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Rabbi's weekly Blog

clean and beautiful, good and pure

 

Dear Friends,

 

In Israel, elections are sometimes called “Democracy’s holiday.” This is understandable. Certainly, democratic elections are a reason to celebrate when it comes to us Jews, who have lived in different times and places, and not only lacked the right to vote, but were also not counted in any way. And when we were counted, we were also given numbers (…).

On the other hand, these pre-election days bring out the worst in every sector, ethnic group and faction. Embarrassing people publicly has become a daily exercise – part of a “strategic campaign.” The journalists are at the forefront of this, eagerly awaiting any piece of dirt that might turn up and enable them to please their editor, even if it means maligning their own mother or father.

Of all weeks, this is the week in which we read in the Torah about the mitzvah to engrave the names of all the tribes of Israel on the Choshen (breastplate), which rested on the heart of Aharon Hacohen, the High Priest. In addition, there were two Shoham stones placed on the shoulders of the Ephod worn by Aharon, on which the names of the twelve tribes were engraved: “Six of their names on one stone, and the names of the other six on the second stone, according to the order of their birth.”

The purpose of this engraving was that “Aharon will carry their names before Hashem on his two shoulders, as a remembrance.” In other words, so that Aharon, who loved peace and sought it, would carry us and mention us together, as One People, before the Creator.

But, take note: what was engraved on the Choshen was not “the Nation of Israel” or “Bnei Yisrael.” No – there were twelve names on the Choshen, in order to emphasize that the many varied factions, congregations and ethnic groups in our nation are not being ignored. Even more so, the goal is to remember, and say that in spite of the differences, in front of Hashem we are One People, engraved together on the one breastplate that Aharon Hacohen carries, his stated task being to “atone for himself and for his household and for all of Yisrael.”

I truly hope that we will know how to rise above all the smut and dirt we are being exposed to, and focus instead on the clean and the beautiful, the good and the pure. For the truth is that most of us are really like that – clean and beautiful, good and pure.

 

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim!

 

Zalmen Wishedski

it's Wow!

 

“What do you want people to say when they come to the Chabad House?” That was the first question that Danny, the interior architect, asked when he entered the building site of the future Chabad House, several years ago. Devorah answered: “The first thing they should say is, ‘Wow!’ and after a pause, they should say ‘It’s nice here, there’s a Heimishe feeling here, it has a homey feeling to it.’” The two of them, Danny and Devorah, were successful in achieving their goal. We still laugh every time people enter the Chabad House for the first time and say exactly those words: “Wow!” and then, “It has a homey feeling to it.”…

Last week the Chabad House hosted a private event for a family from the community. One of the guests approached me, and after the standard “Wow!” and the “Heimish,” she said, “But why did you buy such expensive furniture? This is not a private home; it’s a Chabad House, a public place. It would have been sufficient to use cheaper furniture.” I smiled and replied, “It is, after all, a Chabad House; it represents the Lubavitcher Rebbe, so it has to be respectable.”

I didn’t tell her at the time, but she took me back 26 years. I was a 12-year-old when I accompanied my father to the new home of some friends of ours. They took us around enthusiastically, showing us the elaborate decorations – the marble floor, the expensive furniture. We had to listen to a whole lecture on the subject of the elaborate faucets in the bathroom. I was very impressed, saying “Wow!” every few minutes.

When we returned to our home in Kfar Chabad, I saw my father sitting in the kitchen, as he often did, over a cup of tea, lost in thought. I sat down next to him. I always liked those quiet moments, when everyone else was asleep. Soon I would ask him questions and hear something about his childhood, about his Jewish life in Stalin’s Russia. But not this time. This time Father didn’t tell stories; instead, he was sitting and crying quietly, and when I sat down next to him, he just gave me a searing look and said earnestly: “Zalmenke, I see that you were impressed with the marble floor; that you were enthusiastic upon seeing the decorative faucets. Now listen well: In the Chabad House that you will, G-d willing, have, you will have marble floors, as well as expensive furniture and fancy faucets, but not in your own home! Material wealth and magnificence have no place in the home of a Chassid. It was not for this that we risked our lives in Russia – not for the sake of marble on the floor, no, no!”

 

Gold, silver, copper and expensive animal skins were what Hashem asked Moshe to take from the Jewish People, “from every man whose heart motivates him”, “shoham stones and stones for the settings, for the Ephod and the Choshen (breastplate).” – and all that in order to fulfill the directive of “They shall make a sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell among them.” Because when a person gives the most expensive material object that he possesses to the house of Hashem, that shows that he understands that material wealth and elegance are only means to sanctify and light up the world, and just like gold that is donated to the Temple becomes holy, part of a sanctuary for Hashem, so too the other material goods that we have can be sanctified by our using them correctly, for holy purposes. As an American diamond merchant once told me, in the middle of an economic crisis: “I am not worried about myself; I will manage. But it hurts me that I cannot give to all the people and institutions who need my support.”

