Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Trading in the Crown - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Shabbos Drasha - Parshas Bechukosai

Baruch Hashem, Rav Weinberger has approved this version of my write-up of his drasha from this past Shabbos, parshas Bechukosai. 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 Bechukosai 5776
Trading in the Crown

This Shabbos, we focus on preparing for Shavuos, the day on which we accept the Torah. How do we do this? The Midrash (Vayikra Raba 35:1) teaches that the beginning of the parshah, which starts (Vayikra 26:3), “If you walk with my decrees,” alluding to the study of Torah, is connected with Dovid Hamelech’s statement (Tehilim 119:59), “I thought about my ways and I returned my feet to Your laws.”  What path should we be thinking about to help us turn our feet back toward Hashem’s laws?

The truth is that our preparations for Shavuos are more extensive than for any other holiday in Yiddishkeit. We prepare by counting for forty-nine days until we reach the day we receive the Torah. In addition, we cannot even miss a single day in the count, as the passuk says (Vayikra 23:15), “They shall be seven complete weeks.” Why do we have nearly two months of preparations for Shavuos, unlike any other holiday?

The Chofetz Chaim teaches that the one can discern how important something is from how much time and effort one spends preparing for it. Something unimportant requires little serious preparation. If one wants to make a cup of tea, this takes very little effort because a cup of tea is not that important in the big scheme of things. If one wants to make a fancy dinner, this is more important, so a person may work for a number of hours preparing for it. And if one wants to hold a bar mitzvah or wedding reception, because these are important events, one may spend many months preparing and planning. If one wants to become a doctor, because this is an important profession, he must study for many years before he will be granted a license to practice medicine. This is all because of the principle articulated by the Chofetz Chaim –  there is a direct correlation between how important something is and how much time and effort one spends preparing for it.

We also see that the Mishnah (Avos 4:16) says that all of life in this world is simply a preparation for life in the World to Come. It must be that there is nothing more precious in the world than that. If every moment of our entire lives is a preparation to the world to come, this demonstrates that it is the most important thing.

Similarly, if the preparations for Shavuos and our acceptance of the Torah are more extensive than they are for any other holiday, it demonstrates that Shavuos has a unique importance not shared by any other day of the year. If Hashem commands us to count toward and long for the arrival of Shavuos for forty-nine days, it shows that we should value the Torah more than anything else. This preparation and the value we place on the Torah is therefore part and parcel of how we receive the Torah.

Unfortunately, even observant Jews usually place more importance on our silly obsessions than we do on Torah.

The Chofetz Chaim offers a parable: A king once commissioned two of the greatest artisans in his kingdom to create the most beautiful crown in the world. He spared no expense, permitting them to buy the largest, most perfect and precious stones available. In addition, he sent them to travel to another city, where the greatest goldsmiths and gemologists lived, to work on the crown with them. This “dream team” spent over six months toiling day and night on the crown. In the end, the king sent guards to escort the two artisans back to the kingdom along with the crown. On the way, the group passed a field where a few simple farmers were working their field, using two oxen to push a plow.

One of the two artisans said to the other, “I would like to show you something fascinating.” He then walked over to the farmers and introduced himself. “Good morning. I and my friend are passing through here on the orders of the king.” The farmers were duly impressed. He then continued, “Our job was to make the king the most beautiful crown in the world and our mission is complete. We are now carrying this crown back to the king. Would you like to see it?” “Of course!” they answered. So the man brought the box containing the crown to the farmers and opened it so they could gaze upon its beauty. They agreed that it was a magnificent crown. They were overwhelmed by its beauty.

The man then said to the farmers, “I will make you a deal. I will give you the crown in exchange for these two oxen. What do you say?” They thought for a moment and then the senior farmer said, “We have to discuss it. Just a minute.” They conferred privately for a few minutes and then the farmer relayed their decision: “I’m sorry but we cannot accept this trade.” “Why not?” “Because while we agree that the crown is very beautiful, without our oxen, how would we ever finish plowing our field?” The artisan thanked them and walked away, having demonstrated the wondrous foolishness of the farmers to his friend. How could they be so small as not to realize that if they had the crown, they would never have to plow another field again! How could they not realize the true value of the crown?!

The Chofetz Chaim explains that we make the exact same mistake as these farmers. We all love and value the Torah. We admire its unique beauty. But when it comes down to giving up a little bit of the silliness we normally obsess over in favor of taking out time for Torah, it just does not seem worth it to us. We give up infinite value in favor of fleeting enjoyment. Unfortunately, we are no wiser than the foolish farmers in the Chofetz Chaim’s parable.

