Rabbi's weekly Blog

No evil comes down from above

 “Please come home,” I said to him. He refused. It was the day before Purim. Ten-year-old Natan was already in the Chabad House, wearing an original costume and armed with the Purim spirit. Soon we would start reading the megillah.

His older sister had surprised us by telling us that she had arrived from Israel, hitherto unannounced, and was already on the way home from the airport. In order to maximize the surprise, the children were supposed to be in the house until she came. 

And so, first I asked nicely that he come up to the house. He refused, because he didn’t understand why he had to leave the fun of Purim and come home instead. Then I demanded sternly from him that he come home: “Come up now!” He was angry and complained, stamped his feet and shouted, “But why???” “I can’t tell you why; just do what I say,” I replied. He came home half a minute before the surprise, and the minute his sister walked in the door he jumped on her happily, roaring his astonishment. And then, he came to me quietly and said, “Thank you, Abba, for forcing me to come up; thank you for refusing to tell me why, and I apologize for being angry and for complaining.” 

This true story is my mashal – parable – for the hidden good that we experience occasionally in life. 

“No evil comes down from above,” so says Ba’al Hatanya in the famous Iggeret Hakodesh, named “To Teach You Understanding.” But if there is no evil, so what are those things that we see as evil? In parashat Ki Tavo there are 98 harsh rebukes voiced as terrible curses that will come to pass if the Jewish People will not observe the mitzvot. What are those curses, if “no evil comes down from above”? 

There is revealed good, and there is hidden good. We do not need to explain the revealed good – it is clear, it can be seen. The hidden good is an experience that we see as being bad, when really it is something good that we are unable to understand, because it has to be covered. Just like Natan saw my request that he come upstairs as an annoying punishment, and yet my request was hiding from him a higher good – an exciting surprise. 

Sometimes during our short lives we merit to see and understand the good that was hidden, and sometimes not. Sometimes only a generation or two later can one see the good that was hidden. 

So when you read the curses on Shabbat, or even if, G-d forbid, you experience something that seems bad to you, remember that “No evil comes down from above.”

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

“I’m on it.”

 “I’m on it.”

Many new expressions – in other words, slang ones – have been added to the Hebrew language in Israel during the years that I have been living abroad.

One of my favorite slang expressions is “Ani al zeh”, “I’m on it,” the emphasis being on al/on. Once upon a time, when someone wanted to say that he is taking care of something, he would say, “Zeh alai” – it’s on me. Today we say Ani al zeh. I think that’s better, closer to the truth.

Why? Because when a person comes to take care of something, be it a financial challenge or a managerial task, a medical treatment or an emotional process, he should approach it with his head held high, feeling that he will surely succeed. He should know that he’s coming from above, he’s on it. His chances of success will be in proportion to this attitude. On the other hand, if he says “Zeh alai” – meaning that a heavy load has been placed on his shoulders, he will approach the project bowed down. If he will feel inferior, and lack confidence or faith in his success, his chances of success will be in accordance with this.

“When you will go out to war against your enemies, and Hashem, your G-d, will deliver him into your hand...” The Chassidic explanation of this pasuk, which appears in our parasha, is the source for what I said above. There is no lack of wars, struggles or challenges in a person’s life, be they material, spiritual or both together. So the first pasuk in the parasha tells us that when you go out to war, you should go out with the clear knowledge and faith that you are “on” your enemies, and then, when you will feel such a momentum, victory is sure to come, as the pasuk continues: “and Hashem, your G-d, will deliver him into your hand.”

This Jewish faith-based logic is based on what Chazal say in Tractate Ketubot, “According to the camel is the load,” as Rashi explains, “A camel is loaded with burdens according to his strength.” In other words, when Hashem gives a person a challenge, a test, a journey, a project or some other hurdle, he gives that person the power to succeed. He will not place upon him or her a burden that cannot be borne. With such faith, whenever a person is facing a challenge, he knows he has the strength to deal with it. True – sometimes it’s a good idea to consult with others and to think how to make the best use of the existing strengths one has, but all that has to be done while realizing that “I am on it.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Do not judge

If I had my way, there would be an eleventh commandment: “Do not judge,” continuing the Ten Commandments we all know about: Do not steal, do not murder, do not covet and… do not judge.

