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The hidden good

 

“Please come home,” I said to him. He refused. It was the day before Purim. Ten-year-old Natan was already in the Chabad House, wearing an original costume and armed with the Purim spirit. Soon we would start reading the megillah. His older sister had surprised us by telling us that she had arrived from Israel, hitherto unannounced, and was already on the way home from the airport. In order to maximize the surprise, the children were supposed to be in the house until she came. And so, first I asked nicely that he come up to the house. He refused, because he didn’t understand why he had to leave the fun of Purim and come home instead. Then I demanded sternly from him that he come home: “Come up now!” He was angry and complained, stamped his feet and shouted, “But why???” “I can’t tell you why; just do what I say,” I replied. He came home half a minute before the surprise, and the minute his sister walked in the door he jumped on her happily, roaring his astonishment. And then, he came to me quietly and said, “Thank you, Abba, for forcing me to come up; thank you for refusing to tell me why, and I apologize for being angry and for complaining.”

This true story is my mashal – parable – for the hidden good that we experience occasionally in life.

“No evil comes down from above,” so says Ba’al Hatanyain the famous Iggeret Hakodesh, named “To Teach You Understanding.” But if there is no evil, so what are those things that we see as evil? In parashat Ki Tavo there are 98 harsh rebukes voiced as terrible curses that will come to pass if the Jewish People will not observe the mitzvot. What are those curses, if “no evil comes down from above”?

There is revealed good, and there is hidden good. We do not need to explain the revealed good – it is clear, it can be seen. The hidden good is an experience that we see as being bad, when really it is something good that we are unable to understand, because it has to be covered. Just like Natan saw my request that he come upstairs as an annoying punishment, and yet my request was hiding from him a higher good – an exciting surprise.

Sometimes during our short lives we merit to see and understand the good that was hidden, and sometimes not. Sometimes only a generation or two later can one see the good that was hidden.

So when you read the curses on Shabbat, or even if, G-d forbid, you experience something that seems bad to you, remember that “No evil comes down from above.”

By the way, it is recommended to study the Iggeret Hakodesh no. 11, “Lehaskilcha Bina”, in the Tanya.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

don’t google the situation

A good friend of mine is going through difficult times. Two days ago he was told that he and his family are about to embark on a long, challenging path. To him, and to anyone who has challenges, I am writing the following words:

“Judges and officers you shall place in all your cities (literally: gates),” this week’s parasha tells us. One of the most popular commentaries on this passuk is the wonderful comment of Rabbi Mordechai Cohen of Tzfat in his book “Siftei Cohen al HaTorah”. This is what he says: “in all your cities/gates: those are the gates that are in a human being’s body – the eyes, ears, nose and mouth.” The Torah’s instruction to post judges and officers at all the gates, means that a person must judge well everything that goes in and out of his body’s gates. He has to go through a checkpoint every time something is entering or exiting. He has to stop for a moment, think and use his mind to decide what’s proper and what isn’t.

Not everything that can be seen should be seen. One must involve the judge at the eyes’ gate, and ask him to examine what is right and what is less than right; and if necessary, one may make use of the officer – the policeman. So it is with hearing. Not everything should be heard, certainly not lashon hara – derogatory, negative speech. The mouth should be subject to a thorough examination, to make sure that everything that goes in should be kosher, as well as everything that comes out of it.

This is the gist of the Siftei Cohen’s commentary.

I thought to add that when one is coping with challenges, one has to guard himself or herself from seeing everything as being black and negative; one should refrain from listening to pessimistic predictions and of course be careful not to speak of them. Judges and policemen should be placed at all the gates, in order to maintain constant optimism, and if necessary, simple-minded naivete.

These days, one must add another level: to make sure the eyes don’t google the situation. It’s permitted and the information is available, but a stern judge and an equally stern policeman should be posted there. One should also guard the ears and examine very carefully all the advice that comes through them. There is lots of advice. Most of the advice-givers mean well, but the judge and the policeman of the ears should sift through all of it and decide what’s suitable for you. And yes, one should guard one’s thinking. There’s no opening there where one can post a judge, but one does need a policeman who will reject negative thoughts, and leave only the happy ones.

And if one should ask: “How will I succeed?” the Torah says in the continuation of the passuk: “Which Hashem, your G-d, gives you”. Hashem gave us judges and policeman, together with the strength to use them. May we all be successful!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

How to strengthen someone who is experiencing difficulty?

 

How does one comfort and strengthen someone who is experiencing a real difficulty? Usually, one speaks of the future. “Things will be better,” he will be told. “You’ll see how good everything will be,” they’ll sing to him, in the words of a famous Israeli song. But this doesn’t always help. When a person is trying to cope with a problem, it is hard for him to see the good and the beauty in the future.

