Rabbi's weekly Blog

Italy is italy

I have this habit: when I land in an unfamiliar city, I try to avoid taking a taxi, preferring to use public transportation to reach my destination. There is something pleasant, interesting and even exciting in coming into contact with the local population, and viewing the people and their lives from close up. Plus, getting along on one’s own in a strange place is a nice challenge.

I did it few years ago in Milan. The Cadorna station in the center of town was not overfull. The people seemed calm; they weren’t rushing or running. Perhaps because it was a Sunday and perhaps because this was Italy, and in Italy, as anyone who has ever flown Alitalia knows, no one is in a rush.

Something special caught my eye. A number of parents of young children brought them to the large metro map posted on the station’s wall, and with notable patience explained to the boy or girl how the map is constructed, where they are, where they need to go, and which metro line they should take. As a father of children myself I liked this very much (in fact, I missed the train because I was so interested… but, Italy being Italy, there was time). I am assuming that these parents teach their children the relevant, important values for them, for life, and still, there they were, investing time and patience in teaching their children something so small and technical: how to find your way in the metro.

Why was I reminded of this? Because this week in the Parasha, in the summary of the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), it says, “And all wise-hearted among you will come and do everything that Hashem commanded.” And immediately after that the Torah lists all the implements that those wise-hearted artisans made. A special talent for craftsmanship was necessary in order to make the components of the Mishkan – from the Menorah, the Table and the Altar, to the wooden panels, including the ornate cloth covers of the Mishkan. One needed very talented artisans, described by the Torah as “wise-hearted.”

On Shabbat Parashat Vayakhel of 1977 (5737), in a Hitva’adut in front of a large group of Chassidim, the Rebbe focused on these Psukim and noted an extremely interesting and curious fact: among the components of the Mishkan that needed to be made by the wise-hearted were also the “pegs of the Mishkan and the pegs of the courtyard.” A tent peg is a very important thing – it is the peg that in the end tightens, strengthens and stabilizes the entire Mishkan. But the peg, in itself, doesn’t seem to be so complicated to make, and certainly there is no need for it to be made by a wise-hearted person. And yet, the Torah says specifically, that the pegs, too, should be made by the wise-hearted.

There is a great message here, said the Rebbe this week 39 years ago. When you educate a child, whether he is your child or a child handed over to you to teach in a school, you are invested with the task of building and forming that child’s personality: teaching him to tell good from bad, positive from negative; educating him regarding priorities in life and how to use the tools we have received from Hashem to best advantage, in order to correct the world around us. This is a great task, for which artisanship is obviously necessary. We need a “wise-hearted” to be involved in it. If the Torah demanded that the wise-hearted make the pegs as well, that is a message for us, that the education and the building of a child’s personality should not relate only to big and lofty values and ideals, but also to the simple, technical details, like pegs. For in the end, that simple peg is what upholds that entire structure.


May we be successful…


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

New Age or redemptional thinking?

One of the most wonderful things encountered by anyone who studies the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s teachings is that gradually, as one studies and deepens one’s understanding of what he is saying, a person’s way of thinking changes; the viewpoint becomes completely altered. Anyone who looks at the Rebbe and his Chassidim and their doings will say immediately: The Rebbe is a revolutionary. But only someone who has actually learned his teachings will understand how deep and fundamental this revolution is, down to the smallest detail.

I call it “holism”. The Rebbe’s outlook on the world consists of a holistic approach; an approach that encompasses everything, connects everything precisely, without ignoring anything or rounding off any corners.

Usually this unique way of thinking is not written down as part of an article devoted to faith, or a talk about life in general. Rather, these matters are brought forth as clear, simple basic assumptions as the Rebbe discusses his Torah ideas. As I mentioned in the opening above, as one learns, one’s actual thinking changes. When I studied the Rebbe’s talk for Parashat Ki Tisa (Likutei Sichot 21, 3) I came upon, among other things, such a “basic assumption.”

The Rebbe analyzes the sin of the Golden Calf and the pardon that Mosh Rabbeinu requests from the Creator. First, the Rebbe wonders: How can there be a reality of sin at all? Why should a person sin? On the basis of his understanding of this point, he explains the pardon that Moshe seeks and the advice that Hashem gives him as to how to achieve it. The analysis starts out with the first assumption that we say every morning: “He Who renews in His goodness every day, always, the Creation Work.” And he asks: A Jew who knows and believes that the Creator renews and rejuvenates the world every minute, how could he possibly act against Hashem’s will – Hashem, who is keeping him alive right now and the next minute as well? A person might say that he has obstacles and things that hold him back – in other words, the world and the reality around me prevent me from serving Hashem! But that can’t be – and here we encounter that point of unique thinking that I’ve mentioned – “for, being a believer, the son of a believer, he knows for sure that even those things that are interfering with his life, they too were created ex nihilo, and so it would not be right to describe them as being truly created as contradictions to the will of Hashem! How could they really be obstacles to Yiddishkeit, to the Creator’s will, when they themselves were created right this minute by Hashem Himself?”

