Rabbi's weekly Blog

What’s your center?

Have you heard about the “center”?

If you have seen a coach recently, or if you have even read articles by coaches of this generation, you must have encountered the concept of “center”. Life coaches will tell you that in everything you do in life – any job or project, task or even trip – you should make sure that you are not losing your center – in other words, that you are not losing your focus. When one knows why one is getting up in the morning – that is one’s center. And if one’s day is built around it, one’s schedule and choices will be clear and correct, and have a minimum of frustrations. When a family goes off on a trip, and knows the trip’s purpose, that is the trip’s center, and from then one the choice of sites or the effort and cost of the choice will be right, and healthier, because they will mirror the trip’s center.

By the way, when a man or woman are searching for a life-partner, they can save themselves most of the doubts and deliberations if they know what their center is in life.

In the second passuk of parashat Behar, the Torah tells us what the center of our life is.

Parashat Behar, which we will read tomorrow, opens with the mitzvah of Shmittah, but the order of the psukim is somewhat puzzling. The command to make a year of Shmittah, a year during which one does not work the land, comes before the Torah tells us to work the land for six years. “When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Sabbath rest of Hashem. Six years you may sow your field and for six years you may prune your vineyard.” Logically, the correct order should have been: come into the land, work for six years and then make a Sabbath year, a shmittah. Why did the Torah write it that way?

In a general letter that the Rebbe wrote during the days of Selichot of 1965 “to sons and daughters of Israel in every place,” he brought up this question, and explained: “The order in the Torah is also a teaching in itself. The order in relation to the shmittah teaches us what our approach to life should be: when a person comes to a land and has to arrange his life, he should know that the foremost, most important thing, both in terms of worldview and as a goal, is ‘Sabbath for Hashem.’ Not the material, earthly pursuits, but the spiritual and holiness-oriented ones. This approach ensures that he will not drown in material, earthly matters. Moreover, when this idea is always in front of him, the six days of grey routine change; they lose a great part of their everyday-ness. They send out more light and are fuller with content. This is the way to create a full and harmonious life.”

The Shmittah, which is a Sabbath for Hashem, is what should be the “center” of the six years of plowing and sowing, just like the weekly Shabbat and what it represents should be the center of the six days of the week. And if there is a clear center, everything is much simpler.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

Experimental mood.

There are days, when I find myself on the train at 6:30 a.m (!). Swiss trains are quiet at any time of day, but at such an early hour the silence is thundering, almost oppressive. While looking for a seat, I passed hundreds of passengers and searched for some sign of happiness, or at least a smile. It was a futile effort.

I changed my tactics and again roamed through the train, but this time smiling myself. Amazing! Many of the travelers responded with a smile; artificial, of course, but, after all, mine was artificial as well…

You might ask, what prompted this experimental mood on a morning in the month of Iyar?

Well, this week, in Parashat Emor, the Rebbe mentions the need for constant happiness. He bases himself on the Rambam, who, when explaining the matter of Simchah on the holiday of Succot – as it says in the Parasha: “And you shall rejoice before Hashem, your G-d, for seven days” – adds a ruling relating to all days of the year: “The joy that a person should feel when doing a mitzvah and loving G-d as He has commanded, is a great task.”

Generally, Adar is the month during which we speak about joy, right? And maybe it’s the right topic around the time of the holidays as well. In Iyar one generally speaks about loving other Jews and about the students of Rabbi Akiva. But the Lubavitcher Rebbe never went with the flow, and he also educated his Chassidim to go against the flow.

So yes, friends, in the month of Iyar, as well, one should be happy and joyous!

It is with this in mind that I boarded the train, and when I went against the flow and smiled at everyone, it turned out that I had made an impact. Anyone following me was probably puzzled as to why everyone on the 6:30 a.m. train was smiling.


Wishing you a Shabbat of Simchah and Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

People give advice unthinkingly

People give advice unthinkingly. Yes, unfortunately, this is really so. As an adult I have learned that much of the advice that people offer to others are not the result of an overall assessment of the situation. Usually the details are not completely accurate, and do not necessarily apply to the person who requested the advice.

Over the years I have learned whom to listen to anyway. Usually it is a person whom I consider to be a friend, with no agenda of his own beyond wanting to help me and who is a maven in realm in question.

For instance, when, over ten years ago, I wanted to buy a sefer Torah for the Chabad House, I heard all kinds of numbers and received all sorts of advice from people whose expertise consisted of having once heard the reading of the Torah. In the end, I set all of this aside, asked for writing examples from ten sofrim (ritual scribes), took them to a friend who is a sofer Stam, but who writes only tefillin and mezuzahs and not sifrei Torah, and he gave his completely objective and professional recommendation as to which sofer out of the ten to choose.

In parashat Kedoshimwhich we will read tomorrow in all the communities outside of the Land of Israel, the Torah says, “Do not put a stumbling block in front of the blind.” Rashi explains with wonderful exactitude: “in front of someone who is blind in this area – don’t give him unsuitable advice.” In other words, included in this prohibition is giving advice without thinking the matter over carefully. Because if the advice is not good for him, it is like a stumbling block.

On Shabbat parashat Beshalach, 5748 (1984), as part of what seems to me to be the Rebbe’s preparing his chassidim for his passing, the Rebbe gave a number of pieces of advice and guidelines as to how to live one’s life. “In everything connected to livelihood and getting along in life,” said the Rebbe, “one must do things according to the advice of understanding friends, according to what it says in Mishlei, ‘salvation is in abundant counsel.’ In other words, one must be a maven, and then one can be an advisor. And ‘friends’ who want only good for him, they will look into his situation as necessary and give him good advice.”

And so, when we give someone advice, we must remember that in order to do so one needs an overall view, an understanding of the person’s situation, correct understanding of the topic and mainly, true caring. If we are not sure, it is better not to give advice.

And here is what the Rebbe said on Shabbat parashat Kedoshim, 5741 (1981): From those words of Rashi, one must learn to what extent one should enter into doing a favor for another Jew: It is not enough for your advice to be good; your ‘way’ of giving advice is also very important. When you do a favor to someone, you must divest yourself of your own interests and enter completely into the other’s situation, so that your advice will not be contaminated by self-interest. And that is the fulfillment of the mitzvah of loving Jews, as written in the parasha: “you shall love your fellow as yourself.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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