Monday, July 14, 2014

Holy Retaliation - Rav Moshe Weinberger - Parshas Pinchas - Love Means Zeal to Protect and Defend

Below, please find a write-up of Rav Weinberger's drasha from parshas Pinchas. 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 (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 Pinchas 5774
Holy Retaliation 

With the kidnapping and murder of Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel, and Eyal Yifrach, the rockets raining down on cities all over Eretz Yisroel, and now the danger our sons face in their operations against the terrorists in Gaza, it has been a very difficult few weeks. I therefore want to speak about the holy form of retaliation. The psukim (Bamidbar 25:11-12) contain a seeming contradiction: “Pinchas the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the kohein turned My anger away from the children of Israel by zealously avenging Me among them so that I not destroy the children of Israel in My jealousy. Therefore I say, ‘Behold I give him My covenant of peace.’” How does Hashem’s characterization of Pinchas as a zealous avenger of His honor square with the presumably appropriate blessing of peace? 

Kohanim – Loving or Exacting?

Chazal speak about the personality traits of kohanim in many places. The Mishna (Avos 1:12) says, “Be among the students of Aharon, loving peace, pursuing peace, loving every person and drawing them close to Torah.” Similarly, the Navi (Malachi 2:6) says about the personality of the kohein, “In peace and uprightness he went with Me, and he brought back many from sin.” Kohanim are known as being so humble that according to the Gemara (Kiddushin 70b), if one finds a kohein who is brazen and lacks shame, it is doubtful whether he is truly a kohein. Every time the kohanim bless the Jewish people, he make the blessing, “Who has sanctified us with the holiness of Aharon and commanded us to bless His people Israel with love.” 

On the other hand, the Gemara also says (Bava Basra 160b) that kohanim are generally very exacting in their dealings with others. And Levi, the progenitor of the kohanim (along with Shimon) avenged the horrible mistreatment of his sister Dina by Shchem, saying (Bereishis 34:31), “Shall our sister be made into a harlot?” And it was the tribe of Levi who answered the call (Shmos 32:26), “Whoever is for Hashem, come to me!” They heeded Moshe’s request and slaughtered thousands of other Jews who participated in the worship of the golden calf. Even in the daily life of the kohanim in the Beis Hamikdash, they were constantly involved in slaughtering the sacrifices, catching blood, carrying blood, and sprinkling blood. Their lives were surrounded by blood. And at the time of the Greek occupation of Eretz Yisroel, it was the Chashmonayim, the kohanim, who would no longer tolerate the degradation of the Jewish people and led an ultimately successful revolt against the Greeks.

On one hand, the kohanim are associated with peace, love, and blessing. And on the other hand, they are associated with blood, zeal, vengeance, and an exacting nature. How do we reconcile these two conflicting descriptions of the personality of the kohanim? 

Pinchas and Eliyahu

It is known (Zohar Ki Sisa 190a) that Eliyahu Hanavi has the same soul as Pinchas. But this connection is fraught with apparent contradictions as well, as illustrated in the piyut we sing after Shabbos about Eliyahu Hanavi: “The man who was zealous for Hashem’s sake; the man for whom peace was announced through Yekusiel [Moshe Rebbeinu].” Eliyahu was known as a very strong zealot in Navi. Because of the Jewish people’s sins, he decreed a famine in Eretz Yisroel (Melachim I 17:1).  He also personally slaughtered 400 prophets of the Baal (ibid. at 18:40). And when a captain and fifty men were sent by Achazia to capture Eliyahu, he called forth a fire from Heaven which burned all of them alive (Melachim II 1:10). Eliyahu Hanavi was an uncompromising zealot for the truth and radiated a sense of great awe and fear. Eliyahu even said about himself (Melachim I 19:14) “I have been zealous for Hashem.” 

Yet on the other hand, the last prophet in Tanach (Malachi 3:23-24) tells us that at the end of days, it will be Eliyahu who will come and “turn the hearts of the fathers back through their children and the hearts of the children back through their fathers.” This Navi who is otherwise known as the ultimate zealot will bring peace between the generations and, in his prior life as Pinchas, was blessed with peace. How do we reconcile this apparent contradiction in the characterization of Pinchas/Eliyahu as both a zealot and a bringer of peace? 

Love and Jealousy – Two Sides of a Coin 

The reality is clearly that the two seemingly opposite charactaristics of love/peace and zealousness/jealousy are not contradictory at all. The pasuk in Shir Hashirim (8:6) says, “Place me like a seal upon your heart because love is strong as death, jealousy is as powerful as the depths, its coals are like coals of fire, the flame of G-d.” True zeal and jealousy are the natural result of love. 

The Midrash (Shir Hashirim Raba 8) says that “Hashem loves you” and goes on to explain the pasuk as follows: “‘Love is strong as death;’ in the future, the Holy One will avenge Zion with great jealousy, as the pasuk (Zecharia 8:2) says, ‘Thus says Hashem, I have become jealous of Zion with a great jealousy.’” Real love naturally results in jealousy when someone from the outside drives a wedge between two people who love each other or if someone attempts to or actually succeeds in hurting one of them.  

The Zohar (Vayechi 245a) says, “The love of a person that is not accompanied by jealousy is not love.” If one is not bothered when someone he or she loves is hurt, it is a sign that the person does not love that person at all.

This is therefore the source for the holy aspect of the quality of retaliation. To be clear, I am not talking about the degraded, cruel form of retaliation we saw when an innocent Arab boy was allegedly killed in a horrible way by Jewish people. Such an act is a terrible sin, endangers our entire nation, and creates a terrible desecration of G-d’s name. 

The Ramchal describes the relationship between zealousness/jealousy and love in the life of a pious Jew as follows (Chelkei Hachassidus): “It is obvious that if one loves his friend, he cannot tolerate seeing another hitting him or denigrating him. He will undoubtedly go out to assist him. So too one who loves the Name of G-d cannot tolerate seeing people desecrate It, G-d forbid…” 

It is therefore clear that the root of jealousy and zealousness is a love that does not allow one to be indifferent or apathetic to the subject of his love.  This love is why the Torah (Bamidbar 5:14) describes the reaction of a husband whose wife has secluded herself with another man by saying, “And a spirit of jealousy came upon him and he became jealous of his wife.” This is why the kohanim, Pinchas, and Eliyahu, who had such great love for Hashem and for the Jewish people, are also known as being zealots. 

Expressing this idea, the Sfas Emes explains that the pasuk (Bamidbar 25:7), “And he took a spear in his hand” as follows: The root word for spear (רמח) has the same letters as the Aramaic word for love (רחימותא). Pinchas killed Zimri and Kozbi, but his entire motivation was a love for Hashem and the Jewish people and a desire that the relationship between them not be defiled. 

Hashem loves us and that is the source of His “jealousy.” It is as if Hashem is telling us (Amos 3:2), “You are the only one I love of all of the families of the earth.” This is reflected in halacha as well. According to most poskim, shituf, believing in Hashem along with some other power, is not punishable, and is perhaps even permissible, for non-Jews. But it is forbidden and punishable for Jews. Hashem’s love for us is so great that He lets nothing come between us. But His relationship with the nations of the world is more distant, such that if they engage in shituf, it does not shake that relationship to the same extent. There is simply not as much intimacy there.  

Hashem describes Himself (Shmos 20:5) as a “jealous G-d.” That is why He says (Shmos 22:19) that we may not sacrifice to anyone “other than Hashem alone.” Our relationship with Hashem is like a loving husband and wife. Of course one of them would be jealous if someone else inserted him or herself between the two. In Pinchas’s time, there were those who stood by and were able to tolerate those who brought idolatry and immorality into our relationship with Hashem. They were complacent. But Pinchas was not one of them. Like the old song says, “I only have eyes for you.” Pinchas realized our relationship cannot be with anyone “other than Hashem alone.” That is why the Navi (Malachi 2:5) says about Pinchas/Eliyahu, “My covenant of life and peace was with him.” 

Kohanim also come from a perspective of great love, and depending on the circumstances, that love expresses itself in different ways. As we see with Eliyahu Hanavi, an intolerance for those who would hurt our people is the only way to achieve true peace. 

