Monday, July 6, 2015

Rabbi Yoni Levin's Innagural Drasha as Assistant Rabbi at Aish Kodesh, Woodmere - Parshas Balack 5775

This past Monday (a week ago today), Aish Kodesh in Woodmere held an all-membership meeting at which Rav Moshe Weinberger and the board announced that Rav Weinberger had selected Aish Kodesh's first assistant rabbi: Rabbi Yoni Levin. Rav Weinberger spoke very, very highly about Rabbi Levin and his Rebbetzin, Randi. He definitely has a very impressive background, as you can see from his biography on the YUTorah page where his shiurim are posted:

Rabbi Yoni Levin is currently the assistant rabbi at Congregation Aish Kodesh and a rebbe at Yeshivas Lev Shlomo, in Woodmere, NY, an affiliate of HALB. He graduated from Yeshiva College with a B.S. in Mathematics and a minor in Business from the Sy Syms School of Business. He received semicha from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University, and was a fellow at the prestigious Beren Kollel Elyon at RIETS. Rabbi Levin also studied in Israel for a year and a half at Yeshivat Hakotel. In addition, he has written scholarly Torah articles in Yeshiva University’s annual publications, Beis Yitzchak and Kol Tzvi. Rabbi Levin has participated in numerous Yeshiva University Communtiy Kollelim, including the DRS High School kollel in Long Island and others in the New York area. Rabbi Levin has also spent time in the workforce at PricewaterhouseCoopers in the actuarial department. Rabbi Levin and his wife Randi currently live in Woodmere with their five children, Batsheva, Yocheved, Yeshaya, Zev, and Yisroel Meir.

This past Shabbos, parhas Balak, Rav Weinberger was away and we had the zechus to hear Rabbi Levin for the first time as our new assistant rabbi. And he used the opportunity not only to give a drasha, but to share some feelings about beginning his formal role with the shul. This time, it was not me who wrote up the drasha. Rather, Rabbi Levin himself wrote the following, just as Rabbi Norman Lamm did. It is my privilege to share the following drasha with my readership, which Rabbi Levin was kind enough to permit me to reproduce here:

Rabbi Yoni Levin
Parshas Balak 5775

This is a most humbling honor.

On behalf of my wife, I would like to begin by expressing our gratitude to the רבונו שלום for this very special and unique opportunity to be part of this קהילה קדושה, a קהילה that has been founded on חסידות, פנימיות, לימוד התורה, personal growth, growth in learning, drawing close to one another, drawing closer to Hashem.
During the past 2 years of giving the morning daf yomi shiur, I have been met with only positive encounters.  This is a קהילה filled with warmth, care, and a קהילה that possesses an extraordinary powerful desire to learn, grow, and spread Hashem’s Torah.

I have had the great זכות in participating in the various shul-wide events many of which have been led and organized by יצחק מרדכי Feder.  Each event filled with singing, Torah, rebbe, and אחדות.  The חנוכה מסיבה at the Lawrence’s, the ט"ו בשבט סדר at the Shuckmans, the Purim Chagiga at the Gelmans, and the ultimate ל"ג בעומר celebration.  In addition to the בני מחשבה טובה chaburahs that have been organized by Reb Yirmi Ginsberg and hosted by the Gelmans, Perkels, Lerners, Rosens, Hoenigs, and the Horowitzs.  

Recently, under the guidance and initiative of Efrayim Nudman, Shaul Harari, and Yaakov Meir Cohen, the shul has begun several new programs.  The one that I personally have been involved in, is the Sunday morning Chabura.  It has been quite a success as a great way to begin our week with in-depth learning.  I very much love the interactions that I have which each one of the participants and it’s inspiring to see the tremendous amount of enthusiasm as the Kol Torah echoes through the upstairs Beis Midrash. 

What is unique about these events is that each one of them has been initiated by one of you.  Each one of you has an overwhelming רצון to create more events, to infuse more learning, and host these various events. 

We can’t forgot the women who are either allowing, encouraging, or even pushing their husbands to come out and learn on Sundays, or early mornings, Shabbos afternoons, or late nights.   

It is our hope that my wife and I can assist in any way possible in fulfilling the mission of this קהילה קדושה.

It is our dream that we can help every member, every family grow in learning, grow in Avodas Hashem each at his or her own pace and level. 

Prior to my joining of the shul 2 years ago, I had never met Rav Weinberger shlit”a.  Yet quickly, Rav Weinberger turned into rebbe.  Even though I am being forced to sit up front, I am a talmid, a congregant of rebbe just as much as any of you are. 

I thirst rebbe’s Torah like any of you. I try to guess at which Shachris minyan rebbe will be davening just to catch a glimpse of the tzadik that we are so blessed to have among us. 

I have had many rebbeim throughout my years in yeshiva and still stay in touch with many of them.  But I have never had a rebbe like ours.  A master of all trades – a master in נגלה, a master in נסתר, a master in עיצה. 

It is with much gratitude to Rebbe for giving me this wonderful opportunity, to work with him in serving this wonderful קהילה קדושה.  I thank him and you, the קהילה, for placing trust in me and look forward to an amazing year as we strive to fulfill our mission as a unit, as a קהילה until the coming of משיח when we will continue this very mission in ירושלים במהרה בימינו אמן! 

