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There is nothing more whole than a broken heart


Dear Friends,


Jews have always gone to their rabbi or rebbe, seeking a blessing or advice. Sometimes the requests are about important – but not critical – issues. But sometimes a Jew comes to his spiritual guide for something that is crucial for his life, and he is approaching him as a last resort.

One of the stories that has stayed with me since childhood is a story that the Rebbe told a number of times – about someone who came to the fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber Schneersohn, in order to receive a blessing regarding some truly critical matter, which if he would fail in it, would mean total breakdown. He had traveled a long way in order to reach the town of Lubavich, and had prepared himself spiritually and materially. He was completely focused on one goal: to reach the Rebbe and ask for a Bracha (blessing). There was no other way for him to deal with his problem.

Much to his surprise, when he entered the Rebbe’s room and presented the problem, the Rebbe said, “I can’t do anything for you. I can’t help you.”

The Rebbe’s response landed on him like a bombshell. All the tension and pressure he had been enduring erupted: when he came out of the Rebbe’s room he burst into tears and wept – sobbing deeply and brokenly. The sobs were coming from the depths of his broken, shattered heart. (In the words of the Rebbe: ausgebrechen in a bittern gevain). “Even the Rebbe can’t help me…”

Outside he met the Rebbe’s brother, Rabbi Zalman Aharon Schneersohn, and when he  heard what had happened, he went into his brother’s room and asked: “Is this the way things go? A Jew comes to you to request a Brachaand you tell him you can’t help him, to the point that he cries bitterly?”

The Rebbe, in response, readied himself and received the broken man again, giving him a blessing that was later realized.

You would ask, Why? What did the Rebbe say at the beginning that he couldn’t help, and in the end bless him anyway?

The Rebbe explains a wonderful point: when the person entered the first time he was not yet a “vessel” that could contain the blessing, certainly not such a big blessing that could extricate him from the problem he was facing. But – and that’s a big “but” – after he came out of the room and cried a cry of deep brokenness, which brought him to pour out his heart to Hashem, he became a different person, one who is a vessel worthy of such a blessing.

In this week’s Parasha, the Jewish People experiences a great fall. Moshe Rabbeinu comes down at last from Mount Sinai, holding the two Tablets of the Law, but instead of giving them to the people, he shatters them, in great pain. Bnei Yisrael, who only forty days before heard from Hashem the words “I am Hashem, your G-d, who took you out of the land of Egypt” had pointed at a golden calf and had said “This is your G-d, Yisrael, who took you out of the land of Egypt.” It was clear to Moshe that they were not worthy – they were not yet a “vessel” for this great Bracha of receiving the Tablets. A break was necessary; and that is exactly what he did: He broke the Tablets.

After this terrible calamity, and because of it, the people became vessels worthy of the blessing and indeed they received the second set of Tablets from Hashem. But they didn’t forget the fall, the breakage. The fall is extremely important, since it enables a person to obtain a more correct perspective.

That is the reason for the amazing fact we learned in tractate Bava Batra (14b): “The Tablets and the fragments of the Tablets are lying in the Ark.” The Holy Ark that was in the Holy of Holies contained not only the whole Tablets that they received the second time from Hashem; it also contained the pieces of the first Tablets. Because one must remember the fall, the breaking. It can serve as a springboard to personal and national growth. A break, a fall, has both meaning and a goal.


As the Kotzker Rebbe put it: “There is nothing more whole than a broken heart.”


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

“You can, but you don’t want to.”


Dear Friends,


Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov was once sitting with his disciples in his Beit Midrash (study hall). They were learning or praying. Outside, in the street, a non-Jewish wagon-driver was going by in his wagon, but because of the winter mud he could not continue. The wagon was heavy, and the horse just couldn’t pull it through the mire. The wagon-driver therefore stuck his head through the window of the Beit Midrash and asked the Baal Shem Tov’s students to help him extricate the wagon from the deep mud.

When the students saw how heavily-loaded the wagon was, and how deep the mud puddle was, they said to him, “We can’t.”

“You can, but you don’t want to,” responded the wagon-driver.

The Baal Shem Tov, who had the principle of learning something from everything that one sees and hears, said to his disciples: “Listen to what the wagon-driver is saying. It is a message for life. It’s easiest to say ‘I can’t,’ but most of the time it’s really ‘I don’t want to.’”


