Rabbi's weekly Blog

Fear is not a plan of action

In normal times, I wasn’t always particular to wear my hat and jacket when outside. Sometimes I would go into town in some unofficial capacity, and you would see me without my “uniform”, especially during the summer. Not that I was trying to hide anything, for in any case I wore a yarmulke and my tzitzit were visible, and once upon a time, before the beard trend overtook quite a few men in classical Europe, a beard was also a marker. 

Since October 7th, I do not leave the house without my trademark hat and jacket.

In normal times I would usually go by car – a combination of habit and convenience; but these days, I go by public transportation, as much as possible.

Why? Because I hear and feel that these are times when we must show Jewish pride and not show any fear. Because I hear and read quite a lot about people who say one should be careful when sporting indications of one’s Jewish identity. Don’t speak Hebrew; hide this, hide that. This awakens the Chabadnik in me all the way. We are not afraid. We have nothing to hide. And like the Rebbe said about the passuk from megillat Esther, “There was a Jewish man in Shushan the capital”: You could see from afar that this was a Jewish man. Whoever saw him knew immediately that there was a Jew there.

I once heard about a Jew who was in a very official, distinguished event and felt uncomfortable. He therefore went to the restroom, removed his yarmulke and rearranged his hair. An African-American sanitary worker who was standing next to him there looked at him and said: “You can hide the yarmulke, but I” – and he pinched his own cheek – “can’t put my color into my pocket. If you are not going to take pride in who you are, what will you take pride in?” The yarmulke returned immediately to its proper place on top of his head.

In one of Moshe Dayan’s notable speeches to soldiers during the War of Attrition (5727-5730; 1967-1970), he mentioned how the Holy One, Blessed Be He, told each of the three avot (Patriarchs) not to be afraid. To Avraham he said, “Do not be afraid, Avram, I am your shield.” To Yitzchak he said, “I am the G-d of your father Avraham; Do not be afraid, because I am with you.” And to Yaakov he said: “Do not be afraid, my servant Yaakov.” This entire speech was thereafter known as the “Do not be afraid, my servant Yaakov” speech. He also mentioned Moshe Rabbeinu who told Bnei Yisrael before their entry to Eretz Yisrael: “You might say to yourself, ‘These nations are more numerous that I. How can I possibly dispossess them?’ Do not be afraid of them. Remember well what Hashem your G-d did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt.” Dayan gave his own commentary to this passuk – a very Israeli one, which related only to the “Do not be afraid” part of it. He saw this passuk as a guideline provided by the Holy One, Blessed Be He to the Jewish People.” “We have to understand the ‘Do not be afraid, my servant Yaakov’. The ‘Do not be afraid’ does not mean that there is no need to worry. It means: Yaakov, do not be a fearful person, a coward. It has been decreed that you should live in constant strife, and you must not fall into cowardice!”

Moshe Dayan said some more things that I cannot connect to, and which I have not quoted here. But I definitely accept the point I brought above, what I call “Fear is not a plan of action.”

One should indeed use common sense; one should indeed be careful when necessary and be aware of one’s environment (not everyone lives in Switzerland), but one should not be afraid, and one must maintain the pride of Yaakov.

Am Yisrael Chai!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

On false smiles

On the Shabbat Sheva Brachot (the Shabbat after a couple gets married), it is customary to say Divrei Torah (words of Torah), and the speakers usually add a useful tip for the young couple.

On the Shabbat Sheva Brachot of my daughter and son-in-law, which took place a month ago, the groom’s uncle, Rabbi Shuli Lapidot, said wonderful things, and at the end of his speech gave the couple a tip that all the listeners adopted on the spot – even those who have been married for several decades.

This is what he said: “Dear groom, I heard from chassidim in a hitva’adut a good piece of advice for a happy life: Every time you come home, make sure to plaster a smile on your face a moment before entering. Come into your home with a smile. This may sound easy for a newlywed who has not yet started his life, but for he who has been living in Hashem’s world somewhat longer than that, it doesn’t sound simple and easy. Often a person has a very challenging and hard day; there are days in life that are not easy, but it is about those days specifically that this chassid was speaking. Before you come in, put a smile on your face and then enter.”

Rabbi Shuli continued, bringing up the question that everyone was thinking of: “One of the participants in that hitva’adut asked the speaker: ‘But how? We are truthful people, or at least we strive to be real and true, and on a day when you are sad and feel heavy, how can you put on an act and smile?’”

And here, Rabbi Shuli said an immortal sentence, in his sweet Argentinian accent: “Better a false smile that true sadness.”

A week after the wedding of my daughter and son-in-law, Rabbi Shuli’s nephew, Rabbi Shuli himself married off a son. Perhaps he was planning to give the same tip to his son, but, to our great sorrow, he was not present at the Shabbat Sheva Brachot of his son, for on Friday night on his way to shul he was severely injured in an accident, and this week he passed away. Rabbi Shalom Matityahu ben Menachem Daniel and Toybe, I met you once and heard one saying from you; one meeting and one life-changing saying that I have taken on and am already passing on to others in your name. Those who met you a lot and received much from you have probably been enriched many times more.

