Rabbi's weekly Blog

I used to believe; now I simply know.

I used to believe in Divine Providence (hashgacha pratit). I heard stories, listened to lectures and went to classes, studied essays; this belief was also instilled in me at home, from the moment I was born. I believed in it.


Nowadays I don’t believe in Divine Providence – now I can see it; I know that it exists.

For the first thirty years of my life, more or less, when something happened that seemed to be upside-down, illogical, leaving me stuck or getting in the way, I needed the faith that I had saved up, all those stories and classes.


Nowadays, when something like that happens, I smile at it and know that it is for my own good, and sometimes also try to guess what the future will bring: “It will be interesting to see how all this will turn out to be for the good, and when exactly I will see it happening.”

Why is that so? It is very simple. When you live with an awareness of Divine Providence, and learn to look at everything that is happening around you as coming from that Divine Providence, you get used to seeing how Hashem arranges the puzzle of life in a wonderful way. You also learn that He is a bit wiser than you.


I used to say that “If the Master of the World would just listen to my advice, everything would be better.” Today I say, “It’s a good thing that He doesn’t listen to my wise ideas.”


On Shavuot 5723 (1963) the Rebbe explained the famous passuk from this week’s parashaparashat Va’etchanan, “Ata horeta – You have been shown in order to know that Hashem, He is the G-d. There is none beside him.” Also, the passuk shortly after that, “You shall know this day and take to your heart that Hashem, He is the G-d in heaven above and on the earth below – there is none other.”


The first verse is describing a relationship that comes down from above: You, Hashem, are the one who showed us to know that You are the G-d.” that is the faith that we received, the one we learned and read about, and received at home as well. The second is describing a relationship from the bottom up. Here, it is not Hashem who is teaching, but rather the human being, out of his life experience and with his own resources, reaches the understanding that “You shall know this day.” It is more knowledge, less belief.


And from this comes the other difference between the two psukim. What a person receives from an external source will not settle completely in his heart. The person might be convinced, and certainly he or she will believe, but the heart will still have its doubts – it has its own rules. But when a person reaches an understanding through life’s experience, working from the bottom up, then immediately after “You shall know this day,” he will experience “and take to your heart.”


Shabbat Shalom – and smile, because all is for the good!


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Be a Mendel Drizin

R. Mendel Drizin z”l was big-hearted Chabad chassid. This week, I heard a story about him, told to me by a faithful and exacting friend of mine. He heard the story from Chana z”l, Drizin’s wife.

After Mendel married, he went into the real estate business and began to make good money. They were managing well, but when his wife, Chana, went to a yechidut by the Rebbe, she asked for a blessing that her husband should earn better. Although they were managing and had what they needed to pay the bills, she asked for abundance, so that they wouldn’t have to stop and make calculations before spending money. 

Friends, listen to what the Rebbe said to her – and I am purposely telling this story during the Nine Days, the days of mourning for the destruction of the Temple, because these are the days when we should be increasing out ahavat chinam (baseless love). The rebbe said to her: Tell Mendel to give tzedakah more than the “dei machsoro” – “whatever is lacking to him.” In other words, if a person is asking for tzedakah, R. Mendel should not give only the bare minimum to cover the specific needs of the poor person, but, rather, he should give generously, so that the person receiving the tzedakah will feel the generosity, that he should be comfortably well off, and then Hashem will make sure that R. Mendel, too, will have more than the necessary minimum – he too will be comfortably well off.  

And that is what happened to R. Mendel Drizin. His business dealings were blessed, and just as he gave, so he was granted from Heaven.

The last passuk of the haftara of Parashat Dvarim that we will read on Shabbat in shul, speaks of tzedakah: “Zion will be redeemed through justice and those who will return to her through tzedakah.” As the Metzudat David commentary says: The return from exile will be due to the tzedakah they will give.

Be a Mendel Drizin.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Are you wearing Apple Glasses?

This week I received a video clip of a young man sitting and pedaling on a stationary exercycle, wearing Apple Glasses that provide an “augmented reality,” as it is known these days. Suddenly he starts breathing hard, pedals faster and then tries to slow down, and then starts to shout and would have fallen off the stationary exercycle, if someone hadn’t caught him and held him, shaking.

