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People give advice unthinkingly.

People give advice unthinkingly. Yes, unfortunately, this is really so. As an adult I have learned that much of the advice that people offer to others are not the result of an overall assessment of the situation. Usually the details are not completely accurate, and do not necessarily apply to the person who requested the advice.

Over the years I have learned whom to listen to anyway. Usually it is a person whom I consider to be a friend, with no agenda of his own beyond wanting to help me and who is a maven in realm in question.

For instance, when, over ten years ago, I wanted to buy a sefer Torah for the Chabad House, I heard all kinds of numbers and received all sorts of advice from people whose expertise consisted of having once heard the reading of the Torah. In the end, I set all of this aside, asked for writing examples from ten sofrim (ritual scribes), took them to a friend who is a sofer Stam, but who writes only tefillin and mezuzahs and not sifrei Torah, and he gave his completely objective and professional recommendation as to which sofer out of the ten to choose.

In parashat Kedoshim, which we will read tomorrow in all the communities outside of the Land of Israel, the Torah says, “Do not put a stumbling block in front of the blind.” Rashi explains with wonderful exactitude: “in front of someone who is blind in this area – don’t give him unsuitable advice.” In other words, included in this prohibition is giving advice without thinking the matter over carefully. Because if the advice is not good for him, it is like a stumbling block.

On Shabbat parashat Beshalach, 5748 (1984), as part of what seems to me to be the Rebbe’s preparing his chassidim for his passing, the Rebbe gave a number of pieces of advice and guidelines as to how to live one’s life. “In everything connected to livelihood and getting along in life,” said the Rebbe, “one must do things according to the advice of understanding friends, according to what it says in Mishlei, ‘salvation is in abundant counsel.’ In other words, one must be a maven, and then one can be an advisor. And ‘friends’ who want only good for him, they will look into his situation as necessary and give him good advice.”

And so, when we give someone advice, we must remember that in order to do so one needs an overall view, an understanding of the person’s situation, correct understanding of the topic and mainly, true caring. If we are not sure, it is better not to give advice.

And here is what the Rebbe said on Shabbat parashat Kedoshim, 5741 (1981): From those words of Rashi, one must learn to what extent one should enter into doing a favor for another Jew: It is not enough for your advice to be good; your ‘way’ of giving advice is also very important. When you do a favor to someone, you must divest yourself of your own interests and enter completely into the other’s situation, so that your advice will not be contaminated by self-interest. And that is the fulfillment of the mitzvah of loving Jews, as written in the parasha: “you shall love your fellow as yourself.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Growth and flowering

The moment of sowing (zri’ah)is one of excitement, happiness, hope and prayer that the action will be successful and will be followed by growth and flowering. Sowing is the creation and the beginning of a new life. When a parasha is named Tazri’a, one would expect its content to be all about sowing and beginnings. But when we actually open the book and study the parasha, we will see that it deals almost completely with tzara’at (a skin ailment mistakenly translated as leprosy) and the person who has it – a metzora; a skin affliction and tum’ah (impurity). The parasha, then, deals with things that do not symbolize life and growth at all – rather, the opposite – to the point that the Gemara in masechet Nedarim says that the metzora is likened to a dead person. Why, then, is this parasha that speaks of tum’ah and death called Tazri’a?

In Likutei Sichot, part 22, there is a deep and long dissertation in which the Rebbe explains this wonderfully and teaches us a way of life. I will begin with a short quote: “In the parasha of afflictions there is a teaching that one can apply to all of the Torah’s punishments. Torah punishments are a special act on the part of Hashem, the purpose of which is to correct the Jew, so he should go in the straight path.” This means that the purpose of the punishment is not to give the sinner what he deserves, but rather to make the person move, understand that he must change something in his ways in order to grow.

“That is precisely the content of the matter of the affliction brought in parashat Tazri’a. Both the affliction itself and the banning of the metzora from the camp are not just punishments and a removal of good from the metzora, but rather these are details and means towards his correction and healing, so that he will enter a new life.”

And so, the goal of tzara’at is growth, and that is why the parasha speaking of the metzora is called Tazri’a.

From this, my friends, we learn that when we experience a situation of difficulty and downward movement, a fall, pain or blow, we have the choice of how to relate to it. A person can focus on the pain and the fall, on the impurity, and then he is indeed compared to a dead person. As someone once said to me after a blow and a fall that he experienced: “I’m not dead, but I’m also not really alive.”

