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be a “vineyard workers”

 

Dear Friends,

 

R. Yeshaya Zusha Shubau z”l, my grandmother’s father, also known as the “Boyder Rav”, was the rabbi of the Marina Rosha synagogue in Moscow. On the first day of Succot he would get up early, immerse in a Mikvah, study Chassidut and prepare to perform the mitzvah of taking the Four Species. When the time came, he would hold the Lulav and Etrog in his hand, and would leap and dance as he made the blessing “Asher Kidshanu Bemitzvotav Vetzivanu Al Netilat Lulav. (Who sanctified us with his Mitzvot and commanded us to take the Lulav.)”

Once, his friend, who was standing next to him, also a rabbi, turned to him and asked him somewhat cynically: “The Boyder Rav, why are you dancing?” “What do you mean?” responded the Rav. “I just made a Bracha (blessing), and I was so excited that I danced.”

The friend wanted to tease him and said, “I just made the Bracha of Asher Yatzar (the blessing made after using the bathroom), and I didn’t dance…”

“Nu,” said the Boyder Rav, “If you were to make the Asher Yatzar blessing once a year, boy, would you dance…”

 

In Parashat Ki Tetzte it says, “When you come into your fellow’s vineyard, you may eat grapes as is your desire, to your fill,… When you come into your fellow’s standing grain, you may pluck ears with your hand…”

The Torah tells us to allow a worker who is working in a field or vineyard to eat of the produce while he is working.

Interesting: while regarding the vineyard it says “as is your desire, to your fill” – as much as you want, when talking of the field the language is more limiting: “you may pluck ears”. Not an expression of abundance, but rather of a measured amount, as much as you can hold in your hand.

The Rebbe explains that these verses hint to two types of service of the Creator.

Field-work, in which one labors over the basic and vital needs such as wheat, symbolizes the person who does whatever is necessary and vital in his service of Hashem, but not beyond that.

Tending a vineyard, in which one is working with pleasure-causing things such as grapes, symbolizes the person who serves Hashem joyfully and enjoyably, perfecting his acts and making improvements (within the permitted boundaries); going beyond the basic law.

We all know “field-workers”, people who observe the laws of the Torah properly, but somewhat dryly, without happiness and enthusiasm, without getting excited or going beyond the minimal requirements. The result is like bread that comes from a field: it feeds a person but does not provide the pleasure and the juice that a fruit has. And then there are the “vineyard workers” who bring happiness and enthusiasm to their observance of Torah and Mitzvot. They search for ways to improve the act, and get excited about performing it. The results are like grapes that have grown in a vineyard: juicy, and full of sweetness and pleasure.

 

Like the employer of the worker, so too the Creator allows his workers to take and eat as they labor; in other words, He supplies us with our needs and opportunities so that we will be able to serve Him, keep His Torah and observe His Mitzvahs.

And just as it says in the Parasha: A field-worker who serves Hashem dryly, only because that’s what he’s supposed to do, receives from Hashem only a measured amount of wheat – enough, but not more than that.

Unlike him, he who serves Hashem with happiness and pleasure, as if he were picking grapes in a vineyard, merits to eat “as his desire.” Hashem grants him an abundance of good, to his fill.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

a Cup like a jet airplane

We get a Mazel Tov! Our son Moshe is becoming bar mitzvah, having turned thirteen. During the past year we got used to listening to him practicing the Torah reading and the Haftara; we also heard him learning by heart the Chassidic Ma’amar (discourse) that is customary to say on the day of the bar mitzvah. This Shabbat it will happen: he will be called up to the Torah and read the Parasha and the Haftara, and we pray to Hashem that he will be successful.

That’s the way it is: a boy becomes a man, starts putting on Tefillin, gets called up to the Torah and is counted for a Minyan.

But there is something else that Moshe experienced, something that not everyone goes through, and I assume it’s something that happens only to Chabadniks.

It was two weeks ago, the Shabbat of Parashat Ekev, which was the Shabbat when he actually turned thirteen years old – he was born on the 23rd of Av.

On Friday night, at the home of my brother Shlomo in Kfar Chabad, Moshe was joined by about ten of his cousins – from Russia and from Tatarstan, from the Ukraine and of course from Israel. There were also the grandfathers and grandmothers, and I was with him as well. It was not a big party, but merely a Shabbat meal that was combined with a traditional bar mitzvah celebration – without cameras and without a special program.

Moshe made Kiddush first and cut the Challah first. His Sabba (grandfather) sat on his left, his Zeide on his right. One grandmother on the left, the other on the right; and there was also one proud and excited father sitting opposite him. Nothing special – just a bar mitzvah, like in the old days.

