Wednesday, February 6, 2019

To Serve G-d - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha on Mishpatim


Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from this Shabbos, parshas Mishpatim 5779. Rav Weinberger has reviewed this write-up and any corrections are incorporated herein. Enjoy!

If you enjoy these drasha write-ups or any of Rav Weinberger's teachings, now is the time to please reserve seats or give generously/take out a journal ad for the major dinner we're having honoring Rav and Rebbetzin Weinberger next month. This will go toward enabling Rav Weinberger's teachings to continue to go out to the world for the next 25 years IY"H!! CLICK HERE to donate/reserve.

See here for past shiurim at YUTorah.org's website by Rav Weinberger both as leader of Emek HaMelech, as former 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 Mishpatim 5779
To Serve G-d

It is impossible not to notice how we went from the drama and intensity of Hashem’s revelation at Har Sinai and the giving of the Aseres HaDibros amidst Divine revelation, thunder, and lightning at the end of last week’s parsha, to the minutiae of civil laws that fill the majority of this week’s parsha. The Torah then returns to the drama of the events leading up to the revelation at Sinai and our acceptance of the Torah at the end of the parshah. One could get whiplash from the quick transition between Har Sinai, the litany of laws governing interpersonal relationships, and back to Sinai. Why does the Torah interrupt the revelation narrative with this legalistic intermission?

I once heard an answer to the well-known question on the Pesach Haggadah from my Rebbe, Reb Dovid Lifshitz zt’l, in the name of Rav Meir Shapiro zt’l. Why do we sing, in Dayeinu, “If He had drawn us close to Har Sinai but not given us the Torah, it would have been enough for us.” The whole point of bringing us to Sinai was to receive the Torah. How could coming to that place without receiving the Torah possibly have been enough?

Rav Shapiro answered by quoting Rashi (dibur hamaschillakol” on Zevachim 116a), who says that something new happened when the Jewish people arrived at Sinai. Before that, Jews and Bnei Noach both only brought olos(elevation) offerings. But after arriving at Sinai, Jewish people then began bringing shlamim (peace) offerings. What is the difference between olos and shlamim? An olah offering is completely consumed by fire on the altar. And a shalmim is consumed by the altar, as well as the kohanim and the one who brought the sacrifice. This explains why we were thankful for arriving at Sinai even if we would not have received the Torah. We were then able to bring shlamim offerings.

But what is the deeper meaning of this? What is the deeper benefit for being able to offer one additional type of sacrifice? Are we really singing out praises to G-d for being able to eat more meat? What was the reason for this change and what underlying transformation was it expressing?

The Volozhiner yeshiva was in dire financial straits. Rav Chaim Volozhiner zt’l therefore sent out messengers (meshulachim) to different cities and towns throughout Europe to raise desperately needed funds for the yeshiva. One particular meshulach arrived in a certain very poor village. No one was able to give more than a few pennies. But the people there told him that there was one rich man in town. However, he was very stingy and never gave to anyone for any reason. The meshulach asked where the man davened. The people told him, so the man planned to speak to the wealthy person every day after davening.

The meshulach went over to the man immediately after Shacharis the next morning. As he approached, the man immediately sensed where this was going and told him, “Don’t even bother. I’m not giving you any money.” But the meshulach persisted, “No, let me just tell you about the great Reb Chaim Volozhiner!” He proceeded to tell him about the quality of the Torah learning, how this was the only yeshivah in Lithuania, and the great merit of Torah learning created by the boys in the yeshivah. But the man still refused to give.

The meshulach then carried out his plan by approaching the man after Shacharis, Mincha, and Maariv every day. Finally, after a few days, as he approached the man to extol the virtues of the yeshiva, the man said that the meshulach should come to his home at a certain time that night to meet with him there. Everyone around was extremely impressed because no one had ever even gotten that far.

That night, at the appointed time, the meshulach arrived. When he got there, the man said that he would give an extraordinarily large amount – an amount which would have supported the yeshivah for months. The meshulach was elated. But, knowing that meshulachim were entitled to take a percentage of the amount donated to support themselves and enable them to continue collecting, the man said, “I am giving this donation on one condition: that you do not receive any portion of the gift. It must all go to the yeshiva.” He would not consider any arguments or any alternatives. Having no choice, the meshulach agreed to the condition.

The wealthy man, however, decided that he did not fully trust the meshulach to carry out his instructions, so he told him, “I am not going to send this money to the yeshivah with you. Rather, I am going to give it to the great Rav Chaim Volozhiner personally.” The man then arranged to travel with the meshulach to Volozhin. When he arrived, he greeted Rav Chaim and happily handed him the entire donation. Pleased with himself, he told Rav Chaim the amount of the donation and the rosh yeshiva was both happy and quite relieved. But the man could not help himself. He clarified, “I must tell the Rav that I have placed a condition on this gift. It is only to be used to support the talmidei chachamim in the yeshiva. None of it may be used for ancillary purposes such as payment to the meshulach. It is completely sanctified to the yeshiva.”

