Friday, June 22, 2018

I Know - Rav Moshe Weinberger - Personal Story with the Lubavitcher Rebbe - Korach 5778

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

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

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Korach 5778
I Know

Despite all of the difficulties caused by Dasan and Aviram, Moshe made one final attempt to speak with them. But when they made it clear that they would not even engage in a sincere conversation with him, saying, “We will not ascend” (Bamidbar 16:12), Moshe became angry. He said to Hashem, “Do not accept their offering!” (ibid. 16). Rashi, quoting the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabah 10), explains that Moshe was saying, “I know that they have a portion in the communal Daily Offerings. May their portion not be accepted favorably before You. Cause the fire to leave it and not consume it.”

First, why does Moshe say “I know that they have a portion…,” as if this is some special secret that only he knows about? Everyone knows that the Tamid, Daily Offering, is paid for with the half Shekel collected from every single Jew. Second, the truth is that no individual has a portion in the Tamid offerings because they are communal offerings, which are distinct from individual offerings and from offerings brought by several partners. In each of these scenarios, there are identifiable individuals to whom the offering is associated. Communal offerings, by contrast, are not attributable to a million individuals. Rather, the Communal offerings have only one owner – the Jewish people as one whole. So how can Moshe say that Dasan and Aviram have a portion in the Tamid offering?

These questions are answered in Likutei Sichos 33 by the tzaddik whose twenty-fourth yohrtzeit is today, 3 Tamuz, the Lubavitcher Rebbe zy’a. There, the Rebbe explains something about tzaddikim in general, but there is no question that he was describing himself to a T. The Rebbe reiterates the point that communal offerings are not ascribed to any one, or even to a collection of individuals, by quoting the Gemara (Zevachim 4a). According to Chazal there, if the kohein bringing an individual offering has in mind the wrong individual, the korban is disqualified. But when it comes to a communal offering, if the kohein thinks about an individual, even an idol-worshiper, it does not affect the offering. This is because the communal offering belongs to only one owner, the Jewish people. After an individual donates his half Shekel to the Beis HaMikdash, the Tamid and other communal offerings purchased with that money is no longer identified with that individual. They are only identifiable as part of something greater, the Jewish people as a whole.

Two Modes of Government

The Rebbe explains that there are two primary philosophies undergirding the various forms of government: those that prioritize the individual and those that prioritize the community. This debate rages on until today. Systems of government which prioritize the community recognize that they must sometimes do so at the expense of individual rights. For example, New York City’s recent stop-and-frisk policy was based on statistical data and was successful in reducing crime in communities plagued by high crime rates. Yet because of the program’s nature, the subjects of the policy disproportionately belonged to certain races, regardless of whether they, as individuals, had any greater likelihood of possessing contraband. To the extent a policy favors the community, it will come at the expense of individual rights.

And in this example, governments which prioritize individual rights over those of the community would say that it is better to allow crime rates in impoverished communities to increase rather than infringe on the rights of any individuals within those communities. These two general approaches are mutually exclusive. Any increase in the emphasis of one comes at the expense of the other.

This tension between the needs of the group and the needs of the individual is extremely difficult to balance, even for much smaller collectives. Within a family, for instance, if there is only one child, it is not very challenging. But in families with two or more children, the parents naturally tend to govern based on the wellbeing or vision of how the entire family should look. Children who do not neatly fit into this overall vision often suffer. It is very difficult to act with every individual child according to his or her nature without this negatively affecting other children or the family as a whole.

The challenge becomes even more difficult for teachers and rebbeim. Most work to enable the class as a whole to prepare for the next regent or test, even though some children are left behind. It is a rare teacher who is able to drive the class as a whole forward while working with individual students who would otherwise feel left out, giving them what they need to succeed as well.

The tzaddik is the rare individual who knows how to contain within himself an impossible duality –  unbreakable focus on the welfare and development of the entirety of the Jewish people with an unwavering focus on the wellbeing and growth of every individual. This is why Moshe Rebbeinu said “I know that they have a portion….” In almost every way, the individual Jews’ portions in the communal offerings is lost. Only the tzaddik has the ability to see every individual’s portion within the national offering.

My Story

While the Lubavitcher Rebbe concerned himself with building Jewish institutions and Jewish life in every nook and cranny throughout the world, most stories people tell about him involve the Rebbe’s unique ability to take care of individuals’ needs, no matter who they were or where they lived. In fact, this time last year, a book was published called “My Story,” recounting 41 individuals’ stories of their encounters with the Rebbe.

