Monday, November 19, 2018

Guard Over This House - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha on Parshas Vayeitzei 5779

This is the first drasha Rav Moshe Weinberger has given following the murder of 11 Jews Pittsburgh, PA three weeks earlier.

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

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

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Vayeitzei 5779
Guard Over This House

What can we work on in the aftermath of the massacre of eleven Jews in Pittsburgh? I believe our approach to this can be summed up with a few words from the beautiful song, “Al Kol Eleh – For All of This” by Neomi Shemer:

My G-d, guard over this house
Over the garden and over the wall
From agony, sudden terror, and from war
Guard over the little that I have
Over the light and over the children
Over the fruit that has not yet ripened and the ones I have picked

When our ability to be safe doing things we have taken for granted for so long begins to feel threatened, it reminds me that we must put things back in perspective.

Last year during the week of Parshas Vayeitze I was in Eretz Yisroel. During that trip, I heard an original idea on the parshah from a taxi driver, as often happens, whether the driver appears outwardly observant or not. The driver, Shimon, asked me, “Rabbi, I have a question on the parshah. When Yaakov Avinu says, ‘If G-d will be with me and guard me on this path that I am walking and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear…’ )Bereishis 28:20), why does he say ‘bread to eat?’ What else would one do with bread? And why does it say, ‘clothing to wear?’ What else would one do with clothing? What do you think, Rabbi?”

I could see that he had an answer to the question, so I said, “I don’t know. What do you think?” Shimon responded, “A person can have cupboards full of food and closets full of clothing but always desire newer, more exotic foods to eat and new styles of clothing to wear. Yaakov was not asking for something that he did not have. He was asking that Hashem help him want to eat the bread he had and wear the clothing he already had. He wanted to make sure he never took that which was simple or ordinary for granted.

Shimon’s idea is so deep. I offered him another example of the same idea. The passuk says that the Jewish people wore the same clothing throughout the entire forty years in the dessert, but He told us, “Your clothing did not wear out upon you” (Devarim 8:4). Although people wore the same clothing for forty years, they did not come to despise or tire of it. It always felt clean, fresh, and new. This gratitude and pleasure in the same things one enjoyed the day before is the true inner nature of this blessing Hashem bestowed us in the dessert.

This is perhaps also why Yitzchak did not dig new wells when the Plishtim filled up the wells Avraham dug in the previous generation. The passuk says, “And Yitzchak again dug the wells of water which they dug in the days of Avraham, his father” (Bereishis 26:18). If these wells were good enough for his father, they were good enough for him. He knew what it meant to be grateful for what he had without the need to seek out new things. All we really need is for G-d to “guard me on this path that I am walking.” I do not need to constantly seek out new paths.

According to the Midrash (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 31), the ultimate redemption comes not through some new method, but through a well-worn path: “Avraham got up early in the morning [to perform the akeida] and he took Yishmael, Elifaz, and Yitzchak his son with him and he saddled the donkey. [To which specific donkey does the definitive article ‘the’ refer?] This is the same donkey… which was created during twilight [at the end of the 6th day of creation].... This is the same donkey Moshe would ride upon when he came to Egypt.... This is the same donkey that the son of Dovid will ride upon, as it says, ‘a poor man riding upon a donkey’ (Zecharia 9:9).”

We live in a time where someone feels like a failure if he still has the Galaxy 8 after the Galaxy 9 has come out. People have closets full of cloths but feel they do not have enough to wear. They must travel to more and more exotic locations because even the Far East is becoming old hat. We must try each new type of cuisine as our palates tolerate familiar foods less and less.

But the truth is that even the most basic amenities in life are not guaranteed. The same Jew one assumes will be in shul every week, asking to slide past him into his row may never come back. The events just three hundred miles away in Pittsburgh remind us that we must always work to be thankful for the simplest people and things in our lives. We must mentally turn and think about the person next to us in shul or at home and daven, “Hashem, please protect this person. Keep him or her healthy and fulfill the person’s every need.”

I feel that after Pittsburgh, Hashem wants us to cherish and protect that which He has already given us. That is why I no longer harbor second thoughts about the volunteer-based security program in our shul. I was starting to wonder whether we should attempt to raise the money to pay for standard security guards. Was it really worth it to ask members of the shul to miss portions of davening or stand outside in the heat of summer and cold of winter? But now I realize that it is priceless to give Hashem the opportunity to look down on our shul and see its members watching over it, asking Him to please “guard over this house.”

I once met with an insurance agent who attempted to gather information to predict my lifespan by asking questions about how old my grand-parents were when they died. He was shocked when I told him how young they were when they died and asked what happened. I had to explain to him, “You don’t understand. They did not die of natural causes or disease. They were murdered by the Nazis.” This man could not understand what it means to be a Jew. Similarly, hired security guards cannot possibly know what it means to live precariously as a Jew in this world, wondering when the next attack will come. Nothing can show Hashem how we love, are grateful for, and appreciate the house of worship He has given us like seeing us personally guard over the shul and its members.

There is a beautiful poem along these lines by Sorah Rosenblatt a’h, aka Ruth Lewis:

Thanks for This Day
Thanks for this day, in which nothing out-of-the-ordinary
happened at all: Shloimy couldn’t find his sandal. Aidey
couldn’t find her math book. My baby kissed me. I made
Hotdogs and French fries for lunch.
The kids did homework, played a game of cutting and
pasting – filled the floor with scraps. Some neighbors’ kids were
helping. They sang a silly songs. Feigy made egg salad sandwiches and
They went to the park. Meanwhile, I got some ironing done.
A breeze blew in, birds sang,
the sky was blue, the clouds were white. And oh, I know
that nothing I
could ever do or say or write would ever, ever be
enough to thank You for one second’s sweetness of this
ordinary day.

