Rabbi's weekly Blog

Noach’s ark or Titanic?

There are some wise sayings that immediately go into the “cut out and save” drawer in my mind. Here’s one of the best ones: 

“The Titanic was built by professionals; it collided with an iceberg and sank after only four days of being afloat. Noach’s ark was built by amateurs; it lasted for the entire Flood.”

Noach spent 120 years building the ark. For 120 years he faced all the wise and enlightened people of his generation alone as they laughed at him and mocked him. 

The Gemara in Masechet Sanhedrin (108b) tells us that, “The righteous Noach would rebuke them with harsh words, and they would belittle him. They would say to him: ‘Old man, what is this ark for?’ and he would answer: ‘Hashem is going to bring a flood upon you.’”

The truth is, when I think about it, that if someone here in Basel would build an ark and tell me he is preparing for a flood, I don’t think I would belittle him, but I would probably send him for psychiatric testing.

But Noach was not moved by what the world was saying. He had a goal, and he went about achieving it. 

And if the world laughs? Let them laugh!

People think he’s crazy? They can go ahead and think what they like. 

The Creator of the World had given him a task to perform – and he was going to do it, no matter what!

Friends, every one of us has a goal and a mission in life, suited only to him. That goal is the reason he was born and brought into this world. Because if I was not personally needed, I wouldn’t have been born. Hashem trusts us – “Your faithfulness is great,” we say every morning. He believes in us. 

Perhaps we just have to learn from Noach to be focused and goal-oriented; to do what our Creator wants us to do, even if the experts, the wise men and the enlightened sneer at us. Otherwise, there is a chance that our ship will encounter an iceberg, just like the Titanic.

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Who is wise?

“Who is wise? He who discerns what is about to come to pass.” That is how the Gemara in tractate Tamid (32a) defines the wise person. In its simple meaning, this saying means that the wise person who can analyze situations can foresee the outcome of any situation.

The inner aspect of the Torah (the Pnimiyut, as it is known) gives this aphorism another, different meaning – almost the opposite: the truly wise person is not the one who foresees the future, but rather one who sees the past, namely, the supreme spiritual root of what is in this world; by identifying that root, he can know every creature’s complete and true essence.

How is all this connected to Parashat Bereishit? Adam HaRishon named the  creatures according to their essence. For instance, he identified the root of the ox with the “face of the ox” that is part of the Merkava (the Heavenly chariot) described in the book of Yechezkel. (This is a Kabbalistic concept based on the visions of the prophet Yechezkel, who saw the chariot of the Alm-ghty, and on it the faces of various animals – a lion, an eagle, an ox and a human being.) Similarly, he identified the root of the lion with the “face of the lion” that appears in the Merkava, etc.

The Rebbe explains the Adam HaRishon not only gave the creatures names, but by the very fact that he provided a material creature, made of flesh and blood, with a name from the spiritual realms, he was the first to connect the upper worlds with our lower, material world.

We are all descendants of Adam HaRishon, and we all inherited from him this wonderful ability to connect the upper and lower worlds. This, indeed, is also our role in the world – to bring holiness and spirituality to the material and the mundane, to refine it and to infuse it with holiness.

How does one do this? By doing Mitzvahs and good deeds. How simple…


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

for if I’m not here, who is here?

 Hillel Hazaken (the Elder, who lived about 100 years before the destruction of the Second Temple), the head of the Sanhedrin and one of the greatest Torah sages of all generations, used to dance in the Beit Hamikdash at the Simchat Beit Hashoe’va, the nightly celebrations held during Succot.

It says in the tractate of Succah (53a) that “It was said about Hillel Hazaken, that when he was rejoicing in the Simchat Beit Hasho’eva he would say, ‘If I’m here, everything’s here! And if I’m not here, who is here?’”

In other words, if I come to the Temple to rejoice, then holiness and the Divine Presence are here. And if I’m not here, it is as if there is nothing in the Temple; for what is the Temple worth without the Jew?

The Ba’alei Hatosafot (sages who lived in the 12th and 13th centuries) explain that Hillel was referring not only to himself, but to the entire Jewish People. When all the Jews are here, everything’s here. In other words, they are the ones that, by coming to the Beit Hamikdash, provide it with its content and meaning.

The Beit Knesset is like the Beit Mikdash in that sense. What is a Beit Knesset without a Jew? For if I’m here, everything’s here. And if I’m not here, who is here?

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch voiced a similar idea about the Hakafot of Simchat Torah:

The Torah wants to go around the Bimah, but since it has no legs, the Jew becomes its legs. And if the Jew is not here, how will the Torah dance?

Friends, in the next day’s we will be celebrating Simchat Torah.

Come dance and rejoice, because Hashem is waiting for us. The Torah trusts that we will come. The Shul needs us – for if I’m not here, who is here?

Chag Same’ach,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

The Menorah on the Roof of My Volvo

At the time, I had an old Volvo station-wagon, to which I attached a large menorah that I had managed to get in Israel and had had transported, with much effort and expense on my part.

It was my second year in Basel, and I saw this menorah as being a significant accomplishment. And so, I parked my Volvo next to the shul and went in to daven Shacharit, happy and excited.

But then, a Jew some thirty years older than me approached me, looking angry, with a readymade speech, which he delivered in direct and rapid German: “I don’t like the menorah on your car. It is not suitable here. I do not think it encourages respect towards Judaism.”

I was rather naïve; I knew that there were those who object to my activities, but I didn’t think that a menorah on a car, emblazoned with “Happy Chanukah” greetings, would create problems.

To tell the truth, the situation was not easy for me. It is no fun to be criticized, certainly not in such a vociferous way, and that after all my efforts. At first, I thought to answer the man with equally vehement words, but Hashem helped me and I stopped, took a deep breath, looked in his eyes and said: “Just look: you oppose it adamantly, and I am fully in favor of it. You don’t like the menorah on the car, and I am very happy and love it. And yet, we are still friends, divided in our opinions, but loving each other in our hearts.”

I still remember the surprised look he gave me. He was ready with a suitable response to the reaction he thought he was going to get, but now he was left open-mouthed. And then, with a broad smile, he said: “I wish you good health, young Rabbi. What is going to be with you? We can’t even fight anymore, like Jews.”

Why am I telling you a Chanukah story on the day before Succot?

Because Succot is the holiday of unity.

The festival of Succot is the festival during which we unite four different – and even diametrically opposed – species and make a blessing on them. Moreover, halachically, we cannot make that blessing without tying all four together.

In three words, all that we are asked is to maintain “Unity, not uniformity.”

We are not required to be uniform; but we are definitely required to live in peace and quiet, in love and interpersonal unity.

Sometimes it seems to me that we are becoming more and more narrow in our opinions, without being able to contain any other opinion or thought, and certainly not a diametrically opposed one. But that is not the truth.

The truth is, that we are much better than that. We can certainly accede to this demand that the holiday of Succot makes of us, and remain friends, in spite of the differences of opinion among us.

This is the time to bring out this light, to enable ourselves to hear a different opinion and to listen to it with love.

Unity, not uniformity.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Same’ach!

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski


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