Monday, May 14, 2018

Heads Held High - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Shabbos Drasha on Behar Bechukosai 5778

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from this past Shabbos, parshas Behar-Bechukosai 5778. Rav Weinberger has reviewed this write-up and any corrections are incorporated herein. Enjoy!

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 Behar-Bechukosai 5778
Heads Held High

If the opportunity arose to speak at the inauguration of the U.S. Embassy in Yerusahalyim on Monday, the below would be my message.

In this week’s parshah, we find a word which is only used once in all of Tanach. The culmination of the blessings in parshas Bechukosai contain the following statement: “I broke the staves of your yoke and led you komemius” (Vayikra 26:13). While the word komemius is based on the root word (קמה) meaning to arise, stand up, or be established, what exactly does it mean here? Let us study three different explanations.

Rashbam offers the simplest explanation: “Yokes of wood are called ‘staves’ [מוטות] because they bend [מטה] and bow the neck of the ox. Komemius is when the yolk is removed and one can straighten up his head.” According to Rashbam, komemius essentially means free or liberated. We were slaves in Egypt. But Hashem led us out toward the land of Israel as free men and women. Along these lines, Onkolus translates the phrase “led you komemius” as “led you with freedom.” Komemius therefore expresses our transition from being slaves, always looking down into the dirt, bent over, bowing down in submission to our human masters to a state of liberation, not subject to the whims of any man.

Rashi offers a second explanation of the word based on the Midrash in Toras Kohanim, “Komemius – with an upright posture.” This connotes more than simple freedom. It implies that when Hashem led us out of Egypt, we had a new attitude – a new state of mind. We felt courage and confidence. Similarly, he explains that when the passuk says, “And the children of Israel went out with an outstretched arm” (Shmos 14:8), it means with “great and public courage.”

While Chazal says, “Anyone who walks with an upright posture pushes away the legs of the Divine Presence (Kiddushin 31a), this is only with respect to an individual. On a national level, Hashem requires us to stand tall and unflinchingly uphold the honor and dignity of our people. As we say repeatedly in davening throughout Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, “And therefore place the glory of Hashem on Your nation.” Desecration of the honor of the Jewish people is a desecration of G-d’s name.

Commenting on the phrase in Birkas HaMazon, “May the Merciful One break the yoke of exile from upon our necks and lead us upright [komemius] into our land,” Rebbe Nosson zy’a, explains in Likutei Halachos (Birkas Hamazon 4:14):

For this verse is stated with respect to Eretz Yisroel, toward which the Jewish people were going. All travels, roads, and paths of the Jewish people were to conquer Eretz Yisroel…. This is what “led you komemius” means – with an upright posture, with brazenness and stubbornness, whereby we stand upright with great obstinance to be victorious in war and thereby come to Eretz Yisroel. This was the primary purpose of leaving Egypt…. It is impossible to enter Eretz Yisroel and to be victorious in this war, which is the primary war a Jewish person must fight, except through extremely great stubbornness, in the way of “led you komemius…” to our land.

But there is a third, and even deeper explanation of the word komemius. That is found in the Sfas Emes’s explanation of the word based on a mysterious Gemara which says, “Komemius means… like the two stories [קומות] of Adam HaRishon [who was two stories tall – i.e., twice the height of a ‘normal’ human being]” (Bava Basra 75a). The Sfas Emes in our parshah explains “The form of Adam was merely garment for the light of the soul of his life that was within him… So too, a Jew’s life has a hidden and a revealed element. By rectifying the revealed portion [through improvement of our character traits, by doing mitzvos, and by studying Torah], one merits the inner side, which is the hidden life of a person. This is komemius [the two stories of a person – the physical side and the deeper, hidden side].”

With this deeper explanation of komemius, we can now understand the source of the confidence, courage, and holy stubbornness that the Jewish people need in order to claim our rightful place in Eretz Yisroel. Where does it come from? How can we not be discouraged and broken by the fact that the whole world hates, condemns, and attempts to degrade us? Where do we find the wherewithal to throw of the yoke of the submissiveness of two thousand years of exile to reclaim our rightful place, standing tall in Hashem’s holy land?

The answer lies in the passuk immediately preceding the one in which Hashem said, “I broke the staves of your yoke and led you komemius.” In it, Hashem tells us, “I will walk among you.” The Infinite One Himself lives within every Jew – within the Jewish nation. Unlike the other nations of the world, we, on a national level, have a “second story.” We are not merely our physical bodies. We are not merely intelligent beasts. While the rest of the world cannot tolerate this idea, it animates us and gives us the ability to stand up tall in the face of the millions and billions of people who hate and want to destroy us.

Last week, with the announcement that the United States was pulling out of the “Iran Deal,” Hashem was giving us a wink and a smile. It was obvious to anyone with eyes in their head that this deal was a horrible mistake. When the President of the United States broke the news to the world, England, France, and Germany expressed dismay. They could not understand why anyone would renege on such a great arrangement. How could the President not trust the Iranian terrorists? While one may not say this in polite company, the real reason these nations supported the Iran deal is because of their hatred of the Jewish people. They hoped, deep inside, that perhaps Iran might potentially be their agent to succeed in finishing the job they started seventy years ago.