I would therefore like to share my own story with the Rebbe: When I was in my last year of college at Yeshiva University, I was at a crossroads – facing what I felt was the most critical decision in my life. On one hand, I considered attending law school. I had even attended the Kaplan LSAT preparation course, though I spent most of those classes listening to Simon and Garfunkel on my Walkman. My mother was an extremely strong and persuasive proponent of this option. And my father always told me that it was better to go into a profession than into business because it would be easier to find a job even in difficult economic times. But my heart told me that I should continue learning Torah and pursue chinnuch, teaching in yeshivah. It was an extremely difficult choice.

Despite the fact that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was no longer holding individual meetings, I traveled to Crown Heights one Sunday. I did not have a clear plan, but I knew that the Rebbe finished Micha and left to daven at the grave of his father-in-law, the Friediker Rebbe zy’a, at the same exact time every Sunday. I suppose that I planned to try and catch the Rebbe’s attention and ask my question before he got into his car. If he normally left at, for example 3 p.m., I waited outside 770 Eastern Parkway at 2:55. I was initially pleasantly surprised by the fact that there were only three or four other people around. I thought it might be easier than I had originally anticipated to catch the Rebbe’s attention. Unfortunately, at approximately 2:59, hundreds chassidim appeared seemingly out of nowhere and gathered on either side of the sidewalk between the exit from 770 and the Rebbe’s car.

Not being a particularly pushy individual, I found myself about three rows back from the front of the row of people on my side of the sidewalk. My hopes of even catching the Rebbe’s eye now seemed completely unrealistic. A few of the chassidim around me, however, seemed to feel bad for me, realizing that if a young man like me, with a little kippah srugah, knitted yarmulke, was there, I must have some important reason for wanting to see the Rebbe. They therefore pulled me to the front row. Thankful for their help, I hoped that I would at least have the chance to make eye contact with the Rebbe.

When the Rebbe emerged from 770, he walked extremely quickly, carrying a siddur in one hand and a bag of kvitelach to bring to the Ohel in the other hand. With each step he took, he nodded purposefully at those in the crowd around him. As he sped past, I sadly realized that the Rebbe did not even notice my presence and I was not able to make eye contact.

The Rebbe began to duck into the car waiting for him when he paused for a moment. He then turned around and walked straight up to me. He stood about one foot in front of my face without saying a word. After a moment, looking at me straight in the eyes as he did so, he simply pumped his fist into the air in a gesture which said to me, “You can do it! You will succeed!” And just as quickly as he had come, he turned back toward his car, got in, and left. The chassidim around me were baffled, and asked me what was going on and why the Rebbe had stopped and gestured to me.

Afterward, when I returned home to process what had happened and what the Rebbe’s message meant to me, I understood it to mean that despite the fact that Torah and chinnuch held a more uncertain financial future, that I could do it, and that I would succeed. My mother, however, was convinced that the Rebbe was telling me, “You can get into Columbia Law School!” But in the end, I took the Rebbe’s encouragement to mean that I should continue to pursue my dreams of continuing to focus on Torah and chinnuch.

That is why we need and love true tzaddikim like the Lubavitcher Rebbe. While they live and die for the welfare and development of the Jewish people, they continue to concern themselves and care about every single one of us as well. They tell each of us, “I know. No one else may understand you, but I know your pain and your deepest desires and dreams. I haven’t forgotten about you.”

May Hashem send the ultimate tzaddik, Moshiach Tzidkeinu, into the world soon in our times so that we can also return to Yerushalayim for the ultimate fulfillment of our national and individual potential.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

We Will Surely Succeed! - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha from Shlach 5778

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

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

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Shlach 5778
We Will Surely Succeed!

When we last saw our heroes in last week’s parshah, we were left with a feeling of optimism. Moshe said, “We are traveling to the place about which Hashem said, ‘I will give it to you’” (Bamidbar 10:29). We were on the cusp of entering and building Eretz Yisroel. We are therefore heartbroken when we read, in parshas Shlach, the spies’ report and the people’s reaction to it: “But the nation that dwells in the land is mighty, the cities are great and extremely fortified, and we saw the children of giants there” (ibid. 13:29).

The people broke out into raucous complaining against Moshe and against entering Eretz Yisroel, such that no one even had the opportunity to offer a dissenting opinion. They would not even let Yehoshua speak or be heard. First, this was because he was so closely associated with Moshe. He was considered unreliable because he was part of “the establishment.” And second, they would not listen to Yehoshua because they said, “Can the one with his head cut off speak?!” (Sota 35a). In other words, because Yehoshua had no sons who would inherit the land (Rashi) or fight to conquer it, what right did he have to voice an opinion regarding whether the Jewish people could conquor the land.

