

Take my piece of advice: There’s such a thing as drinking a “L’chaim”. It’s not vodka or whiskey, nor is it beer or wine. It is simply a “L’chaim”, because we drink a small cupful and wish each other, from the bottom of our hearts – “L’chaim!” This “L’chaim” has in it the ability to help a person relax a bit, dance and be happy. And if one cupful doesn’t help, one can always try again. From experience, I can tell you that it works.

Chag Same’ach to all Jews,

Zalmen Wishedski

a hug in the Succah

On Succot there are no unemployed Jewish singers or keyboardists. It says in the Torah, “You shall rejoice on your festival… and you shall be completely joyous.” And, indeed that is the definition of the Succot festival: a joyous holiday. There is the Succah and the Arba Minim (four species), and there is the Simchat Beit Hashoeva, which means lots of singing and dancing. Chassidim hold gatherings, and a lot of L’chaims are drunk; if possible, some good herring is produced as well. Definitely a joyous holiday, the most joyous of all.

I thought I might present to you today a concise explanation of the Chassidic/Kabbalistic meaning of this holiday.

In Shir Hashirim (the Song of Songs), written by Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon), there are many expression of love, meant to symbolize the relationship between G-d and the Jewish People. Among other things, it says there: “His left [arm] is under my head and His right [arm] hugs me” (Shir Hashirim 8:1).

In Chassidism this verse is broken into two parts, and both are related to the month of Tishrei.

Our Sages says, “Always let the left [hand] thrust away and the right [hand] draw near” (Tractate Sota 47a).

The left side expresses a serious relationship, one of awe and distance – the left hand thrusting away.

The right side expresses a relationship of love and closeness – the right hand drawing near.

The first part of the verse, “His left [arm] is under my head,” relates to the first part of the month, the Yamim Noraim (High Holy Days) – Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. These are the days in which the Jew’s relationship with his Creator is one of seriousness and awe, praying and beseeching.

The second part, “and His right [arm] hugs me” relates to the second part of the month – to Succot. The Jew’s relationship with his Creator on Succot is one of love, joy and dancing.

 

Chassidism explains that Hashem’s relationship with us on Succot is that of a hug – “His right [arm] hugs me.” Why specifically a hug? Because a hug expresses something that no other expression of love does.

When a person speaks words of love, or looks lovingly upon someone, he is face-to-face with the beloved. So, too, in the case of a kiss. But a hug is different: the lover is touching the back of the beloved. The hugger cannot see his beloved’s face, and his arms are actually hugging the beloved’s back.

The practical difference is that when one expresses love face-to-face, one receives love in return, because a face has the ability to return love. But a back lacks that ability. When you hug someone’s back, you are hugging the least exalted part of a human being – the part that does not return love.

Essentially, by hugging, a person expresses unconditional love – it does not matter if the love will be returned or not.

This is what happens on the festival of Succot. In the Succah Hashem connects through the less exalted part of us – our backs. While on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur our relationship with Him is expressed through prayer, study, emotions and observing mitzvahs, on Succot the connection is expressed in the most elementary things. No use is made of our refined spiritual level – the brain or the heart – for we are not commanded to pray or to study in the Succah. The mitzvah of Succah relates to our material level: we are merely commanded to eat, drink and sleep in the Succah. The relationship is not reciprocal; we do not return His love in the form of praying and beseeching, study and emotional contact. This is a hug – “and His right [arm] hugs me.” This is how Hashem expresses His limitless love for us, which includes even our simple, material needs, like a hugger who expresses love through contact with the back and not with the front.

The Succah surrounds our existence with the light of Kedusha (holiness), like a father who loves his son simply because he is his son – unconditional, unreciprocated love.

When we really understand this and internalize it, the joy of the holiday will be very different than otherwise, and the dancing will also be different: true internal joy, the joy of love.

 

And so, with a joyful and loving heart, I wish us all a joyous Succot!

 

Chag Sameach!

 

Zalmen Wishedski

one moment of truth, with ten shekels

 

It was a week before Rosh Hashana – the 23rd of Ellul 5753 (1993), 11:00 pm. There I was, a sixteen-year-old boy with a heavy pack on his back, roaming around the central bus station of Jerusalem, helpless. In another quarter of an hour the last bus to Kfar Chabad, my hometown, was due to leave, and it was absolutely imperative that I be on it – for the following morning I was supposed to be on a flight to New York, to spend the month of holidays with the Rebbe. I was helpless, because I was missing ten shekels in order to buy a ticket for the bus. This was not very much money, but when you don’t have it, even a little bit can seem like a lot.

 

I first tried to enlist the help of strangers: “I need ten shekels in order to get home.” But they just looked at me as I always had looked at those who are always to be found at any station or bus stop, asking for just a few shekels in order to get to Haifa or wherever… So I roamed around, feeling miserable. I suppose it was noticeable, for suddenly an impressive looking gentleman with a graying beard approached me and asked me in Yiddish: “Young man, why are you going around with a Tisha B’av face?” I told him my story, and he immediately gave me ten shekels. I asked him for his address so that I could pay him back, but he smiled at me and said a sentence that has never left me: “You will return the money, but not to me. Whenever you see someone who needs help, help him; in that way I will get paid back.”

 

Fourteen years later – again, a week before Rosh Hashana, the 23rd of Ellul 5767 (2007); it is 4:30 pm, and I am a young man walking quickly with a small suitcase in the Kennedy Airport in New York. In an hour and a half I am due to board a flight home, to Basel, on my way back from a Shabbat at the Rebbe’s, as I do every year before Rosh Hashana. Suddenly I see a young woman with a large suitcase, looking desperate. I approach her and ask her what the problem is. Her face lights up with hope, and she says, “I missed my flight to Eretz Yisrael. They are willing to put me on a Delta flight that leaves in another hour, but it turns out that my credit card is not international, and I have no way to pay for this new flight.”

 

And there I am – back in the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem, fourteen years earlier, and the man is saying to me, “You will return the money, but not to me…”

 

“My credit card is international,” I tell her, as the Delta people take it. “You are like an angel from Heaven. Six children are waiting for me at home,” she says to me with tears in her eyes, and she doesn’t know that I am actually near the 433 bus in the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem, looking with delight at that friendly man, and telling him, “I have returned the money.”

 

If he only knew how much those ten shekels have cost me from then until today…

 

My friends, I have not come to talk about myself, but about the anonymous Jew who taught me in one moment of truth, with ten shekels, what is not taught in any Yeshiva or university. He taught me to look around and try to see if there is anyone in need of help. He also taught me a lesson about giving gracefully and with a smile.

 

For years, I have been looking for a way to thank him for it, but I have no idea where to find him. And today, when I tell this story and pass on his message, it seems to me that that is the most fitting thank-you for him.

 

Yom Kippur is coming, and this is the time for me to wish everybody a Gmar Chatima Tova, that it should be a good and sweet year, a year in which we will know how to give to others happily, with a smile.

 

Zalmen Wishedski

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