We draw the courage to stand up to the world and defend our honor and rightful place in our land because the Torah says, “And all the nations of the earth shall see that the name of Hashem is called upon you and they shall fear you” (Devarim 28:10). Like Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, about whom we sing on Lag BaOmer, “‘Let us create man’ was said because of you,” we know that by sanctifying Hashem’s name in Eretz Yisroel, we fulfill the purpose of Hashem’s creation of man. And this gives us confidence to face down the world, as the song continues, “Bar Yochai! You were girded with strength, and in the war of the fiery Torah up to the gate
You pulled a sword from its scabbard, you drew it against your enemies.”

Our place in Eretz Yisroel today is not the product of the fleeting kindness of the nations of the world during the brief period after the Holocaust when, because of their guilt for letting the Nazis slaughter us, that they “allowed” us to have a state simply as refuge for a poor and beleaguered minority. Our sovereignty over the land of Israel and the recognition of Yerushalayim as our eternal capital are not products of the world’s spirit of charity and pity. They are an outgrowth of the fact that we have returned to our home, upright, with confidence, brazenness, courage, and the knowledge that we bear the name of G-d within us.

Over a hundred years ago, even before the Holocaust, when some were already justifying the establishment of a Jewish state as a refuge for the pitiful Jewish people, Rav Kook said, “Do not listen to the voices of those who say that we, the most hated nation, are seeking a secure refuge from our pursuers… Rather, we are a holy nation, the choicest among the nations. ‘Judah is a lion cub’ awaking from its long slumber. And behold, it is returning to its inheritance, to the pride of Yaakov whom [Hashem] loves!”

This is the same Rav Kook who stood up to the British official, Charles Lock, who refused to act to stop the Chevron massacre in 1929. When Mr. Lock extended his hand to Rav Kook in front of the media at a reception shortly afterward, Rav Kook responded angrily, “I do not shake hands with someone whose hands are soaked in Jewish blood.” Rav Kook recognized that we need not bow our heads submissively. Rather, he showed us that Hashem is with us. We therefore return to Eretz Yisroel and to Yerushalayim with our heads held high, knowing that Hashem has returned His children to His land because He lives within and among us.

We therefore celebrate the beginning of the world’s recognition that Eretz Yisroel is our home and that Yerushalayim is the eternal heart of our holy nation – not as grateful serfs charitably thrown a bone – but as proud bearers of Hashem’s name in the world. Just like the degradation of the Jewish people was a degradation of Hashem’s name, the return of the honor of our nation return’s honor and prestige to Hashem’s name in the world. May Hashem cause the complete return of the revelation of His kingdom on earth with the advent of the complete redemption, may it come soon in our days.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Rav Moshe Weinberger - The Kohein: Made of Honor - Parshas Emor 5778

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from this past Shabbos, parshas Emor 5778.  Enjoy!

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 Emor 5778
The Kohein – Made of Honor

As the Jewish people, Hashem’s bride, walk away from Egypt and toward the acceptance of the Torah under the chuppah of Har Sinai with our chosson, Hashem, we may feel unworthy, shy, and hesitant. But the truth is that in Yiddishkeit, neither a chosson nor a kallah walk to the chuppah alone. They must each be accompanied by the best man and maid of honor, respectively. Who is Hashem’s “best man?’ Who is our maid of honor?

According to the Zohar HaKadosh, Moshe Rebbeinu is called shushbina d’Malka, Hashem’s “best man.”  On some level, Moshe Rebbeinu escorts the Holy One to His encounter with us. But the Jewish people, who felt so defiled by their immersion in the forty-nine levels of impurity of Egypt, still need to be escorted to the foot of Sinai by someone less “intimidating” than Moshe, who was on such a lofty level that he subsequently had to cover his face with a veil because of the shining light emanating from his face.

The Zohar therefore says that the one who encouraged and escorted the demure and shy Jewish people to the chuppah was Aharon HaKohein.  He was there to encourage the kallah to recognize that that she was fit to approach her chosson and receive the kesubah – the Torah, Hashem’s wedding contract with us. That is the deeper meaning of what the Mishna in Avos (1:12) says about Aharon: “lover of peace, pursuer of peace, lover of all people who brings them close to the Torah.” Aharon was the one who escorted us to Sinai to bring us close to the Torah.

That is why one opinion in the Gemara (Yuma 19a) calls the kohanim “agents of Hashem.” Hashem sends Aharon and his descendants, the kohanim, to bring us close to Him. When a Jew comes to a kohein to bring a sin offering, he pours out his feelings of guilt and the secrets of his heart to the kohein. And that kohein encourages the Jew to recognize that he deserves to be in Hashem’s house, that he is loved and welcome in the chosson’s home.

