Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Free Birds: The True Meaning of Freedom - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha on Parshas Behar Bechukosai

Baruch Hashem, Rav Weinberger has approved this version of my write-up of his drasha from this past Shabbos, parshas Behar-Bechukosai, on Shabbos morning. 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 5775
Free Birds 

We long for the opportunity to observe the Yovel, the Jubilee Year, again. The Ramban in this week’s parsha (on Vayikra 25:10) quotes a number of psukim from throughout Tanach to explain the meaning and origin of the word Yovel. One of the psukim he quotes is Yirmiyahu 17:8: “He shall be like a tree planted by the waters, that spreads out its roots by the river [יוּבַל].” After all of the proofs he brings, the Ramban concludes, “But the true understanding is… ‘יובל, Yovel’ [means something which] returns to the river from which it came…” The word Yovel refers to a river, but it comes from the word “מוביל, to bring” because it means bringing something back to its source. During the Yovel, we somehow return to the waters, to the source, from which we draw the essence of our lives. We return to our roots. 

We know that the Torah is eternal, yet we do not merit fulfilling the mitzvah of Yovel today. How can we relate to it? Let us review the three main aspects of Yovel mentioned in the Torah and consider how each one speaks to us today. 

The first is the freeing of the slaves (Vayikra 25:10): “And you shall proclaim freedom [for Jewish slaves] in the land.” It takes very little imagination to see how we need to be redeemed from so many different types of slavery even today. The Gemara says that we are meant to be slaves to Hashem and not slaves of slaves (Kiddushin 22b). How many of us are enslaved to our jobs and careers? We never see our wives or spend time with our children and when people ask us why we work so hard, we say, “It’s because I love my children!” How many of us are enslaved to tiny electronic devices? We cannot go thirty seconds without checking, looking at, and touching them. Yovel is when we declare ourselves free from human bondage and allow ourselves to be reclaimed by Hashem as His servants. We recognize that in our core, we are free men. We cannot be bound by human chains. Yovel reminds us to return to our roots, our essential freedom.  

The second attribute of Yovel is (Vayikra 25:10), “And you shall return, each man to his property, and you shall return, each man to his family.” Part of the essence of who we are is to stay connected to our families (see also Meshech Chochmah on this pasuk). How many brothers, sisters, or parents have grown apart from each other, either because of apathy or because of some dispute or pain and hurt one has caused the other. Yovel means returning to our hometowns and reconnecting with estranged family. By reconciling with people from whom we have become distant, we reconnect with our own roots, to our essential selves. 

The third attribute is our connection with our homeland, Eretz Yisroel. The pasuk (Vayikra 25:23) says, “The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land belongs to Me.” Yovel reminds us that our connection with Eretz Yisroel exists because we and the land belong to G-d. We cannot be separated. Today, many Jewish people with good intentions believe that they can give away portions of Eretz Yisroel for promises of “peace” or that we can engage in “land swaps” with our enemies. But they do not realize that doing so is like cutting off our arms, hoping that this will satisfy our enemies’ bloodlust. We cannot separate from our homeland. It is part of us. Yovel reminds us that ultimately all of Eretz Yisroel will return to where it belongs, with us. 

We see a common denominator in all three attributes of Yovel. They all involve returning to our roots, coming back to some part of our true selves from which we had become separated. With that background, we can understand the true meaning of freedom when the pasuk says, “And you shall declare freedom [דרור] in the land.” Dovid Hamelech (Tehillim 84:4) speaks of a bird called the דרור, Dror: “Even a bird found a house, and a Dror, her nest.” What is the nature of this bird called a Dror? The Gemara (Beiah 24a) says, “Raba Bar Rav Huna says, ‘This refers to the Dror bird which does not accept [human] ownership… And why is it called a Dror bird? Because it lives [דר] in the house just like in the field.” The nature of this free bird does not allow it to accept human mastery. So even when one puts this bird in his house, it behaves as if it were still in the field, flying and flitting around in every direction. It is impossible to capture it. It is true to its inner nature as a free creature no matter what its external circumstances are. That is real freedom.  

Chazal also teach (Rosh Hashana 9b), “Everyone agrees that the word Dror means freedom. What is the origin of this word? As the braisa says, ‘Dror [דרור] means freedom, like one who lives [as if he were at home] in any inn [כמדייר בי דיירא], who brings [שמוביל] merchandise to every country.’” Freedom means the ability to bring anything where it belongs and act and feel as if one is at home no matter where his circumstances bring him. 

What does it mean to embrace freedom? Shlomo Hamelech refers to the Dror, the free bird, in a pasuk in Mishlei (26:2): “Like a wandering bird, like a flying Dror…” The Ibn Ezra explains: “It is a small bird which sings when it is in its own domain [when it is free]. And if it is in a man’s domain, it does not eat to the point that it dies.” The Dror was born to sing. It loves nothing more. But the moment it is enslaved, it can no longer bring itself to sing. Over 600 years after the Ibn Ezra penned his commentary on Mishlei, Patrick Henry echoed the substance of his words when he said, “Give me liberty or give me death.” When the Dror is no longer free to sing its own song, to be true to itself, it would rather starve itself to death.  

Our people are like the Dror, the free bird, which thirsts for the freedom to return to its roots, to express its own essential nature. It bristles at the thought of being forced to masquerade around as something other than its true self. The Jewish people as a community, and each Jew individually, longs to sing his or her own song. We can only fly higher when we are in our own domain, connected to our own roots.  

This is what Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohein Kook, zy’a, was trying to tell us when he wrote (Oros Hakodesh 64): 

Ascend higher, ascend.
For you possess a mighty power.
You have wings of the spirit,
Wings of mighty eagles.
Do not deny them,
Lest they deny you.
Seek them out,
And they will find you. 

