Sunday, April 13, 2014

Rav Moshe Weinberger's Shabbos Hagadol Drasha - Afikomen Thieves - Print out for Yuntif!

Read or print out the Shabbos Hagadol drasha for Yom Tov!

Below, please find a write-up of Rav Weinberger's Shabbos Hagadol drasha from this Shabbos, parshas Acharei Mos. He gave over a portion of this drasha at YU this week, which you can listen to here. This one is a true classic. Baruch Hashem, this version reflects his review of the write-up. See here for past write-ups. Also, thousands of Rav Weinberger's shiurim are available online here. You can also go to'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 that if you noticed 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

Shabbos Hagadol Drasha 5774

Afikomen Thieves


Stealing the Afikomen

The Gemara (Pesachim 108b) discusses a number of customs we observe in order to keep the children awake at the Seder, one of which is quite shocking when we think about it: “Rabbi Eliezer says, ‘We grab matzos on the nights of Pesach in order that the children should not fall asleep.’” Many rishonim, including the Meiri, the Rava’an, and the Ravya, teach that this means one must keep the Seder moving quickly so that the children should not fall asleep. Similarly, the Rambam (Hilchos Chametz U’matzah 7:3) explains that it means people should grab the matzos from one another to awaken the children’s curiosity so that they should ask what makes the Seder night different from all other nights. 

Many other rishonim, including the Chok Yaakov and the Elya Raba, explain that the custom to “grab matzos” means that the children should steal the Afikomen. The Chavos Yair (Mekor Chaim 477) writes that the reason for the custom that children steal the Afikomen is to make the mitzva more precious to them, but that the custom should not be followed because it gives the non-Jews one more way to libel us. They will point at this custom and say, “Look, the Jewish people teach their children from a young age to be thieves at the Pesach Seder to remember how their ancestors were thieves, as the pasuk (Shmos 12:36) says, ‘And they emptied out Egypt.’” Even in this generation, I heard that Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, would announce at his Seder that there is a custom to steal the Afikomen, but that this is not done in his house. I also heard that Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, follows the same practice in order not to teach children to accustom themselves to stealing. 

The truth is that the custom is difficult to understand. In halacha, it is forbidden to steal from a friend even as a joke or to teach a lesson, even if one has no intention of keeping the “stolen” object. But the majority of the Jewish people, including mekubalim and tzadikim, keep this minhag and even encourage it. What is the meaning of this mysterious custom to steal the Afikomen?

Preparing Vessels for Pesach

The Avudraham and other poskim teach that when we kasher our vessels for Pesach, we must (i)  immerse them in boiling water and (ii) wash them in cold water, based on the halacha with respect to vessels to be used in the Beis Hamikdash (Vayikra 6:21). The Rambam also teaches in the halachos of koshering vessels for Pesach (Hilchos Chametz U’matzah 5:26), “And one should fill up [the pot] with water until the water overflows the lip [of the pot] and the water boils in it and that is sufficient. Afterward, he should rinse the put and then he may use it for [Pesach food].” 

The Rambam, as well as Tosafos and the Tur, maintain that the rule that one must rinse a vessel in cold water after immersing it in boiling water is unique to the halachos of (i) preparing mundane vessels for service in the Beis Hamikdash and (ii) vessels used all year long for use on Pesach. But one need not rinse non-kosher vessels in cold water after kashering them if the only purpose is to prepare them for regular, mundane use. The Shulachan Aruch (Orach Chaim 452:7) also mentions cold water rinsing only with regard to kashering vessels for Pesach, but not with respect to kashering vessels for mundane use. And the Ravya even recounts that in the city of Magentza, people would immerse their vessels in the mikvah after kashering them for Pesach! From the foregoing, it is clear that when we kasher vessels for Pesach, we accomplish much more than simply removing the chametz absorbed in the walls of the vessels. We must be accomplishing something more akin to preparing vessels for service in the Beis Hamikdash, the only other context in which we rinse vessels in cold water after boiling them.  

Removing Impurity the Same Way it Became Abosrbed

Rav Avraham Tzvi Kluger of Beit Shemesh, shlita, explains this concept beautifully. He says that when we boil a vessel to purge it of that which had been absorbed into it, we are accomplishing the same thing whether it is a non-kosher vessel about to be used in the Beis Hamikdash, a vessel used for chametz about to be used on Pesach, or a non-kosher vessel about to be used for kosher – but mundane – purposes. 

But we only perform the second stage, washing the vessel in cold water, when we prepare a vessel for use in the Beis Hamikdash or for Pesach. This step has nothing to do with removing forbidden things which had become absorbed into the walls of the vessel. That was already accomplished by boiling it. Rather, the purpose is to prepare the vessel for a higher level of holiness, a greater level of service. This is especially apparent in Magentza, where they even immersed their vessels in the mikvah after all of the chametz was already removed from them by boiling them in hot water! The Rambam (as quoted by Tosafos Yom Tov on Zevachim 11:7) hints at this as well when he says “and adding cleanliness is called rinsing…” 

From the foregoing, we see that with respect to mundane, ho-hum vessels, the only important thing is removing any impurity which had become absorbed into them. But holy vessels which will be used in the Beis Hamikdash or on Pesach require more. It is not enough to remove impurity from them. They must be raised up to a higher level of holiness akin to immersing them in a mikvah. 

A Jew may feel that he has become a non-kosher vessel. He may feel that impure thoughts, images, and sounds have become absorbed into his heart and soul. He knows that he must boil out that chametz, that non-kosher filth which he allowed into his mind and body. He may feel that because he has fallen so low, the best he can hope for is to become an average, mundane vessel by removing the impurity. But that is the extent of his aspirations. He has given up hope on achieving anything greater.

