Rabbi's weekly Blog

Fear is not a plan of action

In normal times, I wasn’t always particular to wear my hat and jacket when outside. Sometimes I would go into town in some unofficial capacity, and you would see me without my “uniform”, especially during the summer. Not that I was trying to hide anything, for in any case I wore a yarmulke and my tzitzit were visible, and once upon a time, before the beard trend overtook quite a few men in classical Europe, a beard was also a marker. 

Since October 7th, I do not leave the house without my trademark hat and jacket.

In normal times I would usually go by car – a combination of habit and convenience; but these days, I go by public transportation, as much as possible.

Why? Because I hear and feel that these are times when we must show Jewish pride and not show any fear. Because I hear and read quite a lot about people who say one should be careful when sporting indications of one’s Jewish identity. Don’t speak Hebrew; hide this, hide that. This awakens the Chabadnik in me all the way. We are not afraid. We have nothing to hide. And like the Rebbe said about the passuk from megillat Esther, “There was a Jewish man in Shushan the capital”: You could see from afar that this was a Jewish man. Whoever saw him knew immediately that there was a Jew there.

I once heard about a Jew who was in a very official, distinguished event and felt uncomfortable. He therefore went to the restroom, removed his yarmulke and rearranged his hair. An African-American sanitary worker who was standing next to him there looked at him and said: “You can hide the yarmulke, but I” – and he pinched his own cheek – “can’t put my color into my pocket. If you are not going to take pride in who you are, what will you take pride in?” The yarmulke returned immediately to its proper place on top of his head.

In one of Moshe Dayan’s notable speeches to soldiers during the War of Attrition (5727-5730; 1967-1970), he mentioned how the Holy One, Blessed Be He, told each of the three avot (Patriarchs) not to be afraid. To Avraham he said, “Do not be afraid, Avram, I am your shield.” To Yitzchak he said, “I am the G-d of your father Avraham; Do not be afraid, because I am with you.” And to Yaakov he said: “Do not be afraid, my servant Yaakov.” This entire speech was thereafter known as the “Do not be afraid, my servant Yaakov” speech. He also mentioned Moshe Rabbeinu who told Bnei Yisrael before their entry to Eretz Yisrael: “You might say to yourself, ‘These nations are more numerous that I. How can I possibly dispossess them?’ Do not be afraid of them. Remember well what Hashem your G-d did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt.” Dayan gave his own commentary to this passuk – a very Israeli one, which related only to the “Do not be afraid” part of it. He saw this passuk as a guideline provided by the Holy One, Blessed Be He to the Jewish People.” “We have to understand the ‘Do not be afraid, my servant Yaakov’. The ‘Do not be afraid’ does not mean that there is no need to worry. It means: Yaakov, do not be a fearful person, a coward. It has been decreed that you should live in constant strife, and you must not fall into cowardice!”

Moshe Dayan said some more things that I cannot connect to, and which I have not quoted here. But I definitely accept the point I brought above, what I call “Fear is not a plan of action.”

One should indeed use common sense; one should indeed be careful when necessary and be aware of one’s environment (not everyone lives in Switzerland), but one should not be afraid, and one must maintain the pride of Yaakov.

Am Yisrael Chai!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

On false smiles

On the Shabbat Sheva Brachot (the Shabbat after a couple gets married), it is customary to say Divrei Torah (words of Torah), and the speakers usually add a useful tip for the young couple.

On the Shabbat Sheva Brachot of my daughter and son-in-law, which took place a month ago, the groom’s uncle, Rabbi Shuli Lapidot, said wonderful things, and at the end of his speech gave the couple a tip that all the listeners adopted on the spot – even those who have been married for several decades.

This is what he said: “Dear groom, I heard from chassidim in a hitva’adut a good piece of advice for a happy life: Every time you come home, make sure to plaster a smile on your face a moment before entering. Come into your home with a smile. This may sound easy for a newlywed who has not yet started his life, but for he who has been living in Hashem’s world somewhat longer than that, it doesn’t sound simple and easy. Often a person has a very challenging and hard day; there are days in life that are not easy, but it is about those days specifically that this chassid was speaking. Before you come in, put a smile on your face and then enter.”

Rabbi Shuli continued, bringing up the question that everyone was thinking of: “One of the participants in that hitva’adut asked the speaker: ‘But how? We are truthful people, or at least we strive to be real and true, and on a day when you are sad and feel heavy, how can you put on an act and smile?’”

And here, Rabbi Shuli said an immortal sentence, in his sweet Argentinian accent: “Better a false smile that true sadness.”

A week after the wedding of my daughter and son-in-law, Rabbi Shuli’s nephew, Rabbi Shuli himself married off a son. Perhaps he was planning to give the same tip to his son, but, to our great sorrow, he was not present at the Shabbat Sheva Brachot of his son, for on Friday night on his way to shul he was severely injured in an accident, and this week he passed away. Rabbi Shalom Matityahu ben Menachem Daniel and Toybe, I met you once and heard one saying from you; one meeting and one life-changing saying that I have taken on and am already passing on to others in your name. Those who met you a lot and received much from you have probably been enriched many times more.

Dear friends, we are all going through difficult and challenging days, days when the smile, if it appears, is false, but remember what Rabbi Shuli said: “Better a false smile than true sadness.”

Shabbat Shalom and Besorot Tovot (good tidings)!