There is an astonishing gemara that appears in Berachos (12b).  The חכמים had a fleeting thought to insert the entire פרשת בלק smack in the middle of קריאת שמע.  Could you imagine saying שמע ישראל ה' אלקינו ה' אחד and then go off on a tangent in reciting the entire פרשת בלק?! 

And the only reason why they held back, was because it would be a טירחא דציבור, an extreme burden upon the קהילה, having to recite the entire פרשת בלק twice a day in addition the rest of davening.

So what was the reason in the first place if this idea inserting פרשת בלק in קריאת שמע, the height of our תפילה, interrupting our קבלת עול מלכות שמים? 

Where is there room in שמע when we are in the midst of being מקבל קבלת עול מלכות שמים to insert the story of בלק and בלעם, the story individuals who wanted to destroy כלל ישראל? 

The answer is found in the gemara. The גמרא explains that we would have read the entire פרשת בלק just for the sake of one פסוק.  There is this one פסוק that finds its appropriate placement smack in the middle of  קריאת שמע and that פסוק is: 

כרע שכב כארי וכלביא מי יקימנו – “He will crouch and lay down like a lion, like a young lion – who then can stand up against him?” 

It doesn’t come across as a very powerful statement – not earth stretching by any stretch of the imagination.   This is the pasuk that was but so close to being  inserted in שמע?  What does the pasuk even mean? 

Rashi explains that this pasuk is similar to the words that appear in שמע of בשכבך ובקומך that הקב"ה watches over us when we get up, when we are awake and when we sleep.   Just as we describe in קריאת שמע how Hashem protects us all day and night, so too this פסוק from פרשת בלק describes this very same concept that Hashem protects us.  For this reason, for this similarity, there was a thought to include פרשת בלק within קריאת שמע.

The truth is, this is the theme of all of פרשת בלק.  As כלל ישראל was innocently journeying through the מדבר their enemies were plotting against them as they always are.  And without us knowing, הקב"ה as always, protected us, ensured our safety.  He is constantly fighting our battles, He is forever protecting us from our enemies.   

When we are כרע שכב כארי וכלביא מי יקימנו – even when we are sleeping who can stand up against us with the protection of Hashem. 

During many of such occurrences, we find ourselves in a deep slumber completely oblivious to the details of the behind the scenes, but when we recite קריאת שמע, when we read פרשת בלק, we are reminded that even though we don’t see and even though we don’t hear of these ניסים, we know that הקב"ה is forever protecting us. 

והיא שעמדה לאבותינו ולנו שלא אחד עמד עלינו לכלותינו הקב"ה מצילנו מידם

This is the message of קריאת שמע, this is the message of פרשת בלק, this is the message of the פסוק -    כרע שכב כארי וכלביא מי יקימנו.   Hashem is forever watching over us. 

But there are times when we do forget this and we don’t realize that Hashem is watching over us.  When times are good, prosperous there is a tendency to forget the source of everything.  We speed through קריאת שמע, we don’t internalize this concept, we tend to forget that Hashem is watching over us. 

Today is שבעה עשר בתמוז, the beginning of the 3 weeks, the beginning of בין המצרים.  It is a תקופה where we feel distant from Hashem, when we recognize the lack of the בית המקדש, the disconnect from Hashem, from ארץ ישראל, from ירושלים, and feel almost forgotten just as we have forgotten Hashem.  We are in a period of very intense אבילות which underscores the distance we are feeling from Hashem.

How are we supposed to react to this distance?  How do we draw closer when feel the we are drifting further and further? 

A few months ago, I sat in a lecture from Rabbi Motti Berger in Aish Hatorah in the Old City.  He gives a very intense and engaging lecture.  He had presented 2 scenarios asking which would bring a person closer to Hashem - someone who won the lottery and would have no financial worries or someone, as he described and apologize for being so extreme in this example, who was on the top floor of the World Trade Center as the plane hit the building below.  The undisputed answer was that the one experiencing the fear, pain, and threat would sooner acknowledge and draw closer to Hashem. 

During these trying times, when a person is helpless, there is nobody to rely on except for our Father in Heaven, אבינו שבשמים.  We are being cornered, we are being forced to recognize Hashem.

Hashem is twisting our arm, making us so uncomfortable through this period of 3 weeks until we scream “mercy”.  Until we realize that there is nothing but Hashem Above.

But the Magid of Mezeritch explains differently.  He gives a positive spin to this period of 3 weeks.  The idea is not that we are being shoved into the center of the circle to dance with the Choson, but instead the Choson is coming out to greet us.   Hashem is coming closer to us. 

Allow me to explain. 

The Pasuk in Eicha says that "כל רודפיה השיגוה בין המצרים".  The Magid explains that כל רודפיה, anyone who is רודף י-ה, one who chases Hashem will be משיג him, will catch him, will come to close him, specifically during the period of the בין המצרים.   

But how is it that during this time period when we feel so distant, we don’t see the light, is it possible to draw closer to Hashem?  How does that make sense to draw closer when we are missing the main vehicle to שמים?  We don’t have the בית המקדש, we don’t have קרבנות, we have no way to connect. 