There was only one person who was even able to cause his voice to be heard amid the cacophony of voices criticizing Moshe and Hashem. That was Calev, who was looked at as one of “the people,” rather than a member of the establishment: “And Calev silenced the nation to [hear about] Moshe” (Bamidbar 13:30). And what was his message? He stood on a bench to make himself heard (Sota 35a) when he called out: “We can surely ascend and take possession of it, for we can surely succeed in doing it!”

How did Calev succeed in at least making himself heard when no one else could? What made him different? We know that Rashi quotes the explanation that the nation listened to him because he kept the strength of his faith concealed, acting as if he agreed with the other spies. The people quieted down for him because he pretended as if he was about to speak against Moshe. But the Torah also says something else about Calev with which we can further understand how he was able to make himself heard where others could not. The passuk says that “My servant Calev, because he was possessed of a different spirit…” (ibid. 14:24).

What was this “different spirit?” Calev took a different approach than one would expect. The spies levied many specific and apparently well-founded claims to support their contention that the people could not conquer Eretz Yisroel. They cited the hardiness of those who dwelled in the land, how well their cities were fortified, the unusual nature of the produce, and the fact that the land seemed to consume its inhabitants. Yet Calev failed to address even one of these seemingly legitimate concerns. He simply cried out, “We can surely ascend and take possession of it, for we can surely succeed in doing it!” He must have sounded like some sort of messianic dreamer to his fellow spies, like an ideologue worthy of being dismissed. Why was his the only message that was heard?

Oftentimes smaller people get lost in minutia, losing sight of the bigger picture, getting caught in the weeds of the small details. Anyone who has tried to make peace between two long-time friends or a married couple during a fight understands this. If one descends into the details of the multitude of claims each one has against the other, he and they will never emerge. The only way to lead them out is to show them a shining example of the love they used to share. The only way forward is to jump onto a bench and use that different spirit to completely change people’s perspective.

The majority of people can focus on various details, on certain nuts-and-bolts issues. And the Jewish nation relies on such people to get things done – to address day-to-day management of the good things that have been built and to turn visionaries’ plans into reality. But there are rare individuals who can gaze above the details and the obstacles beyond which the realistic people cannot see. The Jewish people would have nothing in this world if it were not for visionaries like Calev.

When the board of Aish Kodesh was meeting years ago, the members did the math in terms of objections of the neighbors, raising the money, and the like, and it did not seem rational or possible to build the building in which we daven today. But there was one Jew there who stood up and called out, “We can surely succeed in doing it!” Once he said that, he and others simply went about the work of figuring out how to resolve the various objections and details. And everyone who initially objected eventually joined in the effort and their nuts-and-bolts attitude helped bring our vision to a reality.

We would never have yeshivos, game-changing developments, or any truly positive institutions in klal Yisroel if it were not for the people who looked beyond what is to see what must be. The reality is that we need the people who can focus on the small details, but nothing would happen without those precious Jews who throw aside all objections, logistical obstacles, and details and simply insist that it can be done. They, together with the nuts-and-bolts Jews who come on board afterward, work together to bring that vision to a reality.

May we all merit to see the ultimate partnership of the dreamers and the realists in causing the arrival of Moshiach and the ultimate redemption – and with it, the building of the third Beis HaMikdash soon in our times!

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Article by R' Boruch Leff related to the Recent Flurry of Articles/Letters/Shiurim re Mishpacha Magazine/Chassidus

Relevant to the recent flurry of articles following Mishpacha Magazine's recent article relating to the resurgence in interest in penimius HaTorah and chassidus, it is worthwhile to check out Rabbi Boruch Leff's article from his book, Are You Growing?, which relates to Rav Moshe Weinberger's recent shiurim also on these issues, "Hashem's Unbreakable Love for Every Jew - Part 1" and Part 2:

Hashem Awareness Even When Learning Torah

Generally, there is a perceived difference of opinion between chassidim and non-chassidim regarding how much emphasis should be placed on actually thinking about Hashem within the realm of Torah study. This essay’s purpose is to show that while such a debate indeed exists, the two sides have much more in common than is usually understood.

All those who study Torah in order to come closer to Hashem (which should include everyone) must make a real connection with Hashem within their learning. It is difficult to learn in this fashion. Most people simply open the sefer and begin to learn. Learning Torah in any fashion is a great mitzvah and we admire all those who do so, especially the yeshiva bochrim and Kollel students who learn most of the day. However, as difficult as it might be, we all should try to bring more Hashem awareness into our learning.

Perhaps you were surprised by the title: Even when learning Torah? Isn’t it obvious that when we learn Torah we are performing a mitzvah and are very much aware of Hashem?  Let me tell you a story which will explain the title.

