Rabbi's weekly Blog

“Venahafoch Hu”


Dear Friends,


I once eavesdropped on a lovely little conversation between Haman and Pharaoh, two guys who tried to get rid of the Jewish People, and both of them failed in the end. Not only that – important holidays in our calendar bear their copyright: Haman has the copyright for Purim, and Pharaoh has the one for Pesach. But to get back to their conversation: Haman complained to Pharaoh: “Look, they got from me a happy holiday, but it lasts only one day, but you managed to arrange a seven-day holiday for them, and in the Diaspora it’s even eight days.”

“You’re right,” responded Pharaoh. “I did arrange a seven-day holiday for them, but it is preceded by two weeks of slave-labor…”


In Masechet Megillah, Rava says that a person must drink on Purim until he “can no longer distinguish between ‘Cursed is Haman’ and ‘Blessed is Mordechai’.” Many commentators give different explanations of this demand – to drink and be happy until we can no longer distinguish between Haman and Mordechai. One of the classical explanations is that words “Arur Haman” and “Baruch Mordechai” have the same numerical value – 502. So we should drink on Purim to the point where we won’t be able to make the calculation correctly.

Chassidism searches for the deep meaning of Rava’s statement. Rava says: Reach a level in which you will not be able to tell the difference between “Arur Haman” and “Baruch Mordechai”, and if they are equal numerically, that means on some level they really are equal.

Since everything comes from Hashem, even something bad contains within it something good. If so, Rava’s demand that one should drink until he no longer distinguishes between “Cursed is Haman” and “Blessed is Mordechai” is: Peer into the depths of the matter; search for the good that is hiding within the bad, the “Baruch Mordechai” that is hiding in the “Arur Haman”. On Purim we will have full faith in the Creator, and we’ll see that the “Arur Haman” is just a disguise – a rather scary and painful one sometimes, but just a disguise, for really everything bad contains some good.

And sometimes, as happened in the Purim story, we merit to reach the situation of “Venahafoch Hu” – everything turning around. The bad becomes good, just like Pharaoh and Haman wanted to harm us, and from their bad deeds we gained wonderful, joyous holidays.


Purim Same’ach – Happy Purim!!!


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

affection and much love


Dear Friends,


Lately, in Israel and the United States, all sorts of “popular rabbis” have been scaring people. I have heard and read excerpts from their sermons and am rather astonished: they list the punishments that are to come upon anyone who does some action or who doesn’t refrain from doing some action. People even ask me about the severe “punishments” (May we be spared them) that Hashem is supposedly preparing for the Jewish People.

“I don’t know about this”, I answer those who ask me. I simply don’t know. I learned in Cheder for ten years; I then spent seven years in yeshiva, and two years in a Kollel, and I don’t remember ever hearing threats of punishments or Gehinnom (hell) from my teachers.

I do, though, remember the wonderful story about the Ba’al Shem Tov, a story that contains a basic component of his worldview, which is also a central part of the Jewish way of life that I was raised upon and that I am familiar with.

It is told about the Ba’al Shem Tov that he once came to a Jewish village, whose residents were farmers. It was the middle of the summer and the ground was dry and parched – it had not rained in a long time, and the people were in distress, and in fear of being hungry. They were simple Jews: They feared G-d, loved him, and knew how to say Tehillim.

One of the common occupations then, and also one of the more lucrative ones, was that of being a “Maggid Mussar”. This was usually a learned Jew who would travel between the towns and the villages and awaken the Jews to do Teshuva by way of scaring them with threats relating to the so-called stern hand of Hashem. One of these Maggidim happened to be in this town at this time. He gathered everyone in the Shul and showered fire and brimstone upon these simple Jews, until they were all crying uncontrollably. He hadn’t taken into account, though, that Rabbi Yisrael Ba’al Shem Tov was present as well. The Ba’al Shem Tov stood up and called out to the Maggid: “What do you have against these Jews? What do you want from them? They are good Jews!” Then he turned to face the people. “Come with me, and dance, and in the merit of that it will rain.”

At the beginning everyone looked at him as if he had gone mad, but after he repeated his request and even quoted verses such as “Serve Hashem with joy”, they agreed, and danced with him.

Of course, in the middle of the dancing, the sky clouded up and it began to rain.


Parashat Vayikra, the first Parasha in the book of Vayikra, starts with the verse, “Vayikra El Moshe” – “And He called out to Moshe.” Rashi comments that “Vayikra” is an expression of affection. Hashem called out to Moshe with love and affection.

The Rebbe took this idea further and said that the call is not only to Moshe Rabbeinu, but to every Jew wherever he is. Moshe was the first “Moshe Rabbeinu”, and so in each and every one of us there is a spark from Moshe Rabbeinu’s soul. And so Hashem is calling to us, to all of us, as well, with affection and much love, the love of a father for his children, the love of a shepherd for his flock.

The book of Vayikra contains many mitzvahs, most of them mitzvahs between human beings and their Creator, such as the laws of purity and impurity, Kashrut, bringing Korbanot (sacrifices in the Temple) etc. The Torah is telling us at the beginning of this book that the mitzvahs were given with a call of love and affection, and not from a place of threats and scares – just like the blessing we make before Kri’at Shema: “He Who chooses His nation, Yisrael, with love.”


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Italy being Italy


Dear Friends,


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.

The last time I did this was two months 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

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