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Rome isn’t beautiful as much as it exhibits power.

Rome isn’t beautiful as much as it exhibits power.

I have been in Paris as well as in Rome, Prague, Budapest and Vienna. They are more beautiful than Rome, but Rome’s might is evident in every spot in it. 

Without knowing anything about the city and its story, you can see that this is an old-world capital. During my recent visit there, my eight-year-old Chani asked me all the time: “But why did they build everything so big?” Here is a girl who has grown up in little Basel, which is like a village compared with a city like Rome. She sees the wide open spaces, the broad streets and the large buildings that send out the message of tremendous power; she sees the monuments that every general or Caesar left there so that everyone would see how great they were. Chani noticed the size and the exhibition of power immediately and was trying to understand the rationale behind it. 

Chazal called this “hamona shel Romi” in several places, which I would translate as “Rome’s might”. When I was sitting at the foot of the enormous Colosseum, I realized that now, for the first time, I could understand what the Gemara in masechet Makkot meant when it said hamona shel Romi. There is a well-known story about Rabbi Akiva, Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya and Rabbi Yehoshua reaching a point that was one hundred and twenty mil away from Rome (about 120 kilometers) and hearing the sound of hamona shel Romi. Three of them cried, but Rabbi Akiva laughed. 

For the first time, I understood how it is possible to hear hamona shel Romi from such a distance. I understood that it wasn’t that they physically heard the roar of the city, but rather they could imagine Rome’s power, its greatness. They heard and saw everywhere they went the overpowering din of the Roman Empire, which took the world by storm and created a new order. Spiritual figures such as Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues could barely hear themselves and their teachings due to that din of Rome that ruled everywhere.

These people, who differentiated between the temporary and eternal lives, holy tanna’im who learned and taught Torah and mitzvahs, exalted the life of the soul over that of the material, physical life – were surrounded by the notion that what is considered most meaningful is who is going to win by force, who hits harder. He who has a place in the Colosseum’s arena is the world’s VIP; he whose body is stronger is cheered, while his fellow, who sits in the corner and learns Talmud, doesn’t deserve to live. He who has the big money, the biggest palace, the carriage with the fine horses, is the successful one, while the person who knows how to listen to the troubles of other people, who gives to others, who chooses to forego honor, is considered a nobody.

Of course they cried – if not about this, then about what?

But I too was in a shul in Rome, for mincha and Shacharit. Rabbi Akiva’s descendants were sitting there wearing the same tefillin that Rabbi Akiva wore when he taught, wrapped in the same tallit that he taught about, and said “Shema Yisrael,” and Rabbi Akiva, who had looked ahead, and had actually predicted this back then, laughed. Of course he laughed!

The Colosseum and the Pantheon, as well as the Arch of Titus have no present and no future. They are museums. While the house of Hashem, the beautiful, magnificent shul, is still active. It is still populated by praying Jews enlivened by their spirit.

Our might was never physical, military nor political. Our power lay and still lies in our faith, which is expressed in many small everyday acts, Torah and mitzvahs. Today’s Rome speaks without words of what is passing and what is eternal; what is gone and what continues to exist forever. 

Am Yisrael Chai.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

In the picture: A Roman dressed up as a Roman – but he is really a Yaakov

Believe in it and go search for it

Almost everyday 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, “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

Happy father = happy family

I was invited some time ago to speak before a group of fathers in the Chabad community in Israel. It was during the month of Adar, and I was asked to speak about joy and happiness – as it says, “When Adar comes in, we increase happiness.” 

I chose to speak about “Happy father = happy family.”

The central message is twofold:

a.       A father should understand that he has the role of head of the family – the one who leads – and every act of his has meaning and consequences for the entire household, like in the food chain. And before you start imagining an Arabian sheikh, I will say that when I speak of the “head of the family,” I mean not so much the rights involved, but mainly the obligations.

b.      Speaking of happiness, the head of the family must understand that it is in his hands to make the day a happy day, or the evening a happy evening, and, in general, that the family should be happy.

