Monday, December 8, 2014

Ender's Game - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha on Parshas Vayishlach

Baruch Hashem, Rav Moshe Weinberger has reviewed this write-up of his drasha from the this past Shabbos, parshas Vayishlach. See here for past at YUTorah.org's website to hear Rav Weinberger's past shiurim 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 and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.


Rav Moshe Weinberger
Vayishlach 5775
Ender’s Game 


After Shimon and Levi killed all the inhabitants of Shchem for countenancing the horrible attack on their sister Dina, Yaakov Avinu rebukes them for placing the whole family in danger. He tells them, “You polluted me to create enmity with the dwellers of the land, with the Kenani and the Perizi, but I am few in number and they will gather against me and smite me and my house will be destroyed!” (Bereishis 34:30). The brothers then answered Yaakov, “Shall our sister be treated like a prostitute?” (ibid. 31).  


The Ohr Hachaim asks a very basic question on the brothers’ response. How did they address their father’s concern? He was worried that their family would be wiped out because Shimon and Levi caused the nations around them to see them as an existential threat. Even in halacha (Yerushalmi Teruma 8:4), if an oppressor tells a group of Jews they will all die unless they turn over a specific woman for abuse, it is permissible to turn her over. Even more so here, where Dina had already been taken, the brothers should not have endangered the entire family of Yaakov. But Shimon and Levi answered only that they did not want their sister’s abuse to go unanswered. How does this address the threat their actions brought upon Yaakov’s family?


The Ohr Hachaim offers an amazing answer. They brothers responded to Yaakov that “Just the opposite! We will be in more danger among the nations when they see that one despicable character abused the daughter of Yaakov, doing whatever he wanted with her. The [Jewish people] will have no way to survive among the nations. Just the opposite, by doing this [killing the people of Shchem], the nations will be afraid of [the Jewish people] and will be terrified of them.” Shimon and Levi argued that the neighboring people saw that if an entire city was destroyed for condoning the defilement of a daughter of Yaakov by their leader, if they attempted to harm the Jewish people, the consequences would be even worse. 


Based on the principle that “silence constitutes agreement” (Bava Metzia 37b), Yaakov’s silence in the face of his son’s answer that he conceded that Shimon and Levi’s argument was correct. By taking decisive action to avenge Dina’s abuse, Yaakov agreed that they were protecting, rather than endangering, their family.  


We also see that the brothers were 100% correct in their assessment. The pasuk (Bereishis 35:5) says, “They traveled and the fear of G-d was upon the cities around them [Yaakov’s family] and they did not pursue them.” Shimon and Levi succeeded in “putting the fear of G-d” into the neighboring nations, ensuring that no one else would attempt to harm them. Even many years later, when Yosef sent his brothers back to Eretz Yisroel to bring Binyomin to Egypt, he imprisons Shimon (Bereishis 42:24) because he knew that if Shimon and Levi were together, they could destroy Egypt. Even far away from Eretz Yisroel, in Egypt, they knew that one does not hurt the children of Yaakov without severe repercussions. 


The Ohr Hachaim’s explanation of the interchange between Yaakov and his sons is also reflected in how the Midrash (Bereishis Raba 34:80) explains Yaakov’s criticism. According to Rabanan in the Midrash, “You have polluted me” means, “The barrel [of wine] was clear, and you polluted it.” But the brothers response according to Rabbi Yehuda bar Simon in the Midrash was that it was just the opposite: “The barrel [of wine] was polluted and we purified it! They said, ‘[Shall our sister be treated] like a prostitute?!’ They said: Shall they treat us like ownerless people?!” This Midrash apparently agrees with the underlying concept of the Ohr Hachaim’s explanation.  


Even though Yaakov conceded that Shimon and Levi’s actions were correct in retrospect, the way they went about their strategy was wrong. Acts of zeal can go overboard. They should have had this dialogue with their father Yaakov Avinu before deceiving and killing the people of Shchem. By unilaterally taking action, they were guilty of deciding on a halachic matter in front of and without consulting with their rebbe, the sage of the generation, their father: Yaakov. Therefore, at the end of his life, he cursed Shimon and Levi (Bereishis 49:7), “I will separate them throughout Yaakov and I will scatter them throughout Yisroel.” Shimon and Levi were to be dispersed among the Jewish people. Normally, the punishment for one who decides on a halachic matter in front of and without consulting his rebbe is death (Eiruvin 63a). In order to save them from death, Yaakov Avinu decreed that they should go into exile because exile atones for capital crimes (Sanhedrin 37b). 


The Way of Exile and the Way of Eretz Yisroel 


There are two legitimate ways the Jewish people conduct themselves throughout history: the way of exile and the way of Eretz Yisroel. We must sometimes bow to and flatter the nations of the world in order to avoid persecution. The Jewish people’s position in the world is precarious, so we must sometimes bow to Eisav. This is the way of exile. But in our essence, this is not the Jewish way. Reb Tzadok Hakohein of Lublin, zy’a, explains in Resisei Laila that “The power of the Jewish people is that it is from the holy seed of the Jewish nation which was born in Eretz Yisroel.” Even though Yaakov and his sons bowed down to Eisav, one of his children, Binyomin, was not born yet and never bowed down to Eisav. His way was the way of Eretz Yisroel. 


That is why, generations later, when every Jew was bowing down to Haman, one man did not bow: Mordechai, from the tribe of Binyomin (Esther 2:5). According to the Midrash (Yalkut Esther 1054), Haman asked Mordechai, “Why are you not bowing down to me like your father [Yaakov] did to my father [Eisav]?” Mordechai answered him, “My father Binyomin was in his mother’s womb and did not bow down. I am his great-grandson… Just as my father did not bow down, so too I do not bow down or prostrate myself.” We therefore see that this quality of self-respect has existed in our people from almost the very beginning. 


That is why the Temple Mount, the location of the Holy of Holies of the Beis Hamikdash, is built on the land of the tribe of Binyomin (Yuma 12a), who the Torah (Devarim 33:12) calls, “friend of Hashem.” The pride and glory of the Jewish people, the Divine Presence, is most revealed by the one who upholds and respects G-d’s glory in the world: Binyomin. This recognition that G‑d’s children need not grovel before the nations of the world provides the home base for Hashem’s glory on earth: the Temple Mount. 


When Yitzhak Shamir was prime minister of Israel, he was under tremendous pressure to agree to a land for peace plan proposed by Saudi Arabia in August 1981, referred to as the “eight-point plan.” Although Shamir was from the Begin tradition of Jewish pride, rather than self-effacing subservience to the wishes of the gentile nations, he was on the verge of giving in to the plan and compromising on Israeli national security. He agreed to meet with a group of rabbonim from the Dati Leumi camp the day before he traveled to the U.S. to meet with President Reagan to discuss the plan. One of those rabbonim was Rav Shlomo Aviner, shlita. After the meeting, Rav Aviner took PM Shamir aside, took out a Tanach, and began reading him psukim about how Hashem gave Eretz Yisroel to the Jewish people and he asked Shamir to please remember that. Shamir was silent, but told Rav Aviner that he understood what he was trying to tell him. While he was watching, Rav Aviner slipped the Tanach in the Prime Minister’s briefcase, who then packed it up and left the meeting.