Our faculties, interests, passions and idealism, when they flow from our deepest selves and not from the desire to imitate foreign nations and ideologies, are powerful wings that will allow us to soar higher and higher if we do not stifle them. 

It is clear from everything above that that being a free bird means allowing the truth of our inner essence to express itself. But some feel that being free means throwing off the yoke of all responsibility, whether moral, interpersonal, or religious. But this is a mistake because it not only ignores the true meaning of freedom, it also means closing one’s eyes to the fact that such “freedom” usually means subjecting one’s self to the yoke of the fickle demands of the animal soul and foreign nations or their ideologies. 

Freedom divorced from responsibility, commitment, and stability leads to destruction because it takes one further away from his own inner truth. It means forgetting the lesson of Yovel, which is מוביל, brings things back to their source. The Navi refers to this false freedom when he writes (Yirmiyahu 34:17), “Behold I call out ‘freedom’ to you, says Hashem, to sword, plague, and famine…” There is a negative type of freedom. When we “free” ourselves from the need to be true to who we are, it leads to our destruction because Hashem appears to “free” us from a connection with His providence. True liberty means freeing ourselves from the bonds of limited, finite human concepts of “truth.” Real freedom does not mean obeying every fleeting (or persistent) fancy. It means returning to the song of our roots, our essence, our home, our homeland, our families, and our people. “And you shall return, each man to his property and you shall return, each man to his family.” 

Hashem prepares a certain life for each person in this world, an environment in which his soul can truly express itself. When a person gets married, he exchanges the apparent freedom of single life for the responsibility and commitment of marriage because that is the life Hashem prepared for him. Fulfilling his responsibilities in the context of that life is the true expression of his nature and the actualization of his personal potential. 

Dovid Hamelech refers to the fact that we must each learn to soar in the unique portion Hashem prepared for us when he said (Tehillim 16:5-6), “Hashem is my allotted portion and my cup. You guide my lot. Packages have fallen to me in pleasant places, even the beautiful inheritance upon me.” Dovid Hamelech is saying that he finds whatever portion Hashem gives him pleasant because that is his lot. One’s portion includes being born into a certain family, having a certain wife, being bestowed with certain faculties and limitations, and having a certain level of financial success or hardship. But “Who is rich? One who is happy with his portion.” I soar when I play the hand I am dealt to the fullest. I express my own personal song when I can sing (Shacharis), “We are fortunate and how good is our portion, how pleasant is our lot and how beautiful is our inheritance!” One’s portion and inheritance are not the product of free will. They are not a matter of choice. Yet in davening we praise Hashem for our portion, our lot and our inheritance. Why? Because they belong to us. By fulfilling our commitments to the life Hashem custom designed for each of us, we are truly free because we express our true nature. We are being ourselves.

Yovel, which means freeing ourselves from external, superficial, temporary, and foreign influences and returning to who we are, forces us to ask ourselves: How far have I flown from my roots? Have I misused my free will by rejecting my personal portion in favor of some stranger’s portion I thought looked more attractive? Have I clipped my own wings by cutting myself off from my family, responsibilities, land, and my brothers and sisters? Am I singing someone else’s song or my own? 

Rav Laizer Djhikover, zy’a, was the son-in-law of Rav Chaim of Tzanz, zy’a, the Divrei Chaim. At one point, Reb Leizer’l fell ill. He became sicker and sicker until he was literally within minutes of death. He whispered to someone to summon his father-in-law, the Divrei Chaim. When Rav Cham arrived, Reb Leizer’l said, “Please, I do not want to leave this world. Daven for me.” But the Rebbe seemed someone indifferent and responded, “This world is filled with so much darkness. Why do you want to stay here? Go in good health to the next world!”

Hearing this, everyone in the room began wailing with mourning and could not understand why the Rebbe was not praying for his son-in-law. So Reb Leizer’l said, “But Rebbe, I’m worried. I do not feel confident about my place in the next world!” So the Divrei Chaim reassured him, “That’s why you don’t want to leave the world? Don’t worry! I assure you that you will have the highest place in Gan Eden. You have nothing to worry about. Now go in peace.” 

But Reb Leizer’l begged him, “But Rebbe, what about my family?” “You’re worried that there won’t be anyone to take care of your wife and children?! Do not be concerned. They are my family too. I will ensure that they are cared for. You do not need to stay in this world for that.” 

Finally Reb Leizer’l pleaded, “But Rebbe! It’s almost Rosh Hashanah. You know that no one sings ‘Unesaneh Tokef’ like me. When I lead the davening on Rosh Hashanah, the angels stand in wonderment. They cannot understand how such a Divine sound can emanate from this lowly world.” The Divrei Chaim thought for a moment, and then responded, “Indeed you have a point.” Immediately, the Rebbe ran to the mikvah and, knowing that his son-in-law had only moments of life left in him, returned quickly with his talis on to daven with every bit of life in him for Reb Leizer’l’s salvation. And in fact, Reb Leizer’l recovered and lived for many more years.

