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first Mitzvah as a Bar Mitzvah

 

More than a decade ago I attended a Bar Mitzvah in the family of Rabbi Shalom Rosenfeld, from the Ezra Chabad House in Zurich. The celebration was very impressive. It was clear that everyone had been preparing for it for a long time. The Bar Mitzvah boy, who today is already a young father, was suitably dressed, full of joy, excitement and the Kedusha of Mitzvah observance.

A special moment was when the grandfather, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Rosenfeld, rabbi of the Chabad community in Boro Park, Brooklyn, was called up to speak. Rabbi Rosenfeld is a tall, impressive individual, with smiling eyes that express much wisdom. But here he was an excited grandfather who was about to bless his grandson, whose name was Mendel, of course. This is what he said:

“Dear Mendel, I know how much you’ve prepared yourself for this moment. I know how many hours you spent learning to read the Torah. I heard how hard you worked on preparing your Drasha (sermon) and the words of Chassidut that you spoke here tonight. I saw how happy you were with your new, expensive Tefillin and I know how excited you are about being called up to the Torah for the first time, this coming Shabbat, since you are now obligated in all the Mitzvahs. Mendel, I am sorry to spoil your enthusiasm and excitement, but it is important for you to remember that your first Mitzvah as a Bar Mitzvah boy is saying the Shema tonight. It says in the Torah that one should say it ‘when you lie down and when you get up’. And so, tonight, after this big party, find yourself a quiet corner in the house and say, with much concentration, “Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad,” thus fulfilling your first Mitzvah as a Bar Mitzvah – as one obligated to observe the Mitzvahs.

Having Parashat Mishpatim immediately after Parashat Yitro rather spoils the party. After the great excitement around the giving of the Torah, the loud noises, the smoke and the lightning, with Hashem Himself coming down on Mount Sinai and speaking, causing the Jews to lose their faculties - after all that what we get is the law regarding an ox that gored a cow, and the laws of a Jewish slave?

The Rebbe explain this in his Likutei Sichot, section 16: Our goal here in this world is to bring the holiness of the Torah and Mitzvahs into this material world, in two stages. The first stage is to stop the world in its steps by way of loud noise, lightning and smoke, to the point of Hashem Himself coming down on Mount Sinai. But this has a disadvantage: it is not natural for the world, since the world is basically material and tangible. The second stage is to install the Torah into the limits and laws of the material nature of the world. This cannot be done by loud voices and lightning, but by way of simple dry laws such as those brought in Parashat Mishpatim.

To have Parashat Mishpatim right after Parashat Yitro does not spoil the party, but rather substantiates it.

Grandfather Rosenfeld basically told his grandson that all that celebration and enthusiasm, holiness and joy – everything is important and dear to us. It’s all great, but only if one knows to concentrate all of it into one moment at the end of the evening, in which one stands in a quiet corner and says, “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad.”

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

from the kitchen window

 

Dear Friends,

 

A very bad chauvinistic joke says that a woman’s point of view is from the kitchen window, amongst the pots.

During the past few decades there has been a lot of discussion about the woman’s place, and especially the place of the religious and ultra-Orthodox woman in Jewish life in the modern world. People claim that the woman is locked up in the kitchen, and is not allowed the freedom to express the qualities and talents that the Creator invested her with. Her fate is to be at home all day; her range of interests is supposed to run between a good recipe for apple pie, and the best baby cream. There is something to all that, but not in Chabad, for, like in many other matters, while others talk and discuss, the Lubavitcher Rebbe is already implementing his thought-out system.

Already in 1953 (5713), two years after the Rebbe accepted upon himself the leadership of Chabad, he established the Neshei Chabad organization, and with it he paved the way for the Chabad woman, pointing her towards Jewish activity while using all her talents. At the same time he established the Shlichut framework, which is, as is well known, a husband-and-wife enterprise. The Rebbe never sent a Shaliach; he always sent out a husband-and-wife combination as Shluchim. And so, without the use of much philosophy, the Rebbe removed the woman from behind the pots only, and moved her to the forefront of female activity. Anyone who has ever been in any Chabad House has noticed that it has two Shluchim – husband and wife – working together as equals.

And yet, amazingly enough, the Chabad woman’s point of view in her work for the Jewish People is actually located expressly at her kitchen window; because what a fresh Challah, baked with love, does to a Jewish heart, no sermon or lecture can do.

The Rebbe, in his own special way, did not wish to change the nature of women, but rather to make use of it, in particular, for the good of all.

These days the World Conference of Shluchot is taking place in Brooklyn. It would be no exaggeration to say that that is the largest convention of female Jewish leaders since the Creation of the World.

