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“His home – that is his wife,”

 

Dear Friends,

 

My colleague and friend, Rabbi Nechemia Wilhelm, of the Chabad House in Bangkok, Thailand, has been chosen to be one of three recipients of the Jerusalem Unity Prize. This is a prize that was inaugurated by the Jerusalem Municipality in memory of the three boys – Naftali Frankel, Gil-Ad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach, Hy”d. The prize of NIS 100,000 is being awarded to people who work to further the unity of the Jewish People.

There is no doubt that this is a good choice: Rabbi Nechemia and the Chabad House in Bangkok are the place where the Jewish People shine in all their glory, their mutual love and their unity, in spite of their lack of uniformity – just like we all felt during the three weeks of waiting almost a year ago (how time flies…), after the kidnapping had become known.

In a message that Rabbi Nechemia posted on Facebook after finding out that he had been awarded the prize, he wrote (among other things): “The prize is for my wife and our dear children!” What a beautiful sentiment! I was particularly moved by it because it is so closely connected to the Parasha we will read this week (outside of Eretz Yisrael), Parashat Acharei-Mot Kedoshim:

At the beginning of the Parasha the Torah teaches us about the Avodah (service) of the Cohen Gadol (High Priest) on Yom Kippur, about his changing clothes from the “golden” ones (the ornate outfit he ordinarily wore) to a simple white garment, his immersing in a Mikveh, and of course, that all-important prayer in the Kodesh Hakodashim, the holiest place in the Beit Hamikdash. The verse says that in doing all these things “he will atone for himself and for his home and for all the community of Israel.” “His home – that is his wife,” say our Sages about this phrase, in Mashechet (Tractate) Yoma. Really? Yes. On Yom Kippur, at the most sublime moment of his mission for the entire nation, when he is coming to atone for everybody, he starts with “his home – that is his wife.”

Moreover, when he completes the tasks of that holy day, he must go home immediately, as the Rambam says, “He is accompanied to his home. And he would make a Yom Tov for his friends when he came out safely from the holy [place].”

Why this contrast? One moment he is immersing himself, and dressing himself in the golden or white clothes, and being completely holy and above this world – he enters the Kodesh Hakodashim in a state of maximum holiness and purity – and the next moment he is supposed to focus on his personal, material life: his wife and home, who symbolize the private home and all the usual material needs of a human being such as food, drink and sleep.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, the one who sent Rabbi Nechemia to Bangkok, explains: This conduct of the Cohen on Yom Kippur does not constitute a contrast, but rather it is a magical integration that expresses the goal of a Jew’s service to his Creator. True, there is sublime holiness: entering the holiest place on earth, on the holiest day of the year, and at the holiest time – the hour of Ne’ilah. But the goal of the entering is not to stay in this state of retirement from the world, not to remain “holy”, but to make use of that sublime holiness within the material world.

To be holy at home, too, and not only in the Beit Knesset (synagogue); to consecrate and purify daily life.

Therefore, immediately upon completing the Yom Kippur Avodah, the Cohen Gadol goes back home, thus expressing the integration of spiritual elevation and materiality, holiness and everyday life, Kodesh Hakodashim and the Cohen’s private abode.

That is the reason that Rabbi Nechemia mentioned his wife and children immediately upon hearing the good news about the prize – because he knows the value of the magical integration of the Beit Chabad kitchen and his private one, a class given to a group and a story he tells his child, the group and the individual; because only after “and he will atone for himself and for his home” can he atone “for all the community of Israel” as well.

 

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

The mosquito was created before you

 

Dear Friends,

 

I once heard a Darshan (preacher) say: When we call a human being by the name of an animal, whether wild or domesticated (such as: “he’s a snake,” “he’s a mule”), we are actually belittling the animal, since animals fulfill their destiny in this world by just being what they are – animals. But when a human being behaves like an animal he is not fulfilling his destiny – which is to be a human being.