I also quoted what the Rebbe said at the beginning of the month of Adar 1992 (5752), when he spoke about increasing happiness in Adar. He went into detail: “[This means] to make oneself happy, as well as to make others happy, starting from the members of his household – the husband increases his efforts to make his wife happy, and the parents increase their efforts to make their children happy, in ways that naturally make them happy.” I think the message is clear. Anyone who has ever tried it has seen that it works. When the father comes home happy, he infects everybody else with his joyful state of mind.

I remembered my wife’s uncle, Rabbi Shalom Ber Gorelick z”l, who was, by all definitions – a happy Jew; not so-so, not sort of, and not even “In principle, I’m happy”. He was simply a happy Jew.

I thought it would be interesting to hear from his children what it is like to be the children of a happy father. I called up one of his daughters and asked her about this. It didn’t take her long to come up with an answer. Here is what she said:

A.    Forever young. I had a father who was forever young, even when he was sick, and even when he was in his last days, he was young. Because a person who is happy remains forever young.

B.     Happiness with mitzvot. Nothing was too hard. Even if there are many guests and it was very busy and crowded, when your father is happy and excited, you don’t feel the difficulty. Or, for instance, complete strictness when it came to the Chabad laws of Pesach – when it is combined with joy, you don’t feel the difficulty or the pressure – just the joy.

C.     As children and as adults we always felt comfortable asking, wanting to be spoiled and sneaking in requests even in matters beyond the letter of the law, because as a happy person, he would say to himself, “Nu, how wonderful it is that they are healthy children and that they have an appetite for something yummy, or that they want something or other. Baruch Hashem that they ask, Baruch Hashem that they want.”

D.    It’s catching – it was passed on to us, the children, and from us to the grandchildren; which means that my father has especially happy grandchildren, and he has only himself to thank.

One more note from me: there are only a few things that we can do and see instant results. Usually it’s a matter of a process, but here there are immediate results. A father who comes home with an approach of expansiveness and happiness will see the immediate results in his own family.


So – go for it!


Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

The Na’aseh Venishma Syndrome

A couple came into my office. He is a Israeli Jew, she’s a European Jew. They were thinking of getting married and had come to find out about the procedure.

When I started to explain to them what is expected of them, the husband-to-be said that he already knows everything. His cousin’s friend had become a Ba’al Teshuva, his brother had been to Uman two years ago, and his grandfather (of course!) had been a Rabbi.

I just smiled to myself and said, “The Na’aseh Venishma (we will do and we will hear) Syndrome.”

“Na’aseh Venishma,” he repeated. “That’s what the Jews said on Mount Sinai, right?”

“Yes,” I answered. “Na’aseh Venishma is what we said when we received the Torah. But the Na’aseh Venishma Syndrome is what you are doing right now.”

And so, maintaining a pleasant demeanor, I told him of the interpretation that we have attached to Na’aseh Venishma. Originally, as we know, it is an expression of obedience to Hashem and unconditional acceptance of the Torah. But we, over the years, have turned it into “First we’ll do what seems right to us, and then we’ll hear what you have to say.”

The young man understood me immediately, and from then on listened seriously to what I had to say.

I myself experienced the Na’aseh Venishma Syndrome, when I first bought a closet from Ikea. As a proud Israeli, I didn’t think that I needed to take lessons from the Swedes of Ikea. I put together the closet – “did” it – and then, when I noticed that it was somewhat wobbly, I opened the instruction booklet and “heard” about the mistakes that I had made. Taking apart the closet and starting all over again, while muttering my frank opinion of the Swedes, taught me the hard way that one must first hear, first listen, try to understand, and only then – do.

We are about to hear tomorrow the Ten Commandments 'All that the Lord has spoken we will do and we will hear,' the children of Israel said then. 'We will do and we will hear,' we say practically every morning when we rise, 'we will do and we will hear' we implement mainly on difficult and painful days when questions and doubts arise .But please do not confuse Na’aseh Venishma with the Na’aseh Venishma Syndrome.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalman Wishedski

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