Several days later, after the negotiations in Washington, Rav Aviner received a call from the Prime Minister, who told him the following: I want to thank you for reminding me about what the Torah says about the land of Israel and the Jewish people. When I was in the meeting with President Reagan, they told me I have to agree to this. And I have to agree to that. But I asked, “What about our security?” They promised me millions of dollars for additional security. I raised one objection after another, and each time, they offered me millions and millions more to address each of my concerns. Finally, I thought about it and pulled out the Tanach you placed in my briefcase. I then began reading the psukim in my broken English to President Reagan and everyone else present. I showed them that G-d promised the land of Israel to the Jewish people. After that, they simply packed up their bags and concluded that they could not do anything with me. So, Rav Aviner, I want to thank you for what you said to me during the meeting. 


This is why the Arabs are rabidly obsessed with the Temple Mount, even though Jerusalem is not mentioned a single time in the Koran and even when they do pray on our Temple Mount, they face Mecca! They cannot tolerate what the Temple Mount, which rests on the land of the tribe of Binyomin, represents: the essential nature of the tribe of Binyomin and the Jewish people which refuses to bow down to what the gentiles want us to do with our land.  


And Shimon and Levi’s call, “Shall our sister be treated like a prostitute?!” was the beginning of the Chanukah revolution against the Syrian-Greeks as well. According to the Midrash (Megillas Taanis 17 Elul), the Greeks decreed that every Jewish bride must be with the local governor before she could marry her husband. When the governor came to defile the daughter of Matisyahu ben Yochanan, the Kohein Gadol, he and his sons overcame the governor and killed him. This is how the Chanukah revolution began; with a feeling that “enough is enough, Jewish blood is not cheap.” 


The same applies today. First, we can literally say about thousands of our holy sisters who are prisoners to their Arab “husbands,” “Shall our sister be treated like a prostitute?!” And our brothers are being killed while davening in a holy shul in Har Nof. Our children Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali were taken captive and killed at the beginning of the summer. People are stabbed or killed while shopping. How long will Jewish blood be spilled like water? How long will we “show restraint” to satisfy the great-grandchildren of Eisav? When will we stand up like Shimon and Levi and cry out, “No more!”


May we soon merit more Jews like Shimon and Levi who will not countenance human scum treating the children of Yaakov Avinu like cattle to be slaughtered at will. And may the words of the Navi (Ovadia 1:21) soon come to pass, that “Saviors shall ascend Mt. Zion to judge the mountain of Eisav and kingship shall belong to Hashem.”





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Monday, December 1, 2014

Rav Moshe Weinberger's Shabbos Morning Drasha - Parshas Vayetzei - Wherever You Go

Baruch Hashem, Rav Moshe Weinberger has reviewed this write-up of his drasha from the this past Shabbos, parshas Vayetzei. See here for past write-ups. Also, thousands of Rav Weinberger's shiurim are available online here. You can also go to YUTorah.org's website to hear Rav Weinberger's shiurim as mashgiach/mashpia at YU or 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. My son suggested (credit where it is due!) that 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 and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.







Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Vayetzei 5775
Wherever You Go 

Yaakov Avinu traveled from Eretz Yisroel to Charan and passed through what was to be Yerushalayim. But once he had reached Beis El, he realized that he had not stopped to pray in Yerushalayim, so he made up his mind to return, at which time “he encountered the place” (Chulin 91b; Bereishis 28:11).  Although the pasuk does not say what “the place” was, Rashi explains that it must be the only other place previously called “the place” (Bereishis 22:4), Har Hamoriah, the future location of the Beis Hamikdash. Rashi explains that the earth contracted to cause Har Hamoriah to come to Beis El where Yaakov Avinu was.  

After Har Hamoriah came to meet Yaakov, he went to sleep and dreamed of the ladder reaching up to Heaven with angels climbing and descending it. When he awoke, he said, with surprise (ibid. 28:16-17), “Behold! G-d is in this place and I did not know it… How awesome is this place. It is nothing other than the house of G-d and the gate of Heaven.” 

First, why was Yaakov surprised that G-d’s house was there in Beis El? He knew before he went to sleep that Har Hamoriah had moved to meet him. And second, why did Hashem specifically want to reveal the vision of the ladder to Yaakov on Har Hamoriah after moving it to some other location? Why did Hashem not cause the sun to set at the normal time to allow Yaakov to reach Har Hamoriah without the need to contract the land? He could have caused Yaakov to have the vision of the ladder there without the contraction of the land!

Rashi (on ibid. 17) teaches that when Yaakov Avinu said that Har Hamoria (which was then in Beis El) was the “gate of Heaven,” it meant that the Beis Hamikdash above was aligned with the Beis Hamikdash below. The Rebbe Reb Yonasan Eybeschutz, zt’l, asks: Which one’s location is established in relation to the other? In other words, do we understand that the Beis Hamikdash above existed from the beginning and Dovid and Shlomo built the Beis Hamikdash at the point on earth which corresponds with the “location” of the Beis Hamikdash above? Or do we understand that the original Beis Hamikdash is the one on earth and that Hashem affixes the location of the Beis Hamikdash above so that it will be aligned with the one on earth? 

The Rebbe Reb Yonasan offers an answer based on the psukim here where Yaakov Avinu said, “This [place] is nothing other than the house of G-d and this [place] is the gate of Heaven… Behold Hashem is in this place and I did not know it.” This implies that the Beis Hamikdash below is the primary one and the one in Heaven is fixed only in relation to the one on earth. How does the Rebbe know this from the pasuk? Yaakov knew that Har Hamoriah had moved to Beis El. But he assumed that if the Beis Hamikdash above was primary, then the earth and stones of Har Hamoriah would have moved to Beis El (temporarily out of alignment with the Beis Hamikdash above), but that the “gate of Heaven,” the Beis Hamikdash above, would have remained in its permanent location above Yerushalayim. Yaakov Avinu was surprised to realize that the “gate of Heaven” was above him in Beis El because this meant that the location of the Beis Hamikdash below, Har Hamoriah, was primary. Thus, when it moved to meet him, the Beis Hamikdash above moved as well, to “this place,” since its location is established only in relation to the Beis Hamikdash below.  

Relatedly, the pasuk says regarding the ladder in Yaakov’s dream, “angels of G-d were ascending and descending בו.” There is a dispute in Bereishis Rabbah (68:12) regarding the subject of the word “בו,” which could be read to mean “on him” or “on it.” One opinion is that the angels were ascending and descending on the ladder. But the Midrash offers another explanation that the angels were ascending and descending Yaakov Avinu himself. According to the Rebbe Reb Yonasan’s explanation, we can understand that when a Jew seeks G-d out like Yaakov Avinu did, the Beis Hamikdash, Hashem’s Presence, comes to him. And by bringing G‑d’s dwelling place to wherever a person is, he brings the Beis Hamikdash above as well, such that he himself becomes a conduit to draw Hashem’s light into his life just like Yaakov Avinu himself was the ladder on which the angels ascended and descended. 

