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Rabbi's weekly Blog

“But happy soldiers!”

 

Dear Friends,

Her name is Rochel, and she was born in Leningrad. When she was 13 years old the NKVD arrested her father, R’ Itche Raskin, on that infamous night of the arrest of the elite group of the Lubavitcher’s Rebbe’s soldiers, who had devoted themselves to keeping the spark of Judaism alive in Stalin’s Russia. This was in 1938 (5698). She never saw her father again; he was shot dead.

About ten years later, as a young married woman, she and her husband, Rabbi Nissan Pinson z”l, destitute refugees, were waiting  in France for instructions from the Rebbe as to whether they should continue to Kfar Chabad in the Holy Land, or come to Brooklyn, to live next to the Rebbe’s center. Much to their surprise, they were told to go out on a Shlichut (mission)! Where to? Morocco, and then Tunisia. I often try to imagine what they felt when they received this directive. After years of suffering under Soviet rule, their desire to live a normal life in Israel or in New York was probably at its strongest. And now – to go to a Moslem country? Morocco or Tunisia? I assume that they gritted their teeth, and perhaps blinked to stop their tears from coming, but saluted and said, “Yes, Sir!”

So, the gefilte fish met the spicy Moroccan fish. The young Russian Chabad couple, speaking Yiddish with a Russian accent, went to Morocco. They were and are a model for all the Shluchim all over the world. True soldiers.

Almost a decade after that, Mrs. Pinson managed to get a permit to go on a trip to America. She went to the Rebbe. But the moment she entered his room, just as the door closed behind her, this legendary woman burst into tears. Perhaps it was an unloading of all the pain she had had since her father was taken away, never to be seen again; perhaps it was a releasing of all the tensions and pressures after years of living in Morocco and Tunisia. Certainly, it included an element of deep yearning to see the Rebbe. But there was no despair or regret; for, a moment later, while still crying, she said in Yiddish, in a tone expressing much inner strength, a sentence that said everything - about her, her parents, her husband the rabbi and her children. It was a sentence that encompassed past, present and future: “Rebbe, we are the Rebbe’s soldiers!” The tears didn’t stop flowing, tears of pride in belonging to this special team.

The Rebbe listened, spread his hands out and said with a loving smile: “But happy soldiers!”

Rochel Pinson, may she enjoy good health, returned to Tunis and continued, with her husband, to raise generations of “freilichen Soldaten” (happy soldiers).

Dear friends, this week I was at the European conference of Shluchim, together with some of Rebbetzin Pinson’s sons and grandsons. We were in Russia, and we had to go from there to Belarus, in keeping with the Rebbe’s request from 25 years ago that the Shluchim visit the town of Liozna, where Chabad was started by Rabbi Schneur Zalman, Ba’al HaTanya. Unique, original Russian and Belarussian bureaucracy was doing its best to prevent us from entering. We waited at the border crossing for a long time – 500 Chassidim who had no intention of giving in. And then, when it looked like there was no chance of success, that the Russian government was intent on preventing us from fulfilling “our Rebbe’s” request – as if the 250 years of confrontation between Lubavitch and Russia were not over yet – we all started dancing happily. This was not a dance of hope, nor was it a dance of prayer, but rather a dance of trust, the inner trust that there is no power in the world that can prevent us from reaching our goal.

And I just closed my eyes and imagined Mrs. Pinson crying and hearing those words: “but happy soldiers!”

p.s. You think they didn’t let us in? Of course they did!

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

imagine this happening in Meah Shearim

 

Dear Friends,

the 15th of Av is a fascinating day. The Mishna tells us about the Jerusalem maidens who would go out to dance in the vineyards in front of the single young men. I’m trying to imagine this happening in the streets of Meah Shearim – I don’t know for sure, but it probably wouldn’t go over very well… And the truth is that at first glance it really does not sound very respectable. How could it be proper for a good Jewish girl to go out and, as it were, market herself publicly? Sounds a bit demeaning.

But if we go into the details in the Mishna more deeply, we will notice a few extraordinary points. First of all, the maidens would all go out in “borrowed white clothes.” In other words, the rich ones and the poor ones, those that had and those that didn’t have – all wore white dresses. And, in addition, they all wore dresses that weren’t theirs – dresses borrowed from a charity shop or from a friend. Rabban Shimon says that they did that “so as not to embarrass those that didn’t have.” How beautiful!

I see in this one central message aimed at all those looking for their intended match: when you go looking for a spouse, don’t focus on the external things. Look! We’re all wearing white – the least eye-catching color – and, besides, the dresses are not ours, but borrowed.

So what should we focus on when looking for a spouse?

