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When Rabin met the Rebbe

Around the beginning of the 1970s, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l asked to meet with some Chabad Chassidim who had just left Soviet Russia. In the meeting between R. Moshe and R. Yankel Notik z”l, who was one of those unsung heroes who risked everything in order to maintain their observance of Torah and mitzvot day by day and hour by hour, R. Moshe asked him: How did you do it? Where did you find the strength to be so particular on every small detail of observance, in the face of the evil regime?”


R. Yankel Notik, in his characteristic humility and simplicity, merely answered: Did we have any other choice?”

R. Moshe Feinstein well knew that there was a choice; for, halachically speaking, there are leniencies meant for cases where there is danger to life, and in Stalins Russia, Khrushchev and Brezhnev, observing Torah and mitzvot was indeed life-endangering. But R. Yankel Notik did not look for leniencies or the easy way out. He knew one rule from this weeks Parasha, Parashat Balak, a rule stated by a non-Jewish prophet: For it is a nation dwells in solitude, and is not reckoned among the nations.”


What Notik and his friends did in Russia is a realization of what the Rebbe said to the late Prime Minister, Yitzchak Rabin. Rabin was Israels ambassador in Washington in 1972, and in honor of the Rebbes 70th birthday, he came to congratulate him in the name of the State of Israel. And here is the story he told:

“I was privileged to have a private audience with the Rebbe. It lasted forty-five minutes, and various matters came up. But, more than anything else, I remember the Rebbes eyes: blue, piercing eyes, expressing wisdom and awareness.

“The Rebbe opened the interview with a question: Do I not, as the representative of the State of Israel feel alone among the 120 nations and states represented in Washington?

“Later on in the conversation, the Rebbe developed the idea behind the verse, For it is a nation that dwells in solitude.” The Jewish People, the Rebbe said, will always be alone among all the other nations.


“The Rebbe pointed to this verse as the secret to the Jewish Peoples miraculous survival. For generation upon generation, even when we had no state of our own, we survived, and continued to exist, in spite of the Inquisition, the expulsions and the pogroms. The secret of this survival was the dwelling in solitude” – the devotion to the tradition and to the Torah, as well as the threats to annihilate us, that do not allow us to assimilate among the other nations.

“I left this meeting inspired. I felt that I had met a distinguished Jewish leader.”


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Why did you sell the stocks?

 The story is told about a rich Jew who chose a learned husband for his daughter. The agreement between son-in-law and father-in-law was that the son-in-law would learn Torah all day, and the father-in-law would transfer a respectable stock portfolio to his name. “Once a month,” said the father-in-law, “call the banker to hear what’s new, but don’t sell anything. Just sit and learn Torah.” The son-in-law agreed to these terms.

Two months later, the father-in-law discovered that the young man had given an order to sell the entire portfolio. Both surprised and angry, he called him up: “Why did you break the agreement? Why did you sell the stocks?”

“I spoke with the banker, as you told me to,” replied the son-in-law, “and whenever I asked him questions, at the end of every answer he would add, ‘and with G-d’s help Mashiach will come soon.’ My dear father-in-law, do you understand that when I heard a banker praying for the coming of the Mashiach, I understood that I should sell everything, the sooner the better?...”

This is not a joke; this is reality. For many of us the blessing or the yearning for the coming of Mashiach just makes us smile, or is considered unrealistic. Since we started our Shlichut in Basel, when people ask us the inevitable question, “So are you here for a limited amount of time, or for life?” we answer: “For a limited time – only until Mashiach comes.” And then they smile at us politely, and ask again: “But, seriously, are you here for a limited period or are you staying here for good?”

The Rambam in the Halachas of the Para Aduma (Red Heifer), which we read this week as part of Parashat Chukat, says: “Nine Red Heifers were prepared from the time [Moshe Rabbeinu] was commanded regarding this Mitzvah, until the destruction of the Second Temple. The first was prepared by Moshe Rabbeinu, the second was prepared by Ezra and then seven [more] until the destruction of the Temple. And the tenth – the Melech Hamashiach will make, may he be revealed soon, Amen, may it be [Hashem’s] will.”

Friends, the Rambam was not joking about the Mashiach. He, who is viewed by all as a rational Jewish scholar, when he wrote about the coming of the Mashiach, immediately added, with yearning: “May he be revealed soon, Amen, may it be [Hashem’s] will.” The Lubavitcher Rebbe, when learning this Halacha, wondered how blessings and yearnings connect to a dry Halacha book? In articles and sermons and when praying it is suitable to write and hope for the speedy revelation etc., but to have such a thing in a Halacha book, and, moreover, one written by the Rambam? How could it be?

