Printed from ChabadBasel.com

Rabbi's weekly Blog

Thank you for that flat tire!

 “Zalman, your car is being towed!” You have to admit that that is one of the most annoying messages a person can get. Add to that that it was happening not in the country I live in, that the car was rented and that the day was a very busy one. Not fun.

This happened last Sunday. I was in New York for the World Annual Conference of Chabad Shluchim. The car I had rented was parked on President Street in a good place. As mentioned already, this was a Sunday, which is the policemen’s day of rest. But this was also the day on which the central banquet – the evening summarizing the Conference – was taking place; and President Street was the starting point for the buses that were to take the thousands of rabbis to the banquet hall. Therefore, probably for reasons of security, the New York Police Department wanted the street cleared of all cars. And in New York, as in New York, nobody asks questions. Police tow-trucks simply towed all the parked cars straight to a local police yard.

And so, not only was my car going to be towed, but I would also have to find out which yard it is in, pay about $300, and who knows if after all this I would make it in time to the banquet.

Rushing out of the red brick building, the Beit Midrash of the Rebbe, known as 770, I was talking myself: “Don’t let this ruin the day for you. Accept it all with love, it’s not so terrible. Even if they towed it already you’ll find it and get it back, after paying the necessary payment. Accept with love. Everyone is healthy, everyone is feeling well. That’s the main thing. May it serve as a kapparat avonot (atonement for my sins).” When I reached the wide street I saw that it was closed off, almost empty of cars, and two police tow-trucks were towing those that remained. The street was empty – except for my white car, which was where I had left it.

I ran to it happily, and saw the reason why it hadn’t been towed – one of the back wheels had a respectable looking flat tire. I lifted my eyes up the Heaven and said, “Ribbono Shel Olam, thank you for this flat tire!” “What a miracle it is to have this flat tire”, I continued to say to myself, as I changed it with the help of the shaliach in Beit Shemesh, Rabbi Shraga Dahan. We did not know each other, but he hurried to roll up his sleeves and help me with the jack, as we stood there in the rain. “I would have been searching for the yard, roaming around for several exhausting hours and spending money needlessly in order to release the car. This flat tire is a particularly sweet miracle!”

When we had finished, and I had parked the car on a different street, I realized that if I would have had a flat tire without having been threatened with towing, I would probably have gotten angry and upset about it. And now, instead of getting angry and crying, I was happy and thanking Hashem for this very flat tire. And who knows how many other times in my life Hashem arranged such “flat tires” in order to save me from greater problems?  We must thank Hashem for everything, if only because Hashem plans man’s steps, and our Rabbis have taught us that nothing bad comes down from Heaven.

The Prophet Yeshayahu said in his prophecy about the end of days, “And you shall say on that day, I thank you Hashem because You were angry with me.” In other words, when the Geulah comes we will see that all the difficulties we endured during the exile were for the good, and we will even thank Hashem for them and declare: “I thank You Hashem because you were angry with me.” I was privileged to experience something like this this week, when I was thanking Hashem for my flat tire.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

