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sterling young man

 

Dear Friends,

 

“Do I not know yet that, that my path and the doings of our offspring and their descendants are dependent on the path of this sterling young man.”

This was written by the Chasid, R. Eli Chaim Althaus, about a groom, in honor of this groom’s wedding, which took place in Warsaw 87 years ago.

He offered a prophecy – and apparently he knew what he was talking about. That young groom was the man who later became known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe. On that day in Warsaw, 5689 (1928), he became the son-in-law of the sixth Rebbe of the Chabad dynasty.

Thousands of people participated in that historical wedding, which took place on the 14th of Kislev. The majority of those Jews died in the Holocaust, including R. Eli Chaim himself, but his prophecy came true.

R. Eli Chaim understood already then, with his acute vision, that this groom would come to step into the shoes of his father-in-law and become the seventh Rebbe of the Chabad dynasty.

Twenty-five years later, this “sterling young man,” who was already the Lubavitcher Rebbe, said to his Chassidim: “That was the day that connected me to you and you to me, and together we will labor for the sake of the true and complete Redemption. May Hashem help us, that we will see the fruits of our efforts.”

Friends, as a Chabadnik, this is one of the most special days for me in the Jewish calendar. As a Shaliach and director of a Chabad House, it is clear to me that this day affected not only the Chabad Chassidim, but every Jew in the world who has been touched – body and soul – by the Shluchim. For they are the emissaries of this ‘sterling young man”, who got married in Warsaw on the eve of the great conflagration of European Jewry, and twenty years later, from his office in Brooklyn, lifted world Jewry from the ashes after that terrible destruction.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

busy hands and a free head

 

Dear Friends,

 

R. Chaim Moshe Alperowitz was one of the most special Chabad Chassidim who immigrated to Israel in the 1930’s. He was a man of truth. It was not easy to make a living at the time, and he had to search for a way to earn money so that he would be able to support his family.

The Dead Sea Works had just been founded, and he was given a job there. It was hard physical work that was not entirely suited to his abilities, but he would go there, work for six days and come home once a week with his paycheck, and that’s what counted.

One day, an office position became vacant in the company and the managers offered it to him, saying “It’s hard for us to see you working so hard. It will be easier for you in the office.”

Much to their surprise, R. Chaim Moshe refused, and explained himself immediately: “The physical work is difficult, but while I’m doing it only the hands are working, while the head is free for the really important things – Torah and Avodat Hashem (serving Hashem). If I work in an office, it will indeed be easier physically, but my head will be occupied with this-worldly matters. I prefer busy hands and a free head.”

In this week’s Parasha we read about Yaakov Avinu who was on his way to Charan. On the way, when he lay down to rest, he took “from the stones of the place and arranged them around his head.” Rashi says, “He made them like a gutter around his head, for he was afraid of wild animals.”

The Rebbe explains that Yaakov was not afraid of physical wild animals, but of spiritual wild animals – evil spirits and the evil aspects of the world, which threaten to take control of one’s mind and behavior. He was afraid of surrendering to the material world and becoming addicted to society’s demands; the society in Charan was not exactly suited to a person whose essence was “A wholesome man, living in tents.” So it’s clear that in order to protect oneself, one must protect the head, and therefore it’s better that the hands be busy, but the head be disengaged.

I think the message is quite clear and understandable, with no further explanation needed.

 

May we all have a peaceful and restful Shabbat!

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Be Kind!

 

Dear Friends,

 

In this age of WhatsApp various proverbs are passed around within the groups. It is always fascinating to me to watch the power of mass media: according to the number of times that you get these words of wisdom from different sources, you can understand the extent to which they touched, amused or merely interested the public.

One of the more special ones, which appeared repeatedly, last week, says: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” It’s obvious why this is going from group to group, for who of us is not fighting a battle that only he knows about? Who doesn’t have a challenge that is his alone?

I thought about this in the context of the story of Yaakov and Esav, who are born in this week’s Parasha. I don’t know about Yaakov, but Esav certainly would have agreed with this sentence, and would done a “copy-paste” with it.

Both of them were born in a special, elevated household. The two of them were together already in Rivkah’s womb, and even started to fight there: “The children agitated within her.”

Chazal tell us that each one of them pulled in a different direction. Yaakov’s nature was to be “a wholesome man, living in tents”; he felt pulled to any place where there was good, holiness and spirituality. In contrast to that, Esav was a person who “knows hunting”; he felt pulled towards anything material, earthly – and to evil as well.

