Sunday, November 16, 2014

Blood, Sweat, and Tears - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha on Parshas Chayei Sara

Baruch Hashem, Rav Moshe Weinberger has reviewed this write-up of his drasha from the this past Shabbos, parshas Chayei Sara. See here for past write-ups. Also, thousands of Rav Weinberger's shiurim are available online here. You can also go to's website to hear Rav Weinberger's shiurim as mashgiach/mashpia at YU or click on one of the following links to subscribe to the shiurim: emailrss feedpodcast, or iTunes. Please note that these drashos will only be available online for one month. My son suggested (credit where it is due!) that if you notice any mistakes, please let me know so I can correct it. If you are interested in a particular drasha that is no longer online, you can email me and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.

Rav Moshe Weinberbger
Parshas Chayei Sara 5775
Blood, Sweat, and Tears

It is very difficult to understand why Avraham insisted on paying so much to buy Me’aras Hamachpela, the cave of Machpela, in which to bury Sara. Efron had offered to give it to him as a gift (Bereishis 23:11). The people even called him a “prince of G-d” (ibid. 6) Why not accept their gift? Hashem had already told him (ibid. 15:7) that he would inherit Eretz Yisroel. Avraham knew that Me’aras Hamachpela would ultimately be his in any case. While it is true that “One who hates gifts will live” (Mishlei 15:27), since Me’aras Hamachpela had already been promised to Avraham, it was not truly Efron’s to give. It is especially difficult to understand according to the Gemara (Bava Metzia 87a) which explains that the 400 shekalim paid by Avraham Avinu were not ordinary shekalim. They were large shekalim worth about 100 times the value of regular shekalim. According to this, Avraham paid the equivalent of 40,000 shekalim. Why was this necessary?

Perhaps we can understand Avraham’s motivation based on a teaching by Rav Aharon Soloveitchik, zt”l. Rav Aharon quotes the Mishna (Bava Metzia 38a): “If one deposits his produce with his friend [to guard], even if they will be lost, he may not touch them.” In other words, the Mishna teaches that if someone is guarding another person’s produce, and that produce begins to rot, he may not sell the produce in order to give the proceeds to the owner, nor may he exchange the produce for a fresher replacement in order to return non-rotten produce to the owner. Why is this?

Rav Kahana, in the Gemara, explains: “A person wants one portion of his own [property] more than nine portions of his friend’s [property].” Rashi explains that one wants his own portion more than another’s because “it is more precious to him because he toiled for it. He wants the one portion that remains from it [that did not become rotten] more than nine portions of others that would have been purchased with the proceeds of his produce which would have been sold [before they became rotten].”

What does Rashi’s comment add to Rav Kahana’s explanation of the Mishna? Rav Aharon Soloveitchik explains that Rashi was bothered by the following question: Even if the guardian had exchanged the produce for money or for fresher produce, it would still be his, not another person’s! Whatever produce or money one receives in exchange for his own produce still belongs to him. It would not be considered part of the “nine portions of his friend’s.” Rav Aharon therefore explains that Rashi answers this question by showing that there are two types of ownership: (i) legal title and (ii) emotional ownership.

In the first type of ownership, legal title, it makes no difference whether one has the produce he grew himself, money obtained in exchange for that produce, or fresher produce. It all belongs to the person and is considered “his own portion.” If one assumes that Rav Kahana is discussing this type of ownership, it would be very difficult to understand why a person would distinguish between the produce one grew himself or money/produce one obtained in exchange for such produce.

But Rashi’s explanation of Rav Kahana makes it clear that Rav Kahana was discussing the second type: emotional/spiritual/psychological ownership. This is created when one toils to earn something. After a person has invested months preparing the ground, plowing his soil, planting, watering, and harvesting his crop, the produce he obtains is precious to him became he poured his blood, sweat, and tears into it. A small portion someone worked for with his own effort is worth more to him that nine portions grown by someone else even if he has legal title to it.

That is why Avraham Avinu insisted on purchasing Me’aras Hamachpela himself even though he already had legal title to it. He longed to have a portion in Eretz Yisroel to which he had emotional title, not just legal title. He wanted to ensure that the land of Israel would always be so precious to him, his children, and his grandchildren, that they would never be willing to relinquish it.

This is reflected in the double meanings of the two words for money: damim and kesef. Damim means money, but it also means blood. A person pours his blood, his very life-force, into earning a living. So when he spends that money on something, it is very precious to him. He has emotional title to it. And in addition to meaning “money,” kesef means “longing.” A person feels a stronger longing and connection to the money he worked to earn, and those things he has purchased with that money, than things which are much more valuable that he never purchased himself. Avraham wanted to spend his hard-earned money to acquire Me’aras Hamachpela so that the Jewish people would have an everlasting bond with Eretz Yisroel that is emotional and spiritual, not simply economic.

The Kedushas Levi, zy”a, teaches this same concept in remarkable way, commenting on the pasuk (Bereishis 21:10), “G-d [אלוקים] has made joy for me.” He asks why Sara used the name of G-d which implies strict justice, Elokim, when she said that Hashem gave her joy with the birth of Yitzchak after so many years. She should have said that Hashem (using the four letter name of G-d which implies His attribute of kindness) gave her joy!

The Kedushas Levi answers that normally, when young people have children immediately after marriage, they feel a moderate level of joy. But when a person prays and cries for children year after year and then Hashem finally gives him or her children, the joy is immeasurable. Sara was saying that G-d’s attribute of strict justice, which caused her to wait many years to have children, ultimately caused her to have tremendous joy which she never would have felt if Hashem had originally exhibited His attribute of kindness and given her children at a young age. A person values and rejoices in that which he acquired through great toil, effort, and tears, much more than anything he obtained easily.

When someone has davened for something for years, his stake in it is so much greater. That is why Chana’s prayers for her son Shmuel Hanavi were so powerful. The Gemara (Brachos 31b) teaches that Shmuel became ill because he had shown some level of disrespect to Eli, the Kohein Gadol, by teaching halacha in Eli’s presence. While Shmuel was at death’s door, Chana pled with Eli Hakohein to intervene in the upper worlds to save her son. He told her there was nothing he could do but pray that G-d grant her another child after Shmuel’s death. But she refused to hear of this. She told him (Shmuel I 1:27), “I prayed for this child.” Chana had invested years of prayer and tears into Shmuel Hanavi’s birth. No other child could have possibly acted as a substitute. Chana’s love, prayer, and insistence allowed Eli Hakohein to draw down salvation from above and Shmuel lived. We know Shmuel grew up to anoint Dovid Hamelech as king. So in the end, Moshiach, great-grandson of Dovid Hamelech, will ultimately come into the world in the merit of the prayers and tears of Shmuel’s mother Chana.

A Mother Needs to Cry

A young Gerer chassidic man named Leibish from New York went to study in the Gerer yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel before the Pnei Menachem, zt”l, the previous Gerer Rebbe, had become Rebbe. At that time, he was still the rosh yeshiva in Yerushalayim. Leibish was recognized by everyone as the top boy in the yeshiva. He had exemplary character traits and he was the brightest and most diligent student, a pride to his parents and the yeshiva.