I recently had taken my kids to Disney World, the Magic Kingdom.  I need to thank Hurricane Sandy and the insurance company in helping build up credit cards points to pay for the trip. 

Now in Magic Kingdom, the king is Mickey Mouse.  As you can imagine there are many long lines throughout the park and to take a picture with Mickey is no different.  Well for the most part.  Waiting to see Mickey is a bit different.

The line for just taking a picture with Mickey begins outside this large building towards the front of the park.  And as you move inside the building, you go through this door and you think you are there ready to take that photo you’ve been waiting for.  But then you pass through another door… and you are still not there, until you pass through one final door where you find yourself in the innermost chamber but still waiting behind a few more families to meet the king. 

The palace, the guards, the glory, make for a beautiful picture, it instills fear, honor, and respect.  But imagine if there were no palace, imagine if the king were to be walking through the streets with no place to hide.  There would be no honor, there would be no glory, but it would make for a more accessible king, it would allow us to see him, come close to him, build a relationship. 

Says the Magid, that this period of time when we commemorate the destruction of the בית המקדש among other Jewish calamities, there are no walls, no guards, no barriers – Hashem is completely accessible.  We can approach him, we can build a relationship, we can draw closer to Him.  This is an incredible opportunity for us to draw closer.

Embedded within בין המצרים is a tremendous amount of potential to come closer to Hashem. 

The שו"ע paskens that one should not recite שהחיינו since it is a period of אבילות, one should not say a ברכה of שהחיינו which express ones thanks and gratitude, one’s שמחה with the purchase of a new house or new fruit.

The גר"א, however, argues that this is an unnecessary חומרא and one may recite a שהחיינו.  Perhaps the idea is that in fact reciting שהחיינו is not contradictory to this period of time.  Although on the surface בין המצרים is a period of mourning, but in its פנימיות there is שמחה, Hashem is closer than any other time of the year, there are no walls and no barriers. 

This is why on תשעה באב itself, which would seem to be the lowest day of the year, we don’t recite תחנון, because in פנימיות as חז"ל tells us, תשעה באב  is actually a מועד, it’s a day of celebration.  Not on the surface, but in its פנימיות and we therefore omit תחנון.

Perhaps this is what is meant by the פסוק in פרשת בלק

כרע שכב כארי וכלביא מי יקימנו – “He will crouch and lay down like a lion, like a young lion – who then can stand up against him?”

When we are down and hurting, sleeping like a lion, destroyed and distant, sad and mourning, מי יקמינו, who can stand up against us? 

Our closest connection is specifically during times like these, the period of בין המצרים.  That is when Hashem draws closer to us.  That is when we draw closer to each other, that is when we have אחדות like we saw just a year ago with the 3 boys in Israel.

The גמרא tells us that when something bad happens we say ברוך דיין אמת but לעתיד לבוא we will say a טוב המטיב because even the bad is really good.  We don’t realize it because on the surface it appears to be bad, but everything is really good.  Even the 3 weeks are very good.  In פנימיות everything is good, its only in the external that things appear otherwise.

It is my hope and תפילה, that we come to the point soon of recognizing everything as טוב,  where we can take every opportunity, every event, every milestone as an opportunity to draw closer to Hashem and draw closer to each other, as we grow as a community, as a קהילה led by our leader, rebbe,  with our common goal, our common mission.

Again, I thank you all for this most humbling honor and most remarkable opportunity.  I look forward to getting to know each and every one of you in the upcoming year.


Click here to get Dixie Yid in your e-mail Inbox or here to "follow" me on Twitter.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Your Wellsprings Shall Spread Forth - Rav Weinberger's Drasha from This Shabbos - Parshas Chukas

Baruch Hashem, Rav Weinberger has approved this version of my write-up of his drasha from this Shabbos, parshas Chukas. 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 Chukas 5775
Your Wellsprings Shall Spread Forth

The Jewish people experienced two miracles in the desert for which we sang a song to Hashem. The first and most famous was the song at the sea (Shmos 15:1-19). The second and much less well-known is the song at the well in this week’s parsha (Bamidbar 21:17-20). The most striking difference between them is the fact that the song at the sea begins, “Then Moshe and the children of Israel sang…,” whereas the song at the well begins, “Then the Jewish people sang this song…” with no mention of Moshe Rebbeinu. Why was he left out of this second song?

When the Jewish people sang the song at the sea, we were still in our infancy as a nation. “For Israel is a youth and I love him” (Hoshea 11:1). Moshe Rebbeinu led us in the song at the sea because we had not yet reached a state of maturity. We could not compose our own song. So he led us in the song word for word and we repeated after him. We did not even understand the full depth and importance of what we were experiencing, so Moshe taught us how to sing. He taught us the deeper meaning of what we went through. Moshe was the adult and we were the children. As the pasuk homiletically says, “Efraim is a son who is dear to me” (Yirmiyahu 31:19).

But forty years later, in our parsha, just before we were about to enter the land of Israel, our nation had matured. We were then able to compose a song to Hashem on our own. We no longer needed Moshe to do it for us. We were then able to compose our own song, “Then the Jewish people sang this song, ‘Spring up O well, sing to it!’”

