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We bear the yoke – assuming responsibility

I was 14 years old on that confusing motzai Shabbos at the end of Nissan, 5751 (1991). On the Thursday before that, the 27th of Nissan, in the evening, after Ma’ariv, the Rebbe spoke, saying things that were surprising, awe-inspiring and scary in their severity and tone of speech. In the records, they wrote about this that it was “a strong and big voice, and the sight was threatened, alarming and scary.” In a short speech (11 minutes in all) the Rebbe passed on the responsibility to his chassidim and said, with pain in his voice: “I did all I can, and from now on I am passing it all on to you. Do everything you can to bring the Mashiach immediately, really, causing that there should be lights of tohu, but in vessels of tikkun.” The following motzai Shabbos, those who were then the leaders of the chassidim in Israel got up and spoke, one after the other. It is said that people don’t remember what you said to them, but they remember what you made them feel. So, I don’t remember what exactly they said, but I do remember what I felt. I felt that they were confused, helpless, and they radiated this. They transmitted their anxiety and confusion to others, and I remember this in my entire body; when I remember it now, I feel a shiver, accompanied by a certain kind of anxiety. I assume that at this stage, anyone who is not a Chabadnik will just leave off reading and get on with life. Perhaps that is good; I don’t know. That’s the way it is – I have no way to explain the essence of the connection between a Rebbe and a chassid to someone who is not a chassid. I read and hear texts and lectures on the subject and always, always come out with the feeling that the speaker or the writer just touched on some rather superficial aspect when it comes to this connection between a chassid and his Rebbe. I only ask that you believe me when I say that it is not only I, but all my friends and all Chabad chassidim who remember those minutes that way. It was a moment when even someone who did not consider himself so “connected” (which is more or less everybody), knew in his body that he is really connected and tied to the Rebbe in every way. This shiver reminds him of that fact to this day. It’s as simple as that. Today, I think we understand already that the Rebbe asked his chassidim to assume responsibility, to grow up a bit. The world is moving forward, and the further it goes, the more Hashem makes sure that the Jewish world will be less centrally managed and exhibit more decentralization. One of the first shluchim of Chabad, one the famous ones, would ask the Rebbe about every step he took. This went on for about ten years, starting from when his shlichut started. He would ask and receive an answer regarding every single act of his. But then, at one moment, when he was at a yechidut (private audience) with the Rebbe, the Rebbe said to him: “Until when will I carry you like a babe in arms? Think Chabad (acronym for chochma, bina and da’at – wisdom, understanding and knowledge) and you’ll know what to do.” Since then, the man stopped asking about every little thing. He began to use his own chochma, bina and da’at and took personal responsibility for his decisions. That is where the world is going. I think that already today there is no Jewish community that has a leader who takes full responsibility. The great leaders of all the sectors have passed away and have left their disciples the task of growing up and taking responsibility for their decisions. Yes, spiritually they have not stopped helping, and I, for one, know and live this every day, every hour. But in material matters, in the end all of us have taken upon ourselves the yoke for the sake of Judaism. “All of us” means every living man, woman and child. Each and every one has a role and a goal, a destiny and a mission. Not everyone knows this; and we are not always willing to assume this responsibility; but that doesn’t change the simple fact that we have a role, a goal, a mission and a destiny to bring light into the world for man, materially and spiritually. It is clear to me why this was so frightening and confusing on the 28th of Nissan, 5751: Taking responsibility is what we fear most. Especially when everyone knows himself well and says to himself: If it is given to me to move the world a step forward, then we will go backward; what a pity. But that is not the truth. The truth is that we can, and not only can we, we also do it every day, all the time, baby step by baby step, but we move forward. Dear friends, the 28th of Nissan is the day when this call renews itself. It is the day on which we are requested once again to grow up, by one year, to continue to bear the yoke and to do so with joy, faith and trust that we are going to be witnessing the coming of the Mashiach very soon. Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Zalman Wishedski

Bauen Sie gut!

Bauen Sie gut!” – “Build well!” That’s what German Ashkenazic Jews, the Yekes, wish each other before Seder night. This is an ancient custom that most of world Jewry knows nothing about. What a pity.

During the years I’ve spent in Switzerland I’ve learned that every local custom has ancient sources. We’re talking about communities that are hundreds of years old. Regarding this particular custom, for instance, Alsace Jews were wishing each other “Bauen Sie gut!” long before the Ba’al Shem Tov was born.

So what does this “Build well” mean?

Its source (as my friend, the historian Dr. Simon Erlanger explained to me) is a medieval translation of the song “Adir Hu, Yivneh Beito Bekarov” that appears in some versions of the Pesach Haggadah, the emphasis being on the word “Yivneh” – “will build.”

My learned friend Edouard Selig OB”M added to this that hundreds of years ago German Jews did not have Seder plates; they built from the matzahs and from the other components of the Seder a sort of “castle”, and that is the source of the wish, “Build well.”