At one point in the year, his parents went to visit the yeshiva and Leibish’s father went to speak to the rosh yeshiva, the Pnei Menachem, looking forward to the praises he would surely hear about his son. When he met the Pnei Menachem, he introduced himself, but the rosh yeshiva simply acknowledged his greeting and said that it was good to meet him. Thinking perhaps that the rosh yeshiva had not realized who his son was, he added that his son was Leibish. The Pnei Menachem responded, “Yes, I know. Very good to meet you.” Brokenhearted, this father was at a loss. He knew how great his son was. Why was the rosh yeshiva not singing Leibish’s praises to him?!

He therefore asked the rosh yeshiva, “Rebbe, please tell me if there is some problem with Leibish. I do not want you to protect me from any negative news. If there are any issues, please tell me what they are and I am happy to speak with Leibish about it.”

But the Pnei Menachem answered: No, do not worry. There are no problems. He is doing very well. But let me tell you a story: I have a step-brother (the Pnei Manachem’s father, the Imrei Emes, zy”a, was widowed several times, so the Pnei Menachem had a number of step-brothers). At one point, he received notice that he would be drafted into the Polish army. This was horrible news, so his mother, my father the Imrei Emes’s Rebbetzin, approached her husband to ask him to intercede on behalf of her son, my step-brother. But the Rebbe simply said, “Nu, what can we do. Hopefully G-d will help.” Dumbfounded, the Rebbetzin left, wondering why the Rebbe would not help her son from the horrible fate that surely awaited him in the Polish army.

The next day, her mother, the Imrei Emes’s mother in law, came to the Rebbe determined not to take “no” for an answer. When she approached the Rebbe, he told her, “Do not worry. Your grandson will not be drafted.” Confused by the difference between what the Rebbe had told her daughter and what she had just heard, she asked, “But why did the Rebbe not tell my daughter the good news yesterday?” The Rebbe answered that “A mother needs to cry.” He did not want to give her too much hope the day before because it was her tears after she spoke with the Imrei Emes that brought down her son’s salvation from Heaven.

When the Pnei Menachem finished telling this story to Leibish’s father, he concluded: Why do  you think your son is so successful in everything he does in yeshiva? It is because of your and your wife’s tears and davening for his success. If I told you how well he was doing, you would stop worrying and stop davening. A mother needs to cry. Leibish needs your davening in order to continue succeeding.

Our people are still crying, suffering, davening, and dying, in order to acquire Me’aras Hamachpela and Chevron. May all of the tears and davening of all of the generations finally constitute full payment for Eretz Yisroel and Yerushalayim. May Hashem clear away all of the filth so that every street, every alleyway, of Yerushalayim will be ours and ours alone in which we will be able to fully reveal the honor of Heaven with the coming of Moshiach, may he come very soon in our days.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Rav Moshe Weinberber's Drasha on Parshas Veyeira - Spending Time

Baruch Hashem, Rav Moshe Weinberger has reviewed this write-up of his drasha from the this past Shabbos, parshas Vayeira. See here for past write-ups. Also, thousands of Rav Weinberger's shiurim are available online here. You can also go to's website to hear Rav Weinberger's shiurim as mashgiach/mashpia at YU or click on one of the following links to subscribe to the shiurim: email, rss feed, podcast, or iTunes. Please note that these drashos will only be available online for one month. My son suggested (credit where it is due!) that if you notice any mistakes, please let me know so I can correct it. If you are interested in a particular drasha that is no longer online, you can email me and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Vayeira 5775
Spending Time

Hashem says about Avraham (Bereishis 18:19): “For I have known him because he commanded his children and his household after him, and they observed the path of Hashem, doing righteousness and justice…” the Meshech Chochma, zt’l, teaches that this pasuk is the Torah source for the mitzva of chinuch, educating our children. He explains that the mitzva of “And you shall review with your son” (Devarim 6:7) and “And you shall teach your children” (Devarim 11:19) refer to the mitzva to teach one’s children Torah. That is the curriculum of Torah. But the general, all-encompassing mitzva of chinuch, the mitzva to raise one’s children to live a G-dly life, is derived from Avraham Avinu.  

The fact that Avraham fulfilled the mitzva of chinuch with his children is so great, Rashi explains that “I have known him” is an expression of love and is the source of the fact that the Navi calls Avraham (Yeshayahu 41:8), “Avraham that I love.” But what did Avraham actually command his children and the members of his household? What specifically did he teach them? We see that the result was that “they observed the path of Hashem, doing righteousness and justice.” But beyond the fact that they lived in the same household as a tzadik like Avraham, the pasuk never teaches us clearly what Avraham did to fulfill this mitzva. If the Torah does not make that clear, how can we learn from his actions and apply them to the way we educate our children in the path of Hashem?

There is a teaching in Tana D’vei Eliyahu (19:5) where Eliyahu Hanavi davens to Hashem to point out the positive attributes of the Jewish people: “My Father in Heaven, remember the covenant that You entered into with the earlier generations, with the three tzadikim, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. Remember how many poor and impoverished people there are in the Jewish people. Yet they study Torah every single day… They do not have enough food to eat, yet they pay a salary to rebbeim to teach their children Torah…”  

The Tolner Rebbe, shlita, asks how we can understand this prayer of Eliyahu Hanavi in light of our circumstances today. Unlike in previous generations, virtually no one is forced to choose between hiring teachers for his children and putting bread and water on his table. While tuition is difficult and people sacrifice to educate their children, thankfully, that education is generally not at the expense of basic sustenance. Not everyone can afford to go out for sushi and steak, but they are also not starving. So what is the test of our generation? How do we sacrifice for our children’s education and welfare? What makes us worthy of Eliyahu Hanavi’s tears? 

The Tolner Rebbe suggests that while the greatest test for previous generations was spending money on Torah education rather than food, our generation’s greatest test is how we spend our time. Because of the pressures of making a living and the time people spend using their electronic devices, as well as their varied interests and social commitments, the most difficult thing in our generation is dedicating one-on-one time with one’s husband or wife, and with one’s children. Beyond handling homework assignments and daily tasks, the call to action for our generation is to spend some non-pressured, quiet, quality time with one’s spouse and children.  

Even on Shabbos, it is difficult to give up a portion of our precious three-hour naps to spend time learning, playing, or talking with our children during the short Shabbos days of the upcoming winter months. And while one might think that people could simply spend the long Friday nights with their children, there is a strong desire to simply go to sleep at 8 p.m.! Spending time with one’s spouse and children is a difficult challenge for our generation even on Shabbos.

The key area of sacrifice we are called upon to make in our generation is to spend some time with each of our sons and daughters to talk with them about matters which concern them: How is yeshiva? How are things with friends? We must take time to call our children’s rebbeim, moros, and teachers. Instead of making time for these conversations, so many people waste away hours and hours on their iPhones, iPads, and computers. But if someone sacrifices his time and dedicates it to his or her spouse and children, Eliyahu Hanavi highlights each precious sacrifice to Hashem in his advocacy for the Jewish people. 

Unfortunately, men and much more prone to failure in this area than women are. Even though there are tremendous pressures on women in this generation as well, and many women must work full- or part-time to support their families, they generally find a way to make the necessary time for their children. 

