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Rabbi's weekly Blog

You Have a Good Father

There are moments and experiences that only tight spots and untimely pressures can produce.

I was at one such experience this week, something that took place between a father and his daughter moments before her chuppah.

On Monday I was invited to participate in a small-scale wedding, very popular in these unsettled and unsettling times. It was the last night on which it was still permitted for fifty people to gather together. It took place in the yard of the Esra Chabad House in Zurich. Dvorah Leah, the daughter of my friend and colleague, Rabbi Shalom Ber Rosenfeld, married Shmuel, the son of my friend Rabbi Yitzchak Mishan from Brazil.

I was involved in the deliberations about this wedding before the fact. Rabbi Shalom Ber and his wife Chani told us about their dilemma regarding the timing and the place of the wedding when the Corona had just begun to spread in Switzerland. We knew, as well, how the bride was preparing and hurting. How many disappointments and ups and downs, confusions and uncertainties she was experiencing about the day that was supposed to be her greatest, the day she has been looking forward to and waiting for since she got dressed up for Purim as a bride for the first time in her childhood.

In the end the wedding was set to take place within a day – last Monday.

Almost all the participants were family members; I wasn’t, and so I was chosen to be a witness at the chuppah.

And then that moment arrived. The parents walked the groom to the bride’s room, while singing the ever-moving “Arba Bavot”, which were especially so at this event. The groom covered the bride’s face, and that was the moment when her father approached her in order to bless her. He placed his hands on her head and a minute later his head as well. And so he stood for a long time. The crowd around, made up of the siblings of the bride and groom, was singing and humming, and bride’s father was still speaking to his daughter, head to head, as if they were the only ones around, even in the world.

I was very moved, but more than that, I was curious. What was he saying to her there? What does a father say to a daughter whose dream-wedding has evaporated and she is getting married on short notice, in the yard of her house? Is he promising her some kind of compensation? Maybe he is telling her that he will make her a big party at six o’clock after the Corona? I couldn’t help myself – I approached Shalom Ber after the chuppah and asked him: “What did you tell her there? What did you promise her?”

You should know him, Rabbi Shalom Ber. He is not a rough person. He is a very true, emotional, good and sensitive Jew. A moment after he was startled by my Chutzpa, his eyes became glassy and he replied gently but firmly: “What do you mean to promise? How to promise? What nonsense! Can anyone promise anything these days?

“I told her the only simple truth that the Corona has left in our hands: ‘Know, my daughter, that your true father is Hashem, and he loves you and only wants the best for you. It is He who planned it all this way, so that it will be exactly for your good. The Aibishter (Hashem) is good, my daughter. He gives good and He will give you revealed and seeable good all your life.”

I could not hold back the tears, faced as I was with this pure truth. The tears were not tears of joy, and certainly not of sorrow; these were tears that come when someone has touched the point of truth in your soul.

I hope I have managed to convey something of what I experienced.

Mishan and Rosenfeld families, I wish you heartfelt and loving wishes that you will see nachat from the young couple. I am sure that it will be a bayit neeman b’Yisrael – a good Jewish home, or as Rabbi Mishan wished at the reception, “that it will be a good Chabad house in Israel.”

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Who is the prime minister here?

Do you know anyone who, while having a panic attack, had someone shout at him: “Calm down!” and he calmed down?

I admit that I have not been very calm in the past few days, and, to tell the truth, I was anxious. This virus, and the information arriving from all over made me anxious. I tried to tell myself to calm down, but it didn’t really help.

This morning my anxiety disappeared. Do you know why? Because I have this thing, that when I start to take charge of a situation, I feel that everything is under control and I calm down. This morning I understood that I have to take charge of this crisis.

No – I don’t have to take charge of the world crisis, nor that of Switzerland and not even that of Basel. I just have to handle the crisis of my family and the Chabad House that I am responsible for. To try to understand what I can do and what I can’t. To balance the risks and the possible gains, and to rid myself of the panic and the anxiety.

Thanks to Divine Providence, a short time ago I heard a recording of my fellow shaliach, Rabbi Shimon Freundlich of Beijing, who has been coping with a state of emergency for a few months already. In the recording, he explained what they are doing in order to protect themselves and those around them. So I am sharing his basic points with you:

a. The virus is like any raw food, which spoils when it isn’t kept refrigerated or preserved. Cold is good for it, heat spoils it, and disinfectant kills it immediately.

b. It cannot go through our skin, only through the orifices of our body, which are situated in the area of the face. And the hands, of course, touch them frequently. We must prevent it from entering these orifices.

If we maintain a high level of personal hygiene, as the authorities tell us to do, Be’ezrat Hashem we will remain safe.

