Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Yiddishkeit for Every Jew - Rav Weinberber's Drasha on Parshas Shemini - Rav Wosner

Baruch Hashem, Rav Weinberger has approved this version of my write-up of his drasha from this past Shabbos, parshas Shemini, on Shabbos morning. See here for past shiurim at YUTorah.org'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 Shemini 5775
Yiddishkeit for Every Jew

All of creation was waiting for “And it was, on the eighth day…” (Vayikra 9:1) in this week’s parsha. That was the long-awaited day when (ibid. 6) “the glory of Hashem will appear to you.” But suddenly, the joy of that day was marred by the “fire [that] went forth from before Hashem and consumed [Nadav and Avihu, Aharon’s sons,] and they died before Hashem” (ibid. 10:2). The same fire that came from Heaven “and consumed the burnt offering and fats on the altar” (ibid. 9:24) then “went forth and consumed” Nadav and Avihu. The similarity between these psukim, only separated by one verse, is remarkable. What is the connection between them?

Because the brining of a “foreign fire which He had not commanded them” (ibid. 10:1) does not seem to fully explain the severity of Nadav and Avihu’s punishment, Chazal and the commentaries struggle to offer a number of explanations for the fire from Heaven which consumed them. According to some, it was because they make halachic decisions in Moshe’s presence and according to others, it was because they drank wine excessively before entering the Holy of Holies (Rashi on ibid. 2). According to them, the root cause of their deaths was not the fact that Nadav and Avihu each “took his fire-pan, put fire in them and placed incense upon it” (Vayikra 10:1). Rather, they were killed because of some unrelated sin.

But the Rashbam and Chizkuni explain that their sin was bringing their own fire before Hashem “had the chance” to cause a Heavenly fire to descend and consume the sacrifices. According to this explanation, the whole purpose of the day of the inauguration of the kohanim’s service in the Mishkan was to reveal Hashem’s presence in the Mishkan through the fire from Heaven which would consume the congregation’s sacrifices. By bringing a human fire before Hashem’s fire descended, Nadav and Avinhu prevented that full expression of G-d’s revelation in the Mishkan. In the language of the mekubalim, they created a separation between yesod Abah and yesod Imah.

But these commentaries do not explain the rest of the pasuk in which the Torah explains their sin. Each one “took his fire-pan, put fire in them and placed incense upon it.” Their explaination accounts for why it was a problem for Nadav and Avihu to bring a human fire before the revelation of Hashem’s fire. But they do not explain the Torah’s emphasis on the fact that they placed incense on this fire. Let us first understand more about the nature of this eighth day on which the kohanim brought sacrifices to Hashem and then we can suggest an approach which will explain the significance of the incense.

Moshe told the entire Jewish people (ibid. 9:6), “This is the thing that Hashem has commanded you to do and the glory of Hashem will appear to you.” The purpose of the day was (ibid. 4) “today Hashem is appearing to you.” The last time Hashem appeared to the entire Jewish people was at Sinai, when the pasuk (Shmos 24:17) says, “And the appearance of the glory of Hashem was like a consuming fire at the top of the mountain before the eyes of the Jewish people.” The Ramban (on ibid. 25:1) says that the purpose of the Mishkan, and later, the Beis Hamikdash, is to continue the Sinai experience throughout the generations. And the heros of the Sinai experience, who led the Jewish people to the mountain, were Moshe, Aharon, Nadav, and Avinhu (Shmos 24:1): “And He said to Moshe: ‘Ascend to Hashem, you, Aharon, Nadav, Avihu, and the seventy of the elders of Israel...’” Why were Aharon’s sons chosen for this special honor of going closer to Sinai than the rest of the Jewish people? Because they were destined to be inaugurated into the service in the Mishkan, the purpose of which is to continue to bring Hashem’s presence into the Jewish people just like on Sinai.