The famous Rav Shmelka of Nikolsburg was once learning in the beis medrash alongside his equally famous brother Rav Pinchas Horowitz, author of the seforim HaMakneh and Hafla’ah. Rav Pinchas noticed that every so often, the shammas attendant of Rav Shmelke would interrupt Rav Shmelke and whisper something into his ear. After a number of times of watching this, Rav Pinchas couldn’t contain his curiosity bordering on anger at the shammas for interrupting his brother’s learning.

Rav Pinchas finally asked his brother what the shammas was saying to him, “Why do you permit him to continuously interrupt your learning?! Tell him of the prohibition of bitul Torah—that he shouldn’t waste any of your time, especially when you are learning in the beis medrash!”

Rav Shmelke responded, “My brother, you misunderstand. I told my shammas to interrupt me. You see, when I learn Torah, there are times that I get so involved in what I’m learning and I enjoy it so much that I forget there’s a Ribbono Shel Olam! I told my shammas that every so often, even when I’m learning, he should whisper in my ear, ‘There is a Ribbono Shel Olam!’ This is what brings me back to the purpose of my learning Torah—to understand Hashem and His will better and to attach myself to Him!”

A poignant story. The story’s lesson is related to what the Kotzker Rebbe once said, “The Torah prohibits us from worshipping idols, avoda zara. . .even of the Torah itself!” This means that we can’t allow our Torah learning to take on a life of its own. We must always learn with a real and continuous awareness of why we are learning and for whom we are learning.


This does not mean that we must meditate upon Hashem while actually learning. Certainly, when we learn, we must concentrate and attempt to understand what Rashi and Tosafos and the Rashba are saying. But, as Rav Shlomo Brevda, shlita, once told me, in order to maximize the hashpaah, the powerful spiritual influence that Torah study can have upon our souls and our midos, we must fulfill the requirements of the prime student of the leader of non-chassidim, the Vilna Gaon. His prime student, Rav Chaim Volozhin, writes in the Nefesh HaChaim (Shaar 4:6):

“This is the proper true path that Hashem has chosen. Whenever a person prepares himself to learn Torah, he should sit down before he learns, at least for a short time, with a pure heartfelt fear of Hashem, and confess his sins from the depths of his heart, so that his Torah will be more pure and holy. He should then have in mind that he will attach himself to Hashem through learning His Torah, because by studying the word of Hashem, halacha, with all one’s strength, with this, one attaches himself to Hashem as much as possible. This is because He and His will (the Torah) are One.”

The Nefesh HaChaim (4:7) continues:

“Before learning Torah, a person should think about Hashem with purity of heart and fear of Him, and cleanse himself with thoughts of repentance, so that He can connect and attach himself to the will of G-d when he learns. He should also accept upon himself to observe and fulfill all that is written in the entire Torah and he should pray that Hashem will lead him to discover the truth of Torah.”

This should be done even in the middle of learning. Permission is given to interrupt regular learning subjects, for a short time, before the passion of the fear of Hashem becomes extinguished from his heart, (to reignite) all that he accepted upon himself before he began learning. He should think again of the fear of Hashem. . .This is not bitul Torah, because it is necessary in order for the Torah to have a lasting impact.”


This approach to Torah study is vital in order to avoid the warning of the Kotzker Rebbe mentioned above. By actively and directly connecting our Talmud Torah to the Ribbono Shel Olam in a real sense, and not merely in a general, disconnected way, the learning becomes a vehicle for true dveikus with Hashem.

Rav Shlomo Wolbe writes similar thoughts in Alei Shur (Volume 2, page 106). He says that there are many ways to learn Torah—iyun, bekius, pilpul, in-depth analysis, general factual knowledge, to name a few. But there is also a ‘Yiras Shamayim’ way of learning. This path does not negate any of the others but accompanies them. Every sugya and subject in Shas has the fear of Hashem within it if we but pay attention to it. All of the decrees from the rabannan are derived from a fear of Hashem not to transgress His Torah.

A person can inject fear of Hashem into all that he learns, says Rav Wolbe. Frequently, the gemara says ‘Amar Mar—the (anonymous) Master said.’ The Midrash Tanchuma says that Mar refers to Hashem! Thus, instead of saying Mar, when learning the gemara, one should substitute the words Amar HaKadosh Baruch Hu! And then state the halacha the gemara mentions. This is the path and method that Rav Yisrael Salanter utilized to directly connect what he was learning to Hashem and His ratzon. This is how we can discover yirah and mussar in whatever we learn.

Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh states that fulfilling the Nefesh HaChaim’s guide to Torah learning is a major component to the mitzvah of Shivisi Hashem L’Negdi Samid, I set Hashem before me always (Tehillim 16:8). Though the Rema begins the Shulchan Aruch by saying this avodah of Shivisi is among the maalos of tzadikim, the highest levels of the righteous, the Biur HaGra there says, ‘This concept includes all the levels of the righteous—vezehu kol maalos hatzadikim!

Thus, we must work on trying to feel Hashem’s presence at all times, and as we’ve seen, this applies even when we are learning Torah.    


What is the goal of life? Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh (Volume 3) states that we must crystallize the answer to this question before we can progress in our service of Hashem. We think the answer to this question is very obvious—most people would say the goal of life is to involve ourselves in mitzvos, and to learn Torah in order to know Shas and poskim. But the Ramchal writes differently.
In Mesilas Yesharim, right in the beginning of the first perek, the Ramchal says the goal of life is ‘l’hisaneg al Hashem,’ to derive pleasure from being close to Hashem. We are to put all of our drives into coming close to Hashem, to the ultimate extent of being drawn like a magnet to Him. This doesn’t mean, says Bilvavi, that we are not supposed to learn as much Torah as we can at every possible moment, trying to know Shas and poskim. As Chazal say, the world only continues to exist through the merit of learning Torah. But we must realize that the purpose of all of our learning is to attach ourselves to Hashem.
There are those who say that since the Zohar says that HaKadosh Baruch Hu, Oraysa, V’Yisrael Chad Hu—Hashem, the Torah, and the Jewish people are one, then when we learn Torah, we are automatically attaching ourselves to Him, whether we intend to or not. If we are attached to the Torah, we are attached to Hashem.

But Bilvavi points out that one can’t consciously ignore dveikus B’Hashem even when learning Torah, because according to this thinking, then when we’re involved and attached to other Jews, or when we’re ‘attached’ to ourselves only, we’re also attached to Hashem. After all, the Zohar says Yisrael V’Hashem is also chad hu. Rather, even when learning Torah, we must make a conscious effort to be cognizant of the goal which Torah learning is supposed to produce—dveikus B’Hashem.   


Rav Shimshon Pincus (Nefesh Shimshon-Torah V’Kinyaneha, page 218) says that if a person wants to be able to learn Torah with an awareness of Hashem, he should make sure to recite the tefila from Chazal that is designed to be said before we learn Torah. Brachos 28b says that Rav Nechunya ben Hakanah would recite a tefila before he entered the beis midrash to learn Torah. The tefila was comprised of a request that he become successful to discover the truth of Torah and avoid any obstacles that would stand in the way of this goal. He would also say a tefila after he left the beis midrash thanking Hashem for the merit to be able to learn Torah.

The Mishna Berura (110:37) brings the Rambam in the Peirush Mishnayos who says that reciting this tefila is an absolute obligation because the mishna did not tell us what Rav Nechunya did to simply tell us a story; rather, the mishna is telling us what we must do to emulate Rav Nechunya. Rav Pincus declares that whoever says this tefila is guaranteed to be successful in his learning. 

Rav Pincus continues to say that when we learn we should envison HaKadosh Baruch Hu Himself as our chavrusa, learning with us. The Nefesh Hachaim shows from many statements in Chazal that when we learn Torah, Hashem is mouthing the words along with us. He is literally with us—and we must be cognizant of this attachment with Him when we learn.


We all need rebbeim. We all need to search for and find great rebbeim. There are different kinds of rebbeim. Some rebbeim teach us the Gemara or the Chumash. Yet this does not suffice. We need rebbeim who can teach us something else, just as important.

Rav Yaakov of Ishbitz, son of the Mei HaShiloach and author of Beis Yaakov on Chumash, would give a shiur for a select group of students from 12AM until 4 AM every night of the week except Shabbos. Rav Moshe Weinberger, shlita, tells the story of one of the students who attended these amazing shiurim. Years later, the student described that he remembers how Rav Yaakov was very meticulous about time and every night at exactly 12AM—one could even set his watch— two of Rav Yaakov’s attendants would escort him into the room, one holding a candle and one holding the big gemara. Rav Yaakov would give the shiur with amazing pilpul and chiddushim. It felt like one was at Sinai. At exactly 4AM, the two shamashim came forward again, one with a new candle to lead him out into the street, and the other to hold the gemara.

This talmid reflected that he loved going to this shiur, but he now remembers very little of the insights from the shiurim. “I experienced tremendous suffering in my life and I have forgotten most of what I learned. But there is one thing I never forgot, one memory that stayed with me and encouraged me throughout my years and throughout my suffering. The memory of how Rav Yaakov lovingly kissed his gemara when the shiur was over is the fire which keeps me going.”

