Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Real Battleground - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha from this Shabbos - Shoftim

Baruch Hashem, Rav Weinberger has approved this version of my write-up of his drasha from this past Shabbos, parshas Shoftim, which relates to the same topic as this week's parsha "When you go out to war against your enemies..." 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 5775
The Real Battleground 


Going Out to Battle 


The Torah teaches us in parshas Shoftim about the Jewish way in war. We learn who is fit to go out to the field of battle and who is exempt. The first three exemptions (Devarim 20:5-7) are one who has built a new house but not yet inaugurated it, one who has planted a vineyard but has not yet redeemed it, and one who has betrothed his wife but has not yet married her. But the most fundamental of the exemptions is the last one (ibid. 8): “And the officers shall continue to speak to the nation and say, ‘Who is the man who is fearful and faint of heart, let him go and return to his house and not weaken the heart of his brothers to be like his heart.’”  


It is clear that the presence or absence of fear is the most crucial factor in war. Victory in battle depends primarily on the morale, spirit, and disposition of the troops. This is true both in terms of people’s belief in what they are fighting for as well as their confidence in their own victory. When soldiers believe in the justice of their cause and in the ultimate success of their efforts, they invest their entire heart and soul and are ultimately victorious. But if they are filled with self-doubt, worries, and fear, or if they are ambivalent about the cause they are fighting for, it is almost certain that they will be defeated.  


This is why this parsha, which is devoted to how to prepare for battle, focuses primarily on the morale of the soldiers when they go out to war. The Torah says (ibid. 1-4):  


When you go out to war against your enemy and you see horse and chariot, a nation greater than you, do not be afraid of them, for Hashem your G-d, who lifted you up out of Egypt, is with you. And when you approach the war, the kohein shall approach and speak to the nation and say to them, “Listen Israel! You are approaching war with your enemies today. Let not your hearts become faint. Do not be afraid. Do not tremble and do not be terrified before them, for Hashem your G-d goes with you to do battle for you with your enemies to save you.”  


Even though the Jewish soldiers might be tempted to be afraid because they see an enemy with more soldiers than they have and more powerful weapons than they possess, the kohein anointed for war was commanded to reassure them that they had no reason to fear because Hashem, who performed all the miracles for them in Egypt, would personally arrange their victory. This message was not directed only at “the man who is fearful and faint of heart,” but at the entire nation. Hashem knew that His people would never be successful if they were filled with fear or self-doubt. They had to feel certainty and confidence in their ultimate success, or else they would not be victorious. 


Yeshayahu says in the haftara (51:13), “And you will forget Hashem who made you, who spread out the Heavens and founded the earth and you are always afraid all day because of the fear of the terrorizer who is preparing to destroy….” He was rebuking us for being unnecessary afraid and not internalizing the Torah’s reassurances. The Radak explains this passuk as follows: “You should have realized that the One who created the world has the power to save you from a human being. How were you afraid of a person and did not remember G-d, who, if you return to Him and ask Him, will save you from his hand?” We must know that if we trust in G-d and thereby feel confident in battle, victory is ours. 


We need this reassurance today more than ever. With anti-Semitism running rampant thorough the world and the Iranian regime’s path to nuclear weapons being paved by the White House, there are many reasons we might be afraid. But Hashem’s message to us through the Torah is that He “has our backs.” Our cause is just and we should fight those who seek to harm us with confidence in the morality of our efforts and in the certainty of our ultimate victory. 


The Spiritual Battle 


But Hashem’s message to us as we go out to battle is not only relevant to physical battle, which is not something that every Jew has to face. There is another type of battle hinted at in the parsha which does apply to every Jew at all times. It is now Elul, time to fortify ourselves for the ultimate battle. The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh, zy”a, offers an explanation of the passuk, “When you go out to war against your enemy.” He says: “Perhaps the passuk hints at a person’s war with his evil inclination and [the Torah] comes to remove the faintness from his hearts and says ‘When you go out to war,’ the well-known [war] greater than any other.”  