Twenty years of work with the public have taught me that you can never really be in the other person’s shoes. You can think something about a person, and then suddenly you receive more information about him that changes your viewpoint entirely.

The Rebbe learns this specifically from this week’s Parasha, Parashat Shoftim:

The Torah says, “Judges and officers you shall appoint in all your cities.” Our Sages learn from the phrase ‘in all your cities,” that judges should be appointed not only in the Land of Israel, but rather in every place where Jews live. Why? Because the judges of the Land of Israel cannot really understand a person who lives abroad, and a judge who cannot understand you, cannot judge you, either!

“Do not judge your friend until you reach his place,” says Hillel the Elder in Pirkei Avot. “The satiated does not understand the hungry,” people say, and it’s true; oy, is it true.

So one needs judges and officers, but when the Torah says that officers are needed it says in the same sentence “in all your cities.” A judge can judge only after he has reached the place of the judged; only if he is able to open his mind and understand the defendant and his situation – his weaknesses and his difficulties.

That is exactly my message this week for all of us. As we stand, right before the Yamim Nora’im (High Holy Days), in the days of Selichot, it would be good – a moment before asking forgiveness – to make a resolution not to judge another person “until you reach his place.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

what a father must give his son

On Monday, the 12th of Tammuz, 5653 – 1893, at six in the evening, the bar mitzvah Se’udah (meal) of Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn – who was to become the sixth Rebbe of the Chabad dynasty – was taking place in the town of Lubavitch. During the meal, the father of the boy, Rabbi Shalom DovBer, turned to his son and said: “It is customary in Chabad that every Rebbe turns to his son on the day of his bar mitzvah and says to him, ‘Ask a question.’ In other words, present me with a question, and I will answer it. And so, Yosef Yitzchak, ask a question.” 

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak (known as the Rayatz), recorded the next few moments in his diary:

“I asked my father: In the Siddur it says that ‘it is proper to say before davening, “I take upon myself the positive mitzvah of You shall love your fellow like yourself.” Why was this statement placed before the davening?’

“’When a father has many sons,’ my father answered me, ‘his main pleasure is seeing that they are all united and love each other. Davening is asking Hashem for one’s personal needs, both material and spiritual, and before asking, we should give our Father in Heaven some Nachas, some pleasure, and therefore it was decided that one should accept upon oneself the positive mitzvah of loving other Jews particularly before davening.’”

And the Rebbe continues to write in his diary: “I’m telling this so that you will understand what a father must give his son, and what guidance he should give him on the day of his bar mitzvah.

“Simply put: Before you ask for something from Hashem for yourself, give Him something for his children. It is logical, it is fair, and it works!”

Tomorrow, the Shabbat when we will read Parashat Re’eh, is “Shabbat Mevarchin” the Shabbat before the beginning of Elul, and, of course, there is a connection between the two things. In Parashat Re’eh we are commanded to give Tzedaka: “If there shall be a destitute person among you… you shall open your hand to him.” in the month of Elul, the month of compassion and Selichot (prayers for forgiveness), which begins tomorrow, there is an emphasis on the mitzvah of Tzedaka. Here is what the Rambam says when he speaks about the Teshuva – repentance – that one should engage in during the High Holy Days (Hilchot Teshuva, 3:9): “All of Israel have the custom of giving much Tzedaka and doing many good deeds.”

Why Tzedaka? What’s the connection between giving alms to the poor and the month of Elul, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur? 

Well, this is where I remembered Rabbi Shalom DovBer’s answer to his son on the day of his bar mitzvah: During Elul and the High Holy Days, when we come to plead for ourselves and for our children and request an abundance of blessing, good health, a good livelihood, Nachas from the children, happiness in the home – we should first give Him something from ourselves.

Hashem treats us using the principle of “measure for measure”: When we give to His children, he gives to us, and when we give a lot, he showers much good upon us. It is logical, it is fair and it works! 

Shabbat Shalom, Chodesh Tov and K’tiva V’Chatima Tova,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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