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Rabbi's weekly Blog

an eleventh Commandment

Dear Friends, 

If I had my way, there would be an eleventh commandment: “Do not judge,” continuing the Ten Commandments we all know about: Do not steal, do not murder, do not covet and… do not judge.

Thirteen years of work with the public have taught me that you can never really be in the other person’s shoes. You can think something about a person, and then suddenly you receive more information about him that changes your viewpoint entirely.

The Rebbe learns this specifically from this week’s Parasha, Parashat Shoftim:

The Torah says, “Judges and officers you shall appoint in all your cities.” Our Sages learn from the phrase ‘in all your cities,” that judges should be appointed not only in the Land of Israel, but rather in every place where Jews live. Why? Because the judges of the Land of Israel cannot really understand a person who lives abroad, and a judge who cannot understand you, cannot judge you, either!

“Do not judge your friend until you reach his place,” says Hillel the Elder in Pirkei Avot. “The satiated does not understand the hungry,” people say, and it’s true; oy, is it true.

So one needs judges and officers, but when the Torah says that officers are needed it says in the same sentence “in all your cities.” A judge can judge only after he has reached the place of the judged; only if he is able to open his mind and understand the defendant and his situation – his weaknesses and his difficulties.

That is exactly my message this week for all of us. As we stand, right before the Yamim Nora’im (High Holy Days), in the days of Selichot, it would be good – a moment before asking forgiveness – to make a resolution not to judge another person “until you reach his place.”

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

are you Kosher?

 

Dear Friends,

 

Most of us know the signs of an animal’s Kashrut, as brought in this week’s Parasha. For an animal to be kosher and Tahor (“pure”), it must a) have cloven hoofs, and b) chew its cud – bring its food back up into its mouth in order to chew it once more before digesting it.

The Rebbe teaches us that human beings have signs of Kashrut as well, except that they are not for someone else to check and certify, but, rather, signs (or actually manners of behavior), by which a person can check himself and how he handles various situations.

Here they are:

Cloven hoof: the same way the hoofs of a kosher animal point in two directions – right and left, so, too, a person’s actions have to be sometimes to the left, sometimes to the right. A person who is naturally drawn to Chesed (right), should examine himself at times when what is demanded of him is the opposite – an action of Gevurah, of firmness – where he must be strict and say “no” (left). If he indeed does so, that is a sign of Kashrut; it’s a sign that he is acting properly.

When a person works only with the right, with the Chesed, it may be that he is acting according to his own personal tendencies, and not from the right reasons and considerations.

Chewing the cud: A moment before a person acts, even if he is sure that it’s the right thing to do, he should “chew his cud” – think it over again; chew it once more before its final digestion.

These two signs, says the Rebbe, enable us to check ourselves as to whether we are acting right, or simply acting according to our natural tendencies.

 

The month of Ellul is fast approaching! This is a good opportunity to find the time to examine our signs of Kashrut. I wish us all success!

 

Zalmen Wishedski

just to whet the appetite

 

Dear Friends,

 

One of the things I like about restaurants in Israel is the abundance of food. Now, don’t misunderstand me – there are wonderful restaurants in Basel, in which you order tasty and nutritious food, and get it, too. But you get just what you ordered, nothing more.

In Israel, on the other hand, you barely manage to get settled before the table is covered with eighteen salads and a few pitas, “just to whet the appetite”, as they say.

This week I understood something else about this phenomenon. In the week’s Parasha, Moshe Rabbeinu describes the Mann (manna) as a food of affliction, no less. “He afflicted you and let you hunger, and fed you the manna.” But why affliction? Our Sages taught us, after all, that the Mann, which was divine food, contained all possible flavors, and that the eater could choose which flavor to taste. For the Ashkenazim in the desert, it probably tasted like gefilte fish with chrain, in addition to p’tcha. For the Sephardim, on the other hand, it tasted more like an Iraqi pita with Abu Ghosh hummous. In terms of nutrition, the Mann was perfectly suited to every human’s digestive system. So why did Moshe Rabbeinu say, “He afflicted you and let you hunger”?

Well, it appears that in order to feel satiated it is not enough to supply the body with nutrition; one must also feed the eyes, and the Mann failed to do that. That’s why, in the restaurants in Israel they have the eighteen different salads – they’re for the eyes. One eats with one’s eyes, as the saying goes.

