Thursday, March 26, 2015

Searching for the Inner Afikomen - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha on Parshas Vayikra/Shabbos Hachodesh

Baruch Hashem, Rav Moshe Weinberger has reviewed this write-up of his drasha from the this past Shabbos, parshas Vayikra/Shabbos Hachodesh. You can hear an expanded version of this drasha given at the YU Sichas Mussar from Mar. 16, '15 HERE.

See here for past shiurim at's website by Rav Weinberger both as Mashpia at YU and from the past 20 years. You can also click on one of the following links to subscribe to the shiurim: emailrss feedpodcast, or iTunes. Please note that these drashos will only be available online for one month. If you notice any mistakes, please let me know so I can correct it. If you are interested in a particular drasha that is no longer online, you can email me (right sidebar) and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Vayikra – Shabbos Hachodesh 5775
Searching for the Inner Afikomen 

Because Rosh Chodesh Nissan occurs on parshas Vayikra, it seems Hashem is bringing us into the world of Pesach through the lens of the korbanos brought on the altar in the Beis Hamikdash. In order to understand how, let us study a remarkable Midrash (Vayikra Raba 2:11) together: 

When Avraham Avinu bound Yitzchak his son, Hashem instituted two rams [for the Eternal Offering], one for the morning and one for the afternoon. And why did he do all of this? So that when the Jewish people would bring the Eternal Offering on the altar and read this pasuk, “‘toward the north [side of the alter] before Hashem” (Vayikra 1:11), Hashem will remember the binding of Yitzchak: “I call the Heavens and the earth as witnesses that whether gentile or Jew, whether man or woman, whether slave or maidservant, [if one] reads this pasuk, ‘toward the north before Hashem,’ the Holy One Blessed is He will remember the binding of Yitzchak…”

It is amazing. Our whole existence is dependent on the merit of Avraham’s act of sacrificing his son. But what is the connection between the binding of Yitzchak and the reading of this one particular pasuk, “toward the north before Hashem”?

Let us learn another Midrash relevant to an early part of Avraham and Yitzchak’s lives. The pasuk says that Avraham made a great celebration to celebrate Yitzchak’s birth and health (Bereishis 21:8): “And Avraham made a great celebration on the day of Yitzchak’s weaning.” The Midrash (Bereishis Raba 25:4) says that the angels complained, “Avraham rejoiced and caused everyone to rejoice, but he did not separate a single bull or ram for Hashem!” Not allowing their complaint to stand, Hashem Himself responded: You just wait. You will see what kind of sacrifice Avraham will bring “I will tell him to sacrifice his son, and he will not withhold [him].”

How can we understand the nature of the angels’ complaint? Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, zt’l, in Derech Hashem (2:6:2), explains the process of judgment in the upper worlds. He teaches that the various types of angels each examine the hidden details of every aspect of man. Some dissect and examine the negative aspects of man’s actions and others examine the positive aspects. They see parts of us that we do not see; aspects of ourselves which are not outwardly visible.

Based on this, we can understand the angels’ complaint against Avraham Avinu at his celebration for Yitzchak’s birth. While Avraham’s celebration for the miracle of Yitzchak’s birth created a great sanctification of G-d’s name, the true measure of a person is what he is willing to give up, what he is ready to sacrifice. The angels saw that something was missing from Avraham’s feast because he did not give anything up for Hashem; he did not bring a sacrifice.

That is why Hashem gave him the test of the binding of Yitzchak. He did not even wait for the defending angel to respond to the prosecuting angel’s complaint. He wanted to show the angels that Avraham had something hidden deep inside of him that even they could not comprehend. He had the capacity to give Hashem “your son, your only son that you love, Yitzchak” (Bereishis 22:2). He was ready to give up everything he held precious in the world. That is what he had hidden within him.

That is the secret of “toward the north before Hashem.” The Hebrew word for “toward the north [צפונה]” has the same root as the word for hidden (צפון). That is why the Midrash says that the pasuk “toward the north before Hashem” reminds Hashem of the binding of Yitzchak Avinu. It reminds Hashem of Avraham’s hidden capacity for self-sacrifice. The pasuk “toward the north before Hashem” was taught in the context of the Elevation Offering, which is completely consumed by fire. The person who brings the korban and the kohanim take no portion in it. It is emblematic of a Jew’s hidden capacity to give up everything for G-d, to sacrifice his needs, wants, property, and even his life, if necessary, for the sake of his service of G-d.

But how does this connect to the month of Nissan and Pesach? The thirteenth of the fifteen parts of the Seder is Tzafun (צפון), which literally means “hidden.” At this point in the Seder, we find and eat the Afikomen. And what is the Afikomen? It is the larger portion of the matzah which was hidden earlier in the Seder. This refers to our obligation to search inside of ourselves for the hidden goodness within, our own hidden capacity for holiness. Why do we have to search this out? Because that larger part of ourselves often becomes covered by our sins or the confusion of daily life. We must therefore search for it, our own personal Afikomen.

There are actually two hidden aspects of ourselves. One is the hidden goodness within ourselves. The other is hinted at in the pasuk in Yoel (2:2), “And I will distance the northern one [הצפוני] from you.” The simple meaning of the pasuk is that Hashem will distance the northern kingdom of Bavel, located where modern-day Iran and Iraq are, from us. But on a deeper level, the Gemara (Sukkah 52a) teaches that this “northern one [הצפוני]” is “the evil inclination, which is hidden [צפון] in a person’s heart. There is an aspect of our heart which attempts to prevent us from sacrificing or giving anything up for Hashem’s sake. It demands that we withhold parts of our heart and our lives from G-d. This aspect of us tries to keep the greater, holy part of ourselves, the “piece of G-d above” that resides within us, from being found. It may permit us to do some mitzvos and hold feasts for Hashem, as long as we don’t give up anything for G-d.

