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Rabbi's weekly Blog

A manmade Miracle

 

On January 17th, 1994, at 4:31 A.M. a destructive earthquake hit Los Angeles. Dozens were killed and many were injured. A fire erupted, roads were torn apart and in every home objects fell out of closets and glass items shattered.

 

In the Pico Boulevard Shul a Yeshiva boy was sitting at that moment and learning Gemara. During those long seconds of the earthquake, the entire Shul was transformed: books fell and bookcases crashed to the floor as well. The young man closed the Gemara and began to pick up all the books, one by one, kissing them and putting them in place. This took about three hours…

 

At 7:30 A.M. the brave ones who dared to make their way from home to the Shul showed up there. They went in and saw a… miracle! All over town everything was on the floor, but in their Shul everything was in place. Not a book had fallen, and not a single glass had shattered. A miracle, plain and simple! (Heard from Rabbi Yehoshua Gordon)

 

We know that it was not a miracle, but the result of the hard work of an energetic young man. But, on the other hand, maybe that was the greatest miracle – a manmade one! Because our work and labor are more important and more sublime than any heavenly miracle.

 

The first sentence that the Rebbe said to his followers, when he accepted upon himself the role of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, on the 10th of Shvat, 5711 (1951) was: “Jews, listen. In Chabad the demand is not to depend on the Rebbe, but to do things yourself. I will help from here as much as I can, but you will have to do things by yourself.”

 

The Rebbe wrote down similar ideas already in 1928, in a letter he wrote on the occasion of his cousin’s bar mitzvah. In this letter the Rebbe asked: Why is a bar mitzvah not considered a holiday? From the halachic point of view, the day bears no sign of a holiday. One is allowed to work on that day, and Tachanun is said like on any day. But this is a day on which a boy becomes bar mitzvah – this is the moment when the main part of his G-dly soul enters him and acts within him. This is the most elevated day of his life – so why isn’t it a holiday?

 

And the Rebbe answered: It says in the book of Iyov “A person is born to labor.” At the bar mitzvah, when he is first obligated to observe the mitzvahs, he is also obligated to labor. So, on a bar mitzvah one is not partying, but getting ready for work; instead of putting on festive clothes, one should don an overall.

 

This coming Tuesday, the 3rd of Tammuz, we will note the 20th Yom Hillulah (Yahrzeit) of the Rebbe. For me it is a heavy day, a day on which one’s heart is contracted with searing pain, and the longing is stronger than ever. This is also a day of soul-searching, on which every Chassid asks himself how can it be that twenty years have gone by, and the Mashiach isn’t here yet? Have I done enough? Am I partying, or wearing an overall? But, above all, there is one central thing that all of us always know: One should just do! Continue on. The deed is the main thing.

 

Because small actions of one person might be a great miracle for another.

 

Shabbat Shalom!

 

Let us not forget to pray every day for the three yeshiva boys, that they should return home to their parents.

 

Zalman Wishedski

 

P.S. This coming Tuesday, I will stand in line for long hours in the sun in New York, together with multitudes of Jews of all types, in order to have two minutes to pray at the Ohel (gravesite) of the Rebbe. I invite you to write me your name and your mother’s name, and I will gladly pray for you too. 

we are all Pogromists

 

Dear Friends,

 

Rabbi Yaakov Mazeh (1859-1924) was one of the people who helped acquit Menachem Mendel Beilis in the Beilis Trial, which took place in Kiev in the years 1911-1913. As the Chief Rabbi of Moscow, he was called upon as an expert witness to prove that there is no such thing in Judaism as using the blood of Christians for matzah baking.

At one of the court sessions, when Rabbi Mazeh was asked to describe the variety of Jewish people, he said: “There are the Sabbathists – who come every Shabbat to Shul. There are the Yomtovists, who come about five times a year to Shul – on the holidays. There are the Yahrzeitists, who come twice a year to say Kaddish. And there are also the Pogromists, who come every time there is a pogrom; that’s when their Jewish spark that loves its nation and its homeland awakens.”