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

righteous without tzitzit

“They are righteous without tzitzit" - so said Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, the wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, regarding the individuals of "The Brihah" (the escape) who were involved in saving Jews in Europe after the Holocaust.

Now, this is not just a statement, it needs to be understood that back when the world, in the eyes of Jews, was divided into the righteous and the wicked, it was an amazing statement to hear from a righteous Rabbanit, the daughter and granddaughter of Chassidic Rabbis, and the wife of a Chassidic Rabbi. Even among Chabad Chassidim, who are known for seeing the good in every Jew, it was then a kind of innovation. The phenomenon of secularism was not new in the late 1940s, but it wasn't exactly old either. When I was a child, it was common to hear the phrase "my grandfather was a rabbi," but in the late 1940s, it was more in the style of "I was a rabbi" or at most "my father was a rabbi."

To hear then from Rebbetzin Lubavitch a judgment on Jews who seemingly did not observe Torah and mitzvot, "they are righteous without tzitzit," was a new thing that certainly clarified the direction that Chabad was taking, essentially led by her husband, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who saw every Jew as holy and pure. He educated his Chassidim, and us, his emissaries around the globe, to see every Jew as a saintly and pure child of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.

I am currently in New York at the International Conference of Chabad Emissaries. For everyone here, it is clear that every Jew is holy and pure, a beloved child of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. The emissaries are all busy doing good, each in their place, giving what they can to help, encourage, and, most importantly, strengthen the Jewish identity of those around them through Torah study and observance of mitzvot. I hear here all day the admiration and amazement for our brethren living in the Holy Land.

Dear soldiers of the IDF and residents of the Land of Israel, you show the world and the Jewish Diaspora in particular, what happens when someone touches the apple of our eye. No need to dig, not to search beneath the surface. The magnificent beauty of the people of Israel is revealed to all. I don't know how aware you, our brothers and friends in the Holy Land, are of this, and if not, I want to tell you, we are proud of you, we salute you.

And one more thing for my dear my brothers and friends, the emissaries of the Rebbe in the Holy Land: Even if you didn't come to the "Kinus HaShluchim" (Emissaries Conference) this year because you are busy, and you can't leave your post these days, I want you to know that we love you, truly and sincerely, we marvel and are amazed in admiration for the work you do. Thank you for who you are; we salute you from 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalman Wishedski

The war is not only between the IDF and Hamas

The war is not only between the IDF and Hamas; it is also not taking place only in the Gaza Strip. The war is taking place in the Heavens as well, between the Jewish People and the guardian angel of Yishmael up there.

In a few weeks we will read in the Torah about Yaakov Avinu who struggled with an angel until dawn. Chazal in the midrash say that Yaakov’s struggle was with “saro shel Eisav” – Eisav’s guardian angel.

Who is this guardian angel? Or what is it?

Every nation has a guardian angel in heaven that takes care of its interests. And when there is a struggle and a war between nations down below, in this world, it is actually an expression of a struggle and war taking place in the upper worlds between the respective guardian angels.

How crazy does this sound to you so far? Because there’s more, there’s more, and I totally believe in it.

There is no war down here that does not have a source and root up in heaven.

It is clear from the scriptures that when Amalek came to fight with the Jewish people in the wilderness, it was a battle that was really being fought in heaven: “And when Moshe raised his hand, Yisrael prevailed, and when he lowered his hand, the Amalekites prevailed.” Warriors were waging war, but actually everything was being run from above. Yehoshua chose capable people and went out to battle Amalek, and Moshe took the staff of G-d in his hand and went up to the top of the hill. What was the magic of Moshe’s hands? Why, when he lifted them, did the Jews prevail over the Amalekites? This is what the Gemara says in masechet Rosh Hashana: “Did the hands of Moses make war or break war? Rather, the verse comes to tell you that as long as the Jewish people turned their eyes upward and subjected their hearts to their Father in Heaven, they prevailed.”

The war is still being waged. Our dear, beloved soldiers are battling the Yishmaelites down below in this world, and the guardian angels of the Jewish People are battling the guardian angel of the Yishmaelites up in heaven. By the way, seeing the support of Biden, Sunak, Schultz and Macron for Israel, I have a feeling that saro shel Eisav is relatively on our side.

Nobody knows why the Holy One, Blessed Be He, authorized this horror. Holy Jews were murdered and injured; good, pure Jews were kidnapped; good, warm families were exiled from their homes. Ribbono shel olam (Master of the Universe)! Make an end to our troubles and may all the displaced return home!

Dear friends, we can help – wherever we are. Strengthening our faith, increasing unity and love of our fellow Jews, praying more and harder, learning more Torah and doing more mitzvahs. All of these things can help in our battle with saro shel Yishmael.

These are not taking away anything from what we need to do according to the way of the world, rather, they are in addition to what every person is contributing in whatever way he can – donating, serving in the army or volunteering.

And sometimes I just sit and wait for the child who will come to shul and cry out “Cockadoodledoo!” until this decree is no longer.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Every person can be good, and better

 I remained silent a lot in the past two weeks. 

I sat in silence and listened to the sights, the sounds, as well as to the calls, the cries, the prayers and the advice.

I remained silent because for the moment I feel so small in the face of the magnitude of the events, both the holocaust-like stories and the heroic ones. The horror stories and the stories of great courage.

The intensity of the Arab cruelty and evil, as opposed to the power of the spirit of unity and volunteering among the Jews.

