Rabbi's weekly Blog

The Rebbe came to meet me

In 1969, Freddy Hager z”l was a 21-year-old London student who went to New York to meet the Rebbe. An appointment was set for a yechidut with the Rebbe at a standard time for such meetings: 2:45 am.

I never met R. Efraim Hager, but last night I watched an interview in which he described how impressed he was when he saw the huge variety of people in the Rebbe’s waiting room – men and women, young and old, chassidim and non-chassidim. Their varied styles of dress showed that each one was coming from a completely different world and presumably had different sorts of problems. They would speak with the Rebbe of very different things, and yet, all of them, with no exceptions, would emerge from their few minutes with the Rebbe pleased, happy, and mainly satisfied with the Rebbe’s response.

Amazing, isn’t it?

While watching this interview that was conducted by the dear JEM people, I thought to myself: The Rebbe has a birthday this coming Sunday, the 11th of Nissan. I try to learn from the Rebbe – both from his teachings and from his behavior. Is this something I can learn from him? Does this ability to receive such different people belong only to the “Rebbe” – the Rosh Bnei Yisrael – or also to an ordinary person? Is the ability to receive and listen to every human being a gift that only a tzaddik has, or can an ordinary Jew do it as well?

There was something else that R. Hager said towards the beginning, which gave me a direction and the idea that perhaps something of all this belongs to all of us, and if so, certainly we should learn from it. This is what he said: “When I went into the Rebbe, he looked up at me with his two enormous blue pools of eyes, and he looked like a young man who had got out of bed especially to come and see me. I didn’t feel I’d come to see him. I felt he had come to see me. He was wide awake and totally interested and involved in me.

“I’ve noticed a similar reaction from many people who’ve been to the Rebbe. That they went to visit the Rebbe expecting to being acquainted with a great man, but what actually happened when they went into yechidus they became acquainted with themselves.”


Imagine a 20-, 30-, 60-year-old person coming into the Rebbe for a few minutes in the wee hours of the morning, and in those few minutes he rediscovers himself. He meets up with a deeper understanding of who he is, or, to use Freddy Hager’s words, he gets acquainted with himself.

This second part of his interview provided some sort of answer to my question. To give a person who encounters you the real feeling that at this moment he is the center of your world and your interests is pretty hard, but not impossible. Of course, there are different levels of ability, to what extent and for how long, but it is definitely possible. So here is something that I can learn from the Rebbe on the occasion of his birthday: When a man or woman come to talk with me, to ask for advice or just to pour out their hearts, I will listen to them fully, and for a change I will not think about myself, but about them. Who knows, maybe it will work in conversations with my wife and children as well – to concentrate on them during those moments.

I don’t really think that everyone will come out satisfied and pleased from a few minutes with me, but it is clear to me that the more I manage to place the other person in the center when he is talking to me, he will certainly come out with more energies and happier than if I would have concentrated on myself. 

Shabbat Shalom, and a kosher and happy Pesach to all,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Just like with the athlete

Professor Avner Chai Shaki z”l was one of the people whom I enjoyed listening to. As a child, I would listen to every word of his speeches when he would come to Kfar Chabad, mesmerized by his pathos and by his throaty ayins and chets and rolling reishes.

I remember vividly how he told about being invited to the Rebbe in 1972. It was after he had stuck to the Torah principles and acted against the government of which he was a partner, as well as against his own party, the Mafdal (the National Religious Party), by voting for the amendment to the Law of Return, known as “Who Is a Jew.” His colleagues were very upset with him and he was forced out of the Mafdal, becoming a lone member of the Knesset in a party all his own.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe sent the lawyer Yechiel Gartner to him, with an invitation to come to Brooklyn. When he visited the Rebbe, the Rebbe supported him for having been strong enough to vote as his conscience dictated. Prof. Shaki told of this episode in his speech, given after he had gone back to being the head of the Mafdal and the Minister of Religions: “The Rebbe said to me, a true athlete takes a few steps backwards when he is about to leap forwards. Right now you are at the stage of having taken a few steps backwards.” And then the Rebbe added: “You had to resign from your position, but nevertheless you will return with great honor, and become a minister!”