But a Jew must know that he is a holy vessel, destined for Beis Hamikdash-like service. As Reb Tzadok Hakohein of Lublin, zy”a, says, we must apply the halachic principle (Pesachim 74a) that one must use the same means to remove impurity absorbed into a vessel that was used to defile the vessel in the first instance. If non-kosher soup was boiled in the pot, he must boil water in the pot to remove the taste of the non-kosher food which had become absorbed into the pot. If non-kosher food became absorbed into the vessel through contact with fire, then fire must be used to remove it. Similarly, if one brought impurity into his life by the calm performance of sinful acts, then a cold, calculated service of G-d may be sufficient to remove the effect of the  person’s sins. But if a person sinned with fiery desire, then the only way to remove that impurity is with fiery, passionate service of G-d. 

Jews are holy vessels. It is not enough to settle for the simple removal of impurity as our only goal, great as that is. A person may feel: “I have so much chametz built up inside of me. I’ll be lucky if I ever get rid of that. But what possible connection could I have to holiness? What business does someone like me have learning the deeper parts of the Torah?!” We must answer such a person: “Why are you looking at yourself like a mundane vessel?! You were created to be a holy vessel! You must sanctify yourself in the mikvah to take up the mantle of holiness. Do not settle for removing your chametz. You can achieve a deeper, higher level of service!”

We see this when Hashem took the Jewish people out of Egypt. We know that they were on the forty-ninth level of impurity and according to the Arizal, if they had been redeemed even a moment later, they would have been so immersed in impurity, that they could not have left Egypt.  One might have expected Hashem to first tell them, “You have become so low and despicable. You are nothing like your lofty forefathers. I must now redeem you lest you fall any further and become irredeemable.” But that is not how Hashem approached them. Rather, He told Moshe (Shmos 6:6-8) to tell them, “I am Hashem… I will take you out from the burdens of Egypt, I will save you from their servitude, I will redeem you… and I will take you for Myself as a nation… and you shall know that I am Hashem your G-d… and I will take you to the land… I am Hashem.” That was Hashem’s introduction to the exodus from Egypt. He did not focus on how low they were. He introduced them to His service, He revealed His name to them. 

If a Jew wants to escape from his own smallness, his own personal Egypt, he must also realize his own greatness. He must set his goal way beyond simply escaping the impurity into which he had become mired and set his sights on connecting to the unity of G-d’s name. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said homiletically, “When you hold matzah in your hand, you hold G-d in your hand.” Pesach reminds us that we are so much greater than the temptations and mistakes that threaten to bring us down, or which we are afraid have already brought us down. We are Jews so we have access to greatness. We hold G-d’s name in our hands. 

We must break out of the smallness into which we have become mired. We are not simple mundane vessels! We have become so small that our biggest thrill of the year was that we won a mayoral election in Beit Shemesh so that we can get a few more shekels for the community. Of course funding is important but we have become so small that this has become our greatest aspiration. We are like small children who have fallen asleep at the Seder. We must wake up and remember that we are great! We need Hashem to fulfill that which the pasuk (Yechezkel 36:25-26) says, “And I will sprinkle upon you pure waters… I will purify you. And I will give you a new heart and I will place a new spirit in you.” The pasuk (Yeshaya 52:1) also says, “Arise, arise, don the garments of your strength Zion, don the garments of your glory Yerushalayim the holy city…” As Shlomo Hamelech said (Shir Hashirim 2:10), “Arise, my beloved, my fair one, and come away!” These psukim tell us, in our smallness, in our exile mentality, that we must wake up and recognize that we must set our sights so much higher than simply getting by.

The exile Jew, mired in smallness, is like the prince in the parable who spent so much time in exile that he forgot royal life completely. He became so accustomed to poverty and deprivation that when he finally returned to the palace, he saw himself as a poor person who did not really belong in the palace. He did not even imagine that he could ask for his former royal lifestyle. The most he could bring himself to request was a piece of bread for his next meal. Rav Kook taught in Oros Hateshuva that teshuva does not only mean repenting from our sins. It means returning to a conception of greatness for ourselves.    

Afikomen Thieves

The last part of the Seder is “Tzafun,” which means “Hidden,” when we eat the hidden Afikomen. This refers to the hidden light Hashem hidden away for only the tzadikim (Rashi on Bereishis 1:4). Our custom is to steal the Afikomen. Our job during these last few minutes before Moshiach comes, at the end of the Seder, is to steal aspects of G-d’s service that we are completely unworthy for. 

I have had people tell me that they have friends who learn the Daf Yomi, who learn Yerushalmi, or who get up for minyan every day, but that they have never done these things and don’t see themselves as being the kind of people who could do that. Other people say they cannot imagine getting up to learn before davening or guarding their eyes because they have never done it before. They may feel that they are not worthy, but they must know that they can “steal” those accomplishments. They must become Afikomen thieves, stealing the light that’s hidden only for “tzadikim!” 

According to the Ateres Yeshua, Yaakov Avinu dressed up as Eisav and stole Eisav’s blessings at Rivka’s command on the first night of Pesach. Indeed, when Eisav came into Yitzchak’s room after he had already blessed Yaakov, Yitzchak told him (Bereishis 27:35), “You brother came with cunning [במרמה].” The numerical value of the word “במרמה, with cunning,” is the same as the word “אפיקומן, Afikomen.” Similarly, the sefer Lehoros Noson quotes a Midrash that when Yitzchak told Eisav that he could not eat from the meal Eisav prepared for him because Yaakov had come with cunning, that he showed him the Afikomen, as if to say, “It is Pesach night and Yaakov already gave me some Afikomen to eat, and the halacha is that we do not eat anything at the Seder after eating the Afikomen” (Haggadah).

The tzadikim teach us this connection between Yaakov “stealing” the blessings he felt he was unworthy of and the Afikom based on our custom to break the middle matzah to set it aside for the Afikomen at the part of the Seder called “יחץ, Yachatz,” which is an acronym for “ידיו חלקת צוארו, his hands, the smoothness of his neck,” which were the parts of Yaakov’s body Rivka covered with fur to help trick Yitzchak into believing that he was Eisav in order to take the blessings (ibid. at 16). 

