Rabbi's weekly Blog

We have an inner vault

 Last Friday, a few minutes before candle-lighting time, I received a phone-call from someone whom I hadn’t known very well until then. He is going through a very difficult time; a series of travails have come upon him, and he asked me for “a few strengthening words so that I will be able to get through Shabbat with joy.” I ignored the fast-approaching Shabbat – as well as the Shabbos clock, the hot water urn and the electric hotplate – to the best of my ability and focused on him and on what he was saying.

The more he described all his troubles and listed them, the more I found myself shrinking at what I was hearing. It was very hard to listen to him; very hard to understand how one relatively young person can cope with all of this on his own. He also voiced – though very delicately – his hard feelings vis-à-vis Hashem; he raised questions that no human being has answers for. When he finished telling me everything, I searched within myself for words of hope and strength but couldn’t find any.

“I’m not sure I have what to say to you,” I told him honestly. “I am listening hard; I’m really feeling your pain, but I can’t find words that will give you strength.”

“So just tell me a story about your grandfather, something about chassidim in Russia who had to cope with troubles,” he replied, and all at once connected me to my roots and source, to the power of the generations.

“Listen, my friend,” I said. “I have no words that can strengthen you, but I can say that you have within you a treasure-vault of power and strength that you inherited from your forefathers. The contents of this vault are enough to give you the energy to cope, head held high, and even remain joyful. Our ancestors did not leave us a legacy of piles of gold and silver, nor of real estate and stocks, but they did leave us the legacy of being able to pick up our heads and continue on, under any conditions. Yes, even when it is very difficult, even when there are difficult questions, doubts and grievances against the Alm-ghty. They knew to continue onward and therefore we can do so too.

The simple Jewish faith was not affected when there were difficulties, and there were plenty, we know, in every generation.

This morning, with our dead from the terrible catastrophe in Meiron not yet buried, with our joy turned to sorrow, with the shock hitting us and the pain so overwhelming, when the questions come up and the lights have seemingly gone out, I remember those words of my friend from last Friday, how he connected himself and me in an instant to the sources of power and strength that we have inherited from our forefathers, and I know that we are strong even when we are weak. Because we believe even when we have no words, because we are believers, descendants of believers.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Who desires life?

 Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaCohen of Radin, known as the “Chafetz Chaim” (“one who desires life”), went at the beginning of his career from door to door to sell the book he had written on the laws of lashon hara (broadly: undesirable speech). At one place, the housewife opened the door, and when she heard his offer said: “We don’t need a book. In our home no lashon hara is spoken, but try at our neighbors’; I think they really need it.”

“Who is the man who desires life (chafetz chaim), who loves days of seeing good? Guard your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit…” it says in Psalm 34, and it is on the basis of this passuk that the Chafetz Chaim named the comprehensive volume he wrote on the laws of lashon hara, and since then he himself is called by that name, too.

Whoever has experienced being burned by lashon hara, whoever has been hurt from words of gossip and evil speech, will be able to confirm that there is nothing more fitting than the name “Chafetz Chaim,” since evil speech definitely brings about the opposite of life.

Personally, when speaking about lashon hara, I have a very clear rule – check it out and you’ll see it’s true. When someone speaks to you badly about someone, you can be sure that sooner or later he will speak badly about you too to someone. So what should one do? The best thing is to maintain your distance from him, the speaker of evil words.

The Rambam in his commentary on the Mishna in Avot counts five categories of speech: speech connected to a mitzvah, forbidden speech, disgusting speech, beloved speech and permitted speech. It is worthwhile to read what he says, and study it in depth. But here is what he defines as disgusting speech: “The third part is the disgusting speech, in which there is no advantage for a person in his soul… like most of the stories of the masses, about what happened and what was, and what are the customs of King so-and-so in his palace and what caused the death of so-and-so, or how so-and-so got rich…”

On erev Shabbos of Tazria-Metzora, the parashas that deal with tzara’at, which comes as a punishment of and a reminder of the severity of lashon hara, I remind myself once again that if I desire life, there is a simple way to achieve it, and that is to guard my tongue from evil, and my lips from speaking deceit.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Kosher food in Judaism

Every year, when we read Parshas Shemini, the Parasha that contains the laws of Kashrut regarding meat, fowl and fish, I recall the lecture about “Kosher food in Judaism” that I was invited to a few years ago.