Rav Chaim then made a face and immediately handed the gift back to the donor, commenting, “Ah korban fun a goy – a gentile offering.” Shocked that his gift was refused, he asked the rosh yeshiva, “What do you mean a gentile offering! This is the first time I am making a donation. Why would the Rav say that to me?” Rav Chaim answered, “Non-Jews also bring sacrifices, but only olos, which are completely burned on the altar. They want their sacrifices only to go to Heaven – to G-d. They do not want them to benefit human beings here on earth. But Jewish people also bring shlamim offerings, which benefit not only the altar, but also the kohanim, himself, his friends, and his family.” Jewish people understand that that their service of G-d is not exclusively for Heaven. We serve Hashem by giving other Jews whatever they need, some food to eat or a place to live. We want our gifts to G-d to also benefit His children, our brothers and sisters.

Based on what Rav Chaim taught that man, perhaps we can understand why we would have felt satisfied if Hashem had brought us to Har Sinai without giving us the Torah. Only then were we able to start bringing shlamim offerings. The word shlamim comes a root word meaning not only “peace,” but also “whole.” We were able to bring shalmim offerings because we recognized that none of us can do everything by him or herself. We must make each other whole and allow others to make us whole. We became a nation who finally understood that serving G-d does not only mean doing things for G-d alone. It also means doing good things to benefit Hashem’s children, our Jewish brothers and sisters. This revelation alone, even before we received the Torah, was cause for gratitude and celebration because only then were we truly “like one man with one heart” (Rashi on Shmos 19:2).

We can now also understand why the Torah places the civil laws of parshas Mishpatim between the beginning and end of the story of the revelation at Sinai. Hashem is telling us that the way we treat other people is not an interruption getting in the way of our Divine service. It is an integral part of it. “Just as these [the Aseres HaDibros] are from Sinai, so too these [the civil laws in parshas Mishpatim] are from Sinai” (Rashi on Shmos 21:1). We must make helping and doing good for other Jews an integral part of the aspects of our Divine service we work on continually improving because it is an inseparable aspect of it.

Rav Yochanan Twersky zy’a, the Tolna Rebbe of Yerushalyim, lived a very simple life, but always helped some of the lost Jews of Yerushalayim by allowing them to live in his small apartment and sharing what he and his family had with them. One year, at the Pesach Seder, the Rebbe noticed that this man had been seated between the children at the table. To his horror, he noticed the boys sitting on either side of him inching their chairs as far away from him as they could. To ensure that the man did not notice and get embarrassed, he called out, “How did this happen that my esteemed guest was seated with the children. He should sit by my side!” He proceeded to ensure that the man was seated to his right, in the most honored seat at the Seder. The man felt amazing.

When Chol HaMoed began, the Rebbe summoned the children to his study and rebuked them, which was generally quite out of character for him: “When you moved away from that man at the Seder, it could have embarrassed him, One cannot do such things!” One of the boys protested, “But Rebbe, the man smelled so bad. We couldn’t stay beside him.” The Rebbe was taken aback, “No! A Jew smells good! A Jew smells very good! I am a connoisseur of scents and this Jew smelled very good.”


We must see the grace and beauty in other Jews to recognize that caring for them is part and parcel of how we serve Hashem. May we merit to serve Hashem not only with service directed Heavenward, but also by taking care of all of His children, our brothers and sisters. May we then merit to see, soon in our days, the time when Moshiach will teach and judge us by smelling so much deeper that one can see externally (Yeshayahu 11:3; Sanhedrin 93b). 

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Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Song of Miriam - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha on Parshas Beshalach/Shabbos Shirah 5779

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from this Shabbos, parshas Beshalach 5779. Rav Weinberger has reviewed this write-up and any corrections are incorporated herein. Enjoy!

See here for past shiurim at YUTorah.org's website by Rav Weinberger both as leader of Emek HaMelech, as former 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 Beshalach – Shabbos Shirah 5779
The Song of Miriam 

We spoke on parshas Va’eira about the different leadership qualities of Moshe and Aharon, how Hashem expresses Himself as “The Holy One” versus the “Divine Presence,” and the different ways mothers and fathers express their love for their children. On this Shabbos of the Song at the Sea and the Song of Devorah, let us understand more deeply how women and mothers are the source of our ability to succeed in this world.

The men sang “I will sing to Hashem for He is very exalted…” (Shmos 15:1). And regarding the women’s song, the passuk says, “And Miriam called out to them, ‘Sing to Hashem for He is very exalted…’” (ibid 21). Why was it Miriam who led the women’s song?

We see that many years earlier, when she was just a child of six years old, Pharaoh decreed, “Throw every newborn son into the river” (Shmos 1:22). According to Chazal (Sota 12a; Shmos Raba 1:19), Miriam’s father Amram, the greatest sage of the generation, gave up all hope and separated from his wife, and all the other men followed suit, lest they give birth to children who would immediately be murdered. It was only little Miriam who stood up and started a movement against the despair which had overtaken the entire generation: “Father! Your decree is worse than Pharaoh’s!” He brought her argument before the beis din and he and they agreed with Miriam. Only Miriam’s courage was able to overcome the despondency that had infected the leaders of the generation.