Yaakov’s quality is truth. He therefore did not want to take the blessings. He felt they were not coming to him and he did not deserve them. They were above his level. He told his mother (ibid. at 12), “Perhaps my father” in Heaven “will examine me.” He will know that I am not deserving. Then, Yaakov Avinu feared (ibid.), “I will be in his eyes as a deceiver.” Like many of us, our father Yaakov was afraid of “stealing” spiritual levels that he felt he was unworthy of. We too are afraid to learn the deeper parts of Torah and chassidus because we feel we are not worthy. But, like Yaakov Avinu, we must steal the Afikomen!

Reb Elazar, the son of the Noam Elimelech of Lizhensk, zy”a, once spent a Shabbos with Rav Pinchas Koritzer, zy”a, who was very old at the time and was considered to be both a student and quasi-colleague of the Baal Shem Tov. When he returned to Lizhensk, his father asked him, “What happened over Shabbos?” Reb Elazar told him some of the Torah taught by Reb Pinchas over Shabbos. “No,” the Noam Elimelech, “I asked what happened, not what you learned.” Reb Elazar answered that it was a beautiful Shabbos by the tzadik. “No,” his father responded, “what specifically happened to you over Shabbos with the tzadik?” 

Reb Elazar then related to his father how, at Shalosh Sheudos, the Rebbe Reb Pinchas paused for a few minutes, and that in the complete silence, he was so overcome by the tzadik’s presence that he let out a sigh and said, “Oy! Tatteh in Himmel!, Father in Heaven!” It is well-known that Reb Pinchas’s trademark was the attribute of truth. So, displeased, Reb Pinchas banged on the table and said, “Nu, and who says He’s your father?!” Excited to hear this, Reb Elimelech asked his son, “And… What did you answer?” Reb Elazar told his father that he was too scared and that he did not say anything.

The Noam Elimelech answered his son that he should have told the Rebbe Reb Pinchas that the pasuk (Devarim 32:7) says “Ask your father and he will tell you…” The word for “ask, שאל also means “borrow.” You should have told the Rebbe that even if you are not “worthy” of truly recognizing that Hashem is your Father, you can “borrow” Him as your Father. Because you felt that He was your father at that moment, you were allowed to “borrow” Hashem as your father. 

So too at the Seder, just before the Four Questions, the Haggadah says “Here the son asks.” Again, the word for “asks, שואל” also means “borrows.” We must “borrow” holy accomplishments that we may not be worthy of. We must not feel limited by what we are actually deserving of. We must “borrow” and “steal” accomplishments that we do not deserve. Our Father is waiting for us to “steal” holiness from him, to be Afikomen thieves!

We have become so consumed with smallness that we believe we speak “out of turn” if we talk of high aspirations or growing in our service of Hashem. Some women feel that they are working so hard just to get by with daily life that they cannot attend a shiur or think about anything above their daily grind. Many men feel that they cannot break free of their desires to look at inappropriate things on their computers and smartphones. Or they cannot get up early to learn and daven. They have given up hope on themselves. They ask themselves, “After what I did last night, how can I possibly show my face in shul in the morning?” They therefore do not come to shul in the morning or come very late so that they will be able to rush through davening and never feel like they have to “look Hashem in the eyes,” knowing that they are so far from worthy.

But a Jew is not a simple, mundane vessel filled with impurity absorbed into his mind and body. A Jew is a holy vessel. He can and should set his sights so much higher than simply removing the impurity from his life, as great as that is. The custom of stealing the Afikomen teaches us that we must be burglars, breaking in to aspects of holiness where we do not belong! There are very busy working people in the shul who are studying for smicha, rabbinical ordination! They steal time to prepare every day notwithstanding their busy schedules. When have we experienced such holy brazenness before this generation? When have we seen such holy thieves? There are women in the shul who “steal” an hour each week from their hectic lives to go to a shiur to connect to Torah whether they are “deserving” or not. 

The Divrei Chaim of Tzanz, zy”a, expresses this idea beautifully (parshas Teruma): “And so too in truth, every person, even if he has not completely rectified himself, if he has [at least] accepted upon himself to rectify himself, he should not be lazy by excusing himself and saying, ‘Who am I to unify G-d’s name? I am full of blemishes!’ G-d forbid to say such a thing! Just the opposite! If one has done packages of sins, he should counteract them with packages of mitzvos… He should do everything he can and he should rectify himself little by little until he merits a complete rectification.” 

We see ourselves as the “Wicked Son.” What was his mistake? He said “What is this service to you?” He excluded himself from the Jewish people. He gave up on himself. He felt he had made so many mistakes that he was no longer worthy of counting himself among the Jewish people. He saw himself as an impure vessel such that they best he could hope for is to rid himself of some of the impurity he had imbibed into himself. He did not recognize that he can still “steal” the Afikomen, the light hidden for the tzadikim. 

A young many came to speak to me a few weeks ago. Before he even began speaking, he started to cry. Based on my conversations with so many other young people I knew what was coming. He was crying so hard his entire body was convulsed with sobbing. I came to the other side of the table, sat next to him, and asked him to tell me what was bothering him. He told me that since the eighth grade he has been addicted to watching filth on the Internet. He said all of his friends look at him like he’s a big tzadik because he is a masmid, a diligent learner, and because he delivers a chazara shiur, a review lesson, to the other students after his rebbe’s shiur every day. He told me that he’s been to therapy and had even done very well for a long time, but that he had recently relapsed and that a few nights earlier, he had done things which were worse than he had every done before. He could not bring himself to go to the beis medresh. He told his friends he was not feeling well, but he concluded, “I am so low. I do  not belong here. I am going to leave yeshiva.”