With this in mind, we can appreciate the words of the piyut we sing after Shabbos: “A Tishbite man will save us from the mouth of the lions.” It would be too much of a compliment to the Hamas terrorists to call them “lions,” but with Hashem’s help, the Israeli Defense Forces will save our people from the rockets fired by the Hamas cockroaches in Gaza.  

May Hashem keep everyone in Eretz Yisroel safe, may He protect the soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces, and may he make them successful in rooting out the terrorist infestation in the south of Eretz Yisroel. And then, with G-d’s help, we will merit to see the fulfillment of that which we sing in the piyut: “He will announce good news for us, he will cause the sons to rejoice over the fathers after Shabbos… Fortunate is one who sees his [Eliyahu’s] face in a dream, fortunate is he who merits to greet [Eliyahu] with ‘Shalom,” and who [Eliyahu] answers with ‘Shalom.’ May Hashem bless his nation with peace.”
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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Pot of Soup - Possible Unfolding of Tomorrow's News - Guest Post by Mrs. Yid

My wife, Mrs. Yid., wrote the below piece of fiction as a guest post. This story does not address everything going on in Eretz Yisroel these past 3 plus weeks because it was written before that. But with what's happening, it's even more difficult to hope for the redemption. Hopefully this possible unfolding of the news can help encourage us not to give up hope on Hashem sending Moshiach very very soon.  May we be zocheh to see the story fulfilled tomorrow!

-Dixie Yid


A Pot of Soup

With the Three Weeks approaching, it is a great time to work on being mitzapeh our yeshuah. For my family I have found that the best way to bring this abstract idea into a more tangible form is by using our koach hadimyon to vividly picture what it will be like when Moshiach comes. I have recounted to my children a variety of possible ways we will see the redemption unfold and have seen how this has allowed them to retain their idealism and hope for geulah. I hope other families can use this strategy as well, especially with what is going on in Eretz Yisroel today and as we approach the Three Weeks and Tisha B'Av. Below is one way I imagine it happening:

Disclaimer: When I said this was a work of fiction, that was only partially true. It is fiction, but be'ezras Hashem, it won't be for long!


Where was I?  I was at home, making soup.   It was a Sunday - I remember that because everyone was home. I wonder if it would have been the same if they weren't?  But they were because it was Sunday. I even remember exactly where everyone was. Isn't that weird? My husband and Racheli were in the den just off our kitchen.  Ben was writing, and Racheli was reading on the couch; legs crossed, top leg bobbing up and down as she ate chips... after I distinctly remember telling her that she was not allowed to bring food... You know what? - Never mind.  Yosef and Tehilla were on the floor playing with Lego, Ruchama was sitting on the counter, mixing the brownie batter, and telling me all about how her Morah had brought in a fake parrot that repeated everything the children said and how it was soooooooofunny! And me? I was making soup.

I had just turned the flame on when I heard it.  A horn blaring.  I remember that it startled me because I almost knocked over the rice on the counter.  My heart was hammering as I marched over to the window and wondered (with a touch of righteous indignation, I might add) who was honking their horn like that on a residential street?!  But before I got to the window, I heard it again.  This time, I knew - I just knew - that it wasn't a car horn at all.

Racheli sat up so quickly that her bag of chips spilled out onto the floor.  The most mundane thought popped into my mind. If that's what I think it is, I won't have to clean that up.  I walked towards the window and looked out.  I heard Binyomin walk up behind me and pull the curtain back. We could see all our neighbors doing the same thing we were. Peeking out and wondering...

"Is that...?" Racheli asked.

"I think it is!" My husband said as he ran back towards towardthe desk.  We were all still looking outside (I'm still not sure what we expected to see) and the blasts just kept coming! And finally the teikiah gedolah!  I'm telling you I felt it everywhere; my eyes, my heart, my teeth!!! You remember how it was, right?!  And then silence. We all turned to look to my husband.  It was so quiet I could hear the clicks as Ben hopped from one website to the next. Ruchama scrambled off the counter. She had a smear of chocolate on her cheek.

"Mommy!  Is it time!?"

"I don't know... I think."

"Malka!  Come here!!!  You have to see this!"  

Binyomin had found a live video feed from Eretz Yisroel.  People were dancing in the streets! Tzitzis flying- men losing hats left and right! One man was using a paper plate as an impromptu yarmulke! But the most beautiful part, and this still makes me tear up - even after all these years - all of them were dancing together!  Soldiers and chassidim were linking arms and laughing.  You almost couldn't tell who was who - everyone's face was mamash glowing!

"We need to get there right now," I heard myself say.

"We're going on an eagle! Are we going on an eagle?" Yosef'speyos were bouncing right along with him. "How are we going to get there?"

"I don't know."

Ben brought our suitcases down from the attic just as I was getting off the phone with the airline.  

"They have 6 seats available but not together. And we're leaving in," I looked at my watch, "about an hour so everybody start packing!!!"  

What were we going to take with us? I, like many others, decided to take the things I could not replace. Not that it would make a difference right? If I knew then what I know now I wouldn't have stressed so much! But at that time I didn't know, so I started by packing our photo albums, and the photos that I hadn't yet put into photo albums, (I really was going to get around to it) a lock of hair from Yosef's upsherrin, some of mychildren’s projects.  By then my suitcase was bursting at the seams and if I wanted to take the silver challah bowl my grandmother gave me I would need to wear it as a hat. I put whatever clothes I could fit in my pocketbook along with our passports and left Binyomin to sort which soforim we would bring.

I went upstairs to see how the kids were doing.  Not much better than me it seemed.  I remember thinking how my children's suitcases said so much about them.  Ruchama's was filled with princess dresses, plastic high heels, 2 crowns and a wand.  When I suggested she add some "everyday" clothing, she reluctantly tossed in a pair of sneakers and a denim skirt, but the look she gave me told me that I knew nothing about geulah couture.  Tehilla was trying to convince Ruchama to give up some room in her suitcase "for the greater good,"- the greater good being her books- but in all fairness she was probably the most practical out of all of us, having filled her suitcase with actual clothes.  Yosef was sitting on the floor reading a book about hamsters who take over a pet store.  Inside his suitcase was a pair of pants, and one sock. I quickly packed up his clothes because really, what was the point in arguing now? Racheli had carefully packed as many of her models as she could, but the models were very big and there wasn't much room. Still, she managed to pack a decent amount and still had some room left for "necessities." We spent our last few minutes running around shoving variousodds and ends into our suitcases, and then we were off!

When we finally boarded the plane, I was completely wiped out, and by the time we took off, I was sleeping. I woke up to a ding!and the voice of a flight attendant telling us that we could now take off our seatbelts. I saw that some of the passengers were already being served their dinner.  I leaned over to see what was on the tray...soup...vegetable maybe? Something was niggling at my brain…something I forgot... And that's when I remembered the soup!  I left it on the flame! I took a deep breath. There was nothing I could do now.  It was on low, so this wasn't an urgent matter.  Yet.  I could text my friend from work once we landed.Or call the fire department. Did I lock the door? Did I even close the door?!

I couldn't help but notice that the woman to my right was looking at me. Was I talking to myself? Did I say that out loud? She must think I'm crazy!  But no, I looked again and I saw that she looked as if she wanted to say something.  Finally she did. "You're Jewish right? And religious?" She didn't wait for me to confirm, but just kept going. "I'm also Jewish, but I don't really know anything - well anything about religion anyway. And I heard that sound today, and I I knew what I had to do. I had to get to Israel as fast as I could. But I don't know why, but lucky for me I'm sitting next to you! So tell me. Why?" I have to admit I was taken aback. Wow. My first thought was - who am I to answer her questions? But then I heard the voice of one of my teachers in my head. If you know aleph, teach aleph.  And so I did.  

An hour later I was parched.  Tara, that was her name, hadn'tstopped asking questions and I hadn't stopped answering them.  I got up to get some drinks. As I walked down the aisle I saw the same scene replaying, row after row.  It seemed like everyone was either learning or teaching. I saw a little girl teaching an older woman. "Kamatz aleph ah.  Ah ah ah - now you!"  She must have felt me looking at her because she turned around.


