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Rabbi's weekly Blog

a pair of pants in Cyprus

 Dear Friends,

Allow me to open with a section from the story of Eliezer Tal Klein’s escape from the detention camp in Cyprus. Eliezer was a Palmach fighter, who helped the Ma’apilim – the illegal immigrants coming from Europe – and was deported to Cyprus in 1946 by the British authorities.

“We went outside, and my friend went to find out if there is a Jewish community and rabbi. He returned after two hours, with no information. In the end we found an Israeli living in Cyprus. I was brought to him by some workers who showed me his house and left immediately; it seems they didn’t want to endanger themselves too much. I met a Hebrew-speaking couple (he is an engineer working in Cyprus) and introduced myself. They panicked.

I asked him to guide me in the port, so that I will be able to get on an Arab boat going to the land (Israel). He refused.

I asked that at least I should be allowed to sleep in their house; they were even more frightened by that.

And in the end, I asked that they lend me a pair of pants (mine were torn). They refused to do that as well.

I was forced to leave them, and searched for a place to sleep in a grove or vineyard in the area, intending to go to the port the next morning.”

 

I am writing this letter from Cyprus, in the office of my friend and colleague Rabbi Chaim Hillel Azimov from the Chabad House in Northern Cyprus. In a few hours I am supposed to lead a historical event: the completion of the writing of a Sefer Torah, which will be handed over to the shul of the Jews of Northern Cyprus. From an examination I made, this is the first time since the Creation of the World that a Sefer Torah is being consecrated in Northern Cyprus. Only 59 km from here is the area where there were those detention camps, and I admit that I am excited; the words of Rabbi Lord Dr. Jonathan Sacks are ringing in my head: “Nazis searched out every Jew in hate, we (the Lubavitcher Chassidim) will search out every Jew in love”.

The illegal immigrants were Holocaust survivors – profoundly lonely, sole remnants of their families, from whom everything dear to them had been taken. All that was left was the desire to reach the Holy Land, the land of Israel. But here too the British greeted them with hatred and deported them to detention camps in Cyprus, which was under British rule at the time. Seventy years have passed. Northern Cyprus is an independent republic. The UN does not recognize it and no country in the world recognizes it except for Turkey, but the Lubavitcher Rebbe recognizes it and set up a Chabad House there. I don’t know if you’ll receive a pair of pants here, but a shul and hot meal are waiting for you here, and with love.

“When a woman conceives and gives birth to a male” – this is how this week’s Parasha begins. Our Sages compared the mother-and-child relationship with that of a person who sows in order to grow a crop – so too, a mother sows with love and even with tears, and with Hashem’s help gets to harvest the fruits of her labors – sons and daughters who follow her ways. Chana Miriam Azimov z”l died in Adar 5758 (1998), leaving behind her a large family. Chana Miriam ran a warm household of love and joy in Jerusalem, and would always say, “If there is room in the heart, there will be room at the table.” Today, when I see the open house of her son and daughter-in-law, the many guests who come and go and are received warmly and with love, I understand from where Rabbi Chaim Hillel gets these capabilities. Maybe he doesn’t notice, but I certainly see while looking from the side, that his mother’s sentence is fulfilled every day and every hour here, and has done so for the past 10 years. Because Rabbi and Rebbetzin Azimov have lots of room in their hearts, and that is expressed around the table in their home as well.

 

Shabbat Shalom from Cyprus,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

letter of silence

 Dear Friends,

Today my letter is a letter of silence – because I have no words to say, just silence.

Rabbi Yitzchak Pinchas Wishedski, my father’s grandfather, was in the shul in Vitebsk together with about one hundred Jews on Yom Kippur, 5702 (1941). He was burned alive when the Nazis set fire to it.

Sarah Fruma Wishedski, my father’s grandmother, was murdered on her way to the slaughter pit, simply because she was walking too slowly.

Yekutiel Dov Ber Wishedski, my father’s uncle, was poisoned to death by the Germans when he was serving as the manager of a train station in Leningrad. His daughter, Rosa Wishedski, was murdered as well.

Meir Wishedski, another uncle of my father, did manage to reach the slaughter pit in the Illovsky canal, and was murdered there, together with his wife and young children – and another 4,090 Jews.

Frieda Halfin (Wishedski), my father’s aunt, was sentenced to be hanged because she was a public activist and spoke out against the Germans. Her last request was to give a speech, in which she mocked Hitler and promised her audience that he would fall – all this in fluent German. In response, they cut off her tongue before they hanged her.