The greatness of Avraham was how he was willing to give over everything, whether hidden or revealed. Our challenge is to look for our own inner Afikomen, the greater piece of ourselves which we can give over to Hashem. Are we willing to give up little things for Hashem? Can we sacrifice that few extra minutes of sleep to come to shul on time? Can we give up speaking about our insights into international politics for an hour a day to avoid talking during davening? Can we sacrifice a few minutes of rest to be in the beis medrash in our seat when our scheduled time for learning begins?

The goal of the Seder is to find our own inner Afikomen to the point where giving our inner life over to Hashem becomes second nature. That is why we conclude the Seder with a “game” of free association. We reach the point when someone asks, “Who knows one?” and the first thing that comes to mind is “One is Hashem in the Heavens and the Earth.” If someone says, “Who knows Five?,” the first thing that comes to mind is “the five books of the Torah.” The Chazon Ish, zt’l, wrote a letter to one of his students who spent all of his time studying Torah, “The main thing is to remember before whom you are toiling.” A person can do mitzvos and study Torah without being aware of the “Who knows one.” He live a “religious” life without ever searching for or finding the Afikomen, the inner part of himself which is ready to sacrifice for G-d and live not for himself, but for Hashem.

May we all merit to actualize that inner part of ourselves, our Afikomen, our greater self by demonstrating a willingness to give things up for Hashem, a willingness to sacrifice for G-d. And in that merit, may Hashem grant us the ability to once again offer the korban Pesach and Elevation offerings in the Beis Hamikdash, may it be rebuilt soon in our days with the coming of Moshiach.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Partners in Creation - Every Jew a Kohein - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Vayakhel-Pikudei Drasha - Video

In this drasha, Rav Weinberger told an amazing story, that many are already familiar with, of Noam Apter, a bachur at the Otniel yeshiva who gave his life saving the rest of his yeshiva in a terrorist attack in 2002. A documentary about Noam follows right after my write-up of the drasha below.

Baruch Hashem, Rav Moshe Weinberger has reviewed this write-up of his drasha from the this past Shabbos, parshas Vayakhel-Pikudei. See here for past shiurim at's website by Rav Weinberger both as Mashpia at YU and from the past 20 years. You can also click on one of the following links to subscribe to the shiurim: emailrss feedpodcast, or iTunes. Please note that these drashos will only be available online for one month. If you notice any mistakes, please let me know so I can correct it. If you are interested in a particular drasha that is no longer online, you can email me (right sidebar) and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Vayakhel-Pikudei 5775
Partners in Creation – Every Jew a Kohein 

In halacha, the first thing a Jew does when he gets up in the morning is wash each of his hands three times, netilas yadayim. The Rashba maintains that the source for this halacha is in this week’s parshas (Shmos 40:30-32): “And you shall place the kiyor [wash basin] between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall place water into it for washing. And Moshe and Aharon shall wash their hands and feet from it…” We see from here that the Torah calls netilas yadayim “washing.” Chazal, on the other hand call the kohanim’s use of the kiyor, “sanctifying the hands and feet” (see, e.g., Tamid 1:4).  

Chazal knew that the Torah’s description of netilas yadayim as “washing” could have been misunderstood to refer to a physical cleansing. They therefore made sure to dispel any mistake by calling it “sanctification.” Its purpose is not to remove impurity or dirt. Rather, netilas yadayim is a positive act, designed to sanctify the kohanim in preparation for their service in the Beis Hamikdash. But what is the connection between the kohanim’s netilas yadayim and a Jew doing netilas yadayim when he or she first wakes up in the morning? 

The Torah explains in this week’s parsha that there were three steps involved in the kohanim’s inauguration to their service in the Mishkan: (1) immersion in the mikvah; (2) donning the garments of the kohanim; and (3) being anointed with oil (Shmos 30:12-13). After they were first brought into service in the Mishkan, the kohanim’s preparation for each day’s service differed with respect to the third step on the list; sanctifying the hands and feet with the kiyor (ibid. 20-21) rather than being anointed with oil.   

We see therefore that the kohanim’s use of the kiyor to sanctify their hands and feet with water was an integral part of their service in the Beis Hamikdash. The pasuk even says that the obligation to sanctify their hands and feet was so critical that a kohein would be subject to the death penalty in the Heavenly court if he even entered the Beis Hamikdash without having washed (ibid.; Rambam, Frankel edition, Bias Hamikdash 5:1, 9:1). Why is it so important for the kohanim to rededicate themselves to their service by sanctifying their hands and feet before each day’s service? Why is this a continuing obligation?  

Perhaps we can understand this by contemplating the corollary of the kohanim’s sanctification of their hands and feet – our mitzvah to do netilas yadayim every morning. Just before we wash in the morning, we say, “I acknowledge before You, living and enduring King, that You returned me my soul…” We see from these words that a Jew is like a newborn child every single day. Hashem wants us to look at the world every day with fresh eyes. He wants us to see our family, friends, the Torah, our surroundings, and the world at large as if it was for the first time. 

This is reflected in the simple but powerful words of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (2:6): “Because a person, when he rises from his bed in the morning, is like one newly formed to serve the Creator, he must sanctify and wash his hands using a vessel like a kohein who would sanctify his hands every day from the kiyor before his service.”  

