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Rabbi's weekly Blog

the electricity in the air

“Zalmenyu, if you have time, tell me about the Kinus. I understand that the Conference of Shluchim isn’t just another Rabbis’ conference; there is something electric about it. Can you describe it to me?” So wrote me a friend of mine when I was in New York.

“You’re right,” I replied to him. “But you want me to describe the electricity in the air? Where is the pen that can describe it? Is there anyone in the world who can present it graphically? I can’t. I just know about myself and about my friends:

“We were six very good friends, and we still are.

“In 5759 (1999) we studied together in Berlin under Rabbi Yudi Teichtel in a Smicha program combined with a training program for shlichut. That period in Berlin turned us from good friends to a single unit. We are brothers.

“The kilometers that separate Maryland, Omsk, Dusseldorf, Tallinn, Hamburg and Basel have not managed to separate between us.

“It can be said about us that “The love of chassidim is an example of brotherly love.”

“The Conference of Shluchim is our power station – long hours of charging. Sometimes it’s just sitting together and hearing about the family and kids, about moments of joy and times of challenges, and sometimes it’s just looking at each other and being silent together, because only a shaliach can really understand another shaliach. As I’ve mentioned already, we are brothers.

“The climax for us is the spontaneous dance. The heart overflows and the feet dance for an hour, with our entire bodies dancing and saying, ‘Thank you, Rebbe. Thank you for the merit.’”

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

the secret of our profession

Several years ago, the leader of the Union for Reform Judaism in the United States said that the reform movement should “learn important lessons from Chabad.” In the assembly of the Zionist Movement recently, minister Naftali Bennet told of how his family had grown in their observance thanks to Chabad shluchim, and summed up his speech with, “Learn the Chabad system; it works.” The two of them, as well as other leaders, point to the love and warmth that the shluchim bring to their work; others note the Chabadniks’ special devotion. But there is something else special, too, a central part of the shluchim’s work that they do not mention.

So, in honor of the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries that is taking place these days, I hereby reveal the secret of our profession.

The Torah in this week’s parasha describes a special relationship between Yitzchak and his son Esav, starting from Yitzchak’s love for Esav, when Rivka loved only Yaakov, and up until his willingness to give him the fateful blessings, those that would determine who would reign over whom. In spite of the fact that Yitzchak and Esav were father and son, this relationship is surprising. Yitzchak, in the very fact of his birth and existence, embodied the dream and the promise of the continued existence of the Jewish People. And it was clear that the continuation of this promise would be via Yaakov, not Esav. He is the one who was destined to produce twelve tribes from which the entire nation would develop. So we can live with the fact that Yitzchak loved Esav, but how could he have thought to give such fateful blessings to Esav and not to Yaakov? Rivka, Esav’s mother, understood immediately that she must do everything to make sure that the blessings be given to Yaakov, and was willing to pay any price for it. But what was Yitzchak thinking?

Yitzchak’s secret, as explained by the Rebbe, is the secret of the Chabad shluchim the world over:

If we read the story of Yitzchak’s life, we will see that he engaged in well-digging. A well-digger is not just a man of vision, and not only a person who is devoted to the goal of seeing the water well up. A well-digger is one who is mainly a believing person with inner strength; he knows to look at a mixture of dirt and stones and say, There’s water here! The dirt and rocks are just a cover for the water underneath. If we dig deep enough, we will reach that water.

A well-digger is a person who sees Esav and says to himself: There’s water here! If I dig deep enough, I will find the inner good in this person and it will come forth out of the ground. I know a great many of my colleagues, the shluchim, personally, and know many others indirectly, and I can say that I know this clearly: they are all well-diggers. They know how to look at dirt and stones and say, There’s water here! Everyone has such a story: “Everybody told me that I wouldn’t succeed with this person,” or “I was told that in this city there’s no chance of accomplishing anything,” or, “You know, this type of activity won’t work here.” But the shaliach always knew to look forward and say, There’s water here!