The Mishna goes on to say: “And what would they say? Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you choose. Don’t focus on beauty; focus on family.” So: First of all, lift up your eyes, that is, lift your eyes and your vision above material, earthly matters. And when your viewpoint becomes slightly spiritual, when you’ll know to focus on why one builds a home and a family, and on what the goal of marriage is, then you will really know what is more important and what is less so.

“Don’t focus on beauty; focus on family,” they say. Of course, external looks are important as well, but when you come to “focus” – in other words, to decide on your priorities, what’s more important and what’s less important regarding the future spouse – “focus on the family.” Simply understood, this means that it is definitely important to know who the family of the intended spouse is. In a deeper vein, they are actually saying: We are all of the same family: oriental and occidental, Sephardim and Ashkenazim. We are all the sons of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, the daughters of Sara, Rivka, Rachel and Leah. We all arrived here with the best Yichus – lineage – possible. There is no place for arbitrary divisions and schisms.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

they were hugging each other!

 

Dear Friends,

The Temple was destroyed, blood flowed like water in the streets, the Jewish People and its G-d were disparaged and disgraced. Clearly, it was a period of the most extreme “Hester Panim” – Hashem hiding His face from the Jewish People. But it was precisely then, at that most difficult moment, that something truly wonderful and special – even strange – happened.

A bit of an introduction:

Attached to the cover of the Holy Ark, in which the two Tablets resided, were “Keruvim” – two cherub-like, baby-faced figures made of gold. In tractate Bava Batra, Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Elazar debate whether the Keruvim faced each other, or not. Did they look at each other, or did they turn their faces away from each other? The Gemara determines that the direction of the Keruvim varied according to the Jews’ behavior. When the Jews were doing G-d’s will, the Keruvim would be facing each other; when they were not doing G-d’s will, they would turn away from each other.

Well, at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, a moment before the Temple was burnt down, when the blood of the massacred priests was still boiling on the floor of the Temple, when the enemy soldiers were tramping around in the Holy of Holies – where only the Cohen Gadol (High Priest) could enter, and that only on Yom Kippur – and desecrating it, they saw something amazingly powerful: The Keruvim were not merely facing each other – they were hugging each other!

In other words, at the most difficult, terrible moment, the Keruvim were telling us unequivocally that not only is Hashem not angry with us, Chas VeChalilah, but He is actually feeling only love, and even giving us a warm hug.

Feeling confused? Chassidut explains this in two words, two words that are significant for our lives in general and for our relationship with the Creator in particular: Pnimiyut and Chitzoniyut (inner reality and external reality).

In the external reality we were seeing Hester Panim, Divine anger, destruction and exile.

In the inner reality there was love, hugging, building and redemption.

In the external reality we saw destruction and exile, but it was actually the beginning of a new building up towards the true and complete redemption; for when one wants to build a new building in the place of an old one, construction begins with the destruction of the old.

This year we will see this “confusion” to an extreme. On one hand, this coming Shabbat falls on Tisha B’av, the day of the destruction. But, on the other hand, it is Shabbat, and on Shabbat one may not mourn. We will sit down to our Shabbat meals wearing our Shabbat clothes, the table will be set with the usual Shabbat foods, including wine, meat and fish, because on this Tisha B’Av-Shabbat we will be focusing on the Pnimiyut – the aspect that showed us the Keruvim hugging each other.

 

Shabbat Shalom and Mashiach Now!

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Shall we be silent for a bit?

 

Dear Friends,

“I am not Jewish, but I am G-d-fearing. I need your advice,” said the man who had asked to meet with me.

His name was Robert, and I looked at him as he sat in front of me: young, tall, golden hair flowing down his broad shoulders, his eyes expressing innocence – a good Swiss boy, who only wants to do the right thing.

“We got divorced,” he said. “My ex-wife is not a believer and that’s o.k. The problem is that Mary, our eleven-year-old daughter, lives with my ex-wife and it is important to me that Mary grow up to be a believing person. I can’t talk to her about it since her mother sees it as if I’m defying her, and that causes an inevitable explosion and a fight. And you know, dear Rabbi, that it’s not healthy for the little girl to witness all these fights.”

For a moment, I didn’t know what to say to Robert. So I remained silent, praying in my heart that Hashem would “open my lips.”

Suddenly, I remembered: “A moment of silence.” That was an initiative of the Rebbe – to have sixty seconds of silence every morning in all elementary schools. Just sit quietly and think about the world and the Creator. Just be silent.

Robert liked the idea. So did Mary, and even Mary’s mother appreciated it. Sixty seconds of being quiet “without you putting in your ideas and religious beliefs. Mary will sit quietly and think, all by herself. Even I am willing to be quiet for that.”

And what about us? Shall we also be silent for a bit?

 

Chodesh Tov,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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