Maimonides, said the Rebbe, wrote it in the Halacha book in order to teach us something about the Halachas of awaiting the Mashiach, and that is that when the topic of the future Redemption comes up in conversation or in learning, it is expected of the believing Jew that strong feelings of expectation and looking forward to the Redemption should arise within his heart, and as a result he will immediately burst out with “May he be revealed soon, Amen, may it be [Hashem’s] will.”

“For Your salvation we hope all day,” so have Jews prayed three times a day for thousands of years already. There is meaning and intention behind every word.

Shabbat Shalom and Mashiach Now,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

I am cutting off relations with my mother

She was an American girl from California who had just discovered her Jewish roots. She was learning in a girls’ seminary for people just like her. But her mother had not yet accepted this determination of hers to become religious, and every visit to her home in California ended up being a nightmare of disagreements and explosions.

“That’s it!” She told her friends. “I am cutting off relations with my mother. If she isn’t willing to accept me, then I won’t accept her.”

Her friends begged her: “This is a fateful move. Go the Rebbe, ask him for his advice.” Reluctantly, she agreed to do so.

In the Rebbe’s room, overawed, she told the Rebbe of her decision.

The Rebbe then began to do something very uncharacteristic: he began to talk of himself, of his greatness and of the great honor he enjoyed. “Were you here for Shabbat? Did you see the thousands who wait on my every word? Did you notice how much they respect me? Did you see how, with one wave of my hand, they start dancing? You surely know as well, that each and every one of the Chassidim there, if I just say so, will pick up and leave immediately on a mission from me to any part of the world.”

“Yes, Rebbe, I saw everything,” the young woman answered, surprised at what she was hearing, which seemed to be bordering on pride, even haughtiness.

“Well,” said the Rebbe, “I am willing to give all of this up – all of it! In order to meet my mother of blessed memory even one more time. And you – you can just get on a plane any time and meet your mother, and this is your attitude?

“So it’s a little hard for you. With Hashem’s help you will find the right way to cope. But to give up on your mother? No! No!”


Moshe Rabbeinu did a similar thing, as told in this week’s Parasha. After Korach and his people, headed by Datan and Aviram, refused to come and meet him, Moshe got up with all his eminence and glory, causing the seventy Elders to follow him to the encampment of the troublemakers. Moshe hoped and expected that perhaps his greatness and eminence, glory and distinction would cause Korach’s people to respect him and to agree to sit down with him and settle the differences between them.

“Moshe arose and went to Datan and Aviram, and the Elders of Israel went after him.” Datan and Aviram didn’t change their minds – for them it was too late – but we can learn from this that when the need arises, one should present things as they are, because perhaps that will bring some peace to the world.

This coming Sunday, the third of the month of Tammuz we will mark the Yarzeit day of the lubavitcher Rebbe, it is a day of inner gathering and contemplation in order to learn more from him, to adopt his way and attitude towards each person. for some it will be a real paradigm shift, and for others, extra Power for what we already believe in, one way or another, we have something to work on.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski 

תמונה של הרבי עוצמתית מהאוטו.jpg 

I met Calev ben Yefuneh

 This week I met Calev ben Yefuneh. Well, not him exactly, but someone who reminded me of him; his name is Yisrael Lieberman.

Rabbi Yisrael Lieberman is the Rebbe’s shaliach in Kowloon in Hong Kong. I didn’t know him so well before, but he sent me the following message at the end of last week:

“R’ Zalmen, I don’t know if you know, but we have a son who is over a month old, whom we haven’t been able to perform his brit.

“After many unsuccessful attempts to get a Mohel into here, we got the idea of making the brit in Europe. There is a flight from Hong Kong to Zurich. Do you think we could come to you in Basel?”

From the moment my wife and I said, “Yes” – and that was pretty instantaneously – he began to make arrangements for the trip. Believe me, everything that could get stuck, got stuck; everything that could interfere, interfered. Every few hours, almost, a new problem popped up, and until the very last moment uncertainty reigned.

But Rabbi Yisrael and his wife Rebbetzin Menucha wouldn’t let anything sway them from the goal.

Like the Spies in this week’s parasha, the world and its logic were saying, “We will not be able to ascend, because he is stronger than us,” but Yisrael and Menucha, like Calev and Yehoshua, looked at reality in the whites of its eyes and said, “We will indeed ascend, because we will indeed be able.”

Personally, I must confess that there were moments when I didn’t believe they would be able to overcome the challenges and the barriers that kept appearing. But they just said, “Our son has to enter the covenant of Avraham Avinu and there is no force in the world that will stop us.” And they succeeded and proved, once again, that the world knows how to give in when faced with the power of a Jewish truth.

At the seudah of the brit, I told them the truth. I told them that they had given me a lesson in emunah (faith), a lesson in bitachon (trust in Hashem), and a lesson in knowing that there is Someone in charge of this world.

And, oh yes, we gained wonderful guests.

Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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