Rabbi's weekly Blog

we are at the end of the story

I like Parashat Va’era very much – not because of the plagues and the many miracles it tells us of – not at all. I like it particularly because of a conversation that takes place between Moshe Rabbeinu and Hashem, a conversation I find to be most fascinating. 

At the end of Parashat Shemot Moshe Rabbeinu approaches Hashem and makes a strong claim: “Why have you done evil to this people, why have You sent me?! From the time I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name he did evil to this people! But You did not rescue Your people!”

This is the firmness and even audacity of a true leader, a leader who has taken over the responsibility for his flock, and is willing to do anything for their sake – even confront the Creator of the world. 

In this week’s Parasha, Hashem answers him, and explains to him very nicely: “I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov… and I have also established My covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan… and also I have heard the groan of Bnei Yisrael… and I have remembered My covenant.”

To me it all sounds something like this:

“Dear Moishe, I feel your pain. I understand your deep rage; I also understand the great frustration you are expressing when you say, ‘From the time I came… to speak in Your Name he did evil to this people.’ But you must understand something: the story of which you are the hero now did not begin today, not even when we met by the burning bush. 

“This story began already with Avraham, even before Yitzchak was born. I made a covenant with him. I informed him of all the stages of My plan: You will have a son, the Jewish People will come from him, I will exile them to Egypt. They will suffer there for many years, and then I will come to save them miraculously; they will leave Egypt with many possessions, and in the end will reach the Promised Land.

“So you see, Reb Moishe, that you have arrived towards the end of the story, and that is why you are complaining. If you would have known the entire plan, you would also know that the hardest moments, those that you complained about, are actually the last moments of suffering. Starting tomorrow I will begin to strike the Egyptians and immediately the next stage will come: ‘I will take out… I will save… I will redeem… I will take… I will bring.’ Don’t worry: everyone, Jews and Egyptians alike, will know that I am Hashem in the land.”

I always learn from this story to our days. Always, when there are hard times, when there is terror and murder, and hatred that arouses a bit of fear, I remember Hashem’s words to Moshe and say to myself: Wait a minute: up there He has an orderly plan. It’s a long story that began many, many years ago, and we, today, are already facing the it’s concluding part; we are very close to the end of this saga known as exile. 

One only needs to keep on believing, and do a bit more, and then we, too, will merit to see ‘I will take out… I will save… I will redeem… I will take… I will bring’ to rebuilt Jerusalem, with the Third Temple standing, when the Mashiach comes. 

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Do you need your name?

Do I need my name for myself? 

Believe it or not, when I’m sitting alone in a room or in my office, working or learning, the word “Zalmen” doesn’t come up. It could be that way for hours, perhaps for a whole day. If I am alone, without a telephone or email, I don’t need my name; I really don’t use it!

In the teachings of Chassidut it is explained that that our name is not us, but rather something external, a tool that we use when we want to be in contact with the world. My name is my identity, but my identity is not necessarily me. The name is the title, or perhaps the outer coating, and yes, it tells the world in a moment who I am, but it is not me. 

The weekly parasha is called parashat Shemot. What is the connection between the word “Shemot” and the central story of the parasha – Yetziat Mitzrayim – the Exodus from Egypt? 

Bnei Yisrael – the Children of Israel – went into exile. They were subjugated, beaten and tortured. According to Chassidut, Mitzrayim means a narrow place, an enclosing border. The Egyptians wanted to limit the Jewish People, to narrow their options, to prevent them from being who they really were. They tried to break their spirit with force, and the truth is that they almost succeeded. But only almost – because in spite of it all, even when they were subjugated and suffering, they remained Bnei Yisrael. They were not lost. 

How did this happen?

The verse tells us: “And these are the names of Bnei Yisrael who were coming to Egypt.” If we want to, we can read this using a chassidic approach that says that only their “names” went down to Egypt. Only the external coating was subjugated and was in a tight place and within boundaries, but their souls and personalities remained free. 

When I feel I am in a tight place, when there is someone or something that is limiting me or burdening me, and I am looking for a way out, it is worthwhile to try and see if my entire spiritual and material entity is really in an exile of difficulty or tightness, or not. Because if it is not – and it probably is not – then with that knowledge I can lift myself up out of the tight place and move from exile to the redemption – both personal and general. 