I remained silent, also because somewhere in all of this our daughter Mussi got married (Mazel Tov!), and the confusion of feelings – the personal and familial joy juxtaposed with the national mourning – silences one.

“Aharon was silent.” So it says about Aharon Hacohen after the death of his two sons. I used to understand this as being heroic, but today I think it was simply the only option. Sometimes remaining silent is the best option.

Having said all this, I admit that I am amazed at the quantity of advice that almost all keyboard-pounders are sending out to the world: How to conquer and how to annihilate, how to win and how to save. Who must resign today, and who must continue tomorrow. On second thought, perhaps “Aharon was silent” is not a natural response for everybody.

I devoted much thought to the question of what I should do. There is nothing heroic that I can or know how to do. I have no way to prepare food for soldiers or send shoes to army outposts. I don’t even live in Israel, and even my rushing to get there won’t exactly aid the war effort.

Add to this that I was busy arranging an improvised family wedding, which is something private, and sometimes felt inappropriate.

But, pretty quickly, I understood that it’s not so terrible to remain silent. 

And pretty quickly, I understood that one doesn’t need to do something heroic or photogenic. 

It is possible to simply do good, be good.

How simple.

These are days when we ought to make even greater efforts before every word we speak, and certainly before every word we write – weighing it carefully to see whether it is divisive or unifying. Whether it strengthens and encourages or weakens and drains.

Every person can do good, and better.

Every person can be good, and better.

I started with the first task I was entrusted with and that was to put together a happy wedding for my daughter. And from there, while doing it, to respond to everything gently and pleasantly. Because that is what these days demand: gentleness and pleasantness. To be available as much as possible for those who want contact. To give what I can give to those who need me, and it doesn’t matter if he needs something while on army reserve duty or is just asking me a question at the train station. 

I don’t pretend to know what anyone should do. I’ll say only this: Do your jobs in the best way you can, in the calmest way you can. If what a child does usually earns an angry response or a scolding from you, this is the time to pause for a second and show compassion and gentleness. If in normal times the behavior of someone in the street produces from you a shout or expression of annoyance, well, these are not normal times. Respond to him with a smile. 

And remaining silent for a bit is an option, but only if one does not have an obligation to say anything.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski


“So-so.” That is the response I get from many people these days when I ask them how they are doing. 


I also feel so-so. 

On the one hand – sorrow, pain, fear, lacking air, tearful. 

On the other hand – Strong belief in the cause, resilience, a clear awareness that we are strong and that the Jewish People lives - Am Yisrael chai.

On the night of Simchat Torah, when the reports about the horrors had been verified, we felt we couldn’t dance in the shul. How can one sing under these circumstances? Be happy? Dance?


On the other hand, should we give up? Not dance? How can we allow them to take our Jewish spirit from us? After all, we are the living Jewish People. So we danced and were joyful and then we went on to sing “Vehi she’amda” and when we got to “for in each and every generation they try to destroy us,” we felt a tightness in our throats, and then we danced again. 


My brother-in-law, Rabbi Benny Kali from the Chabad House in Merom Naveh in Ramat Gan, was called up rather quickly as a reservist. He is a military rabbi and for the past five days has conducted several funerals per day. Oh, and that includes identifying the victim and being with the families in their moments of pain and wailing.

I asked him yesterday: “Where do you get the strength and the ability to be around death all the time? How can it be done?”

Benny gave me an amazing answer: “On the one hand you meet people in the most horrendous moments that any man or woman, father or mother, can be in. They are expressing their extreme pain, and the heart constricts. On the other hand, when they start to speak and eulogize and tell of the courage of the son or the daughter, they suddenly express hope and power, belief in the cause and in Am Yisrael chai, and the heart expands again.” 


It is 2:52 am. I can’t fall asleep. It’s been this way for the past six nights. It is so hard to fall asleep when one thinks about the families living unending horror on the one hand, and about the 360,000 drafted soldiers and the thousands of volunteers, each one doing whatever he or she knows and can do, on the other hand. The power of pain coupled with the power of faith and a robust spirit. And I then remember something wonderful that I read recently. I don’t remember the details. I do think it was written by Rabbi Chaim Navon. He told of a military psychologist who was in the Golan Heights during the first days of the Yom Kippur War. The psychologist described the soldiers who returned from battle exhausted; most of their comrades had died in front of their eyes and some in their arms. And they, who had come back to refresh themselves a bit, were getting reorganized while fixing the treads of a military vehicle. 

The psychologist, whose name I don’t remember, said then, “I said to myself. If they, battle-fatigued both physically and emotionally, who saw what I am afraid even to imagine, if they are going back to fight, I can forget everything I ever learned in the psychology books, because it contradicts everything in them.”

And they went back to fight. Of course they did – again and again. Like the heroes who, last Shabbat, returned again and again to the inferno to save lives. 

I think of that story all the time. What is there in this nation that cries and dances, mourns and stands erect, cries out bitterly during a funeral and immediately expresses hope and faith? Is it possible that this “so-so” goes against all psychology literature? Well, perhaps only pre-1970 psychology, because contemporary psychology actually encourages the idea of crying for a while but dancing as well. Isn’t that so?

Chassidut teaches us about the point of Yechidah in the soul. The most personal and powerful point, our spiritual foundation, the spirit of the devoted Jew, which nothing and nobody can overwhelm. It is known also as the point of mesirut nefesh. And when it shines in a Jew it comes from a depth that has no logic and reaches a point that also has no logic, not even psychological logic.