This is the message of the beginning of our parshah, which says, “Speak to the kohanim, the children of Aharon, and say to them, to a life among his nation, he shall not defile himself” (Vayikra 21:1). The Tosher Rebbe zy’a, teaches regarding this passuk that the kohanim were responsible to ensure that no one among the nation become defiled. He teaches that the word for defiled (יטמא) is related to a homonym (יטמע) which means “mix,” as this word is used by the Gemara, “so that he should not become mixed [יטמע] among the nations” (Kiddushin 20b). The kohanim escort every Jew back to the chosson and back to holiness.

Today, the tzaddikim and leaders of the generation take on the role of the kohanim in our lives (Megillah 22a). They are sent by Hashem to us to escort us back to Hashem, to take on the responsibility to ensure that no Jew is written off from holiness. No matter how far a Jew has strayed, our tzaddikim and mashpi’im may not give up on anyone. They must work with all the effort they can muster to ensure that no Jew is left behind (see II Shmuel 14;14).

On a simple level, the passuk in our parshah teaches that a kohein may not come into contact with any dead body. If a Jewish person’s body requires burial, others must attend to the task. But as for the kohein, “to a life among his nation, he shall not defile himself.”  Rashi is bothered by a question on this passuk. Why must it specify “among his nation?” He explains that this phrase indicates that the prohibition against contact with the dead only applies if the body is “among his nation,” i.e., being attended to by other members of the nation. If, however, a body is left alone with no one to ensure a proper burial, then the prohibition against contact with the dead does not apply. What do we learn from this today?

The tzaddikim and leaders’ responsibility to ensure that every Jew knows he or she is wanted and needed as part of the totality of the Jewish people exists primarily where no one else is there to ensure that someone is not left behind. If someone has family, teachers, rebbeim, friends, or teachers who are actively working with this person – if he or she is still “among his nation” – then the kohein of the generation is less accountable. But when a Jew feels like he is thrown out, abandoned, ownerless, and alone, it is then the obligation of the tzaddikim ensure that he or she is escorted back to Hashem, who is sitting on pins and needles, so to speak, waiting for His messengers to bring His kallah back to Him.

One of the most famous kohanim was the tzaddik, Rav Shlomo HaKohein from Radomsk, the Tiferes Shlomo zy’a. He once arrived, with great fanfare, to the city of Cracow. While visitors to a city normally go to the rav of a city, the rav of Cracow, Rav Shimon Sofer zt’l, the son of the Chasam Sofer zt’l, came to greet the Tiferes Shlomo upon his arrival. Rav Shimon approached the Radomsker deferentially, at which point Rav Shlomo’la asked, “Why are you the rav of Cracow?” Rav Shimon stood silently, waiting to hear what the Tiferes Shlomo would say. The tzaddik then explained:

What is the purpose of a tzaddik in a city? The answer is in the Gemara (Kiddushin 40a). It asks a question about the passuk which says, “Say of the tzaddik that he is good” )Yeshayahu 3:10). The Gemara asks, “And is there a tzaddik who is not good?!” Can a “tzaddik” be a thief? What is the passuk adding? By virtue of the fact that a person is called a tzaddik, by definition, he is good. The Gemara answers that the passuk comes to exclude a tzaddik who is good toward Heaven, but bad toward other people.

But this explanation is also lacking. The person described by the passuk is, after all, a tzaddik. If this person behaves badly toward other people, he could not, in the first instance, be described as a tzaddik. When the passuk describes the possibility of a “tzaddik who is not good,” it must mean a tzaddik who lives only for his own service of Hashem, but does not, through his study of Torah and service, work to improve other Jews’ health, spiritual connection, livelihood, and general wellbeing.

Such “not good” tzaddikim are those who, like Nadav and Avihu, “died through approaching before G-d” (Vayikra 16:1). They worked to approach G-d by themselves, without attempting to bring other Jews with them. These “leaders” are described as “dying” through their self-absorbed effort to approach G-d because they are not deserving of their positions within the Jewish people.

Do you know why you were made rav of Cracow? Was it to rule on the kashrus of dairy spoons accidently used to stir a pot of meat? There are ten rabbis on every block in Cracow who can rule on such matters. You were chosen by Providence as rav of the city to bring down livelihood, health, blessings, children, encouragement, and strength to every Jew in the city. You were chosen to be a tzaddik about whom people can say “He is good” – not only toward Heaven, but to the Jewish people.

All of us in the small minority of Jews who still have a connection to Hashem and the Torah despite two thousand years of exile and concealment can also have some part in being the kohanim of today, Hashem’s messengers sent to bring our brothers and sisters who feel lost, alone, abandoned, defiled, and full of guilt back under the chuppah – back under the shelter of the Holy One, our chosson who never stops waiting for us. May Hashem cause everyone who feels pushed aside and abandoned back under the wings of the Divine Presence with the arrival of Moshiach and the revelation of the complete redemption, may it be soon in our days.

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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Rav Moshe Weinberger - The Last Question - Parshas Acharei Mos-Kedoshim 5778

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from this past Shabbos, parshas Acharei Mos-Kedoshim 5778.  Enjoy!