Each of us has our own song in this world, our own Unesaneh Tokef, which only we can sing and which brings pleasure and Divine light to all worlds when we sing it. It is irreplaceable as long as we are truly singing our own song, using the tools and blessings which Hashem gave us. This year, even before Yovel begins, may we merit to return to our own music based on the portion Hashem gave us. Then we will truly be free birds, soaring higher and higher as we sing our own song until our voices join the music of the Levi’im in the third Beis Hamikdash, may it be built very soon in our days.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Dying to Live - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Shabbos Morning Drasha - Parshas Emor

Baruch Hashem, Rav Weinberger has approved this version of my write-up of his drasha from this past Shabbos, parshas Emor, on Shabbos morning. 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 5775
Dying to Live

We find one of the fundamentals of Yiddishkeit in this week’s parsha: “I shall be sanctified among the children of Israel” (Vayikra 22:32). This is the mitzvah to sanctify G‑d’s name. The Rambam codifies this mitzvah in Mishna Torah: “The entire house of Israel is commanded regarding sanctifying the great Name” (Yosodei Hatorah 5:1). And the Sefer Hachinuch explains (Mitzvah 295), “A person was only created to serve his Creator. And one who would not give up his body in the service of his master is not a good servant.” Throughout history, millions of Jews have given up their lives to stay faithful to Hashem. The Rambam says about such people, “there are none higher than their level.”  

Rav Kalonymus Kalman Halevi Epstein, in the sefer Maor Vashemesh on parshas Chukas, asks how the mitzvah to sanctify G-d’s name applies to us on a daily basis. We know that the Torah is eternal and speaks to every person, everywhere, at all times. He asks, “Is not the mitzvah of Shma constant? If so, when the Jewish people lived on their land, when no other nation ruled over them and there was no one to force them to violate their covenant, how did they fulfill the mitzvah to give up their lives?”

As children, we were taught that the mitzvah to sanctify G-d’s name primarily meant keeping our shirts tucked in and not misbehaving in front of non-Jewish people. But the mitzvah of sanctifying Hashem’s name in the world is so central to Yiddishkeit that it must mean more than that.

After the Baal Hatanya, zy’a, was released from prison, he stopped in the town of Prohbitsch, where he was visited by a tzadekes who was the widow of Rav Shalom Prohbitscher. She brought her two sons, ten-year-old Avraham and seven year old Srulik. Both boys would grow up to be tzadikim, but the younger son, Srulik, would would day be known as Rav Yisroel of Ruzhin, zy’a. Referring to the two boys, the Baal Hatanya would later say that “I saw two bright torches in Prohbitsch.”  

When the widow of the Prohbitscher brought her two sons for a blessing from the Baal Hatanya, little Srulik asked, “I do not understand. When we say ‘Shma Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad,’ we accept upon ourselves the yoke of Heaven to the extent that we are willing to give up our lives for G-d; to be annihilated and completely abdicate our own existence for Hashem. Yet our very next words are ‘Veahavta es Hashem Elokecha, And you shall love Hashem your G‑d…’ One does not feel more alive than when he feels love. How can we be asked to completely nullify our own existence in one breath, and then affirm our own feeling of existence with the emotion of love in the next?”

The Baal Hatanya’s answer to Srulik’s question was very deep and he later wrote a long teaching to answer it. But we can take a simple approach to this very deep question. As it is explained in the fourteenth chapter of Tanya, every Jew has the inherent capacity to give up his life for G-d’s sake. Even those who were never religious and never knew what it meant to live for Hashem have the ability to die for Him rather than allow themselves to be separated from Him. That ability to give up everything for G-d is the foundation of Veahavta, our ability to live every moment of our lives for the sake of our love for G-d. Because of our love for G-d, we are willing to sentence our material desires to death dozens of times every single day.

That is what the Maor Vashemesh means when it says, “This is included in the Jewish people’s intentions when they say ‘Shma Yisroel” when they have illicit desires… Everything that happens to a person is a test from Hashem: Can he pass this test because he is a servant of G-d? It is therefore proper to think when saying Shma Yisroel: If Hashem tests me to see whether I am able to accept His service upon myself, then I am ready to accept His Divinity with great love and to remain attached to the Supernal Light.”

We therefore see that Shma Yisroel contains our acceptance of the yoke of Heaven and the willingness to give up our lives for G-d, as well as the commitment to dedicate each day to the love of G-d. But these two aspects are not contradictory. Living for G-d each day means giving up those things our external selves consider to be “life” for Him.  

When the alarm goes off in the morning, our animal soul tells us that staying in bed just a little while longer is “life.” Yet because of our love for G-d we give up that “life” for Him. When we’re sitting in front of the Gemara and the animal soul tells us we must take another 15 minute bathroom break in order to stay alive, we sacrifice our lives and dive back in to the pages which connect us to eternal life even though it feels like we will drown without the distractions of temporal life. That is why the Gemara (Brachos 63b) says, “The Torah is only established with one who kills himself for it.” The animal soul inside tells us we must look at every image our hearts desire displayed in our electronic devices or at every attractive form we encounter in the street. Yet because we love G-d, we turn away from that illusory “life” and toward the Source of eternal life.

Sanctifying G-d’s name is not limited to those hopefully rare instances when we are called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice. Rather, through the combination of Shma Yisroel and Veahavta, it is something we can do in any place and at any time. That is why, in the context of the Shma Yisroel we say before Pesukei Dezimra, “A person should always be G-d fearing in private and in public.” We do not need a Nazi or an Inquisitor threatening us with a knife to sanctify G-d’s name. By allowing our bodily desires to die even when our animal souls tell us we need to fulfill them to “live,” we sanctify Hashem’s name every day by dying dozens of times because of our love for G-d.


Living for G-d is more difficult than giving up one’s life for G-d in many ways. The Ohr Hachaim writes (on Bamidbar 23:10), “I have seen wicked people who told me explicitly that that if they knew they could do teshuva and would immediately die, they would do it. But they know they cannot maintain their teshuva for a long time.” It is easier to die once for G-d than to do so multiple times a day when one still feels that truly “living” means giving into his desires.

