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‘Tachlit Hakavannah.’

Dear Friends,

About two years ago I flew from Zurich to New York. Luckily enough, I sat next to a Gerrer Chassid from Ashdod. It didn’t take long to find out that though he was nominally a Gerrer Chassid, for a decade he had been connected to Chabad: learning its teachings, praying in the Nusach of the Arizal – and, in general, viewing himself as a Chabad Chassid. And just like me, he too was on his way to the Rebbe. “I’m going to request a blessing from the Rebbe for a Shidduch for my daughter,” he said. “It’s not that she’s an old maid, or having problems with a Shidduch. She learned in the Gerrer institutions, is looking for a Gerrer Chassid as a husband, and indeed we receive good offers of fine young men – Bnei Torah and G-d fearing. She has no problem; it is I who has a problem.”

“What is the problem?” I asked him.

“The problem is that I am shaking from the thought that she will marry a young man who is unfamiliar with the term ‘Tachlit Hakavannah.’”

I understood the issue immediately. “Tachlit Hakavannah” is the pillar of the teachings of the Chassidut. It is the central thing. From the moment one understands it, one cannot live anymore as a G-d fearing Jew without the teachings of Chassidut. Because one can learn and know, understand and internalize, but the Chassidic teachings explain to a person – and perhaps one might say that they grant him – the wonderful connection to Tachlit Hakvannah – the true, internal intention of everything that happens in this world, every mitzvah and every Torah story, any story that you have heard at all, and, really, every moment of your life.

Here is an example:

Why, indeed, did Bnei Yisrael roam the desert for forty years?

Yes, we know that it was a punishment for the Sin of the Spies – one year for every day, forty years for the forty days that the spies were in the Land and later libeled it. But why did they have to spend it in the desert?

The revealed Torah explains to us why things happen, why they were punished. But what was the internal reason for them to walk through the desert in particular? What did we gain from that? What did Hashem (so to speak) gain from that?

On Shabbat Parashat Naso, 5732 (1972) the Rebbe related to this question and said: “The Tachlit Hakavannah of the need for them to be in the desert was to make the desert into an ‘un-desert.’”

What is a desert? The prophet Yirmiyahu (2:6), when defining the desert, said “He who led us in the desert, in a land of wilderness and pit, in a land of waste and the shadow of death, in a land through which no man passed and where no person settled.” Just like materially the desert is a deserted place – “through which no man passed and where no person settled,” so too in the spiritual sense, a desert is a place where there are no human beings. In Chassidic teachings a human being symbolizes the “Adam Elyon” – the Supreme Human – namely Hashem. If so, a place where there are no people is a place where, so to speak, there is no place for the Adam Elyon – for Hashem. It possesses no holiness. The Divine force that gives it life is hidden, and therefore it is clear that it will be a “land of waste and shadow of death”, without life – without spiritual life and vitality; without holiness; just a material existence.

When Bnei Yisrael were in the desert, they changed it by their very presence there by observing Torah and Mitzvos; they even built the Mishkan (Tabernacle) there. Gradually (it took them forty years!) they turned the desert into a fitting place for the Adam Elyon. The desert became “the Sinai Desert”, a place that symbolizes, more than anything else, the bringing down of holiness into the world by the giving of the Torah.

A spiritual desert is not a geographic location. A spiritual desert can exist anywhere – at home and in the office, and – perhaps mainly – in the heart of a person as well. So if there are times when we feel that our heart is an empty, abandoned desert, we should remember and know that the desert too can be made fit for human habitation.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

the best preparation for Shavuot

 

Dear Friends,

 

It is no secret that an important part of the job a Shaliach and a director of a Chabad House is fundraising. The Rebbe decided that part of the structure of a Chabad House would be independent fundraising of each Chabad House, especially from the residents of its immediate area.

I assume – and that, too, is no secret – that you know that fundraising is not easy at all.

And yet, when it comes to collecting donations for a Sefer Torah, I’ve learned that the attitude is completely different.

