Saturday, October 3, 2015

Going Out to Go In- Rav Moshe Weinberger's Sukkos Drasha - First Day

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

Rav Moshe Weinberger
First Day of Sukkos 5776
Going Out to Go In

Hashem commanded us (Vayikra 23:43) to dwell in the Sukka “in order that your generations should know [ידעו]…” The seforim hakdeoshim teach, based on this passuk, that we acquire דעת – presence of mind – by sitting in the Sukkah. But this is difficult to understand. How can we settle our minds more by leaving our homes and dwelling in a temporary structure? It would ostensibly be easier to settle one’s mind in the safety and tranquility of his own home where he is more comfortable and not subject to the elements. The Rambam even says (Moreh Nevuchim 3:43) that the joy of Shmini Atzeres is only complete because one is able to return back into his house from the Sukkah. Why then do Chazal say that one must go into the Sukkah to acquire presence of mind?

Perhaps we can understand this better by delving into a related question. Rav Shaul Alter, shlita, son of the Pnei Menachem of Ger, zy”a, and the current Gerer rosh yeshiva, writes about the miraculous escape from Nazi-occupied Poland by Reb Ahrala of Belz, zy”a, and his brother Rav Mordechai of Bilgoray, zy”a. Belzer chassidim and others from Eretz Yisroel, England, and the United States worked tirelessly to rescue these two holy brothers from the Nazis. The Rebbe was one of the Nazis’ most-wanted fugitives. Spies and Nazi-sympathizers were everywhere attempting to catch the Rebbe, but he was saved by one miraculous escape after another. The plan through which they were rescued was extremely complex and second-by-second timing was critical if it was to have any chance of success.

The most dramatic point in the entire episode was the planned crossing of the Nazi-controlled border between Poland and the Czech Republic, on the way to Hungary, in the spring of 1944. Reb Ahrala and his brother shaved their beards and dressed as captured Russian officers being taken to Budapest for questioning. The driver of the car in which they were to cross the border, who had been paid a handsome sum of money, drove Reb Ahrala, his brother, and the Rebbe’s shammas toward the border. Nazi soldiers were everywhere as they drove. Because every aspect of the plan was scripted down to the second, everyone in the car was on edge.

Suddenly, the Rebbe said he needed to get out of the car. The driver tried to convince the Rebbe that whatever it was could wait, but he insisted that he need to get out. The driver implored the shammas to convince the Rebbe to wait, as stopping the car would place all of them in grave danger, but it was no use. They pulled over despite the fact that the entire area was crawling with Nazis, and everyone waited to see what the Rebbe had to do that could not wait until later.

When the Rebbe got out of the car, he merely walked over to a large rock on the side of the road and sat down. He placed his chin in his hand and simply sat there, thinking, for approximately ten minutes. He then returned to the car and they continued on toward the border. When they crossed the border, the Nazis guards looked at the Russian “officers” in the back seat, who nodded back at them. They waived the car on and the brothers, through many more miracles and intensive planning by many people, eventually made it to Eretz Yisroel.

Many years later, Reb Ahrala was speaking with Rav Mordechai Shlomo of Boyan, zy”a, when the latter asked him, “What were you actually doing during those ten minutes on that rock by the side of the road headed toward the border?” Reb Ahrala answered, “I saw that the evil inclination wanted to confuse me, to take my presence of mind away from me. I therefore went out and sat down until my presence of mind returned.”

One could ask more than four questions regarding Reb Arala’s actions and his answer to the Boyaner Rebbe. One question is: What about halachah? The Torah demands that one set aside virtually any mitzvah in the Torah in the case danger. Danger certainly takes precedence over one’s desire to maintain his presence of mind, which is not even a mitzvah! How could the Rebbe have seemingly violated halachah by placing himself in danger? Second, even if the Rebbe wanted to place his own life on the line in order to regain his presence of mind, how could he endanger his brother, shammas, and driver, all of whom could have been killed if the Nazis all around them discovered their true identities? Third, the Rebbe’s actions should have completely thrown off the plans his many supporters had spent months developing and which only had even a chance of success if they followed the script exactly. The Rebbe had even rehearsed various aspects of the plan in advance to make sure everything went smoothly. How could he have thrown all that away based on a last-moment desire to calm his mind?

Finally, why did the Rebbe think that he would be able to achieve more tranquility by deviating from the plan and sitting on a rock surrounded by Nazis?! Would he not have been better able to achieve greater tranquility by remaining in the car headed on schedule toward the destination in the safety of the car than sitting unprotected, outside? Wouldn’t it have been easier to concentrate inside the car?

While none of us can presume to understand the true intentions of the Reb Ahrala, with great trepidation, the Gerer rosh yeshiva suggests the following possible explanation for the Rebbe’s actions: Reb Ahrala knew that the plan was extremely exact. He might have felt that he could re-acquire his presence of mind specifically by deviating from human plans.  Perhaps he felt that the only way he would survive was if he recognized that “My life is G-d’s among those who wait for the morning…” (Tehillim 130:6). He may have meant to remind himself Who was in charge by deviating from human plans for a few minutes and entering a plane over and above human capabilities where “There is nothing other than Him” (Devarim 4:35).

 A similar incident occurred with the Brisker Rav, zt”l, in his escape from Nazi-occupied Poland in 1940. He possessed a tradition that if one mediates upon the words “You have been shown to know that Hashem is G-d, there is nothing other than Him” (ibid.) to the point that the words fill one’s entire consciousness, he cannot be harmed by his enemies. He knew that he could concentrate fully on these words, but he did not know whether his nine year old son and two teenage daughters with whom he was traveling could do so as well. They prepared for the day they would have to board a train out of Poland by mediating on this passuk for a week beforehand. Finally, when the day arrived, the Brisker Rav and his children filled their minds with the knowledge that there is nothing other than G-d as they boarded the train. Every time they passed a Nazi officer, it was as if they were completely invisible. The officers simply looked right past them. Rather than trying to work within the system, they rose above it and connected with the Infinite.