I didn’t know them; not even my father knew them. I am sorry to say that I have almost forgotten their names, and my children certainly don’t know anything about them. May my words here be in their memory. Let us remember them, pray and learn to increase their merits and for the sake of their Ilui Neshama (elevation of their souls).

In tractate Bava Batra, Yosef, the son of Rabbi Yehoshua tells about what he saw in the Next World, Olam Ha’Emet (the World of Truth): “I heard them saying, Happy is he who comes here with his learning in hand.” In other words, happy is the person who comes to the Next World carrying with him the Torah that he learned.

And he adds immediately, “And I heard that martyrs – no being can stand in their presence!” in other words, when people are killed just because they are of Jewish descent, they are on the highest level possible, whether they show up in the Next World with their learning or without. No other entity can match them.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Dream or Reality?

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” So said Dr. Martin Luther King on the 28th of August, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in a speech that became one of the most famous speeches of the twentieth century.

In this speech Dr. King repeated the mantra of “I have a dream” and each time he described a situation that were it to come to pass, would be a dream come true, even though the things that he hoped and fought for should have been the natural, rational reality. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Should such an ambition be a dream? Of course not! It is a legitimate ambition and should be a reality, whereas the racist reality that judged people by the color of their skin is the one that should have been only a dream.

True, Dr. King paid for this with his life, but his dreams came true and became a logical and natural reality.

Today, the 11th of the Nissan, is the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s birthday, and I would like to share with you what seems to me to be the greatest revolution that the Rebbe brought about in the world. I don’t mean the Chabad Houses and the Shluchim, but rather a revolution in the thinking of anyone who delved into the Rebbe’s teachings deeply. The Rebbe changed the thinking of anyone he met from a Galut (exile) way of thinking to a Geulah (redemptional) way of thinking.

People say, “If life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.” The Rebbe’s way of thinking was that “If life hands you a lemon, don’t make lemonade – make lemon wine or some other fine drink.”

The Rebbe looked at the world and said fervently: This does not make sense. This is not the way the world should work. It is not the difficult, oppressive, painful and burning Galut that is the logical reality, with the Geulah being the pleasant, unnatural dream. It is the complete opposite: We have to understand and internalize that it is a life of good health and happiness, wealth, love and brotherhood – a life of Geulah – that should be the natural thing, the thing we deserve. That should be the reality! The Galut, with all its difficulties and evils, pain and suffering – that should be defined as a dream that is clearly unnatural and doesn’t make sense.

And in the Rebbe’s words: “Since the person is so permeated with the sense of Galut, he cannot feel the matter of the Geulah, so much so that when one speaks with him about the Geulah, it seems to him to be a ‘dream’!”

But the truth is that the opposite is the case. In other words, the “dream” is not the Geulah, but rather it is the Galut that is a “dream”. For, what is the connection between a Jew and exile? Whereas the Geulah is reality – the true reality of a Jew!” (Shabbat Pinchas, 5747).

It’s all in the head, my friends. When the way of thinking changes, life changes.

Martin Luther King fought for equal rights for the blacks in America, because he believed with all his heart that the reality he was living in was clearly not logical, and equal rights, which seemed like a dream at the time – that was what should have been the reality.

Martin Luther King succeeded in his task, because he convinced his people that dream and reality in their lives had exchanged places!

When I was a child, reality claimed that a Jewish boy could not walk around in the Red Square in Moscow next to the Kremlin while wearing a yarmulke and sporting Pe’ot (sidelocks) and Tzitzit. You could do this only in your dreams. But today, reality allows this, and it is as natural as natural can be.

The Rebbe was a Geulah Jew, and he demanded that everyone who came in contact with him be so too.

An ill person will not pray that he feel better, but, rather, he will pray that he will be completely healthy, that the problem should disappear from his life. A person suffering financial difficulties will not just ask for a loan, but will pray to be free of financial limitations altogether. Someone who has marital problems will not just beseech Hashem that he should get through Pesach, or just that there will be a cold peace in the house, something bearable, but he will pray that his life be filled with love and happiness, brotherhood, peace and friendship.

And one who needs to enjoy some Nachat (pleasure) from his children (and who doesn’t?), will not pray for the minimum that seems reasonable to him, but will ask Hashem to grant him the maximum amount of that pleasure!

Pesach, the holiday of redemption and freedom, is coming. Now is the time to take everything one step forward, to go beyond our limitations and constrictions, and leap over them into a redemptional way of thinking. I admit that in order to do so one needs more than a bit of “Jewish Chutzpah”, but it’s worth it.

 

My apologies for writing more than usual this week!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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