Because if you ask the person: Why are you going back again and again to this horror and endangering your life? The answer won’t be reasonable and logical. I think it will consist of one word: Because. 

This point of mesirut nefesh comes up whenever someone threatens us, threatens our Jewish existence. When someone murders us because we are Jews, when beasts murder babies only because they belong to the Jewish nation. 

And that provides something of an explanation for this “so-so/kacha-kacha

”, I think. 

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

It’s time to listen

I too am shuddering upon hearing what happened on Yom Kippur. And the truth is, not only after Yom Kippur – for a few months already I’ve been shuddering; my chest feels heavy, it’s hard to breathe and hope seems somewhat distant.

On principle, I have on my Facebook page people with a variety of opinions and styles, and it is not at all easy for me. The posts have become very extreme, biting, hurting, angry, aggressive. I am so happy I don’t have Twitter.

I want to rectify, want to do something. Can I? I am just one individual. Can I change things? I try to remember always what is said in the name of the Kotzker Rebbe: “When I was young, I wanted to change the whole world. When I grew up, I discovered that it is difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my people. When I saw that I cannot change the people, I tried to at least change my city. I failed in doing that, as well, and decided to focus on changing my family. Now that I am old, I understand that the only thing I can change is myself. And suddenly I understand that if I would have changed myself long ago, it would have influenced my family; there would have then been a change in my city and my people, and then I truly would have changed the world.”

So what can I do?

I read and now know that the social network plays a major role in this situation. But not because everyone posts, and not because there is no editing and people feel free to write whatever they want, and also not because people are writing to the keyboard and are not meeting each other enough in real life, and not even because it’s so readily available and people are letting off steam: Studies show (I read this and it sounds logical to me) that the social network makes people throughout the world more extreme because it enables us and causes us to be around people who are like us. The algorithm identifies what I like to read and sends me more of the same kind, so that people are exposed only rarely to other opinions, other thoughts and other voices, and when they are exposed, it is in the form of lurid headlines, without giving the full picture. 

As a result, people listen to the radio station that says what they want to hear, and watch news programs that show them the world as they would like to see it. 

And then, as you probably understand already, we become impatient with others, unwilling to hear, to listen, to read and see articles, columns and opinion that are not in line with our worldview. It is only a short hop from there to extremism.

So what should I do?

I think I ought to start training myself to listen to other opinions. Not to contain them – that’s already the next stage, and every stage here is very difficult – but just to practice listening. To listen to another opinion, hear it, listen to the person voicing it; usually a person expresses some emotion in his words – fear, anger, joy or hatred. We should listen to it. 

And to go back to the Kotzker Rebbe’s idea, I would start with listening to myself, hearing my opinions and trying to understand which pains and fears I’m expressing in them. Are they real? Perhaps they aren’t?

And then to hear and listen to the wife, the husband, the son and the daughter. Every one of them has what to say, what to express. Am I capable of listening to what my wife says even when it angers or scares me? Am I capable of listening to what my son has to say even when I know that what he will say might shake up my world? Am I capable of hearing what my daughter is saying when I know that every word of hers will pain me?

The festival of unity is upon us – a holiday that connects between arava and etrog; the succah that accepts everyone together. Perhaps now is the time to begin this training? According to the Kotzker Rebbe, that is how we can change the world. 

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

The perspective of an honest man

 David Trachtman was fifteen years old when the shluchim (emissaries) of Chabad arrived in Zhitomir at the beginning of the 1990’s. It didn’t take long for him to connect with them, and soon they sent him off to learn in the yeshiva in Marina Rosha synagogue in Moscow.

David Trachtman’s parents were good, honest Jews, but they did not keep Torah and mitzvahs. His grandmother lit Shabbat candles clandestinely every Friday, and when he was a child, not only did she hide them, but David himself was ashamed of her Shabbat candles. When friends came to visit, he would make sure they wouldn’t see them. But when the Chabad shluchim came to Zhitomir, it turned out that while it was possible to hide the candles, there was no way to hide the light they kindled in his heart and, as mentioned above, he returned to his roots very quickly.

In 1993 the family had the option of emigrating to Australia, but the only flight available was on Shabbat, and David was already unwilling to fly on Shabbat. Zusha Gorelick – who later became Rabbi Zusha, and still later became my brother-in-law when I married his sister – was one of the shluchim in Zhitomir. Zusha had much influence on the young David and when the dilemma around the flight came up, Zusha said that the question is actually a different one: Have you written to the Rebbe to ask for his agreement and blessing for your emigration to Australia? David immediately wrote a letter to the Rebbe and received an answer soon after. In his letter, the Rebbe agreed and gave his blessing, “And just then, my brother called from Australia, saying that he had scheduled a new flight with the Polish airline, LOT, that was taking off on Sunday.” David hasn’t seen Zusha Gorelick since then, but he also hasn’t forgotten him.

This week, David visited us in Basel as part of a “Cooking Classes” trip that he organized. He stopped in Basel for several reasons: Rabbi Luzik Gorelick z”l of Melbourne was the uncle of Zusha and of my wife, was the Rebbe’s shaliach to the Russian community; he also became David’s spiritual father, and together with Raizel, his wife, opened his home to him.

