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Rabbi's weekly Blog

Why aren’t you going to sleep?

 

“The guests last night stayed on and on… It took so long for them to leave!” I hear this sentence a lot, from a great many people; sometimes from myself as well…

I always answer by saying that when guests don’t seem interested in leaving, one should say to them: “My dear guests, I’m not going to sleep because I have guests. But, for G-d’s sake, why aren’t you going to sleep?”

Our first forefather gave us a special legacy in this week’s Parasha: the special mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim – being hospitable. This is a very nice mitzvah. It’s fun to entertain guests; it’s pleasant to be there for someone who needs you, and only you. We sing and are happy, until we are left alone at 11:00 pm with the dirty dishes and the dish-soap…

The Rebbe explains that Avraham Avinu’s Hachnasat Orchim was above logic. The Gemara in Tractate Sotah says that besides having a tent that was open to all, offering sleeping arrangements and good, healthy food, Avraham Avinu planted a grove of fruit trees in the desert, so that his guests could enjoy sweet, fresh fruit. The Midrash adds that he even provided a magistrate, to help people work out whatever disagreements they had.

The average person’s common sense, even if he is a good person, says that one should tend to guests and give them food and drink if possible, and maybe even a place to sleep. But to make sure they have extras and legal help? Why? What’s the connection between that and Hachnasat Orchim?

All of Avraham Avinu’s conduct was above nature. He was “Ivri”, because he was always on the other side – the other “Ever” of the river. He was not willing to bow to social conventions. He was Avraham Ha’Ivri, because he always did more – in everything – than the world thought necessary.

In a talk to public activists and Yeshiva principals in Cheshvan, 5719 (1958), the Rebbe explained that Avraham Avinu’s above-logic behavior regarding Hachnasat Orchim had a great influence on his son Yitzchak. Children see everything, as we know, and he saw his father giving guests more than was necessary or even sensible. Yizchak understood that the Jew’s service of his Creator is not dependent on one’s intellect or on social conventions; it is dependent on the soul’s connection with Hashem.

The behavior of Yitzchak’s father influenced Yitzchak so much, that when he was requested to come and be slaughtered for the sake of Hashem, he simply went happily, even though he was an adult, 37 years old. He was simply used to the fact that in his home, the home of “Avinu”, one did things that were not necessarily normal.

The message to parents wherever they are, said the Rebbe, is that when parents entertain guests and do it happily (even when faced with the dishes at 11:00 pm), it instills in the children the idea of “Ivri” behavior – doing more than necessary, more than is commonly done.

 

I think it is worthwhile to try to emulate this kind of behavior.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

we live in the Facebook age

 

I don’t know whether the social media is good for the world or not. It doesn’t really matter, either, because its existence is a fact: we live in the Facebook age. In my opinion, the social media has changed our lives and our world completely, more than any other of the technological innovations, of which new generations are born every two months. Why do I think so? Because Facebook forces people to tell the truth – at least their own truth, the truth they believe in.

Facebook enables the average person to fight the system and get what he’s entitled to. A few thousand “likes”, and even a huge establishment like the BBC changes a fallacious title, replacing it with a fairer and more truthful report. Every publicfigure knows that every sentence he says or writes will be examined, commented upon and sometimes attacked. And since that is so, people try to stick to their truth, with less justifying and masquerading and more truthful self-expression.

Many people are mentioning these days the significant role that the social media plays in the incitement connected with the wave of terror attacks that we are experiencing these days. But one should take note of that other point that I mentioned above – the truth that is exposed thanks to these sites. It’s not the leaders speaking in the name of the public and saying things that don’t represent the public’s opinion; now the public itself speaks and votes with “likes”.

Thanks to Facebook and the other social media, it is clear today that the war is not over part of the land of Israel, but about all of this land. Arabs (at least, the vast majority of them, those who are not afraid to say the truth) from all over the country, and from all social strata, say very clearly: There was no Temple here, the land is not yours. And on the other side, Jews of all sorts – and I admit that I am surprised by it – say equally clearly: There was a Temple here, and the land is ours.

Of course, there are disagreements among the Jews, but these are political and not historical.

This means that we really have no choice but to go back and check how the land became ours; perhaps we should go even deeper, and examine who is this “we”. And that’s what brings us to our weekly Parasha, Parashat Lech Lecha. This is the Parasha in which we meet Avraham Avinu, the person who created that “we”. In this Parasha the land is given to him: “Rise up, walk through the land, to its length and breadth, because to you I will give it” – so says Hashem to him. And later on in the same Parasha, it is clear how it is ours, when Avraham almost endangers the gift that has just been given to him and offers Hashem the possibility of giving up on a son from Sarah, saying “Oh, that Yishmael might live before You!” And Hashem says to him: “But Sarah your wife will bear you a son and you shall call his name Yitzchak, and I will fulfill My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.”