The Sfas Emes explains differently. According to him, Moshe and the Jewish people sang the song at the sea together because both were on the same level. But at the end of the forty years in the desert, after we had done teshuva for the many mistakes we had made, we were on an even higher level than Moshe, as the Gemara (Brachos 34b) says, “Complete tzadikim cannot stand in the place where baalei teshuva stand.” Because the Jewish people were on a higher level than Moshe at the end of our time in the desert, the pasuk says that we sang the song at the well without Moshe. We had surpassed him.

We can connect the understanding mentioned earlier, that the Jewish people praised Hashem on their own, without Moshe’s guidance because we had matured to the point that we were able to compose our own song to G-d, to two beautiful psukim written by Shlomo Hamelech. In Mishlei (5:15-16), he compares four stages in a person’s life to four sources of water: “Drink water out of your cistern and running water out of your well. And your spring will be dispersed outside and streams [rivers] of water will flow in the broad places.” We see here four sources of water: a cistern, a well, a spring, and a river. Each of these four sources of water has different characteristics.

A cistern is not an independent source of water. It only has whatever water people put in it. We cannot take anything from it that we did not place into it. A well, on the other hand, is an independent source of water, but it is limited. The water does not rise above a certain point. And the only way to access it is for someone to lower a bucket into the well and draw the water out. A spring is qualitatively different. Not only is it an independent source of water, but the water must find a way to come out of the ground. It will search until it finds a way to emerge. And a river is even more powerful. It rushes across the ground in huge streams and currents and will not be stopped.

These four sources of water also correspond to four stages in an individual’s life. The cistern corresponds to one’s childhood. Before a person begins to think independently, all he has are the thoughts, information, and good qualities imparted to him by his parents, rebbeim, and teachers. He has nothing other than what is put into him, just like a cistern only has whatever water was placed in it.

The next stage of life begins around the time of one’s bar or bas mitzvah. Some people begin to mature at a younger age and many others do not start maturing until much later. Men in particular sometimes do not begin to grow up until they are in their forties and others leave the world without ever forsaking their infantile thinking. Women, thankfully, generally mature at a much younger age. The well corresponds to this stage in life. It is no coincidence that this transition from childhood into adolescence is called “bar” mitzvah, which is related to the phrase “be’er [באר] mitzvah, the well of the mitzvah.” At this stage, the child begins to think independently. He asks deeper questions and starts to draw his own conclusions. But like a well, his waters do not spring forth on their own. His parents, rebbeim, and teachers must lower a bucket down into him to draw out his own deeper thoughts, feelings, and actions.

The third stage of life is when things truly begin to get lively. At this stage, a young man or woman becomes like a spring. His or her waters, i.e., unique ideas and ideals begin to spring forth without any coaxing from parents, rebbeim, or teachers. This young person becomes, as the Mishna in Avos (2:8) says, a “מעיין המתגבר, an ever-strengthening wellspring.” It is also no coincidence that the word for “ever-strengthening” is מתגבר, which has the same letters as מתבגר, maturing. A young person who reaches this wellspring stage of life cannot contain the good, the idealism, the talent, the knowledge, and the creativity he or she has inside. It must find a means of expression. It must burst forth and it does so of its own power. Parents, rebbeim, or teachers need not coax out the waters of this person’s inner greatness.

The final stage is the raging river. A person who reaches this stage in life has ideas, knowledge and ideals which he must spread as widely as possible. Someone like this is compelled to teach others, to lead, to write, and to bring major projects to fruition. His waters spread forth and cover all of the expanses of the earth.

The miracle of the well was how Hashem turned a dry rock into a flowing well of water. This is similar to the wellspring of creativity, talent, idealism, knowledge, and generosity hidden within the Jewish people. At the beginning, our parents and teachers – Moshe Rebbeinu and Aharon Hakohein – had to draw our waters, our song, out from us word by word. But over the forty years in the desert, we grew up and matured.

Like any young person transitioning from childhood into adulthood, we caused our teachers untold aggravation and pain during our time in the desert. Those were our teenage years. We were testing the limits and trying form an independent identity from our teachers before we knew how to do so in a constructive way. But in the end, we became a mature nation, ready to compose our own song to Hashem from our own waters, our own song at the well.

The truth is that when we sang the song at the well, it was not a song praising Hashem for giving us the well for the first time. That had happened forty years earlier. We were on the cusp of entering Eretz Yisroel and we were soon going to say goodbye to the well, to the water we were given based on the merit of Miriam. We were able to end the time in our national life when Moshe, Aharon and Miriam led us and drew out the goodness from within us. That epoch in our history was coming to a close.

So the song at the well was really a goodbye song. We gave thanks for our teachers’ guidance when we needed it as we prepared for our national adulthood and independence in the only place on earth where we could actualize the full breadth of our inner greatness – in Eretz Yisroel, about which the pasuk (Devarim 8:7) says, “For Hashem your G-d is bringing you to a good land, a land with rivers of water, wellsprings, and deep [waters] going forth in the valley and in the mountain.” We were leaving the age of the cistern and the well and entering the time of the wellspring and the raging river.

