Rabbi's weekly Blog

Is it a battle or a war?

 I may be wrong. Maybe I’m just imagining things, but for a long time I’ve had the feeling that in recent years the human struggle between good and bad, between urges and ambitions, between Tohu and tikkun takes place in the form of “He redeemed my soul in peace.”

“He redeemed my soul in peace from battles against me.” That is the passuk in Tehillim that is quoted in every Chassidic essay this week. It is the passuk that speaks of the battle or the war that takes place within us between the good inclination and the evil inclination, between our egoistic animal-like soul and the altruistic, G-dly soul. And when we say “He redeemed in peace” we mean that it is good and right for this struggle to take place peaceably and not as a war.

I assume that every person wants to grow spiritually. Some are more involved in this quest and some less, but it is an aspiration of every human being.

In the past – and I’m talking about even twenty or thirty years ago – the struggle took the form of out-and-out war, in other words, the way to cope with our problems was to ignore them completely, grit our teeth and move forward no matter what. The common expression in a Chassidic hitva’adut was (and still it – though to a lesser degree) “Azoy un nit andersh -This is the way, no other.”

The answer “Because” was suitable and even accepted.

But in recent years there has been a change – a change coming from the grassroots of society. People have stopped accepting “Because” as an answer, and “This is the way, no other” does not satisfy questioners. We say, “The young people today want answers”, and the truth is that not only the young people; rather, all of us, or at least most of us, want to understand more, to know more.

Perhaps – and everything I’m writing today is “perhaps”, because I’m somewhat afraid to write this – it is not answers we are looking for, but acknowledgment. To simply acknowledge our weaknesses, our faults. Acknowledging that we are not perfect. Acknowledging that we sometimes feel broken, feel that we have falling apart. Acknowledging that often our animalistic, materialistic urges and wishes overpower us and we might fall.

This acknowledgement, this looking straight at our weaknesses, brings with it wonderful healing. It enables us to go forward with our heads up, without gritting our teeth, without expending energy in a way that leaves us exhausted and drained.

The word “battle” describes a hand-to-hand fight, with direct contact between the two sides. The two sides see each other from up clos Battle – krav – related to close – karov.

The word “war” describes a struggle from afar, where the two sides do not see each other. Rather, they ignore each other, in a way.

Redemption in peace is successful when we wage a battle and not a war – “He redeemed my soul in peace from battles against me.”

But, perhaps this is not so?

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

When Sammy Rohr wanted to sleep

R. Sammy Rohr z”l once told me that when he was a refugee child in Basel during the Holocaust, Rabbi Dov Schochet, who was then the rabbi of the charedi community in Basel, asked him to come to a class on Tehillim on Shabbat morning, before the services. “And it wasn’t a Chabad shul that started at 10:00 am; this meant coming at 7:00 am.”

Sammy refused, saying to Rabbi Shochat: “I have one day a week to sleep, and you want me to come and learn?”

But then, the rabbi looked him in the eye and said: “You have one day in the week to learn, and you want to sleep?”

The rabbi won.

There is a passuk in this week’s parasha that carries so much meaning and gives us a direct message for our own lives, and it is not even one of the most popular psukim in the parasha.

It is not part of the story of the birth of Yaakov and Esav, nor does it tell of the fascinating relationship between them. It isn’t even part of the saga of the wells that Yitzchak dug. It is a passuk that comes after the story of the digging of the last well – Rechovot, as it was named. But, as mentioned, this passuk can teach us the way to live.

“For now Hashem has granted us room, and we can be fruitful in the land.” So said Yitzchak. At first glance it sounds like a sigh of relief: the quarrels are a thing of the past, Hashem has given us some room and now we can sit in peace and quiet for a bit. Yes, this is a commentary that many will accept happily, but not the Lubavitcher Rebbe, a Jew who didn’t know what the word “rest’ meant. Anyone whom he met immediately received a directive to do something more – usually double what he had been doing until then. It couldn’t be that if Hashem gives us some more space, we will sit and rest.

The opposite is true: If you have reached a state of relief and space, Hashem has granted you  rachavut, this is the time and place to focus on expanding your fruitfulness, whether fruitfulness in the simplest meaning of expanding the Jewish family, or, like Yitzchak, who had only two children, fruitfulness expressed in actions – influencing the world and other people.

And that is exactly the question: When Hashem gives us a bit of peace and expanse, is it so that we will sleep another hour, or so that we will be active for another hour?

By the way, Sammy Rohr z”l implemented his Rav’s directive in other areas of his life as well. Whenever he reached another level in his material abilities, the Jewish world felt it through the tzedakah he gave.

His physical “fruitfulness” as well – his sons and daughters – are continuing his way.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski


Kabbalat Shabbat in Tallinn

About seven years ago we hosted a young woman named Racheli. She told us that she has been traveling for a few months in Europe, “clearing her head.” And so, almost every week she has met families of Chabad shlichim who have hosted her for meals.

“It’s always tasty and pleasant. I always leave full of admiration for the strength and the fortitude of these young families, who are willing to go to foreign countries. But last week I had an experience in which I saw directly this quiet, internal strength of yours,” she said. I still remember how moved she was when she went on to tell the story; every time I remember it, I relive the intense emotions I experienced when hearing it.

