Rabbi's weekly Blog

He is not cursed – he is blessed

Everybody agrees that when a child is caught lying, one doesn’t say to him: “You’re a liar.” Rather, one says: “You lied.”

Why? That’s pretty obvious. You don’t want to label the child as a liar, but rather to talk about the lie. You don’t want to speak about the child, but about his deeds. You mainly want him to know to differentiate between the “I” and “my actions”. You know that when he remembers all the time that he is good and worthy and honest and correct, then there is a chance he will change his ways, whether in regard to lying, as an example, or any other negative behavior.

You know as well that if he identifies himself with his deeds, then there is a good chance that he will despair of making any change, because he will feel that “Again, I remain a liar, I remain a cheat. Again, I am not good, not worthy. I don’t fit in,” with the emphasis on “I”. If he remembers that it is not him, but rather his deeds, if he will know to say to himself, “I am good and worthy; my actions are not,” there is a better chance that he will rectify his ways. 

And not only actions – traits as well. A person who thinks that he is irritable, or quick to anger, if he defines himself as such, the chance that he will change and mend these traits is smaller than that of a person who will know to say to himself, “I am a good person, created by the Holy One, Blessed Be He; it’s just a pity that I get angry too easily. I am a worthy person, the crown of Creation, but, unfortunately, quick to anger.” The latter’s chances of succeeding in making a change will be much, much greater.

And before you tell me that these is coaching- and New Age-speak, I wish to quote Yaakov’s words to his sons when he blessed them before his demise, an event we will read about tomorrow in the Torah reading, Parashat Vayechi:

Shimon and Levi are severely reprimanded by their father Yaakov. For a moment you wonder whether this is a blessing or the opposite. Yaakov Avinu doesn’t mince words and the climax is the passuk beginning with the word “Cursed…”: “Cursed be their anger, for it is most fierce, and their fury, for it is most cruel. I will divide them up in Yaakov and scatter them in Yisrael.” He condemns their fierce anger, in other words, furious in their anger. And then Rashi comes, and chooses particularly at this point to sweeten the statement: “Cursed be their anger, for it is most fierce – even when he was rebuking them, he cursed only their anger.” Wow. It is a time of rebuke, and Yaakov curses – but not them, not the good boys, rather their character traits. A boy is not cursed – he is blessed. What is cursed is the trait of anger.

Have you understood this?

A moment before one rebukes a child or any other person – and, if you ask me, the most important is the moment before a person engages in self-flagellation – he should stop for a moment and remember that he is not cursed – he is blessed. It is his deeds, or perhaps a habit that he has adopted that is cursed.

May we be successful in becoming better people!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

When was the last time you played “hide and seek”?

Remember the game “hide and seek”? When was the last time you played it?

The trick is to hide so well, that the seeker won’t find you; if he finds you, you’re “out”. 

But that is not the worse thing. Do you know what is worse than being found? Having no one look for you; that’s far worse. When you are hiding and suddenly realize that no one is searching for you, you feel just terrible.

So when recently have you played “hide and seek”?

I’ve noticed that we play “hide and seek” quite often in this life.

Almost always, when someone is hiding from you, or acting coldly towards you, it is not because he wants you to stay away from him, but because he wants you to seek him even more.

But before I go on, I must clarify: Of course, I am not talking about some unknown stranger, but rather about people we are in touch with, sometimes daily. 

How do I know this? The truth is, I know it from myself. In all honesty, I can see that when I behave distantly towards someone close who has annoyed me or hurt me, it is not in order to refrain from contact with him; my real goal is that he should make the extra effort to approach me.

Is this manipulation? I call it “hide and seek”.

It’s true in all types of relationships, even with our children, when they sometimes are angry with us or push us away. The idea is not that we should indeed stay away from them, but that we should continue to seek them. They are not distancing themselves from us – rather, they are hiding. 

This is true mainly of marital relationships. Often the woman will withdraw from her husband – with a show of words, sounds, tears and perhaps also with rebuke. And the husband, with his masculine tendency to see things technically, responds by retreating and running away. But the truth is that she is just hiding and digging in, and her true desire is that he not run away or distance himself, but, rather, fight for the relationship and search for the way to become even closer; she wants him to show some manly courage, overcome the seeming rejection and approach her anyway. 

True, sometimes one has to be creative in order to find the right way to approach the other person anew, but the attitude should be to approach and not to turn tail; to come closer, not to shy away.