Just before the fish was brought in, Moshe’s Sabba poured out a small cup of vodka for everyone, because one cannot really begin a Shabbat meal without saying “L’chaim”, especially when there’s a bar mitzvah. But Moshe was not ready for that. He had prepared the Torah reading and learned the Chassidic discourse, but he had not prepared himself to drink a cup of vodka.

“I can’t even taste it,” he said. “And besides, I just drank a cup of wine for Kiddush. I’ll be happy to say L’chaim, and it can be on a small cup like this one, but the cup should have cola or water in it, not vodka.”

“Meishe,” said the grandfather on his left lovingly, “L’chaim is said on vodka.” “You are bar mitzvah already, not a little boy. You’re Chassid, and Chassidim say L’chaim,’ seconded the grandfather on the right. And when Moshe looked at me and realized that even his father couldn’t help him here, he simply took the cup, said “L’chaim” and tasted the bitter drink that contains 60% water. “L’chaim Velivracha (to life and to blessings)” responded everyone, and I, sitting there, understood that this was a significant event, a kind of Chassidic rite of passage for this cute Swiss boy.

If he had only known that “vodka” is only the official name of this bitter drink, and that it’s really known as “Mashkeh” (drink)… No one drinks vodka; people just “say a L’chaim”. It’s not drinking, it’s a saying.

When reading the Pesach Haggadah it is customary to lift up the wine cup when saying “Vehi She’amda Lavoteinu Velanu (And it is this that has been the support of our forefathers and of us).” Chassidim would point at the cup and say “Vehi She’amda” – the source of support is the cup! The L’chaim cup is what has supported us and our forefathers in moments of pain, as well as in moments of joy. This L’chaim cup has served as the glue holding us together in the secret gatherings (Hitva’aduyot) in Soviet Russia.

We said words of Torah, we encouraged each other and sang soulful, Devekut-filled tunes. At the end of the evening we would know that we were going off to yet another day of fighting for our Jewishness, and that in the merit of this cup the war would end in victory. It is thanks to that cup that we managed to maintain the Jews of Silence.

This cup knew how to overcome the Russian border guards who patrolled the Iron Curtain zealously, because thanks to that L’chaim cup the Chassidim would glide straight from their clandestine gathering in Samarkand to the Rebbe at 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn.

Both Moshe’s Sabba and Zeide were children of fathers who had been sent to Siberia for the sin of being stubborn Chassidim, and when they offer him a cup and say, “Say L’chaim” they know the power of that cup very well – oy, do they know.

This coming Shabbat, dear friends, take a cup and say L’chaim with us. Wish us that we should get much Chassidische Nachas from Moshe, that he should grow up to be a learned and G-d fearing Chassid. Because this cup, as you know already, is like a jet airplane – it has no geographic limitations.

 

Mazel Tov and Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

do you have a rich father?


Here is a favorite story of mine:

A Meshulach (a Jew who collects money for Torah institutions and other worthy causes) was going around raising funds in a Jewish community abroad. Among other people he approached was a rich Jew who was known to welcome everyone warmly. It was also known that this person had not earned his money – rather, everything he had came from his father, who worked hard all his life and, with G-d’s help, became rich. The man indeed welcomed the Meshulach in and even gave him a $100 bill.

At the end of his trip, the Meshulach also visited the father of that rich man, and asked him, too, for a donation. The father welcomed him warmly, and gave him a $50 bill. The Meshulach couldn’t help asking him the following question: “Your son, who owes everything he has to you, gave me $100, and you give me only $50?”

“My son gives more,” answered the father, “because he has a rich father. I, on the other hand, do not have a rich father.”

 

So what do I like about this story?

It has the two extremes that exist in a man’s work in his life in general, and in the Jew’s lifelong service of his Creator in particular.

I always wonder – what’s better? To work hard for everything one has, for then everything one acquires has special value because of the sweat and labor involved in acquiring it, or to receive everything readymade, easily, and use it wisely and well?

Like with everything in life, one needs a little bit of each type of experience, and the most important thing is to maintain the proper balance between them.

This coming Shabbat we will be noting the beginning of the month of Elul – Rosh Chodesh Elul. This is the month of mercy and forgiveness, but also a month of sincere and real account-taking. The Rebbe explains that the Pasuk (verse) from Shir Hashirim, “Ani Ledodi Vedodi Li (I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine)” is the best definition of this month.

On one hand there is the aspect of “I am my Beloved’s” – in other words, one’s own personal labor, from the bottom up; the work in which man makes his best efforts to come closer to his Father in Heaven (the Beloved). On the other hand there is “my Beloved is mine” – in other words, Hashem (the Beloved) endows man with light and abundance that enable him to rise, to become holy and to reach spiritual levels that he never would have reached on his own.

 

The secret to this process lies in the proper balance between the two types of effort, because only when they are working together – in the form of “Ani Ledodi Vedodi Li” – do they create the famous acronym: the word Elul.

 

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

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