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from a plain and simple human point of view

Two sons are born to Moshe Rabbeinu in this week’s parasha, parashat Shemot. Both their names refer to his situation in Midian, with each of them describing a different feeling. The first he named Gershom, explaining: “For I was a stranger (ger) in a foreign land.” The second he named Eliezer – “Because the G-d of my father helped me (be’ezri)and saved me from Pharaoh’s sword.”

The commentators bring up the question as to why he didn’t name them according to the chronological order of these events – first he was saved from Pharaoh’s sword, when the latter wanted to kill him, and only afterwards he escaped to Midian and became a stranger in a foreign land. It would have been more fitting, then, to name his eldest son Eliezer, and his second one Gershom. The commentators bring various explanations for this.

The central commentary says that when Moshe’s eldest son was born, Pharaoh was still alive, and therefore he could not say outright “and saved me from Pharaoh’s sword.” Pharaoh died before his second son was born, and only then could he name his son Eliezer.

Sometimes I like to read the scriptures from a plain and simple human point of view. It seems to me that it is possible to see here an interesting human process.

When a believing person goes through a difficult period in his life, there are two main feelings that will arise in him, at least initially.

One of them, usually the first, will be recognition of his condition. This is accompanied by some pain, of course. It is not always easy or pleasant to face reality straight on, but it is very important to know the situation, be familiar with it and recognize it. The second feeling, which often comes later, will be that of gratitude. It is amazing to me that the faith of people who are going through a difficult and challenging experience is actually strengthened, and they are filled with gratitude. Perhaps this is because during difficult moments we learn that nothing can be taken for granted. In one minute life can be shaken up, turned upside-down. We learn to appreciate the regular, routine stability when it exists. And yes, we feel a need to thank Hashem for what we have, even if at the same time we will be putting in our petition for what we don’t yet have.

Perhaps that is why Moshe decided to name his first son Gershom, and his second – Eliezer.

A similar process can be seen with Yosef Hatzaddik. He named his first son Menashe, which refers to the difficulty and the distance from his family and his father’s home, saying “G-d has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s household.” His second son he named Efraim, referring to his thankfulness and gratitude: “G-d has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”

It is important to recognize reality; it is no less important to thank Hashem.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

simple Jewish strength and fortitude

Recently I had the opportunity of seeing simple Jewish strength and fortitude.

It was not a speech in front of thousands of people, nor did it have the background of a heroic story; all it was, was a short conversation between two people. One of them was my good friend, Rabbi Asher Krichevsky, who was expelled just a month ago from his city and community in Omsk, after seventeen years of constructing there an impressive Jewish empire. He and his family left behind a nice, well-equipped home and were deported from the country even though they were totally innocent of any wrongdoing. They left behind not only a home, but the stability in their lives. On the other end was my dear older brother, Rabbi Pinchas Wishedski, who several years ago was forced to leave his city, community and Jewish empire as well – which he had built with his family for twenty years in the city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine – because of the war that is going on there. He, too, left an orderly, pleasant and well-equipped home, and like many Jews throughout the generations, locked the door and came away with just a few possessions.

I just stood on the side and watched this meeting between two people who understand each other very well, as well as any two people can. There was a pause after their mutual “Shalom Aleichem”s. Their eyes locked, and then, my brother, who in the meantime has managed to set up a thriving community in Kiev, said: “Asher, I understand you more than anyone in the world. I feel what you feel, but I promise you that you will see with your own eyes the words of Yosef Hatzaddik in parashat Vayechi, ‘You intended me harm, but G-d intended it for good.’ You are, indeed, experiencing a ‘hiding of the face’, but in the future you’ll see visible and revealed good.” Asher listened and responded. “I am sure of that; I haven’t the slightest doubt.”

They went on their way and I continue to reconstruct that meeting from time to time. I don’t want to forget it – both in order to follow things and see how it will all work out, like with Yaakov after he heard the dreams of Yosef, and “kept the matter in mind,” and also because such simple and quiet fortitude, faith and trust in the Divine Providence of the world’s Creator and Ruler means much to me and even gives me the strength to cope with the challenges laid before me.

True, Yosef Hatzaddik did say that sentence, “G-d intended it for good” after he was already king, after the good had already been revealed to him, but I’m sure that he knew during the terrible period of the hiding the face that he experienced that “G-d intended it for good.”

