Are you sure this is my father?

Friday, 11 August, 2017 - 7:11 am


“Are you sure this is my father?” the Rebbe asked my grandfather, R. Moshe Wishedski, when the latter presented him with a picture of his father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneersohn, in 1966 (5726).

The picture was taken towards the end of his life, at the height of his suffering from cancer; he was in exile in Kazakhstan and he eventually died there. In the picture he looks very sick and weak. His face reflects his suffering in the hands of the Communists, caused by the fact that as the rabbi of Ekaterinoslav in the Ukraine he refused to do without Pesach and Shabbos; in general, he would not relinquish his Jewish self-esteem. And how could he relinquish it? He was not just a Schneersohnsky (a derisive term for Chabad followers in the Soviet Union), but a Schneersohn himself. His face had changed so much that even his son failed to recognize him.

This coming Shabbos, the 20th of Av, we will note his yahrzeit. I am honoredto bring here something of his insights in Torah.

R. Levi Yitzchak was a very knowledgeable Jewish scholar in general, and in Kabbalah in particular. His commentaries on the Torah and the Talmud are based on Kabbalah and are not simple to understand for the uninitiated. Many of his comments were written while he was in exile, in the margins of the volume of the Zohar that he had, or on available slips of paper. The ink, by the way, was made by his wife, the Rebbetzin, from plants.

He had no books with him, but still managed to bring exact quotes from a wide variety of Torah literature.

There is an interesting saying in tractate Gittin 7a: Rav Avira expounded, if a person sees that his livelihood is restricted, he should make Tzedaka from it.

In other words, if a person sees that he has just enough to live on according to his needs, but no more, and he wants to have more, he should “make Tzedaka”, meaning, give Tzedaka (charity) from his assets.

And here is how Rabbi Levi Yitzchak explained this saying according to Kabbalah: The speaker is Rav Avira – a name close to the word “Iver” – blind. Blindness symbolizes darkness, the attribute of strict justice and Gevurah in the world, as opposed to the light and kindness that seeing represents.

So, the name behind the saying is Avira – which symbolizes Gevurah, because he is speaking of a situation in which a person is being ruled by the attribute of Gevurah from Above.

What happens is this: The livelihood of a person is being circumscribed by the attribute of strict justice and Gevurah, which hold back abundance and prevent one from being wealthy.

What should a person do, then, to improve his situation?

Says the Gemara: Make Tzedaka from it.

How does that work?

Tzedaka means giving forth kindness and mercy. When a person gives Tzedaka, he is “sweetening (for himself) the livelihood of Gevurah with acts of loving-kindness.” How? By granting some of his assets to others, he causes the livelihood to flow down to him richly and abundantly.

Later on, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak sends the reader to the Tanya, to the chapter on “Zore’a Tzedakot Matzmi’ach Yeshu’ot”, in which there is a lengthy explanation how giving Tzedaka down here sprouts salvation for people, just like sowing seeds in the ground produces fruits.

By the way, on the back of the picture that my grandfather gave him, the Rebbe wrote: “”My master, my father, z”l” and added a question mark.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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