The Sfas Emes (on Bereishis 5658 “Vayikach Hashem”) highlights this reality in his comment on the pasuk (Bamidbar 11:12) in which Moshe asks Hashem, “Did I conceive this entire nation or give birth to it that You should say ‘Carry it in your bosom…’” The Rebbe teaches that the pasuk reveals by implication that if a mother did give birth to the entire Jewish nation, she would have the ability to take care of its needs. But even the nation’s father, Moshe Rebbeinu, could not give the people the time they require. 

We see that even a busy working mother finds the time to spend with her children. But men,  even if they have fewer external demands on their time, often fail to spend real time with their children. But while this is generally less of a problem for women, it becoming increasingly difficult for them as well. Certainly none of our grandmothers spent time at the cafes and gyms of Ungvar or Strelisk, having coffee with friends or taking Zumba or Pilates classes. Their entire lives were dedicated to their families. I know even now, after her children are grown, my mother’s only thought is the wellbeing of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  

We see this reflected in the Haftara this week as well. The wife of the students of the prophets, the Shunamis, prayed for a child, and when she gave birth to a son and he grew up, she was heartbroken when he suddenly became sick and died. At that time, she prepared to go see Elisha Hanavi again to seek his help, and her husband said (Kings II 4:23), “Why are you going to him today? It is not Rosh Chodesh and it is not Shabbos.” When their child died, the father’s reaction was, “Oh well. Too bad.” But the Shunamis refused to give him. She demanded and pleaded until the Navi agreed to help her.  

One of the most moving psukim in all of Tanach is after Elisha revives the son of the Shunamis and says to her (ibid. at 36), “Take your son.” She was heartbroken at the thought that she may have lost the son she prayed for with all of her heart. We cannot even imagine how the words “Take your son” must have sounded in her ears. G-d willing, after this difficult week in Eretz Yisroel, with Arab terrorists killing our children, when Moshiach comes, he and the tzadikim will bring all of those who were taken from the world back to their loved ones and say, “Take your son.”  

So what did Avraham Avinu teach his children that caused Hashem to love him so much? How did he fulfill the mitzva of chinuch? The Kedushas Levi, zy”a teaches us an amazing thing about the pasuk we began with above. In the words of the Kedushas Levi, 

He [Avraham] decided that it was not sufficient that he alone should fulfill the mitzva with his great intellect. Instead, he had an additional intention in mind when he fulfilled some mitzva: to do it in the name of all Israel. Indeed, the entire Jewish people were in the thoughts and mind of Avraham because the potential for the son is hidden within the father. The mind of Avraham was the root and included within it the entire Jewish people and all of the descendants of Avraham which would come after him; every single generation until Moshiach comes. 

Based on this, the Kedushas Levi explains that the word “commanded” in the pasuk, “because he commanded [יצוה] his children,” is derived from the word “צוותא, bound.” Avraham Avinu bound himself to his children in everything that he did. Every act was for their sake. 

That is the essence of our generation’s test with respect to chinuch. If we do whatever we do to bind ourselves to our children, and not merely for our own sake, then we will surely find the will to make the time to spend with them. And just as he advocated for us in previous generations, may Eliyahu Hanavi bring the time we dedicate and sacrifice for our children up to Hashem as a merit through which we will see the coming of Moshiach soon in our days.
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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Video From Eli & Dina Beer's Sheva Brachos Thursday Night (10/30/14)

I'm happy to share this video of Eli and Dina Beer's sheva brachos, hosted by the holy couple, Ruchie and Eliav Frei, in Woodmere, NY! Eli grabbed his guitar and led the niggunim much of the time and shared a many Torahs and stories. Quite awesome.

Eli is known for his song/video Ve'yiyu Rachamecho:

And here is a video of Eli's amazing Halel from Rosh Chodesh Adar II from earlier this year:

The video was taken by the inimitable Dov Perkal. Here is the info on the camera and lighting equipment he used:

Canon EOS 70D
Canon lens 18-55 mm
Polaroid 320 Vari-Temp Super Bright LED Light

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Dance of Our Lives - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Pre-Simchas Torah Drasha

Baruch Hashem, Rav Moshe Weinberger has reviewed this write-up of his pre-Simchas Torah drasha. See here for past write-ups. Also, thousands of Rav Weinberger's shiurim are available online here. You can also go to's website to hear Rav Weinberger's shiurim as mashgiach/mashpia at YU or click on one of the following links to subscribe to the shiurim: email, rss feed, podcast, or iTunes. Please note that these drashos will only be available online for one month. My son suggested (credit where it is due!) that if you notice any mistakes, please let me know so I can correct it. If you are interested in a particular drasha that is no longer online, you can email me and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.

Rav Moshe Weinberber
Simchas Torah 5775
The Dance of Our Lives 

The sages of the Geonic period instituted the celebration of Simchas Torah on the existing Yom Tov of Shmini Atzeres. The purpose of the holiday is to rejoice in the Torah (Yalkut Shimoni, Pinchas, Remez 782). But the truth is that Yom Kippur is less than two weeks before Shmini Atzeres and it would seem to be a more appropriate time for Simchas Torah because the Jewish people received the second set of luchos, tablets, on Yom Kippur. Why then did the Geonim institute the holiday of Simchas Torah on Shmini Atzeres rather than Yom Kippur? 

In order to answer this question, we must first understand the nature of Shmini Atzeres more deeply. We know that on each of the seven days of Sukkos, we have special guests in the Sukkah, the Ushpizin: Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Yosef, and Dovid. The tzadikim teach that the Ushpizin, the guest, of Simchas Torah is Shlomo Hamelech.   How can we understand this? The Ushpizin are not a list of our all-time favorite hit rabbis. If they were, there are many others who might qualify. The feminists would not doubt release a list of their designated “Ushpizot” and every sect would certainly have their own favorites. The truth is that the Ushpizin each correspond to one of the seven lower sefiros and each Ushpizin’s unique nature has an inherent connection to the corresponding day of Sukkos. Why then do the tzadikim add an additional Ushpizin for Simchas Torah? There are only seven sefiros. What are they attempting to teach us about the connection between Shmini Atzeres and Shlomo Hamelech? 

In order to understand the Shmini Atzeres/Shlomo Hamelech connection, we must first understand the answer to two questions about Shlomo’s father, Dovid Hamelech. First, on Hoshana Raba, we say, “Please save for the sake of the one who smiles and dances with song, who teaches Torah with every musical instrument.” What does this mean? We know that it is possible to teach Torah through words and through seforim. What does it mean to teach Torah with musical instruments?  

Second, Chazal (Yuma 71a) say that when Dovid Hamelech asked (Tehillim 116:9) to “walk before Hashem in the lands of life,” he was asking G-d to allow him to walk before Him in the marketplaces of the world. How could Dovid Hamelech say that? He himself only asked for one thing (Tehillim 27:4), “to dwell in the house of G-d” all the days of his life. Torah is the highest way one can connect to Hashem. Why would Dovid Hamelech ask in Tehillim to walk before Hashem in the marketplaces of this world? 