For, without that, we really have no way to counter the claims that are brought against us everywhere these days.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Noach’s ark or Titanic? and i have birthday

 

Dear Friends,

 

There are some wise sayings that immediately go into the “cut out and save” drawer in my mind. Here’s one of the best ones:

“The Titanic was built by professionals; it collided with an iceberg and sank after only four days of being afloat. Noach’s ark was built by amateurs; it lasted for the entire Flood.”

Noach spent 120 years building the ark. For 120 years he faced all the wise and enlightened people of his generation alone as they laughed at him and mocked him.

The Gemara in Masechet Sanhedrin (108b) tells us that, “The righteous Noach would rebuke them with harsh words, and they would belittle him. They would say to him: ‘Old man, what is this ark for?’ and he would answer: ‘Hashem is going to bring a flood upon you.’”

 

The truth is, when I think about it, that if someone here in Basel would build an ark and tell me he is preparing for a flood, I don’t think I would belittle him, but I would probably send him for psychiatric testing…

But Noach was not moved by what the world was saying. He had a goal, and he went about achieving it.

And if the world laughs? Let them laugh!

People think he’s crazy? They can go ahead and think what they like.

The Creator of the World had given him a task to perform – and he was going to do it, no matter what!

Friends, every one of us has a goal and a mission in life, suited only to him. That goal is the reason he was born and brought into this world. Because if I was not personally needed, I wouldn’t have been born (It’s my birthday today, by the way. Thank you so much for your good wishes! J). Hashem trusts us – “Your faithfulness is great,” we say every morning. He believes in us.

Perhaps we just have to learn from Noach to be focused and goal-oriented; to do what our Creator wants us to do, even if the experts, the wise men and the enlightened sneer at us. Otherwise, there is a chance that our ship will encounter an iceberg, just like the Titanic…

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

A Jew’s blood is no longer cheap

 

Dear Friends,

 

My letter this week is dedicated to a dear young man, who is very close to my heart.

Eyal, you love your nation and your homeland very much, and you are worried. For several days already you’ve been calling me and writing to me every few hours.

“A man was stabbed in Jerusalem; I’m worried.”

“A woman soldier was stabbed in Tel Aviv. I’m afraid.”

“We are alone in the world. Everybody hates us and kills us,” you wrote.

“We have no future this way,” you said.

“I put on Tefillin every morning and pray that peace will come already. Why does Hashem make it so that everyone’s against us?”

 

I have a few things to say to you, my young friend:

There is, indeed, terror. People are being stabbed in the streets; stones are being thrown at vehicles. But in the historical perspective, the Jewish People is now in one of the quietest, safest and calmest periods it’s ever experienced. For 70 years already there have been no pogroms against Jews – not in the Holy Land, not in Kiev, and not even in Kishinev. A Jew’s blood is no longer cheap – not in Morocco and Tunis, and not in Germany and Poland. We are not evicted from our homes with only our shirts on our backs, like we were in Spain in the 15th century, and whole communities are no longer being burnt alive, as was done in Basel in the 14th century. Our Talmud is not being burned, as it was in Paris, and, in general, Jewish children are no longer being persecuted in Europe.

Thousands of Jews were murdered in France over the generations, but only in our times do the country’s leaders apologize immediately, condemn the act when it happens, and battle the perpetrators, in their own way. The Jewish nation lives in its land proudly and with self respect. There never were so many Yeshivas and Talmud Torahs in the Land of Israel and in the world over, from Teheran to Moscow, as there are today. The Jews have gone back to arguing and fighting among themselves, as only they know how to do.

We have no future, you say? Look back four thousand years, and try to tell me: besides us, what other nation had a future at all? Did the Egyptians or the Romans have a future? Perhaps the Greeks or the Assyrians? All of them have disappeared and dispersed. Only one nation had a future; only one nation has a future now. You and I have a future.

Why did Hashem do these things? I do not presume to answer that question, because I have no answer. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts”, says Hashem in the book of Yeshayahu.

My dear Eyal, this week we begin reading the Torah again, from the beginning. Just like our forefathers have done for thousands of years, our lives, too, are all about Torah – Shabbat after Shabbat, year after year, in a wonderful cycle, which began with Avraham Avinu four thousand years ago, and has not stopped going since; the cycle in which we will read Who created the world, for what purpose did He create it, and to whom did he grant, through the power of His actions, this little land of ours.

The Torah is what has kept us going; thanks to it we are still here, in spite of everything, and thanks to it we continue onward, until the coming of the Mashiach, speedily in our days.

 

The Chabad Rebbes determined that “the way a person places himself on Shabbat Bereishit, that’s the way the whole year will go.” Do you want a future? Here’s some advice for you, then: start this very Shabbat to learn the Parasha every week; connect with this wonderful cycle that has no exit point, the eternal cycle that connects the Jewish People to the Land of Israel, according to the Torah of Israel.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

if I’m not here, who is here?

Dear Friends,

Hillel Hazaken (the Elder, who lived about 100 years before the destruction of the Second Temple), the head of the Sanhedrin and one of the greatest Torah sages of all generations, used to dance in the Beit Hamikdash at the Simchat Beit Hashoe’va, the nightly celebrations held during Succot.

