Rabbi's weekly Blog

Don’t stop complaining

 This morning, after Shacharit, one of the people in shul said: “Oy, I love parashat Be’ha’alotcha so much; it’s such a Jewish parasha. So many stories about complaints. They complained so much in the desert. Ach, a richtige Yiddische parasha.”

That reminded me that one of the first things I encountered when I came to Switzerland was the reply you get when you ask a Jew, “How are you?” While in other places you receive the answer of “Baruch Hashem, good,” or “Everyone’s healthy,” and in Israel today they even say, “It’s all honey,” in Switzerland there is a good chance that if you ask, “How are you?” the response will be “man kann nicht beklagen – Can’t complain.” I was young then and I refused to accept such a response. “Why not complain? What’s the matter? One can’t even enjoy life nowadays? No – go ahead and complain like a good Jew.”

But seriously, what do you say: This Jewish tendency to complain, is it good or bad?

I don’t think it’s good. I think it’s great. Yes, really great. Because a person who is satisfied and feels good does not move forward. A person who is not satisfied will in the long run move forward and up.

Yes, I know, it’s not always like that. There are those who just complain and feel resentful without anything good coming from it, and that’s a pity. Still, the nature not to be satisfied from the current state of affairs is good; it has the potential of advancing us in life.

Among all the complaints in this parasha there is one very famous one that even led towards truly revolutionary results, and I mean, of course, the story of Pesach Sheni.

Superficially, it seems we have a group of good Jews who were tmei’im (ritually contaminated) and therefore unable to bring korban Pesach – the Pesach sacrifice. They were not happy with this, and instead of accepting the situation and making peace with it, they garnered their Jewish chutzpah, came to Moshe Rabbeinu’s tent and shouted: “Why should we be diminished by not offering Hashem’s offering?” The result is well-known: Moshe, in his great humility, asked Hashem, and Hashem created a new paragraph in the Torah that became the slogan of “nita kein farfellen – nothing is lost”, and if one only wants something enough, there is always the possibility of correcting matters and trying again.

Now, imagine what would have happened if they hadn’t complained. For sure, there were those who said, “Let it go, there’s no chance that Moshe will agree to listen to you. The law is the law and we are contaminated. It’s not so bad. We will bring the korban Pesach next year.” And yet, they still came and complained and shouted and requested, and it worked for them. Because that’s the way things go: when one’s request is sincere, it is heeded.

In short, my friends, don’t stop complaining.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski



So who are you, really?

One of the most impressive ba’alei teshuva (returnees to Judaism) in our history is the Talmudic sage, Reish Lakish.

There is, of course, Rabbi Akiva, mentioned so often for having made a huge change in his life – until age 40 he didn’t know how to read, and only then began his journey and became Rabbi Akiva. But Reish Lakish is a different story.

This was a person who grew up in a Torah-centered home, who knew about Torah and mitzvot, and yet became a highway robber; in fact, a notorious leader of highway robbers. That is, until he met Rabbi Yochanan who caused him to do teshuva, whereupon he became one of the greatest of Amora’im (Talmudic sages); the Gemara is full of his sayings.

Perhaps that is why he is the one who made one of the most meaningful and essential statements regarding the close connection between a Jew and his Creator – and maybe even more than that – a statement that redefines a human being’s essence: “Reish Lakish says, a person does not transgress unless a ruach shtut (which can be loosely translated as ‘momentary insanity’, or ‘spirit of folly’) enters him.”

When a person transgresses one of the mitzvot, chas veshalom, performing a forbidden action, naturally we tend to define him according to his deed. And not only we do so; he too defines himself according to his bad deed. But then Reish Lakish, who lived in all the worlds fully – from a chief of robbers to one of the foremost Talmudic sages – comes and says, “Stop. Your deed does not define you. You remain who you are. It’s just that a spirit of folly entered you and derailed you from the right path.”

And not only that: Reish Lakish brings proof for what he says from a passuk in this week’s parasha, parashat Naso. “Any man whose wife shall go astray”. From the fact that the Torah wrote the word tiste (“astray”) with a sin (shin) and not with a samech, Reish Lakish learned that we are talking here about a ruach shtut – also with a shin. This is a case of a woman who is suspected of not being faithful to her husband – which is not a small or light transgression; it’s a heavy transgression, a most significant wrongdoing, and it is from this pasuk that Reish Lakish learned that it is caused by a “spirit of folly”.

Perhaps Reish Lakish is teaching us that in order for us to repent and do teshuva we have to first remember not to define our essence according to a bad deed we have done. Because knowing that deep inside, in one’s essence, a Jew is still a good and pure person, hosting a holy soul – and though the actions may be dirty and bad, they are not the person himself, but something external, attached to him – grants one the hope and the power to get up and return to the source, to whom he really is, to what he really is: holy, pure and refined.