There’s the teaching of the gemara and there’s the kissing of the gemara. If we only have a rebbe who is able to teach us the gemara, we need to find one who can also teach us how to kiss the gemara.

When we kiss the gemara properly, we show that the learning is a vehicle to bring us closer to Hashem.

-Rabbi Boruch Leff

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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Gerim - The Best Yichus - Rav Moshe Weinberger - Parshas Nasso 5778

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

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

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Nasso 5778
The Best Yichus

The parshah begins with the conclusion of the census process which occupied the majority of the previous parshah, Bamidbar (Bamidbar 4:1-49). At this point in the Torah, all of our prestigious famlies and tribes have been defined and counted. The Torah describes the encampments and flags of Kohein, Levi, Yisroel, and all of the tribes. It counts the members of the subgroups within the tribe of Levi, Gershon, Kehos, and Merari. The parshah then continues (ibid. 5:1-4) with the purification of the Jewish encampments accomplished through the temporary expulsion of those suffering from certain types of impurity.

And then, seemingly out of left field, the Torah swivels from the establishment of holy Jewish tribes, families, and encampments to the law of gezel hager. Normally, if one steals, he returns the stolen funds plus a 20% fine to the one from whom he stole. And if that person has passed away, he returns the money to the victim’s inheritors. But if someone has no family, like a ger who died without having children after his conversion, the halachah is that the funds must be paid to a kohein (ibid. 5-8). How does this obscure law fit into the flow of the Torah’s recounting of the borders, definitions, and boundaries defining the various parts of the Jewish people?

Why Did Boaz take note of Rus?

Before returning to answer this question, let us first learn more about what makes a ger unique. When Rus began gleaning grain in Boaz’s field, he asked someone, “To whom does this young woman belong?” (Rus 2:5). When he learned more about her background and gave her priority access to gather grain more easily, Rus could not believe it. She asked Boaz, “Why have I found favor in your eyes that you should take note of me, and I am a stranger?” (ibid. 10).

Boaz answered, “It has been told to me all that you did for your mother-in-law after your husband died – how you abandoned your father’s and your mother’s house and the land of your birth and went to a nation that you did not know before. May Hashem reward your deeds and may your repayment be in full from Hashem, the G-d of Israel, because you came to take shelter under His wings” (ibid. 11-12).

What does “may your repayment be in full” mean? The commentaries explain that “in full – שלמה” is a hint to Shlomo (שלמה) HaMelech, who was a descendant of Rus. In fact, we understand that Moshiach will be a descendant of Dovid HaMelech through his son Shlomo (Rambam, Perush HaMishnayos, Hakdama to Ch. 10). So the reward to the woman who said about herself, “and I am a stranger” is that she would be the mother of the greatest source of yichus, pedigree, in the Jewish people, Dovid, Shlomo, and, eventually, the redeemer of the Jewish people and all worlds, Moshiach.

Chazal even teach us that in her old age, Rus merited to sit beside Shlomo HaMelech as he sat on the throne, and that she was called “Mother of Royalty” (Bava Basra 91b). We can only imagine the memories of Moav, Neomi, Boaz, and gleaning fields as a poor stranger which passed through her mind as she sat with her great-grandson in that palace.

There are many levels when it comes to yichus in the Jewish people. When one reads the invitation to a chassidish rebbe’s child’s wedding, it usually recounts the chosson’s yichus, generation after generation, all the way back to the Baal Shem Tov, and the kallah’s family all the way back to, perhaps, another tzaddik like the Noam Elimelech.

And if a descendant of a great tzaddik is highest on the totem pole of great pedigrees, then surely the lowest is a ger or giores. And among gerim, the worst of the worst is to be a giores from Moav, who is barely and only controversially even allowed to marry into the Jewish people (Yevamos 77a). Because of what Rus did, she ascended from the weakest possible yichus to become the source of the greatest yichus on earth, Dovid HaMelech, Shlomo HaMelech, and Moshiach.

How did she accomplish this? How did she break every boundary, limitation, and glass ceiling? Quoting Boaz’s explanation to Rus, Rabbi Chasa says that she merited everything she did “because you came to take shelter under His wings” (Rus Raba 5:4). This is incredible. How do we break through the boundaries of what is natural and normal? By showing up. By showing up to learn in the morning. By showing up for minyan. By overcoming the overpowering inertia of being passive spectator to Yiddishkeit. That is how Dovid HaMelech went from “The stone which they builders have despised” to become “the cornerstone.”