That is what we are supposed to accomplish during Sefirah. Because we intuitively understand from our physical lives that the more one prepares for something, the more valuable it is, counting the days as we journey closer to the day we receive the Torah helps us internalize that the Torah is the most precious thing in our lives. By valuing the Torah more, it makes it easier to give up on the emptiness which had heretofore gotten in the way of our truly accepting the Torah. 

That is why the seforim hakedoshim teach that the word Omer (עמר) has the same numerical value as the word yakar (יקר) – precious. It is also no coincidence that a word which is used more in this week’s parshah than in any other place in Tanach is keri (קרי) – haphazard or casual. Rashi (on Vayikra 26:21) explains that this means “temporary, by chance, something happening only occasionally.” It refers to when keep Torah and mitzvos only when they suit us, when it’s convenient and there is nothing else to do. And this word keri has the same letters as yakar, but in the opposite order, because such a casual attitude toward Torah is the antithesis of the recognition of its true, precious value. Only recognition of the true importance of the Torah in our lives can nullify our previously flippant approach to Yiddishkeit.

We have the power to nullify the 49 curses found in the rebuke section of the parshah, which are the result of taking Yiddishkeit too lightly, by counting the 49 days of the Omer, whereby we recognize the incomparable value of Torah by preparing for the day when we receive it.

This is why the Midrash quotes Dovid HaMelech’s statement, “I thought about my ways and I returned my feet to Your laws,” when discussing our parshah. The way to walk in Hashem’s ways is by thinking about our path –  by recognizing its profound significance and meaning.

How often do we think about how we spend our time to ensure that we make the right decision? On a summer Shabbos afternoon like this one, by the time one completes his Shabbos seudah, he will have five or six hours free before attending a shiur or minchah in the afternoon. How will he spend those hours? Let us say that one is going to take a long nap, even an hour or more. That still leaves several hours. How will he spend that time? Will he abandon the crown of Torah in favor of a couple of cows? Will he spend the afternoon reading articles or shooting the breeze with his family or friends, talking about sports, politics, or the like? Will he recognize the true value of whatever type of Torah he feels drawn to study? Or will he waste away the time this Shabbos, and then the next, and then the next? The alternative is living in a way that enables him to say, “I thought about my ways and I returned my feet to Your laws.”

The truth is that if we recognize the importance of our goal and do not permit ourselves to gaze at all of the distractions around us, we can reach this goal. When the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, zy”a, was a little boy, he was playing outside with his friends one day. And as boys are wont to do, they made up a somewhat dangerous game. They placed a plank up against a building and took turns attempting to run as close to the top as possible. Unbeknownst to the boys, the Alter Rebbe, zy”a, the Tzemach Tzedek’s grandfather, was watching them from the window of his study. After watching the game, the Rebbe asked someone to bring the young Tzemach Tzedek to him. His grandson came into the room and the Alter Rebbe asked him, obviously proud of how well he had performed in the game, “Tell me Mendel’eh, how is it that you were able to reach the top of the plank while none of the other boys could do it?” He answered, “Zayde, all of the other boys looked around them as they began walking up the plank. So they quickly became frightened of falling and came back down. But I just looked at the top and ran for it, without looking to the sides at all.”

This is how little Mendel’eh became the Tzemach Tzedek. He set his eyes on his goals and did not allow the distractions around him divert his attention away. He kept his eyes on the prize. He simply “thought about his way” and never stopped climbing.


May we too merit to recognize the true and infinite value of Yiddishkeit in our lives, such that none of us will ever mistake the oxen or other distractions in our lives as being more important than the Torah in our lives.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Where We Belong - Superficiality and Social Media - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drashah on Parshas Kedoshim

Baruch Hashem, Rav Weinberger has approved this version of my write-up of his drasha from this past Shabbos, parshas Kedoshim. Unfortunately, I have not written up any drashos since the second day of Pesach because the drasha before Yizkor was based largely on a teaching in a sefer and Rav Weinberger was in YU on parshas Acharei Mos

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 Kedoshim 5776
Where We Belong

The greatest ideal in our lives is captured in one word found throughout our parshah – holiness. The Ramban (on Vayikrah 19:2) explains that the exhortation to be holy “because I am holy” “means that we merit to attach ourselves to Him when we are holy.” But what does it mean to be holy? As Rashi explains on the passuk, it means to be separate from sexual immorality and sin. At the beginning of the chapter called Shaar HaKedushah, Reishis Chochmah writes that holiness means “making a fence within a fence in order not to go outside.” What does this mean? Can it mean that it is G-d’s will that we always remain indoors?

Rav Yerucham Levovitz, zt”l, gives us a further insight into holiness by explaining, “‘You shall be holy’ means that we are commanded to be inner-focused people. Externality is the nature and essence of impurity.” We see that not going outside has nothing to do with staying indoors. For the majority of our history, most Jews have worked and done many of their activities outside. Holiness, not going outside, means something completely different: we must be deep people with rich inner lives.