May Hashem guard this house and bless us that we should appreciate all of His gifts, even the most basic. May Hashem protect us, our husbands, wives, children, relatives, houses, yeshivos, shuls, refrigerators, and pencils. And may he finally bring back that ancient animal so that we may finally merit to welcome that “poor man riding upon a donkey” with the coming of the complete redemption soon in our days. 

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Sunday, October 28, 2018

Killed for Your Sake - Brokenness and Comfort - Rav Moshe Weinberger - Lech Lecha 5779

Although he did not know it at the time, Rav Moshe Weinberger delivered this drasha, focusing on how we give our lives in every generation at the hands of those who kill us because we are Jews, and how how G-d comforts us, less than an hour after 11 Jews were slaughtered by an evil terrorist at Congregation Tree of Life in Pittsburgh, PA.

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

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

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Vayeira 5779
Killed for Your Sake – Brokenness and Comfort

We know Chazal teach us that “The deeds of the Avos are a sign for the children” (see Midrash Tanchuma 9). This does not simply mean that we must learn from the lives of the Avos. It also means that we live with what they did and what happened to them every day. The events of their lives course through our veins and us at all times.

When Hashem appeared to Avraham at the beginning of the parsha, Chazal explain that He was fulfilling the mitzvah to visit the sick (see Rashi on Bereishis 18:1). We know Avraham was sick because it was the third day after giving himself a bris (Sota 14a).

The underlying principle behind how one fulfills the mitzvah of visiting the sick in halachah is lightening the burden of the individual’s sickness (see Shita Mikubetzes on Nedarim 41a). This has three elements: (i) helping the person with whatever he or she needs; (ii) praying for the person’s welfare in his presence; and (iii) asking the person how he is doing (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 193:3). This is what Hashem was doing for Avraham. How do we see this visit as a sign in our lives now? How do we see that Hashem visits us when we suffer today?

Rav Mordeichai Yehuda Lubart zt’l, a great talmid chacham and Gerer chassid  who suffered through and survived the Holocaust, explains in his sefer Milchamos Yehuda that bris mila sanctifies G-d’s name in a similar way as when a Jew gives his life to stay true to his or her faith. He bases this on the Gemara’s statement that the passuk, “For we are killed for Your sake all of the time” (Tehillim 43:23) refers to bris mila, which also involves the shedding of Jewish blood (Gittin 43b).

The connection between bris mila and the self-sacrifice inherent in allowing one’s blood to be shed sanctifying G-d’s name is also apparent based on Aruch Hashulchan (Yoreh Deah 265:27), which explains that we do not say the celebratory Shehechiyanu blessing at a bris, even though we rarely get the opportunity to do this mitzvah, because of the Jewish blood being spilled and the child’s pain. We cannot say Shehechiyahu because our joy at the bris mila is not complete. Bris mila, like sacrificing ourselves for G-d’s sake, is a fulfillment of “And I shall be sanctified among the children of Israel” (Vayikra 22:32).

When we go through a period of seeing Jewish blood being shed, just like Avraham Avinu went through when he drew his own blood at the time of his bris mila, we feel broken and sick, not only physically but emotionally and spiritually as well. We need encouragement, strength, support, and greater confidence. That is why Hashem appeared to Avraham after his bris, to help him with whatever he needed and give him support, encouragement, and love. He gave Avraham new life and a feeling of rejuvenation through His visit, after which Avraham felt strong enough to return to welcoming and serving travelers.

How do we see Hashem visiting us through all of the times where Jewish blood has been spilled throughout Jewish history, when we need encouragement, strength, and Hashem’s help more than ever? After the destruction of the first Beis HaMikdash, Hashem sent us the light of Purim, and then Chanukah. After the desolation and murder at the time of the Romans’ destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash, Hashem sent the light of Rabbi Akiva, and his great disciple Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who brought down the inner light of Torah into the world. Following the expulsion of the Jews of Spain, we were blessed with the light of the Arizal. After the brokenness of the Cossack (Tach V’tat) and the Chmielnicki massacres of the mid-1600’s, Hashem sent the Baal Shem Tov into the world.

And following the absolute decimation of our people during the Holocaust, no one could imagine even simple acts of normalcy like getting married or having children, much less recreating yeshivos or learning Torah. Although we felt that we were “despised and isolated from men, a man of pains and accustomed to illness” (Yeshayahu 53:3), we still held onto the recognition that “All of this has befallen us, but we have not forgotten You, nor have we betrayed Your covenant” (Tehillim 44:18). Hashem began visiting and comforting us by opening up the gates of Eretz Yisroel to all Jews and enabling us to renew our life as a people in our own land, and thereby renew the study of Torah in the most remarkable way. He caused the revival of Torah learning and yeshivos in the diaspora as well, not to mention the vibrant baal teshuva movement of the 1960’s.

Yet even with all of those ways that Hashem has consoled us, the Holocaust was a level of destruction we have never known throughout all of human history. We therefore need a revelation of Hashem’s Presence never before seen in human history. We must beg Hashem to complete His appearance in our lives like He did with Avraham Avinu.

To counteract our unprecedented pain, we require an unprecedented expression of His Presence to comfort and heal us. We must daven that Hashem completes His visit by taking away all pain, healing all wounds, and drawing down into the world the light we have been waiting for throughout the millennia, the light of Moshiach and the advent of the next world here on earth with the complete redemption.

