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Shehakol Nihyah Bidvaro

 There are moments in life that become engraved in one’s consciousness, something like a video clip saved on the video player in the brain. I have a number of those, and one of them came to mind when I was learning this week’s Parasha.

One of the most famous verses in the Bible appears in this week’s Parasha, Parashat Va’etchanan: “And you shall love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” As familiar as this verse from Kri’at Shema is, so too is the question that comes up when one studies it: The verse commands us to love Hashem, our G-d, with all our hearts, and the question is, how can one command the heart? Is it possible to force a feeling? Will my heart fill instantaneously with love to the Creater at the moment that I say “And you shall love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart” – just because I was commanded to feel that way?

Here is what the Rambam (Maimonides, Laws of the Foundations of the Torah, Chapter 2) says about this: “What is the way to love and fear Him? When a person observes His great and wonderful deeds and creatures… immediately he loves and praises… and has a strong desire to know the Great Hashem.”

In other words, there is a command to love Hashem. How should you observe it? How can you create love? Just look at Hashem’s wonderful deeds and creatures and the love will come… Simple, isn’t it?

And here we come to that video clip that has been sitting in my brain for 18 years already.

I was touring with some friends at the Niagara Falls. We stood there, amazed at the wonder: the tremendous power of the water, flowing this way since Creation. When you stand on the Canadian side you can see the Falls in all their beauty, power and glory; your heart skips a beat and you are struck speechless.

At that point, a group of tourists arrived with T-shirts emblazoned with “Motti Tours – Touring in America in Hebrew”. Not that without the shirts I wouldn’t have known, even from afar, that they are Israelis. Their “Wow!” was quite loud, and then, as they were expressing their wonder at the sight, one of them, who was holding a cup of juice in his hand, placed his hand on his head and said out loud, “Chaverim (friends), when you come here and see all this, it is impossible not say ‘Baruch Atah Hashem, Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam, Shehakol Nihyah Bidvaro (Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the World, that everything came into being by His word.” And all of us roared together, “AMEN!!”

That was the moment when I understood the Rambam. I suddenly saw, live, how observing “His wonderful, great deeds and creatures” bring a person to “immediately he loves and praise.”

These days my family and I are vacationing a bit in the mountains of Switzerland, beyond the vacation and the accumulation of strength and resources to continue, there is in the spectacular beauty of the mountains the same call Shehakol Nihyah Bidvaro.

 

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

What’s better – a history book or a newspaper?

 They say that if you want to know how bad things are, read newspapers; and if you want to know how good things are, read a history book. This is true in many senses, but not, of course, in all of them.

We are going to begin to read the chumash of Devarim, a full chumash written just as Bnei Yisrael were about to step into the Promised Land, moments before Moshe Rabbeinu was going to say good-bye to the nation and to his personal dream to enter the land. Thinking about this brought up the above saying in relation to the love of the land.

If we open the history books, we will surely see that throughout the generations Jewswished to immigrate to the Land of Israel. The love of Eretz Yisrael is evident everywhere. But what if we open newspapers? Let’s say, a paper from yesterday, or last week, or this past year? What will we see? What is the situation today?

Eretz Yisrael is in much turmoil; demonstrations and protests abound.

For someone looking from the outside, and to me, a person who lives in the exile, definitely considered to be someone looking on from the outside – it looks very bad. There is no other way to express this. It just looks bad. So much so, that I would think that people will not want to immigrate to this land, so full of arguments and shouting, so divided and angry. It really does look like that sometimes. But it’s interesting that, in reality, people are still immigrating from all over the world, including from first-world countries.

Yesterday I was in Berlin with my 15-year-old daughter, Baily, for the screening day of the “Naaleh” program of the Jewish Agency, an excellent program that has been operating for 18 years already and enables Jewish youth to continue their high school studies in Israel, the goal being to strengthen the connection between the youth and their land, their nation and their Torah.

At this point I must praise the Jewish Agency and its staff, which are doing wonderful, well-organized and orderly work, in spite of the Corona, which changes our plans so frequently.

In normal times, Berlin is a matter of a morning flight and then an evening return flight, but in these Corona Times we drove for almost 9 hours in each direction, stopping on the way and even staying somewhere overnight. And yet, when I entered the hall where the teenage girls and their parents were gathered, I was deeply moved. I saw people from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, unquestionably first-world countries; countries where it is really much easier to live in than Israel. Jews, as well, live good lives there: they have institutions and communities, recognition and equality from the government etc. I looked around: here we are, people from all ethnic backgrounds and sectors and all are talking excitedly about their desire that their children be involved Jews, Jews who know the language of their forefathers, who know their way of life and their land, our homeland; Jews who will in the end want to be Israelis.

So at least from the viewpoint of the Jews of the Diaspora, I saw with my own eyes that history is no better than the present reality.

If there is such love for the Land of Israel, all we have to do is to improve the situation regarding the love of the nation of Israel, of other Jews, and then certainly these days will become days of joy and happiness, and we will witness the complete Redemption, soon.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

a stop or a journey

A dear Jew, whom I love and respect very much, called me this week. He is over 60 years old and is about to purchase a large business in a new place where they speak a foreign language. Quite a challenge, an initiative coupled with a vision and much courage.

He called me to set a time to meet with me and receive a blessing for his business. He is a believing Jew and he understands that the business and the investment are a vessel for G-d’s blessings. Therefore, together with careful and orderly business planning, he wants to make a plan for a blessing. We will sit together, talk about the mezuzahs to be installed, about a tzedakah box in the office, about a ma’aser (tithe) to be given to charity and about his willingness, in principle, to employ and give a livelihood to people close to him as much as possible. And, of course, after all this, we will write a request for a bracha from the Lubavitcher Rebe and send it to the Ohel – and ask that it be read there and also torn up there on the Rebbe’s grave, as is the custom, going all the way back to Calev ben Yefuneh.