Following this episode, the pasuk (Bereishis 29:1) says, “And Yaakov lifted his feet…” Rashi explains that Yaakov became light on his feet and was no longer afraid. According to our explanation, we can understand that Yaakov Avinu was no longer afraid to go into the exile because he knew that he could draw Hashem’s Presence into his life wherever he went. Yaakov was going to Lavan in Charan, which literally means “anger.” He was going into an exile in which he knew to expect persecution, deception, and danger. Yet he knew that in the end, he would be okay because he would not be alone no matter what impurity he would be subjected to in Lavan’s house.  

Avraham Avinu received Hashem’s original promise that he would inherit Eretz Yisroel. And Hashem forbade Yitzchak Avinu from ever leaving Eretz Yisroel. But Hashem promised Yaakov Avinu that wherever he went, Eretz Yisroel would go with him! He was promised an “inheritance without borders” (Shabbos 118a-b). Wherever a Jew goes, he builds shuls and yeshivos in which to learn Torah and daven. Wherever a Jew learns and davens, he draws the holiness of Eretz Yisroel into his life. He brings the Beis Hamikdash and the gate of Heaven to him. It is so easy to be afraid of anti-Semites or other dangers in exile. Even in Eretz Yisroel, even in a shul in Har Nof, in Yerushalayim, we now feel vulnerable. But Hashem is telling us that He will be with us wherever we go. We cannot guarantee that bad things will not happen to us, but our hearts can rest easier knowing that Hashem is with us no matter what. “And I will guard you wherever you go” (Bereishis 28:15).

The tzadikim teach that the letters that make up Yaakov’s name (יעקב) also spell “he will pierce/break out (יבקע).” Yaakov’s gift is that he is not limited to connecting to G-d in only one place, in Yerushalayim or the Beis Hamikdash. Hashem taught Yaakov that he can break out and take possession of his inheritance without borders. Hashem told Yaakov (Bereishis 28:14), “And you will break forth westward, eastward, northward, and southward…” We can break out and bring Hashem’s Presence with us wherever we go. 

This Shabbos is the twenty-second anniversary of Aish Kodesh. This is where we bring Hashem’s Presence into our shul through our davening and Torah. The Beis Hamikdash above comes to meet us here. We must therefore renew our commitment to our founding principle of davening with a bren, with fire, and with a great respect for the holiness of the miniature Beis Hamikdash that we are privileged to be part of. With G‑d’s help, if we strengthen our davening, we will see Hashem’s Presence revealed in our shul just like in all shuls and yeshivos around the world. 

The same principle applies in marriage as well. Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, zy’a, says that he received a tradition that just like the shuls built in exile, every Jewish home in which the husband and wife lived with holiness and purity will move to Eretz Yisroel in the time of Moshiach.  

Just like we can bring Hashem’s Presence wherever we go in space, we can do the same thing in time. Shabbos is the Beis Hamikdash of time, when Hashem’s Presence is most revealed. But G‑d gave us a way to bring Hashem’s Presence into the mundane life of the six days of the week. And that is through the melaveh malka meal. Our ancestors observed this minhag which comprises a full section of the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 300), but most of us completely neglect this mitzva. By partaking of a melaveh malka meal and singing at least one of the melaveh malka zmiros, we draw the holiness of Shabbos, the Beis Hamikdash of time, into the six days of the week. 

We will conclude with several verses from one of the melaveh malka zmiros which capture Hashem’s message to Yaakov Avinu not to be afraid in exile because He will always be with him wherever he goes:

Hashem said to Yaakov – fear not my servant Yaakov
Hashem will redeem Yaakov – fear not my servant Yaakov
Command salvations for Yaakov – fear not my servant Yaakov…
Hashem will have returned the glory of Yaakov – fear not my servant Yaakov 

May Hashem help us recognize and honor His Presence in our shuls, yeshivos, marriages, and homes and thereby draw our inheritance without borders, His Presence, into our lives wherever we go. May we be worthy of Hashem’s promise to Yaakov, “I will guard you wherever you go and return you to this land.”


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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Blood, Sweat, and Tears - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha on Parshas Chayei Sara

Baruch Hashem, Rav Moshe Weinberger has reviewed this write-up of his drasha from the this past Shabbos, parshas Chayei Sara. See here for past write-ups. Also, thousands of Rav Weinberger's shiurim are available online here. You can also go to YUTorah.org's website to hear Rav Weinberger's shiurim as mashgiach/mashpia at YU or 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. My son suggested (credit where it is due!) that 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 and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.

Rav Moshe Weinberbger
Parshas Chayei Sara 5775
Blood, Sweat, and Tears

It is very difficult to understand why Avraham insisted on paying so much to buy Me’aras Hamachpela, the cave of Machpela, in which to bury Sara. Efron had offered to give it to him as a gift (Bereishis 23:11). The people even called him a “prince of G-d” (ibid. 6) Why not accept their gift? Hashem had already told him (ibid. 15:7) that he would inherit Eretz Yisroel. Avraham knew that Me’aras Hamachpela would ultimately be his in any case. While it is true that “One who hates gifts will live” (Mishlei 15:27), since Me’aras Hamachpela had already been promised to Avraham, it was not truly Efron’s to give. It is especially difficult to understand according to the Gemara (Bava Metzia 87a) which explains that the 400 shekalim paid by Avraham Avinu were not ordinary shekalim. They were large shekalim worth about 100 times the value of regular shekalim. According to this, Avraham paid the equivalent of 40,000 shekalim. Why was this necessary?

Perhaps we can understand Avraham’s motivation based on a teaching by Rav Aharon Soloveitchik, zt”l. Rav Aharon quotes the Mishna (Bava Metzia 38a): “If one deposits his produce with his friend [to guard], even if they will be lost, he may not touch them.” In other words, the Mishna teaches that if someone is guarding another person’s produce, and that produce begins to rot, he may not sell the produce in order to give the proceeds to the owner, nor may he exchange the produce for a fresher replacement in order to return non-rotten produce to the owner. Why is this?

Rav Kahana, in the Gemara, explains: “A person wants one portion of his own [property] more than nine portions of his friend’s [property].” Rashi explains that one wants his own portion more than another’s because “it is more precious to him because he toiled for it. He wants the one portion that remains from it [that did not become rotten] more than nine portions of others that would have been purchased with the proceeds of his produce which would have been sold [before they became rotten].”

What does Rashi’s comment add to Rav Kahana’s explanation of the Mishna? Rav Aharon Soloveitchik explains that Rashi was bothered by the following question: Even if the guardian had exchanged the produce for money or for fresher produce, it would still be his, not another person’s! Whatever produce or money one receives in exchange for his own produce still belongs to him. It would not be considered part of the “nine portions of his friend’s.” Rav Aharon therefore explains that Rashi answers this question by showing that there are two types of ownership: (i) legal title and (ii) emotional ownership.

In the first type of ownership, legal title, it makes no difference whether one has the produce he grew himself, money obtained in exchange for that produce, or fresher produce. It all belongs to the person and is considered “his own portion.” If one assumes that Rav Kahana is discussing this type of ownership, it would be very difficult to understand why a person would distinguish between the produce one grew himself or money/produce one obtained in exchange for such produce.