We are not on the level of Reb Ahrala of Belz or the Brisker Rav. So what can we learn, on our level, from these accounts?

We are also caught up in our detailed plans and schedules both with regard to our physical and our spiritual lives. We have our routines and like to arrange things in a specific way. We are caught up in the rush of daily life. Perhaps we can learn from Reb Ahrala that it is a good idea to sometimes get out of the car of life. We must sometimes leave our regular, fixed dwelling and go out into the temporarily dwelling of the Sukkah despite the fact that, from the perspective of human logic, it places us more at the mercy of the elements and makes us less secure. We must sometimes depart from the life to which we have become accustomed to remind ourselves why we are alive and that there is a G-d in the world; that He is above everything.

Perhaps this is why we daven in the Hoshanos on Sukkos, “Please save the soul from confounding!” On a simple level, we are asking Hashem to save us from outside forces which confound, embitter, and attack us. But on a deeper level, even our daily spiritual lives are confounded and confused. We get into a pattern of life and simply stick with it without thinking about why we are here and what we are doing. We establish schools, shuls, and yeshivos as well. But if we never step off the treadmill of daily life, we start to maintain these organizations for their own sake and not for the original purpose for which they were created. As a famous actress once remarked, “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.”

As important as our learning schedule, davening, Shabbos, housecleaning, homework, work, and other schedules are, if we never take the time to step out of our daily routines, we become lost in the confounding confusion of human plans. That is where Sukkos comes in. The numerical value of the word Sukkah (סוכה) is 91 (צ"א), meaning “Go out.” By leaving our established homes and routines for a few days each year and entering into the Sukkah, the “shade of emunah,” we thereby remind ourselves why we are here; what we are doing.

Today, the first day of Sukkos, is the Ushpizin of Avraham Avinu, about whom the passuk (Bereishis 22:3) says, “And Avraham got up early in the morning.” Sukkos is like morning-time, before the race of the day has begun. It is separate and apart from the rush of life. If a person taps into this ability of Avraham Avinu to arise early in the morning to learn before davening, he connects to something above this world. In the morning, one has not yet eaten; that earthy-ness has not yet fully descended onto him. He has not yet become obsessed with his smartphone. This is a magical time to learn Torah. One can focus much more early in the morning than those who attempt to learn at night. While there are a few people who can concentrate and accomplish things at night, most people are too drained by the rat race of the day’s activities to truly accomplish much at that time.

By getting up early like Avraham to learn before davening, one connects with that which it says (ibid. 15:5), “And He took him [Avraham] outside and He said, “Please gaze at the stars…,” which Rashi explains to mean, “He took him out of the space of the world and lifted him up above the stars…” Avraham had that ability to see the truth above the rush of worldly life. That is why the Midrash (Bereishis Rabah 42) says, “The whole world was on one side and Avraham was on the other side.” Because he was able to transcend daily life from time to time, he had the power to go against the current of the world. He knew the secret of “getting out of the car.”

That is why Chazal say (Brachos 6b), “Anyone who fixes a place for his tefillah, the G-d of Avraham will help him.” Having a fixed place for davening means achieving presence of mind, focusing on who his is and why he is here. A person can sit in the same seat in shul for eighty years, but if he does not focus his mind on where he is and what he is doing, he can be everywhere in the world other than davening in shul. But if he makes his place for davening fixed, if he takes himself out of daily life and enters the world of tefillah, then he is connected to the G-d of Avraham.

When we go out to the Sukkah, we look at the stars through the schach, about which Hashem told Avraham when he was elevated above the world, “Please gaze at the stars…” In the Sukkah, we stand outside of the pattern of our daily lives. Even though we are less “secure” there, the very fact that we leave our sensible human habits enables us to remind ourselves that behind the façade of physical life, there is nothing other than Hashem. He is why we are here.

Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, zy”a, whose yahrtzeit is 25 Tishrei, the day after Isru Chag, once sent messengers to gather the entire community of Berditchev, men, women, and children, in the main shul on a regular winter Tuesday. Since it was not a special occasion, everyone came quickly, fearing that the tzaddik had become aware of some evil decree against the Jews in the city. But when everyone got there, Reb Levi Yitzchak approached the front of the shul with his tallis over his head, and called out, “Yiddin! You cannot forget that there is a Master of the World!!” We must sometimes get out of the car of our sensible human plans and remember that there is a G-d in the world and that we are His servants.

In the merit of the mitzvah of Sukkah, may we merit to see the reestablishment of the fallen Sukkah of Dovid Hamelech, the Beis Hamikdash, soon in our days!

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Monday, September 7, 2015

Every Man Will be a King - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Shabbos Drasha - Ki Savo

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

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Ki Savo 5775
Every Man will be a King

The customs of the Jewish people are very holy, and we say the following tefillah over the head of a fish or sheep on Rosh Hashanah night: “May it be Your will that we should be the head and not the tail.” But how we can pray for this when the Mishna says in Avos (4:15), “Be a tail to lions and not a head to foxes.” This is understood to teach that one should be humble, not always running to be the “head,” the most important role in whatever he involves himself. Indeed, there is tremendous grace and charm in one who makes himself the “tail” by conducting himself in a humble way. As the pasuk (Mishlei 3:34) says, “[G-d] gives grace to the humble.”

Our parsha is filled with blessings. And to the extent some psukim in the parsha appear to be the opposite of blessings, it is only because we do not know how to read them properly. One passuk (Devarim 28:13) seems to “side” with the Rosh Hashanah custom: “And Hashem will make you the head and not the tail. You shall be only above and you will not be below when you listen to the mitzvos of Hashem your G-d which I command you today, to observe and do.” Targum Yonasan, in his interpretive Aramaic translation of the phrase “the head and not the tail,” renders the phrase: “Hashem will make you kings and not simple people.”