When I was young, my family made aliya, moved to Israel. But one of my mother’s conditions was that we would not live in a merkaz klita, absorption center. While I hope the quality of the merkaz klita system in Israel has improved since the 1960’s, a merkaz klita is something that exists in a certain place to help someone to become absorbed into the land. Although every Jew is inherently connected to Eretz Yisroel, when he and his family have lived elsewhere for hundreds of years, the connection becomes less apparent and because of all of the obstacles that have become part of our lives in exile, “absorption” in the land feels difficult. That is the purpose of a physical merkaz klita; to ease the absorption process.  

On a spiritual level, the tzadikim teach that Shmini Atzeres is a merkaz klita in time. It is a temporal reality in which the experiences of Elul, Rosh Hashana, and Yom Kippur, and Sukkos can become absorbed into the fabric of our souls and personalities.

There are people who have studied and continue to study a tremendous amount of Torah. The question is whether any of it has absorbed into their bones and their flesh. During most of the year, the mind is cluttered with thousands of competing thoughts, necessary tasks, desires, and feelings. But after the forgiveness of Yom Kippur, our inboxes are completely emptied out. Our minds are no longer cluttered and we have the ability to absorb the Torah’s teachings. This the meaning of the Gemara’s teaching (Avoda Zara 19a) about the pasuk (Tehillim 1:2), “But his desire is for Hashem’s Torah, and in his Torah he will meditate day and night.” Ideally, when one begins to study Torah, it is “Hashem’s.” But once he has allowed it to absorb into him, once he has understood and incorporated its teachings into his life, it is not only Hashem’s Torah. It is “his” Torah. 

How does one know if his Torah learning has penetrated his heart, whether he has truly accepted the second tablets which were carved by Moshe Rebbeinu rather than Hashem? How can a person test whether the Torah has gone from being Hashem’s Torah to “his” Torah? This can only be tested when one is not studying Torah, when one is outside the beis medresh and he encounters situations, problems, or questions to which he has not already studied the answer, He must encounter problems to which there is no clearly pre-defined response.  One can only know if he has become one with the Torah if he sees that he has incorporated the principles of Torah into his personality and can apply them in new, unclear circumstances. 

That is why Dovid Hamelech asked Hashem to allow him to walk before Him in the marketplaces of this world. Dovid knew that it would only be apparent whether he was truly walking before the Divine Presence outside of the beis medresh. So while the Torah is of course the ultimate goal and the beis medresh is the holiest place in our lives, Dovid was asking to walk before G-d in the marketplaces in order to reach the highest level wherein the Torah he studied in the beis medrash became part of him. That is why Dovid Hamelech said (Tehillim 35:10), “All of my bones sing Your praises, oh G-d.” That is why the author of the Hoshanos said that Dovid Hamelech teaches Torah with “every musical instrument.” Every song, every movement, every activity was infused with the consciousness of G-d’s Presence and will. 

The seforim of Chabad emphasize that this principle is the reason we only dance on Simchas Torah before sifrei Torah which are closed.  The main thing we celebrate on Simchas Torah is not the fact that we merit the greatest joy in the world which is studying Torah. Rather, we go beyond that. We rejoice in the fact that we live and love Torah even when the Torah scroll is closed, when we are not studying Torah. 

That is what we are dancing for. That is also why we celebrate Simchas Torah by dancing rather than studying. We want to show that the greatest joy of Torah is how it infuses G-dliness into the movement of our feet, how we sing, and how we celebrate. That is how we know that the Torah has gone beyond the intellect and become infused into our personalities. That is why Dovid Hamelech asked G-d to allow him to walk before Him in the marketplaces. And it is what he was thanking G-d for when he said (Vayikra Raba 35:1), “Master of the World, every day I think and say that I will go to such-and-such a place. But my feet bring me to shuls and houses of Torah study.” The Torah became so absorbed into his bones that his feet “took” him to the beis medresh even when he planned to go elsewhere. 

If the songs of Dovid Hamelch are holy, then his son Shlomo Hamelech’s Shir Hashirim is holy of holies. Shlomo wrote his sefer analogizing the relationship between Hashem and His people to the love between a man and woman. He also wrote (Shir Hashirim 3:2) “I will walk around the city, in the marketplaces and streets…” The purpose of Shir Hashirim is to see G‑dliness in those places which feel least connected to G-d. People discuss how Hashem’s name does not appear in Megillas Esther. But Rebbe Nachman points out that Shir Hashirim does not refer to Him either. The letters of Shlomo’s name (שלמה) also spell “למשה, To Moshe.” The whole purpose of Shlomo Hamelech’s work in this world was to show how every aspect of life connects back to Moshe, to the Torah. Shlomo’s Torah is the Torah of “the lands of life,” the Torah as revealed in the marketplaces, offices, trains, and streets of this world.  That is why Shlomo is the Ushpizin of Shmini Atzeres. 

Sukkos is the chuppah, in which we are together alone under the schach, the wedding canopy, with Hashem. But Shmini Atzeres is when we begin living in Hashem’s domain, in His house, when we become one with Him. In the home, every move we make, whether it is eating, drinking, sleeping, working, is an expression of the unification between Hashem and us. 

This principle is obvious to anyone who has been in the home of a couple who has been lovingly married for fifty years. Every souvenir on the shelf tells a story. The stains on every pot and pan signify thousands of meals shared by husband and wife. Every item and fragrance in the house testifies to the unity of the couple. Even when the husband and wife are apart, everything they do and everything they are is a sign of the bond between them.  

Sometimes when two people are so close to one another, they share jokes or expressions that have meaning only to them and could appear strange to outsiders. That is why, when Dovid Hamelech danced with all of his might before the ark (Shmuel II 6:14), it looked strange to his wife Michal (ibid. at 17) who was not part of the intimate connection between Dovid and Hashem. She could not understand because she was outside of the intimacy of that union. That is one reason for the custom in many Jewish communities to engage in some joking and levity during the holiest part of the davening on Simchas Torah, the chazzan’s repetition of Musaf. These are “inside jokes” that can only be understood by those in the relationship. But Jews to whom G-d is a distant Monarch can never understand that levity. 

After the chuppah, after Sukkos, we enter the lands of life, where even in the marketplaces of this world, which appear separate from G-d because they are outside the beis medresh, become the place where we our unification with G-d is manifest. Just like in marriage, where is the marriage apparent? “See life with the woman you love” (Koheles 9:9). Our connection to G-d is not only revealed in “religious” places. It is revealed most in “life,” in our daily activities. That is what we demonstrate by celebrating the Torah with dance rather than study on Simchas Torah/Shmini Atzeres. Our connection to our chosson, to G-d, could never be revealed under the chuppah of the Sukkah, where the union is obvious. True unity is only revealed when there is no open revelation.  

Hashem tells us “It is difficult to say goodbye to you” (Rashi on Bamidbar 29:35) on Shmini Atzeres more than any other day because the unity between Hashem and His people is most apparent then, during the dance called life.  

