Rabbi's weekly Blog

A wish or a decision

“Happy New Year” is not a wish; it is a decision.

I have told this dozens of times in the past month to anyone who has come to the Chabad House in Basel.

I fully believe in it. True, we wish each other a Happy New Year; that is important and even great! But when it comes to ourselves we should not let it remain as just a wish; we should be proactive, in faith and in actual action, in order to make sure that this coming year will be a good one in every way.

Before the holidays we forgave others, and ourselves as well. There are many who said, “I forgive myself.” This is important and even great, but its proper place is at the end of the year. When one is about to begin a year, the forgiving should be set aside together with self-pity, and one should get into a mode of movement and action.

To enter such a mode means to take everything that we have received during the holidays, especially Succot and Simchat Torah – the lightness and the joy – put it all in a bowl and make up a dish of energy, joy, lightness, faith and trust.

The Chabad Rebbes brought into the world a special declaration and message for Shabbat Bereishit, a declaration that encompasses much and is particularly suited for the first Shabbat after the holidays, the Shabbat after which we finally return to our routines. “The way a person places himself on Shabbat Bereishit, so will be all year.” In my opinion, we’re not talking mystical ideas here, but rather technique. A person who approaches the reishit, the beginning of the year’s routine with a mindset of “I can’t, I won’t succeed, I have no money and no ability. I have no time and no chance at all,” there is no doubt that that is what his year will look like, too.

On the other hand, a person who at the beginning of his year approaches it with proactivity and even a declaration such as “This year I am going to fix my economic situation, no matter what. I’ll bring stability and joy to my family and household. I have the ability to do so. I intend to invest some time this year in my child who is having slight difficulties in school, so that by the end of the year have him on equal level with his classmates, and I know I can do that. This year I will bring my marriage to a high level of love, fellowship, peace and friendship, because I can. When I want something, I make sure to get it.” I have no doubt that someone who comes with such a proactive approach will indeed achieve whatever he wants to achieve in the coming year.

Practically speaking, this is not easy. One must invest time and effort, and labor in order to advance, improve and grow. But if we believe in ourselves and our abilities, if we believe that we can overcome all the challenges facing us, then surely we will come out on top. One thing I’m sure of: Hashem certainly believes in us, otherwise he wouldn’t have given us all this responsibility in our lives.

A Happy New Year is not a wish but rather a decision – as a certain American once said: “Yes, we can!”

Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Concentrate of joy

A simple Jew once approached the Admor Hazaken (Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Lyadi, the founder of Chabad) and asked: “Rebbe, what is it about this festival of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah that makes us dance and be so happy?” The Rebbe thought for a moment and answered: “Shemini Atzeret is like a sweet concentrate that one prepares and keeps in a jar in the kitchen. When one needs some, one takes just a bit, mixes it with water, and then the food or drink are sweetened by it. So, too, are Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah: They have in them concentrated joy, and it is from them that we take joy for the entire year.”

When I read this I understood that if the dancing and the great rejoicing are like a concentrate, then the more of the concentrate we have – both in quantity and in quality – the more joy we will have – both in quantity and in quality – throughout the year. And between us: Is there anything that we need more in our lives than joy?

So I ask you, seriously, does one need anything more than that in order to drop everything else and just dance?

Take my piece of advice: There’s such a thing as drinking a “L’chaim”. It’s not vodka or whiskey, nor is it beer or wine. It is simply a “L’chaim”, because we drink a small cupful and wish each other, from the bottom of our hearts – “L’chaim!” This “L’chaim” has in it the ability to help a person relax a bit, dance and be happy. And if one cupful doesn’t help, one can always try again. From experience, I can tell you that it works.

Chag Same’ach to all Jews,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

A stormy soul in my Sukkah

It was about ten years ago. A man about 50 years old, dressed in an expensive suit, with a full head of hair and a pipe in hand, walked into the Chabad House in Basel. He had come to purchase the arba minim. I didn’t know him – didn’t know whether he was Jewish or not. I did know that he lived in a village on top of a Swiss mountain; I also knew that his name was Serge.

