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the video clip in my brain

There are moments in life that become engraved in one’s consciousness, something like a video clip saved on the video player in the brain. I have a number of those, and one of them came to mind when I was learning this week’s Parasha.

One of the most famous verses in the Bible appears in this week’s Parasha, Parashat Va’etchanan: “And you shall love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” As familiar as this verse from Kri’at Shema is, so too is the question that comes up when one studies it: The verse commands us to love Hashem, our G-d, with all our hearts, and the question is, how can one command the heart? Is it possible to force a feeling? Will my heart fill instantaneously with love to the Creater at the moment that I say “And you shall love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart” – just because I was commanded to feel that way?

Here is what the Rambam (Maimonides, Laws of the Foundations of the Torah, Chapter 2) says about this: “What is the way to love and fear Him? When a person observes His great and wonderful deeds and creatures… immediately he loves and praises… and has a strong desire to know the Great Hashem.”

In other words, there is a command to love Hashem. How should you observe it? How can you create love? Just look at Hashem’s wonderful deeds and creatures and the love will come… Simple, isn’t it?

And here we come to that video clip that has been sitting in my brain for 18 years already.

I was touring with some friends at the Niagara Falls. We stood there, amazed at the wonder: the tremendous power of the water, flowing this way since Creation. When you stand on the Canadian side you can see the Falls in all their beauty, power and glory; your heart skips a beat and you are struck speechless.

At that point, a group of tourists arrived with T-shirts emblazoned with “Motti Tours – Touring in America in Hebrew”. Not that without the shirts I wouldn’t have known, even from afar, that they are Israelis. Their “Wow!” was quite loud, and then, as they were expressing their wonder at the sight, one of them, who was holding a cup of juice in his hand, placed his hand on his head and said out loud, “Chaverim (friends), when you come here and see all this, it is impossible not say ‘Baruch Atah Hashem, Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam, Shehakol Nihyah Bidvaro (Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the World, that everything came into being by His word.” And all of us roared together, “AMEN!!”

That was the moment when I understood the Rambam. I suddenly saw, live, how observing “His wonderful, great deeds and creatures” bring a person to “immediately he loves and praises…”

The entire teachings of Chassidut are based on that verse, for in order to love you must know who the beloved is, and in order to pray, you must know whom you are praying to, whom you are speaking to. When you observe the mitzvahs, you must know Whose will you are upholding, and with Whom you are really connecting when you perform a mitzvah.

Chassidut deals with knowing Hashem as much as a human being can know, and understanding as much as a human being can understand. Believe me, it is possible to understand much more than one would think. It is possible to know and deepen one’s knowledge more than people tend to think. When one learns and deepens one’s knowledge, one discovers more and more levels of His great and wonderful deeds and creatures, and then, when we say “Shehakol Nihyah Bidvaro” we really understand and say it sincerely; really love, and really fear.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

 

i wrote it last year, unfortunately, its relevant today again:

Excuse me for writing in the middle of the week, for a change. But something terrible has happened.

I am in pain – I am hurting! What comes to mind is the story of the Klausenberger Rebbe zt”l, who lost his wife and eleven children in the Holocaust, and still remained a beacon of faith and encouragement for the Jews who were with him in the camps.

Once, the Nazis commanded them to carry rocks from place to place for no reason at all – not in order to build or create anything, just in order to make them work.

Rain started to fall, and then the Jews turned to the Klausenberger Rebbe and asked him: “Rebbe, even now you would say happily, ‘You have chosen us from all the nations’?”

“Yes,” said the Rebbe. “I thank Hashem that we, the Jewish People, are not like them. We are not those who hold the whip, who hit and murder.”

But this week something terrible happened. This week, the Klausenberger Rebbe would have had nothing to say. Because it has been revealed that some Jewish youths kidnapped an Arab youth and simply murdered him. And that hurts! It is an outrage, and it must awaken some soul-searching inside us.

That’s it. I have no more to say.

 

In pain,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

I believe in the coming of Mashiach

 A person once went to visit a great sage. When he reached his house, he saw that he was living in a tiny, tumbledown hut at the edge of town. He asked the elderly sage: “I don’t understand: you are a great sage, and have many disciples; you are known throughout the country. Is it fitting that a person like you should live in such a house? A person like you should live in a palace!”

“And you,” asked the sage, “where do you live?”

“I am a respected businessman, and I live in a large house, richly furnished.”

“And when you are on a business trip in a strange city, where do you live?”

“Well, when I’m on a business trip I live in one room, in a small inn,” answered the visitor.

The old sage looked at him and asked: “I don’t understand, is it fitting that a respectable person like you should live in a small room in an inn?”

“Look,” said the businessman, “life on the road is temporary, and therefore I don’t need more than one room. Come to my real home and you’ll see how big and magnificent it is.”

