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The Eggplant Effect

 

Ever heard of the Eggplant Effect?

If you will ever happen to stay in our house and listen to our conversations, you might hear me or my wife suddenly saying, “Yes, that’s the Eggplant Effect.” No, it’s not that we have invented a mysterious family code or set up a secret society; it is just something that happened to us and since then it has come to symbolize a state of affairs.

It goes like this: For years we made an eggplant and mayonnaise salad – known in America, strangely enough, as baba ghanoush – the following way: we would roast eggplants on a skillet (there are no gas ranges here) until they soften, mash them manually with a fork, add fresh crushed garlic, a touch of salt and Thomy mayonnaise, and the salad would be ready. We used to say that there is no such thing as a guest who could withstand this salad. It would always be gobbled up quickly, and when no one was looking, people would even mop up the remnants with challah.

But, things changed. Due to life’s pressures and having young children we made a few changes. At the beginning we just softened the eggplants in the oven, without roasting them; after a while we began to use a food processor to mash them, not a fork. Later on, we were often short for time and instead of fresh crushed garlic we would put in garlic powder. Well, at that point we noticed that our eggplant salad remained on the plates. People wouldn’t take much, wouldn’t eat much, and certainly wouldn’t mop up what remained. That was the moment that we understood that we had gone too far and that the rules of preparing eggplant must be abided. We looked into the matter, and very quickly returned to the original recipe: roasting, mashing, crushing. And the guests went back to mopping.

Since then, whenever we notice changes in how things are going, we know that the Eggplant Effect is at work. We immediately check to see where we have drifted away from the recipe. If you see that a certain child is behaving differently – perhaps his marks are dropping – see what has been changed in the recipe. Is it possible that once upon a time you used to put more time into learning the material with him? If people treat you differently at work, is it possible that you are being less friendly and outgoing? If your success rate has decreased, it’s a good idea to check what has changed in the process. Have you skipped something, or perhaps you are cutting corners? There is a pretty good chance that what is going on here is the Eggplant Effect.

Why was I reminded of all this today? Because today I was visited by a dear Jew who went through a long process of doing teshuva, but recently he has been investing less in his spiritual life – he comes less, claims to be too busy. We learned the first pasuk of parashat Bechukotai, which we will read this Shabbat outside of Eretz Yisrael. “If you will walk in My statutes…” I said to him: “Listen, my friend. The statutes and their details have meaning. They influence us and our way of life.” I told him about our Eggplant Effect and he understood that if he changes even the seemingly minor aspects of his behavior, it is like exchanging fresh crushed garlic with garlic powder: the result just won’t be the same.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

What’s your center?

Have you heard about the “center”?

If you have seen a coach recently, or if you have even read articles by coaches of this generation, you must have encountered the concept of “center”. Life coaches will tell you that in everything you do in life – any job or project, task or even trip – you should make sure that you are not losing your center – in other words, that you are not losing your focus. When one knows why one is getting up in the morning – that is one’s center. And if one’s day is built around it, one’s schedule and choices will be clear and correct, and have a minimum of frustrations. When a family goes off on a trip, and knows the trip’s purpose, that is the trip’s center, and from then one the choice of sites or the effort and cost of the choice will be right, and healthier, because they will mirror the trip’s center.

By the way, when a man or woman are searching for a life-partner, they can save themselves most of the doubts and deliberations if they know what their center is in life.

In the second passuk of parashat Behar, the Torah tells us what the center of our life is.

Parashat Behar, which we will read tomorrow outside of Eretz Yisrael, opens with the mitzvah of Shmittah, but the order of the psukim is somewhat puzzling. The command to make a year of Shmittah, a year during which one does not work the land, comes before the Torah tells us to work the land for six years. “When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Sabbath rest of Hashem. Six years you may sow your field and for six years you may prune your vineyard.” Logically, the correct order should have been: come into the land, work for six years and then make a Sabbath year, a shmittah. Why did the Torah write it that way?

In a general letter that the Rebbe wrote during the days of Selichot of 1965 “to sons and daughters of Israel in every place,” he brought up this question, and explained: “The order in the Torah is also a teaching in itself. The order in relation to the shmittah teaches us what our approach to life should be: when a person comes to a land and has to arrange his life, he should know that the foremost, most important thing, both in terms of worldview and as a goal, is ‘Sabbath for Hashem.’ Not the material, earthly pursuits, but the spiritual and holiness-oriented ones. This approach ensures that he will not drown in material, earthly matters. Moreover, when this idea is always in front of him, the six days of grey routine change; they lose a great part of their everyday-ness. They send out more light and are fuller with content. This is the way to create a full and harmonious life.”

The Shmittah, which is a Sabbath for Hashem, is what should be the “center” of the six years of plowing and sowing, just like the weekly Shabbat and what it represents should be the center of the six days of the week. And if there is a clear center, everything is much simpler.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

The Tithe from What I Own

Last week on Friday, when I was cutting up the potatoes for the Chabad House cholent(by the way, one of the best cholents in Europe), a man called me with a question: “I bought potatoes in a store in Germany on the border, and when I got home I saw that they came from Israel. What about ma’aser? (taking tithes).