We see something similar in this week’s haftarah in which the general Barak and the rest of the men were overcome with fear of the Kena’ani army and their general Sisra. When the passuk says, “The caravans ceased, the travelers walked on crooked paths” (Shoftim 5:6), Rashi explains that this was because “the Jewish people were afraid to travel because of the enemy.” Normal life stopped because the people were paralyzed with fear.

And even when Devorah communicated the prophetic message that Hashem would deliver Kena’an into their hands, Barak was still afraid. He told her, “If you will go with me, then I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go” (ibid. 4:8). She agreed and thereby led the entire army to victory.

But this decisive defeat of the enemy’s will to fight came through another woman, Yael, who personally assassinated Sisra in his own tent! (ibid. 21). Devorah herself acknowledged the fact that Jewish women brought about the victory in the song she sang celebrating Hashem’s deliverance. She relates how life stopped for the Jewish people “until I, Devorah, rose up, until a mother of Israel rose up” (ibid. 5:7). Chazal tell us that the Jewish people’s victory in this war arose from the feminine side. They say the same thing about our victory on Purim, when victory also came through a Jewish woman, Esther.

How were Miriam, Devorah, Yael, and Esther able to revive the hopes of the Jewish people when no one else could? We see the power of a “mother of Israel” to inspire confidence, bravery, and strength in the people. While the men carried the physical weapons (כלי נשק), the Jewish mothers used something even more powerful than weapons, but which shares the same Hebrew root word: kisses – נשיקות. A mother has the power to speak to her children, her husband, or the entire Jewish people and tell them, “You can do it! Hashem is with you! You will succeed!”

After the salvation at the sea in this week’s parshah, the men proudly said, “I will sing to Hashem!” But where did they get the strength to sing? There is a backstory. When the passuk says, “And Miriam called out to them, ‘Sing to Hashem,’” who was she speaking to? The men? The women? Both? The word for “them” in the passuk is masculine, not feminine, which could indicate that Miriam was speaking only to the men, or, at the very least, to both men and women. According to one opinion in Chazal, Miriam was speaking not just to the women, but to Moshe and the elders.

According to this opinion, the men received the strength to sing from Miriam, the woman who, as a child, had saved the Jewish people from despair of Pharaoh’s decree! Right after the song at the sea, Moshe told us, “If  you will listen to the voice of Hashem your G-d, do what is straight in His eyes, hearken to His mitzvos, and observe His laws, I will not place on you the entire sickness that I placed on Egypt” (Shmos 15:26). The passuk says “sickness,” singular, rather than sicknesses, plural. According to the seforim hakedoshim, she saved the Jewish people from the most debilitating sickness of all – despair. As a child, and again at the sea, she told her brothers and sisters, “Be alive! You can do it! Hashem is with us!”

The womb is called the “source” of life in Hebrew – מקור. And the numerical value of that word is equivalent to the word for “will” or “desire” – רצון. Jewish women and mothers build us up from womb to tomb so that we have the capacity to get out of bed and do what we need to do to connect to Hashem and build the world.

The feminine side of Shabbos empowers us in a similar way. When the Shabbos Queen arrives, we sing in Lecha Dodi, “Shake yourself off! Arise from the dust! … Awaken, awaken! For your light has arrived. Arise, my light!” Devorah too sang, “Wake up, wake up! [said] Devorah. Awake! Awake! Utter a song!” (Shoftim 5:12). On Shabbos, we are healed from that sickness of the six days of the week – heavy-heartedness, sadness, and despair, which often debilitates us even more than the swords of our enemies.

Tu BiShvat begins tomorrow night. On this day when the earliest-blooming trees awaken from the inactivity of winter in Eretz Yisroel, we eat from the seven fruits for which the land of Israel is praised, including the tamar – the date. According to the passuk, Devorah judged the people sitting under the Tomer Devorah – the date palm of Devorah (Shoftim 4:5). Why a date palm specifically? According to Chazal, the secret of the date is that “Just as the date has only one heart [pit], so too the Jewish people have only one heart for their Father in Heaven” (Sukkah 45b).

And one of our Jewish mothers, Tamar, also gave life to Dovid HaMelech and Moshiach because she did not give up hope of carrying on Yehuda’s lineage, even when he gave up. Commenting on the passuk, “The tzaddik blossoms like a Tamar, he grows like a cedar in the Lebanon” (Tehillim 92:13), Chazal say, “Just as the date palm has a beautiful appearance and all of its fruits are sweet and good, so too the son of David will be beautiful of appearance and all of his deeds will be sweet and good before Hashem” (Midrash Shochar Tov on Tehillim 92). Moshiach’s great-grandmother Tamar gave him and all of us the wherewithal to live beautiful lives.


