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A Kingdom of Gevura

Friday, 28 August, 2020 - 6:09 am

I sat there, in the room for problematic travelers near the Border Control of the Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow, like a defendant in the dock.


It was last Wednesday, 7:00 am. I wasn't alone there. My son, Natan, was with me. We were on our way to the Tomchei Temimim Lubavitch Yeshiva. Natan was supposed to start his studies there and thereby fulfill what the Mishnah says, "Exile yourself to a place of Torah."


Like all good Swiss residents, we had checked everything ahead of time. We had gone over all the rules and regulations; we had spoken over the phone with the people at the Russian Embassy in Switzerland and gone over all the details with them, and only then did we set out on the long journey.


The journey is indeed long these days, because in this time of turmoil there are no direct flights from Switzerland to Russia during the week. We had a stopover in Turkey, spent half a night in the Antalya airport, and finally reached Russia.


The Russian official was very nice. He spoke broken English, and smiled a lot. "Big problem," he said. Somewhere there was a problem that was preventing us from entering the country. I tried to talk, to smile, to ask; I even called up my lineage. I told him that my father was born here, and that my great-grandfather was the rabbi of the Marina Roscha Synagogue until the War. But only a Western boy like me would think that such words would have any influence whatsoever on a Russian border official.


We were sent back on the next flight to Antalya.


"The Rebbe said about America that it is a 'kingdom of chessed (kindness)," said my brother-in-law. "Russia, on the other hand, is a 'kingdom of gevura (strictness)". In a kingdom of chessed  there are logic, explanations. It relates to what you have to say; someone listens to you. In a kingdom of gevura, there are no such things. That's the way things are, period.


Dear friends,


If I may be open with you, I will tell you that I had a pretty difficult experience. In addition to the difficult journey and the money that was wasted, I was simply insulted. I felt helpless. I was forced to accept the verdict as is, without my being able to argue or at least to receive some kind of explanation. The truth is, such feelings were enough to make me fall apart, but apparently the education instilled in me by my parents and teachers was stronger than all those feelings, and the belief in Divine Providence and in the passuk "A man's steps are from Hashem," were enough to calm me down and enable us to accept everything with love and keep on smiling.


There is not much of a message in my letter today. There is, though, a deep expression of thanks to my grandfathers and grandmothers, and, of course, to my dear parents, who apparently managed somehow to instill in my very being the simple faith in Divine Providence and the good old Jewish way that tells you to accept everything with love, and that Hashem will always pay up.


There is also a request and a prayer that I, too, will be able to continue and pass on to my own children this simple faith.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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