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 Acharei Mos-Kedoshim 5778
The Last Question

In parshas Kedoshim, the Torah introduces the multitude of mitzvos with the commandment, “You shall be holy” (Vayikra 19:2). One would expect these mitzvos to relate to purity and impurity or the service in the Beis HaMikdash. Those, one would think, would be the key to holiness. But instead, it is followed mostly by prohibitions and commandments relating to interpersonal life. Why is this? How are these related to becoming holy? We must also understand how the teachings from our parshios relate to this coming week of sefirah, the week of Hodהוד, which means “splendor,” but can also mean “Jew – יהודי.” 

I read once about a non-Jewish politician who was elected to represent an area including parts of Hassidic Brooklyn. In order to understand his constituency better, he visited Crown Heights during the “holiday season” of Tishrei. He reported that he appreciated Rosh HaShanh. Non-Jews also have a concept of a new year and resolutions. He also felt that he understood Yom Kippur, as sin and atonement are important concepts in his religion as well. He said that he could even relate to Sukkos, which he felt was about connecting to nature. But the holiday he could not comprehend was Simchas Torah.

He asked a chossid there why Jews dance with the Torah scroll on Simchas Torah. Is it not a book of commandments and prohibitions – a rule book? After all, if a non-Jewish person danced with a driver’s education book or even a  copy of the Constitution, he would be seen as insane. Why would Jewish people celebrate the restrictions their religion places on their lives?

The chossid said that he would strengthen the politician’s question. He pointed out that before he eats dinner at night, he must first know that the species of animal he is eating a kosher. Even if it is, he must know that it was slaughtered properly. If it was, the animal had to have been examined to ensure it lacked any condition which would render it a tereifah. Then, it must be soaked, salted, and washed over a period of an hour and a half. Even if the animal could pass through this gauntlet of requirements, after that, one must still ensure that the vessels with which ones cooks the meat are kosher and were immersed in a mikvah. If so, one must confirm that the other ingredients with which the animal were cooked are kosher and that there is no mixture of dairy and meat products. But before one takes a bite, he must first make a blessing before eating, and when he is done, he must say a blessing after eating, thanking G-d for the food.

Bewildered at this litany of requirements, the politician pointed out that he could eat whatever he wants, whenever he wants, however he wants, as long as he does not harm anyone else or engage in cruelty to animals. He does not have to think about anything or anyone else before doing what he wants in life. Why, then, do Jewish people actually dance and celebrate these restrictions that seem to hem them in?

Hashem is One

The answer to the politician’s question lies in a passuk we say every day – “Shma Yisroel, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem echad.” First of all, “Hear, oh Israel” – the answer can only truly be understood by a Jew. It lies in our belief in Hashem’s oneness. On a simple level, this passuk simply means that there is only one G-d. But that is only the beginning. One of the deepest concepts in the seforim hakedoshim is recognition of G-d’s unity, that G-d is everything – there is nothing besides Him.

While this is a subject of great debate, Rema (Orach Chaim 156) and the majority of poskim maintain that non-Jews do not violate the seven mitzvos of the children of Noach if they believe in Hashem along with other gods or powers (shituf). They do not have an inherent connection to the concept of the unity of G-d. The reality is that for most people, the only thing they believe in besides G-d is themselves. They live with a duality in which there is G-d and there is me. Each side has its own priorities.

While this realization may be aspirational to one extent or another, for a Jew who believes that “G-d is one,” there is no separation between what G-d wants and what an individual wants. Because of this great bond with our Father above, we rejoice in His expression of His will to us through the Torah. That is why we celebrate on Simchas Torah. For the non-Jew who believes in “G-d and …,” Hashem’s will is an obstacle to fulfilling his own will. He is grateful G-d does not get involved in what he eats for dinner. For a Jew who believes G-d is everything, Hashem’s will is his own will. He sings and dances with joy, knowing that he is so close to G-d that He is with him even in his most mundane meals and activities. Every word, thought, and action in his life is significant because it is in the presence of G-d.

The Difference

It once happened on a hot summer day in July 1866 that the fourth Rebbe of Lubavitch, Rav Shmuel, known as the Rebbe Maharash zy”a, was sitting and learning in a shaded trellis in the garden adjacent to his home. His two sons, five-year-old Sholom DovBer, who would become the fifth Rebbe of Lubavitch, the Rebbe Rashab zy”a, and six-year-old Zalman Aharon, who would become the tzaddik known as the Raza zy”a, were playing nearby. The two of them, little Sholom DovBer and Zalman Aharon, were having a debate regarding the difference between a Jew and a non-Jew.

At the end of the debate, the boys agreed that the difference was that a Jew learns and davens and a non-Jew does not learn or daven. Their sister told the Rebbe Maharash about the debate, and the Rebbe called the boys over. He then asked them what differentiates a Jew and a non-Jew when the Jew is not learning or davening. They could not answer the question. So he asked them to call Ivan the coachman, who was not Jewish, to come to the Rebbe.