"Mommy!" I wasn't expecting that. "Mommy! I'm a teacher!!!!! I'm teaching the aleph Beis!!!!!" I'm sure I would have heard more but the flight attendant's voice came on again.

"We will begin our decent in approximately ten minutes.  Please return to your seats and fasten your seatbelts." Ten minutes? That was fast.

When the plane landed everyone clapped and started singing "Evenu Shalom Aleichem" just like in the old days!  Well not old old, but you know.  After that, things moved pretty quickly.  They didn't even look at our passports.  A makeshift absorptioncenter was set up by the baggage carousel in Ben Gurion.  Families gathered in small clusters waiting for their names to be called. We were all wondering the same thing. Where were we going to go? How would we get there? And of course, when would we finally, finally! get to see the beis Hamikdash?!  

"Wolf!"  We rolled our suitcases towards a smiling chayalit with curly hair.  She reached into her pocket and gave Yosef and Ruchama a lollipop.  "Welcome home! How was your flight?"  I think we were all too dumbstruck to muster up anything coherent.  "This is your host family," she continued, gesturing towards a young Israeli couple standing behind her.  "They are going to take you to where you are staying."

It was so cool! I know, I know, the word "cool" is pas nischt and even if it weren't, no one says it anymore, but still - that's the only word I could think of to describe the achdus we saw that day!  Tens of thousands of Israelis from every part of the religious spectrum had come together and volunteered to help us "chutznikim" get around!  

Those first steps outside were...unforgettable; the smell! The sun on my face! We piled into the car as quickly as we could and were soon driving down the highway. My children had finally settled down and were waving to the passengers in the other cars. It was quiet, but a comfortable quiet.

"What's your name?" Tehilla asked.  Funny, she was the shy one.  

"I am Igal and this is my wife Chedva; and you metukah?"  


"Well Tehilla, welcome to Israel.  It's beautiful right?" Chedvasaid.  Tehilla nodded. I loved their thick Israeli accents; I loved how she put the emphasis on the end of Tehilla's name, I loved everything!  

"Where are we going?" I asked.  

Igal raised his eyebrow, "What do you mean? We are going to your house!"

We don't have a house.  

"I bet you are thinking that you don't have a house..."  

"We don't have a house," my husband replied.  

"Ahhhh but you do!  Wait! Wait!  You are going to see nissimand niflaot!"

"But," I could tell my husband was about to ask another question, or maybe explain once again (politely of course) that we didn't own a house in Eretz Yisroel when he stopped himself.

"Wait a minute! What about the Beis Hamikdash? When will we go there?" I knew what he was thinking.  We were already too late. I had told my children about how Hashem would create the third and final beis Hamikdash, how it would descend from Heaven and be the most beautiful sight we had ever seen.  But we didn't see it.  We were in America when that happened and I felt a pang of sadness that we had missed it.

"What do you mean? It's not here yet!"

Binyomin bolted up. "We didn't miss it? Then when? I thought..."

"What do you mean 'miss it'?  It will come when all of the Jews arrive! Achi, we have been waiting for the geulah for a loooongtime.  Hashem will not let you miss nothing!" And with that he began humming a tune that sounded so familiar... but I couldn't put my finger on where I had heard it.  

By then all the excitement finally caught up with us, and one by one we fell asleep to the soft bumps in the road, and the sweet sound of Igal's voice. Just before I fell asleep I recognized the tune.  It was a Bresslov traveling nigun.

I dreamt. I was in shul everyone was complimenting me on my hat, "Look! Look!" Everyone was saying, and I was strutting around like a peacock with my grandmother's challah bowl on my head thinking, I should really wear hats more often...

"Look! Look!! Wake up!"   Chedva was shaking me. Binyomin'svoice came in to my right.

"Malka you are not going to believe this." My eyelids felt like they were glued shut, but somehow I managed to open them.  

Binyomin was right. I could not believe it.  Our house from America was standing right in front of us; just as natural as you please.

"You left the door open!" Igal joked. Indeed I did.  "I told you!" He nudged Binyomin, "Nissim and Niflaot!"

"Here is our number, you have a telephone?" Chedva asked as she handed me a small piece of paper. I nodded.  "When you get settled you will come for Shabbat ok? Oy!  Don't cry!"  

Was I crying? I didn't even realize...

"My wife is a very good cook and everything is Mehadrin min ha Mehadrin!"

"Do you want to come in? Maybe for a drink?" Racheli offered.  It seemed so strange to be inviting people into a house that had basically just popped into existence!

"We would love to, but we need to get the next family! But we are going to see each other very soon yes?  Call us when you get settled-don't be shy!" He said closing the door to the car, "We are family now!"  And without further ado, they were gone.  

"Thank you!" I called out, even though by now they couldn't hear me. My kids waved until they could no longer see anything but a little puff of dust.  

"Mommy, his name was Igal!" Yosef said.

"Yes, I know."

"Mommy!  Igal!  Like Eagle?" Oh!  

"Can you believe this?!" My husband gestured towards the house.  We climbed the steps and pushed open the door. The potato chips were still on the floor - guess I was going to have to clean up that mess after all. And then the most delightful scent wafted in from the kitchen.

"My soup!" I ran to the kitchen and shut off the flame.  I absolutely could not believe it.  "Everybody get a bowl and a spoon!" Not only did Hashem redeem us, not only did He send such sweet and wonderful people to bring us home, not only did He airmail our beautiful house without a scratch, but waiting for us was a steaming pot of soup! Quite delicious if I do say so myself! Wow. Every time I think about it I get goose bumps!

...So where were you?

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Rabbi Chaim Kramer of Breslov Research Institute Speaking Tonight (Wednesday) in Woodmere

Please join Reb Chaim Kramer of the Breslov Research in Woodmere Wednesday (tonight!), June 25th at 8 p.m. Rabbi Kramer will be speaking on the topic of earning a parnassa.
He will speak at the home of Tzuriel Ross: 863 West Broadway in Woodmere.
As founder of the Breslov Research Institute, Rabbi Chaim Kramer travels the world bringing the wisdom of Rebbe Nachman to countless others. Having been responsible for publishing over 150 titles and counting, Reb Chaim has been the main vehicle to make Rebbe Nachman's teachings available to the world.
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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Where *Our* Staffs Blossom - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Parshas Korach Shabbos Drasha

This will be the last drasha write-up before Shabbos Chazon, as Rav Weinberger is going upstate this week.

Below, please find a write-up of Rav Weinberger's drasha from parshas Korach. 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 (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 Korach 5774
Where Our Staffs Blossom

At the end of the parsha, Hashem performs a miracle (Bamidbar 17:17-23) wherein the names of each of tribes were written staffs which were placed in the Holy of Holies in the Mishkan and only the staff with Aharon’s name sprouted almond blossoms. It is not entirely clear why Hashem must perform this miracle. The complainers had already witnessed the fire that consumed the souls of the 250 people who improperly brought incense, the earth open up to swallow Korach, Dasan, Aviram, and their families, and they had heard the voice of the sons of Korach from the depths, “Moshe is true and his Torah is true!” (Bava Basra 74a). If they were not impressed with any of those miracles, they will probably not be swayed by a few almond blossoms either. What exactly did this miracle add?

I heard a beautiful idea in the name of Rav Shneur Kotler, zt’l, the Rosh Yeshiva of Lakewood until 1982, which may help us answer this question. Rashi comments on the pasuk, “And the children of Korach did not die” (Bamidbar 26:11) as follows: “At the time of the dispute, they contemplated doing teshuva in their hearts. Therefore, an elevated area was set aside for them in Geheinom and they stay there and sing [songs of praise to G-d]” (also based on Sanhedrin 110a).

Rav Kotler explains that Korach’s fundamental mistake was that he believed the only true servant of G-d is a Kohein Gadol in the Beis Hamikdash. Only such a person can give Hashem any satisfaction. Based on that attitude, it is understandable why Korach and his cohorts were upset that they were excluded from being kohanim gedolim. They saw that as the only path to spiritual heights and they were upset because they were barred from attaining such heights themselves. Maybe they would have been satisfied as kohanim who could at least work in the Beis Hamikdash. But regular Jews, even Levi’im, who are engaged in living their regular prosaic lives, were virtually written off in their eyes as having any ability to achieve spiritual heights. They claimed that Moshe had hijacked G-d so that only he and his brother could come close to G-d, leaving everyone else out. 

