Rabbi's weekly Blog

32 Jewish children (out of 42) in one class

“When I was a child in the 1950’s, the Soviets no longer had anyone to fight. The Jewish people in Russia had surrendered already – only a few stubborn Chabadniks remained.”

So said my dear uncle, R. Shlomo Wishedski, who passed away 6 years ago, today.

“We were 32 Jewish children (out of 42) in one class, in the elementary school in Czernowitz. The teacher was Jewish, too.”

Thirty-two Jewish children in one class!!! But how many of them continued to live as Jews? How many of them left behind offspring who are part of the Jewish People?

I don’t know. Maybe none.

That is, almost none – because in that class there were two children, twins – a boy and a girl, Shlomo and Sarah Wishedski, who knew that they were Jews of the covenant. They also knew that it was a covenant made in blood.

The Jewish People were redeemed from Egypt, as is told in this week’s Parasha, and they were redeemed in the merit of the blood of the covenant – the Brit Mila (circumcision) that they performed on their children.

The blood of the covenant of the Children of Silence in Russia was not only that which flowed when they were eight days old.

The blood of the covenant of the Chabad Children of Silence was mainly that which fled their faces and their parents’ faces every time there was a knock on the door, and not on the window, as had been agreed upon among the Chassidim.

“When everyone is Jewish,” my uncle told us, “you can’t make up stories that you were sick on Shabbat, since they all know what the source of your illness is, especially the teachers, and Shabbat comes every week.

“In the 1920’s and 1930’s it was terrifying to keep Shabbat, but at the end of the 1950’s, when I was a child, it was embarrassing to be a primitive, old-fashioned religious person who observed Shabbat. Every week we were in a state of great apprehension.”

The blood that fled the face of that child every Shabbat is what saved him and protected him, so that he remained a stubborn, G-d fearing Jew, who merited leaving this world pure and holy, with his children, who are following his ways exactly, standing around his bed. His soul ascended to heaven while they were singing the Chabad Niggunim (tunes), which are an inseparable part of that blood covenant that preserved him, almost the only one among 32 children who did not have fathers and mothers who maintained that covenant.

The story of my beloved uncle is the story of our people. These children who did not give up even when it was difficult, to them we owe our existence.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalman Wishedski

He who works all day has no time to make money

“He who works all day has no time to make money.” Are you familiar with this capitalistic sentence? I love this sentence. I think there’s a lot of truth to it. Not only in terms of finances, but in terms of life in general. Sometimes we are so immersed in what we are doing that we forget to live. 

In this week’s parasha, parashat Va’era, it says, “And Moshe spoke thus to Bnei Yisrael, but they didn’t heed Moshe, because of shortness of breath and hard work.” Rashi defines “shortness of breath” in a few simple words: “Anyone who is troubled, his breath is short and he cannot draw long breaths.” Bnei Yisrael believed Moshe Rabbeinu, as it said in the previous parasha: “And the people believed and they heard that Hashem had remembered Bnei Yisrael.” They also heard what Moshe Rabbeinu said. They heard what he said – but they didn’t heed him. They were not open emotionally to really listen to what he was saying, for, as we said, they were in a state of “shortness of breath and hard work.” They could barely breathe. 

How many times have you heard yourself saying: “There’s no way I find time now to go to a lecture of a class! I would like to be with my family, if I could. But I am working hard, I can barely breath”? How many times do we miss the good things in life due to shortness of breath and hard work?

We are not in the Egyptian exile. We are not enslaved to a cruel ruler and subject to beatings like our forefathers were in Egypt. But we are enslaved sometimes to technology, to modernization, to Western conventions. Most of the time we manage quite well, but we don’t really live. Because someone who works hard has no time to make money. And someone whose breath is short cannot lift up his head and see that there is a rich spiritual and value-based life that is within easy reach.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

To what extent are we to be blamed for how our children have turned out?

To what extent are we to be blamed for how our children have turned out?

To what extent are we solely responsible for their being happy or unhappy with their lives?

And when it comes out alright, and they have grown up to be what we would have wanted them to be, to what extent is it really because of us?

I am speaking even about their feelings of confidence, warmth and love, or pain and anxiety – how much are these results of the parents’ influence?

I ask this because I meet quite a few parents on Zoom who are walking around with terrible guilt feelings about “what has become of my son/daughter,” as if they are really omnipotent; as if we as limited human beings are able to address any emotional and mental need of every child that Hashem has entrusted us with.

As a father who traveled quite a bit when the children were young, I have become an expert in buying gifts for children. Don’t laugh – it’s not an easy task. There is yet to be born a father whose presents have all brought joy, with none causing sadness. That’s the way it is. But when the children were small, I learned from experience not only what to bring to whom, but also to understand that there are children who come into this world with greater needs, with deeper feelings of deprivation. You find yourself making greater efforts for these specific children, because you really want them to be pleased and happy when you return.

