Monday, September 26, 2016

A Whole New World - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha from Parshas Ki Savo

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

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Ki Savo 5776
A Whole New World

The parshah is all about beginnings. It starts (Devarim 26:1-3, 5-6), “And it will be when you come to the land that Hashem your G-d gives you as an inheritance and you take possession of it and dwell in it, you shall take from the first of the fruits of the ground... You shall come to the kohein... and you shall say... An Aramean [attempted to] destroy my father, he went down to Egypt and dwelled there, few in number... And the Egyptians treated us cruelly and afflicted us...” Why, when we bring first fruits, bikurim, must we rehash all of these ancient bad memories? Those first making this recitation after our conquest of the land would have just endured the suffering of fourteen years of the deprivation and trauma of war. After all of their recent pain and sacrifice, what is the point of reminding of them of our people’s much older suffering?

A second question: Rashi (on ibid. 2), quoting the Mishnah (Bikurim 3:1), explains the process for separating bikurim. “A man descends into his field and sees a fig that has ripened. He wraps a reed around it as a sign and says ‘Behold, this is bikurim.’” Why do Chazal and Rashi focus on the fig as their paradigmatic example of bikurim? There are six other species with which Eretz Yisroel is praised. According to most opinions, the fig was the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil eaten by Adam and Chava! Why would they choose that fruit specifically? Why this repeated focus on bad memories from the past at the time of the joyous mitzvah of bringing our first fruits to the Beis HaMikdash?

Perhaps there is one simple message in all of this. No matter how many difficulties we have endured, no matter how bad the past was, no matter whether we have a reminder of the first sin sitting in our own field, Hashem is telling us that we still have bikurim – first fruits. We can make today the first day of an entirely new existence. And by “entirely new existence,” He means that today will not simply be a continuation from yesterday, but with certain improvements. It will be an entirely new existence.

Chazal say that “In the beginning” – i.e., the creation of the world itself, was in the merit of the mitzvah of bikurim (Bereishis Rabah 1:4) and in the merit of the Jewish people (Rashi on Bereishis 1:1). What is the nature of this connection between the Jewish people, first fruits, and the creation of the world, all of which are associated with the word “beginning?” Perhaps Hashem is trying to show us that the Jewish nation in general, and every single Jew in particular,  have a wondrous ability to move beyond all of the mistakes, sins, pain, and suffering of the past and start again from the beginning.

This Wednesday is 25 Elul, the anniversary of the creation of the world. And Rosh Hashanah is “yom haras olam,” the anniversary of the creation of man. This is the time of new creation. It is no coincidence that Rosh Hashanah is also called “The Day of Remembrance.” We want to call to mind the difficulty and suffering of the past year in order to remind ourselves that these very things will be turned around in the coming year. Hashem wants us to dip an apple in honey and say with simple faith, love, and optimism, “May it be Your will that this be a good, sweet year!” He wants us to know the exact nature of the pain and troubles which are being pushed into the past with the beginning of the brand new year.

It is the same with bikurim. That is why the one who brings them recalls the first sin that began all of our troubles, the suffering of Yaakov Avinu at the hands of Lavan, and our slavery and oppression in Egypt, as well as his own mistakes and suffering. The performance of the mitzvah, standing in the Beis HaMikdash, and enjoying the blessings of Eretz Yisroel show the one bringing bikurim that Hashem has given him the power to recreate himself. And learning this parshah reminds each of us that we all have the power to look at whatever mistakes we made before and say “Behold this is bikurim!” and rejoice before Hashem with the knowledge that we are living in a whole new world unencumbered by the past.

We know we have this power because the seforim hakedoshim (Arizal Ateres Rosh, and others) teach that every new year is a brand new reality which never existed before – with no connection to the past. Elul and Rosh Hashanah are the bridge, the pathway, to this new existence. The Maharal (Gevuros Hashem 51) says that the word for year, shanah, is from the same root as the word for change, shinui, because every new year offers the opportunity for a complete change from what existed in the past. And Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, zt’l, the Ramchal, says (Derech Hashem 4:8), “On this day [Rosh Hashanah], He renews the entirety of reality with the changing of the month, i.e., the new year.” Our whole effort as we cry out, “The King!” on Rosh Hashanah is to ask Hashem to create this new beginning again for us in the coming year. This, along with the mitzvah of bikurim, is the source of our ability to start again, to renew ourselves.

