Rabbi's weekly Blog

Areivut made easy

 “Zalmen, you write very well. Very nice. Great. What talent! Don’t stop.” These words might seem to be meaningless, but for me they were everything.

A little more than seven years ago I began to write a weekly letter. I lacked confidence; I thought people wouldn’t like it, that I would write badly, that I would make mistakes and cause others to be mistaken thereby. Every letter I wrote and published was accompanied by a fluttering in my heart. I held on tight to every positive feedback I received – and there weren’t many of them.

But there was someone who immediately at the beginning took to sending me short sentences such as those quoted above, and I have no words to express the degree to which these lifted my spirits and gave me the necessary motivation to continue.

That person was the Rebbe’s shaliach to Nahariya, Rabbi Yisrael Butman z”l, whom later I already called “my friend Yisraelik Butman.” It was unusual, because I didn’t know him before. He was about twenty years older than me and our paths hadn’t yet crossed. I knew his name and knew that he was an energetic shaliach in northern Israel, but I had never had any personal exchange – not even one word. I even remember myself standing in the parking lot of the Shazar House in Kfar Chabad; Yisraelik was driving by, but he stopped, reversed, got out of his car, took the cigarette out of his mouth and in his rolling “r” began showering me with empowering words. I remember, also, my embarrassment as I stood and listened.

In masechet Shavuot it says, “All of Yisrael are arevim (responsible) to each other.” One of the sources for the laws of guarantors is in masechet Bava Batra, which takes it from this week’s parasha, parashat Vayigash.

At the height of suspense of the (serial) story of Yosef and his brothers, when Yosef announces that he will keep Binyamin with him as a slave following the “stealing” of the goblet, Yehudah approaches him immediately, saying that this cannot be, “because your servant made himself guarantor for the boy.” I guaranteed my father that I will return Binyamin to him, when I convinced him to allow Binyamin to come with us to Egypt. I will be responsible for him, you will demand him from me, I said to him.

True, usually when we speak of areivut we speak about taking responsibility, of giving selflessly even if it is risky to oneself, but still, in my mind, mutual areivut is also mutual empowering, a good word, a pleasant response, positive feedback. Every such word has the power to influence, to strengthen, to lift up. This is true for any person, but especially when we’re talking about an older person speaking to a younger one, or a public figure speaking to one who is not that. What is nice about this is that such areivut has almost no risks. With just a bit of effort, attention and caring, one can give so much to someone else.

Rabbi Yisraelik Butman z”l passed away at a young age seven years ago. He gave so much with just a few words and I do my best to transfer this good deed of his to others, when I empower other people. So here I am suggesting that everyone learn from him. Every person can be a little like Yisraelik Butman.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Start talking!

 Here is something that we men lack sometimes, and I apologize for the generalization.


We’re just not big on talking; we’re better in thinking, head shaking and hand gestures, but not speech.

I’m not talking about stories and jokes; we’re pretty good when it comes to those. I’m talking about expressing feelings, thoughts and wishes.

Look at Yosef.

He met Binyamin when the brothers arrived with him, and nothing happened to him. He brought them into the house, prepared food for them, “Yosef saw Binyamin with them; so he said to the one in charge of house, Bring the men into the house. Have meat slaughtered, and prepare it, for with me will these men dine at noon.” He was still poker-faced. They told him about the money that he had hid in their sacks, and he asked about their father, and then asked them again about Binyamin who was sitting next to him, “Is this your little brother of whom you spoke to me?” And still – he is completely composed.

But then the moment comes when he first speaks to his brother directly: “G-d be gracious to you, my son.”

And only then does he feel he can’t control himself anymore, and he rushes to another room and cries: “Then Yosef rushed because his compassion for his brother had been stirred and he wanted to weep; so he went into the room and wept there.” Rashi, known for bringing the simple meaning of texts, understands that something happened between the first time they met and the second; otherwise, why didn’t Yosef rush to the room to cry immediately upon seeing Binyamin for the first time? Therefore, Rashi brings a moving interchange between the orphaned brothers, with Yosef asking Binyamin how many sons he has, and Binyamin names ten sons, all of which are named for his beloved lost brother – Yosef. It is this exchange that causes this stern king of Egypt to feel compassion, and he runs and collapses into tears in the room.

Because that is the power of speech.

If we would know to express more what we feel and sense, our lives would be simpler, gentler and much less rigid. It is not easy – even Binyamin didn’t really say that he missed his brother and loved him. He just said that one of his sons is called Na’aman, named for his brother who was very pleasant (na’im). Two more were Eichi and Rosh – He was my brother (ach), and my leader (rosh). Yet another son he called Chuppim, alluding to the fact that “he did not see my chuppah, and I did not see his.” And Yosef understands that every time that Binyamin named his children, he remembered his pleasant, beloved and missing brother who was not present at his wedding. Is it any wonder that he could not hold himself back anymore? Of course he burst out crying! The expression of feelings has the power to break down walls and tear down fences.