My wife showed me a beautiful article that illustrates this perfectly. Several rebbetzins and educators were interviewed. One woman, Mrs. Miryam Swerdlov, a Chabad educator in Crown Heights, wrote the following about her parents, particularly her mother:

My parents have always been inspiration to me, as well. I was born in Russia and came to America when I was a little girl. Life was not easy for us, but I didn’t know it. My father walked with his cane his entire life, but he was never bitter. He would say in Yiddish, “Pick up your cane in your hand and start walking.” That is how we lived. We were taught, no matter what life gives you, you keep walking.

Although I have limited memories of my mother, since I was so young when she died, I do remember that she would sing constantly while working in the kitchen. Sometimes she would sing liebedig songs, and sometimes she would sing slow songs. I could always tell what mood she was in by what songs she sang. I learnt from her that no matter what you are going through, you must put yourself together, put on the best you have, put on your makeup, comb your sheitel, and walk out with your shoulders back and your head held high, because you can do it.     

That is what Jewish women like Tamar, Miriam, Devorah, Yael, Esther, and Mrs. Swerdlov’s mother bring to us. Through their love and belief in us and Hashem’s providence, they tell us, “You can do it!” Just like Miriam and Devorah, may the merit of Jewish women herald the time when we will “Sing to Hashem a new song” )Tehillim 98:1) with the coming of the great-grandson of our mother Tamar, Moshiach Tzidkeinu, soon in our days.

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Making a Mockery - Rav Moshe Weinberger on Parshas Bo 5779

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from last Shabbos, parshas Bo 5779. Rav Weinberger has reviewed this write-up and any corrections are incorporated herein. Enjoy!

See here for past shiurim at YUTorah.org's website by Rav Weinberger both as leader of Emek HaMelech, as former 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 Bo 5779
 Making a Mockery

Did Hashem inflict the ten plagues on Egypt as a prank? The passuk in this week’s parshah says, “In order that you should relate in the ears of your son and your son’s son that I have made a mockery of Egypt and the signs that I have placed on them, and they shall know that I am Hashem” (Shmos 10:2). Rashi explains that Hashem was saying, “I made a joke” of Egypt. First, can it really be that Hashem performed all those miracles in order to play a joke on the Egyptians? And why does Hashem care so much that “they [the Egyptians] shall know that I am Hashem?”

The Degel Machaneh Ephraim zy’a, taught in the name of his grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov zy’a, that there is a little Egyptian within every Jew. He explains that because we lived in Egypt for so long, they became almost completely immersed in the impurity of Egypt. When the passuk says that Hashem did the plagues so “they,” the Egyptians, would know that “I am Hashem,” this was not referring to the Egyptians themselves. It was referring to the Egyptian aspect within each Jew. Hashem did the plagues so that the Jewish people themselves would finally be able to let go of their attachments to the course physicality of Egypt.

Why is this force of impurity within a Jew called “Egypt?” According to the Mei HaShiloach, the Torah calls Egypt the “garden of G-d” (Bereishis 13:10) because it was a such a lush environment, filled with every blessing from G-d, where one could enjoy all of the pleasures of the physical world. This level of physical luxury is why the Midrash says that until the Jewish people left, a slave had never fled Egypt (Mechilta Yisro 1). There was no constituency of Egyptians demanding that a wall be built around the country and that the Canaanites should pay for it. No slave had ever fled before because despite all of the hard physical labor, those in bondage were also enslaved to the physical desires they could only satisfy in Egypt.

Even today, we see so many people enslaved to substances or behaviors even though they know how bad they are. They feel they are simply unable to flee. There are those who engage in illicit behaviors, whether online or with other people even though they know they are, in some cases, destroying their jobs, their families, and themselves. They cannot imagine life without their drug of choice.

We see this with regard to the desire for wealth as well. I know people who made enough money to live on for the rest of their lives 30 years ago, but they continue trying to make new fortunes rather than learn in the beis medrash or use their entrepreneurial spirit to spearhead projects that would help other people directly. Such people also cannot imagine living without a certain type of home or without a certain type of kitchen.

Whatever the flavor of excessive attachment, whether to money, illicit desires, food, some substance, or almost any other form of pleasure to which a person can become obsessed, the intense form of pleasure forms a border around the person. It blinds him from seeing the broader world. It makes him or her smallminded. The Hebrew word for Egypt – מצרים – comes from the word meaning “border” or “limit.” Being a slave to the pleasures of this world puts blinders on a person, binding him into a tiny world where he cannot imagine anything greater than a life filled with his indulgence of choice.

But imagine if a person could see these silly little pleasures not as his whole world, but for the absurd joke that they are. Anyone who reads the book of Devarim or has read Tanach knows that the desire to worship idols used to be overpowering, intoxicating, and almost inescapable. Yet do any of us feel drawn to bow down to a crucifix on a Sunday morning? Even the suggestion is laughable. Ever since Chazal nullified this desire (Yuma 69b), the temptation for idol worship has become ridiculous in our eyes.