“So,” answered the sage, “my real world is spiritual, and the material world for me is just something temporary, on the way. If you enter my spiritual home you’ll see that I live in a palace.”

Friends, we are in the days of Bein Hametzarim – days of sorrow and mourning because of the destruction of the Temple. We have been in exile for 2000 years already. More than one nation has tried to obliterate us, time after time, but to no avail. They hit us, killed us, but we always got up and kept going, thanks to our strong and eternal believe that this is all temporary and that tomorrow will be good. The day will come when we will be redeemed from this exile. Sometimes it seemed that our house was poor and even tumbledown; sometimes it was cold and sometimes it was hot, but we always remembered that we are merely traveling, and when traveling, even a respectable businessman stays in a small room in an inn. We must not forget the truth: we have a large and magnificent building waiting for us – the one that we pray for its rebuilding three times a day. In a moment we will settle the last account and return to our true home – the Third Temple, speedily, in our days.

“I believe with complete faith in the coming of Mashiach, and although he may tarry, nevertheless, I wait every day for him to come.”

May we have a Shabbat of peace, comfort and salvation.

 

Zalmen Wishedski

The Berlin prison

The Berlin prison, Purim, 5759 (1999). I was learning in the Chabad Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin, and my friend and I were sent to read the Megillah and bring the joy of the holiday to every Jew. That is how we – Shlomi Beitsch (today Rabbi Shlomo Beitsch, the Rebbe’s Shaliach in Maryland) and myself – found ourselves in the Berlin prison, looking for Jews.

Seven Jewish prisoners had been collected from the various wings into a big, empty room. They all said that they had been condemned for tax-related crimes, even the one who came in with handcuffs and was accompanied by two guards…

They were seven, we were two; one more and we would have a Minyan. One doesn’t have to have a Minyan for the Megillah reading, but in the laws of the Megillah it says, “One must search for ten, and if it is impossible to read it in the presence of ten, then one reads it alone.” So we began to pester the officials in a Chabad-like way, to search for one more Jew in their lists. But they didn’t find any. “So just let me take a walk through this floor,” I asked. “Maybe there’s someone anyway.” “Aber Schnell”, they said, allowing it.

I went out, accompanied by a warden, and roamed around. Suddenly, I heard “Shalom!” in Hebrew. I looked for the cell where the voice must be coming from, but no – the speaker was standing right in front of me, smiling and asking me in Hebrew, “Ma Shlomcha?” – “How are you?”  He was neither handcuffed nor guarded – for he was not a prisoner, but rather a prison guard!

I can still see his figure, with his embarrassed smile, and remember my discomfort in seeing a Jew in the uniform of a German jailer…

I can also still see the surprised faces of the prisoners, when I came in with the guard and said, “Done! We have a Minyan!”

Beyond that, I remember the moment at which we all suddenly realized that there is a deep connection between a guarded, handcuffed prisoner, two young rabbis and one jailer in a prison in Berlin – this human mosaic is what put us together and made us form a Minyan.

When they asked us, “Why did you come? Why did you choose to celebrate Purim with us in the prison?” I told them the simple truth: It’s not us – it’s the Rebbe. The Lubavitcher Rebbe commanded us to bring Purim to any Jew wherever he is. We are only his agents.

 

If they would have learned the Rebbe’s commentary on this week’s Parasha, they would have understood us a bit better.

In the laws of the unintentional killer and the Ir Miklat (city of refuge), it says, “And the assembly will rescue the killer… and shall return him to his city of refuge… he shall dwell in it until the death of the High Priest.” In other words, the unintentional killer escapes to the city of refuge, lives his life there, but only there. He can leave the city of refuge only after the death of the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest.

What is the connection between such a person and the High Priest? The Rebbe explains, based on Rashi’s commentary, that part of the Kohen Gadol’s role is to pray for every Jew that he should not come to kill unintentionally. If there is a situation in which a Jew degenerates to the point of killing someone, that means that the Kohen has not refined him enough. The death of the Kohen atones for his generation, and therefore the killer may then leave the city of refuge.

In this speech, which the Rebbe gave on this Shabbat in 5734 (1974), he added and emphasized not just the reason, but mainly the very fact that there is such a polar connection. Even an accidental killer, who is at the bottom of society, is very much connected to the Kohen Gadol, the holiest and most elevated person. One influences the other, and, as mentioned, the Kohen is responsible, because he should have prayed for the simple Jew that he not get to the point of killing another person.

When the Rebbe asked and commanded that we reach every Jew, everywhere, he spoke from a feeling of deep responsibility towards his People. You could see and feel the true connection and caring for every person, whether he be a handcuffed prisoner or a busy warden.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

We should care!

Dear Friends,

Once upon a time there was such a profession as a “letter reader”. This reader would sit by the village’s post office and for the price of a couple of kopeks would read or write letters for the illiterate. (Today it would probably be dubbed “The Reading and Writing Co., Ltd.)

