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Rabbi's weekly Blog

Who is wise?

 

Dear Friends,

 

“Who is wise? He who discerns what is about to come to pass.” That is how the Gemara in tractate Tamid (32a) defines the wise person. In its simple meaning, this saying means that the wise person who can analyze situations can foresee the outcome of any situation.

The inner aspect of the Torah (the Pnimiyut, as it is known) gives this aphorism another, different meaning – almost the opposite: the truly wise person is not the one who foresees the future, but rather one who sees the past, namely, the supreme spiritual root of what is in this world; by identifying that root, he can know every creature’s complete and true essence.

How is all this connected to Parashat Bereishit? Adam HaRishon named the  creatures according to their essence. For instance, he identified the root of the ox with the “face of the ox” that is part of the Merkava (the Heavenly chariot) described in the book of Yechezkel. (This is a Kabbalistic concept based on the visions of the prophet Yechezkel, who saw the chariot of the Alm-ghty, and on it the faces of various animals – a lion, an eagle, an ox and a human being.) Similarly, he identified the root of the lion with the “face of the lion” that appears in the Merkava, etc.

The Rebbe explains the Adam HaRishon not only gave the creatures names, but by the very fact that he provided a material creature, made of flesh and blood, with a name from the spiritual realms, he was the first to connect the upper worlds with our lower, material world.

We are all descendants of Adam HaRishon, and we all inherited from him this wonderful ability to connect the upper and lower worlds. This, indeed, is also our role in the world – to bring holiness and spirituality to the material and the mundane, to refine it and to infuse it with holiness.

How does one do this? By doing Mitzvahs and good deeds. How simple…

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

grab a dance!

 

Dear Friends,

I wrote it some years ago, it is still Actual. During the Second World War, many of the Jews in the Soviet Union fled to Uzbekistan. Among them was a large group of Chabad Chassidim, who, as one would expect, immediately began to supply both the material and the spiritual needs of the many refugees. In those days, in order to be an observant Jew one needed much steadfastness, as observing Mitzvot could be life-endangering under those circumstances. The Yeshivas were underground institutions, and the children’s Chadarim (elementary schools) were also hidden from the public eye; and we haven’t even mentioned what performing a Brit Milah (circumcision) entailed.

One especially notable person among the Chabad Chassidim was R. Nissan Nemnov z”l, who was a paragon already in his youth, even among his close friends. In one of the clandestine night joint sessions, in which the Chassidim encouraged one another by singing, learning Torah and of course a bissele L’Chaim on some form of Russian spirits, R. Nissan got up on the table, and, dancing, called out to the Chassidim: “Yidden! Chopt mesirus nefesh (self-sacrifice)!” And he then explained: “Right now we are not permitted to learn Torah and observe the Mitzvot, to the point that we are in danger of losing our lives if we do. In the future, when we get to free countries, we won’t have this opportunity!”

My friends, we are about to enter the forty-eight hours of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah – days in which we celebrate, and mainly dance with the Torah; days in which every Jew’s connection to Torah is lit up, whether he learns and knows Torah or not. Even if he never learned Torah, and doesn’t even know the Aleph-Beit – he too is connected to the Torah. The Torah belongs to each and every one of us, because that’s what Moshe Rabbeinu said before he died: “The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Yaakov.” And a heritage is something that is shared equally by everyone!

The former Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Shneerson, warned in the name of his father, Rabbi Shalom Dover Shneerson that, “The forty-eight hours of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah should be highly valued. Every minute in them one can draw up bucketfuls and barrelfuls of treasures, both in the material and the spiritual – and all of this is done through the dancing.Yidden, chopt a tantz – Jews, grab a dance!”

So great treasures of blessings, both material and spiritual, await us on these days, and all that is demanded of us is to dance in happiness over our heritage – the Torah. So even if you usually stand on the side, and watch the dancers; even if it’s “not your thing” to join them, and of course, if you have a hidden desire to dance, go beyond yourself and grab a dance! For there is one thing certain: These forty-eight hours will be over in exactly forty-eight hours.

Yidden, chopt a tantz – Jews, grab a dance!”

Chag Same’ach! A Happy Holiday to all!

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

So… How was your Yom Kippur?

 

Dear Friends,

 

So… How was your Yom Kippur?

We fasted, wore white clothes, prayed for 24 hours, felt elevated, excited… We were somewhat spiritual. And the climax, of course was when everyone called out from the depths of their hearts, the hearts of children expressing their love for their Father in Heaven, “Hashem, He is the G-d!” seven times, one after the other. This is a very special moment; there is none other like it during the year. It is the innermost connecting point between us and our Father, our King.

But then, a few moments after that, the spirituality and the elevation remain in the synagogue, and we go off looking for one thing: a cup. It can have water or cola, or, in my case, wine for Havdala. It is not only a natural human urge for a person to have after a fast; Jewish law, too, demands from us that right after the great and awesome Yom Kippur we are to take a hammer and nails in hand – in my case it’s canvas and cable ties – and to begin to build a Succah.