The connection between the revelation at Sinai and the Mishkan/Beis Hamikdash is also expressed through the fact that there are only three occasions on which communal peace offerings are brought: (1) at Sinai (Shmos 24:5); (2) on the day of the kohanim’s inauguration into the Mishkan’s service in this weeks’ parsha (Vayikra 9:4); and (3) throughout the generations on Shavuos (Vayikra 23:19), the anniversary of the day Hashem gave us the Torah on Sinai. The connection between these days is clear. Each of them represents a joining of the world above and the world below.  That is why a communal peace offering is brought. The significance of a peace offering is that it is consumed jointly by Heaven, the kohanim, and the owner of the offering. Because these three occasions represent a direct encounter between the entire Jewish people and Hashem, it is appropriate to bring a joint offering which is “consumed” both by Hashem above and his children below on each of these days.

Perhaps based on the above we can understand the sin of Nadav and Avihu and how it relates to the incense they brought. As we said above, Nadav and Avihu were not with the rest of the Jewish people at Sinai. They came closer to the mountain than everyone else and were “cut off” from regular Jews. The pasuk says regarding Nadav, Avinhu and the other elders (Shmos 24:10-11), “And they perceived the G-d of Israel… and upon the nobles of Israel He did not lay a hand and they saw G-d…” But they were not the only ones who perceived Hashem at Sinai. As we quoted earlier: “And the appearance of the glory of Hashem was like a consuming fire at the top of the mountain before the eyes of the Jewish people.” The rest of the Jewish people also experienced a revelation of G-d.

It is possible, however, that because Nadav and Avihu were cut off from the average Jews, they may not have realized that Hashem considered the entire Jewish people worthy of revelation. They might have thought that such a direct encounter with G-d was reserved for “the nobles of Israel” like themselves and the elders.

It may not have occurred to Nadav and Avihu that the “proletariat,” the average Jews, the “riff raff,” were capable or worthy of receiving Hashem’s presence. It could be that when the whole Jewish people witnessed Hashem’s revelation through the fire on the altar (Vayikra 9:24), “the entire nation saw, sang praises, and fell on their faces,” Nadav and Avihu might have seen this as extremely problematic. Perhaps that is why, in the next verse (ibid. 10:1), they ran to bring incense into the Holy of Holies.

What is the significance and purpose of incense? Whenever there is a direct Divine revelation, Hashem commands us to create a cloud around that revelation using incense, as the pasuk (Vayikra 16:2) says, “in a cloud [of incense] I will appear above the [ark] cover.” The smoke created by the burning of the incense creates a fog around Hashem’s revelation, obscuring it as an expression of modesty.

Nadav and Avihu could not imagine that the entire Jewish people were actually supposed to experience that which the pasuk says, “the entire nation saw, sang praises, and fell on their faces.” They therefore ran to burn incense to create a cloud of concealment around that direct revelation to prevent those they thought were not worthy of experiencing it further.  They may have viewed that direct revelation as a lack of honor toward Heaven.

Because they were separated from average Jews at Sinai and did not realize that Hashem intended that they too experience a direct encounter with Hashem. They did not realize that Hashem wants not only a direct relationship with the tzadikim and scholars, but also a direct connection with the lowest Jews, from the wood choppers to the water drawers (Devarim 29:10).

But this was a mistake. That is why Moshe explained to Aharon after Nadav and Avihu’s deaths (Vayikra 10:3): “This is what Hashem spoke [when He said], ‘I will be sanctified through those close to Me and before the entire nation I will be glorified.” A direct relationship and revelation of Hashem is not only for the “nobles of Israel” and “those close to Me” like Moshe, Aharon, Nadav, and Avihu. It is for “the entire nation.” Yiddishkeit is not a spectator’s sport in which we watch the tzadikim from afar and gaze in awe at how close they are to Hashem. We value the tzadikim and scholars, drink up every word they teach, and follow their leadership, but they do not have a monopoly on closeness with Hashem. Yiddishkeit and connection is for every Jew. No one should write themselves or other Jews off as beyond the pale of Yiddishkeit.

This erev Pesach, as Seder night was falling, our people lost one of the greatest tzadikim and poskim of this generation, Rav Shmuel Halevi Wosner, zt’l, who lived over 100 years. Rav Wosner was known to assiduously avoid any political affiliation or controversy. Every single Jew was equal in his eyes. He fielded questions from every type of Jew, whether religious or secular, Ashkenazi or Sefardi, national-religious or chareidi. He viewed every Jew as equal in the eyes of Hashem. As the Chozeh of Lublin, zy’a, said about Reb Asher Yeshaya of Ropshitz, zy’a, years before the latter died on erev Pesach, “He is a beautiful Pesach sacrifice.” Rav Wosner is a also a beautiful Pesach sacrifice. We can only pray that, as Rashi (on Bamidbar 20:1) says, the death of this tzadik will bring an atonement for our nation.