Well, after the wonderful and delicious course he gave here, gracefully presented, I got Rabbi Zusha online for a video conversation. It took Zusha a moment, but rather quickly he said, “David, is that you?” They were happy to see each other, and the story I told above in brief came up there at great length, until my hand got tired of holding the telephone. But I consoled myself with the fact that now I have something to post on Friday. “Listen,” said Zusha, “I’ll tell you something that perhaps you don’t know. I asked your late father why he was leaving Zhitomir and going to Australia. This is what he answered: ‘Since the fall of Communism, the situation here is such that in order to survive one must lie and cheat, which means also to steal here and there. This is the situation at the moment, and it looks like this is the way things will be in the coming years. I am unable to live in a situation in which I have to lie and steal. I want to move to a place where one can make a living, and in general live one’s life in an honest way.’”

David was very moved. He had never heard that from his father.

I was very impressed. What a clean point of view – the perspective of a good and honest person, who wants to live where he won’t have to cheat and lie, a person who wants to keep himself clean from the habits of lying and cheating.

And now, all that remains is to connect this to Parashat Ha’azinu or to Shabbat Shuva, or both.


Shabbat Shalom,

Chatima and Gmar Chatima Tova,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

be Rabbi Abba

I won’t write much on this Erev Rosh Hashana – just a story from the Zohar, Parashat Miketz (page 201b):

Rabbi Abba sat at the gates of the city of Lydda. He saw a person who had fallen asleep on a dirt hill. Suddenly, he saw a poisonous snake approaching the man, but just as the snake reached him, a piece of wood broke off from a tree-root and killed the snake. When the stranger woke up and rose from his place, the hill he had been sleeping on broke apart and a big chasm formed underneath – but nothing happened to him, because he had risen already and left the hill. So he was saved once again.

Rabbi Abba approached him and said, “Tell me what you do, for the Holy One, blessed be He, just made two miracles for you. Such miracles don’t come for no reason.”

The man answered: “All my life there was no one who harmed me whom I didn’t allow to make peace with me, with my forgiving him. This is what I will do to anyone who causes me pain, and I don’t pay attention to all the bad things that people do to me; moreover, from the day they harm me onward I try to do good to them.” In other words, I forgave anyone who ever harmed me, made peace with him and even tried to repay bad with good.

Rabbi Abba wept and said, “The actions of this person are greater than those of Yosef Hatzaddik – for Yosef paid back good for bad, but they were his brothers, and it was proper that he have mercy on them, but what this person does is more than what Yosef did. He is worthy of Hashem performing miracle upon miracle for him.” 

My brethren and friends, I have nothing to add.

Please accept my heartfelt wishes for Ktiva V’chatima Tova, a good sweet year, or, perhaps in two words: Mashiach now!

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

A peaceful blessing

Mrs. Rachel Pinson, the Chabad emissary in Tunis since 1960, once went into the Rebbe for a private meeting, known as a yechidut.

The security situation for the Jews there was not good at the time. It was a period of danger, and she brought her fear with her into the Rebbe’s room. When the Rebbe asked her about Tunis, “My heart beat hard,” she said. But, on the other hand, “while I was with the Rebbe I felt so tranquil.”

I am trying to experience that paradox for a moment. On one hand she felt distress and talking about Tunis might arouse that unpleasant feeling even more, and on the other hand, being in the same room with the Rebbe made her feel tranquil. So what could she tell the Rebbe when he asked her about the situation in Tunis, when she was overwhelmed by these two contradictory feelings? What would I have said if I had been there? I don’t know.

But here is what she said – brilliant, in my opinion: 

“I ask that to be able to maintain the feeling of tranquility that I feel here.” In other words, she was saying it all: May I be able to feel in Tunis the sense of calm that I feel here, in your room. 

And the Rebbe, who always doubled and tripled everything, replied immediately: “Not only for yourself; pass that feeling on to others as well.”

I don’t know whether she understood at that moment what a bracha (blessing) she had received. For the Lubavitcher Rebbe didn’t speak thoughtlessly. He really meant that she should get such a blessing. But since then, she has definitely noticed that people who meet her say to her: “Oh, Madam Pinson, when I speak to you, my mood improves immediately. You are like a ray of light for us.” “And I immediately respond,” she says, “It’s not from me, it is the Rebbe who gave me such a gift, when he said ‘Not only for yourself; pass that feeling on to others as well.’”


I had the privilege to go into the Rebbe, into his tziyun, this morning (Thursday). It was very early, and most of the time I was there alone. I hadn’t come from Tunis, but like any good Jew, I too was somewhat heavyhearted. I came with a burden, and I noticed that slowly, this burden dissipated, and a feeling of tranquility filled my heart. And when I left and learned with a friend a ma’amar (article) of the Rebbe about “the King in the Field”, I understood that that must be the feeling when the King is in the Field – this is the simple explanation of the words there, “and smiles at everyone.”

The ma’amar I studied is from 5746 (1985), about the words “Ani ledodi vedodi li”. It is a short article that at first glance seems to be a collection of short Chassidic sayings. But looking at it a bit more broadly, comprehensively and perhaps more deeply – which one can do by studying this ma’amar a few times (including listening to the audio recording of the Rebbe himself) – enables one to understand that there is a fascinating perspective here on the month of Ellul.

The Rebbe mentions three points:

a. The parable about the King in the Field from the Admor Hazaken (the first Chabad Rebbe), is printed as a ma’amar on Parashat Re’eh, and not as a sermon for the month of Ellul.

b. The ma’amar is printed on page 32 (which numerically translates into lev – “heart”).

c. In this book of ma’amarim (Likutei Torah/Torah Or) which is in the order of the weekly parashas there is no ma’amar on parashas Shoftim, in spite of the fact that we have enough sayings of the Admor Hazaken on psukim from Shoftim.