Why so? Why is it demanded from us to make that very sharp transition from “Hashem, He is the G-d” of Ne’ilah, and the hammer and nails of the Succah?

The answer lies in the first Passuk of Parashat Haazinu, the Parasha that we will be reading this Shabbat, the one that comes between Yom Kippur and Succot. “Listen heavens and I will speak, and may the earth hear the words of my mouth.” Chassidut relates this Passuk to the two dimensions with which a human being serves his Creator: one is Shamayim – heaven, a person’s spiritual powers, his brain and heart, where his intellect and personality traits lie, and the other one is Eretz – earth, his material strengths, i.e. his speech and actions.

Often I hear myself saying that I was there, but not really. My thoughts were in a different place. True, I was present there, physically, but not really, not completely. And there’s also the opposite: there may be a family Simcha, a happy occasion, and we are far away geographically, but in our hearts we are really there, all happy and excited as if we are physically present in that faraway place. But that’s just make- believe, because they were all dressed up and we were in our pajamas, looking at the pictures, blinking away tears.

In order to really do something, completely, one needs both the material and the spiritual, both the heavens and the earth. And that is Moshe Rabbeinu’s guidance to us at the last moments of his life: If you wish to really serve Hashem, then “listen the Heavens and I will speak, and may the earth hear the words of my mouth.”

We just went through the annual checkup, the High Holy Days. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Mainly, we dealt with our spiritual side, and now the holidays of Succot and Simchat Torah are approaching. They will attach the spiritual to the material by the building of the Succah, the taking of the Four Species, eating in the Succah and dancing with our legs on Simchat Torah.

May we be successful!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

the Past and the Future

 

Dear Friends,

 

This morning, I listened to the local radio station, where they brought a direct report from the disaster in Haiti. The reporter said that they still don’t know how many were killed. Then, when he began to report on the state of the ruined houses and streets, the anchorwoman interrupted him and asked, “And what’s the state of the banana and mango plantations?”

I was very surprised, and even annoyed. “Those Swiss,” I thought derisively. How can you go on to talk about bananas and mangoes? We’re talking about people’s lives, about men, women and children who are now homeless!

But, unlike me, the reporter did not get angry, and immediately said that in the area being discussed, there wasn’t a single tree left standing. He then added: “The people are in despair, because the banana and mango plantations are their main source of income, and now, not only have the homes have been destroyed, but their livelihood as well.”

And then I understood. The houses and streets are the past; the bananas and mangoes – the future. Losing the past is painful, but as long as there’s a future, there’s hope. But when the future is destroyed, then the blow is indeed deadly.

Shall I make the analogy to Yom Kippur? I think it’s obvious enough.

All I have to do, then, is to wish everyone a year of good health, a good livelihood, true Jewish Nachat from the children and an inner happiness that will flow outward and influence one’s surroundings.

And most important, a year of Geula and Yeshua – Redemption and salvation – speedily in our days!

Wishing you a good Chatima and a good Gmar Chatima,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

How did Rothschild get rich?

 

Dear Friends,

How did Rothschild get rich? Haven’t you always asked yourself that question? Last week I found out the answer.

A wise friend told me the whole story: When Rothschild was ten years old, he would go to the marketplace after school, buy beautiful red apples cheaply, and then would immediately go to the main road and sell them to passing travelers at double the price. For ten years, this is what he did every day.

And then, when he turned twenty, his father died and left him 2 billion dollars…

A similar process happens to us on these days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

Raba in tractate Rosh Hashana brings a verse from Yeshayahu: “Seek Hashem when He can be found, call upon Him when He is near.” And he says about this that it is a reference to the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

What does this mean? When Yeshayahu Hanavi (the prophet) said Hashem is accessible – when He can be found, and is in a state of being near us – he meant that this happens during these days, the Aseret Yemei Teshuva (Ten Days of Repentance) The Sages were arousing us to take advantage of this special time of the year and repent.

The Rebbe adds a Chassidic idea here:

The word B’Himatzo (when He can be found) has a connotation of a Metzi’ah, of a “find.” There’s only one problem. Finding objects is not usually something that comes after a lot of conscious effort. In fact, the Sages said that a Metzi’ah comes especially when one is not paying attention – a person walks down the street and suddenly finds a ten dollar bill. If so, then when Yeshayahu Hanavi defines Hashem’s closeness to us as being like a find, that means that it comes without effort, without hard work – when you’re least expecting it.

And then the question arises: If Hashem’s closeness during these days is like a find that doesn’t require hard work, why do we have to go through all that accounting and repenting? In other words, would Rothschild have inherited those billions even without selling all those apples?

It’s a good question, but not the right one. The right question is, What do we do with this precious find? Do we make good use of it, connect to it and thereby raise our spiritual level?

Or, in other words: The question is, Did Rothschild know how to use and expand the billions he inherited?

The answer, I think, is pretty simple: whoever knows how to profit from apples, will know how to handle billions correctly as well. And yes, someone who arrives at the Aseret Yemei Teshuva ready, after having taken account of himself properly, will know how to make good use of the G-dly revelation that these days contain.

 

Shabbat Shalom and Gmar Chatima Tova,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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