(The answer to this question about sin is “forgetfulness”. While sinning, Jews simply forget Hashem, Who is keeping them alive.)

This is the right moment to stop, look around, reassess our situation, examine our “obstacles and things that hold us back”, those things that interfere with our ability to do what should be done – and to think. To look into the Rebbe’s words and to ask ourselves: How could this really interfere – when it has been created this minute by Hashem?

With such a way of thinking, we will be able to cope much better with everything that is happening around us.

The New Age people will say it’s positive thinking.

The Chabadniks will explain that it’s actually redemptional thinking.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

are you an elephant?

Legend has it that a few decades ago there was a secret competition between the intelligence agencies of Israel, the U.S. and the Soviet Union. An elephant was released in a thick forest, and the competition was who would find it first.

The CIA were the first to try. They used electronic sensors and drones, and found the elephant in two days.

The Mossad was next. They sent intelligence agents disguised as animals, used human information sources, and within less than 30 hours the elephant was located.

The last ones were the K.G.B. They went out to the forest, and came back in one day with a cat, saying: “He admitted he’s an elephant.”

A truly sincere admission carries a very deep meaning. No – I don’t mean an admission made during a police interrogation, or an admission before elections. I mean the kind of truly sincere acknowledgment that is expressed in a person’s deeds, behavior and entire existence.

The first time in the Bible the Jewish People are defined as “Yehudim” (Jews), is in the Purim Megillah – Megillat Esther. Until then, they are described as Bnei Yisrael, the People of Hashem, a holy nation etc. The word “Yehudi” has the meaning of “Hoda’ah” – admission, or acknowledgment. A Jew, in his inner being, acknowledges the existence of Hashem, and in his behavior he also proves that this is his very essence. That is also the inner essence of the Brit Milah that is marked in our flesh, and the clear message of the Mezuzah on our doorposts: Here lives a person who believes in Hashem, and therefore he has a piece of parchment with the sentence, “Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One,” on the doorpost, at the entrance to the house.

In the Hitva’adut (Chassidic gathering) of Purim of 1969, the Rebbe quoted the verse from the Megillah, “A Jewish person was in Shushan the capital, and his name was Mordechai.” And the Rebbe went on to say, as a clear and eternal message to all of us, that when Mordechai was in Shushan the Capital, everyone knew immediately that he was Jewish – even before they knew that “his name was Mordechai.” Even from afar they could see that the person they were seeing was Jewish.

In other words, when you walk down the street, do not be ashamed of who you are. You can let people know you’re Jewish without them having to use electronic sensors, secret agents or the K.G.B.

The days are past when we would be embarrassed, hide ourselves or hide our identity; because a Jew “neither kneels nor bows down.”


Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim!


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

“I’m not successful”

Occasionally I help people – sometimes face-to-face and sometimes via Zoom. It is almost always a person or a couple who are not feeling good about themselves, each person in his own realm. Almost always it is a person who is saying at some point, “I can’t,” “I’m not successful,” “I am not going to succeed,” “I don’t have the ability and I don’t have the strength.” We are so good at convincing ourselves, that sometimes we can’t see anything else, and that is paralyzing and painful.

My role at that moment is to look inside them, beyond what they are saying, and see their abilities and powers. I admit that sometimes it is not easy. Sometimes the people in front of me are wrapped in many layers of low self-esteem, so that at least regarding the points being discussed it is impossible to see the existing ability. So what helps me to see beyond those layers? The simple belief that every person has a set of tools that he received from Hashem, unique to him. By using those tools he is able to overcome and cope with everything that he encounters in life.

And how is all this connected to parashat Terumah?