I told this young tzadik that this was exactly the opposite of what he should be doing! He did not even see how great he was for working on himself all of those years. He saw himself like the Wicked Son who no longer recognizes that he is part of the Jewish people, that he is deserving. He saw himself like a vessel filled with impurity, that the best he could hope for was to boil out the filth, but that he was not deserving of learning in a beis medrash and delivering his rebbe’s chazara shiur. I told him that he could no longer look at himself like an incompetent baby, that he had to recognize that he is a holy vessel, destined for greatness. Every Jew is great, but all of his work on his addiction and his diligent Torah study simply drive the point home even further that he is a great person. He must “break in” to the beis medrash no matter what he did the night before. He must simply desire to become better, immerse himself in the mikvah like the vessels we prepare to place on the Seder table, and march into the beis medrash, whether he feels like he “belongs” there or not! Why does this work? Because the pasuk (Yirmiyahu 17:13), homiletically translated, says, “Hashem is the mikvah of the Jewish people.” If we immerse ourselves in the service of Hashem, even if we feel we are not worthy,” this cleanses us and purifies us for even higher levels of Divine service.

Hashem set aside the Seder night as the time for us to come with “cunning,” to steal the Afikomen, to take light and holiness we feel only tzadikim are deserving of, and take it for ourselves. It is the night we recognize that we are not mundane vessels from which all we need to do is remove the impurity. We are holy vessels which we must prepare for service in the Beis Hamikdash. We must immerse in the mikvah of Hashem’s service whether we think we are worthy or not. 

Don’t Fall Asleep

We look at ourselves like we are small and undeserving, like children. But at the Seder, we steal aspects of holiness in order to wake ourselves up from the sleep of our exile mentality in which our aspirations are so silly and small. The Seder wakes us up to recognize that we are great, we are the furthest thing from the tiny, unworthy mundane vessels we make ourselves out to be. We are worthy of reading the book in Tanach called (Yadayim 3:6) “Holy of Holies” on Pesach because we are the “Holy of Holies.” We recognize that we are actually “great,” which is why this Shabbos is called “Shabbos Hagadol,” the great Shabbos. 

From time immemorial, there has been a minhag that teachers taught children to say certain explanations before each part of the Seder. Before Kadesh, Kiddush, the children would say, “When the father comes home from Shul on the night of Pesach, he needs to make Kiddush right away so that they children don’t fall asleep.”

One time at the seder of the Shpoler Zaide, his son made this declaration at Kadeish, but left out the explanation, “so that the children won’t fall asleep.” His father asked him why he left out the last part. He answered that he did not know any more. That was all his rebbe had taught them. 

The Shpoler Zeide was not pleased. Unfortunately for the teacher, he was one of the guests at the Shpoler Zaide's meal the following afternoon. The Zaide asked him why he doesn't teach the last part of the explanation, as it had always been taught. The teacher answered him that it didn't seem like such a good reason for making kiddush right away, because the halacha of making Kiddush quickly after arriving back at home applies even when there are no children in the house. He therefore decided not to teach the children that explanation.

The Shpoler Zaide got very angry and rebuked the teacher for his arrogance by tampering with ancient customs. He explained to the young teacher that there are much deeper meanings behind this custom than he understood.

The Rebbe then proceeded to explain the deeper meaning of why our forefathers instituted that particular introduction that children say to Kadesh at the Seder: The Zohar (95a) states that Rebbi Chiya introduced the Zohar with the pasuk from Shir Hashirim 5:2, “I am sleeping but my heart is awake.” The Zohar explains that this means that the Jewish people say, “I am sleeping in my exile.” What is the significance of this? The Shpoler Zaide continued that the Zohar teaches that while the Jewish people are in exile, they are in a state of slumber and their intellectual capacity has left them because exile brings with it a variety of pressures, persecutions, poverties, and expulsions. Our forefathers therefore instituted the custom that children open up the Seder with the same introduction Rebbi Chiya gave to the Zohar. 

The deeper meaning of that is as follows: When the children say “When father comes home from Shul,” it means that when our Father in Heaven returns to our homes after Maariv on Pesach night, he sees that every Jew is tired and worn from the pressures of life in exile, from work, and from the labor of preparing for Pesach. Nevertheless, when they are in shul, they daven Maariv, they say Halel with fiery enthusiasm, and they pour out their hearts before Hashem, each one according to his level. At that point, the children say, “He needs to make Kiddush right away.” In other words, Hashem must immediately renew His betrothal to the Jewish people, as the pasuk (Hoshea 2:21) says, “I will betroth you to Me...” This is “in order that the children not fall asleep,” meaning that Hashem should redeem us from exile so that His children, the Jewish people, do not fall asleep, G-d forbid, in the deep sleep of the exile and give up hope of ever being redeemed.

When the Shpoler Zayde finished this explanation, he cried out, "Abba, Father in Heaven! Redeem us quickly from our exile! Just a little bit longer and it will no longer be, ‘I am asleep but my heart is awake,’ but we will completely fall asleep in this exile G-d forbid!” 

The Seder reminds us that we are great, that we can steal aspects of holiness and Divine service whether or not we are deserving. It wakes us up so that we no longer think of ourselves as children, but as great people.  

Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, zy”a, says that when we clean away the chametz for Pesach, it accomplishes greater things than blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashana. By preparing for higher levels of holiness than we feel we deserve, we merit to bring the time we daven for every day in Shmonah Esrei when we say “Sound the great shofar of our redemption!” When we recognize that we are “great,” we will bring about the time of the sounding of the “great” shofar. 

Yiddishkeit is so much more than simply removing impurity from our vessels. We must immerse ourselves in the mikvah of Hashem by stealing aspects of holiness whether we think we are worthy of them or not. By doing so, may Hashem sound the great shofar of our redemption and give us “a new heart” and “a new spirit,” so that we will “don the garments of your strength Zion,” and Hashem will finally announce, “Arise, my beloved, my fair one, and come away” with the arrival of the complete redemption, may it come soon in our days.

