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Rabbi's weekly Blog

So, dear friends, to work!

 

Dear Friends, 

Since the last day of Pesach the Shabbos Parasha readings have differed between Eretz Yisrael and outside of it. 
For instance, this coming Shabbat we, outside of Eretz Yisrael, will be reading Parashat Pinchas, whereas in Eretz Yisrael Parashat Matot will be read. 
On the other hand, this week we will be reading the same Haftara, since we are in the days of Bein Hametzarim (the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av – Tisha B’Av – when we mourn the destruction of the Temple). All of us will, therefore, be reading a Haftara that is connected to the time of year, and not to the Parasha. 
And so, this week’s Haftara is from the book of Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) – about Yirmiyahu, the prophet of the destruction, who was sent to warn the Jewish People and try to convince them to forsake their bad ways. 
With candor, and in rich and graphic language such as one can find only in the Tanach, Yirmiyahu describes how Hashem told him that he is to be a prophet: “The word of Hashem came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the belly I knew you, and before you left the womb I sanctified you; I established you as a prophet unto the nations.’” In simple words: I’ve known you since before you were created – even then I knew – in fact, I determined – that you would be a prophet to the nations.
But Yirmiyahu, like Moshe Rabbeinu, tried to evade the mission, claiming, “Alas, Hashem Elokim, I do not know how to speak, for I am just a youth!” And Hashem answered him, as Yirmiyahu goes on to tell us in Passuk 8: “Do not fear… for I am with you.”
Thus Yirmiyahu Hanavi began his life-long mission, forty-one years before the destruction of the Temple. 
This story isn’t just a fascinating piece of history. The Lubavitcher Rebbe was particular to connect everything to our own lives, and he took those Pesukim and made them relevant to each and every one of us. 
Hashem is actually telling us: You have a mission to accomplish. Use the powers that you have and do good to the world around you. And if you ask, “Who, me? Who am I?!” your Creator will tell you: “Before I formed you in the belly I knew you, and before you left the womb I sanctified you.” I know who you are! I’ve known you since before you were born! You can do it!
You might try to refuse, saying that you are “a youth” – how can I cope with the world around me? But then your Father in Heaven will tell you: “Do not fear… for I am with you.”
And so, dear friends, to work!
Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

“Neither smart nor stupid”

 

Dear Friends,

“Neither smart nor stupid” – that is the Talmudic definition of a child who can decide whether a Sefer Torah is considered kosher or not.

This week, I took a crash course in checking Tefillin and Mezuzahs. The course was held in Krakow, Poland, under the auspices of the Rabbinical Centre of Europe. Among other things, we learned about a situation in which we have to decide when a specific letter in a Sefer Torah, in a Tefillin scroll or in a Mezuzah is considered to be written properly or not.

It is a well-known Halacha: If in the middle of the Torah-reading the reader becomes in doubt about the letter Vav, for instance: Is it too short, and therefore may be considered to be a Yud, thus invalidating the Sefer Torah? Or is it long enough to still be considered a Vav, and then the Sefer Torah will be declared kosher? The Rabbi or some other expert is immediately called over, but it is not they who can decide the issue; in fact, they are forbidden to do so. The Gemara in Masechet Menachot says that one must find a small child, who is “neither smart nor stupid,” show him the letter in doubt, and only he, the young child, can decide whether the Sefer Torah is kosher or not.

But not every child is considered suitable; it has to be one who is “neither smart nor stupid.” A child who already knows how to read and can recognize the word in which the letter appears, is considered smart, and he might understand from the context what letter should be there. He is too smart. A child who does not know the letters at all is also not suitable, for obvious reasons. He is considered “stupid.” Therefore, one must find a child who knows the letters of the Hebrew alphabet well, but does not yet know how to read. This way we will be sure that his reading of that one letter will be free of any bias.