Just as Rav Wosner valued every Jew equally, we know that Hashem desires a direct relationship and encounter with every single Jew, no matter whether he is of the “nobles of Israel” or is of the “wood choppers and water drawers.” May all of us merit to internalize this message never write ourselves off from working to draw ourselves closer and closer to Hashem.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Remembering What You Can’t Forget - Rav Weinberger's Last-Day-of-Pesach Drasha - Yizkor

Baruch Hashem, Rav Weinberger has approved this version of my write-up of his drasha from the last day of Pesach/Yizkor, on Shabbos morning. See here for past shiurim at YUTorah.org'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
Acharon Shel Pesach 5775
Remembering What You Can’t Forget 

It is very easy to take the words of the Siddur for granted. When we say in Yizkor “May G-d remember the soul of so-and-so…,” one might fail to ask the obvious question: Why are we asking Hashem not to forget when we know He remembers everything? As we say on Rosh Hashanah, “There is no forgetfulness before the throne of Your Glory.” If we cannot forget the soul of someone we have lost, how could Hashem forget him or her?  

Perhaps we can understand the answer to this question by understanding other mitzvos associated with memory in the Torah. The pasuk (Shmos 20:7) says “Remember the day of Shabbos to sanctify it.” The Midrash in Toras Kohanim at the beginning of parshas Bechukosai explains: “One might think one could remember in the heart [alone]. When the pasuk (Devarim 5:12) says, “Guard [the Shabbos], I know guarding in the heart. What does the word ‘remember’ add? That it should be repeated with your mouth.” The Midrash goes on to make similar derivations with respect to the other mitzvos associated with memory, like the mitzvah to remember what Hashem did to Miriam when she, on her level, spoke derogatorily about Moshe, and what Amalek did to our people when we left Egypt.  

The Ra’avad explains that we fulfill the mitzvah to verbally express the things we must remember by studying the halachos associated with each remembrance. We fulfill the mitzvah to remember Shabbos by studying the laws of Shabbos. We fulfill the mitzvah to remember Amalek by studying the laws of the Megillah. And we remember what happened to Miriam by studying the laws of skin afflictions.  

But why does the Toras Kohanim omit the mitzvah to remember the exodus from Egypt? That is a mitzvah too, as the pasuk (Shmos 13:3) says, “Remember this day when you went out from Egypt…” And Shma, davening, and the tefilos on Shabbosim and Yomim Tovim are filled with remembering the exodus from Egypt. It seems so integral to Yiddishkeit. Why do Chazal leave it out of the list of mitzvos related to memory? It could have included it along with an emphasis on the importance of expressing that memory verbally, by studying the halachos of Pesach.  

The truth is that sometimes we feel as if Hashem has forgotten us. We no longer have prophecy, a Beis Hamikdash, redemption, or open and revealed miracles. The Navi Yeshaya expresses this when he cries (Yeshayahu 49:14), “And Zion says, ‘G-d has abandoned me and G-d has forgotten me.’” The Gemara (Brachos 32b) explains: 

The Congregation of Israel says before Hashem: “Master of the World, when a man marries [a woman after the loss of] his first wife, he remembers the early days [of his first marriage]. But You have abandoned me and forgotten me!” Hashem then says to her: “My daughter, I created the twelve constellations… I only created them for your sake, and you say I have abandoned and forgotten you?! Can a woman forget her baby [עולה]?! Could I forget the elevation offerings [עולות]… which you sacrificed for me in the desert?!” 

The Maharal in Ner Mitzvah explains the deeper meaning of this Gemara. Based on the Gemara quoted above, he compares those first few moments with Hashem after we left Egypt to one’s first love. In this comparison, we are the wife of Hashem’s “youth.” 