It says in the tractate of Succah (53a) that “It was said about Hillel Hazaken, that when he was rejoicing in the Simchat Beit Hasho’eva he would say, ‘If I’m here, everything’s here! And if I’m not here, who is here?’”

In other words, if I come to the Temple to rejoice, then holiness and the Divine Presence are here. And if I’m not here, it is as if there is nothing in the Temple; for what is the Temple worth without the Jew?

The Ba’alei Hatosafot (sages who lived in the 12th and 13th centuries) explain that Hillel was referring not only to himself, but to the entire Jewish People. When all the Jews are here, everything’s here. In other words, they are the ones that, by coming to the Beit Hamikdash, provide it with its content and meaning.

The Beit Knesset is like the Beit Mikdash in that sense. What is a Beit Knesset without a Jew? For if I’m here, everything’s here. And if I’m not here, who is here?

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch voiced a similar idea about the Hakafot of Simchat Torah:

The Torah wants to go around the Bimah, but since it has no legs, the Jew becomes its legs. And if the Jew is not here, how will the Torah dance?

 

Friends, tonight,  tomorrow and the next day we will be celebrating Simchat Torah.

Come dance and rejoice, because Hashem is waiting for us. The Torah trusts that we will come. The Shul needs us – for if I’m not here, who is here?

 

Chag Same’ach,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

you can’t take the Chabad House out of the Chabadnik

 

Dear Friends,

 

Chol Hamoed is a time when we try to go on pleasure trips with our children. The Chabad House is always hopping with activity, and during the Yamim Noraim and at the beginning of Succot it’s even more so; but then Chol Hamoed comes – a time to relax a bit, experience a change of scenery, and leave the phone on Flight Mode for a few hours.

So we went to the SeaLife museum in Konstanz, which is on the border of Germany with Switzerland.

Of course, we took with us a Lulav and Etrog, because there was no doubt that we would meet some Jews there who might be happy to make use of the Arba Minim. You can take the Chabadnik out of the Chabad House, but you can’t take the Chabad House out of the Chabadnik…

We identified them very quickly: loud, noisy and speaking Hebrew – Israelis touring the Black Forest. I offered them the opportunity to make the blessing on the Arba Minim, and they stood in line – children and adults – happy and excited. One of them, a young father from Ramle, kissed the Etrog; there were tears in his eyes. “Listen,” he said. “I bought a set of Arba Minim. I chose a beautiful Etrog, and brought it with me from Israel. But unfortunately, I forgot it on the bus that took us from the airplane to the terminal. When I noticed that it was missing, we were already in the hotel… I was so upset and angry with myself. And you ask me why I’m so moved?”

Those moments with these Israelis and the Lulav connected me to Simchat Torah, which is coming up soon.

Here is the most wonderful, well-known and characteristic commentary of the Rebbe about the essence of the joy of Simchat Torah:

The Torah is a textbook, meant to be studied, and it would seem right that the joy and the celebration of such a treasure would be expressed by even deeper, broader study, delving into various topics included in the Torah. In other words, it would seem that it would be more suitable on Simchat Torah, instead of dancing, jumping and singing (and drinking L’chaim, of course), to sit with the open book, learn and grow wiser – perhaps to stay up all night, learning a special Tikkun for the occasion. But why dance? And why with a rolled-up Sefer Torah?

But that’s just the point. Because the Torah’s real essence is that it is the holy and pure Torah of Hashem, and it is what was given to us, to the Jewish People. The Torah is the spiritual possession of each and every Jew.

This essential fact – that the Torah of Hashem is holy and belongs to every Jew – is not at all dependent on knowledge and scholarship, or even on lack of knowledge and un-scholarship. In other words: the Torah does not belong to the scholarly Jew who sits and learns all day in the holy city of Jerusalem any more than it belongs to the Jew who lives in Birobidzhan and doesn’t even know that he is Jewish!

That is what I saw on Wednesday in Konstanz. I saw Jews who love the Torah and Mitzvos with a love that brings with it excitement and tears. Even the fact that they did not know the Bracha that is said when shaking the Lulav did not take away from their excitement.

Friends, one should learn Torah, of course. Beyond the fact that it’s one of the most important Mitzvahs that we have, and that when we learn Torah we hold in our minds G-dly wisdom, Hashem’s wisdom, it is our Torah – our operating manual in the world of falsehood that we live in. But on Simchat Torah, when we rejoice in the joy of the Torah, we are happy with the Torah’s essence – that it is holy and pure. We dance with the Torah – just dance – shoulder to shoulder, overjoyed over the very fact that we exist.

A rolled-up Sefer Torah in the arms of a Jew dancing, his face radiating joy – oy, is there a sight more beautiful than that? That is the Joy of Torah – Simchat Torah!

 

Moadim L’simcha, Shabbat Shalom and Chag Same’ach!

 

Zalmen Wishedski

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