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Shem Hachiluf and Shem Hama’alah


Shem Hachiluf and Shem Hama’alah – ever heard of them?

Sefer Hama’amarim (Book of Essays), written by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn in Yiddish (there is a translation as well), is a wonderful book with easily understood Chassidic sayings. In it, it is mentioned that there is a difference between the two times in the Torah when it says, “Your name shall no longer be…” Once, it is in connection to Avraham Avinu, when a heh was added to his name – “Your name shall no longer be called Avram, but your name shall be Avraham.” The second time is in connection to Yaakov Avinu, when he received the name Yisrael: “Your name is Yaakov. Your name shall no always be called Yaakov, but Yisrael shall be your name.”

When it comes to Avraham, from the moment his name was changed, he was no longer referred to by his former name, Avram; whereas in the case of Yaakov, the Torah continues to call him by both names – sometimes Yaakov and sometimes Yisrael.

In Sefer Hama’amarim, the Rebbe teaches us that Avraham is a “changed name” – Shem Chiluf. In other words, it completely replaces the former name. But the name Yisrael is Shem Hama’alah, meaning, it is a step up from the former name, but does not replace it.

The difference between them is as mentioned in the Gemara in masechet Nedarim (32b): Avram in Gematriya is 243, symbolizing the fact that in his service of Hashem he had reached the level of controlling 243 out of his 248 limbs, and then Hashem added the letter heh, which expresses his achieving control over five more limbs that are especially hard to control, such as eyes and ears. Since then, he becomes Avraham = 248.

In contrast to that, the name Yisrael is coming to express another way of serving Hashem – indeed, loftier and different, but an additional way, and not coming to take the place of the previous way. The name Yaakov symbolizes the service of a slave, as it says, “And now, hear Yaakov, my slave.” A slave does anything his master tells him to do, but not always with feelings of love and heart-penetrating joy. The name Yisrael symbolizes the service of a son, as it says, “My son, my firstborn, Yisrael.” A son serves his father with love and inner joy.

That’s what it says in parashat Balak: “How good are your tents, Yaakov, your dwelling-places, Yisrael.” The service of a slave, Yaakov, is practical and important, but external; it doesn’t penetrate. Therefore, it is like a tent, an external cover. The name Yisrael, on the other hand, represents the service of a son. It is an internal service that arises from the heart of the person. Therefore, it is like a dwelling place – it dwells in the innermost parts of his heart and soul.

The service of a son is indeed loftier than that of a slave, but both of them are necessary. Sometimes we wake up in the morning full of joy and excitement connected to the feeling of holiness and mitzvot, and we do our work with heartfelt enthusiasm, like a son who serves his beloved father. But there are times when we get up feeling weakened and lacking desire to serve, and yet, we still get up and do what has to be done, even if it is without much joy and enthusiasm – like a slave serving a master.

Therefore, on the Yamim Noraim (High Holy Days), we beseech Hashem: “If like sons, if like slaves. If like sons, have mercy on us like a father has mercy on his sons. And if like slaves, our eyes turn to you that you should favor us.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedsk

to close a deal with G-d

As I was driving along yesterday, I was listening to an Israeli radio program. A snake catcher was talking about his rather challenging and somewhat dangerous work. When the interviewer asked him, “What interests you about snakes?” he answered: “There is something mysterious about snakes. The word nachash (snake) has the same root as the word nachesh (to guess). Why? Because with snakes you never know what its response will be. It’s all guesses.” And then he told how he once crawled in the dark under a house in order to catch a snake, and the snake was in a position of victory. “I was already beginning to close a deal with G-d about a good place in Gan Eden, but the snake decided to have mercy on me; he didn’t bite me, but instead passed over me and disappeared.”

Whoever knows this week’s parasha and me, understand that at that moment I knew that I had my weekly post…

In parashat Chukat, Bnei Yisrael once again complained about Moshe and Aharon, and, in response, Hashem sent poisonous snakes to attack them. “And they bit the people, and many of the people of Israel died.” It seems that snakes can be very convincing: the fact is that it didn’t take long for Bnei Yisrael to come and say, “We have sinned, as we have spoken against Hashem and you.” Moshe went to pray for the people, and Hashem instructed him to create a snake out of copper and to place it up high. “Make for yourself a fiery serpent and place it on a pole, and it will be that anyone who was bitten will look at it and live.”

Chazal in masechet Rosh Hashana say: “Can a snake kill or bring to life? But, rather, when Yisrael would look up and subject their heart to their Father in Heaven, they would be healed.” In other words, the purpose of the copper snake that was on a pole was that Bnei Yisrael would look up to Heaven and do teshuva, or, perhaps, as the snake catcher said so aptly, “close a deal with G-d about a good place in Gan Eden.”

