Rabbi's weekly Blog

Every person can be good, and better

 I remained silent a lot in the past two weeks. 

I sat in silence and listened to the sights, the sounds, as well as to the calls, the cries, the prayers and the advice.

I remained silent because for the moment I feel so small in the face of the magnitude of the events, both the holocaust-like stories and the heroic ones. The horror stories and the stories of great courage.

The intensity of the Arab cruelty and evil, as opposed to the power of the spirit of unity and volunteering among the Jews.

I remained silent, also because somewhere in all of this our daughter Mussi got married (Mazel Tov!), and the confusion of feelings – the personal and familial joy juxtaposed with the national mourning – silences one.

“Aharon was silent.” So it says about Aharon Hacohen after the death of his two sons. I used to understand this as being heroic, but today I think it was simply the only option. Sometimes remaining silent is the best option.

Having said all this, I admit that I am amazed at the quantity of advice that almost all keyboard-pounders are sending out to the world: How to conquer and how to annihilate, how to win and how to save. Who must resign today, and who must continue tomorrow. On second thought, perhaps “Aharon was silent” is not a natural response for everybody.

I devoted much thought to the question of what I should do. There is nothing heroic that I can or know how to do. I have no way to prepare food for soldiers or send shoes to army outposts. I don’t even live in Israel, and even my rushing to get there won’t exactly aid the war effort.

Add to this that I was busy arranging an improvised family wedding, which is something private, and sometimes felt inappropriate.

But, pretty quickly, I understood that it’s not so terrible to remain silent. 

And pretty quickly, I understood that one doesn’t need to do something heroic or photogenic. 

It is possible to simply do good, be good.

How simple.

These are days when we ought to make even greater efforts before every word we speak, and certainly before every word we write – weighing it carefully to see whether it is divisive or unifying. Whether it strengthens and encourages or weakens and drains.

Every person can do good, and better.

Every person can be good, and better.

I started with the first task I was entrusted with and that was to put together a happy wedding for my daughter. And from there, while doing it, to respond to everything gently and pleasantly. Because that is what these days demand: gentleness and pleasantness. To be available as much as possible for those who want contact. To give what I can give to those who need me, and it doesn’t matter if he needs something while on army reserve duty or is just asking me a question at the train station. 

I don’t pretend to know what anyone should do. I’ll say only this: Do your jobs in the best way you can, in the calmest way you can. If what a child does usually earns an angry response or a scolding from you, this is the time to pause for a second and show compassion and gentleness. If in normal times the behavior of someone in the street produces from you a shout or expression of annoyance, well, these are not normal times. Respond to him with a smile. 

And remaining silent for a bit is an option, but only if one does not have an obligation to say anything.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski


“So-so.” That is the response I get from many people these days when I ask them how they are doing. 


I also feel so-so. 

On the one hand – sorrow, pain, fear, lacking air, tearful. 

On the other hand – Strong belief in the cause, resilience, a clear awareness that we are strong and that the Jewish People lives - Am Yisrael chai.

On the night of Simchat Torah, when the reports about the horrors had been verified, we felt we couldn’t dance in the shul. How can one sing under these circumstances? Be happy? Dance?


On the other hand, should we give up? Not dance? How can we allow them to take our Jewish spirit from us? After all, we are the living Jewish People. So we danced and were joyful and then we went on to sing “Vehi she’amda” and when we got to “for in each and every generation they try to destroy us,” we felt a tightness in our throats, and then we danced again. 


My brother-in-law, Rabbi Benny Kali from the Chabad House in Merom Naveh in Ramat Gan, was called up rather quickly as a reservist. He is a military rabbi and for the past five days has conducted several funerals per day. Oh, and that includes identifying the victim and being with the families in their moments of pain and wailing.

I asked him yesterday: “Where do you get the strength and the ability to be around death all the time? How can it be done?”

Benny gave me an amazing answer: “On the one hand you meet people in the most horrendous moments that any man or woman, father or mother, can be in. They are expressing their extreme pain, and the heart constricts. On the other hand, when they start to speak and eulogize and tell of the courage of the son or the daughter, they suddenly express hope and power, belief in the cause and in Am Yisrael chai, and the heart expands again.” 


It is 2:52 am. I can’t fall asleep. It’s been this way for the past six nights. It is so hard to fall asleep when one thinks about the families living unending horror on the one hand, and about the 360,000 drafted soldiers and the thousands of volunteers, each one doing whatever he or she knows and can do, on the other hand. The power of pain coupled with the power of faith and a robust spirit. And I then remember something wonderful that I read recently. I don’t remember the details. I do think it was written by Rabbi Chaim Navon. He told of a military psychologist who was in the Golan Heights during the first days of the Yom Kippur War. The psychologist described the soldiers who returned from battle exhausted; most of their comrades had died in front of their eyes and some in their arms. And they, who had come back to refresh themselves a bit, were getting reorganized while fixing the treads of a military vehicle. 

The psychologist, whose name I don’t remember, said then, “I said to myself. If they, battle-fatigued both physically and emotionally, who saw what I am afraid even to imagine, if they are going back to fight, I can forget everything I ever learned in the psychology books, because it contradicts everything in them.”

And they went back to fight. Of course they did – again and again. Like the heroes who, last Shabbat, returned again and again to the inferno to save lives. 

I think of that story all the time. What is there in this nation that cries and dances, mourns and stands erect, cries out bitterly during a funeral and immediately expresses hope and faith? Is it possible that this “so-so” goes against all psychology literature? Well, perhaps only pre-1970 psychology, because contemporary psychology actually encourages the idea of crying for a while but dancing as well. Isn’t that so?

Chassidut teaches us about the point of Yechidah in the soul. The most personal and powerful point, our spiritual foundation, the spirit of the devoted Jew, which nothing and nobody can overwhelm. It is known also as the point of mesirut nefesh. And when it shines in a Jew it comes from a depth that has no logic and reaches a point that also has no logic, not even psychological logic.

Because if you ask the person: Why are you going back again and again to this horror and endangering your life? The answer won’t be reasonable and logical. I think it will consist of one word: Because. 

This point of mesirut nefesh comes up whenever someone threatens us, threatens our Jewish existence. When someone murders us because we are Jews, when beasts murder babies only because they belong to the Jewish nation. 

And that provides something of an explanation for this “so-so/kacha-kacha

”, I think. 

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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