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Monday, April 7, 2014

Rav Moshe Weinberger's Parshas Metzora Drasha - Lashon Hara and Focusing on the *Other*

Below, please find a write-up of Rav Weinberger's Shabbos morning drasha from this Shabbos, parshas Metzora. Baruch Hashem, this version reflects his review of the write-up. See here for past write-ups. Also, thousands of Rav Weinberger's shiurim are available online here. You can also go to'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. The shalosh sheudos write-ups by Dr. Nudman will remain up. 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 Metzora 5774
Lashon Hara and Focusing on the Other 

The pasuk at the beginning of the parsha (Vayikra 14:2) says, “This shall be the law of the metzora [מצרע]…” The Gemara (Erchin 15b-16a) has many frightening things to say about the various aveiros which cause tzara’as, particularly lashon hara. The Gemara says that the pasuk “‘the law of those who give others a bad reputation [reading metzora [מצרע] as a contraction of the words מוציא שם רע, bringing out a bad reputation]’ [hints that] anyone who says lashon hara, afflictions come upon him.” The Gemara continues on to say that “anyone who says lashon hara, it is if he denies G-d’s existence” and that “he and I cannot live in the world [together].” It further says that “It was taught by the house of Rabbi Yishmael that the sin of anyone who says lashon hara is as bad as the three cardinal sins, idol worship, murder, and sexual immorality.” We understand that lashon hara is a severe sin but why is it so bad? Why is it like heresy and all of the worst sins?  

It is almost Pesach. In order to approach the redemption, we must first understand how we got into exile. Reb Yerucham Levovitz, of Mir, zt”l, has a beautiful explanation found in the sefer Shevivei Daas (p. 32-33), much of the substance of which is also found in the Maharal (Gur Areye on Shmos 2:14). He first explains that the essence of holiness is that a person must be internally focused and not externally focused. As the sefer Reishis Chochma (Shaar Hakedusha 1) says, “A person must make a fence within a fence so that he will not go outside to external [things].” The opposite of holiness, impurity, means focusing on outside, external things, and not internal matters. That is what exile means. Not being where one is supposed to be – which is internally focused.  

Rashi (on Shmos 2:14) tells us that Moshe was wondering what sin the Jewish people had committed to be subject to backbreaking labor, living in exile, outside the place where it belongs,  unlike all of the other seventy nations. Why do the children of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov not live in their true home, Eretz Yisroel? We ask the same question even today. The question is even more pronounced because the Jewish nature is to keep our focus in the proper place – that which is internal. Why then do we suffer in exile, outside of our true home? 

When Moshe heard a Jew say (Shmos 2:14), “Are you going to kill me like you killed the Egyptian?,” he began to see what went wrong with our people. They were informers, speakers of lashon hara. When he had to kill an Egyptian to save a Jew, he did so in front of a number of Jewish people and he had absolutely no concern that they would tell anyone. According to the Midrash (Shmos Raba 1:29), Moshe said to them, “You are compared to sand. Just as [with regard to] sand, a person takes it from one place and places it somewhere where else and it makes no sound [during the transfer], so too this matter will remain hidden among you and it will not be heard.”  

Now Moshe understood, “perhaps they are not worthy to be redeemed” (Rashi on Shmos 2:14). He said (Tanchuma Shmos 10), “There is lashon hara among them. How can they be worthy for redemption?” He previously thought the Jewish people were internally focused, concerned with their own relationship with Hashem. But when he saw that they were externally focused, gossiping about what others were doing, he saw that they were still immersed in impurity rather than holiness. Moshe could not understand how the holy nature of the Jewish people to remain internally focused had become perverted. But he knew that this was the secret of their exile. They revealed others’ secrets and spoke lashon hara 

Many people are not familiar with this alternate version, but Chazal (Bamidbar Raba 25:22) say that the Jewish people merited the redemption from Egypt because of four things: “they did not change their names, they did not change their language, they did not reveal their secrets,[1] and they did not commit sexual immorality.” The secret of a Jew’s modesty is staying internally focused, keeping secrets, remaining where he belongs, in his place. A Jew who talks about and concerns himself with everyone else’s business is in exile and is no longer true to his inner nature. He is immersed in the impurity of exile if he has an opinion about what everyone is doing and shares it with his friends. He is living outside his world, in his own personal diaspora. 

On Pesach, the holiday of our redemption, we say in the Haggadah, “Blessed is the Omnipresent, blessed is He, blessed is he who gave the Torah to His nation, Israel.” The Torah is the antithesis of external wisdom, superficial writing, and an external focus. Its emphasis is on that which is internal, the redemption of what a Jew really is; one who is focused on the inner world of his relationship with Hashem.   

That is why the sin of lashon hara is so devastating. It undermines the very essence of a Jew’s nature because it places the focus on the superficial and the external; what everyone else in the world is doing and not on the most important secret of all, a Jew’s inner relationship with Hashem.  That is why, during the redemption, the mitzva of the hour was (Shmos 12:22), “you shall not go out, any man, from the entrance of his house until morning.” One must remain inside. That is the secret of redemption.  

Many people think modesty is only about skirt lengths and necklines – and of course observing those halachos is important – but so many Jews have no idea that modesty means so much more than that! The majority of boys and men do not even realize that modesty has anything to do with them. In reality, it means focusing internally, not sharing everything with the world. It means focusing on one’s own relationship with Hashem and not on commenting on everything others are doing. It means keeping secrets. We do not have to share every detail of our lives on Facebook, Twitter, What’s App, a blog, or anywhere else.
That is why a metzora, one who spoke lashon hara, must go outside the camps of the Jewish people. His punishment is measure for measure. Just as he was too externally focused, he must now go outside the Jewish camp. His purification process is that he is (Vayikra 14:2) “brought to the kohein.” The kohein is the tzadik, the one who is connected to the Holy of Holies, the most internal place, the place of connection with the Master of the World. He must go back to his true nature, which is a focus on his inner world, and not on what others are doing. At this point in his process, he returns home by reconnecting with his inner power to focus on modesty and that which is internal and holy. By doing so, he separates from the external world of impurity, tzara’as, and exile. May we also merit to reconnect to our inner world and leave externality behind.