But the reality is somewhat akin to any country or government today. There is a president, prime minister, or king. And there are cabinet ministers, advisors, and high government officials who work in close proximity to the seat of government. But there are also concentric circles of other officials, representatives, and government officers of all types, all the way down to local politicians and legislators. And even on the periphery of the country or in foreign lands, there are soldiers who work to keep the country safe and gather intelligence. All of them are important. All of them are necessary to maintain the safety, prosperity, and security of the entire country. The president and his cabinet are not the only ones who count. 

Similarly, among the Jewish people, there are kohanim who work in the Beis Hamikdash and the tzadikim and gedolim who lead us. But there are also simple soldiers, Jews who fight their evil inclination, fight to study another Mishna, or to understand a Gemara with the commentaries of Rashi and Tosafos. All of them are involved in serving the King, even if some of them must do so at what seems like the “edge” of Hashem’s kingdom, like Manhattan or some faraway place on a business trip. 

Unlike Korach’s mistaken philosophy, Hashem feels untold satisfaction with the efforts made by simple Jews all over the world to serve Him in whatever life circumstance they find themselves. We cannot imagine the pleasure Hashem has from every little bit of effort such Jews exert in order to serve Him.  

According to Korach’s belief, a Jew living very far from the Beis Hamikdash, doing his best to learn from a sefer or keep his eyes where they belong on the train, means nothing to Hashem. That is not real service of G-d. But at the last moment, Korach’s sons did teshuva and realized their mistake. As a reward, Hashem gave them a place to stay at the opening of Geheinom until Moshiach comes, where they can sing Hashem’s praises. This is incredibly appropriate. Because they learned the truth, that there are an infinite number of ways G-d wants His servants to work for Him, they merited to demonstrate this to the world by singing Hashem’s praises at the mouth of Geheinom, certainly the furthest place on can imagine from the Beis Hamikdash! Their very lives now teach us that even in those places that seem the furthest from G-d, one can still serve Him and make Him proud. 

Perhaps a person has done something he regrets, perhaps when he wakes up the next morning, he feels he is so low, like he is sitting at the opening of Geheinom. He may feel so undeserving, he does not even know whether he can motivate himself to put on tefillin. But the sons of Korach teach us that no matter how far from the Beis Hamikdash, from holiness, we find ourselves, we are not too far away to sing Hashem’s praises. We can still give G-d pleasure and satisfaction from our efforts, wherever we are. 

We read the Song of the Day every day but do not often pay close attention to its meaning. Rav Kotler concludes by explaining the Song of the Day for Mondays (Tehillim 48), which begins, “A song, a psalm of the sons of Korach,” as a reflection of Korach’s initial mistake and his sons’ ultimate realization of the truth. At the beginning of the Song, the sons of Korach say, “Hashem is great and exceedingly praised in the city of our G-d, on the mountain of His holiness… G-d is in its palaces, He is known as a stronghold… We hoped, G-d, for your kindness in Your sanctuary.” They initially believed that Hashem can only be found “in the city of our G-d, on the mountain of His holiness,” in the Beis Hamikdash. He is only in the palaces of Yerushalayim, only in “Your sanctuary.” But they thought that one cannot feel the greatness of G-d or become close to Him anywhere else.  

But the sons of Korach finally realized, “According to Your name, so is Your praise, till the ends of the earth…” Standing on the edge of Geheinom, they finally realized that even at the ends of the earth, one can still compose Tehillim and come close to G-d. This is what the children of Korach finally realized, as the Song continues, “in order that you may tell a later generation.”  

Now we can understand the need for the miracle of the almond blossoms on Aharon’s staff. The complainers thought that it was possible Hashem took revenge upon Korach and his follows to avenge the honor of Moshe. But they were not convinced Korach’s fundamental mistake had been disproven. Perhaps it was still true that only the Kohein Gadol and the kohanim were precious in Hashem’s eyes. Perhaps regular Jews truly were relegated to a secondary spiritual status. 

Hashem therefore performed the miracle of the almond blossoms to demonstrate that everyone’s flower blossoms in a different place. The Jewish people should not make the critical error of thinking that they would blossom in the Beis Hamikdash if only they were allowed inside. G-d showed them the fallacy of this idea by placing all of the tribes’ staffs into the Holy of Holies so that everyone would see that only Aharon’s staff blossoms in the Holy of Holies. But the other tribes’ staffs would blossom elsewhere. 

By performing this miracle, Hashem demonstrated to us for all times that anyone who thinks there is only one way to be holy is committing the same mistake as Korach and his followers. It is not only those whose profession involves revealed holiness who can give Hashem pleasure and satisfaction. Those of us fighting at the borders, far from the beis medrash, for a little bit of holiness, to fight off a little bit of darkness here and there, give G-d untold nachas 

The Baal Hatanya, zy”a,  teaches that the harried storekeeper who sighs when he realizes that the sun has almost set and he cannot daven with a minyan and therefore catches a lighting fast Mincha in between customers gives Hashem untold pleasure. He may feel like his store is at the opening of Geheinom, like he so far from G-d. But the Baal Hatanya teaches us that the heartbroken sigh of the storekeeper, which expresses untold longing for holiness, gives Hashem as much pleasure as the korbanos of the kohanim in the Beis Hamikdash.  A Jew can build a Beis Hamikdash on the Long Island Railroad. In his store. In his delivery truck. A woman can build a Beis Hamikdash in her house. At her job. At her college campus. In her kitchen.  

Because of the pain experienced by the Jewish people this past week as three Jewish teenagers were taken by terrorists, we have seen how the whole Jewish people, even those who live at the opening of Geheinom, are turning back to Hashem. Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party in Eretz Yisroel, lives a secular lifestyle and is currently not on good terms with the chareidi community in Eretz Yisroel. Yet this week, he told the mother of one of the kidnapped boys, Gilad Sha’ar, “I too won’t be able to look in the mirror knowing that I didn’t do the maximum” to free the teens. “I haven’t prayed for six years. Since the bar mitzvah of my son I haven’t been in a synagogue. When the story of your sons broke, I looked through the entire house searching for my grandfather’s siddur. I sat and prayed.” He may have lived a life which has been disconnected, in any revealed way, from Hashem. But when all coverings are removed, his true essence as a Jew comes out no matter where he is, “till the ends of the earth…”

Outgoing President Shimon Peres also met with the parents of the abducted boys, telling them, “Three families like this can lift up a nation to heights previously unknown, and I’m not exaggerating. It’s been several days that Israel is different, unified, joined, praying, fighting.” And we learned this week that Likud Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar has begun keeping Shabbos and going to shiurim.  

No matter who a person is or where life’s circumstances have brought him, he can serve G-d and draw Hashem’s presence down into his world and his life. Let us not make the same mistake Korach made. Let us realize that our staffs will blossom wherever Hashem has sent us in our own lives. We need not all be devoted to obviously G-dly activities to bring Hashem pleasure. May Hashem enlighten our eyes so that we see how to serve G-d through our own lives and not dismiss our own service as worthless as Korach did. And may Hashem bring our boys home right away, unharmed.
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Monday, June 16, 2014

The Joy of Torah and Eretz Yisroel - Rav Moshe Weinberber on Shlach - Tefilla for Kidnapped Boys

Below, please find a write-up of Rav Weinberger's drasha from parshas Shlach. 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 (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 Shlach 5774
The Joy of Torah and Eretz Yisroel

The Geshmak of Eretz Yisroel 

This is the parsha of Eretz Yisroel. The commentators explain a variety of reasons why Moshe consented to send the spies to Eretz Yisroel. There was no doubt that Hashem would fulfill his promise to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov to give their descendants the land. In addition, there was no doubt that the land was good, a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Shmos 3:8). So why did Moshe agree to send the spies?

