Rabbi's weekly Blog

An investment with immediate returns

I was never in a remote African village, nor have I ever been in the lesser developed areas in India. But from reading, hearing and watching programs about these places, I have learned that people there can be happy for a whole day if you give them one apple. If you give them two apples, they will be happy for two days. And I don’t mean the Apple Company. In our successful and advanced Western world, where people have much more than an apple or two, people lack happiness.

Today is Rosh Chodesh Menachem-Av. “When Av comes in, we decrease in happiness,” said our sages in masechet Ta’anit. But we shouldn’t forget that one can decrease only something that exists already; something that does not exist cannot be increased, just like it cannot be decreased. Therefore, even during the Nine Days, when we mourn the destruction of the Temple, we first have to put some happiness into our lives, and only then will we be able to adjust its level to these days, as Chazal said.

In one of the Rebbe’s talks in the winter of 1992 (5752), he explained in the simplest way why it’s worthwhile for us to put happiness into our lives. Here is what he said – in my own words:

Why is it worthwhile to be happy? Because then you will be both ben Olam Hazeh (destined for This World) and ben Olam Haba (destined for the World to Come).

How do we know you will be ben Olam Haba? The Rebbe mentions in his talk the famous gemara in masechet Ta’anit 22 about Rabbi Broka who met Eliyahu Hanavi in the market and asked him: “Are there people here who merit the Next World?” Eliyahu Hanavi pointed at two Jews there and said: “Those merit the World to Come.” Rabbi Broka approached them and asked them, “What is your occupation?”, and they answered: “We are happy people, and we make sad people happy.”

In other words, do you want to merit Olam Haba? Be happy, make others happy, and, if necessary, do some standup comedy for them. 

How about meriting Olam Hazeh, This World? Here, the Rebbe says one clear sentence: “By way of happiness he becomes a true ben Olam Hazeh; his life in This World is a real, happy and successful life.” The Rebbe also explains simply how it works: “The nature of happiness is that it acts on and permeates all a person’s matters. When a person is happy, he lives a happy life, with a happiness that affects all his deeds. This happiness brings success to all his actions and his entire life – as one can see for oneself.”

One more small thing: the returns on the happiness arrive immediately – not in a decade and not in a week, and not even in an hour. A person who decides to be happy at this moment, will become happy immediately, right now, and those around him will feel it immediately as well. 

Try this at home. 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

the varied customs of our people

I grew up in Kfar Chabad, which, by definition, is a village where all the residents are Chabad Chassidim. It was and is a wonderful place to live – a place of Torah and Chessed. All the people there are Chabadniks, so that I almost never found myself among Jews who were not Chabad Chassidim. There was only one person in the village who wore a Shtreimel on Shabbat – it stood out among all the fedoras – but he, too, was a Chabadnik.

Only when I was seventeen years old and went to learn in a Chabad Yeshiva in Jerusalem did I become acquainted with the vast and wonderful variety of Jews, the varied and wonderful foods that had been brought from all the different places of exile to the holy city, and, of course, the special customs of the many Jewish communities. For the first time, I saw that the Chabad customs were often different from those of other communities. It was then that I also understood the importance of preserving one’s customs. The love and connection and I felt towards the Chabad customs that I had acquired in my parents’ home and in my teachers’ homes crystallized into the most solid pillar of my life.

One of the more noticeable points of difference was, without doubt, the issue of joy on the Shabbatot Bein Hametzarim – the period of national mourning about the destruction of the Temple. I had come from Kfar Chabad, where the joy is actually accentuated on those Shabbatot – and Chabadniks know how to be happy. And here I saw communities in which the Lecha Dodi was sung to the same tune as the Kinot – the lamentations said on Tisha B’Av – and in which people wore less respectable clothes than usual, because of the mourning. For a curious person like me, it was absolutely fascinating. I remembered that the Rebbe would always increase the joy on those Shabbatot, and in his lessons he would explain this, using something of a one-plus-one logic. Since one is forbidden to mourn on Shabbat, and since one should not lessen the usual joy, so it won’t look or seem as if we are less joyful because of the mourning, so surely we should be joyous.

