Rabbi's weekly Blog

first of all a bowl of soup


There is an iron-clad rule in the extended Raskin family: whenever someone comes into the house, first of all sit him down and give him a bowl of soup, and then find out what he wants. This is an old custom. I have always assumed that it became reinforced during the war, when the home of my great-grandfather, R. Shlomo Raskin, in Gorki was known to be the address for refugees. I am also sure that it’s a custom that exists not only in the Raskin family, but in many Jewish families of all sectors throughout the world. This is the way things go in a nation of exiles and refugees: first give some soup and then listen to what the guest has to say.

In the context of Avraham Avinu, I was always wondering what caused him to search for a different god from the one that his family and friends worshipped. What was troubling him? Was everyone except him completely ignorant and stupid? What was he searching for?

You know, sometimes the result teaches us something about what led to it. When I see that the result of the searching, the finding and Avraham’s crowning Hashem as Master of the World was the erecting of a tent with four openings, providing passersby with food, drink and a place to sleep – a bed, and a bowl of soup with noodles – I think that perhaps that’s what he was looking for. Perhaps the gods of his forefathers didn’t necessarily encourage people to give; perhaps the gods of his forefathers said that every person was to take care of himself, that it’s not your job to care for others. And this did not sit well with Avraham, who was infused with the attribute of Chessed – lovingkindness. That is why he searched for the kind, merciful G-d, the one who commands us to love one’s fellow man as oneself. And that is what has caused Jews in every generation to say: First of all, sit him down with a bowl of soup and then hear what he has to say.

What do you think?

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

dance a chassidic dance

 We are about to celebrate the holiday of Simchat Torah, to sing and dance with the sifrei Torah. On Simchat Torah we rejoice with the Torah, about the Torah, about our existence, about the repeating cycle of Hashem, the Torah and the Jewish People.

I would like to tell you about a different, very sad Simchat Torah, which was nevertheless much more powerful. Actually, it didn’t take place on the holiday of Simchat Torah, but it did involve a sefer Torah and the tunes of Simchat Torah.

It was the 10th of Kislev 5702 – December 1941. Riga, Latvia. Dozens of Jews were shoved into the local shul by the Germans and their volunteer Latvian helpers. In a moment, the shul was going to be set afire and all those in it would be burned to death, sanctifying Hashem’s Name. Among them were three of the greatest of Chabad chassidim of all time – chassidim that even today, over 70 years later, every Chabad child knows: R. Itche der Masmid, R. Chatsche Faigin and R. Eli Chaim Althaus.

The story is told by an eyewitness who somehow survived: As the door of the shul closed upon them, R. Itche approached the holy Ark, took out a sefer Torah and said, “Yidden, we are hereby merited to perform the mitzvah of giving up our lives al Kiddush Hashem and we should do it joyfully.” He then placed his hand on R. Eli Chaim’s shoulder, who then placed his hand on R. Chatsche’s shoulder, and together they started to dance a chassidic dance, singing the tune of the Chabad hakafas, the one sung in Chabad communities on Simchat Torah.

Yidden, it’s Simchat Torah. Take a cupful or two, say L’chaim wholeheartedly and dance. Dance, Jews, dance; dance as much as you can. Be endlessly joyful, and Hashem will shower endless blessings on us, until our lips will tire of saying “Enough”!


Chag Same’ach,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

the most handsome Etrog

 “There is no greater hadar (enhancement) for an etrog than that of many Jews performing this elevated mitzvah of shaking the lulav with it.” So wrote the Rebbe in his letter from the 2nd of Cheshvan, 5718 (1957). More simply put: the highest category of hadar in an etrog is that it be used by as many people as possible. I think that this sentence sums up the entire holiday that is about to begin.

The festival of Succot is a festival of unity and mutual love between Jews. This is the holiday that expresses more than anything else the connection between the various segments of the Jewish People, be it via the Four Species that are said to refer to the four types of Jews, bound together for one blessing, or via the most beautiful Succah of all – the one that the most people sit in.

People put much effort into obtaining an expensive, beautiful etrog. Some save up money to purchase a perfect, unblemished one. But we must always remember that the most handsome etrog is the one that has served the most Jews for the blessing of “al netilat lulav”.

So it is with the etrog and so it is with everything else in our lives. A truly beautiful and fine home is the one that has the most guests; the fanciest kitchen is the one in which a great deal of food was prepared for others, and the highest-classed car is the car that has given rides to others.

“There is no greater hadar for an etrog than that of many Jews performing this elevated mitzvah with it.”


Chag Same’ach,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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