My Mendel’s Advice

From the moment I leave on a trip with my children, especially when I am alone, I focus almost totally on them. In other words, they have all of my attention. This includes some very simple and perhaps obvious things, like telling them about every step I take, from ordering the first Uber to letting them look for the gate and finding their own seats on the airplane, all the way to sharing with them the contents of an email or SMS that I have just written (as long as it is not private or secret, of course). On Wednesday afternoon I set out with twelve-year-old Natan and eight-year-old Mendel on a trip to New York, to participate in the Annual Conference of the Chabad Shluchim from all over the world, known to us as “Kinus Hashluchim”. On Thursday morning we left very early (they had gotten up at 4:00 am already. Thank you, jetlag…) and went to the Ohel – the Rebbe’s resting place. There we studied, prayed and also wrote a letter and went in to pray by the Rebbe. We talked and learned, and I told them that unfortunately I am not managing to write my weekly letter. Sometimes it comes easily, and sometimes less so, and today it was simply stuck. A while later, as we were learning, Mendel said to me: “Abba, write about this, about what we just learned.” And so, I have listened to his advice and am sharing with you what we learned, from Mendel’s angle: We learned the pasuk from Tehillim “You gave to those who fear you a banner (nes) to be raised high,” with the word nes meaning nisayon – a test. In other words, the Creator gives those who fear Him tests and trials in their lives, knowing that they have the ability to cope “for truth’s sake, selah” – in the merit of Avraham Avinu (koshet selah being a reference to him and his deeds, see in the ma’amar). By the very fact that Avraham triumphed in the many difficult trials sent by the Creator, he opened a conduit for us and gave all his descendants the strength to withstand their trials and challenges as well. When I asked Mendel whether he had understood, he explained that it’s like him not much liking to daven, certainly not to daven at length, but now that he knows that Avraham Avinu succeeded and that that success gives him strength, he is convinced that it will be easier for him. He made this declaration and I didn’t argue with him – not because he’s eight years old, but because I too use this technique when I encounter a test, and it most certainly helps. Shabbat Shalom from New York, Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Youth Minyans

A beneficial phenomenon has appeared within the Chabad communities in Israel in the past fifteen years: youth minyans. In almost every place where there is a well-established, long-time community of Chabad Chassidim, shuls for young people have popped up, one after the other. The truth is that it’s not just a phenomenon; it can be said to be a healthy, positive development, involving a lot of growth.

The minyans soon become shuls and these go on to become wonderful young and dynamic communities.

As is the way of the world, at the beginning many of the old-timers were wary of the phenomenon, and wondered what the future of these prayer-houses would be. After all, they said, it is important for the younger generation to daven with the older one, so the young people can see and learn how and what to do.

Between the lines one could sense that the doubts of the older generation extended beyond this, except that they said it quietly, if at all. The young people who initiated this movement were considered a bit “modern” by the old-timers. This was expressed in their way of dress – not necessarily black-and-white during the week – and their interests, which at least at the beginning were not exactly detailed Gemara study or reflected light vs. direct light (concepts in chassidut). These concerns and others were the basis of their apprehension. I was already living in Switzerland when the phenomenon began. I observed it from the outside, like a journalist, and I also heard the pros and cons expressed by my friends. I followed all this quietly, and was not at all worried. I knew this was a good development, and would in the future be considered the most significant growth in the Chabad communities in the last generation.

Why? Because I knew the people involved and I knew that what they want and pray for their children, boys and girls, is that they will grow up as chassidim, having fear of Heaven and being learned. And what a person asks for regarding his children, that is what he really, really cares about. Moreover, that is what really defines him.

On Shavuot 5722 (1962), the Rebbe spoke about this in connection with Bnei Yisrael receiving the Torah only after they said, “Our children will be our guarantors”. When they said, “Our prophets will be our guarantors”, or “Our forefathers are our guarantors”, it didn’t work, because when you say that your father or prophet will be the guarantor, you are actually removing the responsibility from yourself. You are not obligated – you have no influence or responsibility when it comes to your father or prophet. And the main thing is, that this doesn’t teach us anything about what interests you and what you care about. It certainly doesn’t define you and your hopes. But you say, “Our children will be our guarantors”, this is already the expression of a direct commitment. And the main thing is that it shows that what interests you is that your children will observe the Torah in the future. It also defines you, because what you really hope for and wish for your children, that is what you really care about and what really touches you.

In this way the Rebbe there explained the definition of Akeidat Yitzchak as a test of Avraham. Yitzchak was 37 years old at the time of the Akeida. If he would have wanted to, he could have easily overwhelmed his father, who was 137 years old, and run away. If so, this was a test that Yitzchak passed successfully. And why is it considered the greatest test of Avraham? The explanation is that it is easier for a person to harm himself then to harm his children. It would have been easier for Avraham to offer himself up than to offer his son. In offering his son, he showed his complete loyalty. So too, when parents say that their children are guarantors for them, so even if for themselves they would have been lax, for the children they want the best.

After all, all of us in the end want our children to fulfill our dreams for ourselves…

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

This is how you treat your friends?