Because the Maharal, based on the Gemara, speaks about the distinction between first and second marriages, we must understand this comparison with maturity. First, for some people, the characteristics of first and second marriages are reversed. For them, the first marriage may be like the second and the second one might be like another person’s first marriage. Also, even if the Maharal’s description of first versus second marriage does not jibe with a particular person’s experience, he or she should make an effort to understand the inner truth of the Maharal’s words, the point he is trying to make, and not get caught up in the parable.  

The Maharal writes:  

Every beginning is the essence of the matter, and is not circumstantial in nature. Because it is primary and essential, it is not subject to forgetfulness. Something which is not essential and is merely circumstantial is subject to forgetfulness because it is happenstance…. One cannot forget the essence of the matter.   

According to the Maharal, there are two types of relationships. There is one’s “first love,” which expresses a connection that touches the essence of how the two people identify themselves. One can no more forget such a person than he could forget himself. Subsequent relationships may be more of a matter of practicality; two people who get along because the circumstances happen to be right. But the connection does not bore down into the depths of who they are.  

The Gemara, according to the Maharal, said that while the Jewish people claimed that Hashem had abandoned and forgotten them, Hashem responded: “No! You are mistaken. You are the wife of my youth. You are bound up as part of My soul. It is impossible for me to forget you.” As the Gemara (Sanhedrin 22a) says, “A man only finds true peace of mind with his first wife.” After all, G-d says (Yirmiyahu 2:2), “You followed after me in the desert, in a land that was not sewn!” Hashem is telling us that He can never forget us because we are “part” of Him.  

With these principles, we can now understand why the Toras Kohanim omitted the exodus from Egypt from the list of remembrance-related mitzvos. When Shabbos ends, we can forget it because we are no longer living with it. It is not part of us. Because the events associated with Miriam and Amalek happened so long ago, we might forget them. Out of sight, out of mind. But the exodus from Egypt? It is part of who we are. It is our first marriage. It would be nonsensical to have to remember something which is always on our minds and defines our very essence. There can be no “G-d has abandoned me and G-d has forgotten me” when it comes to the exodus and Pesach. So when the Torah says “Remember this day when you went out from Egypt…,” it is more of a statement of fact. It is not because we could ever forget. That is why Chazal omit the exodus from the list of mitzvos related to remembrance.  

A person can never forget his wedding, the beginning of his first marriage. It is impossible. So it is not necessary to list it as a separate mitzvah to remember the exodus. It is simply not necessary because it is only necessary to command a person to remember things which he could potentially forget. And that is not the case with respect to the beginning of our relationship with Hashem in the desert.  

In an essay about the month of Nissan, the month of our redemption, Rav Kook calls the exodus from Egypt “the springtime of the world.” Everything about us and our relationship was new. It was the beginning of our relationship, our honeymoon. It made our relationship unforgettable.  It does not matter if we ever appear outwardly to grow apart from G-d for a period of time. For both of us, it is our “first love” and neither of us will ever leave the other’s mind.   

We see from all of this that there are two types of memory. We are commanded to remember things that could otherwise be forgotten. But, as we see from the psukim relating to remembering the exodus from Egypt, there is a concept that one asks another to remember something the person could in any case never have forgotten. That means asking someone not to allow that relationship simply to exist as part of the person. Rather, the image of the person or the relationship should be seared into the person’s consciousness. That is the type of remembrance Hashem was referring to when He said in the Torah, “Remember this day when you went out from Egypt…” 

And we are talking about this second type of memory when we say in Yizkor, “May G-d remember the soul of so-and-so…” Hashem created the Jewish soul before He created the world. The soul exists from the beginning of time. It is of Hashem’s essence, so to speak. The soul is not something that came into being later in history because it made sense under some set of circumstances. Because it was practical. It is not something Hashem might have forgotten because “G-d has abandoned me and G-d has forgotten me.” It is inexorably tied up with Hashem. Just like we can never forget the soul of someone who has left the world, Hashem cannot either. But we ask Hashem to bring the memory of the person to the forefront of His mind, so to speak. To sear it into His memory.  

I want to share a few paragraphs from a remarkable book, The Watchmaker’s Daughter, by Sonia Taitz, a memoir about her relationship with her parents, both Holocaust survivors. Dr. Taitz holds degrees from Barnard, Yale, and Oxford, but she writes about saying goodbye to her mother, several years after her father had passed away, in the most humble way. Her reflections capture this idea about a person being irreversibly seared into one’s memory: 

For the most part, until the end, he [my brother Manny] is away in California, where he works as a lawyer and real estate developer. I am with her every day. Spooning raspberry ices into her mouth is the last thing I do for my mother. They are the last thing she tastes on this earth. I am glad they are sweet. 


