Rabbi's weekly Blog

On the way to the banquet

He sat next to me on the bus on the way to the main banquet of the World Conference of Shluchim. He is a shaliach of my age, somewhere in the world. After a short getting-to-know- you conversation he said, “I would like to work out with you a matter that is disturbing me.” I thought he was about to bring up a “standard” dilemma in the life of a shaliach – perhaps what to say to a regular donator whose feelings were hurt, or how to start a new class. But he lowered his eyes for a minute and said: “Don’t expect some great issue. This is not something that is dealt with in the shluchim’s workshops. It’s not in the conference’s schedule. It’s just a small thing, but, as I said already, I find it disturbing.” 

Well, like most of us, his life had fallen into a routine and slowly he began to feel that there is a lack of feeling of kedusha, sanctity, in the family’s life. Everybody was of course observing mitzvot properly, but mostly out of habit, and he felt that there was something lacking and that he wanted Hashem to be more present in his home. 

I listened carefully to the end. I admired his courage to speak so openly about such an important issue, even if it’s not so popular and not discussed very much. I thought that it is really beautiful, that on the way to the grandiose event of the World Conference of Shluchim, an event in which VIP’s will gather and speak about the Rebbe’s actions and his shluchim, he, the shaliach sitting next to me, did not lose his way and managed to focus on something relevant to him. But most of all, his words touched me deeply, because I too felt like him during that period about my home and my family. Therefore, I also had a ready answer for him, based on the pasuk in this week’s parasha, Ki Tisa, about Shabbat.

“Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, Now you speak to Bnei Yisrael, saying: However, you must observe My Shabattot, for it is a sign between Me and you for your generations to know that I am Hashem, Who makes you holy.” There is probably quite a bit to learn from this pasuk, especially about the relationship between building the Mishkan and observing the Shabbat laws. But I read the pasuk in its most simple sense: Do you want to bring Hashem into your home? Invest in Shabbat, because “it is a sign between Me and you.” Do you want to add holiness at home? Shabbat is the key. For it says, “to know that I am Hashem, Who makes you holy.” If Shabbat is just another day during which one goes to shul, and the Friday night meal is just another meal with a few extra dishes, then the Shabbat will have less of an influence on the home. But if we relate to Shabbat as the connecting factor between the days of the week, if we see it as the central day of the week, the whole household will look different.

My advice to my new friend was very simple and practical – make the Shabbat holy, and it will make your home holy. Relate to Shabbat seriously, as one relates to something especially important. Take upon yourself to think during the week how to upgrade the Shabbat meals. I don’t mean in terms of food and table-setting – that’s very important, but we have not gathered together in order to load more tasks on your wife. We came to talk about me and you. And so, sit down on Thursday to prepare a nice story that will be suitable for the Shabbat meal; perhaps also a joke, and if you’re up to it, maybe also a small quiz. And when you prepare a story, try to think how you can tell it so that your children will enjoy it. we don’t always know how to tell a story so that the children will find it gripping. A first grade teacher doesn’t know how to teach teenagers in a yeshiva, but a Rabbi in a yeshiva for adults doesn’t necessarily know, or is able, to teach first grade children. So one ought to put some thought into it, and maybe consult with someone. Sometimes it is necessary to think of some suitable parable or of an example from the child’s daily life. In short, run your Shabbat table in a way that will make the family await it, that it will be exciting. This is not always easy, but it is definitely possible, each person according to his abilities and the makeup of his household and guests. 

The Rebbe quoted many times the words of the Zohar, “Shabbat, from it all the days are blessed,” both the days before Shabbat and the days after it. It blesses in both directions. These are not just pretty words; they have a practical meaning, “for it is a sign between Me and You.” Sanctify the Shabbat and it will sanctify your home.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

You can, but you don’t want to

Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov was once sitting with his disciples in his Beit Midrash (study hall). They were learning or praying. Outside, in the street, a non-Jewish wagon-driver was going by in his wagon, but because of the winter mud he could not continue. The wagon was heavy, and the horse just couldn’t pull it through the mire. The wagon-driver therefore stuck his head through the window of the Beit Midrash and asked the Baal Shem Tov’s students to help him extricate the wagon from the deep mud.

When the students saw how heavily-loaded the wagon was, and how deep the mud puddle was, they said to him, “We can’t.”

“You can, but you don’t want to,” responded the wagon-driver.