I will conclude with the story told by Reb Isaac’l Kalover that I tell over every year before we begin Simchas Torah. The Kalover recounted that there was once a Jew who came to the big trade show in Leipzig to sell his merchandise. He planned to make a lot of money so he stayed at the nicest hotel he could find. While things did not work out as he planned in terms of selling his merchandise, he had a great time at the hotel. He ate the nicest meals than he had ever eaten in his life and the bed and room were more comfortable than anything he had ever experienced in his little town. After a few days, management began to get a bit worried. They noticed that he wore the same clothes every day, seemed to be enjoying the food a little bit too much, and generally did not act like someone who was accustomed to such wealth. One day after this Jew enjoyed a big meal the manager came over to him and asked him about his stay and the food. He assured the manager that he had never experienced such nice accommodations or such delicious food and that he was very satisfied. 

Still concerned, the manager showed him the bill and asked whether he thought there would be a problem paying it. The man admitted that while he had intended to make a lot of money at the big trade show, things had not worked out and he had no money to pay the bill. Infuriated, the manager grabbed the man and was about to take him to the police who were likely to beat him up and kill him. Protesting, the man said, “Wait! You won’t get any of your money back by handing me over to the police. But I will make an arrangement with you. I am a very talented dancer and I attract big crowds back home. Let me dance outside the restaurant and you will see that my performance will attract a crowd and you will see that the additional business brought into your restaurant will far exceed my bill.

Indeed, the Jew danced up such a storm that a large crowd gathered and ultimately, the business brought in by his dancing far outweighed the cost of his own hotel stay and use of the restaurant. Reb Isaac’l concluded that during the previous year and even Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we have enjoyed the beautiful accommodations of this world, but that we do not have the Torah and mitzvos to “pay” for our stay here. But as the days of judgment come to an end on Hoshana Raba, we say to Hashem that he should not take us away from the world. The dead cannot serve Hashem. Rather, we promise that we will dance in honor of Hashem and the Torah on Simchas Torah and that our dancing will bring so much honor to heaven, that it will more than “pay” for our stay in this world.

The tzadik Reb Aharon of Belz also taught that because the Satan sees Jews just dancing and carrying on during Simchas Torah, he “relaxes” and is less focused on his work. Therefore, if one quietly slips in a few words of davening during the dancing, these tefilos are particularly effective because they will not be counteracted by the Satan.

May our every movement, every bead of sweat, and every joke we tell while dancing with the sifrei Torah on Simchas Torah imbue and reveal the light of the Torah within us so that it will shine in our lives regardless of where our daily activities bring us.
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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Creation - Strinctly Speaking - Rav Moshe Weinberger on Parshas Bereishis

Baruch Hashem, Rav Moshe Weinberger has reviewed this write-up of his drasha from parshas Bereishis. See here for past write-ups. Also, thousands of Rav Weinberger's shiurim are available online here. You can also go to's website to hear Rav Weinberger's shiurim as mashgiach/mashpia at YU or click on one of the following links to subscribe to the shiurim: email, rss feed, podcast, or iTunes. Please note that these drashos will only be available online for one month. My son suggested (credit where it is due!) that if you notice any mistakes, please let me know so I can correct it. If you are interested in a particular drasha that is no longer online, you can email me and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Bereishis 5775
Creation – Strictly Speaking

The tzadikim teach that the introduction to a book is its essence. Yet the Torah, which gives our lives meaning, apparently has no introduction. It simply begins, “In the beginning of G‑d’s creation of Heaven and earth.” In order to find the Torah’s introduction, the tzadikim often connect the beginning of the Torah with the end (Devarim 34:12), “and all the strong hand and all the great awe which Moshe did before the eyes of the entire Jewish people.” How are the miracles Moshe performed for the Jewish people an introduction to the Torah? 

In order to understand the answer to that question, we must ask another question. Why does the Torah use G-d’s name which indicates His attribute of strict justice (אלוקים) in the context of the creation of the world? We know that creation was the ultimate act of kindness, as the pasuk (Tehillim 89:3) says, “The world is built on kindness.” To answer that question, Rashi (on Bereishis 1:1; see also Bereishis Raba 12:15) explains: “In the beginning, it was His intention to create it with His attribute of strict justice. He saw that the world would not endure. He therefore prefaced it with the attribute of mercy and mixed it with the attribute of justice.”  

It is difficult to understand G-d’s “initial thought” in this Midrash. How could G-d have thought that the creatures in this lowly world could ever exist in reliance on the strict attribute of justice? We regularly go to great lengths to understand every initial thought expressed in the Gemara even if it is ultimately rejected in the course of the discussion. How can we understand Hashem’s initial thought in this case? 

For the vast majority of people, when things are difficult, when G-d’s attribute of strict justice is more revealed, it is very difficult to thrive religiously and spiritually. Yet Hashem wanted to create the world in this way because the service of those tzadikim who can serve G-d in that way is so precious. The Tanya (Sha’ar Hayichud Vehaemunah 4) quotes the pasuk in Tehillim (84:12) to this effect: “A sun and a sheath is Hashem Elokim.” In other words, “Elokim,” G-d’s attribute of strict justice, is a sheath which covers Hashem’s attribute of mercy. Only a small number of tzadikim can successfully serve Hashem despite the difficulties, suffering, and trouble caused by the concealment of G-d’s kindness behind his attribute of strict justice.

This is what amazed Moshe when Hashem showed him the life and death of Rabbi Akiva (Menachos 29b). He saw the awesome level of Rabbi Akiva’s Torah and then witnessed the suffering he endured throughout his life, culminating in the way he was tortured to death by the Romans, after which his flesh was sold in the marketplace. Moshe asked G-d, “This is the Torah and this is its reward?!” But Hashem responded, “Be silent! This is what ascended in thought before me [כך עלה במחשבה לפני].” Hashem’s language here is reminiscent of Rashi’s explanation of how Hashem initially wanted to create the world with strict justice: “עלה במחשבהעלה במחשבה, it was His intention.” Rabbi Akiva was one of the tzadikim who lived through suffering and concealment, yet was able to see past it and connect to G-dliness on the highest level. He looked past the “sheath” of strict justice and saw G-d’s love. He lived in the ideal dimension of “it was His intention.” 

It is ironic that Moshe was so amazed by Rabbi Akiva’s ability to see the face of G-d behind the mask of suffering and strict justice when he himself who attained that level. While Moshe’s soul was pure, as the Midrash quoted by Rashi (on Shmos 2:2) indicates when it says that Moshe’s home was filled with light when he was born, we also know from the Degel Machaneh Ephraim, zy”a, (parshas Ki Sisa), quoting the Baal Shem Tov, zy”a, that Moshe’s physical nature was to be a completely wicked person.[1] Yet Moshe did not allow the coarseness of his physical nature to block his view of G-dliness. He attained the highest possible level of closeness with G-d. 

In order to understand how the end of a the Torah is an introduction to the beginning, we must first understand how tzadikim perform miracles. Based on a teaching by the Maharal, we will see that the answer is rooted in this same concept discussed above. The Midrash Shochar Tov on the pasuk (Tehillim 114:3), “The sea saw and fled,” says that the Red Sea split when it saw the coffin of Yosef Hatzadik. Why? The Maharal explains that when Yosef’s physical nature demanded that he sin with the wife of Potifar, Yosef overcame nature and (Bereishis 39:12) “fled outside.” Because the tzadik, Yosef ,did not bend to his nature and instead fled, the Red Sea, personifying the forces of nature, was forced to bend to the tzadik and flee.   