Full Circle

How do we understand the placement of the law of gezel hager? After the establishment and the census of all of our tribes, after every part of the Jewish people was assigned a flag, and after even the impure people were separated from the camp, there was one person standing in solitude – the ger or giores. He or she has no tribe, no special status or encampment, and no flag.  At this moment, Hashem suddenly swoops in with the law of gezel hager. What is the underlying concept of this law?

First, the Torah expresses the fact that the ger has no inheritor by saying, “and if the man has no redeemer” (Bamidbar 5:8), a phrase highly reminiscent of the role of redeemer Boaz took on for Rus (Rus 3:9, et sec.). It then states that if the ger has no inheritors, the money should be returned “to G‑d, to the kohein” (Bamidbar 5:8). In other words, the money must be returned to G-d directly, but since G-d does not have a physical presence, the thief must return the money to the kohein as G‑d’s agent. Why must the money due to the ger go to Hashem? The Chizkuni explains that the money is paid “to Hashem, the father of converts.” G-d Himself is the closest living relative of the ger, so the money must be returned to Him.

Through the law of gezel hager, in the context of these parshios, Hashem is telling us that “because you came,” showing up, and sacrificing one’s own comfort and an easy lifestyle, breaks through all boundaries and limitations. The same applies to baalei teshuva, whether born into non-observant or from frum homes. Hashem wants us to understand that by sacrificing and going beyond what is comfortable, all boundaries and borders are nullified.

Ami Magazine recently (Mar. 28, ‘18/ 12 Nissan 5778) published several poems by Ruth Lewis a’h, a Breslover baalas teshuvah and author of the beautiful book of poetry, “Memo to Self,”. One of those expresses this point powerfully:


When they play Jewish
Geography, it’s got nothing to do with me
“Oh, you’re from Detroit? You must know my Tante Perel!”
“You’re from Netanya? I knew your Zeide Berel!”
“I know who you are! I know your mother!
Her second cousin married my uncle’s brother!”
Your sister taught me in Sem!”
Such a great game for them!
Poor them!
They have frum parents, relatives,
Teachers, friends tried and true,
while I have no one
but You!

The ger, giores, and anyone who “shows up” in Yiddishkeit with self-sacrifice, has the greatest yichus in the world. Hashem is telling them that whether or not they have brothers and sisters, uncles, aunts, or grandparents in their communities, He is their Father, and that is the greatest yichus of all. With connections like that, they can accomplish anything.

May Hashem reveal His closeness to everyone who feels alone, and may we all see how everyone fits into His plan to bring the world to the point when it is ready for the rule of Rus’s great, great-grandson, Moshiach, may he come soon in our days.

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Monday, June 4, 2018

The Dialogue - Body & Soul - Rav Moshe Weinberger - Parshas Beha'alosecha 5778

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

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Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Beha’aloscha 5778
The Dialogue

The Torah says that “With the word of Hashem they camped, and with the word of Hashem they traveled” (Bamidbar 9:20). All of us are on a journey through life, and this journey must be undertaken with Hashem’s guidance. What does he want us to know to succeed in our trek through this world?

I would like to share a remarkable teaching from Rav Yaakov Abuchatzeira zt’l, found in the sefer Pituchei Chosam, explaining the deeper meaning of the dialogue between Moshe Rebbeinu and his father-in-law Yisro (ibid. 10:29-34). In this conversation, Moshe Rebbeinu is the soul, consisting of three parts, the nefesh, ruach, and neshama. Thus, Moshe’s side of the conversation uses the first-person plural – “we.” And Yisro is the body. Rav Abuchatzeira explains that “It is known that the body is made of course material. Its desire and longing is therefore to attach itself to the vanities of this world and its pleasures; while the soul’s desire and longing is only for Torah and good deeds, which are her primary purpose for coming [into the world] because she is a piece of G-d above.”

Because the body will eventually end up the grave, the soul tries to cause it to realize that pursuing physical pleasures to the exclusion of eternal, lasting goals is pointless. And because the soul is dependent on the body to fulfill its eternal purpose, it attempts to enlighten the body to focus on the supernal parts of life benefits the body as well as the soul.

When the passuk says, “And Moshe spoke,” it refers to the soul. “To Chovev [Yisro]” refers to the body because the word Chovev comes from the root word meaning “precious,” since the body can also recognize the preciousness of Torah and good deeds. And the Torah calls Yisro “ben Reuel,” which literally means “friend of G-d” – even the body is called Hashem’s friend when it works to learn Torah and do mitzvos. The passuk then describes Yisro as “chosein Moshe,” father-in-law of Moshe. But the word for father-in-law also means “chassan,” groom, because the body is the soul’s partner in their joint pursuit of Torah and mitzvos in this world.

