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the code of release

A moment before Yosef died and left his brothers and their fate in the hands of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, he gave them the code of release from that land. At the time of Yosef’s death, life was still good. They had autonomy in the land of Goshen, and as members of the family of Yaakov and Yosef they were honored and respected citizens of Egypt. But when Yosef told them, “G-d will redeem you from Egypt,” it was clear that the good life was about to be over, and soon they would be in a situation that would require redemption.

In the few sentences that Yosef said to them in his last minutes, he repeated twice the phrase pakod yifkod: “G-d pakod yifkod (will surely remember) you and bring you up out of this land.” Our Sages in the midrash taught us that this word combination was the code that Yosef gave his brothers, so that when the time would come they would know to identify the redeemer. And, indeed, what Moshe Rabbeinu said to them when he came to take them out of Egypt was “Pakod pakadeti” – I have surely remembered.

The exile in Egypt, being the first exile of our people, teaches us about our national and personal lives today. The prophet Michah, when he speaks about the future redemption, says so explicitly: “Like in the days of your going out of the land of Egypt, I will show him (the Jewish People) wonders.”

I learn from that, that in every exile, difficulty, descent, falling and challenge – big or small, personal or national – the code of the transition from exile to redemption is there, having been prepared ahead of time.

This is a great help, and helps us cope, because the very knowledge that together with the difficulty and downfall there is a secret code, ready to take one up and grow, is enough to give us the strength to continue to cope, move ahead, and act. Sometimes we have to search for the code, and sometimes we just have to wait until it comes to us, but always, always we must live with the belief that it exists, and that someday it will come into use.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Be a Yehuda, do Vayigash.

 

This week I was skyping with a nice Jew who wanted to consult with me and receive my support in matters concerning his shalom bayit – his relationship with his wife. Like any good Jew, he was mainly searching for ways to convey messages, to hint to what he wanted – to cause things to happen in the way that seemed right and good to him. He had many ideas of how to move things along, but the problem was that every idea he had was likely to produce some problem that would prevent him from carrying it out.

Hashem did a chessed with me, and what came out of my mouth was: “Do a Vayigash!”

In this week’s parasha, there is one central message, expressed by the word Vayigash (“he approached”).

Yehuda was in a very delicate situation. The saga between his brothers and the king of Egypt was not over; in fact, it was getting more complex. And now it had reached a climax, with the king wanting to take young Binyamin from them, when Yehuda had guaranteed Binyamin’s return, alive, to their father, Yaakov. He was the first Israeli who used that well-known phrase – “Semoch alai” – “Trust me!” And now the moment of truth had come, and like anyone who accepts responsibility upon himself, he was alone there, and had to make a decision.

Notice that Yehuda didn’t go around looking for friends or lawyers who would approach Yosef in his stead. He didn’t send a letter, and not even a voice mail. He did Vayigash – he himself approached Yosef, looked him in the eye, and said (so-to-speak): “Let’s settle this matter like two adults.”

A right and honest vayigash leads to unity. Because when people approach each other and have a straight, face-to-face conversation, that brings them closer to each other, and closeness leads to peace and unity. The disagreement can remain; it is perfectly o.k. not to agree with one another, but when it is done through closeness, the result is peace.

This week, twenty-eight years ago, the Rebbe said thus: Vayigash expresses the great rule in the Torah of “You shall love your fellow like yourself.” Vayigash is a statement of revealed, practical unity, as expressed by Yehuda and Yosef coming closer to each other.

Be a Yehuda, do Vayigash.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Oh, no VS Oops

 

There are life-changing sentences that one encounters sometimes. One such sentence is the most important sentence that I learned from the Ta’atzumot system developed by Rachel Bolton: “Difficulty and pain are catalysts for growth.” Everyone knows that in the end it is possible to grow from difficulties, and to develop as a result of pain. Every Jew is familiar with this; after all, in every exile and in every difficulty we have told this to ourselves. The truth is that the Jewish People has proven, time after time, how from every crisis, no matter how big, it has grown immensely.

It starts with the story of Yosef, the first Jew who was exiled to a strange land, where he grew and developed to the point of being the viceroy of Egypt, the one who prepared the way for his family when they came to Egypt. As Yosef himself told them, “G-d sent me to feed you.” Personally, he describes this in five (Hebrew) words perfectly. When he named his second son Efraim, he said, “For G-d has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.” As the Rebbe emphasizes (in Likutei Sichot Part I): How did he get to being fruitful? Specifically, by being in “the land of my suffering.” For Yosef, it was really a land of suffering. He was orphaned from his mother, his brothers wanted to kill him and finally compromised on selling him. He was sold several times on the way, and then sold as a slave in Egypt, continuing on to prison for a few years – all this starting when he was only 17 years old. And here, he comes and says clearly and concisely: It was particularly when I was in the land of my suffering that Hashem made me fruitful.

