Rabbi's weekly Blog

Be a Yehuda, do Vayigash

I was on a video call with a nice Jew who wanted to consult with me and receive my support in matters concerning his shalom bayit – his relationship with his wife. Like any good Jew, he was mainly searching for ways to convey messages, to hint to what he wanted – to cause things to happen in the way that seemed right and good to him. He had many ideas of how to move things along, but the problem was that every idea he had was likely to produce some problem that would prevent him from carrying it out. 

Hashem did a chessed with me, and what came out of my mouth was: “Do a Vayigash!”

In this week’s parasha, there is one central message, expressed by the word Vayigash (“he approached”). 

Yehuda was in a very delicate situation. The saga between his brothers and the king of Egypt was not over; in fact, it was getting more complex. And now it had reached a climax, with the king wanting to take young Binyamin from them, when Yehuda had guaranteed Binyamin’s return, alive, to their father, Yaakov. He was the first Israeli who used that well-known phrase – “Semoch alai” – “Trust me!” And now the moment of truth had come, and like anyone who accepts responsibility upon himself, he was alone there, and had to make a decision. 

Notice that Yehuda didn’t go around looking for friends or lawyers who would approach Yosef in his stead. He didn’t send a letter, and not even a voice mail. He did Vayigash – he himself approached Yosef, looked him in the eye, and said (so-to-speak): “Let’s settle this matter like two adults.” 

A right and honest vayigash leads to unity. Because when people approach each other and have a straight, face-to-face conversation, that brings them closer to each other, and closeness leads to peace and unity. The disagreement can remain; it is perfectly o.k. not to agree with one another, but when it is done through closeness, the result is peace.

This week, thirty three years ago, the Rebbe said thus: Vayigash expresses the great rule in the Torah of “You shall love your fellow like yourself.” Vayigash is a statement of revealed, practical unity, as expressed by Yehuda and Yosef coming closer to each other. 

Be a Yehuda, do Vayigash.

ֿShabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

It was my first public speech

It was my first public speech. I was a young man, and I still remember my voice – and my body – shaking. It was on Chanukah, and the city was “apportioned out” to the students of the Chabad Yeshiva in Jerusalem – in other words, it was decided who will bring the Chanuka lights to which section of the city. My friend and I were given the Malcha Mall, which had opened only a short time before this. I still remember the excitement involved in speaking with the mall’s officials to ask them to authorize (and pay for…) the lighting of a large menorah in the mall. I am still moved when I remember the surprise of how swiftly and warmly the owners of various businesses in the mall joined in the effort so that the party would be successful: one supplied the PA system, one paid for the large menorah, and the Ne’eman bakery donated the traditional doughnuts. 

While I was busy with the final arrangements, the manager of the mall thrust a microphone into my hand and said, “Chabadnik, get on the stage and say some Dvar Torah (Torah message) or something.” When I got on the stage, I saw dozens of people, and, of course, children, and I got really scared. I lifted up my eyes to heaven in order to gather my wits together, and discovered that on the floors above people were leaning over the bannisters, waiting to hear what I would say. And then, in the following order, my knees went weak, my mouth became dry and my voice – shaky. But Hashem, with His great power, opened my mouth and I said: “Rabotai, look at the menorah. It has one solid, broad base and from that base come its different branches. Why does the menorah have separate branches? Because the menorah symbolizes the Jewish People. 

We have different ways to serve Hashem, different traditions that developed in each exile and even different songs. But all the branches – all of them – are connected to each other, and are really standing on one solid base, and that is our being one people, with one Torah and one G-d.”

Several years have passed since then. I know the beauty of this nation much better than I knew it then. I have learned to know and appreciate so many interesting and exciting customs and traditions, things that people do today exactly the way their forefathers did for generations. I have also seen people accept upon themselves lovingly new customs that they saw by the Rabbis from whom they had learned Torah and Fear of G-d. 

About two thousand years ago we were scattered among the nations. We barely met each other during all those years, and when we did meet in the Holy Land, we found that the gefilte fish and the chreime differed greatly in their shape, consistency, color and especially flavor. But they are all connected to a single solid base, because both of them are an outcome of the verse “Remember the day of the Shabbat to sanctify it.” We celebrate Seder night with different matzahs, different Carpas, depending on the origins of the family. Even the Marror is not the same. But all of us – from Tzan’a in Yemen to Babruisk in Belarus – observed in our own way the mitzvah of “You shall tell your son”, which is written upon the solid base under our menorah’s branches.

One more thing: For all of us, our central goal, privilege and obligation is to illuminate the world with the light of goodness and loving kindness, love and joy.

Shabbat Shalom,

Chodesh Tov,

Chanukah Sameach,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

something very unpopular

Today I want to write about something very unpopular – something people really don’t want to hear about: the importance of good old authentic Jewish education.