The essence of exile and diaspora is not being in our place, in our true home. Why has it been Hashem’s will that we have not merited to live where we belong, in our national home where Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov dwelled 4,000 years ago? Moshe Rebbeinu asked himself this question when he saw his brothers enslaved in a foreign country (Rashi on Shmos 2:14).

According to the Midrash (Shmos Rabah 1:29), after Moshe killed the Egyptian, he looked around and saw that some Jewish people saw what happened. He said to them, “You are compared to sand. Just as [with regard to] sand, a person takes it from one place and places it somewhere where else and it makes no sound [during the transfer], so too this matter will remain hidden among you and it will not be heard.” Moshe assumed and expected that the Jewish people would be true to their nature and not reveal what he had done to the Egyptian.

But when he learned that certain Jews had circulated – “posted” – the secret, he said (Shmos 2:14) “The matter has become known.” The Midrash (Shmos Rabah 1:30) explains that Moshe understood why the Jewish people were in exile, outside their place, being persecuted by a strange nation: “There is lashon harah among them. How can they be worthy of redemption? ... Now I know why they are oppressed.” What is the essence of lashon harah? And why is exile and oppression its natural result?

A few pessukim after the commandment to be holy, Hashem tells us “Do not go tale-bearing among your nation” (Vayikra 19:16). The Rambam (Hilchos Deios 7:2) explains the nature and full impact of the prohibitions against lashon harah and tale-bearing – rechilus: “What is a tale-bearer? This is one who carries ‘merchandise,’ going from one person to another and saying, ‘Poloni said such-and-such.’ ‘I heard such-and-such about Ploni.’ Even though it is true, this destroys the world.”

Lashon harah and rechilus mean habitually revealing others’ secrets, speaking about things and people which are not their concern. Such a quality goes against the true nature of the Jewish people. We are deep people with powerful inner lives. That is why Moshe thought the Jewish people who witnessed his killing of the Egyptian thought they would keep it a secret.

People who have no inner life of their own have “no choice” but go outside of themselves and speak constantly about others.  Redemption is when we have our own place. And exile is when we are outside of our true place. When the Jewish people go outside of their true place, their inner spiritual world, this manifests itself in exile – our removal from our physical place.

This focus on talking about externality, other people’s business, or other superficial matters, is the ultimate betrayal of the essence of the Jewish people. Moshe realized that this was why they were in exile. In fact, the Hebrew word for exile, galusגלות, comes from the word לגלות – meaning “to expose.” When we jabber about others’ lives, exposing their private business, the natural result is exile. But after a couple of people revealed the fact that Moshe killed the Egyptian, the Jewish people learned their lesson and returned to their true nature. And this was the key to their redemption. How do we see this?

Most people are familiar with three things the Jewish people did that caused them to merit redemption (not changing their names, clothing, or language), but fewer know about the fourth one (Bamidbar Rabah 25:22): “They did not reveal their secrets.”[1] They returned to their true inner-focused natures.  Once again, they began to live lives of “a fence within a fence,” not going outside of themselves to prattle endlessly about others’ lives.

There are two Jewish ideas that most young women returning from seminary would be content never hearing again: “the whole honor of the daughter of the King is inside” (Tehillim 45:14) and tznius – modesty. And while these ideas are often applied to sleeve lengths and hemlines, appropriate clothing is only the edge of the tip of the meaning of these concepts – which are applicable to both men and women.

Rav Yerucham explains tznius this way: “The secret of the idea of tznius is to be hidden, internal.” As we have already seen, this has nothing to do with remaining indoors and not going out into the street, though unfortunately many have misinterpreted the concept this way. The deeper meaning of “the whole honor of the daughter of the King is inside” is that we access holiness when we direct our attention to our inner life and away from things and people outside ourselves that do not truly concern us.

But what are these inner ideas with which we should occupy ourselves? How does one distinguish between superficial and essential concerns?

One deeper focus is the study of Torah. The Gemara (Sotah 49b) says, “What does the passuk (Shir HaShirim 7:2) mean, ‘the curves of your thighs?’ Why are the words of Torah compared to the thigh? To teach you that just as the thigh is hidden, so too the words of Torah are hidden.” What does it mean that the words of Torah are hidden? Isn’t sharing the Torah far and wide a great ideal?

The Gemara means that the words of Torah are called “hidden” because they are not superficial or external. They go to the heart of life. The more one is focuses on superficial things, the less he can focus on putting his full energy into understanding Hashem’s will as expressed through the Torah.