The name Elokim with which G-d first created the world, connoting G-d’s attribute of strict justice, has the same numerical value as “הטבע, nature.” The natural world created by G-d often acts to conceal G‑dliness. But there are tzadikim like Moshe Rabbeinu, Yosef Hatzadik, and Rabbi Akiva who transcend the limitations of nature and live with G-dliness despite the worst suffering and concealment. 

The miracles, “all the strong hand and all the great awe which Moshe did before the eyes of the entire Jewish people,” serve as the perfect introduction to the beginning of the Torah because they demonstrate the greatness attained by a tzadik like Moshe as a result of Hashem’s initial intention to create the world with strict justice. The tzadik is able to affect nature, to bring about miracles because he has risen to the challenge of “In the beginning, Elokim created…,” the initial reality of utter concealment. Moshe, the “man of Elokim” (Devarim 33:1), who had complete control over his nature, became a master over nature itself.  

With G-d’s help, this year will be one of blessing, revealed goodness, and prosperity for all of us. But we know that it will likely be like the years before, in that there will probably be some times of difficulty and concealment. There will be moments when G-d’s attribute of strict justice is more readily apparent. We may feel a “smack” from Heaven from time to time. But if we know how to look for it, we can see G-d in those difficult times too.

There is a story of the Alter Rebbe, as told by Reb Mottel Slonimer, who is known as one of the most accurate transmitters of chassidic stories, as follows: The Alter Rebbe was at a crossroads early in his life. He was one of the most successful young scholars in Europe and had already mastered the Talmud and halachic authorities. At that point, he felt that he had two choices; to study with the Gaon of Vilna or the Magid of Mezrich. He first chose to study with the Magid of Mezrich.  Although this is not part of Reb Mottel Slonimer’s tradition, it is told that the Alter Rebbe explained his decision to study with the Magid rather than the Gaon of Vilna by saying, “I already know how to learn a little bit, but I haven’t yet learned how to daven.” 

The Alter Rebbe studied with the Magid for several weeks, but he felt that he had not found himself; that the Magid of Mezrich was not the right Rebbe for him. As was the custom at the time, the Alter Rebbe visited the Magid to bid him farewell and seek a blessing for his journey home. During the visit, the Magid accepted his decision, but told him that he should also say goodbye to “the Malach, the angel,” i.e., the Magid’s son Reb Avraham who was known as the Malach because of his great holiness. 

The Alter Rebbe agreed and bid farewell to the Malach, who would later become the Alter Rebbe’s chevrusa. He offered to walk the Alter Rebbe to his horse, wagon, and driver. Before the Alter Rebbe got onto the wagon, the Malach said, “When you get into the wagon, you will see that the driver will smack the horse and it will begin running in an attempt to distance itself from the smack. And then the driver will smack the horse again, and it will run even faster, trying to escape the one pain of the whip. And it will continue on this way throughout your journey. But an intelligent person is not a horse. When an intelligent person feels a smack, he does not simply run away from it. He looks back to see who is smacking him and why he is being smacked.”

Being a deep and contemplative person, the Alter Rebbe understood the Malach’s message and stayed in Mezrich, ultimately becoming one of the star students of the Magid. May we all merit to understand the message of the wagon (עגלה)  and look beyond the suffering of the world of strict justice to see G-d’s loving kindness, and thus merit the final redemption, quickly (בעגלא) in our days.

[1] This should not be confused with the legend of highly questionable authenticity regarding an analysis of a painting of Moshe cited by Tiferes Yisroel on the Mishna in Kiddushin 4:14.

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Monday, November 3, 2014

Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha on Parshas Lech Lecha - Holy Brother

Baruch Hashem, Rav Moshe Weinberger has reviewed this write-up of his drasha from the this past Shabbos, parshas Lech Lecha. See here for past write-ups. Also, thousands of Rav Weinberger's shiurim are available online here. You can also go to's website to hear Rav Weinberger's shiurim as mashgiach/mashpia at YU or click on one of the following links to subscribe to the shiurim: email, rss feed, podcast, or iTunes. Please note that these drashos will only be available online for one month. My son suggested (credit where it is due!) that if you notice any mistakes, please let me know so I can correct it. If you are interested in a particular drasha that is no longer online, you can email me and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Lech Lecha 5775
Holy Brother 

There are two difficult aspects of Avraham Avinu that, when we understand them, teach us a fundamental key to our success in exile. 

The psukim (Bereishis 12:1-2) say, “And Hashem said to Avram, ‘Go from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you. And I will make you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great and you shall be a blessing.’” Rashi explains that this is a reference to the first paragraph in Shmonah Esrei in which we thank Hashem for His relationship with Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, our Avos:   

“And I will make you a great nation,” refers to that which we say, “the G-d of Avraham.” “And I will bless you,” refers to that which we say, “the G-d of Yitzchak.” “And make your name great,” refers to that which we say, “the G-d of Yaakov.” You might think that [the first blessing in Shmonah Esrei] would conclude [by referencing] all [of the Avos]. The pasuk therefore says, “And you shall be a blessing,” meaning “We conclude [the blessing] with a reference to you.”  

The question is why Hashem tells Avraham that every Jew throughout the generations will conclude the first blessing of Shmonah Esrei with a reference only to him, instead of to Yaakov Avinu, who was the final one of the three Avos. That fact alone might indicate that we should conclude with a reference to Yaakov. In addition,  the Midrash (Bereishis Raba 76:1) calls Yaakov, “the choicest of the Avos” and says about him (ibid. at 68:12), “And his image is carved on the Throne of Glory.” Why does the blessing thanking Hashem for His relationship with the Avos conclude only with Avraham and not Yaakov?  

The episode in which Avraham descends into Egypt with Sarah because of the famine in Eretz Yisroel is also very difficult understand. When Avraham realizes that the Egyptians will kill him if they learn that he is Sarah’s husband, he says to her (Bereishis 12:13), “Please say that you are my sister so that it will go well for me on your account and my soul will live because of you.” How can we understand Avraham’s decision to endanger Sarah for his own financial gain and to save his own life?

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that Avraham and Yitzchak both repeated this same strategy among the Plishtim. The Ramban even says that Avraham committed “a great sin, unintentionally” by endangering Sarah. The Ksav V’hakabalah, Zohar, and many others go to great lengths to defend and explain Avraham Avinu’s decision. But this simply underscores the difficulty in understanding how a tzadik like Avraham could tell Sarah to lie by saying that she is his sister. 

We can, however, understand Avraham’s strategy in Egypt and his and Yitzchak’s strategy among the Plishtim in light of a teaching of the Biala Rebbe, zy”a, in his sefer Divrei Bina. The Rebbe’s comments are based on how Avraham explains his deception to Avimelech, king of the Plishtim (Bereishis 20:13): “And when G-d caused me to wander from my father’s house [when I went into exile], I said to her, ‘This is your kindness which you will do with me, wherever we go, say of me, ‘He is my brother.’” The Biala Rebbe explains as follows:  

It is known that the experiences of the children [the Jewish people] mirror the experiences of the Avos. And with their experiences, they teach us how the Jewish people can survive among the nations in their exile. That is why [Avraham] said: “And when G-d caused me to wander from my father’s house,” meaning: when the Jewish people will go into exile. “This is your kindness,” meaning that we ask the holy Divine Presence to perform acts of kindness for Hashem’s nation of Israel. But how will this kindness reach us? It is through: “wherever we go” in our exile, “say of me, he is my brother.” This means that we must treat one another in a way of brotherhood, friendship, and unity. And through this, we will merit kindness from Above for the Jewish people.  

