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Rabbi's weekly Blog

Would you like to have a son like Avraham?

 Every year, when parashat Lech Lecha rolls around, everyone remembers Avraham and talks about him – the person who recognized his Creator all by himself when he was still a child. We tell of how he broke the idols belonging to his father, Terach. He is known as “Avraham ha’ivri” since he was always on the other side (ever) of the world. The whole world believed in and worshipped the sun, the moon, stars and idols, whereas Avraham, the father of monotheism, revealed to the world the belief in one G-d, the Creator of the World and its ruler.

As a child, I was taught how Avraham found his way independently and did not believe everything he was told. I understood even more later when I realized that he was very courageous. He was willing to question everything that he heard and saw, and he accepted only what he had figured out on his own.

But then something happened to me. My children were growing up and had reached the age at which they ask questions. And then I realized that I’m not so sure that I want a son like Avraham. I don’t want a child who will shatter all my beliefs. Actually, I prefer that a child who will not question everything that he hears and sees in his country and place of birth.

I asked a number of friends, and didn’t manage to find even one who was willing to say “Yes, I am perfectly willing that my son will take issue with everything that he hears from me, on the way to finding his own truth.” All my friends and acquaintances pray for a son like Yitzchak, who will follow their way happily, even at age 37, and it will be possible to say, “They went both of them together.” It is for that we pray earnestly.

I am still sticking to my opinion, and I assume that most of my friends are still with me in that. But – and it’s not a simple ‘but’ – is it possible that in the religious and charedi communities, and mainly as private people, parents have to be ready to give answers in case they get a son like Avraham Avinu?

Is it possible that we are facing a generation that doesn’t accept just any answer readily?

Perhaps, as parents, we have to take upon ourselves to learn what to say, when to say it and how to say it.

What do you think?

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Corona as a Mikvah

 The Corona is doing interesting things to us.

On the one hand, people are talking about a pandemic and masks and annoying restrictions and are praying that it will disappear and that the world will go back to its normal, familiar state.

But then, when one stops speaking to the microphones, in personal conversations many people admit that all in all the corona has improved their lives.

Of course, there is much pain over those who have been severely affected – and there are quite a few of those – but I’m talking about the world in general, which has been forced to change its ways and has become much more low-key.

A friend of mine said to me: “It was great to make a wedding for my children this way: several dozen people from each side, small-scale – and the main thing is that I wasn’t strained financially from it.” A close friend usually travels monthly between London, New York and Switzerland and now the fastest form of transportation he uses is an electric scooter. He says that physically he feels great, he is much calmer and his work hasn’t really been affected.

A Chabad shlicha who has married off all her children said to me: “For the first time in 40 years of shlichut I sat down to the Seder on Pesach with only my husband. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but it was a pleasure.”

Other friends dare to whisper to me that they enjoy being at home with the kids, enjoy getting to know them from up close.

Mothers tell secretly that the joy of a child who is not being sent to a daycare center at age six months but is staying home instead, makes it all worth it.

A good friend who has been working for the past six months from home says that he doesn’t know how he’ll go back to working in the company offices. He is so happy with the way things are now.

When I think about all this, I cannot escape feeling that the world has undergone a kind of purification, cleansing. The virus is forcing us to divest ourselves of various extraneous layers and meets us up with a more exposed version of ourselves, of our lives. Unfortunately, this has come with a painfully high price tag. Chassidut describes the Deluge of parashat Noach as a purifying mikvah, which washed off and cleansed the world. It is as if Hashem immersed the entire world in a mikvah. The price then was immense, but apparently the deed had to be done.

If I had the courage, I would say that the Corona virus, too, is a kind of mikvah for the whole world. It has brought about a peeling away of undesirable layers, purification, tahara and refinement of the world. By the way, there is no purification or peeling of layers without pain. Even peeling an onion provokes tears.

May we know to keep this in our lives even after the Corona.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

The name of the game

 A few weeks ago, a yeshiva boy called me up to consult with me. He is happy in the yeshiva, and he is learning quite well, but every once in a while he has days when he feels that he is not really connected to the yeshiva and to what it has to offer. Sometimes the learning and the davening really touch his soul and he feels that they are part of him, and sometimes this feeling disappears. He continues to learn and to daven, but he does it on automatic drive. Even during a hitva’adut, which naturally tends to connect, he sometimes feels a part of it and sometimes he just sits and waits for it to be over.

“Please advise me how to cope with this,” he requested.

“I have no advice for you,” I replied, “but I have a prophecy. This challenge of good days and days that are not so good is going to be part of your life till 120, be’ezrat Hashem in good health. Try not to get confused by it. Go forward knowing that there will always be ups and downs. For more than forty years I have been coping more or less with what you describe. That is the way we were created, and that is the name of the game.”

I didn’t have a quote for him at that moment, but this week I saw something that the Rebbe said on Shabbat Bereishit (the Shabbat when we read parashat Bereishit), 5742 (1981): “What is to be learned from the general story about the sin of the Tree of Knowledge is that the general work of man is that he has a yetzer hara  (evil inclination), and his job is not to be cowed by it; on the contrary, he should vanquish it. Of course, the work of battling the yetzer hara is a greater and more sublime work than working in a situation where there is no need to battle the yetzer hara.”