But Rashi’s explanation of Rav Kahana makes it clear that Rav Kahana was discussing the second type: emotional/spiritual/psychological ownership. This is created when one toils to earn something. After a person has invested months preparing the ground, plowing his soil, planting, watering, and harvesting his crop, the produce he obtains is precious to him became he poured his blood, sweat, and tears into it. A small portion someone worked for with his own effort is worth more to him that nine portions grown by someone else even if he has legal title to it.

That is why Avraham Avinu insisted on purchasing Me’aras Hamachpela himself even though he already had legal title to it. He longed to have a portion in Eretz Yisroel to which he had emotional title, not just legal title. He wanted to ensure that the land of Israel would always be so precious to him, his children, and his grandchildren, that they would never be willing to relinquish it.

This is reflected in the double meanings of the two words for money: damim and kesef. Damim means money, but it also means blood. A person pours his blood, his very life-force, into earning a living. So when he spends that money on something, it is very precious to him. He has emotional title to it. And in addition to meaning “money,” kesef means “longing.” A person feels a stronger longing and connection to the money he worked to earn, and those things he has purchased with that money, than things which are much more valuable that he never purchased himself. Avraham wanted to spend his hard-earned money to acquire Me’aras Hamachpela so that the Jewish people would have an everlasting bond with Eretz Yisroel that is emotional and spiritual, not simply economic.

The Kedushas Levi, zy”a, teaches this same concept in remarkable way, commenting on the pasuk (Bereishis 21:10), “G-d [אלוקים] has made joy for me.” He asks why Sara used the name of G-d which implies strict justice, Elokim, when she said that Hashem gave her joy with the birth of Yitzchak after so many years. She should have said that Hashem (using the four letter name of G-d which implies His attribute of kindness) gave her joy!

The Kedushas Levi answers that normally, when young people have children immediately after marriage, they feel a moderate level of joy. But when a person prays and cries for children year after year and then Hashem finally gives him or her children, the joy is immeasurable. Sara was saying that G-d’s attribute of strict justice, which caused her to wait many years to have children, ultimately caused her to have tremendous joy which she never would have felt if Hashem had originally exhibited His attribute of kindness and given her children at a young age. A person values and rejoices in that which he acquired through great toil, effort, and tears, much more than anything he obtained easily.

When someone has davened for something for years, his stake in it is so much greater. That is why Chana’s prayers for her son Shmuel Hanavi were so powerful. The Gemara (Brachos 31b) teaches that Shmuel became ill because he had shown some level of disrespect to Eli, the Kohein Gadol, by teaching halacha in Eli’s presence. While Shmuel was at death’s door, Chana pled with Eli Hakohein to intervene in the upper worlds to save her son. He told her there was nothing he could do but pray that G-d grant her another child after Shmuel’s death. But she refused to hear of this. She told him (Shmuel I 1:27), “I prayed for this child.” Chana had invested years of prayer and tears into Shmuel Hanavi’s birth. No other child could have possibly acted as a substitute. Chana’s love, prayer, and insistence allowed Eli Hakohein to draw down salvation from above and Shmuel lived. We know Shmuel grew up to anoint Dovid Hamelech as king. So in the end, Moshiach, great-grandson of Dovid Hamelech, will ultimately come into the world in the merit of the prayers and tears of Shmuel’s mother Chana.

A Mother Needs to Cry

A young Gerer chassidic man named Leibish from New York went to study in the Gerer yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel before the Pnei Menachem, zt”l, the previous Gerer Rebbe, had become Rebbe. At that time, he was still the rosh yeshiva in Yerushalayim. Leibish was recognized by everyone as the top boy in the yeshiva. He had exemplary character traits and he was the brightest and most diligent student, a pride to his parents and the yeshiva.

At one point in the year, his parents went to visit the yeshiva and Leibish’s father went to speak to the rosh yeshiva, the Pnei Menachem, looking forward to the praises he would surely hear about his son. When he met the Pnei Menachem, he introduced himself, but the rosh yeshiva simply acknowledged his greeting and said that it was good to meet him. Thinking perhaps that the rosh yeshiva had not realized who his son was, he added that his son was Leibish. The Pnei Menachem responded, “Yes, I know. Very good to meet you.” Brokenhearted, this father was at a loss. He knew how great his son was. Why was the rosh yeshiva not singing Leibish’s praises to him?!

He therefore asked the rosh yeshiva, “Rebbe, please tell me if there is some problem with Leibish. I do not want you to protect me from any negative news. If there are any issues, please tell me what they are and I am happy to speak with Leibish about it.”

But the Pnei Menachem answered: No, do not worry. There are no problems. He is doing very well. But let me tell you a story: I have a step-brother (the Pnei Manachem’s father, the Imrei Emes, zy”a, was widowed several times, so the Pnei Menachem had a number of step-brothers). At one point, he received notice that he would be drafted into the Polish army. This was horrible news, so his mother, my father the Imrei Emes’s Rebbetzin, approached her husband to ask him to intercede on behalf of her son, my step-brother. But the Rebbe simply said, “Nu, what can we do. Hopefully G-d will help.” Dumbfounded, the Rebbetzin left, wondering why the Rebbe would not help her son from the horrible fate that surely awaited him in the Polish army.

The next day, her mother, the Imrei Emes’s mother in law, came to the Rebbe determined not to take “no” for an answer. When she approached the Rebbe, he told her, “Do not worry. Your grandson will not be drafted.” Confused by the difference between what the Rebbe had told her daughter and what she had just heard, she asked, “But why did the Rebbe not tell my daughter the good news yesterday?” The Rebbe answered that “A mother needs to cry.” He did not want to give her too much hope the day before because it was her tears after she spoke with the Imrei Emes that brought down her son’s salvation from Heaven.

When the Pnei Menachem finished telling this story to Leibish’s father, he concluded: Why do  you think your son is so successful in everything he does in yeshiva? It is because of your and your wife’s tears and davening for his success. If I told you how well he was doing, you would stop worrying and stop davening. A mother needs to cry. Leibish needs your davening in order to continue succeeding.

Our people are still crying, suffering, davening, and dying, in order to acquire Me’aras Hamachpela and Chevron. May all of the tears and davening of all of the generations finally constitute full payment for Eretz Yisroel and Yerushalayim. May Hashem clear away all of the filth so that every street, every alleyway, of Yerushalayim will be ours and ours alone in which we will be able to fully reveal the honor of Heaven with the coming of Moshiach, may he come very soon in our days.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Rav Moshe Weinberber's Drasha on Parshas Veyeira - Spending Time

Baruch Hashem, Rav Moshe Weinberger has reviewed this write-up of his drasha from the this past Shabbos, parshas Vayeira. See here for past write-ups. Also, thousands of Rav Weinberger's shiurim are available online here. You can also go to YUTorah.org's website to hear Rav Weinberger's shiurim as mashgiach/mashpia at YU or click on one of the following links to subscribe to the shiurim: email, rss feed, podcast, or iTunes. Please note that these drashos will only be available online for one month. My son suggested (credit where it is due!) that 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 and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Vayeira 5775
Spending Time

Hashem says about Avraham (Bereishis 18:19): “For I have known him because he commanded his children and his household after him, and they observed the path of Hashem, doing righteousness and justice…” the Meshech Chochma, zt’l, teaches that this pasuk is the Torah source for the mitzva of chinuch, educating our children. He explains that the mitzva of “And you shall review with your son” (Devarim 6:7) and “And you shall teach your children” (Devarim 11:19) refer to the mitzva to teach one’s children Torah. That is the curriculum of Torah. But the general, all-encompassing mitzva of chinuch, the mitzva to raise one’s children to live a G-dly life, is derived from Avraham Avinu.  