And, indeed, there was.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

how to receive the title “Immeinu”

 

Have you ever thought why the sign Eliezer chose for determining who would be Yitzchak’s wife was “Drink, and I will draw water for your camels too”?

Eliezer did not know whom he would meet, and set the criterion on his own: The woman who would respond positively and generously to his request, “Please tip your jug so that I may drink”, would be the designated bride.

Eliezer certainly knew what we know, that he had been sent to find a righteous woman who would be suitable for Yitzchak. He had been sent to find a mother of a nation, one who is worthy of receiving the title “Immeinu” (our mother).

Generosity and chessed are certainly important, but shouldn’t he have checked her beliefs, her way of dress, and whether she prays or studies in order to know if she is suitable for Yitzchak?

The answer to this question lies in a story that my father tells movingly, in the name of one dear chassid, R. Meir Friedman.

A rumor spread throughout the village that the shochet (ritual slaughterer) was not   G-d fearing enough, and therefore one should not trust his slaughtering – a rumor that influenced his income, of course.

The Ruzhiner Rebbe heard of this rumor and he decided to send a chassid to visit the home of the shochet.

The road to the village was unpaved, and it rained on the way. The chassid was therefore delayed on his journey; he had to walk through mud and in the end reached the shochet’s home only at midnight. Tired, wet, mud-spattered and freezing, he knocked on the shochet’s door without saying why he was there. The shochet and his family welcomed him warmly and happily, lit some more candles for him, found him clean, dry clothes to put on and even gave him a bowl of warm soup.

When the chassid returned to the Ruzhiner Rebbe and told him of the visit, the Ruzhiner got up and immediately gave his verdict: “Dort vu is lichtig un warem, is oicht kosher” – where it’s lit up and warm, it’s also kosher.

So I have this idea that Eliezer, too, said to himself in the Canaanite version of Yiddish: “Where it’s lit up and warm, it’s also kosher.”

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

fire of holiness and love

 “I wanted to go back to the hotel and I saw a blood-red glow. The synagogues were burning – Bravo! Bravo! The synagogues were going up in flames like big old huts.” So wrote Yosef Goebbels in his diary on Thursday, the 16th of Cheshvan, 5699 (1938). That was, of course, the day after Kristallnacht, a night of a full moon between Wednesday and Thursday. The skies of Germany were lit up by the fires raging in the synagogues, synagogues burnt by the fire of hatred and murderous propensity of the Germans. The full moon looked pale in comparison with the flames, pale in comparison with the fire of the approaching Holocaust.

Tomorrow night is the night; tomorrow night is the night in the Jewish calendar on which we will remember what happened in Europe only seventy-nine years ago.

Goebbels together with millions of German citizens rejoiced and cheered in face of the horrors. They thought they could get rid of the Jews forever, and thus solve the Jewish Problem. But we are here; we always were here. Ever since Avraham Ha’Ivri stood alone in front of everyone and didn’t surrender, thus giving all of us the strength never to surrender, never to give in.

We suffered, we were humiliated, beaten and almost destroyed – but only almost, because the winner is the one who remains, the one who is still on his feet at the end of the rounds. We, today, stand on our feet! There are at least one hundred and twenty active synagogues in Germany alone today, and hundreds more throughout Europe, which was almost declared Judenrein. We stand on our feet, but of course that is not enough. These synagogues that are everywhere throughout the world, and in Europe in particular, are not full. They were full, but they were emptied by murderous force and the flames of hatred. When we stand on the Shabbat before Kristallnacht, the 16th of Cheshvan 5778, when we come to remember the 16th of Cheshvan 5699, it is not enough to stand with a candle and sing a sad song; we must refill the synagogues.

The synagogues await us. Let’s ignite in them a spiritual fire of holiness and love, a fire that will be like water that extinguishes the fire of hatred and spiritual impurity.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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