Rabbi's weekly Blog

You are a “mountain”!


Dear Friends,


It was one of those hot days. I was walking down Clarastrasse in Basel, dressed in a suit and hat, my white Tzitzit showing, while underneath I was being roasted by its woolen material. “People are probably sure that I’ve gone crazy,” I thought.

Three girls were walking towards me, laughing. I understand them: dressing this way on such a hot day is indeed ludicrous. But then, one of them suddenly approached me and said in English: “I’m Jewish too. Look – I even have a ‘Chai’ necklace. I hid it under my clothes because I was embarrassed to show it. But when I see you walking like this – walking proudly as a Jew – I also want to be that way.’ And as she was talking she pulled out the hidden “Chai” pendant and walked on, head up.

The Tzitzit was still roasting me, but the heat I felt was that of Jewish pride.

This week’s Parasha (outside of Eretz Yisrael) is “Behar” – “at the mountain.” I haven’t yet gone on a trip to Mount Sinai, but during a visit to Pilatus near Luzern, and to Brunni in Engelberg, I saw the power that a mountain projects. A mountain symbolizes pride, power, firmness and height.

“The soul did not go into exile, and it was not enslaved by the nations,” so said the Rebbe in his talks about Parashat Behar. The soul is a tall, firm, powerful mountain. The message the Rebbe gets from the name of the Parasha is firm and powerful as well: a Jew should be proud of his Jewishness; he shouldn’t hide it, neither from the backward nor from the enlightened. One shouldn’t hide a “Chai” from anti-Semites, nor remove a yarmulke in face of patronizing looks.

The motto of “Jewish pride” is a central point in all of the Rebbe’s activities, starting from when he was a boy. Activities such as menorahs in city centers, Tefillin in central bus stations, Mitzvah Tanks and Lag Ba’Omer parades are meant to show firmness and power as well, to be a mountain.


So, next time you walk down the street, remember: You are a “mountain”!


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

experimental mood..


Dear Friends,


There are days, like today, when I find myself on the train at 6:30 a.m (!). Swiss trains are quiet at any time of day, but at such an early hour the silence is thundering, almost oppressive. While looking for a seat, I passed hundreds of passengers and searched for some sign of happiness, or at least a smile. It was a futile effort.

I changed my tactics and again roamed through the train, but this time smiling myself. Amazing! At least 50% of the travelers responded with a smile; artificial, of course, but, after all, mine was artificial as well…

You might ask, what prompted this experimental mood on a morning in the month of Iyar?

Well, this week, in Parashat Emor, the Rebbe mentions the need for constant happiness. He bases himself on the Rambam, who, when explaining the matter of Simchah on the holiday of Succot – as it says in the Parasha: “And you shall rejoice before Hashem, your G-d, for seven days” – adds a ruling relating to all days of the year: “The joy that a person should feel when doing a mitzvah and loving G-d as He has commanded, is a great task.”

Generally, Adar is the month during which we speak about joy, right? And maybe it’s the right topic around the time of the holidays as well. In Iyar one generally speaks about loving other Jews and about the students of Rabbi Akiva. But the Lubavitcher Rebbe never went with the flow, and he also educated his Chassidim to go against the flow.

So yes, friends, in the month of Iyar, as well, one should be happy and joyous!

It is with this in mind that I boarded the train, and when I went against the flow and smiled at everyone, it turned out that I had made an impact. Anyone following me was probably puzzled as to why everyone on the 6:30 a.m. train was smiling.


Wishing you a Shabbat of Simchah and Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

perhaps like six-year-old Natan did


Dear Friends,


Basel, having an important Jewish community, is visited frequently by Meshulachim looking for donations. This is a concept that has always existed, as part of the mutual responsibility of one Jew to another. Jews from one place go to a community in another place and ask for Tzedaka. I think that one of the signs of a living, vibrant community is the large number of Meshulachim who come to it.

Like in many other places, in Basel as well the Jews of the city open their hearts, their wallets and their homes to the Meshulachim and receive them graciously.

My family and I are also visited by them very frequently, and we welcome them and try to give them whatever we can. Usually it’s just a matter of handing over some money and receiving wishes of “Tizkeh L’Mitzvot” (May you merit to do mitzvahs) in return. But there was one particularly memorable incident that I would like to share with you.

It was about two years ago, noontime. I heard a knocking at the door, and upon opening it saw two Jews from the Holy Land. I was about to offer them my small donation, but they just said, “The truth is, we’re pretty hungry. Can you give us something to eat?”

I was alone at home, and there wasn’t any hot food ready for them, but I had some tuna and vegetables, and eggs as well, and while they drank their coffee I managed to put together a small meal for them.

During the meal they said me, to my great surprise: “Look, normally we wouldn’t come and bother you in the middle of the day. We were just walking down the street and suddenly a sweet child approached us and asked, ‘Are you hungry? Because if you are, we live not far from here. My father is at home and he really likes guests.’ When we asked him what his name was, he answered, ‘Natan Wishedski.’ So we came to you.”

Natan was then six years old. I still remember the tears of joy that suffused my eyes.

When the Rebbe spoke of the mitzvah of “You shall love your fellow like yourself” that appears in this week’s Parasha, Parashat Kedoshim, he emphasized the commentary of the Ba’al Shem Tov, that we have to relate to the mitzvah of loving other Jews as we would relate to a business venture. A person who has a business does not sit at home and wait for customers to come to him; he goes out to the street and looks for them himself. So it is with the mitzvah of loving other Jews, “Ahavat Yisrael.” We have to do it not only when it comes to our door, but, rather, we have to go out and search for customers, perhaps like six-year-old Natan did.


Wishing you a Shabbat of peace, love and brotherhood,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

I'm a Holocaust survivor.


Dear Friends,


It happened on Chanukah, four years ago. She was looking for a menorah and candles. She had been living here for several years already but only now, when her eight-year-old daughter wanted to have a Fir tree in the house, she decided that the time had come, and came to ask for a menorah.

As she was leaving, I placed my hand on the mezuzah and asked her: “Do you know what this is?”

“It’s a mezuzah,” she answered, “but in our family we don’t put up mezuzahs.” She then hurried to add: “Rabbi, please understand. My grandmother was in the camps, and after she was liberated, married and had children, she told us, ‘Do everything you can in order to hide your identity, so that if they come again, they won’t know you’re Jewish.’”

“If so,” I responded, “I have one question for you: If Hitler (may his name be blotted out) would meet both of us right now, whom would he be pleased with? With me, who is proud of my Judaism and not afraid, or with you, who, four generations later, from your grandmother to your daughter, is still afraid of him?”

That evening, I received an email: “Rabbi, I have nine doorways. When can you come?”

Dear friends,

Many of our people noted Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) yesterday.

I, too, am a Holocaust survivor. No – not a classical Holocaust survivor, and neither were my grandparents. No one in our immediate family was ever in the hands of the Germans. They managed to escape before the Germans came.

We are all Holocaust survivors.

Yes, we are all Holocaust survivors because the Final Solution was a plan to wipe us all out – in Morocco, in America, and certainly deep in Russia, where my father and mother had escaped to with their parents.

We are Holocaust survivors because they still want to do this, if only they could. Like the older man who approached me two years ago on Shabbat, as I was walking down the street with my young children, and with hatred in his eyes said in German, “Ich heisse Adolf” – “My name is Adolf.” He was careful not to say anything illegal, but his message was clear: If I only could, I would do it again. Yes, to you and your children.

The Holocaust killed many of us, but did not vanquish us. We are still here: remembering, feeling the pain, but proud – proud of our forefathers’ traditions.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalman Wishedski

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