Rabbi's weekly Blog

Laugh at it

My morning started with a one-word message that made me very happy: I passed.

Made me happy is not the right word, I really enjoyed it, the joy was a roar of wow and then a burst of loose laughter.

It was a friend who was facing a process of contraction and reduction in his work, he was under not simple pressure and asked me for a blessing.

He already knows me, he knows from experience that this means that he will go to the mikveh and write a letter to the Rebbe, and when he is finished I will send it via email to the Ohel Chabad where they will tear the letter on the Rebbe's resting place.

So we met recently at six in the morning, he went to the mikveh, then sat down to write in a language that was comfortable for him, he described the situation, how everything he had was in danger, he was under not simple pressure and he asked for a blessing that everything would be successful and go well. And all this pressure, as mentioned, was released this morning.

And then, as always, I thought, why could we not laugh a laugh of joy even in the moment of difficulty? Is it impossible to laugh and rejoice even when there is only hope and not beyond? Is the belief that all what Hashem does is all for the best, not strong enough?

I guess everyone knows the story about Rabbi Akiva and his friends who saw a fox coming out of the place of the destroyed temple in Jerusalem, they cried and he laughed. The gap was even bigger, they did not understand why he was laughing, and he did not understand why they were crying. Finally he explained to them that for him when he sees the destruction, he already sees the redemption, how? For both destruction and redemption are written in the words of the prophets, this and that came as a prophecy, and the fact that the prophecy of destruction came true and here is this fox coming out of the Holy of Holies, It is this fact that clarifies and strengthens, that the prophecy of redemption will also be fulfilled and to the highest level. So he sees the fox and laughs, really laughs.

Apparently the standards of Rabbi Akiva are quite high, even his friends were not with him at first, but, From the moment he showed it was possible, then it’s possible for everyone. his friends said to him: Akiva, you comfort us, Akiva, you comfort us. And probably we too, you and I, can, if only we gather strength, look reality into the eyes of Rabbi Akiva. See the fox and laugh.

This Shabbat, is called Shabbat Nachmu, following the haftarah that begins with the words 'Nechamu Nachmu Ami', Consolation, it must be remembered, comes at the time of coping and difficulty, and not when the difficulty is gone, because then there is no need for comfort anymore.

Laugh at it.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski


Regards from the Torah world

I am on my way home from Antwerp, Belgium. My good friend, Rabbi Chaim Druckman from Luzern, is sitting next to me. The trip takes six hours; we will be in Switzerland by evening, G-d willing.

Yesterday, on the way there, it was only the two of us. Now we have our children with us: his son, Levi, and my son, Natan. Both of them have completed their year of study at the Chabad Yeshiva in Antwerp.

So, here I am, sitting in the car next to him, lost in thought. The difference between the life I live and the life our children live in the yeshiva is so great, that sometimes it seems that we live in parallel universes.

A few hours ago, I was still surrounded with these young boys, the “Temimim”, as they are called in Chabad. The discussions were only around Torah issues. For the past few weeks they have been trying to make use of every minute to learn yet another daf of Gemara, and in the past week they stayed up late in order to be ready for the big exam that they had last night – on five whole chapters from Bava Metzia.. Anyone who has ever learned in a yeshiva knows how much one has to invest and how dedicated one must be in order to be prepared for such an exam.

And here’s the gap between us: My friend and I are coming from a world of public activity – we have offices, and meetings and email and WhatsApp. True, we have Torah classes, and we too open Torah books and learn, but there’s no comparison between that and the lives of Temimim, Torah students. The only thing they have in their world is Torah.

The yeshiva’s Rabbis, the heads of the metivta and the mashpi’im speak. Their language is that of Torah and chassidut – the language of a holy yeshiva, the language of Abayei and Rabba, Rashi and Rambam, the Admor Hazaken and the Rebbe. They are looking at their students, whose lives they have lit up, with much joy and pleasure, and the young men’s faces are shining. A halo of Torah and kedusha rests above their heads and lights up the world. What a wonderful sight – heavenly, yet down here on earth.

“Give me Yavne and its sages,” requested Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai a few days before the destruction of the Temple, approximately two thousand years ago. What can I say? Rabbi Yochanan was successful. Yavne and its sages have continued to exist all these years and they are now gushing forth.

