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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Monday, November 16, 2015

Something More - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha from Parshas Toldos

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

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Toldos 5776
Something More

I have been replaying a conversation from earlier in the week over and over again in my mind. As I review it, I think of things I wish I could have said at the time. I know many people can relate to this. I spoke with a young mother at the beginning of the week who comes from a non-observant home. She is having some difficulties with her two sons. It appears that one of them may have to leave his yeshivah and she does not believe this is fair. She told me that although she regrets feeling this way, she is sometimes jealous of her non-observant brothers and sisters.   Their lives seem simpler and, often, happier than hers.

With this conversation in mind, I thought about a seemingly incomprehensible passuk in the parshah. Yitzchak, the tzaddik who barely had a foothold in this world after he was bound and ready to give his life as a sacrifice to Hashem, says to his older son Eisav (Bereishis 27:3-4), “Now, lift up your tools, your sword, and your bow and go out to the field and trap game for me and make me delicacies like I love and bring them to me and I will eat so that I may bless you before I die.” How could Yitzchak, who was barely connected to the physical world, say Eisav should bring him “delicacies like I love”? That is what Yitzchak loves?

The rivalry between Yaakov and Eisav ran very deep. Rashi says on the passuk (ibid. 25:22), “And the children struggled within her,” that “they were struggling with one another and fighting over the inheritance of two worlds.” Chazal teach (Tana D’vei Eliyahu Zuta 19) that Yaakov and Eisav reached a negotiated compromise: “At that time, Eisav took this world and Yaakov took the world to come.”

Chazal do not treat this agreement as some sort of hyperbolic device. They take it so seriously that the Midrash relates the following regarding an event many years later, “When Yaakov came from Lavan’s house and Eisav saw Yaakov’s children, slaves, and maidservants, Eisav said to Yaakov, ‘My brother, did you not say to me that you would take the world to come? Where did you get all of this money? You are using this world like me!”

Esiav expected to find that Yaakov was impoverished. So he had a good question. Aren’t we supposed to have no portion in this physical world?

There is a fundamental teaching by Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, the Sridei Aish, zt”l, that is very helpful in understanding this question. The Sridei Aish borrows the terminology from the word “tune – טעם,” which refers to the tune we use when reading the Torah. There is the lower tune (טעם תחתון) and higher tune (טעם עליון). The lower tune is used for most of the year and the higher tune is used when reading the Aseres HaDibros – the Ten Commandments. Noting the fact that the word for “tune – טעם” also means “taste,” “reason” and “meaning,” the Sridei Aish says that the lower tune refers to the taste and enjoyment one feels from things in this world. And the higher tune is the deeper reason, meaning, or depth behind things of this world.

Eisav, and his progeny, are satisfied with the lower tune, the physical, emotional, or intellectual enjoyment found in worldly things. This might be a sizzling steak and cold beer in front of a football game. Or it could be a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, the symphony, or a great work of literature or philosophy. The geshamak –enjoyment – he finds in those things is enough for him. He can fully connect with these things. A Jew can also try to throw himself into these things. He may believe, even until a few moments before he leaves the world, that the lower tune was all he needed to feel fulfilled. But at that last moment of his life, somewhere deep inside, he realizes that there was a higher tune, a deeper reason for his life that he never connected with, that remained hidden during his lifetime.

A person who has only connected with the lower tune cannot understand how a Jew can find meaning for his life, not to mention a delicious taste, in the study of Gemara, Rashi, and Tosafos.  And while a Jew who lives for a higher plane of existence may work, have a home and even enjoy a football game, he cannot understand how anyone could find their entire meaning and reason for existing in those things. He knows that (Devarim 8:3), “Man does not live on bread alone. Rather, man lives on everything that comes from the mouth of G-d.” He knows from personal experience what Dovid HaMelech meant when he said (Tehillim 34:9), “Taste and see that Hashem is good.”

Eisav was upset and jealous when he saw that Yaakov was not living in poverty. He had no idea that living for the higher tune, living for a deeper meaning, does not mean deprivation in this world. He did not know that it simply means not living for this world even as one lives in this world.

