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For a father is always a father

 

Dear Friends,

 

Every year when we sit down for the meal on the night of Rosh Hashana, I ask myself a difficult question. Here we are, sitting at a festive meal; the table is loaded with delicacies – fish, meat and wine, as well as pomegranates and apples. We sing and are happy. And when this takes place with one hundred other Jews, like in the Chabad House, it is certainly a very cheerful occasion and a wonderful experience.

But this really doesn’t make sense! Why not? Because tomorrow we are going to be put on trial: “Who will rest and who will move about, who will be at peace and who will suffer, who will become poor and who will become rich, who will  be cast down and who will be lifted up.” Our lives and the lives of our children are at stake! Have you ever seen a person who, the night before the trial of his life, goes out to celebrate?

But then I remember the wonderful story of the eight-year-old boy, who stood by the port and waited. He was asked, “What are you waiting for?” “Soon,” he replied, “the biggest ship in the world will go by – the Titanic will look small compared to it. And when it goes by I will wave to the captain, and he will wave back. That is what I’m waiting for: to see the captain of the ship waving to me.”

“Listen, kid,” the people said to him. “With all due respect, you are a bit naïve. Do you really think that the captain of the biggest ship in the world will wave to a little boy? Do you think he’ll even notice you?”

The boy smiled and said, “Wait and see.” The ship arrived, and the boy waved. Suddenly, the ship’s horn blew. The ship slowed down and the captain, in person, appeared in the window and waved at the boy. The boy was ecstatic.

The people approached the child and said, “What’s your secret? How did you do it? We didn’t think he would even see you.”

“It’s very simple,” the boy answered. “The captain is my father.”

And that’s exactly the point, my friends. When the captain is your father, you’re in good shape.

Tomorrow we are going to be on trial – and not an easy one. But, luckily enough, the Judge is our Father, “Our Father, our King.” He is indeed our king, but He is also our father. So we have to pray and beseech him, and we have to work on improving ourselves. But in the long run we can sit down to a happy and festive meal, because a father is a father, and we are sure that He will write all of us down for a good and sweet year, a year of good health and prosperity and, mainly, that He will bring us the Mashiach. For a father is always a father.

 

Ktiva V’Chatima Tova! May it be a year of redemption and salvation!

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Today I want to tell you a secret

 

Dear Friends,

 

Today I want to tell you a secret.

Among the Mitzvahs in the Torah there are the Chukim, those commandments that the Torah did not reveal to us why one must observe, the most famous of them being the prohibition of mixing meat and milk. The commandment regarding Shaatnez, which appears in our Parasha, belongs to that group of Mitzvahs as well. “You shall not wear Shaatnez, wool and linen together.” The reason for this prohibition does not appear in the Torah and it is considered to be a Chok.

And here comes the secret. Listen carefully, because it requires concentration.

When scientists want to analyze a certain material, they take it to a laboratory and, using a microscope, figure out its components and so uncover its secret. This is exactly what the Pnimiyut of the Torah (the inner meaning – i.e., the Kabbalah and Chassidut) does to the Mitzvahs of the Torah – it analyzes the components and uncovers the secrets behind these Mitzvahs.

Well, on the second day of Shavuot 5667 (1907), in the town of Lubavitch in Russia, the Rebbe, the Rashab (Rabbi Shalom DovBer Schneersohn, the fifth Rebbe in the Chabad dynasty) figured out the secret of Shaatnez.

The world is composed of two central lines: a. right, which is Chessed, lovingkindness, and b. left, which is Gevurah, judgment or discipline. These two forces, when they light up the material world and act in it, must be separate. Any combination between them might be very destructive. Each one on its own is very good, but the mixing of the two causes a negative reaction.

For instance, Kayin and Hevel symbolized these two lines in the world – Hevel was Chessed and Kayin was Gevurah. The interaction between them brought about tragedy (and, of course, Gevurah vanquished Chessed; Kayin killed Hevel).

Wool and flax symbolize these two lines as well: the wool from sheep represents the Chessed, and the flax that grows from the earth represents the Gevurah, and therefore, it is forbidden to combine them in one garment.

By the way, Kayin and Hevel had the same division. Hevel, who represented the Chessed, brought an animal offering – “He brought from the firstborn of his flock.” Kayin, who represented the Gevurah, brought an offering from the land – “He brought from the fruit of the land.”

The prohibition against the combination of meat and milk comes from the same root, as well. The white, more delicate milk, represents Chessed, and the red, heavy meat, represents Gevurah. Mixing the two in the material world is not good, a bad combination.

This secret is just a small taste from the Pnimiyut of the Torah. It is worthwhile to delve into these issues and learn them in depth, because then life in general, and Jewish life in particular, look completely different.