Indeed, the passuk (Shmos 19:6) says, “You shall be to Me a kingdom of kohanim and a holy nation.” But what does it mean that every Jew can be a king? As we will quote below, the Ibn Ezra explains this beautifully in his commentary on parshas Nasso. It must be noted that the Ibn Ezra himself suffered from profound poverty and suffered throughout his life. Nevertheless, he was a great talmid chacham and paytan and the Rambam even refers to him as a chassid, a pious individual. Because of his constant lack of success at anything he attempted to do in order to improve his situation, he once wrote, tongue in cheek, “If I became a candle-maker, the sun would never set and  if I began making burial shrouds, people would stop dying.”

The Ibn Ezra explains why the Torah calls one who makes a Nazir vow (to refrain from drinking wine or cutting his hair) a Nazir – נזיר, which literally means “crown.” The passuk makes this explicit when it says (Bamidbar 6:7) about the Nazir, “for the crown [נזר] of his G-d is on his head.” He says, “Know that all people are slaves to the desires of the world. But a true king who has the crown of kingship on his head is anyone who is free from these desires.” It is therefore appropriate and fitting to call a Jew who is not a slave to his desires a “king.”

Perhaps that is what Targum Yonasan means when he translates “the head and not the tail” as “kings and not simple people.” In order to be masters of our own destiny and not slaves to our baser instincts, we must do as the passuk in our parsha continues, “to observe [לשמור] and do,” which implies that we must guard (שמירה) ourselves by setting up boundaries to ensure that we do not become enslaved to the illusory pleasures, values and priorities of this world.

As we said in last week’s drasha, we merit to be Hashem’s bride by acting as His betrothed. When He said, “Behold you are betrothed [מקודשת] to me,” we recognize that the intimacy of our relationship means that we must be separated like hekdesh from the things of this world. By freeing ourselves from being enslaved to our desires, we enable ourselves to connect to G-d as kings, as masters of our own lives. By doing so in advance of Rosh Hashanah, we not only coronate Hashem as King, but we make ourselves kings as well – not simple people. By doing so, we will merit “only above and [] not be below.”

What does it mean to be a king, to be the head and not the tail? This is exemplified by a story, some aspects of which many people do not like. But it illustrates the point extremely well. Reb Nachum Chernobyler, zy”a, was extremely poor, though he had one valuable asset – the Baal Shem Tov’s tefillin. The Chernobyler only donned these teffilin once or twice a year, on special occasions. Because they had belonged to the Baal Shem Tov himself, they were extremely valuable. Many chassidim would have paid a fortune of money for them. From time to time, when their poverty was particularly difficult, the Chernobyler’s Rebbetzin asked him to sell the tefillin to help support the family. But he always demurred, finding some other way to manage.

One year, before Sukkos, no one in Chernobyl had an Esrog except for one wealthy man. Knowing this, the Rebbetzin was surprised when the Chernobyler came home one day with an Esrog. She asked the Rebbe, “How did you manage to get an Esrog when there is only one person in town with one? Presumably preparing to duck to avoid any flying objects, the Rebbe answered that he had made the gvir an offer he could not refuse by trading the Baal Shem Tov’s teffilin for the Esrog.

Enraged that the Rebbe had finally “sold” the tefillin – not to support  their family, but to buy an Esrog – the Rebbetzin threw the Esrog across the room. The Rebbe looked at the Esrog and realized that the Pitom had broken off, rendering it unusable for the mitzvah of Arbah Minim on Sukkos. While the Rebbetzin’s frustration was understandable, it would also have been understandable if the Rebbe had gotten upset at this point, given that he had held off selling the precious tefillin for so long, only to have the Esrog he had bought with the tefillin disqualified before he even had the chance to use it.

Instead of getting upset, the Chernobyler said, “I once had the teffilin of the Baal Shem Tov, but now I do not. I once had an Esrog, but now I do not. But at least I still have my enjoyment of Yom Tov with my Rebbetzin.” If one is a slave to the desires of the world, he looks to the pleasures and values of the world for his happiness and fulfillment. Such a person will always lack something, so he will never be satisfied. But one who, like the Chernobyler, looks only to Hashem and trusts in Him, is free from the bonds of the world and can be serene in any circumstance.

This is what it means to be a Jew. From the time a young man becomes a bar mitzvah, he is called a bachurבחור. The Tosafos Yom Tov in the tenth perek of Nedarim quotes the Maharal that because the word for bachur has the same letters as “one who chooses – בוחר,” we know that the essence of being a young man in Yiddishkeit is that he must make choices. He must be a master of his own destiny. He must choose to be a king and not a slave to his desires, above and not below, a head and not a tail.  

This Rosh Hashanah, may we merit to coronate not only Hashem but also ourselves as kings. By letting Hashem guide our choices so that we are not enslaved by the desires, values, and priorities of this world, may we merit to see the world in which “Hashem will be King over the entire earth; on that day Hashem will be One and His name will be One” (Zecharia 14:9). 

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Rav Moshe Weinberger's Guidance to Me on Responding to Tragic News in the Community

The daughter-in-law of an acquaintance of mine in the community just passed into the next world two days ago, on Monday. They discovered that she was suffering from oso hamachla 8 weeks ago, when she was 7 months pregnant. They caused the birth of a baby girl 4 weeks ago and operated at that time. A tremendous number of people in the community and around the world have been davening for her recovery. But in the end, she passed away anyway. She was 31 years old and left behind a husband and 3 daughters under 7 years old.

