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Rabbi's weekly Blog

Why? Because!

Today I am going to annoy some people – not intentionally, and not because I enjoy doing so, but because sometimes the simplest truth can be most annoying to hear.

I’ll begin with a story from my childhood. Yitzchak Shamir, who was then the prime Minister of the State of Israel, was known for his stubborn stance when it came to any suggestion that parts of the Land of Israel should be given over to our enemies. Once, when he was on a state visit to the U.S., he was invited to speak to a group of several hundred Jewish youths. When the question-and-answer period arrived at the end of his speech, one young man got up and asked: “Mr. Prime Minister, why do you absolutely refuse to give up East Jerusalem, and are not even willing to discuss the issue?” The audience was expecting a reasoned, learned answer, but was surprised to hear the prime minister give a two-word response: “Why? Because!”

When the press attacked him later, asking, “What kind of answer was that?” He answered: “A Jewish child has to know that there are questions that the answer to them is, ‘because!’.”

Annoying, isn’t it?

Well, Parashat Para that we will read tomorrow brings with it exactly this message of Shamir. A person (such as a Chevra Kadisha worker) who comes into contact with a dead person, becomes Tameh – ritually impure – and is not allowed to enter the Beit Hamikdash, the holy Temple. He cannot take part in bringing offerings such as Korban Pesach (the Passover sacrifice) etc. How will he become pure? The Torah says: “And they will take to you a red, unblemished cow.”

Here are some more details regarding this cow: It has to be at least three years old, it is slaughtered on the Mount of Olives and burned together with a piece of cedar wood, hyssop and crimson thread. The ashes are mixed with spring water, and it is this water that is sprinkled on the person who is Tameh (The Chevra Kadisha guy, poor thing…) on two separate occasions. And then, the person becomes pure and can once again enter the Beit Hamikdash.

You may ask, Why? Why a cow? Why a red cow? Why burn it? And the answer is: Because! Just like that. Hashem did not provide us with any explanation for this mitzvah, because there are some things, for which the answer to any questions regarding them is, “Because!”

It is true that on one hand we have been spending the last 3,300 years learning the Torah, understanding what it says and explaining it. The Mishnah and the Talmud, from the sages to the young boys who are sitting in yeshivahs and learning Torah – they’re all busy with trying to understand the Torah, and they actually do ask a lot of “why’s.” They also receive answers, usually several answers to every question. But at the base of this nation’s existence is a deep knowledge and strong faith that there are questions that the answer for which is “because!” And let us not forget that when we were offered the Torah we didn’t exactly ask why and how, but merely said, “We shall do and we shall hear.”

 

I don’t want to touch on politics, but in the case of Jerusalem, I agree with Mr. Shamir z”l. Why? Because!

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Do you intend to drink a lot?

 

Last Friday, a beloved friend of mine whom I met through Facebook (and, to tell the truth, our friendship is still rather virtual) asked me: “Do you intend to drink a lot?” “I won’t drink a lot,” I answered, simply because I have a lot of work to do on this day. I meet a lot of people and do not have the privilege of losing my faculties. “So how will you fulfill the obligation of ‘until he doesn’t know the difference between Cursed is Haman and Blessed is Mordechai’?” He persisted. I thought a bit. I admit that his question awakened something inside me. I didn’t have much time to respond, since he lives in Israel, and over there it was almost Shabbat and I was afraid that if I didn’t answer him immediately, he would continue to ask and would desecrate the Shabbat. After a moment of thought, this is what I wrote: “From my point of view, this is a spiritual matter. I have to try to take my conventions of ‘Cursed’ and ‘Blessed’ and reexamine them. This requires one to be humble.” He answered with a “Shabbat Shalom,” and I responded: “Umevorach”. And then, during Shabbat, I was left with the thoughts about what I had written.

Purim is a compact holiday. It possesses a very sublime spiritual power. But it comes and goes. It’s here for only one day, not for a week, like Pesach, and not for eight days, like Chanukah. It is not preceded by seven weeks of counting the Omer, and not even by ten days of doing teshuva. It comes with a bang and disappears after twenty-four hours. And I am thinking to myself: Am I really ready on this day to examine my “Cursed and Blessed”?

We live on this earth for many years. Everything seems clear and obvious to us. No questions, no answers. Who has time to stop and look? But then Purim comes and compels us to try to develop a different perspective. For instance, how does the world look through the eyes of a clown? And how does it look through the eyes of a king?