We – all of us – are going through difficult times since last Friday, when we first heard that three teenage boys had disappeared. We didn’t know yet that they had been kidnapped, but we read and heard that the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense, the Chief of staff and the head of the Israel Security Agency (known as the Shabak) had been sitting together in a room for three hours already, and it was clear that something very serious was happening.

It’s six days already that the nation, usually so divided into different factions and styles, has been standing together, with one prayer going through all of our minds and expressing itself in prayer: “Shuvu Achim” – Return, brothers. This reminds me of Rabbi Mazeh’s Pogromists. When the question is the unity of the Jewish People, I think we are all Pogromists. In times of trouble we know to set aside our differences, wake up and connect with our inner Jewish spark, that spark that does not differentiate between right-wing and left-wing and between religious and non-religious. This inner spark sees that all of us belong to the same nation, and from this feeling of unity it cries out: “Shuvu Achim!”

Gil-Ad, Naftali and Eyal were strangers to most of us until a week ago, and now we all know who they are, who their parents are, and we even know their special neighbors.

And I just ask myself quietly, will we know to be Pogromists even without a pogrom?

 

May we have a Shabbat of good news,

 

Zalman Wishedski

we are all Pogromists

 

Dear Friends,

 

Rabbi Yaakov Mazeh (1859-1924) was one of the people who helped acquit Menachem Mendel Beilis in the Beilis Trial, which took place in Kiev in the years 1911-1913. As the Chief Rabbi of Moscow, he was called upon as an expert witness to prove that there is no such thing in Judaism as using the blood of Christians for matzah baking.

At one of the court sessions, when Rabbi Mazeh was asked to describe the variety of Jewish people, he said: “There are the Sabbathists – who come every Shabbat to Shul. There are the Yomtovists, who come about five times a year to Shul – on the holidays. There are the Yahrzeitists, who come twice a year to say Kaddish. And there are also the Pogromists, who come every time there is a pogrom; that’s when their Jewish spark that loves its nation and its homeland awakens.”

We – all of us – are going through difficult times since last Friday, when we first heard that three teenage boys had disappeared. We didn’t know yet that they had been kidnapped, but we read and heard that the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense, the Chief of staff and the head of the Israel Security Agency (known as the Shabak) had been sitting together in a room for three hours already, and it was clear that something very serious was happening.

It’s six days already that the nation, usually so divided into different factions and styles, has been standing together, with one prayer going through all of our minds and expressing itself in prayer: “Shuvu Achim” – Return, brothers. This reminds me of Rabbi Mazeh’s Pogromists. When the question is the unity of the Jewish People, I think we are all Pogromists. In times of trouble we know to set aside our differences, wake up and connect with our inner Jewish spark, that spark that does not differentiate between right-wing and left-wing and between religious and non-religious. This inner spark sees that all of us belong to the same nation, and from this feeling of unity it cries out: “Shuvu Achim!”

Gil-Ad, Naftali and Eyal were strangers to most of us until a week ago, and now we all know who they are, who their parents are, and we even know their special neighbors.

And I just ask myself quietly, will we know to be Pogromists even without a pogrom?

 

May we have a Shabbat of good news,

 

Zalman Wishedski

Shlach 5774

 

Dear Friends,

 

In Israel, in the 1950’s, during the time of the Austerity (“Tzena”, as it was known) – when the economic conditions were very hard and food was rationed, there was a joke going around: If you want to know how to get to the Welfare Office, just go straight – straight – and you’ll surely get there.

 

The meaning of this bleak joke is clear. The reality of the time was that it was almost impossible to make a living honestly. And therefore, those who were honest, those who went “straight – straight” – would very quickly reach a situation in which they would need the support of the Welfare services.

 

In spite of all this, there were men and women who arrived in Israel from the Diaspora destitute, materially-speaking, but owning quite a bit of spiritual fortitude and values. They bit the bullet, and did not leave their straight path.