That is why the Baal Hatanya teaches in Torah Ohr (parshas Beshalach) that, “With every single push with which one pushes aside the desires of his body and brings his heart closer to the service of G-d, it is an aspect of giving up his life for G-d, because what is the qualitative difference between complete death and partial death…?” For this reason, the Beer Mayim Chaim, zy’a, teaches (parshas Ki Sisa) that living for G-d is greater than dying for G-d on some level because “this happens only once and no more. But this [serving G-d with a sense of self-sacrifice] at every single moment means giving over ones soul by nullifying the power of his desires. That requires great strength and pain for those who do it deeply.”

[quote lyrics from Michoel Shapiro song Awaken in our Heart…] But those who have made those daily sacrifices know that nothing makes a person feel more alive than surrendering one’s illicit bodily desires to G-d. It is scary to give up the indulgencies which initially feel are synonymous with life, but when we do so because of a feeling of Veahavta, our love of G-d, that is when we are truly alive. May we all merit to give up the indulgencies which superficially feel like life with the security and knowledge that doing sowill connect us with the true Source of light, vitality, and life.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Setting Speech Free - Rav Weinberger's Drasha on Parshas Tazria-Metzorah

Baruch Hashem, Rav Weinberger has approved this version of my write-up of his drasha from this past Shabbos, parshas Tazria-Metzorah, on Shabbos morning. 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 Weinberber
Tazria-Metzorah 5775
Setting Speech Free 

We must understand why the metzorah, one afflicted with the skin condition called tzara’as, is treated so much more harshly than any other impure person. The Torah says, “He shall dwell alone, he shall reside outside the camp” (Vayikra 13:46). He must not only stay away from the Mishkan and the camp of the levi’im, but must also stay away from any Jewish settlement. He must even stay away from other impure individuals! Why is the metzorah treated even more severely than one who has come into contact with a dead body, whose impurity is even stronger? Why does the metzorah have no place in any Jewish community? 

We can begin to understand this by studying a teaching of the Sfas Emes based on the Zohar in parshas Tazria (46b):  

Just like a person is punished for evil speech, so too he is punished for failing to use positive speech in which he could have engaged but did not do so. [This is] because he has damaged his spirit of speech which was given to him in order for him to speak elevated [words of prayer] and lower [words of kindness to other people], all with holiness. How much the more so if the nation is going in a crooked path and he has the ability to speak with them and rebuke them, but he is silent and does not speak. The following verse applies to him (Tehillim 39:3): “I was mute with silence. I held my peace. I had no comfort and my pain was stirred up.”  

The Sfas Emes explains, based on this quote from the Zohar, that Hashem sends a person tzara’as not only for misusing his power of speech, but also for his failure to use his power of speech for the good, by speaking words of guidance and encouragement to other people. Such a person makes himself mute and cuts himself off from others.  

The Sfas Emes also explains that in order to rectify the words the metzorah should not have said, as well as the good words he left unsaid, he must bring two live, pure birds to the Mishkan (Vayikra 14:4). The kohein slaughters one bird and sets the other one free (ibid. 5, 7). Rashi explains that the metzorah offers birds because it is the nature of birds to chirp and chatter, and the metzorah must atone for his inappropriate chatter.  

But the Sfas Emes takes this idea a step further and teaches that the slaughtered bird corresponds to the inappropriate chatter which we must eliminate from our lives. We must slaughter words of gossip and idle criticism. We must slaughter the habit of speaking in shul. We must slaughter hurtful words toward those in our family, subordinates at work, and friends. 

And the live bird, which is set free, corresponds to the words of kindness, prayer, Torah, and encouragement that the metzorah had bottled up inside but which he should have set free, lest he find himself at the end of his days looking back on a life of “I was mute with silence…” Rather, if one sees another person who could use some encouragement, who would feel more connected to Yiddishkeit if he heard a Torah idea, or if one is tired but his or her spouse could use a kind word, one should let those positive words fly. He must give them free expression and not hold them back. 

It is very easy to make a mistake and think that slaughtering negative speech means that one should be silent.  Many people believe that the Chofetz Chaim, zt’l, who wrote the classic sefer on the laws of lashon hara, must have been a very quiet person. After all, when one has learned all of the halachos, it is hard to imagine what he is permitted to speak about! But the Sfas Emes teaches us that the opposite is the case. We must empty our mouths of negative, hurtful speech in order to make room for the mouth’s true purpose, as a vessel for words of prayer, Torah, and encouragement.  I have met people who have seen the Chofetz Chaim, zt’l and they have testified, as is often quoted in seforim, that the Chofetz Chaim was a very gregarious person. He was very friendly and enjoyed talking with people. Slaughtering bad speech does not mean being silent. To the contrary, by emptying our mouths from the bad, we make room for the good. 

The word for the skin affliction of tzara’as in Aramaic according to Targum Unkolus and the Zohar is “סגירו,” which literally means “closed off.” The seforim hakedoshim explain that the essence of a person is expressed through his power of speech. That is why when G-d breathed into Adam’s nostrils “the breath of life,” Onkolus translates that phrase as “a speaking spirit” (Bereishis 2:7). That is also the pasuk says “my soul went out with his speech” (Shir Hashirim 5:6). The soul is expressed through speech. As long as a person’s soul is closed off behind the iron curtain of the body’s and the evil inclination’s rule, it is extremely difficult to speak words of Torah, prayer, generosity, and kindness. Such words are like maror in the person’s mouth. The good inside the person’s soul is “closed off” and finds no expression. His words of kindness and encouragement are not set free. All such a person can say are forbidden words of smallness, nonsense, negativity and cynicism. 