When we read the pasuk, “You shall make the planks of the Mishkan of acacia wood,” a question arises: where did Bnei Yisrael obtain those trees, in the middle of the desert? The Midrash Tanchuma has a famous explanation, which Rashi, who usually sticks to the simple meaning of the scriptures, brings in his commentary on this pasuk: “Yaakov Avinu saw by holy spirit that Yisrael were going to build the Mishkan in the desert, and he brought cedar trees to Egypt and planted them and commanded his sons to take them with them when they go out of Egypt.” Let’s forget about Yaakov coming down to Egypt and bringing seedlings for the Mishkan; it is not surprising that someone like Yaakov Avinu took everything into account and already when going into exile was preparing for the redemption from it. Try, instead, to think for a moment about Bnei Yisrael, slaves, suffering under the Egyptians. I imagine that many of them completely forgot that there are acacia trees ready for the Mishkan. Possibly, the young people didn’t know anything about it at all. People were busy trying to survive, to get through the day and the month. Who could think about these trees growing in some forest at the edge of the land of Goshen, planted there two hundred years before by Yaakov?

And when they started to think about the Mishkan, they looked around for trees. I can assume that there were probably many who said to Moshe: “Rabbeinu, where are we going to get trees from in this desert?” And Moshe just looked into them, beyond their words, and told them, “You have trees, they exist. I know they exist, believe me. So instead of saying that there aren’t any, go look around for them and then you will discover, much to your surprise, that they were with you all the time.”

This is quite a message. When we are sure we lack the ability, that we are incapable of doing something, unfit for it, it’s probably a good idea to remember the acacia trees of the Mishkan and think that maybe, just maybe, someone has already planted in us everything that is needed in order to move forward. All we have to do is recognize this, believe in it and go search for it. 

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

modern slavery

The Chinese are in the process of taking over the world market. How do they do it?

A wise person once said that they have simply invented a new way of doing things, which the rest of the world isn’t familiar with: they work during their workhours.

It is very important to work during one’s workhours, of course. But it is no less important to know to stop working after hours, and to allow ourselves to live, as well.

In this week’s parasha we learn the laws of the Hebrew servant. A Hebrew servant is a Jew who has found himself in a financial or personal crisis (such as having been caught stealing), and has had no choice but to be sold or sell himself as a slave in order to return his debt. The sale is for only six years, and when that time is up, he becomes a free person. If that person wishes to remain a servant, it is possible, but on condition that he do something unpleasant: have his ear pierced.

Why is it the ear that is pierced?

Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai said in tractate Kiddushin, “The ear that heard [Hashem saying] on Mount Sinai ‘To me Bnei Yisrael are slaves,’ and went and took upon himself a master, will be pierced.” Hashem says to the Jew: I understand that you had to sell yourself as a slave in order to pay off your debts; it was absolutely necessary, and that’s fine. But why do you still wish to serve a flesh-and-blood master after you have already been freed? Look around and see what you are really worth. Look and see whom you should really subject yourself to: not to a human being, but rather to the Creator of the World.

In our world today there is almost no classical slavery left, but there is definitely modern slavery. When we speak of modern slavery, the reference is usually to the U.N.’s report and to the World Labor Organization that deals mainly with workers in poor African countries, or with migrant workers in the Western world who work many hours for very little payment in order to earn their meagre portions of bread.

The Rebbe says there is another kind of modern slavery, and it is not poor workers who earn very little, but also and maybe mainly, someone who might have a good, respectable and well-paying job. Why is he called a slave, in spite of this? Because he doesn’t recognize the boundary between work and life. I started my message with the Chinese, who definitely work during workhours, and that’s wonderful – that’s the way it should be. But one mustn’t forget that beyond work there is life. Beyond work there are family and children, dreams and wishes. There is spiritual life and there is a holy soul that is suffering thirst in a dry, wasted land.

The Rebbe brings a rather simple way to gauge the situation: the holy day of Shabbat. Shabbat is the day on which we raise ourselves above our material existence, like chassidim say in Yiddish: “one tefach (handbreadth) higher. They set aside the temporal life and turn instead to eternal life. If you find yourself preoccupied with work matters on Shabbat, that means that you are a modern slave.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Is there a difference between love and respect?

Is there a difference between love and respect?

Do all kinds of love necessarily come with respect?

At the end of parashat Yitro, the Torah says, “You shall not ascend My Altar on steps, so that your nakedness will not be uncovered upon it.” In other words, there shouldn’t be steps going up to the altar, because climbing them will make the cohen take big steps, thus degrading the stones, the Altar stones. Rashi learns from this the importance of behaving decently: “This is a kal vachomer: If about stones, which have no awareness to be upset about being degraded by others, the Torah said that since one needs them, one should not behave disrespectfully towards them, how much more so your fellow, who is in the image of your Creator and is particular about being degraded!”