The Rebbe, when he would wish someone good, would make sure to spell out that it was “the visible and revealed good” that he was wishing him or her. I join in this blessing to all of us that we should see only good and chesed, preferably of the kind that doesn’t need to be explained.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

No need, don’t bother, we’ll come to you

 

This week’s parasha is downright exciting – a suspense story reaching its climax. Yosef cannot restrain himself anymore and he makes himself known to his brothers. No less moving is the fact that in the same sentence in which he reveals himself and says, “I am Yosef,” he adds something, thus revealing how much he had been missing his father: “Is my father still alive?”

Very soon afterwards he sends an invitation to his father to come to Egypt, and even tells his brothers, the bearers of this message: “Take wagons for yourself from Egypt.” Afterwards, when the brothers come to Yaakov and tell him that Yosef is alive, he doesn’t believe them so easily – after all, they had already sold him a story about a wild animal that never was – but when he sees the wagons that Yosef sent him, immediately “And the spirit of Yaakov their father was revived.’

Why? What was in those wagons that revived Yaakov’s spirit?

Rashi explains that sending those wagons was a hint to Yaakov: “When I left you… I was dealing with the parasha of eglah arufah” (the procedure to be done when a dead body is found, the murderer unknown, which includes beheading a female calf; eglah hinting to agalah – wagon). The last topic that Yosef learned from his father was about eglah arufah, and he was the only one who knew what he had studied with his father. Therefore, when Yaakov saw the wagons he understood the hint and knew that indeed, “My son Yosef is alive.”

I heard another interpretation – very humane and beautiful – from my colleague and friend, Rabbi Shalom Rosenfeld of Zurich. If the children go and live far away, and every time that the parents want to come and visit they say, “No need, don’t bother, we’ll come to you,” this should raise concern. It’s a sign that they have what to hide; they’re afraid that the parents will be upset when they see how their homes are being run. But when your son has lived away from home for many years, moreover, lived alone among other nations, and he sends you wagons and asks: “Abba, come to my home,” then you know that everything is alright, that he is proud of who and what he is, that he has nothing to hide from you. So it is clear why, when Yaakov saw the wagons, immediately, “And the spirit of Yaakov their father was revived.”

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

from conservative Bnei Brak To liberal Tel Aviv

 Various guests eat at our table on Shabbats. They add to the atmosphere, and the topics of conversation around the table are varied and interesting. A few years ago we hosted a young couple of Gerrer Chassidim from Israel and the young man told me about an inner debate he was having. He was looking to make a decent living and had already found a profession that could serve as a very good source of income. But there was one problem that was preventing him from going ahead – the workplaces for that type of work were all in Tel Aviv. The workers were all of liberal/secular bent and from his point of view, if he would spend all day in such an environment it might have a negative effect on him. He asked straightforwardly and honestly: “How can a yeshiva bochur from conservative Bnei Brak work in liberal Tel Aviv and remain a Bnei Brak Chasid?”

I told him that that question had already been asked by his forefathers, the sons of Yaakov, when they met Yosef as the viceroy of Egypt. “And Yosef recognized his brothers,” says the Torah in parashat Miketz, and immediately goes on to add, “and they did not recognize him.” According to the simple understanding, the passuk is telling us that they didn’t recognize him because he was a seventeen-year-old when he had been sold to Egypt, and now, twenty-two years later, it was hard for them to recognize him, since he was so changed. But according to the pnimiyut, inner Torah, the Torah of Chassidut, we learn a deeper meaning. “They didn’t recognize him” – they didn’t know and weren’t aware of the possibility of being a conservative Jew who serves G-d in the advanced and developing world that Egypt represented. They had chosen to be shepherds because it is an occupation that keeps a person far from society. A shepherd is alone in the field with his flocks and his G-d. They didn’t know of any other options. And here stood their younger brother, a Bnei Brak yeshiva bochur who had remained conservative in the Egyptian royal palace. Well, “they didn’t recognize him.” Yosef was the first to prove that it is possible to be a viceroy and remain Yosef hatzaddik – the righteous.

I turned to my guest and told him, “Go to your Rebbe, and do what he suggests to you. I don’t know you well enough in order to know if you are up to this work or not.”

A few months later he called to tell me that the Gerrer Rebbe said that he trusts him, and instructed him to take that job.

 

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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