On her last day, she is mellow, smiling.

I can see love in her eyes, and I take a chance.

“Who did you really love more? Manny?”

“Yes, he was a boy, and I had lost my father and my two little brothers,” she says easily. “And he was always close to me.”

Then she adds, “But sometimes, you, more than anyone.”

This is even better than my father, who loved me most when I succeeded. The love she holds for me is there, even though I have failed her in every way.

She is so sweet as a dying person; she is so sweet even as she lies dead. So different from my father, who raged until the end, who took dying as a personal and undeserved final insult.

Gita is teaching me something about life that until then, despite all the diplomas, I had not learned. Becoming a mother has brought me close to the secret of her wisdom. Watching her fade, as love burns constant in her heart, brings me ever closer. She is a woman, with a woman’s modest and forgiving heart. If my father’s main question to me was “What did you accomplish?,” hers was, “What can I do for you?” or, “Isn’t this a joy, sitting here with our glass of tea?” 


When Gita was first diagnosed, my practical brother asked her to sign a legal document called a DNR. DO NOT RESCUCITATE…

Nonetheless, I am now thinking – DO RESUCICITATE!!

If a desert can bloom, if exiles can return, if an entire people can rise up from ashes and sand, so can she. So can my little Gita. I want her even as she is – she is still our Bubbe, our soft hands, our onions and bay leaves, our story.


But she dies. There is a smile on her face in death, a radiant smile. She looks alive… The hospital lets me stay with her as long as I want, and I stay for hours.

At her funeral, I cry as I have never cried before. I cry for her sad life, and I cry for her sweet girlishness, and her cuteness, and her socks, and the endless chicken soup and kitchen pan bustling …

I cry that we were never close enough. That I never learned to cook her recipes – yes the boiled chicken and the strange cabbage galuptzie and the mattress cake… chopped liver, flanken, or matzoh balls. All I can do is order in, and I blame feminism for that, for my contempt for her thankless domestic sacrifices. I am thanking her now as my children and I begin to try her old recipes.  


My mother, whether or not she understood me, would have died for me. When the Nazis put her mother on the “death” line, my mother ran over to her side and somehow got her out. She could have been shot, but she didn’t care. Had G-d asked her to take her child to a mountain and sacrifice her, Gitz Taitz, unlike Abraham, would not have obeyed. She would have said, “Take me instead.” She would have run up the mountain and laid herself down on the altar for me, as she once did for her mother. That is what a real mother can do.

And here is her last gift to a difficult child:

 “Du hast nicht keine shlechte bein…”

You don’t have a mean bone.

These final words are beautiful, and they will have to suffice me for the rest of my life. Coming from her, they mean more than Yale and Oxford put together. Like my dream of the magic mirror in Romper Room, Gita finally sees me through the glass. And I see her through mine. Even in her death, she is sweet, without specialness, or seeking specialness. She is mother, fragrant, giving.

I am not only the watchmaker’s daughter; I am hers.

May we and those we remember be seared into G-d’s memory so that we feel we can never be forgotten. And may we soon see the fulfillment of (Bereishis 50:24), “G-d will surely remember you and bring you up out of this land to the land which He swore to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov” soon in our days.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Seeking Out What We Don't Know - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Pesach Drasha

Baruch Hashem, Rav Weinberger has approved this version of my write-up of his drasha from the first day of Pesach, Shabbos morning. See here for past shiurim at YUTorah.org'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
Second Day of Pesach 5775
Seeking Out What We Don't Know

There are many important people at the Seder like the Bubbe and Zayde and the father and mother.  For some people the most important people are the waiter and maître d’. But the real stars of the Seder are the children. The bulk of the Hagadah is structured as an answer to the children’s question, “What makes this night different from all other nights?” This framework is so critical that even if there are no children at the Seder, one of the adults impersonates a child and asks the questions. As the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 473:40 based on Pesachim 116a) says, “And if he has no son, his wife must ask him. And if he has no wife, he asks himself, ‘Mah Nishtanah…’ And even if two scholars who are experts in all the laws of Pesach are reclining, one of them should ask his friend, ‘Mah Nishtanah…’”

We understand that the exodus from Egypt was the birth of our nation. Accordingly, each of the four sons at the Seder personifies four general types of Jews. Each one has his own limitations. The words “four sons, ארבעה בנים” have the same numerical value as “Egypt, מצרים.” The Hebrew word מצרים, Egypt, can also mean “limitations.” Every type of child and every type of Jew has his own unique limitations, but we are obligated to try to relate to each one according to his own nature.

