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Anyone can be a Levi

One of the most famous schul jokes is about a man who wanted to be a Cohen. He plunked thousands of dollars on the rabbi’s desk, a donation to the schul, so that the rabbi would authorize his being a Cohen. In the discussion that followed, the rabbi asked the man why it was so important for him to be a Cohen. “Well, my grandfather was a Cohen, my father was a Cohen, so I too want to be a Cohen,” answered the man petulantly.

I don’t know about Cohanim, but the Rambam says that anyone can be a Levi.

In chapter 13 of the halachas of Shmittah  and Yovel in the book of Zera’im, the Rambam has thirteen paragraphs in which he lists the laws pertaining to Leviyim. And at the end he says: “And not the tribe of Levi, alone, but rather any person in the world whose spirit has moved him and his knowledge has taught him to separate himself to stand before Hashem, to serve Him, to know Hashem, and he went straight just as G-d made him, and removed from his neck the yoke of the many calculations that people seek – he has become sanctified, kodesh kodashim, and Hashem will be his lot and inheritance for ever and ever; and Hashem will give him in this world what is enough for him, just like He gave the Cohanim and the Leviyim.”

The essence of the tribe of Levi is a true willingness “to stand before Hashem and to serve him.” and this comes, of course, together with a real ability to elevate oneself up above the vanities of this world and even above what is considered by people to be appropriate. This, after all, is the meaning of the name of this week’s parasha, parashat Nasso. When Hashem says, “Nasso – raise up – the heads of the sons of Gershon,” He is commanding Moshe Rabbeinu to count the Levites between the ages of 30 and 50. After he has counted the rest of Bnei Yisrael in parashat Bamidbar, it is now the turn of the Levites to be counted. They are counted separately, because they are different. They have been sanctified “to stand before Hashem and serve Him.” The Rebbe said several times that the word Nasso was chosen intentionally, because it expresses the power that they received from Hashem to rise up and be above all the materialism of the world, its limitations and the supposedly enlightened conventions of human society.

And then the Rambam comes and declares that not only descendants of Levi can do so, but “any person in the world” can do so. In spite of the fact that such a person can never be counted among the tribe of Levi, he has the possibility to choose to live in a world of devotion to a greater goal, and that way he will be elevated above the vanities of this world. Chassidim call this in Yiddish “a tefach hecher” – one handbreath above the world.

May we be successful!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

you should have a picture of King David

 

Are you a Rabbi? Well, if so, you should have a big picture of David Hamelech hanging in your office.

When you find a person sitting in front of you, whom, in your opinion, has no yichus (illustrious lineage), raise your eyes, look at the picture and see the picture of the person who is possibly the most important figure in Judaism – David Hamelech.

His great-grandmother was called Ruth. She was a convert, who, once she told Naomi, her mother-in-law, “Your nation is my nation and your G-d is my G-d, wherever you die I shall die, and there I will be buried”, started on a long and difficult journey.

Ruth’s husband, Boaz, was descended from Peretz, the son of Yehudah, who was born with his brother Zerach as a result of an unpleasant extra-marital affair that took place between Yehudah and Tamar, his former daughter-in-law.

So look again at the person in front of you and think: is there a good chance that this person will be a king? Maybe, if we give him a real chance.

And if the person sitting in front of you looks strange and alien; perhaps there are even bad, unpleasant rumors about him, look again at the picture and remember that the “illustrious” lineage of David Hamelech was only the introduction. “I was strange to my brothers, and alien to the sons of my mother,” said David Hamelech about himself, and he knew what he was talking about. His father, Yishai, despised him, thinking that he was a mamzer – illegitimate. His family rejected him and sent him to shepherd the sheep, far away from home. He was so much disregarded, that when the prophet Shmuel came with the anointing oil to anoint one of the Yishai’s sons as king, Yishai presented only seven out of his eight children – those whom he considered worthy of kingship. David wasn’t even an option, in his father’s mind.

“Yishai passed his seven sons before Shmuel. And Shmuel said to Yishai: Hashem has not chosen these.” And then Shmuel asks Yishai: “Are these all the boys?” And Yishai answers, almost against his will, “there is one more little one, and he shepherds the sheep.” I have another young son, but he is out of the question. He is a shepherd. By the way, this “little son” was twenty-nine years old already. Yishai sent for David, “and he was ruddy, with fair eyes and a pleasing appearance.” Immediately, Hashem said to Shmuel: “Arise and anoint him, for this is he!”

The Gemara in mashechet Pesachim, 119, discusses the psukim of Hallel that we sing so beautifully on festivals, but perhaps don’t always know or think about their meaning:

Rav Shmuel bar Nachmani says there that these verses contain a fascinating, moving and even painful discussion between David, Yishai and the other brothers.

David thanks Hashem for all the suffering he went through until he was appointed king and says: “I thank you, Hashem, for answering me and becoming my salvation.”

