Rabbi's weekly Blog

Be Yosef

 “Every week one should live with the weekly parasha, and learn from it for our lives. Sometimes one has to delve deeply into the words of the commentators and put some effort into studying it in order to understand what is being said and its connection to our lives, but in the parashas of Vayeshev and Miketz, which deal with the life of Yosef Hatzaddik, there is no need to expend effort and delve deeply. If we just translate the story into Yiddish or into any other language we understand, one can acquire from Yosef instructions and guidance as to how a Jew is supposed to behave.” This is how the Rebbe started his discourse on the weekly parasha on Shabbat parashat Vayeshev, 5728 (1967).

Following that introduction, the Rebbe continued to describe Yosef’s trials and travails in flowery language (tzuros un churbanos) – how he was sold as a slave, and as Yosef himself described it, “For I was surely stolen from the land of the Hebrew.” He was torn away suddenly from his father and grandfather, and from his natural environment in general, and he had to learn skills, ways of life and methods of survival that were foreign to him.

His grandfather, Yitzchak, who had lived in a protected environment most of his life, certainly never needed this kind of life wisdom. Even his father Yaakov, who had been alone in Lavan’s house for 20 years, didn’t have to cope the way Yosef had to. For Yaakov, even though he was in Charan, from the moment that he built his home with his wives and children was in charge of his life, at least in regard to everything connected to his private home. He ran his house as he saw fit, to the point that he could say, “I lived with Lavan and observed the 613 mitzvot” (Rashi). But Yosef for many years did not have a household of his own – he didn’t even have a private abode at all. At the beginning he was a slave in the home of his master, and afterwards he was in prison and so on.

And all this through no fault of his own. He went through trouble after trouble. His situation got worse from moment to moment. First he was in the pit, then he was sold to the Yishmaelim and the Midyanim, and they sold him to the Egyptians. Try to imagine how slaves used to be sold, and imagine a seventeen-year old lad, orphaned and pampered, all alone in a strange land, and finally bought by Potiphar. I would expect him to be resentful and sad, in despair, bitter. But no. Yosef got up every morning and worked faithfully for his master, not like a miserable wretch, but like a successful person, and he was, indeed, very successful. But the troubles didn’t leave him. Again, in the same way, not only did Potiphar not thank him for his work, but he even threw him into jail even though he was innocent – and even more so, he was thrown into jail because he didn’t want to abuse his master’s trust in him. Did he become bitter and resentful in the jail? Not there, either. There, too, he arose every morning like new and did what he thought was the right thing and was very successful at it, to the point that he became the manager of the jail. And the story repeats itself; he helps the king’s cupbearer by interpreting his dream, and he has only one request: Mention me to Pharaoh. Not money, not gifts – nothing that will cost you anything or necessitate any effort. But the cupbearer forgot about him the very next morning.

So passed a few years of disappointment from the world: suffering, humiliation and shameful behavior of people. I would have expected him to give up on this world, to run away from people and go live alone in the desert. But no, Yosef continued to run his life as he saw fit. And the reason for that was that Yosef had grown up in a home that had taught him one central thing: that everything that happens in the world comes from Divine Providence, and everything has a reason, and as he himself said to his brothers when they were afraid that he would pay them in kind: “it was not you who sent me here, but G-d.” When a person lives with such a deep awareness, nothing that happens to him can knock him down.

This is the central message for anyone who reads Yosef’s life story. Everyone has the possibility of collapsing, giving up and being sad as he tries to cope with difficulties and challenges, and there is also the possibility of lifting up one’s head, looking forward and understanding that everything has a reason and a goal – like Yosef did.

In the book “Hayom-Yom” for the 1st of Cheshvan, the Rebbe spells this out even more: Since Hashsem said to Avraham Avinu “Go forth from you land etc.” the secret of beirurim (extracting) started, and by the decree of the superior Providence, a person goes his ways in the places where the sparks that need to be discovered by him are waiting for their salvation.

Be Yosef.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Listen to your heart?

“Go with your heart,” coaches say today. “Listen to your heart,” say the counselors.

But once upon a time – not so long ago – it wasn’t like that. In the previous generation people not only didn’t dare to go with their hearts, but didn’t even try to see what those hearts wanted. What one wanted didn’t matter; people just did what they had to do.

My generation was educated this way as well, but at a certain stage and age people started to dare to ask – quietly, feeling almost ashamed of themselves – “What do I want?”, and not only “What do I have to do?” The next generation, the younger one, already asks to start with “What do I want?” – and that almost exclusively. This is the generation of “Go with your heart” and most people choose only work that they like. “To do something you love” has become the call of the times, a privilege that did not exist before.

This, apparently, is the result of the economic situation as well as the general and personal security situation that the world enjoys right now – the best since the world was created. The previous generations dealt with life itself, struggling to cope with it. But today people are busy dealing with quality of life. In the past, ordinary people had a bicycle, and today they have two cars, from which we see that there is the privilege of checking out what one wants, and not only what one has to do.