Well, since we have no assurance that the potatoes intended for export undergo the separating of the tithes by the Rabbinate in Israel, our custom is to take ma’aser without making a bracha on it. So I sent him the text of ma’aser-taking and remembered suddenly that I buy my vegetables in the same store – so my cholent too needs to be tithed. I took the text and began to prepare myself for the mitzvah of ma’aser, while feeling uncomfortable. What am I doing? Where is there a poor person or a cohen? Why am I taking ma’aser from my cholent? But I’ve been a Jew for enough years to know that one does mitzvos even without understanding them exactly. And that it was what I did, with care. A moment after I finished, I suddenly understood everything. I suddenly grasped the idea that the very fact that I stopped everything I was doing, went to get the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, washed my hands, took the ma’aser and said the proper words as dictated – that is the issue itself. That is precisely the goal, that every once in a while I’ll stop everything and remember that not everything here is mine, not everything is in my possession, or in my hands. Moreover, I myself am in G-d’s hands, his Torah and mitzvos. And this is the proof of it.

This week I studied parashat Emor, which we will read tomorrow outside of Eretz Yisrael. I took some time while studying the mitzvos of leket, shichecha and peah (leaving behind in the field the few stalks that fall out of the grasp of the harvester, leaving behind whatever has been forgotten in the field and leaving the edge of the field unharvested – all for the poor). Unlike ma’aser, we don’t encounter leket, shichecha and peah in our daily life, and only know it from the books, and, of course, from the megillah of Ruth. Most of us do not have fields and we really don’t know any poor people who go to the fields to collect the leftovers that the owner of the field is commanded to leave behind. By Divine Providence, I happened upon a wonderful explanation of Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, who worked out last Friday’s ma’aser question as well. So I am sharing it with you:

“But this is the reason: while harvesting wheat or grapes a person looks at what nature has done for him, and what he will be bringing to his house as the fruit of his labors. At that time a person says that proud and highly-consequential word: “mine”. And now (from the moment that the mitzvah of giving to the poor is mentioned), every citizen in the nation will remember and express in action that every person who says “this is mine” has already been obligated to take care of others. His vineyard and field did not give their crops to him alone; while laboring in the field, he was not working only for himself. Because in Hashem’s land the caring for the poor person and the ger is not given over to the feelings of commiseration; it is not dependent on the fear of the owners from the danger they face from the despair of the poor, but it is a merit that Hashem gave to the poor, and it is an obligation that Hashem has placed on the landowners.”

A bit of perspective in life – that’s how what this mitzvah gives us can be expressed in one word.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

The Rabbi and the washing machine

I will start with something personal. For over six years I have been writing this column every week, usually about something connected to the weekly parasha. Having been raised on the educational principles of the Rebbe, I try to make sure that there will always be something practical mentioned so that the reader – if he wants too – will be able to implement it in his life. It is not always easy. Not because it is hard for me to write, or because the preparations and the writing take a long time – these are technical matters that can be dealt with, with proper planning. No, it is not always easy because I try very hard not to write about things that I’m not holding with myself. Because if there is something that they managed to instill me of the Chassidic education, it is not to talk and certainly not to demand from another something that you’re not doing yourself.

This week I will depart from this custom of mine and my message will be a goal that I plan to make an effort to reach, and may we all be successful in this endeavor!

Rabbi Reuven Donin z”l was probably the Chabadnik that influenced the most Jews over the years and brought them closer to their souls and Source of Life. I don’t have any numbers, but today we are talking about generations, since there are children today whose grandfather found his way to our Father in Heaven through “the house on 3 Borochov Street.” Much has been said and written about Reuven and his way, a man in whom the truth shone; indeed, it shone through him, “al emet,” he would have said – “really”.

There is, though, something special that fascinates me: Reuven was totally dedicated to doing good to others. He did it as though it were his official job. From everything I have read about him, it is the story of the washing machine that doesn’t leave me. Reuven had a knack for technical things; in his youth he even fixed washing machines. An older person named “Barry” told that “for close to forty years Reuven would come to help me as necessary, in fixing the washing machine. During his last years it was hard for him to climb the steps up to my apartment because of breathing problems he had. I remember how he once arrived at my house huffing and puffing, and said, “Give me a moment to catch my breath, and I will start working immediately.”

How many Rabbis and spiritual influencers do you know who show up with a tool chest, catch their breath and then bend over the washing machine, getting themselves wet and dirty, and fixing the machine?