The last public address ever given by Rav Gedaliah Schorr, zt'l, the rosh yeshiva of Torah Vo'da'ath, was at the sheva brachos of a close student several days before the he passed on into the next world. Because Rav Schorr was very ill, his family begged him not to attend - but he insisted. They brought him in a wheelchair and, with every bit of strength he could muster, the rosh yeshiva told the bride and groom, and everyone else present, the following:

There is a custom to give the bridege and groom a gift at their wedding. And tibia known that Hashem observes the Torah just as we do on earth. So what is Hashem's gift to the bride and groom? If it comes from the infinite G-d, the gift must be the most perfect gift in the world. And what is this most perfect gift? What is the most valuable thing a bride and groom and receive? This gift is forgiveness. The husband's ability to forever his wife and a wife's ability to forgive her husband. No other commodity is more precious in a marriage than forgiveness.

Forgiveness comes from one's ability to tap into the power of Rosh Hashana, the poweof bikurim. It means recognizing that one can put the mistakes and pain of the past, whether self-inflicted or endured because of another person, and start again from scratch.

May Hashem grant us the ability to connect to the power Hashem has given us to renew ourselves. May we merit to remember that nothing that came before can drag us down or hold us back because they existed only in a previous world. In the world Hashem creates this coming year, those things never happened. May we merit to journey together into this new world and in this new year to Yerushalayim with Moshiach, where we can physically bring bikurim to the rebuilt Beis HaMikdash, may we see it soon in our days!

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

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Beyond Black Fire - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha from Shabbos Parshas Ki Seitzei

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

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Ki Seitzei 5776
Beyond Black Fire

The Torah, in this week’s parshah, lays out the punishment of one who violates one of the prohibitions in the Torah (Devarim 25:1): “You shall lash him 40 times, do not add...” The Mishnah (Makos 22a), however, explains the Torah as follows: “How many times do we lash him? Forty minus one, as the Torah says (Devarim 25:2-3), ‘in number forty...’ – i.e., a number that is close to forty.” Rashi explains that this means the “calculation which completes the total of forty, which causes it to reach forty, i.e., thirty-nine.”

The Gemara (Makos 22b) makes a remarkable comment about this derivation regarding the number of lashes given to a sinner: “Rava says, how foolish are those people who stand up before a sefer Torah but do not stand up before a great man. With regard to a sefer Torah, it says ‘forty,’ but the rabbis came and subtracted one.” In other words, the Torah, on a simple level says one thing. But the great men of Chazal are so brilliant and so great that they demonstrate an understanding of the Torah even deeper than its simple meaning, an understanding that yields a number of lashes one less than the proscribed count in the plain meaning of the Torah’s text. How can one stand up for the Torah without standing up for those who demonstrate a brilliance even more profound than the simple understanding of the Torah!

Rav Pinchas Friedman, shlita, connects this Gemara to well-known Midrash (Devarim Rabah 3:12): “Reish Lakish said, ‘The Torah given to Moshe is parchment of white fire on which is written black fire.” This is similar to the Yerushalmi (Shkalim 16b) which says, “The Torah which Hashem gave to Moshe was given to him as white fire imprinted with black fire.” We see from these teachings of Chazal that the black ink of the letters we are able to read in the Torah are compared to black fire and the white parchment in the background is compared to white fire.

Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, zy’a, explains this idea in Kedushas Levi (Likutim, d’hB’maseches Megilah”). He quotes Chazal’s explanation (Vayikra Rabah 13:3) of the passuk (Yeshayahu 51:4), “For Torah will go out from Me,” to mean that “The Holy One said, ‘[In Moshiach’s times,] a new Torah will go out from Me, a renewal of Torah will go out from Me.” He points out that this Midrash is extremely disconcerting in light of the fact that one of the fundamentals of our faith is that the Torah we have today will never be exchanged or changed even iota. What then do Chazal mean that when Moshiach comes there will be a new Torah?

The Berditchiver explains that that the black letters, the black fire of the Torah, is accessible to everyone. It understandable to everyone on its simplest level, “black on white.” On the other hand, the white parchment, the letters made of white fire, are the embodiment of the hidden aspect of the Torah, the aspect of the mind and intentions of G-d, so to speak, which cannot be expressed in finite words. The letters of white fire are only accessible to great people, those who have purified their thoughts, words, and actions to such an extent that they are able to look beneath the surface of the black letters of the Torah and into the white parchment below. The true hidden meaning of the Torah, the white fire on which the black fire of the letters of the Torah are written, is the “new Torah” that will be fully revealed at the time of the redemption.