The fact that Avraham fulfilled the mitzva of chinuch with his children is so great, Rashi explains that “I have known him” is an expression of love and is the source of the fact that the Navi calls Avraham (Yeshayahu 41:8), “Avraham that I love.” But what did Avraham actually command his children and the members of his household? What specifically did he teach them? We see that the result was that “they observed the path of Hashem, doing righteousness and justice.” But beyond the fact that they lived in the same household as a tzadik like Avraham, the pasuk never teaches us clearly what Avraham did to fulfill this mitzva. If the Torah does not make that clear, how can we learn from his actions and apply them to the way we educate our children in the path of Hashem?

There is a teaching in Tana D’vei Eliyahu (19:5) where Eliyahu Hanavi davens to Hashem to point out the positive attributes of the Jewish people: “My Father in Heaven, remember the covenant that You entered into with the earlier generations, with the three tzadikim, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. Remember how many poor and impoverished people there are in the Jewish people. Yet they study Torah every single day… They do not have enough food to eat, yet they pay a salary to rebbeim to teach their children Torah…”  

The Tolner Rebbe, shlita, asks how we can understand this prayer of Eliyahu Hanavi in light of our circumstances today. Unlike in previous generations, virtually no one is forced to choose between hiring teachers for his children and putting bread and water on his table. While tuition is difficult and people sacrifice to educate their children, thankfully, that education is generally not at the expense of basic sustenance. Not everyone can afford to go out for sushi and steak, but they are also not starving. So what is the test of our generation? How do we sacrifice for our children’s education and welfare? What makes us worthy of Eliyahu Hanavi’s tears? 

The Tolner Rebbe suggests that while the greatest test for previous generations was spending money on Torah education rather than food, our generation’s greatest test is how we spend our time. Because of the pressures of making a living and the time people spend using their electronic devices, as well as their varied interests and social commitments, the most difficult thing in our generation is dedicating one-on-one time with one’s husband or wife, and with one’s children. Beyond handling homework assignments and daily tasks, the call to action for our generation is to spend some non-pressured, quiet, quality time with one’s spouse and children.  

Even on Shabbos, it is difficult to give up a portion of our precious three-hour naps to spend time learning, playing, or talking with our children during the short Shabbos days of the upcoming winter months. And while one might think that people could simply spend the long Friday nights with their children, there is a strong desire to simply go to sleep at 8 p.m.! Spending time with one’s spouse and children is a difficult challenge for our generation even on Shabbos.

The key area of sacrifice we are called upon to make in our generation is to spend some time with each of our sons and daughters to talk with them about matters which concern them: How is yeshiva? How are things with friends? We must take time to call our children’s rebbeim, moros, and teachers. Instead of making time for these conversations, so many people waste away hours and hours on their iPhones, iPads, and computers. But if someone sacrifices his time and dedicates it to his or her spouse and children, Eliyahu Hanavi highlights each precious sacrifice to Hashem in his advocacy for the Jewish people. 

Unfortunately, men and much more prone to failure in this area than women are. Even though there are tremendous pressures on women in this generation as well, and many women must work full- or part-time to support their families, they generally find a way to make the necessary time for their children. 

The Sfas Emes (on Bereishis 5658 “Vayikach Hashem”) highlights this reality in his comment on the pasuk (Bamidbar 11:12) in which Moshe asks Hashem, “Did I conceive this entire nation or give birth to it that You should say ‘Carry it in your bosom…’” The Rebbe teaches that the pasuk reveals by implication that if a mother did give birth to the entire Jewish nation, she would have the ability to take care of its needs. But even the nation’s father, Moshe Rebbeinu, could not give the people the time they require. 

We see that even a busy working mother finds the time to spend with her children. But men,  even if they have fewer external demands on their time, often fail to spend real time with their children. But while this is generally less of a problem for women, it becoming increasingly difficult for them as well. Certainly none of our grandmothers spent time at the cafes and gyms of Ungvar or Strelisk, having coffee with friends or taking Zumba or Pilates classes. Their entire lives were dedicated to their families. I know even now, after her children are grown, my mother’s only thought is the wellbeing of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  

We see this reflected in the Haftara this week as well. The wife of the students of the prophets, the Shunamis, prayed for a child, and when she gave birth to a son and he grew up, she was heartbroken when he suddenly became sick and died. At that time, she prepared to go see Elisha Hanavi again to seek his help, and her husband said (Kings II 4:23), “Why are you going to him today? It is not Rosh Chodesh and it is not Shabbos.” When their child died, the father’s reaction was, “Oh well. Too bad.” But the Shunamis refused to give him. She demanded and pleaded until the Navi agreed to help her.  

One of the most moving psukim in all of Tanach is after Elisha revives the son of the Shunamis and says to her (ibid. at 36), “Take your son.” She was heartbroken at the thought that she may have lost the son she prayed for with all of her heart. We cannot even imagine how the words “Take your son” must have sounded in her ears. G-d willing, after this difficult week in Eretz Yisroel, with Arab terrorists killing our children, when Moshiach comes, he and the tzadikim will bring all of those who were taken from the world back to their loved ones and say, “Take your son.”  

So what did Avraham Avinu teach his children that caused Hashem to love him so much? How did he fulfill the mitzva of chinuch? The Kedushas Levi, zy”a teaches us an amazing thing about the pasuk we began with above. In the words of the Kedushas Levi, 

He [Avraham] decided that it was not sufficient that he alone should fulfill the mitzva with his great intellect. Instead, he had an additional intention in mind when he fulfilled some mitzva: to do it in the name of all Israel. Indeed, the entire Jewish people were in the thoughts and mind of Avraham because the potential for the son is hidden within the father. The mind of Avraham was the root and included within it the entire Jewish people and all of the descendants of Avraham which would come after him; every single generation until Moshiach comes. 

Based on this, the Kedushas Levi explains that the word “commanded” in the pasuk, “because he commanded [יצוה] his children,” is derived from the word “צוותא, bound.” Avraham Avinu bound himself to his children in everything that he did. Every act was for their sake. 

That is the essence of our generation’s test with respect to chinuch. If we do whatever we do to bind ourselves to our children, and not merely for our own sake, then we will surely find the will to make the time to spend with them. And just as he advocated for us in previous generations, may Eliyahu Hanavi bring the time we dedicate and sacrifice for our children up to Hashem as a merit through which we will see the coming of Moshiach soon in our days.
 
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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Video From Eli & Dina Beer's Sheva Brachos Thursday Night (10/30/14)



I'm happy to share this video of Eli and Dina Beer's sheva brachos, hosted by the holy couple, Ruchie and Eliav Frei, in Woodmere, NY! Eli grabbed his guitar and led the niggunim much of the time and shared a many Torahs and stories. Quite awesome.