In this spiritual war, just like in a war against a physical enemy, victory depends on a feeling of confidence and a lack of fear and faint-heartedness. The greatest danger is when a person wants to return to serve G-d but is afraid that he is simply too weak and that he will not be successful in battle.  In the words of the passuk, he is afraid of “horse and chariot, a nation greater than you.” The Ohr Hachaim explains that these three things hint at the three main factors that take away a person’s confidence in his battle against the evil inclination.


“Horse” hints at the fact that one sees the evil inclination as a horse ready for battle, strong and powerful. The person, however, feels weak and ill-equipped for spiritual war. The Hebrew word for chariot (רכב) is connected to the word “mixed – מורכב.” Fighting one’s evil inclination is hard because we have mixed feelings. We desire not only holiness and goodness, but also physicality. Because we are not exclusively committed to our own side, we are afraid that we will not be successful. And “a nation greater than you – עם רב ממך” can also be translated to mean “a great nation from you.” We are afraid that our past sins have created a great nation of sins and evil forces which handicap us in our fight against the evil inclination.


If we had to fight this spiritual battle on our own, we might have reason to fear. But thankfully, we need not be afraid because we have our own kohein anointed for war, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohein Kook, zy”a, who shows us (Oros Hateshuva 14:4(1)) how the Torah’s message applies to us in our own fight against the evil inclination. He says, “Most failures come because a person does not believe in the ease of teshuva.” It is actually a cinch! A person thinks it is impossible for him to beat the evil inclination because he is under the impression that spiritual battle must be difficult and drawn out with many casualties and much pain. The truth is in the war of teshuva, victory is easy and guaranteed! The Holy One Blessed be He promises:  Go out to war! Be a soldier! And I promise you, “G-d will not abandon you into his [the evil inclination’s] hand” (Tehillim 37:33). “Hashem your G-d goes with you to do battle for you with your enemies to save you.” 


A Confident Elul 


Each person has his or her own favorite phrase hinted at by the letters of the word “Elul – אלול.” The most well-known is “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine [אני לדודי ודודי לי].” But there are several other, less well-known acronyms which correspond to the word Elul. One of the more interesting ones is “sending gifts a man to his friend, and gifts to the poor [איש לרעהו ומתנות לאביונים]” from the book of Esther (9:22). Yet another one is “And Hashem your G-d will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of [את לבבך ואת לבב] your children” (Devarim 30:6). 


But Rav Naftali Ropshitzer, zy”a, in the sefer Zera Kodesh has one that many people are not familiar with, which is particularly appropriate to the topic at hand: “For Hashem your G-d goes in the midst of your camp to save you and to give over your enemy before you [להצילך ולתת איביך לפניך], [so] your camp shall be holy…” (Devarim 23:15). Hashem is in our midst, fighting for us in our physical battles as well as our spiritual battles, so we need not be afraid. If we give ourselves over wholeheartedly to G-d in the battle for teshuva and thereby fulfill “I am my Beloved’s,” then we know Hashem will reciprocate – “my Beloved is mine.” 


Chabad chassidim have a tradition regarding another acronym for Elul: “לעבעדיק און ווייטער לעבעדיק – lively and more lively.” If we fight with confidence and joy because we trust in the fact that Hashem will make us successful in the battle against the evil inclination, the battle of teshuva, then it is certain that He will fight for us and we will win.  


As we say in L’Dovid starting in Elul, “Hashem is my light and my salvation, of whom should I be afraid?! Hashem is the might of my life, of whom should I be terrified?!” We must approach the battle for teshuva, for spiritual growth, with joy, confidence, and strength, and not with fear, dread, and hopelessness. As Rav Kook says (Igros Haraya II p. 36), “The foundation of everything is that one must come to explain the over-arching principle of the unwavering trust  in teshuva, the powerful serenity, and joyful might in which every person in whom the light of teshuva illuminates his soul must enclothe himself.”   


