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Rabbi's weekly Blog

“bread from heaven.”

 

Dear Friends,

 

The story is told of a person who complained to the Chafetz Chaim – Rabbi Yisrael Meir Hacohen of Radin – that he doesn’t have time to come to Shul to learn and to pray because he has to open his store early in the morning, and stay there until late at night; otherwise, he claimed, he wouldn’t be able to make a living.

The Chafetz Chaim said to him: “You’re behaving like someone who is traveling by train from Warsaw to Lodz, and since he is in a great hurry, he stands and pushes the train car from the inside, thinking that that way he’ll get there faster. It’s clear to any thinking person that such a person is wasting his efforts.

“Hashem is the one who decides how a person will make a living for himself and for his household, and how much money he will have,” said the Chafetz Chaim. “Your store is merely the vessel through which you are provided for. It would make no difference if you opened it one hour earlier or one hour later, especially if this takes place on the account of other important things such as prayer, learning Torah or spending time with your children. It’s exactly like pushing the train car from the inside.”

The Lubavitcher Rebbe says that the story of the Mann that we will read in this week’s parasha, parashat Beshalach, is coming to tell us that our livelihood is just like the Mann that Bnei Yisrael received in the desert – “bread from heaven.”

At the very beginning of the Jewish People’s existence, the Creator taught us how to relate to the matter of earning a living, or, in other words, how to relate to the vessel that holds the blessings from Hashem, the vessel we make use of when we go to work.

It is a mistake to attribute one’s livelihood to the vessel through which it comes, instead of to the source of the abundance, the belief in the Creator of the World who blesses one and determines one’s degree of wealth.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

have you heard of Nijmegen?

 

Dear Friends,

 

You all know Holland, and you’ve certainly heard about Amsterdam and about The Hague as well. But have you heard of Nijmegen? You haven’t, right? In that case, you also don’t know that dozens of Jews – men, women and children – gathered there last Shabbat for a Shabbaton.

It’s o.k. if you didn’t know. I didn’t know either. That is, until two weeks ago I had never heard of Nijmegen, until Rabbi Mendel Levine called me and asked me to come and speak there.

The city of Nijmegen is a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Amsterdam, in what is called by the Amsterdam Jews, “Di Medina” – that is, the outlying cities of Holland. Even those Jews who gathered for the Shabbaton don’t all live in Nijmegen, but are scattered in various towns and cities within a radius of up to 40 km from the city.

Each one of them lives almost on his own, in his own remote place. The local Jewish community, together with the Rebbe’s Shaliach, Rabbi Mendel Levine and his family, perform the holy task of gathering them up, one by one. This is not an exaggeration. I think that when Yeshahayahu said his prophecy about the Mashiach, “And on that day… you will be gathered up one by one,” He definitely meant what happened this week in Nijmegen.

Nijmegen does not have a minyan every week; only once every two weeks do about 20 people come there and have services.

They didn’t always have difficulties getting a minyan together. Until 1942 more than 700 Jews lived there, but then came the “Aktions” and the selections. The Nazis gathered the Jews and sent them “East”. 459 men, women and children never returned from there.

“Here, in this corner cheese store (yes, in Holland there are stores that are devoted entirely to cheese) they used to leave food outside the back door, for the Jews who were in hiding,” Rabbi Mendel explains to me. Late at night, a young mother, under the cover of darkness, would come to get a bit of bread for her children, and perhaps a piece of cheese as well, until someone revealed their hiding place and they, too, were taken. Yes, there were many “Anne Franks” in Holland.

The remaining Jews from this community scattered around the city after the war, but slowly they found each other, and as Yeshayahu said, they were collected, one by one, but this time not with hatred but with love and joy, without selections or Aktions; this time they came of their own accord and gathered in the shul on Shabbat.

Parashat Bo, which we will read this Shabbat, tells us about the Redemption – the first one, the one that opened the way for future redemptions, until we will come to the Redemption we are awaiting, hoping for and praying for three times a day.

About the connection between the Exodus from Egypt and the future Redemption, Michah the prophet said, “I will show him wonders like in the days of your exodus from the land of Egypt.” In other words, in the future Redemption, Hashem will show us wonders like we saw in the Redemption from Egypt.

When I was in Nijmegen, I thought that these people are actually the wonders that the prophet is talking about. The Jews were stubborn; they would not let the Nazis win. They came back and collected the remains and re-established the shul, the minyan. It is they who are the true miracle, a miracle relevant to all of us.

 

Sahbbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

all we have to do is open our eyes

 

Dear Friends,

 

I don’t know whether the following story really happened, but it’s something that all of us experience – and not infrequently, either:

It was his father’s Yahrzeit, and he was on his way to Shul to say Kaddish. It was late already, davening was about to start, but he couldn’t find a parking space. So he lifted his eyes up to heaven and said, “Ribbono Shel Olam (Master of the World), I am not a religious person, but it’s important to me to say Kaddish for my father. Please, help me find a place to park. If you make a miracle for me and I’ll find a spot, I promise to come to Shul every Shabbos.” All of a sudden, a car parked on his right pulled away from the curb. Great! He now had a place to park. He looked up to heaven again and said, “Ribbono, never mind. I don’t need a miracle anymore, so you don’t have to exert Yourself. Things worked out already – I found a parking space.”