In the fourth chapter of Tanya, the Alter Rebbe, zy’a, explains that just as G-d is infinite, so too His wisdom is infinite. Yet in His mercy, He constricted this infinite wisdom into the finite and comprehensible letters of the Torah. The color white corresponds to chesed, kindness, which is expansive and infinite. And the color black corresponds to justice and constriction. In Hashem’s kindness, He created the black letters of the Torah to constrict His wisdom to enable us as finite beings to grasp this constricted light of His wisdom.

While a deeper revelation of Hashem’s wisdom, the white fire of the Torah, will be accessible to us in the world to come, Hashem has given a taste of that light to the Sages of each generation who know how to look beyond the black letters of the Torah into the primordial parchment from which they were drawn – a taste of G-d’s infinite wisdom preceding its constriction.

We can now understand the Gemara’s statement, “How foolish are those people who stand up before a sefer Torah but do not stand up before a great man. With regard to a sefer Torah, it says ‘forty,’ but the rabbis came and subtracted one.” The black letters, the black fire of the Torah, seem to require “forty” lashes. But the Sages are so great that they can access the wisdom of the white fire, the deeper essence of Hashem’s will hidden in the white parchment. If one stands for the simple meaning of the black letters of the sefer Torah, how much more so must one stand for the people we depend on to access the deeper essence of G-d’s will!

But why does the Torah use the way Chazal explain the punishment of a sinner as the paradigmatic example of the depth of a “great man?” Why not something more pleasant? What do we learn from the fact that the greatness of the talmidei chachamim is demonstrated through the fact that they lessen the number of lashes given to one who intentionally violates the Torah?

One of the greatest leaders of his generation was Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, zt’l, of Vilna. His brilliance was beyond expression. It has been recounted that eye-witnesses saw Rav Chaim Ozer simultaneously writing a letter, responding to a halachic question, and correcting a his wife’s retelling of a newspaper article from the kitchen. It happened one summer that Rav Chaim Ozer met Rav Meir Yechiel Ostrovtzer, zy’a, a tzaddik and talmid chacham from the chassidic movement. Rav Chaim was extremely pleased with the opportunity to “talk in learning” with the Ostrovtzer because he had heard extensively of his brilliance in Torah.

Rav Chaim Ozer was hoping that the Ostrovtzer would share a novel Torah idea with him. In order to elicit one, the Rav began sharing his own Torah insights, hoping to spark a satisfying debate. The Rebbe, however, was extremely humble. Whatever the Rav said, the Rebbe simply nodded, “yes, a beautiful idea.” After several minutes of this, the Rav said in frustration, “Didn’t I hear about you that you are a great man!”

The Ostrovtzer then responded, “What does the Gemara call a ‘great man?’ One who can turn forty lashes into thirty-nine. Why does the Gemara demonstrate a Chazal’s greatness using such a morbid topic? It could have demonstrated this by showing how they took the fifty days counted between Pesach and Shavuos and made them forty-nine, a much more pleasant subject.” Rav Chaim agreed that this was a good question. The Ostrovtzer continued, “We see that the Gemara defines a great man as one who sees a Jew suffering, even a sinner, and does what he can to remove even a little bit of his pain. Brilliance in Torah is profound and critical to the Jewish people. But we chassidim define a great man not as a leading scholar, but as one who looks beneath the surface of a wicked man’s life in order to show him compassion.”


An average Jew may only be able to read the black letters of the Torah, whether the surface life of another comports with the simple directives of the Torah. But the sign of a great man is that he knows how to read the white fire below the black text. He knows how to see below the black surface of a sinner’s life to the pain beneath. May all of us merit to taste greatness while still in this world and witness the full revelation of the white fire of G-d’s wisdom with the coming of Moshiach and the complete redemption soon in our days!

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Marketplace or Shul? - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha from Parshas Shoftim

Baruch Hashem, Rav Weinberger has approved this version of my write-up of his drasha from this Shabbos, parshas Shoftim. See here for past shiurim at YUTorah.org'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 Shoftim 5776
Marketplace or Shul?

This is the parshah of malchus, kingship. In it (Devarim 17:9), we learn that a Jewish king must write a sefer Torah and “It shall be with him and he shall read from it all the days of his life...” This phrase, “all the days of his life,” may sound very familiar to us because we read something very similar twice a day during Elul in the L’Dovid prayer (Tehillim 27:4), “One thing I ask of Hashem, it alone I seek, to dwell in the house of Hashem all the days of my life...”