But maintaining a rich inner life has become a rarity. Today, in frum communities, everyone must discuss and have an opinion on whatever everyone else is doing. I heard this past week that at one Shabbos table, one person brought up the tragic decision by a newly married couple to get divorced. No one knew what truly happened, so everyone felt the need to express an opinion about why they were getting divorced. The women assumed that the young groom must have been a monstrous secret abuser. The men assumed that the wife must have been a wicked woman suffering from terrible and insufferable psychological problems.

But why must we discuss other people’s tragedies at all? What does it have to do with us? Do people even begin to think about the pain of the parents of this bride and groom, knowing that the whole world is talking about them? Do people consider how this talk and speculation destroys the lives of the young man and woman involved? Or how it affects the other relatives who are broken-hearted over this tragedy? Do we realize that we are destroying the world? Why must we prattle on, behind the guise of a concern for other Jews’ welfare, about other people’s business?

We live in a world where parents learn that their children are engaged only after the whole world has seen the 40 pictures they posted of themselves sitting inappropriately close to one another on a simchah website or Facebook. And who says it is a mitzvah to post every picture from their private simchah for the whole world to gaze at?

Why are our inner lives so empty that everyone must post every little thing that happens on their favorite WhatsApp group? “My baby had solid food for the first time today!” Following the big news, everyone feels like they would be callous and uncaring if they ignored this important announcement. “Wow!” “What a big baby!” “Congratulations!” “What did she eat?” The endless, pointless chatter goes on and on.

How much value do we really add to the world by talking with our friends or commenting somewhere online about the latest banality uttered by Hillary or Donald? Do we actually believe our political analysis on Twitter or Facebook will turn the tide of the election? The reason we become so obsessed with what is going on outside in the world is because our own inner life is completely barren.

But our nature as Jews is to bring out the depth and inner-focus with which we merited the redemption from Egypt. We can become holy and cling to G-d by turning away from focusing on what other people are saying or doing and turning our attention inward. We can set aside time to improve the quality of our davening or our motivations for doing the things we do. We can dedicate our attention to rectifying our own personal characteristics. In doing so, we begin to turn inward, working to become the people we want to during our one hundred and twenty years on this earth.

Let us consider how we can build fences within fences to separate ourselves from superficiality. Let us turn inward because Hashem is telling us that this is the way to access holiness. In the merit of our efforts to turn our focus and attention where they belong, may Hashem return his entire nation to where they belong, Eretz Yisroel, with the coming of Moshiach and the complete redemption, may it arrive very soon in our days!



[1] Before the plagues began, they were told (Shmos 3:22), “Each woman shall borrow from her neighbor and from the dweller in her house silver and gold vessels and garments…” Yet no one told their Egyptian neighbors about this command for the entire twelve months until their fulfillment of the command. 

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Tomorrow is Another World - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha from the Second Day of Pesach

Baruch Hashem, Rav Weinberger has approved this version of my write-up of his drasha from the second day of Pesach. 

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 5776
Tomorrow is Another World

I was in Paris, France for a beautiful chassunah about two weeks ago. I had never been to Paris before. When I arrived, I traveled directly to the hotel, which was in the same Jewish neighborhood as the chassunah, which took place in a Chabad girls’ school, the largest in all of Europe. The building was surrounded by a high wall on all sides like a military compound. All around the wall were twenty or thirty French soldiers carrying rifles, although many of them did not appear too fond of those they were charged to defend. After what I saw and heard from those who live there, I had the following thought on my way back to the United States.

The Torah tells us, “Remember the day when you went out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life” (Devarim 16:3). What differentiates this mitzvah to remember the exodus from Egypt every single day of the year from the mitzvah to recount the Exodus Pesach night? The key distinction is that which we read in the Haggdah (and Pesachim 116b), “In every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as if he personally went out from Egypt.”

On Pesach night, we taste the bitterness and tears. We experience the joy personally. We see the blood, fire, and columns of smoke. We say, “The Holy One did not only redeem our fathers. Rather, He even redeemed us with them.” We live the Exodus. This is the main difference from the daily mitzvah to remember the exodus. It is one thing to mention and remember Hashem taking us out of Egypt. But it is an entirely different matter to actually see himself as personally emerging from slavery to freedom at G-d’s hand.

How can we, living at a time of greater and more wide-spread prosperity than at any other time in Jewish history possibly relate to the poverty, oppression, and suffering experienced by our grandfathers and grandmothers? We simply have nothing in common with them experientially. How can we fulfill Chazal’s instruction to see ourselves as if we personally experienced Hashem’s redemption from Egyptian slavery?

At the Seder, we hold up a broken piece of matzah and say “This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt.” Rashi (on Devarim 16:3) says that this is “bread which reminds us of the affliction with which we were tormented in Egypt.”