The Ramban (on Bamidbar 13:2) explains Moshe’s consent in a beautiful way that also enlightens us to a new perspective of the uniqueness of the mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisroel: “Because Moshe knew that [the land] was rich and good…,  he told them to pay attention so that they would know this, in order that they tell the nation [so that the nation would] rejoice and be reenergized to ascend  [to Eretz Yisroel] with joy.” 

This is somewhat difficult to understand. We know that there is a general principle that one should perform all mitzvos with joy, as the pasuk (Tehillim 100:2) says, “Serve Hashem with joy…” But this refers to a general state of spiritual happiness that one is fulfilling Hashem’s command. This is a value common to all mitzvos that should accompany the performance of any mitzvah. But with regard to particular mitzvos, their purpose is not to give us physical enjoyment, as the Gemara (see, e.g., Eruvin 31a) says, “mitzvos were not given for physical enjoyment.” Physical enjoyment from mitzvos would make them “not for the sake of Heaven.” 

In contrast, with respect to the mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisroel, the Ramban teaches us that that Moshe specifically wanted the Jewish people to know that the land was “rich and good” so that they would rejoice and feel great happiness while living in Eretz Yisroel. It seems that Moshe did not only want them to feel a spiritual enjoyment in knowing that they were fulfilling one of Hashem’s mitzvos. He wanted them to feel a geshmak, a sense of pleasure, from living in the land of Israel. 

This is why Hashem told us that Eretz Yisroel is “a good and expansive land… a land flowing with milk and honey” (Shmos 3:8). It is why Moshe told the spies (Bamidbar 13:20), “Strengthen yourselves and take from the fruit of the land.” He wanted them to see the geshmak of living in Eretz Yisroel. This is why, when Hashem first spoke to Avraham to command him to go to the land of Israel, He told him (Rashi on Bereishis 12:1) “Go for your good and for your pleasure.” 

The unique nature of the mitzvah to enjoy living in Eretz Yisroel is also reflected in the Rambam’s statement (Hilchos Melachim 5:10) that, “The greatest scholars would kiss the borders of Eretz Yisroel, kiss its stones, and roll around in its dirt…” Living in Eretz Yisroel must be incredibly enjoyable! After returning from his visit to Eretz Yisroel, Rebbe Nachman once commented that the land was very beautiful. The listeners assumed he meant that in a spiritual or kabbalistic sense, but he clarified that he was talking about “the streets and the houses.” The fulfillment of the mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisroel must be enjoyable, beautiful, and geshmak! 

The Pleasure of Learning Torah 

There is another mitzvah that is also an exception to the general principle that “mitzvos were not given for physical enjoyment.” And that is the mitzvah to study Torah. In this regard, the Taz writes (Yoreh Deah 221:43) that if, for example, Reuven vows that Shimon may not derive any benefit from him [Reuven], then Shimon may not study Torah from Reuven’s sefer. He explains that this is because “the Torah certainly gladdens the heart… Therefore this mitzvah [to study Torah] is not comparable to other mitzvos with regard to which we say that they are not given for physical enjoyment. In contrast, this [mitzvah to study Torah] brings a person enjoyment.” Because it offers tangible enjoyment, Shimon may not study from Reuven’s sefer.

In order to counteract the erroneous notion maintained by some that Torah study is only for the sake of Heaven if one does not enjoy it, the Avnei Nezer writes in the introduction to his sefer Eglei Tal that the primary fulfillment of the mitzvah to study Torah is to enjoy one’s learning and that this is the only way that the words of Torah will “become absorbed into the blood… This is what it means to study Torah for the sake of Heaven. It is entirely holy because even the enjoyment itself is a mitzvah.” According to the Avnei Nezer, enjoying one’s learning is the primary way one must fulfill the mitzvah of studying Torah! 

These two mitzvos involve the two main categories of enjoyment. The mitzvah to study Torah involves a positive emotional and intellectual enjoyment and the mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisroel includes a component of physical enjoyment. 

The common denominator in these two mitzvos is that neither are circumscribed activities done for the sake of the performance of an obligatory act. Both are much more. They are life itself. With respect to Torah, we say (Maariv), “For they [the words of Torah] are our life and the length of our days.” Without Torah, we are like fish on dry land. The Torah is the wedding ring, the bond connecting the Jewish people and G-d. Can one imagine if a chosson told his kallah under the Chupah, “Just so you know, even though I’m marrying you, it’s nothing personal. I’m doing this because it’s a mitzvah. Sure, I’ll be happy, just like there is a mitzvah to do any of Hashem’s mitzvos with joy. But it has nothing to do with you. I do not enjoy you personally in any way.” What kind of marriage would that be!? Hashem expects us to enjoy Torah, to have a geshmak in our learning. That is the essence of our relationship with G-d.  

And it is the same with the mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisroel. Living there is not simply the ability to have a land of our own, a refuge from persecution, or even a place to unify us as a nation. The land of Israel is intertwined with the essence of our lives as Jews. As the pasuk (Tehillim 116:9) says, “I will walk before Hashem in the land of life.” The life of the Jewish people and Eretz Yisroel are inseparable. They are one life. One essence. 

And the connection between them and the reality that both are the essence of our lives is reflected in the pasuk (Devarim 32:47), “For it [the study of Torah] is your life and through it you will lengthen your days upon the land which you are crossing over the Jordan to possess it.”

This is what Rav Kook describes at the beginning of Oros Me’ofel, as translated by Bezalel Naor, “The Land of Israel is not something external, not an external national asset, a means to the end of collective solidarity and the strengthening of the nation’s existence, physical or even spiritual. The Land of Israel is an essential unit bound by the bond-of-life to the People, united by inner characteristics to its existence.” Eretz Yisroel is part of our lives, physical and spiritual, with all that this entails. It is not a detail of our national reality, but rather it is an inherent part of the richness of our spiritual and physical life. 

With the foregoing in mind, we can now understand the root of the sin of the spies. As Dovid Hamelech said (Tehillim 106:24), “And they were disgusted by the desirable land.” With all of their justifications, the spies concluded (Bamidbar 13:31), “We cannot ascend.” Kalev, on the other hand, cried out (ibid. at 30), “We can surely ascend and take possession of it, we can surely succeed in doing it!” What was the difference between them? The spies put on their white fabric gloves, so to speak, inspected the land, found a speck of dust, turned up their noses and said, “You call this a good land?” “Is this a beautiful kallah? In contrast, Yehoshua and Kalev said (ibid. at 14:7), “The land is exceedingly good!” “She is a beautiful and kind kallah!” (cf. Kesubos 17a).

Rav Kook, zy”a, in his essay, The Great Call to Eretz Yisroel, writes, “[We must] destroy, with the powerful arm of the spirit and with the spiritual holiness of the desirable land, the filth of the spies…” Rav Kook calls upon us “to awaken the ancient love for Zion, to take hold of it and to settle it with the ropes of man and cords of love.”  

A Prayer for Our Kidnapped Sons

The Jews of Eretz Yisroel and around the world are still in shock and pain at the news that three yeshiva boys from Gush Etzion were kidnapped by Arab terrorists before Shabbos. A Jewish heart has no words. We cannot imagine the pain of parents whose children are not home for Shabbos. All we can do is daven for their safe and speedy return. Particularly because it appears they were probably taken along a road near Gush Etzion, I would like to share a tefillah composed by a Jew in Eretz Yisroel which is included in the book In the Land of Prayer, which was compiled after the expulsion of the Jewish community in Gush Katif. In it, Eliaz Cohen from Kefar Etzion composed a prayer called “For the Traveler on the Gush Etzion Road:”

May it be Thy will
King who hears the humble
Who watches over all openings and hiding places
To keep me safe from all obstacles along the way

Guide me forward to peace
Lead my footsteps toward peace
Keep me safe from all the forms of the stones
The ambushers the throwers the shooters the infiltrators
The conspirers of roadblocks, who whisper curses
And from all the frenzied, hateful glances that rage into this world
(And at the hour of darkness, one may add:
and from the intentions of the night)
And move me onward to the place of my desire
In life. And in joy and in peace
And allow me to be born from within the tunnel, to Jerusalem
And may You hear the prayer of the wayfarers
With mercy

May Hashem return these boys to their families and our people in peace, unharmed very soon. May Hashem allow us to learn the Torah and make our lives in Eretz Yisroel with joy, peace, and happiness. And may Hashem fulfill our request in the blessing of the haftara, “Have mercy on Zion because it is the house of our life. And save those who are sad of spirit and cause them to rejoice soon in our days. Blessed are You Hashem, Who causes Zion to rejoice in those who build it!”

