Rabbi's weekly Blog

It’s time to listen

I too am shuddering upon hearing what happened on Yom Kippur. And the truth is, not only after Yom Kippur – for a few months already I’ve been shuddering; my chest feels heavy, it’s hard to breathe and hope seems somewhat distant.

On principle, I have on my Facebook page people with a variety of opinions and styles, and it is not at all easy for me. The posts have become very extreme, biting, hurting, angry, aggressive. I am so happy I don’t have Twitter.

I want to rectify, want to do something. Can I? I am just one individual. Can I change things? I try to remember always what is said in the name of the Kotzker Rebbe: “When I was young, I wanted to change the whole world. When I grew up, I discovered that it is difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my people. When I saw that I cannot change the people, I tried to at least change my city. I failed in doing that, as well, and decided to focus on changing my family. Now that I am old, I understand that the only thing I can change is myself. And suddenly I understand that if I would have changed myself long ago, it would have influenced my family; there would have then been a change in my city and my people, and then I truly would have changed the world.”

So what can I do?

I read and now know that the social network plays a major role in this situation. But not because everyone posts, and not because there is no editing and people feel free to write whatever they want, and also not because people are writing to the keyboard and are not meeting each other enough in real life, and not even because it’s so readily available and people are letting off steam: Studies show (I read this and it sounds logical to me) that the social network makes people throughout the world more extreme because it enables us and causes us to be around people who are like us. The algorithm identifies what I like to read and sends me more of the same kind, so that people are exposed only rarely to other opinions, other thoughts and other voices, and when they are exposed, it is in the form of lurid headlines, without giving the full picture. 

As a result, people listen to the radio station that says what they want to hear, and watch news programs that show them the world as they would like to see it. 

And then, as you probably understand already, we become impatient with others, unwilling to hear, to listen, to read and see articles, columns and opinion that are not in line with our worldview. It is only a short hop from there to extremism.

So what should I do?

I think I ought to start training myself to listen to other opinions. Not to contain them – that’s already the next stage, and every stage here is very difficult – but just to practice listening. To listen to another opinion, hear it, listen to the person voicing it; usually a person expresses some emotion in his words – fear, anger, joy or hatred. We should listen to it. 

And to go back to the Kotzker Rebbe’s idea, I would start with listening to myself, hearing my opinions and trying to understand which pains and fears I’m expressing in them. Are they real? Perhaps they aren’t?

And then to hear and listen to the wife, the husband, the son and the daughter. Every one of them has what to say, what to express. Am I capable of listening to what my wife says even when it angers or scares me? Am I capable of listening to what my son has to say even when I know that what he will say might shake up my world? Am I capable of hearing what my daughter is saying when I know that every word of hers will pain me?

The festival of unity is upon us – a holiday that connects between arava and etrog; the succah that accepts everyone together. Perhaps now is the time to begin this training? According to the Kotzker Rebbe, that is how we can change the world. 

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

The perspective of an honest man

 David Trachtman was fifteen years old when the shluchim (emissaries) of Chabad arrived in Zhitomir at the beginning of the 1990’s. It didn’t take long for him to connect with them, and soon they sent him off to learn in the yeshiva in Marina Rosha synagogue in Moscow.

David Trachtman’s parents were good, honest Jews, but they did not keep Torah and mitzvahs. His grandmother lit Shabbat candles clandestinely every Friday, and when he was a child, not only did she hide them, but David himself was ashamed of her Shabbat candles. When friends came to visit, he would make sure they wouldn’t see them. But when the Chabad shluchim came to Zhitomir, it turned out that while it was possible to hide the candles, there was no way to hide the light they kindled in his heart and, as mentioned above, he returned to his roots very quickly.

In 1993 the family had the option of emigrating to Australia, but the only flight available was on Shabbat, and David was already unwilling to fly on Shabbat. Zusha Gorelick – who later became Rabbi Zusha, and still later became my brother-in-law when I married his sister – was one of the shluchim in Zhitomir. Zusha had much influence on the young David and when the dilemma around the flight came up, Zusha said that the question is actually a different one: Have you written to the Rebbe to ask for his agreement and blessing for your emigration to Australia? David immediately wrote a letter to the Rebbe and received an answer soon after. In his letter, the Rebbe agreed and gave his blessing, “And just then, my brother called from Australia, saying that he had scheduled a new flight with the Polish airline, LOT, that was taking off on Sunday.” David hasn’t seen Zusha Gorelick since then, but he also hasn’t forgotten him.

This week, David visited us in Basel as part of a “Cooking Classes” trip that he organized. He stopped in Basel for several reasons: Rabbi Luzik Gorelick z”l of Melbourne was the uncle of Zusha and of my wife, was the Rebbe’s shaliach to the Russian community; he also became David’s spiritual father, and together with Raizel, his wife, opened his home to him.

Well, after the wonderful and delicious course he gave here, gracefully presented, I got Rabbi Zusha online for a video conversation. It took Zusha a moment, but rather quickly he said, “David, is that you?” They were happy to see each other, and the story I told above in brief came up there at great length, until my hand got tired of holding the telephone. But I consoled myself with the fact that now I have something to post on Friday. “Listen,” said Zusha, “I’ll tell you something that perhaps you don’t know. I asked your late father why he was leaving Zhitomir and going to Australia. This is what he answered: ‘Since the fall of Communism, the situation here is such that in order to survive one must lie and cheat, which means also to steal here and there. This is the situation at the moment, and it looks like this is the way things will be in the coming years. I am unable to live in a situation in which I have to lie and steal. I want to move to a place where one can make a living, and in general live one’s life in an honest way.’”

David was very moved. He had never heard that from his father.

I was very impressed. What a clean point of view – the perspective of a good and honest person, who wants to live where he won’t have to cheat and lie, a person who wants to keep himself clean from the habits of lying and cheating.

And now, all that remains is to connect this to Parashat Ha’azinu or to Shabbat Shuva, or both.


Shabbat Shalom,

Chatima and Gmar Chatima Tova,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

be Rabbi Abba

I won’t write much on this Erev Rosh Hashana – just a story from the Zohar, Parashat Miketz (page 201b):

Rabbi Abba sat at the gates of the city of Lydda. He saw a person who had fallen asleep on a dirt hill. Suddenly, he saw a poisonous snake approaching the man, but just as the snake reached him, a piece of wood broke off from a tree-root and killed the snake. When the stranger woke up and rose from his place, the hill he had been sleeping on broke apart and a big chasm formed underneath – but nothing happened to him, because he had risen already and left the hill. So he was saved once again.

Rabbi Abba approached him and said, “Tell me what you do, for the Holy One, blessed be He, just made two miracles for you. Such miracles don’t come for no reason.”

The man answered: “All my life there was no one who harmed me whom I didn’t allow to make peace with me, with my forgiving him. This is what I will do to anyone who causes me pain, and I don’t pay attention to all the bad things that people do to me; moreover, from the day they harm me onward I try to do good to them.” In other words, I forgave anyone who ever harmed me, made peace with him and even tried to repay bad with good.

Rabbi Abba wept and said, “The actions of this person are greater than those of Yosef Hatzaddik – for Yosef paid back good for bad, but they were his brothers, and it was proper that he have mercy on them, but what this person does is more than what Yosef did. He is worthy of Hashem performing miracle upon miracle for him.” 

My brethren and friends, I have nothing to add.

Please accept my heartfelt wishes for Ktiva V’chatima Tova, a good sweet year, or, perhaps in two words: Mashiach now!

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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