Because I wanted to support the father-in-law in this incredibly difficult time, I worked from home yesterday and attended the funeral, which was obviously very hard.

After mincha/maariv last night, I mentioned to Rav Weinberger that I had been at the funeral and that it was‎ very difficult. I think because he knew that I did not have a very close personal connection with the family, and I was not a close relative, this is what he said:

"It's very hard, but there is also such good news. Chanan (a member of the shul) just had a baby boy. So many other babies have come into the world in the past couple of days. Misha and Estee (other members of the shul who were in a serious car accident Sunday night) have seen tremendous miracles in their recovery‎. There is so much to be thankful for."

Rav Weinberger was giving me gentle mussar and teaching me an important point. There is bad news all over the world and I (and i'm sure many other people - that's why i'm posting this) focus excessively on that or feel that I'm not feeling other Jews' pain if I don't dwell on tragedies. 

‎It's important to note that the nifteres here was not my sister, best friend, or sister-in-law. Accordingly, this was not my pain. It was a question of feeling other Jews' pain. So Rav Weinberger was showing me how someone in my position should view tragedies. I should not put such an inordinate focus on them to the exclusion of other Jews' joyous occasions and smachos. ‎It shows that I don't truly connect to other Jews if I fail to focus on their celebrations and only notice tragic news. That lopsided focus only empowers the Kingdom of Sadness.

May I and the rest of us merit to rejoice in other Jews' much-more-numerous happy occasions and not place an inordinate emphasis on the sad times.

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Monday, July 6, 2015

Rabbi Yoni Levin's Innagural Drasha as Assistant Rabbi at Aish Kodesh, Woodmere - Parshas Balack 5775

This past Monday (a week ago today), Aish Kodesh in Woodmere held an all-membership meeting at which Rav Moshe Weinberger and the board announced that Rav Weinberger had selected Aish Kodesh's first assistant rabbi: Rabbi Yoni Levin. Rav Weinberger spoke very, very highly about Rabbi Levin and his Rebbetzin, Randi. He definitely has a very impressive background, as you can see from his biography on the YUTorah page where his shiurim are posted:

Rabbi Yoni Levin is currently the assistant rabbi at Congregation Aish Kodesh and a rebbe at Yeshivas Lev Shlomo, in Woodmere, NY, an affiliate of HALB. He graduated from Yeshiva College with a B.S. in Mathematics and a minor in Business from the Sy Syms School of Business. He received semicha from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University, and was a fellow at the prestigious Beren Kollel Elyon at RIETS. Rabbi Levin also studied in Israel for a year and a half at Yeshivat Hakotel. In addition, he has written scholarly Torah articles in Yeshiva University’s annual publications, Beis Yitzchak and Kol Tzvi. Rabbi Levin has participated in numerous Yeshiva University Communtiy Kollelim, including the DRS High School kollel in Long Island and others in the New York area. Rabbi Levin has also spent time in the workforce at PricewaterhouseCoopers in the actuarial department. Rabbi Levin and his wife Randi currently live in Woodmere with their five children, Batsheva, Yocheved, Yeshaya, Zev, and Yisroel Meir.

This past Shabbos, parhas Balak, Rav Weinberger was away and we had the zechus to hear Rabbi Levin for the first time as our new assistant rabbi. And he used the opportunity not only to give a drasha, but to share some feelings about beginning his formal role with the shul. This time, it was not me who wrote up the drasha. Rather, Rabbi Levin himself wrote the following, just as Rabbi Norman Lamm did. It is my privilege to share the following drasha with my readership, which Rabbi Levin was kind enough to permit me to reproduce here:

Rabbi Yoni Levin
Parshas Balak 5775

This is a most humbling honor.

On behalf of my wife, I would like to begin by expressing our gratitude to the רבונו שלום for this very special and unique opportunity to be part of this קהילה קדושה, a קהילה that has been founded on חסידות, פנימיות, לימוד התורה, personal growth, growth in learning, drawing close to one another, drawing closer to Hashem.
During the past 2 years of giving the morning daf yomi shiur, I have been met with only positive encounters.  This is a קהילה filled with warmth, care, and a קהילה that possesses an extraordinary powerful desire to learn, grow, and spread Hashem’s Torah.

I have had the great זכות in participating in the various shul-wide events many of which have been led and organized by יצחק מרדכי Feder.  Each event filled with singing, Torah, rebbe, and אחדות.  The חנוכה מסיבה at the Lawrence’s, the ט"ו בשבט סדר at the Shuckmans, the Purim Chagiga at the Gelmans, and the ultimate ל"ג בעומר celebration.  In addition to the בני מחשבה טובה chaburahs that have been organized by Reb Yirmi Ginsberg and hosted by the Gelmans, Perkels, Lerners, Rosens, Hoenigs, and the Horowitzs.  

Recently, under the guidance and initiative of Efrayim Nudman, Shaul Harari, and Yaakov Meir Cohen, the shul has begun several new programs.  The one that I personally have been involved in, is the Sunday morning Chabura.  It has been quite a success as a great way to begin our week with in-depth learning.  I very much love the interactions that I have which each one of the participants and it’s inspiring to see the tremendous amount of enthusiasm as the Kol Torah echoes through the upstairs Beis Midrash. 

What is unique about these events is that each one of them has been initiated by one of you.  Each one of you has an overwhelming רצון to create more events, to infuse more learning, and host these various events. 

We can’t forgot the women who are either allowing, encouraging, or even pushing their husbands to come out and learn on Sundays, or early mornings, Shabbos afternoons, or late nights.   

It is our hope that my wife and I can assist in any way possible in fulfilling the mission of this קהילה קדושה.

It is our dream that we can help every member, every family grow in learning, grow in Avodas Hashem each at his or her own pace and level. 