While I was sitting there and absorbing information, I thought to myself that this definition can also be seen as a directive for life in general when it comes to making decisions: If you have no knowledge at all about the issue involved, you are defined as being “stupid” for the purpose of the decision; therefore, do not try to decide, but rather go and find someone to consult with. But – and this is a very important “but” – even if you feel yourself to be quite smart and wise, be careful! It is possible that your feeling of self-importance might cause you to involve your ego and wrong considerations in the issue, thus producing a wrong decision as well.

Neither smart nor stupid. In order to make a truthful decision, one needs a combination of knowledge on one hand, and simplicity and humility on the other. Only that way will we be able to reach a pure, independent decision.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Why did you sell the stocks?

 

Dear Friends,

 

The story is told about a rich Jew who chose a learned husband for his daughter. The agreement between son-in-law and father-in-law was that the son-in-law would learn Torah all day, and the father-in-law would transfer a respectable stock portfolio to his name. “Once a month,” said the father-in-law, “call the banker to hear what’s new, but don’t sell anything. Just sit and learn Torah.” The son-in-law agreed to these terms.

Two months later, the father-in-law discovered that the young man had given an order to sell the entire portfolio. Both surprised and angry, he called him up: “Why did you break the agreement? Why did you sell the stocks?”

“I spoke with the banker, as you told me to,” replied the son-in-law, “and whenever I asked him questions, at the end of every answer he would add, ‘and with G-d’s help Mashiach will come soon.’ My dear father-in-law, do you understand that when I heard a banker praying for the coming of the Mashiach, I understood that I should sell everything, the sooner the better?...”

This is not a joke; this is reality. For many of us the blessing or the yearning for the coming of Mashiach just makes us smile, or is considered unrealistic. Since we started our Shlichut in Basel, when people ask us the inevitable question, “So are you here for a limited amount of time, or for life?” we answer: “For a limited time – only until Mashiach comes.” And then they smile at us politely, and ask again: “But, seriously, are you here for a limited period or are you staying here for good?”

The Rambam in the Halachas of the Para Aduma (Red Heifer), which we read this week as part of Parashat Chukat, says: “Nine Red Heifers were prepared from the time [Moshe Rabbeinu] was commanded regarding this Mitzvah, until the destruction of the Second Temple. The first was prepared by Moshe Rabbeinu, the second was prepared by Ezra and then seven [more] until the destruction of the Temple. And the tenth – the Melech Hamashiach will make, may he be revealed soon, Amen, may it be [Hashem’s] will.”

Friends, the Rambam was not joking about the Mashiach. He, who is viewed by all as a rational Jewish scholar, when he wrote about the coming of the Mashiach, immediately added, with yearning: “May he be revealed soon, Amen, may it be [Hashem’s] will.” The Lubavitcher Rebbe, when learning this Halacha, wondered how blessings and yearnings connect to a dry Halacha book? In articles and sermons and when praying it is suitable to write and hope for the speedy revelation etc., but to have such a thing in a Halacha book, and, moreover, one written by the Rambam? How could it be?

Maimonides, said the Rebbe, wrote it in the Halacha book in order to teach us something about the Halachas of awaiting the Mashiach, and that is that when the topic of the future Redemption comes up in conversation or in learning, it is expected of the believing Jew that strong feelings of expectation and looking forward to the Redemption should arise within his heart, and as a result he will immediately burst out with “May he be revealed soon, Amen, may it be [Hashem’s] will.”

“For Your salvation we hope all day,” so have Jews prayed three times a day for thousands of years already. There is meaning and intention behind every word.

 

Shabbat Shalom and Mashiach Now,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

some things should be the very best

 

Dear Friends,

 

There are Parashas in the Torah whose central topic is so meaningful that the other topics or commandments in them don’t get enough attention. Parashat Korach, which we will read this coming Shabbat outside of Israel, is one such Parasha. The story of Korach is so powerful and emotion-provoking that it will almost always be the subject brought up in connection with this Parasha.

The last Passuk in the Parasha talks about something quite different, and, in my opinion, very important. It says, “You shall not bear a sin because of it when you raise up its best from it…” The Passuk is talking about the contributions made to the Cohanim (priests), and the Torah comments that here the word Chelev (meaning certain fats that are removed from sacrificial animals) symbolizes the best. And so, when you give the best, it should not be considered a sin. From this we learn that when one does not give from the best, it is considered a sin.

