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By what right am i requesting anything

Sometimes, when I approach Hashem to pray to Him, a thought goes through my mind, saying, “By what right are you requesting anything?” I’m not talking about ordinary, everyday prayers, but prayers when faced with difficulties, when one is finding it hard to cope, when one is in serious distress.

With Hashem, after all, there’s no room for acting. We don’t fake piety; we don’t boast emptily about what we don’t have, and we don’t even tweak our CV’s. We approach prayer with the clear understanding that He knows what we are thinking deep inside, so how and in what merit do we really dare to ask?

At the beginning of this week’s parasha, Rashi describes prayer by commenting on Moshe Rabbeinu’s prayer, and on the way he also answers our question.

The parasha opens with Moshe Rabbeinu’s beseeching Hashem to allow him to enter the Holy Land. “Va’etchanan (I implored) Hashem at that time,” says Moshe, and Rashi explains: “Va’etchanan – [the word] chanun always implies a matnat chinam – an undeserved gift. Although the righteous could cite their good deeds, all they ask for from Hashem is an undeserved gift.” And little me clings to this idea, is encouraged and understands that imploring Hashem and requesting things from Him is, in its essence, a request for a gift that we have no right to ask for. And therefore, whether you have merits or not, you can ask and beseech.

Rashi goes on to speak about the power of prayer in every situation. Here, Moshe Rabbeinu is asking and imploring even though it has already been decreed by Hashem that he will not enter the land. Therefore, he opens his speech with the words, “You have begun to show Your servant…” Explains Rashi: by saying that, Moshe is saying to Hashem that Hashem began to teach him the power of prayer in any situation.

And then we reach the sweet conclusion of Moshe’s prayer: “for what power is there in the heaven or on earth that can perform [anything like] your deeds and Your mighty acts?” and as Rashi expands this prayer: “You are not like a flesh-and-blood king, who has advisors and associates who protest when he wants to act with lovingkindness and contrary to His usual traits; there is no one who will protest if you forgive me and annul your decree.”

So we see that even the great Moshe Rabbeinu, the person who brought the Ten Plagues on the Egyptians, split the sea, brought down the Tablets of the Law and spoke to Hashem face-to-face, as it were, in the end, when he needed a salvation, he prayed like a Yiddische Mama praying for her children.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

I start with one spoon

Everybody speaks about sinat chinam (baseless hatred) and yearns for ahavat chinam (unconditional love). I read and hear calls that go out into space, and requests aimed at the public, that it is time to stop all this polarization of society and hatred, and to engage in generous amounts of ahavat chinam. And I think that every great thing can be obtained if you start small. For instance, when I want to clear up the playroom after a vacation day, or the kitchen on a long Friday afternoon, at the first moment it seems a difficult task, almost impossible. But as I have experience in these realms, I know that instead of trying to tackle the whole kitchen, I start with one spoon, and then just one cup and one plate, and suddenly it all looks different.

That is the way it is with any change we want to make in our private, neighbourly and even national lives, and of course also when aiming for ahavat chinam. Instead of changing the whole world at once, let’s start from one small act, and then another one, and suddenly we will see how our environment has become more pleasant, and so on.

Here is a story that I heard from my father, may he live, many times; a story that each and every one of us can adopt. A dear and simple chassid lived in Kfar Chabad, and his name was R. Yoshe (Yosef) Levenherz z”l. Yoshe was an honest person, as they say in Yiddish, “an pshetlach” (untranslatable, unfortunately). My father grew up with him and the rest of his brothers, back in Czernowitz in the Ukraine. The Wishedski and Levenherz families were and still are true friends of each other.

One evening, between Mincha and Maariv, R. Yoshe approached my father and asked for a sum of money – not large. It was a request between friends, in the style of “Give me, I need it and I just don’t have it with me. I’ll return it tomorrow.” I assume that he himself had given what had been in his pocket to someone who just happened to need it, as was the custom of the Levenerz family, and now he needed a bit more. Father, who had no money on him, said, “I don’t have.” Yoshe Levenherz looked at him, his face perfectly serious, and scolded (!) him: “How can a Jew walk around with no money in his pocket? What will he do if someone will need money, and ask him to do a favor and lend him some?”