That is what Rabbi Yochanan said to him when he saw him when he was still a highway robber: “Your strength is suitable for Torah.” Instead of rebuking him, Rabbi Yochanan ignored the robber’s external aspects and said to him: I can see your essence; nothing has changed in your essence. Your essence is clean and pure, and suitable for Torah. And Reish Lakish pulled himself together and repented.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

“Lo sofrim oti” (No one “counts” me)

 “Lo sofrim oti” (No one “counts” me). This is a sentence that I hear a lot from people, in different variations.

I would say that this characterizes many of those who come to consult with me, be they teenagers or adults. The feeling that I am weak, insignificant, not influential, nobody listens to me, nobody takes me seriously. This is a feeling common to almost everybody who has ever opened his heart to me.

My role is usually a double one: One, to show him or her that that is not really so; the surrounding people do take him into account to a certain extent. At the same time, I must try to explain to him that he himself has to see himself as worth taking into account, as important, and then others will take him into account more, too. Because that’s the way it is: Why should anyone count me, if I don’t really count myself in?

In this week’s parasha, all of us are counted. Hashem counts the Jewish people, each and every one. It says in the holy books that counting has power – there is a Talmudic rule regarding kashrut that says, that “something that can be counted cannot be considered non-existent”. from this we learn the importance of the Hashem’s counting the Jewish People: they are present, significant.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe adds that there is a reason why a person is counted only if he is twenty years old already. That is the age when a person goes out into the world, whether to build his own home or in general, and that is the moment when he needs a buttressing of this power, of being strong and resilient, of being counted. That is also the reason that Hashem wanted to count the Jews in this world, even though He, of course, does not need Moshe Rabbeinu to know how many Jews there are. There was a goal here: the material world, with all its laws, nature and boundaries should also know that each and every one here is being counted in; each and every one has power, is important. And yes, each and every one can do and succeed.

One more thing that is worthwhile remembering in general: In mashechet Pesachim the story is told of Rav Yosef, the son of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, who weakened and his soul left him. When he came back to life, his father asked him: “What did you see?” He answered: “I saw an upside-down world. The top ones are on the bottom, and the bottom ones are on the top.” In other words, those people who are considered important in this material world have no importance in the World of Truth, and others, who are not considered at all highly down here, have a highly important status up there. Said Rav Yosef to his son: “My son, you have seen a clear world.”


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

This is, after all, our Rabbi Gorelik

 “He stood not far from the fresh grave and wept. I didn’t know him, but I recognized him from various events we had shared. An older person standing and crying at the funeral of a person who was not a relative of his. I went over to him, put my hand on his back and said: ‘Sad, isn’t it?” He wiped away his tears and said, ‘Atu zeh nosh Rebbe Gorelik” – This is, after all, our Rabbi Gorelik.”

And so, with such simple yet emotionally powerful words, David Trachtman described the love and deep connection that Jews from the Soviet Union felt towards their rabbi, the Rebbe’s Shaliach to the Russian Jews in Melbourne, Rabbi Chaim Elazar Gorelik z”l, who passed away this week.

Rabbi Gorelik was a beloved uncle of my wife, and I called David to tell him that I was deeply moved by his post; I also wanted to hear something more. ‘Luzik was one of our own; he spoke our language, the Russian language and the heartfelt language of the Russian Jews. He was one of us, and yet, he was different. He was above us.”

“Why?” I asked. “What was the difference?” and David answered: “Because Luzik was educated in the Lubavitcher underground of Soviet Russia. He received an education that permeated both body and soul, an education that penetrated the bones. You could not budge him from who he was and what he was.”

David does not know what I know: that one month after Luzik was born in Lvov at the end of 1946, the KGB arrested his father and sent him into exile for eight long years. And when Luzik was a month or two old, his mother was taken for long and exhausting interrogations, and he and his older brothers, my father-in-law, Rabbi Mordechai Menashe – then three years old – and their eldest brother, Shalom Ber z”l, who was then five years old, stayed home with their twelve-year-old cousin, “Vera”, whose own parents, by the way, were already in exile. If that is not called a bone-penetrating Jewish education, what is?

Those were not people that anyone could cause them to budge from their faith.

It is not easy to found, manage and maintain a center for Russian Jews in Melbourne, says David. The Jews who were searching for Judaism had immigrated to Israel, and even those who had emigrated to the United States knew that they would find there a proud and active Jewish community. Unlike these, those who came to Australia were just seeking a quiet and comfortable life, nothing more. But the Rebbe was not deterred by this, and he sent them the most suitable man – Luzik Gorelik – a small man with a big heart, who “loved us, danced with us, hugged us.”

For forty years he stood like a soldier in his watch, and was there, day after day, for his Jews. And I suddenly understand better the crying Jew at the funeral, who said “Atu zeh nosh Rebbe Gorelik” – for us, those are just five words, but someone who knows the language of the heart of a Russian Jew, knows that there is much more here than just five words.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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