The division Yaakov and Eisav made in their youth meant that one would live to eat while the other would merely eat to live. But eating to live does not mean that one must starve. It only means that one lives for something much deeper and more sublime than eating. Eisav could not tolerate that Yaakov was able to taste something otherworldly in a piece of Shabbos fish right here in this world.

It once happened on a hot summer day in July 1866 that the fourth Rebbe of Lubavitch, Rav Shmuel, known as the Rebbe Maharash, zy”a, was sitting and learning in a shaded trellis in the garden adjacent to his home. His two sons, five-year-old Sholom DovBer, who would become the fifth Rebbe of Lubavitch, the Rebbe Rashab, zy”a, and six-year-old Zalman Aharon, who would become the tzaddik known as the Raza, zy”a, were playing nearby. The two of them, little Sholom DovBer and Zalman Aharon, were having a debate regarding the difference between a Jews and non-Jews.

The older brother, Zalman Aharon, maintained that Jews were different from non-Jews because they are a “wise and understanding people” (Devarim 4:6) who could study much Torah, both revealed and hidden, and daven with great attachment – deveikus. Little DovBer challenged this assertion: “But this is only true of those Jews who learn and daven. What about Jews who are unable to study and who do not pray with deveikus? How are they different from a non-Jew?” Zalman Aharon had no answer to this challenge.

Their sister told the Rebbe Maharash about the debate, and the Rebbe called the boys over. He then asked little DovBer to call Bentzion to join them in the trellis. Bentzion was a servant in the Rebbe’s home who could barely read Hebrew and mispronounced almost every word. He barely anything in the siddur, but he said the entire book of Tehillim every day, davened three times per day in shul, and was careful to be in shul whenever Ein Yaakov, a compilation of the stories and ethical teachings from the Gemara, was being taught.

The Rebbe asked Bentzion, “Did you eat today?” “Yes,” Bentzion replied. “Did you eat well?” Bentzion answered, “What does ‘well’ mean? Baruch Hashem, I am full.” The Rebbe then asked him, “And why do you eat?” “So that I may live.” “But,” the Rebbe asked, “why do you want to live?” Bentzion paused for a moment, a tear fell from his eye, he sighed, and then answered, “To be a Jew and do what G-d wants.” The Rebbe thanked Bentzion for coming and asked him to summon Ivan the coachman, who was not Jewish, on his way out.

Ivan, who had grown up among Jewish people, spoke Yiddish perfectly. When he arrived, the Rebbe Rashab asked him, “Did you eat today?” “Yes.” “Did you eat well?” “Yes.” “And why,” the Rebbe asked, “do you eat?” “So that I may live.” “And why do you want to live?” “To take a swig of vodka and have a bite to eat,” replied Ivan. “Thank you,” the Rebbe said, “you may go.”

Unlike Eisav thought when he expected to find Yaakov Avinu wallowing in poverty, the difference between a Jew and a non-Jew is not entirely apparent until the very last question, “And why do you want to live?” Both of them may have a portion in this world. The difference lies in the meaning behind one’s involvement in this world. Is this world an end unto itself? Or is it a means to something much richer and deeper?

I have no doubt that the brothers and sisters of the woman who called me earlier this week are lovely, nice people. But the likelihood is that the smiles on their faces are animated by the lower tune, the physical, emotional, and intellectual enjoyments of this world. But there is a deeper, abiding satisfaction that comes from living with the higher tune, a deeper meaning, irrespective of whether those worldly blessings are present. A Jew must constantly come back to the why and not live for the what.

May each of us merit to work on refocusing our lives on the higher tune, the more sublime meaning in the physical and emotional blessings, objects, and activities of this world. I pray that with the joy on our faces as we live for something deeper than earthly life, we will merit to see “When Hashem returns His people to Tzion, we will be like dreamers. Then our mouths will be filled with laughter and our tongues with joyous song” (Tehillim 126:2) with the coming of Moshiach, may he arrive very soon!

