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and they are like one of the Temimim

 

Dear Friends,

 

Forty-nine years ago, on the 9th of Kislev 5726 (December, 1965), in a miraculous sequence of events, my father and his family left Soviet Russia. The first thing my grandfather, Rabbi Moshe Wishedski, did when he reached Israel was to write to the Rebbe and inform him of this miracle. Among other things, he wrote: “I brought my two sons (my father and his brother – Z.W.) and they are like one of the Temimim.” ‘Temimim’ is the name given by Chabad to Yeshiva students. They are called ‘Temimim’ because in Chabad the goal is that the Yeshiva boys be not only Torah scholars, but that their whole essence should change in the Yeshiva, making them into Temimim, i.e. complete and straight in their service of Hashem, as well as in all their ways and deeds in this world, like Yaakov Avinu who is called in the Torah “Ish Tam.” (a whole man).

So my grandfather was excited to write to the Rebbe that he had brought his two sons with him. They had not been with him all the time, because since age 9-10, he was a prisoner in the Gulag in Siberia, spending 7 years there. They also did not learn in Yeshiva, because in Czernowitz in the 1950’s there was no Yeshiva, and, anyway, they had to go out to work in order to support their mother and siblings. And in spite of all this, in spite of Stalin and the Yevsektsia, “They are like one of the Temimim.” Here they are: pure and whole like any other young men who have been raised in the Holy Land and have attended a Yeshiva.

My grandfather and grandmother were not the first to raise a fine family in spite of the difficulties, the exile and the trials of the times. The first was Yaakov Avinu, as is told in this week’s Parasha.

“And Yaakov left Beer Sheva and went to Charan,” it says in the Parasha. Yaakov left the Holy Land, left the home of his righteous father and the atmosphere of holiness that pervaded the home of his parents, Yitzchak and Rivka, and went to Charan. He came to live in a rather unpleasant and contaminated place, and, above all, he went to live with his dear uncle, Lavan the Aramite, who did everything possible to make life difficult for him.

“That which was mangled I never brought you – I myself would bear the loss, from me you would exact it, whether it was stolen by day or stolen by night. By day scorching heat consumed me and frost by night.” That is Yaakov’s description of his twenty years with his father-in-law. And still, in spite of everything, he created an exemplary family – 12 sons and a daughter who became the twelve tribes of Israel.

How? How did Yaakov manage to protect his children from being influenced by Lavan and their surroundings? How, in such a terrible place, far away from Avraham, Yitzchak and Rivka, did his children turn out so whole and pure? How did my grandparents manage to raise an exemplary family in Soviet Russia, “like one of the Temimim”?

The Rebbe says that the one and only answer is to be found in a verse in Bamidbar (23:9): “It is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations.” They raised their children with much stubbornness and clarity – with the clear notion that we have only one way, a single, paved path, the path of Torah and Mitzvot.

This is the message for us today, as well. We must make sure to give our children a Jewish education; send them to Jewish kindergartens and schools that are imbued with the spirit of Hashem’s Torah as we received it from our fathers and forefathers – and with uncompromising fear of Heaven.

Then, we too will be able to present our children and say, “they are like one of the Temimim!”

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

we will search out every Jew in love

 


I listened today to a speaker who was facing a diverse and varied audience. He opened his speech with the following sentence: “Amongst you there are men and women, religious and non-religious, Americans and Europeans. You are different from each other, but you have one thing in common: you all live close to a Chabad House.”

I find something else that everyone there had in common: Their local Shaliach will not be there this coming Shabbat, will not serve as Chazan (cantor), will not read the Torah for everyone; for on this Shabbat the Rebbe’s Shluchim gather together in the Rebbe’s court for the largest Jewish conference in the world – the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries – “Kinus Hashluchim.”

Two years ago, the central speaker at the Kinus Hashluchim was the Chief Rabbi of Britain, Lord Dr. Jonathan Sacks. He summed up his monumental speech with the following words: “…How can you redeem a world that had witnessed Hitler? And the Rebbe did something absolutely extraordinary; he said to himself: if the Nazis searched out every Jew in hate, we will search out every Jew in love.”

I recalled these words of his this week, when I received the news of the horrific massacre in the Shul in Har Nof. The picture of a Jew, adorned with his Tallit and Tefillin and lying in a pool of blood, reminded us all of the Nazis and the Holocaust. True, the government and the army have to do what they have to do, and they will indeed do it. But we too – the rest of the Jewish People, in Israel and all over the world – have what to do. To every place where our enemies will bring hatred, we will bring love. To every place that they will, G-d forbid, bring death, we will bring life. And to every place where they will cut down prayers and Tefillin, we will pray even more. Because that’s what we’ve always done; that’s how we survived in the past, and that’s how we will survive in the future as well.

The Shluchim are gathering this week in order to recharge themselves so that they will be able to continue to disseminate love and life, Tefillah and Tefillin. For only this way will we be able to always say, proudly and joyfully, even when we are hurting badly – “Am Yisrael Chai!” The Jewish People lives on!