We must understand what Dovid HaMelech is asking for in this tefillah. It seems that his desire was to immerse himself in davening and learning all of the time and to do nothing else. But Chazal explain another request by Dovid HaMelech that seems very different. He says (Tehillim 116:9), “I will walk before Hashem in the lands of life.” There are many explanations regarding the meaning of “the lands of life,” but Chazal say (Yuma 71a) this refers to “the marketplaces and streets” of the world. So which is it? Does Dovid HaMelech only want to dwell in shul and in the beis midrash? Or does he want to walk before Hashem in the marketplaces and streets? He seems to be conflicted.

There is another related Midrash (Vayikrah Rabah 35:1) from parshas Bechukosai on another passuk in Tehillim (119:59), “I calculated my paths, but my legs returned me to Your statutes.” The Midrash explains that statement as follows: “Dovid said, “Master of the World, every single day I would think and say, ‘I will go to a certain place or a certain residence,’ but my legs would take me to shul and the beis midrash.” On a simple level, this means that even though, as king, Dovid HaMelech had many appointments and many places to be, he simply couldn’t help himself. He missed all of his appointments and instead went to learn and daven!

The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh on Bechukosai explains that he did this because of his great desire for Torah. And the word for “my legs” in Hebrew (רגלי) hints at the Hebrew word for “habit” (הרגל), implying that Dovid HaMelech went to shul and the beis midrash instead of to his appointments out of habit because that is where he always went. Whatever the explanation, the simple meaning of the Midrash is difficult. Dovid was the king. He had responsibilities. Could it be that he left everyone waiting for him while he sat and learned? The nation was relying on him. The country would have fallen apart if he had missed all of his appointments and shirked his obligations!

Perhaps the Midrash means to hint at something else. Dovid HaMelech was a responsible king who loved and felt accountable for the wellbeing of the nation. He certainly kept all of his appointments. So what does it mean that “my legs would take me to shul and the beis midrash?” Because his whole essence was Torah and tefillah, even though he physically went to his conference rooms and meetings, he was just as connected to Hashem while engaging in those activities as he would have been in shul or the beis midrash.

This may also be what Dovid HaMelech meant when he asked to walk before Hashem in the marketplaces and streets of the world. He wanted to be conscious of Hashem’s Presence and connected as deeply to Him when he was in those places as he was in shul. Dovid HaMelech’s desire was to dwell in the house of Hashem all the days of his life through the marketplaces, streets and appointments of life. This is was his goal.

Unfortunately, many of us do not follow Dovid HaMelech’s example. We do not take the shul and beis midrash with us when we leave in the morning. A person might dip dozens of times in the mikvah, learn diligently and sway back and forth during davening, but the moment he leaves shul, it is like he is a different person. An hour after leaving the beis midrash, the same person who was davening with his eyes closed and palms raised in the air is now signing a document filled with falsehood. The same mouth this person used to say “Fortunate are those who dwell in Your house,” makes crude jokes and speaks flirtatiously with the secretary a few minutes later.

I was in the mountains one summer about 35 years ago in a bungalow colony whose male members took the local softball league very seriously. Baruch Hashem I was one of the players and very much enjoyed the game. One morning during davening, I noticed that one of the men from the colony, while still wearing his talis and tefillin, went outside to walk around. At first I thought that perhaps he had gone to do some Breslov-style hisbodedus – meditation – in the woods. But he returned a few minutes later to announce, while davening was still ongoing, that there was more dew than usual on the grass and that it would be a slippery infield. Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, zy’a, might have said that this Jew was so holy that he made sure to wear his talis and tefillin even when he was doing something as mundane as preparing for a softball game. But for most of us, such activities indicate that we have not yet learned to walk before Hashem in the lands of life. Many of us have left the shul and beis midrash even while our bodies are still there.

Using the above ideas, we can now understand a previously baffling Gemara (Chagigah 5b):

Rav Idi, the father of Rabi Yaakov bar Idi, [beginning after Pesach,] was accustomed to walking for three months, studying one day in the beis midrash of Rav[, and then walking back home for three month to be with his family for Sukkos]. And the students [in the beis midrash of Rav] would call him, “One-day student of Rav.” He became despondent [because of the knickname] and applied the following passuk (Iyov 12:4) to himself, “I am as a laughingstock to his friend.”

