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There is good in all of us

 

Dear Friends,

 

What happens when a court decides unanimously that the defendant is guilty, that he indeed committed a murder?

According to the accepted practice worldwide, he receives the full punishment. But, surprisingly enough, according to Torah law, he is exempt from any punishment! As the Rambam wrote in Hilchot Sanhedrin: “A Sanhedrin (high court of law)  … and all all of them said he is guilty, then he is let off.” This ruling is based on what it says in Masechet Sanhedrin: “A Sanhedrin who was unanimous in its indictment, [the defendant] is let off.”

Why? What’s the logic in this?

On Parashat Ki Tisa, 5745, the Rebbe explained this in a deep and long discussion, involving delving into the murderer’s soul, finding the good in it, and learning an amazing instruction for each and every one of us.

This is what the Rebbe said: “From this we can understand that each and every Jew, whoever he is – even if he is in the lowest state – as for his internal and true existence, he is good. And therefore, it is certain that no matter what the situation is one can find some redeeming feature.

“That being so, if the court was unanimous about his being guilty, in other words, there was no one at all who could view him favorably, it must be that they didn’t really see him – didn’t see his inner essence – since he for sure has some good in him. That being so, that court cannot indict him since they don’t really know him and he is exempt from punishment.”

My friends, if that is so regarding a murderer, it certainly should be our attitude towards each and every Jew, especially when it comes to our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. We must not only search for the good in every person, but mainly approach them taking into account that we are not seeing everything, because every person has some good in him or her, even if it is hidden.  So much so, that even the Sanhedrin, who were granted the authority to judge capital-punishment crimes, cannot produce a verdict if they haven’t found the hidden good in the defendant.

“And from this we learn a teaching concerning disseminating Torah and Judaism,” the Rebbe summed up. “When you meet a Jew in the street who seems to have no redeeming features, you should know that this is just his external aspect, but in his internal aspect and his essence – he is a Jew! And if one sees only that he “sinned”, and does not see that ‘he is a Jew’ – that is proof that one is not seeing his true reality, and so, one’s judgment of this ‘sinning’ person is no judgment at all!”

This week we have entered the month of Elul, the month of mercy and Selichot. This Shabbat we will be reading Parashat Shoftim. Now is the time to look into these matters and judge other people, and ourselves as well, according to the Lubavitcher’s Rebbe approach – to understand that there is good in all of us, and if you don’t see it, then you are not in apposition to judge him or her.

So simple? Yes!

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

I taught him what a “kvetch” is

 “You must try the “blutwurst” (blood sausage) that I make,” so enthused the gentleman who sold us the building that is now the Chabad House. The place was a respectable-looking butcher shop, and the owner was very proud of his sausage tradition, especially the one concerning the blood sausage. This was my second meeting with him. I taught him what a “kvetch” is and asked him to kvetch the price for us. But he was insisting that I must first try his blutwurst. “It’s a long-time tradition in our family,” he claimed. I explained that it is forbidden for me to eat non-kosher meat, and certainly blood, and it doesn’t matter who prepared the sausage and what his family traditions are.

He did not relent, and I was afraid that that would ruin the relationship and affect my kvetch. I took a Chumash, and showed him the Passuk in this week’s Parasha that says, “Just be strong not to eat the blood.” He read the German translation, took it in, and was silent for a moment. Then he said: “You understand why it says to be strong? Because it tastes so good and one must be strong in order not to eat it. This Bible is for sure talking about my family’s blutwurst.” I smiled when I heard this cute interpretation – and also because I understood I was about to get the kvetch that I wanted, and indeed I got it.

Chassidut explains the inner reason for the prohibition against eating blood.

What exactly is the problem with the blood of a kosher animal, which we are permitted to eat, as it says a few Psukim earlier, “For you will have a desire to eat meat, to your heart’s entire desire you may eat meat”?

And why does the Torah use this unusual expression – Chazak – be strong – regarding this prohibition?

Blood symbolizes enthusiasm, warmth and desire; it is its red color that symbolizes all this. The Torah wants us to give our desires and warmth to Hashem. We are to sprinkle the blood on the altar in the Beit Hamikdash, which, according to the inner understanding, means that we should dedicate our enthusiasm to Hashem and His Mitzvot.

This is actually an instruction for every level in our life: to save the enthusiasm and joy, the warmth and the desire for our spiritual lives, and less for our material ones. So yes, one is allowed to eat meat, and we’re allowed even to enjoy it, but before that we must salt the meat in order to remove the blood, and we must also make sure that we will make use the eating in order to do good things for others, and to add light and warmth to the world.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Are you sure this is my father?

