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Not everything is good to see

Friday, 8 October, 2021 - 6:13 am

 Before Succot I posted a picture of me examining Etrogim. The goal was marketing and nothing more – on my table were dozens of sets of the Arba Minim (Four Species) and the picture was designed to attract buyers.

A friend of mine whom I love and respect sent me a message as follows: “As the Rebbe’s shaliach, it is probably hard for you to examine Etrogim; after all, the Rebbe taught us not to see the black spots.” I smiled and sent him back a suitable emoji.

The Shabbat of parashat Noach, is my bar mitzvah Shabbat. Yes, my birthday is on the 2nd of Cheshvan. When I sat by R. Abba Levine z”l, the perfectionist Torah reader in the central shul of Kfar Chabad in order to learn how to read the haftara of parashat Noach, we didn’t call it a bar mitzvah Shabbat, but two decades spent in Basel have accustomed me to noting the parasha as my bar mitzvah Shabbat. Well, after Noach comes out of the ark and sees that the world has been laid waste, he drinks a bit too much. His sons come in to cover him, and then the Torah emphasizes that two of his sons approached him walking backwards so as not to see their father’s nakedness: “And they walked backwards and covered their father’s nakedness; their faces were turned backwards and they did not see their father’s nakedness.” Twice it says “backwards” and twice it is repeated that they did not see his nakedness. 

This was not done without thought, nor was it meaningless – it was their choice. They chose not to see their father in his weak moment. Their choice is an instruction to us, an instruction of how to live our lives. 

It is possible – indeed, it is much easier – to see the bad; it is interesting, it is compelling and sometimes it gives us a good feeling: We feel we are better people when the failure or weakness of the other is evident. 

But it is also possible and much more worthwhile to avoid seeing the bad. It’s a bit drier, less interesting; sometimes one has to change the subject or move from where one is standing at that moment, but it leaves us cleaner. 

Noach’s sons knew what they were coming to do; they understood what they were dealing with; but they decided to walk backwards and not to see, in order to show respect to their father as well as to stay clean themselves. And mainly, so that this one-time event will not stain their father’s being. As with the Etrog, if we want to, we can see the black spots, but then we’ll lose seeing the beauty of the Etrog

I have a birthday, and that is what I am wishing myself: that I should merit seeing the good in the world, the beauty of the other person. May Hashem grant me chochma, bina and da’at (wisdom, understanding and knowledge) to know when to avert my head and not see what one doesn’t have to see, so that the other person’s beauty will shine. 

I wish the same to you too, my friends and readers.

From experience, it does wonders to all the types of relationships we have in this world.


Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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