Because the song at the well functioned as a goodbye ballad to our teachers, it contains a reference to Moshe Rebbeinu and his death. In it, we said (Bamidbar 21:20), “From the heights to the valley in the field of Moav, at the top of the summit [ראש הפסגה] that overlooks the wastelands.” And at the end of the Torah (Devarim 34:1), when Moshe was ascending Har Nevo as he was about to leave the world, the pasuk says, “And Moshe went up from the plains of Moav to Har Nevo [to the] top of the summit [ראש הפסגה] facing Yericho…” This reference to the top of the summit in the song at the well was therefore a hint at Moshe Rebbeinu, to whom they were about to bid farewell.

The chevrusa of the Sar Shalom of Belz, zy’a, was the great gaon and tzadik, Rav Shalom Kaminka, zy’a. One day, one of Rav Shalom’s chassidim had yohrtzeit, and, as was the custom, he planned to bring some schnapps and kichel on which the other chassidim would make a bracha in memory of the person for whom this chassid was saying kaddish. Unfortunately, he forgot to bring the bag he had prepared with the food. He panicked when he remembered and asked someone next to him, “Oh! Can you ask a young boy to run to my house to get the kichel and schnapps?” But before anyone knew what had happened, the Rebbe, Rav Shalom, threw off his talis and tefillin and ran to the man’s house to bring what he needed for the yohrtzeit. The chossid was mortified. When the rebbe returned, he pleaded with him, “Rebbe! Please forgive me! I never meant to ask the Rebbe to get the food for me! I asked someone to get a young boy to do it!”

So the Rebbe answered him, “Let me tell you why I ran to get your kichel and schnapps. Before I became a bar mitzvah, I did not want to grow up. So I made an agreement with the Master of the World. I said I would only grow up on condition that whenever I wanted, I could go back to being a child again. When I heard you say you needed a young boy to bring what you needed from home, I chose that moment to take advantage of the condition I made with Hashem and took it upon myself to run to your house to fetch what you needed, just like a child would.”

All of us have the ability to fulfill our own unique potential and draw from our own inner creativity to illuminate the world. But we also have the ability to do so with the freshness and exuberance of a child, just like Rav Shalom Kaminka. May we all merit to grow up to spread our inner gifts, creativity, thoughts, ideals, knowledge, and talents in the world independently while never losing that sense of childlike wonder and excitement.

Click here to get Dixie Yid in your e-mail Inbox or here to "follow" me on Twitter.

Monday, June 22, 2015

More of the Roses - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha from this Shabbos - Parshas Korach

Baruch Hashem, Rav Weinberger has approved this version of my write-up of his drasha from this Shabbos, parshas Korach. 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 Korach 5775
More of the Roses 

Every year we struggle to understand how a great person like Korach could have fallen so far. When we read the psukim, Korach appears to be a horrible person. But when we look in the seforim hakedoshim, we see another side of him – an aspect of greatness. Even in Tehillim, we see a number of positive references to Korach’s sons. One of the most fascinating of these is the beginning of the 45th chapter of Tehillim: “For the conductor, on the roses, by the sons of Korach, a Maskil, a song of endearment. My heart is astir with a good thing to say, ‘My works are for the king…’” What makes this particular chapter of Tehillim “for the conductor”? What is its connection to roses? And why is it called a “Maskil?” 

The Chozeh of Lublin, zy’a, in his sefer Zos Zikaron, quotes the following Midrash: “Korach says, ‘Hashem wants [us] to burn incense before Him in firepans of gold and silver [rather than copper as commanded in the Torah].’ This is comparable to a king who asked his servants to make him a crown. [His servants desired] to affix in it all types of precious stones. The king said, “I do not want any of these. Rather, [make the crown out of] roses.’ The sons of Korach said [after falling into the ground with Korach but before entering Gehinom], ‘We are roses!” Hashem said, “You have been victorious!’ This is what is meant by the pasuk, ‘For the conductor, on the roses, by the sons of Korach…” The Hebrew word for “for the conductor, למנצח,” is related to the word for victory, which relates to Hashem’s message to them, “You have been victorious, נצחתם.” 

The Chozeh explains that Korach believed he was superior to Aharon Hakohein because he, Korach, was part of the tribe of Levi, which did not participate in the sin of the Golden Calf. The Rebbe Reb Shmelke, of Nikolsburg, zy’a, used to refer to him as, “The holy Zayde, Korach.” Aharon, on the other hand, did participate in it on some level, though even Korach acknowledged that he did so with righteous intentions. Korach therefore looked down on Aharon. What is the significance of this? 

In the Chovas Halevavos, we are told that a pious person once said to his students, “If not for my sin, I would be afraid of the great sin.” They asked him, “And what is it?” He answered that it was arrogance. Why was he greatful for his sins just because they saved him from arrogance? What does that mean?  