The Torah can be understood on the levels of its simple meaning, hint, homiletical meaning, and secrets of Torah. The Biala Rebbe’s teaching is a hint or homiletical teaching and is not intended to be the simple meaning or comport with the strict rules of grammar. The Rebbe is teaching us that the key to our survival in exile and to drawing down blessings from above is that every Jew must say to one another, “You are my brother,” “You are my sister.” 

Hashem told Avraham “We conclude with you.” We need Avraham’s exile strategy now, at the “conclusion” of our exile, more than ever. With all of the social media and 24-hour connectivity, so many of us feel isolated. We long and thirst for a good, caring word from another person, to know that someone truly cares about us. We want to hear someone call us “Brother!” “Sister!” A person can give life to another with a kind word. Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, zy”a, teaches that the pasuk (Shir Hashirim 1:7), “Tell me, you whom my soul loves,” means, on a deeper level, that each Jew is secretly crying out to the other: “Tell me that you love me with all of your soul!”[1] 

None of us are mind readers. We cannot rely on those we love to know that we love them in our hearts if we say nothing. We must tell them. A wife must hear from her husband that he loves her.  There are men who are shocked when they hear that their wives have no idea whether they are loved or not. But their wives want to call out to them, “Tell me that you love me! I know in a general sense that you love me but at any given moment, I do not know whether those feelings are still there. Let me hear you say, ‘I love you so much!’” A child must hear from his or her parents, “I love you more than anything!” 

Unity is so powerful that the pasuk says about the generation of the dispersion (Bereishis 11:1), “the entire earth was one language and uniform words.” People understood one another. Hashem said about them (ibid. at 6), “And now it shall not be withheld from them everything that they plan to do.” Most commentaries read this as a rhetorical question: “Shall I not withhold from [stop] them from doing everything that they plan to do!?” But it can also be read as a statement: Because they live together in a state of brotherhood and mutual understanding, I shall not withhold from them anything which they plan to do. I will give them everything they require.  

This teaching from Avraham Avinu is the key to thriving in the midst of this conclusion to our exile: the open expression of love, friendship, and brotherhood between Jews. That draws down tremendous protection and blessing from Above. 

And this concept is quoted in the Gemara Yerushalmi (Peah 16a): “The generation of Dovid were all tzadikim, but because there was  infighting among them, they went out to war and then fell.” Dovid therefore said about his own men (Tehillim 57:5), “Their teeth are like spears and arrows, their tongue is like a sharp sword.” But the Gemara continues, “But the generation of Achav were idol worshipers, but because there was not infighting among them, they went out to war and were victorious.” They may have had major religious, spiritual problems. But they lived in a state of brotherhood among them so Hashem caused them to be successful in all of their efforts.

Every shul and extended family has one person who acts friendly and caring toward others but figuratively stabs others in the back with his words behind closed doors.  When he speaks to the rav or rosh yeshiva, everything he says is in the third person, spoken with the utmost respect. But he then whispers sarcastically and derisively about them to his followers. Such people poison families by bearing tales and spreading poisonous gossip about one family member to another. Such toxic individuals are the antithesis of the brotherhood and love that every Jew longs to experience from others.

This week I flew to Eretz Yisroel for a chasunah. When I arrived at my seat, which was next to a young, non-observant Israeli man, he looked up from his laptop and when he saw that I was a chareidi looking person, he made no effort to disguise his disappointment. But these teachings about love and brotherhood were on my mind, so I said, “Shalom Aleichem!” Unfortunately, he barely acknowledged my greeting with his eyes and returned his attention immediately to his computer. I knew that we were at the beginning of a ten-hour flight, so I did not allow myself to become discouraged even though I am shy by nature and do not naturally have Shlomo Carlebach’s “Holy brother” approach to greeting everyone around me. From time to time, I asked my neighbor about himself and tried to make conversation but at the beginning, he answered me monosyllabically and barely acknowledged my presence. But my perseverance eventually paid off. By the end of the flight, Avishai and I became good friends and we hope to stay in touch.  In his initial silence, he was really saying, “Tell me that you love me with all your soul! I need to first know that you love me, despite the fact that I am not observant. Only then can I let my guard down and show you my love.” 

We must turn to each other and say, “Sister, how are you feeling today?” “Brother, I haven’t seen you in a while. How are you?” If we can get out of the tendency to become self-absorbed from time to time to tell a spouse, child, relative, or friend, “I love you with all my soul,” Hashem will open up the gates for us. May we merit to learn the lesson of Avraham, who was called Hashem’s friend (Yirmiyahu 11:15) and thereby merit to see how we are all holy brothers and holy sisters. May Hashem bring us back home to Yerushalayim, with the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash, which will be built on the portion of the one (Binyomin) referred to (Devarim 33:12) as “Hashem’s friend” soon in our days!

[1] This teaching is quoted in the sefer Tiferes Uziel, in the section entitled “Rimzei Shir Hashirim.”

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Rav Weinberger's Parshas Noach Drasha - Alone Together

Baruch Hashem, Rav Moshe Weinberger has reviewed this write-up of his drasha from parshas Noach. Please note that I am currently waiting for comments on my write-ups for parshas Bereishis and Shmini Atzeres and hope to have a write-up for Simchas Torah to Rav Weinberger for review soon.

See here for past write-ups. Also, thousands of Rav Weinberger's shiurim are available online here. You can also go to's website to hear Rav Weinberger's shiurim as mashgiach/mashpia at YU or click on one of the following links to subscribe to the shiurim: email, rss feed, podcast, or iTunes. Please note that these drashos will only be available online for one month. My son suggested (credit where it is due!) that if you notice any mistakes, please let me know so I can correct it. If you are interested in a particular drasha that is no longer online, you can email me and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Noach 5775
Alone Together 

When Noach was born, the world was already quickly descending into a state of depravity. He was therefore the world’s hope. That is why his father Lamech named him Noach, which is realted to the word “comfort,” saying (Bereishis 5:29), “This one will comfort us from our acts and from the sadness of our hands…” But, although he was a tzadik, Noach ultimately disappointed the world. He was unable to prevent the destruction of the world, and after the flood (ibid. at 9:20-24), he became drunk and embarrassed himself. What happened? The Torah never tells us stories for entertainment’s sake or simply to teach us history. It speaks to this generation. What does this episode teach us? While we cannot fully understand someone Hashem Himself calls “pure” and a “tzadik” who “found favor in G-d’s eyes” (ibid. at 6:8-9), why did Noach descend to that level? 

