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the Polish Jews

The writer Yair Garbuz once wrote ironically that the Polish Jews don’t believe in G-d but are mortally afraid of him. I’ve already mentioned once before that my grandfather used to say that in every joke there is some joke. So I look at myself and ask: Am I a bit like the Jews in that joke?

No, I am not Polish, and I am definitely a believing Jew, but when Yom Kippur comes, am I motivated by fear, or perhaps even mortal fear?

Why are we so anxious when Yom Kippur approaches?

When we prepare ourselves for Yom Kippur, when we go to pray like angels, dressed in white and fasting – what do we want to achieve?

Of course, we want to be written and sealed for a good life, but is this all we will ask for?

Of course, we beg that we will receive good decrees, but will we be satisfied with merely continuing to have a good life?

Of course, this year we are emphasizing the prayer of “Prevent a plague”, but is that all? Is that all we will ask for? Prevent a plague so that we will be able to once again get on an airplane without wearing masks?

If the answer is yes, then we are a bit like those in Garbuz’s joke.

I think I have my own answer, but it’s mine. I invite you, my dear friends and readers, to find your own answers to the question of what do we want to achieve on Yom Kippur.

We are in the Ten Days of Repentance. This Shabbat is called Shabbat Tshuva (meaning “return,” but also “answer”) as well, so perhaps we will find the answer to this question, too.

 

From a loving heart, I bless everyone with Gmar Chatima Tova, with visible and revealed good.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Getting personal

 

This time, I’m going to tell you some personal things, a bit of my inner life.

For almost thirty years, on the days before Rosh Hashana – and when I was still single, on Rosh Hashana itself – I was by the Rebbe. I was 17 years old when the Rebbe passed away, so for most of these years, “being by the Rebbe” meant being near his grave in the Ohel and in his beit midrash, known as 770. But essentially the two mean the same thing.

As the head of a Chabad House, the days before Tishrei with all its holidays are some of the busiest days of the year. But the fact is, that not a year has gone by when I haven’t found myself by the Rebbe, usually on the Shabbat before Selichot. And when I couldn’t get away for Shabbat, I would come just for one day, and sometimes even for a few hours. That’s the way it is: A new year is about to begin; I am the head of a family, the father of children, so this is the time and the place for me to stand and beseech, to plead for myself and for those who sent me, for a good, healthy year, a good parnasa (living) and a pure Jewish life.

The corona has forced us to change our habits. Much of what we were used to do, we don’t do anymore. Small weddings, Zoom bar-mitzvahs, virtual classes etc. I accept all of this with love, and even quite easily, but that was up to the pre-Rosh Hashana trip to the Rebbe. I find it very hard to accept not being able to go.

I find myself missing the experience rather frequently and singing “Tiku bachodesh” under my breath.

Tiku bachodesh” is a niggun that tells the story of a simple chassid who returned to his village after being by the Rebbe for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, somewhere in the Ukraine. He was a simple person when it came to his knowledge and intelligence, but a fierce Lubavitch fire burned in his heart. When they would be sitting together with some schnapps a bit of pickle, his friends would ask him: “Nu, tell us – what happened by the Rebbe? Tell us over a ma’mar in chassidut, or a few words of Torah or a speech the Rebbe gave.” But the Chassid had nothing to say. Not only did he not understand what the Rebbe had said, but he barely heard anything in the crush in the Rebbe’s beit midrash.

This might have hurt; perhaps it bothered him; but that was not the main thing.

The main thing was that he had been by the Rebbe. It was as if his soul had been refueled with all the spiritual energy it needed to continue on, to get through the next year. While they were trying to get him to say something, he began to sing a sad niggun, a niggun that tells of the trip and the arrival, the joy and the pain, the bitterness and the yearning – a niggun that speaks of the connection between a Rebbe and a chassid. There are six words in the niggun, six words that are the first words of the three deep and profound ma’amarim that the Rebbe had said during the High Holy Days: “Tiku bachodesh”, “Bachodesh hashvi’i”, and “Shuva Yisrael.” He did not understand the content of the ma’amarim, but he definitely grasped their essence, and he expressed it in the niggun of “Tiku bachodesh, Bachodes Hashvi’i, Shuva Yisrael.”

There is no consolation in the niggun, but there is a feeling of connection – and that has worth too.

For those of you who would like to experience the niggun, here it is, in the pure voice of my son Natan. click here

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Independence

 Before last Pesach I was very troubled by the fact that we wouldn’t be able to make a Pesach Seder for our community like we do every year. The Pesach Seder is a special evening. My family and I devote much thought every year to making sure that whoever sits with us at the Seder will feel comfortable, benefit from everything that a Leil Seder can give, and yes, that the special Pesach food will taste good! I always knew, more or less, who was coming, and when they would come (Friends, I even know who comes late and how late). I know who likes to sit next to whom. I know our beloved community, and here we are, with no Pesach Seder in the Chabad House. What will be? How will people celebrate the holiday by themselves? I was worried.

But it seems that reality triumphs and most people simply “celebrated independence” and ran their own Pesach Seder. People joined a Zoom of a model Seder, learned through YouTube or the Internet site of Chabad how and what, and made a kosher, pleasant and happy Seder. I’m sure the food tasted good, too.

I was embarrassed that apparently I didn’t have enough confidence in people that they will know to run their Jewish life by themselves, but the Corona proved differently. The Corona forced all of us to take upon ourselves the responsibility, and I learned to give the members of the community more credit.

Now that Rosh Hashana is approaching, I am much calmer. The meal of Rosh Hashana night is the meal that is most attended in the Chabad House in Basel – every chair is taken. I know how important this evening is to all of us, but this year we will not be able to have that joint meal in order not to endanger anybody. The prayers will be arranged so that people will sit in keeping with the Corona regulations, but the meal – not.

At the end of this week’s parasha, the parasha of Ki Tavo, Moshe Rabbeinu grants the entire nation independence. Moshe describes concisely how until now Hashem did everything for them: took them out of Egypt and fought their wars for them, and he even goes into detail about how Hashem took care of them in the desert, clothes and shoes included: “I walked you for forty years in the desert, your garments didn’t wear out, and your shoes did not wear out”. And, finally, like a mother sending a child away from home, he asks the People to be responsible and take care of themselves: “You shall observe the words of this covenant, so that you will succeed in all that you do.”

It seems that Hashem is asking something similar to this during these Corona times: Use all the knowledge and experience you’ve gained over the years, and do it yourselves.

In any case, it is much easier to purchase honey, an apple, a pomegranate, a date and even a fish-head than to kasher the house for Pesach. So if we managed on Seder night, I am sure that we will manage on Rosh Hashana as well.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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