I welcomed him and together we went to the room where the lulavim and etrogim were kept, so that he would get a chance to examine them, and so that I would get a chance to examine whether he was Jewish or not, and in general try to understand why a person living on top of a mountain needs arba minim?

Our Sukkah was already standing in the yard. “Come see the Sukkah,” I said, and went into it. He followed me but then stopped suddenly. The moment his feet touched the floor there, he jumped out of it, backwards. Quietly, he asked: “Am I allowed in the Sukkah?” and then added in English: “I am a sinner. Am I allowed to enter it?” As surprised as I was from his words, I was alarmed at his face. He looked very disturbed.

There’s no such thing in Judaism as a “sinner.” In Judaism one may have sinned in the past, or perhaps will, G-d forbid, sin in the future. Defining a person as a sinner, so far as I know, comes from Christianity. We sat down opposite each other and he began to talk: “I grew up in Paris. My mother was Jewish and my father was not. My mother’s name was Mazal and she grew up in a very religious home, but hated religion. She made sure to prevent us from having any contact with Judaism. I – I have a stormy spiritual soul that gave me no rest.

When I was 12 years old I knew there was something called a bar mitzvah, and I began to search for Jews. I entered a synagogue on Rue Pavée, and asked for help. Rabbi Chaim Rotenberg greeted me very nicely, heard my story, and immediately arranged that I should learn together with his son Mordechai, who was about my age. Twice a week I would come quietly to the synagogue and learn Torah; my soul expanded and was satisfied. These were indeed hours of pleasure.

A few weeks before the bar mitzvah my mother discovered that I had been going to the synagogue and announced that I had a choice: the synagogue or my home. “If you continue to go to the synagogue you will have to leave home. Make your decision!” I was a 12-year-old boy. What could I do? I gave up the synagogue, and didn’t go there anymore. I also relinquished my soul. But my soul gave me no rest.

Several years went by and one day I saw a parade of Jews holding the Israeli flag and singing “Hava Nagila”. I was entranced – and followed them, joined them and became part of them, without knowing that they were Messianic Jews, Jews for Jesus. I continued from there to study religion and now I am serving as a Protestant pastor in that village on the mountain. At least I’m a Protestant and not a Catholic…”

“And why do you need the arba minim?” I asked him.

“Two years ago I went on an organized tour for religious personnel to the Holy Land. We were supposed to tour the country, visiting mainly in historical places and places that are held to be sacred by all religions. We were staying in a hotel in the Christian Quarter in the Old City. Towards evening, when everyone went to rest, because the next day we were to go on an intensive week-long trip throughout the country, I tossed my suitcase into my room, and went quickly to the Western Wall. You understand? I’m not like them. I’m called Yitzchak ben Mazal! I reached the Kotel and suddenly burst into tears and asked again and again, “Master of the World, will you take me back?” I don’t know how long I cried – perhaps an hour or two.”

As Serge was telling me all this, he was crying. So was I, as I listened to this sweet but suffering soul.

“When I returned to Switzerland I began to search for Judaism. I found a website of Chabad named “Ask Moshe”, where one could get answers to questions immediately from a human being, all the time. I asked and asked endlessly. As time went on I bought tefillin and a siddur, and every morning I shut myself up in my office in the church, put on tefillin and pray. This year I bought myself a folding Sukkah. I want to observe the mitzvah of Succah, and the mitzvah of arba minim as well.”

Serge left, and I once again understood what Rabbi Shalom Ber Schneersohn said to R. Monye Moneszon a wealthy person, who wondered why the Rebbe was so full of praises for the simple people. “Why are you making such an issue of them?” He asked. The Rebbe answered: “They have advantages!” Said R. Monye, “I don’t see them.” He himself was a great diamond trader. The Rebbe asked him if he had brought a package of diamonds with him. “Yes, I brought it with me,” answered R. Monye, “except that when the sun is shining one cannot look at diamonds.” Afterwards R. Monye took the package of diamonds and spread them out in a different room, pointing at one stone that was beyond marvel. The Rebbe said to him: “I don’t see anything special about this stone,” to which R. Monye replied: “You have to a mavin.” The Rebbe nodded. “A Jew is a marvel, but one has to be a mavin.” (Sefer Hasichot 5705)


Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!!

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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