Rabbi's weekly Blog

“I’m not successful”

Occasionally I help people – sometimes face-to-face and sometimes via Zoom. It is almost always a person or a couple who are not feeling good about themselves, each person in his own realm. Almost always it is a person who is saying at some point, “I can’t,” “I’m not successful,” “I am not going to succeed,” “I don’t have the ability and I don’t have the strength.” We are so good at convincing ourselves, that sometimes we can’t see anything else, and that is paralyzing and painful.

My role at that moment is to look inside them, beyond what they are saying, and see their abilities and powers. I admit that sometimes it is not easy. Sometimes the people in front of me are wrapped in many layers of low self-esteem, so that at least regarding the points being discussed it is impossible to see the existing ability. So what helps me to see beyond those layers? The simple belief that every person has a set of tools that he received from Hashem, unique to him. By using those tools he is able to overcome and cope with everything that he encounters in life.

And how is all this connected to parashat Terumah?

When we read the pasuk, “You shall make the planks of the Mishkan of acacia wood,” a question arises: where did Bnei Yisrael obtain those trees, in the middle of the desert? The Midrash Tanchuma has a famous explanation, which Rashi, who usually sticks to the simple meaning of the scriptures, brings in his commentary on this pasuk: “Yaakov Avinu saw by holy spirit that Yisrael were going to build the Mishkan in the desert, and he brought cedar trees to Egypt and planted them and commanded his sons to take them with them when they go out of Egypt.” Let’s forget about Yaakov coming down to Egypt and bringing seedlings for the Mishkan; it is not surprising that someone like Yaakov Avinu took everything into account and already when going into exile was preparing for the redemption from it. Try, instead, to think for a moment about Bnei Yisrael, slaves, suffering under the Egyptians. I imagine that many of them completely forgot that there are acacia trees ready for the Mishkan. Possibly, the young people didn’t know anything about it at all. People were busy trying to survive, to get through the day and the month. Who could think about these trees growing in some forest at the edge of the land of Goshen, planted there two hundred years before by Yaakov?

And when they started to think about the Mishkan, they looked around for trees. I can assume that there were probably many who said to Moshe: “Rabbeinu, where are we going to get trees from in this desert?” And Moshe just looked into them, beyond their words, and told them, “You have trees, they exist. I know they exist, believe me. So instead of saying that there aren’t any, go look around for them and then you will discover, much to your surprise, that they were with you all the time.”

This is quite a message. When we are sure we lack the ability, that we are incapable of doing something, unfit for it, it’s probably a good idea to remember the acacia trees of the Mishkan and think that maybe, just maybe, someone has already planted in us everything that is needed in order to move forward. All we have to do is recognize this, believe in it and go search for it. 

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

modern slavery

The Chinese are in the process of taking over the world market. How do they do it?

A wise person once said that they have simply invented a new way of doing things, which the rest of the world isn’t familiar with: they work during their workhours.

It is very important to work during one’s workhours, of course. But it is no less important to know to stop working after hours, and to allow ourselves to live, as well.

In this week’s parasha we learn the laws of the Hebrew servant. A Hebrew servant is a Jew who has found himself in a financial or personal crisis (such as having been caught stealing), and has had no choice but to be sold or sell himself as a slave in order to return his debt. The sale is for only six years, and when that time is up, he becomes a free person. If that person wishes to remain a servant, it is possible, but on condition that he do something unpleasant: have his ear pierced.

Why is it the ear that is pierced?

Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai said in tractate Kiddushin, “The ear that heard [Hashem saying] on Mount Sinai ‘To me Bnei Yisrael are slaves,’ and went and took upon himself a master, will be pierced.” Hashem says to the Jew: I understand that you had to sell yourself as a slave in order to pay off your debts; it was absolutely necessary, and that’s fine. But why do you still wish to serve a flesh-and-blood master after you have already been freed? Look around and see what you are really worth. Look and see whom you should really subject yourself to: not to a human being, but rather to the Creator of the World.

In our world today there is almost no classical slavery left, but there is definitely modern slavery. When we speak of modern slavery, the reference is usually to the U.N.’s report and to the World Labor Organization that deals mainly with workers in poor African countries, or with migrant workers in the Western world who work many hours for very little payment in order to earn their meagre portions of bread.

The Rebbe says there is another kind of modern slavery, and it is not poor workers who earn very little, but also and maybe mainly, someone who might have a good, respectable and well-paying job. Why is he called a slave, in spite of this? Because he doesn’t recognize the boundary between work and life. I started my message with the Chinese, who definitely work during workhours, and that’s wonderful – that’s the way it should be. But one mustn’t forget that beyond work there is life. Beyond work there are family and children, dreams and wishes. There is spiritual life and there is a holy soul that is suffering thirst in a dry, wasted land.

The Rebbe brings a rather simple way to gauge the situation: the holy day of Shabbat. Shabbat is the day on which we raise ourselves above our material existence, like chassidim say in Yiddish: “one tefach (handbreadth) higher. They set aside the temporal life and turn instead to eternal life. If you find yourself preoccupied with work matters on Shabbat, that means that you are a modern slave.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Is there a difference between love and respect?

Is there a difference between love and respect?

Do all kinds of love necessarily come with respect?

At the end of parashat Yitro, the Torah says, “You shall not ascend My Altar on steps, so that your nakedness will not be uncovered upon it.” In other words, there shouldn’t be steps going up to the altar, because climbing them will make the cohen take big steps, thus degrading the stones, the Altar stones. Rashi learns from this the importance of behaving decently: “This is a kal vachomer: If about stones, which have no awareness to be upset about being degraded by others, the Torah said that since one needs them, one should not behave disrespectfully towards them, how much more so your fellow, who is in the image of your Creator and is particular about being degraded!”

But, wait a minute; why does one have to learn to respect people through a kal vachomer learned from the stones of the Altar? After all, we have a pasuk in the Torah that says, “Love your fellow like yourself”. In other words, not only are we supposed to respect our fellow, but we should love him. Is there a difference between love and respect? 

In my opinion, it is possible to love someone truly and wholeheartedly, and still not respect him enough. Love is a feeling, whereas respect and honor are mainly a practical issue. As Chazal say (Kiddushin 31b) about the pasuk “Honor your father and your mother.” They ask: “What is honoring?” and they answer: “Help him with all his needs, feed him, give him something to drink. And, if necessary, dress and cover him, take him in and out.” It is interesting that sometimes, particularly with very close friends and family members, not to mention spouses, when the love is greatest and open, the basic respect is missing. 

Perhaps that is the reason that “Honor your father and your mother”, which seems on the face of it an obvious thing, is part of the Ten Commandments. Because it is easy to love, but one has to make an effort to honor and respect. 

Perhaps this is the explanation of why the students of Rabbi Akiva – the same Rabbi Akiva who said, “Love your fellow as yourself – that is a great rule in the Torah” – did not behave respectfully towards each other. Because love and respect are two separate things. They definitely loved each other, but their respect for one another was lacking. 

So Rashi comes and says: Listen well. The Torah here is demanding that we show respect for mindless stones – stones! We should learn from this a kal vachomer and honor and respect people who do have minds and are likely to be particular and be hurt if one degrades them. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

tu push the train from inside

The story is told of a person who complained to the Chafetz Chaim – Rabbi Yisrael Meir Hacohen of Radin – that he doesn’t have time to come to Shul to learn and to pray because he has to open his store early in the morning, and stay there until late at night; otherwise, he claimed, he wouldn’t be able to make a living. 

The Chafetz Chaim said to him: “You’re behaving like someone who is traveling by train from Warsaw to Lodz, and since he is in a great hurry, he stands and pushes the train car from the inside, thinking that that way he’ll get there faster. It’s clear to any thinking person that such a person is wasting his efforts. 

“Hashem is the one who decides how a person will make a living for himself and for his household, and how much money he will have,” said the Chafetz Chaim. “Your store is merely the vessel through which you are provided for. It would make no difference if you opened it one hour earlier or one hour later, especially if this takes place on the account of other important things such as prayer, learning Torah or spending time with your children. It’s exactly like pushing the train car from the inside.”

The Lubavitcher Rebbe says that the story of the Mann that we will read in this week’s parasha, parashat Beshalach, is coming to tell us that our livelihood is just like the Mann that Bnei Yisrael received in the desert – “bread from heaven.”

At the very beginning of the Jewish People’s existence, the Creator taught us how to relate to the matter of earning a living, or, in other words, how to relate to the vessel that holds the blessings from Hashem, the vessel we make use of when we go to work. 

It is a mistake to attribute one’s livelihood to the vessel through which it comes, instead of to the source of the abundance, the belief in the Creator of the World who blesses one and determines one’s degree of wealth. 

And not just livelihood, everything we face in our lives - the means here in this world are similar to a carriage, be it the most beautiful and the best, it will still remain a carriage, our eyes are fixed on the locomotive, the creator of the world.

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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