Rabbi's weekly Blog

“Empty vessels” – that is the secret.

 Installing navigating systems in our cars has proved to me very convenient and beneficial. We can reach places relatively easy, and we save time and trouble. But the best outcome of this is that men can now avoid humiliation when trying to find their way. Why men? Because women have long known of a simple trick: One opens the window and asks some passers-by, “Excuse me, how do I get to…?” But men are not capable of asking; they, after all, know already… But why should I generalize – I’ll speak of myself. I was capable of roaming around for quite a while, depending on my assessment that was based on a rare combination of gut feelings and sense of direction; the main thing was not to ask. And also, what can a man in the street know that I don’t?

The truth is that not only on the road, but in almost every realm of my life I wasn’t really able to consult with others, and even when I did, it came out in the end that I did the talking and the counselor listened. I was full of myself, and had no room to receive from others.

This changed when sometime or other I understood there are, here and there, a few people who are wiser and more experienced than I am. I admit that it was painful to internalize this, but from the moment I did internalize it, I was saved. Because when I internalized, I actually made space inside, and began to really and truly listen – even humbly – to what others had to say. And the truth is that wisdom, good advice, understanding and an abundance of good were around me all the time, and if I hadn’t been so full of myself, I could have benefited from this abundance long ago already.

This week’s haftarah tells the special story of the wife of Ovadiah who comes and pleads with Elisha the Prophet. She needs help and the prophet wants to find out if she is prepared to receive the abundance: Does she have empty vessels or full ones? Because in order to receive, one has to clear some space. When she says she has only one vessel, Elisha says to her: “Go and borrow vessels from outside, from all your neighbors, empty vessels – do not make do with a few,” and then the famous miracle happens – the vessels fill with oil, and selling all that oil provides her with the money she needs to save herself.

When did the miracle end? When did this abundance cease? The moment she had no more empty vessels left – “And when the vessels were full she said to her son: hand me another vessel. He said to her, there is no other vessel. And the oil ceased.”

“Empty vessels” – that is the secret.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

to give up control.

 I once participated in a teachers’ course sponsored by the umbrella organization of Swiss Jewry – SIG. At the time I was a teacher in the Basel community, the IGB. In one of the workshops the facilitator tried to teach us to work together, to trust each other, so that we can become a good team. He divided us up into pairs, and each time asked one of the two partners to stand behind the other’s back and be ready to catch him when he falls back. From the other he requested that he allow himself to fall back without looking, just trusting his friend to catch him. Does this sound easy? Maybe. But it is very difficult. I think no one managed to do that, certainly not the first few times. (Even my partner in this task, Dr. Yuval Rubin, did not succeed in throwing himself back. And the truth is that I was very surprised by this, because I was the one who was supposed to catch him…).

We are so used to trusting ourselves and controlling our lives that we are not capable of letting go and agreeing to give up control.

As the years go by I learn how much we really do not control our lives, how, in the end, there is somebody or something much greater than ourselves who runs our lives and if we will just be able to surrender and agree to let go bit, it will be easier and better for us – and in addition we will enjoy more happiness and contentment in our lives. I am speaking from experience.

“Go for yourself from your land and your place of birth and the house of your father to the land I will show you.” This is the first task in the Torah, given to the first Jew by the Creator. There are endless explanations, commentaries and messages connected to this passuk. They are all wonderful, but sometimes one ought to just read the passuk in its simplest meaning. It says here clearly: Start your journey without knowing where you are going. Throw yourself back, knowing that I will catch you. Release control and trust Me.

This of course does not mean that a person should sit and do nothing, G-d forbid; or that he should not think and plan ahead or prepare himself for the near or distant future. Of course not. A person must work, study, prepare himself, plan what has to be planned. But what should be at the base of his life, his plans, his calculations and his dreams is the knowledge that in the end the control is not in his hands. If something goes wrong on the way, is altered, exchanged for something else or even cancelled, give in to it. Trust Hashem that everything is for the good and He will show you the way.

And if there is a challenging moment, one can always sing the prayer of Rabbi Meir of Apta, as put to music so nicely by R. Avraham Shabtai Hacohen Friedman: “Master of the Worlds, yadati – I know that I am in Your hands alone.”