So when was the last time you played “hide and seek”?

In this week’s parashaparashat Vayigash, it happens. Yehuda understands that the “Master of the Land” is playing “hide and seek” with them. He understands that while he is acting coldly and harshly, he is actually seeking closeness. He is rejecting them with harsh words and even unpleasant actions, but really all he is asking is that they not give up on him, not leave him and go away once again.

So Yehuda approaches him. Vayigash Yehuda.He gathers together all his lion-like courage, and, head held high, he approaches Yosef – and, just moments later, Yosef cannot control himself any longer, and bursts into tears. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

from conservative Bnei Brak To liberal Tel Aviv

Various guests eat at our table on Shabbats. They add to the atmosphere, and the topics of conversation around the table are varied and interesting. 

A few years ago we hosted a young couple of Gerrer Chassidim from Israel and the young man told me about an inner debate he was having. He was looking to make a decent living and had already found a profession that could serve as a very good source of income. But there was one problem that was preventing him from going ahead – the workplaces for that type of work were all in Tel Aviv. The workers were all of liberal/secular bent and from his point of view, if he would spend all day in such an environment it might have a negative effect on him. He asked straightforwardly and honestly: “How can a yeshiva bochur from conservative Bnei Brak work in liberal Tel Aviv and remain a Bnei Brak Chasid?”

I told him that that question had already been asked by his forefathers, the sons of Yaakov, when they met Yosef as the viceroy of Egypt. “And Yosef recognized his brothers,” says the Torah in parashat Miketz, and immediately goes on to add, “and they did not recognize him.” According to the simple understanding, the passuk is telling us that they didn’t recognize him because he was a seventeen-year-old when he had been sold to Egypt, and now, twenty-two years later, it was hard for them to recognize him, since he was so changed. 

But according to the pnimiyut, inner Torah, the Torah of Chassidut, we learn a deeper meaning. “They didn’t recognize him” – they didn’t know and weren’t aware of the possibility of being a conservative Jew who serves G-d in the advanced and developing world that Egypt represented. They had chosen to be shepherds because it is an occupation that keeps a person far from society. A shepherd is alone in the field with his flocks and his G-d. They didn’t know of any other options. And here stood their younger brother, a Bnei Brak yeshiva bochur who had remained conservative in the Egyptian royal palace. Well, “they didn’t recognize him.” Yosef was the first to prove that it is possible to be a viceroy and remain Yosef hatzaddik – the righteous.

I turned to my guest and told him, “Go to your Rebbe, and do what he suggests to you. I don’t know you well enough in order to know if you are up to this work or not.”

A few months later he called to tell me that the Gerrer Rebbe said that he trusts him, and instructed him to take that job.


Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

The pen is mightier than the sword

“The pen is mightier than the sword” is a famous saying.

In Mishlei it’s expressed differently: “Some utter words like the stabs of a sword.” The meaning is quite clear. Words have power, as the Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi) says about this passuk: “There is a person who says things that are like the stabbing of a sword.” In this context, it is a warning against writing too harshly, against stabbing people verbally, against responding too brutally. We ask ourselves and others not to say or write things that are like a stab of a sword.

But the pen and words can be used in a positive, active way – and that way, too, they are more effective than physical battle. Now, when we are still under the pall of October 7th, when the war is raging and our brothers and sisters are being held captive, it is the time to use the power of the light of Chanuka, use words, use the pen.

If a pen is stronger than a sword when it comes to hurting people, it certainly is strong when it comes to doing good.

This is the time to remember that words are very powerful, and to use them for the good.

The rest of the passuk in Mishlei says, “but the tongue of the wise is healing.” The Radak explains it thus: “The tongue of the wise – in other words, their words are so good, that they have a healing effect on the body. How simple. A wise person knows that words can heal. The same way they can be like sword stabs, they can also heal body and soul.”

We are programmed to be practical – to do deeds, to act, and that is amazing and special. But at the same time and concomitantly one can say healing words. 

On Shabbat Parashat Emor 5742 (1982), the theme of the Rebbe’s hitva’adut was one word: “Emor” (Say).

Emor” is in the imperative. You are commanded to say and say all the time. (In Yiddish: Halten in ein sagen). 

What to say? Say favorable things of your fellow. The Tanna, Yehoshua ben Perachia,says in Masechet Avot: “Judge every person favorably.” The Lubavitcher Rebbe says: It is not enough to judge your fellow favorably in your mind; do it in speech.