The Zohar says that Korach included within himself all of the Levi’im. He was a great person and was quite proud of himself and his tribe, believing that they were sinless. Aharon, on the other hand, felt brokenhearted over his involvement with the Golden Calf. He felt completely unworthy and could not bring himself to approach the altar in the service of G-d (Rashi on Vayikra 9:7). He felt so unworthy that Moshe had to adjure him, “Why are you embarrassed? This is why you were chosen” (ibid.). The Ramban there explains that wherever Aharon looked, he saw the Golden Calf. On his level, Aharon’s sin saved him from the greatest sin, arrogance. Unfortunately, because Korach believed himself sinless, he succumbed to arrogance, which led to the rebellion against Moshe Rabbeinu, as well as his own personal destruction.  

Now we can understand why the Midrash earlier says that Korach objected to the Torah’s command that the firepans be made of copper. He wanted them to be made of gold and silver. He believed that they should be constructed of the most precious metals, gold and silver, which correspond to the central attributes a Jew must have in his service of G-d – love and fear. He believed that a Jew must have perfect love and fear of G-d. He thought that Hashem only loves one who serves him perfectly and has never made a mistake. In his mind, G-d only wants gold and silver. Never copper. Never the “inferior” service of one who has sinned before.  

Hashem’s response to Korach’s opinion is that he wants a crown of roses. The Hebrew word for roses (שושנים) also means “those who change, ששונים.” It is wonderful to have some Jews who do not make mistakes and remain sinless. That is obviously the ideal. But Hashem knows the nature of the people He created. Therefore, what He wants more than servants who have never made a mistake is servants who are willing to change and turn themselves around after they have erred. He wants people who are willing to grow, change, and blossom if and when they do fail. 

That is how Korach’s sons were able to be victorious. They essentially told Hashem, at the last moment before they were completely lost, “Yes, we originally agreed with our father. But now we recognize that we made a mistake. We are roses! We want to change!” And Hashem told them that they were successful; “You have been victorious.”  

The pasuk from Tehillim we quoted above, said, “by the sons of Korach, a Maskil [משכיל].” The word Maskil literally means “intelligent.” Why is this word being used in this context? Another pasuk in Tehillim (111:10) says, “The beginning of wisdom is fear of G-d, good intellect [שכל] to all who do them…” The pasuk starts with wisdom and concludes with intellect. What is the nature of this progression?  

The Yisa Bracha of Modzhitz, zy’a, explains that wisdom means knowing what to do in the first instance. It means being careful so that one does not sin. But intelligence, שכל, means knowing what to do after he has sinned. It means knowing how to change, how to be a rose and do teshuva. The pasuk (Devarim 32:29) says, “Would that they were wise, they would understand [ישכילו] this; they would reflect upon their end.” In other words, ideally, “would that they were wise,” they would serve G-d with firepans of gold and silver. 

The best thing is to be wise and avoid falling into sin to begin with. But even if the Jewish people have sinned, “they would understand [ישכילו] this; they would reflect upon their end.” The greatest accomplishment for most people is to look intelligently at their end. At the end, after they have erred, they should consider the mistakes they have made and rectify them. They should change and recognize that Hashem desires their service with copper firepans as well. He does not only want gold and silver as Korach thought. They should recognize that if they can change, then they will smell as sweet as roses to Hashem. That will make their lives a “song of endearment.” Then G-d will say, “You have been victorious.”  

Hashem reiterated his choice of Aharon and his sons as the kohanim with the miracle of the blossoms and almonds which sprouted from Aharon’s staff, but not the other tribes’ staffs (Bamidbar 17:23). The significance of both the blossoms and the almonds is illustrated in the following story: 

Reb Simcha Bunim of Peshischa, zy’a, once asked the chassidim to bring him Reb Lazer Moshe of Vishgrad, a very old chassid who had been a student of the Yid Hakadosh of Peshischa, zy’a. Reb Lazer Moshe was about 100 years old, which is very rare nowadays, and was even more astounding then. When he arrived, Reb Simcha Bunim asked Reb Lazer Moshe, “Why does the pasuk say that Aharon’s staff blossomed? The fact is that it sprouted almonds. The nuts are the final product of the tree. Why was Hashem concerned that the staff should also produce flowers, blossoms, which seem secondary to the almonds?” Reb Lazer Moshe answered: “Sometimes a Jew gets to the end of his life and he has accomplished a lot. His life has borne fruit. He feels like an almond. By teaching that the staff sprouted blossoms as well, the Torah is teaches us that even if a person feels complete and that his life has borne fruit, he must know that he should still produce flowers and blossoms. He must always continue growing and changing, no matter how complete he feels his life is.” 

This lesson is especially important in marriage. It is wonderful that many men sometimes bring their wives flowers. But the best rose one can bring into his marriage is the willingness to change. I have worked with many couples facing challenges. I often see that one of them, and sometimes both, take the position that “It is not me that has to change. I do not need to seek help because you are the one with the problems. You should seek help because you need to change.” Based on my experience, 99.9999% of the time, the person who says such things is the primary cause of the problems in the marriage and desperately needs to change. 

But it is not always easy to muster the courage to change. Today is the third of Tammuz, the yohrtzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zy’a. There are thousands of stories about the Rebbe from seforim and which I have heard from witnesses. But I would like to share one which I experienced personally. I was seventeen years old and was facing a pivotal moment in my life. I needed to make a certain change that I believed I knew was right for me at the time, but I felt blocked. I did not know whether I could take that step.  

