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Rabbi's weekly Blog

the Brexit referendum

 

Dear Friends,

One Friday, a Jew arrived with his donkey at the village Shul, just as Shabbat was coming in. He approached the first person he saw walking to the Shul and asked him: “Where can I tie up my donkey? Shabbat is coming in and I still have to get to Shul.” “Go to our Rabbi,” suggested the local man, “He knows how to tie anything to the weekly Parasha.”

Thirty-three million British citizens participated yesterday in the Brexit referendum on whether Great Britain should leave the European Union or remain in it. A huge number of people cared enough to go out and influence their own future and the future of their country. A conservative like me sees this as a direct continuation of the World Wars in the past one hundred years: once more we have a confrontation between the two powers – Germany and Britain. This time it is an economic confrontation, but its basis is clearly the German’s unending desire for control vis-à-vis Great Britain’s.

From a more individual perspective, it seems that there is a division here between those nostalgic people who view the past with rosy eyes, and those who don’t. Both claimed that they want the individual to live a better life. Both sides tried to explain why their way is the way that will protect the private citizen who needs to support himself respectably and live a good life.

And here is the connection to the weekly Parasha that we read this week, Parashat Behaalotcha:

“We remembered the fish we ate in Egypt for free; the cucumbers, melons, leaks, onions and garlics” – so cried out the Israelites, who felt they had had enough of the heavenly bread, the Mann, which came down every morning and fed them.

At first glance, this looks like a normal human longing for the past in Egypt, which from the distance of time looks so much better. But Rashi on this Pasuk focuses on the specific foods mentioned by the complainers, explaining that in spite of the fact that when eating the Mann one could taste anything one wanted to taste, the taste of these particular vegetables was not included in the Mann, and the reason is very interesting: “Because they are hard on the nursing women. People tell women: Don’t eat garlic and onions because of the baby.”

So the argument was thus: Hashem deprived the people of the taste of garlic and onions because of the mothers who were nursing their children, and who had to make sure they ate good food; whereas the people claimed, why should everyone suffer because the problems of the individual? Why are all of us suffering because of a few nursing mothers who can be harmed by onion and garlic? And anyway, we’re talking about miraculous food, so Hashem should withhold these problematic vegetables only from the Mann of the nursing mothers!

This debate has always existed and will always exist: to what extent does the general public have to sacrifice its needs for the sake of the individual, if at all?

In this week’s Parasha this debate is settled to a certain extent: In holding back the above-mentioned vegetables from the Mann, the Torah preferred the good of the individual. Hashem decided to withhold certain foods from all the Mann eaters, out of concern for the nursing mothers, who want to provide their babies with healthy food. If He would have withheld only those vegetables, then that would have made those mothers uncomfortable, as they would see how others were eating nice, cold melons in the desert, when they cannot.

I will end with the Rebbe’s words at the conclusion of his explanation: “And the teaching from this is: How much one should make an effort for the sake of another individual’s good, even when we are talking about a baby.”

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Zalmen Wishedski

don’t give in on who you are

 

Dear Friends,

 

“Give in on matters that are important to you, but don’t give in on who you are.” This is a key sentence that I find myself saying again and again to men and women who come to consult with me regarding marital issues. It is an important sentence, since it encompasses an entire doctrine – on one hand complex, on the other really very simple.

On the one hand you have two different people, who are sometimes complete opposites of each other. Each one of them has things that are important to them in their lives, and sometimes the couple’s important things contradict one another, so that over the years their arguments and fights always come back to the same points over which they are divided. Because even though the arguments take a different form each time, in reality they arise from those same basic disagreements between them.

And now we get to the complex question: To what extent should one give in? To what extent should one compromise? The answer is very simple: “Give in on matters that are important to you, but don’t give in on who you are.” Check with yourself how important the matter is, and if it will indeed make you feel “This is not me, I am losing the sense of who I am,” that is a marker that means one should consider the issue very carefully.

In Parashat Nasso, which we will read this week outside of Eretz Yisrael, there are seventy-two Pesukim (verses) that repeat themselves, word for word. These are the offerings donated by the Nesi’im (princes) of the tribes for the sake of inaugurating the altar upon the completion of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert. Twelve times the Torah goes through the list: One silver bowl, one silver basin, one golden ladle, one young bull, one sheep, one he-goat etc. And here, too, there is a question, which has a simple answer: Why does the Torah, in which every letter and certainly every word are exacting and full of meaning, “waste” seventy-two Pesukim to tell us the exact same thing, over and over? It would have been much simpler to write that all the Nesi’im brought the following offering, and then list its components only once.