On my way back from Paris, I began to think: perhaps through this broken matzah we can relate to what our grandparents went through in Egypt in one respect. The Gemara (Pesachim 116a) says we use a broken piece of matzah because “It is the way of a poor person to use a broken piece of matzah [so he can hide away the rest for later].” A hungry person does not know what tomorrow will bring. He has no idea whether, the next day, he will even be able to obtain the meager amount of bread he managed to find today.  That uncertainty, that need to horde for the next day, is what we think about when we call matzah the bread of affliction.

My father told me that when he was in Mathausen during the Holocaust, one of the biggest decisions each person had to make was what to do with the meager piece of moldy bread he received. Some maintained that it was better to save a portion because he did not know whether he would have any at all the next day. My father, however, had seen some Jews searching through the barracks, rifling through others’ things, trying to find a hidden morsel of food. He therefore said to himself, “Even if I hide some of my food, I don’t even know if I will still have it tomorrow. And I don’t even know whether I will be alive for a few more hours. It is better to take what is certain and eat any food I can find right now.”

When people are poor, afflicted, and broken, they lack any feeling of security or stability. They lack any sense of continuity. This uncertainty can lead to an excessive fear about what the future will bring. The tragedy of poverty is that it instills a desperate obsession to control one’s situation, to rely on one’s self rather than on G-d.

We see that the broken piece of matzah recalls this fear and uncertainty. But why is this broken piece of matzah hidden between the two whole matzahs at the Seder? What is the significance of the two whole matzahs? They, like the two challahs we use every Shabbos, recall the miraculous mann our grandparents ate in the desert after leaving Egypt.

The Torah says Hashem gave us the mann “in order to deprive you, to test you” (Devarim 8:2). This passuk is outwardly very difficult to understand. We were in a desert, a place with no food at all. The mann sustained us every single day. It filled us up so we would not be hungry. And it was delicious. If one thought of nothing when he ate it, it tasted like a wafer fried in honey (Shmos 16:31). And if a person thought of his or her favorite food, it had that taste (Shmos Rabah 25:3). If the mann kept us alive, filled our stomachs, and tasted delicious, how could the Torah say that its purpose was “to deprive you, to test you?”

Despite all of the blessings of the mann, its challenge was the mitzvah, “Do not leave over from it till morning” (Shmos 16:19). The Jewish people had just emerged from the poverty, affliction and deprivation of Egypt. They had not yet fully absorbed the faith in Hashem’s care for them. They were still gripped by the fear of what tomorrow would bring. Many of them therefore had an irresistible urge to horde the mann, lest there would be none the next day, as the passuk says, “And they did not listen to Moshe and some men left over [mann] until morning. And it became full of worms and rotted...” (ibid. 20). People even failed the test on Shabbos when they went out to attempt to collect mann even though they were told there would be none there (ibid. 27). The impulse to focus on tomorrow at the expense of the obligations of today was simply too strong.

Perhaps this is why Hashem caused an entire generation to grow up in the desert learning how to live with serenity despite having only one day’s food at any given time. It is so difficult to free one’s self from the need to think he is in control of his own life. G-d therefore caused us to go to bed every night with nothing in the fridge for the next day. He wanted us to redeem us from the mentality of poverty and affliction. He wanted us to learn how to feel secure and serene because of our trust in G-d. We had to learn to live for today without worrying about tomorrow.

That is why, at the Seder, we place the broken piece of matzah, which personifies the bread of affliction, between the two whole matzahs, which remind us that we do not need to know with certainty what tomorrow will bring. He wants to free us from the ultimate internal slave-mentality in which we worry about the future even though we have everything we need today. It is enough that we entrust our lives in Hashem’s care.

How can we relate to this today? I spoke to one Yid in France who told me he operates a yeshivah in a town about an hour from Paris that has always had between 200 and 300 students. But now it has only eleven because so many Jews are afraid to publicly identify as Jews by sending their children to a Jewish school or have moved to Eretz Yisroel, Canada, or Miami.

One rebbe in Paris told me that although it is not reported in the news, and they do not want it to be, a Jewish child is beaten up in the streets virtually every day. No one knows when the next anti-Semitic or Islamic terrorist attack will occur. Everyone contemplates what to do with their bank accounts and homes. The non-Jews in Paris know that the Jews want to leave and sell their homes, so they have adopted an approach of waiting them out. Why should they offer a market price for a Jewish family’s million dollar house when they can obtain it for a fraction of that price later on?

The feeling of uncertainty about tomorrow in the ancient Jewish communities of France and all around Europe is palpable. And while we still feel safe and secure in the United States, just like the Jews in Berlin felt in 1932, all we have to do is think about the vulnerability felt by our brothers and sisters in Paris today to get a sense of one of the key aspects of the oppression our grandfathers and grandmothers endured in Egypt.