For dozens of years I’ve known what’s good and what’s bad, what’s cursed and what’s blessed. About what one says, “Great”, and about what one says “Oh vey!” Do I have the courage to attach question marks to these fixed ideas? According to the notions of the Western World, the main ingredient in the recipe for happiness is success in one’s professional life. Is that the truth, the only truth? For while we need a one-family house and a car in order to be happy, in villages in India or Africa you see people who will kept happy for a day by one apple, and for two days – by two apples.

Shall I go deeper? Do I have the courage to do so? It is possible that I will discover that things that I have strived for and even achieved are not really blessings, and the opposite is not really a curse? Maybe yes, maybe no, I’m not sure. It is possible that I will discover that what I’m doing is great, that the Cursed and the Blessed are in their right places. But one does have to check! To stop and allow ourselves to reach a state of “Until he doesn’t know between Cursed and Blessed.” It’s important. An honest venahafochu – flipping things over – for one day can bring us to a healthy venahafochu for many years to come.

Good friends of ours, who have acquired everything that the Western World has to offer in terms of advancing in life, were staying by us a while ago and said, “We did and still do everything according to the book. As you can see, we have been successful. But every once in a while we sit down at the end of another ‘good’ day and feel like mice in a laboratory, running around and around without having time to breathe.”

It’s wonderful to have friends like that; this way, I can talk about them and not about myself. For in order to question myself, I must be humble, as I have said already.

 

Happy Purim!!

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

A Rebbe’s education

 How does one educate children the right way? This is perhaps the most frequently asked question in the world. Every parent is concerned with it, examining the various systems, and I hope also consulting with professionals. In 1966, the Rebbe told a story that he heard from his father-in-law about the Ba’al Hatanya, the Admor Hazaken – the first Lubavitcher Rebbe – and his grandson, who later became the third Rebbe, the author of the Tzemach Tzedek. The story allows us a peek into the education he gave his grandson, who had been orphaned from his mother, and his grandfather, the Ba’al Hatanya, was responsible for his upbringing.

The Admor Hazaken enrolled his grandson in the Cheder, and told the teacher to learn with his grandson the first parasha in the book of Vayikra, the parasha we will read tomorrow morning in shul. After learning it, the child asked his grandfather: “Why is the aleph in the word ‘Vayikra’ small?”

Upon hearing the question, the Admor Hazaken sank into deveikus for a while and then said: “Adam Harishon was created by Hashem, and Hashem says about him (in a midrash) that his wisdom was greater than that of the heavenly angels. Adam Harishon knew how great he was but he was full of this awareness, and that led him to stumble on the matter of the Tree of Knowledge. Moshe Rabbeinu also knew how great he was, but not only was Moshe not full of this knowledge, but this knowledge actually led him to great humility. He thought, if another Jew who is not the son of Amram and not even the seventh generation from Avraham Avinu would have received a great soul like Moshe’s and if he also had the zechut Avot as Moshe had, that Jew would have been in a better spiritual state than Moshe Rabbeinu. About this is says in the Torah: ‘And the man Moshe was more humble than any man on earth.’ Because, upon meeting any other person, Moshe would think to himself: If he would have gotten the gifts that I received, the soul and the special zechut Avot, he would certain have been better than me.”

At the point the Admor Hazaken returned to his grandson’s question and said: “There are three types of letters that Hashem gave at Sinai large letters – about Adam Harishon, there is a large Aleph in Divrei Hayamim. Medium letters – most of the letters of the Torah are of medium size. Small – like the aleph that’s written at the end of the word Vayikra, indicating Moshe Rabbeinu. The Torah was written in medium-sized letters because a person should be medium, as the Rambam wrote in Hilchot De’ot, 4: The straight path is the medium path of every trait. Therefore, the early sages commanded that a person should assess his traits all the time and estimate them, and aim towards the middle path. The Torah is the means to reach this.

There is a large aleph in reference to Adam Harishon, because he was full of recognition of his status, and that, as mentioned, was the cause of his downfall.

Moshe Rabbeinu, on the other hand, received a small aleph, because through his inner work he brought himself to true humility, even though he was really very great.”

When the Rebbe brought this story in 1966, he said, among other things, that the reason the Admor Hazaken described the differences between those two great people, Moshe and Adam Harishon, at such great length, was that he knew that he was educating a child who was going to be a tzaddik and a great Jew, as the Tzemach Tzedek indeed became. So the educating grandfather was making it clear to his grandson: You have received many gifts – a very holy neshama as well as an especially illustrious lineage. But remember: if you don’t know how to lead your life right, if you will be full of your own greatness, you will be in danger of falling like Adam Harishon. In order to succeed, be like Moshe Rabbeinu. When you meet a Jew, think of the fact that if he had been the grandson of the Admor Hazaken, raised in his home and under his tutelage, perhaps he would have been better than you.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

crazily wonderful Shabbat!