When they grow up, you notice that it is much more than a gift following a trip abroad. You learn that what works beautifully with one, doesn’t work at all with another. That a conversation that flows well with one, doesn’t flow at all with his brother or sister. 

So if they were born so different, to what extent are we really responsible for them as parents for what they grow up to be?

You shouldn’t think that I am belittling the value of parental influence – our behavior towards the children definitely influences their lives. The question is just, how much?

Bnei Yisrael went down to Egypt and suffered through a difficult exile, a life of daily suffering for many long years. To what extent are Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, Sara, Rivka, Rachel and Leah to blame? 

How much are our forefathers to blame, or how much are they responsible for all this? 

In my humble opinion, the third partner has a much more significant part in this story. 

To emphasize once more – I would be the first person to send every parent to learn how to be a better parent. I myself am continually learning, and it is precisely because of that that I know that there is a limit. There is a limit to how much I as a father and my wife as a mother are able to influence and change. We can give the maximum – and make mistakes, because we don’t have enough of an understanding of neshama’s world – how sensitive it is, how powerful, with what deprivations it is coping, on the one hand – and on the other hand. with what tools it has come into the world.


I am writing all this for some dear and beloved friends who have shared their pain with me over the fact that their dear son/daughter is not behaving the way they would want him/her to. Dear and sweet children who find themselves coping with the less pleasant aspects of what Hashem’s world has to offer. The parents are walking around drowning in guilt, and I simply think that that is not fair. They don’t deserve it. 

They gave their all; they are still giving their all. Apparently, they have made mistakes on the way like everyone does, but even if they have some part or other in “what has become of the child”, they are not the sole guilty ones, just like someone who is very pleased with “what has become of the child” is not necessarily the sole cause of the success. 

What do you think?

And may we be successful!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

‘one of us’

Before I went out on my shlichut here in Basel, I learned in a kollel (yeshiva for married students) for two years. I lived in Kiryat Malachi, and the Kollel was in Rechovot. It was called “Ohr Zarua – Ohr Yaakov” – it was established in memory of Rabbi Yaakov Mizrachi z”l, and to this day his family maintains it, and now I have the opportunity to thank them personally for their labors. 

The beloved Rabbi Meir Aharon z”l was the head of this kollel.

In Chabad it is not customary to stay in a kollel for one’s entire life; rather, one learns for only for a year or two after getting married, and then goes out to real life. So the kollel had mainly young avrechim (married students) about my age, but also some older guys who had been sitting there for years. 

One of them, whose name I don’t remember, was a wise and special person, who sat and learned, but in the breaks between the sessions, during recess or in the kitchenette would mainly talk about discrimination, about the Ashkenazim patronizing the Sephardim and not giving them the same opportunities, and the whole topic of the different ethnic groups, which for some reason that escapes my memory was at its height then. 

Unfortunately, what he said was not far from the truth. Even though he was around 40 years old, he expressed the deep pain of a child who grew up in a ma’abara (temporary camp for new immigrants), and had experienced patronization, silencing of protests and discrimination. From his point of view, the fact that I and my Ashkenazi friends had come to learn in this Yemenite kollel was some sort of righting of this wrong.

One day, I sat with him and we talked openly. I listened, and apparently that was the first time I heard in first person about experiences of discrimination and silencing, things that later on in life I saw how much they still exist – and hurt. 

Suddenly, he told me that when he was young, he had learned in the crafts’ school in Kfar Chabad. “Wait a minute,” I stopped him. “During which years? Because my grandfather, Rabbi Moshe Wishedski z”l, was the mashpia (religious guide) in that school until 1986 (5746). Perhaps you met him?”

“The mashpia, Reb Moshe, was your grandfather?” He asked, surprised. And suddenly his tone softened. The anger disappeared and so did the pain. I just sat there silently, watching him drink his tea, his eyes focusing somewhere above my head, watching a movie from the past.

“You understand,” he said, “that the mashpia, Reb Moshe, was not Ashkenazi. He was ‘one of us’. I know he came from Russia, I know he spent time in jail and in exile there. He himself told us that. But listen, I’m telling you what I felt every time I met him: There was no patronizing, just love at eye level, as an equal. He was ‘one of us’.”

I understood immediately what he was saying, because as a young boy, I would come to my Zaide every day to learn Tanya, and I always felt that he was talking to me at eye level. I thought that he was someone like me. I know this feeling of “one of us”. Afterwards I heard similar things from other grandchildren and others who had met my grandfather. They all felt it – that feeling of “one of us”.

Today I know already that this cannot be feigned. You can’t put on an act. The person you are facing will be able to sense and know immediately whether you are just playacting this “one of us”, or whether you really are “one of us”. My grandfather apparently truly internalized chapter 32 (lev – heart) in the Tanya; he really managed to be “one of us” for every human being. 

Today, the 13th of Tevet, is his yahrzeit. He passed away in 1986 (5746). I pray I will know to learn from him. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalman Wishedski

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