It was critical that Hashem make a mockery out of their pleasure-seeking lifestyle that the Egyptian part of ourselves felt drawn to. He knew the only way we would be able to be the first slaves to flee Egypt was to first release the psychological stranglehold that materialistic place had on our psyches by demonstrating its absurdity.

Similarly, when Moshiach comes and Hashem slaughters the evil inclination (Sukkah 52a; Bava Basra 16a), “our mouths will be filled with laughter” (Tehillim 126:2) when we look back at the years we spent working excessively or pleasure-seeking. “How ridiculous we were. How could we have been so foolish? How could we have fallen into an obsession with such drivel? What have we done?!”

How did the miracles of the ten plagues accomplish this? Hashem knew the only way we could escape from the small-mindedness of Egypt was to expose us to true greatness. As Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto zt’l, explains at the beginning of Messilas Yesharim, “Man was only created to delight in Hashem…. This is the true pleasure.” When a Jew tastes the pleasure of plumbing the depths of a Gemara or experiencing that “Aha!” moment when he comprehends the profound depth hidden in the words of a particularly difficult Tosafos, the shallow, small material pleasures of this world feel like a joke by comparison.

This is the entire theme of Shir HaShirm, which begins, “Your love is better than wine” (Shir HaShirim 1:2) because “your love [is better] to me more than any wine banquet and more than any pleasure and joy” (Rashi). The passuk uses this expression “because He gave them His Torah and spoke to them face to face, and that love is still more pleasant to them than any pleasure” (ibid.).

All of this is why the Torah separates the first seven plagues into last week’s parshah and the last three into this week’s parshah. The Torah only explains that the purpose of the plagues is to inculcate “knowledge” beginning with the first of the last three plagues (Shmos 10:2). This is because the first seven plagues correspond to the 7 emotional characteristics (chessed, gevurah, tiferes, netzach, hod, yesod, and malchus). The last three plagues, on the other hand, correspond to the three intellectual faculties, chochmah, binah, and daas – wisdom, insight, and knowledge. It is only when our minds absorb the message that the pleasure-seeking Egyptian life is a joke that we can begin to leave Egypt.

How can we, today, rise to a level where the pleasures of the world seem silly compared to the greatness we are capable of attaining? Rebbeinu Yona, at the beginning of Shaarei HaAvodah, writes that, “The first step for a spiritual seeker is to know his own value, recognizing his own strengths and the strengths of his forefathers, as well as their greatness, esteem, anb beloved status to Hashem. And he should work and continually strengthen himself to live up to that standard.” By taking out time to think about the greatness Hashem placed within us and the inner power we have inside as a birthright passed on to us from Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, we eventually start to see the absurdity and silliness of materials pursuits by comparison.

Rav Yaakov Weinberg zt’l, relates a parable to help us understand how to pass this higher perspective on to our children. In it, a boy is playing baseball with his friends in a park that happens to be adjacent to a Jewish cemetery. In the midst of the game, this boy is playing in the outfield when the batter hits a home run. The ball sailed over the fence into the cemetery. The rule of the game is that the outfielder closest to the ball must jump the fence to retrieve it so that the game can continue. So, this boy began to put his leg over the fence to jump over when he suddenly felt his father embrace him, saying, “No, my son, you cannot go into the cemetery.” Not wanting to be different from others or have restrictions placed on him, he responds, “But Dad, the outfielder always has to get the ball. All of the other boys do it. Why am I worse than them?”

The boy’s father responds, “No my son. You are not ‘worse’ than the other boys. On the contrary, you are a descendant of Aharon HaKohein and you have within you an even higher level of holiness than other Jewish people. You cannot go into a cemetery not because you are lower than others, but because, in a certain way, you have an even greater level of holiness within you. It is beneath you to enter a place of impurity because you are part of something greater.”


May Hashem bless us to recognize our own greatness and the awesome potential to conquer the emptiness of the world’s pursuits for G-dliness. May He cause us to experience the depth, intense pleasure, and sweetness of Yiddishkeit so that we will not have to struggle so mightily to escape from the small-mindedness of a purely material life and connect to Hashem and the broad-minded path of Torah!

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Sunday, January 6, 2019

Two Types of Leadership - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha on Parshas Va'eira 5779

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from this Shabbos, parshas Va'eira 5779. I usually do not include the personal remarks Rav Weinberger makes for smachos in the shul, but as at the request of one of the fathers of the young couple who just got married on Sunday, I did include these remarks here. Rav Weinberger has reviewed this write-up and any corrections are incorporated herein. Enjoy!

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

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Va’eira 5779
Two Types of Leadership

Let us understand what the Torah teaches us about what it means to be a true Jewish leader based on one Rashi in this week’s parshah. First, we know that love comes in two varieties, conditional and unconditional. In the language of Chazal, these are called “love which is dependent on something” and “love which is not dependent on something” (Avos 5:16).