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Problem with Complainers - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Beha'alosecha Drasha

Below, please find a write-up of Rav Weinberger's drasha from parshas Beha'alosecha. 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 (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 Beha’alosecha 5774
The Problem with Complainers

This is a sad parsha. All of our dreams for greatness, all of our idealism began to unravel in this week’s parsha. We spent almost a year encamped beside Har Sinai. We were poised to march into Eretz Yisroel to claim the great destiny that Hashem promised to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. But then something happened. Moshe begged his father-in-law Yisro to remain with the Jewish people and “make aliya.” Although he did not know it at the time, not only would Yisro not make aliya, but Moshe Rebbeinu himself would die in the desert, never to step foot in Eretz Yisroel because of the problems to come. In preparation for the great journey to Yerushalayim, Moshe Rebbeinu said (Bamidbar 10:35), “Arise Hashem and disperse Your enemies and those who hate You will flee from before you!” But when he said that, Moshe never imagined that the enemies of Hashem would not come from Kena’an, the land they would conquer, but from within the Jewish people!

Immediately after we read of Moshe’s prayer for our success in conquering Eretz Yisroel, the descent begins. When all is said and done, the parents would die in the desert and the children would wander for decades. What was the central reason for our downfall? What was the common denominator in all of the myriad of failures and foibles during our time in the desert ultimately leading to the decree that an entire generation would never step foot in the promised land? The easy answer is that it was the sin of the golden calf. But Chazal explain that this was a circumscribed fault, a terrible miscalculation and mistake; but it was not an all-encompassing fault.

In this parsha, and in those that follow, the Jewish people crave meat and complain to Moshe about it, Miriam complains about Moshe, the spies complain about Eretz Yisroel, Korach and his cohorts stage a rebellion against Moshe, complaining that he was consolidating all of the honor, glory, and power to himself, and the list goes on and on. What was the common denominator in the failings of the desert which continue until this day? Complaining. Yet we do not find that one of the 365 prohibitions in the Torah is “Thou shalt not complain.” But this pattern of complaints repeats itself again and again as the central downfall of our people in the generation of the desert. 

The Torah teaches us several things about the essence of complainers. First, the pasuk (Bamidbar 11:1) starts by saying, “And it was that the nation was complaining, which was evil in the ears of G-d, and G-d heard and was angry.” Yet the Torah never tells us what they were complaining about! What do we learn from this? That the complainers’ problem was not the topic about which they are complaining. That has nothing to do with it! The complainers’ problem was their nature as complainers. 

In halacha, we often make a distinction between a cheftza, an object, and a gavra, a person. One might have thought that a complainer’s problem is in the cheftza, the object of his complaint. One could mistakenly think that if we resolve the complainer’s complaint, he will be happy. Indeed, if someone who is not generally a complainer complains about something, this is in fact the case. If we resolve the object of his complaint, he will be satisfied. But this is not the case for those people classified as complainers. The moment we resolve one complaint, he has something new to complain about. It never ends. This is because his complaints are not about the cheftza of his complaint. The object of his complaints is simply the most readily available outlet for his nature as a complainer. The problem is with the gavra. The person is a complainer, so he will complain regardless of his external circumstances. His worldview is negative. He looks at the world through a jaundiced, critical lens. His mind is twisted by nature, so he seeks out the bad in everything. He is predisposed to feeling that everyone else harbors ill-will toward him and that the world is filled with incompetent people whose lives are devoted to making him miserable.

We all know such people. These are the people who gleefully pounce on the person reading the Torah whenever he makes a mistake. Such a person goes into a state of mourning if the reader manages to read the Torah perfectly. These are the people who whisper to the person who is about to lead the davening, “You won’t extend the davening an extra minute if you know what’s good for you.” It does not matter whether it is the temperature in shul, the chazzan, the rav, the fellow next to him, or anything else. He will find something to complain about because that is his nature. 

We learn several other things about complainers from the parsha. The Torah (Bamidbar 11:4-6) says: “And the mixed multitude among [the Jewish people] caused themselves to have a craving and the Jewish people also cried again and they said, ‘Who will feed us meat? We remember the fish which we ate in Egypt for free… Now our souls are dry. There is nothing before our eyes except this manna!” The complainers began complaining and brought everyone else into their misery with them. The Torah teaches us two additional aspects of complainers here. The first is that they try to rope others in and spread their toxic outlook as widely as they can. A person can be completely content with how things are going, but after ten minutes with a complainer, suddenly everything looks dark, dismal, and bleak. 

The second thing we learn about complainers from these psukim is their trademark opening line: “I’ve spoken to a lot of people and they all feel this way.” They all feel that “everyone” agrees with them. “It’s not just me who feels this way. A lot of people agree with me. They just don’t want to come forward.” The complainers are the only brave souls who care enough to come forward with their criticism. 

Finally, a complainer sees only the bad in the present and feels sure that the future will be even worse. The only thing in which the complainer sees anything good in is the past – no matter how much historical revisionism is necessary to see it in such a light. These people looked back longingly at the free food they received in Egypt. First, of course it was free. They were slaves! And never mind the genocide committed against the Jewish children. Never mind the back-breaking labor. Think of the free food! But when it comes to the present, everything is dark and black. They said about the manna, which fell as a gift from Hashem every day, “our souls are dry. There is nothing before our eyes except this manna!”

Nevertheless, Hashem fulfilled the wishes of the complainers by giving them more meat than they could possibly eat. But of course they hated that too. Hashem therefore points out that the problem was never with the object of the complainers’ complaints. It is with Hashem Himself. They are ingrates. Hashem explains this as follows (Bamidbar 11:20), “Because you have hated Hashem who is among you and cried before Him to say, ‘why did we ever leave Egypt?’” Complainers do not lack anything with respect to the object of their complaints. The problem is with their nature, outlook, and personality. The complainers in the desert even convinced themselves (Bamidbar 16:13) that Egypt was “a land flowing with milk and honey!”  

Complainers Can Only Destroy, Never Build 

And what was Moshe’s response to the people’s complaints? How did the greatest leader in our history respond? He begged Hashem (ibid. at 11:15), “Please kill me if I have found favor in your eyes!” Moshe essentially said, “G-d, if you love me, just kill me now.”  

Why did Moshe react this way? Is this the same man who heroically came to our rescue when we built and worshiped the golden calf shortly after receiving the Torah at Sinai? Why was Moshe our fearless advocate after that terrible sin, but when we complain, which was not even one of the 613 mitzvos, Moshe immediately threw up his hands, gave up all hope, and begged G-d to just take his life? Why was this? 

We see from Moshe’s reaction that when it comes to complainers, you can never win. The moment you resolve one complaint, they have another. It is an all-encompassing fault. As bad as the sin of the golden calf was, it was a circumscribed mistake, a tragic miscalculation. Moshe knew that he could work with that and help the people rectify their mistake. But again, the problem with complainers has nothing to do with the particular subject of their complaints. The trait of being a complainer is ingrained and cannot be resolved by addressing the complaint itself. Dealing with complainers is a never-ending, life-sucking, toxic enterprise. Moshe therefore gave up and said, “Just kill me now. I cannot work with these people.” 

And when the Jewish people complained after the report of the spies, Hashem Himself said that there was no hope for that generation. He decreed that they die in the desert. Eretz Yisroel cannot be built by complainers. They only know how to destroy, to criticize, to negate. They are incapable of building anything.

It is the same thing in any organization, institution, or shul. The idealists build and create while the complainers find faults with everything the builders and creators do. “Look at this! There’s a loose tile in the social hall! What kind of shoddy work is this!” As if they would have ever built anything themselves. 

