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Rabbi's weekly Blog

not Jewelry, but rather JEW-lry

 

Dear Friends,

 

“This is not Jewelry, but rather JEW-lry.” So said Avinoam ben Yitzchak Netanel, among other things, in the Chabad House last Shabbat, the Shabbat of Baselworld - the Watch and Jewellery Show. Like every year, the Chabad House was overflowing with Jews from all over the world, representing all Jewish ethnic groups, and Avi, in his own special way, was encouraging his friends to make sure to remember what’s more important in life, and what’s less.

 

In the Rebbe’s first book, the “Hayom-Yom” book, for the date of 20 Adar Sheni, the Rebbe brings a wonderful Chassidic explanation of the Maggid of Mezeritch on a verse from this week’s Parasha: “The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not [Lo] be extinguished” – the fire of love and enthusiasm for Hashem and for His Torah will always be burning in a person’s heart, and, that way, he will ensure that the “Lo” – the negative things – will be extinguished and banished from his heart.

 

I saw it this week, this entire week, and especially on Shabbat. I saw all these Jews from all over the world who keep the fire in their hearts burning! I saw how the Mashhad Jews are particular about singing their special tune for “Betzet Yisrael..” in Hallel; others made sure to sing “Hashem Malach, Ge’ut Lavesh” in Kabbalat Shabbat. Everyone sang enthusiastically and with love the verse of “Yevarech Et Beit Yisrael.” I saw the everlasting fire in their hearts, and I knew that it was protecting them from the “Lo” that might appear.

 

Just like the faithful Avi said: “It’s not Jewelry, but, rather JEW-lry.”

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

moment of silence

 

Dear Friends,

A few years ago a man came to me and asked to meet with me. Presenting himself as a Protestant Christian, he told me his problem: “I got divorced several months ago. I have a ten-year old daughter who lives mostly with her mother, coming to me only for short visits. The problem is that I am religious and my ex-wife is an atheist. I want the girl to grow up to be a believer in the Creator, and my ex-wife doesn’t want that at all. It has already caused a huge disagreement between us. Perhaps you can advise me what to do? It’s very important to me that my daughter be a believing person.”

“So why have you come to me?” I asked. “I’m a Jewish rabbi and you are a Protestant Christian…”

“Well, a Jewish friend told me,” he answered, “that if you want a creative solution to a problem, you should ask a Chabad rabbi.”

 

The truth is, he’s right. I really didn’t have to exert myself very much, because the Rebbe didn’t leave even one realm in life in which he didn’t present us with a clear directive as to how to act.

 

In this case, I immediately remembered the campaign that the Rebbe ran in America for years: a campaign of installing in elementary schools the concept of a “moment of silence” – a moment in which the children stop for sixty seconds and think about the world and about its Creator and Ruler. The Rebbe explained that this “moment of silence” would have a positive effect on the children’s values and moral and spiritual condition, and in that way would affect the entire world.

 

I suggested to the confused father that he explain to his ex-wife and to his daughter that he is not asking them to do anything – not even to speak – but only to be silent, and even that for only sixty seconds every morning. To sit quietly and think about the flowers and the trees, the water and the sky; to connect to the environment and to thank the Creator of the World silently, in one’s heart, for the wonderful nature that surrounds us.

In our Parasha, Parashat Vayikra, we learn about the offerings in the Temple. One of the special ones was the Korban Tamid (continual offering). This was an offering that was brought first thing in the morning, every morning. Because when one begins the day with connection to Hashem, with the recognition of “Modeh Ani Lefanecha, Melech Chai Vekayam” (I render thanks to You / recognize You, everlasting King”), then that announcement is enough to instill in us some modesty and humility and a lot of faith and willingness to sacrifice. This is the personal Korban Tamid of every man and woman. And whoever is connected to Hashem also merits His blessings in all his deeds.

 

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

Come tomorrow!

 

I heard from my teacher, Rabbi Chaim Shalom Deutsh, that when he was learning in the Yeshiva in Kfar Chabad, they sat one year at the Hitva’adut (Chassidic gathering) on Purim with the Mashpi’a (spiritual guide), Rabbi Shlomo Chaim Kesselman z”l. During the long night, he spoke many words of Torah and gave inspiring messages. They all drank “L’chaim” and sang moving Chabad Niggunim (tunes), of the type that take your spirit and elevate it more and more, until you feel that you are somewhat above this material world. In Yiddish they call that state “A Tefach Hecher” – a Tefach above the world (“Tefach” is a Talmudic measurement).