Ivan, who had grown up among Jewish people, spoke Yiddish perfectly. When he arrived, the Rebbe Rashab asked him, “Did you eat today?” “Yes.” “Did you eat well?” “Thank G-d, Yes.” “And why do you eat?,” the Rebbe asked. “So that I may live.” “And why do you want to live?” “To take a swig of vodka and have a bite to eat at the end of the day,” replied Ivan. “Thank you,” the Rebbe said, “you may go.”

The Rebbe then asked the boys to summon Bentzion, a Jewish servant in the Rebbe’s home, to join them in the trellis. Bentzion was a very simple Jew and could barely read Hebrew and mispronounced almost every word. The Rebbe asked Bentzion, “Did you eat today?” “Yes,” Bentzion replied. “Did you eat well?” Bentzion answered, “What does ‘well’ mean? Baruch Hashem, I am full.” The Rebbe then asked him, “And why do you eat?” “So that I may live.” “But,” the Rebbe asked, “why do you want to live?” Bentzion paused for a moment, a tear fell from his eye, he sighed, and then answered, “To be a Jew and do what G-d wants.” The Rebbe thanked Bentzion for coming.

Both Jews and non-Jews must eat, drink, sleep, and work. But the only thing which differentiates us is how we answer the last question – “Why do you want to live?” Ivan and the politician can answer, with a clean conscience, that they live for themselves. But if we live with “Hashem Echad,” we must ask ourselves the last question. And when we do, we must not be satisfied until we can answer that we want to live so that we can serve Hashem and give him a little nachas.

That is why Hashem gives us so many detailed mitzvos after telling us “You shall be holy.” The key to holiness is inviting Hashem into our daily, mundane lives. That is what truly differentiates us from everyone else in the world. That is the Hod, the beauty and the splendor, of being a Jew – the privilege of bowing our heads humbly to our Creator. We experience joy at the opportunity to say “asher kidshanu b’mitzvosav,” that Hashem has sanctified us with his mitzvos. The word for sanctified shares the same root word as the word kiddushin – marriage. Hashem betroths us and connects to us through each and every one of the mitzvos. May we all merit the inner-strength and bravery necessary to ask ourselves why we want to eat, sleep, drink, and work – why we want to live. 

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Highlights from Our Trip to Israel for Our Son's Bar Mitzvah - With Videos and Pictures!

We just returned from our trip to Israel in honor of our only son’s bar mitzva! The whole thing is a bit wacky so for our friends to share in the simcha and for our own memories, here is a brief summary, including a few short videos embedded for audio-visual augmentation. :-)

First of all, we originally planned a traditional bar mitzva celebration in New York, but one Shabbos, about 6 weeks before the big day, because of his desire to have his sister who is studying in seminary this year be part of the occasion, our son suggested that we consider moving the bar mitzva to Israel.

We discussed it further and ultimately decided to do the bar mitzva in conjunction with the children, bar mitzva boys, and teenagers living in the Beit Elazraki (“BE”) Children’s Home in Netanya. Some backstory: our daughter is studying this year in Midreshet Torat Chessed in Netanya, a seminary which partners with BE. The girls participating in the program do Jewish studies in the mornings, pick up a group of kids from BE to do homework and activities with them and then take them to dinner in the afternoon, and then continue learning as part of the seminary in the evenings. So while we are still doing a party for our son’s friends, we thought it would be great to make a celebration for the kids in BE rather than for all of the bar mitzva boy’s parents’ friends. :-)

We went about making all of the arrangements, finding flights, reserving an apartment on AirBnB, and planning our activities. We planned to make the Israel bar mitzva a surprise for our daughter in Israel, working out everything with her seminary, BE, and all of our Israeli and American family joining in the simcha in such a way that she would not find out about our plans. There was one individual with unintentionally loose lips though, so she did end up knowing that something was happening, but not exactly what, when, or the extent of our plans.

Here is a short video showing a few overall highlights from the trip in general:

Our son got an aliya and read haftara for parshas Titzaveh/Shabbos Zachor  at the Young Israel of North Netanya, where the rabbi is one of the rebbeim in MTC. He did an amazing job! 

On Sunday Feb 24th, we visited the only other orthodox part of my side of the family. Originally from Houston, TX, my father’s first cousin and her husband now live in Yerushalayim. Their son, my second cousin, Ari Abramowitz, of The Land of Israel Network ( and their granddaughter (daughter of their daughter) were there and it was a beautiful visit! First time I had seen them in over 20 years.

On Monday Feb. 26, we visited the Central tzedaka organization in Netanya (click HERE for their website and HERE for their donation page), which, among many other services it provides to over 1,000 recipients/families, also distributes bread from Bread for Israel, an organization founded by my CEO. He was astounded by the fact that despite the multitudes of tzedaka organizations all over Israel, that a large minority of children in Israel actually go to bed hungry each night. He therefore went to Israel and personally negotiated an extremely low price of $1 per loaf, including delivery, for bread to distribute throughout Israel. He then developed a network of distribution points and means for getting the word out to the families who need it. The organization now distributes about 100,000 loaves of bread per month, though the demand by hungry people could support an additional 100,000 loaves per month. The only obstacle is money. So let me know if you can help or give on a one-time or recurring basis at The video above has some pictures from our visit to the Netanya central tzedaka warehouse and distribution center.