Yishai, his father, admits having despised David, and responds, perhaps with shame, maybe in surprise, but certainly with joy: “The stone the builders despised has become the cornerstone.”

David’s brothers, still in complete shock from the wonder they have witnessed, say: “This emanated from Hashem; it is wondrous in our eyes.”

And the prophet Shmuel said, “This is the day Hashem has made; let us rejoice and be glad on it.”

The holiday of Shavuot is the also the day of David Hamelech’s death. Perhaps this is the time for each and every one of us to remember: it doesn’t matter what people think and say about you; Hashem knows exactly who you are. And if He knows to appreciate you, what more do you need?

 

Shabbat Shalom, and Happy Shavuot,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

a sweet candy

There are Curses that are mentioned in this weeks torah portion Parshat Bechukotai, that are not easy to digest. The Torah tells us in detailed description what will happen in times of concealment. It will be really difficult, with severe hunger, poverty, torturing and pressing enemies, which is all very difficult to digest. But when you carefully study the verses, You see that hidden among the curses,  are promises of love and care, a sweet candy among all the bitterness and sourness. 
After G-d says that the land will be desolate because our enemies will drive us out of it, suddenly it adds a few more words, "and it will become desolate [also] of your enemies who live in it." 
That is the candy I'm referring to!!! Hashem promises that He will expel us from the land by saying, "I will make the Land desolate" but at the same time G-d adds and continues, He will guard it for us until we return. Any nation which will try to settle in it, will not succeed. As the verse says "and it will become desolate [also] of your enemies who live in it".

Behold, that promise has been kept!!
It's almost two thousands years in which G-d has kept that sweet promise which was mentioned among the curses "and it will become desolate [also] of your enemies who live in it".

In the Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, the sages speak of the signs of the end of days. Rabbi Abba brings the words of Ezekiel, in which he speaks to the "mountains of Israel" and says to them, "You will produce your branches, and you will bear your fruit for My people Israel." Says Rabbi Abba, "when you see the days when the Land of Israel ceases to be desolate, when the mountains of Israel give fruitful branches, then you will know that we are very close to redemption".

Not only the fact that now the Holy Land bears fruit, as it did not for the past two thousand years is a sign that the redemption is imminent. Also Isaiah's prophecy of the disarmament of weapons, attests to this as well. 
Like he says, "And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks". 
This verse, which is engraved on the wall of the United Nations building in New York, is materializing right now, before our very eyes, as the 'Democratic People's Republic of Korea' declares its willingness to disassociate itself from the most lethal weapons.

So what do WE do? We should ready ourselves for the coming of the Messiah speedily in our days.



Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalman Wishedski

I like Jewish jokes

 I like Jewish jokes. One of the better-known ones tells about Moishe who wanted to sell his car. On Friday night, in schul, between one Lecha Dodi and another, he remarked to his friend, Yankel: “Nicht Shabbos geret (not on Shabbat), but I’m selling my car.” Yankel thought and said, “Nicht Shabbos geret, I think it would be suitable for us. I’ll speak with my wife.” The next morning, during Shacharit, before the reading of the Torah, Yankel asked Moishe: “Nicht Shabbos geret, how much do you want for it?” “Nicht Shabbos geret,” answered Moishe, “Fifty-seven thousand.”

At minchah on Shabbos, Yankel stretched after his Shabbat afternoon nap and said: “My wife and I want to buy your car, nicht Shabbos geret, of course.” “Sorry,” answered Moishe, “but, nicht Shabbos geret, the car has been sold already.”

 

We all know that it is prohibited to work on Shabbat, and it is also prohibited to speak about business matters on Shabbat. Shabbat is kodesh LaShem – it is to be devoted to Hashem. But we don’t always remember clearly that just like it is prohibited to work on Shabbat, so it is incumbent upon us to labor during the six days of the week. As it says in parashat Emor, which we will read tomorrow (in the diaspora) in schul: “For six days labor may be done and on the seventh day is a day of complete rest.”

We are coming from Lag ba’Omer, the day of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the great disciple of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is associated mainly with the Zohar, but there is another well-known book that is called “Mechilta d’Rashbi.” So, in addition to the Mishnah and the Talmud we also have the Mechilta. The Mechilta is a collection of sayings, directions and midrashim of our Sages. Mechilta d’Rashbi, as one can imagine from its name, is considered to have been written by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, and one can say that its content comes from Rabbi Akiva’s study circle. This is logical, of course, when we know that Rabbi Akiva was Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s rebbe.

On the pasuk “Six days you shall work,” it says as follows: “The same way that Yisrael were commanded about the positive mitzvah of Shabbat, so they were commanded about the labor.” In other words, it’s not only a recommendation, but an actual mitzvah: it’s a mitzvah to work and make a living.

May we all have a Shabbat of rest and peace, preferably without “Nicht Shabbos geret.”

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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