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A Free Sermon?

A Free Sermon?

Once upon a time there was a holy rabbi, who would never give a drasha (sermon) without pay. 

His prices weren’t high, and he wasn’t exactly a materialistic person. He was a holy Jew by the name of Rabbi Mendel Borer, a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov; the Baal Shem Tov himself called him “the holy rabbi, a special one in a generation, a man of G-d.” And yet, he would not give a drasha without getting paid up front.

This sounds strange when you’re talking about a Jew on such a high level, but he had a fascinating explanation: “Who am I to rebuke another Jew? What right do I have to do it? When the Temple stood, there was a prophet who was commanded by Hashem to bring His word to the people, and also to speak harshly if necessary. But today, when we don’t have such orders, I am willing to speak and give my opinion about various behaviors of others only if I am obligated to do so. 

“And so, when I am given a few coins for the drasha, then I am obligated to speak. Why? Because according to the Torah I am obligated to provide a living for my household. My profession is that of a darshan. In other words, the tool by which I provide a living for my family is the drasha, and when I am paid for it, I am not allowed to refuse. Moreover, I must speak, and I am performing a mitzvah.”

The Rebbe brought this story on the 21st of Av, 5744 (1984), asking and indeed calling out in pain to the people not to rebuke and not to speak harshly about another Jew or with one, as long as Hashem Himself has not requested that one do so.

The Rebbe was actually saying: Do not choose for yourself the doubtful honor of being the one who castigates and berates, the one who criticizes and emphasizes the bad. Speak good, not bad. 

On this Shabbat, when we read parashat Acharei Mot Kedoshim, including the passuk “You shall love your fellow as yourself,” I wish to take upon myself and to suggest all my dear readers to stop and think before we speak about another person, before we write to someone, before we click on “send”, and make sure that the message is in keeping with “You shall love your fellow as yourself.”

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

A wonderful tool for coping with life

 The following text is not meant for perfect people who go through life at ease; rather, it is intended for people who are somewhat traumatized, wounded, sporting here and there a scar or some emotional pain.

How do you react when something that you wanted very much didn’t happen?

I’m talking about the small stuff.

Let’s say you planned to go on vacation, and the hotel you chose was not what it looked like in the brochure. How do you react?

You know what? Not how you react, but what and how do you feel?

And if the rented car is no good and not what you wanted, to what extent do the feelings of disappointment, failure, or having been taken advantage of, prevent you from enjoying the sense of rest that this vacation was supposed to provide you with?

Let’s say, even, that due to a mistake on your part – or not – you ended up paying much more than you had planned to. To what extent does it stop you from moving on?

And if it doesn’t really stop you practically speaking, because you do pull yourself together, how much energy is devoted to overcoming these feelings of disappointment and failure?

Personally, this is the type of thing that I cope with frequently, and it’s not easy. In recent years I have found a “tool” that helps me cope with it excellently, and not only a one-time, temporary basis, but rather as a slow and profound fixing of that part of me that gets angry or disappointed when things get stuck.

This tool is called “Tazria-Metzora”.

I once learned a talk of the Rebbe for parashat Tazria-Metzora (section 22), in which the Rebbe asks why most of the details regarding the laws of the metzora appear in parashat Tazria? And remember – right after it there is a parasha named Metzora. Why this disorder?

The talk is long, deep and fascinating, and touches on several levels in the life of a person and the nation as a whole, but I received personal illumination when I learned the Rebbe’s explanation that Tazria expresses the beginning of new life – be it plant, animal or human. All life begins with planting. The moment of planting is not yet a new life, but it is the beginning of one.

A metzora is someone who is afflicted with tzara’at (ordinarily translated as leprosy), the goal of which is really to signal to him to change his ways. Usually it’s a matter of lashon hara (harmful speech) that needs attention.

The laws of the metzora appear in parashat Tazriato tell you: Don’t see the tzara’at as an independent affliction, disconnected from the past and the future; this tzara’at can turn very quickly into the planting of a new life. If you just stop and think what this tzara’at is coming to teach you, you will see the glimmer of a new life.

At the moment that I experience disappointment and failure or any other similar feeling, I attempt to stop the flow of feelings building up inside me (and it’s not at all easy at that moment) and say to myself: “Tazria Metzora” – what is this event coming to teach me? What lesson is there in it for me? It must be that I need some further cleansing, because this story is more one of Tazria than of Metzora.

And there is another thing that the Rebbe brings there from Likutei Torah ofBa’al Hatanya – no less profound. It says in the Torah “Adam - a person – who has in the skin of his flesh” – remember that when you have tzara’at you are still an adam – a person, which is your highest definition. And the tzara’at is only “in the skin of the flesh” – not inside. Inside, you are clean, pure and healthy. Your blemish is external, in the skin. True, sometimes it seems that it’s internal, but that is not the truth. Really, you are clean, pure, good and worthy.

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski


R' Ozer from Breslev

My friend, the musician R. Avrum Burstein, told me such a very Jewish story that it gives me no rest. Here it is:

In Jerusalem there was an elderly Jew by the name of R. Ozer. He was a devoted Breslev chassid, and very poor. Before Pesach he could be heard saying to himself: “Oyf Pesach vet zein, aber vie nemt men dem Pesach alein” – the Pesach products will arrive somehow, but from where do you get Pesach itself?

So R. Ozer would go and get a free loan from here and another loan from there, buy wine and matzahs, a few potatoes and some horseradish, a piece of carp and a few chicken wings and he would be ecstatic – he has the Pesach food – but what will be with the holiday itself? Am I ready for the yom tov of Pesach? Where will I get Pesach itself?

After all, this evening I have to behave like a prince. Am I ready? Are my heart and brain pure enough, like those of a prince?


Am I free?


Am I free of all confusion?

Are my wants and desires still limiting me?

We were slaves!!

And now, on this very day, am I no longer a slave to various social conventions?

Oyf Pesach vet zein, aber vie nemt men dem Pesach ilein?

Wishing you a happy and kosher Pesach,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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