And why be more joyous than usual? Here the Pnimiyut – the inner aspect of the Torah – comes to the fore and teaches us: Shabbat is the representative of the future redemption in our lives, so much so that the future redemption is called “a day that is all Shabbat”. A Jew who observes the Shabbat comes out of a week of everyday material living and in one moment – upon lighting the candles – ascends to a dimension of spirituality and holiness. This is just like the true and complete redemption, for when it will come, speedily in our days, we will leave six thousand years of material exile and enter the spiritual seventh millennium.

So, if we are happy on every Shabbat, because it is like the World to Come, so in order to bring the redemption into our lives on the Shabbatot between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’av, we need much more happiness than on an ordinary Shabbat.

How wonderful are the varied customs of our people.

Shabbat Shalom,

Mashiach Now!

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Shem Hachiluf and Shem Hama’alah – ever heard of them?

Shem Hachiluf and Shem Hama’alah – ever heard of them?

Sefer Hama’amarim (Book of Essays), written by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn in Yiddish (there is a translation as well), is a wonderful book with easily understood Chassidic sayings. In it, it is mentioned that there is a difference between the two times in the Torah when it says, “Your name shall no longer be…” Once, it is in connection to Avraham Avinu, when a heh was added to his name – “Your name shall no longer be called Avram, but your name shall be Avraham.” The second time is in connection to Yaakov Avinu, when he received the name Yisrael: “Your name is Yaakov. Your name shall no always be called Yaakov, but Yisrael shall be your name.”When it comes to Avraham, from the moment his name was changed, he was no longer referred to by his former name, Avram; whereas in the case of Yaakov, the Torah continues to call him by both names – sometimes Yaakov and sometimes Yisrael. 

In Sefer Hama’amarim, the Rebbe teaches us that Avraham is a “changed name” – Shem Chiluf. In other words, it completely replaces the former name. But the name Yisrael is Shem Hama’alah, meaning, it is a step up from the former name, but does not replace it. 

The difference between them is as mentioned in the Gemara in masechet Nedarim (32b): Avram in Gematriya is 243, symbolizing the fact that in his service of Hashem he had reached the level of controlling 243 out of his 248 limbs, and then Hashem added the letter heh, which expresses his achieving control over five more limbs that are especially hard to control, such as eyes and ears. Since then, he becomes Avraham = 248. 

In contrast to that, the name Yisrael is coming to express another way of serving Hashem – indeed, loftier and different, but an additional way, and not coming to take the place of the previous way. The name Yaakov symbolizes the service of a slave, as it says, “And now, hear Yaakov, my slave.” A slave does anything his master tells him to do, but not always with feelings of love and heart-penetrating joy. The name Yisrael symbolizes the service of a son, as it says, “My son, my firstborn, Yisrael.” A son serves his father with love and inner joy. 

That’s what it says in parashat Balak: “How good are your tents, Yaakov, your dwelling-places, Yisrael.” The service of a slave, Yaakov, is practical and important, but external; it doesn’t penetrate. Therefore, it is like a tent, an external cover. The name Yisrael, on the other hand, represents the service of a son. It is an internal service that arises from the heart of the person. Therefore, it is like a dwelling place – it dwells in the innermost parts of his heart and soul. 

The service of a son is indeed loftier than that of a slave, but both of them are necessary. Sometimes we wake up in the morning full of joy and excitement connected to the feeling of holiness and mitzvot, and we do our work with heartfelt enthusiasm, like a son who serves his beloved father. But there are times when we get up feeling weakened and lacking desire to serve, and yet, we still get up and do what has to be done, even if it is without much joy and enthusiasm – like a slave serving a master. 

Therefore, on the Yamim Noraim (High Holy Days), we beseech Hashem: “If like sons, if like slaves. If like sons, have mercy on us like a father has mercy on his sons. And if like slaves, our eyes turn to you that you should favor us.”

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

a story of a Brivaleh

This is one of the stories of heroism that I was raised on. Mother and son were imprisoned in the same Soviet prison, on different floors, their cells one on top of the other. I heard, as well, that they corresponded with each other, as prisoners do, using a thin piece of thread that went up and down between the windows. What I was curious about was, what did they write to each other? What does a mother, who has been sentenced to death, write to her son who has been sentenced to “only” ten years of exile to Siberia? 