And this is the perspective, in my humble opinion:

a. Re’eh – “See” – is an illuminating kind of seeing. For in the month of Ellul, when the king is in the field, his expression is that of light: “May Hashem make his face shine on you.”

b. Page 32, lev – well, it’s no coincidence, because the event of Ellul is one of the heart. The main point of the “King in the Field” is a heart-to-heart connection.

c. Judges, by nature, deal with rift and not with union, with separation and not with connection, with din (justice) and not with chessed (loving-kindness). Well, in the above-mentioned book of ma’amarim there is no separate ma’amar for the parasha of Shoftim, because it is less connected to the Chassidic concept of Ellul, the light of the smiling heart and face of the King in the Field.

Like Mrs. Pinson felt in the Rebbe’s room, like I felt this morning in the ohel of the Rebbe, like all of us are permitted to feel and can feel every day of this month.

Wishing us all success,

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

do you know me?

What happens when a court decides unanimously that the defendant is guilty, that he indeed committed a murder?

According to the accepted practice worldwide, he receives the full punishment. But, surprisingly enough, according to Torah law, he is exempt from any punishment! As the Rambam wrote in Hilchot Sanhedrin: “A Sanhedrin (high court of law)  … and all all of them said he is guilty, then he is let off.” This ruling is based on what it says in Masechet Sanhedrin: “A Sanhedrin who was unanimous in its indictment, [the defendant] is let off.”

Why? What’s the logic in this?

On Parashat Ki Tisa, 5745, the Rebbe explained this in a deep and long discussion, involving delving into the murderer’s soul, finding the good in it, and learning an amazing instruction for each and every one of us.

This is what the Rebbe said: “From this we can understand that each and every Jew, whoever he is – even if he is in the lowest state – as for his internal and true existence, he is good. And therefore, it is certain that no matter what the situation is one can find some redeeming feature.

“That being so, if the court was unanimous about his being guilty, in other words, there was no one at all who could view him favorably, it must be that they didn’t really see him – didn’t see his inner essence – since he for sure has some good in him. That being so, that court cannot indict him since they don’t really know him and he is exempt from punishment.”

My friends, if that is so regarding a murderer, it certainly should be our attitude towards each and every Jew, especially when it comes to our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. We must not only search for the good in every person, but mainly approach them taking into account that we are not seeing everything, because every person has some good in him or her, even if it is hidden.  So much so, that even the Sanhedrin, who were granted the authority to judge capital-punishment crimes, cannot produce a verdict if they haven’t found the hidden good in the defendant.

“And from this we learn a teaching concerning disseminating Torah and Judaism,” the Rebbe summed up. “When you meet a Jew in the street who seems to have no redeeming features, you should know that this is just his external aspect, but in his internal aspect and his essence – he is a Jew! And if one sees only that he “sinned”, and does not see that ‘he is a Jew’ – that is proof that one is not seeing his true reality, and so, one’s judgment of this ‘sinning’ person is no judgment at all!”

This week we have entered the month of Elul, the month of mercy and Selichot. This Shabbat we will be reading Parashat Shoftim. Now is the time to look into these matters and judge other people, and ourselves as well, according to the Lubavitcher’s Rebbe approach – to understand that there is good in all of us, and if you don’t see it, then you are not in apposition to judge him or her.

So simple? Yes!


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

I used to believe; now I simply know.

I used to believe in Divine Providence (hashgacha pratit). I heard stories, listened to lectures and went to classes, studied essays; this belief was also instilled in me at home, from the moment I was born. I believed in it.


Nowadays I don’t believe in Divine Providence – now I can see it; I know that it exists.

For the first thirty years of my life, more or less, when something happened that seemed to be upside-down, illogical, leaving me stuck or getting in the way, I needed the faith that I had saved up, all those stories and classes.


Nowadays, when something like that happens, I smile at it and know that it is for my own good, and sometimes also try to guess what the future will bring: “It will be interesting to see how all this will turn out to be for the good, and when exactly I will see it happening.”

Why is that so? It is very simple. When you live with an awareness of Divine Providence, and learn to look at everything that is happening around you as coming from that Divine Providence, you get used to seeing how Hashem arranges the puzzle of life in a wonderful way. You also learn that He is a bit wiser than you.


I used to say that “If the Master of the World would just listen to my advice, everything would be better.” Today I say, “It’s a good thing that He doesn’t listen to my wise ideas.”


On Shavuot 5723 (1963) the Rebbe explained the famous passuk from this week’s parashaparashat Va’etchanan, “Ata horeta – You have been shown in order to know that Hashem, He is the G-d. There is none beside him.” Also, the passuk shortly after that, “You shall know this day and take to your heart that Hashem, He is the G-d in heaven above and on the earth below – there is none other.”


The first verse is describing a relationship that comes down from above: You, Hashem, are the one who showed us to know that You are the G-d.” that is the faith that we received, the one we learned and read about, and received at home as well. The second is describing a relationship from the bottom up. Here, it is not Hashem who is teaching, but rather the human being, out of his life experience and with his own resources, reaches the understanding that “You shall know this day.” It is more knowledge, less belief.