Did you understand this?


Shabbat Shalom and happy Chanukah,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Essence and Manifestations

Purim was the first holiday we cancelled. No – we didn’t cancel Purim, only the Purim party. I remember the fear, the lack of clarity. But something inside told us that we should be avoiding mass gatherings.

And then it was Pesach and Lag Ba’Omer, a bar mitzvah and Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Succot – and even Simchat Torah. And now Chanukah has arrived, the holiday in which we go out to celebrate in the street, literally: in city centers. And once again, we have to cancel those annual events.

Again, we are cancelling and down-sizing events, but the holiday itself, the fact that the child is bar mitzvah, or the chuppah – no force in the world can cancel.

And that is a big lesson for us.

Just between us, a moment before the vaccinations get disseminated: if we would have tried to imagine a situation in which one cannot hold mass events or be with our extensive families on holidays; if we would have been told that we will have to make bar mitzvahs in Zoom and weddings with a maximum of 50 people, would we have thought that was possible?

This year taught us that not only is it possible, but that such events have a feeling of wonderful uniqueness.

In Chassidut there are the concepts of etzem – the essence of a thing itself, and gilui – its outer manifestations. Everything in the world has its essence, and also its external aspects. Often we don’t know what the essence is; we only know its external manifestations.

For instance, a person who talks and writes and tells stories – these are all his gilui. His essence will be known only by those who are closest to his heart. Holidays are like that as well. Chanukah has many expressions: the songs, the foods, the special customs. But is the doughnut the “essence” of the holiday? Is the dreidel an internal expression of the holiday? These are only its superficial level, the gilui. The essence of the holiday is light and warmth, just like the essence of Pesach is humility and going free, and the essence of Rosh Hashana is coronating the king etc.

The Corona took from us the ability to celebrate with our outer circles, and left us with our closest circles. If we wish to, we will see that the Corona has not distanced us from the holidays. It just pushed aside most of the gilui and left us with the etzem. It brought us in closer contact with the holidays’ essence, and yes, with ourselves. Our gilui was affected, but our etzem was absolutely not. Even more so, we got acquainted with its inner aspects.


Whatever way, I wish everyone a happy and illuminating holiday!


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Why Chassidut?

I have a dear and much-appreciated friend who has been learning Chassidut with me for a year or more.

He is a true ben Torah (a person wholly immersed in Torah), who learned in yeshivas that don’t teach chassidut. We became acquainted and have been learning together.

I asked him this week: “On Shabbat we will note the day of 19 Kislev, the Rosh Hashana of Chassidut. It is a suitable time, then, to ask you: why do you learn Chassidut? What does it give you? What are you actually looking for?”

Why did I ask him? Because I was born into it and I don’t always know to say what it has given me, since I don’t know any other kind of life.

He didn’t need much time to think. He is a person with an orderly mind and everything is already settled in his head.

Here is what he said:

“Until I learned Chassidut, I didn’t really understand why I do mitzvot and learn Torah. Mainly, I didn’t understand what happens when I do mitzvot and learn Torah. I knew what reward I would get for them, and I knew pretty well the punishment I would receive if I didn’t observe the mitzvot and didn’t learn Torah.

“In other words, the reason for performing the mitzvot was external; it was not connected to the mitzvah itself. Something like a child who eats healthy food only because if he finishes what’s on his plate his mother will give him a gift, and if he doesn’t eat, and particularly if he eats junk food, his father will punish him.

“Since I have been learning Chassidut, I know that the reward for learning Torah is the very fact that the Torah itself is the wisdom of Hashem, and when I’m learning it, it unites with me and I become united with it. The word mitzvah comes from the word tzavta – connection – and so when I am performing a mitzvah I and Hashem become a team. All this has no connection to any external reward or punishment. Something like a child who eats healthy food because his parents have explained to him how good and useful this food is; also, how damaging unhealthy eating is. And this has nothing to do with a gift his mother will give him, or the punishment his father will declare.”

The Rosh Hashana of Chassidut will begin tonight (Friday) and will continue until Sunday night. These are particularly illuminating days, days that light up the way for us, perhaps even renew it for some of us, and upgrade our lives. Not everybody merits this; one must want it. It is worthwhile to try!


Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Gut Yontif!

May you be written and sealed for a good year in learning Chassidut and the ways of Chassidut!

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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