When we take out the piece of hidden matzah at the end of the Seder, we call it Afikoman, which is a contraction of the words “Afiku mann – take out the mann.” By doing so, we daven to Hashem, “Master of the World, help us to remove all that we have horded away because we were worried about tomorrow, because we felt so vulnerable! Help us internalize the lesson of the mann. Free us from that poverty, that desperate need to take control because we feel so out-of-control. Liberate us from the worry about tomorrow that destroys our ability to live for and enjoy today. Allow us to live just for today without obsessing over what will happen tomorrow.”


May Hashem bless us with the ability to surrender the care of our lives to Hashem. May we feel the freedom from worry about tomorrow. May we internalize the reality that “all a person has in this world is the day and moment in which he is serving G-d. The next day is an entirely different world” (I Likutei Moharan 272). May our incorporation of this reality of the redemption from Egyptian poverty and affliction bring us into the world of Moshiach soon in our days.  

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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

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


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






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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Delivery of Uniforms on Shabbos

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

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

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

Clothing Transforms us

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

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

Overcoming our יצר הרע

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

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

בגד

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

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

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

Marine Commercial

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

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

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

Setting the Tone for the Day

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

Closing

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

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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Narcissistic Controller or Loving Grandparent? - Yaakov and Lavan - Parshas Vayechi

In recent years, I read Lavan's unhinged rant at Yaakov as the frustration of a narcissistic parent seething that he has been unable to manipulate Yaakov and his daughters into serving his own ends (Bereishis 31:43): "The daughters are my daughters, the sons are my sons, the flocks are my flocks, and everything that you have is mine!"

I felt that had Lavan been a healthy parent and grandparent, he would have recognized that his grandchildren "belonged" to Yaakov, Rachel, Leah, Bilha, and Zilpa - and not him. Such an attitude would have demonstrated respect for his daughters and son-in-law as his grandchildren's true parents. He would only have sought to see how he could be helpful, but would not have been controling - he would not have seen his grandchildren as if they were his own children. 

So I was surprised when, this year, I noticed that in parishas Vayechi, Yaakov himself says something that initially sounds similar to what Lavan said to him years earlier (Bereishis 48:5): "And now, the two sons born to you in Egypt... are mine, they shall be like Reuven and Shimon to me." While I am aware of the normal meaning ascribed to this passuk, it would be irresponsible not to notice the similarities (and differences) between Yaakov's words here and what Lavan said to him in parshas Vayeitze.

Reading the conversation between Yaakov and Yosef, however, the whole tone is one of love and an intent on Yaakov's part to give the same blessings to Yosef's sons that he gave to his own. Lavan, on the other hand, flew into a rage because of his inability to control Yaakov and his children. 

After noticing Yaakov's words' superficial similarity to Lavan's diatribe, I revised my earlier thinking to one that is less black-and-white. After all, Chazal say on his words (Pirkei D'Rabi Eliezer 35), "Grandchildren are like children." Lavan was not wrong because it is always self-centered to consider one's grandchildren his or her own. Rather, like virtually everything else, there's a right way and a wrong way to do something.

Yaakov wanted to give Efrayim and Menashe the same blessings he was giving to his own children. Lavan wanted to control Yaakov, his grandchildren, and his daughters. The key difference is between profound love and giving to the extent that one loves his grandchildren as much as his own, on one hand, and, on the other hand, selfishness, to the extent that one believes he can control his grandchildren to the same extent he thinks he should be able to control his children, both of whom he views as his property.

May HaShem help us adopt an attitude of giving in all of our relationships, not asking what others should be doing, but rather what we can do to be helpful and of service to others!

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Believing in Your Potential - Being Engraved on the Leg of the Throne of Glory - Rabbi Yoni Levin's Shabbos Morning Drasha

Rabbi Yoni Levin, the assistant rabbi at Aish Kodesh, delivered the drasha this Shabbos while Rav Weinberger was at YU for Shabbos. He spoke in  honor of the bar mitzvah of Avi Goldstone. Mazel tov! Below is the drasha which he typed up and emailed to me. Thank you Rabbi Levin for allowing me to share it!

Believing in Your Potential - Being Engraved on the Leg of the Throne of Glory

It’s astounding how each year we read the same stories, we read the same פרשיות, and they never seem to grow old.  We are in the midst of a cliffhanger, a story of suspense. We are on the edge of our seats waiting to see what happens to יעקב אבינו as he runs into the dark of the night all alone, all by himself, scared, and lost.

I’m not sure about each of you, but I could never read the same book twice. 