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Sunday, October 21, 2018

Rav Moshe Weinberger - How to Mend the World - Parshas Lech Lecha 5779

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

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

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Lech Lecha 5779
How to Mend the World

One of the tefilos said on Rosh HaShanah is Achos Lanu Ketana, “We have a little sister,” the title of whichis based on Shir HaShirim 8:8. Rashbam on that passuk explains that the “little sister” refers to the Jewish people. We are called Hashem’s little sister. Just like a big brother loves and feels protective of his younger sister, so too, Hashem loves us in a protective way. But the Midrash (Bereishis Raba 39:3) explains that “little sister” refers to Avraham Avinu. This is because the Hebrew word for sister – אחות – is related to the word לאחות – “to mend.” He was given this appellation because he mended together all those who came into the world and “mended the ripped world – מאחה את הקרע.” How did Avraham mend a torn world?

To answer this question, I will recount a story that connects two well-known yohrtzeits which occur today, 11 Mar-Cheshvan, those of Rochel Imeinu and Rav Nochum Chernobyler, the Meor Einayim zy’a. We know that the one mitzvah Rav Nochum constantly did was raise money for pidyon shvuyim, the redemption of captives. In those days, our gentile neighbors were fond of kidnapping Jews or arresting them on trumped-up charges to exact a ransom from their communities. Rav Nachum traveled frequently to raise money to free imprisoned Jews. Another feature of life for Jews at this time was that unless they were freed, imprisonment meant almost certain death. Accordingly, the mitzvah of pidyon shvuyim is extremely important.

During one fundraising trip, the Meor Einayim was carrying a significant amount of money which had been donated by wealthy Jews. The non-Jewish authorities used this money as a pretense to arrest him, accusing him of stealing money from gentiles. Some wealthy chassidim bribed the officials at the prison to move him out of the underground dungeon where he was being held to a second-floor cell with a small, barred window.

The Rebbe was feeling extraordinarily broken at this time. He had dedicated his life to helping Jews escape false imprisonment, but instead of continuing to work on this critical mitzvah, he himself was now falsely imprisoned and suffering. Now he could not continue involving himself with the mitzvah and others would have to redeem him. He could not understand why this was happening and was extremely discouraged.

At one point, he heard a woman’s voice through the window, “Reb Nachum!” He walked over, looked out the window, and saw a woman outside. She said, “Can I tell you a vort on this week’s sedra, parshas Lech Lecha?” “Of course,/” he responded. The woman then said, “We know Rashi says on the first words of the parshah, ‘Go for yourself,’ that Hashem was telling Avraham that he should travel for his own benefit and for his own enjoyment (see Rashi on Bereishis 12:1). If Avraham benefited personally from the journey, why was this considered one of his ten tests?”

Answering her own question, the woman explained that the reason this was considered a test is because Avraham’s mission in life was to provide hospitality and healing to travelers, those who were homeless. Hashem wanted Avraham to truly know the pain of being a traveler who does not know where he will sleep at night or where he will find his next meal. He knew that Avraham would be able to heal the world more effectively and that he would benefit by doing the mitzvah on an even deeper and greater level after personally being humbled and experiencing the same feeling of being a stranger in a strange land that his guests feel.

At this point, Reb Nachum realized that the woman outside the jail was Rochel Imeinu herself, a woman who knows exile because she is buried by the side of the road, away from her husband and the rest of her family in Beit Lechem (Bereishis 35:19). She continued, “So too, Reb Nachum, this imprisonment is ‘for your benefit and for your enjoyment.’ Now you will truly know the pain of those you are working to liberate. While it may seem discouraging, it is for your benefit because you will be able to involve yourself in the mitzvah without hesitation because you will have truly nullified yourself through your deep understanding of others’ pain and suffering.”

How did Avraham Avinu’s and the Meor Einayim’s suffering enable them to mend the world? It caused them to disregard any sense of self and any personal considerations because of their intimate recognition of the pain of those they were responsible to alleviate. Rebbe Nachman says, “Everything a person lacks, whether children, a livelihood, or health, comes from the person himself. This is because the light of Hashem shines upon him constantly. But the person, through his own evil actions, casts a shadow over himself which prevents the light of G-d from reaching him” (I Likutei Moharan 172).

Rebbe Nachman continues, explaining how one can nullify this shade through an amazing reading of the passuk, “The glory of Hashem fills the earth”  (Yeshayahu 6:3). He says that the word for “fills – מלא” can also be read as a “from no.” In other words, through “no,” i.e., the negation of one’s sense of independent self, the nullification of one’s own ego, one can recognize that “the whole earth is His glory.” When one eliminates his own sense of self, he removes the blockage that prevents the Divine light from shining into every corner of his life. When Avraham and Reb Nachum went through the same suffering as the people they were working to help, it helped them bring G-d even more deeply into their own lives by eliminating any consideration of themselves when they worked to serve others.

The Midrash we quoted earlier says that Avraham Avinu mended the world and mended the relationships between people. The sins of the tree of knowledge of good and bad, the generation of the flood, and the generation of the dispersion, where humanity was literally torn and divided (הפלגה) from one another created a separation between humanity and Hashem and created division between people.

We know Avraham mended this separation because before him, even the righteous king, Malkitzedek, was called only “priest to G-d above (Bereishis 14:18), implying that G-d’s existence above was apparent, but His presence on Earth was completely hidden from man. But Malkitzedek blessed Avraham “to G-d above, who possesses Heaven and Earth” (ibid. 19). Avraham mended the division between Heaven and Earth, revealing Hashem’s glory not only in Heaven, but here on Earth as well. How did he do this? How was he able to influence the world in this way, drawing people closer to one another and to G-d?

Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohein Kook zy’a, writes (I Oros HaKodesh p. 86) that this influence does not take place in the obvious way one might think: “The universal longing for the influence of the Jewish people in the world does not take place through the dissemination of intellectual teachings, via straightforward and obvious influence and instruction. Rather, when this [the Jewish] nation fully internalizes its unique role, the world is naturally elevated simply through [the Jewish nation’s] possession of this unique mission as part of its own humanity.”

In other words, we mend the world and unite it with its Creator not by broadcasting Torah teachings to the furthest reaches of the world or by having inspiring speakers travel on lecture circuits around the world, as nice as those activities might be. The primary way we heal the world is by nullifying the parts of ourselves which separate us from a true connection with our special and unique mission in the world – to act as agents responsible to reveal G-d’s will and Presence in this physical world.

May Hashem enable us to put aside our own personal concerns to serve Him and help others, thereby removing the blockages we create between His light and our lives. May we thereby mend the brokenness of the world and soon see the time when “the Earth will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem like the water covers the seabed” (Yeshayahu 11:9) with the arrival of Moshiach and the complete redemption soon in our days!

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Article by R' Boruch Leff related to the Recent Flurry of Articles/Letters/Shiurim re Mishpacha Magazine/Chassidus

Relevant to the recent flurry of articles following Mishpacha Magazine's recent article relating to the resurgence in interest in penimius HaTorah and chassidus, it is worthwhile to check out Rabbi Boruch Leff's article from his book, Are You Growing?, which relates to Rav Moshe Weinberger's recent shiurim also on these issues, "Hashem's Unbreakable Love for Every Jew - Part 1" and Part 2:

Hashem Awareness Even When Learning Torah

Generally, there is a perceived difference of opinion between chassidim and non-chassidim regarding how much emphasis should be placed on actually thinking about Hashem within the realm of Torah study. This essay’s purpose is to show that while such a debate indeed exists, the two sides have much more in common than is usually understood.

All those who study Torah in order to come closer to Hashem (which should include everyone) must make a real connection with Hashem within their learning. It is difficult to learn in this fashion. Most people simply open the sefer and begin to learn. Learning Torah in any fashion is a great mitzvah and we admire all those who do so, especially the yeshiva bochrim and Kollel students who learn most of the day. However, as difficult as it might be, we all should try to bring more Hashem awareness into our learning.

Perhaps you were surprised by the title: Even when learning Torah? Isn’t it obvious that when we learn Torah we are performing a mitzvah and are very much aware of Hashem?  Let me tell you a story which will explain the title.

The famous Rav Shmelka of Nikolsburg was once learning in the beis medrash alongside his equally famous brother Rav Pinchas Horowitz, author of the seforim HaMakneh and Hafla’ah. Rav Pinchas noticed that every so often, the shammas attendant of Rav Shmelke would interrupt Rav Shmelke and whisper something into his ear. After a number of times of watching this, Rav Pinchas couldn’t contain his curiosity bordering on anger at the shammas for interrupting his brother’s learning.

Rav Pinchas finally asked his brother what the shammas was saying to him, “Why do you permit him to continuously interrupt your learning?! Tell him of the prohibition of bitul Torah—that he shouldn’t waste any of your time, especially when you are learning in the beis medrash!”

Rav Shmelke responded, “My brother, you misunderstand. I told my shammas to interrupt me. You see, when I learn Torah, there are times that I get so involved in what I’m learning and I enjoy it so much that I forget there’s a Ribbono Shel Olam! I told my shammas that every so often, even when I’m learning, he should whisper in my ear, ‘There is a Ribbono Shel Olam!’ This is what brings me back to the purpose of my learning Torah—to understand Hashem and His will better and to attach myself to Him!”

A poignant story. The story’s lesson is related to what the Kotzker Rebbe once said, “The Torah prohibits us from worshipping idols, avoda zara. . .even of the Torah itself!” This means that we can’t allow our Torah learning to take on a life of its own. We must always learn with a real and continuous awareness of why we are learning and for whom we are learning.

WHILE YOU’RE LEARNING YOU MUST LEARN

This does not mean that we must meditate upon Hashem while actually learning. Certainly, when we learn, we must concentrate and attempt to understand what Rashi and Tosafos and the Rashba are saying. But, as Rav Shlomo Brevda, shlita, once told me, in order to maximize the hashpaah, the powerful spiritual influence that Torah study can have upon our souls and our midos, we must fulfill the requirements of the prime student of the leader of non-chassidim, the Vilna Gaon. His prime student, Rav Chaim Volozhin, writes in the Nefesh HaChaim (Shaar 4:6):

“This is the proper true path that Hashem has chosen. Whenever a person prepares himself to learn Torah, he should sit down before he learns, at least for a short time, with a pure heartfelt fear of Hashem, and confess his sins from the depths of his heart, so that his Torah will be more pure and holy. He should then have in mind that he will attach himself to Hashem through learning His Torah, because by studying the word of Hashem, halacha, with all one’s strength, with this, one attaches himself to Hashem as much as possible. This is because He and His will (the Torah) are One.”

The Nefesh HaChaim (4:7) continues:

“Before learning Torah, a person should think about Hashem with purity of heart and fear of Him, and cleanse himself with thoughts of repentance, so that He can connect and attach himself to the will of G-d when he learns. He should also accept upon himself to observe and fulfill all that is written in the entire Torah and he should pray that Hashem will lead him to discover the truth of Torah.”