Parashat Tazria-Metzora (which we read this week outside of Eretz Yisrael), the Parasha that deals with the laws of purity and impurity of human beings, follows Parashat Shemini, which deals with different types of animals and their status – kosher or non-kosher. Rashi says in his commentary on the first verse that there is a reason that the laws regarding human beings come after the laws regarding animals. “The same way Man was created after all the animals and birds, so the laws regarding him were presented after the laws of animals and birds.”

What Rashi does not explain here is why Man was created last, on the sixth day of Creation, when the entire world was already in existence, after the inanimate, the plants and the animals had all been formed?

Our Sages said that Man was created last for two reasons, each one of which embodies a different end of the spectrum:

a. So that he will come to a completed world and will be able to begin to live in it according to human beings’ needs and requirements;

b. So that in case he misbehaves, one can always say to him: “The mosquito was created before you.” Don’t forget who you are and where you come from. Even a tiny and annoying creature like a mosquito came before you and was created before you. And not only was he created before you chronologically, but even in status he is above you, because he is fulfilling his destiny; and what can you say for yourself in that regard?

By the Rebbe, whenever there are two answers given to one question, there must be a connection between them. Here, too, the Rebbe puts the two answers together, making up one wonderful message:

Man is composed of body and soul.

The body is earthy, and has animalistic needs, and in order to ensure that he not degrade himself and become worth less than a mosquito, he has the refined, G-dly, spiritual soul. What he needs is proper management. When the soul manages him and guides the body, then the world will constitute for him a ready tool; but if not – if the body will be the one that manages and guides – then very quickly the person will find himself inferior even to a mosquito.

 

And I say, May we be successful J!

 

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

their opinions are not the same

 

Dear Friends,

 

The founder of the Chassidic Movement, Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, said: “There has to be Mesirut Nefesh (self-sacrifice) in order to love a fellow Jew, even a Jew that you have never seen.” As I was growing up, I looked around and thought to myself that you need much more Mesirut Nefesh to love a Jew that you have indeed seen and met, than for one that you haven’t. We all love to love a person that we’ve never seen, that has never annoyed us, that has never said something unpleasant or made a face at us.

We are in the middle of Sefirat Ha’Omer, the days when we don’t have haircuts, don’t get married and don’t have any celebrations because we are in mourning over the twenty-four thousand students of Rabbi Akiva who died during these days. The Talmud tells us that they died “because they did not honor each other.” But we must not forget that remembering and mourning are not enough. We must learn from their mistake and act accordingly.

Often, people ask me: “How is it that you are friendly with so many people, even those who think so differently from you – sometimes extremely differently?”

I always tell them the words of the Rebbe, who quoted the Talmud, saying that “Just like [human beings’] faces are not the same, so too their opinions are not the same.” The Rebbe explains that the goal of creating people with different opinions is not that they should fight each other and belittle each other, but that they enrich each other with varied ideas. How simple; for one single, unanimous opinion exists only in North Korea…

But there is one condition that must exist so that the varied opinions will serve as catalysts for enrichment and not for strife and mutual contempt, and that is: an unspoilt mind, a refined ego. When this condition exists, a person will use his intellect and his wisdom in order to search for the truth and find the best way to improve the world around him – “Tikkun Olam,” as it is referred to today. And when there is inner refinement, expressing one’s personal opinion will not involve belittling the other and relating to him disrespectfully.

And that is precisely the reason that we have forty-nine days until the holiday celebrating the Giving of the Torah, so that we should know that before one acquires knowledge and wisdom, before one receives the Torah, one must dig deep inside, examine one’s character, nature and personality traits, and then purify them and refine them. Only then will we be able to express our own opinion.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

Se’udat Mashiach

 

Dear Friends,

 

One hot summer day, an old man went down to a cool cellar, in order to give himself some relief. When he walked into the dark room, he couldn’t see anything at first. “Don’t be afraid,” said his friend who was in the cellar. “That’s normal. When you pass from light to darkness, you can’t see. But soon your eyes will get used to the darkness, and you’ll barely notice that it’s dark here.”