This is what is happening in the haftarot of past few Shabbatot, the seven haftarot of consolation that we read in the weeks following Tisha b’Av. These are Yeshayahu’s words of comfort to the Jewish People, for after the destruction.

This week’s haftara begins with the words “Oh aniyah,afflicted, storm-tossed one, who has not been consoled”. The aniyah, the poor one, is the Jewish People, whose heart is stormy because of her troubles, and therefore cannot be consoled. 

Those who read these chapters of consolation will see something somewhat surprising. Throughout these chapters there many beautiful words of comfort, full of beauty and joy, and yet, the aniyah is still afflicted, and not at all comforted.

“Kings will be your nurturers and princesses your wet-nurses,” “And the redeemed of Hashem will return and come to Zion with glad song, with eternal gladness upon their head,” “Hashem has bared His holy arm before the eyes of all the nations and all ends of the earth will see the salvation of our G-d,” “For you will burst out to the right and to the left, your offspring will inherit nations,” “For but a brief moment have I forsaken you, and with abundant mercy will I gather you in.” these are unquestionably wonderful promises that speak of a truly marvellous future. How, then, is the poor woman still not consoled?

The answer, in my opinion, lies in what I said above. Sometimes, when a person is facing a stormy present, it is difficult for him to see the glowing future. True – the aniyah is being promised a lavish, rebuilt Jerusalem, but all she can see now is ruins, and she refuses to be comforted. Therefore, after “who has not been consoled,” Hashem comforts her in present tense and says, “Behold, I am setting down gems as your flooring stones and am laying your foundation with sapphires.” Right now, in these moments of difficulty and exile, I am already building the foundations of the future. I have already begun to lay the flooring stones. Hashem is saying, simply: The future promises that I have given you in the previous chapters are not only in the future, but are definitely the present as well; they are already being fulfilled. We can’t see them yet, but that is only because they are at the level of foundations, and therefore still hidden. A building’s foundations are the most important of all – they are what support the building, but still, they are hidden from everyone.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

p.s. According to the custom of the Ashkenazim, this week’s haftara is not Aniyah so’ara, but the haftarah ofa Shabbat rosh chodesh, since, besides being Shabbos, it is also rosh chodesh.

Mezuzah like a compass

 

It was a few years ago, on Chanuka. She was looking for a menorah and for candles. She had been living here for years already, but only now, when her eight-year-old daughter had asked for a Christmas tree, she had decided the time had come, and had come to ask for a menorah.

As she was leaving, I placed my hand on the mezuzah and asked her: “Do you know what this is?” “It’s a mezuzah,” she replied, “but in our family we don’t put up mezuzahs,” immediately going on to explain: “Rabbi, please understand. My grandmother was in the camps and after she was saved and had a family she said to us: Do everything to hide your identity, so that if they come again, they won’t identify you as Jews.” “If that is so,” I said, “I have a question to ask you: If Hitler (May his name be blotted out) were to meet both of us, who would please him more? I, who am fearlessly proud of my Judaism, or you, who four generations later is still afraid of him?”

In the evening I received an email: “Rabbi, I have nine doorways. When can you come?”

The mitzvah of the mezuzah is given us this week in parashat Eikev. It is an easy mitzvah to perform, perhaps one of the easiest. All you have to do is affix a mezuzah to the doorpost and that’s it; almost no more work involved. It says in the Shulchan Aruch that one should place one’s hand on the mezuzah when one goes out or comes in. As is known, some have the custom of kissing the mezuzah lovingly. Apart from that nothing more has to be done – not even a daily blessing to make. Tefillin, for instance, must be donned every day, a blessing is made on them and one should pray while wearing them. In order to fulfil the mitzvah of tzitzit,a person must make a blessing “al mitzvat tzitzit” every morning, and, of course, wear a tallit katan (a garment with the tzitzit), even on hot summer days.

But still, the mezuzah conveys several significant messages that are not part of other mitzvahs.

A house that has a mezuzah on its doorpost is making a clear statement: The dwellers of this house are proud Jews; they are unafraid. In the doorway of this house there is a piece of parchment on which it is written: “Shema Yisrael, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One.”

Moreover, tefillin or tzitzit, and other mitzvahs as well, are internally-oriented mitzvahs, an act between a person and his/her Creator. The point of the mezuzah, though, is to be affixed to the doorpost on the outside. It is there in order to remind a person of G-d even when he ventures into to the outside world. The Rambam says that the mezuzah in the doorway is like a compass, helping us not to lose our way, on condition, of course, that we take the trouble to look at it and consult with it. When we meet Hashem’s Name every time we enter or exit our home, it should cause us to “awake from our sleep and from our being lost in the inanities of the times.”

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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