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Rabbi's weekly Blog

I Was In Darkness Too

Many times I have gone through the plague of darkness.

Some people might say that everyone experiences various periods of darkness. Usually they mean physical and material darkness – poverty, or, G-d forbid, a loss, grief; illness or pain.

In my mind that is not the definition of darkness; rather, that situation has much light. Because when a person sees and is aware of the low place he is in, then he is experiencing light. He sees. While he is coping with difficulties and pain, his eyes are open to the darkness, so he has light. Like the Jewish people who indeed were still slaves of Pharaoh, not free, but the Torah says about them that they “had light in their dwellings.” Because they saw and understood their situation, and when a person understands and knows his situation, even if it is miserable and painful, then this is light and not darkness.

Darkness is when we are in a life situation and don’t even know that it is darkness, don’t even know that there is such a thing as light, and therefore, of course do not dream that it is possible to go from the darkness to light.

Often I encounter a person who tells me about his marriage, or about how he handles life and I, looking on from the side (and it’s so easy to look on from the side…) am instantly aware of the darkness he’s in, and I understand that he is experiencing a “plague of darkness” and doesn’t even see that he’s in the dark. For if he would see the darkness he’s in he would not be willing to tolerate it. He would not be willing to receive crumbs instead of a loaf of bread. Right now, he thinks he is feeling great, but that is only because the darkness is preventing him from realizing that there is a loaf of bread here, and he is receiving only crumbs from it.

It is the same with our spiritual lives. Almost every Chabadnik can point to one particular hitva’adut in which he woke up and saw for the first time that he is in darkness. Sometimes it is just one single sentence that the Rabbi or the teacher said in that hitva’adut that awakened him.

There is always a light at the end of the tunnel, but that is already the second or third stage. The first stage is to have “light in one’s dwelling” – to know that one is indeed still in Egypt, subject to Pharaoh, but there is a light shining that says, “Hello, you are living in darkness.” And then, I am sure that a healthy person will not rest until he achieves freedom and live in light.

 

Good luck!

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Aharon’s Staff

Every public person finds himself in a situation where he must speak harshly to someone. And not only public personalities: almost every person who is in contact with other people (namely, most of us), and especially teachers and parents, face this dilemma.

These days there is a lot of talk about “unconditional love”. And it is true: we must love our children unconditionally. And not only must we love them, but we must also express that love. But the problem is that sometimes one must also rebuke. Sometimes one is supposed to use the maxim of smol dochah veyamin mekarevet – the left hand should push away and the right hand should draw near. How does one do that correctly? Does it contradict the idea of unconditional love?

The Rebbe brings from the parasha, parashat Va’era, a two word concept, which defines and explains things at the same time: Aharon’s staff.

Aharon Hacohen is a symbol of love; he loved peace and pursued it, loved people and brought them closer to Torah. It is not for nothing that the entire Jewish People mourned him for thirty days after his death. Rashi elaborates: “The entire Jewish People. The men and the women, because Aharon pursued peace and brought about love.”

But Aharon also had a staff. A staff symbolizes a difficulty, or a blow, and Aharon knew to use it as well when there was a need to be firm. But this was Aharon’s staff: a staff of love, hardness, and firmness of love.

Said the Rebbe in Likutei Sichot 26: when one is dealing with another Jew, the way to go is “the right draws near”, out of love for the Jewish people, as was the custom of Aharon Hacohen, who “loved peace and pursued it, loved people and brought them closer to Torah.” As the Ba’al Hatanya writes, the correct way is to use “ropes of love”.

But sometimes there is no choice. As an educator, a public personality or a parent you understand that the only way to act right now is to strike “verbal blows”. And then one should remember that the staff should be Aharon’s staff. It has to come from a place of true love. Only that way can one rebuke another; only that way can the rebuke really have an effect.

May we remember this at moments of anger and frustration.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Dvora’s Grandmother

This time I want to tell you about a woman who passed away this week: Mrs. Tzippora Barkhan, zichrona livracha, my wife’s grandmother and my children’s great-grandmother. We are in the habit of extolling the special people, the dreamers who have made their dreams come true, those who have unusual aspirations that they actually implement, the successful entrepreneurs.

But not today.