Prior to my joining of the shul 2 years ago, I had never met Rav Weinberger shlit”a.  Yet quickly, Rav Weinberger turned into rebbe.  Even though I am being forced to sit up front, I am a talmid, a congregant of rebbe just as much as any of you are. 

I thirst rebbe’s Torah like any of you. I try to guess at which Shachris minyan rebbe will be davening just to catch a glimpse of the tzadik that we are so blessed to have among us. 

I have had many rebbeim throughout my years in yeshiva and still stay in touch with many of them.  But I have never had a rebbe like ours.  A master of all trades – a master in נגלה, a master in נסתר, a master in עיצה. 

It is with much gratitude to Rebbe for giving me this wonderful opportunity, to work with him in serving this wonderful קהילה קדושה.  I thank him and you, the קהילה, for placing trust in me and look forward to an amazing year as we strive to fulfill our mission as a unit, as a קהילה until the coming of משיח when we will continue this very mission in ירושלים במהרה בימינו אמן! 

There is an astonishing gemara that appears in Berachos (12b).  The חכמים had a fleeting thought to insert the entire פרשת בלק smack in the middle of קריאת שמע.  Could you imagine saying שמע ישראל ה' אלקינו ה' אחד and then go off on a tangent in reciting the entire פרשת בלק?! 

And the only reason why they held back, was because it would be a טירחא דציבור, an extreme burden upon the קהילה, having to recite the entire פרשת בלק twice a day in addition the rest of davening.

So what was the reason in the first place if this idea inserting פרשת בלק in קריאת שמע, the height of our תפילה, interrupting our קבלת עול מלכות שמים? 

Where is there room in שמע when we are in the midst of being מקבל קבלת עול מלכות שמים to insert the story of בלק and בלעם, the story individuals who wanted to destroy כלל ישראל? 

The answer is found in the gemara. The גמרא explains that we would have read the entire פרשת בלק just for the sake of one פסוק.  There is this one פסוק that finds its appropriate placement smack in the middle of  קריאת שמע and that פסוק is: 

כרע שכב כארי וכלביא מי יקימנו – “He will crouch and lay down like a lion, like a young lion – who then can stand up against him?” 

It doesn’t come across as a very powerful statement – not earth stretching by any stretch of the imagination.   This is the pasuk that was but so close to being  inserted in שמע?  What does the pasuk even mean? 

Rashi explains that this pasuk is similar to the words that appear in שמע of בשכבך ובקומך that הקב"ה watches over us when we get up, when we are awake and when we sleep.   Just as we describe in קריאת שמע how Hashem protects us all day and night, so too this פסוק from פרשת בלק describes this very same concept that Hashem protects us.  For this reason, for this similarity, there was a thought to include פרשת בלק within קריאת שמע.

The truth is, this is the theme of all of פרשת בלק.  As כלל ישראל was innocently journeying through the מדבר their enemies were plotting against them as they always are.  And without us knowing, הקב"ה as always, protected us, ensured our safety.  He is constantly fighting our battles, He is forever protecting us from our enemies.   

When we are כרע שכב כארי וכלביא מי יקימנו – even when we are sleeping who can stand up against us with the protection of Hashem. 

During many of such occurrences, we find ourselves in a deep slumber completely oblivious to the details of the behind the scenes, but when we recite קריאת שמע, when we read פרשת בלק, we are reminded that even though we don’t see and even though we don’t hear of these ניסים, we know that הקב"ה is forever protecting us. 

והיא שעמדה לאבותינו ולנו שלא אחד עמד עלינו לכלותינו הקב"ה מצילנו מידם

This is the message of קריאת שמע, this is the message of פרשת בלק, this is the message of the פסוק -    כרע שכב כארי וכלביא מי יקימנו.   Hashem is forever watching over us. 

But there are times when we do forget this and we don’t realize that Hashem is watching over us.  When times are good, prosperous there is a tendency to forget the source of everything.  We speed through קריאת שמע, we don’t internalize this concept, we tend to forget that Hashem is watching over us. 

Today is שבעה עשר בתמוז, the beginning of the 3 weeks, the beginning of בין המצרים.  It is a תקופה where we feel distant from Hashem, when we recognize the lack of the בית המקדש, the disconnect from Hashem, from ארץ ישראל, from ירושלים, and feel almost forgotten just as we have forgotten Hashem.  We are in a period of very intense אבילות which underscores the distance we are feeling from Hashem.

How are we supposed to react to this distance?  How do we draw closer when feel the we are drifting further and further? 

A few months ago, I sat in a lecture from Rabbi Motti Berger in Aish Hatorah in the Old City.  He gives a very intense and engaging lecture.  He had presented 2 scenarios asking which would bring a person closer to Hashem - someone who won the lottery and would have no financial worries or someone, as he described and apologize for being so extreme in this example, who was on the top floor of the World Trade Center as the plane hit the building below.  The undisputed answer was that the one experiencing the fear, pain, and threat would sooner acknowledge and draw closer to Hashem. 

During these trying times, when a person is helpless, there is nobody to rely on except for our Father in Heaven, אבינו שבשמים.  We are being cornered, we are being forced to recognize Hashem.

Hashem is twisting our arm, making us so uncomfortable through this period of 3 weeks until we scream “mercy”.  Until we realize that there is nothing but Hashem Above.

But the Magid of Mezeritch explains differently.  He gives a positive spin to this period of 3 weeks.  The idea is not that we are being shoved into the center of the circle to dance with the Choson, but instead the Choson is coming out to greet us.   Hashem is coming closer to us. 

Allow me to explain. 

The Pasuk in Eicha says that "כל רודפיה השיגוה בין המצרים".  The Magid explains that כל רודפיה, anyone who is רודף י-ה, one who chases Hashem will be משיג him, will catch him, will come to close him, specifically during the period of the בין המצרים.   