Truthfully, it is not right to do only what one has to; rather, it is right to choose and adapt the doing and the work to a person’s characteristics, because one should listen to the heart. On the other hand, it is not possible to go only with the heart, because the puzzle called “life” is made up of many pieces and it is impossible to love them all. A person who loves to teach might not like to grade exams. And a person who loves to design clothes won’t necessarily enjoy the bookkeeping that goes with it.

So what should one do? This is what Yaakov Avinu did in this week’s parasha, parashat Vayishlach.

According to Chazal,before his meeting with his brother, Esav, Yaakov “hitkin (readied) himself for three things: gift, prayer, and war.” The Rebbe emphasizes the word “hitkin” and differentiates it from the word “prepared.” According to Rashi, Yaakov didn’t really want to give his brother a gift that was undeserved in his opinion. He also didn’t want to pray, because he was afraid that he had sinned, and then the prayer wouldn’t help. From war he was truly afraid, as it says in the Torah, “And he was distressed.” But in life there are times when one simply has to do what needs to be done, even if one doesn’t want to. “Preparing” is not enough here; there is the need to ready oneself with new powers. Hitkin possibly comes from the word tikkun – correction, or, perhaps one should say that Yaakov installed in his heart new hardware or software, so that he would be able to cope with what he was going to be facing, and to do those three things that were necessary before the meeting.

So, yes, I am all for people generally working at what they love and what they are good at, but they should also know to ready themselves to do what has to be done when necessary, even when they don’t want to do so.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

don't let anyone or anything ruin your day

 One of the children that Hashem has entrusted us with, so that we will educate him and raise him for Torah and Chuppah and good deeds, is a particularly sensitive one; I would say he is naive and pure. When he was supposed to fly to a summer camp in a different country for three weeks, we were very concerned. Flying alone (though we did make sure that he would be entrusted to a flight attendant, but he was really flying alone) and staying in a strange place for three weeks seemed to us to be too much for him. Who knows what other children would be there – would they hurt him, and if so, how would he respond? Suffice it to say that it reached the point that we considered not sending him. But then we understood that that would be a mistake, because we won’t be able to protect him forever. It might even cause him harm in the long run, for sooner or later he will have to go out and face the world. And the world outside, as everyone knows, does not always welcome you with a red carpet. We understood that we had no choice – we must let go and allow him to cope alone. Difficult – but that’s life.

We had some deep conversations with him, being careful not to blacken the world and life for him. We explained to him situations that he might encounter. We described to him situations of insults, laughter, mocking and others that he might encounter. We did all this in order to hear from him how, in his opinion, he should respond. I told him stories from my own life and childhood, how I had been hurt, and difficult days I had had, and how I had responded. The principle idea was: you are the one who decides what will hurt you and what not; you are the one to decide how to respond to an attack or an insult, and always, always, before responding, even before you burst into tears or are badly insulted, you should go aside and have a cup of water, calm down and tell yourself: I won’t let anyone or anything ruin the day for me!

Every year, when parashat Vayetze comes around, I think about this. Rivka and Yitzchak send Yaakov from Charan, called by Chazal the “Charon af” – anger – of Hashem. It is enough to be somewhat familiar with Yaakov’s dear uncle in order to understand that his stay in Charan was going to be very challenging for a “wholesome man, a tent-dweller” like Yaakov. And what did they send with him for the journey? What emotional strengths did they give him? How much did they worry about him for so many years? Spending 22 years far away and alone is not an enjoyable three-week summer camp.

True, living with Esav had hardened him more than a bit. There are those who will say that his mother, when sending him to impersonate Esav and receive the blessings, was really teaching him how to get along with cheats such as Lavan; after all, who knew Lavan like she did? He also learned Torah and observed the mitzvot, and that is surely strengthening; and then there were those ascending and descending angels who accompanied him on his way.

And still, I thought that there was one essential thing in Yaakov’s education, and that was the fact that he came from a home that did what seemed right, without relating to what the surrounding culture had to say. His grandfather, Avraham, was the person who invented the famous Jewish Chutzpah. He never got to know Sarah, but he surely heard stories about her courage in going with Avraham to an unfamiliar land – one couple facing the whole world. He saw his father, Yitzchak, behaving proudly and confidently towards Avimelech. And his mother – from age three she knew to choose right and not to be impressed by what the rest of the world had to say. Growing up in a home like that meant growing up with an inner strength that no wind could sway.

And indeed, when we read the rest of the story in the Torah, there are no surprises. Life in Charan was very challenging for Yaakov. “Whether it was stolen by day or by night,” he said, describing in four words his life beside his uncle; but he got through it all courageously and successfully.

What happened to Yaakov happened to many thousands of his offspring throughout the generations. His handling of the situations was and still is and inspiration for the following generations; it would be good to take it on as an inspiration for us, too.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Only a great person can express weakness

 Certain politicians are known for their skill in identifying people around them who are too successful, that is, they do their work and receive fame and love from the public. These politicians wait for an opportunity and in one fell swoop they destroy them politically. Whether this is good or not, that is the nature of politics.