I was told: “A theologian from the university will speak on the connection between food and religion; you are to give the Jewish perspective” – and I was allotted fifteen minutes in which to do so. When I got up to speak, I said that whoever gave me only fifteen minutes to talk about Jewish food has absolutely no knowledge of the subject, because my grandmother, may she rest in peace, could talk just about her gefilte fish for two hours, and did so every single Friday.


Allow me to present to you the Chassidic/Kabbalistic approach to Kashrut (an explanation intended only for intelligent, open-minded people):

Let’s start from the beginning. The Creation of the World consisted of a “breaking of the vessels.” In simple terms: an awesome spiritual light, called “the Ein Sof” was too big and powerful to be contained in the spiritual vessels that were in the world of Tohu (the world before our world of rectification (Olam haTikun) that was created in six days). As a result, the vessels broke, and the Divine sparks of the Ein Sof spread all over, until they reached this material world we live in, including the inanimate, the flora and the fauna in it.

Our task is to collect all these Divine sparks and raise them to a level of Kedusha (holiness). This is not simple, because some of them have settled into some very vulgar, lowly positions.

For the purpose of that, we were given a tool-chest – the Torah and Mitzvot. When I do a Mitzvah, I redeem the sparks that are within the object used to perform the Mitzvah, and they acquire holiness.

For instance, money. Money could be the most material of things. People kill themselves and each other in order to obtain it. On the other hand, when I give eighteen dollars to Tzedakah, I am redeeming and making holy not only the sparks embedded in the money, but even those that were embedded in the work through which I obtained the money – for instance, the sparks that were embedded in the fuel that allowed me to work and earn those eighteen dollars.

Eating, too, is a way of elevating sparks. When I eat a veal steak (medium-rare, if possible), and this gives me the strength to do something positive during the day, I have thereby elevated the Divine sparks that were in the calf to a higher level of Kedusha. (And I have hereby raised the ire of all my vegetarian friends…)

Here’s the problem:

There are animals that the Torah declared non-kosher; those animals cannot be elevated by way of eating them. If we eat from such an animal, we are blocking a spiritual artery in our connection to Hashem. It is simply not for consumption for our souls, just like a degreaser is not to be consumed by our bodies.

And so, other ways have to be found to elevate an unkosher animal to a realm of Kedusha. For instance, a donkey can be elevated if it is used as a beast of burden for some noble purpose.


Hearty appetite!


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Se’udat Mashiach

One hot summer day, an old man went down to a cool cellar, in order to give himself some relief. When he walked into the dark room, he couldn’t see anything at first. “Don’t be afraid,” said his friend who was in the cellar. “That’s normal. When you pass from light to darkness, you can’t see. But soon your eyes will get used to the darkness, and you’ll barely notice that it’s dark here.”

“My dear friend,” said the old man, as he turned to leave, “that’s just what I’m afraid of. Darkness is darkness. The danger is that you will convince yourself that it is light.” (from the wonderful book, “Toward a Meaningful Life”).

This coming Sunday we will be celebrating the last day of Pesach. The Baal Shem Tov instituted that on that day we should make a “Se’udat Mashiach” (a special meal for the Messiah), since on that day the light of the Mashiach shines in the world. (In Israel it happens on the seventh day of Pesach – on Shabbat.)

Se’udat Mashiach – yes, a real festive meal. The same way we celebrate the past redemption – the redemption from Egypt – not only by telling stories and explaining things, but also by eating meaningful foods such as matzah and marror – and all this so that our materialistic body will also take part in the experience of redemption from Egypt – so too we mark the future Redemption. The light of Mashiach shines in the world on the last day of Pesach; we just have to connect it to our material selves, and that we do by way of a Se’udat Mashiach, which includes four cups of wine – cups of redemption and blessing.

One more thing: when we make the Se’udat Mashiach, we are actually making a statement that we do not recognize the present situation as being good, but rather as one that has to improve and get better. We do not recognize our situation as being that of light, but rather of darkness, even though we have become accustomed to it and it seems to us that we have light.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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