May we merit to remember Hashem’s love for us and His promise that He will do battle with our physical and spiritual enemies. By doing so, we will fight with confidence and certainty and Hashem will cause us to be victorious over those who would harm us physically and over the evil inclination. May we thereby merit to see the complete conquest of our enemies and the slaughter of the evil inclination with the coming of the complete redemption, may it be soon in our days!


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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Rav Moshe Weinberger's Guidance to Me on Responding to Tragic News in the Community

The daughter-in-law of an acquaintance of mine in the community just passed into the next world two days ago, on Monday. They discovered that she was suffering from oso hamachla 8 weeks ago, when she was 7 months pregnant. They caused the birth of a baby girl 4 weeks ago and operated at that time. A tremendous number of people in the community and around the world have been davening for her recovery. But in the end, she passed away anyway. She was 31 years old and left behind a husband and 3 daughters under 7 years old.

Because I wanted to support the father-in-law in this incredibly difficult time, I worked from home yesterday and attended the funeral, which was obviously very hard.

After mincha/maariv last night, I mentioned to Rav Weinberger that I had been at the funeral and that it was‎ very difficult. I think because he knew that I did not have a very close personal connection with the family, and I was not a close relative, this is what he said:



"It's very hard, but there is also such good news. Chanan (a member of the shul) just had a baby boy. So many other babies have come into the world in the past couple of days. Misha and Estee (other members of the shul who were in a serious car accident Sunday night) have seen tremendous miracles in their recovery‎. There is so much to be thankful for."

Rav Weinberger was giving me gentle mussar and teaching me an important point. There is bad news all over the world and I (and i'm sure many other people - that's why i'm posting this) focus excessively on that or feel that I'm not feeling other Jews' pain if I don't dwell on tragedies. 

‎It's important to note that the nifteres here was not my sister, best friend, or sister-in-law. Accordingly, this was not my pain. It was a question of feeling other Jews' pain. So Rav Weinberger was showing me how someone in my position should view tragedies. I should not put such an inordinate focus on them to the exclusion of other Jews' joyous occasions and smachos. ‎It shows that I don't truly connect to other Jews if I fail to focus on their celebrations and only notice tragic news. That lopsided focus only empowers the Kingdom of Sadness.

May I and the rest of us merit to rejoice in other Jews' much-more-numerous happy occasions and not place an inordinate emphasis on the sad times.

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Monday, July 6, 2015

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

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

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



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

Rabbi Yoni Levin
Parshas Balak 5775


This is a most humbling honor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allow me to explain. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Friday, June 19, 2015

Eretz Yisroel - Aish Kodesh Journey to Ukraine and Eretz Yisroel - June 4-7, 2015

Continuing the summary of the Torah, sights, and sounds the Aish Kodesh chevra experienced in Berditchev and Mezhibuzh and in Breslov and Uman, the chevra came to Eretz Yisroel on June 4, 2015 on Ukrainian International Airlines (after davening in the Kiev airport). The flight was not as bad as the airline's name implies it would have been.

When we arrived, we first checked into the King Solomon hotel.

Whenever Rav Weinberger refers to the maareh mekomos sheets, you can follow along by downloading those here

Reb Gamliel Rabinovitch, Shlita

After settling in to the hotel, we left to have a private meeting wth Reb Gamliel Rabinovitch, shlita. That meeting was remarkable. For those who have not met Reb Gamliel, he is a tremendous gadol in both the revealed and hidden Torah and is the Rosh Yeshiva of the kabbalah yeshiva, Shaar Hashamayim. The Rav is very humble, however, and hides his greatness behind a somewhat eccentric and self-effacing way of acting. Reb Gamliel helped set up the tables and chairs in his apartment himself and at one point even grabbed Rav Weinberger's hands and placed them on his head and would not let go until Rav Weinberger gave him a bracha. Here are some pictures from that visit, including some here of Rebbe with Reb Gamliel.

Click here for the mp3 recording of Reb Gamliel's words to our group. You can see a video of the meeting here:

[Video Coming Soon]

Kivros Hata'avah

Following the meeting with Reb Gamliel, the chevra had dinner at Papagaio, a Brazilian-ish style carnivorous restaurant in Yerushalayim. A good time was had by many a boich. After dinner, everyone was free for the rest of the evening.