But how is it that during this time period when we feel so distant, we don’t see the light, is it possible to draw closer to Hashem?  How does that make sense to draw closer when we are missing the main vehicle to שמים?  We don’t have the בית המקדש, we don’t have קרבנות, we have no way to connect. 

I recently had taken my kids to Disney World, the Magic Kingdom.  I need to thank Hurricane Sandy and the insurance company in helping build up credit cards points to pay for the trip. 

Now in Magic Kingdom, the king is Mickey Mouse.  As you can imagine there are many long lines throughout the park and to take a picture with Mickey is no different.  Well for the most part.  Waiting to see Mickey is a bit different.

The line for just taking a picture with Mickey begins outside this large building towards the front of the park.  And as you move inside the building, you go through this door and you think you are there ready to take that photo you’ve been waiting for.  But then you pass through another door… and you are still not there, until you pass through one final door where you find yourself in the innermost chamber but still waiting behind a few more families to meet the king. 

The palace, the guards, the glory, make for a beautiful picture, it instills fear, honor, and respect.  But imagine if there were no palace, imagine if the king were to be walking through the streets with no place to hide.  There would be no honor, there would be no glory, but it would make for a more accessible king, it would allow us to see him, come close to him, build a relationship. 

Says the Magid, that this period of time when we commemorate the destruction of the בית המקדש among other Jewish calamities, there are no walls, no guards, no barriers – Hashem is completely accessible.  We can approach him, we can build a relationship, we can draw closer to Him.  This is an incredible opportunity for us to draw closer.

Embedded within בין המצרים is a tremendous amount of potential to come closer to Hashem. 

The שו"ע paskens that one should not recite שהחיינו since it is a period of אבילות, one should not say a ברכה of שהחיינו which express ones thanks and gratitude, one’s שמחה with the purchase of a new house or new fruit.

The גר"א, however, argues that this is an unnecessary חומרא and one may recite a שהחיינו.  Perhaps the idea is that in fact reciting שהחיינו is not contradictory to this period of time.  Although on the surface בין המצרים is a period of mourning, but in its פנימיות there is שמחה, Hashem is closer than any other time of the year, there are no walls and no barriers. 

This is why on תשעה באב itself, which would seem to be the lowest day of the year, we don’t recite תחנון, because in פנימיות as חז"ל tells us, תשעה באב  is actually a מועד, it’s a day of celebration.  Not on the surface, but in its פנימיות and we therefore omit תחנון.

Perhaps this is what is meant by the פסוק in פרשת בלק

כרע שכב כארי וכלביא מי יקימנו – “He will crouch and lay down like a lion, like a young lion – who then can stand up against him?”

When we are down and hurting, sleeping like a lion, destroyed and distant, sad and mourning, מי יקמינו, who can stand up against us? 

Our closest connection is specifically during times like these, the period of בין המצרים.  That is when Hashem draws closer to us.  That is when we draw closer to each other, that is when we have אחדות like we saw just a year ago with the 3 boys in Israel.

The גמרא tells us that when something bad happens we say ברוך דיין אמת but לעתיד לבוא we will say a טוב המטיב because even the bad is really good.  We don’t realize it because on the surface it appears to be bad, but everything is really good.  Even the 3 weeks are very good.  In פנימיות everything is good, its only in the external that things appear otherwise.

It is my hope and תפילה, that we come to the point soon of recognizing everything as טוב,  where we can take every opportunity, every event, every milestone as an opportunity to draw closer to Hashem and draw closer to each other, as we grow as a community, as a קהילה led by our leader, rebbe,  with our common goal, our common mission.

Again, I thank you all for this most humbling honor and most remarkable opportunity.  I look forward to getting to know each and every one of you in the upcoming year.


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Friday, June 19, 2015

Eretz Yisroel - Aish Kodesh Journey to Ukraine and Eretz Yisroel - June 4-7, 2015

Continuing the summary of the Torah, sights, and sounds the Aish Kodesh chevra experienced in Berditchev and Mezhibuzh and in Breslov and Uman, the chevra came to Eretz Yisroel on June 4, 2015 on Ukrainian International Airlines (after davening in the Kiev airport). The flight was not as bad as the airline's name implies it would have been.

When we arrived, we first checked into the King Solomon hotel.

Whenever Rav Weinberger refers to the maareh mekomos sheets, you can follow along by downloading those here

Reb Gamliel Rabinovitch, Shlita

After settling in to the hotel, we left to have a private meeting wth Reb Gamliel Rabinovitch, shlita. That meeting was remarkable. For those who have not met Reb Gamliel, he is a tremendous gadol in both the revealed and hidden Torah and is the Rosh Yeshiva of the kabbalah yeshiva, Shaar Hashamayim. The Rav is very humble, however, and hides his greatness behind a somewhat eccentric and self-effacing way of acting. Reb Gamliel helped set up the tables and chairs in his apartment himself and at one point even grabbed Rav Weinberger's hands and placed them on his head and would not let go until Rav Weinberger gave him a bracha. Here are some pictures from that visit, including some here of Rebbe with Reb Gamliel.

Click here for the mp3 recording of Reb Gamliel's words to our group. You can see a video of the meeting here:

[Video Coming Soon]

Kivros Hata'avah

Following the meeting with Reb Gamliel, the chevra had dinner at Papagaio, a Brazilian-ish style carnivorous restaurant in Yerushalayim. A good time was had by many a boich. After dinner, everyone was free for the rest of the evening.

Rav Kook Shiur and Kever Rochel

After davening and having breakfast Friday morning June 5, 2015, Rav Weinberger gave a short shiur in Rav Kook. You can listen to the mp3 of that shiur here. A number of young folks from the Shul who are in Eretz Yisroel for the year joined up with the chevra for this portion of the trip as well.