Rav Yochanan said to him, “I ask of you, please [do not hold a grudge against them in order that Hashem not] punish the students.” Rav Yochanan went out to the beis midrash and delivered a lecture expounding on a passuk (Yeshayahu 58:2): “They seek Me daily and they wish to know My ways...” Why would they seek Hashem “daily” but not “nightly?” Instead, [the focus on the word “day” in the passuk] comes to teach you that if anyone studies Torah, even one day a year [like Rav Idi], the passuk considers it as if he had studied Torah for the entire year.

Of course the Gemara is not attempting to help people rationalize insufficient study of Torah or minimize the importance of learning as much as one is able. So what is its point? Rav Idi must be one of those unusual tzaddikim whose way of serving G-d involved traveling to many places. Rav Yochanan wants us to understand that if a person must involve himself in the marketplaces, appointments, and streets of the world, as long as he pines and desires to dwell in Hashem’s house, to seek out the pleasantness of His Face, Hashem considers it as if he is still in the beis midrash or shul, regardless of where G-d’s will in his life takes him.  The main thing is where a person’s intentions are. Where does he want to be?

The Divrei Chaim of Sanz, zy’a, was famous for the fact that at his Friday night tischen, he seated the poor people, who depended on the tisch for their meal, around the table, and all of the other chassidim sat in the outer rows. One Friday night, when the assistants brought out the chicken for the meal, the Rebbe said to his son, the Divrei Yechezekl, zy’a, “You see that poor Jew over there. He has a lot of mazel. Watch. You will see that he will receive the biggest portion of chicken.”

They watched, and sure enough, this Jew received the largest portion. Later in the evening, the Divrei Yechezkel asked his father, “Rebbe, if this Jew has such great mazel, why is he a such a poor person with torn clothing?” The Rebbe thought for a moment and then answered, “This Yid has a lot of mazel. Whatever he truly wants, he will receive. The problem is that the only thing he wants in life is a big piece of chicken.”


The main question we must ask ourselves is, “What do I want?” Do we want to lose ourselves and forget Hashem in the marketplaces of the world? Or do we want to see G-d and serve Him in the proper way there? Do we desire to sanctify G-d’s name in the way we conduct ourselves at work? Do we act with refinement and honesty because we only want to dwell in Hashem’s house in the land of the living? These are the questions we must ask ourselves. May Hashem help us achieve this goal through the full revelation of His kingship and the kingship of Moshiach, the descendant of Dovid HaMelech in Yerushalayim and Eretz Yisroel soon in our days!

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

Monday, August 29, 2016

Rav Moshe Weinberger - Parshas Eikev - Growing Up

Baruch Hashem, Rav Weinberger has approved this version of my write-up of his drasha from this Shabbos, parshas Eikev. See here for past shiurim at YUTorah.org'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 Eikev 5776
Growing Up

What is the nature of the transition of a young man or woman from a child, who is exempt from the mitzvos and punishments of beis din, to bar or bas mitzvah, when he or she is obligated to observe the mitzvos and is subject to the punishments of beis din (Chulin 12a, Sanhedrin 68b; Chagigah 2a; etc.)? Teshuvos HaRosh (Yi’ud Rishonim) explains that a child under bar or bas mitzvah is halachically not considered a bar daas, possessing mature intellect. No one should be offended by this. Even a genius like the Vilna Gaon was exempt from mitzvos as a child. The Rosh explains that the fact that a child is not a bar daas is a halachah l’Moshe miSinai, a direct transmission from Sinai.

Let us look at this more closely. What is the precise nature of this change in intellectual maturity between childhood and adulthood? The Navi Yeshayahu, who offers us so much consolation regarding the upcoming redemption in the haftarahs we read in the seven weeks after Tisha B’Av, also describes eighteen serious challenges the Jewish people will face at different times in history.

The Gemara (Chagigah 14a) explains, based on psukim in Yeshayahu, the nature of the malady of our generation, the last one before Moshiach at the end of time.  Our generation is also hinted at in the name of our parshah, Eikev, which means “heel,” the last and least part of the body. But it also a hint at the fact that our generation is the generation of ikvisa d’meshicha, the footsteps of Moshiach. What is the main issue plaguing us? “The youth will elevate himself over the elder and the lightweight over the honored one” (Yeshayahu 3:5). The Gemara explains that this means that for the youth and the lightweight, “serious things appear to him as insignificant.” Regardless of a child’s intellectual acumen, the key sign of intellectual maturity is the ability to recognize the true importance of important things and not ascribe undue significance to trivial matters. As the Yerushalmi (Brachos 5:2) says, “Without intellectual maturity, how can one make distinctions?”