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Monday, November 9, 2015

An Ode to Sarah (And All Jewish Mothers) - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha on Chayei Sarah

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

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Chayei Sarah 5776
An Ode to Sarah

This drashah is in honor of my daughter Suri – Sarah – who just gave birth to a daughter, Temimah, and to all Jewish wives and mothers.  The passuk (Bereishis 23:1) says, “And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years, the years of the life of Sarah.” There are many questions on, and explanations of, this passuk. One question is why, after the passuk introduces Sarah’s age with “And the life of Sarah was,” was it necessary to say again, “the years of the life of Sarah?” Rashi explains that it is to teach us that “they were all equally good.”

The Malbim explains that “the primary life of a person is the life he lives with intelligence and hard work; that is what is called ‘the life of a person.’ Not life lived based on emotion, which is the life of an animal. [The passuk] therefore says that they were all years of life… ‘they were all equally good.’” Sarah lived her life based on what she knew with her intellect to be good and true. She did not base her choices on her instincts or base emotions. She truly lived.

There is no doubt that Rivkah, Rochel, and Leah also knew how to live. The days of their lives were also certainly all equally good. So why does the Torah never specify the age of any of the other Imahos, matriarchs, upon their deaths like it does regarding Sarah?

The reason must be that everything that exists in the world grows from its roots. The Avos, the patriarchs, are the roots of our people. Each one of them specialized in a unique character trait and brought that special quality into our nation. Avraham brought down the quality of kindness, Yitzchak brought down the quality of strength, and Yaakov brought down the qualities of truth, compassion, and beautiful synthesis. Because each one of the Avos initiated a new quality different from the others, the Torah explains the details of their lives in detail. Because the Torah does this with only one of the Imahos, Sarah, it follows that all of them had the same characteristic bequeathed to them from the original mother, Sarah Imeinu.

What is the singular characteristic of our mother Sarah which was carried on by the other Imahos? It was the quality of the first mother, Chavah, who the Torah says was so-named because she was the “mother of all life” (Bereishis 3:20). Sarah, like all Jewish mothers after her, dedicated her life to one thing – bringing souls down into the world and raising them to live lives of holiness. The only thing she wanted was to raise her children to live years of goodness, purity, and wholesomeness about which one could say, “they were all equally good.”  One who can have children can do this with her own children. For one who cannot, it means dedicating her life to giving to others, thus becoming a spiritual “mother” to them.

Our mother Sarah initiated this attribute of motherhood, which was so perfect and all-encompassing that nothing could be added to it. There was nothing more for Rivkah, Rochel, and Leah to add in the generations just after Sarah. They only wished to carry out that characteristic to the greatest degree possible. This is equally true today. Our wives and mothers have nothing more to add to the ideal quality of motherhood exemplified by Sarah. The goal is to continue reaching for that pinnacle and living up to it to the best of one’s abilities.

That is why the passuk says about Rivkah, “And Yitzchak brought her to tent of Sarah his mother, and he took Rikvah and she became his wife and he loved her, and Yitzchak was comforted [for the loss of] his mother” (ibid. 24:67). Onkolus on this passuk explains that Yitzchak saw “that her actions were proper like the actions of Sarah.” When Yitzchak saw that the cloud of Hashem’s Presence dwelled on the tent in which he lived with Rivkah (Rashi on ibid.), he knew that she was great in the same way that Sarah was. Rivkah’s greatness, like all Jewish women, was that she was a worthy bearer of Sarah’s legacy. That was Yitzchak’s greatest comfort because it meant Sarah’s legacy was being carried on by his wife Rivkah.

It is appropriate that my daughter Suri and son-in-law Reb Yisroel Simcha named their newborn daughter Temimah (תמימה), meaning “wholesome,” because the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni Remez 102) says, quoting a passuk in Tehillim (37:18) regarding the first passuk in the parshah, “‘Hashem knows the days of the wholesome [תמימים], their inheritance shall be forever.’ Just as they are wholesome, so too their days are whole…, as it says, ‘and the life of Sarah…’” We daven that our granddaughter Temimah will be like her mother Sarah – Suri – and great-grandmother Sarah Imeinu, living a wholesome life dedicated to raising children in the ways of Hashem.

How did Sarah achieve her greatness? We know (Rashi on Bereishis 21:12) that Sarah was a greater prophet than her husband Avraham. And Avraham achieved his greatness through the ten tests that he endured. But what about Sarah? She was even greater. How did she achieve her greatness? Avraham’s tests were the type that would have made headlines. They were dramatic events like leaving home for a new land or being told to slaughter his son.