I therefore did the only thing I knew to do to achieve clarity. I found out when the Lubavitcher Rebbe was going to walk from the shul at 770 Eastern Parkway to his car after Mincha. So I made the journey to Crown Heights to attempt to ask the Rebbe my question at that moment. I thought I had really lucked out and that I would have the opportunity to stop the Rebbe and ask him my question when I saw that, two minutes before the Rebbe was supposed to emerge from the shul, that I was the only one there. But unfortunately, thirty seconds before he came out, about two hundred people suddenly appeared and I was shunted to the back of the line. A few chassidim had mercy on me, an obviously modern orthodox knitted-yarmulke clad boy, and they pushed me back up to the front of the line.  

When the Rebbe finally came out toward his car, he walked very quickly, as was his way, nodding toward the men on either side of him as he went. He passed by me, but just before he was about to get into his car, he turned around, walked briskly back over to me, looked me in the eye, and pumped his fist into the air, as if to say, “You can do it! You will be victorious!” The people around me could not understand why the Rebbe had singled me out for that chizuk, encouragement, but I knew exactly what he was telling me. He was answering my question. And that message from the Rebbe gave me the strength to do what I knew I needed to do. And it made a tremendous difference in my life.

This lesson of strength, this message that one have the power to change no matter what happened in the past, was the lesson that Korach never internalized. Because of his sinlessness, Korach became arrogant. Aharon, on the other hand, always felt sinful and unworthy. That is why he was constantly working to change. He was always blossoming and changing. May we merit to also continuously change and grow. Let us be copper and roses, rather than gold and silver.

Click here to get Dixie Yid in your e-mail Inbox or here to "follow" me on Twitter.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

One Chain: The Baal Shem Tov, Rebbe Nachman & Rav Kook - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Parshas Shlach Drasha

Baruch Hashem, Rav Weinberger has approved this version of my write-up of his drasha from last Shabbos, parshas Shlach. 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 Shlach 5775
The Baal Shem Tov, Rebbe Nachman and Rav Kook

The pasuk says, “Moshe sent [spies] to scout out the land of Kena’an and he said to them, ‘Ascend this [way] in the Negev and [then] ascend the mountain’” (Bamidbar 13:17). It is known that Rashi explains, “This [the Negev] was the inferior portion of Eretz Yisroel, for this is the way of merchants. They show the inferior [merchandise] first and afterward show the best.” While all of Eretz Yisroel is beautiful, the Negev is considered inferior relative to the rest.

I went with many of the men in the shul to visit kivrei tzadikim in Ukraine and Eretz Yisroel and I feel like we followed this same pattern. We first saw an inferior part of the world, a place darkened by the shadow of death, where our people have extremely bad memories – Ukraine. While there are many tzadikim whose final resting place is there and we visited the kevarim of Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, the Baal Shem Tov in Mezhibuzh, Rebbe Nosson in Breslov, and Rebbe Nachman in Uman, the country was an empty and desolate place, more barren than any desert in some ways.

After Ukraine, we merited to “ascend the mountain” of Yerushalayim and Eretz Yisroel. There, we saw the best and most beautiful part of the world. We went to daven in Kever Rochel, Chevron, Yerushalayim, Tiveria, Meron and Tzfas. “Praise Hashem, O Yerushalyim” (Tehillim 147:12). Davening together as a shul by the Kosel Friday night cannot be compared to anything else and the melaveh malka with Shlomo Katz overlooking the Kosel was beyond anything else. We certainly explored the beauty Eretz Yisroel in the highest way.

After the majority of the group had returned to the U.S., I merited to stay two additional days in Eretz Yisroel. For me, the conclusion of the trip was my visit to Har Hazeisim, to the Kever of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohein Kook, zy’a, before we left for Ben Gurion airport. The following were my thoughts while standing by the kever of the tzadik who spoke to “The Generation” like no other.

Holiness of the Individual – Holiness of the Nation

It is known that the Baal Shem Tov, zy’a, longed his entire life to go to Eretz Yisroel. He even attempted the journey at one point. During the trip, he hoped to meet with the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh, zt’l. But he faced tremendous difficulties on the way. He traveled all the way from Mezhibuzh to Istanbul and boarded a ship headed for Eretz Yisroel. But shortly after leaving the port, the travelers encountered a ferocious storm which threatened to sink the ship. At that moment, the Baal Shem Tov suddenly lost all spiritual comprehension. Like Yona Hanavi, he realized that Hashem was sending him a message that he should not continue his journey. The ship therefore returned to port and he returned home.

Why didn’t Hashem help the Baal Shem Tov come to Eretz Yisroel? Why did He put so many obstacles in his path? It must be that the nature of the rectification the Baal Shem Tov brought into the world belongs outside of the land of Israel. His mission in the world was to reveal the holiness of individual Jews living in exile. His goal was to redeem the holiness of the individual soul. “Come close to my soul, redeem it” (Tehillim 69:19). “If those of you who are pushed away would be at the ends of the Heavens, from there Hashem your G-d will gather you, from there He will take you” (Devarim 30:4).