Rabbi Simcha Hochbaum of the Hebron Fund met us in Yerushalayim in a bullet-proof bus. He shared a lot of Torah and history with us as we made the short drive to visit our mother Rochel in Beis Lechem. It was troubling to see how Rochel is closed in on all sides by gigantic concrete walls to protect us from our cousins who wish to hurt us. It was also disheartening to see how we are live like prisoners behind walls at our own holy places in our own land. But it gave us more to daven for as we asked Hashem to remove the degradation of the Jewish people and bring Moshiach.

After the chevra said their own personal prayers and Tehillim, Rav Weinberger led the group in several Tehillim together. Here are some pictures from Kever Rochel.

Chevron and Me'aras Hamachpela

For many people, the highlight of the entire trip was our visit to Me'aras Hamachpela in Chevron, which was surprising since almost everyone had been there many times before.

The visit to Chevron started with Rabbi Hochbaum speaking with us about the history of the Jewish yishuv going back to the time of Avraham in Chevron and how there was literally a Jewish community there from that time (except the period of the Egyptian exile) until 1929, when the local Arabs massacred the Jewish community. He led us around the Jewish community and explained how they fought political and court battles for each and every home, building, and trailer that they built there were great mersirus nefesh. Here are some pictures from our tour of Chevron.

We climbed a hill in Chevron where, at the top, there was a natural spring and a number of olive trees believed to have been alive at the time of Avraham Avinu. Rabbi Hochbaum pointed out that the spring was the only one known to exist in the area, so it is entirely possible that it is the spring referred to in the pasuk when Avraham said to the angels which appeared as men (Bereishis 18:4), "Please take a little water and wash your feet." And it could be that one of the olive trees standing near the spring was the tree about which Avraham told the angels (ibid.), "And rest under the tree." With a fair warning that the water was freezing, many of the chevra immersed in the spring, which was quite an adventure! Here are some pictures of what we saw in Chevron and Mayan Avraham.

We then went down into Me'aras Hamachpela to visit one of the only sections at our holy site where Jews are allowed to pray. Many of us said heartfelt prayers and Tehillim while one of our Yishmaeli "cousins" gave an impassioned drasha in the next room over. The real highlight of the trip was when Rav Weinberger led the group in Tehillim, announcing, "Let us now say Tehillim with all of our strength and drown out the sound of impurity from the next room." I don't know if I've ever heard such heartfelt Tehillim before. One of the loudest lines was when we reached the pasuk, "Pour our Your wrath on the nations who do not know you and who do not call out in Your name!" I know that we shook the ceiling and shterred our neighbors' kavvanah.

But the most amazing part was feeling the electricity in the room of Avraham Avinu and Sorah Imeinu, Rav Weinberger led the group in screaming out the 13 attributes of Hashem's mercy: "G-d, G-d, merciful and compassionate G-d, patient, with great kindness and truth, who gives kindness to thousands [of generations], who carries sin and iniquity, and error, and who cleanses." Everyone cried out those words (in Hebrew obviously) seven times in unison at the top of their lungs. Rav Weinberger then led everyone in saying "Ana Hashem Hoshea Na" and "Ana Hashem Hatzlicha Na." Finally, we screamed out "Shma Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad!" There are no words to describe the feeling at that moment except, perhaps, for the words chosen by one of the chevra to describe that moment: "We rocked Shamayim." When the moment was over, we had a nice rikud. No one was able to take out a phone to film the davening, but [here] is a video of a portion of the dancing [coming soon].

After we took a group picture on the steps of Me'aras Hamachpela, our fearless organizer, Yitzchak Mordechai Feder, told us that Rabbi Hochbaum was trying to raise $10,000 to build much needed bathrooms for Chevron residents and run a summer program for the children of Chevron to give them chizuk in their pressure-filled life because of the area in which they live. He then began taking pledges and reached over $11,000 in approximately 60 seconds. It was gevaldik! Many people made their payments right then and there, rather than relying on their memory to fulfill their pledges later. It was a beautiful moment and a great conclusion to a very, very high visit to Chevron and Me'aras Hamachpela.

We have a partial video here, but here is a longer video of the dancing after the Tehillim and tefilos at the end of our visit to Me'aras Hamachpela:

[Coming Soon]

Shabbos in Yerushalayim

We took taxis to the Kosel in time to finish mincha before candle lighting time in Yerushalayim. We davened mincha in the Kosel plaza, but had to go into the interior area of the Kosel because one of the groups behind us was too loud for us to hear ourselves. We had a beautiful kabbolos Shabbos and Maariv led by Yitzy Halpern. Many people of all stripes, including chassidim, tourists, and everything in between joined with us. The dancing and Lecha Dodi was great. A non-observant father and two sons from San Diego davened with us and a couple of us helped them keep up with the pages in an Artscroll siddur. It turned out that the younger son was there for his bar mitzva and, in the middle of Maariv, blurted out to one of the chevra, "This is awesome!" IY"H, our davening was a kiddush Hashem not only for us but for those around us as well.

There were two other amazing things about davening with Rav Weinberger at the Kosel. First, a lot of old friends came to meet us there, so we saw former members who had made aliyah, and other long-time fans and chassidim of Rebbe. The second was the fact that wherever we went, it was obvious that Rav Weinberger is someone big because all people saw was a group of thirty men following closely behind a holy looking rabbi. So everywhere we went, people asked members of the chevra, "Who is that?" and then gave a knowing look when the answer was "Rav Moshe Weinberger."