Today I want to tell you about a chassidic woman, who was born to an illustrious Chabad family in one of the centers of Chabad Chassidism and was raised there: the city Kremenchug in the Ukraine. She met her future husband in Samarkand during the war and afterwards lived in Riga, Latvia, until coming on Aliyah in 5729 (1969).

She was a simple and honest woman whose wishes were “only” that her children would be chassidim and G-d fearing. Her husband, the famous Rabbi Notke Barkhan and his friends kept the embers of Riga’s Judaism alive devotedly during the terrible years of Stalin’s terror regime. But not she – all she did was establish and maintain a strong Jewish and chassidic home – simply, without Messirut Nefesh, just with the plain knowledge that this is the only way.

For twenty years they lived in the Holy Land after years of waiting and hoping to be redeemed and to leave the Soviet nightmare, and were an inseparable part of the Chabad community in Lod. In 5749 (1989), only two years after the Soviet Union crumbled as part of Gorbachev’s Perestroika, she left with her husband to become the Rebbe’s emissaries in Riga, Latvia. She was sixty-three years old at the time. Her children had their own families in Israel, and she packed up her life and went back to the “nightmare” she had left just twenty years earlier. If you would have asked her, she would have said that here too there was no self-sacrificing in her deeds – it was just the way to go, and she’s a Chabadnik who does what has to be done, what the Rebbe requests.

She was so simple and standard that in every meeting with her grandchildren she asked them mainly about how they were making a living. She asked that they buy themselves apartments, because every person needs an apartment and financial security, because one must work and one needs money.

Tzippora Barkhan passed away at the venerable age of 94, with more than one hundred and thirty descendants mourning her. She merited to see her “standard” wishes come true. All her descendants are chassidim and G-d fearing Jews and this is a blessing, of course, and a merit that is not to be taken for granted, certainly not then, in Soviet Russia. And between us, not today either. And yes, she lived to see that they are all working and earning a nice living, and that too is not an insignificant thing.

May we all merit such a life!

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Yes You Can

The Creator of the World arranged things so that every week I spend quite a few hours on the phone with people who are at a crossroads in their lives, or are undergoing some crisis or other. Some of them are rabbis or shluchim who are encountering a challenge in their public lives and some are just ordinary people trying to cope with the challenges of life, like all of us.

It doesn’t matter if the challenge relates to the public, or to a single person, parenthood, marital life or coping with a disease; the most significant move on my part is to bring the person to the recognition that there is a way out from the situation he is in, and that the key to that is in his own pocket. It is not easy, and it has to be based on the firm faith in Divine Providence that leads a person on a path that is uniquely his. But one thing I know for sure: From the moment a person reaches the conclusion that there is some way out and that he is capable of changing his fate, both his present and his future, then the door has begun to open and one can begin to walk on, usually very slowly. Sometimes these are almost invisible steps, but they are steps indeed.

The sons of Yaakov in general and Yosef in particular are the poster boys and the model for anyone who is facing challenges and crises, ups and downs. Almost everyone coping with something (and who isn’t?) can find a meeting point between Yosef’s story and his own life and identify with him.

There is much to learn from Yosef’s life, from the moment he lost his mother and on to his relationship with his brothers, his being taken to Egypt under painful circumstances, his rising to a position of royalty and his facing his brothers again. The firm belief that “It is not you who have sent me here but, rather, G-d” seems to have been the central theme of his life.

But there is something more: Before his death, Yosef used the phrase “pakod yifkod” (Hashem will indeed remember you); it was actually a code that he was giving them, a code that would one day be used by the person who will redeem them. ”I am about to die, but G-d will surely remember you and bring you up out of this land to the land that He swore to Avraham to Yitzchak and to Yaakov.” And, indeed, when Moshe came to redeem them he spoke that phrase – pakod yifkod, and when he came to take Yosef’s coffin out of Egypt, he said once again, “for he (Yosef) had firmly adjured Bnei Yisrael, saying, G-d will pakod yifkod – surely remember you.”

I hear in this code a message that Yosef was giving, saying, there is a clear goal in your coming down to Egypt, and I am handing you the code of redemption. Why was it important to him that they know there is such a code? Because the very fact of knowing that we have a way out is so powerful, that it has the strength to make us proceed with our heads held high even in the moments of difficulty, and in that way we can change our situation in the present as well.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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