We merited all this goodness due to Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the Baal HaTanya, whose birthdays we will note this week on Wednesday, the 18th of Ellul.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalman Wishedski

Papirene Kinder

 

Dear Friends,

He had sent his wife and children on a precarious journey to freedom. He too had a train ticket that would have gotten him out of the Soviet Union, but decided at the last minute not to leave. There were still Jews who needed his tending there, and one doesn’t flee from the battlefield – not he, anyway.

His name was R’ Mendel Futerfas. A legendary Chassid, who, even then, when there were many Chassidim who endangered their lives for the sake of Judaism, was a role-model and a symbol of courage and power, devotion and dedication to the cause. He paid a heavy price for his decision to remain behind the iron curtain: he was arrested and sent to Siberia for ten tortuous years. And when he was released after Stalin’s death, he spent a further ten years behind the iron curtain, far from his wife and children.

He had pictures of his children, and when he would look at them, he would then close his eyes and sing loudly the Yiddish song, “Papirene kinder hab icht,” a song coming straight from the heart of a longing father:

“I have children of paper… Oy, how can a mother’s heart not burn inside her when her own children are hanging on the wall?

Children of paper, where are you? Who knows? Ay, how my flesh and blood have turned to paper, I don’t know.”

He knew that they were living a good life; that it was good that they had left Russia. And it was good that he had remained behind, because he had to tend to persecuted Jewry. The head understood that it was good this way, but the heart – the heart was bursting from his yearning to see them, and it was from there that the cry came out: “Oy, my beloved G-d, have mercy on me. I want my children and not a piece of paper.”

This description, which is engraved in my brain and on my heart from my childhood, came back to me this week when we sent our daughter and our son to school away from home. It is difficult, and we miss them – we are here and they are there. True, in the age of the WhatsApp they are not “paper children”, rather “electronic children,” and still, it is difficult and one needs to be strong. When I tried to find this strength, what came to mind was that description of R’ Mendel sitting in the home of his friend, my grandfather, R’ Moshe, and in the middle of an ordinary day closing his eyes and singing from an aching heart about his “paper children.”

My heart is filled with gratitude and joy: these are not times of enforced separation, exile or imprisonment. Those times are gone! Our children went to learn Torah out of choice, of their own free will and even happily. My prayer to the Creator of the world is that they should be blessed in all their endeavors, and that we will have much true, Jewish, Chassidishe Nachas from them.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

It is logical, it is fair and it works!

 

Dear Friends,

 

On Monday, the 12th of Tammuz, 5653 – 1893, at six in the evening, the bar mitzvah Se’udah (meal) of Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn – who was to become the sixth Rebbe of the Chabad dynasty – was taking place in the town of Lubavitch. During the meal, the father of the boy, Rabbi Shalom DovBer, turned to his son and said: “It is customary in Chabad that every Rebbe turns to his son on the day of his bar mitzvah and says to him, ‘Ask a question.’ In other words, present me with a question, and I will answer it. And so, Yosef Yitzchak, ask a question.”

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak (known as the Rayatz), recorded the next few moments in his diary:

“I asked my father: In the Siddur it says that ‘it is proper to say before davening, “I take upon myself the positive mitzvah of You shall love your fellow like yourself.” Why was this statement placed before the davening?’

“’When a father has many sons,’ my father answered me, ‘his main pleasure is seeing that they are all united and love each other. Davening is asking Hashem for one’s personal needs, both material and spiritual, and before asking, we should give our Father in Heaven some Nachas, some pleasure, and therefore it was decided that one should accept upon oneself the positive mitzvah of loving other Jews particularly before davening.’”

And the Rebbe continues to write in his diary: “I’m telling this so that you will understand what a father must give his son, and what guidance he should give him on the day of his bar mitzvah.

“Simply put: Before you ask for something from Hashem for yourself, give Him something for his children. It is logical, it is fair, and it works!”

Tomorrow, the Shabbat when we will read Parashat Re’eh, is also Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of Elul, and, of course, there is a connection between the two things. In Parashat Re’eh we are commanded to give Tzedaka: “If there shall be a destitute person among you… you shall open your hand to him.” in the month of Elul, the month of compassion and Selichot (prayers for forgiveness), which begins tomorrow, there is an emphasis on the mitzvah of Tzedaka. Here is what the Rambam says when he speaks about the Teshuva – repentance – that one should engage in during the High Holy Days (Hilchot Teshuva, 3:9): “All of Israel have the custom of giving much Tzedaka and doing many good deeds.”

Why Tzedaka? What’s the connection between giving alms to the poor and the month of Elul, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur?

Well, this is where I remembered Rabbi Shalom DovBer’s answer to his son on the day of his bar mitzvah: During Elul and the High Holy Days, when we come to plead for ourselves and for our children and request an abundance of blessing, good health, a good livelihood, Nachas from the children, happiness in the home – we should first give Him something from ourselves. Hashem treats us using the principle of “measure for measure”: When we give to His children, he gives to us, and when we give a lot, he showers much good upon us. It is logical, it is fair and it works!

 

Shabbat Shalom, Chodesh Tov and K’tiva V’Chatima Tova,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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