The perspective of an honest man

Friday, 22 September, 2023 - 6:08 am

 David Trachtman was fifteen years old when the shluchim (emissaries) of Chabad arrived in Zhitomir at the beginning of the 1990’s. It didn’t take long for him to connect with them, and soon they sent him off to learn in the yeshiva in Marina Rosha synagogue in Moscow.

David Trachtman’s parents were good, honest Jews, but they did not keep Torah and mitzvahs. His grandmother lit Shabbat candles clandestinely every Friday, and when he was a child, not only did she hide them, but David himself was ashamed of her Shabbat candles. When friends came to visit, he would make sure they wouldn’t see them. But when the Chabad shluchim came to Zhitomir, it turned out that while it was possible to hide the candles, there was no way to hide the light they kindled in his heart and, as mentioned above, he returned to his roots very quickly.

In 1993 the family had the option of emigrating to Australia, but the only flight available was on Shabbat, and David was already unwilling to fly on Shabbat. Zusha Gorelick – who later became Rabbi Zusha, and still later became my brother-in-law when I married his sister – was one of the shluchim in Zhitomir. Zusha had much influence on the young David and when the dilemma around the flight came up, Zusha said that the question is actually a different one: Have you written to the Rebbe to ask for his agreement and blessing for your emigration to Australia? David immediately wrote a letter to the Rebbe and received an answer soon after. In his letter, the Rebbe agreed and gave his blessing, “And just then, my brother called from Australia, saying that he had scheduled a new flight with the Polish airline, LOT, that was taking off on Sunday.” David hasn’t seen Zusha Gorelick since then, but he also hasn’t forgotten him.

This week, David visited us in Basel as part of a “Cooking Classes” trip that he organized. He stopped in Basel for several reasons: Rabbi Luzik Gorelick z”l of Melbourne was the uncle of Zusha and of my wife, was the Rebbe’s shaliach to the Russian community; he also became David’s spiritual father, and together with Raizel, his wife, opened his home to him.

Well, after the wonderful and delicious course he gave here, gracefully presented, I got Rabbi Zusha online for a video conversation. It took Zusha a moment, but rather quickly he said, “David, is that you?” They were happy to see each other, and the story I told above in brief came up there at great length, until my hand got tired of holding the telephone. But I consoled myself with the fact that now I have something to post on Friday. “Listen,” said Zusha, “I’ll tell you something that perhaps you don’t know. I asked your late father why he was leaving Zhitomir and going to Australia. This is what he answered: ‘Since the fall of Communism, the situation here is such that in order to survive one must lie and cheat, which means also to steal here and there. This is the situation at the moment, and it looks like this is the way things will be in the coming years. I am unable to live in a situation in which I have to lie and steal. I want to move to a place where one can make a living, and in general live one’s life in an honest way.’”

David was very moved. He had never heard that from his father.

I was very impressed. What a clean point of view – the perspective of a good and honest person, who wants to live where he won’t have to cheat and lie, a person who wants to keep himself clean from the habits of lying and cheating.

And now, all that remains is to connect this to Parashat Ha’azinu or to Shabbat Shuva, or both.


Shabbat Shalom,

Chatima and Gmar Chatima Tova,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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