Unfortunately, we all know stories of conflict and splits that started with the fears of one of the sides that his colleague was getting too big and powerful; and the result was quarreling, slander and humiliating the other. More than a few of us, myself included, have experienced this personally. The big problem, in my opinion, is less the fact that a person is afraid that his friend will overshadow him, because that is, after all, human nature; it is logical and even understandable. The problem is the lies that accompany this process – that is the great injustice. If the boss firing an employee would speak honestly to his worker and say, “Listen, my friend. I’m afraid of your success; it is putting me in a bad light. I’m sorry, but I must fire you,” the one being fired would not be so hurt. For the person doing the firing, it seems that this is an expression of weakness, but it has long been acknowledged that the ability to express weakness is really a sign of greatness. Only a great person can express weakness without being shaken by it.

In this week’s parasha, parashat Toldot, we encounter such a classic story. Yitzchak goes to live in Gerar, in the land of the Plishtim. He is greeted relatively nicely by Avimelech, taking into account the morals of the times, but he is too successful: “The man became great and continued getting greater until he was very great. He had acquired flocks and herds and many enterprises; and the Philistines envied him.” this is what happens, sadly enough. When a person is too successful, jealousy appears with hatred in its wake. Any person who is considered to be successful can bear witness to that. But here Avimelech comes and shows straightforwardness and greatness. When he speaks to Yitzchak he says, “”Go away from us for you have become much mightier than we.” Without libeling him in any way or blaming him for some side issue; without making life difficult for him so that he will leave on his own, Avimelech simply admits his weakness and requests: Please go somewhere else; you’re too big for us.

Yitzchak, on his part, does not give up and does not stop his doing. He moves elsewhere and starts over again. He is so successful in his new place that he calls it “Rechovot”, explaining that “Now Hashem has granted us ample space and we can be fruitful in the land.”

If we are speaking of banishment, I cannot refrain from expressing my severe pain and feelings of helplessness in face of a terrible wrongdoing. My dear friend, who is like a brother to me, Rabbi Asher Krichevsky and his wife Rachel and children were expelled from Omsk, Russia, the city where he served as the Rebbe’s Shaliach, for the past 17 years.Asher was very successful. He became great and then greater, until he was very great; he had a school and kindergartens, a shul and a mikveh. He and his wife created Jewish life in the Siberian frost, and this week a great wrongdoing was done to him and he was expelled. I have already written the following sentence: “Seventeen years of activity have been written off,” but I erased it immediately, because nothing has been written off. What is instilled in the heart of a Jewish child exists forever, and Jewish life in Omsk will never stop. The chill will not return to the hearts of the Jews of Omsk, because the activities of Rabbi Asher and Rebbetzin Rachel Krichevsky will exist forever. Asher, look: Since the days of Avraham and Yitzchak, successful Jews have been expelled from their homes. So you are standing today together with tens of thousands of Jews, headed by the Chabad chassidim of all generations, who were also expelled, and all these people are telling you, with loving smiles: “Welcome to the club.” And you should know, it’s a very respectable club – the club of the people in whose light we were educated and in whose path we have walked. But there is one significant difference: They were exiled to Siberia, and you have been exiled from Siberia. Remember Yitzchak as well, and take note how and when he named a place Rechovot.

Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Old and comes with his days

I always loved to read biographies, to see how the deceased person had lived, and what journeys he undertook in his life. I knew that usually there were some cosmetic changes in the facts. I understood that frequently the author had to be somewhat flexible, and yet, it was still fascinating to read.

Today, in the here-and-now era, Facebook allows one to meet young people who are in the middle of their lives. You can see how they handle life, what they have done and what they are doing. There is no need even for cosmetic changes, because everything that was once considered to be a blemish, today collects Likes from everyone who identifies with that blemish – and there are a lot of Likes.

I learned to see that there are people who have dealt mainly with personal growth; they have invested years in study and have acquired titles of one sort or another; they indeed learned much and have extensive knowledge in their chosen discipline; alternatively, they have sat for years in yeshiva and have become Torah scholars.

I have also seen those who deal mainly with others – “social activists”, as they are known. Young men and women invest themselves in helping others, either materially or spiritually.

These are dynamic, live and kicking biographies – in the positive sense.

In our parasha, too we find a biography – that of Avraham Avinu – except that it consists of three words and no more, and encompasses two concepts: a. zaken (old), and b. ba bayamim (“comes with his days”).

The Rebbe in his Likutei Sichot, part 3, explains that zaken defines a human being’s personal growth, the work one does on oneself. As the Gemara says, zaken is an acronym for zeh shekana chochma – “the one who has acquired wisdom”. And ba bayamim defines his social activities, his work with and for the other. As Chazal explain, Avraham came with his days that were full of doing.

I don’t think that we can achieve the level of perfection that Avraham reached, but it is indeed possible, and even demanded of us, to learn from him the direction and the way. The direction is to try to act on both levels at the same time, each person according to his abilities and G-d-given talents. The social activist who helps others ought to find time for personal growth, and certainly for spiritual growth, in order to improve himself as well. And it is recommended that the eternal student should go out occasionally and make use of the knowledge that he has acquired in order to act and influence the world.

In case you were wondering, the Rebbe gives clear preference to a ba bayamim.

Old and comes with his days.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.