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Rabbi's weekly Blog

A letter to a friend

Change the curse into a blessing – if not all of it, at least see part of it as a blessing.

In parashat Balak, which we will read this week in the diaspora, there is one central story: Bilaam goes to curse the Jewish People and Hashem changes the curse into a blessing. How simple it seems when Hashem arranges everything in a moment. But, my friend, believe me, we too have the ability to turn a curse into a blessing, and, as mentioned, if not all if it, as Hashem did with Bilaam, then at least part of it can be seen by us as a blessing.

We are coming from the days of the geulah – the 12th and 13th of Tammuz, the days when we mark the release of the Rietz (the sixth Rebbe of Chabad) from the Soviet jail in 1927 – 5687. He and his chassidim struggled to maintain their Judaism in Russia. The Russian authorities didn’t like this very much, and the Rebbe suffered greatly in their jail, but was finally released. You know very well the extent of the Rebbe’s suffering – both material and spiritual – in that jail. But still, here is what he wrote seven years later, written like only he could write:

“A person, besides having set periods during his life – childhood, youth, young adulthood, marriage, the days of full adulthood, old age – and besides the state of his talents, be they ordinary and mediocre, or shining and wonderful, and his nature, whether he is shy and sad or happy and gregarious, besides all that, the Supreme Divine Providence arranges for him special periods that sometimes change the person’s nature and develop his talents, placing him on a special height, from where he can see the purpose of a person’s life on this earth.  

“The period that is strongest in its action on a person’s psyche and the development of his talents is the period rich with suffering and torture due to propagandizing vigorously for some idea, especially someone who struggles and fights with his persecutors for the sake of the upholding and strengthening of his religion. Such a period, while it means body and soul torture and suffering, is rich in strong effects and they are the days of light in a person’s life.”

It is not pleasant to go through difficult times. No one chooses to do so and may it be that no person will have to experience periods of difficulty and trial anymore, but – and that is a big and important but – when it comes already, the person can turn the curse into a blessing, or at least find and see the blessing hidden in the curse, to the point that he will be able to say, as the Rebbe wrote, “And they are the days of light in a person’s life.”

Blessing you with a geulah sheleimah, when we won’t need special abilities to see the good in everything,

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Law of soul and faith

 First, a spoiler: Many of the rabbis outside Eretz Yisrael will devote their sermons tomorrow to the concept of chukah. Parashat Chukat, which will be read tomorrow in the diaspora, opens with the words “Zot chukat haTorah” (This is the decree of the Torah) and goes on to describe the mitzvah of Parah Adumah (Red Heifer).

The speakers will talk about the three types of mitzvos: mishpatim, eduyot and chukim, and then they will most probably go on to speak of the sublimity of the chukim – those mitzvos like tum’a and tahara (ritual purity and impurity), kashrut, and, of course, the Parah Adumah about which Hashem said: “I made a statute, I made a decree.” These mitzvos seemingly have no reason or explanation; we simply do not understand them. We were not told why and for what purpose they should be done. We observe them just because we were commanded to do so by the Creator. And that’s all there is to it.

In the past year, I have had the opportunity to encounter a chok of a slightly different type: a law relating to our souls and our faith. I noticed that at particularly challenging moments, when a person might be in a state of not having the strength to continue, he has to continue anyway – for no reason and without any explanation, as in “This is the decree of the Torah”. This is the way things are.

Sometimes he has to carry with him other people who might be awaiting his smile, and he finds he cannot supply it. People are depending on his strength and he feels he has none. They want to hear his words, and they have disappeared. He is silent. Then he will be able, if he will only wish it, to meet that soul-and-faith law that was instilled in him and says to him: You do have the strength to go on; you do have the ability to smile and to be joyous; you do have those words of encouragement and empowerment for others. You have all this because Hashem instilled these abilities in you, as a hard-core decree.

And I saw something else: I saw that when people believe in this soul-and-faith law, they can lift themselves up and continue forward, their heads held high, with confidence, emunah and joy.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Do You Believe In Young People?

 

Dear Friends,

 

I am only 42 years old, and I admit that I don’t listen very seriously to young people, say, 22-year-olds. That is, I do listen but I don’t consider their opinions and abilities to be very important. Something in me says, “Well, when you grow up, you’ll understand.”

I admit that I was also on the other side – more than once. When I was much younger, people who were older than me – double my age – didn’t always take me and my abilities seriously. The truth is, looking down from the height of my 42 years of being on this earth, I rather understand them.

My mother, may she live, was 22 years old when she went into a yechidut (personal meeting with the Rebbe) for the first time. She came for a visit that included her older brother’s wedding, and went into the Rebbe to be blessed. But the Rebbe, who was over sixty years old, saw this little 22-year-old girl and said to her: “You have strengths, you have abilities. Go speak to girls in the summer camps: you can influence them. Do it.” She tried to object, perhaps argue with him. After all, a young woman from a small settlement in Israel that has one car, a few telephone lines and many horses and cars can travel all over the United States and speak in public? And influence people?

My mother didn’t believe at the time in herself and her abilities, but the Rebbe believed in her. And whoever knows her today knows that he was right – very right. Today there are hundreds and perhaps thousands of women who have been influenced by her. It may be right to say that Rebbe not only believed in her: he actually revealed her, revealed her to herself, revealed to her what her true abilities are.

I didn’t come to write about my mother, but about the Rebbe. Because what the Rebbe did with my mother he did with everyone he was in contact with. He told all of them: “You don’t really know yourselves; you can do more.” And actually, he didn’t only say it in the past – he’s still saying it. Whoever is willing to open his heart and mind will know to go to the books and the recordings and there he (or she) will hear that the Lubavitcher Rebbe believes in him much more than he believes in himself.

This Shabbat is the 3 rd of Tammuz, the day that the Rebbe left this material world and moved on to the spiritual one. And as strange as this might sound, and as surprising as this may be, the Rebbe is present in our world more and more every year. But this recognition is the lot only of those who are willing, as mentioned, to open their hearts and minds.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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