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Rabbi's weekly Blog

Dear Ribbono Shel Olam

 

Dear Friends,

 

This week, with your permission, I will address my letter not to you, but to G-d.

 

Dear Ribbono Shel Olam,

 

I’m just asking:

 

Chazal tell us in Tractate Gittin 55b that “Because of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, Jerusalem was destroyed.” O.K., you know the story. By mistake, Bar Kamtza was invited to a dinner instead of Kamtza, and therefore Bar Kamtza was turned out and humiliated, and no one protested.

But Ribbono Shel Olam, that was a long time ago…. And it’s a pity you don’t have Facebook, because if you had, you would see how many wedding-hall owners from the north and center of the country have opened their doors gladly, hosting weddings and other family celebrations for people from the south. And that’s without knowing them at all – rather, just because we are all brothers.

Dear Father, we learned in Tractate Yuma 9b “Why was the First Temple destroyed? Because of three things that existed at that time – idol worship, immorality and bloodshed… But the Second Temple, when they were engaging in Torah and Mitzvot and acts of loving-kindness, why was it destroyed? Because there existed baseless hatred. This teaches one that baseless hatred is equivalent to the three [cardinal] sins: idol worship, immorality and bloodshed.”

But that was a long time ago, dear Father… because today – and it’s a pity you don’t have WhatsApp – everything has changed. You must have seen the tens of thousands that came to pay their last respects to the soldier Nissim Sean Carmel HY”D. Someone wrote that he was a lone soldier, but he was not a lone one at all, for twenty thousand brothers and sisters came to his funeral in Haifa.

 

So I’m just asking, G-d in Heaven, what more do we need for Mashiach to come?

 

And more: in Tractate Bava Metzia 59a it says: “Rabbi Elazar said: from the day that the Temple was destroyed, the gates of prayer have been locked, and even though the gates of prayer are locked, the gates of tears are not locked, for it says, ‘Hear my prayer, Hashem, and listen to my outcry; do not be mute to my tears.’ Of course they aren’t locked. You’ve had a flood of tears up there in the past few weeks. Tears of empathy, both in times of joy and times of sorrow, tears of national unity and baseless love. It really is time for the full and complete Redemption.

 

Am Yisrael Chai!

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

my 97-year-old friend

 

For a while last month I was making daily visits to a 97-year-old Jew who was staying in the Basel area, in a hospital hotel, and his acquaintances asked me to help him with something. It didn’t take me long to see that he was very lonely here.

One day, during my visit, some of the hotel staff came over to me and said sternly: “Rabbi, we need your help. That old man who is a friend of yours doesn’t eat anything except fruit, vegetables and cornflakes, and we’re concerned about his health.” I smiled at them and said, “He is, after all, 97 years old and feeling well. You want me to start educating him how to eat?” They had to smile back ruefully.

When I came to him, I asked him why he was barely eating. And this was his answer:

“I am not a religious person. I was born in 1917 and lived from war to war. But I am a proud Jew and I remember that it is forbidden to eat ‘Treif’, so many years ago I took upon myself not to eat cooked food if I’m not sure that it’s kosher.”

I was really impressed. Perhaps he had said, “Bli Neder” (thus not obligating himself completely), but it was something that he had taken upon himself and had kept strictly for many years.

On the 26th of Tammuz 5711 (1951), the Rebbe wrote a letter to someone in Chicago, and among other things he mentioned the interesting Halacha, that only in the laws of vows is attention paid to the speech and deeds of a person even before his bar or bat mitzvah. The vows of a girl from the age of 11, and of a boy from the age of 12 are considered like any vow of an adult woman or man, unlike other Halachic obligations, which begin only at age 12 for girls and at age 13 for boys.

The moral of this, said the Rebbe in his letter, is that vows are meant to be fences that a person accepts upon himself in order to avoid the possibility of failing to observe the Torah and the Mitzvos. Just like my 97-year-old friend, who took upon himself not to eat cooked food in order not to fail in observing the laws of Kashrut. The Torah obligates us in the laws of vows a year before we become “Bnei Mitzvah”, since the extra stringencies and fences are the most suitable preparation of a boy or a girl to be worthy of keeping the Torah and its Mitzvos, starting a year later, when they will be 13 and 12 years old respectively.

In many Siddurim (prayer books), including my own, there is a “Kaballah” – something that a person accepts upon himself – at the beginning of the day, even before the morning prayers. It goes like this: “I hereby accept upon myself the positive mitzvah of ‘You shall love your fellow like yourself.’” This is what we take upon ourselves every morning, because with this we will not be able to survive the day as a human being, as a relative, and certainly not as a nation that has to fight for its life from time to time.

For eighteen days, while the three boys were missing and known to be kidnapped, we were united in love of our fellow Jews, regardless of any dividing features. Immediately afterwards we merited miracle after miracle in the present war. I don’t know if there is a connection between these two facts, but facts they are.

Shabbat Shalom, and may we hear good news!

 

Zalmen Wishedski

Inheritance of our forefathers

 

Dear Friends,

 

In February 1969, when Prime Minister Levi Eshkol passed away and Golda Meir was chosen to replace him, Golda Meir suggested to Menachem Begin to remain a member of the government, as he had been since the eve of the Six Day War, two years before that. Begin agreed, but only on condition that Golda add in her swearing-in speech the words “The inheritance of our forefathers was liberated,” referring to the areas that were liberated in the Six Day War. Begin, a man of words and semantics, attributed great importance to the term “inheritance of our forefathers.” It was important for him to emphasize the source of our right to the land and of its strength.