The seforim hakedoshim teach that the essence of the Egyptian experience was that speech was in exile. That is why it was only after the king of Egypt died did the pasuk say, “the Jewish people groaned from the labor and cried out, and their cry ascended to G-d from the labor” (Shmos 2:23). The word for Pharaoh, פרעה, has the same letters as פה רע, evil mouth. That is because the essential point of Egypt was to use speech, which is meant to express the pinnacle of what makes us human, for evil.  When Pharaoh died, our mouths began to open up in prayer.  That was when our “cry ascending to G-d.”  

That is also why, when we celebrate our redemption from Egypt, we call the holiday Pesach, פסח, which is a contraction of the words “פה סח, a mouth that talks.” And the matzah we eat is called “לחם עוני, the bread of affliction.” But the word for affliction also means “answer.” Accordingly, Chazal derive from the phrase “לחם עוני” that matzah is a “bread over which we answer many things” (Pesachim 115b). On Pesach, when we leave the place of the exile of speech, our mouths open up and we spend the whole night speaking words of holiness and faith. 

When we refuse to allow our bodily desires and the evil inclination to limit our soul’s expression through positive speech, we feel the truth of Dovid Hamelech’s words: “Take my soul out of confinement in order that it give thanks to Your Name” (Tehillim 142:8). Freeing up the soul to speak words of holiness, kindness and encouragement allows it express its true essence. 

We can now understand why the Torah is so strict with a metzorah, decreeing that he must completely seclude himself outside of any Jewish community. What is the nature of a Jewish community? It is made up of shuls, houses of Torah study, and marketplaces. All of these are venues for the proper use of speech. We use shuls for prayer, houses of study to expound on the meaning of the Torah, and marketplaces for productive and mutually beneficial transactions between Jews. In the marketplace, one person takes note of another and offers words of encouragement and constructive advice. But by closing himself off with selfishness, negativity and jealousy, the metzorah has separated himself from the essence of what a Jewish community is. That is why the only type of ritually impure person who must completely separate from the community is the metzorah. His way of life is diametricly opposed to the Jewish camp. 

We see from the foregoing that it is not enough to slaughter negative speech. We must set the live, pure bird free by expressing words of prayer, Torah, love, encouragement, and support for those around us. That way, we allow our soul to truly express itself and we redeem the power of speech from exile. May we merit to see the fulfillment of Dovid Hamelech’s prayer, “Take my soul out of confinement in order that it give thanks to Your Name” so that we can see be part of the Jewish people in the fullest sense.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Yiddishkeit for Every Jew - Rav Weinberber's Drasha on Parshas Shemini - Rav Wosner

Baruch Hashem, Rav Weinberger has approved this version of my write-up of his drasha from this past Shabbos, parshas Shemini, on Shabbos morning. 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 Shemini 5775
Yiddishkeit for Every Jew

All of creation was waiting for “And it was, on the eighth day…” (Vayikra 9:1) in this week’s parsha. That was the long-awaited day when (ibid. 6) “the glory of Hashem will appear to you.” But suddenly, the joy of that day was marred by the “fire [that] went forth from before Hashem and consumed [Nadav and Avihu, Aharon’s sons,] and they died before Hashem” (ibid. 10:2). The same fire that came from Heaven “and consumed the burnt offering and fats on the altar” (ibid. 9:24) then “went forth and consumed” Nadav and Avihu. The similarity between these psukim, only separated by one verse, is remarkable. What is the connection between them?

Because the brining of a “foreign fire which He had not commanded them” (ibid. 10:1) does not seem to fully explain the severity of Nadav and Avihu’s punishment, Chazal and the commentaries struggle to offer a number of explanations for the fire from Heaven which consumed them. According to some, it was because they make halachic decisions in Moshe’s presence and according to others, it was because they drank wine excessively before entering the Holy of Holies (Rashi on ibid. 2). According to them, the root cause of their deaths was not the fact that Nadav and Avihu each “took his fire-pan, put fire in them and placed incense upon it” (Vayikra 10:1). Rather, they were killed because of some unrelated sin.

But the Rashbam and Chizkuni explain that their sin was bringing their own fire before Hashem “had the chance” to cause a Heavenly fire to descend and consume the sacrifices. According to this explanation, the whole purpose of the day of the inauguration of the kohanim’s service in the Mishkan was to reveal Hashem’s presence in the Mishkan through the fire from Heaven which would consume the congregation’s sacrifices. By bringing a human fire before Hashem’s fire descended, Nadav and Avinhu prevented that full expression of G-d’s revelation in the Mishkan. In the language of the mekubalim, they created a separation between yesod Abah and yesod Imah.

But these commentaries do not explain the rest of the pasuk in which the Torah explains their sin. Each one “took his fire-pan, put fire in them and placed incense upon it.” Their explaination accounts for why it was a problem for Nadav and Avihu to bring a human fire before the revelation of Hashem’s fire. But they do not explain the Torah’s emphasis on the fact that they placed incense on this fire. Let us first understand more about the nature of this eighth day on which the kohanim brought sacrifices to Hashem and then we can suggest an approach which will explain the significance of the incense.

Moshe told the entire Jewish people (ibid. 9:6), “This is the thing that Hashem has commanded you to do and the glory of Hashem will appear to you.” The purpose of the day was (ibid. 4) “today Hashem is appearing to you.” The last time Hashem appeared to the entire Jewish people was at Sinai, when the pasuk (Shmos 24:17) says, “And the appearance of the glory of Hashem was like a consuming fire at the top of the mountain before the eyes of the Jewish people.” The Ramban (on ibid. 25:1) says that the purpose of the Mishkan, and later, the Beis Hamikdash, is to continue the Sinai experience throughout the generations. And the heros of the Sinai experience, who led the Jewish people to the mountain, were Moshe, Aharon, Nadav, and Avinhu (Shmos 24:1): “And He said to Moshe: ‘Ascend to Hashem, you, Aharon, Nadav, Avihu, and the seventy of the elders of Israel...’” Why were Aharon’s sons chosen for this special honor of going closer to Sinai than the rest of the Jewish people? Because they were destined to be inaugurated into the service in the Mishkan, the purpose of which is to continue to bring Hashem’s presence into the Jewish people just like on Sinai.