“My dear friend,” said the old man, as he turned to leave, “that’s just what I’m afraid of. Darkness is darkness. The danger is that you will convince yourself that it is light.” (from the wonderful book, “Toward a Meaningful Life”).

This coming Shabbat we will be celebrating the last day of Pesach. The Baal Shem Tov instituted that on that day we should make a “Se’udat Mashiach” (a special meal for the Messiah), since on that day the light of the Mashiach shines in the world. (In Israel it happens on the seventh day of Pesach.)

Se’udat Mashiach – yes, a real festive meal. The same way we celebrate the past redemption – the redemption from Egypt – not only by telling stories and explaining things, but also by eating meaningful foods such as matzah and marror – and all this so that our materialistic body will also take part in the experience of redemption from Egypt – so too we mark the future Redemption. The light of Mashiach shines in the world on the last day of Pesach; we just have to connect it to our material selves, and that we do by way of a Se’udat Mashiach, which includes four cups of wine – cups of redemption and blessing.

One more thing: when we make the Se’udat Mashiach, we are actually making a statement that we do not recognize the present situation as being good, but rather as one that has to improve and get better. We do not recognize our situation as being that of light, but rather of darkness, even though we have become accustomed to it and it seems to us that we have light.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

be a miracle yourself!

 

Dear Friends,

 

It was a clandestine Hitva’adut (Chassidic gathering), that continued far into the night. The place was Czernowitz, and the time was the end of the 1950’s, during Khrushchev’s reign. Most of the political prisoners had already been released from the work camps. My grandfather, “Zeide Moshe”, Rabbi Moshe Wishedski, had only recently returned from seven years of imprisonment and exile. They all sat together behind closed curtains and encouraged each other to be strong and to guard the glowing ember of Judaism – for there was no fire at the time; only a glowing ember remained by then.

 

My grandfather “took a lot of drink” and with true love he demanded from one of the participants to return to keeping a kosher kitchen and a kosher bedroom. This was not a mere demand – my grandfather knew that that person was really interested in observing the Mitzvot, and, after all, he had even shown up at the secret Hitva’adut, and that meant everything – it meant that he was “one of us.” The problem was that it was really very hard to keep the Mitzvot. Finding a piece of kosher chicken was almost impossible, and getting to a kosher Mikveh was a challenge that necessitated genuine Mesirut Nefesh (self-sacrifice). But he also knew, that as a Chassid who had just returned from seven years of exile in Siberia, he had the prerogative to demand – with love – that his friend would show some Mesirut Nefesh.

 

That Jew turned to Grandfather and said, “R. Moshe, when Hashem will make a miracle and we’ll get to the “Eretz” (meaning Eretz Yisrael), there I will certainly observe everything – for everything there is permitted.”

 

That was the moment when my Zeide rose from his seat, straightened his cap on his head and called out from the depths of his heart: “You want Hashem to make a miracle for you?! First, you do a miracle, and then He’ll do a miracle.” A miracle is something that is beyond nature and its laws; if you behave in a manner that is beyond your natural human nature, beyond the laws of Soviet Russia – indeed, perform a miracle with your behavior, and even be a miracle yourself – then Hashem will listen to our prayers, perform a miracle and we will reach “Eretz.”

 

My friends, the month of Nissan is a month of miracles. (Nissan – Nissim). Pesach is made up stories of wonders and miracles. And when we reach the holiday eve, and sit with friends and family, celebrating the past, the present and certainly the future as well, we ask Hashem to help us be free from everything that prevents us from celebrating: whether it’s a health issue of one of our loved ones, a severe financial difficulty, the desire to receive true Nachas from our children, or sometimes just the wish to be happy. And in general, we all conclude the Haggadah with the request, the plea and the hope: “Next year in Jerusalem.” It is worthwhile, then, to remember my grandfather’s call at the clandestine Hitva’adut on that dark night: You want Hashem to make a miracle for you?! First, you do a miracle, and then He’ll do a miracle!

 

I wish everyone a Happy and Kosher Pesach!!!

 

Zalmen Wishedski

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