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Rabbi's weekly Blog

A Year of Growth

How many good wishes for the new year have you received already? I receive them all the time, and it is actually nice to get them. I also received a decorative arrangement that wished me everything at once: a year of abundance, riches, happiness, nachas, health, prosperity, love, joy, growth, a good living and success.

Since I’m such a nudge, I asked the sender: “What among all those good wishes that you sent me is the most important to you?”

The answer was immediate, clear and sharp: “Health! Everything else is a bonus.”

Health is indeed important. So I thought and also wrote to him. But in my opinion the most important wish is “growth”: spiritual, emotional and personal. “Growth without good health? How?” I was asked. I don’t know if I am right, but I answered according to what I feel: “If I have remained the same person I was last year, so what purpose is there in my merely surviving?”

“Right, of course one has to go forward. But without good health we are nothing,” was his response, thus expressing the Jewish survivalist approach, common in Israel, which says “The main thing is health.”

“I don’t know what’s better,” I answered. “A healthy person who does not grow spiritually or a sick person who does?”

For some reason he agreed with me, and I understood that I have a short and to-the-point weekly letter for the last Shabbat before Rosh Hashana.

And so, I say to you, my dear readers: The coming year is upon us and we are all praying, hoping and wishing others a good, sweet year, a year of good health and joy, a good living and nachas from the children, but everything – everything – will be worth many times more if we do not forget to grow spiritually, emotionally and personally, as well as in every other dimension.

May we be successful!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Do we really know how to forgive?

 Do we really know how to forgive?

Are we really capable of forgiving, of mechilah (absolution) and selichah (forgiveness)?

I am asking in all seriousness – for sometimes I am not sure.

Eighteen years ago I participated in a Shalom Bayit evening for young couples. The main speaker was Rabbi Mendel Gluchovsky shlit”a, the rabbi of the Chabad community in Rechovot, Israel. The speakers, Rabbi Gluchovsky included, spoke at length. But I remember only one thing that I have been thinking about since that evening. The Rabbi spoke about giving in. In marriage one must give in, and forgive. Without that, it won’t work. And what that means is to really give in and forgive.

Someone asked that evening: “What does ‘really’ mean?”

The Rabbi waited a moment, and then answered in his American accent: “There is a way to measure it. If in the next fight or argument that you two have you remind him of how you yielded in the previous fight and say, ‘And then too I gave in’ and the like, that is a sign that you never really yielded – you just repressed and hid your feelings. See – the fact is that in a moment of pain and tension that “giving in” came out of hiding, alive and well.”

Forgiving is something that we ask for and also grant others. I ask for forgiveness from a friend whom I might have hurt and I also forgive a friend who asks me to do so because perhaps he caused me pain.

The month of Elul is called “the month of rachamim (mercy) and forgiveness.” This coming Shabbat is called the “Selichot Shabbat”, because on motzai Shabbat the Ashkenazim start saying Selichot. We turn to Hashem and ask that He grant us forgiveness. This is the time in which we are busy with thoughts of selichah and mechilah. Hashem is omnipotent and I have no questions about him; I am sure that he can forgive. It is not for nothing that as part of the Selichot we quote the verse from Yeshayahu: “If your sins are like scarlet they will become white as snow; if they have become red as crimson, they will become white as wool.”

But ordinary people – are we really capable of forgiving and forgetting or will there always remain something of it inside us, which will awaken every time the subject will come up? And if so, how does one achieve true selichah? Maybe there is even a shortcut…

 

Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

A guardrail for undue pride

One of the good things that come with age is humility.

I don’t mean the humility in the sense that the word is usually used, which is humility in face of other people. That, actually, does not always come with age, and sometimes the opposite happens. I mean humility in face of the world, in face of the processes that we see, in face of Hashem.

The attribute of pride has earned many condemnations, and in my opinion justly. In this week’s parasha, on the passuk “You shall make a fence for your roof,” the Rebbe says that in terms of a person’s spiritual labors, this means a fence in front of the attribute of pride. If the simple meaning is dealing with the roof of an ordinary house, which needs a guardrail constructed so that no one will fall, when it comes to serving the Creator, the roof symbolizes rising up and feeling proud. And pride, as everyone knows, must have a railing and a fence that will limit it and prevent a person from falling as a result.