Rav Yerucham Levovitz, the Mirer Mashgiach, zt’l, writes that one of the most fundamental principles of Yiddishkeit is to properly understand the importance of things. The passuk at the beginning of our parshah (Devarim 7:12) says, “And it will be, because you will heed these laws...” Rashi explains that this refers to the mitzvos one tends to take lightly. The Torah is telling us we must listen to these mitzvos just like we listen to the other laws. We must recognize their importance despite the fact that people usually take them lightly. And the mishnah in Avos (2:1) says, “Be as careful with a ‘light’ mitzvah as with a ‘heavy’ one, for you do not know the reward of mitzvos.” The evil inclination’s main goal in this generation is to cause people, both adults and children, to shrug off profound matters as insignificant and give great deference and respect to trivial things.

Many adults today fail to recognize what is and is not important. A frum Jew will scoff at a man studying in kollel for twenty years, calling him a bench-warmer. But a moment later he will discuss A-Rod’s retirement with the greatest admiration and respect. While there is nothing wrong with appreciating a human being’s ability to hit a ball, the inability to understand what is important in life and what is insignificant is profoundly disappointing.

The Gemara (Sotah 49b) says that “At the time of the footsteps of Moshiach, chutzpah will increase... and [people will perceive that] the wisdom of the scholars becomes putrid.” The chutzpah we see in both children (and adults who think like children) today is a function of the lack of daas, intellectual and spiritual maturity.

Being an adult means knowing that major spiritual potential exists in every encounter one has with others. Every single conversion with another person is an opportunity to give a kind word, offer encouragement, or spread positivity and light.

Simply consider Rivka Imeinu. She offered a drink to Eliezer, as well as his camels. The Torah spends passuk after passuk relating the details of this ostensibly insignificant act of kindness. Hashem obviously wanted us to understand that we would not be who we are and that our people would not be complete without this act of kindness, which ultimately was the sign by which Eliezer made the match between Rikva and Yitzchak. This couple then formed the foundation of the Jewish people, who are the building blocks of a long process ultimately culminating in the redemption at the end of time. The Torah wants us to understand the deep significance in every act of kindness no matter how “trivial” it seems as the time.

Contemplate the kindness of Shifra and Puah, also known as Yocheved and Miriam. They took care of and comforted suffering Jewish babies during Pharaoh’s mass slaughter of Jewish children. All they did was what comes naturally to any mother. They cooed and comforted crying children. Yet their quiet acts of kindness formed the basis for the birth of Moshe Rebbeinu, our redemption from Egypt, and the Jewish people’s acceptance of the Torah shortly afterward, all of which are the precursor of the ultimate redemption. Hashem wants us to understand that the details in life are not so minor. Profound significance is hidden within them if only we recognize their true importance and seize the subtle opportunities for greatness hidden in day-to-day life.

It is a sign of childish immaturity to only appreciate things that seem “big” and important. But truly “big” people recognize the importance of the things that seem small to others. For example, the unfortunate individuals who currently or have previously served as president of our shul over the years are important people in their respective professions. Yet they involve themselves in the countless myriad of details that are an inherent part of maintaining the daily operation of the shul. That is true greatness.

Rav Yerucham, who lived at the beginning of the twentieth century, recounts how, in his time, using microscopes, scientists were just discovering entire ecosystems, whole worlds, in objects and organisms  smaller than a grain of sand. He saw in this a tremendous lesson. If so much exists in mere physical objects, how much more greatness must be hidden in the thoughts, words, and actions of a Jew. He explains, “This is the work of Mussar, to magnify things. Because of the weakness of our vision and the frailty of our hearts, we do not see the greatness of things. But Mussar is the ‘magnifying glass’ allowing us to gaze deeply into the inner essence of things... to draw out from everything the greatness hidden within every detail.”