And that night, we joined Yehuda Cohen, the director of BE Children’s Children’s home for an explanation of BE’s history and what it does. They literally take on the role of parents in all ways for the kids (age 0-17) who have to come to the home because they unfortunately cannot live with their parents or if their parents have passed away. They provide them with whatever they need, including therapy and tutoring, and do whatever parents would event after the kids “graduate.” They provide a place to go home to on breaks from army service, help with college, and they even pay for half the cost of weddings and even walk down the aisle with them when their parents cannot! During our bar mitzva celebration, they even live broadcast a Mazel Tov from the entire BE family to an “alumnus” who had just gotten engaged in America! 

Our son had some time to hang out with the five bar mitzva boys from BE and we were able to give them some gifts and sponsor a celebration for the entire BE family which was beautiful! We were told that this was the first time that a family came to celebrate a bar or bas mitzva with the bar or bas mitzva children from the home who is a sibling of one of the Midreshet Torat Chessed girls. Ashreinu! Here is a short video from the big night!

On Tuesday Feb. 27, we spent the morning at a private glass-firing workshop in Yerushalayim with artist Yael Vloch (), who I found out about from It was a great thing to do together! See here for a nice short video highlighting that experience:

I’m the afternoon, we got a private tour of the largest bakery in Israel, Angel’s Bakery in Jerusalem, with Yunti Burstein, one of the main logistics coordinators of Bread for Israel. I was even able to do the mitzva of taking challah for one of the gigantic batches of dough! Check out this video for a quick run-down of what bread production at that huge facility looks like:

We spent a quiet day on Taanis Esther, followed by Maariv and Megila reading at Laniado Hospital in Netanya, to which we were invited by my wife’s second cousin, one of the two orthodox families on my wife’s side, Itzik, who learns with the Rav of the hospital. Itzik is famous in Netanya for being the main source for scuba diving, surfing, and other recreation equipment, at his location by the beach affectionately known as “Itzik BaYam,” Itzik by the Sea. We then joined his family for a beautiful meal after Megilla.

Then, on Purim day we headed down to Holon, where my wife’s great-aunt was having a Purim seuda, and then headed over to to Bnei Brak for our Purim seuda with my wife’s other orthodox family, a second cousin, with a beautiful family who we also got together with last time we were in Israel as a family six years ago. Pictures from Purim are also in the video at the beginning.

On Friday morning Mar. 2, we went horseback riding on the beach in Netanya (again, pictures in the top video), which was beautiful! Then we headed to Yerushalayim where we spent Shabbos and had our meals on at the Prima Palace hotel, just off of Rechov Yafo. We had a meaningful Shabbos afternoon davening at the Kosel. After Shabbos, we sadly said goodbye to our daughter (though IY”H she is coming home for Pesach soon) and to Yerushalayim. Looking forward to next time!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

New Video of History of Aish Kodesh/Rav Moshe Weinberger Posted!

This video, created by the amazingly talented David Jassee of DMJ Studios, has amazing interviews with Rav and Rebbetzin Weinberger and many others from the shul. It has amazing pictures from past decades and the shul. It is beautiful, inspiring, and funny. I definitely reccomend seeing this extremely professional video.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Clothing Makes the Man - Rabbi Yoni Levin's Shabbos Morning Drasha - Parshas Tetzaveh

Rabbi Yoni Levin, the assistant rabbi at Aish Kodesh, was kind enough to send me his Shabbos morning drashah from this Shabbos, parshas Tetzaveh. Enjoy!
Clothing is an extraordinarily powerful tool.

 It’s not only a way of covering up one’s body, but it’s a way expressing one’s inner most feelings.  There are studies done about how people feel when it rains versus when it‘s sunny outside; and those feelings will in turn affect their decision making and particular what clothing they might wear that day. If someone is feeling down, he or she might wear black clothing.  And someone who is feeling chipper might decide to wear colorful and bright clothing. בגדי כהונהAlthough at first glance, clothing is very superficial, very external, the תורה describes the בגדי כהונה as לכבוד ולתפארת, clothing of honor and glory.   The בגדי כהונה demanded respect; it imbued a great sense of fear to whoever was זוכה to see the בגדי כהונה.

 When the כהן גדול would walk through the hallways of the בית המקדש with his long coat, almost like a cape with the melodious bells ringing, wearing his finely hand-woven shirt and pants, and those shining jewels lined across his חשן משפט, and his prestigious hat, and the name of Hashem written across his forehead.  A person would tremble at the very jingling of the bells, let alone when the כהן גדול stepped into your presence.  It would make you melt, crumble into pieces.  It would instill guilt for everything you’ve done wrong making you shatter.  You feel the presence of greatness, of קדושה, you feel as if the שכינה is hovering in front of your very eyes. It’s amazing what someone else’s clothing can do to us.   It is amazing how are feelings can be altered by someone else’s clothing.  It could make us jealous.  It could make us scared.  Sometimes it can even make us laugh. 