Shabbos morning many people davened in the shul in the hotel. Others davened in a shul on the ground floor of a nearby apartment building. And another small group joined Aish Kodesh's friend Chaim Dovid at a small minyan at the Kosel led by an elderly Lelover chossid and mekubal, Rav Scheinberger. The chevra all got aliyos so they could say Hagomel and then went with everyone in the minyan to Rav Scheinberger's apartment in the Old City for kiddush and a drasha. One of the guys had a personal matter about which Chaim Dovid requested a bracha from Rav Scheinberger. Rather than giving a bracha, the Rav gave very specific directions regarding a specific series of actions the person was to take as a segulah to help with his issue. It was very intense. The guys by Rav Scheinberger were very eclectic ranging from chassidim to misnachalim types, to Americans and others. We sat very close to Rav Scheinberger and he was very friendly, asked us about ourselves and our Rav (he was familiar with Rav Weinberger) and wanted to make sure we ate everything we were served at the table.

Following kiddush and Rav Scheinberger's drasha, the Aish Kodesh chevra enjoyed a tour of Chaim Dovid's home and the beautiful view from his roof overlooking the Kosel and the Old City, including a number of beautiful Jewish homes in the "Muslim Quarter" which sported large, flowing Israeli flags. As he walked us out back toward our hotel, we met Motti Dan, one of the major figures at Ateret Kohanim, a group which purchases property in the "Muslim Quarter" of the Old City, Silwan, and other parts of Yerushalayim. It was fascinating to walk with him and see his home in the middle of the Arab neighborhood and other nearby Jewish buildings smack in the middle of that area, each sporting large, beautiful Israeli flags. The whole Shabbos morning was one adventure after another. Baruch Hashem!

Shabbos afternoon at shalosheudos, Rebbe spoke about many things, including the "Hungarian Wine" we had tasted during the trip and pressed us to consider how we would bring what we gained back to Woodmere to lift up the community and not allow the effect of the experience to be lost. Ephrayim Nudman, our faithful president, adjured the chevra to think about this when he spoke at one of the Shabbos seudos. So people should please continue discussing this after the trip is over!

Melaveh Malka on Netiv Areye Roof Overlooking Kosel with Shlomo Katz

We were zoche to have a Melaveh Malka led by Reb Shlomo Katz. Here are a few pictures of Rebbe with Shlomo. Some very great tzadikim and talmidei chachamim joined us as well. First, Rav Shlomo Bussu, who Rav Weinberger goes to for guidance, joined us for almost the entire Melaveh Malka, which is remarkable because he measures every single second with precision and rarely leaves his established schedule of Torah, avodah, and helping other Jews.

Rav Nosson Maimon of the Breslov Research Center was also there. In addition, Rav Yoel Rakovsky, a rebbe at Netiv Areye and mashpia to a number of the Aish Kodesh "yutes," was there. We were also happy to see Chaim Dovid there as he's a good friend of Rebbe and the shul, There were so many other great people there and old friends of the shul who came out to the Old City.

An mp3 of Rebbe's shiur from the Melaveh Malka, which was so moving and included some incredible stories, can be heard here.

Click here for a video of a portion of the Melaveh Malka which was circulated widely on Facebook and here for some pictures. And click here, here, and here for few videos taken from a nearby rooftop of our Melaveh Malka!

Here's a video of the whole Melaveh Malka:

After the Melaveh Malka was over, at about 1:30 am, Rav Weinberger walked to the Kosel with a group of people from the Melaveh Malka to say Tikkun Leah of the Tikkun Chatzos. Here is a video of a portion of that. After that, as noted above, people around the Kosel took note of the Rav wearing a shtreimel being followed by a large entourage and they posted a number of pictures, videos, and an article about Rav Weinberger's visit to the Kosel. You can see those here, here, and here. 

Meron, Tiveria

Right after davening on our last day in Eretz Yisroel, we left the hotel for good and headed up to Meron to daven by the kever of Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Click here to see some pictures of that. Following individual tefilos, everyone said Tikun Klali together and then sang "Bar Yochai" and "Amar Rebbi Akiva" with Yosef Karduner. A video of that is here:

Afterward, we went to the home of Menachem Solarsh, who has a beautiful home in Meron, very close to the kever of Rebbi Shimon. Click here for some pictures from that shiur. Mr. Solarsh is the owner of the Uman Inn where we stayed in Uman, so it was a great piece of continuity. Following that, we traveled up to Tzfas and immersed in the mikvah of the Arizal and davned by the kever of the Arizal. Finally, before traveling to the airport, we went to the kevarim of Rebbi Akiva and the Ramchal in Tiveria.

Here is the mp3 of the Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai shiur in Meron.

Rebbe gave a beautiful drasha at Mr. Solarsh's house. One small point that he made was an idea he quoted in the name of the Alter Rebbe. He said that while the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash took away the revelation of Hashem's presence from the Jewish people generally, it had no effect on the revelation of the Divine Presence for the greatest tzadikim. The specific tzadikim the Alter Rebbe mentioned were Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the Arizal, and the Baal Shem Tov. He then pointed out how we are so fortunate to be going to visit each of those three tzadikim in one week. Ashreinu!

Here is a video of that shiur:

As our last "activity" in Eretz Yisroel before leaving for the airport, following our visit to Meron, the group traveled to Tiveria and davened by the kevarim of Rabbi Akiva, the Ramchal, and the Arizal. Before davening by the Arizal's kever, most of the chevra immersed in the Arizal's mikva which, as cold as it was, was a cinch compared to the Mayan Avraham mentioned above! 

Here is the mp3 of the shiur Rav Weinberger gave by the kever of Rabbi Akiva.

And here is the final shiur Rav Weinberger gave during the trip, after davening at the kever of the Ramchal, which included a Baal Shem Tov story illustrating the fact that every Jew goes to the tzadikim, waiting to hear his own story.

Finally, here is a beautiful video showing highlights from the entire trip from Betditchev to Tiveria, put together by Sara Mehlman, a powerhouse of a woman, who put together the Ukraine leg of the trip and joined us for several parts of the program in Eretz Yisroel as well: