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A precious stone

 The fifteenth volume of letters of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s father-in-law, is full of wonderful, special letters that the sixth Chabad Rebbe wrote to his daughter and son-in-law, the Lubavitcher Rebbe and his Rebbetzin.

Personally, I learned a lot from these letters regarding a father’s relationship with his children. Highly recommended.

In a letter from Tuesday, 5 Elul 5689 (1929), about eight months after the wedding, the father-in-law, the Rebbe, wrote to his son-in-law: “Take a good look at the fine margalit that G-d gave you for many days and years, and everything good in the material and the spiritual. May Hashem Yitbarach give you chochmah, binah vada’at (wisdom, understanding and knowledge) to understand this matter well, [reaching] the real truth.”

A margalit is a precious stone, a gem, and it seems that the young groom, the future Rebbe, did not understand what his father-in-law meant about it.

Five months went by, and the father-in-law once again writes a letter to his son-in-law, and again, at the end of the letter he adds: “And about the good gift, the precious margalit, you still don’t know what I mean, or have you already solved this riddle?”

After a month, during Shvat 5690, the son-in-law answers his father-in-law: “The quality and essence of the good margalit, I have yet to understand its meaning, what it is.”

Another month went by, and on the 25th of Adar 5690, the birthday of his daughter, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, the father-in-law reveals to his son-in-law the solution to the riddle: “The good margalit that G-d gave you is my daughter, your wife, may she live (and that’s what I meant in my letter, but you didn’t read my words carefully).”

Often we do not know to define the people around us as gems.

“When you come to the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I will place a tzaraas affliction upon a house in the land of your possession.” So it says in the weekly parasha, parashat Tazria-Metzora. If we pay attention to the style, we see that Hashem is telling of a gift that He will give us. And what is the gift? “A tzaraas affliction.”

Really? Is this a gift?

Rashi adds that this verse is a besorah – a piece of good news, no less. “I will place a tzaraas affliction – it is good news for them that afflictions will come upon them. Because the Amorites hid caches of gold in the walls of their homes during the forty years that Yisrael were in the desert, and because of the affliction, [the owner] will demolish the house and find them.”

When Bnei Yisrael came to the land for the first time, the caches were material ones, but, in my humble opinion, there is still an eternal and relevant message here for us, today more than ever. You see an affliction, you see tzaraas. I am telling you that there is good news here – a hidden treasure. Search for it. It is possible you will have to demolish something in order to do this, but you have hidden treasures waiting for you. Don’t miss finding them.

The entire world is coping with the affliction of the Coronavirus. It has forced us to stay at home, and now we have two options: one, to see it as an affliction, as a tzaraas, and nothing more. The other option is to read Rashi again, learn and understand that we have been forced to withdraw into our homes in order to search – and find – hidden treasures.

We have a rare opportunity to get to know our children on a deeper level, to see them more – physically, and that way to become familiar with them and understand them and their needs in all dimensions. We have the possibility of deepening our relationship with our spouse – to endless depths. Is the whole really greater than its parts?

I think that, more than anything else, we have been given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stop our personal mad race of life, to stop and examine ourselves: who are we without the suit and the tie and what they represent?

Who are we when we are alone, only with ourselves?

What meaning do we have when we are less vital to others?

I am sure that there are treasures here. We have gems at home. I haven’t found all of them. I’m still searching – and hoping not to demolish too many things on the way.

Good luck!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

It was a dramatic event

It was a dramatic event – one of the most dramatic and suspenseful ones that we have ever experienced as a nation. Millions of people standing in the desert, waiting for a special moment, a sign from Heaven that will show recognition and tell them: “It’s O.K., I’ve forgiven you. We are together once again.” But nothing was happening…

It all started with the Sin of the Golden Calf, forty days after the giving of the Torah, when the people made a golden calf to worship. Many months had gone by since then, during which Moshe Rabbeinu (our teacher) succeeded, with much determination and loving devotion to his flock, to obtain the sought-for forgiveness from Hashem. That happened on Yom Kippur, and on the very next day the order was given: “They will make Me a Mikdash (temple) and I will dwell amongst them.” A communal sigh of relief followed, together with inner joy: Not only does Hashem forgive, but he is interested in renewing His relationship with us.

The people grabbed the opportunity with both hands, donating everything they had quickly and enthusiastically, in order to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) for Hashem as fast as possible, to make the promise “And I will dwell amongst them” come true, thus sealing the embarrassing saga of the calf…

Everything was ready. For seven days, from the 23rd of Adar until Rosh Chodesh Nissan, they build the Mishkan and dismantled it every day, brought offerings – all so that the fire would come down and accept those offerings, accept their service, dedicate the Mishkan they had built with their own hands and make it into a House of G-d. But it didn’t happen! For seven successive days they did everything – and there was no response from Heaven. It is impossible to describe the feeling – the magnitude of the pain and the disappointment. An entire nation was waiting, really and truly, for the Divine Presence to show itself, that the nation’s deeds should be accepted, and so far – nothing…