I knew that we were talking about Momme Sarah )Great-grandmother of Sarah Grוzman from Basel(, a tremendously brave woman, possessing courage that was beyond reason, which came from a sincere willingness to sacrifice herself for the sake of preserving the spark of Judaism. Her picture, in all her various disguises, was hanging in every police station throughout the Soviet Union. She personally saved hundreds of men, women and children; she had more names and passports than she could remember. And here she’s in jail, with her young son imprisoned on the floor below her. The inmates mail messages to each other; one can only write a few words. What did she write to him?

I found a description of all this in the writings of her son, R. Moshe Katzenelbogen z”l, known to all of us as Moshe Sareh’s: “The inmates invented a system of throwing notes up and down by tying them to a thin thread. After they would throw the thread, on the end of which was a “Brivaleh”, they would bang on the wall to notify the others, so that the piece of paper would reach its destination. I remember that one time my mother asked me if she can daven the Shmoneh Esreh of Mincha (afternoon prayer) of Shabbat in the morning as well, because she remembers it by heart, and doesn’t remember the Shmoneh Esreh of Shacharit (the morning prayer). I remembered that strictly speaking it is possible to do so, and that’s what I answered.”

Brivaleh – a little note, passes somewhere in a Soviet prison in Tbilisi from floor to floor, from a mother sentenced to death, to a son who has been sentenced to ten years. And what’s in that little Brivaleh? A simple question put by a great woman – can she say the text of Mincha as Shacharit.

How could that be? How could it be that in such a Brivaleh that will be the question that troubles her?

The answer lies in the Chassidic approach to the first Pasuk of Parashat Chukat: “Zot Chukat HaTorah” – This is the decree of the Torah. There are several grades and levels of connection between the Torah and a person. I will quote two of them mentioned in “Likutei Torah” (a basic book on Chassidut, written by the Ba’al HaTanya), on Parashat Chukat: 

a. The written letters – like material letters written upon parchment. The letters are ink, which is something different and separate from the parchment, and which had no connection to the parchment beforehand, but afterwards, when he writes the book with ink on the parchment, they combine and become one. 

b. But engraved letters – they are part and parcel [of the stone] and they are really one with the stone they have been engraved in. 

It seems, then, that for Momme Sarah the Torah and Mitzvot were engraved on her soul, on her heart, and when Torah and Mitzvot are connected to a person by way of engraving, they cannot be separated. The Torah and the person are “part and parcel and they are really one”. So, when the letters of the Torah are engraved upon a person’s heart like letters engraved on a stone, then even when he or she is sentenced to death and has a Brivaleh tied to a thread going between the prison cells, the question will be whether it is permitted to daven Shacharit by using the text of Mincha. 

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Freud vs. the Rebbe

“Freud dug into the soul of man and came up with mud; chassidism dug into it and found gems and pearls.” So said the Rebbe to someone in a personal meeting in his room, what we call a yechidut.

To my understanding, there is no opposition here to Sigmund Freud in particular; what there is, is a demand aimed at the whole world. If you peered inside the soul of a person, a friend, or a relative, and yours as well, and found mud and dirt, then you weren’t looking right; you hadn’t reached the root; you hadn’t peeled enough away, you hadn’t touched the point.

It’s okay if at the beginning one finds mud; it makes sense that one doesn’t see the diamond right away. Even in the best diamond mine in the world one has to dig and sort, clean and refine. But all that, on condition that we remember all the time that we’re sitting on a diamond seam, because otherwise we will think that it is indeed just mud, and we will give up. 

And yes, sometimes one needs a professional, an expert, who can examine the find and determine that these are indeed diamonds, and not mud.

The Rebbe was a professional, an expert. The Rebbe examined the soul of man and found the beauty and the purity, the richness and the good. He reached the gems. 

Tomorrow is the 3rd of Tammuz.

The 3rd of Tammuz is the yahrzeit, the hillula of the Rebbe. There is much to learn from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. For every realm of life there is the Rebbe’s original approach, his clean and pure view, the surprising message (how didn’t we think of this before?). And sometimes it seems to me that everything is based on that message. Because when we have the sense to see the good, clean root of every person, ourselves included, then in every single thing in life, and especially in our connections with other human beings, the approach and the response, the speech and the action, everything will emerge from a deep and clean place in us, and so will certainly touch the other person and reach the deepest, cleanest place in him. 

This is not just another positive view; it is not just a focusing on the half cup that is full; it is the view of the one and only truth. Diamonds, not mud. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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