When I learn to change my way of thinking, so that the moment I experience a difficulty I remember immediately that it is a catalyst for growth, my first thought will not be, “Oh no, why is this happening to me?” but rather “Oops, where does this difficulty want to lead me?” and then my life changes for the good. It takes practice and effort, and it’s not always possible to prevent the first thought from being “Oh, no,” but it is perfectly possible to decide that the second thought will be, “Oops.”

An illuminating and Happy Chanukah,

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Where am I?

 Where am I?

It is 10:00 pm, and I am sitting in the living room of the Gittler family, the Rebbe’s shluchim to Freiburg, Germany. We have just finished a hitva’adut for the 19th of Kislev, the Chabad holiday of geula. I’m a little dizzy, since I was invited to participate, that is, to speak to the people about the meaning of the day, and about Chassidut in general and about Chabad in particular. I’m a little dizzy, since I said “L’chaim” a few times, because to give a “dry” talk is possible when it’s presented as a sermon, but not in a hitva’adut. In a hitva’adut one gets the heart, the soul to speak. Because only once you expose your own pnimiyut (inner world), will the participants allow what you say to touch their pnimiyut.

So, please forgive me if I write somewhat freely today, continuing the hitva’adut on the keyboard.

So, where am I?

That’s all I said in the hitva’adut. This is the “Ayeka” that G-d asked Adam when he was in Gan Eden. This is the Ayeka that Ba’al Hatanya explained to the senior official while he was in jail. Ayeka is the question that G-d presents to man (and woman), every man/woman, every day. Where are? Where are you in your world? Are you in the place you should be? The piercing question relates to your world in general and to your spiritual world in particular.

The answer is of no interest.

The answer is not relevant.

The important thing is the question itself: Where are you?

I am not familiar with my audience tonight, the same way I do not know most of my readers. But I am sure of one thing: whoever knows to stop in mid-track in life’s race every once in a while and ask himself truthfully, “Ayeka?” is sure to live a meaningful life.

And a meaningful life is Heaven on earth.

 

L’chaim v’livracha – to life and to blessing,

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

It’s not fair, it’s just not fair.

 

“It’s not fair, it’s just not fair.” That’s what I thought and even told myself and whoever was willing to listen for the greater part of my youth. I looked around, and saw friends who had no problem getting up in the morning on time to get to Yeshiva, while for me it was an exhausting struggle. There were those who had no difficulty sitting in one place for two hours, and even listening to a shiur (class), while yours truly was born with shpilkes (Google it!). I have friends who did everything by the book, and I was trying to write my own original volume. The most annoying thing was, that everything that the yeshiva framework demanded came easily to them, and I just heard the word “frame” – and felt the limits of that frame constantly. Well, you have to admit that I was justified in saying that it wasn’t fair.

When I was eighteen years old or so, Volume 35 of the Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe was published. A new book from the Rebbe is the cause for much excitement, and like many of my friends I went through it right away (not “according to the book”, as was my habit, since I took time from other studies I was supposed to be engaged in). When I reached page 150, the section on parashat Vayishlach, I finally found some balm for my soul and an answer to my question.

The Rebbe divides the ways people operate in the world into two types: Rachel and Leah.

Rachel was beautiful; everyone was sure that she was intended for Yaakov, the tzaddik, who had chosen her and had worked hard for her. She symbolizes all those for whom it is easy to do things right and according to expectations. In short: avodat hatzaddikim (the way the righteous serve Hashem).

Leah was not referred to as a beautiful woman. Her eyes were soft from tears, because everyone said that she would marry the wicked Esav. In order to marry Yaakov she had to go through much sorrow, and unpleasantness in terms of her relationship with her sister. And besides that, she married someone who had not chosen to marry her. Leah symbolizes all those to whom nothing comes easily; who has to fight for everything. In short: avodat hateshuva (the way the ba’alei teshuva serve Hashem).

The Rebbe then goes on to say that every person is meant to serve according to his abilities. If you are like Rachel, and your service is that of tzaddikim, it is possible that your service is internal, working on yourself, working with people who are like you. You have to follow the beaten paths and stick close to the frameworks, and within them do the best you can, what only you, with your special beauty. know how to do.

But if you are a Leah type – serving through teshuva, it is possible that you should use your abilities to get through to the most difficult people, to leave the beaten path often, to find the good and the special in the difficulty and confusion.

This reminds me what Bill Gates said once: when I look for workers, I look for the lazy ones. Why? Because a lazy person knows how to reach the goal in the shortest way possible.

Today, as a father of children, I can tell which of my children is more in line with “Rachel”, and which is more in line with “Leah”. Just being aware of this makes my parenthood much better and clearer.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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