After last week’s Parasha, in which we learned about the contents of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), this week, in Parashat Tetzave, we learn about the special garments that the Cohanim wore, their different types, design, components etc. Rashi, when relating to the prohibition of tearing the priestly garments, mentions also the Holy Ark’s wooden shafts, which we learned about last week.

These shafts were attached on either side of the Holy Ark. They were meant to be used when the Jewish People traveled, as a means of lifting the Holy Ark and carrying it. It turns out that these wooden bars must be attached to the Ark at all times, even when no traveling is being done and the Ark is sitting in the Holy of Holies. It is even a Torah commandment: “They shall not be removed from it.”

The Ark is taken out from the Holy of Holies when there is a war, and then it is carried before the camp and helps Bnei Yisrael in their battle. But this doesn’t happen every day, certainly not when they are already settled in Jerusalem, in the Temple. What is the reason, then, that they have to always be inserted into their rings in the Ark?

The Sefer Hachinuch explains simply: “We were commanded not to remove the Ark’s shafts from it, in case we will have to go out with it quickly to some place.” Because you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow, the Ark has to always be ready to go.

From this the Lubavitcher Rebbe learned the most important thing: Even if you consider yourself to be a Holy Ark, and perhaps you are indeed a learned Torah scholar, holy and righteous, you must still learn from the Holy Ark, in which the Tablets are kept. Like the Ark and its wooden bars that are always in place, you too have to be always ready to go out in response to any call for help that reaches you. Even when a person is learning or praying, or doing anything else, as important as it may be, he must be ready to move, as if the bars were attached to him; he must be willing to go out and lend a hand.

And if you say that you are busy, or you can’t, the Ukrainian wagon-driver will stick his head through the window and tell you, loudly: “You can, but you don’t want to.”


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

respect even a thief


Dear Friends,


This week, someone wrote a vulgar and offensive post about Chabad and the Shluchim. This happens sometimes. It happened 250 years ago, and it will probably happen in the future as well. It is in the nature of things for this to happen. I stopped getting upset about such incidents a long time ago, so the post didn’t bother me. But the talkbacks written to this post were a hundredfold worse than the post itself.

I know, one must be careful not to speak about the more negative aspects of human beings, but since we are standing right before the Shabbat of Parashat Mishpatim, the Parasha where we received the mitzvahs relating to interpersonal relationships and ethics, I thought there is room for some critique.

Facebook is filled with good deeds – chock full. Every minute a new initiative appears – fixing an air-conditioner for a Holocaust survivor, helping a woman whose house burned down, saying Tehillim for someone who is ill etc. etc. But, as mentioned, there are also unpleasant phenomena. And the most prominent ones, in my opinion, are talkbacks that insult the writer personally, instead of relating to what he wrote.

If someone wrote something sarcastic, not nice, even offensive, we can answer him to the point, respond to his words, argue if necessary – but we must not insult the writer personally! And that includes refraining from expressing a “professional” opinion regarding the state of his mental health and “blessing” him vigorously.

In this week’s Parasha, the Torah says that a thief who steals a sheep pays back four times its worth, and one who steals an ox pays back five times its worth. Rashi brings the statement of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, who explains this law thus: “Hashem maintains the dignity of His creations. [For] an ox, who walks on its own and the thief is not degraded by carrying it on his shoulder – the thief pays five times the amount. [For] a sheep, which he carries on his shoulder – he pays four, since he suffered degradation due to it.” In other words, the fact that the thief had to degrade himself and carry the sheep on his shoulder in public lessens his punishment.

But, wait a minute – we’re talking about a thief. Why is Hashem concerned for his dignity? He decided to steal – he should suffer the consequences of his actions!

Friends, he didn’t write a post; he just stole – simply stole something that doesn’t belong to him. And the Torah commands us to maintain his dignity.


The Rebbe explains that this explanation is very appropriate for Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, for it is about him that the Gemara says in tractate Brachot; “They said about him, about Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, that no person ever managed to greet him before he greeted him first.” If someone is quick to greet any person in the street, that shows that he really and truly respects every person as he is, regardless of his deeds, ethnic origin or religion. It makes sense that Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai should be the one to find a way to respect even a thief.


Friends, we have what to learn from him.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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