Sarah faced much less attention-grabbing trials. After struggling for years with the crushing pain of infertility, she achieved her greatness with “simple” tests like waking up multiple times overnight with a child. She, like Jewish women today, do great things with little fanfare, like trying to daven on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur while their husbands go to shul for a day full of davening with a minyan, where it is easier to become inspired. These “little,” non-spectacular acts are the expressions of motherhood that make Jewish women’s days “all equally good.”

Unfortunately, because the world in large part no longer appreciates the “life of Sarah,” many people view a woman who chooses to live a life of quiet giving and sacrifice for her children a life filled with days that are “all equally bad.” They look down on women who carry on Sarah’s legacy. Because I care little for the farcical concept of political correctness, I do not mind saying that the Torah values a person who works to live up to his or her own unique expression of the image of G-d. A great many women legitimately accomplish many things outside the home, but the granddaughters of Sarah find their primary fulfillment in motherhood. “Hashem knows the days of the wholesome” ones who dedicate themselves to fulfilling the purpose for which they were created.

The cloud rested on Sarah’s tent, indicating that Hashem’s Presence dwelled there, just as the cloud covering the Mishkan indicated the same thing. The Mishkan was where the Jewish people brought sacrifices to G-d. The greatness of Sarah’s life was that it was, similarly, a place of daily, no-frills, sacrifices for her children. She lived to give to her family and to others, to be “the mother of all life.” That was her essence and why she was the singular mother of all mothers.

I recently saw in a sefer that, during the Chofetz Chaim’s life, a member of the family found his mother’s siddur. When they showed the siddur to the Chofetz Chaim, he became very emotional and began kissing it repeatedly. After a few moments, he looked up and saw that the people around him appeared to feel that his reaction was somewhat excessive. So he said to them, “If you knew how many tears my mother shed over this siddur, you would grab it from my hands and kiss it too.”

I told my wife this story and she shared with me the following story recounted in Hamodia Weekly’s magazine, At Home with Inyan, last year:

It is told that the elderly mother of the Chofetz Chaim was once asked in what zechus she merited such a son.

She repeatedly insisted that she knew of no particular merit that could possibly explain the phenomenon. However, when pressed, she revealed what she considered a “small thing.”

“Before my chasunah my mother gave me a siddur with Tehillim,” she related. ‘Listen to me carefully,’ she told me. ‘We are required to raise our children in the ways of Torah and yiras Shamayim. So take this siddur in your hands, and in every spare moment beseech the Creator of the world to merit to raise your children to Torah and yiras Shamayim. And don’t neglect to shed tears while you daven!’

“So did my mother instruct me,” the Chofetz Chaim’s mother continued, speaking with great simplicity, “and I followed her instructions. I don’t have many merits, but this I can tell you: At every opportunity – such as when I waited for a pot of food to finish cooking on the fire – I would take the siddur with the Tehillim and daven for the hatzlachah of my children. Tears flowing, I would plead, ‘Ribbono Shel Olam, open the eyes of my Yisrael’ke to Your Torah, and help me raise him to be a talmid chacham and a yerei Shamayim…’”

Even though people today may have some time between placing the order for Chinese food or sushi and the delivery boy coming to the door, not many of our children see their mothers – or fathers – using such spare time to cry crying over a book of Tehillim for their children. It is therefore very difficult to raise children today with this wholesome quality of motherhood. May Hashem bless my daughter Suri, my granddaughter Temimah, and all Jewish wives and mothers to live up to the paradigm set by our mother Sarah, the mother of all life, so that Hashem will be able to say about every day of their lives that “all of them were equally good.” 

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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Spiritual Bulkhead - One Against the World, Part II - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha on Parshas Vayeira

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

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Vayeira 5776
The Spiritual Bulkhead – One Against the World, Part II

[Click here for Part I]

[Here is the audio of a variant of this shiur given at YU in which Rav Weinberger speaks more frankly and plainly than virtually anyone else about the challenges guys face when they are alone late at night]

[Update 11/4/2015 - 9:30 am: I updated this write-up with several extra sources based on some he'aros given by the shul's president based on the Rav Weinberger's live delivery of this shiur (I was not there and wrote it up based only on Rav Weinberger's notes).] 