Rav Kook Shiur and Kever Rochel

After davening and having breakfast Friday morning June 5, 2015, Rav Weinberger gave a short shiur in Rav Kook. You can listen to the mp3 of that shiur here. A number of young folks from the Shul who are in Eretz Yisroel for the year joined up with the chevra for this portion of the trip as well.

Rabbi Simcha Hochbaum of the Hebron Fund met us in Yerushalayim in a bullet-proof bus. He shared a lot of Torah and history with us as we made the short drive to visit our mother Rochel in Beis Lechem. It was troubling to see how Rochel is closed in on all sides by gigantic concrete walls to protect us from our cousins who wish to hurt us. It was also disheartening to see how we are live like prisoners behind walls at our own holy places in our own land. But it gave us more to daven for as we asked Hashem to remove the degradation of the Jewish people and bring Moshiach.

After the chevra said their own personal prayers and Tehillim, Rav Weinberger led the group in several Tehillim together. Here are some pictures from Kever Rochel.

Chevron and Me'aras Hamachpela

For many people, the highlight of the entire trip was our visit to Me'aras Hamachpela in Chevron, which was surprising since almost everyone had been there many times before.

The visit to Chevron started with Rabbi Hochbaum speaking with us about the history of the Jewish yishuv going back to the time of Avraham in Chevron and how there was literally a Jewish community there from that time (except the period of the Egyptian exile) until 1929, when the local Arabs massacred the Jewish community. He led us around the Jewish community and explained how they fought political and court battles for each and every home, building, and trailer that they built there were great mersirus nefesh. Here are some pictures from our tour of Chevron.

We climbed a hill in Chevron where, at the top, there was a natural spring and a number of olive trees believed to have been alive at the time of Avraham Avinu. Rabbi Hochbaum pointed out that the spring was the only one known to exist in the area, so it is entirely possible that it is the spring referred to in the pasuk when Avraham said to the angels which appeared as men (Bereishis 18:4), "Please take a little water and wash your feet." And it could be that one of the olive trees standing near the spring was the tree about which Avraham told the angels (ibid.), "And rest under the tree." With a fair warning that the water was freezing, many of the chevra immersed in the spring, which was quite an adventure! Here are some pictures of what we saw in Chevron and Mayan Avraham.

We then went down into Me'aras Hamachpela to visit one of the only sections at our holy site where Jews are allowed to pray. Many of us said heartfelt prayers and Tehillim while one of our Yishmaeli "cousins" gave an impassioned drasha in the next room over. The real highlight of the trip was when Rav Weinberger led the group in Tehillim, announcing, "Let us now say Tehillim with all of our strength and drown out the sound of impurity from the next room." I don't know if I've ever heard such heartfelt Tehillim before. One of the loudest lines was when we reached the pasuk, "Pour our Your wrath on the nations who do not know you and who do not call out in Your name!" I know that we shook the ceiling and shterred our neighbors' kavvanah.

But the most amazing part was feeling the electricity in the room of Avraham Avinu and Sorah Imeinu, Rav Weinberger led the group in screaming out the 13 attributes of Hashem's mercy: "G-d, G-d, merciful and compassionate G-d, patient, with great kindness and truth, who gives kindness to thousands [of generations], who carries sin and iniquity, and error, and who cleanses." Everyone cried out those words (in Hebrew obviously) seven times in unison at the top of their lungs. Rav Weinberger then led everyone in saying "Ana Hashem Hoshea Na" and "Ana Hashem Hatzlicha Na." Finally, we screamed out "Shma Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad!" There are no words to describe the feeling at that moment except, perhaps, for the words chosen by one of the chevra to describe that moment: "We rocked Shamayim." When the moment was over, we had a nice rikud. No one was able to take out a phone to film the davening, but [here] is a video of a portion of the dancing [coming soon].