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Every Journey has a meaning

When one encounters a mashal – a parable – brought by Chazal, it is worthwhile to spend some time thinking about every detail in it, because Chazal chose each and every one of their words carefully.

On the second pasuk in parashat Masei, which says, “Moshe wrote their goings forth according to their journeys,” Rashi brings the following mashal: What is this like? Like a king whose son was sick, and he took him somewhere to heal him. When they were on their way back (home), his father started counting all the journeys, and said to him: “Here we slept,” Here something happened to us,” “Here you were afraid.”

In other words, it is quite clear that Rashi is explaining to us, through this parable, that the reason for noting all of Bnei Yisrael’s journeys in the wilderness was not just in order to keep a record of them, but so that we will understand that these journeys had meaning, a goal and a reason. Therefore, the father, with his now-healthy son, retraces these moments of challenge when he was sick, because that way he shows him that they are meaningful.

And why is it emphasized in the mashal that the father is mentioning the journeys particularly when they are on their way back? Because many times during a journey, especially when it is difficult, it is impossible to understand it and its reason. Moreover, sometimes it is extremely hard to digest it. But when the father is returning with his recovered son, he is able to look back and see how each step of the journey was really a step towards good health.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Greatness

 In this week’s parasha,Hashem agrees to accept the demand of the daughters of Tzelofchad, who had insisted that they receive their rights in inheriting property in the Land of Israel – as it says, “The daughters of Tzelofchad speak properly; you shall surely give them a possession of inheritance”. A moment later, Moshe Rabbeinu, too, had the courage to stand his ground and asked that his sons inherit him. As Rashi says, “The time has come for me to demand my needs, that my sons will inherit my greatness.”

As is known, Hashem did not accept this request and instructed him to appoint Yehoshua as his heir, but the request was actually rather reasonable. A person has devoted his entire life to some cause – isn’t it understandable that he should ask that his sons inherit his status?

We have all seen how Moshe Rabbeinu suffered with Bnei Yisrael. Every two weeks or so, everyone someone was shaming him for some reason or other. They spoke and incited against him, complained endlessly, and once almost stoned him. Moreover, he himself once said to Hashem at a particularly difficult moment, “Did I conceive this entire people or did I give birth to it, that you say to me ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a suckling?” On another occasion he said, “How can I bear by myself your contentiousness, your burdens and your quarrels?” after all this, if he loves his own sons, why should he request that they carry on with this exhausting work that he himself calls “slavery”?

This question arises in me every time I see Chabad shluchim, who after years of self-sacrifice and hard work, search for a similar mission for their married children. Moreover, many children of shluchim themselves search for the opportunity to engage in that same kind of self-sacrifice, even though no one knows better than them the difficulties and the challenges of their parents.

My daughter Mossi gave me the answer to this question before last Purim. She is learning in a Chabad school in Israel, and asked to come home for Purim. It seemed a bit unreasonable and farfetched to fly home for a weekend, when two weeks later she would be coming anyway for Pesach vacation, even if the flight is rather cheap. Furthermore, in Israel she would be able to rest among members of the extended family, whereas at home she would be working around the clock. She insisted, so I said, “You know what, Mossi? Explain to me why it is important for you to be with us for Purim, and convince me of this importance.”

There was silence on the line, and then she said. “I’m not used to experiencing the holidays in a regular community. It’s beautiful and pure and great to celebrate with family, but I miss the belonging to that great thing – I miss the meaningfulness of the shlichut. Purim for me is the work and the unending running around in the attempt to bring the holiday to every Jew – that’s why I want to come.”

I thought that that, possibly, is the reason that Moshe Rabbeinu asked that his sons inherit his position. He knew how hard it could be, but he also knew how much greatness there is in his work, and he wanted to give that to his sons. Perhaps that is why Rashi uses the expression, “That my sons will inherit my greatness”?

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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