If I had only one Jew attending my Schul, only one coming to my classes, and only one coming to my activities, and it was the same one, I would do everything so that he would remain with me. I would take care of all his needs to the best of my ability, help him on every occasion, ask him how he is once a day, and once a week send him a link to a new song of Yishai Ribo that just came out that week.

But look what the Master of the World did. He had one – and only one – Jew in the entire world who had found Him, who believed in Him, who went with Him in face of the whole world, to the point that he was called “Ha’Ivri” – the one on the other side – because of this. But the Master of the World wasn’t so impressed by this and instead of helping him and supporting him He had him go through all the troubles that this world has to offer. From a fight with his parents and family, through moving to an unknown land, famine, exile, his wife being taken twice. He had no children when everyone around him was pushing full baby carriages, and when He finally gave him a son when he was one hundred years old, He told him to offer him up on an altar – the Akeidah.

So I ask, where is the logic in all this? You have one single person who believes in You. Why do You do everything to make him leave You?

This question arises in my mind every year as we approach parashat Lech Lecha. What is interesting is that the explanations I have given myself over the years have changed, or perhaps have upgraded over the years.

When I was young, maybe because that was before I myself met with the trials that Hashem, May His Name be praised forever, prepared for me, I was satisfied with the explanation that these were “trials”. Hashem was testing man, and Avraham, the first Jew, was the poster boy for this. He went through ten trials, each one of them very difficult.

At a later stage in my life, perhaps when I was myself coping with challenges and trials, my answer was: That’s the way it is. That is Hashem’s way. That is the way of the world. Everything positive and holy that a person does has to be accompanied by difficulties and challenges.

In Chassidic language these are called “meni’ot ve’ikuvim” – things preventing us from acting, and slowing us down. And that helped. Every time I had to cope with a challenge I remembered Avraham Avinu and said: Avraham went through more difficult trials than I have, but it was worth it.

This week I asked myself the same question, and internalized something new. I would invest in the only man who believes in me, so that he won’t leave, because I am thinking about myself, about what’s good for me, about my life project. And so, I’ll do everything so that he will continue to believe in me and continue walking with me. But am I thinking about the person who is with me?

But Hashem does think about the benefit of the person, and in this case, about the good of Avraham. And so, He knows that in order to produce from him the best – to realize his powers, to realize his potential in order to make him a much higher quality person in every sense, there is only one way: to put him through challenges and trials. Because every challenge and every trial and need to cope upgrade a person ten times more.

When I read the pasuk about Avraham “And He believed in Hashem”, I read the word emunah as meaning emun – trust. Avraham trusted Hashem fully. He had complete faith in Him, knowing that all the challenges and trials are to make him a much better Avraham. Because that’s the way it is. Every challenge that we face cleans something in us, purifies us. Every trial helps us be a bit less materialistic and more spiritual, more able to give a true assessment as to what is more important and what is even more important than that.

I am curious to know what I’ll write about this in another five years.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

it´s my Birthday

Sometimes when I come into my office on Monday mornings, I understand why I cried when I was born. Not because life is difficult – it isn’t. And not because the tasks facing me are daunting – usually they are reasonable. It’s just that when I see the list of tasks and jobs, sometimes all I want is that someone else will do the work, or that it will be done by itself and the responsibility won’t be mine. And then I understand why I cried.

Babies cry after birth, because they don’t want to be independent; they don’t want to be a separate unit from their mothers. They prefer that someone else eat for them, sleep for them and be dressed for them. They want to be covered and protected. As adults, as well, we prefer to be safe and covered, under the auspices of someone big and warm, who will make sure we are enwrapped and protected.

I had a birthday yesterday – Thursday, 2 Cheshvan. And this brings me to think: What is a birthday? What am I taking note of? What am I really celebrating? There are those who celebrate their accomplishments so far. I’m happy with them, but that does not seem to me to be a Jewish approach, and certainly not a Chassidic approach. First of all, because generally we don’t celebrate and note accomplishments so much – what, after all, have we done that is so great?! And mainly, because the past is less interesting to us. What is interesting is what more we have to accomplish, what more has to be done and fixed, how to bring more light and warmth in the future.