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

Zei Gezunt!

 

After a person has just had an Aliyah in shul, people say to him “Chazak Uvaruch.” The Ashkenazim say “Yishar Ko’ach”, or, in short, “Shkoyach.” But not in Omsk, Siberia, in the old shul that has been resting on wooden columns for 165 years already. There, they don’t say “Shkoyach” or “Chazak”; there, the person descending from the Bimah (Torah reading platform) shakes hands with all those present, and with the special warmth that is unique to Siberian Jews, they wish each other “Zei Gezunt” (“Be well”).

When the first person, the Cohen, was called to the Torah and wished me “Zei Gezunt”, I thought he just saw I was tired from the long trip. But then, when the Levi and after him another six Yisraels did the same, I understood that it wasn’t aimed at me personally. It wasn’t me; it was them.

In the book “Hayom Yom”, on the date of the 28th of Shvat, the Rebbe brought an explanation of the Ba’al Shem Tov for a verse from this week’s Parasha – “If you see the donkey of someone who hates you crouching under its burden, would you refrain from helping him? You shall help repeatedly with him.” Here is what he said:

The donkey (Chamor), according to the Chassidic teachings, is related to Chomriyut – materialism.

A person’s body is his material part, and since it is material, it objects to the spiritual soul (Neshama) that is inside the person, as the body has wants and desires that don’t exactly coincide with the aspirations of the heavenly Neshama.

The Ba’al Shem Tov explains: If you see your body hating the Neshama and interfering with it, do not think to help your Neshama by breaking the body through self-inflicted suffering and fasting, but, rather, the opposite is true: help it refine and purify itself, so that it will no longer hate the Neshama. Connect your material part to spiritual doing.

Or, put more simply: We must care for the body; our health is important. A healthy person can serve Hashem and observe His Mitzvahs better than a sick person can.

A Jew should be healthy!

 

I’m not sure that the Jews in Omsk know this saying of the Ba’al Shem Tov. Its seems to me, that as descendants of Jews who were exiled to Siberia, they have become experienced and practical. They know that, as we say in Hebrew, “Ha’ikar Habri’ut” – the main thing is to be healthy.

 

Shabbat Shalom and Zei Gezunt!

Zalmen Wishedski

Omsk Synago.jpg 

I am going to Siberia

 

Dear Friends,

I am going to Siberia to visit my good friend, Rabbi Asher Krichevsky, who lives in Omsk, Siberia.

Asher, with his wife and six children, has been living for 13 years already in Omsk, as a Shaliach of the Rebbe. He’s there in order to warm the hearts in Siberia.

There was nothing there before he came, and today there is a warm, vibrant Jewish community with a fine Jewish school, kindergartens, a shul; and the community is about to complete the building of a big, beautiful Mikveh.

The Rebbe says, that the reason the Torah was given to us in the desert (as is told in this week’s Parasha), is to teach us that Torah can be brought anywhere, even to a desert. And the Rebbe, as only he could, indeed brought Torah and Mitzvot to every place in the world by way of his dedicated Shluchim – even to that immense, cold and faraway place called Siberia (the Omsk region is six times the size of the State of Israel, three times the size of Switzerland).

My friends, the Shluchim from Hamburg and Düsseldorf will join me in Moscow, and together we will go, with G-d’s help, to Omsk for Shabbat. This year I will receive the Ten Commandments, which will be read this coming Shabbat as part of the Torah reading, in Siberia.

I am going to Siberia. My grandfather, too, Rabbi Moshe Wishedski, went to Siberia. Stalin tore him away from his children in 1949 and sent him to a work camp in Siberia for many long years.

My grandfather found cold and suffering there; I will find there warmth and Jewish joy. My grandfather was sent to Siberia because he taught boys Torah. My friend Asher was sent to Siberia in order to teach boys Torah.

I am going to Siberia, and I am very excited about it – and moved. Because I am sure that my Zeideh Moshe is sitting up there and smiling triumphantly. “It was worth the fight,” he is saying to himself. And so we are coming full circle.

I am going to Siberia, but don’t tell Asher – he doesn’t know about it yet. He’ll know only tomorrow, G-d willing, when we knock on his front door.

 

I am going to Siberia to be warm!

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Zalmen Wishedski

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