After we took a group picture on the steps of Me'aras Hamachpela, our fearless organizer, Yitzchak Mordechai Feder, told us that Rabbi Hochbaum was trying to raise $10,000 to build much needed bathrooms for Chevron residents and run a summer program for the children of Chevron to give them chizuk in their pressure-filled life because of the area in which they live. He then began taking pledges and reached over $11,000 in approximately 60 seconds. It was gevaldik! Many people made their payments right then and there, rather than relying on their memory to fulfill their pledges later. It was a beautiful moment and a great conclusion to a very, very high visit to Chevron and Me'aras Hamachpela.

We have a partial video here, but here is a longer video of the dancing after the Tehillim and tefilos at the end of our visit to Me'aras Hamachpela:

[Coming Soon]

Shabbos in Yerushalayim

We took taxis to the Kosel in time to finish mincha before candle lighting time in Yerushalayim. We davened mincha in the Kosel plaza, but had to go into the interior area of the Kosel because one of the groups behind us was too loud for us to hear ourselves. We had a beautiful kabbolos Shabbos and Maariv led by Yitzy Halpern. Many people of all stripes, including chassidim, tourists, and everything in between joined with us. The dancing and Lecha Dodi was great. A non-observant father and two sons from San Diego davened with us and a couple of us helped them keep up with the pages in an Artscroll siddur. It turned out that the younger son was there for his bar mitzva and, in the middle of Maariv, blurted out to one of the chevra, "This is awesome!" IY"H, our davening was a kiddush Hashem not only for us but for those around us as well.

There were two other amazing things about davening with Rav Weinberger at the Kosel. First, a lot of old friends came to meet us there, so we saw former members who had made aliyah, and other long-time fans and chassidim of Rebbe. The second was the fact that wherever we went, it was obvious that Rav Weinberger is someone big because all people saw was a group of thirty men following closely behind a holy looking rabbi. So everywhere we went, people asked members of the chevra, "Who is that?" and then gave a knowing look when the answer was "Rav Moshe Weinberger."

Shabbos morning many people davened in the shul in the hotel. Others davened in a shul on the ground floor of a nearby apartment building. And another small group joined Aish Kodesh's friend Chaim Dovid at a small minyan at the Kosel led by an elderly Lelover chossid and mekubal, Rav Scheinberger. The chevra all got aliyos so they could say Hagomel and then went with everyone in the minyan to Rav Scheinberger's apartment in the Old City for kiddush and a drasha. One of the guys had a personal matter about which Chaim Dovid requested a bracha from Rav Scheinberger. Rather than giving a bracha, the Rav gave very specific directions regarding a specific series of actions the person was to take as a segulah to help with his issue. It was very intense. The guys by Rav Scheinberger were very eclectic ranging from chassidim to misnachalim types, to Americans and others. We sat very close to Rav Scheinberger and he was very friendly, asked us about ourselves and our Rav (he was familiar with Rav Weinberger) and wanted to make sure we ate everything we were served at the table.

Following kiddush and Rav Scheinberger's drasha, the Aish Kodesh chevra enjoyed a tour of Chaim Dovid's home and the beautiful view from his roof overlooking the Kosel and the Old City, including a number of beautiful Jewish homes in the "Muslim Quarter" which sported large, flowing Israeli flags. As he walked us out back toward our hotel, we met Motti Dan, one of the major figures at Ateret Kohanim, a group which purchases property in the "Muslim Quarter" of the Old City, Silwan, and other parts of Yerushalayim. It was fascinating to walk with him and see his home in the middle of the Arab neighborhood and other nearby Jewish buildings smack in the middle of that area, each sporting large, beautiful Israeli flags. The whole Shabbos morning was one adventure after another. Baruch Hashem!

Shabbos afternoon at shalosheudos, Rebbe spoke about many things, including the "Hungarian Wine" we had tasted during the trip and pressed us to consider how we would bring what we gained back to Woodmere to lift up the community and not allow the effect of the experience to be lost. Ephrayim Nudman, our faithful president, adjured the chevra to think about this when he spoke at one of the Shabbos seudos. So people should please continue discussing this after the trip is over!