But, wait a minute; why does one have to learn to respect people through a kal vachomer learned from the stones of the Altar? After all, we have a pasuk in the Torah that says, “Love your fellow like yourself”. In other words, not only are we supposed to respect our fellow, but we should love him. Is there a difference between love and respect? 

In my opinion, it is possible to love someone truly and wholeheartedly, and still not respect him enough. Love is a feeling, whereas respect and honor are mainly a practical issue. As Chazal say (Kiddushin 31b) about the pasuk “Honor your father and your mother.” They ask: “What is honoring?” and they answer: “Help him with all his needs, feed him, give him something to drink. And, if necessary, dress and cover him, take him in and out.” It is interesting that sometimes, particularly with very close friends and family members, not to mention spouses, when the love is greatest and open, the basic respect is missing. 

Perhaps that is the reason that “Honor your father and your mother”, which seems on the face of it an obvious thing, is part of the Ten Commandments. Because it is easy to love, but one has to make an effort to honor and respect. 

Perhaps this is the explanation of why the students of Rabbi Akiva – the same Rabbi Akiva who said, “Love your fellow as yourself – that is a great rule in the Torah” – did not behave respectfully towards each other. Because love and respect are two separate things. They definitely loved each other, but their respect for one another was lacking. 

So Rashi comes and says: Listen well. The Torah here is demanding that we show respect for mindless stones – stones! We should learn from this a kal vachomer and honor and respect people who do have minds and are likely to be particular and be hurt if one degrades them. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

tu push the train from inside

The story is told of a person who complained to the Chafetz Chaim – Rabbi Yisrael Meir Hacohen of Radin – that he doesn’t have time to come to Shul to learn and to pray because he has to open his store early in the morning, and stay there until late at night; otherwise, he claimed, he wouldn’t be able to make a living. 

The Chafetz Chaim said to him: “You’re behaving like someone who is traveling by train from Warsaw to Lodz, and since he is in a great hurry, he stands and pushes the train car from the inside, thinking that that way he’ll get there faster. It’s clear to any thinking person that such a person is wasting his efforts. 

“Hashem is the one who decides how a person will make a living for himself and for his household, and how much money he will have,” said the Chafetz Chaim. “Your store is merely the vessel through which you are provided for. It would make no difference if you opened it one hour earlier or one hour later, especially if this takes place on the account of other important things such as prayer, learning Torah or spending time with your children. It’s exactly like pushing the train car from the inside.”

The Lubavitcher Rebbe says that the story of the Mann that we will read in this week’s parasha, parashat Beshalach, is coming to tell us that our livelihood is just like the Mann that Bnei Yisrael received in the desert – “bread from heaven.”

At the very beginning of the Jewish People’s existence, the Creator taught us how to relate to the matter of earning a living, or, in other words, how to relate to the vessel that holds the blessings from Hashem, the vessel we make use of when we go to work. 

It is a mistake to attribute one’s livelihood to the vessel through which it comes, instead of to the source of the abundance, the belief in the Creator of the World who blesses one and determines one’s degree of wealth. 

And not just livelihood, everything we face in our lives - the means here in this world are similar to a carriage, be it the most beautiful and the best, it will still remain a carriage, our eyes are fixed on the locomotive, the creator of the world.

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

32 Jewish children (out of 42) in one class

“When I was a child in the 1950’s, the Soviets no longer had anyone to fight. The Jewish people in Russia had surrendered already – only a few stubborn Chabadniks remained.”

So said my dear uncle, R. Shlomo Wishedski, who passed away 6 years ago, today.

“We were 32 Jewish children (out of 42) in one class, in the elementary school in Czernowitz. The teacher was Jewish, too.”

Thirty-two Jewish children in one class!!! But how many of them continued to live as Jews? How many of them left behind offspring who are part of the Jewish People?

I don’t know. Maybe none.

That is, almost none – because in that class there were two children, twins – a boy and a girl, Shlomo and Sarah Wishedski, who knew that they were Jews of the covenant. They also knew that it was a covenant made in blood.

The Jewish People were redeemed from Egypt, as is told in this week’s Parasha, and they were redeemed in the merit of the blood of the covenant – the Brit Mila (circumcision) that they performed on their children.

The blood of the covenant of the Children of Silence in Russia was not only that which flowed when they were eight days old.

The blood of the covenant of the Chabad Children of Silence was mainly that which fled their faces and their parents’ faces every time there was a knock on the door, and not on the window, as had been agreed upon among the Chassidim.