We have two Torah scrolls in the Chabad House, and I was very active in raising the money for them. (With Hashem’s help the third will come without my effort…)

The first was new, and the second was used – a Holocaust survivor. For both of them, I approached a very heterogeneous public, every single kind of Jew in Basel, and this is no exaggeration at all. Today I know that the quick responses, the willingness and even eagerness to give and be part of the purchasing and performing the Hachnasa (bringing in) of the Sefer Torah was something that I have never encountered in connection with anything else in the world. It was as if the Sefer Torah removed the partitions and differences between the various segments of the Jewish People. And that’s the simple fact!

This continued to be evident even during the Hachnasat Sefer Torah, the procession in the street, the dancing and the Hakafot (dancing around it). These were moments of rare unity and love of one’s fellow Jews. Rabbis from all the communities danced side by side; Jews from all over the world hopped joyously to the music, in honor of the Torah. And that’s the simple fact!

There is something in the Torah that is very connecting and uniting, and especially exciting and joyous.

We are now just a few hours away from receiving the Torah again, for the 3327th time. It’s not the Sefer Torah that we will receive, but the Torah itself.

The Rebbe says, that the best preparation for receiving the Torah is loving the Jewish People and being united as a people. In other words, if a person really wants to receive the Torah again this year on the highest level and at the deepest depth, he must internalize the sentence “I hereby accept upon myself the positive mitzvah of ‘you shall love your fellow like yourself.’”

This is what the Rebbe said before Shavuot in 5713 (1953):

“When you meet a Jew in the days before the Giving of the Torah, until the morning of the holiday of Shavuot, one must inform, and explain that there is a right and an obligation to exert oneself more and more in everything connected to Ahavat Yisrael (loving other Jews). One should explain that Ahavat Yisrael is the preparation for the giving and receiving of the Torah.”

In simple words: you cannot be a lover of Torah without being a lover of Jews. You cannot be a lover of Hashem without loving His children. It’s simply impossible.

One cannot harm another Jew in the name of the Torah – one cannot insult another person in the name of the love of Hashem!

 

With blessings for receiving the Torah with joy and with Pnimiyut (depth),

 

Zalman Wishedski

“Whatever a man has he would give up for his soul.”

 

Dear Friends,

 

I want to tell you a story that I heard from my father countless times. My father, who was witness to it, tells the story very vividly, as if it happened today or just yesterday. And that is the way his listeners have received it as well. The feeling is as if I was there myself and saw everything.

But, before the story itself, I will mention how this week’s Parasha reminds me of it:

At the end of Parashat Bechukotai, the Torah talks about the laws of Cherem (segregation) and Hekdesh (consecration) – when a person decides to donate some property of his to Hashem, to the Temple. From the verse in our Parasha, “However, any segregated property that a man will segregate for the sake of Hashem, from anything that is his…” The Rambam learns that when it comes to a Hekdesh or Cherem, a person must not segregate or consecrate all of his property, for it does not say “anything that is his,” but rather, “from anything that is his.” How much should he give? Up to a fifth (20%) of his belongings. And even if he wants to go beyond what is demanded of him, he shouldn’t give more. A person who gives more than that is considered to be a foolish person who is acting wrongly.

As opposed to Hekdesh, in the laws of Tzedakah (charity) and helping the poor, the Rambam says that in spite of the fact that one shouldn’t give more than a fifth, someone who wants to go beyond what is demanded of him, is permitted to give more than 20% of his assets to Tzedakah.

The Baal HaTanya, when he explains the matter of Tzedakah, says that when the Tzedakah is being given so that the giver will be able to atone for various sins that he has committed, he can give as much as he likes – even all his assets – since in this case the Tzedakah is coming in place of fasting and self-flagellation that he should have taken upon himself as atonement for his sins. So, when a person is coming to redeem and atone for himself, it is worth it to him to give everything he has in order to redeem his soul, the same way a person would pay any amount in order to heal his body. The Tanya quotes a verse from the book of Iyov: “Whatever a man has he would give up for his soul.”

