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Rabbi's weekly Blog

“business card”

 

Dear Friends,

A great variety of issues have come to my door this week, from technical matters such as “Abba, the computer refuses to turn on,” through questions about the laws of Pesach, all the way to really essential matters such as Shalom Bayit (marital harmony) and child education. Baruch Hashem, there are wise people around me, and I can consult with them in order to be sure that I am giving the best answer possible.

I would like to share with you a conversation I had with a diamond merchant who was in Basel this week for the Diamond Show. I met him for the first time in Bet Chabad on Shabbat, waiting on line for the Cholent, and one of the days this week, after the Maariv services held at the show, he asked me to come to his office for a moment.

He had a classic question. His son will soon be ten years old and he wanted to know which Parasha will be his bar mitzvah Parasha. Looking self-important, I took out my iPhone, went into the bar mitzvah date calculation page of the Basel Chabad House website, and found the name of the Parasha. I then noticed that he was speaking of the bar mitzvah with much excitement, so I asked him: “What’s the rush? He’s not yet ten years old.”

“Listen, Zalmen,” he replied, “my wife and I waited many years for this child. We went through many difficult and expensive treatments. He is a child produced by prayers. I want him to start preparing as soon as possible, because he has to read the entire Parasha and the Haftara. He will read like an adult; I will find the best teacher for him.”

“What a lovely business card you have,” I said to him.

“What is special about it?” he asked, pulling one of them out of his pocket. “It’s printed on plain card paper.”

“Not the paper,” I said. “Your son, your lovely son, the child who is the result of prayers – he is your “business card”. It’s probably not easy for him to carry this burden.”

Silence reigned for a while. I saw that he understood exactly what I was telling him. After a few more moments I added, “Listen, my friend. I’m speaking from experience. I too find myself handling my children as if they are my business cards and then I demand and expect that they will do things that will add to my honor and pleasure, instead of doing things myself that will add honor and pleasure to my life.”

He is a big person, somewhat rough, direct and rather witty, but at that moment he melted, as it were, and said quietly, “Poor kid. It’s not his fault that we love him so much…”

Parashat Vayikra speaks of the offerings: “When a man among you brings an offering to Hashem…” The Chassidic teachings tell us that a person should bring himself as an offering, give of himself. Too many times we tend to offer up others on the altar of our dreams. With Pesach coming, it would be right to recalculate our route and examine who is offering whom, and on which altar.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

redemptional thinking

 

Dear Friends,

 

One of the most wonderful things encountered by anyone who studies the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s teachings is that gradually, as one studies and deepens one’s understanding of what he is saying, a person’s way of thinking changes; the viewpoint becomes completely altered. Anyone who looks at the Rebbe and his Chassidim and their doings will say immediately: The Rebbe is a revolutionary. But only someone who has actually learned his teachings will understand how deep and fundamental this revolution is, down to the smallest detail.

I call it “holism”. The Rebbe’s outlook on the world consists of a holistic approach; an approach that encompasses everything, connects everything precisely, without ignoring anything or rounding off any corners.

Usually this unique way of thinking is not written down as part of an article devoted to faith, or a talk about life in general. Rather, these matters are brought forth as clear, simple basic assumptions as the Rebbe discusses his Torah ideas. As I mentioned in the opening above, as one learns, one’s actual thinking changes. When I studied the Rebbe’s talk for Parashat Ki Tisa (Likutei Sichot 21, 3) I came upon, among other things, such a “basic assumption.”

The Rebbe analyzes the sin of the Golden Calf and the pardon that Mosh Rabbeinu requests from the Creator. First, the Rebbe wonders: How can there be a reality of sin at all? Why should a person sin? On the basis of his understanding of this point, he explains the pardon that Moshe seeks and the advice that Hashem gives him as to how to achieve it. The analysis starts out with the first assumption that we say every morning: “He Who renews in His goodness every day, always, the Creation Work.” And he asks: A Jew who knows and believes that the Creator renews and rejuvenates the world every minute, how could he possibly act against Hashem’s will – Hashem, who is keeping him alive right now and the next minute as well? A person might say that he has obstacles and things that hold him back – in other words, the world and the reality around me prevent me from serving Hashem! But that can’t be – and here we encounter that point of unique thinking that I’ve mentioned – “for, being a believer, the son of a believer, he knows for sure that even those things that are interfering with his life, they too were created ex nihilo, and so it would not be right to describe them as being truly created as contradictions to the will of Hashem! How could they really be obstacles to Yiddishkeit, to the Creator’s will, when they themselves were created right this minute by Hashem Himself?”

(The answer to this question about sin is “forgetfulness”. While sinning, Jews simply forget Hashem, Who is keeping them alive.)

This is the right moment to stop, look around, reassess our situation, examine our “obstacles and things that hold us back”, those things that interfere with our ability to do what should be done – and to think. To look into the Rebbe’s words and to ask ourselves: How could this really interfere – when it has been created this minute by Hashem?

With such a way of thinking, we will be able to cope much better with everything that is happening around us.

The New Age people will say it’s positive thinking.

The Chabadniks will explain that it’s actually redemptional thinking.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Marc or Moishe?