And from this comes the other difference between the two psukim. What a person receives from an external source will not settle completely in his heart. The person might be convinced, and certainly he or she will believe, but the heart will still have its doubts – it has its own rules. But when a person reaches an understanding through life’s experience, working from the bottom up, then immediately after “You shall know this day,” he will experience “and take to your heart.”


Shabbat Shalom – and smile, because all is for the good!


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Be a Mendel Drizin

R. Mendel Drizin z”l was big-hearted Chabad chassid. This week, I heard a story about him, told to me by a faithful and exacting friend of mine. He heard the story from Chana z”l, Drizin’s wife.

After Mendel married, he went into the real estate business and began to make good money. They were managing well, but when his wife, Chana, went to a yechidut by the Rebbe, she asked for a blessing that her husband should earn better. Although they were managing and had what they needed to pay the bills, she asked for abundance, so that they wouldn’t have to stop and make calculations before spending money. 

Friends, listen to what the Rebbe said to her – and I am purposely telling this story during the Nine Days, the days of mourning for the destruction of the Temple, because these are the days when we should be increasing out ahavat chinam (baseless love). The rebbe said to her: Tell Mendel to give tzedakah more than the “dei machsoro” – “whatever is lacking to him.” In other words, if a person is asking for tzedakah, R. Mendel should not give only the bare minimum to cover the specific needs of the poor person, but, rather, he should give generously, so that the person receiving the tzedakah will feel the generosity, that he should be comfortably well off, and then Hashem will make sure that R. Mendel, too, will have more than the necessary minimum – he too will be comfortably well off.  

And that is what happened to R. Mendel Drizin. His business dealings were blessed, and just as he gave, so he was granted from Heaven.

The last passuk of the haftara of Parashat Dvarim that we will read on Shabbat in shul, speaks of tzedakah: “Zion will be redeemed through justice and those who will return to her through tzedakah.” As the Metzudat David commentary says: The return from exile will be due to the tzedakah they will give.

Be a Mendel Drizin.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Are you wearing Apple Glasses?

This week I received a video clip of a young man sitting and pedaling on a stationary exercycle, wearing Apple Glasses that provide an “augmented reality,” as it is known these days. Suddenly he starts breathing hard, pedals faster and then tries to slow down, and then starts to shout and would have fallen off the stationary exercycle, if someone hadn’t caught him and held him, shaking.

For a moment it’s funny. The responses to the clip were laughter or at least a laughing emoji. I was also amused by the clip, but only for a moment – until I realized that the joke was on me. 

What did I see there? A man wearing a certain type of glasses that create an illusion of reality. In other words, in reality he is sitting safely on an exercycle that doesn’t move, but the glasses he is wearing are telling him that he is riding a mountain bike at top speed, and suddenly is confronted with an abyss, which he falls into. It is clear, then, why he was hyperventilating, shouting and shaking. The imaginary reality was scaring him to death.

And I, how many times do I wear such glasses? They are invisible, but I am definitely wearing glasses that create the illusion that the reality I am living in is scary, that I’m losing control – that there is an abyss, and boom! - when really, I am standing on solid ground. So is the joke on me or on him?

I envied him. At least after the fact he could see a video of himself with the Apple Glasses showing him a virtual reality. He could look at himself from the outside and see that he was needlessly alarmed and afraid, and that everything is okay. And I? Where will I find such a clip that will show me that sometimes I am wearing virtual reality glasses?

The Jewish people traveled through many places in the wilderness. Tomorrow we will read the parasha of Matot-Masei from the Torah in shul. Every stage in the journey had a story, or as they say in the Holy Land, every stage was a “parasha”. In every journey there was a “parasha” that caused some kind of upheaval. Bnei Yisrael complained time and again, at every opportunity. I am not blaming them, because I was not wearing their Apple Glasses there. But I am sure that their glasses presented to them an imaginary reality of hunger, thirst, death and more. 

So what should one do with all this? How can we examine what was, and at least learn from it for the future?

I found two tools that work for me, and perhaps they will work for others as well. Here they are: 

The first one is:

Looking back critically. No one has prepared for you a clip about your past, but you can do it yourself. And if that’s hard for you (and it is hard), then have someone else help you – a professional or a friend who thinks straight and is not afraid to tell you the truth (you can also call this a hitva’adut). Take one event that you remember from your past, tell it over, analyze it, examine its positive and negative aspects. If you manage to relive what you felt then, so much the better; it will help you focus on the issue and learn from it for the next time. Not the next time that you will go through an identical experience – because it won’t be identical – but the next time you will have to face the challenges of life; it is your behavior patterns that will be identical. Here you will be able to stop and say, “Oops, I’m repeating my mistake.”

Maybe something like Moshe Rabbeinu did in parashat Devarim. He reviewed for himself and for the people the past journeys, stopped and examined each one or at least the most significant ones, and one may say he showed Bnei Yisrael a video of themselves and their parents being alarmed in face of an imaginary reality: shaking, shouting, hyperventilating. It is clear that the goal is not just to make them feel better, but to enable them to see who, what, where and why, and thus improve in the near future and grow. 

The second tool is Aseh lecha rav – “Attach yourself to a rabbi.”