The connection between the revelation at Sinai and the Mishkan/Beis Hamikdash is also expressed through the fact that there are only three occasions on which communal peace offerings are brought: (1) at Sinai (Shmos 24:5); (2) on the day of the kohanim’s inauguration into the Mishkan’s service in this weeks’ parsha (Vayikra 9:4); and (3) throughout the generations on Shavuos (Vayikra 23:19), the anniversary of the day Hashem gave us the Torah on Sinai. The connection between these days is clear. Each of them represents a joining of the world above and the world below.  That is why a communal peace offering is brought. The significance of a peace offering is that it is consumed jointly by Heaven, the kohanim, and the owner of the offering. Because these three occasions represent a direct encounter between the entire Jewish people and Hashem, it is appropriate to bring a joint offering which is “consumed” both by Hashem above and his children below on each of these days.

Perhaps based on the above we can understand the sin of Nadav and Avihu and how it relates to the incense they brought. As we said above, Nadav and Avihu were not with the rest of the Jewish people at Sinai. They came closer to the mountain than everyone else and were “cut off” from regular Jews. The pasuk says regarding Nadav, Avinhu and the other elders (Shmos 24:10-11), “And they perceived the G-d of Israel… and upon the nobles of Israel He did not lay a hand and they saw G-d…” But they were not the only ones who perceived Hashem at Sinai. As we quoted earlier: “And the appearance of the glory of Hashem was like a consuming fire at the top of the mountain before the eyes of the Jewish people.” The rest of the Jewish people also experienced a revelation of G-d.

It is possible, however, that because Nadav and Avihu were cut off from the average Jews, they may not have realized that Hashem considered the entire Jewish people worthy of revelation. They might have thought that such a direct encounter with G-d was reserved for “the nobles of Israel” like themselves and the elders.

It may not have occurred to Nadav and Avihu that the “proletariat,” the average Jews, the “riff raff,” were capable or worthy of receiving Hashem’s presence. It could be that when the whole Jewish people witnessed Hashem’s revelation through the fire on the altar (Vayikra 9:24), “the entire nation saw, sang praises, and fell on their faces,” Nadav and Avihu might have seen this as extremely problematic. Perhaps that is why, in the next verse (ibid. 10:1), they ran to bring incense into the Holy of Holies.

What is the significance and purpose of incense? Whenever there is a direct Divine revelation, Hashem commands us to create a cloud around that revelation using incense, as the pasuk (Vayikra 16:2) says, “in a cloud [of incense] I will appear above the [ark] cover.” The smoke created by the burning of the incense creates a fog around Hashem’s revelation, obscuring it as an expression of modesty.

Nadav and Avihu could not imagine that the entire Jewish people were actually supposed to experience that which the pasuk says, “the entire nation saw, sang praises, and fell on their faces.” They therefore ran to burn incense to create a cloud of concealment around that direct revelation to prevent those they thought were not worthy of experiencing it further.  They may have viewed that direct revelation as a lack of honor toward Heaven.

Because they were separated from average Jews at Sinai and did not realize that Hashem intended that they too experience a direct encounter with Hashem. They did not realize that Hashem wants not only a direct relationship with the tzadikim and scholars, but also a direct connection with the lowest Jews, from the wood choppers to the water drawers (Devarim 29:10).

But this was a mistake. That is why Moshe explained to Aharon after Nadav and Avihu’s deaths (Vayikra 10:3): “This is what Hashem spoke [when He said], ‘I will be sanctified through those close to Me and before the entire nation I will be glorified.” A direct relationship and revelation of Hashem is not only for the “nobles of Israel” and “those close to Me” like Moshe, Aharon, Nadav, and Avihu. It is for “the entire nation.” Yiddishkeit is not a spectator’s sport in which we watch the tzadikim from afar and gaze in awe at how close they are to Hashem. We value the tzadikim and scholars, drink up every word they teach, and follow their leadership, but they do not have a monopoly on closeness with Hashem. Yiddishkeit and connection is for every Jew. No one should write themselves or other Jews off as beyond the pale of Yiddishkeit.

This erev Pesach, as Seder night was falling, our people lost one of the greatest tzadikim and poskim of this generation, Rav Shmuel Halevi Wosner, zt’l, who lived over 100 years. Rav Wosner was known to assiduously avoid any political affiliation or controversy. Every single Jew was equal in his eyes. He fielded questions from every type of Jew, whether religious or secular, Ashkenazi or Sefardi, national-religious or chareidi. He viewed every Jew as equal in the eyes of Hashem. As the Chozeh of Lublin, zy’a, said about Reb Asher Yeshaya of Ropshitz, zy’a, years before the latter died on erev Pesach, “He is a beautiful Pesach sacrifice.” Rav Wosner is a also a beautiful Pesach sacrifice. We can only pray that, as Rashi (on Bamidbar 20:1) says, the death of this tzadik will bring an atonement for our nation.