Consider the mitzvah of bringing one’s first fruits to Yerushalayim. There is no defined minimum amount one must bring. Therefore, one may technically fulfill his Torah obligation by bringing even one seed from one of his fruits, thereby fulfilling his obligation for an expansive field. One tiny seed could justify a person using the prayer found in the Torah (Devarim 26:15), “Look down from Your holy dwelling, from Heaven, and bless Your nation Israel and the land that You gave us, just as You swore to our fathers...” And the Gemara (Sotah 39a-b) explains that, when a Jew fulfills the mitzvah to bring first fruits, the kohanim would offer the prayer, “Master of the World! We have done what you have decreed of us. Now do with us what you promised us!”

How can all of this be? Is it possible that while everyone else comes to Yerushalyim bringing baskets and baskets of luscious fruits to the Beis HaMikdash, one particular Jew brings just one tiny seed to fulfill his obligation and this justifies such profound prayers? The fact that it can is a lesson to us that we cannot judge the importance of an object or act by looking at how big or small it is. We must look deeply to see what significance the Torah places on it.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s book released on the twentieth yahrtzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zy’a (p. 204), he recounts the following story that illustrates this beautifully:

In 1982, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, who today directs development for the global network of shluchim, was asked by Rabbi Chaim Hodakov, the Rebbe’s chief of staff, to visit the small Jewish community on the Caribbean island of Curaçao, and deliver a speech about Judaism there. One of those who attended Kotlarsky’s talk was a man named Chaim Yosef Groisman, who seemed startled that a representative of Chabad had come to his hometown. Decades earlier, Groisman’s grandmother had told him that if he ever encountered a difficult, seemingly insurmountable problem, the person to whom he should turn was the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Now, indeed, Groisman had a problem, and a representative of the Rebbe had come to Curaçao. Groisman consulted with Rabbi Kotlarsky, who was able to assist him. Shortly thereafter he wrote Kotlarsky a warm letter thanking him, and asked him “to tell the Rebbe that a small Jew from Curaçao felt that the Rebbe . . . touched my soul.”

Rabbi Kotlarsky sent a copy of the letter to the Rebbe, who was moved by Groisman’s heartfelt thanks, though distressed by one aspect of the man’s warm regards: “I must take exception to your referring to yourself as ‘a small Jew from Curaçao,’” he wrote to Groisman. “Every Jew, man or woman, has a soul which is part of G-dliness above, as explained in the Tanya. Thus, there is no such thing as ‘a small Jew,’ and a Jew must never underestimate his or her tremendous potential.”

Every Jew, every detail, has such potential packed within it. The greatest tragedy of all is to trivialize ourselves, to fail to see the greatness within. May we merit being big people and may we merit spiritual, intellectual, and emotional maturity, thereby finally earning the complete fulfillment of that which we say in kedushah in Mussaf on Shabbos: “Indeed I will redeem you, the last ones like the first ones, to be to you G-d, I am Hashem your G-d.”

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

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Rav Moshe Weinberger - Parshas Va'eschanan - When Everything Else is Striipped Away

Baruch Hashem, Rav Weinberger has approved this version of my write-up of his drasha from last Shabbos, parshas Va'eschanan. See here for past shiurim at YUTorah.org'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 Va’eschanan 5776
When Everything Else is Stripped Away 


This week, I was thinking about a beautiful Midrash on the parshah (Sifri, Devarim 36). In it, Chazal say, “The Jewish people are so precious that the Torah surrounded them with mitzvos: tefillin on their heads, tefillin on their arms, mezuzos on their doors, and tzitzis on their garments. Regarding them Dovid said, ‘Seven in a day I praise You for Your righteous statutes’ (Tehillim 119:164).” The passuk quoted by the Midrash refers to the fact that Dovid HaMelech was inspired to praise Hashem seven times a day for the seven mitzvos that surround His children as a sign of how precious they are to Him: four tzitzis on their garments, tefillin on their heads and arms, and a mezuzah on their doors. 


The Midrash then continues with a well-known story about Dovid HaMelech, “He entered the bath house and saw himself naked. He said, ‘Woe that I am naked of mitzvos!’ He then gazed at the sign of the covenant on his flesh and began to arrange his praise [after leaving the mikvah], as the passuk (Tehillim 12:1) says, ‘For the conductor, on the eighth, a song of Dovid,’” a hint at bris milah, which is done on a baby’s eighth day of life.  


What exactly happened to Dovid HaMelech in the mikvah? What was the nature of the epiphany he had there? He certainly wasn’t embarrassed by the fact that the other people in the mikvah “caught” him without his tefillin and tzitzis on. First, that is the nature of the place and what everyone would expect. Second, as he was the king of the Jewish people, when he entered the mikvah, everyone else certainly left as soon as he arrived! 