Usually, when we speak of pride, we imagine a person looking down his nose on others; perhaps even an arrogant person, who thinks and feels that everybody owes him something and that he is above everybody else. This is true, of course, but that is the easy form of pride. It can be seen clearly, and it is rather simple to know what to fix and how, because it is all out in the open. (By the way, usually we see this in another person and not in ourselves, but that is already a different topic.) The other form of the pride, the pride in face of the world, in face of the processes that take place in this world, which is really a pride in face of Hashem, the Creator of the World and its ruler – that is harder to identify. It’s a slippery attribute; the person doesn’t feel that he’s being arrogant.

For instance, if a person is working on a new project – a business one, or a social one – it is clear to him that if he does everything correctly and according to the book, he can expect that the result will be perfect. But life is not like that – there are always surprises, and then one can see if he is proud or humble. A person who relates to the world with unwarranted pride will get angry, will take it to heart and perhaps even fall into despair: I did everything right, so why isn’t it succeeding? But the humble person, the one who has already learned a thing or two in life, will accept the events with submission, maybe even with a smile, and say: “Well, everything is under Hashgacha Pratit (Divine Providence). I guess it still needs to percolate some more. Maybe there is a need here for a longer “cooking” period. And in general, no one owes me anything. The proud person might be angry, perhaps he will scowl and usually he will give up. The humble will take a deep breath, go off for Mincha and Maariv and start again the next day. Here comes the mitzvah of the guardrail – if you are like a roof, make yourself a guardrail.

So too in serving Hashem. The proud person will despair every time he stumbles and does an aveirah or engages in some forbidden pleasure. The humble person will feel pain, but will continue onward with the knowledge that he wasn’t born a tzaddik and that that’s the way of the world: failing is part of the process of serving Hashem.

The Admor Hazaken writes in Chapter 27 of the Tanya that if someone is saddened by his status and lowly spiritual condition, that means he is a proud person “who does not know his place, and therefore will feel bad that he is not on the level of a tzaddik.” A humble person is a person who knows his place, and someone like that, even if it hurts him that he did an aveirah or fell in some other way, will not fall into sadness and despair, because he knows that that is the way he was created: with a good inclination and a bad one. He knows his place. And the Admor Hazaken writes on in the Tanya that “therefore, a person’s heart should not despair and not feel so bad even if he spends his entire life on this war, because perhaps that is what he was created for, and this is his work.” In my opinion, this is the guardrail that a person should create for himself: not to fall into sadness and despair.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Soul Hunger

You know that sometimes you engage in emotional eating? It usually happens when the heart is suffering from emotional overload, and then we search for chocolate or ice cream, or both of them together, in order to calm down some inner discomfort that we can’t identify. A brave, wise and open person will know to look inward and will see that he has within him some sort of deep emotional hunger and the chocolate and ice cream do indeed help, but only for a short time, a very short time.

One doesn’t always have to fight it; usually the very recognition that it is emotional hunger already influences the internal feeling of fullness favorably. And the main thing is that the person knows that after he finishes the ice cream and the chocolate he has some emotional work to do.

There is also soul hunger. The soul is hungry for some nutrition. There are many ways to feed the soul. One of the easier ones is, simply, food. When a person eats in order to accomplish something positive by the eating itself, he is extracting the G-dly spark that is embedded in the food, and with it he feeds his neshama, his soul. Of course, this is true if the food is kosher. One cannot extract the G-dly spark that sustains non-kosher food by eating it.

When one is choosing food for the soul, it is preferable to choose a plant, a fruit or a vegetable. On the famous pasuk from parashat Shoftim, “For man is a tree of the field,” Chazal say, “This teaches us that a person’s life is only from the tree.” This is puzzling, because we also eat food that comes from animals, preferably medium/medium well, and there are those that I know personally who eat mainly meat.

In Chassidut it is explained that the meaning is not how much and from where man chooses to get his sustenance, but from where will he receive higher quality spiritual food. We have learned that “Not by bread alone does Man live, but by everything that emanates from G-d’s mouth does Man live.” According to Chassidut the meaning is that it is not the bread that is sustaining, but, rather, Hashem’s speech. The G-dly spark in the bread is what sustains you. And since the G-dly spark in the vegetable world, the emanation from G-d’s mouth that sustains the growing plant, comes from a higher root than that which sustains the animal, then vegetarian food feeds the soul better. And when Chazal said that the life of a person comes from the vegetable world, they are saying exactly that – that from the vegetable world he will receive better nutrition. It is superfood for the soul, or, to put it differently: start eating lettuce.

One way or another, a bit like with emotional hunger, the very knowledge and recognition that we are eating in order to satisfy the hunger of the soul is enough to put us in a better place, because then we will relate to everything we put into our mouth as something spiritual, with a goal, and not just another satisfaction of a desire.

 

May we succeed!

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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