Rabbi's weekly Blog

Yidden, chopt a tantz – Jews, grab a dance!

During the Second World War, many of the Jews in the Soviet Union fled to Uzbekistan. Among them was a large group of Chabad Chassidim, who, as one would expect, immediately began to supply both the material and the spiritual needs of the many refugees. In those days, in order to be an observant Jew one needed much steadfastness, as observing Mitzvot could be life-endangering under those circumstances. The Yeshivas were underground institutions, and the children’s Chadarim (elementary schools) were also hidden from the public eye; and we haven’t even mentioned what performing a Brit Milah (circumcision) entailed.

One especially notable person among the Chabad Chassidim was R. Nissan Nemnov z”l, who was a paragon already in his youth, even among his close friends. In one of the clandestine night joint sessions, in which the Chassidim encouraged one another by singing, learning Torah and of course a bissele L’Chaim on some form of Russian spirits, R. Nissan got up on the table, and, dancing, called out to the Chassidim: “Yidden! Chopt mesirus nefesh (self-sacrifice)!” And he then explained: “Right now we are not permitted to learn Torah and observe the Mitzvot, to the point that we are in danger of losing our lives if we do. In the future, when we get to free countries, we won’t have this opportunity!”

My friends, we are about to enter the forty-eight hours of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah – days in which we celebrate, and mainly dance with the Torah; days in which every Jew’s connection to Torah is lit up, whether he learns and knows Torah or not. Even if he never learned Torah, and doesn’t even know the Aleph-Beit – he too is connected to the Torah. The Torah belongs to each and every one of us, because that’s what Moshe Rabbeinu said before he died: “The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Yaakov.” And a heritage is something that is shared equally by everyone!

The former Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Shneerson, warned in the name of his father, Rabbi Shalom Dover Shneerson that, “The forty-eight hours of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah should be highly valued. Every minute in them one can draw up bucketfuls and barrelfuls of treasures, both in the material and the spiritual – and all of this is done through the dancing. Yidden, chopt a tantz – Jews, grab a dance!”

So great treasures of blessings, both material and spiritual, await us on these days, and all that is demanded of us is to dance in happiness over our heritage – the Torah. So even if you usually stand on the side, and watch the dancers; even if it’s “not your thing” to join them, and of course, if you have a hidden desire to dance, go beyond yourself and grab a dance! For there is one thing certain: These forty-eight hours will be over in exactly forty-eight hours.

“Yidden, chopt a tantz – Jews, grab a dance!”

Shabbat Shalom and Moadim Lesimcha,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

How was your Yom Kippur?


So… How was your Yom Kippur?

We fasted, wore white clothes, prayed for 24 hours, felt elevated, excited… We were somewhat spiritual. And the climax, of course was when everyone called out from the depths of their hearts, the hearts of children expressing their love for their Father in Heaven, “Hashem, He is the G-d!” seven times, one after the other. This is a very special moment; there is none other like it during the year. It is the innermost connecting point between us and our Father, our King.

But then, a few moments after that, the spirituality and the elevation remain in the synagogue, and we go off looking for one thing: a cup. It can have water or cola, or, in my case, wine for Havdala. It is not only a natural human urge for a person to have after a fast; Jewish law, too, demands from us that right after the great and awesome Yom Kippur we are to take a hammer and nails in hand – in my case it’s canvas and cable ties – and to begin to build a Succah.

Why so? Why is it demanded from us to make that very sharp transition from “Hashem, He is the G-d” of Ne’ilah, and the hammer and nails of the Succah?

The answer lies in the first Passuk of Parashat Haazinu, the Parasha that we will be reading this Shabbat, the one that comes between Yom Kippur and Succot. “Listen heavens and I will speak, and may the earth hear the words of my mouth.” Chassidut relates this Passuk to the two dimensions with which a human being serves his Creator: one is Shamayim – heaven, a person’s spiritual powers, his brain and heart, where his intellect and personality traits lie, and the other one is Eretz – earth, his material strengths, i.e. his speech and actions.

Often I hear myself saying that I was there, but not really. My thoughts were in a different place. True, I was present there, physically, but not really, not completely. And there’s also the opposite: there may be a family Simcha, a happy occasion, and we are far away geographically, but in our hearts we are really there, all happy and excited as if we are physically present in that faraway place. But that’s just make- believe, because they were all dressed up and we were in our pajamas, looking at the ZOOM, blinking away some tears.