Dear friends, we are all going through difficult and challenging days, days when the smile, if it appears, is false, but remember what Rabbi Shuli said: “Better a false smile than true sadness.”

Shabbat Shalom and Besorot Tovot (good tidings)!

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

righteous without tzitzit

“They are righteous without tzitzit" - so said Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, the wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, regarding the individuals of "The Brihah" (the escape) who were involved in saving Jews in Europe after the Holocaust.

Now, this is not just a statement, it needs to be understood that back when the world, in the eyes of Jews, was divided into the righteous and the wicked, it was an amazing statement to hear from a righteous Rabbanit, the daughter and granddaughter of Chassidic Rabbis, and the wife of a Chassidic Rabbi. Even among Chabad Chassidim, who are known for seeing the good in every Jew, it was then a kind of innovation. The phenomenon of secularism was not new in the late 1940s, but it wasn't exactly old either. When I was a child, it was common to hear the phrase "my grandfather was a rabbi," but in the late 1940s, it was more in the style of "I was a rabbi" or at most "my father was a rabbi."

To hear then from Rebbetzin Lubavitch a judgment on Jews who seemingly did not observe Torah and mitzvot, "they are righteous without tzitzit," was a new thing that certainly clarified the direction that Chabad was taking, essentially led by her husband, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who saw every Jew as holy and pure. He educated his Chassidim, and us, his emissaries around the globe, to see every Jew as a saintly and pure child of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.

I am currently in New York at the International Conference of Chabad Emissaries. For everyone here, it is clear that every Jew is holy and pure, a beloved child of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. The emissaries are all busy doing good, each in their place, giving what they can to help, encourage, and, most importantly, strengthen the Jewish identity of those around them through Torah study and observance of mitzvot. I hear here all day the admiration and amazement for our brethren living in the Holy Land.

Dear soldiers of the IDF and residents of the Land of Israel, you show the world and the Jewish Diaspora in particular, what happens when someone touches the apple of our eye. No need to dig, not to search beneath the surface. The magnificent beauty of the people of Israel is revealed to all. I don't know how aware you, our brothers and friends in the Holy Land, are of this, and if not, I want to tell you, we are proud of you, we salute you.

And one more thing for my dear my brothers and friends, the emissaries of the Rebbe in the Holy Land: Even if you didn't come to the "Kinus HaShluchim" (Emissaries Conference) this year because you are busy, and you can't leave your post these days, I want you to know that we love you, truly and sincerely, we marvel and are amazed in admiration for the work you do. Thank you for who you are; we salute you from 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalman Wishedski

The war is not only between the IDF and Hamas

The war is not only between the IDF and Hamas; it is also not taking place only in the Gaza Strip. The war is taking place in the Heavens as well, between the Jewish People and the guardian angel of Yishmael up there.

In a few weeks we will read in the Torah about Yaakov Avinu who struggled with an angel until dawn. Chazal in the midrash say that Yaakov’s struggle was with “saro shel Eisav” – Eisav’s guardian angel.

Who is this guardian angel? Or what is it?

Every nation has a guardian angel in heaven that takes care of its interests. And when there is a struggle and a war between nations down below, in this world, it is actually an expression of a struggle and war taking place in the upper worlds between the respective guardian angels.

How crazy does this sound to you so far? Because there’s more, there’s more, and I totally believe in it.

There is no war down here that does not have a source and root up in heaven.

It is clear from the scriptures that when Amalek came to fight with the Jewish people in the wilderness, it was a battle that was really being fought in heaven: “And when Moshe raised his hand, Yisrael prevailed, and when he lowered his hand, the Amalekites prevailed.” Warriors were waging war, but actually everything was being run from above. Yehoshua chose capable people and went out to battle Amalek, and Moshe took the staff of G-d in his hand and went up to the top of the hill. What was the magic of Moshe’s hands? Why, when he lifted them, did the Jews prevail over the Amalekites? This is what the Gemara says in masechet Rosh Hashana: “Did the hands of Moses make war or break war? Rather, the verse comes to tell you that as long as the Jewish people turned their eyes upward and subjected their hearts to their Father in Heaven, they prevailed.”

The war is still being waged. Our dear, beloved soldiers are battling the Yishmaelites down below in this world, and the guardian angels of the Jewish People are battling the guardian angel of the Yishmaelites up in heaven. By the way, seeing the support of Biden, Sunak, Schultz and Macron for Israel, I have a feeling that saro shel Eisav is relatively on our side.

Nobody knows why the Holy One, Blessed Be He, authorized this horror. Holy Jews were murdered and injured; good, pure Jews were kidnapped; good, warm families were exiled from their homes. Ribbono shel olam (Master of the Universe)! Make an end to our troubles and may all the displaced return home!

Dear friends, we can help – wherever we are. Strengthening our faith, increasing unity and love of our fellow Jews, praying more and harder, learning more Torah and doing more mitzvahs. All of these things can help in our battle with saro shel Yishmael.

These are not taking away anything from what we need to do according to the way of the world, rather, they are in addition to what every person is contributing in whatever way he can – donating, serving in the army or volunteering.

And sometimes I just sit and wait for the child who will come to shul and cry out “Cockadoodledoo!” until this decree is no longer.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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