“When everyone is Jewish,” my uncle told us, “you can’t make up stories that you were sick on Shabbat, since they all know what the source of your illness is, especially the teachers, and Shabbat comes every week.

“In the 1920’s and 1930’s it was terrifying to keep Shabbat, but at the end of the 1950’s, when I was a child, it was embarrassing to be a primitive, old-fashioned religious person who observed Shabbat. Every week we were in a state of great apprehension.”

The blood that fled the face of that child every Shabbat is what saved him and protected him, so that he remained a stubborn, G-d fearing Jew, who merited leaving this world pure and holy, with his children, who are following his ways exactly, standing around his bed. His soul ascended to heaven while they were singing the Chabad Niggunim (tunes), which are an inseparable part of that blood covenant that preserved him, almost the only one among 32 children who did not have fathers and mothers who maintained that covenant.

The story of my beloved uncle is the story of our people. These children who did not give up even when it was difficult, to them we owe our existence.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalman Wishedski

He who works all day has no time to make money

“He who works all day has no time to make money.” Are you familiar with this capitalistic sentence? I love this sentence. I think there’s a lot of truth to it. Not only in terms of finances, but in terms of life in general. Sometimes we are so immersed in what we are doing that we forget to live. 

In this week’s parasha, parashat Va’era, it says, “And Moshe spoke thus to Bnei Yisrael, but they didn’t heed Moshe, because of shortness of breath and hard work.” Rashi defines “shortness of breath” in a few simple words: “Anyone who is troubled, his breath is short and he cannot draw long breaths.” Bnei Yisrael believed Moshe Rabbeinu, as it said in the previous parasha: “And the people believed and they heard that Hashem had remembered Bnei Yisrael.” They also heard what Moshe Rabbeinu said. They heard what he said – but they didn’t heed him. They were not open emotionally to really listen to what he was saying, for, as we said, they were in a state of “shortness of breath and hard work.” They could barely breathe. 

How many times have you heard yourself saying: “There’s no way I find time now to go to a lecture of a class! I would like to be with my family, if I could. But I am working hard, I can barely breath”? How many times do we miss the good things in life due to shortness of breath and hard work?

We are not in the Egyptian exile. We are not enslaved to a cruel ruler and subject to beatings like our forefathers were in Egypt. But we are enslaved sometimes to technology, to modernization, to Western conventions. Most of the time we manage quite well, but we don’t really live. Because someone who works hard has no time to make money. And someone whose breath is short cannot lift up his head and see that there is a rich spiritual and value-based life that is within easy reach.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

To what extent are we to be blamed for how our children have turned out?

To what extent are we to be blamed for how our children have turned out?

To what extent are we solely responsible for their being happy or unhappy with their lives?

And when it comes out alright, and they have grown up to be what we would have wanted them to be, to what extent is it really because of us?

I am speaking even about their feelings of confidence, warmth and love, or pain and anxiety – how much are these results of the parents’ influence?

I ask this because I meet quite a few parents on Zoom who are walking around with terrible guilt feelings about “what has become of my son/daughter,” as if they are really omnipotent; as if we as limited human beings are able to address any emotional and mental need of every child that Hashem has entrusted us with.

As a father who traveled quite a bit when the children were young, I have become an expert in buying gifts for children. Don’t laugh – it’s not an easy task. There is yet to be born a father whose presents have all brought joy, with none causing sadness. That’s the way it is. But when the children were small, I learned from experience not only what to bring to whom, but also to understand that there are children who come into this world with greater needs, with deeper feelings of deprivation. You find yourself making greater efforts for these specific children, because you really want them to be pleased and happy when you return.

When they grow up, you notice that it is much more than a gift following a trip abroad. You learn that what works beautifully with one, doesn’t work at all with another. That a conversation that flows well with one, doesn’t flow at all with his brother or sister. 

So if they were born so different, to what extent are we really responsible for them as parents for what they grow up to be?

You shouldn’t think that I am belittling the value of parental influence – our behavior towards the children definitely influences their lives. The question is just, how much?

Bnei Yisrael went down to Egypt and suffered through a difficult exile, a life of daily suffering for many long years. To what extent are Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, Sara, Rivka, Rachel and Leah to blame? 

How much are our forefathers to blame, or how much are they responsible for all this? 

In my humble opinion, the third partner has a much more significant part in this story. 