After Avraham passes the most unspeakable test, the near-slaughter of his beloved son Yitzchak, Hashem told him (Bereishis 22:16-17), “By Myself I swore, says Hashem, that because you have done this thing, and you have not withheld your son, your only one, I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply your offspring like the stars of the Heavens and like the sand on the seashore, and your offspring will inherit the gates of their enemies.” With these words, according to the Ramban, Hashem clearly and unequivocally promised Avraham that regardless of any sins the Jewish people may commit throughout the generations, exile will pass and they will eventually see the ultimate redemption.

If we look carefully at the words of these pessukim in light of the Ramban, however, we see two general paths toward redemption, one in which we are compared to “the stars of the Heavens,” and another in which we are compared to “the sand on the seashore.” What is the qualitative difference between these two paths?

Rav Ezriel Tauber, building upon a beautiful Kli Yakar (on ibid.) explains the significance of “the stars of the Heavens.” Each star represents an individual power, unique in its ability to add light to the universe, as the passuk says regarding the stars (Yeshayahu 40:26), “Who takes out their host by number, all of them He calls by name…” By giving each star a name, Hashem shows that each one contributes something unique and different from all other stars. But with all of their individuality, the stars are called “the hosts of Heaven” (ibid. 34:4). The stars join together to form “hosts – armies.” They work together to fulfill a communal purpose. The stars also “work” with one another to form constellations to constitute part of the organized forces at work in the universe.

Stars therefore represent the ideal combination of individuality and communal responsibility in which each star’s individual identity shines in a completely unique way while, at the same time, it plays its part in a host or constellation to do its part in the big picture. This represents the ideal Jewish life as we march toward redemption – every Jew maximizing his or her own unique talents and strengths while also using the force multiplier of national unity to work together toward our collective goal of revealing G-dliness on earth.

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 98a), quoting the passuk in Yeshayahu (60:22), says that Moshiach can come at the set time for redemption (“in its time”) or earlier, “I will hasten it.” In the latter path toward redemption, we are compared to the stars in Heaven. When Moshiach comes this way, Hashem says (Daniel 7:13), “He was like a man coming on the clouds of Heaven.” That is what Hashem was referring to when he told Avraham after the Akeidah, “I will surely multiply your offspring like the stars of the Heavens.”

But there is another, more difficult, path to redemption – the way of “I will surely multiply your offspring like… the sand on the seashore.” Sand ostensibly lacks the characteristics of individuality and joining together for communal work. Grains of sand lack any discernable individual qualities. They all look identical. In addition, they do not gather together in anything comparable to constellations, teams, armies, or communities. Even in halachah (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 321), one cannot violate the prohibition of kneading by mixing sand and water because sand physically cannot be formed into dough. A beach is just a collection of billions of individual grains of sand. They appear not to form any whole greater than the sum of their parts. But if this is the case, how is the promise that Hashem will make Avraham’s descendants like the sand on the seashore a blessing?

The Kli Yakar says that the sand has a vital purpose, as the passuk (Yirmiyahu 5:22) says, “I have placed the sand as the boundary to the sea.” He says, “The nations rise up against the Jewish people to destroy them but they cannot overcome them. Similarly, the waves rise up as if they want to wash away the world. But when they reach the sand, they are immediately broken just like the nations of the world, as the passuk (Tehillim 42:8) says, ‘All Your breakers and your waves passed over me.’” The sand is the border the sea cannot cross.

So too the Jewish people are the world’s last line of defense against the forces seeking to destroy it. On a physical level, the Western world seems poised to succumb to radical Islam, though it seeks to infiltrate and destroy everything. The Jewish people – personified by Israel – seems to be the only nation willing to unapologetically stand up against extremist Muslims.

So although each grain of sand seems not to be unique or to have a unified purpose, the Jewish people, who are compared to the sand on the seashore, do serve a vital purpose. They are the world’s last hope against the forces of chaos and destruction!