Eli is known for his song/video Ve'yiyu Rachamecho: http://youtu.be/1P2Ou-K2hQU.

And here is a video of Eli's amazing Halel from Rosh Chodesh Adar II from earlier this year: http://youtu.be/KyGjupqPNfU.

The video was taken by the inimitable Dov Perkal. Here is the info on the camera and lighting equipment he used:

Canon EOS 70D
Canon lens 18-55 mm
Polaroid 320 Vari-Temp Super Bright LED Light

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Dance of Our Lives - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Pre-Simchas Torah Drasha

Baruch Hashem, Rav Moshe Weinberger has reviewed this write-up of his pre-Simchas Torah drasha. See here for past write-ups. Also, thousands of Rav Weinberger's shiurim are available online here. You can also go to YUTorah.org's website to hear Rav Weinberger's shiurim as mashgiach/mashpia at YU or click on one of the following links to subscribe to the shiurim: email, rss feed, podcast, or iTunes. Please note that these drashos will only be available online for one month. My son suggested (credit where it is due!) that 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 and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.

Rav Moshe Weinberber
Simchas Torah 5775
The Dance of Our Lives 

The sages of the Geonic period instituted the celebration of Simchas Torah on the existing Yom Tov of Shmini Atzeres. The purpose of the holiday is to rejoice in the Torah (Yalkut Shimoni, Pinchas, Remez 782). But the truth is that Yom Kippur is less than two weeks before Shmini Atzeres and it would seem to be a more appropriate time for Simchas Torah because the Jewish people received the second set of luchos, tablets, on Yom Kippur. Why then did the Geonim institute the holiday of Simchas Torah on Shmini Atzeres rather than Yom Kippur? 

In order to answer this question, we must first understand the nature of Shmini Atzeres more deeply. We know that on each of the seven days of Sukkos, we have special guests in the Sukkah, the Ushpizin: Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Yosef, and Dovid. The tzadikim teach that the Ushpizin, the guest, of Simchas Torah is Shlomo Hamelech.   How can we understand this? The Ushpizin are not a list of our all-time favorite hit rabbis. If they were, there are many others who might qualify. The feminists would not doubt release a list of their designated “Ushpizot” and every sect would certainly have their own favorites. The truth is that the Ushpizin each correspond to one of the seven lower sefiros and each Ushpizin’s unique nature has an inherent connection to the corresponding day of Sukkos. Why then do the tzadikim add an additional Ushpizin for Simchas Torah? There are only seven sefiros. What are they attempting to teach us about the connection between Shmini Atzeres and Shlomo Hamelech? 

In order to understand the Shmini Atzeres/Shlomo Hamelech connection, we must first understand the answer to two questions about Shlomo’s father, Dovid Hamelech. First, on Hoshana Raba, we say, “Please save for the sake of the one who smiles and dances with song, who teaches Torah with every musical instrument.” What does this mean? We know that it is possible to teach Torah through words and through seforim. What does it mean to teach Torah with musical instruments?  

Second, Chazal (Yuma 71a) say that when Dovid Hamelech asked (Tehillim 116:9) to “walk before Hashem in the lands of life,” he was asking G-d to allow him to walk before Him in the marketplaces of the world. How could Dovid Hamelech say that? He himself only asked for one thing (Tehillim 27:4), “to dwell in the house of G-d” all the days of his life. Torah is the highest way one can connect to Hashem. Why would Dovid Hamelech ask in Tehillim to walk before Hashem in the marketplaces of this world? 

When I was young, my family made aliya, moved to Israel. But one of my mother’s conditions was that we would not live in a merkaz klita, absorption center. While I hope the quality of the merkaz klita system in Israel has improved since the 1960’s, a merkaz klita is something that exists in a certain place to help someone to become absorbed into the land. Although every Jew is inherently connected to Eretz Yisroel, when he and his family have lived elsewhere for hundreds of years, the connection becomes less apparent and because of all of the obstacles that have become part of our lives in exile, “absorption” in the land feels difficult. That is the purpose of a physical merkaz klita; to ease the absorption process.  

On a spiritual level, the tzadikim teach that Shmini Atzeres is a merkaz klita in time. It is a temporal reality in which the experiences of Elul, Rosh Hashana, and Yom Kippur, and Sukkos can become absorbed into the fabric of our souls and personalities.

There are people who have studied and continue to study a tremendous amount of Torah. The question is whether any of it has absorbed into their bones and their flesh. During most of the year, the mind is cluttered with thousands of competing thoughts, necessary tasks, desires, and feelings. But after the forgiveness of Yom Kippur, our inboxes are completely emptied out. Our minds are no longer cluttered and we have the ability to absorb the Torah’s teachings. This the meaning of the Gemara’s teaching (Avoda Zara 19a) about the pasuk (Tehillim 1:2), “But his desire is for Hashem’s Torah, and in his Torah he will meditate day and night.” Ideally, when one begins to study Torah, it is “Hashem’s.” But once he has allowed it to absorb into him, once he has understood and incorporated its teachings into his life, it is not only Hashem’s Torah. It is “his” Torah. 

How does one know if his Torah learning has penetrated his heart, whether he has truly accepted the second tablets which were carved by Moshe Rebbeinu rather than Hashem? How can a person test whether the Torah has gone from being Hashem’s Torah to “his” Torah? This can only be tested when one is not studying Torah, when one is outside the beis medresh and he encounters situations, problems, or questions to which he has not already studied the answer, He must encounter problems to which there is no clearly pre-defined response.  One can only know if he has become one with the Torah if he sees that he has incorporated the principles of Torah into his personality and can apply them in new, unclear circumstances. 

That is why Dovid Hamelech asked Hashem to allow him to walk before Him in the marketplaces of this world. Dovid knew that it would only be apparent whether he was truly walking before the Divine Presence outside of the beis medresh. So while the Torah is of course the ultimate goal and the beis medresh is the holiest place in our lives, Dovid was asking to walk before G-d in the marketplaces in order to reach the highest level wherein the Torah he studied in the beis medrash became part of him. That is why Dovid Hamelech said (Tehillim 35:10), “All of my bones sing Your praises, oh G-d.” That is why the author of the Hoshanos said that Dovid Hamelech teaches Torah with “every musical instrument.” Every song, every movement, every activity was infused with the consciousness of G-d’s Presence and will. 

The seforim of Chabad emphasize that this principle is the reason we only dance on Simchas Torah before sifrei Torah which are closed.  The main thing we celebrate on Simchas Torah is not the fact that we merit the greatest joy in the world which is studying Torah. Rather, we go beyond that. We rejoice in the fact that we live and love Torah even when the Torah scroll is closed, when we are not studying Torah. 

That is what we are dancing for. That is also why we celebrate Simchas Torah by dancing rather than studying. We want to show that the greatest joy of Torah is how it infuses G-dliness into the movement of our feet, how we sing, and how we celebrate. That is how we know that the Torah has gone beyond the intellect and become infused into our personalities. That is why Dovid Hamelech asked G-d to allow him to walk before Him in the marketplaces. And it is what he was thanking G-d for when he said (Vayikra Raba 35:1), “Master of the World, every day I think and say that I will go to such-and-such a place. But my feet bring me to shuls and houses of Torah study.” The Torah became so absorbed into his bones that his feet “took” him to the beis medresh even when he planned to go elsewhere. 