He is right, that anonymous snake catcher. A snake is guesswork. One cannot know whether he will kill or give life. On one hand, death came to the world because of him. After the sin of eating from the tree of Knowledge, which he engineered successfully, Hashem said to Adam: “For you are earth and to earth you shall return.” In our parasha, as well, the fiery serpents bit and killed many Jews.

On the other hand, it seems that the cure for death is that copper snake. Anyone who looks at it is healed, and lives. The snake has also become an international symbol of medicine, as one can see in the logo of the World Health Organization.

So, as Chazal asked: Does a snake kill or does it bring to life?

And the answer is exactly their answer: the snake, like any creature in this world – and it doesn’t matter whether it crawls on the ground, walks on four legs or on two – is an agent of Hashem. If Hashem wants – it will kill. If Hashem wants a person to live – he will. And all we have to do is look up to Heaven and close a good deal with Him.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Go out and act

The Rabbi of St. Petersburg came into the office of the head of the community, placed his keys on the table and said, “I am resigning my position as rabbi!”

The head of the community was startled: “Rabbi, why?”

And the Rabbi answered: I am resigning because an old lady came to me yesterday and asked a question for which I had no answer. And since I see my role as being that of answering questions, I am resigning.”

The head of community, still in shock, asked some more: “Rabbi, what question could an old, simple Jewish lady ask for which the rabbi of St. Petersburg has no answer?”

“The old lady, came in,” answered the Rabbi, “banged on the table and shouted: “Rabbi, who needs you here?!?”

“And I,” continued the Rabbi, “have been walking around for two days trying unsuccessfully to figure out the answer to that question.”

In this week’s parasha, we see that Moshe Rabbeinu had to cope with the same question. But his solution was not to resign, not even to stay within the confines of his office; rather, he went out and acted.

The war of Korach and his group – headed by the troublemakers Datan and Aviram – was coming to a head. They, in their audacity, were shouting and saying to Moshe Rabbeinu: Rabbi, who needs you here? And Moshe, he sent for them; he just wanted to plead with them. Bu they refused to his request, and said, “We will not come up.” Hashem had already told Moshe to move away from them, because soon the earth will open up and swallow Korach and all of his cohorts. “Come up from around the dwelling of Korach, Datan and Aviram.” But Moshe did not give up yet. He put his own personal honor and reputation on the line and still tried to talk to them. “And Moshe got up and went to Datan and Aviram.” The faithful shepherd didn’t give up as long as there was some hope. He got up and went to them in one last attempt to return them to the fold.

Moshe Rabbeinu’s way of handling things as the leader of the nation is the essence of the shlichut – the mission – that the Lubavitcher Rebbe taught everyone. The Rebbe demanded from everyone – his shluchim, his chassidim, and really from anyone who came in contact with him, directly or through his teachings – that they be activists; that they should set aside their own honor and egoistic calculations that say, “He should come to me if he wants me.” Go out into the world, said the Rebbe. Go out to every man, woman and child, with light, love and authentic Jewish warmth. Bring the good that is within you to every place and every person.

Today is the day before the 24th anniversary of the Rebbe’s passing, which will be noted tomorrow. It is only right that we should remember this message. This is the task of Moshe Rabbeinu. This is the approach of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and also that of anyone who wishes to devote himself or herself to his way: to leave the warm and comfortable haven, to move beyond one’s emotional limitations – to go out there and disseminate warmth, love and joy.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

try the large map

The military cabinet of the Russian Tsar was in despair. Napoleon’s army was in the process of conquering vast tracts of land; cities and villages were overtaken easily, and he was close to St. Petersburg, the capital. The Tsar was listening to the army generals, and they were showing him on the map how close the French army was. “In such a situation,” they summed up the discussion, “we haven’t any way at all to prepare a counter attack.”

The Tsar nodded, and then motioned to his personal military secretary to come to him. “Go to my office,” he said to him, “and bring back the large map of Russia that is hanging on the wall.” This map was ten times bigger than the map in the war cabinet room.

The map was brought, and then the Tsar turned to the army generals and said: “Now, explain the situation again. How close is Napoleon, and why don’t we have any chance of advancing?” On the large map, Napoleon didn’t look so close anymore, and suddenly it seemed that there was hope and that it wasn’t too late to go out on an offensive and save the situation.

I don’t know if this story really happened or not, but I use it often when I have to explain this concept to myself or to someone else who is at a crossroads in his life, and it seems to him that all is lost – it’s too late and all that can be done, as the saying goes, will be too little and too late. At that point I try to enlarge the map, stretch the picture of the situation both vertically and horizontally, and suddenly it seems that every step and action, which on the small map seemed barely noticeable and unimportant, can be seen on the large map as being significant and very impressive. And then one acquires the desire and the strength to prepare an offensive.

Presented in honor of the story of “Pesach Sheni” that appears in this week’s parasha, parashat Beha’alotcha. There, too, it seemed that all was lost, and that there was no way to make up for the missed Pesach. But the bigger picture told another story, and they were granted another chance.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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