It is easy to connect to the wise son. He is smart, inquisitive, interested, and engaged. Even the wicked son is involved. Regardless of what a person does or how wicked his actions and beliefs are, the halacha is (Kiddushin 36a) that “regardless [of their actions, the Jewish people] are called children [of G-d].” Both the wise and the wicked sons are engaged with Yiddishkeit, albeit one “for” and the other “against.” Even the simple son is somewhat involved. He may not know much, but he is still willing to listen when he asks, “What is this?”

But the fourth son, the one who does not know how to ask, is the most difficult to relate to. He simply sits there, completely unengaged, his mind in another world. If it were not Yom Tov, we know his face would be shining with the light of some electronic device, mindlessly killing time. Such a Jew seems strange to us. Jews are constantly asking questions and challenging one another. Yet this one sits silently, separate from everyone and everything. Nevertheless, the Torah asks us to speak to him. Each year, I focus more on one of the four sons in particular. After observing children, and even adults, today, my mind keeps coming back to the Jew who does not even bother to ask. How do we relate to him or her?

The amazing thing is that even though the most disengaged child at the Seder is the child who does not know how to ask, it seems from the Torah (Shmos 13:8) that the entire Hagadah is primarily geared toward him: “And you shall tell you son on that day…” That statement is not preceded by a question. Because the recounting of the exodus on Seder night is not in response to any particular question, we know that the son referred to in this pasuk is the one who does not know how to ask. Yet that pasuk is the source for our entire obligation to tell the story of the exodus at the Seder!

It is impossible to know what lies behind this child’s apparently vacant eyes. Does he really not know how to ask? Maybe he does not ask any questions because deep inside, he is a wicked son, looking with distain at the mitzvos everyone else is doing. Or maybe he is a hidden tzadik, modest and shy. He does not want anyone else to know about his love and fear of G-d, so he remains silent.

The truth is that today we see more and more children who seem to not know how to ask, who appear disengaged. I was speaking with a rebbe in one of the yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel this week. He told me that he sees a significant difference between the young men coming from America now in contrast to even just three years ago. Generally, the boys today are significantly less engaged with the shiurim than they were a few years ago. In his yeshiva, they are unable to tell the boys not to bring their smartphones. They spend the time in shiur texting or involved with social media. No matter how great and exciting the rebbe’s material is, there are no questions. They do not seem involved.

So many young people, and adults as well, seem apathetic. Many rebbeim feel they simply have no one to speak to. There is nobody on the other side who is even engaged in the conversation. They seem not to know how to ask. This is in contrast to the wicked son. Although he rails against Yiddishkeit, he is involved. He is still part of the conversation.

I spoke once to a group of bochurim at breakfast time. The first thing I did was ask them whether they have any questions. I am usually answered with silence. In an effort to engage with them, In such situations, I sometimes attempt to say offensive, objectionable things simply to get their attention. I know if any of my rebbeim said such things when I was in yeshiva, the class would have been in an uproar. But in that shiur, I was only greeted with another turn of the cantaloupe.

The Jew who does not to know how to ask seems like nothing interests him. That is why he is the fourth son, the last one. He seems lost to us. But the Torah is telling us that we must nevertheless work to reach him, to touch something inside of him. We are not allowed to give up hope. Our job in this generation is to do that which the Hagadah tells us to do in response to the son who does not know how to ask: “את פתח לו, You open it up for him.” In order to do that, we must look behind his silence. On one hand, he may be apathetic. But on the other hand, because he is not yet involved, everything is open. He is a clean vessel. He is raw, unformed material with the potential to become the greatest of the great.

