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Rabbi's weekly Blog

would you rather I not ask?

Moishele is taking a walk with his father one night. He looks at the stars and asks, “Abba, why are the stars arranged this way in the sky?” His father scratches his head, thinks and thinks, and finally answers, “I don’t know.” A few minutes go by and Moishele asks again: “Abba, why is the moon so thin tonight?” Again, his father thinks hard and again he answers, “I don’t know.”

Moishele feels somewhat uncomfortable and he asks his father: “Abba, would you rather I not ask?”

“Heaven forbid,” the father responds immediately, disconcerted. “If you don’t ask, how are you going to know anything?”

In this week’s parasha it says, “When your son will ask you, saying ‘What is this’, you will tell him: Hashem took us out of Egypt, a house of slaves, with a strong hand.” This pasuk is responsible for much of what happens on Seder Night. It is the source of the Four Questions, the Four Sons and all the other customs that we have on Leil Haseder, the purpose of which is to arouse the children’s curiosity and make them ask, “Ma nishtana?” – How is this night different from all other nights?

This is true not only for Seder Night. I think that this pasuk reminds us that we are a nation of people who ask questions. We are supposed to raise children who will know to ask questions, and, moreover, will not be afraid to ask questions. Avraham Avinu could have been just another son of Terach if he hadn’t gotten up and questioned the common notions. The Jewish People, throughout the generations, did this successfully. The whole Talmud is built around questions of how and why, how could this be, and in what situation. It is not for nothing that people say that a Jew answers one question with another, because, after all, if he doesn’t ask, how will he know?

Being a questioning people, we ought to take into account our own children might ask us questions. Everything that we choose to do, every choice we have made in life, every custom that we have – let us not forget that the day will come when the children will ask “What is this?” and the we will have to provide them with answers. They might ask us why we are doing such and such; but they could also come with a claim, asking: Why didn’t you teach us things that are important for us to know? Why didn’t you give us what you were given? It would be a good idea for us to have answers.

By the way, my children are already asking.

Wishing us success,

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

He who works all day has no time to make money

 

“He who works all day has no time to make money.” Are you familiar with this capitalistic sentence? I love this sentence. I think there’s a lot of truth to it. Not only in terms of finances, but in terms of life in general. Sometimes we are so immersed in what we are doing that we forget to live.

In this week’s parasha, parashat Va’era, it says, “And Moshe spoke thus to Bnei Yisrael, but they didn’t heed Moshe, because of shortness of breath and hard work.” Rashi defines “shortness of breath” in a few simple words: “Anyone who is troubled, his breath is short and he cannot draw long breaths.” Bnei Yisrael believed Moshe Rabbeinu, as it said in the previous parasha: “And the people believed and they heard that Hashem had remembered Bnei Yisrael.” They also heard what Moshe Rabbeinu said. They heard what he said – but they didn’t heed him. They were not open emotionally to really listen to what he was saying, for, as we said, they were in a state of “shortness of breath and hard work.” They could barely breathe.

How many times have you heard yourself saying: “There’s no way I find time now to go to a lecture of a class! I would like to be with my family, if I could. But I am working hard, I can barely breath”? How many times do we miss the good things in life due to shortness of breath and hard work?

We are not in the Egyptian exile. We are not enslaved to a cruel ruler and subject to beatings like our forefathers were in Egypt. But we are enslaved sometimes to technology, to modernization, to Western conventions. Most of the time we manage quite well, but we don’t really live. Because someone who works hard has no time to make money. And someone whose breath is short cannot lift up his head and see that there is a rich spiritual and value-based life that is within easy reach.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Do you need your name?

 

Do you need your name?

Do I need my name for myself?

Believe it or not, when I’m sitting alone in a room or in my office, working or learning, the word “Zalmen” doesn’t come up. It could be that way for hours, perhaps for a whole day. If I am alone, without a telephone or email, I don’t need my name; I really don’t use it!

In the teachings of Chassidut it is explained that that our name is not us, but rather something external, a tool that we use when we want to be in contact with the world. My name is my identity, but my identity is not necessarily me. The name is the title, or perhaps the outer coating, and yes, it tells the world in a moment who I am, but it is not me.

The weekly parasha is called parashat Shemot. What is the connection between the word “Shemot” and the central story of the parashaYetziat Mitzrayim – the Exodus from Egypt?

Bnei Yisrael – the Children of Israel – went into exile. They were subjugated, beaten and tortured. According to Chassidut, Mitzrayim means a narrow place, an enclosing border. The Egyptians wanted to limit the Jewish People, to narrow their options, to prevent them from being who they really were. They tried to break their spirit with force, and the truth is that they almost succeeded. But only almost – because in spite of it all, even when they were subjugated and suffering, they remained Bnei Yisrael. They were not lost.

How did this happen?

The verse tells us: “And these are the names of Bnei Yisrael who were coming to Egypt.” If we want to, we can read this using a chassidic approach that says that only their “names” went down to Egypt. Only the external coating was subjugated and was in a tight place and within boundaries, but their souls and personalities remained free.

When I feel I am in a tight place, when there is someone or something that is limiting me or burdening me, and I am looking for a way out, it is worthwhile to try and see if my entire spiritual and material entity is really in an exile of difficulty or tightness, or not. Because if it is not – and it probably is not – then with that knowledge I can lift myself up out of the tight place and move from exile to the redemption – both personal and general.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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