We see Moshe’s awareness of the difficulty in dealing with complainers reflected later in the parsha as well. When Miriam is afflicted with tzara’as, a skin disease, Moshe offers the shortest prayer ever for her recovery (ibid. at 12:13): “G-d, please heal her!” That was the extent of his prayer. Why did he not pray at length, as he surely wanted to do? Rashi explains that it was “so that the Jewish people should not say, ‘For his sister he prays at length, but for us he does not pray at length!’” Notwithstanding all of Moshe’s sacrifice and lengthy prayer for the sake of the Jewish people, he knew that the complainers would forget all of that and simply complain if Moshe uttered more than a few words of prayer for his sister’s recovery. With complainers, one simply cannot win.

Building Eretz Yisroel, or anything worthwhile, requires the attitude described in the pasuk (Tehillim 34:12), “Who is the man who desires life, who loves days to see good.” Builders, creators, and idealists love life. They see good. This is the prerequisite for a person who wants to build and create. It is the opposite of the quality exhibited by complainers, those who look at the world through the lens of a crooked mind which sees only negativity and incompetence around him.

My wife told me that one of the ladies in the shul made a resolution before Rosh Hashana not to complain during the upcoming year. Although this woman is not a complainer by nature, due to the pressures of making a living and raising her large family, she found herself complaining more often than before, and it was bothering her. She therefore resolved not to complain. She wanted to see the good and be grateful for all of Hashem’s blessings in her life. Such a resolution is extremely powerful and has the power to change the quality of one’s life for the good in an immense way.

While I have no doubt that complainers will simply complain about what I have said here, I encourage everyone reading what I have said to discuss this issue with his or her family and friends. Think about whether and to what extent you have been a builder or a complainer. With Hashem’s help, may we merit to see the ultimate good and the fulfillment of everything we have been working toward building throughout the long years of exile with the coming of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash, may we see it soon in our days.

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Pickled in Yiddishkeit - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Second Day of Shavuos Drasha

Below, please find a write-up of Rav Weinberger's drasha from the second day of Shavuos. An instant classic I believe! 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 (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
Second Day of Shavuos 5774
Pickled in Yiddishkeit

 Why the Fireworks? 

The Jewish calendar is filled with peaks and valleys. We have the joyful mountains of Pesach and Sukkos. And we have the valleys of Tisha B’Av and the Three Weeks. But there is one Yom Tov (רגל) that stands alone, separate and different from all of the others.  

We are all familiar with the story (Shabbos 31a) of the potential convert who asked  Shamai and Hillel, “Convert me on the condition that you teach me the entire Torah whiles standing on one foot [רגל אחת].” Because the words for Yom Tov and foot are the same (רגל), the seforim hakedoshim teach us that this Gemara hints to the Yom Tov of Shavuos, the one, singular Yom Tov of the year on which everything in Yiddishkeit stands. Everything else that happens in the Jewish year revolves around, is unified by, and is elevated by the Yom Tov of Shavuos, the day we received the Torah. It is the day about which we say in the piyut on Rosh Hashana, “You were revealed in the cloud of Your glory over Your holy nation, to speak with them…”  

Ever since that day, nothing has been the same. Everything in Jewish life, both nationally and individually, is different since we stood at the foot of Har Sinai to receive the Torah. Everything took on a new meaning. Everything is deeper. Everything that has happened to us, whether revealed good or bad, has taken on a completely different meaning. Ever since that day, we have been “a kingdom of kohanim, a holy nation” (Shmos 19:6). We were irreversibly transformed into a new type of people, people with a special role and responsibility in the world. Some people may kick and scream, “I do not want this responsibility! I am not part of this!” But nothing can change the fact that every Jew is part of something greater than himself. Every Jew is inexorably tied to our Jewish destiny, in which every aspect of life has a completely different meaning than it does to anyone else in the world.  

With that in mind, it is very difficult to understand what happened on the day Hashem revealed the Aseres Hadibros, the Ten Commandments, on Har Sinai. Hashem communicated the Aseres Hadibros to us with clouds, thunder, and lightning. The whole mountain was covered with smoke when Hashem spoke. But what earth-shattering words did He tell us? Aside from Shabbos, they were all things which any moral and intelligent person would have known even without Hashem telling us. Do not kill. Do not kidnap. Do not commit adultery. When the monumental moment of the giving of the Torah finally came, when the day anticipated by creation over two thousand years earlier finally arrived, that was all G-d had to say?  

While some philosophers maintain that objective morality cannot exist without G-d, it is at least possible to say that these moral precepts would have existed even if Hashem had not given them to us on Har Sinai. They are not even unique to the Jewish people. While there are those that violate many of the Aseres Hadibros in the world, those that do so are not really considered part of civilized society even among the nations of the world. Why then do we need a Sinai experience to learn that we do not kidnap or murder? Did we really need all of the thunder, lightning, and fireworks to let us know that we cannot steal?
Neomi’s Lesson in Yiddishkeit  

In order to understand the foregoing question, let us learn a little bit about the acceptance of the Torah by the most famous giores, female convert, Rus. It is initially difficult to understand why we read the book of Rus on Shavuos. It contains no mitzvos and its connection to Shavuos is not immediately apparent. And while a number of different seforim explain the reason the book of Rus is read on Shavuos in different ways, Reb Tzadok Hakohein, zy”a, explains that whenever Chazal offer a variety of reasons to explain something, it means that while a certain practice is clearly obligatory, the reason for it is not clear. We must therefore come to a better understanding of the reason why the book of Rus is read on Shavuos.

The Gemara (Yevamos 47a) teaches us that when a person wants to convert to Judaism, we must first teach them some of the weightier, more difficult mitzvos and some of the easier, less stringent mitzvos. Rus’s mother-in-law, Neomi, attempted to do this. When Rus made it clear to her that she was serious about becoming a Jew, Chazal tell us (Rus Raba 2:22) that Neomi began Rus’s introduction to what it means to be a Jew by saying, “My daughter, it is not the way of Jewish girls to go to the theaters and circuses of [the non-Jews].” Rus then responded (Rus 1:16), “Where you go, I will go.” In other words, Rus said that she did not know where Jewish people go, and that she would rely on Neomi’s expertise and she accepted upon herself only to go where Jewish people go. 

Neomi’s “Introduction to Judaism” course to Rus is very difficult to understand. The Gemara says that we teach a prospective ger some easy mitzvos and some difficult mitzvos. But Neomi began with a concept that, while it may be true, is not technically part of the mitzvos at all. Why did she not begin with Shabbos, forbidden relationships, kashrus, or the Yomim Tovim? Why did she begin by teaching Rus about the places to which, while not strictly halachically prohibited, “it is not the way of Jewish girls to go?”  

We must explain that Neomi understood that Yiddishkeit is much more than simply a collection of a list of dos and don’ts. The totality of Yiddishkeit is so much more than the sum of the various mitzvos and halachos which are indeed an important part of Judaism. Neomi did not begin teaching Rus about Yiddishkeit by recounting the mitzvos of Kiddush, Havdala, Shofar, and Sukkah. She wanted to communicate to Rus that the essence of Judaism is much more than a list of mitzvos. It is an entirely different way of being. It means seeing the world through different eyes. That is why she began by teaching her something that was designed to begin to give Rus a feeling for how a Jew sees himself or herself. Neomi was trying to tell Rus: A Jewish woman walks with a Jewish walk. A Jewish woman laughs a Jewish laugh. A Jewish woman cries Jewish tears. Everything is different. And Rus accepted that sense of what a Jew does and does not do when she said, “Where you go I will go.” She was not merely accepting upon herself a list of Though Shalts and Thou Shalt Nots. She was accepting a way of life.

Pickled in Yiddishkeit 

My brother-in-law’s father, Reb Motel Rabinowitz, zt”l, was a talmid chacham and a student in the Mirer yeshiva in Europe, where the mashgiach was Reb Yeruchem Levovitz, zt’l. I once asked him to tell me what it was like by Reb Yeruchem. He answered, “Oh, you want to hear a “chassidisheh story” about the mashgiach? I told him that I simply wanted to hear what it was like to learn under Reb Yeruchem. He told me that it was impossible for me to understand. He then asked me if I knew what a pickle was. I answered that I certainly knew what a pickle was. He then asked if I knew what a cucumber was. Yes, I assured him, I knew what a cucumber was as well. “Well that was what it was like by Reb Yeruchem.” He often made such enigmatic statements, so I asked him to clarify. 