I personally do not know anyone who is capable of giving everything they have, but I am acquainted with Reb Moshe Goldis of Czernowitz of 1960 from my father’s story:

Moshe Goldis was a Chassid of the Ribnitzer Rebbe. A simple, special Jew. Those were the days of Khrushchev, when any kind of trade was strictly forbidden. But Reb Moshe found ways to trade and earn very well from it. In spite of that fact, his home was very simple, and he ate like a poor man.

One day, Reb Moshe Goldis came to the Wishedski home in Czernowitz. My grandfather, Rabbi Moshe Wishedski, and Rabbi Mendel Futerfas, who had already been released from their long imprisonment and exile in Siberia, were there, as was my father, who was then about twenty years old. Moshe Goldis had just come back from a business trip throughout the huge Soviet state, and he said to R. Mendel Futerfas: “I’ve made a lot of money on this trip.” As he was speaking, he began to pull out various bills, starting from his hat and ending in his socks; he extracted money from every garment he was wearing and put it on the table.

“Is that all, or is there more?” asked him Reb Mendel, and mentioned that there was a clandestine Mikveh that still needed completing, and a couple that needed help getting married, and teachers in the clandestine Cheder who needed to get salaries. He then took all the money from the table. “This money,” he said, “is enough to resuscitate the Jews of Silence,” for whom he felt constantly responsible.

“That is all,” answered Reb Moshe, and after a few moments of silence he said: “I’m giving you all my money happily; but I have one request. In order to continue trading, I need some cash. If you take everything, how will I be able to continue?”

“No problem,” answered Reb Mendel. “Tell me how much you need for your business. I will give you an interest-free loan, and you will pay it back to me when you start making money again.”

My father, who was watching all this, expected Moshe Goldis to object, or, at least, to wonder aloud about this, or that his face should show his misgivings. But that is not what happened. Without flinching, Reb Moshe just mentioned the sum that he needed as a loan, and promised to pay it back.

 

“Whatever a man has he would give up for his soul.”

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

Judging favorably exposes merits

 

Dear Friends,

 

The time was 1:30 pm in New York, the Shabbat of Parashat Emor, 1982 (5742). Thousands of Chassidim were crowded in there – some sitting, most standing. The Tefillah (services) had just ended, but no one had time to get home and make Kiddush. They must have heard Kiddush from someone in 770 – the Rebbe’s Beit Midrash (study hall). Their eyes and ears were wide open. This was a Hitva’adut (spiritual meeting) with the Rebbe. The Rebbe proceeded to speak in Yiddish for about 6 hours straight, except for a few breaks for singing.

He quoted from all parts and levels of the Torah, and explained them. And yes, he mainly was “Doresh.” No – he did not say a Drasha (a sermon); rather, he made demands (Drishot)! With the Rebbe there were no merely beautiful words of Torah – they always came together with a demand that people act. There was always a stubborn, very contemporary message in what he said.

This time, on Shabbat Parashat Emor 1982 (5742), the main theme of the Hitva’adut could be summarized in one word: “Emor.”

“Emor” is in the imperative. You are commanded to say; and say continually. (The Rebbe said inYiddish: “Halten In Ein Zagen.”

What should one say? Say favorable words and speak of the merits of your fellow Jew. The Tanna (Mishnaic scholar) Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachia, said in Masechet Avot: “Judge every person favorably.” The Lubavitcher Rebbe said: It is not enough to judge your fellow Jew favorably in your thoughts; you must express it in spoken words.

Not only think it – but say it! Emor!

And one more thing: When you say it, say it gently and pleasantly. The verse doesn’t say “Daber,” but “Emor.” A Dibbur comes with harshness; an Amirah comes with gentleness, softness.

 

Why must one speak? Why isn’t it enough to think?

The Rebbe brings two reasons:

A. Give your friend some pleasure. If you think good things about him, tell him so.

B. Judging favorably exposes merits.  When you judge your fellow Jew favorably, you will be revealing, arousing and lighting up his noble abilities, the merits and the good that are in him, even though at the moment he is in a situation where you have to make an effort to think positive thoughts about him.

 

My friends, speech is powerful, and this week we are commanded to use it for the good.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

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