One day a young man came to the reader; he had just emerged from the post office, having just received a letter from his parents who lived far away. The reader, with a suitably self-important expression on his face, opened the letter and began to read it slowly, with proper enunciation. But suddenly he noticed that the young customer had burst out sobbing and had even fainted.

He aroused him from his faint and asked, “What happened, young man? Why are you crying and fainting?”

The young man was astonished. “Did you really pay no attention to what you just read? It’s a letter from my mother telling me to return home immediately, because my beloved father has just died, and I have to sit Shiva… is it any wonder that I cried?! And you’re wondering at my fainting?!”

The wise reader asked him, “but wait a minute, you don’t know how to read at all, and all the information you have, you got from me – so why did you cry and I didn’t?”

“Foolish man,” answered the young man. “You don’t care about a man who died yesterday, far away. You didn’t know him, so why should you cry? But I – it’s my own father!”

 

Dear friends, Parashat Pinchas has many messages in it for us, but allow me to bring forth one central message that the story of Pinchas has for us: Pinchas cared!

Zimri ben Salu was from the tribe of Shimon, and he did what he did with Cozbi bat Tzur, who was a Midianite. What does that have to do with Pinchas? Why should it touch him? Why should it hurt him when something is happening to someone else from a different tribe? He’s not a close relative of his, and certainly not his father!

But Pinchas showed us that one should care. If something happens, even if it’s in another place, even it’s far away, it should touch us. We should care!

We should not read the letter like that letter reader.

 

The days of Bein Hametzarim (the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av) are days when one should look upon the Jewish People favorably. I think that we have inherited from Pinchas this trait of caring. I live in Switzerland, but visit Israel a lot, and the differences are quite clear. The people in Israel care very much. They will be happy to direct you to your destination, will tell you what your mistake is, where the best falafel is sold and what’s best for you – even if they met you for the first time exactly one minute ago.

Because that’s what we’re like. We care. And it’s good that we care.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

Ich bin eine Jude!

His name was Peter, and he was a lawyer and a member of Vienna’s high society. His wife was not Jewish and neither were his children, but he was Jewish – and that was all that could be said for him. He did not attend services at a synagogue, not even on Yom Kippur.

A few weeks after the Anschluss, when Hitler annexed Austria to Germany (much to the delight of the Austrians), the Nazi SS soldiers walked through the city, street by street, with local officials, in order to make a registry of the Jews and where they lived. When they passed under the balcony of Peter’s large house, the local officials, who knew him to be a respected person and a member of the high society, motioned to him to go inside, as they intended to list him as being a pure Aryan, and so to save him the “honor” of scrubbing the city sidewalks with a toothbrush, and perhaps to preserve his life as well.

But then, it seems that a strong and illogical inner force moved him, and instead of withdrawing into his house and being saved, he stayed there and called out to the Nazis proudly: “Ich bin eine Jude!” – I am a Jew!

Those were the last words he ever uttered. Shots rang out and he collapsed, dying Al Kiddush Hashem (sanctifying Hashem’s Name). (Heard from the Chief Rabbi of Holon, who heard the story from eyewitnesses.)

There is a name for that illogical inner force that drove Peter to announce his Judaism proudly; it’s called Ahava Mesuteret - “hidden love.” Peter’s love for his true source and roots was covered and hidden in his lifetime. He did not express the fact that he was Jewish in his behavior, deeds or diet. It is possible that he didn’t even know that this flickering but powerful love for his people and his G-d was there, inside his soul; he thought he was just another blond and blue-eyed Austrian. But then, when the moment of truth came, the flickering love came forth and became a burning, even roaring flame: You will take my body, but you will never be able to touch my soul. May the memory of this martyr be a blessing.

In Chassidism it is explained, that when Bilaam spoke about the Jewish People in our Parasha, saying, “Ki Meirosh Tzurim Erenu” (from its Rosh – head – I see it rock-like) he was speaking of that hidden love that permeates our souls. “Rosh Tzurim,” says the Tzemach Tzedek, is the hidden love, a love as strong and powerful as the head of a rock. The rock is the soul, and the head of the soul is the most concentrated and powerful part of it. This hidden love is what has caused so many Jews throughout the generations, wherever they were, to act completely illogically and to say: Ich bin eine Jude! I am a Jew – knowing that this might be the last thing they will say.

Bilaam defined it correctly. He recognized our power. He knew very well what we’re made of. He knew that mere physical and material strength are not enough to give us the ability and the power to be a nation that “will dwell in solitude and will not be reckoned with the other nations” for 4000 years. Because it is the inner, spiritual power, though sometimes illogical, that is necessary for our preservation. Only thus have we become the Eternal Nation.

And I add to this: if I already have this hidden love, but it is throbbing and flickering, why use it only at times of crisis and troubles?

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

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