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Make lemonade from a lemon

 

Dear Friends,

 

“The advantage of light that comes from darkness.” This is one of the more common and familiar phrases in Chassidut. The source is the Zohar, speaking of Shlomo Hamelech’s observation in Kohelet:

“And I saw that wisdom has an advantage over folly as light has an advantage over darkness” (Kohelet 2:13). It would seem that this is a clear and simple statement: wisdom is better than folly, the same way that light is better than darkness. But the statement is too clear, and therefore Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wonders about it in the Zohar: Even someone who has never known wisdom in his life, and has never met with it, will know that wisdom is better than folly, just like light is better than darkness, so how can Shlomo Hamelech praise himself for knowing that – “And I saw”?

In other words, it is such a simple statement, and Shlomo Hamelech, the wisest of all human beings, utters it as if it was an astounding discovery. How could that be? The Zohar, therefore explains these words in a completely different way:

“ ‘And I saw that wisdom has an advantage over folly’ – wisdom benefits from folly, for if there were no folly in the world, we would not know the wisdom… the same way light benefits from darkness, for without the darkness, we would not recognize the light, and we would not see the benefit the world gets from it…” (Zohar, 3, chapter 47, 2).

In other words, the novel idea presented by Shlomo Hamelech is not that light is better than darkness, or that wisdom is better than folly; rather that thanks to darkness we learn and know the advantage of light, and thanks to folly we know and appreciate the advantages of the wisdom. If you spend a seven-hour flight abroad sitting next to a person who is not very wise, you will be better able to appreciate the wisdom of the wise person sitting next to you on the way back.

The teachings of Chassidut deepen this idea even more, and explain that darkness not only sharpens light’s advantage, but that it can actually produce light. If we only know how to use darkness in the right way, for the good, we will be able to turn it into light, turn drawbacks into advantages, make lemonade from a lemon.

This week’s Parasha is called “Vayechi” – “And he lived”, in order to say that what’s described in it is Yaakov’s life, in other words, the years in which he lived well. But how could it be that the best years of Yaakov’s life should be those years in which he was in exile from the Holy Land, in Egypt – “And he lived”?

The answer is one clear, concise phrase: “The advantage of light that comes from darkness.” Yaakov knew how to make good use of the darkness of exile – of Egypt, with all its spiritual folly – and turn that darkness into light and wisdom.

When a Jew manages to remain faithful to his People and G-d even when in a place of difficulty and darkness, he grows spiritually, sees light and therefore also lights up the world to an extent that he wouldn’t have been able to without that difficulty, darkness and folly.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

to cry or not to cry

 

Dear Friends,

In the Torah reading this Shabbat we will read about the most moving event in the entire Torah – Yosef’s revealing himself to his brothers, and, above all, the meeting, embracing and weeping of Yosef and Binyamin. “He (Yosef) fell upon his brother Binyamin’s neck and wept; and Binyamin wept upon his neck.” The orphaned brothers, who had been separated for no fault of their own, meet again after more than twenty years and they embrace each other and cry.

Rashi explains, based on the Gemara, that Yosef cried about the Temples that would be in Jerusalem, in Binyamin’s Nachalah (designated estate in the land), and would be destroyed; and Binyamin wept for the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in Shiloh that would be in the Yosef’s Nachalah and would, also, be destroyed.

But why – why did they each cry about the other’s misfortune? It would have been much more logical for Yosef to cry about Mishkan Shiloh, which was in his Nachalah, and for Binyamin to cry for the Temples, which were in his Nachalah. Why did they each cry for the other, and not for themselves?

The Rebbe brings a wonderful explanation, which carries with it a lesson for life as well:

It’s o.k. to cry, and it’s permissible to cry, but only for something that has already been lost to you. If there is something that is no longer in your control, and you are in pain, you cry. But something that you can still fix, you don’t cry about; rather, you try to fix and alter the situation for the better until the last minute. There’s simply no time to cry, since there is much to do.

Yosef wept for the Temples that were in Binyamin’s intended Nachalah, because that was for Binyamin to work on. Yosef couldn’t do much for Binyamin. He could help, advise, encourage and maybe even bless, but the work itself, the Tikkun, had to be done by Binyamin. So Yosef cried, because he could no longer do anything about what was going to happen. Mishkan Shiloh, on the other hand, was in Yosef’s Nachalah, and that Tikkun was in Yosef’s hands, and therefore he didn’t cry, for he would be fighting to the end to try and save it.

