The Rabbi and the washing machine

Friday, 10 May, 2019 - 5:57 am

I will start with something personal. For over six years I have been writing this column every week, usually about something connected to the weekly parasha. Having been raised on the educational principles of the Rebbe, I try to make sure that there will always be something practical mentioned so that the reader – if he wants too – will be able to implement it in his life. It is not always easy. Not because it is hard for me to write, or because the preparations and the writing take a long time – these are technical matters that can be dealt with, with proper planning. No, it is not always easy because I try very hard not to write about things that I’m not holding with myself. Because if there is something that they managed to instill me of the Chassidic education, it is not to talk and certainly not to demand from another something that you’re not doing yourself.

This week I will depart from this custom of mine and my message will be a goal that I plan to make an effort to reach, and may we all be successful in this endeavor!

Rabbi Reuven Donin z”l was probably the Chabadnik that influenced the most Jews over the years and brought them closer to their souls and Source of Life. I don’t have any numbers, but today we are talking about generations, since there are children today whose grandfather found his way to our Father in Heaven through “the house on 3 Borochov Street.” Much has been said and written about Reuven and his way, a man in whom the truth shone; indeed, it shone through him, “al emet,” he would have said – “really”.

There is, though, something special that fascinates me: Reuven was totally dedicated to doing good to others. He did it as though it were his official job. From everything I have read about him, it is the story of the washing machine that doesn’t leave me. Reuven had a knack for technical things; in his youth he even fixed washing machines. An older person named “Barry” told that “for close to forty years Reuven would come to help me as necessary, in fixing the washing machine. During his last years it was hard for him to climb the steps up to my apartment because of breathing problems he had. I remember how he once arrived at my house huffing and puffing, and said, “Give me a moment to catch my breath, and I will start working immediately.”

How many Rabbis and spiritual influencers do you know who show up with a tool chest, catch their breath and then bend over the washing machine, getting themselves wet and dirty, and fixing the machine?


In parashat Kedoshom that will we read tomorrow outside of Eretz Israel, we have the well-known pasuk, “You shall love your fellow as yourself.” On Shavuot, 5718 (1958), the Rebbe told over something that he had heard from his father-in-law, the Rietz, who had heard in the name of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov, who had heard from the Ba’al Shem Tov: It says in Pirkei Avot “Any Torah that has no melacha (craft) with it – ends up being null and void.” The Ba’al Shem Tov said that “melacha” here refers to involving oneself with the love of Jews. In order for the Torah to continue to exist, this melacha has to join it. This idea influenced the Berditchov Rav, and all his life his behavior consisted of dealing with loving other Jews. The Rebbe continues: “The meaning of ‘dealing with’ is like that of a business. A businessman, a merchant, does not sit at home with his merchandise and wait until someone finds out he has something to sell and know its value and come to buy some. The merchant opens a store in a place where people go by, and hangs a sign so that all those passersby will know that there is merchandise here. He doesn’t stop there either: he goes and publicizes his merchandise, stating its good quality and trying to convince people to buy from him. He makes great efforts so that people will buy what he has to sell.” Yes, this is the way the involvement with the love of Jews should be according to the Ba’al Shem Tov – it should be like a trade. Doing chessed in material ways influences a person no less – and sometimes more – than doing chessed in spiritual matters.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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