How Our Clothing Affects UsThat’s how other people’s clothing affects us.  But let’s not focus on other people’s clothing.  Let us take a look out ourselves.  How do our clothes affect us?  How does that shirt that I put on this morning affect me?  How do those shoes that I just slipped on affect me? 

Delivery of Uniforms on Shabbos

The following Shailah was once presented to Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach.  There was a חיל who was on duty on Shabbos at the army base.  A package was delivered and he knew that it was the new uniforms that had been ordered.  He wasn’t sure if was permitted to open it up and give them up, or if it as prohibited because of מוקצה.  The boy decided to play it safe and he did not open thr package on Shabbos.

 After Shabbos he sent the Shailah to Rav Shlomo Zalman wanting to know whether he had made the right decision or not.  Rav Shlomo Zalman’s response was that he should have opened up the package and given them out.  Because a soldier feels like a new person with a new uniform, he is reinvigorated with new energy, strength and confidence.  It will motivate him to perform and serve his duty even better.

 Rav Shlomo Zalman understood how clothing can impact a person’s confidence, his perspective, his ability to perform. 

Clothing Transforms us

Although clothing is so superficial and so external, it has an ability to transform a person.  The גמ' says that a כהן is not a כהן unless he is wearing the בגדי כהונה.  The clothing makes him into who he is.  בזמן שבגדיהם עליהם כהונתכם עליהם אין בגדיהם עליהם אין כהונתכם עליהם When a person wants to change, when a person wants to overcome a struggle, a תאוה, it requires baby steps.  It requires small changes - changes in things that seem so insignificant, so minor, so mundane, yet to easy that can have enormous impact. 

Overcoming the WeatherMy wife told me that whenever it would rain, she would wear black because that’s how she felt.  But then she starting thinking that she didn’t want to be sad, she didn’t want to be gloomy just because it was nasty outside.  She didn’t want the weather to dictate how she felt. She decided instead to fight the weather and that whenever it would rain she would do the opposite.  She would wear brighter clothing on the rainy days.  Her clothing would put her in a better mood and fight the downwards pull of the weather. 

Overcoming our יצר הרע

When kids go to Israel for a year, everyone makes fun of those guys who quickly start wearing black and white.  Many times these are the kids who are struggling most, and by them changing their clothing, it shows us where they want to be, it shows their רצון to overcome their struggles in life.  These young boys would like to be learning in the Beis Midrash more.  There is this pull that’s taking them outside.  It could be the phone, the internet; it could be girls; it could be drinking.  Whatever dark world that they are living, the have the רצון to pull out of it.  If they dress the part, they are hoping they can play the part.  Not always successful, but it comes from a deep place within them.

 The ספר חינוך is famous for writing in a number of places how the חיצוניות positively impacts the פנימיות, how the external, how one dresses really does affect the deeper part of the נשמה. This is not full-proof by any means.  Just because someone begins to dress a certain way, and affiliate with a certain type, it by no way means that the person will actually change.  But it is at the least a start.  It is an easy change and helps get the ball moving. 


Perhaps this is why the word is בגד, the 3 consecutive letters in a row, בג"ד.  This indicates how clothing, בגדים, something so small, something so mundane, can push us and encourage us helping us grow on a slow, steady and healthy path – from a ב to a ג to aד. It is similar to learning Daf Yomi which also starts with a ב, every מסכתא, starts with a בג"ד.  That too is about taking small strides in growth.  Just one Daf a day.  Even if you aren’t feeling the drive, but you know you should be learning.  Showing up for 45 minutes a day, one daf after the next, will engender a healthy growth in learning.

 This coming Monday night, thanks to Jeremy Feder, we are beginning Maseches Megilla.  Each night we will be learning one Daf.  It is a great opportunity to take upon yourself a small and reachable goal.  In just 30 days we will iy”h be making a Siyum. 

Even the Mundane is HolyI know what you are all thinking about.  Rav Weinberger goes to Israel and I am trying to convince you all to start wearing white shirts, black hats, streimels? I am not talking about what we wear, but how we wear the clothing, how we get dressed. You know, there are הלכות about how to get dressed.  Something so mundane, something so routine and something so meaningless also has rules.  And it is not because the Torah and Chachamim are trying to be difficult and make our lives miserable ח"ו, but it’s the opposite.  Getting dressed is full of so much קדושה, we just don’t realize it!  Everything in this world is full of קדושה, from getting dressed to eating, from sleeping to walking. There is קדושה everywhere we go, every person we see, every creature that we encounter, every blade of grass we see, everything we do. The כהן גדול is not a כהן גדול unless he has the special clothing.  We don’t have special clothing to wear, but perhaps if we internalized what clothing means, what it means to get dressed it can help transform us us like the בגדי כהונה did to the כהנים. 