No child is born evil, and Esav, too, was not born evil. He just came into the world with a challenge very different from that of Yaakov. The role of Esav in the world was not to do evil acts – not at all. No – Esav came into the world with the special goal of dealing with this material world, sifting through it, correcting it, bringing it to a state of holiness. He also received special tools: “A man who knows hunting”. That is a man who has the ability to hunt down materiality, pick out the good from the bad, as one picks out the wheat kernels form the chaff covering it. This is a sublime role, but not at all easy, apparently.

Yitzchak Avinu knew the sentence spinning through WhatsApp. He knew that Esav was fighting a war that no one else knew about it, and he was kind to him. “Yitzchak loved Esav because game was in his mouth”. Yitzchak recognize Esav’s potential. He knew that he had the power to hunt, and he understood that that is his challenge, so he loved him, accepted him and tried to be there for him so that he would succeed in his task in this world.

Friends, we should learn from Yitzchak.

A moment before we judge people, badmouth them or condemn them, it would be good to remember to “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” 

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

A soldier of mine must be happy!

 

Dear Friends,

 

It is the 19th of Kislev, 5712 (1951), the height of Stalin’s rule. The place is Riga, Latvia. A small group of Chassidim gathers for a clandestine Hitva’adut. Most of their friends are in jail and they, too, are doing something that might cause them to be arrested and sent to Siberia. But the 19th of Kislev is Chabad’s major holiday, and Stalin cannot do anything to stop them. The curtains in the home of R. Shmuel Pruss z”l are drawn and they are sitting together, talking to each other, giving each other moral support as they try to keep the flame of Silent Jewry going.

Suddenly, they hear voices speaking Hebrew. Zusha, R. Shmuel’s young son, has been playing with the radio and has somehow come upon Kol Yisrael, just as it is broadcasting the celebration of the 19th of Kislev from Kfar Chabad, from faraway Eretz Yisrael, the Holy Land.

What they hear on the radio astonishes them. It turns out that their beloved Rebbe, the great fighter, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, has passed away… they can’t avoid crying. “Oy, Rebbe!” they cry out quietly. The pain is terrible. Their tears are flowing, and as they continue listening they find out that there is a successor to the Rebbe: his son-in-law, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson has been crowned; Lubavitch has a new Rebbe. “Oy, Rebbe,” they say, but this time they sing it. The tears are still flowing, but from joy. Burning tears of pain and mourning have instantly turned into tears of joy and happiness. Mourning and joy mingle – they cry and then they start dancing from true inner joy. “Mir haben a rebben – we have a Rebbe”.

What will we tell the new Rebbe when we meet him, G-d willing? They ask each other – they have not the slightest doubt that they will indeed get to meet him. How will we greet him? They ask, with their eyes wet with tears of joy and pain. And then one of the finest of them, Reb Notke Barkahan z”l gets up and says, after a generous dose of a L’chaim: “What’s the question? I will go in, salute and say: Rebbe, I have come to continue my service in your army.”

5729 (1969). Reb Notke has not forgotten that Hitva’adut, and when he enters the Rebbe’s presence for the first time in his life, he stands and says, “Rebbe, I am your soldier!”

And the Rebbe replies: “You say you’re my soldier? A soldier of mine must be happy!”

Summer, 5757 (1997). Reb Notke has been living in Riga for over ten years already. He is serving as the Rebbe’s Shaliach and as Chief Rabbi of Latvia. He returns to his city, returns to the front. He is a soldier, and a soldier of the Rebbe remains a soldier even when he’s 70 years old. Reb Notke’s grandchildren, Harav Zelig and his wife Chana Ashkenazi, go out as Shluchim of the Rebbe to Yekaterinburg, on the border between Europe and Asia, and their fax machine prints out a letter from Grandfather. In rich Yiddish, he tells them the story of that Hitva’adut, and asks and even demands: “Be happy, because a soldier of the Rebbe must be happy!”

Thousands of Shluchim are gathering right now in New York, in honor of the International Conference of Chabad Emissaries. They are all loyal soldiers, who devote their lives to the goal that their Rebbe has set for them: to reach every Jew and Jewess, to touch them, to light up and warm every corner on earth with the light of Torah and mitzvahs, and thereby prepare the world for the full and complete Redemption by the Mashiach. And I call to you from here, my brothers and friends, tiere Shluchim (dear Shluchim) – remember what the Rebbe said to Reb Notke: “A soldier of mine must be happy!”

R. Notke Barkahan is my wife’s grandfather, our children’s great-grandfather. This coming Shabbat, the 25th of Cheshvan, is his yahrzeit. May these thoughts be l’ilui nishmato – may they serve to elevate his soul.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski


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