If the songs of Dovid Hamelch are holy, then his son Shlomo Hamelech’s Shir Hashirim is holy of holies. Shlomo wrote his sefer analogizing the relationship between Hashem and His people to the love between a man and woman. He also wrote (Shir Hashirim 3:2) “I will walk around the city, in the marketplaces and streets…” The purpose of Shir Hashirim is to see G‑dliness in those places which feel least connected to G-d. People discuss how Hashem’s name does not appear in Megillas Esther. But Rebbe Nachman points out that Shir Hashirim does not refer to Him either. The letters of Shlomo’s name (שלמה) also spell “למשה, To Moshe.” The whole purpose of Shlomo Hamelech’s work in this world was to show how every aspect of life connects back to Moshe, to the Torah. Shlomo’s Torah is the Torah of “the lands of life,” the Torah as revealed in the marketplaces, offices, trains, and streets of this world.  That is why Shlomo is the Ushpizin of Shmini Atzeres. 

Sukkos is the chuppah, in which we are together alone under the schach, the wedding canopy, with Hashem. But Shmini Atzeres is when we begin living in Hashem’s domain, in His house, when we become one with Him. In the home, every move we make, whether it is eating, drinking, sleeping, working, is an expression of the unification between Hashem and us. 

This principle is obvious to anyone who has been in the home of a couple who has been lovingly married for fifty years. Every souvenir on the shelf tells a story. The stains on every pot and pan signify thousands of meals shared by husband and wife. Every item and fragrance in the house testifies to the unity of the couple. Even when the husband and wife are apart, everything they do and everything they are is a sign of the bond between them.  

Sometimes when two people are so close to one another, they share jokes or expressions that have meaning only to them and could appear strange to outsiders. That is why, when Dovid Hamelech danced with all of his might before the ark (Shmuel II 6:14), it looked strange to his wife Michal (ibid. at 17) who was not part of the intimate connection between Dovid and Hashem. She could not understand because she was outside of the intimacy of that union. That is one reason for the custom in many Jewish communities to engage in some joking and levity during the holiest part of the davening on Simchas Torah, the chazzan’s repetition of Musaf. These are “inside jokes” that can only be understood by those in the relationship. But Jews to whom G-d is a distant Monarch can never understand that levity. 

After the chuppah, after Sukkos, we enter the lands of life, where even in the marketplaces of this world, which appear separate from G-d because they are outside the beis medresh, become the place where we our unification with G-d is manifest. Just like in marriage, where is the marriage apparent? “See life with the woman you love” (Koheles 9:9). Our connection to G-d is not only revealed in “religious” places. It is revealed most in “life,” in our daily activities. That is what we demonstrate by celebrating the Torah with dance rather than study on Simchas Torah/Shmini Atzeres. Our connection to our chosson, to G-d, could never be revealed under the chuppah of the Sukkah, where the union is obvious. True unity is only revealed when there is no open revelation.  

Hashem tells us “It is difficult to say goodbye to you” (Rashi on Bamidbar 29:35) on Shmini Atzeres more than any other day because the unity between Hashem and His people is most apparent then, during the dance called life.  

I will conclude with the story told by Reb Isaac’l Kalover that I tell over every year before we begin Simchas Torah. The Kalover recounted that there was once a Jew who came to the big trade show in Leipzig to sell his merchandise. He planned to make a lot of money so he stayed at the nicest hotel he could find. While things did not work out as he planned in terms of selling his merchandise, he had a great time at the hotel. He ate the nicest meals than he had ever eaten in his life and the bed and room were more comfortable than anything he had ever experienced in his little town. After a few days, management began to get a bit worried. They noticed that he wore the same clothes every day, seemed to be enjoying the food a little bit too much, and generally did not act like someone who was accustomed to such wealth. One day after this Jew enjoyed a big meal the manager came over to him and asked him about his stay and the food. He assured the manager that he had never experienced such nice accommodations or such delicious food and that he was very satisfied. 

Still concerned, the manager showed him the bill and asked whether he thought there would be a problem paying it. The man admitted that while he had intended to make a lot of money at the big trade show, things had not worked out and he had no money to pay the bill. Infuriated, the manager grabbed the man and was about to take him to the police who were likely to beat him up and kill him. Protesting, the man said, “Wait! You won’t get any of your money back by handing me over to the police. But I will make an arrangement with you. I am a very talented dancer and I attract big crowds back home. Let me dance outside the restaurant and you will see that my performance will attract a crowd and you will see that the additional business brought into your restaurant will far exceed my bill.

Indeed, the Jew danced up such a storm that a large crowd gathered and ultimately, the business brought in by his dancing far outweighed the cost of his own hotel stay and use of the restaurant. Reb Isaac’l concluded that during the previous year and even Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we have enjoyed the beautiful accommodations of this world, but that we do not have the Torah and mitzvos to “pay” for our stay here. But as the days of judgment come to an end on Hoshana Raba, we say to Hashem that he should not take us away from the world. The dead cannot serve Hashem. Rather, we promise that we will dance in honor of Hashem and the Torah on Simchas Torah and that our dancing will bring so much honor to heaven, that it will more than “pay” for our stay in this world.

The tzadik Reb Aharon of Belz also taught that because the Satan sees Jews just dancing and carrying on during Simchas Torah, he “relaxes” and is less focused on his work. Therefore, if one quietly slips in a few words of davening during the dancing, these tefilos are particularly effective because they will not be counteracted by the Satan.

May our every movement, every bead of sweat, and every joke we tell while dancing with the sifrei Torah on Simchas Torah imbue and reveal the light of the Torah within us so that it will shine in our lives regardless of where our daily activities bring us.
 
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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Creation - Strinctly Speaking - Rav Moshe Weinberger on Parshas Bereishis

Baruch Hashem, Rav Moshe Weinberger has reviewed this write-up of his drasha from parshas Bereishis. See here for past write-ups. Also, thousands of Rav Weinberger's shiurim are available online here. You can also go to YUTorah.org's website to hear Rav Weinberger's shiurim as mashgiach/mashpia at YU or click on one of the following links to subscribe to the shiurim: email, rss feed, podcast, or iTunes. Please note that these drashos will only be available online for one month. My son suggested (credit where it is due!) that 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 and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Bereishis 5775
Creation – Strictly Speaking

The tzadikim teach that the introduction to a book is its essence. Yet the Torah, which gives our lives meaning, apparently has no introduction. It simply begins, “In the beginning of G‑d’s creation of Heaven and earth.” In order to find the Torah’s introduction, the tzadikim often connect the beginning of the Torah with the end (Devarim 34:12), “and all the strong hand and all the great awe which Moshe did before the eyes of the entire Jewish people.” How are the miracles Moshe performed for the Jewish people an introduction to the Torah? 