Marine Commercial

I remember growing up seeing a commercial about joining the marines.  You would see the camera focuses on just a boot.  The boot was shiny black looking like brand new.  You would see hands tying them really neatly and comfortably.  Then the camera would focus on the body of a person putting on a perfectly tailored jacket buttoning to perfection.  Then you would see just the head with a cap being tightly placed on top.  And then the video would zoom out showing the marine in the finest uniform, standing with perfect posture ready to serve. Every morning we should be getting dressed like this.  We should be dressing up ready to meet the King of the Universe, to speak to him.  Each sock that we put on, each button that we button, should be done with care and intent on meeting face to face with בורא עולם.

 And it is not just because we have to be presentable to ה' יתברך, but because our נשמה needs it.  Our attitude and our feelings are affected by the way we dress.

 When we are struggling to fight that יצר הרע each day, we need to be prepared to battle, we need to wear our uniform in whatever color and size they come in.  We need to wake up and get dressed with confidence, with a goal, with a mission and say that today I will not give in to my יצר הרע. Just because yesterday you did something you shouldn’t have done.  You looked at something you shouldn’t have looked at.  You said something that you shouldn’t have said.  ה' יתברך gives us a new chance each morning.  We wake up and get dressed and can be transformed by putting on different clothing than the day before.  And even if you wear the same clothing his works. אדם וחוהAfter the חטא of אדם וחוה, the first thing that happened was that they got embarrassed and realized that they weren’t dressed.  הקב"ה with his boundless חסד provided them with clothing, he provided them with an opportunity to cover up their shame, the opportunity to change who they are by simply putting on clothing. 

Setting the Tone for the Day

The ספרים speak about how the first moments of the day when we wake up really sets the stage for that entire day.  If we wake up and run over to check our phone, likely that the rest of the day we will be checking our phone.  If we run over to check the scores in the game, then that will be the focus of the day. But if we wake up and look ourselves in the mirror and say that today will be a better day.  If we get dressed being cognizant that we are soldiers prepared to fight a battle and that we are getting dressed in our uniform, then our day will be filled with us overcoming fights and struggles. 


The מדרש teaches us that before the חטא of אדם וחוה, they had clothing of אור, אור with an א, meaning light.  They were clothed with light, they were surrounded by light.  Iy”h we should be זוכה by fighting the יצר הרע day in and day out to that כתונת אור to that coat of light.  By changing not what we wear but how we wear it, by dressing like soldiers, ready to battle, each day starting new, starting fresh, we should be זוכה to overcome our struggles, overcome our יצר הרע, and very soon be זוכה to the כתונת אור of אדם הראשון!

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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Narcissistic Controller or Loving Grandparent? - Yaakov and Lavan - Parshas Vayechi

In recent years, I read Lavan's unhinged rant at Yaakov as the frustration of a narcissistic parent seething that he has been unable to manipulate Yaakov and his daughters into serving his own ends (Bereishis 31:43): "The daughters are my daughters, the sons are my sons, the flocks are my flocks, and everything that you have is mine!"

I felt that had Lavan been a healthy parent and grandparent, he would have recognized that his grandchildren "belonged" to Yaakov, Rachel, Leah, Bilha, and Zilpa - and not him. Such an attitude would have demonstrated respect for his daughters and son-in-law as his grandchildren's true parents. He would only have sought to see how he could be helpful, but would not have been controling - he would not have seen his grandchildren as if they were his own children. 

So I was surprised when, this year, I noticed that in parishas Vayechi, Yaakov himself says something that initially sounds similar to what Lavan said to him years earlier (Bereishis 48:5): "And now, the two sons born to you in Egypt... are mine, they shall be like Reuven and Shimon to me." While I am aware of the normal meaning ascribed to this passuk, it would be irresponsible not to notice the similarities (and differences) between Yaakov's words here and what Lavan said to him in parshas Vayeitze.

Reading the conversation between Yaakov and Yosef, however, the whole tone is one of love and an intent on Yaakov's part to give the same blessings to Yosef's sons that he gave to his own. Lavan, on the other hand, flew into a rage because of his inability to control Yaakov and his children. 

After noticing Yaakov's words' superficial similarity to Lavan's diatribe, I revised my earlier thinking to one that is less black-and-white. After all, Chazal say on his words (Pirkei D'Rabi Eliezer 35), "Grandchildren are like children." Lavan was not wrong because it is always self-centered to consider one's grandchildren his or her own. Rather, like virtually everything else, there's a right way and a wrong way to do something.

Yaakov wanted to give Efrayim and Menashe the same blessings he was giving to his own children. Lavan wanted to control Yaakov, his grandchildren, and his daughters. The key difference is between profound love and giving to the extent that one loves his grandchildren as much as his own, on one hand, and, on the other hand, selfishness, to the extent that one believes he can control his grandchildren to the same extent he thinks he should be able to control his children, both of whom he views as his property.

May HaShem help us adopt an attitude of giving in all of our relationships, not asking what others should be doing, but rather what we can do to be helpful and of service to others!

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