Rabbi's weekly Blog

the connection between Tisha B’Av and Chanukah


Dear Friends,


Have you ever heard of the connection between Tisha B’Av and Chanukah?

My good friend, Rabbi Shalom Chazan, who is the Shaliach in Rome, told me of an unusual, ancient custom of the Jews of Rome. On the night of Tisha B’Av, the Shul is kept dark, and every member of the community who comes to mourn the destruction of the Temple receives a long candle with which he lights up his way and his prayers during the evening. The candle has to be long enough to last beyond the end of the services. Why? Because it is used to light the Shamash of the menorah on the following Chanukah.

Tisha B’Av is the day we note the destruction of the Temple; Chanukah is the holiday on which we celebrate the purification of the Temple and the renewal of the service in it. So here, the candle that is with us during the mourning accompanies us during a joyful time as well.

This beautiful custom connects with this week’s Parasha very nicely. Parashat Miketz is the Parasha in which we read how Yosef becomes the viceroy of Egypt. But first, we are told that Yosef remained in jail for two years. So we begin the story of how he reached the highest position he could with the description of his lowest point. And not only that – we read at the end of Parashat Vayeshev how his stay in jail paved the way to his rise. For it was there that he met the wine steward and interpreted his dream correctly. This, in turn, made the wine steward tell Pharaoh, who was searching for an interpretation for his dream, that there is a young Hebrew in jail who knows how to interpret dreams.

But this young man not only knew how to interpret dreams; he knew even better how to dream himself. He was called a “dreamer” by his brothers, and they were right. He knew not to stop dreaming, even while in jail, about other days of good and light. He understood what we understand today, that the dark jail was part of the process – a stage on the way to the fulfillment of his dreams.

The Jews of Rome express this idea in a candle that lights up two different days, seemingly opposite in their external meaning, but really the same in their eternal message. For the way towards light goes through darkness, and the hard times in life are just stages in the progress towards the good and the beautiful. The Tisha B’Av candle is the candle that lights the Chanukah menorah.


Shabbat Shalom,

Wishing you brightly-lit Chanukah days, and may their light extend to the rest of the year,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

do you say Kaddish about yourself?


Dear Friends,


Here is a story I read this week – for the first time in my life.

Sometime towards the end of the 1950’s, my grandfather z”l met a Jewish friend in one of the clandestine Minyanim (prayer quorums) in Czernowitz, and heard him saying Kaddish Yatom (Kaddish for orphans). The friend was one of those who could be trusted, for, if he hadn’t been, he wouldn’t have been invited to join the clandestine Minyan. When my grandfather asked him which of his parents had died recently, he gave a startling answer:

“I have two sons. Neither of them is living the life I would like them to lead. It is clear to me that when the time comes for me to depart from this world, they will not say Kaddish for me. So I thought about it, and came up with a solution: I’ll say Kaddish on myself, in advance…”

Such beauty, simplicity and purity! Do you understand? The man was saying Kaddish Yatom on himself.

But my grandfather did not like that idea, and said to him: “Instead of being involved in goodbyes and in Kaddish, in death and sadness, be involved with life. The underground community needs a mikveh very badly in order to maintain Jewish life here. Give everything you have – body, soul and money – in order to build a mikveh and that way you will be a partner to actions of life and light, hope and joy.”

And that is what the man did; he stopped saying Kaddish for himself and devoted himself to the setting up of a mikveh.

“One is supposed to listen to the candles and contemplate what they are telling us,” so said the Chabad Rebbes about Chanukah candles. We do not celebrate only the past, not only the victory of the Maccabim and the miracle of the small flask of oil that took place in the year 3596 – 165 B.C.E. The holiday of Chanukah has to be relevant, carrying a message and meaning for us in the year 5777 – 2016.

What, indeed, do the Chanukah candles tell us? If I would have to define Chanukah in one word, it would be “Life”. And if in a whole sentence, it would be that Chanukah is a holiday that reveals and emphasizes a light-emanating future that is hidden deep in the dark present. We must lift up our heads and search for life and for hope, happiness and light in every situation. My grandfather lived at a time and in a place in which shadows and darkness prevailed, and still, he managed to bring light, life, hope and happiness to a person who was already saying Kaddish about himself.


May we all enjoy a happy and light-emanating Chanukah!


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

the influenced of the mainstream


Dear Friends,

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

created a Gan Eden around yourself

 Dear Friends,

In his famous speech in Stamford University, Steve Jobs said, “Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there.” In this week’s Parasha we find a person who got to heaven without dying. When Yaakov came in to serve his father delicacies in order to receive the blessings that were intended for Esav, Yitzchak said, “See, the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field that Hashem has blessed.” What is the “fragrance of the field”? Says Rashi: “That teaches us that the fragrance of Gan Eden (heaven) came in with him.” How did this work? How did Yaakov have the fragrance of Gan Eden while still in this world? Or, in other words, what was this Gan Eden that Yaakov carried around with him?

It seems that not only Yaakov, but every one of us can walk around with Gan Eden attached. After the Ba’al HaTanya, in Letter no. 27, determines that Gan Eden is not somewhere up above or in outer space, but rather in this world, the one we’re living in. He says, “It is known what our Sages said about Yaakov Avinu a”h, that Gan Eden came in with him… that the air of Gan Eden spreads out around every person, and in this air are all his good thoughts and words of Torah and service of Hashem (and the opposite as well etc.).” In simple words, the atmosphere and aura around a person could be heavenly, or the opposite; it depends on what the person has injected into the space around him. Yaakov created a Gan Eden around himself, and that was the fragrance. Yitzchak, who was of similar makeup, knew how to identify this pure, wonderful fragrance.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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