To emphasize once more – I would be the first person to send every parent to learn how to be a better parent. I myself am continually learning, and it is precisely because of that that I know that there is a limit. There is a limit to how much I as a father and my wife as a mother are able to influence and change. We can give the maximum – and make mistakes, because we don’t have enough of an understanding of neshama’s world – how sensitive it is, how powerful, with what deprivations it is coping, on the one hand – and on the other hand. with what tools it has come into the world.


I am writing all this for some dear and beloved friends who have shared their pain with me over the fact that their dear son/daughter is not behaving the way they would want him/her to. Dear and sweet children who find themselves coping with the less pleasant aspects of what Hashem’s world has to offer. The parents are walking around drowning in guilt, and I simply think that that is not fair. They don’t deserve it. 

They gave their all; they are still giving their all. Apparently, they have made mistakes on the way like everyone does, but even if they have some part or other in “what has become of the child”, they are not the sole guilty ones, just like someone who is very pleased with “what has become of the child” is not necessarily the sole cause of the success. 

What do you think?

And may we be successful!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

‘one of us’

Before I went out on my shlichut here in Basel, I learned in a kollel (yeshiva for married students) for two years. I lived in Kiryat Malachi, and the Kollel was in Rechovot. It was called “Ohr Zarua – Ohr Yaakov” – it was established in memory of Rabbi Yaakov Mizrachi z”l, and to this day his family maintains it, and now I have the opportunity to thank them personally for their labors. 

The beloved Rabbi Meir Aharon z”l was the head of this kollel.

In Chabad it is not customary to stay in a kollel for one’s entire life; rather, one learns for only for a year or two after getting married, and then goes out to real life. So the kollel had mainly young avrechim (married students) about my age, but also some older guys who had been sitting there for years. 

One of them, whose name I don’t remember, was a wise and special person, who sat and learned, but in the breaks between the sessions, during recess or in the kitchenette would mainly talk about discrimination, about the Ashkenazim patronizing the Sephardim and not giving them the same opportunities, and the whole topic of the different ethnic groups, which for some reason that escapes my memory was at its height then. 

Unfortunately, what he said was not far from the truth. Even though he was around 40 years old, he expressed the deep pain of a child who grew up in a ma’abara (temporary camp for new immigrants), and had experienced patronization, silencing of protests and discrimination. From his point of view, the fact that I and my Ashkenazi friends had come to learn in this Yemenite kollel was some sort of righting of this wrong.

One day, I sat with him and we talked openly. I listened, and apparently that was the first time I heard in first person about experiences of discrimination and silencing, things that later on in life I saw how much they still exist – and hurt. 

Suddenly, he told me that when he was young, he had learned in the crafts’ school in Kfar Chabad. “Wait a minute,” I stopped him. “During which years? Because my grandfather, Rabbi Moshe Wishedski z”l, was the mashpia (religious guide) in that school until 1986 (5746). Perhaps you met him?”

“The mashpia, Reb Moshe, was your grandfather?” He asked, surprised. And suddenly his tone softened. The anger disappeared and so did the pain. I just sat there silently, watching him drink his tea, his eyes focusing somewhere above my head, watching a movie from the past.

“You understand,” he said, “that the mashpia, Reb Moshe, was not Ashkenazi. He was ‘one of us’. I know he came from Russia, I know he spent time in jail and in exile there. He himself told us that. But listen, I’m telling you what I felt every time I met him: There was no patronizing, just love at eye level, as an equal. He was ‘one of us’.”

I understood immediately what he was saying, because as a young boy, I would come to my Zaide every day to learn Tanya, and I always felt that he was talking to me at eye level. I thought that he was someone like me. I know this feeling of “one of us”. Afterwards I heard similar things from other grandchildren and others who had met my grandfather. They all felt it – that feeling of “one of us”.

Today I know already that this cannot be feigned. You can’t put on an act. The person you are facing will be able to sense and know immediately whether you are just playacting this “one of us”, or whether you really are “one of us”. My grandfather apparently truly internalized chapter 32 (lev – heart) in the Tanya; he really managed to be “one of us” for every human being. 

Today, the 13th of Tevet, is his yahrzeit. He passed away in 1986 (5746). I pray I will know to learn from him. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalman Wishedski

Be a Yehuda, do Vayigash

I was on a video call with a nice Jew who wanted to consult with me and receive my support in matters concerning his shalom bayit – his relationship with his wife. Like any good Jew, he was mainly searching for ways to convey messages, to hint to what he wanted – to cause things to happen in the way that seemed right and good to him. He had many ideas of how to move things along, but the problem was that every idea he had was likely to produce some problem that would prevent him from carrying it out. 