Perhaps that is why the Baal Shem Tov could not go to Eretz Yisroel. That is the home of the holiness of the nation as a whole. It is the center of our national life. There, the focus is on bringing out the greatness in the Jewish nation as a single, all-encompassing unit. The Baal Shem Tov, whose mission in life was to bring forth the holiness of the individual, could not have completed his task in this world if he succeeded in going to Eretz Yisroel. The time for the sanctification of the national body of the Jewish people had not yet come. That is why the Baal Shem Tov had to return to exile to complete his appointed task. But by making the attempt, he completed the first step on the road from the individual to the national approach. Indeed, many of the Baal Shem Tov’s students (as well as the Vilna Gaon’s students) ultimately did move to Eretz Yisroel, settling in Tiveria, Tzfas, and Yerushalayim.

The Baal Shem Tov’s great-grandson, Rebbe Nachman, also felt a very strong connection to the land of Israel. And he too traveled to Eretz Yisroel in a journey which was beset by numerous challenges, difficulties, and suffering. When he arrived in Istanbul, he not only seemed to lose his spiritual comprehension, but it appeared that he went completely insane, behaving as if he had lost his mind. He did, however, ultimately succeed in arriving in the land of Israel. A moment after he stepped off the boat, he told his traveling companion, “I have now completed everything I had to accomplish here and I am ready to return home. But in deference to you, I will complete our visit.”

Unlike the Baal Shem Tov, Rebbe Nachman succeeded in traveling to Eretz Yisroel, but felt that he had completed his role there after taking only one step in the Holy Land. Perhaps on the great historical journey from revealing the holiness of the individual, the exile-oriented goal, to the revelation of the holiness of the nation as a whole, Rebbe Nachman is the bridge that connects the two. When he returned to Breslov, Rebbe Nachman brought the reality of the redemption back the Jews in exile.

Following Rebbe Nachman’s death in 1810, Jewish people in all of their exiles began to realize that their national identity can only truly express itself in Eretz Yisroel. But just like the Baal Shem Tov and Rebbe Nachman before them, the majority of Jews who moved to the land of Israel lost their spiritual comprehension. They were no longer observant. So Hashem sent one more tzadik into the world to teach us how to fully actualize the Jewish national identity in our national homeland – Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohein Kook, zy’a.

The transition from actualizing the holiness of the individual, the goal in exile, to the holiness of the nation as a whole, the goal in Eretz Yisroel, is explained in this section from Oros Hatorah (13:3):

Any aspect of the Torah of exile which is taught as referring to the details may be understood, with respect to the Torah of Eretz Yisroel, as referring to a general principle. The Torah of exile is concerned with the rectification of the individual soul, with its worries, its physical wellbeing, its spiritual wellbeing, its purification and its elevation both in this temporal world and in the eternal world – but only as an individual soul.

Not so the Torah of Eretz Yisroel. It is always concerned with the community, with the totality of the collective soul of the nation. Individuals are gathered within it, are elevated when it is elevated and are crowned with its crown.

We therefore see that there are three stages in our journey toward the fulfillment of the Jewish people’s potential. In the first stage, the Baal Shem Tov taught us how to bring out the holiness in individual Jewish souls. This is the Torah of exile and it is of course a vital step. In the second stage, Rebbe Nachman acted as the bridge between the Torah of the sanctification of the individual and the Torah of the sanctification of the nation as a whole. And finally, in the third stage, Rav Kook taught us the Torah of the nation. He allowed us to believe that “The land is very very good” (Bamidbar 14:7). This is unlike the spies, who only believed in individual actualization but did not believe in our ability to sanctify the entirety of the Jewish national identity. Eretz Yisroel is where we belong and where we can live all aspects of life according to the Torah, both individually and as a nation.

Reb Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, zy’a, who ultimately made his home in Eretz Yisroel. He lived in Tiveria. It once happened that the Jews of Tiveria heard a sound coming from the mountains near Tiveria which resembeled the blowing of the shofar. They began to get very excited, thinking that Moshiach had finally come and he was on his way to announce the arrival of the redemption. Many of them gathered together at Reb Menachem Mendel’s home and entered his room to ask him whether it was really true, whether Moshiach had truly come. The Rebbe walked over to a window, opened it, and stuck his head outside to smell the air. After doing so, he told the Yiddin, “No, I’m sorry, Moshiach is not here yet.”

Chassidim ask the following question on this story: We understand that the tzadik has the ability to distinguish between the air of exile and the air of redemption. But if that is the case, why did he have to stick his head out of the house to smell the outside air?  Why could he not simply smell the air in his room? They answer that it must be that the air around a tzadik always smells like it is the times of Moshiach. The students of the Baal Shem Tov personified the complete actualization of the individual Jewish soul. For them, the redemption had already come with respect to individuals. But outside, for the general community, it was still exile. Our goal today, though, is to elevate the entire nation.

These three tzadikim, the Baal Shem Tov, Rebbe Nachman and Rav Kook, have taught us how to bring out the holiness within ourselves individually and the nation as a whole. May Hashem help us take advantage of these teachings and actualize our individual and communal potential.

Click here to get Dixie Yid in your e-mail Inbox or here to "follow" me on Twitter.