 

From reading the Pesukim of this week’s Parasha it is clear that the point of the Ten Plagues was not only to punish the Egyptians for what they had done to the Jews; the point was also to teach and educate everyone that the world has a Ruler. “And Egypt will know that I am Hashem,” “So that you’ll know that the land belongs to Hashem,” “And you shall know that I am Hashem.” These are only some of the statements that appear between the descriptions of the various plagues.

There were plagues that were open miracles. They happened exactly the way they were described in Moshe’s warning, without Moshe doing anything. It was not hard to believe in such clear, obvious miracles, because the only explanation for them was that they were the actions of a Supreme Power.

But there were also plagues that occurred after Moshe or Aharon had performed some physical act such as hitting the Nile or the earth, or throwing furnace soot into the air. These occurred in a way that supplied some possible “explanation” that could be used to minimize the miraculous revelation.  

The goal of this was to enable the skeptics (today they are called “the enlightened”) to ascribe the supposed miracle to some natural phenomenon, and to teach them that even things that seem to come about in a natural way, or at least have a possible logical explanation – even those things are a G-dly revelation, a miracle. These are miracles that are obscured by nature.

An obscured miracle demands a bit more in-depth thinking and faith in order to identify it and see it as coming from the power of the Creator. That Jew who was looking for a parking space didn’t understand that someone up there had heard his prayer and had arranged a parking space for him so that he would be able to say Kaddish.

And I ask myself: How many times in our lives do we take everything for granted, and refuse to see that there is Someone up there who is making sure we have a parking space just when we need it?

 

Sometimes, all we have to do is open our eyes.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

What’s wrong with a Cadillac?

 

Dear Friends,

 

I love to drive at night. Something about the quiet in the car when everyone else is asleep, plus the empty streets and the dark, create a special atmosphere. I experienced it last night when we got on the toll road from Basel to Paris. The whole family was asleep already; 500 km separated us from my sister who lives in the Parisian suburb of Brunoy. I put the car on “cruise,” at 130 km/hr, and that was it. All I had to do was sit back and drink in the quiet and the dark. 

I thought about the comparative comfort of riding in a modern, spacious car. I tried to imagine how it used to be, in the old cars and on the old roads, or when transportation was still by horse-and-carriage, on dirt paths. I went back even to those days when people rode donkeys to get from place to place. We have come so far since then.

I understood, suddenly, while cruising between trucks on the dark A5, that every stage had meaning, and every stage formed the basis for the future developments, from donkeys to horses to cars.

In this week’s Parasha, when the Torah describes Moshe’s leaving Midian with his family, on his way to Egypt to perform the mission Hashem entrusted him with, it says, “And Moshe took his wife and sons and mounted them on the donkey.” Rashi, in this case, relates to the donkey and says, “That was the same donkey that Avraham saddled for the Akeidah of Yitzchak, and it is that donkey that the Mashiach will be revealed upon.”

It’s clear that the donkey has a role in moving the world in the direction of Redemption. Avraham had a donkey when he went to the Akeidah with his son. Moshe has a donkey in this week’s Parasha, and the Mashiach will have a donkey. But what is this donkey? And why a donkey? What’s wrong with a Cadillac?

The Rebbe explains, that the Chamor (donkey) symbolizes the Chomriyut (materialism) of the world, which hides the Heavenly light that enlivens it. A material existence, by its nature, covers up the spiritual truth that makes it exist. Avraham, Moshe and the Mashiach – each one deals with the materialism in the world; each one represents a stage on the way to turning the world into one in which the words of the prophet Yeshayah will come true: “And the land will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem.”

So – Avraham, who was the first to deal with the materialistic world, had to “saddle” his donkey, in other words, to harness and stop the materialism of the world, because, as a first step, it was important to understand that the physical and the material are not all that there is.

After understanding and internalizing that the physical has another essence – a true, inner essence – whose source is the Word of Hashem that is behind its existence, Moshe’s tackling of the issue was different. By Moshe, it doesn’t say that he saddled the donkey, rather that he “mounted them on the donkey”. Not harnessing and stopping; now the time had come to use the “donkey”, for the Torah that was given by Moshe gave us the power to use the material world and elevate it to holiness, for instance by taking the hide of a cow and making Tefillin from it.

As opposed to Avraham and Moshe, the work of the Mashiach will include a different approach. He will not relate towards the donkey as something negative that has to be harnessed, or ridden on. The Mashiach is going to be “revealed upon it,” says Rashi. At the time of the Geulah (Redemption) the inner essence of materiality will be revealed, and all of us will see the Heavenly light that enables the material, physical world to exist. This truth will be “revealed upon it.”

And then, I thought to myself, as we sped through the darkness at 130 km/hr, perhaps the fact that today we can travel faster than ever before – faster than anyone ever dreamed of traveling – can teach us that our dealing with the “donkey” – the materialism of the world – is moving forward nicely?

 

From Brunoy, right outside Paris,

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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