The soul tells the body “We are travelling.” The soul is trying to deliver the message that no one knows how long he or she will be in the world such that he could think, “Because I have a long time still left to live, I can do teshuvah later.” Every day could be his last. Accordingly, she tells the body that “We are traveling” from this world today or tomorrow. We must live today with our eternal welfare in mind because we do not know how much more time we have.

Moshe continues that we are traveling “to the place,” meaning to the World to Come, “about which Hashem said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Go with us.” In other words, “Follow our advice and only devote yourself to good deeds.” If you do this, Moshe/the soul assures the body, “We will cause it to be good for you.” Meaning that through Torah and mitzvos, the body also gets tremendous benefit, because it is only through those good deeds that it merits to come alive again at the time of the resurrection of the dead. It will then have its soul returned to it and attain great and lofty spiritual levels.

The soul then clarifies that the body will also benefit because “Hashem has spoken good regarding the Jewish people.” Resurrection of the dead is only for the Jewish people. The soul tells the body, “Because we have a right to earn this eternal, why should we miss out by squandering our life here on earth with ephemeral and fleeting pursuits?”

At first, the body refuses: “And He [Yisro] said, ‘I will not go.’” Because its nature is part of the natural world, it responded that it would not follow the soul’s advice by nullifying the pleasures of this world. “Instead, I will go to my land and birthplace.” The body demurs, saying that it will follow its own earthly, physical nature and pursue the pleasures of this world.

Moshe/the neshamah therefore redoubles her efforts: “Do not abandon us!” The soul needs the body because it is only through the body that the soul can act in the physical world. “You know our encampments in the desert.” In other words, “You know that our only encampment in this world is within you.” The passuk hints at this because the word desert (מדבר) also means “one who speaks – מדבר – a human being. The body is the soul’s “spokesman” because only through the body can the soul engage with the world.

The soul then continues, “And it will be when you go with us…” As we know, the word meaning “And it will be” implies joy and happiness (Bereishis Raba 43:3). The soul is telling the body that, it can experience no greater joy than going with her and following her guidance. “You will receive that same good that G-d will do with us” In other words, “You will enjoy that same world of the resurrection of the dead that we will enjoy,”

The body then agrees, as the next passuk says, “And they traveled from the mountain of G-d.” Because the mountain hints at the evil inclination (see Sukkah 52a). The body, together with the soul, travels away from evil and the pursuit of ephemeral pleasures. The Torah then says that the newly unified team traveled “a three-day journey.” This hints at their devotion to the three parts of Torah to which a person dedicates himself – Tanach, Mishnah, and Gemara (Kiddushin 30a).

 We find additional good advice in our journey through life from a sweet story of Rav Nachum Chernobyler zy’a, known as the Meor Einayim. One day it happened that the family panicked because one of the Meor Einayim’s young grandchildren, Yochanan, who was called Yochantche, was missing. The family could not find him, but they knew that the Chernobyler had special eyes, so they ran to the boy’s grandfather to see if he could tell them where to find little Yochanan. The Rebbe “looked” for his grandson and told the family, “I do not know where Yochantche is, but he is alright. You will see that he will return home soon on his own.”

When he came back, they brought him to his grandfather. The Meor Einayim sat his grandson on his lap and asked him to tell him where he had gone and what had happened. The boy answered,

I heard two Jews talking outside Zayde’s house and they said that Eliyahu HaNavi was in the marketplace. I got excited and so I went to the market. I looked around, walking past each of the stalls. I saw many of the Jewish merchants, but I did not see Eliyahu. When I reached the end of the market street, there was a square with horses in a pen available for sale. I stood on the side watching. And I noticed that there were two types of horses. When the potential buyers came to “test drive” each horse, I noticed that some of them were a pleasure to ride. When the driver indicated that the horse should turn right, it turned right. When they indicated that the horse should stop, go, slow down, or speed up, the horse would immediately do it. But I noticed a different type of horse. There were some who were always conflicted, going this way and that, and the people test driving those horses were constantly struggling with their horses and attempting to cause them to go in the right direction. After watching for a while, I noticed that the horses who were attentive to their drivers’ directions had all gone home with nice Jewish owners. But the rowdy, chaotic horses remained there still for sale at the end of the day.

The Meor Einayim told Yochantche that it seemed to him that he did see Eliyahu HaNavi in the lesson he learned from those horses. When the body, which is a Jew’s horse, listens to the soul’s guidance and advice, both of them are happy and both of them benefit in the long term. When one’s body remains conflicted and ignores the good advice of its rider, its soul, no one is better off in the end.

May all of us merit that our bodies and our souls work together in harmony harnessing the guidance of our souls and the power of our bodies to sanctify the physical world with the light of Hashem’s Presence throughout each of our journeys in life.

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