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Blog: CREME DE LA KRIM

The official blog of Chabad of Crimea

A Letter to G-d

There’s a joke that has been going around, with several variations.  It basically goes like this:

A little boy needed $50 very badly.  He prayed for weeks, but nothing happened. Finally he decided to write a letter directly to G-d, requesting the money.  When the post office received the letter, addressed to “G-d, USA,” they decided to send it to the president.  The president was so amused that he instructed his secretary to send the little boy a $5.00 bill. The president thought this would appear to be a lot of money to a little boy.  The little boy was delighted with the $5.00 bill and sat down to write a thank-you note to G-d.  It read as follows:

Dear G-d,

Thank you very much for sending the money. However, I noticed that for some reason You sent it through Washington, D.C., and, as usual, those turkeys kept $45 in taxes.              

Chabad of Crimea needs so much money.  A lottery would help a bit, but so far we haven’t won!  The school, especially, needs tremendous financial help at this time.  Sometimes I wonder if, like the boy in the joke, I’m ungrateful, wanting so much…  After all, not that long ago, Hashem miraculously saved my husband’s life, when his heart created its own bypass, and just last week He saved me from what was most likely a poisonous snake, thrown into the house by an anonymous “friend.”  Yet sometimes I just wish someone would just pick up my “letter to G-d,” and send the financial assistance we so desperately need to keep the  only full Jewish school in Crimea going.  I think it might go something like this:

Dear Hashem –

I am so grateful to you for watching over us.  Could I just ask a bit more?  We’re living here, way beyond Hutzenklutz and Yehupetz, (otherwise known as “the Boonies,”) in really difficult and trying circumstances.  We aren’t doing it for ourselves, don’t get any salary for it, and live in a glorified hovel.  We’re only doing this to help Jews in this nearly forgotten corner of the world, to try to revive Yiddishkeit here, and to try to add some kindness and goodness to the world, (in an area notably lacking in those commodities,) thereby trying to do our part in helping to bring Moshiach already.  I hear there are philanthropists out there somewhere, who are actually looking for a good cause to support.  Where are they?  Please could you send the funding we so desperately need? 

I truly appreciate all of Your help, and loook forward to Your swift and positive response.

As always,

Leah-Mindle bas Elka (v’Hinda) Lipszyc

The Snake in the Wall and the Snake on the Windowsill

There is a well known story in the Talmud about Rabbi Akiva's daughter. The astrologers told him that on the day of her wedding, a snake will bite her and she will die.  On the night of her marriage, she removed a brooch and stuck it into the wall before going to sleep. When she pulled it out the following morning, a poisonous snake came trailing after it; the pin had penetrated into the eye of the serpent and killed it, saving her life.

 

"Was there anything special that you did yesterday?" her father asked her. "A poor man came to our door during the wedding celebration," she replied. "Everybody was busy at the banquet, and there was nobody to help to him. So I took my food and gave it to him."  Thereupon Rabbi Akiva declared: "Charity delivers from death." And not just from an unnatural death, but from death itself.

 

Well, I can really and truly identify with Rabbi Akiva's daughter now.  Before the fast of Tisha B'Av last week, when we mourn the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, the Holy Temple, I invited over a family to eat with us.  We had finished the first (full meal,) and washed for the last meal before the fast, which is traditionally just bread and hard boiled eggs, dipped in ashes, symbolic foods eaten while in mourning.  When we finished eating, I went to throw out the paper plates in the garbage.  Tolik, one of the guests, was standing behind me, and pointed (I thought) out the window.  No, he pointed again -- on the windowsill.  In horror, I recoiled as I saw the tail of a snake gliding into the hollow frame of the window's bars, and totally out of sight!  It was mamash the last minutes before the fast, and we had to go to shul.  I didn't want to go and leave a snake loose in the house.  Tolik began tapping on the bars to encourage it to come out, but it stayed determinedly inside, still out of sight.  Frantic, I started spraying the bar frame with cockroach spray, to drive it out.  When it didn't appear, I ran outside to spray whatever was left in the can from

the other side of the frame.  I guess it worked, because in a flash it was on the kitchen floor.  Tolik swiftly stomped down on it, and we looked in horror as it continued to writhe and slither about from under his shoe.  I will spare you the details of his removing its head with a treife knife, but suffice it to say it was very scary.  While this was going on, I noticed someone run past the gate.  Almost everyone believes that someone threw the snake inside the window, as we don't usually have snakes around here.  The NON-poisonous type of snake in Crimea has a yellow head, which this one did not.  If there's a zoologist or some other kind of expert out there who sees this, I'd appreciate it if you can identify the snake for us.  Anyway, I am extremely grateful to Hashem for protecting me from the jaws of the snake.  Boruch Hashem I'd invited Tolik's family over, and he was there at exactly that moment to see, catch, and kill the snake.

A Jewish Ukrainian Journey

While it isn’t generally a good idea to take pleasure trips during the “Three Weeks” of mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple, we inquired of rabbanim, and we were told that this actually is a good time to go to kivrei tzaddikim (the graves of holy people.)   With this in mind, a little over a week ago we got together a group of people who wanted to make the trip.  Being as it is relatively expensive, and most people here can’t afford it, we had to find sponsors.  We spoke to several individuals to sponsor the trip, and promised that everyone who went on the trip would pray for them at all of the graves which we would visit.  By Thursday it was arranged, leaving very little time for the planning.  I ran around, organizing things, but as Murphy’s Law has it, when you need the time the most, many other things crop up to steal it.  As Shabbos approached, people were calling me constantly about various matters, related to the trip and not.  In addition, we needed to print the names of the sponsors’ family members with their requests, and the Russian translation of the Maane Lashon, the prayers which are traditionally said at the graves of the rebbeim.  That’s when I made the discovery that my old printer isn’t compatible with my new laptop.  When the bochurim tried to print the papers in several internet cafes, they found that Vista wasn’t compatible with most of their computers either, leaving this as well as other last minute preparations to be done after Shabbos.  I’d called the driver who usually takes us to the kvarim, and he promised me the larger bus that we’d had two years ago.  Friday he showed up right before Shabbos with a van.  There were 13 passenger seats and no shelves or place to store the food or our personal items for the trip.  I was so upset, but at that point there was nothing to do anyway.  Motzai Shabbos the driver showed up a little later than the time we’d agreed on, and told me to come out and see how much room we’d have.  He’d found a bus with 14 seats and shelves.  It was a little tight, but a lot better than the van he’d come with on Friday, Boruch Hashem!

Right after Shabbos, (if you can call 2:00 a.m. right after Shabbos,) a group of 14 of us set off on the trip to visit the holy sites in Ukraine.  We packed ourselves in, and off we went.  After saying the blessing for a safe trip, we tried playing the chassidishe niggunim we’d copied onto CDs, only to find out that (of course, right?) the VCR wasn’t compatible with the CDs made on my new laptop! 

Our first stop was Haditch, the resting place of the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, known as the Alter Rebbe, or the Baal haTanya, for his seminal work which set the foundation for contemporary Chassidic philosophy.  Rabbi Shnuer Zalman (Chai/18th of Elul, 1745 - 24th of Teves, 1812,) was one of the main disciples of the Mezeritcher Magid, and  the founder of the Chabad chassidic movement.  He is the author of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav and the Tanya as well as many other major works in both Jewish law and mystical teachings.  

Two summers ago, which was also my first trip, we had a very emotional experience here.  The campers had already finished their time near the kever, but the counselors and I took more time because we were helping the kids and writing our own panim (“pidyon nefesh,” literally “ransom of the soul,” is a note requesting a bracha or blessing, which is usually accompanied by the giving of tzedakah.)  We went into the room where the kever is situated, began praying, and lit our candles, when suddenly the lights went out, leaving us in darkness.  (We later found out that there had been a blackout in the entire region.)  This left us no choice but to daven and read our panim by the weak and flickering candlelight.  When we had finished, we started singing the niggunim, wordless melodies, of all of the rebbeim.  Our eyes were closed, and we sang with tears pouring forth.  We followed the last niggun with a soulful “Ani maamin b’viyas haMoshiach,” (“I believe in the coming of Moshiach,” from Maimonides' Thirteen Tenets of Faith, and sung by Jews from the depths of their souls, as they were herded into the gas chambers in the concentration camps.)  As we began to sing this last song, we felt a glowing, and opening our eyes, saw that the lights were again on.  Of course that experience was not repeated this year, but the experience for most of the people was very deep, both here and at other kvarim.  Some participants of the trip immediately effected changes in their lives, while others may do so later, however it definitely had a deep impact on everyone.

Our next stop was Nezhin, where the Mittler Rebbe, the second Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi DovBer is buried.  He lived from 1773 - 1827, was the son of and successor to the Alter Rebbe, and uncle and father-in-law of the Tzemach Tzedek, the third rebbe.  In 1813 he settled in the town of Lubavitch, which was to serve as the movement's headquarters for the next 102 years.  In 1826, he was arrested on charges that his teachings threatened the authority of the Czar, but he was later exonerated. The day of his release, the tenth of Kislev, is celebrated as a "festival of liberation."  Rabbi Dov Ber is known for his unique style of "broadening rivers" -- his teachings are the intellectual rivers to his father's wellspring, lending breadth and depth to the principles set down by the Alter Rebbe.  He passed away on his 54th birthday in 1827, a day before the first anniversary of his liberation. 

Once, while receiving people in private audience, he suddenly stopped, locked his door, and refused to see anyone for many hours. Chassidim outside his door heard the Rebbe weeping and praying. Following this incident, the Rebbe was so weakened that he was confined to bed for several days. Later, one of the elder Chassidim dared to ask the Rebbe what had occurred. He explained: "When a person seeks my assistance in curing his spiritual ills, I must first find the same failing -- be it in the most subtle of forms -- within my own self. For it is not possible for me to help him, unless I myself have already experienced the same problem and undergone the same process of self-refinement. On that day, someone came to me with a problem. I was horrified to hear how deep he had fallen, G-d forbid. Try as I might, I couldn’t find within myself anything even remotely resembling what he told me. But Divine Providence had sent this man to me, so I knew that somewhere, somehow, there was something in me that could relate to his situation. The thought shook me to the core of my soul and moved me to repent and return to G-d from the depths of my heart."

 We arrived in Nezhin very late at night, and unfortunately needed to fend off hungry mosquitos while we prayed there.  At least this year we were somewhat prepared, and had covered ourselves with anti-mosquito preparations before entering the ohel. 

On to Kiev, arriving early in the morning, where we visited the two main shuls, one in the Podol area, and the other the Kiev central synagogue or "Brodsky Shul" on Shota Rustaveli.  We ate a tasty meal in the lovely King David restaurant, and then had an opportunity to see the beautiful women’s mikvah in the central synagogue.  Two of the girls reminded me that last year I’d promised them that “next time” I would take them on the Metro, so we all took a ride on the subway and they had a grand time riding the very tall, steep, fast escalators, a new experience for most of them.  This year we missed out on going to Babi Yar, due to time conestraints, but I”YH will go again next time.  Last year we actually had a bit of a frightening experience there.  Only three of us wanted to go, and while there, we not only saw that the monument had been defiled by ant-semitic graffiti, but we were approached threateningly by skinheads. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Kiev, we went on to Berditchev, where Rabbi Levi Yitzchok, also known as the Berditchever Rebbe is interred. The Berditchever was one of the main disciples of the Mezeritcher Magid.  Known for his compassion for every Jew, he is often referred to as the “defense attorney" for the Jewish people, because he would often intercede on their behalf before G-d. For example, one day he saw a man davening in his talis and tefillin, while he was changing the wheel on his cart.  Rabbi Levi Yitzchok spoke to G-d saying “Look how good your people are, Hashem; even when this man is working, he’s davening to you!”  We arrived in Berditchev in the evening and quickly picked up the person who takes care of the ohel, so we could pray there while there was still light.  R’ Levi Yitzchok’s grave is located in the middle of a huge cemetery, which is totally overrun by enormous weeds.  It isn’t far from the railroad, and Jews escaping from persecution would try to stop to pray there.  We ate our supper, which we had brought with us, at the center of Rabbi Breyer, a Skverer chossid who is a mohel, and performs many brissim in Berditchev.  After much time spent in the van and in cemetaries, the group was really glad to be able to shower there.  We greatly enjoyed Rabbi Breyer’s hospitality, then got underway on our trip again.