Shabbat Bereishit marks the end of the month of holidays, a month of spiritual elevation, when we detach somewhat from this material world. Practically, too, the many holidays keep us busy with davening and festive meals. The content and essence of the Yamim Noraim and the holidays also raise us up to great heights. Shabbat Bereishit is the bridge between this month full of spiritual abundance and the colorless winter routine, especially since Shabbat Bereishit is always the Shabbat on which we say Birkat Hachodesh for the month of Cheshvan, the month that symbolizes that routine. It seems that the Rebbe said what he said at the hitvaadut as preparation for the descent from the holidays. For a full month he had been raising them to heights, holiday after holiday, hitvaadut following hitvaadut – and then the climax of Simchat Torah, of course. He was now telling them: Friends, prepare yourselves. The next battle of perfecting your character in particular and serving Hashem in general is just around the corner. For, just like Adam Harishon, we have inclinations. Like him, we too have challenges and problems to cope with. Our job is not to be cowed by them.

There was only one thing that I asked the young man to do, at the end of our conversation: “Do yourself a favor. Do not define yourself by these negative feelings. Do not tell yourself: I don’t belong, I am not connected, I am not worthy. This is simply not true and therefore you would not be fair to yourself if you said this. Do tell yourself: I am a good Jew with a yetzer tov and a yetzer ra. I am a yeshiva student, a chassid, true to my purpose and a Torah Jew even on those days when my inner struggle feels a bit too much for me.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

The Krakow gangster

Max Redlich was Krakow’s Jewish gangster at the end of the 1930’s.

Max Redlich almost never went into a shul – neither he nor his cohorts – but on Monday, the 22nd of Kislev 5700, December 4th, 1939 he did go in; an Einsatzgruppen unit forced him to enter the old Stara Bozhnitza synagogue.

 

They didn’t meet him by chance. They had singled him out, precisely because he was the Krakow Jewish gangster.

 

They gathered in that shul a group of religious Jews who prayed there regularly, together with a group of Jews who were not synagogue goers as a rule. With their bloodstained hands they opened the holy ark, removed a Sefer Torah from it, and ordered everyone to walk by it and spit on it – not on the mantel or the gartel, but directly on the holy letters of the Torah, inked on the parchment. I have no way to comprehend the pleasure those German beasts received from watching the Jews being humiliated this way.

 

There was no way to avoid it. The spittle was supposed to land clearly on the parchment.

 

Jews going by the holy ark in a line – that was a familiar scene from the hakafot of Simchat Torah. But the hakafot of the Einzatzgruppen… Oy.

 

 As mentioned, they had no choice. The strictly religious and those that weren’t – one by one they went by and spit, brokenhearted, on the Sefer Torah. All of them – except for Max Redlich. He refused to spit.

 

The Krakow gangster faced the Nazis and, with his head held high, said, “I have done many things, but this I will not do.”

 

He was the first to be killed, and after that they killed all the others and set fire to the shul.

 

Max Redlich is my hero on Simchat Torah. He proved that the Sefer Torah belongs to him no less than to any other Jew, and, when the moment of truth came, even more than to any other Jew.

 

The holy gangster of Krakow is looking at the whites of our eyes and saying, with his head held high: The Torah belongs to all of us. It doesn’t matter what you are called by people and what you do every day; the Torah is yours. This book belongs to all of us.

 

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

The Menorah on the Roof of My Volvo

At the time, I had an old Volvo station-wagon, to which I attached a large menorah that I had managed to get in Israel and had had transported, with much effort and expense on my part.

It was my second year in Basel, and I saw this menorah as being a significant accomplishment. And so, I parked my Volvo next to the shul and went in to daven Shacharit, happy and excited.

But then, a Jew some thirty years older than me approached me, looking angry, with a readymade speech, which he delivered in direct and rapid German: “I don’t like the menorah on your car. It is not suitable here. I do not think it encourages respect towards Judaism.”

I was rather naïve; I knew that there were those who object to my activities, but I didn’t think that a menorah on a car, emblazoned with “Happy Chanukah” greetings, would create problems.

To tell the truth, the situation was not easy for me. It is no fun to be criticized, certainly not in such a vociferous way, and that after all my efforts. At first, I thought to answer the man with equally vehement words, but Hashem helped me and I stopped, took a deep breath, looked in his eyes and said: “Just look: you oppose it adamantly, and I am fully in favor of it. You don’t like the menorah on the car, and I am very happy and love it. And yet, we are still friends, divided in our opinions, but loving each other in our hearts.”

I still remember the surprised look he gave me. He was ready with a suitable response to the reaction he thought he was going to get, but now he was left open-mouthed. And then, with a broad smile, he said: “I wish you good health, young Rabbi. What is going to be with you? We can’t even fight anymore, like Jews.”

Why am I telling you a Chanukah story on the day before Succot?

Because Succot is the holiday of unity.

The festival of Succot is the festival during which we unite four different – and even diametrically opposed – species and make a blessing on them. Moreover, halachically, we cannot make that blessing without tying all four together.

In three words, all that we are asked is to maintain “Unity, not uniformity.”

We are not required to be uniform; but we are definitely required to live in peace and quiet, in love and interpersonal unity.

Sometimes it seems to me that we are becoming more and more narrow in our opinions, without being able to contain any other opinion or thought, and certainly not a diametrically opposed one. But that is not the truth.

The truth is, that we are much better than that. We can certainly accede to this demand that the holiday of Succot makes of us, and remain friends, in spite of the differences of opinion among us.

This is the time to bring out this light, to enable ourselves to hear a different opinion and to listen to it with love.

Unity, not uniformity.

 

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Same’ach!

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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