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

What are you more – an Efraim or a Menashe

When Yaakov Avinu blessed Menashe and Efraim, he said, “By you shall Yisrael bless, saying, ‘May G-d make you like Efraim and like Menashe.’” And since then, that is how we bless our children – the same way we were blessed by our parents – that we should be like Efraim and Menashe.

The Rebbe brings here a wonderful explanation, one that clarifies the essence of this blessing:

Menashe symbolizes Yosef’s connection with his past, his roots, the house of his father. When Yosef named Menashe, he said, “G-d has made me all my hardship and all my father’s household.”

Efraim, on the other hand, symbolizes the present and the fertile result of Yosef’s exile, as Yosef himself defined it – “G-d has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”

There were two things that gave Yosef the strength he needed while he was alone in his exile: a. the constant emotional connection to his father’s home – “Menashe.” b. The goal to be fruitful and successful particularly in his land of suffering – “Efraim.”

These two things were very significant and important for Yosef during his life – and both things are significant and important in every person’s life, with all its changes and fluctuations.

In order to survive and to succeed in remaining a faithful Jew as well as a fertile person in every place and in every situation, a person has to, on one hand, maintain and strengthen his emotional connection with his roots, with his father’s home, with his Father in Heaven. On the other hand, he has to understand and internalize the goal to be fertile even in the many different situations in “the land of his suffering.”

For some of us, “Menashe” is the dominant factor – the connection with the ancestral home, the Father in Heaven. But there are those for whom it is the concentration and focusing on the goal, on the present and the future that are more dominant personality traits.

But both things – both “Menashe” and “Efraim” are necessary for every Jew, wherever he is. Therefore, that is the best blessing for our children: “My G-d make you like Efraim and like Menashe.”

So it really doesn’t matter what you are more – an Efraim or a Menashe; the main thing is that they are both with you along your way.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski


When was the last time you played “hide and seek”?

Remember the game “hide and seek”? When was the last time you played it?

The trick is to hide so well, that the seeker won’t find you; if he finds you, you’re “out”. 

But that is not the worse thing. Do you know what is worse than being found? Having no one look for you; that’s far worse. When you are hiding and suddenly realize that no one is searching for you, you feel just terrible.

So when recently have you played “hide and seek”?

I’ve noticed that we play “hide and seek” quite often in this life.

Almost always, when someone is hiding from you, or acting coldly towards you, it is not because he wants you to stay away from him, but because he wants you to seek him even more.

But before I go on, I must clarify: Of course, I am not talking about some unknown stranger, but rather about people we are in touch with, sometimes daily. 

How do I know this? The truth is, I know it from myself. In all honesty, I can see that when I behave distantly towards someone close who has annoyed me or hurt me, it is not in order to refrain from contact with him; my real goal is that he should make the extra effort to approach me.

Is this manipulation? I call it “hide and seek”.

It’s true in all types of relationships, even with our children, when they sometimes are angry with us or push us away. The idea is not that we should indeed stay away from them, but that we should continue to seek them. They are not distancing themselves from us – rather, they are hiding. 

This is true mainly of marital relationships. Often the woman will withdraw from her husband – with a show of words, sounds, tears and perhaps also with rebuke. And the husband, with his masculine tendency to see things technically, responds by retreating and running away. But the truth is that she is just hiding and digging in, and her true desire is that he not run away or distance himself, but, rather, fight for the relationship and search for the way to become even closer; she wants him to show some manly courage, overcome the seeming rejection and approach her anyway. 

True, sometimes one has to be creative in order to find the right way to approach the other person anew, but the attitude should be to approach and not to turn tail; to come closer, not to shy away.

So when was the last time you played “hide and seek”?

In this week’s parasha, parashat Vayigash, it happens. Yehuda understands that the “Master of the Land” is playing “hide and seek” with them. He understands that while he is acting coldly and harshly, he is actually seeking closeness. He is rejecting them with harsh words and even unpleasant actions, but really all he is asking is that they not give up on him, not leave him and go away once again.

So Yehuda approaches him. Vayigash Yehuda.He gathers together all his lion-like courage, and, head held high, he approaches Yosef – and, just moments later, Yosef cannot control himself any longer, and bursts into tears. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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