Rabbi Shlomo Chaim had already gone home, but a small group of students continued to sing for several more hours.

Very early in the morning, when people were beginning to gather for Shacharit (morning prayers), the young men came to the home of their beloved Mashp’ia, and knocked on the door. When he opened the door, they said, all excited, “We want to pray.” Translating this into our own language, they meant they were asking his permission to pray longer than usual. Why did they have to ask for permission? Because Rabbi Shlomo Chaim did not allow everyone to pray at great length: before a young student begins to pray that way and cleave to Hashem – in other words, to elevate himself – one has to make sure that his foundations in Torah and Chassidut are sound. But on this morning, after hours of Hitva’adut, they all felt that they were worthy of praying at great length, and therefore asked for permission to do so. Rabbi Shlomo Chaim, in his great wisdom, didn’t wave them away, but, rather, said, “O.K., but not today. Come to me tomorrow.”…

The next day only one (!) young man showed up, asked for permission to “begin praying” and received it.

 

From this week’s Parasha we learn the thirty-nine Melachot (actions) that are forbidden on Shabbat. One of the most well-known ones is the prohibition to kindle a fire on Shabbat. Halacha says, that if someone lights a fire, he has transgressed, but he is not liable to punishment, unless he lit the fire for the sake of some benefit to himself – for instance, if he lit the fire because he needed the ashes that would result from it. Only then is he punished, because only then has he performed the Melacha completely.

The Rebbe explains, that a person serving his Creator must perform his actions in a complete way as well. Lighting a fire without any benefit is not considered to be a Melacha.

A person who lights the inner fire within himself, awaking and coming closer to Hashem – even dancing and singing “HaKadosh Baruch Hu, we love You!” and feeling connected to the Creator, and even love for Him – that is all fine and good. But these actions cannot be considered a “Melacha” as long as there is no goal that continues to exist even after the “fire” has gone out. Only if the goal is the “ashes” – the material, tangible part that remains after the fire – then the act of kindling the fire is complete. Because the fire of the soul has to touch a person’s materiality as well.

Or, perhaps, in the words of Rabbi Shlomo Chaim, “Come tomorrow!” He who comes even after the fire has gone out is the one who will really connect.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

to be Yehudi

 

Dear Friends,

 

Legend has it that a few decades ago there was a secret competition between the intelligence agencies of Israel, the U.S. and the Soviet Union. An elephant was released in a thick forest, and the competition was who would find it first.

The CIA were the first to try. They used electronic sensors and drones, and found the elephant in two days.

The Mossad was next. They sent intelligence agents disguised as animals, used human information sources, and within less than 30 hours the elephant was located.

The last ones were the K.G.B. They went out to the forest, and came back in one day with a cat, saying: “He admitted he’s an elephant.”

A truly sincere admission carries a very deep meaning. No – I don’t mean an admission made during a police interrogation, or an admission before elections. I mean the kind of truly sincere acknowledgment that is expressed in a person’s deeds, behavior and entire existence.

The first time in the Bible the Jewish People are defined as “Yehudim” (Jews), is in the Purim Megillah – Megillat Esther. Until then, they are described as Bnei Yisrael, the People of Hashem, a holy nation etc. The word “Yehudi” has the meaning of “Hoda’ah” – admission, or acknowledgment. A Jew, in his inner being, acknowledges the existence of Hashem, and in his behavior he also proves that this is his very essence. That is also the inner essence of the Brit Milah that is marked in our flesh, and the clear message of the Mezuzah on our doorposts: Here lives a person who believes in Hashem, and therefore he has a piece of parchment with the sentence, “Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One,” on the doorpost, at the entrance to the house.

In the Hitva’adut (Chassidic gathering) of Purim of 1969, the Rebbe quoted the verse from the Megillah, “A Jewish person was in Shushan the capital, and his name was Mordechai.” And the Rebbe went on to say, as a clear and eternal message to all of us, that when Mordechai was in Shushan the Capital, everyone knew immediately that he was Jewish – even before they knew that “his name was Mordechai.” Even from afar they could see that the person they were seeing was Jewish.

In other words, when you walk down the street, do not be ashamed of who you are. You can let people know you’re Jewish without them having to use electronic sensors, secret agents or the K.G.B….

The days are past when we would be embarrassed, hide ourselves or hide our identity; because a Jew “neither kneels nor bows down.”

 

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim!

 

Zalmen Wishedski

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