The Halachic authorities are divided when it comes to the question whether giving the best is part of the mitzvah itself, or merely a “Hiddur” – an improvement on the mitzvah, and the mitzvah will be counted even if what is given is not the best. Either way, it is clear that the Torah is demanding from us that when we give, we should give from the best.

Not infrequently, I find myself buying Tefillin, Mezuzahs and the Arba Minim (the Four Species) and such like for people. Often I find myself dealing with people who appreciate quality: they will buy expensive shoes because it is worth it to them to invest money so that their feet will be comfortable. They will save up to buy an expensive washing machine of the right brand, because there are things that must be of the very best. But when it comes to buying Tefillin and Mezuzahs, they suddenly search for something cheaper than what is first offered.

And so, I find myself trying to explain to them that just like with any product on the market, in Jewish ritual items, too, there are different levels of quality regarding the quality of the writing, or the processing of the parchment, or the Sofer (scribe) himself, who should be a G-d fearing Jew who writes carefully. These are things that naturally raise the price of the item – it is simple logic.

When my son became 10 years old, I began to look for a good and expensive Sofer, the kind who has a long waiting list. Two years before the Bar Mitzvah I ordered the highest quality parchment and writing. We could have saved up for a prestigious trip or for a nice car, but we chose to save up for an expensive pair of Tefillin. That is what we saw in our father’s house, and that is what he saw in his father’s house. Because some things should be the very best that one can get.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

“For he is a faithful shepherd.”

 

Dear Friends,

Rabbi Elazar, in the Zohar, Part I, defines who is a true leader. He analyzes the approach and the behavior of Noach, Avraham and Moshe Rabbeinu in emergency situations. All three experienced a time during their lives in which the generation was supposed to be punished and even destroyed while they were to be saved, and each one of them reacted differently.

Noach knew that a flood was supposed to come and wash away all of creation, and he built an ark in order to save his family, as the Creator told him to do. But what about the rest of his generation? Noach did nothing; he did not try to stop them from committing sins, and he did not beg for mercy for them. He did make sure to keep at one of each type of living being, so that the world would continue to exist after the flood.

Unlike Noach, Avraham Avinu did much more. Not only did he work with his generation, accept them all and show them the right way, as it says, “And he called there in the Name of Hashem, G-d of the World,” but he did much more than that. When he heard about the decree to destroy Sdom and Amorah, he began to pray and ask for mercy. He did everything to prevent the decree from being carried out. But he didn’t pray for mercy for the wicked people of Sdom – he asked for mercy for the righteous among the city’s residents “Perhaps there are… righteous people in the city… It would be sacrilege for You to kill the righteous with the wicked.” He did not pray for the wicked. It seems that he understood that the wicked have no merits, and therefore they should not be prayed for. And therefore, when Hashem informed him that there are no righteous people in the city, he ceased his efforts. “And Avraham returned to his place.”

Moshe Rabbeinu, the leader of the Jewish People, presents a different level, a different approach of a leader. Both in the case of the Sin of the Golden Calf and in the story of the Spies, we are talking about people who sinned, who betrayed Hashem. And in this week’s Parasha, Parashat Shelach, we are told of people who fought and incited the people against Moshe Rabbeinu “And they spoke against Moshe and Aharon.” But, when Hashem says, “I will strike them [the people] with the plague and annihilate them, and make you into a big nation,” Moshe Rabbeinu, that faithful shepherd, does not think of himself, but rather approaches Hashem immediately and begs, “Please forgive the sin of this nation according to the greatness of your kindness.”

For that is a true leader – he is not concerned only with himself, and does not just wait for others to come to him; rather, he goes to them. He does not ask only for salvation for the righteous, but sees the good in everyone and prays for everyone, and as Rabbi Elazar says at the end of his homily in the Zohar, “For he is a faithful shepherd.”

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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