[1] Before the plagues began, they were told (Shmos 3:22), “Each woman shall borrow from her neighbor and from the dweller in her house silver and gold vessels and garments…” yet no one told their Egyptian neighbors about this command for the entire twelve months until the time came to fulfill this mitzvah.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Rav Moshe Weinberger's Parshas Shmini/Parshas Parah Drasha - Coming Back to Life

Below, please find a write-up of Rav Weinberger's drasha from last Shabbos, parshas Shmini/Parshas Parah. Baruch Hashem, this version reflects his review of the write-up. See here for past write-ups. Also, thousands of Rav Weinberger's shiurim are available online here. You can also go to'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. The shalosh sheudos write-ups by Dr. Nudman will remain up. 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 Shmini/Parah 5774
Coming Back to Life

The Ramban (on Bamidbar 19:2) has a remarkable explanation of the mitzvah of Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer. He writes that the nations of the world criticize us for the Parah Adumah more than the other mitzvos because: “it is done outside [the Beis Hamikdash] so it appears to them that it is being sacrificed to the sei’rim [forces of evil] which reside on the field. But in truth, its purpose is to remove the spirit of impurity, and burning it is like a pleasing fragrance [even though it is] outside [the Beis Hamikdash]…” 

How can we understand the Ramban’s explanation of the uniqueness of the Parah Adumah? Other parts of the Divine service are also performed outside the Beis Hamikdash. One of the two birds used in the cleansing ceremony for a Metzorah, one afflicted with a spiritual skin disease, is sent away into an open field (Vayikra 14:7). And on Yom Kippur, one of the two goats (the Se’ir L’azazel) is sent away into the desert (Vayikra 16:10). Yet the Ramban says that the Parah Adumah is the only example of a sacrifice brought outside the Beis Hamikdash that creates “a pleasing fragrance” before Hashem. My Rebbe, Reb Dovid Lifshitz, zt”l, taught that the Parah Adumah is the only sacrifice brought outside the Beis Hamikdash about which it is said that it is “a pleasing fragrance” before Hashem. That is the uniqueness of the Parah Adumah 

So why do the nations of the world have more of a problem with Parah Adumah than with other mitzvos? They can understand how one can create a “pleasing fragrance” before Hashem in the Beis Hamikdash. But they cannot fathom the idea that one can serve Hashem outside the Temple; outside a place of revealed spirituality. They believe that a person can be “religious” in the Beis Hamikdash or (l’havdil) in a non-Jewish place of worship, but that G-d has no place in our regular lives. Therefore, when they see us sacrificing the Parah Adumah outside the Beis Hamikdash, they project their own attitudes toward spirituality onto us and assume that we are actually offering it to the forces of impurity. In reality, though, we understand that service of G-d does not end at the exit doors of the Beis Hamikdash. We serve G-d everywhere.  

But why does the Torah say that we must sacrifice the Parah Adumah outside the Beis Hamikdash? Hashem gave us the Parah Adumah to unshackle us from the grip of the impurity death. The root of impurity is the existence of a body without a soul, of physicality devoid of spirituality. As the pasuk (Tehilim 115:17) says, “The dead do not praise G-d.” Death itself has only one “cure.” That is when new life will be breathed into the same body that died in the world to come. 

The Baal Shem Tov (Keser Shem Tov 393) explains that the word “Parah [פרה]” comes from the root word “מפרה,” meaning “to be fruitful,” to create new life. The essence of the Parah Adumah is the return of life. He also explains that the Parah Adumah is red because red is the color of blood, a person’s life force, as the Torah often (e.g., Devarim 12:23) says, “blood is life.” The Torah also stipulates that the ashes of the Parah Adumah must be mixed with “living waters” (Bamidbar 19:17). We see that many details of the mitzvah of the Parah Adumah show that its essence is that it brings new life to a person who came into contact with the intractable impurity of death. 

With the mitzvah of the Parah Adumah, Hashem shows us how to remove the impurity of death by taking an animal which does not have the usual sanctification of a sacrifice and offering it outside the Beis Hamikdash, in a field, which is usually the domain of the forces of impurity! He shows us that we can take a fat piece of physicality, seemingly devoid of any Divine life, and use it to give life, remove the impurity of death, and bring it up to Hashem as a “pleasing fragrance.” 

In our present state of confusion, when we find it so difficult to see G-dliness in the baseness of this world, we need the Parah Adumah more than ever. The nations of the world have no problem with other sacrifices outside the Beis Hamikdash, like for the Metzorah or the Se’ir L’azazel. That is because they merely deal temporarily with impurity and evil by pushing it away. But the Parah Adumah is different. It takes something physical, outside the Beis Hamikdash in the place where the forces of impurity reign, and gives it new life. It infuses new vitality into seemingly dead physicality. The nations of the world cannot understand this. 

The nations can understand offering sacrifices in the Temple. There, spirituality is possible because physicality is left behind. But they cannot fathom how something like the Parah Adumah, which is not brought in the Temple, can create a “pleasing fragrance” for Hashem. This is the ultimate threat to their effort to keep G-d out of the physical world where He “does not belong.” That is why they ridicule the mitzvah of Parah Adumah. They cannot tolerate the notion that the Jews threaten to sanctify and elevate base physicality by infusing it with a soul.

Parah Adumah demonstrates to us that even if a Jew has sinned repeatedly and feels like he is already dead, Hashem will remove the spirit of impurity from him and he can have a new life.  The Parah Adumah personifies our nation’s ability to come back to life every time it seems like we have died. We are like Aharon Hakohen about whom the pasuk (Vayikra 10:3) says, “And Aharon was silent.” The word for silent (“וידם”) also means “inanimate.” Aharon was so distraught over his sons’ deaths that he was dead, like an inanimate object. Yet he revived himself and came back to life. 