So what are we celebrating and noting?

More and more I understand that a birthday is the day on which we once again celebrate our being independent units, possessing tasks and unique goals that come together with strengths and abilities, which will enable us to accomplish what we were chosen to do. Today, several decades ago, at a certain hour, I was born to my role on earth. This is a source of great joy. But like every great happiness in the life, it comes with tears. Parents cry at their children’s weddings. They are not crying out of sadness, but out of happiness. They are crying over the girl who is setting off on her own journey. They are crying over the son who will have to cope alone with the world. But, with all that, they are certainly happy that this moment has arrived. I was once at a Jerusalem wedding in which the groom was happy and danced. Suddenly I saw next to me a Jew, holding kugel in one hand and soda water in the other. An older Jerusalem Jew who enjoyed making a Yiddishe krechtz every few minutes. He said to me in Yiddish: “Do you know why he is dancing that way? Because he doesn’t know what’s waiting for him the day after sheva brachot end. But nu, the kugel is worth it.”

A birthday is a day on which we take note of Hashem’s choosing us to be independent people with roles and goals, together with our having free choice. A birthday is a day on which I should look at myself and my environment, and see if there are realms and things that regarding them I am still not an independent unit. And when I say independent unit, I mean someone who takes responsibility over what is supposed to be his responsibility, and manages these things and leads them on, correctly. In his speech on the 12th of Tammuz 5731 (1971) the Rebbe encouraged every person to go out and do more for other people and for their surroundings. Among other things, he defined the role of the head of the family as the president and leader of the family.

Many are familiar with the gemara in Masechet Eruvin 13b: “Our sages learned: for two-and-a-half years Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel were divided in their opinion. Some said: it is better (noach)for a person not to have been created, more than to have been created. The others said: it is better for a person to have been created, more than not to have been created. They decided finally: It is better for a person to not have been created, but now that he was created, he should examine his deeds, and some say, handle his deeds.”

The classical commentary for this says that Beit Shamai and and Beit Hillel disagreed over what is better for a person: to be created or not? But we can also relate to the simplest meaning of the word “noach” and understand that it would have been more comfortable for a person not to have been born – it is much more comfortable to be protected and covered, with someone else doing what needs doing. And that is also the final conclusion. But at the end they said, that if you were already created and born, get up and do the following two things: a. examine your past deeds, and learn from your past, b. survey the deeds you have not yet done, examine the future, look ahead.

I will be courageous and talk about myself. By nature I tended to let things flow and manage with them somehow. I needed a good few years of awareness and self-work in order to understand that emerging into the world, a true birth, means to face life head on and to begin to manage and lead. To head a home with a clear, Jewish, Chassidic agenda; to create an atmosphere of joy and optimism with fiery faith; to broadcast stability, clarity and trust.

Not everything can be done by oneself. I made use of studying, reading and also of learned professionals.

In the past few years I have been privileged to be in close contact, to listen to, to suggest and sometimes even to guide many family men or community leaders who were coping with crises, emotional earthquakes or merely being stuck – some of them medical situations and some of them economic, and mainly emotional. The people who were able to change (Baruch Hashem, the vast majority of them) were those who understood and internalized that when Hashem gave them a task to do, He also gave them the tools to do it, and they must lift their head above the water and begin to lead.

That is my central message on my birthday. A birthday signifies emerging into the world as an independent unit. That is the moment in which a person becomes a miniature leader. And so, it is possible and even necessary to be born again a bit more all the time, and certainly on your birthday. Like with every birth, it might come with pain and cryng, but all this is nothing compared to the true joy that will follow.

One more thing; I once heard a wonderful sentence from Rabbi Yossi Jacobson: the perfect people are only those that I don’t yet know well. That is most probably the truth. We are not perfect, but we are good, and mainly, we can be even better in every realm of life.

On my special day I am blessing all my dear readers: May Hashem fulfill all your heart’s wishes for the good, in the material and the spiritual, in the visible, revealed good. And the main thing is that you should all merit to the complete and real Redemption soon, in our days.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski


Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.