For a moment it’s funny. The responses to the clip were laughter or at least a laughing emoji. I was also amused by the clip, but only for a moment – until I realized that the joke was on me. 

What did I see there? A man wearing a certain type of glasses that create an illusion of reality. In other words, in reality he is sitting safely on an exercycle that doesn’t move, but the glasses he is wearing are telling him that he is riding a mountain bike at top speed, and suddenly is confronted with an abyss, which he falls into. It is clear, then, why he was hyperventilating, shouting and shaking. The imaginary reality was scaring him to death.

And I, how many times do I wear such glasses? They are invisible, but I am definitely wearing glasses that create the illusion that the reality I am living in is scary, that I’m losing control – that there is an abyss, and boom! - when really, I am standing on solid ground. So is the joke on me or on him?

I envied him. At least after the fact he could see a video of himself with the Apple Glasses showing him a virtual reality. He could look at himself from the outside and see that he was needlessly alarmed and afraid, and that everything is okay. And I? Where will I find such a clip that will show me that sometimes I am wearing virtual reality glasses?

The Jewish people traveled through many places in the wilderness. Tomorrow we will read the parasha of Matot-Masei from the Torah in shul. Every stage in the journey had a story, or as they say in the Holy Land, every stage was a “parasha”. In every journey there was a “parasha” that caused some kind of upheaval. Bnei Yisrael complained time and again, at every opportunity. I am not blaming them, because I was not wearing their Apple Glasses there. But I am sure that their glasses presented to them an imaginary reality of hunger, thirst, death and more. 

So what should one do with all this? How can we examine what was, and at least learn from it for the future?

I found two tools that work for me, and perhaps they will work for others as well. Here they are: 

The first one is:

Looking back critically. No one has prepared for you a clip about your past, but you can do it yourself. And if that’s hard for you (and it is hard), then have someone else help you – a professional or a friend who thinks straight and is not afraid to tell you the truth (you can also call this a hitva’adut). Take one event that you remember from your past, tell it over, analyze it, examine its positive and negative aspects. If you manage to relive what you felt then, so much the better; it will help you focus on the issue and learn from it for the next time. Not the next time that you will go through an identical experience – because it won’t be identical – but the next time you will have to face the challenges of life; it is your behavior patterns that will be identical. Here you will be able to stop and say, “Oops, I’m repeating my mistake.”

Maybe something like Moshe Rabbeinu did in parashat Devarim. He reviewed for himself and for the people the past journeys, stopped and examined each one or at least the most significant ones, and one may say he showed Bnei Yisrael a video of themselves and their parents being alarmed in face of an imaginary reality: shaking, shouting, hyperventilating. It is clear that the goal is not just to make them feel better, but to enable them to see who, what, where and why, and thus improve in the near future and grow. 

The second tool is Aseh lecha rav – “Attach yourself to a rabbi.”

I don’t mean the rabbi whom you go to when you have questions in halacha (in the hopes that there is such a person), but, rather, the “Attach yourself to a rabbi” that the Rebbe spoke about frequently. Find a friend or some other person that you love and know that he only wants the best for you. He doesn’t have to be a community rabbi or a rabbi who gives halachic rulings, but a person who is healthy in his mind and has an open heart, and in the words of the Rebbe, the criteria for choosing a personal “rabbi” are, “First of all, one should check if there are these three signs – [he should be] shy and merciful and act with loving-kindness”. Ask for his permission and present him with the cases you are not sure about, in which you have doubts. Let him listen. He will respond without your emotional baggage because he is not wearing your augmented reality glasses. He will give you a different viewpoint, usually annoying, but clean of the self-bribery that we use with ourselves.

Wishing everyone success, 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

A wedding in Gorky

I thought that I was beyond being moved by stories of the past. All my life I have heard stories from my parents about their parents and grandparents, about their devotion to Torah, mitzvahs and gemilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness). I heard about their being arrested, exiled, dying young and other travails.

Even a video that was flying around the internet last week, in which my father and his brother tell something of their lives there, in Soviet Russia, didn’t touch me. I’m so familiar with these stories, they are in my bones; I received them as a baby with my mother’s milk.

I do think the past is important, but the future is much more important. The past is interesting, but the future is a thousand times more fascinating; and the main thing is, one can’t influence the past, but the future is there for us to shape. 