The truth is that we cannot truly understand the depth of our ability to return to life after every form of death and destruction. Our entire nation has been mourning the cataclysmic destruction of the Holocaust ever since that time, yet we continue to thrive and grow more and more. The nations’ outlook is personified by Agag’s statement just before Shmuel killed him (Shmuel I 15:32), “Surely the bitterness of death…” Death is inevitable. But the Jewish way is (Likutei Moharan Tinyana 78), “There is no [true reason for] despair in the world at all.”  

The Rambam expresses this idea beautifully when he says (Perush Hamishnayos Parah 3:3), “… One who was sprinkled [with the waters of the Parah Adumah] is on a greater level of purity [than one who never became impure] because the pasuk explicitly rules about him that he is pure.” One who had been impure but was purified by the waters of the Parah Adumah has experienced an elevation not achieved by one who never became impure. He came into contact with death and now has new life. One who never became impure is also pure. But he does not know what it means to rise up from the depths of death and break free from the shackles of pure physicality. One who purifies himself knows what it means to come into Hashem’s embrace from the “outside.” He has gone from the ashes of the Parah Adumah to a new life which is a “pleasing fragrance” to Hashem.  

Many people have expressed a feeling of hopelessness to me about the situation in Eretz Yisroel between the chareidi community and other communities. The two sides seem to be fighting for domination over the other, yet any true resolution seems further and further away. It feels like the correct, balanced path forward is “dead.” But we must know that “There is no [true reason for] despair in the world at all.” It is told that after the War, when the Brisker Rav finally learned that his wife and three of his children had been killed, he stood still in stunned silence. Finally, someone asked him, “Is the Rov alright?” He answered that the pasuk (Vayikra 10:3) says, “And Aharon was silent.” The word for silent (“וידם”) also means “blood, דם.” He said, “Inside, my heart is bleeding. But I must strengthen myself, accept Hashem’s decree, and move forward.” 
In the situation today in Eretz Yisroel too, we must strengthen our belief in Hashem’s providence and know that Hashem will purify us with the living waters of the Parah Adumah to bring our people back to life and health. May Hashem soon return our hearts to Him and one another so that we may come back to life in the land of life with the coming of Moshiach soon in our days.

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Monday, March 31, 2014

Rav Weinberger on Pashas Tazria - Death Before Birth and the Matzav in Eretz Yisroel

Below, please find a write-up of Rav Weinberger's drasha from parshas Tazria/Hachodesh. Baruch Hashem, this version reflects his review of the write-up. And baruch Hashem, Rebbe addressed how we can look at what is going on in Eretz Yisroel today with the conflict between the chareidi and other communities. See here for past write-ups. Also, thousands of Rav Weinberger's shiurim are available online here. You can also go to'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. The shalosh sheudos write-ups by Dr. Nudman will remain up. 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 Tazria – Parshas Hachodesh 5774
The Birth Pangs before Every New Beginning

We hear so much about the acrimony and harsh words exchanged between various communities in Eretz Yisroel today. Many people ask me how they can feel optimistic about the current state of affairs. Let us see what this Shabbos can teach us about how to approach the state of our people individually and as a nation.  

One Must Die in Order to be Born 

Parshas Tazria, which starts with the laws of impurity associated with birth, rarely coincides with Parshas Hachodesh as it does this year. In Parshas Hachodesh, we read about the mitzvah to sanctify the new month, which is related to renewal and rebirth. The beginning of parshas Tazria discusses birth as well, but with a puzzling twist. Impurity is almost always associated with death. The ultimate state of impurity is that of a dead body. Dead animals are also impure and virtually all other types of impurity connect to death in some way. The only exception is the halacha that a woman becomes impure when she gives birth to a child. Why is this? On the surface, this is the opposite of anything associated with death. It is a new life! Why does that come with a state of impurity?

The truth is that there is more than one kind of birth.  Birth is actually the process of growth throughout the life of the world as a whole, of each community, and of each individual. Birth is the progression from a lower level to a higher level. If the transition to a new, higher level is called birth, then one’s prior, lower level must be “pregnancy.” The Zohar says that the completion of any stage, or level, is called “death.” This is because leaving behind something familiar, even if it is on a lower level than one’s destination, is painful and the transition is as difficult as death. 
Every person and community naturally resists change and seeks to cling to the inertia of the status quo. It hurts to let go of old habits. But Hashem created the world in such a way that it continues its inexorable progression forward toward redemption. It is just like the process of birth. Birth pangs hurt. 

Only a human being can transmit a state of impurity to another person or object while he is alive. Animals only transmit impurity after death. But a person can transmit impurity while he is alive because, unlike an animal, he is born and dies many times during his life. A person constantly evolves to higher and higher levels. And every time he leaves his former level behind, the Zohar calls than an aspect of death. A person’s state of impurity testifies to the fact that he is ascending to a higher level. It also indicates that there was something deficient about his prior state. But a Jew’s impurity is only temporary. It is not an essential part of his nature. He emerges from that state on a higher level than he was before he became impure.  

Prior to a person’s new birth, what is the nature of the lower level called “pregnancy” which preceded it? The Gemara (Nida 30b) describes the amazing life of a soul during pregnancy before it comes into this world at birth. It says that the child has “a candle lit over his head and he gazes and looks from one end of the world to the other…” The Gemara continues that an angel teaches him the entire Torah. What could be better than this? Yet when the time for birth comes, the angel comes and strikes the child on his mouth and he forgets all of his Torah.  

The Maharal explains that birth appears to be a profound descent for the child. He is thrust down into this physical world which seems to contradict everything he experienced on his prior level! It is quite literally a “slap in the face.” This traumatic loss is an aspect of death and that is why the birth process creates a state of impurity. 