This should be done even in the middle of learning. Permission is given to interrupt regular learning subjects, for a short time, before the passion of the fear of Hashem becomes extinguished from his heart, (to reignite) all that he accepted upon himself before he began learning. He should think again of the fear of Hashem. . .This is not bitul Torah, because it is necessary in order for the Torah to have a lasting impact.”

LEARNING LIKE RAV YISRAEL SALANTER

This approach to Torah study is vital in order to avoid the warning of the Kotzker Rebbe mentioned above. By actively and directly connecting our Talmud Torah to the Ribbono Shel Olam in a real sense, and not merely in a general, disconnected way, the learning becomes a vehicle for true dveikus with Hashem.

Rav Shlomo Wolbe writes similar thoughts in Alei Shur (Volume 2, page 106). He says that there are many ways to learn Torah—iyun, bekius, pilpul, in-depth analysis, general factual knowledge, to name a few. But there is also a ‘Yiras Shamayim’ way of learning. This path does not negate any of the others but accompanies them. Every sugya and subject in Shas has the fear of Hashem within it if we but pay attention to it. All of the decrees from the rabannan are derived from a fear of Hashem not to transgress His Torah.

A person can inject fear of Hashem into all that he learns, says Rav Wolbe. Frequently, the gemara says ‘Amar Mar—the (anonymous) Master said.’ The Midrash Tanchuma says that Mar refers to Hashem! Thus, instead of saying Mar, when learning the gemara, one should substitute the words Amar HaKadosh Baruch Hu! And then state the halacha the gemara mentions. This is the path and method that Rav Yisrael Salanter utilized to directly connect what he was learning to Hashem and His ratzon. This is how we can discover yirah and mussar in whatever we learn.

Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh states that fulfilling the Nefesh HaChaim’s guide to Torah learning is a major component to the mitzvah of Shivisi Hashem L’Negdi Samid, I set Hashem before me always (Tehillim 16:8). Though the Rema begins the Shulchan Aruch by saying this avodah of Shivisi is among the maalos of tzadikim, the highest levels of the righteous, the Biur HaGra there says, ‘This concept includes all the levels of the righteous—vezehu kol maalos hatzadikim!

Thus, we must work on trying to feel Hashem’s presence at all times, and as we’ve seen, this applies even when we are learning Torah.    

THE GOAL OF ALL MITZVOS

What is the goal of life? Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh (Volume 3) states that we must crystallize the answer to this question before we can progress in our service of Hashem. We think the answer to this question is very obvious—most people would say the goal of life is to involve ourselves in mitzvos, and to learn Torah in order to know Shas and poskim. But the Ramchal writes differently.
           
In Mesilas Yesharim, right in the beginning of the first perek, the Ramchal says the goal of life is ‘l’hisaneg al Hashem,’ to derive pleasure from being close to Hashem. We are to put all of our drives into coming close to Hashem, to the ultimate extent of being drawn like a magnet to Him. This doesn’t mean, says Bilvavi, that we are not supposed to learn as much Torah as we can at every possible moment, trying to know Shas and poskim. As Chazal say, the world only continues to exist through the merit of learning Torah. But we must realize that the purpose of all of our learning is to attach ourselves to Hashem.
           
There are those who say that since the Zohar says that HaKadosh Baruch Hu, Oraysa, V’Yisrael Chad Hu—Hashem, the Torah, and the Jewish people are one, then when we learn Torah, we are automatically attaching ourselves to Him, whether we intend to or not. If we are attached to the Torah, we are attached to Hashem.

But Bilvavi points out that one can’t consciously ignore dveikus B’Hashem even when learning Torah, because according to this thinking, then when we’re involved and attached to other Jews, or when we’re ‘attached’ to ourselves only, we’re also attached to Hashem. After all, the Zohar says Yisrael V’Hashem is also chad hu. Rather, even when learning Torah, we must make a conscious effort to be cognizant of the goal which Torah learning is supposed to produce—dveikus B’Hashem.   

IDEAS FROM RAV SHIMSHON PINCUS

Rav Shimshon Pincus (Nefesh Shimshon-Torah V’Kinyaneha, page 218) says that if a person wants to be able to learn Torah with an awareness of Hashem, he should make sure to recite the tefila from Chazal that is designed to be said before we learn Torah. Brachos 28b says that Rav Nechunya ben Hakanah would recite a tefila before he entered the beis midrash to learn Torah. The tefila was comprised of a request that he become successful to discover the truth of Torah and avoid any obstacles that would stand in the way of this goal. He would also say a tefila after he left the beis midrash thanking Hashem for the merit to be able to learn Torah.

The Mishna Berura (110:37) brings the Rambam in the Peirush Mishnayos who says that reciting this tefila is an absolute obligation because the mishna did not tell us what Rav Nechunya did to simply tell us a story; rather, the mishna is telling us what we must do to emulate Rav Nechunya. Rav Pincus declares that whoever says this tefila is guaranteed to be successful in his learning. 

Rav Pincus continues to say that when we learn we should envison HaKadosh Baruch Hu Himself as our chavrusa, learning with us. The Nefesh Hachaim shows from many statements in Chazal that when we learn Torah, Hashem is mouthing the words along with us. He is literally with us—and we must be cognizant of this attachment with Him when we learn.

KISSING THE GEMARA

We all need rebbeim. We all need to search for and find great rebbeim. There are different kinds of rebbeim. Some rebbeim teach us the Gemara or the Chumash. Yet this does not suffice. We need rebbeim who can teach us something else, just as important.