 

In this week’s Parasha, Parashat Pinchas, Hashem starts to fulfill his well-known promise to Avraham Avinu: “To your descendants I will give this land,” and he tells Moshe how to, practically-speaking, apportion the land to the Jewish People. “To these the land will be divided as an inheritance… to the many you will give more… and to the few you will give less… only by lot shall the land be divided” (Bamidbar 26:52).

 

In other words, beyond the general promise that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish People, there is also the personal connection of each and every Jew to his part in the land. There are two levels in this: a. the logical division, according to human common sense – giving more to those tribes that are more numerous, and less to those that are less so; b. division by lots, in other words, a Divine decision as to who will receive what within the boundaries of the Promised Land. “Only by lot shall the land be divided”. This casting of lots, we must know, was not just an ordinary lottery, but it was a decision of the Urim and Tumim – different letters in the stones of the Choshen (breastplate of the High Priest) that would light up and, combined, make up words, telling Elazar the Priest how to divide up the land.

 

In wonderful Divine Providence, this week’s Parasha is even more relevant than usual. Our bitter enemies are doing everything in order to chase us out of “the inheritance of our forefathers”, but they don’t know how strong we are. We are strong, because Avraham was promised the land for all of the Jewish People, and this week, the Parasha speaks about dividing up the land to individuals, by way of a Divine casting of lots.

 

Our enemies shoot missiles at us, but they don’t know what our Sages say in Tractate Brachot (5a): “Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai says: Three gifts the Holy One, Blessed be He, gave to Israel, and all of them were given by way of suffering. These are: Torah and the Land of Israel and the Next World.” We would gladly forego the suffering that come with the gift called the Land of Israel, but when there is suffering, we are strong enough to stand firm in the face of it.

 

And there is also what it says in Devarim, “A Land which Hashem, your G-d, seeks out; the eyes of Hashem, your G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the year’s end.” But this, I think, our enemies are already aware of. For if not, how can they explain the fact that hundreds of missiles have been fired, and almost no one, Thank G-d, has been hurt?

Our brethren, who are living in the inheritance of our forefathers, we are proud of you and we are praying for you. Be strong!

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

Do we have a choice?

Dear Friends,

 

Around the beginning of the 1970’s, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l asked to meet with some Chabad Chassidim who had just left Soviet Russia. In the meeting between R. Moshe and R. Yankel Notik z”l, who was one of those unsung heroes who risked everything in order to maintain their observance of Torah and mitzvot day by day and hour by hour, R. Moshe asked him: “How did you do it? Where did you find the strength to be so particular on every small detail of observance, in the face of the evil regime?”

R. Yankel Notik, in his characteristic humility and simplicity, merely answered: “Did we have any other choice?”

R. Moshe Feinstein well knew that there was a choice; for, halachically speaking, there are leniencies meant for cases where there is danger to life, and in Stalin’s Russia, Khrushchev and Brezhnev, observing Torah and mitzvot was indeed life-endangering. But R. Yankel Notik did not look for leniencies or the easy way out. He knew one rule from this week’s Parasha, Parashat Balak, a rule stated by a non-Jewish prophet: “For it is a nation dwells in solitude, and is not reckoned among the nations.”

What Notik and his friends did in Russia is a realization of what the Rebbe said to the late Prime Minister, Yitzchak Rabin. Rabin was Israel’s ambassador in Washington in 1972, and in honor of the Rebbe’s 70th birthday, he came to congratulate him in the name of the State of Israel. And here is the story he told (click here for video):

“I was privileged to have a private audience with the Rebbe. It lasted forty-five minutes, and various matters came up. But, more than anything else, I remember the Rebbe’s eyes: blue, piercing eyes, expressing wisdom and awareness.

“The Rebbe opened the interview with a question: Do I not, as the representative of the State of Israel feel alone among the 120 nations and states represented in Washington?

“Later on in the conversation, the Rebbe developed the idea behind the verse, “For it is a nation that dwells in solitude.” The Jewish People, the Rebbe said, will always be alone among all the other nations.

“The Rebbe pointed to this verse as the secret to the Jewish People’s miraculous survival. For generation upon generation, even when we had no state of our own, we survived, and continued to exist, in spite of the Inquisition, the expulsions and the pogroms. The secret of this survival was the “dwelling in solitude” – the devotion to the tradition and to the Torah, as well as the threats to annihilate us, that do not allow us to assimilate among the other nations.

“I left this meeting inspired. I felt that I had met a distinguished Jewish leader.”

 

Last Monday, when the news report about Gil-Ad, Naftali and Eyal Hy”d reached me, I noticed another interesting aspect of this verse. It is precisely because we are a nation that dwell alone that we know to be together, to hurt and to cry, to encourage and to be happy. And, above all, after every blow, as hard and painful as it may be, we lift our heads up and go forward, continuing to do and to develop. We will always remember what Bilam said more than 3000 years ago: “For it is a nation that dwells in solitude, and is not reckoned among the nations.” Between you and me – do we have a choice?

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

 

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