But before that, here’s a quote from a letter I received recently:

“I thought the Jewish education I would give them would be enough. We thought that minimal Judaism, the kind we received, would be enough. But, to our great sorrow, we were wrong. Our sons have married out. Our grandchildren, whom we love dearly, are not Jews anymore. And that hurts. It hurts very much.”

I am sorry to say that this is not rare. I have received more than a few letters like that, and many people have told me similar stories.

On Shabbat Parashat Vayeshev, December 1950 (5711), about a month before the Rebbe became the head of the Chabad movement, a short time before he turned from an ordinary citizen to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, he gave a very unpopular speech in America of those days – about the importance of authentic Jewish education. As I mentioned already, this topic is unfortunately still very relevant, except that since 1950 we’ve seen many more painful proofs of how right he was. The Rebbe said thus: The argument between Lavan and Yaakov was not just another ordinary argument between son-in-law and father-in-law; it was the presentation of two significantly different world views.

Lavan said, “The daughters are my daughters and the sons are my sons.” I will determine how they will be educated. Lavan, said the Rebbe, told Yaakov: “You are old, so you can do what you like; you’re of the old generation anyway, and you can sit and learn Torah day and night. But what do you want from the children? They belong to these modern times – they are young; why should they be raised in a way that will make them unable to fit into the modern world?”

Yaakov, on the other hand, said, “I have worked for fourteen years for your two daughters.” The goal of all those years of work was that I should be the educator and the person responsible for my offspring, your daughters’ children. I don’t believe in the new, modern way. There is only one way to ensure that my children will grow up to be Jews, the offspring of Yaakov, and will live as one would expect children of Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah to live – and that is my old-fashioned way: to give them pure Jewish education, many hours of Torah and Judaism.

The Midrash tells us that Yaakov almost never slept during his entire stay in Charan. And the reason he didn’t sleep was that he was worried that his children would be influenced by the mainstream led by Lavan in Charan, because the mainstream has a way of taking over, and people have a way of going along with it.

Yaakov succeeded!

And our job is to make sure that his success is maintained, before it will be too late.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski


“It’s not fair, it’s just not fair.”

“It’s not fair, it’s just not fair.” That’s what I thought and even told myself and whoever was willing to listen for the greater part of my youth. I looked around, and saw friends who had no problem getting up in the morning on time to get to Yeshiva, while for me it was an exhausting struggle. There were those who had no difficulty sitting in one place for two hours, and even listening to a shiur (class), while yours truly was born with shpilkes (Google it!). I have friends who did everything by the book, and I was trying to write my own original volume. The most annoying thing was, that everything that the yeshiva framework demanded came easily to them, and I just heard the word “frame” – and felt the limits of that frame constantly. Well, you have to admit that I was justified in saying that it wasn’t fair.

When I was eighteen years old or so, Volume 35 of the Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe was published. A new book from the Rebbe is the cause for much excitement, and like many of my friends I went through it right away (not “according to the book”, as was my habit, since I took time from other studies I was supposed to be engaged in). When I reached page 150, the section on parashat Vayishlach, I finally found some balm for my soul and an answer to my question.

The Rebbe divides the ways people operate in the world into two types: Rachel and Leah.

Rachel was beautiful; everyone was sure that she was intended for Yaakov, the tzaddik, who had chosen her and had worked hard for her. She symbolizes all those for whom it is easy to do things right and according to expectations. In short: avodat hatzaddikim (the way the righteous serve Hashem).

Leah was not referred to as a beautiful woman. Her eyes were soft from tears, because everyone said that she would marry the wicked Esav. In order to marry Yaakov she had to go through much sorrow, and unpleasantness in terms of her relationship with her sister. And besides that, she married someone who had not chosen to marry her. Leah symbolizes all those to whom nothing comes easily; who has to fight for everything. In short: avodat hateshuva (the way the ba’alei teshuva serve Hashem).

The Rebbe then goes on to say that every person is meant to serve according to his abilities. If you are like Rachel, and your service is that of tzaddikim, it is possible that your service is internal, working on yourself, working with people who are like you. You have to follow the beaten paths and stick close to the frameworks, and within them do the best you can, what only you, with your special beauty. know how to do.

But if you are a Leah type – serving through teshuva, it is possible that you should use your abilities to get through to the most difficult people, to leave the beaten path often, to find the good and the special in the difficulty and confusion. 

This reminds me what Bill Gates said once: when I look for workers, I look for the lazy ones. Why? Because a lazy person knows how to reach the goal in the shortest way possible. 

Today, as a father of children, I can tell which of my children is more in line with “Rachel”, and which is more in line with “Leah”. Just being aware of this makes my parenthood much better and clearer.

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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