Although there are a wide spectrum of personality traits for both mothers and fathers, generally speaking, fathers tend more toward conditional love and mothers tend more toward unconditional love. Children, especially boys, often experience their fathers as having a strict set of expectations for them. And their expressions of love are predicated on the fulfillment of those expectations. Many men find communicating the depth of their love for their children very difficult unless their hopes, dreams, and expectations for them are met.

Mothers, on the other hand, generally have an easier time communicating their love for their children no matter what. Children need to grow up with expectations and the fatherly love which comes with the fulfillment of those expectations to increase their chance of success in life. But without that immovable motherly love undergirding the measures of success they attempt to attain, they cannot survive. They cannot go on. If a person lacks that foundation of unconditional love, demands and expectations are likely to completely break a person.

This dichotomy exists in the two primary ways Hashem expresses Himself in His relationship with us – as The Holy One Blessed is He (the fatherly expression) and the Divine Presence (the motherly expression). The masculine side manifests itself through psukim like, “If you will walk in my statutes and observe My mitzvos and do them, I shall give you rain in its time, the earth shall give its produce, and the tree of the field its fruit” (Vayikra 26:3-4). The promises are predicated by the word “If.” These expressions of Hashem’s love come with strings attached.

On the other hand, Hashem manifests His motherly side through psukim like, “And even when they are in the land of their enemy, I will not despise or hate them to destroy them to nullify My covenant with them, for I am Hashem their G-d” (Vayikra 26:44) and “Who dwells with them within their impurity” (Vayikra 16:16). Hashem shows us that He loves us unconditionally, no matter what, and nothing can sever our connection to Him.

This parental and Divine dichotomy also presents itself in the two paradigmatic leaders of our people – Moshe and Aharon. As the Gemara says, “Moshe would say, ‘Let justice pierce the mountain [i.e., be absolute]’” (Sanhedrin 6b). We explained that fathers often have difficulty expressing their love when their children do not meet their expectations. As the Maharal explains in Gevuros Hashem (28), sometimes great, spiritual people are unable to communicate to others the depth of what is in their heart. As intellectually lofty as they are, they lack a fully developed power of speech, which is a lower-order, but critical, faculty.

While we cannot understand the complexity of Moshe’s greatness, he himself acknowledged this difficulty when he said, “I am not a man of words” (Shmos 4:10), the last letters of which spell “Shamai” – the tana who paradigmatically expressed strict judgment. The Torah says about Aharon, on the other hand, “And he will be a mouth for you” (ibid. 16), the initial letters of which spell “Hillel” – the tana who paradigmatically expressed mercy. And it was Hillel who said. “Be of the students of Aharon” (Avos 1:12).

We see that this dichotomy in their leadership styles played itself out in the Torah as well. Even though Moshe loved the Jewish people deeply, after the sin of the golden calf, he distanced himself from them, always placing a veil over his face (Shmos 34:33) and moving his tent outside the camp )ibid. 33:7) . Moshe ascended Mount Sinai to commune with Hashem alone, while Aharon remained with the people, trying to work with them in their confusion and delay their sin, hoping that Moshe would return before it went too far.

Aharon was a motherly figure to us, always together with the people, speaking their language and showing them his love for them.  By acting as Moshe’s “mouth,” he was always there for us to translate what Moshe was saying into language we could understand. That is why, in the union between Hashem and the Jewish people, Chazal call Moshe the King’s (Hashem’s) “best man” and Aharon the Bride’s (Jewish people’s) “maid of honor” (III Zohar 20a). 

Which type of leadership is more important or takes precedence? Strict expectations or unconditional love? We find the answer in a Rashi in this week’s parshah on the passuk, “That is Aharon and Moshe” (Shmos 6:26). Rashi asks, “In some places, the Torah places Aharon before Moshe, and in other places, it places Moshe before Aharon.” Why does it do this? “To tell us that they are equal.” The Torah wants us to know that both types of leadership are equally essential. We need leaders who are not afraid to make demands on their constituents, who are not satisfied with the status quo. Without this fatherly type of leadership, we would not grow or elevate ourselves. But without an undergirding of immovable love, we would lack the emotional wherewithal to survive, much less achieve what our leaders ask of us.

Now that we know both types of leadership, Moshe’s and Aharon’s, are equally essentially, we must ask ourselves which one comes first, and which one comes second. The Torah explicitly tells us this when it says, “And Moshe was eighty years old and Aharon was eighty-three years old when they spoke to Pharaoh” (Shmos 7:7). Hashem brought Aharon into the world three years before Moshe to teach us that when educating our children or leading those in our charge, we will fail if we do not first establish motherly, Aharon-like love. Attempting to set expectations and demands without pre-establishing a foundation of love is not a recipe for success.