He told me that he could not explain it, but anyone who spent any time by Reb Yeruchem was pickled. He became completely different. It was not one certain vort or a specific teaching that changed him. “The experience of sitting by Reb Yeruchem in that room changed us. We never looked at anything in the same way again. We saw everything with more seriousness. Everything had meaning.” Being a student in the Mir under Reb Yeruchem was much more than a learned set of customs or teachings. It meant being pickled in Reb Yeruchem’s essence. 

That was what Neomi was attempting to communicate to Rus. A Jew must have a sense for what it means to be Jewish. He must be pickled in Yiddishkeit. 

The Sinai Experience 

There are two aspects to what we received at Sinai. Hashem introduces the Aseres Hadibros by saying (Shmos 20:1), “And G-d spoke all of these words to say.” And then the next pasuk begins, “I am Hashem your G-d.” On one hand, we received “all of these words;” a collection of dos and don’ts, a variety of mitzvos and halachos. But on the other hand, we became intimately conscious of the reality that “I am Hashem your G-d.” We were no longer cucumbers. We were pickles. Hashem immersed us in a new reality in which we were soaked through an awareness that permeated everything, that “I am Hashem your G-d.” After that day, there was no comparison between the Jewish people’s “Thou shalt not murder” and the “Thou shalt not murder” of the nations of the world. Our morality does not come from human intellect. It is also more than one item in a list of “all of these words.” For us, it is part of a transcendent “I am Hashem your G-d.”  

The unique thing about what we received on Har Sinai was not the content of the individual mitzvos received. It was  not about the benefit which would accrue to us by fulfilling the mitzvos or the negative effects of transgressing the Torah’s prohibitions. We received a Jewish sense of what it means to hear G-d say “I am Hashem your G-d.” We looked at everything in life differently after that.  

We therefore do not look only at the details of halacha to understand what Hashem wants of us, though that is obviously the starting point. We must have a sense of our place in Divine reality, a feeling for “it is not the way of Jewish girls...”  

For example, in the Aseres Hadibros, Hashem says “Thou shalt not steal.” And while it would be wonderful if every Jew observed this commandment on its most simple level, for a Jew, this implies much more than simply not walking into a store and leaving with something that he did not pay for. Jews observe a principle that one may not “steal” someone’s sleep. This is called gezel sheina. We take this concept so seriously that the poskim discuss whether one may wake a friend up in the beis midrash Shavuos night if we know that he intended to stay up all night. Normally, a Jew always lets another sleep and does not wake him up. But we are concerned that maybe there would be a limited exception on Shavuos night when the person who fell asleep definitely intended to stay up throughout the night. The prohibition of gezel sheina is not a biblical prohibition and according to almost all poskim, it is also not a rabbinic prohibition. But it is part of what it means to be a Jew. It is part of a meta-sensitivity that we have because “that’s what Jews do.” 

After Har Sinai, we were completely changed. We were acquired by G-d. In halacha, an acquisition is often completed by exchanging an object, which demonstrates the parties’ intent to transfer ownership of an object from one person to a different person. Even the book of Rus (4:7) notes that this form of transaction was used by Boaz. Hashem acquired us, completely exchanging and transforming the nature of our lives.


There is something different, something Jewish, about the way a Jew smiles, tells a (clean) joke, and talks to his children. But only those who have been pickled by immersing themselves with the children of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov can understand this. 

Cucumber Torah 

It is difficult to explain that Yiddishkeit is more than the sum of “all of these words” to Jews who, for whatever reason, were never pickled at some point in their lives. I know that when I begin speaking about the hazards of going to a hotel for Pesach, those who go to hotels begin to roll their eyes, “There goes Rabbi Weinberger again. Why can’t he accept that the war is over? The hotels have won!” But the issue goes much deeper than the fact that the kashrus of many of the Pesach hotels is dubious, at best. Those who go to such places abandon the whole shape and form of Yiddishkeit. Where will their children ever experience the two weeks before Pesach in the kitchen with their mother cleaning, cooking, and preparing? When will they ever soak in the smells and jobs of a Jewish kitchen before Pesach? The perfunctory search for chometz the night before they leave for the hotel is no replacement for a true preparation for Pesach. And for every rationalization to explain how such people are not violating individual halachos, how do we explain that while they may not violate halacha by going to a hotel for Pesach, they are foregoing the essence of what it means to be a Jew and raising their children without a sense of “I am Hashem your G-d?”  

And there are Jews who self-identify as orthodox but seek to make a variety of innovations in Judaism that have never been seen before in order to accommodate some people’s feelings. Again, the problem is not only with these people’s ignorance when it comes to Shas and poskim, although their ignorance is indeed breathtaking. They believe that they are doing Yiddishkeit a favor by digging up an obscure responsa from the time of the Geonim using the Bar Ilan Responsa program to permit people to do whatever they wish to do. But they lack any sense for what Yiddishkeit is. How do we explain to them that Yiddishkeit is more than a collection of dos and don’ts? Poskim do so much more than simply comb through thousands of response to find those that suit their fancy. Yiddishkeit is a feeling for G-d. It is a recognition that “I am Hashem your G-d.” It is so much more than the sum of “all of these words.” Somehow these Jews were never pickled.  

How is a Jew immersed in Yiddishkeit? How does one get a sense that “it is not the way of Jewish girls…”? One way is how Jewish people talk. Without ever teaching it explicitly, children growing up in such homes receive the unspoken message that the mitzvos are not things we have to navigate past in order to engage in our true goals, the tasks and pleasures of physical life. Rather, children soak in their parents’ feeling that the details of life are only there to facilitate our performance of mitzvos. They are all part and parcel of our Yiddishkeit. 

My wife shared with me an article called Remembering the Living by Rabbi Nachum Muschel of Monsey. In this article from Jewish Action magazine from 2007, Rabbi Muschel beautifully describes how a living, breathing Yiddishkeit is transmitted from one generation to the next. He writes:

Indeed such was the nature of those saintly communities. The education was all around you. The Torah training embraced you from all ends. Jewish life was the main concern. Everything else was secondary. The mothers did not send their children to go to sleep. Instead they would say “Gai lain Krias Shema.” (Go say Shema.) Members of the family were not invited to come to eat, but were reminded to “Gai vash dich.” (Go wash for hamotzi.) And when the youngsters seemed to have nothing to do, they weren’t sent to watch television. Their father or mother would say, “Why are you wasting your time? Take a sefer and look into it.” And your uncle who met you on the street didn’t ask you for the results of the ball game. He inquired what you learned. He wanted to hear a posuk quoted. He gave you a brief test, and by the time you came home, your father had the results.

This is exactly what it was like growing up in the 1960’s with my parents and the members of their generation.

And, in the tight, small kitchen of your home your mother didn’t just cook the food and the aroma didn’t just spread all over. But she taught halachos in how to take challah, how to salt meat, how to keep a house kosher, how to give tzedakah.

I have worked to explain this to my children. But how do we explain to our children, when they say, “But everyone is doing it!,” that even though we cannot point to a specific statement in the Mishna Berura demonstrating that something is forbidden, that it is pas nisht, is inappropriate, for a Jewish person. When people see Yiddishkeit as a merely list of dos and don’ts, it is difficult to tell them that Jews should or should not do something that is not explicitly written in a halacha sefer. How do we communicate “I am Hashem your G-d” to people who only see “all of these words?” This problem not only bothers me; it torments me.  

It is the same thing with respect to those we remember at Yizkor. When we think about our mother, father, sister, brother, wife, husband, or child who has left the world, we do not simply remember the sum of all of that person’s statements and actions. When a child speaks at his mother’s funeral about her cholent, how can he possibly express all of the ingredients that went into the crock pot which they do not sell in any supermarket. Each person is a totality, an entire world, that transcends all of the details of his or her life. 
May we merit to remember the totality of those who have passed on into the next world, to imbibe the totality of what it means to be a Jew, may we merit to imbue our children with an understanding that Yiddishkeit changes everything and shapes how we view every aspect of life, and may we realize that the Torah is the key to living with the reality that “I am Hashem your G‑d.”

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