The Rebbe focuses here on a very important point. Mathematically, quantitatively and physically, the Nesi’im indeed brought identical offerings. But essentially, from the inner, spiritual point of view, each brought a different one. Each one of them did bring the same bowl and the same ladle, but in their hearts each one had his own private intention; for each one the donation expressed something else in his soul, a different sort of connection to Hashem, a different approach and angle of expressing gratitude, joy, excitement etc. And the message is razor-sharp: in the macro we should live in unity – in love and brotherhood, but in the micro we must still maintain our own personal, individual identity that only we have, the one that makes us unique and makes us who we are.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

a person who was called “Sinai”

 

Dear Friends,

 

“Sinai.” We’ve all heard about Midbar Sinai (the Sinai desert) and, of course, about Mount Sinai, where the Torah was given.

In the Talmud there is also a person who was called “Sinai” – Rav Yosef, who was one of the Amora’im (Talmudic sages) in Babylon. Rashi, in Tractate Horayot, explains the reason for this nickname: Because the Mishnahs and the Baraitahs (Mishnahs that were not included in the six Sedarim of the Mishnah) were neatly catalogued in his mind, as if they had just been given from Mount Sinai.”

This is very impressive, because the Talmudic sages were all great scholars, and still, they were not called “Sinai” like Rav Yosef.

It is even more amazing and impressive when one knows that Rav Yosef was blind, and yet he was greater than all the others and merited being defined as such.

There is a famous saying of Rav Yosef in Tractate Pesachim that describes the holiday of Shavuot wonderfully, as the holiday of the Giving of the Torah: “On Shavuot Rav Yosef said: ‘Prepare me a meal from of finest veal in honor of the day of the Giving of the Torah, because (as Rashi explains) if not for this day – due to which I learned Torah and was elevated – there are many people in the marketplace who are named Yosef, and in what way would I have been different?’”

Rav Yosef does not ascribe his uniqueness to the teacher who taught him Torah, nor does he ascribe it to the day he entered the study hall and began to learn Torah; rather, he emphasizes this particular date – the sixth of Sivan, the day of the Giving of the Torah.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe learns from this an inner Chassidic characteristic that is unique to this day: When giving us the Torah, Hashem gave us not only the content that is called “Torah”, but also the unique power to connect between the upper and lower worlds; to instill spirituality within the mundane, holiness in the everyday; to sanctify the material world and elevate it.

And it is about this that Rav Yosef said: In the merit of that day I learned Torah and became elevated. I became a different person; my entire being changed. The Torah that I learned penetrated my skin, my flesh, my blood and my bones – and I am a different person. Within me there is a wondrous and exact integration of the material and the spiritual. I am not Yosef anymore, but rather Rav Yosef. You can also call me Sinai, as in “Har Sinai.”

 

With blessings that you should receive the Torah with joy and Pnimiyut (being able to instill it within you)!

 

Shabbat Shalom, and Chag Same’ach,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

‘Chomesh’ (a fifth) – twenty percent of the earnings

 

Dear Friends,

 

Sammy Rohr zt”l was a precious person, a rare type of philanthropist, a real “Ba’al Tzedaka,” (literally, a “possessor of charity”), according to the purest and truest definition.

On Thursday, the 16th of Kislev 5770, December 3rd, 2009, at 4:00 pm, I was attending a meeting in the Rohr household in Miami, together with my dear friend Daniel Rothschild z”l.

The financial crisis was at its height, and we hadn’t exactly come to make things easier for Mr. Rohr…

Among the things this special person said to us that day was: “Starting from the first dollar I earned, I have been very particular to give Ma’aser Kesafim. I give ten percent of my earnings to Tzedaka and I am, Thank G-d, getting much Nachas from the fact that my children, too, make sure to do that. Lately, since the financial crisis began, I have been giving a ‘Chomesh’ (a fifth) – twenty percent of the earnings. And that is not because I give more, but because I earn less… But, in spite of the crisis it never crossed my mind to cut back on Tzedaka, because how can I take the risk of causing the activities we support throughout the world to suffer a cutback as well?”

He was talking, I must add, about hundreds of thousands of dollars that he and his son donated (and still donate) every month!

I remembered these words of his recently, because from the verse in Parashat Bechukotai (read this week outside of the Land of Israel) “that which a person will segregate for Hashem from anything that is his,” the Rambam learns in the Halachas of Arachin and Charamin that there is a limit to giving as well, and says, “Anyone who spends money on Mitzvahs shouldn’t spend more than a fifth.”

I have met many philanthropists in my life, but I have never met another Ba’al Tzedaka like Sammy Rohr, who felt such a personal responsibility towards his People. May his pure memory be blessed.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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