Rebbe Nachman, zy’a, teaches (Likutei Moharan I 30) that the father of our nation, Avraham, instituted Shacharis, שחרית, the initial letters of which stand for the four sons: the wise son (חכם), the wicked son (רשע), the simple son (תם), and the son who does not know (שאינו יודע) how to ask.

The Rebbe teaches us something about the son who does not know how to ask that may cause some Jews who are accustomed to only studying the simple meaning of the Torah, פשט, to hyperventilate. But the truth is that the word for the simple meaning of the Torah (פשט) also spells טפש, fool. While one must always study the simple meaning of the Torah, if one stops there, he is a fool. The Torah is so deep that it is an insult to limit it only to the simple meaning.

Rebbe Nachman teaches that this son wants to do teshuva even for those sins he does not know about, שאינו יודע. And the word “לשאול, to ask” also means “to request, to daven.” This Jew davens and asks Hashem to help him rectify even those parts of himself that he does not know about.

According to Rebbe Nachman’s explanation, the fact that this Jew does not ask questions is not because he does not care or because he is apathetic. Rather, it is because he is seeking, davening, and asking for something deeper about himself and about his Yiddishkeit than he knew about before. That is what he is waiting and hoping for. He is waiting for someone to come along and tell him something he did not know. Most of the time, he feels like his parents, rebbeim, and teachers are telling him things he already knows. But he wants something deeper, something more real and more connected. He silence is a plea for the אינו יודע, that which he does not know, for the אין, the Infinite One.

The Hagadah tells us that our response to this son is “את פתח לו, You open it up for him.” Speak with him about redemption, renewal, and about the deeper secrets of exile and salvation, the inner meaning of Pesach. That deeper part of himself and our people has the potential to open him up, to help him find that deeper, unknown part of himself that he seeks. And grammatically, the word for “you, את,” is actually feminine. The person with the greater capacity to open up the son who is waiting for someone to tell him something he does not already know is his mother. He must hear words that speak to his heart, that come from a place of warmth and connection. Cold, technical teachings will not suffice for someone seeking that which he has not heard before, that which he does not know.

The Rizhiner, zy’a, teaches us something else about the son who does not know how to ask (“שאינו יודע לשאול”). The word “שאינו, who does not,” can also be understood to refer to one who believes that he himself is nothing (אינו). Such a person “יודע לשאול,” knows how to ask. He knows how to daven. One who recognizes that he is nothing on his own without Hashem truly understands how to daven, how to ask for what he needs. And the Hagadah tells us Hashem’s response to such a person: “את פתח לו, You open it up for him.” Hashem will open up all the gates for him and will bring the final redemption.

Indeed, the Shpoler Zayde, zy’a, teaches something similar about the deeper meaning of the traditional introduction to the Seder read by children: “When the father comes home from Shul on the night of Pesach, he needs to make Kiddush right away so that the children don't fall asleep.” We ask Hashem to make the big “Kiddish,” the final sanctification of the world with the complete redemption and the arrival of Moshiach “right away.” Because if not, our children are falling asleep into the apathy of exile. In this final generation, the children and many of the adults are becoming disengaged, they are falling asleep. We therefore ask Hashem to save us before we completely give up hope of every finding that unknown, deeper part of ourselves that we seek before it becomes too deeply hidden.

Ruth Lewis, in her book Memo to Self, captures this concept with beauty and simplicity (p. 70):

I Sleep

I may seem to be
watching Sunday football on TV
in my soft armchair,
my torn T-shirt slovenly,
a day’s stubble on my chin,
hands folded over beer belly,
cigarette burning in the ashtray.
I sleep…

I may seem to be
surfing on the sea
off of L.A.,
laughing, carefree
into wild winds!
Long hair streaming
behind me
bleached blonde,
bare toenails painted red.
I sleep…

I may seem to be
in a monastery
in the mountain ranges
of Nepal,
wearing saffron robes,
legs crossed under me,
meditating deeply.
I sleep…

I may seem to be
davening devotedly,
swaying with intensity,
bent over my Gemara
I sleep…

“I sleep,
but my heart wakes.
It is the Voice
of my Beloved,
‘Open to Me!
My love! My dove!
My perfect one!’”