 

In this week’s Parasha, a particularly eventful one, it is told that right before the twelve tribe leaders left “to tour the land,” Moshe Rabbeinu called over his disciple Hoshea, and added the letter Yudto his name, changing it to Yehoshua, Yehoshua bin Nun. Rashi explains that upon adding the Yud, Moshe inserted Hashem’s name into Yehoshua’s name, and prayed for him: “May Y-H (Hashem) save you from the notions of the spies.” Later on, when the men were already in the land of Israel, Calev ben Yefuneh slipped away from the group, to the city of Hevron, in order to pray at the gravesites of the Patriarchs. Here, too, Rashi explains that he prayed “that he not be swayed by their notions.”

 

Those twelve people “who went to tour the land” were sent by Moshe as tourists, and not as spies (by the way, the word Meraglim – spies – does not appear in the Parasha).

 

The difference between tourists and spies is that tourists look at what they see plainly in front of them, photograph it and report it to others (and usually expect to receive a “Like” from their friends…). Spies, on the other hand, are supposed to be sly enough to understand what’s behind the façade. Often the information is obtained by deceit, and by way of lying to some degree. They must look like innocent tourists. In our Parasha, the twelve people were not requested to be spies, but, as mentioned, just to tour the land. (Unlike 38 years later, when Moshe sent spies ‘to spy out Ya’zer”.)

 

There is a risk in being a spy, because when a person becomes accustomed to acting slyly and deceitfully, he might do so when it is unnecessary, and then he will quickly slip into a corrupt frame of mind.

 

That is exactly what Moshe was afraid of when he prayed for Yehoshua, “May Y-H (Hashem) save you from the notions of the spies.” And that is exactly what Calev ben Yefuneh was afraid of when he prayed at Me’arat Hamachpelah, that he not be swayed by them, because one must be extremely wary of subterfuge and deceit, and certainly from hiding the truth. And one shouldn’t do any of these on one’s own initiative, even if that means ending up in the Welfare Office.

 

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

Beha'alotcha 5774

 

Dear Friends,

 

What are you thinking when you say “Be’ezrat Hashem” (With G-d’s help, or: G-d willing)?

“Be’ezrat Hashem” is an expression that we find ourselves using many times a day. Hopefully we are thinking of what we are saying, and, if so, what do people mean when they use this expression?

I can only speak for myself: I have come to understand that “Be’ezrat Hashem” has one very simple meaning: Hashem will help; of course He will help; He is always here to help. But – and it’s an important and significant “but” – He will only help. I must do, act – and He will help me, G-d willing.

“Open me an opening the size of the eye of a needle, and I will open for you [an opening] like the opening of a hall.” So said Chazal (Midrash Rabbah, Shir HaShirim 5, 3). The Creator of the World said: “I am willing to open you a way the size of a hall doorway, help you with everything, but it all has to be based on your work. Even if your work will be tiny and narrow, like the eye of a needle – do it, open it – and I will be there and open you an opening the size of a hall.” That is the meaning of “Be’ezrat Hashem.”

Parashat Behaalotcha describes the lighting of the candles of the golden Menorah in the Temple by the Cohen. As with anything else, here too, the Rebbe translates the lighting of the Menorah in the Temple of the past into a personal, practical and actual task. The Menorah is the body of the human being; the candles are the G-dly soul that is in it, and the Cohen Gadol (High Priest) who lights the fire is Hashem, who lights the fire in a person’s soul, as it says in the book of Mishlei (Proverbs), “The candle of Hashem is the soul of man.”

Like the Cohen, Hashem, too, is standing there, ready with the flame, ready to bring it close and light the candle with it. But this all depends on the Menorah and the candle being ready to be lit and to give off light. The Cohen could not bring the light without the Menorah and the candle. Hashem, too, before He brings the light to us, expects us to prepare the Menorah – the body, and the candle – the soul, to be suitable vessels for the fire, the G-dly fire.

In simple terms (and I speak from experience), when we run into some difficulty, or are faced with a challenge that seems to us especially hard, before we throw up our hands and say, “Hashem will help,” we should remember that He will only help. We have to put in some effort and make one more step towards the goal, even a small step, the size of the eye of a needle, and He will help and open a way the size of a hall.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

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