Whatever the source is, this congratulation is seen as a Segulah that says: When you observe the Pesach Seder with all its halachas, you are thereby building the Holy Temple; in other words, you are furthering the coming of the Mashiach, an event that will include the building of the Temple.

If you ask me, I think all Jews should adopt that wonderful wish – Bauen Sie gut!


My friends, if you did not wish each other “Bauen Sie gut” on Seder night, you have a second chance this coming Shabbat, the last day of Pesach.

Whereas Ashkenazic Jews build the Temple at the first meal of Pesach, the Ba’al Shem Tov does that at the last one. The Ba’al Shem Tov declared the Se’udah (meal) of the last day of Pesach to be “Se’udat Mashiach” – the meal of the Messiah – since on this day the light of the Mashiach is present in the world. ( you welcome to join us at the Seudat Mashiachon Shabbat April 23rd 6PM)

Ribono shel Olam, Master of the World, ‘Mashiach now’ Or ‘Bauen Sie gut’, Choose either one, as You like; in any case, we’re ready!

Chag Same’ach!

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Which son are you?


One of the students of my dear wife Devorah, who is an interesting and intelligent young woman, asked her this week: “Which son are you?”

They were learning the Haggadah, and they learned about the four sons mentioned in it: the wise, the wicked, the simple and the one who does not know how to ask. They even learned about the fifth son the Rebbe spoke about – the one who is not even present at the Seder. And then, the girl looked at her teacher and asked: “Which son are you?”

Devorah, who always says only what she can really relate to, didn’t know what to answer.

The wise son – I cannot say that I am him. The wicked one – I think I’m not. The simple – well, sometimes I am naïve. I don’t know. The one who does not know how to ask, I don’t think so. The fifth – of course not; I have always been present at the Seder table.

“It’s not clear to me,” she responded finally, and then asked immediately: “And you? Which son are you?”

The girl thought for a bit and said: “I think I’m a bit of all of them. You as my teacher know that sometimes I am like the wise son who asks pertinent questions; indeed, you even tell me so. But you also know that often I ask provocative questions, like the wicked son; often I am also really simple and naïve, and there are definitely situations in which I don’t even know what to ask.”

This brave, mature and special answer of this lovely student stayed with us during our quiet talks of early morning or late evening. To tell the truth, she made us think and see in ourselves as well something of every one of the sons in the Haggadah.

And you?

Which son are you?

Stop a moment when you read the Haggadah this year, and try to test yourself in its light. It will be interesting.

Wishing you Shabbat Shalom, and a Happy and Kosher Pesach!


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Only until Mashiach comes

A few years ago, we had the privilege of hosting a supper for a group of senior officials from non-Chassidic (known also as “Litvak”) organizations that are active in kiruv and in disseminating Judaism in Israel and abroad. When I say senior, I mean those who are in truth responsible for the organizations, top to bottom, including (and mainly) the financial aspects. These are talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars), very intense on the one hand, but very pleasant on the other. They happened to be in Basel and a joint friend, who is a Chabadnik, gave them my number.

It was a fascinating evening – several hours of deep and razor-sharp discussions. Neither side was apologetic or unduly ingratiating. I had never met them before, and they didn’t know me either. But they said, “Listen, Reb Zalman, we get the impression that we can be completely candid with you. Is that correct? You are the host and we are your guests. We don’t want to be impolite, but we have many questions about Chabad in general and about the shelichut network in particular. May we speak freely?” I said they could, but only on condition that I may be allowed to answer freely as well.

They asked every question that a non-Chabadnik might ask. Starting from the classical questions regarding the question as to whether the Rebbe is the Mashiach or not, and all the way to questions about Chabad’s attitude towards political Zionism.

One of the questions was this: “We send out couples of shlichim to places throughout the world. As you know, in many places we are the “competitors” of the Chabad shlichim. Our shlichim serve for a set period, usually five years, and some of them even for ten years, but then they return home and others take their places. The Chabad shlichim, though, take upon themselves to stay for their whole lives. Why is this so? What is the idea behind it?”

L’chaim!” I said, and finished off my shot of whisky. First of all, because a Chabadnik must have a L’chaim, and also because I needed that whisky in order to answer the question. “So,” I said, “first of all, we don’t intend to serve for the rest of our lives, only until the Mashiach comes. Secondly – and this is the main point – anyone who goes to be a shaliach, and it doesn’t matter which organization or group is sending him, will encounter a brick wall, sooner or later. At some point he will have to face a solid wall that cannot be overcome. He wants to move forward; he understands that it is necessary to break through some boundaries – but there is that wall in front of him. It could be a financial barrier, or an emotional one, people interfering with his activities, or bureaucratic issues such as building permits or the use of certain real estate.