There was once a community leader in the Hungarian community of Tisefird who commissioned the writing of a Sefer Torah and held a great hachnasas Sefer Torah ceremony upon its completion in the mid-1800’s. He invited two great tzadikim from the region to this celebration, Rav Tzvi Hirsch from Liska zy’a, and Rav Hillel from Kolmaya zy’a. Though these two tzadikim were equally great, they could not have been more different from one another in disposition. While both would have liked to spend Shabbos and the beginning of the week in the wealthy man’s community, Rav Hillel Kolmayer was not able to come for that Shabbos, but postponed his visit to the following week.

During his visit the first week, Rav Tzvi Hirsch could not stop himself from praising the community in general, and the wealthy man hosting the hachnasas Sefer Torah in particular, for the great honor they showed for the Torah and for those who study it. He praised the community and blessed them that they should continue honoring the Torah. Everyone felt elevated and strengthened by the Rebbe’s visit and his encouraging words.

The following week with Rav Hillel Kolmayer was completely different. He asked to speak to the entire congregation Shabbos morning and began by saying, “It is a shame that the donor of the Sefer Torah is providing a covering for the Torah but not providing his wife with the proper clothing to cover herself appropriately.” His message to the community only became harsher from there. He criticized its departures from traditional Jewish customs as in keeping with the ways of the “Enlightenment” and influenced by the evil inclination. The Rebbe’s criticism of the wealthy man in particular, and the community in general, continued throughout his visit.

After Rav Hillel had left the community, they were reeling and feeling broken. The wealthy man sent a messenger to Rav Tzvi Hirsch, ostensibly to ask how he could reconcile his praise of the community with Rav Hillel’s staunch criticism. In reality, he was probably hoping to stir up a dispute between the tzaddikim by obtaining a letter from Rav Tzvi Hirsch criticizing Rav Hillel’s strict approach. He did not receive the answer for which he hoped.

Rav Tzvi Hirsch explained that both his and Rav Hillel’s approaches were correct. As the Torah tells us in parshas Shmos, “And the king of Egypt said to the Jewish midwives, ones of whose name was Shifra and the name of the second was Puah” (Shmos 1:15). There are two ways to give life to the Jewish people. There is the way of Shifra, whose name means “beautiful,” which is to see the beauty and goodness in others, encouraging them to see the good in themselves. He said about himself, “I cannot help myself. Hashem made me a ‘Shifra’ Yid. My way is seeing and showing Jews the good in themselves and in others.”

Rav Tzvi Hirsch continued by telling the messenger that Rav Hillel is a “Puah” Yid. The name Puah is an onomatopoeia implying that this midwife made “Pu, pu” sounds to soothe the babies she helped deliver. Thus, Puah is a name implying speech. Rav Hillel’s way is giving life to the Jewish people by speaking to them, by giving them mussar. Rav Tzvi Hirsch explained to the wealthy man’s messenger that the Jewish people need both types of leadership. They need the Aharon/motherly/Shifra approach to develop the emotional and psychological wherewithal to believe in themselves. And they need the Moshe/fatherly/Puah approach to challenge themselves and grow.


May Hashem grant us leaders, rebbeim, and teachers who know when we need the Aharon/motherly/unconditional love approach and when we need the Moshe/fatherly/conditional love approach. And may He open our hearts and our minds to accept both forms of leadership equally so that we may fulfill our communal and individual potentials such that we merit bringing the ultimate leader into this world, Moshiach Tzidkeinu with the arrival of the complete redemption soon in our days.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Victory or Vitur? - Rav Moshe Weinberger's drasha on Parshas Vayechi 5779

After three difficult Shabbosim with Rav Weinberger away and one with me away, welcome back to the drasha write-ups!

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from Shabbos, parshas Vayechi 5779. I usually do not include the personal remarks Rav Weinberger makes for smachos in the shul, but as at the request of one of the fathers of the young couple who just got married on Sunday, I did include these remarks here. Rav Weinberger has reviewed this write-up and any corrections are incorporated herein. Enjoy!

See here for past shiurim at YUTorah.org's website by Rav Weinberger both as leader of Emek HaMelech, as former 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 Vayechi 5779
Victory or Vitur?

We are fortunate to celebrate the upcoming chassunah of Shmuel Aidelson and Rachel Meyer, two young people who grew up in Aish Kodesh. When two people in the world from opposite sides of the political spectrum join forces, the world calls this “reaching across the aisle.” Baruch Hashem, because both fathers literally sit across the aisle from one another in shul, this will truly be an “across the aisle” marriage. May these words serve as a blessing and a little bit of guidance for Rachel and Shmuel.

Every year on parshas Vayechi, my father would tell us how, when he was a child in cheder, the rebbe taught the boys a sad niggun to sing when saying Yaakov’s words to Yosef from this week’s parsha, “As for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died on me in the land of Kena’an on the way, when there was quite a bit of land till Efrat, and I buried here there on the path to Efrat, which is Beis Lechem” (Bereishis 48:7).

This is a profoundly emotional passuk. Sometimes a person should talk to someone in his life about something tremendously difficult, but it is too painful to broach the subject. But when death begins knocking on the door, he knows his time is running out and he can no longer remain silent.