 

The Rebbe explains that the Mann supplied our nation with a message for all generations. For the rich people the message is: “bread from the heavens” – even if it seems to you that you are successful and competent and almost omnipotent, do not forget that really everything you have comes from Above, like the Mann.

For the poor people the message is: If sometimes there are moments that seem to be an affliction, try to remember the Mann; it, too, looked like affliction, but after a while people discovered that it hid within it many flavors and much nutrition, and, mainly, that it was perfectly suited to the eater. Maybe your suffering is like that, too?

For, after all, who can make it to the main course after consuming eighteen different salads? …

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

Why are you laughing

 

Dear Friends,

They walked there together, the four leaders of the generation: Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Akiva. They reached Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, the city that had just recently been destroyed, and, in great pain, rent their clothes in mourning.

They then approached the Temple Mount and suddenly saw a fox coming out of the place where the Kodesh Hakodashim (Holy of Holies) had been – the place where only the Cohen Gadol (High Priest) could enter, having purified and elevated himself, and even that – only once a year, on Yom Kippur. This was too much; they burst into tears – except for Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva didn’t cry; instead of crying, he laughed.

“Why are you laughing?” they asked him. Seeing a fox in the Kodesh Hakodashim is a reason to cry, not to laugh!

But Rabbi Akiva just smiled and said, “I’m looking a few steps forward. I am focusing on the future, not on the past.

“I remember the terrible prophecy of the destruction, which came true down to the smallest detail; down to this fox that is desecrating the holiest place in the world. But – and it’s a very significant ‘but’ – I also remember the prophecies of consolation and redemption, and this very fox is what reminds me that they, too will come true, down to the last detail, just like this fox is fulfilling in front of our eyes the prophecy of destruction, in all its searing pain.

“And now, I ask you, my friends: isn’t a prophecy of consolation and redemption a reason for laughter and joy?”

“Akiva,” the other three responded, “You have consoled us; you have consoled us.”

 

This Shabbat is called “Shabbat Nachamu”, named for the Haftara, which is taken from Yeshayahu’s prophecy “Nachamu, Nachamu Ami..” (Be consoled, be consoled, My people). As with everything else, consolation has varying degrees. One can experience the destruction in the present and believe in the future consolation, like Rabbi Akiva’s friends. But it is possible, and even recommended, to experience the future of consolation and redemption already in the present, just like Rabbi Akiva.

 

Wishing you a Shabbos of Nechama and Geulah,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

What we often ignored

There is something that is often ignored when we speak about the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, theTemple. We talk about the destruction, we mourn over the Beit Hamikdash, and on this coming Tuesday, on Tisha B’av, if, G-d forbid, the Mashiach hasn’t come yet, we will also fast for 24 hours in memory of that destruction. But there is another great thing that happened in those moments when Jerusalem was being destroyed and the Beit Hamikdash was going up in flames: It was precisely at that point that the process of constructing the next Temple, the Third Temple, which will be built when Mashiach comes (speedily in our days) – began.

“A lion came in the time of the lion and destroyed the Ariel (another name for a lion), so that a lion will come in the zodiac sign of the lion and build the Ariel.” That is the way the Midrash describes the destruction.

Translation: The enemy – the lion, came in the month of Av – which has the zodiac sign of the lion, and destroyed the Beit Mikdash (known also as Ariel – a lion), so that Hashem – the Lion – should come during the zodiac sign of the lion and build the lion.

Notice the “so that”: the goal of the destruction, the burning and the devastation is… to build! Just like when someone knocks down a small house so that he can build a nice big and new building in its place.

The Halacha defines this as “demolishing for the purpose of building.” In the laws of Shabbat, someone who breaks an object is exempt from punishment; but someone who breaks in order to build is guilty and is punished. Why? It’s extremely simple. In breaking in order to build, the current breaking is part and parcel of the future building, since it is the first stage of the building, and anyone who builds on Shabbat is guilty of desecrating it.

So when we sit on the ground on Monday night – of course, only if, G-d forbid, Mashiach hasn’t come yet – and mourn the destruction, let us not forget that the painful destruction is the precursor to the rebuilding.

That is how the Rebbe viewed the destruction, and that is what he taught us; for if one can see the good and the positive and be optimistic and happy, why be anything else?

All we have to do is lift up our heads, open our eyes and our heart, and connect to the true reality. That is called awareness.

 

May we have a Shabbat of Peace!

 

Zalmen Wishedski

 

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