Among other things, my friend mentioned that he is rather old to be starting a new business – “don’t forget that I am already sixty-something years old.” I responded spontaneously, telling him, that he still has fifty-something years until 120. But then I added: “Look, in America, the presidential candidates and the president himself are all seventy-something years old!”

Now, on Erev Shabbos of parashat Matot-Masei, knowing that he reads my letter every week, I wish to add a few more sentences:

Parashat Masei tells us about the travels of Bnei Yisrael in the wilderness. Forty-two journeys, spread over 40 years. The truth is that these were not journeys but rather resting places. The Torah is actually listing 42 places where Bnei Yisrael camped in the wilderness, but it doesn’t call them chanayot (resting places), but rather masa’ot (journeys).

Look: everything that we go through in life can be defined as a stop or a camping place, or as part of a journey. This is significant, because what we define as a stop or a resting place will stop us and our spirit from continuing forward. And what we define as part of a voyage, not only will not stop us, but will even serve to give us the strength to continue our journey.

Clearly, the Torah chose the second option. In this week’s parasha it defines the resting places of Bnei Yisrael as journeys, because every resting place in the journey was not a stopping place, but rather another stage in the journey to the Promised Land.

 

On the 11th of Nissan, 5732 (1972), when the Rebbe turned 70, he related to this and said that he was asked whether he will retire from his work because of his age. As usual, with much clarity and sensitivity, the Rebbe said that a person has to examine himself according to how he feels and not according to his age as recorded in his passport. In his words: “There is no need to look at the passport, but rather at the personal feeling.” And so, if a person feels young and capable, he should not be put off by the number written in his birth certificate.

A person’s journey must not stop as long as he is capable of continuing. Above, I brought an example from the American presidential candidates. And now I have an example and a model from Chabadniks who went off to be shlichim and actually started a new career at the age of sixty-something:

In 5749 (1989) my wife’s grandparents, Rabbi Netke and Tzippa Barchan z”l went out to serve as the Rebbe’s shluchim in Riga, Latvia. They were at retirement age already but they chose to go out on a shlichut in spite of what was stated in their birth certificates.

This week we heard that their children, Rabbi Eli and Chasya Neimark, their daughter and son-in-law, are following their lead and going out as well to a shlichut in Hanover, Germany, where they will be part of the activities of the Chabad House there. For them, too, the number in the passport says “Go rest”, but they have chosen not to rest but rather to continue on their journey.

 

Wishing them success!

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Simchat Torah sends regards

 It is somewhat refreshing when the week’s parasha deals with the holidays or mentions them. This way, a Jew can be in the middle of Tammuz and, with Rashi’s help, return to Simchat Torah.

It is more than just refreshing, I learn from this that the Torah is always relevant, and if the daily Chumash reading reminds you of Simchat Torah, take from this something into your day, your life.

“It is hard for me when you leave,” is an expression that I assume many of the readers are familiar with in connection with Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. Rashi in his commentary on the verses that discuss the offerings brought on Shmini Atzeret defines the last holiday of Tishrei as a day on which after we have been close, holiday following holiday from Rosh Hashana till the end of Succot, Hashem asks us, Bnei Yisrael: “Stay with me one more day because it is hard for me when you leave.”

So how is this connected with the middle of Tammuz?

I think there is a very important message here. We are in the period of Bein Hametzarim (also known as the Three Weeks), days that emphasize our exile from our land and home, days in which we feel the pain of the destruction of the Temple even more than usual. And here, in the midst of these days, Rashi reminds us that Hashem is waiting for us, looking forward to seeing us, and that actually He is in constant distress from our being away from Him.

And what does a child who is far from home need more than the knowledge that back home people are waiting for him and missing him?

 

Mashiach now!

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

A lion always remains a lion

In an interview with Natan Sharansky, he described an interaction that took place in the Soviet interrogation room: “I sat in front of these poker-faced interrogators and told them a joke about communism and the communist rule – it was a funny joke. When I finished laughing, the interrogator said to me: ‘Don’t forget that you’re still not free.’ I laughed and said to him: ‘Look, I told a joke – a funny one. You made an effort not to laugh because you are forbidden to laugh about yourself and about communism, whereas I not only told the joke, but laughed as well. So tell me, please, which one of us is freer? You or I?’”

I was reminded of this when I learned the Rebbe’s commentary on the blessing Bilam gave the Jewish People against his will: “[Israel] crouched and lay down like a lion and like a lion cub.” He calls the Jewish People a lion, because a lion, even when it is lying down, is still a lion. There is a Halacha in the Shulchan Aruch, in the laws of damages, that a person who owns a lion is liable for any damage the lion does, even if it is trained and domesticated. The reason for this is that even if a lion is trained and domesticated, no person can really have full control over it, because a lion remains a lion.

The Rebbe explains that Bilam is speaking of the time when we are still in exile. The situation does not allow us to be a “free” lion that can walk and run, eat and drink and live its life as it would like to. It’s rather like being a Torah-observant Jew in the Soviet Union, which meant living in constant danger. Bilam, in his prophecy, said that this people, the Jewish People, even when it is in exile, and seems to be crouching and laying down, is still a lion. Even then, no one has any real control over its spiritual freedom, its soul. Because a lion remains a lion.

So the next time you say to yourself: I want to but I can’t because it’s hard, because someone’s making it difficult, because it’s impossible – remember that 3300 years ago already a non-Jewish prophet said, “[He] crouched and lay down like a lion,” And a lion always remains a lion.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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