 One of the friends of the Chabad House in Florida came to the Rebbe once with a complaint: “Your Shaliach in Florida, Rabbi Avraham Karf, has gone mad - Meshuge. He gives his all to the Chabad House; he has even mortgaged his own home for the Chabad House. There are limits!”

The Rebbe answered him, smiling: “Every town has its town Meshuge; my Shaliach is Miami’s town fool.”

In Parashat Pekudei we learn that when Moshe built the Mishkan (Tabernacle) he did something strange.

He brought the various components in, one by one, and immediately put them to use: “He put the Shulchan (table)… He prepared on it the setting of bread…; he placed the Menorah… He kindled the lamps…; He placed the Mizbach Hazahav (gold altar)… and on it he burned incense.” Only afterwards did he finish the construction of the Mishkan itself – “He placed the curtain of the entrance of the Mishkan.”

In the same way, offerings were brought on the main altar, and only afterwards did Moshe “erect the courtyard around the Mishkan and the Mizbe’ach.”

So, true, Moshe Rabbeinu was not a Yekke (Sorry, Baselers!), but the truth is that not only a Yekke but any orderly person would have completed the construction of the Mishkan and its courtyard, and only afterwards would have started the services there, right?

No, not always. There are two kinds of service, when it comes to service of Hashem. One is normal and logical, orderly and structured, going from the easier to the harder, step by step, without skipping any of them. But there are times in the lives of a person, as there are in the life of a nation, when things must be done differently: There is a need to jump ahead, to do what can be done as fast as possible, in order to acquire or save as much as possible. When Moshe Rabbeinu was finally putting together the Mishkan, which was meant to complete the atonement on the Sin of the Golden Calf and to bring the people closer to their Creator, he hadn’t a moment to lose. He therefore lit the Menorah – and started the other services as well – at the very first moment it was possible to do so, even though not everything was in place yet.

Forty years ago, the Shaliach in Miami knew that Jews were coming to Miami in an attempt to forget about Mother’s Friday night chicken soup, or Father’s moving Kiddush, and he had been sent by the Rebbe in order to remind them, to point the way, to bring light to these people. He hadn’t the time nor the luxury to wait until everything was worked out in an orderly fashion; rather, he had to do whatever he could, as fast as he could. And if they say that he’s crazy? Nu, he can’t really deny that.

 

May it be a crazily wonderful Shabbat!

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

there are no class differences!

 

In every society and within every group of people there are people of different social statuses. This is something intrinsic to society, and it has existed since the human race appeared.

All through history, human beings not only failed to minimize this phenomenon, but rather increased it. True, every few decades demonstrations and unrest broke out, to the point of violent uprisings against the discrimination that was the result of the class differences, especially in the past few generations, with the communism that promised that everyone would be ‘comrades’. But in the end, even when the uprising was successful and even when it brought about a revolution, it didn’t take long at all for the revolutionaries themselves to create an elite, leading once again to discrimination and to class differences.

This week’s parasha, parashat Vayakhel, relates to this topic and there is even an example of a behavior that would be worthwhile to adopt.

Two artists are mentioned in the Torah as those who were responsible for the building of the Mishkan. One, Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur, and the other, Oholiav ben Achisamach. Betzalel was of the elite par excellence – he belonged to the most important family in the desert, being a great-grandson of Miriam and Calev ben Yefuneh. Besides that, he had a family issue that needed his closure: His grandfather, Chur, was killed when trying to prevent Bnei Yisrael from making the Golden Calf, and the Mishkan that Betzalel was appointed to build was intended to atone for that exact sin. In other words, Betzalel is continuing the campaign that his grandfather died for, and therefore the Torah mentions his grandfather in his lineage. Oholiav ben Achisamach, on the other hand, is from the tribe of Dan, the second son of Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid. They were called “The children of the handmaids” – and were not regarded very highly. As mentioned, these were natural status differences, though not fair.

The Torah mentions Oholiav together with Betzalel, to teach us that when it comes to Hashem, there are no class differences! And also, perhaps, to make us do something to correct it – to search particularly for someone on the sidelines and bring him to the front of the stage? Maybe.

Here is what Rashi said:

“Oholiav was from the tribe of Dan, from the lesser of the tribes, the children of the handmaids. And Hashem placed him on equal level with Betzalel for the building of the Mishkan, and he is from the greatest of the tribes, to bring about what it says (Iyov 34:19): “nor lets a noble be given recognition over a pauper”.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

 

 

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