The Baal Shem Tov, who had the principle of learning something from everything that one sees and hears, said to his disciples: “Listen to what the wagon-driver is saying. It is a message for life. It’s easiest to say ‘I can’t,’ but most of the time it’s really ‘I don’t want to.’”


After last week’s Parasha, in which we learned about the contents of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), this week, in Parashat Tetzave, we learn about the special garments that the Cohanim wore, their different types, design, components etc. Rashi, when relating to the prohibition of tearing the priestly garments, mentions also the Holy Ark’s wooden shafts, which we learned about last week.

These shafts were attached on either side of the Holy Ark. They were meant to be used when the Jewish People traveled, as a means of lifting the Holy Ark and carrying it. It turns out that these wooden bars must be attached to the Ark at all times, even when no traveling is being done and the Ark is sitting in the Holy of Holies. It is even a Torah commandment: “They shall not be removed from it.”

The Ark is taken out from the Holy of Holies when there is a war, and then it is carried before the camp and helps Bnei Yisrael in their battle. But this doesn’t happen every day, certainly not when they are already settled in Jerusalem, in the Temple. What is the reason, then, that they have to always be inserted into their rings in the Ark?

The Sefer Hachinuch explains simply: “We were commanded not to remove the Ark’s shafts from it, in case we will have to go out with it quickly to some place.” Because you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow, the Ark has to always be ready to go.

From this the Lubavitcher Rebbe learned the most important thing: Even if you consider yourself to be a Holy Ark, and perhaps you are indeed a learned Torah scholar, holy and righteous, you must still learn from the Holy Ark, in which the Tablets are kept. Like the Ark and its wooden bars that are always in place, you too have to be always ready to go out in response to any call for help that reaches you. Even when a person is learning or praying, or doing anything else, as important as it may be, he must be ready to move, as if the bars were attached to him; he must be willing to go out and lend a hand.

And if you say that you are busy, or you can’t, the Ukrainian wagon-driver will stick his head through the window and tell you, loudly: “You can, but you don’t want to.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

where there is light and warmth, it is also kosher

There was once a very special and beloved person in Kfar Chabad. His name was R. Meir Friedman, and he used to tell the following story:

As is usual among Jews, a rumor started going around the village that the village’s Shochet (slaughterer) is not G-d fearing and therefore one cannot rely on his Shechitah. This, of course, affected his livelihood – negatively.

The Ruzhiner Rebbe heard about this, and he decided to send a Chassid of his to the home of the Shochet.

The Chassid knocked on the door of the Shochet without telling him the reason for his visit. The Shochet and his family welcomed him warmly, lit candles for him and gave him a bowl of hot soup to warm him up after being out in the cold winter weather.

When the Chassid returned to the Ruzhiner Rebbe and told him about the visit, the Ruzhiner got up and announced: “Where there is light and warmth, it is also kosher.”

In this week’s Parasha, Parashat Terumah, we learn about the making of the golden Menorah. It had branches decorated with “Kaftorim” (“knobs), “Prachim” (“flowers”) and also “Gevi’im” (“cups”). There were twenty-two cups altogether, three on each of the six branches, and four on the central branch – all made of pure gold. The Rambam, when drawing the Menorah, positioned the cups upside-down, so that the wider rims of the cups point downward, and the narrower bottoms – upwards.

The Rebbe in his Likutei Sichot, 21, gives a special (and characteristic) meaning to the reason for the upside-down cups, and connects it with the overall goal of the Beit Mikdash (Temple), which is to light up the world with goodness and holiness. Says the Rebbe: When the cup is not upside-down, it is a vessel that can hold something. In other words, it can hold the wine or the water that is put into it, and it keeps it to itself. But when one wants to give and influence, to pour from the cup, one turns the cup over, so that its wide rim faces downward.

The Menorah of the Temple was not intended only to light up the sanctuary itself, as Rabbi Zerikah says in the name of Rabbi Elazar in tractate Menachot (86b): “I don’t need its light… it is evidence to the whole world that the Shechinah (Divine Presence) rests upon Israel.” The Menorah was intended to give light and Heavenly warmth to everyone in this world.

And so, it is fitting that the Menorah should have upside-down cups, indicating an act of pouring out and giving, and not a state of storing, holding onto the contents.

We have no Beit Mikdash today, but we can warm the world and light it up, and we are even commanded to do so. We can even pour for others: hot soup, a cup of tea, or a cup of L’Chaim if necessary. The main thing is to influence, give, radiate light and warmth, because then it becomes evident, as the Ruzhiner said: “where there is light and warmth, it is also kosher.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski


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