Dear Friends,

 

Marc Chagall, the most famous and highly regarded Jewish painter, loved his people very much, and in his paintings he invoked his Chassidic childhood. One of many children in his family, he was born as Moshe Segal in Vitebsk, Bellarus. From there he emigrated to Paris and became the famous Marc Chagall. 

During his visit to Israel in 1957 (5717), Chagall, who was already very well regarded at that time, asked to visit Kfar Chabad. “In Kfar Chabad,” he said, “I have a childhood friend from Vitebsk, R. Eli Pe’er.”

Well, imagine it: Marc Chagall, the famous Parisian artist, who had been hosted the day before by the prime minister and the president, no less, arriving with an entourage of friends and journalists in a small Chassidic village that has one grocery store, one car and a few telephone lines.

R. Eli Pe’er was an impressive Chassid. Just a few years before he had been tortured in a Soviet prison for his devotion to the upkeep of underground Chabad yeshivas. A thick white beard covered his wide face, and broad, brown pair of Tzitzit enwrapped him, and in his world, “There is no other than Him (Hashem).”

So Marc Chagall knocked on Eli’s door and the long-lost friends hugged each other warmly. They were probably remembering the Cheder they had learned in and the Melamed (teacher) who had taught them “Chumash mit Teitsch” – the Torah together with its Yiddish translation.

I can imagine Chagall’s distinguished entourage looking on and seeing the dissimilarity between them. Here was Chagall, who had had the sense to leave Vitebsk and go to the City of Lights, becoming an international artist. And here was a Chassid, who had remained just like he was in his childhood. How lucky Chagall was, they probably thought, that he had left that village, otherwise he would have turned out like his friend Eli.

But suddenly Eli turned to his friend, and said to him in Yiddish, “Moishe, what has become of you?”

Suddenly they all understood that from R. Eli Pe’er’s point of view, Marc Chagall was still Moishe Segal from the Chassidic Cheder, and what he had become was not at all natural to him; because Eli saw into his friend’s inner world, and wondered: “Moishe, what has become of you?”

Dear friends, we are fast approaching Purim. This is a moment of self-examination and introspection: which is the masquerade and which is our true inner world? Every one of us has a few ways of expressing himself – “poses,” or “acts,” as they are called today. We have the external pose that everyone knows, and there is a more internal one, which only our close friends and wife and children are familiar with. But there is an even more internal point to our “I”, and we might live for many years expressing only our external poses without ever touching that inner point. And that is a pity, a great pity. For that we have Purim, when we can find out which is the fancy costume we put on and which is our true self.

Personally, from a familiarity with Chagall’s artwork, and in spite of my limited understanding of art, it is impossible to miss the fact that in a great many of Chagall’s creations he expresses specifically little Moishe Segal.

And in that spirit, I hereby suggest: On Purim between the Shaloch Manos and the fancy costumes, it would be good to settle in a quiet corner and ask ourselves: “What has become of you?”

 

Shabbat Shalom and a very Happy Purim,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

will the betrayed go back to business with the betrayer?

 

Dear Friends,

 

Two partners quarreled. One betrayed the other, thus causing much damage to the trust that had existed between them until then: He had gone ahead and had made a deal with someone else without consulting his partner. How strong and how painful will the break between them be? They will probably be battling with each other for the rest of their lives.

Let’s say, though, that they had a reconciliation. They no longer quarrel and the betrayed has forgiven the betrayer. Is there any chance that they will do business with each other again? I would say that the chances for that are not so good. On the other hand, if they do go back to being partners, that would be a sign that the betrayed not only forgave the betrayer completely, but has actually regained his trust in him.

When Moshe Rabbeinu came down from the mountain on the 17th of Tammuz with the Luchot (Tablets) in his hands, and saw Bnei Yisrael calling the Golden Calf “This is your G-d, Yisrael,” he smashed the Luchot. Worse – Hashem, who had been so badly betrayed, decided to end the relationship with the nation that was sitting at the bottom of the mountain. Rashi tells us that Moshe went up immediately for forty days and begged for mercy, but he was unsuccessful, and he came down at the end of the month of Menachem-Av. But a faithful shepherd like Moshe does not give up, and he ascended the mountain again on Rosh Chodesh Elul – for the third time – for forty days and again begged for mercy, this time successfully. At the end of the forty days he heard the sentence that we call out on that day every year since then: “Salachti Kidvareicha” – “I have forgiven as you said.”

Moshe Rabbeinu was so successful, that since then, throughout the generations, those forty days from the 1st of Ellul to the 10th of Tishrei are days of mercy and forgiveness.

But will the betrayed go back to doing business with the betrayer?

Well, the day after Yom Kippur Hashem spoke to Moshe, telling them, “They will make me a Temple and I will dwell within them.” Sometimes I think about Moshe’s warm feelings at that moment, and the joy that Bnei Yisrael felt when they heard about it. Not only had Hashem forgiven them, but he was renewing their partnership. I want a house, and you will build it within your camp, from your money, from wood and stones, gold and silver, goatskin and red-dyed ram skins.

So when we read Parashat Terumah, we should pay attention to all this, and understand how great the joy and the excitement were, and mainly – understand the major message here: Hashem has faith in us, despite everything! He wants us just the way we are – flesh and blood human beings. He wants us to instill Him in our gold and silver, into our homes, into the offices, into life, and mainly – into our hearts. Hashem wants to be there – everywhere. To dwell with us and within us.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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