Birth pangsחבלי לידה) ) are a confusing paradox. On one hand, there is a cord (“חבל”) that connects the fetus to his mother and provides him everything he needs. On the other hand, the word for the pain of giving birth is also “חבל.” This is because in order to rise from one level to another, one must cut the cord connecting him to his prior state. Severing that connection is painful. This is also reflected in the fact that a child is called a "תינוק" in Hebrew. In order to be born, to come into the word as a child, the cord tying him to his prior state must be cut (“ניתוק”), which has the same letters as the word for “child.” Only after the pain, the “death,” of cutting himself off from his prior level can a child become an independent person. 

One’s prior state must “die” in order for him to attain a qualitatively new level of purity and holiness in his life. Shlomo Hamelech even equates the womb with the grave (Mishlei 30:16). The words for grave (קבר) and rot (רקב) share the same letters, and are both associated with death.  But those same letters also spell “בקר, morning.” One can only attain the morning of a new day, a new level of existence, after his prior level dies and rots. Once the difficulty of the transition is in the past, one overcomes the impurity of death and begins to experience the joy and purity of redemption in his new level. 

This connects to Parshas Hachodesh, where we read about the mitzvah to sanctify the new month, particularly Rosh Chodesh Nissan, which is this week. The Gemara (Rosh Hashana 11a) teaches us that “One who goes out in the days of Nissan and sees the trees blossoming should say the blessing, ‘Blessed is He who left nothing lacking from His world…’” Just like we cannot witness the springtime of the world without “going out,” so too any transition from one level to a new birth involves “going out.”  

It has been a long winter. While it may be hard to leave the comfort of our homes to which we have become accustomed, springtime demands that we “Go out and see” (Shir Hashirim 3:11). As the Baal Hatanya taught in his ma’amar (discourse), “Go out from the ‘I’ and see G-d,” we must not remain self-absorbed, only seeking the comfort of the old. We must “go out” and embrace the discomfort of G-d’s plan for a higher level of existence. 

The Pain of the Torah Community in Eretz Yisroel 

This is the pain in Eretz Yisroel today. Just like a fetus emerging from the womb, many bnei Torah feel like they are being asked to “forget the Torah.” It feels like a slap in the face. There are birth pangs. It hurts so much. They feel like they are being dragged away from their Mother, the Divine Presence. 

The old level they are about to leave behind is connected to the fact that we brought a mentality of exile, in which we hunkered down and did not look beyond our own “four amos,” with us into Eretz Yisroel. It may sound funny but that exile mentality is comfortable. It meant we were exempt from taking ownership of the spiritual and physical development of whatever country we lived in. But as Moshiach and the redemption reveal themselves more and more, especially in Eretz Yisroel, we find ourselves being dragged out of the womb/grave of exile and into the painful transition to a new state of our national existence. Just like physical birth is a combination of the blood of the impurity of the end of one stage of existence and the beginning of hope for a new, more elevated life, so too the current transition is a combination of the pain of change and hope for how the changes fit into the ultimate redemption. 

Looking at the situation in Eretz Yisroel in a superficial way, it is easy to become discouraged when we hear people cry out in pain, hurling insults at other Jews and calling them “Amalek,” “Sitra Achra,” or even by the name of the leader of the ultimate enemy of our people from the previous generation. It hurts when we hear our brothers ascribe the most horrible intentions to large swaths of the Jewish people. But this is no reason to give up hope. If we recognize that the Jewish people are experiencing a new birth, we understand that every birth process involves pain and the loss of what outwardly looks like a higher level of existence.  

It is natural for people to cry out when they are in pain. While it does not mean that such outbursts are justified, we must understand that it is merely the cry of people who are hurt. They are experiencing a type of death. But we have hope for the future because we know that this is not pain for its own sake. It is part of the “birth pangs of Moshiach,” the ultimate birth of our nation into the mature nation of Israel. People will say things they don’t truly believe because they are in pain. It hurts.  

The Navi (Yeshaya 53:3-4) describes Moshiach as, “despised and rejected by men, a man of pain who knows sickness… we considered him plagued [נגוע], smitten by G-d and oppressed.” We even view Moshiach as impure, possessing the plague of tzara’as [נגוע = נגע]! We see that the process of impurity and pain associated with the end of a previous epoch of history applies even to the ultimate redemption. Is it any wonder then that many of our brothers only see darkness and impurity as they are dragged, kicking and screaming, away from exile and into taking ownership of our national destiny and our spiritual and physical redemption?  

Rav Chaim Cohen, the “Chalban,” expresses the reality of this transition beautifully in his recent sefer “Hakitzu V’ranenu, Wake up and sing,” which focuses almost exclusively on the topic of recognizing and embracing our transition from a time of exile to a time of redemption. Let me share three paragraphs which eloquently describe exactly what is happening right now (p. 90): 

Sleep is a state in which a person does not perceive the reality around him. Waking up means opening one’s eyes to see reality clearly. In other words, when a person wakes up, there is no change in one’s surroundings. Rather, there is a change in the person; in his perception of the reality around him. 

So too the awakening to redemption. This means opening one’s eyes to perceive the reality in which he lives; that it is a reality of a redemption which renews us as in days of old with powerful illuminations which draw palpably closer. If we gaze at the present reality and only see its faults; if we complain about it and simply wait for a better future, this demonstrates that we have not yet woken up. 

A person wakes up in the morning and not at night. The wake-up call of redemption appears in the fact that, Baruch Hashem, the morning of redemption has arrived. Our primary difficulties, problems, and pain come from the fact that we pay no attention to this. We do not conduct our lives according to the new light which is an illumination from Heaven on the soul of the generation.

May we see the end of the birth pains of Moshiach as we say “Mazel tov!” on the realization of all of our dreams with the birth and revelation of Moshiach with the arrival of the final redemption, may it come soon in our days!

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