In order to really do something, completely, one needs both the material and the spiritual, both the heavens and the earth. And that is Moshe Rabbeinu’s guidance to us at the last moments of his life: If you wish to really serve Hashem, then “listen the Heavens and I will speak, and may the earth hear the words of my mouth.”

We just went through the annual checkup, the High Holy Days. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Mainly, we dealt with our spiritual side, and now the holidays of Succot and Simchat Torah are approaching. They will attach the spiritual to the material by the building of the Succah, the taking of the Four Species, eating in the Succah and dancing with our legs on Simchat Torah.

May we be successful!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

When the Rebbe gave a girl a cigarette lighter

Two weeks ago, I heard, for the first time, a story about a girl from a Chabad family who had found herself a way of life different from that of her parents. I was not told her name, because she has Chabadnik children and grandchildren, and they’d rather maintain their privacy.

It was some time in the 1960’s and her parents asked her to go and meet the Lubavitcher Rebbe one-on-one, in a meeting known as a yechidut. The girl refused. “What’s my connection with Rebbe?” she said. According to her, she no longer had any ties with him or with his way. But the parents pressured her to go, and she agreed, on condition that it be “on my own terms”.

A yechidut was always in the middle of the night. There was always a long line of people waiting, and every such night, many men and women would go in to see the Rebbe, usually only for a few minutes. 

The Rebbe would almost always ask those entering to sit down. Almost always they (certainly, the chassidim), would politely refuse. It was not customary to sit in his presence.

The girl went in, and when the Rebbe offered her a chair, she sat down. And then her moment came. She pulled out a cigarette and matches, and proceeded, supposedly nonchalantly, to light the cigarette. 

Only supposedly nonchalantly, because it did not come naturally for any person to take out a cigarette in the Rebbe’s room, certainly not for a girl who was some 40 years younger than him, and even more certainly not – a girl from a Chabad family. But she had come to make a statement, so she put the cigarette in her mouth and tried to light it, but it didn’t light. Her hands were shaking – that, at least, was a natural phenomenon. 

Confused and stressed, she raised her eyes to the Rebbe, and there he was, offering her a cigarette lighter. 

I told this story this week to a young, pure and holy boy, who came to me wondering: “How will Hashem forgive me on Yom Kippur if I don’t really deserve it?”

First, I told him how Chassidut views the connection and the relationship between a person and his Creator and only at the end did I tell him this story and ask him what he had learned from it.

He understood quite quickly that when you really love someone, and mainly, when you are familiar with the complexities of his heart and soul, you are not afraid of him, nor of the statement he may be making.

That is the way it is with Hashem on Yom Kippur. You repent, you regret your past, take upon yourself to behave better in the future, and Hashem sees into your heart – lovingly.

Shabbat Shalom and Gmar Chatima Tova!

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Are we a team!


Some years ago I participated in a course for young rabbis given by the Rabbinical Center of Europe. One of the lecturers, Eitan Eckstein, taught us about teamwork. 

And here is what I remember from that lecture:

Are four people traveling together from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for the same purpose – to attend a wedding, for instance – a team? Obviously not. “Do you know when they will go from being just four people to being a team?” asked the lecturer. “When they have a flat tire, they will immediately become a team.”

He quoted the American expert on organization, William G. Dyer, who wrote that a team is a collection of people who have to make use of group cooperation if each one of them wants to reach optimal success and achieve his goal. 

How is all this connected to us? It’s very simple: We are a team! In other words, we have to remember that we – every member of the Jewish nation, male or female – are a team. For in this week’s Parasha, which is always read before Rosh Hashana, there is the event that is the preparation for that Day of Judgment: “You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem, your G-d.” And then, the text goes on to list ten types of Jews: “the heads of your tribes, your elders and your officers – all the men of Israel. Your small children, your women, and your proselyte who is in the midst of your camp, from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water.”

To put it simply: Today, Rosh Hashana, the day of judgment, you are standing together – the heads of your tribes and the drawers of your water, your elders and the hewers of your wood. You are one team! True, you are not equal, but that is because you are not meant to be equal. You are supposed to be different from one another because only that way, with every person contributing his different skills and abilities, will the team achieve its goal. 

The problem is that we remember that we’re a team and not just a collection of people only when we get a flat tire… For example, last summer the war turned all of us into a real team – a team that recognized the value of each and every individual and the real connection that we have with each other as a people. 

The Parasha of Nitzavim comes to tell us that we should remember that we are a team even when there is no flat tire. We should love and respect each other and deal with each other with love even when there are no sirens or missiles. 

My friends, there is no better preparation than that for Rosh Hashana; really, there isn’t. 

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski


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