Melaveh Malka on Netiv Areye Roof Overlooking Kosel with Shlomo Katz

We were zoche to have a Melaveh Malka led by Reb Shlomo Katz. Here are a few pictures of Rebbe with Shlomo. Some very great tzadikim and talmidei chachamim joined us as well. First, Rav Shlomo Bussu, who Rav Weinberger goes to for guidance, joined us for almost the entire Melaveh Malka, which is remarkable because he measures every single second with precision and rarely leaves his established schedule of Torah, avodah, and helping other Jews.

Rav Nosson Maimon of the Breslov Research Center was also there. In addition, Rav Yoel Rakovsky, a rebbe at Netiv Areye and mashpia to a number of the Aish Kodesh "yutes," was there. We were also happy to see Chaim Dovid there as he's a good friend of Rebbe and the shul, There were so many other great people there and old friends of the shul who came out to the Old City.

An mp3 of Rebbe's shiur from the Melaveh Malka, which was so moving and included some incredible stories, can be heard here.

Click here for a video of a portion of the Melaveh Malka which was circulated widely on Facebook and here for some pictures. And click here, here, and here for few videos taken from a nearby rooftop of our Melaveh Malka!

Here's a video of the whole Melaveh Malka:



After the Melaveh Malka was over, at about 1:30 am, Rav Weinberger walked to the Kosel with a group of people from the Melaveh Malka to say Tikkun Leah of the Tikkun Chatzos. Here is a video of a portion of that. After that, as noted above, people around the Kosel took note of the Rav wearing a shtreimel being followed by a large entourage and they posted a number of pictures, videos, and an article about Rav Weinberger's visit to the Kosel. You can see those here, here, and here. 

Meron, Tiveria

Right after davening on our last day in Eretz Yisroel, we left the hotel for good and headed up to Meron to daven by the kever of Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Click here to see some pictures of that. Following individual tefilos, everyone said Tikun Klali together and then sang "Bar Yochai" and "Amar Rebbi Akiva" with Yosef Karduner. A video of that is here:



Afterward, we went to the home of Menachem Solarsh, who has a beautiful home in Meron, very close to the kever of Rebbi Shimon. Click here for some pictures from that shiur. Mr. Solarsh is the owner of the Uman Inn where we stayed in Uman, so it was a great piece of continuity. Following that, we traveled up to Tzfas and immersed in the mikvah of the Arizal and davned by the kever of the Arizal. Finally, before traveling to the airport, we went to the kevarim of Rebbi Akiva and the Ramchal in Tiveria.

Here is the mp3 of the Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai shiur in Meron.

Rebbe gave a beautiful drasha at Mr. Solarsh's house. One small point that he made was an idea he quoted in the name of the Alter Rebbe. He said that while the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash took away the revelation of Hashem's presence from the Jewish people generally, it had no effect on the revelation of the Divine Presence for the greatest tzadikim. The specific tzadikim the Alter Rebbe mentioned were Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the Arizal, and the Baal Shem Tov. He then pointed out how we are so fortunate to be going to visit each of those three tzadikim in one week. Ashreinu!


Here is a video of that shiur:




As our last "activity" in Eretz Yisroel before leaving for the airport, following our visit to Meron, the group traveled to Tiveria and davened by the kevarim of Rabbi Akiva, the Ramchal, and the Arizal. Before davening by the Arizal's kever, most of the chevra immersed in the Arizal's mikva which, as cold as it was, was a cinch compared to the Mayan Avraham mentioned above! 

Here is the mp3 of the shiur Rav Weinberger gave by the kever of Rabbi Akiva.

And here is the final shiur Rav Weinberger gave during the trip, after davening at the kever of the Ramchal, which included a Baal Shem Tov story illustrating the fact that every Jew goes to the tzadikim, waiting to hear his own story.

Finally, here is a beautiful video showing highlights from the entire trip from Betditchev to Tiveria, put together by Sara Mehlman, a powerhouse of a woman, who put together the Ukraine leg of the trip and joined us for several parts of the program in Eretz Yisroel as well: