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Rabbi's weekly Blog

a message from Siberia

 

Dear Friends,

 

His name was Mendel Gorelik, and for a few weeks already, every day after work, he had been sitting down and creating a penciled drawing of an 8-year-old boy. The “work” was in a Siberian work camp, where he had been sent during Stalin’s reign of terror.

This was his second time in exile in Siberia. The last time, he had been single and had been sent there for five years. But he was a stubborn Chabbadnik, who was not willing to let the wicked win, and so, despite the danger, he continued his mission of helping his Jewish brothers and sisters, using his rare, G-d-given drawing talent. He was arrested again and sentenced for ten long years of grueling labor in Siberia. This time he was the young father of three little sons, orphaned, as it were, and living with their mother.

So every evening after work he would sit and draw his Shalom Ber. Shalom Ber’s eighth birthday was coming up and therefore his father was preparing a present for him.

No one can describe what went through the heart of this exiled father in Siberia while he was drawing his son’s face. He hadn’t seen him in three years, and who knew if they would ever see each other again.

It would seem that by sending such a drawing the father was telling his son: My child, I am suffering and being tortured in exile, but you, my dear child, are etched in my mind and heart. Your image is always with me.

But, really, this drawing had another, hidden message to it: Shalom Ber’s secular birthday was May 4th. To the family’s surprise, the date noted on the drawing was May 7th. For a moment one would think that he had made a mistake, but with a bit more thought it becomes clear that he had made no mistake at all. Rather, a very important message was hidden in that date: May 7th, 1949 was the 8th of Iyar, which was his son’s Hebrew birthday.

R. Mendel Gorelik was sitting in Siberia and sending a message to his dear son: Remember, you are a Jew, and your birthday is not on the secular date, but rather on the Hebrew date – the 8th of Iyar.

 

This child, Shalom Ber Gorelik, grew up to be an energetic, happy and loving Chassid, whose energy, love and joy reached out to anyone who met him. Unfortunately, this week he passed away. But the drawing has remained with us, as has its message that continues to resonate.

R. Mendel Gorelik was the grandfather of my wife, Dvora, and Shalom Ber who passed away this week was a beloved and loving uncle, whose memory will remain forever in our hearts.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski


CM Gorelik.jpg

stop working at 5:00

Dear Friends,

The man had a medical consultation business. He had young children at home. He worked hard and earned well, but one day he complained to me that he barely sees he children. His office is open until 6:00 in the evening, and by the time he gets home the house is in disarray, the tired children are on their way to bed, and the wife, too, is in disarray and exhausted as well.

“So stop working at 5:00,” I told him.

“One less hour in the office,” he replied, “means much less money per month.”

“So try it for just one month,” I suggested.

He agreed, and this month has lasted ten years. For ten years he has been coming home at a time when he can still spend time with his family, see and be seen, and sometimes even tell a bedtime story to the little ones.

Why was I reminded of this anecdote?

Because the Rebbe learns from this week’s Parasha a similar and very interesting lesson. It says in the Torah about the Egyptians that they “embittered the lives” of Bnei Yisrael. The Rebbe explains that that means giving them work that had no limit and purpose. A person is willing to work hard if he knows that a) the work will come to an end at some point, and b) that it is useful. Purposeless work is unimaginable torture – it embitters one’s life.

The Rebbe, in his talk on one of the nights of Pesach of the year 1959 (5719), spoke of the relevance of this to the life of every Jew. Work must have its limits. A person has to go out and provide a livelihood for his family, but he shouldn’t be totally immersed in it every day, all day. There are other, much more important things in our lives that are, indeed, the reason we go out, exert ourselves and labor away. There are the family and children; one’s spiritual life; there are Torah and Mitzvot, and there is the holy Neshama (soul) that would like some of our time and attention.

One should find time for daily Torah learning, praying and doing acts of Chessed, and, of course, one should spend time with the family and children when they are still awake and alert.

So when we read and learn of how the Egyptians embittered the lives of our forefathers in Egypt, we ought to check and see whether we are perhaps embittering our own lives…

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Hu Motiv La Vehu Mefarek La!

 

Dear Friends,

“Hu Motiv La Vehu Mefarek La.” “He brings up [the difficulty], and he settles it.” This is a common Talmudic expression used to express the fact that the same sage who has mentioned a difficulty in the text is the one who smooths it out.

This is what Yosef HaTzaddik did in regard to the Egyptian exile. Yaakov and his sons followed Yosef down to Egypt, and their exodus from Egypt was also thanks to the code they received from Yosef, who said at the end of his life. “And G-d will Pakod Yifkod you (will surely remember you). The pair of words, “Pakod Yifkod” is the code that the redeemer will use when he will come to take them out of Egypt. As mentioned above, Yosef brought them to Egypt but had already prepared the redeeming code. “He brings up the difficulty, and he settles it”!

Not only Yosef, but anyone who is taken down or takes himself down to some lowly situation or place, should know that there is no doubt that he has within him the code words that will lead him towards salvation and towards physical and spiritual ascent.

Hu Motiv La Vehu Mefarek La!

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

“L’ma’an Achai V’Rei’ai…”

 

Dear Friends,

In Israel these days there is much discord. Tempers are high; people are clinging to what they believe is the only truth. The situation is close to that of chaos, with everyone fighting everyone. Each person protests the absurdity of the situation – but the absurdities mentioned differ from person to person. It sometimes reminds one of boxers who are pummeling each other, but before the winner can be determined, the boxing ring itself is threatening to collapse under them as they battle away.

This is somewhat amusing, and somewhat painful, because, unlike with boxers, where each one wants to beat the other, here both sides are actually struggling to protect the boxing ring itself – its security and its image, including its morality and justice. But, as mentioned already, sometimes it feels like the ring is what is about to collapse.

“One has to live with the time.” So said Rabbi Schneur Zalman MiLiadi (the Admor HaZaken, also known as the Ba’al HaTanya, who founded Chabad). “With time” means living with the weekly Parasha, being in tune with what the Parasha that we will read this week teaches us. This week’s Parasha is the continuation of the story of Yosef – the last and most fascinating chapter in the well-known thriller known as “Joseph and his Brothers”.

I won’t include a spoiler, for the sake of those who want to hear it on Shabbat morning straight from the source. I’ll just make one clear and essential point: Yosef behaved mercifully towards his brothers. He could have paid them in kind for what they did to him, but he chose to do good to them instead. They had behaved very badly towards him: thrown him into the pit, sold him to merchants and caused him to go from trouble to trouble, until he landed in jail. But this week he reveals himself to them and invites them all to come and live with him, all expenses covered.

Based on the Zohar and on the Tanya, the Lubavitcher Rebbe suggests that we view this rare and challenging behavior of Yosef as a model we should strive to emulate: to control ourselves even when it is difficult to do so, and to counter hate and bad behavior with love and goodness.

I think that during these tumultuous times, we should stop a moment and “live with the time” – look at Yosef and observe his deeds. It would seem that these days it is difficult to even hold back and be silent, not to mention forgive or even pay back evil with good, but if we want to make sure that our boxing ring will not collapse, we must try to do so. Even if we don’t reach Yosef’s level, at least we can remember that he is the role model – that there is such a goal.

“L’ma’an Achai V’Rei’ai…”

“For the sake of my brothers and friends, I shall speak peace in your midst.”

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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