Just as Rav Wosner valued every Jew equally, we know that Hashem desires a direct relationship and encounter with every single Jew, no matter whether he is of the “nobles of Israel” or is of the “wood choppers and water drawers.” May all of us merit to internalize this message never write ourselves off from working to draw ourselves closer and closer to Hashem.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Remembering What You Can’t Forget - Rav Weinberger's Last-Day-of-Pesach Drasha - Yizkor

Baruch Hashem, Rav Weinberger has approved this version of my write-up of his drasha from the last day of Pesach/Yizkor, on Shabbos morning. 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
Acharon Shel Pesach 5775
Remembering What You Can’t Forget 

It is very easy to take the words of the Siddur for granted. When we say in Yizkor “May G-d remember the soul of so-and-so…,” one might fail to ask the obvious question: Why are we asking Hashem not to forget when we know He remembers everything? As we say on Rosh Hashanah, “There is no forgetfulness before the throne of Your Glory.” If we cannot forget the soul of someone we have lost, how could Hashem forget him or her?  

Perhaps we can understand the answer to this question by understanding other mitzvos associated with memory in the Torah. The pasuk (Shmos 20:7) says “Remember the day of Shabbos to sanctify it.” The Midrash in Toras Kohanim at the beginning of parshas Bechukosai explains: “One might think one could remember in the heart [alone]. When the pasuk (Devarim 5:12) says, “Guard [the Shabbos], I know guarding in the heart. What does the word ‘remember’ add? That it should be repeated with your mouth.” The Midrash goes on to make similar derivations with respect to the other mitzvos associated with memory, like the mitzvah to remember what Hashem did to Miriam when she, on her level, spoke derogatorily about Moshe, and what Amalek did to our people when we left Egypt.  

The Ra’avad explains that we fulfill the mitzvah to verbally express the things we must remember by studying the halachos associated with each remembrance. We fulfill the mitzvah to remember Shabbos by studying the laws of Shabbos. We fulfill the mitzvah to remember Amalek by studying the laws of the Megillah. And we remember what happened to Miriam by studying the laws of skin afflictions.  

But why does the Toras Kohanim omit the mitzvah to remember the exodus from Egypt? That is a mitzvah too, as the pasuk (Shmos 13:3) says, “Remember this day when you went out from Egypt…” And Shma, davening, and the tefilos on Shabbosim and Yomim Tovim are filled with remembering the exodus from Egypt. It seems so integral to Yiddishkeit. Why do Chazal leave it out of the list of mitzvos related to memory? It could have included it along with an emphasis on the importance of expressing that memory verbally, by studying the halachos of Pesach.  

The truth is that sometimes we feel as if Hashem has forgotten us. We no longer have prophecy, a Beis Hamikdash, redemption, or open and revealed miracles. The Navi Yeshaya expresses this when he cries (Yeshayahu 49:14), “And Zion says, ‘G-d has abandoned me and G-d has forgotten me.’” The Gemara (Brachos 32b) explains: 

The Congregation of Israel says before Hashem: “Master of the World, when a man marries [a woman after the loss of] his first wife, he remembers the early days [of his first marriage]. But You have abandoned me and forgotten me!” Hashem then says to her: “My daughter, I created the twelve constellations… I only created them for your sake, and you say I have abandoned and forgotten you?! Can a woman forget her baby [עולה]?! Could I forget the elevation offerings [עולות]… which you sacrificed for me in the desert?!” 

The Maharal in Ner Mitzvah explains the deeper meaning of this Gemara. Based on the Gemara quoted above, he compares those first few moments with Hashem after we left Egypt to one’s first love. In this comparison, we are the wife of Hashem’s “youth.” 

Because the Maharal, based on the Gemara, speaks about the distinction between first and second marriages, we must understand this comparison with maturity. First, for some people, the characteristics of first and second marriages are reversed. For them, the first marriage may be like the second and the second one might be like another person’s first marriage. Also, even if the Maharal’s description of first versus second marriage does not jibe with a particular person’s experience, he or she should make an effort to understand the inner truth of the Maharal’s words, the point he is trying to make, and not get caught up in the parable.  

The Maharal writes:  

Every beginning is the essence of the matter, and is not circumstantial in nature. Because it is primary and essential, it is not subject to forgetfulness. Something which is not essential and is merely circumstantial is subject to forgetfulness because it is happenstance…. One cannot forget the essence of the matter.   

According to the Maharal, there are two types of relationships. There is one’s “first love,” which expresses a connection that touches the essence of how the two people identify themselves. One can no more forget such a person than he could forget himself. Subsequent relationships may be more of a matter of practicality; two people who get along because the circumstances happen to be right. But the connection does not bore down into the depths of who they are.  

The Gemara, according to the Maharal, said that while the Jewish people claimed that Hashem had abandoned and forgotten them, Hashem responded: “No! You are mistaken. You are the wife of my youth. You are bound up as part of My soul. It is impossible for me to forget you.” As the Gemara (Sanhedrin 22a) says, “A man only finds true peace of mind with his first wife.” After all, G-d says (Yirmiyahu 2:2), “You followed after me in the desert, in a land that was not sewn!” Hashem is telling us that He can never forget us because we are “part” of Him.  

With these principles, we can now understand why the Toras Kohanim omitted the exodus from Egypt from the list of remembrance-related mitzvos. When Shabbos ends, we can forget it because we are no longer living with it. It is not part of us. Because the events associated with Miriam and Amalek happened so long ago, we might forget them. Out of sight, out of mind. But the exodus from Egypt? It is part of who we are. It is our first marriage. It would be nonsensical to have to remember something which is always on our minds and defines our very essence. There can be no “G-d has abandoned me and G-d has forgotten me” when it comes to the exodus and Pesach. So when the Torah says “Remember this day when you went out from Egypt…,” it is more of a statement of fact. It is not because we could ever forget. That is why Chazal omit the exodus from the list of mitzvos related to remembrance.  