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Not many people know this


Not many people know this, but once upon a time I had a big white van, on which there was a lit-up yellow advertisement that proclaimed such things as “Love your fellow as yourself,” and “Mashiach Now”. I was young and newly married and my father-in-law, Rabbi Mordechai Gorelick, had given us his old Volkswagen Transporter for our use. Except that this gift came with a string in the form of a plastic light on the roof, as mentioned.

Once, my father-in-law and I were driving down a street in Bnei Brak. As usual, we were having a light argument. I was claiming that the advertisement on the vehicle brings about the opposite of what we want – Look, people are looking at us and laughing. My father-in-law, though, was claiming that this was positive propaganda and that it is important. Besides, the people are not laughing: they are smiling and happy to see our van.

For many years I kept this conversation with my father-in-law in mind. Every once in a while I would learn something more from it. At the beginning I learned that one can sit in the same car and have relatively loaded conversation, but conduct it calmly and lovingly. Afterwards I learned that every situation can be viewed from different angles, even opposite ones. Then I learned that you yourself choose how to view a situation you’re facing. If you choose to see the people smiling, you will feel great; and if you choose to see them laughing at you, you will feel uncomfortable. This is an extremely important message, especially for a Chabadnik who runs a Chabad House: the definition of his job includes going against conventions and in addition, every few years one has to go against one’s own conventions. But the main point I learned only in the past few years: The main thing is that you see in others what you have in yourself. And if I see that people are laughing at me, it is because inside I too am laughing at myself and at what I represent. (And yes, at the time I laughed at what my car represented.) If I would have been sure of myself and of what I was representing, I would have seen that they were smiling, like my father-in-law saw.

And why did I remember all this this week? Because for many years Noach built an ark, and he and his family were against the entire world. Every day people laughed at him, and, as the Gemara in masechet Sanhedrin says, they would “disgrace him. They said to him: Old man, what it is this ark for?”

I don’t know what he felt while he was doing this. Did he do it happily, or did he complain along the way about his miserable fate? Were his children proud of his actions or did they feel inferior to the whole world? Did he say at home, “What a great merit I have”? Or did his wife, Naama, hear him complaining and voicing bleak thoughts?

Because if he would have been with me in the van at that time, certainly he would have learned that almost everything is dependent on one’s own viewpoint, and one’s own viewpoint depends on what one feels inside.

One thing is for sure: In the end he completed the task – perfectly.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Not 100% succes, but 100% effort


“I’m not asking for 100% success; I’m asking for 100% effort.”

That is a sentence that I have said and continue to say, in myriad variations, to my children before school tests, and it doesn’t matter what subject is involved. If you didn’t make an effort and received a mark of 100, I will join you in your happiness about the high mark, but it will bother me that you didn’t make an effort. If you made an effort and scored 70, I will feel your pain for the low mark, but I will be very proud of you for the effort you invested. When it comes to marks you are perhaps showing your abilities; but when it comes to effort and making an attempt, you are bringing yourself.

Tomorrow we will read in the Torah one of the most fascinating parashasparashat Bereishit. The story that I find most gripping in the parasha is the story of the offerings brought by the two brothers, Cain and Abel, to Hashem. The story is fascinating, painful, and mainly teaches us many lessons.

What exactly was the problem with Cain’s offering, causing Hashem not to pay attention to it?

From the simple reading of the text one can see that Cain brought “from the fruit of the earth,” whereas Abel brought “from the firstborn of his flock.” Two essential differences can be seen between these two offerings: a. With Abel it says “from the firstborn”, noting that he brought his offering from the best of his sheep and goats. b. With Abel it says “his flock” – he brought his own, from himself and perhaps himself as well, while by Cain it says “from the fruit of the land”, and not “from the fruit of his land.” He didn’t bring something that was his, and probably didn’t bring himself, either.

Put simply, it seems that Abel invested thought and effort, while Cain invested less. So it seems that we are requested to show 100% effort and not just achieve 100% success.

And if we are talking about effort, here’s another small point. In my opinion, when we talk about effort and making an attempt in all realms of our lives – whether it is in work, parenting or marriage, one should invest thought and perhaps also consult with professionals or experienced people, how and on what to focus in order to maximize the result. For, many times there are shortcuts or highways that when we discover them we will feel that there is a better balance between the effort and the result.

Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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