The truth is that one of my rebbeim, Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l, wrote a sefer called “The Lonely Man of Faith” for a reason. Every tzadik feels alone, set apart from the rest of the world. Anyone who wants to be a tzadik must commit to treading his own path, not living like everyone else. There is an element of loneliness inherent in any tzadik’s journey. This must have been true on an even greater scale with respect to Noach after the flood. Not only was he alone as a tzadik, but he watched the destruction of every single human being on earth except for his own family. One cannot even imagine the loneliness he felt at that time. Indeed, we know of people today who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder from far less jarring traumas that the destruction of mankind and a year of taking responsibility for the welfare of all the remaining people and other every creature in the world who survived the calamity.  

When I was young, there was a song that was just becoming popular about what brings all different types of people to a bar to drink, and one verse of the song said, “they're sharing a drink they call loneliness but it’s better than drinkin’ alone.” 

While my parents lost their parents in the Holocaust, they managed to rebuild their lives. But there were others who experienced the destruction who were completely broken by it. And there were still others who were completely broken by the fact that they survived. They felt tremendous guilt and could not psychologically survive their own survival. We cannot imagine the loneliness Noach felt or why he turned to alcohol. And we know Lot did the same thing as well after his world, the city of Sedom, was destroyed (Bereishis19:30-36). 

But there was another tzadik in the Torah who felt completely alone. And that was Avraham Avinu, who was called “העברי, the Hebrew” (Bereishis 14:13), which literally means “the one on the other side. The Midrash explains that he was called that because “the whole world was on one side and he was on the other side” (Bereishis Raba 42:8). The Navi Yechezkel said about him, “Avraham was one” (33:24), meaning that he was alone in the world. He left his father’s home; he said goodbye to the entire world he knew before that and began working to change the world all by himself with no one but his wife behind him, backing him up. He was utterly alone in the world. 

People do not like those who “rock the boat,” who try to do things differently than everyone else. Avraham was therefore despised and powerful people wanted him dead. But Avraham embraced his aloneness and worked to bring the whole world over to his side, to the side of the Master of the World (Rashi on Bereishis 12:5). A person can be extremely intelligent, charming, talented, and bright. But if he always wants to fit in, to be “just one of the guys,” perhaps above-average, but not outstanding, he will never be a “tzadik,” he will never change the world. 

This is the thrust of a tiny little teaching found between the first and second volumes of Likutei Moharan by Rebbe Nachman, zy”a. The title of the lesson is “Avraham was One,” quoting the pasuk in Yechezkel mentioned above. Rebbe Nachman writes, “Avraham served G-d only through the fact that he was ‘one,’ meaning that in his mind, he considered himself the only person in the world and he never looked at the other people in the world who tried to turn him away from Hashem and stop him, nor at his father or other naysayers. Rather, he looked at himself like he was the only person in the world.”

And Rebbe Nachman continues, showing us what this means for us: “And so too anyone who wants to enter into the service of G-d: It is impossible to begin except with this thought. One must think that he is the only person in the world and not look at anyone else who attempts to stop him… nor at any other obstacles which arise from anyone else in the world who denigrate him, attempt to draw him away, or prevent him from serving G-d… Instead, he must cling to the quality of ‘Avraham was one,’ as if he was the only person in the world.” 

This is not, G-d forbid, mean being indifferent to others. Part of being a tzadik means caring about and working to help other people. But in terms of how one identifies his own role in life based on his own personal talents and inclinations, one should not allow others to define him. That is why a person should say (Sanhedrin 37a), “The world was created for my sake.” A person must see that the key to becoming great is recognizing that no one else in the world is meant to serve G-d the way he is. 

A person cannot define himself by what people in the world, even nice, good, normal people, do. Even Dovid Hamelech grew up in a very good family, but to become a tzadik, he had to say (Tehillim 69:8-9), “I have borne humiliation because of You, embarrassment has covered my face. I have become strange to my brothers and alien to the children of my mother.” He saw himself is alone in the world and sought out the G-d’s truth wherever it led. That is how he became great. 

Even the Jewish people experience this existential loneliness on the national level. When we watched the world condemn us for defending ourselves in the war in Gaza over the summer or when we watched how a terrorist ran down and killed a three-month old baby this past week while the world stood by silently, we realized that the Jewish people are alone in the world. While it may be true, as we say in Kiddush and in davening on Yom Tov, “You chose us from among all of the nations,” we are also hated because we are different. We are the tzadik of the world, different, set-apart, lonely, and subject to a completely different standard than anyone else.

Everything we have spoken about until now is step one. By focusing on seeking out the lonely path of the man of faith, there is a danger that one may give up on the rest of the world. Noach built a shelter, an ark in which he and his family could hide from the world’s destruction. The generation of Noach was wiped out partly because Noach was not ready to go out and speak to them and bring them into his shelter like Avraham did, who tried to bring the whole world into his tent. 

This is why Noach was called, in Yiddish, the “tzadik in a fur coat.” If a room is freezing, there are two ways to warm up. One is to wear a fur coat. It warms the person up but allows everyone else to freeze. The other method is to build a fire to give warmth to everyone in the room. Noach was a tzadik who wore a fur coat to shelter himself from a world which was freezing because of a lack of G-dliness. So his loneliness eventually got the better of him and he was overcome by it. Avraham Avinu, however, built fires to warm up everyone he came into contact with. Even though he was alone in the world, he loved and cared for everyone else. 

This is the idea behind the “Shabbos Project” taking place this week, which was initiated by Rabbi Warren Goldstein, the chief rabbi of South Africa. We must invite others into the ark called Shabbos. We cannot be indifferent to friends and coworkers who are unfamiliar with the holiness of Shabbos. We cannot escape into ourselves by hiding in an ark, a fur coat, or alcohol. We must be like Avraham Avinu, living G-dly lives as if there was no one else in the world, but never writing off another person.

We only have eight teachings from Reb Mendeleh Vorker, zy”a, known as the “silent tzadik,” son of Rav Yitzchak Vorker, zy”a, and brother of Rav Yaakov Dovid of Amshinov, zy”a. One teaching was on the Gemara (Shabbos 14b), “When Shlomo instituted Eruvin [Eruvei chatzeiros, which permit people who live in different courtyards to carry things to one another’s homes on Shabbos] and the washing of the hands [before eating bread], a Heavenly voice came out and said (Mishlei 23:15), ‘My son, if your heart has become wise, my heart will rejoice as well.’” Shlomo Hamelech was a very wise person in many areas. What is so unique about instituting the rabbinic mitzvos of Eruvin and the washing of the hands that particularly demonstrates his wisdom? 

Reb Mendeleh Vorker explains that these two mitzvos have opposite characteristics. Eruvin bring people together by permitting those with houses abutting different courtyards to bring food to one another’s homes on Shabbos to increase closeness and the bonds of friendship among a larger circle of neighbors. Washing one’s hands, however, is an act of purification. And purification inherently involves separating one’s self from the world generally, and anyone else who may have a negative effect on one’s holiness. The Divine voice made it clear that Shlomo was uniquely wise because he instituted these two opposing mitzvos, demonstrating particular greatness because he was able to contain within himself the quality of “Avraham was one” while not being a tzadik in a fur coat. 

The ideal is therefore to connect to other people, in touch with the social reality of one’s community, while never losing sight of who one is and what he is living for. He must never be afraid to swim against the tide. May we all merit to be like Avraham, always living in the right way as if we are alone in the world, but never indifferent to others, always working to help them in whatever they need!
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