Rav Ganzfried (author of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch) is teaching us that the reason we do netilas yadayim in the morning is in order to rededicate ourselves to a brand new service of G-d each day. And by comparing this service in our daily lives to the kohanim’s service, he is telling us that the world around us in which we service G-d is like the Beis Hamikdash! Every kitchen, office, campus, basement, or train in which we find ourselves each day is like the courtyard of the Beis Hamikdash to us. That is why we must approach those places with proper preparation, by doing netilas yadayim with a sober recognition of the gravity of the holy activities in which we are about to involve ourselves. Daily life has a purpose.

The pasuk (Iyov 19:26) says, “In my flesh I see G-d.” How can we relate to this? We know that the seforim hakedoshim teach that Hashem created and creates the world through ten attributes called sefiros. The Sefer Hayetzira (1:3) also teaches that the ten fingers of our hands, through which we fulfill the mitzvos, correspond to the ten sefiros. Putting aside what this means on a kabalistic level, we can now understand why we must sanctify our hands every morning. With our ten fingers, we are partners with Hashem in creating and rectifying the world around us. We must look at everything, at shul, home, work, and on the street, and ask: What is missing here? What can I do to fix G-d’s world and make it better? Recognizing that I am like a kohein in the Beis Hamikdash in my daily life, I must sanctify my hands because I must use them to complete G-d’s creation of the world. 

I saw a beautiful explanation in the name of a bachur, a student at the Hesder Yeshivat Otniel, named Noam Apter. He asks why, of all the parts of the body, the kohanim had to wash their hands and feet. Answering his own question, he suggests that perhaps it was because of the two parts of the pasuk (Shmos 30:20): “When they came to the Tent of Meeting… or when they approach the altar to serve…” He suggests that there are two ways that a person must prepare himself to serve Hashem. First is the aspect of “they came to the Tent of Meeting.” Sometimes it is difficult to even decide to go to the right place. Our feet must take us to where we are supposed to be – to the beis medresh, to shul, to work, or the like. We must ensure that our feet take us to the right environment. The kohanim’s obligation to sanctify their feet correspond to this aspect of Divine service. 

But Noam suggests that there is a second step. Once we are where we are supposed to be, we must “approach the altar to serve.” We must actually use our hands to carry out the service in that place. We must do our duty. That is the significance of the kohanim’s obligation to sanctify their hands. 

And who was Noam Apter? He was on kitchen duty in the dining room of Yeshivat Otniel on Shabbos night, December 27, 2002 with three other bochurim: Gavriel Hoter, Tzvi Ziemen, and Yehuda Bamberger. Two terrorists with guns and body armor broke into the kitchen and began firing on the four bochurim in the kitchen. Noam realized that the terrorists were about to go from the kitchen into the main dining room where seventy bochurim were eating the Shabbos meal. 

Although he was carrying a gun, Noam used his last second of life, before the terrorists shot him, to close and lock the sliding door separating the kitchen from the dining room in order to give the bochurim time to hide or flee. Rather than use that second to escape or risk only stopping one of the terrorists with his gun, Noam locked himself into the kitchen with the terrorists so that he could save everyone else. 

Noam sanctified his feet by running to the door; not to escape, but to sacrifice himself to save everyone else. And Noam sanctified his hands by using them to lock himself in with the terrorists rather than retrieve his gun.  Because of Noam’s holy service, IDF soldiers and other armed bochurim and rebbeim were able to eventually neutralize the terrorists. Noam’s body was found in front of the locked door riddled with bullet holes, evidence of his sacrifice which prevented any deaths beyond the four bochurim in the kitchen. The Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Beni Kalmanzon, said that when he found Noam’s body in front of the door, he saw a serene look on the young man’s face. 

With G-d’s help, none of us will be called upon to dedicate our feet and hands to G-d’s service in the same way Noam did. May we instead merit to see ourselves as partners with Hashem in the creation and perfection of the world so that we may live in a way that sanctifies G-d’s name by dedicating our hands and feet to the service of G-d and the sanctification of His Name.

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Monday, March 9, 2015

Raising Holy Tablet Breakers - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha on Parshas Ki Sisa