Something was bothering Yosef that he was never able to express to his father because of the esteem in which he held Yaakov Avinu. Yaakov addressed this unexpressed complaint here, as Rashi says, “I know that you have complaints against me in your heart” because instead of burying Yosef’s mother Rachel in Me’oras HaMachpela in Chevron, with the rest of the family, Yaakov buried here alone in Beis Lechem. And to make Yaakov appear even worse in his son’s eyes, he asked Yosef to trouble himself to travel all the way from Egypt to bury Yaakov in Chevron even though he seemingly did not bother to take Rachel’s body the much shorter distance from Beis Lechem to Chevron! This apparent denigration of his mother’s honor was lodged like a knife in Yosef’s heart though he could not express it to his father.

Many chassanim and kallos ask me for the secret to shalom bayis – a peaceful marriage. There are volumes to say on this topic and who knows if either of them will remember what I say, but the truth is that there is one trait which I usually tell people is the key to a happy marriage, and that is the midah of vitur – the ability to concede or acquiesce. The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Likutei Sichos 30) prefaces his explanation of Yaakov Avinu’s answer to Yosef’s unspoken question by giving us a deeper understanding of the midah of vitur.

Vitur can come from weakness or from strength. It comes from weakness when one person gives into another because he or she simply does not have the strength to argue anymore. Someone does this when continuing to argue will create more pain than the person is willing or able to endure, or because the other person has simply worn them down. In a certain sense, this type of vitur can be good, but it usually leads to long term resentment and anger. Someone who is mevater on payment due to him from a counterparty to a contract may end the argument, but in such situations, such a person often never again speaks to the person he knows cheated him.

When one is mevater from strength, this means that he agrees to what another person wants because he loves that person, whether it is a family member, friend, or spouse. He or she may be right and may be better at arguing the point at hand, but despite this, the vatran – one who has internalized the midah of vitur – nevertheless concedes to the other person’s point because he values the other person and the relationship with him or her more than he values being right or having his way. The vatran gives in from a position of strength, free will, and full-hearted desire to make the other person happy.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that Rachel’s greatest trait was her midah of vitur. The most famous example is when Rachel gave over the signs to Leah which she and Yaakov had established to verify Rachel’s identity under the chuppah in case Lavan tried to deceive them, which he ultimately did (Megillah 13b). But Yaakov Avinu was telling his son Yosef about another expression of Rachel’s trait of vitur: “It is not like you think. Rachel was not mevater on being buried in Me’oras HaMachpela from a place of weakness. She chose to be buried in Beis Lechem, where she and I knew our grandchildren would one day be lead on their way out of Yerushalayim and into exile.”  

The passuk says, “A voice is heard on high – lamentation and bitter weeping – Rachel weeping for her children, she refuses to be comforted for her children for they are not” (Yirmiyahu 31:14). All Rachel wanted was to comfort her children as they passed her grave into exile and to daven for them from above. That is why she merited Hashem telling her, “Withhold your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears for there is a reward for your efforts, says Hashem, they shall return from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, says Hashem, for your children shall return to their borders” (ibid. 15-16).

We have an ancient custom from the times of the Rishonim, which also has roots in Chazal, that each chassan gives his kallah a gift in the yichud room. When the tzadik Rav Areye Levin zt’l was married he was as impoverished as he was during the rest of his life. His wife Tzipora Channa a’h, the daughter of Rav Dovid Shapira zt’l, later revealed what he said to her in the yichud room: “My beloved, I am so sorry that I do not have any money to buy a gift for you. But let this promise be my gift to you: For the rest of our lives, whenever we disagree about something, I will always be the one who will be mevater.”

While I am sure that our chassan Shmuel has already bought his kallah a gift for the yichud room tomorrow, I also know that he and Rachel will both express Rachel Imeinu’s midah of vitur in their relationship. Shmuel shares the name of Shmuel HaNavi who comes from “Rama,” as the passuk says, “And he [Shmuel] returned to Rama, for his home was there” (I Shmuel 7:17). And the kallah Rachel shares the name of our mother Rachel, about whom the passuk says, “A voice is heard on high – Rama.”


As friends of the Aidelsons’ and Meyers’ for so many years and watching Rachel and Shmuel grow up in the shul, the entire kehillah feel like family. We know that whether the couple spends any Yom Tov with her family or his, we will enjoy their company either way. May Hashem bless this young couple, along with all of us in Klal Yisroel with vitur from a place of strength in all our relationships. In this merit, may we witness the complete fulfillment of Hashem’s words to our mother Rachel, “your children shall return to their borders!”

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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.

WHILE YOU’RE LEARNING YOU MUST LEARN

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.”

LEARNING LIKE RAV YISRAEL SALANTER

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.    

THE GOAL OF ALL MITZVOS

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.   

IDEAS FROM RAV SHIMSHON PINCUS

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.

KISSING THE GEMARA

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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