Rav Yaakov of Ishbitz, son of the Mei HaShiloach and author of Beis Yaakov on Chumash, would give a shiur for a select group of students from 12AM until 4 AM every night of the week except Shabbos. Rav Moshe Weinberger, shlita, tells the story of one of the students who attended these amazing shiurim. Years later, the student described that he remembers how Rav Yaakov was very meticulous about time and every night at exactly 12AM—one could even set his watch— two of Rav Yaakov’s attendants would escort him into the room, one holding a candle and one holding the big gemara. Rav Yaakov would give the shiur with amazing pilpul and chiddushim. It felt like one was at Sinai. At exactly 4AM, the two shamashim came forward again, one with a new candle to lead him out into the street, and the other to hold the gemara.

This talmid reflected that he loved going to this shiur, but he now remembers very little of the insights from the shiurim. “I experienced tremendous suffering in my life and I have forgotten most of what I learned. But there is one thing I never forgot, one memory that stayed with me and encouraged me throughout my years and throughout my suffering. The memory of how Rav Yaakov lovingly kissed his gemara when the shiur was over is the fire which keeps me going.”

There’s the teaching of the gemara and there’s the kissing of the gemara. If we only have a rebbe who is able to teach us the gemara, we need to find one who can also teach us how to kiss the gemara.

When we kiss the gemara properly, we show that the learning is a vehicle to bring us closer to Hashem.

-Rabbi Boruch Leff

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Highlights from Our Trip to Israel for Our Son's Bar Mitzvah - With Videos and Pictures!

We just returned from our trip to Israel in honor of our only son’s bar mitzva! The whole thing is a bit wacky so for our friends to share in the simcha and for our own memories, here is a brief summary, including a few short videos embedded for audio-visual augmentation. :-)

First of all, we originally planned a traditional bar mitzva celebration in New York, but one Shabbos, about 6 weeks before the big day, because of his desire to have his sister who is studying in seminary this year be part of the occasion, our son suggested that we consider moving the bar mitzva to Israel.

We discussed it further and ultimately decided to do the bar mitzva in conjunction with the children, bar mitzva boys, and teenagers living in the Beit Elazraki (“BE”) Children’s Home in Netanya. Some backstory: our daughter is studying this year in Midreshet Torat Chessed in Netanya, a seminary which partners with BE. The girls participating in the program do Jewish studies in the mornings, pick up a group of kids from BE to do homework and activities with them and then take them to dinner in the afternoon, and then continue learning as part of the seminary in the evenings. So while we are still doing a party for our son’s friends, we thought it would be great to make a celebration for the kids in BE rather than for all of the bar mitzva boy’s parents’ friends. :-)

We went about making all of the arrangements, finding flights, reserving an apartment on AirBnB, and planning our activities. We planned to make the Israel bar mitzva a surprise for our daughter in Israel, working out everything with her seminary, BE, and all of our Israeli and American family joining in the simcha in such a way that she would not find out about our plans. There was one individual with unintentionally loose lips though, so she did end up knowing that something was happening, but not exactly what, when, or the extent of our plans.

Here is a short video showing a few overall highlights from the trip in general:


Our son got an aliya and read haftara for parshas Titzaveh/Shabbos Zachor  at the Young Israel of North Netanya, where the rabbi is one of the rebbeim in MTC. He did an amazing job! 

On Sunday Feb 24th, we visited the only other orthodox part of my side of the family. Originally from Houston, TX, my father’s first cousin and her husband now live in Yerushalayim. Their son, my second cousin, Ari Abramowitz, of The Land of Israel Network (http://thelandofisrael.com/about-us/) and their granddaughter (daughter of their daughter) were there and it was a beautiful visit! First time I had seen them in over 20 years.

On Monday Feb. 26, we visited the Central tzedaka organization in Netanya (click HERE for their website and HERE for their donation page), which, among many other services it provides to over 1,000 recipients/families, also distributes bread from Bread for Israel, an organization founded by my CEO. He was astounded by the fact that despite the multitudes of tzedaka organizations all over Israel, that a large minority of children in Israel actually go to bed hungry each night. He therefore went to Israel and personally negotiated an extremely low price of $1 per loaf, including delivery, for bread to distribute throughout Israel. He then developed a network of distribution points and means for getting the word out to the families who need it. The organization now distributes about 100,000 loaves of bread per month, though the demand by hungry people could support an additional 100,000 loaves per month. The only obstacle is money. So let me know if you can help or give on a one-time or recurring basis at www.breadforisrael.org. The video above has some pictures from our visit to the Netanya central tzedaka warehouse and distribution center.

And that night, we joined Yehuda Cohen, the director of BE Children’s Children’s home for an explanation of BE’s history and what it does. They literally take on the role of parents in all ways for the kids (age 0-17) who have to come to the home because they unfortunately cannot live with their parents or if their parents have passed away. They provide them with whatever they need, including therapy and tutoring, and do whatever parents would event after the kids “graduate.” They provide a place to go home to on breaks from army service, help with college, and they even pay for half the cost of weddings and even walk down the aisle with them when their parents cannot! During our bar mitzva celebration, they even live broadcast a Mazel Tov from the entire BE family to an “alumnus” who had just gotten engaged in America! 

Our son had some time to hang out with the five bar mitzva boys from BE and we were able to give them some gifts and sponsor a celebration for the entire BE family which was beautiful! We were told that this was the first time that a family came to celebrate a bar or bas mitzva with the bar or bas mitzva children from the home who is a sibling of one of the Midreshet Torat Chessed girls. Ashreinu! Here is a short video from the big night!