The Torah describes a similar situation at the end of parashat Pekudei: “And the cloud covered Ohel Moed… and Moshe could not come to Ohel Moed.” The cloud of Hashem rested on Ohel Moed – the Mishkan, which was then the House of Hashem, so much so that Moshe Rabbeinu could not enter it, as he was used to do. This was a situation of Hashem’s hiding Himself from him. Moshe, who was accustomed to experiencing revelations of the Shechinah, suddenly couldn’t enter.

But a short time later, right at the beginning of parashat Vayikra, Hashem calls to Moshe, and, as Rashi says, it was a call of affection towards him. In other words, the period of hiding was over, and was replaced by revelation and favor.

Because this is how it works: before a revelation, and especially a revelation of affection and light, there is a hiding period. As the saying goes, “The darkest hour is before dawn.” But whoever knows to take the broad view and is patient will not become frightened by the moments of difficulties, darkness and hiding of the face. Because after the hiding comes the revelation, just like with the athlete.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski


Italy is italy

I have this habit: when I land in an unfamiliar city, I try to avoid taking a taxi, preferring to use public transportation to reach my destination. There is something pleasant, interesting and even exciting in coming into contact with the local population, and viewing the people and their lives from close up. Plus, getting along on one’s own in a strange place is a nice challenge.

I did it few years ago in Milan. The Cadorna station in the center of town was not overfull. The people seemed calm; they weren’t rushing or running. Perhaps because it was a Sunday and perhaps because this was Italy, and in Italy, as anyone who has ever flown Alitalia knows, no one is in a rush.

Something special caught my eye. A number of parents of young children brought them to the large metro map posted on the station’s wall, and with notable patience explained to the boy or girl how the map is constructed, where they are, where they need to go, and which metro line they should take. As a father of children myself I liked this very much (in fact, I missed the train because I was so interested… but, Italy being Italy, there was time). I am assuming that these parents teach their children the relevant, important values for them, for life, and still, there they were, investing time and patience in teaching their children something so small and technical: how to find your way in the metro.

Why was I reminded of this? Because this week in the Parasha, in the summary of the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), it says, “And all wise-hearted among you will come and do everything that Hashem commanded.” And immediately after that the Torah lists all the implements that those wise-hearted artisans made. A special talent for craftsmanship was necessary in order to make the components of the Mishkan – from the Menorah, the Table and the Altar, to the wooden panels, including the ornate cloth covers of the Mishkan. One needed very talented artisans, described by the Torah as “wise-hearted.”

On Shabbat Parashat Vayakhel of 1977 (5737), in a Hitva’adut in front of a large group of Chassidim, the Rebbe focused on these Psukim and noted an extremely interesting and curious fact: among the components of the Mishkan that needed to be made by the wise-hearted were also the “pegs of the Mishkan and the pegs of the courtyard.” A tent peg is a very important thing – it is the peg that in the end tightens, strengthens and stabilizes the entire Mishkan. But the peg, in itself, doesn’t seem to be so complicated to make, and certainly there is no need for it to be made by a wise-hearted person. And yet, the Torah says specifically, that the pegs, too, should be made by the wise-hearted.

There is a great message here, said the Rebbe this week 39 years ago. When you educate a child, whether he is your child or a child handed over to you to teach in a school, you are invested with the task of building and forming that child’s personality: teaching him to tell good from bad, positive from negative; educating him regarding priorities in life and how to use the tools we have received from Hashem to best advantage, in order to correct the world around us. This is a great task, for which artisanship is obviously necessary. We need a “wise-hearted” to be involved in it. If the Torah demanded that the wise-hearted make the pegs as well, that is a message for us, that the education and the building of a child’s personality should not relate only to big and lofty values and ideals, but also to the simple, technical details, like pegs. For in the end, that simple peg is what upholds that entire structure.


May we be successful…


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

New Age or redemptional thinking?

One of the most wonderful things encountered by anyone who studies the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s teachings is that gradually, as one studies and deepens one’s understanding of what he is saying, a person’s way of thinking changes; the viewpoint becomes completely altered. Anyone who looks at the Rebbe and his Chassidim and their doings will say immediately: The Rebbe is a revolutionary. But only someone who has actually learned his teachings will understand how deep and fundamental this revolution is, down to the smallest detail.

I call it “holism”. The Rebbe’s outlook on the world consists of a holistic approach; an approach that encompasses everything, connects everything precisely, without ignoring anything or rounding off any corners.

Usually this unique way of thinking is not written down as part of an article devoted to faith, or a talk about life in general. Rather, these matters are brought forth as clear, simple basic assumptions as the Rebbe discusses his Torah ideas. As I mentioned in the opening above, as one learns, one’s actual thinking changes. When I studied the Rebbe’s talk for Parashat Ki Tisa (Likutei Sichot 21, 3) I came upon, among other things, such a “basic assumption.”

The Rebbe analyzes the sin of the Golden Calf and the pardon that Mosh Rabbeinu requests from the Creator. First, the Rebbe wonders: How can there be a reality of sin at all? Why should a person sin? On the basis of his understanding of this point, he explains the pardon that Moshe seeks and the advice that Hashem gives him as to how to achieve it. The analysis starts out with the first assumption that we say every morning: “He Who renews in His goodness every day, always, the Creation Work.” And he asks: A Jew who knows and believes that the Creator renews and rejuvenates the world every minute, how could he possibly act against Hashem’s will – Hashem, who is keeping him alive right now and the next minute as well? A person might say that he has obstacles and things that hold him back – in other words, the world and the reality around me prevent me from serving Hashem! But that can’t be – and here we encounter that point of unique thinking that I’ve mentioned – “for, being a believer, the son of a believer, he knows for sure that even those things that are interfering with his life, they too were created ex nihilo, and so it would not be right to describe them as being truly created as contradictions to the will of Hashem! How could they really be obstacles to Yiddishkeit, to the Creator’s will, when they themselves were created right this minute by Hashem Himself?”

(The answer to this question about sin is “forgetfulness”. While sinning, Jews simply forget Hashem, Who is keeping them alive.)

This is the right moment to stop, look around, reassess our situation, examine our “obstacles and things that hold us back”, those things that interfere with our ability to do what should be done – and to think. To look into the Rebbe’s words and to ask ourselves: How could this really interfere – when it has been created this minute by Hashem?

With such a way of thinking, we will be able to cope much better with everything that is happening around us.

The New Age people will say it’s positive thinking.

The Chabadniks will explain that it’s actually redemptional thinking.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

are you an elephant?

Legend has it that a few decades ago there was a secret competition between the intelligence agencies of Israel, the U.S. and the Soviet Union. An elephant was released in a thick forest, and the competition was who would find it first.

The CIA were the first to try. They used electronic sensors and drones, and found the elephant in two days.

The Mossad was next. They sent intelligence agents disguised as animals, used human information sources, and within less than 30 hours the elephant was located.

The last ones were the K.G.B. They went out to the forest, and came back in one day with a cat, saying: “He admitted he’s an elephant.”

A truly sincere admission carries a very deep meaning. No – I don’t mean an admission made during a police interrogation, or an admission before elections. I mean the kind of truly sincere acknowledgment that is expressed in a person’s deeds, behavior and entire existence.

The first time in the Bible the Jewish People are defined as “Yehudim” (Jews), is in the Purim Megillah – Megillat Esther. Until then, they are described as Bnei Yisrael, the People of Hashem, a holy nation etc. The word “Yehudi” has the meaning of “Hoda’ah” – admission, or acknowledgment. A Jew, in his inner being, acknowledges the existence of Hashem, and in his behavior he also proves that this is his very essence. That is also the inner essence of the Brit Milah that is marked in our flesh, and the clear message of the Mezuzah on our doorposts: Here lives a person who believes in Hashem, and therefore he has a piece of parchment with the sentence, “Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One,” on the doorpost, at the entrance to the house.

In the Hitva’adut (Chassidic gathering) of Purim of 1969, the Rebbe quoted the verse from the Megillah, “A Jewish person was in Shushan the capital, and his name was Mordechai.” And the Rebbe went on to say, as a clear and eternal message to all of us, that when Mordechai was in Shushan the Capital, everyone knew immediately that he was Jewish – even before they knew that “his name was Mordechai.” Even from afar they could see that the person they were seeing was Jewish.

In other words, when you walk down the street, do not be ashamed of who you are. You can let people know you’re Jewish without them having to use electronic sensors, secret agents or the K.G.B.

The days are past when we would be embarrassed, hide ourselves or hide our identity; because a Jew “neither kneels nor bows down.”


Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim!


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.