Just knock
And You’ll see
All those sleepers wake.

Hashem, please give us the wisdom to know what to say to open up our children, friends, family, and students who seemingly do not know how to ask. Please knock. Please make Kiddush. Please open us up and bring the final redemption soon in our days before our sleep turns into a coma.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

As a Favor to Dixie Yid, Please Read!

Howdy y'all! I want to ask you to read something about my son's cheder, Siach Yitzchak, which is an amazing place, with the hopes that you will buy a raffle ticket (and write my name in the "Referred By" box) to support the school. The drawing will be this Sunday, Feb. 15th, though that date will probably be extended a bit. Tickets are $100 for one ticket and $360 for five. The prize is a choice between (i) $20,000 cash or (ii) $25,000 toward a Sefer Torah, a trip to Israel for 10, or a new car.
As I wrote the last two years, Siach Yitzchak is unlike almost any other yeshiva that I have heard of. Please see those links to prior posts where I detailed a few examples of things that show how Reb Dovid Sitnick (who was appointed to head the cheder by its founder, Rav Shlomo Freifeld) has created a cheder in which the boys experience how Yiddishkeit and Torah are the most precious things in the world. My son is now in fourth grade and has been in the cheder since he was three years old. In addition to the observations I related in my previous posts about the cheder, here are a few more examples of things which I feel make Siach Yitzchak stand out as such an unusual and special place:
  • My daughter told me that, as my wife was dropping our son off at school after one of the major snowstorms in the past couple of weeks, she observed Rabbi Seide, the educational director of the cheder, lifting as many boys as he could over the huge pile of snow on the side of the road as they came to school.
  • The rebbeim truly care about the boys and it comes across in everything. My son's rebbe from Pre-1-A (4 years ago) sat down with him the other day to ask him about his recent extra-curricular Mishnayos learning (with me) and discussed with him ideas on what to learn next!
  • At PTA conferences last month, our son's rebbe advised us, when reviewing each day's kriah homework with our son, that we should go back to make sure he understands the words he had a problem with. But he added that the homework should not take more than about 20 minutes. He told us we should stop in the middle if it does because beyond that, it will just drive him crazy and it will become counterproductive.
  • The previous example, along with the energy and excitement the rebbeim put in, show that their entire focus is on giving the kids not just technical learning skills, but, even more importantly, a love for learning and a feeling of satisfaction from it.

With all of the lack of excitement about Yiddishkeit and the focus on externals that we see are so prevalent in some yeshivos, I feel so blessed that we have merited to find and be able to send our son to a cheder like this.
As a favor, I therefore ask you to please go right away to buy a raffle ticket before the end of the day this Sunday, February 15th! Thank you!
In the website form, please write "Dixie Yid" or my real name (if you know it) in the "Referred By" box. If you feel more comfortable, you can also call the cheder's office number (718-327-6247) to give them your credit card info or you can give it to me at 516-668-6397 and I can take care of it for you. Note that the system allows you to pay for the ticket(s) all at once or split it up over 4 payments. Shkoyach!!

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Alex Clare - Eli Beer - Zusha: Video of Woodmere Melaveh Malka

Eliav and his Rebbetzin Ruchie Frei brought together some of the deepest musical brothers for a Melaveh Malka at his home after Shabbos 12/27/2014. It was so beautiful.

Eli Beer (http://www.elibeer.com/)created the musical gravity around which the evening revolved and the unique sound of Zusha (http://www.zusha.com/) (Elisha Mendl Mlotek [precussion], Zachariah “Juke” Goldshmiedt [guitar] & Shlomo Ari Gaisin [vocals]) brought everyone to a very deep place. 

We also merited to have a very special guest as well, Alex Clare (
http://alexclare.com/), who was in New York after the tail end of his current U.S. tour but before the beginning of the European leg of the tour. He shared beautiful Torah and stories from a recent tour, as well as his own music. It goes without saying that he has a deep soul and it was a pleasure to sing with him.

And as if that weren't enough, Rav Moshe Weinberger, a rebbe to everyone present, came for a good portion of the Melaveh Malka. 

I created a full-length video of the whole Melaveh Malka, as well as separate videos for each artist. The full length video is first below, and then the separate videos for each of the artists are below that. Enjoy and share!

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