On Tuesday Feb. 27, we spent the morning at a private glass-firing workshop in Yerushalayim with artist Yael Vloch (), who I found out about from funinjerusalem.com. It was a great thing to do together! See here for a nice short video highlighting that experience:


I’m the afternoon, we got a private tour of the largest bakery in Israel, Angel’s Bakery in Jerusalem, with Yunti Burstein, one of the main logistics coordinators of Bread for Israel. I was even able to do the mitzva of taking challah for one of the gigantic batches of dough! Check out this video for a quick run-down of what bread production at that huge facility looks like:


We spent a quiet day on Taanis Esther, followed by Maariv and Megila reading at Laniado Hospital in Netanya, to which we were invited by my wife’s second cousin, one of the two orthodox families on my wife’s side, Itzik, who learns with the Rav of the hospital. Itzik is famous in Netanya for being the main source for scuba diving, surfing, and other recreation equipment, at his location by the beach affectionately known as “Itzik BaYam,” Itzik by the Sea. We then joined his family for a beautiful meal after Megilla.

Then, on Purim day we headed down to Holon, where my wife’s great-aunt was having a Purim seuda, and then headed over to to Bnei Brak for our Purim seuda with my wife’s other orthodox family, a second cousin, with a beautiful family who we also got together with last time we were in Israel as a family six years ago. Pictures from Purim are also in the video at the beginning.

On Friday morning Mar. 2, we went horseback riding on the beach in Netanya (again, pictures in the top video), which was beautiful! Then we headed to Yerushalayim where we spent Shabbos and had our meals on at the Prima Palace hotel, just off of Rechov Yafo. We had a meaningful Shabbos afternoon davening at the Kosel. After Shabbos, we sadly said goodbye to our daughter (though IY”H she is coming home for Pesach soon) and to Yerushalayim. Looking forward to next time!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

New Video of History of Aish Kodesh/Rav Moshe Weinberger Posted!


This video, created by the amazingly talented David Jassee of DMJ Studios, has amazing interviews with Rav and Rebbetzin Weinberger and many others from the shul. It has amazing pictures from past decades and the shul. It is beautiful, inspiring, and funny. I definitely reccomend seeing this extremely professional video.






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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Clothing Makes the Man - Rabbi Yoni Levin's Shabbos Morning Drasha - Parshas Tetzaveh

Rabbi Yoni Levin, the assistant rabbi at Aish Kodesh, was kind enough to send me his Shabbos morning drashah from this Shabbos, parshas Tetzaveh. Enjoy!
Clothing is an extraordinarily powerful tool.

 It’s not only a way of covering up one’s body, but it’s a way expressing one’s inner most feelings.  There are studies done about how people feel when it rains versus when it‘s sunny outside; and those feelings will in turn affect their decision making and particular what clothing they might wear that day. If someone is feeling down, he or she might wear black clothing.  And someone who is feeling chipper might decide to wear colorful and bright clothing. בגדי כהונהAlthough at first glance, clothing is very superficial, very external, the תורה describes the בגדי כהונה as לכבוד ולתפארת, clothing of honor and glory.   The בגדי כהונה demanded respect; it imbued a great sense of fear to whoever was זוכה to see the בגדי כהונה.

 When the כהן גדול would walk through the hallways of the בית המקדש with his long coat, almost like a cape with the melodious bells ringing, wearing his finely hand-woven shirt and pants, and those shining jewels lined across his חשן משפט, and his prestigious hat, and the name of Hashem written across his forehead.  A person would tremble at the very jingling of the bells, let alone when the כהן גדול stepped into your presence.  It would make you melt, crumble into pieces.  It would instill guilt for everything you’ve done wrong making you shatter.  You feel the presence of greatness, of קדושה, you feel as if the שכינה is hovering in front of your very eyes. It’s amazing what someone else’s clothing can do to us.   It is amazing how are feelings can be altered by someone else’s clothing.  It could make us jealous.  It could make us scared.  Sometimes it can even make us laugh. 

How Our Clothing Affects UsThat’s how other people’s clothing affects us.  But let’s not focus on other people’s clothing.  Let us take a look out ourselves.  How do our clothes affect us?  How does that shirt that I put on this morning affect me?  How do those shoes that I just slipped on affect me? 

Delivery of Uniforms on Shabbos

The following Shailah was once presented to Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach.  There was a חיל who was on duty on Shabbos at the army base.  A package was delivered and he knew that it was the new uniforms that had been ordered.  He wasn’t sure if was permitted to open it up and give them up, or if it as prohibited because of מוקצה.  The boy decided to play it safe and he did not open thr package on Shabbos.

 After Shabbos he sent the Shailah to Rav Shlomo Zalman wanting to know whether he had made the right decision or not.  Rav Shlomo Zalman’s response was that he should have opened up the package and given them out.  Because a soldier feels like a new person with a new uniform, he is reinvigorated with new energy, strength and confidence.  It will motivate him to perform and serve his duty even better.

 Rav Shlomo Zalman understood how clothing can impact a person’s confidence, his perspective, his ability to perform. 

Clothing Transforms us

Although clothing is so superficial and so external, it has an ability to transform a person.  The גמ' says that a כהן is not a כהן unless he is wearing the בגדי כהונה.  The clothing makes him into who he is.  בזמן שבגדיהם עליהם כהונתכם עליהם אין בגדיהם עליהם אין כהונתכם עליהם When a person wants to change, when a person wants to overcome a struggle, a תאוה, it requires baby steps.  It requires small changes - changes in things that seem so insignificant, so minor, so mundane, yet to easy that can have enormous impact. 