“It’s like this: if he has committed to five years, and this is his fourth, if he is sane, he will probably not clamber to the top of the wall, and certainly he will not break through it. Because when one climbs a wall, and certainly when one breaks through one, one gets injured, and that is painful. So he says to himself: There’s only one year to go. Let’s get through it in peace. Why go crazy now?

“But if his mission is lifelong (“until Mashiach comes”, they corrected me this time), he understands that if he does not overcome this wall now, he will remain behind it for the rest of his life. So he will do everything, everything, to break it down. And he will succeed.”

They liked that answer, but then one of them immediately asked the obvious question: “Okay, but how, really, do you overcome or break down such a wall?”

My wife, who had just at that moment come in with medium-rare delicacies, said: “I’ll answer that one. He packs a small bag and says to me: ‘I’m going to New York, to the Rebbe, for one day, or maybe for Shabbat.’ And that’s it.”

The next question was, “What happens when you are at the Rebbe’s gravesite? Does the miracle always happen? You come, write to the Rebbe, put the note on the tziyun and the wall disappears?”

“There are plenty of miracles,” I said. “But what really happens is that I get the strength to cope with what I’m facing. It is still possible to get hurt; one still has to cope with pain or difficulties, but when you return to your mission with the knowledge that Hashem gives you the strength to deal with everything, when you come back with the powerful understanding that you can beat this world, then the world can’t beat you.”

Dear friends, this coming Tuesday we will be marking 120 years since the Rebbe’s birth. Like every sort of light and abundance in the world, one can obtain some of it, or miss it. Whoever shows up with a suitable container – receives some of it. Whoever doesn’t – doesn’t.

I believe wholeheartedly that on the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s birthday a wondrous light of Jewish pride and might appears in the world, an unequivocal statement to each and every one of us: “You can do it.” Anyone who will be willing to let go of their sarcasm and joking, cynicism and pessimism, and perhaps also of their limited realism, for just a moment, will know how to fuel themselves with a feeling of mission that will place them on a higher spot in terms of this world. A mission that has the power to break through and overcome any inhibiting factor. A Chabad-like mission. And don’t worry, it’s not lifelong – it’s only until the Mashiach will come, speedily, in our days, Amen.

Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Do you know how to say “no”?

People don’t know how to say “no”. I don’t mean that people don’t respond negatively, and never say “no”. They definitely do say it when necessary, and sometimes too quickly, and sometimes when it is not really necessary. It’s just that they don’t know how to say it. When someone asks for something and the answer is yes, it is very easy to respond nicely and say, “Yes, of course.” It’s also easy to smile at that moment. But what happens when the answer is negative, when there is no choice but to say “no”? That is already not simple and not easy. Too often I encounter people who say a very unpleasant, rough “no”; they said it coldly, and of course without a smile. A gevurah (strictness) “no”. Too infrequently I encounter people who know how to give a negative response in a positive way - A chessed (loving kindness) “no”. I do not blame these people whose refusals are unpleasant, because saying “no” is an art in itself. We do not feel comfortable saying “no”, so we tend to say it laconically, quickly – we want to get it over with. If we stop a moment and think of the person we are facing, then we add a word of compassion, or perhaps just a loving smile. or sometimes just a gesture of placing the hand on the heart, or a sweet emoji of some sort, which makes the “no” a chessed “no”. From my experience, it’s possible to do so – and important. Very important. The Rebbe speaks about this in parashat Tazria. It can happen that a person becomes a metzora (leper) and must therefore be defined and declared to be tameh (ritually impure). He then goes into isolation, outside of the camp. The Torah determines that only a cohen may decide and determine that a person is indeed tameh. Why a cohen? Why not a doctor? Why not some other specialist? Wouldn’t it be better if this act was performed by some professional? Moreover, the Rambam writes that in the case that a cohen doesn’t know, one should go to an expert, who will determine that it is indeed tzara’at; and then the cohen is called to make the declaration – he is the person who can define the man as a metzora and therefore tameh, necessitating isolation. Why? In other words: What exactly does a cohen know that no one else knows? What is it in the very fact that he was born to a father who is a cohen that makes him worthy of determining the fate of others? The Rebbe explains that a cohen, in his essence, is a person of chessed, a person whose role is to bless the Jewish people. Someone who blesses, must love. And, indeed, the cohanim are commanded to do so, and even mention it in the blessing they make before blessing the people: “Who sanctified us with his mitzvahs and commanded us to bless His nation, Israel, with love.” Imagine for a moment that someone is standing in front of you and asking you for a blessing that he should recover from an illness. I assume that you wouldn’t just mumble some words, but you would take the time to think and give him a heartfelt blessing of love, right? Because without love it is not really possible to bless. Therefore, when there is a situation in which there is no choice but to give a negative answer, when there is no choice but to declare that a person is metzora and tameh, we need someone who knows how to say a “no” of chessed. We need the cohen, who will come with all his love and empathy, because it is not only blessings that cannot be said without love: stern words, too, cannot be said without love. Try this at home. Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov, Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski
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