Baruch Hashem, Rav Moshe Weinberger has reviewed this write-up of his drasha from the this past Shabbos, parshas Tetzaveh/Shabbos Zachor. See here for past shiurim at's website by Rav Weinberger both as Mashpia at YU and from the past 20 years. You can also click on one of the following links to subscribe to the shiurim: emailrss feedpodcast, or iTunes. Please note that these drashos will only be available online for one month. If you notice any mistakes, please let me know so I can correct it. If you are interested in a particular drasha that is no longer online, you can email me (right sidebar) and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.
Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Ki Sisa 5775
Raising Holy Tablet Breakers 
What did we take with us from Purim? One lesson was the rectification of that which Amalek tried to do to us. The pasuk (Devarim 25:17) says, “Remember what Amalek did to you [לך]…” The inner Amalek tries to cause us to focus only on ourselves, on “you.”  It attempts to make a person think that he does not need anyone else, to live in his own little world indifferent to those around him. But the focus of Purim is (Esther 4:16), “Go gather together all the Jewish people…” Similarly, in this week’s parsha, the Torah teaches us that when Moshe took a census of the Jewish people, he was commanded to do so by causing every person to give a half Shekel (Shmos 30:13). This also teaches us that we must see ourselves as only “half” a person, as lacking without other people. 
There are two bar mitzvahs this Shabbos. And the families of the two bar mitzvah boys have demonstrated to their sons and to the entire community what it means not to fall into the Amalek-like trap of focusing only on their own world. It is natural for a family to only care about their own celebration and not step outside of their own personal perspective. But the families of these two boys have brought their sons into the world of mitzvos in the best possible way, by demonstrating the quality of ויתור, of giving up something to which they felt entitled because they recognize the needs and wants of others. May Hashem grant us all such humility, refinement, and other-centeredness as these two families.
Our parsha also contains a lesson regarding what it means to grow up. Every year it is so hard to read the story of the golden calf and the breaking of the tablets, the luchos. How could the Jewish people have possibly fallen so far so soon after personally hearing Hashem’s voice on Sinai merely because of a slight perceived delay in Moshe’s return from the mountain? 
One way we can understand it is through the lens of the Kuzari by Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, zy’a. He explains that the root of the people’s sin was not actually idol worship. Rather, their mistake was that they attempted to channel their faith in G-d into something which they could feel and touch. 
This desire, while misguided, is understandable and natural. The reality is that it is very difficult to talk to and serve a G-d we cannot see. In one of my shiurim at yeshiva this week, I asked the boys: “What is more difficult: davening or learning?” They all answered that davening was more difficult. I asked them why. One young man asked me if I was sure I wanted to hear the truth. I confirmed that I did. He answered, “It is so hard to daven because I feel like I am just talking to the wall.” The desire to see and feel Hashem’s presence is very strong because it is truly difficult to internalize Hashem’s presence before us when we cannot see Him. That is why the Kuzari explains that “The intention of the nation was not to depart from the service of G-d. Rather, they believed that they were working toward the service [of G-d].” They were really saying (Mechilta D’Rabbi Yishmael, Yisro, 2), “Our desire is to see our King!” 
The truth is that what the Jewish people went through is the paradigm for the growing pains  every person experiences when he grows up. That is the path from spiritual immaturity to spiritual adulthood. The Torah tells us (Shmos 32:16), “The luchos were the work of G-d and the writing was the writing of G-d.” Everything came from G-d. And in reality, nothing could be greater than that. But as a person grows to spiritual maturity, he begins to wonder, “Where am I in all of this?” We felt like children whose parents did everything for them. That is wonderful but as children mature, they will never feel like whole human beings until they begin creating a life for themselves by making their own choices. 
Moshe descended from Sinai and saw the people dancing around the work of their own hands. He recognized that a mature nation can only rejoice in spiritual accomplishments it makes on its own. The Jewish people were like children who rejected that which their parents gave them. Moshe saw that in the end, forcing us to accept the Torah (Shabbos 88a) simply did not work. That is why he threw down “the work of G-d” and “the writing of G-d.” And Hashem acknowledged that Moshe did the right thing when He said (ibid. 87a), “You acted correctly by breaking [the luchos].”
We have never had a generation of children when parents were able to give more to their children. We give them everything, including the beliefs and the Torah life of our fathers and mothers. But our children continue to rebel like in previous generations. It is apparent that the problem is not a failure to bring down more Yiddishkeit on our children from above. At some point in their lives, they must make Torah their own. And in order to do so, they feel that they have no choice but to shatter the luchos given to them by their parents. 
There are so many ways to serve G-d within the parameters of Yiddishkeit. But we must understand that many of those will not coincide with the exact brand of Yiddishkeit we feel most comfortable in or in which we raise our children. They must blaze their own path in the service of G-d. Only then will they feel ownership of it. Only then will it last forver like the second set of luchos which Moshe, not Hashem, carved. 
The root of this principle is the fact that (Menachos 99b) “The foundation of the Torah is its nullification.” While the Jewish people stumbled and sinned grievously by building the golden calf, their attempt to fashion their own way in the service of G-d was actually a step toward a more mature, ground-up way of serving G-d. So too when our children stumble in their efforts to forge their own identity, independent from the way we raised them, we pray that they eventually will find a path within Yiddishkeit that they have taken personal ownership of, which belongs to them.
We also find this underlying concept in halacha. According to the [still confirming source], when a father redeems his first-born son from the Kohein (the pidyon haben), he makes a festive meal because the child is transitioning from the sanctity of being set aside for holiness to the more permissive mundane life of a regular Jew. But why is this a reason to celebrate? It sounds more like a reason to mourn! The child is going from a state of holiness with which he was born to a lower state, one in which he will have to eventually be involved in humdrum physical life. The answer must be that a state of holiness which only exists because one is born with it is like the first luchos which came from G-d. It is wonderful but it is not the ultimate goal.  The pidyon haben ceremony is like Moshe’s breaking of the luchos. It signifies the transition from a G-d-given, unearned Yiddishkeit, to one in which a person will work to find his own way toward Hashem’s service.
The breaking of the luchos brings about a tremendous loss of the Torah which came before. But ultimately “the nullification of Torah is its foundation” because that is what gives us the power to choose and toil in Torah, to find the sanctity of Torah for ourselves. It enables us to fashion a path within Yiddishkeit that we have made with our own hands. That is what it means to leave the sanctity of G-d’s womb and enter a mundane human life which belongs to us. The Yiddishkeit we choose has much more staying power than the Yiddishkeit handed to us. That is the secret of what it means to be a bar mitzvah as well. It means to forge one’s own path.
The Ibn Ezra explains, in the name of the Geonim, that the second luchos were greater than the first because they were carved by Moshe. They correspond to the oral Torah, in which we discover and derive the Torah’s teachings on our own. Because we work out the Torah’s message inch-by-inch, word-by-word, on our own, it belongs to us. We acquire it. It is ours. “At the beginning, [the Torah] is called in the name of Hashem, but in the end, it is called in his name [the name of the one who studied it].” (Avodah Zara 19a). The pre-golden calf Torah which comes purely from above does not last. When we mature, we must break the luchos which are the work of Hashem’s “hands” and build our own personal relationship with G-d from the ground up.

Along these lines, the Baal Haturim offers an amazing explanation of the pasuk regarding the relationship between Yaakov and Yosef, which the Torah (Bereishis 37:3) explains as “because he was a son of his old age [זקנים].” The Baal Haturim says that the word for old age, זקנים, lacks the letter Vav. According to this spelling, the word is an acronym for five of the six sections of Mishna: Zeraim (ז), Kodshim (ק), Nashim (נ), Yeshuos (meaning Nezikin - י), and Moed (מ). The Baal Haturim teaches that Yaakov gave all of this over to Yosef. But one of the six sections of the Mishna is missing. There is one section Yaakov never gave over to Yosef. And that is Taharos, the laws regarding that which is holy. A parent can give over all of the “do’s” and “don’ts” to a child. But he cannot transmit holiness to the child. That is something the child must discover and attain on his own according to his own path in Yiddishkeit, a path he acquires himself.
Parents must have the wisdom, gentleness, and patience to give their children the luchos of their beliefs, of their love, and their own sacrifice for Hashem and Torah. But at the same time, they must have the flexibility, humility, and broad-mindedness to encourage them to forge their own path in Yiddishkeit. That is true wisdom. May all of us merit to raise our children in this way and may we merit to see our children successfully fashion a path in Yiddishkeit that belongs to them so that every generation will continue rising higher than the one before, each in its own unique way.

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Calling Out Modern-Day Evil - Print for Purim Seuda! - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Shabbos Zachor Drasha

Baruch Hashem, Rav Moshe Weinberger has reviewed this write-up of his drasha from the this past Shabbos, parshas Tetzaveh/Shabbos Zachor. See here for past shiurim at's website by Rav Weinberger both as Mashpia at YU and from the past 20 years. You can also click on one of the following links to subscribe to the shiurim: emailrss feedpodcast, or iTunes. Please note that these drashos will only be available online for one month. If you notice any mistakes, please let me know so I can correct it. If you are interested in a particular drasha that is no longer online, you can email me (right sidebar) and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Tetzaveh – Parshas Zachor 5775
Calling Out Modern-Day Evil

I have been waiting for this Shabbos when we remember the actions of those who have attempted to destroy us for months now. Although I am going to speak about things I usually avoid discussing on Shabbos, as I watch the events in Europe and throughout the Middle East, I cannot help but feel that we are living Part II of the story of “And it was in the Days of Achashveirosh” (Esther 1:1). Just like in the days of Achashveirosh, we have a dispute about the leader of our own country (Megillah 12a): Is he a foolish king or a wicked king? Our President says repeatedly in every speech, “Make no mistake… Let me be perfectly clear.” And we know from experience that everything he says after that introduction is a confusing obfuscation of truth, an utter lack of clarity.
Purim is a holiday of stark contrasts. As we say in the song Shoshanas Yaakov, “Cursed is Haman who attempted to destroy me” and “Blessed is Mordechai the Jew.” We have “Cursed is Zeresh the wife of the one who terrorized me” and “Blessed is Esther [who sacrificed] for me.” The Megillah refers on one hand to “king” Achashveirosh. But it also refers to “The King,” the hidden King of all kings who acts behind the scenes. Purim means making a place in our lives for both parts.
While gratitude to Hashem, rejoicing in His salvation, gifts to the poor and to our friends, and celebration, are a major part of Purim, an equally important part of the day is hatred of that which is truly evil in the world. Therefore, when we celebrate on Purim by drinking a little bit, “when the wine goes in, the secret comes out” (Eiruvin 65a). Our inhibitions and political correctness subside and we call out the alternate text of Shoshanas Yaakov, “Cursed are all of the wicked!”
Certainly everything in Yiddishkeit starts and ends with the quality of love. In the second blessing before Shma, we say every day, “You have loved Your nation Israel with an eternal love.” In Shma, we say the pasuk (Devarim 6:5), “And you shall love Hashem your G-d will all your heart, with all your soul, and with all of your resources.” The Torah teaches us, “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18). Love is the foundation of the world and is the overarching emphasis in our service of G-d. And the ultimate goal of “turn away from evil” is to “do good” (cf. Tehillim 34:15).  As Rabbeinu Bachaya says, “a little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.” That is always the primary emphasis.
But the truth is that love is not everything. The western world is drunk with the idea that, as the song says, “All you need is love.” That is the perverse current formulation of a concept which originated in the teachings of the well-known apostate from Nazareth. The reality is that “Those who love Hashem hate evil” (Tehillim 97:10). This is a positive form of hate; one which is not only permissible, but obligatory. In the western mind, love is always good and hate is always bad. But this extremist, black-and-white approach is foolish, false, and very dangerous. The truth is that there is a good form of love and a bad form of love. There is a good form of hate and a bad form of hate. We have an obligation to clearly identify evil and evil-doers and work to stop and, if necessary, destroy them. It is forbidden to indiscriminately love everyone and everything.
Judaism is not a religion of love. Nor is it a religion of hate. It is a religion of truth. As long as there are evil acts and evildoers in the world, there will be a limitation on where love is appropriate. If one loves wicked people, he begins to identify with them and eventually justifies and becomes caught up with them, ultimately throwing his lot in with them in every way.
The Rambam rules (Hilchos Melachim 5:5) that “it is forbidden to forget his [Amalek’s] enmity and hatred.” And the Chayei Adam (155:2) teaches us that “It is a positive commandment from the Torah to remember what Amalek did and to hate him with a hatred fixed into the heart…” Why is this? It is because “Those who love Hashem hate evil.”
The same thing that makes a person love Hashem causes him to hate evil. That is why the Alter Rebbe, zy’a, teaches us in the tenth chapter of the Tanya regarding a complete tzadik: “The extent of the greatness of his love for Hashem is the extent of his hatred for the Other Side and his complete disgust with evil.” It is not that those who love Hashem “also” hate evil. Their love of Hashem itself gives birth to hatred of evil people and their evil actions. The same way a modest, loving mother hates someone who abuses her child, a tzadik’s hatred for evil does not come from anger, jealousy, or arrogance. Rather, it arises from the powerful purity and refinement of his love for G-d. “Love is powerful like death… its coals are like the coals of the fire of the flames of G-d.” When a fiery love of G-d comes into contact with evil, that evil is completely consumed.
This is the message of Shabbos Zachor. We must clearly identify evil. We must “make no mistake” and “be completely clear.” Esther answered the question “Who is this and where is he” (Esther 7:5) without hesitation or equivocation: “This evil Haman!” (ibid. 6).  