In the middle of the night we arrived in Polonoye, where Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polonoye is buried.  Much of what we know about the Baal Shem Tov is from the writings of one of his foremost disciples, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polonoye, the author of the first Chassidic work ever published, Toldos Yakov Yosef.  Last year, while searching for his burial place, we came across a farm, whose tenants had unearthed many Jewish tombstones while working their field.  B"H they stopped using that field.  Among the others are the burial places of more of the students of the Baal Shem Tov.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 

 

 

We stopped briefly in Slavuta, where the first edition of theTanya was printed, and noticed that the synagogue on Sholom Aleichem Street is being remodeled. 

 

Then we went on to Anipoli, where Rabbi Dov Ber, the Mezeritcher Magid, and Rabbi Meshulam Zushe of Anipoli are both buried, arriving at daybreak.    Rabbi Dov Ber (c.1700 – 19th of Kislev, 1772), known as the Magid of Mezeritch, succeeded his master, the Baal Shem Tov, as the head of the chassidic movement.  Most of the leading chassidic dynasties stem from his disciples and his descendents.  Rabbi Meshulam Zushe of Anipoli was in turn his student, and is known for his humility and tremendous ahavas Yisroel.  Rabbi Zusha of Anapoli, as he is best known (? – 2nd of Shvat, 1800), was a major disciple of the Mezeritcher Magid.  The seemingly unsophisticated but clearly inspired "Reb Zusha" is one of the best known and most beloved of chassidic personalities. He and his famous brother, Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk, spent many years wandering in exile, for esoteric reasons. 

Rabbi Shmelke of Nicholsburg once asked the Mezeritcher Magid: "The Talmud says one is obligated to bless G-d for misfortune with the same joy as when one blesses Him for good. How is that possible?"  The Magid told him to ask Rabbi Zushe, who was extremely poor and lacked even basic neccesities. Even though he had many difficulties in his life, he was always happy. He went to where R’ Zushe was studying, and told him the Magid said he should explain his difficulty.  "I'm surprised that he sent you to me," replied Rabbi Zushe. "It would be better  to ask someone who suffered misfortune in his life. I've never experienced anything bad in my life. Only good things have happened to me."  This was the hallmark of Reb Zusya's life.  The Alter Rebbe held Reb Zusya in such high esteem that before printing the Tanya, he sent a copy of it to Reb Zushe with a messenger for his approbation. 

Reb Zushe's was heard to have said "When I go above, I'm not afraid that they'll ask me why I didn't become Moshe Rabbeinu, but that they will ask me why I didn't become Zushe."  The command to "go out" of one's natural inclinations and become spiritually elevated is directed toward every individual. We aren't required to do more than our capabilities; however we are expected to achieve our potential. G-d didn't require Reb Zushe to be a Moshe. He did, however, expect him to be a Reb Zushe. The same, it goes without saying, applies to each and every one of us.  In the Torah, in Mishpatim we read "Keep far away from a false matter." (23:7)  Although the Torah contains 365 negative commandments, lying is the only sin the Torah warns us not only to avoid, but from which to "keep far away." This teaches that it isn't enough for a person not to lie; we must actively distance ourselves from falsehood and flee from it.  (Yes, even those little bitty distruths.)

The ohel is a quaint little building set in a cemetery in a peaceful, pastoral setting next to a small river.  At the far end of the field is a memorial to the Jews who were murdered there during the Holocaust.

Finally we arrived in Medzhibuzh.  Many people immediately feel an immense sense of peacefulness in Medzhibuzh.  Medzhibuzh is the burial place of the Baal Shem Tov and a number of his closest students, including his grandsons, R’ Boruch of Medzhibuzh, and the Baal Degel Machane Ephraim, and the Apter Rav, and R’ Zev Volf Kitzis.  Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer (Chai/18th of Elul, 1698 - 6 Sivan, 1760), the Baal Shem Tov ["master of the good Name,"] was a unique and seminal figure in Jewish history.  He revealed the Chassidic movement and his own identity as an exceptionally holy person, on his 36th birthday, the18th of Elul, 1734.