But when it comes to the תורה for some reason, each year, the story becomes more exciting.  We are reliving the stories of the אבות.  Personally, I get most emotional when we read the end of the תורה, and each year משה רבינו dies again, and it almost brings me to tears, the loss of משה רבינו, our leader, the one who lead us out of מצרים, through the מדבר.

Our נשמות are so connected, they are so involved in each of these stories, in the lives of our ancestors, to the point that the פרשיות truly come to life.

Story of יעקב

So here we are in the middle of ספר בראשית and יעקב is running away since last שבת.  He’s running as fast as he could.  He has been sent off by his parents to escape his brother עשב.  His destination: the house of לבן, his uncle. 

And during this marathon, he keeps looking over his shoulder.  He keeps looking to his right.  He looks to his left.  He is tense and uneasy not knowing where he may confront עשו.   He’s scared from any חיות רעות, he has no support system, no one to protect him, no one to talk to.   He is fighting a battle all by himself.

And as יעקב wanders off on his own, scared, lost, in a cloud of darkness, confusion, he winds up falling asleep in the מקום המקדשה' יתברך puts יעקב אבינו to sleep particularly in the very place that will eventually become the בית מקדשיעקב is lying down in this place of קדושה, where he senses this powerful energy, this מקום full with the potential of greatness. 

While sleeping in this place of the Divine, יעקב is overwhelmed with power, energy and קדושה.  יעקב is overtaken by this dream.  He experiences this vivid, clear, and dominant dream of מלאכים ascending and descending the ladder והנה סלם מצב ארצה וראשו מגיע השמימה.
           
Message of the Dream

יעקב is at a very delicate moment of his life.  What message is Hashem giving יעקב אבינו at this very tender life-changing moment?

יעקב is transitioning to a life of independence.  יעקב is feeling lonely and lost, without parents and teachers to guide him.

What is הקב"ה teaching יעקב through this dream?  He is expected to be independent and responsible for himself.  He is being forced to grow up.  What חיזוק could הקב"ה possibly give יעקב אבינו at this very sensitive point in his life?

Each one of us has possibly felt this same feeling at some point in our life.  Some of us might be feeling them right now - this feeling of darkness and loneliness.  Perhaps we are struggling with פרנסה, stuck in an unsuccessful business, no place to turn, no place to look.  We might feel this when we get sucked into the darkness of תאוה, drawn into the world of עבירות – this sense of guilt, a sense of regret, depression, fear.  We might feel this in a relationship, this feeling of loneliness, abandonment.

On a global level, as a nation, as part of humanity, we might be feeling lost as we see waves of terror throughout ארץ ישראל.  This past week we lost more קדושים.  We are constantly running away in the darkness from a different brother of ours, ישמעאל.  We are constantly looking over our shoulder. ה' ינקום דמם.

France was hit with a big shock last Shabbos.  Unfortunately, they were hit with reality, a reality that Jews face every day in ארץ ישראל and many cities throughout Europe. 

What is an appropriate message that can help build us back up, strengthen us, put us back on track, both as individuals and as a nation?

And יעקב Wakes Up…

When יעקב אבינו wakes up, he makes an interesting comment. 

ויאמר אכן יש ה' במקום הזה ואנכי לא ידעתי

What does the word אכן mean?    The Artscroll defines the word to mean “surely”.  And יעקב said “surely Hashem exists in this very place, but I was unaware”.  יעקב sensed this magnitude of energy in this מקום המקדש. It was so certain to him, it was so clear, it was אכן, this place was undoubtedly filled with an overflow of קדושה.

However, there is another understanding of the word אכן.  Not in the פשט, but in the רמז, the hint behind this word, concealed within each letter of the word אכן.

The Acronym of אכ"ן

Many מפרשים explain that the word אכן is actually an acronym.  יעקב אבינו was sleeping in the מקום המקדש, the center of the world, the center of the universe, the center of שמים.  He was lying below the center of the עליונים, the upper spheres.  He was lying directly below the כסא הכבוד, Hashem’s Throne of Honor, beneath the very legs that upheld the כסא הכבוד.

This כסא הכבוד, this throne on which the שכינה resides, had 4 legs no different than any other throne that a king might be sitting on.

On each of the 4 legs was engraved a different image.  There was a lion, an אריה, which is hinted by the letter א'.  Another leg had a כרוב, one of the כרובים, an image of a baby, hinted by the letter כ'.  And a third leg was engraved with the image of an eagle, a נשר, hinted by the letter נ'.  This spells out the word אכן, אריה, כרוב, and נשר

And what was the 4th image on the 4th leg?  אכן יש ה' במקום הזה, יעקב says that he knew the three legs, the אכן but אנכי לא ידעתי.  The fourth I didn’t know, he says.  The word אנכי contains the three letters of אכן plus the letter י.  The 4th leg is represented by the letter י'.  What does the letter י' stand for?  חז"ל tells us that the image of יעקב was engraved on the 4th leg.  The letter י' represents יעקב himself.  Now when יעקב says אנכי לא ידעתי it means he didn’t know the letter י, he didn’t know himself, he didn’t know אנכי.  He didn’t realize that he himself was the 4th leg.

