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A episode from my childhood

There are episodes that become imprinted in us during childhood, and every once in a while they surface and are contemplated again.

I have one such episode in my life: Shabbat in the Beit Menachem shul in Kfar Chabad. I am seven years old, and want to go home already. It’s 2:00 in the afternoon; the davening ended at 12:00, and even the Hitva’adut (gathering of Chassidim) is tapering off. The 777 brandy is almost empty; only a few pieces of herring remain. The Chassidim who came at 7:00 a.m. (the custom on Shabbat Mevarchim being to say the entire book of Tehillim before davening) are walking home leisurely, as is appropriate for Shabbat, with their Tallitot on their shoulders and the towels from the morning dip in the Mikveh on top of them.

My father and I go into the “Cheder Sheni” (an extra room in Chassidic shuls used for the Hitva’adut and other functions) to get my father’s Tallit and towel. We enter quietly. On the left, by the wall, there is a Jew sitting and davening. That is R. Chaim Schreiber. His Tallit covers his head and most of his face. His body does not move, and no sound is heard from him. And he will sit there for hours more…

“Who is this? What is he doing” I asked my father. My father just whispered to me, “This is a Chassid.” Since then, every Shabbat I would go into the Cheder Sheni to see what a Chassid looks like.

I remembered all this this week, when I learned the Rebbe’s explanation of the Zohar about “And the voice was heard in the house of Pharaoh” (after Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, the news reached the royal palace).

The word “Vehakol” (the voice) is written without its Vav – making it read as “vehakal” (if read without the dots). The zohar sees in this a reference to the fact that davening should be in a whisper, almost soundless.

The main point of prayer – which is “service of the heart” – is the internal concentration and the heart’s contemplations; loud speech might interfere with the deep concentration and the internal sensations of the heart.

A person who is standing and davening, especially in the Amidah (Shmoneh-Esreh) prayer, should reach the heights of cleaving to Hashem. He must pray in a state of complete annulment of himself and in total devotion, whispering, in secret, as is fitting for a most personal and internal moment of connection between him and his Creator.

The internal service of the heart is done quietly, in whispers. There is no place here for noise and an external exhibition of one’s faith – it should be just like R. Chaim Schreiber z”l, sitting in the corner of the Cheder Sheni with his Tallit, in silence.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

Listen to what the candles are telling

 

Dear Friends,

 

“We should listen to what the candles are telling us.” So said Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber Schneerson of Lubavitch, the fifth Rebbe of Chabad.

The candle lights up the room and the flame dances. It is talking to us, and we only have to sit, watch, observe and listen to it.

The candles will tell us about old Matityahu who raised the flag of revolt against the Hellenists and said, “Mi LaHashem, Elai!” (“Whoever is for Hashem, come to me!”) That – to the few people of our nation at that time who remained faithful to the true Judaism. Because the main difficulty was not the battle with the Greeks, who fought the Jews with brute force; the big battle was with the faithfuls’ own brothers and sisters, of the Jewish nation – their own flesh and blood.

This struggle was not physical, but rather a spiritual and value-based struggle. The faithful Jews were told that they are of the Dark Ages, it was written about them that they have the mindset of exiles, that they are ignorant. They were mocked for not being athletic – for they sit all day bent over old books.

But Matityahu and his sons were not impressed with all this. The Hashmona’im knew very well where the light was. They remembered their Yiddische Mama lighting Shabbat candles, her eyes filled with tears of thanksgiving and prayer, and their father saying Kiddush and his face lit up with the joy of the mitzvah. They remembered and decided to do everything so that it won’t remain just an old memory.

The candles tell stories, but not only that. They also expect us to glean from them and from their stories strength and a message for our own lives.

May we all have a Happy Chanukah, a Chanukah full of light that will extend from Chanukah to all the days of the year.

Shabbat Shalom,

Zalmen Wishedski

and his father kept the matter in mind

 Dear Friends,


When Yosef comes to his father, Yaakov, and tells him about his dream – how the sun, the moon and the eleven stars were bowing down to him, his father berates him immediately and says, “What is that dream that you dreamt? Will I, your mother and your brothers come to bow down to you to the ground?!”

But then there is the next Pasuk, which says that “his father kept the matter in mind.” Rashi explains: “He was waiting and looking forward to when it will come true.”

In other words, as a father, Yaakov had to educate his son and berate him for this prideful dream, but deep inside Yaakov knew that there was something to that dream, and therefore he “kept the matter in mind.”