And even on the spiritual plane as well, we remain the lone defenders of the health and normalcy of the world. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 98a) says that In the way of redemption called “in its time,” the Navi (Zachariah 9:9) says that Moshiach will come like a poor man riding on a donkey (חמור), not on a cloud. The Maharal, zt”l, explains, based on the fact that the Hebrew word for physicality (חמריות) shares the same root as the word for donkey, that Moshiach riding on a donkey means that he “rides” – exerts control over – physicality.

Rashi (on Shmos 4:20) says that Avraham rode the same donkey on which Moshiach will arrive. Avraham also exerted mastery over physicality when he separated himself from physicality by saying to Yishmael (Bereishis 22:5), “Stay here with the donkey.” Avraham was showing us that he would not be bowed by or subject to the waves of physicality that attempt to drown us.

It is not only the Muslim world that attempts to conquer the world. The infinite physicality, smallness, and decadence available on the Internet threaten to wash away our humanity. And it is available on a phone that sits in a person’s pocket all the time, every day. It calls out to every single individual, whether great or small.

Each one of us, each grain of sand, stand together as a fortification against the onslaught of the physicality of the world that attempts to drown us. As each individual surfs the ocean-like web, he stares down the crest of each wave of “viral” videos, movies, and mindless entertainment over and over again. And just like the sand on the seashore acts as a line of defense preventing the ocean from overtaking the land, so too each of us must remain ever vigilant in keeping physicality in its place. We must use it while not being used by it. When we do that, we protect the whole world from being overtaken by mindless materialism. As we spoke about last week, sitting alone in one’s house late at night, each person is like Avraham, confronting the whole world, personified by his phone or computer, alone.

It appears that it is not G-d’s will for us to live like “the stars of the Heavens” at this time. We simply do not have national, communal leaders with influence over the entire Jewish nation today. We therefore cannot fully fulfill a star-like role, illuminating the world with our individual light and working together as a team to accomplish national goals. It seems that Hashem’s providence has decreed that, for now, we act as a bulkhead, protecting the world’s shore from the progressive invasion of a flood of impure images and sounds. If Hashem tasked each of us with creating an oasis of health, moderation, and normalcy amidst the flood of insanity churning around us, it must be He also gave us an inner reservoir of strength and resilience to enable us to succeed – not to be overcome.

Because of all of the distractions whirling around us, it is so difficult to connect to true, sincere, and holy feelings of closeness with G-d. But that is what we seek. How are we to maintain our focus in what often feels like a battle against the world when we cannot even strengthen ourselves by successfully feeling connected to Hashem?

Rebbe Nosson wrote a series of letters to his son to strengthen him during a period in his life when he was facing numerous spiritual and physical challenges. In one of these letters, he gives us tremendous encouragement in our struggle. He says, quoting a passuk from this week’s parshah, as follows (Michtavei Moharnat p. 117):

“And he was sitting at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day…” (Bereishis 18:1). “Sitting [יושב]” implies waiting and staying for a long time, like it says (Devarim 1:46), “And they dwelled [ותשבו] in Kadesh for many days.” In other words, a person only merits a revelation of G-dliness, the aspect of, “And Hashem appeared to him” (Bereishis 18:1), by sitting and waiting and stationing himself by the doorway of the tent of holiness for a long time. And even though during this time he endures what he endures, and the heat of the day, meaning that all of the desires which burn him greatly, he never abandons his place, G-d forbid. Instead, he sits and waits by the door for a very long time, [like Avraham who] “was sitting at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day.”

Rebbe Nosson is teaching us that he understands that it is hard to maintain the fight against impurity and guard our thoughts and eyes day after day. But he also shows us that if we hold the line, if we maintain a boundary beyond which the lasciviousness of the world cannot pass, we will merit “And Hashem appeared to him.” By disregarding the fact that the world seems to have abdicated any sense of boundaries or self-respect, we maintain our post, keeping watch by the doorway of the tent of holiness.

In the merit of each act of vigilance and holiness by our people to maintain our guard against the waves of materialism that crash against us again and again, may Hashem reveal his anointed one. By holding off the waves of physicality, we exhibit our mastery over it and thereby reveal Moshiach’s donkey on which he will come riding into Yerushalayim, may he arrive soon in our days!