Among the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov are the following, which were recorded by his grandson, R’ Boruch.  The entire Torah and the entire world contain nothing but the light of the Infinite One, blessed be He, concealed within them.  Everything that happens in the world, no matter how insignificant, comes from G-d. Therefore we should not concern ourselves with whether or not what has occurred is in accordance with our own will.  Neither thinking about the day of one's death nor the fear of punishment after this life will arouse a person's heart to serve G-d; but yearning to cling to the Source of Life and goodness will do so.  When a person prays for something that he needs, he should pray for the divine life-force within that thing, which is now suffering because of whatever it is lacking.  One should ask G-d to have pity on His life force that is hidden in that thing.  G-d's Providence extends to all created beings, even to inanimate objects and plants. There is nothing that is not viewed from above in every detail. Everything was made with a particular intent. And a word to the wise is sufficient.

Rabbi Boruch of Medzhibuzh was the son of R. Yechiel Ashkenazi and Odel, the daughter of the Baal Shem Tov. He was one of the pre-eminent Rebbes in the generation of the disciples of the Mezritcher Magid and had thousands of Chassidim.  Once R’ Boruch's young grandson, Yechiel, was playing hide and seek with a friend.   He found a good hiding place and waited anxiously for his friend to find him.  After quite awhile, he looked around and realized that his friend had left without even having looked for him!  Crying profusely he ran to his grandfather and told him what had happened.  Reb Boruch also broke into tears.   He said, "G-d says the same thing 'I hide, but no one tries to find me.'” 

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Efraim of Sudlikov, the famous Baal Degel Machane Ephraim, was also the son of R. Yechiel Ashkenazi and the Baal Shem Tov’s daughter Odel, and a reknowned rabbi and author.  

The Apter Rav, Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel, (1748-1825), was one of the greatest of the disciples of the Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk.  He was the disciple that received the gift of the power of speech from his Rebbe. He is known as the Ohev Yisrael, the lover of Israel. This quality was an outstanding part of his character and doctrine. He believed that his life was an incarnation brought about in order to finish the perfection of his love for his fellow Jew.  He likened this to one's love for G-d himself.  He was known for his ability to reconcile rifts within the Chassidic movement.

Rabbi Ze'ev Volf Kitzes was a student of the Baal Shem Tov. He was the baal tokeah, the one who blows the shofar, at the beis midrash of the Baal Shem Tov.  Certainly in our family he is best known for his role in the story “Shabbos Island,” or “Wine on the Eyelashes,” which my husband delights in telling whenever we have new guests.  It’s probably the one story all of our children will never forget!

Still in Medzhibuzh, we found out that a synagogue had been rebuilt on the site of the Baal Shemtov’s Beis Medrash, and we visited it.  Right next to it is the foundation of another building, which we were told was the shul of the Bach, and which they plan on rebuilding soon, as well

Already on our way home, our final stop was in Uman, at the gravesite of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772 – 18th of Tishrei, 1810.) He was the great grandson of the Baal Shem Tov.  (His mother, Faige, was the daughter of the Baal Shem Tov’s daughter Odel, and Rabbi Yechiel Ashkenazi.)  From early youth he set out on his distinctive path in divine service, one of ascetic study, solitary mediation, and fiery worship. His chassidim learned from him as well their lifelong quest for atonement, the impossibility of despair for the man of faith, and the unique concept of the nature and role of a tzadik. After a brief stay in Eretz Yisroel, the controversial young rebbe settled first in Breslov and then in Uman.   Uman is very unique in Ukraine, in that the Breslover Chassidim have really built it up, and standing there, looking around at a Jewish hotel and supermarket,kosher kiosk, bookshop, and pizza place, one might mistakenly think he fell into Eretz Yisroel, somehow.

All good things do eventually come to an end, I suppose (though why?) and we headed back to Simferopol.  We arrived physically exhausted, but spiritually uplifted.  I”YH this shouldn’t be an end to a good thing, but only the very beginning, with spiritual growth for those of us who participated, and G-d willing there should be very many blessings for the sponsors of the trip, for whom we prayed, and for all of us.  Certainly we all need Hashem’s brochos! 

If anyone else might be interested in sponsoring another trip, and we will pray for you and your loved ones, please let me know.  There are more people who would love to have the opportunity to go.  You can contact me at chossid@gmail.com .  I hope you enjoyed this little journey with us – we certainly did!

Leah

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