And then the eighth day arrived. “On the eighth day, Moshe called to Aharon and his sons and the elders of Israel. And he said to Aharon: take a calf… and sacrifice it before Hashem.” Specifically a calf – “to announce that Hashem atones, by way of this calf, for the incident with the calf.” Aharon felt uncomfortable, and somewhat embarrassed. “This is beyond me,” he said. But Moshe did not give in and said, “Why are you embarrassed? This is what you were chosen to do!” “Come near to the altar… and provide atonement for yourself and for the people.” Aharon approached the altar, and did everything he had been told to do, exactly according to the instructions. But – nothing! Nada! No Divine Presence, no fire from Heaven. He left the Mishkan, looked at the millions – men, women and children – their eyes on him, expressing hope and longing. It is as if they were asking him, “Nu? Did you succeed?” And Aharon was upset and said to himself: “I know that Hashem is angry at me, and it is due to me that the Divine Presence has not come down!”

Aharon then turned to Moshe: “Moshe, my brother, this is what you did to me, that I entered and was embarrassed?!” Immediately, Moshe entered with him and they prayed for mercy for the people, and then they came out and blessed the people with the best blessing in the world: “May it be that the Divine Presence will rest upon your endeavors.”

And then it happened: “A fire went forth from before Hashem and consumed upon the Altar.” Fire came down and accepted the offering, thus accepting back the people completely, and also accepting and dedicating the Mishkan to be a House of G-d.

“The people saw and sang glad song and fell upon their faces.” It is impossible to describe the powerful outburst of joy and song, which translated immediately into awe combined with deep-felt gratitude: “They fell upon their faces.” I get goose-pimples every year on Parashat Shemini, when I imagine the scene.

There is a message here that I take with me – for my life: to pray and to ask! Even if I’ve done everything right, and everything should work, I stop a moment by the side of the road, and as Moshe and Aharon did on the eighth day, I say a chapter of Tehillim and carry a prayer in my heart: “May the Divine Presence rest upon my endeavors.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Electronische kinder

On Wednesday morning Natan began to put on Tefillin. Acting according to the Chabad custom to begin to put on Tefillin two months before the bar mitzvah, we invited our friends to connect via Zoom and to mark the date with us.

Natan put on Tefillin, said a ma’amar, drank a bit of L’chaim and even sang to us solo.

The original plan was that we would do this “by the Rebbe”, and that it will be there that he will put on Tefillin for the first time, say by heart the Chassidic passage that explains that Hashem also wears Tefillin in His own way: He ties himself to us every morning when we tie ourselves to Him. But then the Corona showed up and kept us all home.

Among the participants was my good friend, Rabbi Asher Krichevsky, and he said – in his special style – “Pardon me; I saw Natan and you too, but most of the time I just looked at your parents squeezed into a small and distant smartphone camera.”

For some reason Asher was very moved to see a grandmother and grandfather celebrating that way, via camera, and he immediately took me back in his comment to my father’s description R. Mendel Futerfas z”l entering the Wishedski home in Czernovitz of the late 1950’s and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, closing his eyes and singing loudly, straight from the heart of a loving father, the Yiddish song “Papierene Kinder.”

R. Mendel was a legend. Even then, among many chassidim who were endangering lives for the sake of Judaism, he was a model and symbol of courage and inner power, devotion and sticking to the goal. His wife and children had left Russia and he had stayed behind in order to continue to keep the spark going. He paid a heavy price for deciding to remain behind the Iron Curtain: He was caught and sent to ten years of incarceration and torture in Siberia, and when he was released after Stalin’s death, he spent another ten years behind the Iron Curtain, far from his wife and children.

He had pictures of the children, and when he would think of them he would sing “Papierene kinder hab ich, papier iz gevern von mein blut un mein fleisch” – I have children made of paper, my flesh and blood have become paper.

He knew that they were happy where they were, and that it was good that his children had left Russia. It was also good that he had stayed behind, because he had to act for the sake of the persecuted Judaism. The head understood that it is good this way, but the heart burst with longing, and it is from this position he cried out: “Oy, getenyu zisser, hab rachmanus oif mir, ich vill meine kinder nicht kein shtickel papier” – Oh, my beloved G-d, have mercy on me. I want my children and not a piece of paper.

My good friend Asher reminded me of this description not only because my parents were there, far and close at the same time, but also because some of my children who had remained in Israel were there – so close and yet far. They are not papierene kinder, but electronische kinder. We, and everyone, have electronic children. I am such to my parents and my children are as such to me. And in these turbulent times hundreds and thousands can see and hear their children and their parents only through electronic devices.

We too miss our children at times, and as the days go by and the holidays are upon us, the longing gets stronger and the heart trembles. I remember R. Mendel how he did not hide his longing, did not repress his pain. But rather he gave it room; in fact he cried it out loudly.

I too wish now to call out to the Alm-ghty: Avinu malkenu, mena magefa minachalatecha. Avinu malkenu, shlach refuah sheleimah l’cholei amecha. Our father, our King, withhold the plague from your heritage, Our father, our King, send complete recovery to the sick of Your people. Pesach is coming and this is the time to fulfill the passuk, “And Hashem will pass over the entrance and He will not permit the destroyer to enter your homes to smite.”


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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