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Monday, October 26, 2015

One Against the World - A Jew's Lonely Battle - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha on Lech Lecha

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

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Lech Lecha 5776
One Against the World

[Update 10/29/2014: YUTorah has just posted an audio version of this very important drasha which Rav Weinberger gave at YU]

This is the most exciting time of year. Once again, as we begin parshas Lech Lecha. We read about the Avos, starting with Avraham Avinu. Everything begins with Avraham and everything ends with Avraham. As Rashi says (commenting on Bereishis 12:2), in the first paragraph of Shmoneh Esrei, we mention Avraham first among the Avos, and we conclude the blessing with a reference to Avraham as well. “We conclude with you.”

Beyond the text of a paragraph in Shmoneh Esrei, what does it mean that we open and close with Avraham Avinu? Rav Nosson Nota Spira, zt”l, writes in Megaleh Amukos that the deeper meaning of Chazal’s teaching is that the Jewish people begin and end exile with the powers we inherited from Avraham.  What was Avraham’s most identifiable characteristic? Yechezkel describes Avraham with a unique statement not used regarding anyone else in Tanach, including Moshe Rebbeinu and Dovid Hamelech. He says (33:24), “Avraham was one.” He was unique and stood alone against the entire world.

As a nation, we certainly feel what it means to be alone, standing against everyone else. We look around us and feel that not only is the entire Muslim world against us, but the Western world as ws again turned its back to us, isolating and rejecting us. We know that we are, in a very real sense, alone.

The Megaleh Amukos’s teaching that we begin and end our exile with the power to stand against the entire world like Avraham Avinu is not, however, directed only at the Jewish nation as a whole. It applies to every individual Jew as well.

We live at a time of unprecedented spiritual blessings. There are more people studying in yeshivah than ever before. It is astounding how many shiurim available to people. Deeper levels of Torah are now extremely accessible. But with all of our spiritual blessings, one thing has changed drastically. In earlier times, most people lived a “single life.” In other words, they davened, learned, worked, and raised their families. They lived one, consistent, cohesive life. There was, of course, tremendous variation in the spiritual and physical quality of that life, but people lived “single lives.”  Even those who left the path of Yiddishkeit did so completely and lived a consistent, albeit nonobservant, life.

Today, however, there is a different reality. Many, many people live fine, upstanding lives during the day. They get up to daven and learn Torah. Perhaps they even go to the mikvah. They go to work, teach in yeshivah, and may even be roshei yeshiva or prominent rebbeim. They are known far and wide as ehrlicher Yiddin, honest religious Jews or talmidei chachaim, great Torah scholars.  Yet at night, when all the doors are closed, they descend down into the depths of the forty-nine levels of impurity with the click of a mouse or the tap of a screen. So many people are now living double lives.

And no one knows about people’s alter ego besides themselves and Hashem. Sometimes wives or parents catch them and bear the pain of knowing about their secret life of impurity. But no one in their communities has any idea who they really are or the nature of their struggles and failures.

This summer, when I arrived in Eretz Yisroel, the news had just broken that a great talmid chacham from Tzfas, who was known for his seforim, scholarship, and great piety, was arrested and taken away in handcuffs for crimes that one cannot speak about, neither on Shabbos, nor during the week. This rav was known for such great levels of piety that he went to the mikvah several times every single day. I had even brought two of his seforim with me from the United States to learn during the trip. It was heartbreaking.

Many people remain immersed in the depths of Geheinom by night, but look like the same holy Jews they always were during the day. Today’s technology enables people to live a double life to a degree that was not possible just twenty-five years ago.

What is the significance of this new reality in these last few minutes before Moshiach? It means that now, every single Jew has the opportunity to stand alone against the entire world like Avraham Avinu did in his own time. “Avraham was alone” meant that he was called (Bereishis 14:13) “Avraham the Ivri [העברי],” because, according to the Yalkut Shimoni on that passuk, “the whole world was on one side [עבר] and he was on the other side.”

Most Jews today carry a device in their pockets that can access the entire world in just a few seconds. So, just like Avraham Avinu, when a Jew sits in his home at 11 p.m. with no one watching, he finds himself alone, facing down the world. And just like his great-grandfather Avraham, he has the power to say, “No!” But that challenge feels daunting.