“Last week I was in Tallinn, Estonia, for Shabbat. When I called before Shabbat to invite myself, Rebbetzin Chana Kot told me that her husband is out of town, because he had gone to New York to participate in the International Conference of Chabad Shlichim, known as “Kinus Hashluchim.” And yet (not at all to be taken for granted – Z.W.), she said that she was happy to invite me to join them for the Shabbat meal.

“It was Friday night. I went to the shul for the Kabbalat Shabbat prayers together with the “big” sons of the Kot family. How ‘big’? One was 12 and the other 11, or something like that. It was a large, beautiful shul, very impressive. We entered the large hall, and discovered that we were the only people there. Maybe because of the early hour that Shabbat comes in during the winter? Maybe the congregation knew that the Rabbi was out of town, and therefore didn’t make the effort to come? In any case, I was affected by this fact, and my mood dropped. But suddenly I saw the ‘big’ boys smoothly take control of the situation. One of them became the chazan, praying beautifully with cantorial flourishes at the end of every section. His brother, the “congregation”, joined in. When they got to Lecha Dodi, they started to sing as if the place was full, as if everyone were there - the chazan from his position, the congregation from his and I from the women’s section, goose-pimpled and with tears in my eyes, while they danced a classic Chabad dance around the bimah at the end of Lecha Dodi.

“I don’t have much to add,” Racheli said to us, “except that that was the moment when I understood the depth of the shluchim’s internal fortitude.”

That was Racheli’s story.

And I, Zalmen Wishedski, also understood at that point something deep and internal. I understood that those children were not alone. They did not feel that they were alone. They never feel alone. They know that they are the Rebbe’s shluchim. They are instilled with the awareness that the Rebbe never leaves his followers, not alone and not in the darkness. And when you are not alone, so what is the problem with dancing and singing, even if the hall is empty?


Later, my friend, Rabbi Shmuel Kot, the Rabbi of Estonia, told me that a group of people did come and say Kabbalat Shabbat on that Friday – only later.


Dear friends, this Shabbat is the Shabbat of the annual conference of the shluchim. It is taking place as it does every year, just like every year. Except that technically and physically, plus geographically and materially, it is not taking place in the United States of America. But it is taking place all over the world at once.

While every year we fly in to the Rebbe for this Shabbat, this year the Rebbe is coming to us, and we will dance and be happy just like every year, just like those children who were singing alone in an empty synagogue but with a full heart.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Don’t stop laughing

Seder night, 5793 (1993)

Towards the end of the Seder, my father said: “Let’s finish up quickly and go to Reb Mendel. He needs help, for sure.”

R. Mendel, for those who don’t remember, is the chassid, Rabbi Mendel Futerfas z”l, one of the staunchest soldiers of Soviet Jewry during the years of Stalin’s reign of terror. He was fearless; he had been imprisoned for ten years in prisons and in the Soviet camps; a smart Chabadnik who was a masphia – a guide – to many people. Reb Mendel was very close to my father’s family, and he lived a two-minute walk away from our home in Kfar Chabad.

He was then 86 years old. His spirit was young and bright, but his body, and mainly his legs, couldn’t keep up with him.

When we came in, we found Reb Mendel sitting on the couch, dressed in a silk kapota, his gartel around him like a belt, and his Jewish-Russian cap planted on the front of his head, almost covering his forehead. “You arrived,” he said, smiling all over, almost laughing. “I need to use the facilities, but I can’t move.” And again, he laughed. My father motioned to me to grab his right arm, while he grabbed his left arm, so that we could together try to lift him off the couch.

While we were bending over and working on getting him up, and he was laughing and saying, “Nu, pick me up, pick me up,” his wife, who was very concerned about him, came and said, “Mendel, I told you not to drink the entire Four Cups of wine – not to mention that it was heavy wine (wine that R. Chatzkel Shpringer z”l of Kfar Chabad used to make himself), and then there are the matzahs and the marror. The doctor, too, said it’s not good for you.” Reb Mendel looked at her and listened, and then he looked at father and me, and suddenly uttered a sentence that has remained with me since: “For eighty-six years I have been laughing at the world – and now I should start listening to it?”

R. Mendel was always called up to the Torah with the name “Menachem Mendel ben Menachem Mendel”, because his father died before he was born. The world and his sense of logic were against him even before he was born, and since then, in the Lubavitch Yeshiva in his childhood, and while experiencing the cruel Communism in his youth, the years of exile in Siberia, being separated from his wife and children for twenty years, all the way to his becoming the mashpia of the yeshiva in Kfar Chabad – every day he would look at the world, seeing the whites of its eyes, and would laugh about it. He laughed at everything the world said to him. So, the world and logic were really right when they said that that a person at his age and in his condition should not drink the Four Cups fully, eat marror by the mouthful and lots of matzah shmurah, but the world had gotten the address wrong. Reb Mendel laughed at it and he had no intention of stopping to laugh at it at age 86.

The first Jewish baby received the name Yitzchak (“He will laugh”). That was the fist name that the father of our nation gave his son. In fact, it was Hashem Himself who gave the order to name him thus. Why? So that we will always remember that laughter is part of our life, part of our existence.

People laughed at us from the time Yitzchak was born. But we continued to laugh ourselves in spite of everything. We too laughed at the realistic and logical world since we came into being and until this very day, and we did not give in. Again and again, we did the impossible and succeeded, and it is due to that that we have survived these past 4,000 years.

Don’t stop laughing.


And, by the way, we managed to get him up in the end.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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