In order to understand the answer to that question, we must ask another question. Why does the Torah use G-d’s name which indicates His attribute of strict justice (אלוקים) in the context of the creation of the world? We know that creation was the ultimate act of kindness, as the pasuk (Tehillim 89:3) says, “The world is built on kindness.” To answer that question, Rashi (on Bereishis 1:1; see also Bereishis Raba 12:15) explains: “In the beginning, it was His intention to create it with His attribute of strict justice. He saw that the world would not endure. He therefore prefaced it with the attribute of mercy and mixed it with the attribute of justice.”  

It is difficult to understand G-d’s “initial thought” in this Midrash. How could G-d have thought that the creatures in this lowly world could ever exist in reliance on the strict attribute of justice? We regularly go to great lengths to understand every initial thought expressed in the Gemara even if it is ultimately rejected in the course of the discussion. How can we understand Hashem’s initial thought in this case? 

For the vast majority of people, when things are difficult, when G-d’s attribute of strict justice is more revealed, it is very difficult to thrive religiously and spiritually. Yet Hashem wanted to create the world in this way because the service of those tzadikim who can serve G-d in that way is so precious. The Tanya (Sha’ar Hayichud Vehaemunah 4) quotes the pasuk in Tehillim (84:12) to this effect: “A sun and a sheath is Hashem Elokim.” In other words, “Elokim,” G-d’s attribute of strict justice, is a sheath which covers Hashem’s attribute of mercy. Only a small number of tzadikim can successfully serve Hashem despite the difficulties, suffering, and trouble caused by the concealment of G-d’s kindness behind his attribute of strict justice.

This is what amazed Moshe when Hashem showed him the life and death of Rabbi Akiva (Menachos 29b). He saw the awesome level of Rabbi Akiva’s Torah and then witnessed the suffering he endured throughout his life, culminating in the way he was tortured to death by the Romans, after which his flesh was sold in the marketplace. Moshe asked G-d, “This is the Torah and this is its reward?!” But Hashem responded, “Be silent! This is what ascended in thought before me [כך עלה במחשבה לפני].” Hashem’s language here is reminiscent of Rashi’s explanation of how Hashem initially wanted to create the world with strict justice: “עלה במחשבהעלה במחשבה, it was His intention.” Rabbi Akiva was one of the tzadikim who lived through suffering and concealment, yet was able to see past it and connect to G-dliness on the highest level. He looked past the “sheath” of strict justice and saw G-d’s love. He lived in the ideal dimension of “it was His intention.” 

It is ironic that Moshe was so amazed by Rabbi Akiva’s ability to see the face of G-d behind the mask of suffering and strict justice when he himself who attained that level. While Moshe’s soul was pure, as the Midrash quoted by Rashi (on Shmos 2:2) indicates when it says that Moshe’s home was filled with light when he was born, we also know from the Degel Machaneh Ephraim, zy”a, (parshas Ki Sisa), quoting the Baal Shem Tov, zy”a, that Moshe’s physical nature was to be a completely wicked person.[1] Yet Moshe did not allow the coarseness of his physical nature to block his view of G-dliness. He attained the highest possible level of closeness with G-d. 

In order to understand how the end of a the Torah is an introduction to the beginning, we must first understand how tzadikim perform miracles. Based on a teaching by the Maharal, we will see that the answer is rooted in this same concept discussed above. The Midrash Shochar Tov on the pasuk (Tehillim 114:3), “The sea saw and fled,” says that the Red Sea split when it saw the coffin of Yosef Hatzadik. Why? The Maharal explains that when Yosef’s physical nature demanded that he sin with the wife of Potifar, Yosef overcame nature and (Bereishis 39:12) “fled outside.” Because the tzadik, Yosef ,did not bend to his nature and instead fled, the Red Sea, personifying the forces of nature, was forced to bend to the tzadik and flee.   

The name Elokim with which G-d first created the world, connoting G-d’s attribute of strict justice, has the same numerical value as “הטבע, nature.” The natural world created by G-d often acts to conceal G‑dliness. But there are tzadikim like Moshe Rabbeinu, Yosef Hatzadik, and Rabbi Akiva who transcend the limitations of nature and live with G-dliness despite the worst suffering and concealment. 

The miracles, “all the strong hand and all the great awe which Moshe did before the eyes of the entire Jewish people,” serve as the perfect introduction to the beginning of the Torah because they demonstrate the greatness attained by a tzadik like Moshe as a result of Hashem’s initial intention to create the world with strict justice. The tzadik is able to affect nature, to bring about miracles because he has risen to the challenge of “In the beginning, Elokim created…,” the initial reality of utter concealment. Moshe, the “man of Elokim” (Devarim 33:1), who had complete control over his nature, became a master over nature itself.  

With G-d’s help, this year will be one of blessing, revealed goodness, and prosperity for all of us. But we know that it will likely be like the years before, in that there will probably be some times of difficulty and concealment. There will be moments when G-d’s attribute of strict justice is more readily apparent. We may feel a “smack” from Heaven from time to time. But if we know how to look for it, we can see G-d in those difficult times too.

There is a story of the Alter Rebbe, as told by Reb Mottel Slonimer, who is known as one of the most accurate transmitters of chassidic stories, as follows: The Alter Rebbe was at a crossroads early in his life. He was one of the most successful young scholars in Europe and had already mastered the Talmud and halachic authorities. At that point, he felt that he had two choices; to study with the Gaon of Vilna or the Magid of Mezrich. He first chose to study with the Magid of Mezrich.  Although this is not part of Reb Mottel Slonimer’s tradition, it is told that the Alter Rebbe explained his decision to study with the Magid rather than the Gaon of Vilna by saying, “I already know how to learn a little bit, but I haven’t yet learned how to daven.” 

The Alter Rebbe studied with the Magid for several weeks, but he felt that he had not found himself; that the Magid of Mezrich was not the right Rebbe for him. As was the custom at the time, the Alter Rebbe visited the Magid to bid him farewell and seek a blessing for his journey home. During the visit, the Magid accepted his decision, but told him that he should also say goodbye to “the Malach, the angel,” i.e., the Magid’s son Reb Avraham who was known as the Malach because of his great holiness. 

The Alter Rebbe agreed and bid farewell to the Malach, who would later become the Alter Rebbe’s chevrusa. He offered to walk the Alter Rebbe to his horse, wagon, and driver. Before the Alter Rebbe got onto the wagon, the Malach said, “When you get into the wagon, you will see that the driver will smack the horse and it will begin running in an attempt to distance itself from the smack. And then the driver will smack the horse again, and it will run even faster, trying to escape the one pain of the whip. And it will continue on this way throughout your journey. But an intelligent person is not a horse. When an intelligent person feels a smack, he does not simply run away from it. He looks back to see who is smacking him and why he is being smacked.”

Being a deep and contemplative person, the Alter Rebbe understood the Malach’s message and stayed in Mezrich, ultimately becoming one of the star students of the Magid. May we all merit to understand the message of the wagon (עגלה)  and look beyond the suffering of the world of strict justice to see G-d’s loving kindness, and thus merit the final redemption, quickly (בעגלא) in our days.


[1] This should not be confused with the legend of highly questionable authenticity regarding an analysis of a painting of Moshe cited by Tiferes Yisroel on the Mishna in Kiddushin 4:14.

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