 

In parashat Kedoshom that will we read tomorrow outside of Eretz Israel, we have the well-known pasuk, “You shall love your fellow as yourself.” On Shavuot, 5718 (1958), the Rebbe told over something that he had heard from his father-in-law, the Rietz, who had heard in the name of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov, who had heard from the Ba’al Shem Tov: It says in Pirkei Avot “Any Torah that has no melacha (craft) with it – ends up being null and void.” The Ba’al Shem Tov said that “melacha” here refers to involving oneself with the love of Jews. In order for the Torah to continue to exist, this melacha has to join it. This idea influenced the Berditchov Rav, and all his life his behavior consisted of dealing with loving other Jews. The Rebbe continues: “The meaning of ‘dealing with’ is like that of a business. A businessman, a merchant, does not sit at home with his merchandise and wait until someone finds out he has something to sell and know its value and come to buy some. The merchant opens a store in a place where people go by, and hangs a sign so that all those passersby will know that there is merchandise here. He doesn’t stop there either: he goes and publicizes his merchandise, stating its good quality and trying to convince people to buy from him. He makes great efforts so that people will buy what he has to sell.” Yes, this is the way the involvement with the love of Jews should be according to the Ba’al Shem Tov – it should be like a trade. Doing chessed in material ways influences a person no less – and sometimes more – than doing chessed in spiritual matters.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

A moment of silence

Like most of you, as of last Friday I didn’t know who Rabbi Yisrael Goldstein is. Like almost everyone, I had never heard about Laurie Kay Hy”d, and I didn’t know that there is a city named Poway in California. But the Rebbe knew Rabbi Goldstein, knew that there is such a place as Poway and that there are not a few “Laurie Kays” who need Judaism in their lives. On December 12th 1980 Poway was declared a city and in 1986 Rabbi Goldstein was sent there and opened a Chabad House.

Like everyone, I view Rabbi Goldstein with much admiration. It seems that this person never gets confused; is always focused, whether when walking into the gunfire in order to save as many congregants as possible, or when refusing to be removed from the scene until everything has calmed down. He even remained standing on a chair facing the congregation, with his hand bandaged with a blood-soaked tallit covering his amputated fingers, and called to his flock to never to recoil or be afraid. One can see that this man is infused – to his fingertips – with a clear and sharp faith in the Torah, with love for other Jews and with faith in the G-d of the Jews.

Like many millions, I too watched his speech on the White House lawn, and there too, he remained focused. He knows exactly who he is, who sent him there and for what purpose. His goal is clear to him, and he knows how he is going to make use of the few minutes given to him in front an audience of millions. It seems he never heard the term “politically correct”. He stands there, tie-less and without any airs, in a chassidic coat showing signs of matzah and the four cups of wine, and, using his bandaged hands, he asks for a moment of silence. Why a moment of silence?

This is what the Rebbe said on the 11th of Nissan, 5744, 1984, about two years before the Chabad House opened in Poway: “In the month of spring the renewal of the entire creation happens; as you can see, during this period the trees and the grasses etc. start to bloom, and this is reflected in halacha as well – ‘He who goes out during the days of Nissan and sees trees blooming, makes the blessing,Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the World, Who didn’t leave anything out of his world, and created in it good creations and good trees for the pleasure of human beings’. This is a special blessing connected with the renewal of the world. And therefore this is the most fitting time to act so that the running of the entire world – which is being renewed during this period – will be based on justice and honesty.”

How will we act upon the world, so that it will be run according to justice and honesty? Through the young people. How will we influence the young people? By instilling in them the simple faith in the Creator of the World, Who hears and sees everything. And how will we instill within them this simple recognition? Not by talking or persuading, and certainly not through shouting. Yes, by silence. It’s always good to be silent for a bit. “A moment of silence” every morning, sixty seconds during which the child will stop and think about the Creator of the World, about the wonderful world that He created, about how he is here for a certain purpose, and mainly, that Hashem can see and hear anything; He even reads thoughts. To quote the Rebbe: “The advantage of thinking is that it doesn’t have to ‘imitate” another, and there is no need to fear the other, because no one knows what one is thinking – besides the Creator of the World and its ruler.” Because simple faith in the fact that there is a ruler to the world – that and only that has the power to influence a person to act right even when there is no policeman around, and to be honest even when no one is watching.

And then the Rebbe continues and asks to establish a “moment of silence” in all schools – of all types, ethnicities, religions, nations – and in a few words he gives a wonderful guideline to his chassidim how to do it right: “When one comes to do an act whose point is to fulfill the will of the Creator – one must remember that the Creator wants it done pleasantly and peacefully, bringing hearts closer, and certainly not from a place of war and victory.” One can tell that Rabbi Yisrael Goldstein is quite well versed in his Rebbe’s writings.

Not only the children – the parents will be influenced by this as well, because they will be the ones who will have to explain to their children how to make good use of this moment of silence, “so that together with the material food – a sandwich – which one gives a child when he goes to school, they will feed him some spiritual food as well – the recognition of the Creator of the World and its Ruler, which is the only guarantee that people will behave according to the rules of justice and honesty.”

Rabbi Goldstein, I salute you!

Shabbat Shalom, and have a healthy summer,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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