That’s what I thought at least until yesterday, when Mussi sent me a picture of herself in Nizhny Novgorod (known in the past as Gorky) in Russia. She was visiting the graves of the chassidim Shlomo and Batya Chaya Yenta Raskin z”l, my father’s grandparents. Both of them died not long after the Second World War, which means, after they had opened their home to all the Jewish refugees who arrived in the city during the terrible years of famine.

My grandfather, Rabbi Moshe Wishedski, was active in Gorky as a shaliach of the previous Rebbe, the Rayatz.

My father was born in that same city. 

Rabbi Shimon and Rebbetzin Yael Bergman are the Rebbe’s shluchim to Nizhny. The Bergmans have been ministering to the Jews in Nizhny for 25 years already. They are completely devoted to them, fulfilling every day, every hour, the Rebbe’s mission – to reach every Jew, save any soul, not to give up on anyone, to fulfill the prophecy of Yeshayahu Hanavi: “And you will be gathered up one by one, children Yisrael”. I must emphasize once more: This is not just a poetic statement, not just fine words. It is their work every day and hour. Whoever hasn’t seen the joy of a Chabadnik when he meets a Jew he’s never met before, has never seen such a pure, honest and internal joy in his life. Sometimes the shaliach didn’t know that that Jew existed and sometimes the Jew himself wasn’t aware of his own Jewishness. 

Leah, the Bergmans’ daughter, was married in Nizhny this week, and our Mussi went to participate in her friend’s wedding. She sent us many pictures of the wedding, starting from the preparations and going all the way to the sheva brachot. It was very nice to see all this, and mainly very gladdening for us. 

But the next day we received a picture of Mussi standing next to the graves of the above-mentioned grandparents. This is what she wrote: “I am in Nizhny Novgorod, formerly Gorky, for the wedding of a friend, Bergman. My sweet aunt and uncle, Chani and Itzik Gorelick, came from Kazan and took me today to the gravesite of R. Shlomo and Batya Raskin. I said a few chapters of Tehillim and invited them to [my] wedding. Regards! ❤️

And suddenly, everything came back to me. Nowadays it’s known as a “trigger”. But it was a good trigger, as positive as can be. I suddenly remembered the descriptions of the previous Chassidic wedding there in Nizhny: my grandfather’s wedding, which took place on 17 Tevet 5694 (1934) in that same city, in Gorky. I remember the letter that R. Shlomo Raskin wrote to the Rebbe on the 25th of Tevet 5694:

“…. Your letter with the blessing of Mazel Tov for the wedding day of my daughter, Shima Chasya with the perfect groom, Moshe Wishedski, we received with joy and pleasure. And I hereby announce that with Hashem’s loving-kindness upon us, the wedding took place at a good and successful time, and, Baruch Hashem, we rejoiced on a sublime level.”

He goes on to tell of the important guests at the wedding:

“My honored father shlit”a (R. Chaim Ben Zion Raskin) came and took part in our rejoicing, and among them appeared also my relative… the Ranan (R. Nisan Nemenov).” He writes some more descriptions and asks for blessings for the couple and signs: “Your servant, Shlomo, son of my father, Chaim Ben Zion shlit”a.”

Suddenly all the years became compressed, and everything looked close and real. Mussi, the Chabad school student, is about to marry Yitzchak, a student of Chabad Yeshivas. She is standing at the graves of her father’s great-grandparents and invites them to her wedding, and I see in my imagination how they are looking at her with inner joy and seeing that they were successful, that their way is being perpetuated, that it was worth all the investment; their devotion wasn’t wasted. Generations of sons and daughters stayed within the framework, exactly in the same system. What they did back then, in the 1930’s, their descendants are doing today. The blessings are the same blessings, the prayers the same prayers. 

Can you imagine?

In a letter my grandfather sent from Gorky to the Rebbe (who was already in Poland) after his wedding, he wrote: “… Please bless us that Hashem yitbarach will help us that the structure will be built on the foundations of Torah and mitzvahs.” That is exactly the same request, prayer, beseeching and blessing that Rabbi Shimon and Yael Bergman blessed their daughter and son-in-law under the chuppa, in exactly the same city – with only its name changing from Gorky to Nizhny.

* * *

I still think the future is more interesting than the past.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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