Overcoming the WeatherMy wife told me that whenever it would rain, she would wear black because that’s how she felt.  But then she starting thinking that she didn’t want to be sad, she didn’t want to be gloomy just because it was nasty outside.  She didn’t want the weather to dictate how she felt. She decided instead to fight the weather and that whenever it would rain she would do the opposite.  She would wear brighter clothing on the rainy days.  Her clothing would put her in a better mood and fight the downwards pull of the weather. 

Overcoming our יצר הרע

When kids go to Israel for a year, everyone makes fun of those guys who quickly start wearing black and white.  Many times these are the kids who are struggling most, and by them changing their clothing, it shows us where they want to be, it shows their רצון to overcome their struggles in life.  These young boys would like to be learning in the Beis Midrash more.  There is this pull that’s taking them outside.  It could be the phone, the internet; it could be girls; it could be drinking.  Whatever dark world that they are living, the have the רצון to pull out of it.  If they dress the part, they are hoping they can play the part.  Not always successful, but it comes from a deep place within them.

 The ספר חינוך is famous for writing in a number of places how the חיצוניות positively impacts the פנימיות, how the external, how one dresses really does affect the deeper part of the נשמה. This is not full-proof by any means.  Just because someone begins to dress a certain way, and affiliate with a certain type, it by no way means that the person will actually change.  But it is at the least a start.  It is an easy change and helps get the ball moving. 

בגד

Perhaps this is why the word is בגד, the 3 consecutive letters in a row, בג"ד.  This indicates how clothing, בגדים, something so small, something so mundane, can push us and encourage us helping us grow on a slow, steady and healthy path – from a ב to a ג to aד. It is similar to learning Daf Yomi which also starts with a ב, every מסכתא, starts with a בג"ד.  That too is about taking small strides in growth.  Just one Daf a day.  Even if you aren’t feeling the drive, but you know you should be learning.  Showing up for 45 minutes a day, one daf after the next, will engender a healthy growth in learning.

 This coming Monday night, thanks to Jeremy Feder, we are beginning Maseches Megilla.  Each night we will be learning one Daf.  It is a great opportunity to take upon yourself a small and reachable goal.  In just 30 days we will iy”h be making a Siyum. 

Even the Mundane is HolyI know what you are all thinking about.  Rav Weinberger goes to Israel and I am trying to convince you all to start wearing white shirts, black hats, streimels? I am not talking about what we wear, but how we wear the clothing, how we get dressed. You know, there are הלכות about how to get dressed.  Something so mundane, something so routine and something so meaningless also has rules.  And it is not because the Torah and Chachamim are trying to be difficult and make our lives miserable ח"ו, but it’s the opposite.  Getting dressed is full of so much קדושה, we just don’t realize it!  Everything in this world is full of קדושה, from getting dressed to eating, from sleeping to walking. There is קדושה everywhere we go, every person we see, every creature that we encounter, every blade of grass we see, everything we do. The כהן גדול is not a כהן גדול unless he has the special clothing.  We don’t have special clothing to wear, but perhaps if we internalized what clothing means, what it means to get dressed it can help transform us us like the בגדי כהונה did to the כהנים. 

Marine Commercial

I remember growing up seeing a commercial about joining the marines.  You would see the camera focuses on just a boot.  The boot was shiny black looking like brand new.  You would see hands tying them really neatly and comfortably.  Then the camera would focus on the body of a person putting on a perfectly tailored jacket buttoning to perfection.  Then you would see just the head with a cap being tightly placed on top.  And then the video would zoom out showing the marine in the finest uniform, standing with perfect posture ready to serve. Every morning we should be getting dressed like this.  We should be dressing up ready to meet the King of the Universe, to speak to him.  Each sock that we put on, each button that we button, should be done with care and intent on meeting face to face with בורא עולם.

 And it is not just because we have to be presentable to ה' יתברך, but because our נשמה needs it.  Our attitude and our feelings are affected by the way we dress.

 When we are struggling to fight that יצר הרע each day, we need to be prepared to battle, we need to wear our uniform in whatever color and size they come in.  We need to wake up and get dressed with confidence, with a goal, with a mission and say that today I will not give in to my יצר הרע. Just because yesterday you did something you shouldn’t have done.  You looked at something you shouldn’t have looked at.  You said something that you shouldn’t have said.  ה' יתברך gives us a new chance each morning.  We wake up and get dressed and can be transformed by putting on different clothing than the day before.  And even if you wear the same clothing his works. אדם וחוהAfter the חטא of אדם וחוה, the first thing that happened was that they got embarrassed and realized that they weren’t dressed.  הקב"ה with his boundless חסד provided them with clothing, he provided them with an opportunity to cover up their shame, the opportunity to change who they are by simply putting on clothing. 

Setting the Tone for the Day

The ספרים speak about how the first moments of the day when we wake up really sets the stage for that entire day.  If we wake up and run over to check our phone, likely that the rest of the day we will be checking our phone.  If we run over to check the scores in the game, then that will be the focus of the day. But if we wake up and look ourselves in the mirror and say that today will be a better day.  If we get dressed being cognizant that we are soldiers prepared to fight a battle and that we are getting dressed in our uniform, then our day will be filled with us overcoming fights and struggles. 

Closing

The מדרש teaches us that before the חטא of אדם וחוה, they had clothing of אור, אור with an א, meaning light.  They were clothed with light, they were surrounded by light.  Iy”h we should be זוכה by fighting the יצר הרע day in and day out to that כתונת אור to that coat of light.  By changing not what we wear but how we wear it, by dressing like soldiers, ready to battle, each day starting new, starting fresh, we should be זוכה to overcome our struggles, overcome our יצר הרע, and very soon be זוכה to the כתונת אור of אדם הראשון!

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