For some reason, our President has been unable to do this. He demonstrated how he has blinded himself to anti-Semitism when he characterized the massacre of four Jews in a kosher grocery store in Paris as a “bunch of violent, vicious zealots [of no particular religion]… randomly shoot[ing] a bunch of folks [of no particular religion] in a deli in Paris.” The President’s elves initially tried to justify this unwillingness to name radical Islam as the culprit and the Jewish people as their target. We can never fight evil if the titular leader of the free world refuses to even acknowledge the nature and perpetrators of such evil.
The evil people of the world today completely negate the image of G-d in man. They viciously behead, slaughter, and enslave Christians, Yazidis, and Kurds all over the Middle East, not to mention how they butcher other Muslims who disagree with them, including burning a Muslim pilot alive as part of their worldwide PR campaign. Shabbos Zachor reminds us that we must clearly identify and condemn evil in our own time. We cannot fall prey to the same mistake our President makes by refusing to call radical Islam out as the source of the problem and clearly identify Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS, the Syrian Regime, Fatah/the PLO, and their ilk as the purveyors of the most inhumane forms of evil perpetrated in the world today against non-Muslims and Muslims alike.
Someone pointed out to me this week that in chassidus, we always learn that there is a spark of holiness in everything in the world, from the most benign to the most evil. He asked whether we should seek out the good in evil ideologies, regimes, and organizations in the world today. Does the Gemara not say (Gitin 57b), “the great-grandchildren of Haman studied Torah in Bnei Brak!” I explained to him that while this is true, how Hashem ultimately redeems the good in the evil things of this world today is none of our concern. He will extract sparks of goodness according to His plan. But as long as something reveals itself as pure evil in this world, we must relate to it as such.[1]
It is true that the Arizal teaches that the pasuk, “And regarding Yishmael, I have heard you [Avraham]” (Bereishis 17:20), refers to how G-d took note of the spark of holiness within Yishmael. In addition, Reb Shimon Ostropoler, zy’a, teaches that Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish, Reish Lakish, was a reincarnation of Yishmael. He further explains that because the word for “And He heard, וישמע” is related to the name Shimon (שמעון), the pasuk (ibid. 21:17) “And G-d heard the voice of the boy [Yishmael]… where he was” hints at the fact that the soul of Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish was already deep within Yishmael. Notwithstanding all of that, the fact that good or bad would come from Yishmael or his descendants in the distant future was not part of the calculation at the time. Yishmael was only saved because he was deserving at the time. We must relate to evil exclusively according to its manifestation as evil as long as its spark of goodness remains hidden. As-yet-unredeemed holiness is none of our concern.
Our President, who refuses to identify or confront evil in our time, demonstrated his deep fear of Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking before a joint session of Congress and meeting with a bipartisan group of Senators by attempting to humiliate and embarrass him in order to discredit his message about the dangers of a nuclear Iran. President Obama is terrified because he knows that Netanyahu will do what he always does; identify the evil, terror-supporting Islamic Iranian regime as an existential danger to Israel and the free world. He knows Netanyahu will “be perfectly clear” and “make no mistake” when he answers the question “Who is this and where is he?”
Obama knows that the Prime Minister will shatter his whitewashed image of terrorism as a few random extremists radicalized by poverty and lack of opportunity with no connection to the worldwide Iran-funded systematic recruitment to radical Islam happening all over the Middle East and Europe. He knows Netanyahu will point out the evil nation that sits on the same point on the map as ancient Persia; the nation that attempted to annihilate our people just as the Ayatollahs seek to do today.
It is no coincidence that amidst the mitzvos of Purim related to love and friendship is the mitzvah to remember the evil of the nation of Amalek. One is the natural result of the other. “Those who love Hashem hate evil.” While the primary mitzvah to destroy Amalek today can only be fulfilled by destroying our own inner Amalek-like qualities, coldness and detachment toward an enthusiastic, wholehearted service of G-d, we must also fulfill the mitzvah by recognizing and calling out the evil and evildoers of the day. May Hashem bless us by giving us and our leaders the clarity and courage to unequivocally identify and destroy the evil ideologies, organizations, and regimes prevalent the world.

[1] The good hidden inside a Jewish soul of a wicked person’s body is different because that good is revealed on some level even here in this world.

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Friday, February 27, 2015

Holy Monkeys of Adar - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha from Parshas Terumah

Baruch Hashem, Rav Moshe Weinberger has reviewed this write-up of his drasha from the this past Shabbos, parshas Teruma. See here for past shiurim at's website by Rav Weinberger both as Mashpia at YU and from the past 20 years. You can also click on one of the following links to subscribe to the shiurim: emailrss feedpodcast, or iTunes. Please note that these drashos will only be available online for one month. If you notice any mistakes, please let me know so I can correct it. If you are interested in a particular drasha that is no longer online, you can email me (right sidebar) and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Terumah 5775
Holy Monkeys of Adar 

According to the Sefer Hayetzira, each month of the year is associated with a letter of the Alef Beis. It says about the month of Adar, “He crowned the letter Kuf with laughter.” He made the letter Kuf the “king” of the month of Adar with laughter because “when Adar enters, we increase joy” (Taanis 29a). But what does it mean that the letter Kuf is king of the month of Adar? And how is Kuf associated with joy or laughter? 

We know that each letter of the Alef Beis comes from an underlying concept based on the root meaning of that letter’s name. For example, the letter Alef (אלף) is associated with the acquisition of wisdom, as the pasuk (Iyov 33:33) says, “And I will teach you [ואאלפך] wisdom.” The letter Beis (בית) means house. The letter Gimel (גמל) means to give (גומל). And the letter Dalet (דלת) means a poor person (דל). But what could the letter Kuf (קוף), which means “monkey,” signify? 

Reb Tzadok Hakohein of Lublin, zy’a, explains the significance of the letter Kuf in this context in a number of places in his sefer Machshevos Charutz and other seforim. He teaches us that the concept of a monkey, like almost everything in the world, has a holy side and an unholy side. The relevant characteristic of a monkey for our purposes is its tendency to imitate. “Monkey see monkey do.” This can be a very holy trait.  

The eighth positive mitzvah in the Torah according to the Rambam (Sefer Hamitzos, Positive Mitzva 8), based on the pasuk (Devarim 29:9), “And you shall walk in His ways,” is to “imitate” G-d. Just as He is merciful, so too we must be merciful. That is what it means to be a “holy monkey.” Man is created in the image of G-d, and has unlimited potential to be G-d-like by means of this imitation of G-d’s ways. 

But there is also an unholy concept of a monkey. This refers to one who mistakes this “resemblance” to Gd and actually forgets that he is not G-d. His delusions of grandeur are so prominent in his mind that he thinks he is in control of himself and his destiny, that he is a god. This is the attitude of Amalek, which becomes so large in its own mind that there is no place left for the Divine. 

But what does it mean to actualize our holy potential to make ourselves more G-dlike? The Gemara (Yerushalmi, Shekalim 1:2) explains that the beginning of this week’s parsha uses the word “gift” three times. It says that each use of the word refers to a different type of gift. The Half Shekel coins that every Jew was commanded to give were used to fund two parts of the Mishkan: (i) the 100 “holy sockets” (Shmos 38:27) which formed the foundation of the Mishkan’s structure and (ii) the communal offerings. Every Jew gave the same amount for these two aspects of the Mishkan; a Half Shekel. The third type of gift was the donations of all types of materials which were used to build the Mishkan. For these donations, each person gave something different, each person according to his ability to the extent his heart moved him to do so (ibid. 35:2). 

What is the significance of the fact that every Jew gave a Half Shekel to supply the sockets which supported the Mishkan? According to the Tikunei Zohar (131b), the 100 sockets correspond to the 100 brachos a Jew must say every day. But what is the connection between these two things? 

The Gemara (Megillah 13b) teaches us, “It is revealed and known… that Haman would in the future weigh shkalim… Therefore, He preempted their [the Jewish people’s] shkalim to his [Haman’s] shkalim….” Haman offered to pay Achashveirosh 10,000 “loaves” of shkalim for the right to destroy the Jewish people (Esther 3:9). How can it be that each Jew’s seemingly insignificant Half Shekel is powerful enough to counteract Haman’s million shkalim?

The secret of the Half Shekel is that it expresses how a Jew values even the tiny things that he does for G-d or another person. The quality of Haman and Amalek is only to value things that are massive; a million shkalim. Similarly, the voice of Amalek within each of us tempts us to look dismissively and derisively at the little things, the small mitzvos and acts of kindness a person may want to do.  Haman exhibited this quality when, after recounting his tremendous wealth, power, prestige, and honor to his family, how it all meant nothing to him as long as Mordechai was alive and free (Esther 5:13). Unless he had everything, even a lot meant nothing.   

But a Jew values every single “crumb” of holiness. That is the message of Purim (פורים), which is related to the word פירורים, crumbs. The evil inclination tells us: “If you resolve to finish Shas, the entire Talmud, that is an accomplishment. But if all you intend to accomplish today is to understand the Tosafos in front of you… meh.” Such a meager “crumb of holiness is not worthy of G-d’s “twin.”

This is also reflected in the fact that the word shekel (שקל) is an acronym for the words “שכבך, קומיך, לכתך, your lying down, your getting up, your walking.” A Jew’s contribution to making this world a more Divine place is not usually expressed by the major, worldwide projects he is involved in. Rather, he draws G-dliness into the world through the way he gets up every morning on time to learn and daven, in the way he makes a personal inventory and says krias Shma before he goes to bed, and in the way he conducts himself honestly, and with davening and Torah study while traveling from place to place. 

That is why the Sefer Hayetzira says Hashem crowns he letter Kuf, which hints at the holy quality of imitation, during the month of Adar. We imitate G-d best by living a life of holiness through the little details of our daily routines. And the numerical value of the letter Kuf is 100, which hints to the 100 sockets of the Mishkan which were funded by the Half Shekel of each and every little Jew. It also hints at the 100 brachos a Jew says every day. Those 100 brachos express our gratitude for every little detail of life. We become more G-dlike by not only appreciating the big things Hashem gives us, but also by not taking the minutiae for granted. And those little Half Shekels of life create vessels for G-d’s holiness to be revealed in the world. That is why the Half Shekel was used to make the sockets, which formed the foundation of the Mishkan, the physical dwelling-place for Hashem’s presence in the world.

There is a form of social media today called WhatsApp, which allows people to create groups to communicate and share ideas with one another. I was in the car with my wife this week and her phone began beeping repeatedly. I asked her what was happening and she explained that one of the women in shul had established a WhatsApp group for ladies who wanted to be involved in preparing meals or bringing gifts to families who are new to the neighborhood or the shul, to make sure they felt welcome. She read me the messages as they arrived on her phone. Every notification represented a new offer, “Do you need me to bring a welcome basket to this family,” “I can invite that family over for Shabbos,” “Do you know of anyone who has moved into the neighborhood recently who we can deliver cookies to?” I was incredibly inspired. Each of those little acts of kindness and friendship may seem insignificant, but such acts of love and companionship are the foundation of G-d’s presence in the world.

I had a conversation with a member of the shul who just lost his mother this week. This woman survived the Holocaust. At the end of the War, she was only nine years old and found herself all alone, without a single family member to take care of her. This man was incredibly devoted to his mother and drove to visit her in Brooklyn virtually every day. As we were talking at the funeral, he broke down in tears and began lamenting how he would no longer have the privilege of taking out his mother’s garbage. His words have stayed with me throughout the week.  

Those little things are the focus of life. That is what it means to be a Jew. Some people think that being a good son means throwing his parents a gala 50th anniversary wedding party at the Marina Del Ray wedding hall. The same person may find that it is not worth his while to set aside five minutes to call his mother and ask how she is doing. That is the delusion brought on by the quality of Amalek within. 

We began the month of Adar in exile. But with Hashem’s help, may we internalize and appreciate the value of the little things we do for G-d and for other people. And in that merit, may we see the conclusion of this month of Adar in Yerushalayim with the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash and the arrival of the complete redemption.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

As a Favor to Dixie Yid, Please Read!

Howdy y'all! I want to ask you to read something about my son's cheder, Siach Yitzchak, which is an amazing place, with the hopes that you will buy a raffle ticket (and write my name in the "Referred By" box) to support the school. The drawing will be this Sunday, Feb. 15th, though that date will probably be extended a bit. Tickets are $100 for one ticket and $360 for five. The prize is a choice between (i) $20,000 cash or (ii) $25,000 toward a Sefer Torah, a trip to Israel for 10, or a new car.
As I wrote the last two years, Siach Yitzchak is unlike almost any other yeshiva that I have heard of. Please see those links to prior posts where I detailed a few examples of things that show how Reb Dovid Sitnick (who was appointed to head the cheder by its founder, Rav Shlomo Freifeld) has created a cheder in which the boys experience how Yiddishkeit and Torah are the most precious things in the world. My son is now in fourth grade and has been in the cheder since he was three years old. In addition to the observations I related in my previous posts about the cheder, here are a few more examples of things which I feel make Siach Yitzchak stand out as such an unusual and special place:
  • My daughter told me that, as my wife was dropping our son off at school after one of the major snowstorms in the past couple of weeks, she observed Rabbi Seide, the educational director of the cheder, lifting as many boys as he could over the huge pile of snow on the side of the road as they came to school.
  • The rebbeim truly care about the boys and it comes across in everything. My son's rebbe from Pre-1-A (4 years ago) sat down with him the other day to ask him about his recent extra-curricular Mishnayos learning (with me) and discussed with him ideas on what to learn next!
  • At PTA conferences last month, our son's rebbe advised us, when reviewing each day's kriah homework with our son, that we should go back to make sure he understands the words he had a problem with. But he added that the homework should not take more than about 20 minutes. He told us we should stop in the middle if it does because beyond that, it will just drive him crazy and it will become counterproductive.
  • The previous example, along with the energy and excitement the rebbeim put in, show that their entire focus is on giving the kids not just technical learning skills, but, even more importantly, a love for learning and a feeling of satisfaction from it.

With all of the lack of excitement about Yiddishkeit and the focus on externals that we see are so prevalent in some yeshivos, I feel so blessed that we have merited to find and be able to send our son to a cheder like this.
As a favor, I therefore ask you to please go right away to buy a raffle ticket before the end of the day this Sunday, February 15th! Thank you!
In the website form, please write "Dixie Yid" or my real name (if you know it) in the "Referred By" box. If you feel more comfortable, you can also call the cheder's office number (718-327-6247) to give them your credit card info or you can give it to me at 516-668-6397 and I can take care of it for you. Note that the system allows you to pay for the ticket(s) all at once or split it up over 4 payments. Shkoyach!!

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