One more point: I mentioned earlier that the husband-and-wife team work together as equals, but in the Trump era one has to say the truth as it is, and I say this in the name of my fellow Shluchim: It’s not really as equals. The women – the Shluchot – do much more than the Shluchim, and besides that they are, as is known, the best Yiddishe Mamas in the world.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

to bring this “other” person closer

 

Dear Friends,

 

“And Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him.” So it says in the description of the Exodus from Egypt at the beginning of Parashat Beshalach that we will read tomorrow. Why did Moshe Rabbeinu take them? “Because he (Yosef) had firmly adjured the Children of Israel, saying, God will surely remember you, and you shall bring up my bones from here with you.”

Like his father, Yosef wanted to be buried in the Holy Land, and therefore he made a special request, which was fulfilled by Bnei Yisrael. He was buried, as we all know, in Shechem, in Samaria.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe objects to the use of the words “bones” – “Atzamot”. We are talking here about a truly special person: he was the viceroy of Egypt, and we call him “Yosef HaTzaddik.” It would have been more fitting to say, “And Moshe took Yosef’s coffin.” This would have been the minimal amount of respect shown to Yosef, what anyone would have wanted said in reference to a relative of his. But, instead, we have here, “Yosef’s bones.”

But if that is the way it is expressed, there must be some special meaning attached to it, and the meaning of “Yosef’s bones” is that, beyond the fact that Moshe personally, physically, brought Yosef’s body to the land of Israel, together with this body he also brought Yosef’s “Atzmiyut” – Yosef HaTzaddik’s essence, for the benefit of all future generations. What was Yosef’s essence? Helping others. He devoted his life to other people. Every public figure today says that he is on “a mission.” Yosef was the role model for people whose mission is to work for the benefit of the public.

Even his name includes a similar message: “And she named him Yosef, saying, May Hashem add to me another son.” So said Rachel, Yosef’s mother, when he was born. The inner meaning of this, says the Rebbe, is that there is a son who is considered the “other” son, because he is different in his behavior, his deeds and perhaps even in his looks, and Yosef’s mission is to bring this “other” person closer and give him the true feeling that he is a son, for that is the truth: we are all members of this nation, the Children of Israel. How typical for the Rebbe to espouse such a commentary.

And so, Moshe Rabbeinu brought to the land of Israel not only Yosef’s casket, but also Yosef’s “Atzmiyut” – Yosef’s acknowledgment and understanding, outlook and perspective, that perspective that will teach all of us to look at the other and understand that he is also a child. In every class in school there is that “other”, and every one of us, each one from his point of view, has such an “other” among his acquaintances, and certainly among those who are not his friends and acquaintances. Here one must bring up the awareness of the “bones of Yosef” and remember that these “other” people are his brothers and sisters, the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah. And in the merit of this, we will be granted that most desired blessing, “Bless us all, our father, as one, with the light of Your face (= the Heavenly Light).”

 

Shabbat Shalom,

And a happy 15th of Shvat to all of us,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

A covenant made in blood

 

Dear Friends,

“When I was a child in the 1950’s, the Soviets no longer had anyone to fight. The Jewish people in Russia had surrendered already – only a few stubborn Chabadniks remained.”

So said my dear uncle, R. Shlomo Wishedski, who died two days ago.

“We were 32 Jewish children (out of 42) in one class, in the elementary school in Czernowitz. The teacher was Jewish, too.”

Thirty-two Jewish children in one class!!! But how many of them continued to live as Jews? How many of them left behind offspring who are part of the Jewish People?

I don’t know. Maybe none.

That is, almost none – because in that class there were two children, twins – a boy and a girl, Shlomo and Sarah Wishedski, who knew that they were Jews of the covenant. They also knew that it was a covenant made in blood.

The Jewish People were redeemed from Egypt, as is told in this week’s Parasha, and they were redeemed in the merit of the blood of the covenant – the Brit Mila (circumcision) that they performed on their children.

The blood of the covenant of the Children of Silence in Russia was not only that which flowed when they were eight days old.

The blood of the covenant of the Chabad Children of Silence was mainly that which fled their faces and their parents’ faces every time there was a knock on the door, and not on the window, as had been agreed upon among the Chassidim.

“When everyone is Jewish,” my uncle told us, “you can’t make up stories that you were sick on Shabbat, since they all know what the source of your illness is, especially the teachers, and Shabbat comes every week.

“In the 1920’s and 1930’s it was terrifying to keep Shabbat, but at the end of the 1950’s, when I was a child, it was embarrassing to be a primitive, old-fashioned religious person who observed Shabbat. Every week we were in a state of great apprehension.”

The blood that fled the face of that child every Shabbat is what saved him and protected him, so that he remained a stubborn, G-d fearing Jew, who merited leaving this world pure and holy, with his children, who are following his ways exactly, standing around his bed. His soul ascended to heaven while they were singing the Chabad Niggunim (tunes), which are an inseparable part of that blood covenant that preserved him, almost the only one among 32 children who did not have fathers and mothers who maintained that covenant.

Good-bye, dear uncle. May your soul find peace, because “peace is upon you, peace is upon your household, and peace is upon all that is yours.”

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalman Wishedski

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