The Rebbe explains that Rashi uses two expressions: “he was waiting (Mamtin) and looking forward (Metzapeh).” The first – waiting – is suitable for anything, be it good or bad. The second – looking forward to – is used only when we are talking about something good that is in store.

A person can wait for something bad, Chas Vechalilah, but he does not look forward to it as he would for something good.

When Yaakov heard Yosef’s story of his dream, he probably remembered what he had been told at home, how 193 years before that, when his grandfather Avraham was 75 years old, Hashem said to him: I have a plan. You will have a son who will grow up to be a nation. They will go into exile, will suffer there, but at the end, they will come out of the exile with much wealth.

It is a process; and in a process every detail is important, including the down periods. The down periods are necessary, since they play a part in bringing about the better periods. The expression in Hebrew is “Yeridah Letzorech Aliyah” – Going down for the purpose of rising up.

So when Yosef comes to Yaakov with his dream, Yaakov understood that the down period is on the way. It is hard, it is distressing; it is not good. But he waited for it, and prepared himself for it. At the same time, he was also looking forward to it, looking forward to the good thing that was about to happen. He knew the details of the program well, and remembered that there is a deep reason for the going down. He understood that the Yeridahis for the purpose of Aliyah, and so, the Aliyah, too, will surely come about.

My friends, not much has changed in the structure of Hashem’s plans. Today, as well, in this last exile, we must remember, know, understand and internalize that going down is a prelude to coming up. Any problem, any difficulty, is part of the plan. True, it is sometimes painful and difficult, but, like Yaakov, let us not stop looking forward, because the true good will surely come about, when the Mashiach comes, speedily in our days.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

Are we ready for the good?

 

Dear Friends,

 

This week we received from the Basel authorities tablets that serve as antidotes to the effects of radioactivity – enough for the whole family. When I tried to find out why this was being done, the answer was: “They are being given in case there will be an attack using unconventional weapons, or some other kind of radioactive leak; in such a case sirens will sound, and you will know that you are to take these pills.” “But is there anything happening right now?” I asked. “Is there a war? Perhaps Germany is planning an invasion of Switzerland?” “No, nothing has been happening,” came the answer. “We just want to be ready for any eventuality.”

 

I liked that approach. It’s always good to be prepared. But then I immediately thought: Are we ready for the good to the same extent that we try to be ready for the bad?

 

When Yaakov Avinu prepared himself for his meeting with Esav, he prepared himself for every eventuality. He was ready for a peaceful meeting, but at the same time he was ready for war. He sent messengers with many gifts to his brother, in order to pacify him, and, on the other hand, he prepared his camp for a war with Esav.

 

The Rebbe brings a Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 75:6) that teaches us that Yaakov arrived at the meeting prepared for another big event; Yaakov arrived ready for the coming of the Mashiach. Every person in the world has a task. The task is to elevate the things he comes in contact with, and make them holy: for instance, by eating properly, making the Beracha (blessing) beforehand and eating with a holy goal in mind, or by doing a good deed or speaking positive words. When each and every one of us will finish elevating his part and making it holy, the entire world will be ready for the coming of the Mashiach. And Yaakov, on his level, had reached that stage: he had already purified his part in the world, and had prepared himself for the Redemption.

 

The Midrash sees this hinted in Yaakov’s words to Esav: “and I had an ox [meaning oxen] and a donkey [meaning donkeys].” The donkey refers to the Mashiach, as it says about Mashiach in Zechariah (9:9) “Poor and riding on a donkey.” In other words, Yaakov is saying to Esav: I am already with the Mashiach’s donkey; I am ready for the Redemption.

 

And if you ask why, then, did we go through thousands of years of the darkest exile, and still, the Redemption hasn’t come? The point is that there was a slight problem: Esav was not ready for the Redemption. And that is what the messengers said when they returned to Yaakov: “We came to your brother, to Esav.” We came to him with the idea that he was your brother, ready, just like you, for the coming of the Mashiach, but we very quickly found out that he is “Esav”, and that he has a long way to go.

 

The Rebbe learns from this episode a lesson for life. The individual is not to look around and say, “Why should I work hard? The people around me are not exerting themselves, and are not moving forward like I am.” Rather, just like Yaakov, a person should prepare himself and everything connected with him for the Redemption: to purify and elevate himself, to make everything around him clean and holy, and to be ready for the coming of the Mashiach, even if the world around him is busy with completely different issues.

 

So, yes – one must prepare oneself for every eventuality. It is important to be prepared. But if we learn from Yaakov Avinu, it is important to be ready for the good and the positive, because He will come – for sure he will come – speedily in our days, Amen.

 

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

 

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