Ribbono shel Olam, Master of the World, look down from heaven on us. See their faces, see their studying, see their purity; check out their wishes. They are Yours, and they deserve – and in their merit we all deserve – to see the true and complete Redemption speedily in our days, Amen!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

I am on the way

 “I am on the way.” A short sentence that I say, or, rather, send by SMS, a few times a day.

What meaning does the “way” have? Is it just a means to get from one point to another, or does it have an inherent meaning and purpose? Forty-two journeys are summarized in this week’s Parsha; forty-two stops that the Jewish People made during their forty years in the wilderness, starting from the Exodus from Egypt and ending in the Promised Land.

The stops were very different from one another. In one of them the people said, “Everything that Hashem said, we shall do and we shall hear,” and received the Torah. At another, they complained to Moshe, saying “If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or in this wilderness – if only we had died.”

One way or another, each one of the forty-two stops was an important part of the Jewish people’s journey on their way to becoming Hashem’s nation, chosen to bring the holiness of Torah and Mitzvot into this world.

That is the reason that the Parsha is not called Chanayot (stops), but Masei (journeys) – because every stage of the traveling, with all its ups and downs, was significant in terms of the forming of the Jewish People’s character.

Rabbi Yisrael Ba’al Shem Tov said this week, over 250 years ago, that every person – just like the Jewish People in the wilderness – goes through forty-two journeys, adding up to one long personal voyage. And like the Jewish People’s travels, our travels include ups and downs, all of which – the downs as well – are important to the forming of our characters.

So if yesterday you slipped and fell, and feel terrible, remember: that slip is just one more journey, one of the forty-two you have to go through as you move towards the Promised Land. And there is only one crucial condition: You must not to wallow in your downs; you are obligated to get up and go on.

Another point: When the people were in the wilderness, some of the stops lasted many long years, and others – only one day. In our own personal journeys, as well, there are processes that take years, and others that occur in the space of a few days. So it’s a good idea to be patient.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

the letter reader

 Once upon a time there was such a profession as a “letter reader”. This reader would sit by the village’s post office and for the price of a couple of kopeks would read or write letters for the illiterate. (Today it would probably be dubbed “The Reading and Writing Co., Ltd.)

One day a young man came to the reader; he had just emerged from the post office, having just received a letter from his parents who lived far away. The reader, with a suitably self-important expression on his face, opened the letter and began to read it slowly, with proper enunciation. But suddenly he noticed that the young customer had burst out sobbing and had even fainted. 

He aroused him from his faint and asked, “What happened, young man? Why are you crying and fainting?”

The young man was astonished. “Did you really pay no attention to what you just read? It’s a letter from my mother telling me to return home immediately, because my beloved father has just died, and I have to sit Shiva… is it any wonder that I cried?! And you’re wondering at my fainting?!”

The wise reader asked him, “but wait a minute, you don’t know how to read at all, and all the information you have, you got from me – so why did you cry and I didn’t?”

“Foolish man,” answered the young man. “You don’t care about a man who died yesterday, far away. You didn’t know him, so why should you cry? But I – it’s my own father!”

Dear friends, Parashat Pinchas has many messages in it for us, but allow me to bring forth one central message that the story of Pinchas has for us: Pinchas cared!

Zimri ben Salu was from the tribe of Shimon, and he did what he did with Cozbi bat Tzur, who was a Midianite. What does that have to do with Pinchas? Why should it touch him? Why should it hurt him when something is happening to someone else from a different tribe? He’s not a close relative of his, and certainly not his father!

But Pinchas showed us that one should care. If something happens, even if it’s in another place, even it’s far away, it should touch us. We should care!

We should not read the letter like that letter reader.

The days of Bein Hametzarim (the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av) are days when one should look upon the Jewish People favorably. I think that we have inherited from Pinchas this trait of caring. I live in Switzerland, but visit Israel a lot, and the differences are quite clear. The people in Israel care very much. They will be happy to direct you to your destination, will tell you what your mistake is, where the best falafel is sold and what’s best for you – even if they met you for the first time exactly one minute ago. 

Because that’s what we’re like. We care. And it’s good that we care. 

Shabbat Shalom, 

Zalmen Wishedski

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