I don’t mean the rabbi whom you go to when you have questions in halacha (in the hopes that there is such a person), but, rather, the “Attach yourself to a rabbi” that the Rebbe spoke about frequently. Find a friend or some other person that you love and know that he only wants the best for you. He doesn’t have to be a community rabbi or a rabbi who gives halachic rulings, but a person who is healthy in his mind and has an open heart, and in the words of the Rebbe, the criteria for choosing a personal “rabbi” are, “First of all, one should check if there are these three signs – [he should be] shy and merciful and act with loving-kindness”. Ask for his permission and present him with the cases you are not sure about, in which you have doubts. Let him listen. He will respond without your emotional baggage because he is not wearing your augmented reality glasses. He will give you a different viewpoint, usually annoying, but clean of the self-bribery that we use with ourselves.

Wishing everyone success, 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

A wedding in Gorky

I thought that I was beyond being moved by stories of the past. All my life I have heard stories from my parents about their parents and grandparents, about their devotion to Torah, mitzvahs and gemilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness). I heard about their being arrested, exiled, dying young and other travails.

Even a video that was flying around the internet last week, in which my father and his brother tell something of their lives there, in Soviet Russia, didn’t touch me. I’m so familiar with these stories, they are in my bones; I received them as a baby with my mother’s milk.

I do think the past is important, but the future is much more important. The past is interesting, but the future is a thousand times more fascinating; and the main thing is, one can’t influence the past, but the future is there for us to shape. 

That’s what I thought at least until yesterday, when Mussi sent me a picture of herself in Nizhny Novgorod (known in the past as Gorky) in Russia. She was visiting the graves of the chassidim Shlomo and Batya Chaya Yenta Raskin z”l, my father’s grandparents. Both of them died not long after the Second World War, which means, after they had opened their home to all the Jewish refugees who arrived in the city during the terrible years of famine.

My grandfather, Rabbi Moshe Wishedski, was active in Gorky as a shaliach of the previous Rebbe, the Rayatz.

My father was born in that same city. 

Rabbi Shimon and Rebbetzin Yael Bergman are the Rebbe’s shluchim to Nizhny. The Bergmans have been ministering to the Jews in Nizhny for 25 years already. They are completely devoted to them, fulfilling every day, every hour, the Rebbe’s mission – to reach every Jew, save any soul, not to give up on anyone, to fulfill the prophecy of Yeshayahu Hanavi: “And you will be gathered up one by one, children Yisrael”. I must emphasize once more: This is not just a poetic statement, not just fine words. It is their work every day and hour. Whoever hasn’t seen the joy of a Chabadnik when he meets a Jew he’s never met before, has never seen such a pure, honest and internal joy in his life. Sometimes the shaliach didn’t know that that Jew existed and sometimes the Jew himself wasn’t aware of his own Jewishness. 

Leah, the Bergmans’ daughter, was married in Nizhny this week, and our Mussi went to participate in her friend’s wedding. She sent us many pictures of the wedding, starting from the preparations and going all the way to the sheva brachot. It was very nice to see all this, and mainly very gladdening for us. 

But the next day we received a picture of Mussi standing next to the graves of the above-mentioned grandparents. This is what she wrote: “I am in Nizhny Novgorod, formerly Gorky, for the wedding of a friend, Bergman. My sweet aunt and uncle, Chani and Itzik Gorelick, came from Kazan and took me today to the gravesite of R. Shlomo and Batya Raskin. I said a few chapters of Tehillim and invited them to [my] wedding. Regards! ❤️

And suddenly, everything came back to me. Nowadays it’s known as a “trigger”. But it was a good trigger, as positive as can be. I suddenly remembered the descriptions of the previous Chassidic wedding there in Nizhny: my grandfather’s wedding, which took place on 17 Tevet 5694 (1934) in that same city, in Gorky. I remember the letter that R. Shlomo Raskin wrote to the Rebbe on the 25th of Tevet 5694:

“…. Your letter with the blessing of Mazel Tov for the wedding day of my daughter, Shima Chasya with the perfect groom, Moshe Wishedski, we received with joy and pleasure. And I hereby announce that with Hashem’s loving-kindness upon us, the wedding took place at a good and successful time, and, Baruch Hashem, we rejoiced on a sublime level.”

He goes on to tell of the important guests at the wedding:

“My honored father shlit”a (R. Chaim Ben Zion Raskin) came and took part in our rejoicing, and among them appeared also my relative… the Ranan (R. Nisan Nemenov).” He writes some more descriptions and asks for blessings for the couple and signs: “Your servant, Shlomo, son of my father, Chaim Ben Zion shlit”a.”

Suddenly all the years became compressed, and everything looked close and real. Mussi, the Chabad school student, is about to marry Yitzchak, a student of Chabad Yeshivas. She is standing at the graves of her father’s great-grandparents and invites them to her wedding, and I see in my imagination how they are looking at her with inner joy and seeing that they were successful, that their way is being perpetuated, that it was worth all the investment; their devotion wasn’t wasted. Generations of sons and daughters stayed within the framework, exactly in the same system. What they did back then, in the 1930’s, their descendants are doing today. The blessings are the same blessings, the prayers the same prayers. 

Can you imagine?

In a letter my grandfather sent from Gorky to the Rebbe (who was already in Poland) after his wedding, he wrote: “… Please bless us that Hashem yitbarach will help us that the structure will be built on the foundations of Torah and mitzvahs.” That is exactly the same request, prayer, beseeching and blessing that Rabbi Shimon and Yael Bergman blessed their daughter and son-in-law under the chuppa, in exactly the same city – with only its name changing from Gorky to Nizhny.

* * *

I still think the future is more interesting than the past.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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