Hashem did a chessed with me, and what came out of my mouth was: “Do a Vayigash!”

In this week’s parasha, there is one central message, expressed by the word Vayigash (“he approached”). 

Yehuda was in a very delicate situation. The saga between his brothers and the king of Egypt was not over; in fact, it was getting more complex. And now it had reached a climax, with the king wanting to take young Binyamin from them, when Yehuda had guaranteed Binyamin’s return, alive, to their father, Yaakov. He was the first Israeli who used that well-known phrase – “Semoch alai” – “Trust me!” And now the moment of truth had come, and like anyone who accepts responsibility upon himself, he was alone there, and had to make a decision. 

Notice that Yehuda didn’t go around looking for friends or lawyers who would approach Yosef in his stead. He didn’t send a letter, and not even a voice mail. He did Vayigash – he himself approached Yosef, looked him in the eye, and said (so-to-speak): “Let’s settle this matter like two adults.” 

A right and honest vayigash leads to unity. Because when people approach each other and have a straight, face-to-face conversation, that brings them closer to each other, and closeness leads to peace and unity. The disagreement can remain; it is perfectly o.k. not to agree with one another, but when it is done through closeness, the result is peace.

This week, thirty three years ago, the Rebbe said thus: Vayigash expresses the great rule in the Torah of “You shall love your fellow like yourself.” Vayigash is a statement of revealed, practical unity, as expressed by Yehuda and Yosef coming closer to each other. 

Be a Yehuda, do Vayigash.

ֿShabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

It was my first public speech

It was my first public speech. I was a young man, and I still remember my voice – and my body – shaking. It was on Chanukah, and the city was “apportioned out” to the students of the Chabad Yeshiva in Jerusalem – in other words, it was decided who will bring the Chanuka lights to which section of the city. My friend and I were given the Malcha Mall, which had opened only a short time before this. I still remember the excitement involved in speaking with the mall’s officials to ask them to authorize (and pay for…) the lighting of a large menorah in the mall. I am still moved when I remember the surprise of how swiftly and warmly the owners of various businesses in the mall joined in the effort so that the party would be successful: one supplied the PA system, one paid for the large menorah, and the Ne’eman bakery donated the traditional doughnuts. 

While I was busy with the final arrangements, the manager of the mall thrust a microphone into my hand and said, “Chabadnik, get on the stage and say some Dvar Torah (Torah message) or something.” When I got on the stage, I saw dozens of people, and, of course, children, and I got really scared. I lifted up my eyes to heaven in order to gather my wits together, and discovered that on the floors above people were leaning over the bannisters, waiting to hear what I would say. And then, in the following order, my knees went weak, my mouth became dry and my voice – shaky. But Hashem, with His great power, opened my mouth and I said: “Rabotai, look at the menorah. It has one solid, broad base and from that base come its different branches. Why does the menorah have separate branches? Because the menorah symbolizes the Jewish People. 

We have different ways to serve Hashem, different traditions that developed in each exile and even different songs. But all the branches – all of them – are connected to each other, and are really standing on one solid base, and that is our being one people, with one Torah and one G-d.”

Several years have passed since then. I know the beauty of this nation much better than I knew it then. I have learned to know and appreciate so many interesting and exciting customs and traditions, things that people do today exactly the way their forefathers did for generations. I have also seen people accept upon themselves lovingly new customs that they saw by the Rabbis from whom they had learned Torah and Fear of G-d. 

About two thousand years ago we were scattered among the nations. We barely met each other during all those years, and when we did meet in the Holy Land, we found that the gefilte fish and the chreime differed greatly in their shape, consistency, color and especially flavor. But they are all connected to a single solid base, because both of them are an outcome of the verse “Remember the day of the Shabbat to sanctify it.” We celebrate Seder night with different matzahs, different Carpas, depending on the origins of the family. Even the Marror is not the same. But all of us – from Tzan’a in Yemen to Babruisk in Belarus – observed in our own way the mitzvah of “You shall tell your son”, which is written upon the solid base under our menorah’s branches.

One more thing: For all of us, our central goal, privilege and obligation is to illuminate the world with the light of goodness and loving kindness, love and joy.

Shabbat Shalom,

Chodesh Tov,

Chanukah Sameach,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

something very unpopular

Today I want to write about something very unpopular – something people really don’t want to hear about: the importance of good old authentic Jewish education.

But before that, here’s a quote from a letter I received recently:

“I thought the Jewish education I would give them would be enough. We thought that minimal Judaism, the kind we received, would be enough. But, to our great sorrow, we were wrong. Our sons have married out. Our grandchildren, whom we love dearly, are not Jews anymore. And that hurts. It hurts very much.”