A person can never forget his wedding, the beginning of his first marriage. It is impossible. So it is not necessary to list it as a separate mitzvah to remember the exodus. It is simply not necessary because it is only necessary to command a person to remember things which he could potentially forget. And that is not the case with respect to the beginning of our relationship with Hashem in the desert.  

In an essay about the month of Nissan, the month of our redemption, Rav Kook calls the exodus from Egypt “the springtime of the world.” Everything about us and our relationship was new. It was the beginning of our relationship, our honeymoon. It made our relationship unforgettable.  It does not matter if we ever appear outwardly to grow apart from G-d for a period of time. For both of us, it is our “first love” and neither of us will ever leave the other’s mind.   

We see from all of this that there are two types of memory. We are commanded to remember things that could otherwise be forgotten. But, as we see from the psukim relating to remembering the exodus from Egypt, there is a concept that one asks another to remember something the person could in any case never have forgotten. That means asking someone not to allow that relationship simply to exist as part of the person. Rather, the image of the person or the relationship should be seared into the person’s consciousness. That is the type of remembrance Hashem was referring to when He said in the Torah, “Remember this day when you went out from Egypt…” 

And we are talking about this second type of memory when we say in Yizkor, “May G-d remember the soul of so-and-so…” Hashem created the Jewish soul before He created the world. The soul exists from the beginning of time. It is of Hashem’s essence, so to speak. The soul is not something that came into being later in history because it made sense under some set of circumstances. Because it was practical. It is not something Hashem might have forgotten because “G-d has abandoned me and G-d has forgotten me.” It is inexorably tied up with Hashem. Just like we can never forget the soul of someone who has left the world, Hashem cannot either. But we ask Hashem to bring the memory of the person to the forefront of His mind, so to speak. To sear it into His memory.  

I want to share a few paragraphs from a remarkable book, The Watchmaker’s Daughter, by Sonia Taitz, a memoir about her relationship with her parents, both Holocaust survivors. Dr. Taitz holds degrees from Barnard, Yale, and Oxford, but she writes about saying goodbye to her mother, several years after her father had passed away, in the most humble way. Her reflections capture this idea about a person being irreversibly seared into one’s memory: 

For the most part, until the end, he [my brother Manny] is away in California, where he works as a lawyer and real estate developer. I am with her every day. Spooning raspberry ices into her mouth is the last thing I do for my mother. They are the last thing she tastes on this earth. I am glad they are sweet. 


On her last day, she is mellow, smiling.

I can see love in her eyes, and I take a chance.

“Who did you really love more? Manny?”

“Yes, he was a boy, and I had lost my father and my two little brothers,” she says easily. “And he was always close to me.”

Then she adds, “But sometimes, you, more than anyone.”

This is even better than my father, who loved me most when I succeeded. The love she holds for me is there, even though I have failed her in every way.

She is so sweet as a dying person; she is so sweet even as she lies dead. So different from my father, who raged until the end, who took dying as a personal and undeserved final insult.

Gita is teaching me something about life that until then, despite all the diplomas, I had not learned. Becoming a mother has brought me close to the secret of her wisdom. Watching her fade, as love burns constant in her heart, brings me ever closer. She is a woman, with a woman’s modest and forgiving heart. If my father’s main question to me was “What did you accomplish?,” hers was, “What can I do for you?” or, “Isn’t this a joy, sitting here with our glass of tea?” 


When Gita was first diagnosed, my practical brother asked her to sign a legal document called a DNR. DO NOT RESCUCITATE…

Nonetheless, I am now thinking – DO RESUCICITATE!!

If a desert can bloom, if exiles can return, if an entire people can rise up from ashes and sand, so can she. So can my little Gita. I want her even as she is – she is still our Bubbe, our soft hands, our onions and bay leaves, our story.


But she dies. There is a smile on her face in death, a radiant smile. She looks alive… The hospital lets me stay with her as long as I want, and I stay for hours.

At her funeral, I cry as I have never cried before. I cry for her sad life, and I cry for her sweet girlishness, and her cuteness, and her socks, and the endless chicken soup and kitchen pan bustling …

I cry that we were never close enough. That I never learned to cook her recipes – yes the boiled chicken and the strange cabbage galuptzie and the mattress cake… chopped liver, flanken, or matzoh balls. All I can do is order in, and I blame feminism for that, for my contempt for her thankless domestic sacrifices. I am thanking her now as my children and I begin to try her old recipes.  


My mother, whether or not she understood me, would have died for me. When the Nazis put her mother on the “death” line, my mother ran over to her side and somehow got her out. She could have been shot, but she didn’t care. Had G-d asked her to take her child to a mountain and sacrifice her, Gitz Taitz, unlike Abraham, would not have obeyed. She would have said, “Take me instead.” She would have run up the mountain and laid herself down on the altar for me, as she once did for her mother. That is what a real mother can do.

And here is her last gift to a difficult child:

 “Du hast nicht keine shlechte bein…”

You don’t have a mean bone.

These final words are beautiful, and they will have to suffice me for the rest of my life. Coming from her, they mean more than Yale and Oxford put together. Like my dream of the magic mirror in Romper Room, Gita finally sees me through the glass. And I see her through mine. Even in her death, she is sweet, without specialness, or seeking specialness. She is mother, fragrant, giving.

I am not only the watchmaker’s daughter; I am hers.

May we and those we remember be seared into G-d’s memory so that we feel we can never be forgotten. And may we soon see the fulfillment of (Bereishis 50:24), “G-d will surely remember you and bring you up out of this land to the land which He swore to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov” soon in our days.

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