One thing is clear: Panic doesn’t help; it only gets in the way.

So said Rabbi Freundlich.

My friends, a person cannot manage himself and his life when he, in turn, is being managed by panic.

Imagine a ship tossing in a storm. Everyone is shaking and shouting, stressed and afraid, but only if the captain is stressed, shaking and anxious. The moment the captain comes out and says, “Friends, we can control the situation if we just take certain steps,” not only will the passengers calm down, but they will come and help him.

A believing Jew knows that Hashem gives each and every one of us the strength to cope with whatever lands on him. The Lubavitcher Rebbe used to quote the words of Hashem (according to the Midrash) that were spoken to Moshe about building the Mishkan (Tabernacle): “I’m not asking that they do according to my power, but according to their power.” We have to believe in ourselves, because we have the strength needed. It was instilled in us by Hashem.

Forget the whole world, the whole city – just look at your family. There is a storm. Nothing is clear. For a moment, become your family’s Prime Minister and Minister of Health. Learn what you must do, give the orders clearly and quietly to the members of your household, and that’s it.

Oops, I forgot to connect this all with this week’s parasha. It says in the parasha, Ki tisa et rosh Bnei Yisrael…” (meaning, “When you take a census of Bnei Yisrael”);  literally: when you lift up the head of Bnei Yisrael. So let’s lift up our heads, and look forward, because it is in our hands.

 

Calm down!

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Crash Course

 We learned many lessons last year during those long months when our Mussi was fighting leukemia. They were in the form of sharp-edged crash courses and, naturally, they were painful. They weren’t frontal, but rather interactive, with very concrete, live demonstrations.

There was a course on happiness, simcha, called “How to Stay Happy Even In the Oncological Department.”

There was a course on faith and trust, named “Think Good, and It Will Be Good.”

There was also a crash course in marriage named “Getting through Crises Together,” and another course in family life and parenting, “My Home Is My Sanctuary – The Reality Version.”

But the most meaningful of all of them was “Living with Uncertainty.”

When a person is being treated for Leukemia, no one knows how his day will look. He can’t plan anything. In the morning he may feel well, and after two hours he will be ill. He can be at home in the morning and be hospitalized by evening. For how long? “We’ll see. In an hour we will check and then we’ll know.” This can go on for hours, days and weeks.

We are programmed to live according to some plan and suddenly, when one is living in such uncertainty, things become confusing and upsetting. But then you understand that that is exactly the lesson that you are supposed to learn – the crash course. And that is when you begin to cope and accept, and also to learn. The heart practices and trains and slowly, slowly it gets used to accepting the uncertainty with a smile. Usually this includes a look upwards.

You know what’s amazing? As the days pass and the uncertainty course is internalized, you suddenly understand that lack of certainty is not ee-vada’ut (uncertainty), but ee shel vada’ut – an island of certainty. The more you hand over your fate, time, money and life in general to Hashem, you acquire powerful amounts of certainty and trust, and they enter your heart and your life, and then – you live on an island of certainty.

Remember the Black Friday of September, 2008? That was the day that the world entered an economic recession.

I am not a businessman, but this crisis affected me directly, as it did anyone who deals with raising funds, because the donors suffered losses and their donations showed it.

I remember talking to some friends who asked me, “Why, in your opinion, did Hashem shake the world this way?” I had no ready answer, which is good. But afterwards, when I watched videos of the moment of the crash, I saw people putting their hands on their heads and shouting “Oh my G-d!’ – and then it hit me. Perhaps the Master of the Universe just wants to hear us saying this more, and when there’s no choice he gives a gentle puff to
Wall Street and then everyone shouts in unison “Oh my G-d!”

We don’t know why and for what purpose the Master of the Universe decided to attack the world with the fear and anxiety of the Corona virus, but it is already clear that there is one central thing that is happening to almost all of us: plans are being disrupted. And they keep changing and getting disrupted again from one moment to the next.

I don’t know how or even if we will be having a Purim party in Basel this year. Will we be able to send out Shaloch Manos? Will my children who are in Israel come home for Pesach? Will there be flights? Will my matzos arrive from Israel?

I think of those who reserved a room in a hotel in Italy for Pesach, and now they have to start cleaning and preparing for Pesach. And what about those who flew to Israel for a vacation and instead are stuck in isolation for the duration? And there are those who are due to get married soon, and they have absolutely no idea what and how, how many and why?

But maybe Hashem just wanted to give us all a crash course – sharp and painful, interactive and replete with live demonstrations called “Life on the Island of Uncertainty”? I can say only one thing, from my experience: it is worthwhile to open one’s heart and listen to this course. You might yet discover that it is not uncertainty, but an “island of certainty.”

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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