Besides the fact that Hashem told us to, why do we wear tefillin and tzitzis and put mezuzos on our doors? We bind tefillin on our heads and our arms to remind us to bind our minds and actions to Hashem’s will. Wearing tzitzis remind us, wherever we go, of the mitzvos. And the mezuzah reminds us, before we leave the house, to remember Hashem’s will in all the choices we make as we journey out into the world. They stand as reminders to awaken our minds to remember our connection to Hashem and His will – “Seven in a day I praise You.” 


But Dovid HaMelech was bothered by the question: What happens if all of the reminders that keep my actions and thoughts in the right place are removed? What is left of me? Do I still have a connection with Hashem? Is it all external? Do I have an essential connection with G-d? How have all of these reminders affected my essence, if at all? Perhaps this question is what caused Dovid to cry out, “Woe that I am naked of mitzvos!”


It is so easy for us to allow Yiddishkeit to be reduced to one long string of reminders and signs without any change in the nature of who we are, what we want, or the nature of our consciousness. One’s entire Jewish life may only be defined by one’s rebbe, morah, family, shul, yeshivah, and the checklist of Jewish activities one engages in on a daily, weekly, or yearly basis.  These signs of Hashem’s love surround us on all sides and are wonderful. But does the way we rely on them make us into empty shells? What are we without them? Have they changed us on the inside?


How does one act when he is naked of mitzvos? When all the reminders are somewhere else and something pops up on the screen on a person’s phone, even unintentionally, what does he do? What is left when he is stripped of every external reminder and motivator to keep him or her on the straight and narrow? Is he still connected to Hashem and his Yiddishkeit? 


Perhaps Dovid HaMelech’s fear at that moment in the mikvah was about what happens when one takes away all of his external badges of Divine service, when he was truly naked of mitzvos, disconnected from everything outside of himself. He was worried whether, after removing all of the “means” in his life, whether the “ends” had become part of his essence. 


What was his epiphany? He realized that the part of him which was always covered, which was most private, the part of him so internal that it was part of his very flesh, had never left him. “This is My covenant which you shall observe, between Me, you, and your children after you: circumcise for yourselves every male.” (Bereishis 17:10). This hidden sign of “My covenant” is the symbol of the relationship between the Jewish people and Hashem because it is invisible. It cannot serve to jog the memory. It only exists as part of our essence. That was his comfort and the subject a new chapter of Tehillim.


What does it mean to be so connected to mitzvos that one feels connected even when he is stripped of everything in this world, both physical and spiritual? I once read about a Gerer chassid who was interred in one of the concentration camps. Because he had violated some Nazi rule or other, he was decreed to die. But to amuse themselves and torment the other Jews, they decided to kill this Jew by stripping him of all of his clothing and throwing him into a lime pit. This was a particularly gruesome death because lime acts like acid, burning the flesh.  


When the Nazis threw this Jew into the pit to die, with everyone else looking on helplessly, he cried out: “Master of the World! I stand here naked before you.” And because it was Sukkos at the time, he continued: 


You commanded me to take an Esrog, But I have no Esrog. You say that the Esrog corresponds to the heart, and I do have a heart. You told me to take a Lulav and that a Lulav corresponds to the spine. I have no Lulav but I do have a spine. You commanded me to take Haddasim corresponding to the eyes and Aravos corresponding to the lips. I have no Haddasim or Aravos but I do have eyes and lips. And let the cloud rising up from the crematoria be my Sukkah! Please, Master of the World, I ask that you take back my heart, spine, eyes, and lips back up to You and consider it as if I have fulfilled all of my obligations to you! 


Each of us is surrounded by a myriad of mitzvos and positive Jewish role models, environments, and lessons. But if they remain as external reminders which, if removed, would leave us naked of mitzvos, then they will not have ever fulfilled their purpose. Let us merit not to be satisfied with the externals marks of Yiddishkeit alone. May we succeed in driving these reminders of our relationship with Hashem deep into our minds and hearts so that when we enter our version of Dovid HaMelech’s mikvah, we too will rejoice in tour own internalization of our covenant with Hashem.


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

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

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


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






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

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Delivery of Uniforms on Shabbos

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

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

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

Clothing Transforms us

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

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

Overcoming our יצר הרע

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

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

בגד

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

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

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

Marine Commercial

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

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

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

Setting the Tone for the Day

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

Closing

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

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

Thursday, December 24, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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