Because the whole world is now so easily accessible to a person, we have never before seen a situation in which every boy and girl, every man and woman, has been called upon to fight against the entire world.

My father has occasionally commented that he is so impressed with yeshivah bochurim, young men studying in yeshivah, today. Why? Because they have so many more options and choices than he and his contemporaries had growing up in Ungvar, Hungary. In those days, leaving Yiddishkeit meant never seeing his family or anyone else he knew ever again. And it was not so easy to sin in private. There were simply not very many options. So if a person there loved his family and was not so motivated that he was willing to give up his entire life, he had to live a relatively specific life. There was very little wiggle-room.

He had one cousin who decided to leave religion. He traveled to Vienna to study in university and eventually moved to Australia. But such occurrences were rare in Ungvar. So my father expresses amazement that even though young people today have so many choices, they choose to spend a year in seminary or go to yeshivah for several years after high school. It is astounding.

There certainly have been choices that our people have had to make. We were threatened by many movements that were very tempting, like the enlightenment, Reform, communism, and many others. But we were able to fight these things as a community. We formed yeshivos, chassidic groups, political groups, and organizations. We rallied together and faced these threatening movements together. But the threats today are different. There are no shuls or religious political organizations together with a Jew when he is sitting with the lights off at night and no one is looking. He faces the collective impurity of the whole world alone. “Avraham was alone.”

Avraham had the whole world open to him – he had a choice. Yet he chose to embrace Hashem and spurn all the insanity of the world, even though people persecuted for his choice. Similarly, each person today has the whole world in front of him right in his pocket. Just like Avraham had no one to help him in his fight because he was alone, a Jew today must also stand against the whole world alone.

I will tell a personal story. When I was in sixth grade, I decided I could no longer tolerate yeshivah and I wanted to transfer to public school. My rebbe that year was a cruel and vicious man. He beat his students every day – and not with the palm of his hand, but with his fists. Such a teacher would be arrested today. He was an extraordinarily angry person and I was miserable in his class. To make matters worse, my family was one of only two religious families on my block. In the winter, I arrived home after it was already dark, at which point all of the other boys on my block had already played basketball and hockey, returned home, and were already watching their third TV show by the time I got off my school bus. Especially after the misery I endured between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. every day in my rebbe’s class, this injustice was more than I could take.

I told my father one Thursday that I simply could not stay in yeshivah anymore. I was miserable and I wanted to switch to public school. He knew I was unhappy, listened to my prepared statement, and responded, “I understand, but this is a very big choice. The decision is yours, but I believe you ought to think about it over the weekend. Let’s talk about it Sunday morning.” I was shocked that my father would even consider it. So Friday night, as I lay in bed, I began thinking about it. I wondered how a grandson of Jews who had been killed in gas chambers by the Nazis could attend public school and other thoughts that go through the head of a child of Holocaust survivors. I also thought about the fact that I would probably have a different rebbe the next year. Eventually, I went to sleep.

After davening Sunday morning, my father asked me, “So, what did you decide?” I answered that I had decided to stay in yeshivah. My father almost never shows emotion, but I saw that his eyes were a little red as he said he was proud of me for my decision. But I asked him, “Would you really have let me transfer to public school if I wanted to?” He answered, “Are you crazy?! Over my dead body!” “But,” I asked my father, “you said it was my decision! That I could choose!” I will never forget my father’s answer: “I said that because I knew you would make the right choice.”

For some reason, it is Hashem’s will that every Jew today has the opportunity to conquer the whole world in a way of “Avraham was alone.” It is as if He is telling each of us, “I know you have the ability to make the right choice.” Avraham was known for his attribute of kindness, chessed. The Zohar (114b) says that Avraham did kindness with his Creator. Every time one of us stands up to the whole world like Avraham Avinu and makes the right choice, Hashem considers it an act of kindness to Him! May each of us merit to see how precious our personal battles against the world are to G-d – how Hashem will say about each one of us “He was one” or “She was one” against the whole world!

[Update 11/3/2015: Click here for Part II of this drasha]

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