The same thing is true for Binyamin. He didn’t cry for the Temples that would be in his own Nachalah, because as long as they had not yet been destroyed, he would try to correct the situation and pray that the destruction wouldn’t happen. But as regards to Mishkan Shiloh, which was Yosef’s Tikkun, he did cry, because it pained him, and the Tikkun was in his brother’s hands, not his.

Dear friends, often we encounter difficult and painful experiences. The tears are already choking us, and despair is not far behind. But here we should stop for a moment and look at the situation truthfully. If there is still a chance to correct the problem, to change something, we won’t allow ourselves to cry; we will simply do whatever we can, until the end. If there is no longer anything to do, we will allow ourselves to feel the pain and express it in tears and weeping as well.

 

May we know only tears of joy and crying that stems from happiness!

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

be a player!

 

Dear Friends,

 

A bar mitzvah boy came to the Rebbe for a “Yechidut” – a personal meeting with the Rebbe – in order to receive a blessing in honor of his bar mitzvah. He knew that the Rebbe asks children what they learned in school and he had prepared himself with answers, but, to his surprise, the Rebbe talked to him about sports, which team he favors and such like.

And then the Rebbe said: “You surely know that when there is a game, there are the players themselves – just a handful – and then there are the fans, tens of thousands of them, cheering on ‘their’ team. Sometimes one team loses by such a difference that even during the game it is clear that it has no chance of winning. When that happens, the disappointed fans start to leave the stadium even before the end of the game. It is clear to them that in this instance they have no chance of getting the pleasure of seeing their team win.

“But who doesn’t leave until the last minute? The players themselves. They continue to play, full force, to the last minute. There is no chance of winning; their fans, so important to them, are leaving already, crestfallen, but they remain there, fighting to the end.”

At this point the Rebbe looked straight at the boy and said: “The vast majority of people behave like fans; a small percentage behave like players. In honor of your bar mitzvah, take upon yourself to be a player!”

There are many good people in our world. They do good deeds and mean well. But when things become difficult, if it seems to them that there is no longer any chance, then slowly they start to withdraw from the arena. They are the fans. The players, though, don’t give up even when it seems that there is no chance of succeeding. They fight for their beliefs to the end.

Dear friends, this powerful and impelling idea of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (how characteristic of him!) is exactly what happened on Chanukah. It is also the central message we should take with us from Chanukah into our own lives. Matityahu and his sons had no chance of winning. They were few and weak and they were facing the powerful army of the ruling culture. But Matityahu raised the flag of revolt and called out “Whoever is for Hashem, come to me!”

The Hashmona’im were not fans; they stayed until the very end. They were players, and players do not leave the arena before the game is really over.

Friends, take a minute and ask yourselves: Are you leading your lives as players or as fans?

 

Shabbat Shalom, Chodesh Tov and a happy and light-filled Chanukah!

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

I’ll take the fire with me!

 

Dear Friends,

 

I heard a great story about a young Chabad girl who was learning in a non-Chabad school. During a class about the Jewish home, in which the girls are taught what a Jewish home should look like and how to run it properly, the speaker told the girls: “In order to preserve your spiritual level, you must always live among Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews, in a place of Torah. One is influenced by one’s environment, and it is important that your environment be suitable.” To illustrate the matter, he brought an analogy: “If we take a pot containing boiling water out into the cold street, in the end the pot and the water in it will cool off. Even if we are warm Jews, like the water in the pot, the cold street will probably cool us off.”

At this point the Chabad girl got up and said: “I will go out on a Shelichut and I will live, purposely, in a place that is not yet defined as ‘a place of Torah.’”

“And what will you do about the water and the pot cooling off?” asked the speaker.

“I’ll take the fire with me!” answered the girl. “That way, not only will the water always remain hot, but the fire will be able to heat up other pots of cold water as well.”

 

In our Parasha it says that “Yosef was taken down to Egypt.” The Midrash comments about this: Yosef took the Shechinah (Divine Presence) down to Egypt, as it says, “And Hashem was with Yosef.”

The Rebbe explains that in order to cope with going down to Egypt, which meant a considerable decline in values and spiritual life compared to the Land of Israel and the household of Yaakov, his father, Yosef took Hashem with him – he took the fire with him! And thanks to that, not only did he survive the exile, but he even ruled over it, becoming a king in Egypt.

The Rebbe, who sent his followers to all kinds of “Egypts” all over the world, was saying to his Sheluchim, and really to any Jew, wherever he is (and every Jew has his own personal “Egypt”) the secret of how to cope with the exile: take the fire with you, and it will keep the water hot, and even be able to heat up cold water.

The simple truth is that the fire is with us anyway – it is the soul that is within us. All we have to do is to allow it to give out its heat and light, do away with the exile and bring the Redemption.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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