The message of the Lubavitcher Rebbe is that a wise person and a believing Jew will know to look beyond the tzara’at that has come upon him and understand that this is the way that Hashem has chosen to make him move forward, advance, plow, sow, grow and make others grow.

May we be successful!

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Became rich but thinks like a beggar

Every respectable synagogue has its beggars. They come every day, stand there for a few hours and give the praying men the merit of giving tzedakah. In the famous Beit Midrash of Chabad, 770, in Brooklyn, there is group of elderly beggars of Russian origin. They have been there for several decades, and are an integral part of the scenery. The Yeshiva boys once asked one of them: “If you were to win the American lottery of hundreds of millions of dollars, what would you do?” The man answered immediately: “I would give every one of my beggar colleagues a million dollars so that they won’t come anymore, so that I’ll have the whole synagogue to myself.”

Funny, isn’t it? I would call it a galut (exile) mentality. Even when the poor man becomes rich he thinks like a beggar. A person with a geulah (redemption) mentality will not go back to being a beggar after he has won the lottery. But don’t we think the same way in our lives? Do we know to dream, at least, beyond the limitations and conventions of the galut way of life? How many times do we want to do something but are certain that we will fail? How many times do we not even dare to dream of something, because it is beyond our conception? But if we take upon ourselves a geulah mentality, we will see that we can do so much more – and then we might even dare to dream big.

Rabbi Shlomo Efraim of Luntschitz, the author of the “Kli Yakar” commentary, explains at the beginning of parashat Shemini that the number eight is beyond nature, since the nature of the world, since creation, is connected to the number seven. The world, after all, was created in seven days, and continues to work in cycles of seven. He brings what Chazal say in masechet Arachin, that in the times of Mashiach the kinor (lyre) will have eight strings. To my understanding, the kinor of the Leviyim in the Beit Mikdash had seven strings, while in the times of Mashiach it will have eight. Why eight? Because the days of the Mashiach will be something beyond nature.

Outside of Eretz Yisrael we will be reading parashat Shemini tomorrow. The Rebbe, in his talks, speaks of the fact that in the calendar situation we have this year it comes out that we read parashat Shemini eight times – seven times in Mincha of Shabbat, plus Mondays and Thursdays – and the eighth time will be tomorrow morning. He brings the Jewish saying that says, “Shemini, shemonah, shemeinah” – in other words, when parashat Shemini is read eight times, that is a sign that it will be a “fat” year – a year of abundance.

And so, there is no more opportune time than this Shabbat to look into this idea, to test our way of thinking and to attempt to think in a “shmoneh” mode – that of geulah. We should think like masters and not like hired help, because otherwise, even if we win the lottery, we will go back to being beggars.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

danger is that you will convince yourself that it is light

 One hot summer day, an old man went down to a cool cellar, in order to give himself some relief. When he walked into the dark room, he couldn’t see anything at first. “Don’t be afraid,” said his friend who was in the cellar. “That’s normal. When you pass from light to darkness, you can’t see. But soon your eyes will get used to the darkness, and you’ll barely notice that it’s dark here.”
“My dear friend,” said the old man, as he turned to leave, “that’s just what I’m afraid of. Darkness is darkness. The danger is that you will convince yourself that it is light.” (from the wonderful book, “Toward a Meaningful Life”).
This coming Shabbat we will be celebrating the last day of Pesach. The Baal Shem Tov instituted that on that day we should make a “Se’udat Mashiach” (a special meal for the Messiah), since on that day the light of the Mashiach shines in the world. (In Israel it happens on the seventh day of Pesach.)
Se’udat Mashiach – yes, a real festive meal. The same way we celebrate the past redemption – the redemption from Egypt – not only by telling stories and explaining things, but also by eating meaningful foods such as matzah and marror – and all this so that our materialistic body will also take part in the experience of redemption from Egypt – so too we mark the future Redemption. The light of Mashiach shines in the world on the last day of Pesach; we just have to connect it to our material selves, and that we do by way of a Se’udat Mashiach, which includes four cups of wine – cups of redemption and blessing. 
One more thing: when we make the Se’udat Mashiach, we are actually making a statement that we do not recognize the present situation as being good, but rather as one that has to improve and get better. We do not recognize our situation as being that of light, but rather of darkness, even though we have become accustomed to it and it seems to us that we have light.

 

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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