Don’t just think about it – say it as well! Emor!

And one more thing: When you speak, speak gently and pleasantly. It doesn’t say dabber; rather it says emor. Dibbur is hard; amira is soft. 

It would seem to be just a matter of words, words, words. But really it demands that a person devote some thought to it and be proactive: find and say words of encouragement and empowerment, of hope, emuna (faith) and bitachon (trust). Don’t ask me how I know, but it helps not only in a situation of a general war, but also when we are confronted with any challenge. 

We can say, with full intent, “We have come to banish the darkness” (a popular Hebrew Chanuka song), and we can also banish the darkness that has filled our hearts since October 7th with good words. The Radak brings another beautiful commentary on this passuk in Mishlei: “Another commentary: Someone can say to his friend words that are as hard as arrows, and a wise person will turn those words around cleverly until the bad feeling in the heart of the person who has heard those hard words leaves him.”

We have the power – only if we are wise, of course – to change a bad feeling and bad heart to a good feeling – by way of healing words.

Have a happy and illuminating holiday,

Shabbat Shalom,

Am Yisrael chai,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Anyone can??

Sarah, the granddaughter of the Admor Hazaken (Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, known also as Ba’al Hatanya – author of the book Tanya) married Rabbi Eliezer, grandson of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev. The wedding took place in the village of Zhlobin, between Liadi and Berdichev. There are many rumors and stories about this wedding, which was named “The great wedding” in Zhlobin, the wedding of the grandchildren of the friends, both of them disciples of the Maggid of Mezeritch, Admor Hazaken and Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev. 

At the wedding, the Admor Hazaken made a toast and said to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak: “L’chaim! May Hashem yitbarach help us in material matters and spiritual matters.”

Said Rabbi Levi Yitzchak: “How can you mention material matters before spiritual ones?”

“We find this with Yaakov Avinu,” replied the Admor Hazaken, “who first said, ‘and he will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear’ and only after that mentioned ‘and Hashem will be my G-d.’ First the material, then the spiritual.”

Said the Berdichever: “Nu, the material matters of Yaakov Avinu!”

And Rabbi Schenur Zalman replied: “Nu, the spirituality of Yaakov Avinu!”

Before we start bringing in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, let’s try to understand this exchange. 

It is only natural and acceptable that a holy Jew, who is immersed in spirituality, will mention spiritual issues first. And that is why Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was puzzled.

The Admor Hazaken brings proof from Yaakov Avinu – he too mentioned the material before the spiritual. But this does not satisfy the Berdichever, because Yaakov Avinu’s material needs, the bread to eat and the clothing to wear, are spiritual in themselves. Not that the bread is not made of wheat and the clothing is not made of wool, but since the essence of his life is holiness and spirituality, the bread and the clothing serve spiritual needs. And so, how can we prove anything from Yaakov Avinu in regard to us?

The Admor Hazaken answers: You are right. Yaakov’s material needs are on a higher level than our spirituality, but that means his spirituality is certainly on a higher level than his material needs, and yet he still mentions the material matters first. And so the exchange ends. 

Anyone who learns chassidut, and especially Chabad chassidut, all of which is really based on the Admor Hazaken, is able to explain that the root of material issues is on a higher level than that of spiritual ones. He might even quote the rule that “anything that is higher up, falls further down.” And from this one can deduce that what is further down has a more elevated root, and so, the material actually comes before the spiritual. 

I humbly suggest that I see something more here, perhaps different, and there are, after all, seventy aspects to the Torah.

The Berdichever says: How can you bring an example from Yaakov Avinu? How can we compare ourselves to the prime patriarch, Yaakov Avinu? In other words, maybe not everyone can be a Yaakov Avinu.

The Admor Hazaken replies, according to his view: Definitely yes. Yaakov is on his level and we are on our level, and every Jew is on his own level, and we all ought to learn from the Torah and find some common points with Yaakov Avinu. Every Jew has a soul that comes from the same source as that of Yaakov Avinu. Every Jew can be like him on one level or another. Every person can find spirit in his material being, and everyone can relate to material needs as spiritual ones, and, typically for the Admor Hazaken, if everyone can, then everyone should. It says in Tanna Devei Eliyahu: “I would say that each and every Jew must say, when will my deeds reach those of my forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov?”

On Shabbat we will note the Chag Hageula, the 19th of Kislev. We pray that that will be everyone’s holiday of redemption, both for individuals and for the Jewish People in general.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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