The Image of יעקב

יעקב was in a difficult stage of his life.  He was forced to grow up.  He was off on his own.  And during this very challenging stage הקב"ה shows him a dream.  ה' יתברך shows יעקב אבינו how much potential he has.  He shows him the tremendous heights that he can reach.  יעקב says אנכי לא ידעי, I didn’t know how far I can reach, I didn’t know that my image touches the כסא הכבוד.  I didn’t realize my actions have ripple effects in the World above.

This message of teaching יעקב אבינו how much he could accomplish is also the message behind the ladder.  The ladder is rooted in the ground והנה סלם מוצב ארצה but ראשו מגיע השמימה that we can reach tremendous heights.

Our Image in the 4th Leg
The truth is, if you look at the גמ' in חגיגה which records the 4 legs of the כסא הכבוד doesn’t say that יעקב is the 4th leg but the 4th leg is אדם – any person.  Each one of us has our image imprinted on that 4th leg.  Avi  - you have your image on the 4th leg of the כסא הכבוד.  You have the ability to reach tremendous heights and lofty goals. 

This 4th leg is a mirror.  And when each one of us look up at this mirror we see ourselves imprinted on the כסא הכבודThis is both a daunting realization, yet an empowering message.  We have the ability to shake the world above, make waves in שמים.

We have to internalize how powerful our actions are, how high they can reach, how we can turn over worlds, we can make changes in the עליונים.

There is a striking Gemara in גיטין that records a debate about the details that surround the story of פילגש בגבעה

תלמוד בבלי מסכת גיטין דף ו עמוד ב
ועוד, הא ר' אביתר הוא דאסכים מריה על ידיה, דכתיב: בותזנה עליו פילגשו, רבי אביתר אמר: זבוב מצא לה, ר' יונתן אמר: נימא מצא לה, ואשכחיה ר' אביתר לאליהו, א"ל: מאי קא עביד הקב"ה? א"ל: עסיק בפילגש בגבעה, ומאי קאמר? אמר ליה: אביתר בני כך הוא אומר, יונתן בני כך הוא אומר, א"ל: ח"ו, ומי איכא ספיקא קמי שמיא? א"ל: אלו ואלו דברי אלהים חיים הן זבוב מצא ולא הקפיד, נימא מצא והקפיד. אמר רב יהודה: זבוב בקערה, ונימא באותו מקום, זבוב - מאיסותא, ונימא - סכנתא. איכא דאמרי: אידי ואידי בקערה, זבוב - אונסא, ונימא – פשיעותא

What is most striking though is that when Hashem is learning this topic, he is quoting ר' אביתר and ר' יונתן.  And the same holds true, when we are learning and we are מחדש something, Hashem will quote us.  That is as if to say, we are placing the words in Hashem’s mouth.  We are dictating what is being said upstairs in שמים!

If we can just take this idea to heart and realize how far reaching our speech, our thoughts, our actions can go, it will drive us to do only good.

We need to be confident in ourselves, confident in our actions - how we act really does make a difference. 

A Little Bit About Avi

When you take a look at Avi, one thing immediately comes to mind; and that’s his precious smile - that smile that goes from cheek to cheek.  Avi is forever in the state of שמחה

שמחה is key to reaching one’s true potential, one’s true heights.  It indicates a healthy dose of confidence that will enable Avi to reach immeasurable heights.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף קל עמוד א
תניא, רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומר: כל מצוה שקיבלו עליהם בשמחה כגון מילה, דכתיב שש אנכי על אמרתך כמוצא שלל רב - עדיין עושין אותה בשמחה,

Avi is starting off his life as a בר מצוה boy with an unthinkable amount of שמחה.

Now Avi, as you embark on this new journey supplied with the proper tools to succeed, you need to believe in yourself and your ability to succeed.  You already have shown us an enormous amount of success with your dedication to daven, perform מצוות and learn.  You need to remember והנה סולם מוצב ארצה, that the ladder is grounded, you need to stay firm and grounded with a strong base, a healthy one.  But you also need to look forward and find your mission in life and to realize that you can be מגיע השמימה.

We look forward to seeing you continuously grow and you should only bring Nachas to your family and continue to inspire all of us around you with your smile, your happiness, your dedication to Torah, Tefila and Mitzvos!

Mazel Tov and Good Shabbos!

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