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

she will smile from above

 

A good friend, whom I especially like, was sitting Shiva for his mother this week, after her death from a long illness. It was hard for me to see him sad and hurting. It was even harder to talk to him on the phone. I looked for the right words to say, and couldn’t find them, maybe because there are moments in which there is nothing to say.

I wanted to tell him a story I once heard, but I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth. Perhaps it will be easier to write them.

In 5758 (1998), when I was on a Shlichut in a yeshiva in Brazil, I was told of a boy who lived in a “Pablo neighborhood” – the slums of Sao Paulo – who was the best soccer player in the team. Everyone knew that when he had the ball, nothing could stop him from scoring. However, one day the boy stopped playing. His friends kept begging him to return, but he refused, stubbornly.

Two months went by, and one day he appeared suddenly and went back to playing – including scoring, as only he knew how to do. “Why?” his friends asked him. “Why did you stop, and why did you come back all of a sudden?”

This was his answer: “Two months ago my father became very ill, and among other things became blind. And you know, in this Pablos there isn’t really any life except for soccer. My father had nothing to be proud of except for the fact that his son was a good soccer player. For that reason, he would come to watch me at every game. That was his sole source joy and pride. When he became blind, I understood that he would not enjoy my playing, and might even suffer from the fact that he can no longer watch his dear son play so well. I couldn’t bear his suffering and decided to stop playing.

“So why did you return now?” his friends asked. “Now, I am sad to say, my father has died, and from above he probably arrives every day at the playing field and again sees me playing. I want him to be proud of me again, to be happy up there.”

Rivka A”H, the mother of my friend Shmulik, passed away and he is sitting Shiva for her during the week in which the first Rivka appears – Rivka Immeinu (our mother), who brought with her the continuation of the Jewish nation after the passing of Sara Immeinu.

Rivka, together with Yitzchak, brought Sara back to life, for in their way of life, Yitzchak and Rivka continued the wishes and hopes of the first Yiddishe Mama.

It was Sara who demanded from Avraham to send away “the son of the maidservant”, in order to fulfill Hashem’s command “since through Yitzchak the offspring will be considered yours” – and not through Yishmael. And that happened when Rivka came to be Yitzchak’s wife.

Sara lit Shabbat candles that stayed lit from one Friday to another, and Rivka continued this when she entered Sara’s tent, as Rashi says in his commentary on the “And he brought her to the tent of Sara his mother.”

As with Sara, Rivka, too had the Yiddishe Mama’s instinct, when she told Yaakov to take the blessings from Yitzchak, blessings that were almost given to Esav.

That is the reason that the Parasha is called “Chayei Sara” – the life of Sara, even though the verses are telling us about her death, not her life. For what does a mother want more than that her children will walk in the path she has shown them? And when Yitzchak did this together with Rivka, his deeds were Sara’s real life, her spiritual life.

And what do children want more than that their mother will come from heaven every day to the playing field and will smile happily, when she sees them continuing her way, and really bringing her back to life again in their own existence.

May we know no more pain and distress, and may only joy rest upon everybody.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

Just welcome guests

 

Among the many wonderful things we have in the Basel community is the Hachnasat Orchim organization. There is a list of a few dozen families who share the responsibility of hosting guests for the Shabbat meals in case people show up in Shul unexpectedly and need a place to eat.

This custom is beautiful and special, and I find it particularly moving, for not everyone is set up to host people all the time; this way, when it is pre-arranged, no guest remains without a meal.

True, it’s characteristic of “Yekkes” to be so well-organized, and that is one of the many good and special things our community possesses, but the reality of a Jewish community caring for guests is something that comes part and parcel with being Jewish; it is true of every Jewish community, irrespective of time and place.

This concept had its beginning in this week’s Parasha – with Avraham Avinu, who left us the wonderful legacy of Hachnasat Orchim. Avraham accepted guests all day long and his tent was open in all directions, and he merited that his sons and grandsons continued his way.

Chazal said, “Hachnasat Orchim is greater than greeting the Shechina (Divine Presence).” They learned this from the fact that Avraham Avinu dared to interrupt a conversation with Hashem in order to greet the three guests who came to him. The Rebbe adds that performing Hachnasat Orchim in itself can bring about the greeting of the Shechina, for it says in the first Pasuk of the Parasha: “Hashem appeared to him (Avraham) in the plains of Mamrei while he was sitting at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day.” Rashi explains that Avraham was sitting at the entrance of the tent “to see whether there was a passerby whom he could bring into his home” – in other words, the goal of sitting at the entrance was to perform Hachansat Orchim, and this, says the Rebbe, gave him the merit of greeting the Shechina: “Hashem appeared to him.”

My friends, we spend our whole lives working on coming closer to Hashem, and here we have a simple and easy way to do it: Just welcome guests into your home graciously!

So, if you have not yet invited guests for Shabbat, now is the time…

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

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