 

“Are you sure this is my father?” the Rebbe asked my grandfather, R. Moshe Wishedski, when the latter presented him with a picture of his father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneersohn, in 1966 (5726).

The picture was taken towards the end of his life, at the height of his suffering from cancer; he was in exile in Kazakhstan and he eventually died there. In the picture he looks very sick and weak. His face reflects his suffering in the hands of the Communists, caused by the fact that as the rabbi of Ekaterinoslav in the Ukraine he refused to do without Pesach and Shabbos; in general, he would not relinquish his Jewish self-esteem. And how could he relinquish it? He was not just a Schneersohnsky (a derisive term for Chabad followers in the Soviet Union), but a Schneersohn himself. His face had changed so much that even his son failed to recognize him.

This coming Shabbos, the 20th of Av, we will note his yahrzeit. I am honoredto bring here something of his insights in Torah.

R. Levi Yitzchak was a very knowledgeable Jewish scholar in general, and in Kabbalah in particular. His commentaries on the Torah and the Talmud are based on Kabbalah and are not simple to understand for the uninitiated. Many of his comments were written while he was in exile, in the margins of the volume of the Zohar that he had, or on available slips of paper. The ink, by the way, was made by his wife, the Rebbetzin, from plants.

He had no books with him, but still managed to bring exact quotes from a wide variety of Torah literature.

There is an interesting saying in tractate Gittin 7a: Rav Avira expounded, if a person sees that his livelihood is restricted, he should make Tzedaka from it.

In other words, if a person sees that he has just enough to live on according to his needs, but no more, and he wants to have more, he should “make Tzedaka”, meaning, give Tzedaka (charity) from his assets.

And here is how Rabbi Levi Yitzchak explained this saying according to Kabbalah: The speaker is Rav Avira – a name close to the word “Iver” – blind. Blindness symbolizes darkness, the attribute of strict justice and Gevurah in the world, as opposed to the light and kindness that seeing represents.

So, the name behind the saying is Avira – which symbolizes Gevurah, because he is speaking of a situation in which a person is being ruled by the attribute of Gevurah from Above.

What happens is this: The livelihood of a person is being circumscribed by the attribute of strict justice and Gevurah, which hold back abundance and prevent one from being wealthy.

What should a person do, then, to improve his situation?

Says the Gemara: Make Tzedaka from it.

How does that work?

Tzedaka means giving forth kindness and mercy. When a person gives Tzedaka, he is “sweetening (for himself) the livelihood of Gevurah with acts of loving-kindness.” How? By granting some of his assets to others, he causes the livelihood to flow down to him richly and abundantly.

Later on, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak sends the reader to the Tanya, to the chapter on “Zore’a Tzedakot Matzmi’ach Yeshu’ot”, in which there is a lengthy explanation how giving Tzedaka down here sprouts salvation for people, just like sowing seeds in the ground produces fruits.

By the way, on the back of the picture that my grandfather gave him, the Rebbe wrote: “”My master, my father, z”l” and added a question mark.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

like a father

 

Dear Friends,

Yesterday I met hundreds of people who fulfill the commandment brought in this week’s Parasha: “You shall teach them well to your children and you shall speak of them.”

This is the Passuk that speaks of the mitzvah to teach children Torah. At first glance, it seems to be aimed directly at the parents – “your children”. But Rashi explains this differently and says: “To your children – those are the students. We have found that students are called children and also the teacher is called a father.”

Rashi explains that it is the teacher the Torah is talking to, since most people do not teach their sons on their own, but, rather, send them to school. In earlier periods, the parents would hire a private teacher who would come to the home to teach the children.

So, by the way, we have learned that from the Torah’s point of view, the approach of the teacher to his students should be like a father speaking his own son or teaching him.

Yesterday, as mentioned above, I met hundreds of teachers who implement this ideal. Every year, the Chassidic Education Center, headed by Rabbi Naftali Roth, has a two-day conference for all the teachers in the Chabad educational network in Israel.

This year, I was there. I was invited to give a lecture and to suggest to them a system called “Ta’atzumot”, which, with Hashem’s help, might serve as a means to realize more of their special potential. I spoke with many of them personally and was moved by their sincere concern for the students. I sensed that their overall attitude is one of true and caring love. In their eyes, I saw Rashi’s words: “to your children – those are the students.”

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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