I am sorry to say that this is not rare. I have received more than a few letters like that, and many people have told me similar stories.

On Shabbat Parashat Vayeshev, December 1950 (5711), about a month before the Rebbe became the head of the Chabad movement, a short time before he turned from an ordinary citizen to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, he gave a very unpopular speech in America of those days – about the importance of authentic Jewish education. As I mentioned already, this topic is unfortunately still very relevant, except that since 1950 we’ve seen many more painful proofs of how right he was. The Rebbe said thus: The argument between Lavan and Yaakov was not just another ordinary argument between son-in-law and father-in-law; it was the presentation of two significantly different world views.

Lavan said, “The daughters are my daughters and the sons are my sons.” I will determine how they will be educated. Lavan, said the Rebbe, told Yaakov: “You are old, so you can do what you like; you’re of the old generation anyway, and you can sit and learn Torah day and night. But what do you want from the children? They belong to these modern times – they are young; why should they be raised in a way that will make them unable to fit into the modern world?”

Yaakov, on the other hand, said, “I have worked for fourteen years for your two daughters.” The goal of all those years of work was that I should be the educator and the person responsible for my offspring, your daughters’ children. I don’t believe in the new, modern way. There is only one way to ensure that my children will grow up to be Jews, the offspring of Yaakov, and will live as one would expect children of Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah to live – and that is my old-fashioned way: to give them pure Jewish education, many hours of Torah and Judaism.

The Midrash tells us that Yaakov almost never slept during his entire stay in Charan. And the reason he didn’t sleep was that he was worried that his children would be influenced by the mainstream led by Lavan in Charan, because the mainstream has a way of taking over, and people have a way of going along with it.

Yaakov succeeded!

And our job is to make sure that his success is maintained, before it will be too late.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski


“It’s not fair, it’s just not fair.”

“It’s not fair, it’s just not fair.” That’s what I thought and even told myself and whoever was willing to listen for the greater part of my youth. I looked around, and saw friends who had no problem getting up in the morning on time to get to Yeshiva, while for me it was an exhausting struggle. There were those who had no difficulty sitting in one place for two hours, and even listening to a shiur (class), while yours truly was born with shpilkes (Google it!). I have friends who did everything by the book, and I was trying to write my own original volume. The most annoying thing was, that everything that the yeshiva framework demanded came easily to them, and I just heard the word “frame” – and felt the limits of that frame constantly. Well, you have to admit that I was justified in saying that it wasn’t fair.

When I was eighteen years old or so, Volume 35 of the Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe was published. A new book from the Rebbe is the cause for much excitement, and like many of my friends I went through it right away (not “according to the book”, as was my habit, since I took time from other studies I was supposed to be engaged in). When I reached page 150, the section on parashat Vayishlach, I finally found some balm for my soul and an answer to my question.

The Rebbe divides the ways people operate in the world into two types: Rachel and Leah.

Rachel was beautiful; everyone was sure that she was intended for Yaakov, the tzaddik, who had chosen her and had worked hard for her. She symbolizes all those for whom it is easy to do things right and according to expectations. In short: avodat hatzaddikim (the way the righteous serve Hashem).

Leah was not referred to as a beautiful woman. Her eyes were soft from tears, because everyone said that she would marry the wicked Esav. In order to marry Yaakov she had to go through much sorrow, and unpleasantness in terms of her relationship with her sister. And besides that, she married someone who had not chosen to marry her. Leah symbolizes all those to whom nothing comes easily; who has to fight for everything. In short: avodat hateshuva (the way the ba’alei teshuva serve Hashem).

The Rebbe then goes on to say that every person is meant to serve according to his abilities. If you are like Rachel, and your service is that of tzaddikim, it is possible that your service is internal, working on yourself, working with people who are like you. You have to follow the beaten paths and stick close to the frameworks, and within them do the best you can, what only you, with your special beauty. know how to do.

But if you are a Leah type – serving through teshuva, it is possible that you should use your abilities to get through to the most difficult people, to leave the beaten path often, to find the good and the special in the difficulty and confusion. 

This reminds me what Bill Gates said once: when I look for workers, I look for the lazy ones. Why? Because a lazy person knows how to reach the goal in the shortest way possible. 

Today, as a father of children, I can tell which of my children is more in line with “Rachel”, and which is more in line with “Leah”. Just being aware of this makes my parenthood much better and clearer.

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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