Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Rav Moshe Weinberger - Sukkos Drasha - First Day of Yom Tov - Desert Memories

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


Rav Moshe Weinberger
Sukkos 5775
Desert Memories 


Some people’s most valuable possessions are their photo albums. They cherish the memories of the good times of the past when they gaze nostalgically at their old pictures. If that concept exists in this world, it must be rooted in something deeper in the higher worlds. Hashem certainly remembers everything that has ever happened. But which photo albums from the history of our relationship with Him does He love to look at? What are His favorite memories? 


Rabbi Ezriel Tauber, shlita, recently wrote (Pirkei Machshava 84-86) of an experience he had two years ago on Sukkos 5773 (2012) at a large siyum celebration in Yerushalayim. As he was enjoying the siyum, he thought back on another Sukkos seventy years earlier, in 5703 (1942). At that time, he was in hiding with his parents on a Czech farm as they posed as non-Jewish farmers to hide from the Nazis. Rabbi Tauber remembered how, as a young child, he watched his father plan how they would fulfill the mitzva of Sukkah even in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia.  There was a closed-off construction site near the farm, so his father bribed the owner of the land to give their family access to the construction site to hide some of their property from the taxing authorities. They did this and managed to build a small, low Sukkah using some construction materials. They went each night of Sukkos to quickly eat and bentch in the Sukkah to fulfill the mitzva. 


When Rabbi Tauber remembered this incident, he went to see his father who was also in Yerushalayim. As he recalled the events from seventy years earlier, his father said, “Ah, I remember that Sukkos! I’m still longing for such a Sukkah!” This is a man who survived the war with his entire family alive, lived to see his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren alive and well, and merited to live in Yerushalayim as Eretz Yisroel and the Jewish people are built up more and more. These things must have been beyond his wildest dreams as he huddled under that little Sukkah at some dirty construction site in Czechoslovakia in 1942. Yet he looked back on that little Sukka more fondly and with more nostalgia than all of the well-built Sukkos he sat in during all of the years since then with all of their halachic stringencies. Why? 


Hashem made many miracles for us in the desert. He gave us manna, water from a rock, he sweetened the waters at Mara, caused our clothes not to wear out, sheltered us in the Clouds of Glory, and many others. Why did Hashem establish the Yom Tov of Sukkos to remember the Clouds of Glory in particular? What is unique about that miracle that it is more “memorable” than any other aspect of the desert experience?


Sukkos is the holiday of “I have remembered the kindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials when you went after Me in the desert, in a land not sewn” (Yirmiyahu 2:2) because it recalls His protection when we first entered the desert. The Sfas Emes, zy”a, explains that although the Jewish people reached very exalted spiritual levels, Hashem does not praise them for their lofty intellectual and spiritual achievements. Rather, He praises them because they “went after Me in the desert, in a land not sewn.” 


Hashem praises us for what we did at the beginning of our journey with Him, rather than our more advanced accomplishments later on. He lovingly remembers the faith we had in Him in our “youth,” when we were still in a state relative immaturity and smallness, near the bottom of the forty-nine levels of impurity. This is remarkable. Hashem does not recall how we reached the level of prophecy attained by Yechezkel in his vision of the chariot when we stood on Mount Sinai. Instead, which photo album does Hashem gaze at nostalgically? He looks longingly at the pictures of the sacrifices we made for Him when we still, so to speak, had our nose rings and spiked hair. Hashem receives more pleasure and satisfaction from that than all of our significant attainments later on.  


The Sfas Emes teaches us that the mitzvos, Torah, and sacrifices we make for Hashem when we are in a desert, a place bereft of the bells, whistles, and the stringencies of a more established Yiddishkeit are more precious to Him than anything else. When we are surrounded on all sides by the emptiness, filth, and confusion of this world, and yet we still manage to squeeze in time for some learning and mitzvos, in a certain way, that gives Hashem the greatest nachas


When I grew up in Hillcrest in the 1960’s, most people did not build individual Sukkos the way they do today. Perhaps only ten to twenty individual families built their own Sukkos. This was a trailblazing act at that time, and doing so made one feel he was truly going “against the grain.” My father built a Sukkah every year and because it was so uncommon, this gave me a tremendous sense of pride.  


In those days, there were no pre-selected, pre-checked, halachically certified lulavim and esrogim for Sukkos. In order to obtain a kosher set of the four species, we were forced to sort through buckets and buckets of hadassim just to find one kosher set. But the mitzva felt so much more precious because it wasn’t easy and ready-made. It was not what everyone was doing so it had so much more significance. Of course it is better than many more people are observing more mitzvos more properly than before. But when a mitzva becomes “mainstream,” when everyone is doing it, it does not have the same special meaning as it does when one goes “out of the box” for G-d. That is so special. 


That is why Rabbi Tauber’s father valued that little construction site Sukkah more than all of the beautiful Sukkos he sat in over the years. That is why Hashem remembers our youthful dedication to Him in following Him out into the desert despite the fact that we were still immersed in the forty-nine levels of impurity. That show of faith when we were still surrounded by the filth of Egypt is more precious than all of the levels we acquired later on. That is why Sukkos, which recalls how we traveled with Hashem in the desert, became a Yom Tov and all of the other miracles and levels we attainted in the desert did not.  


This idea is also found in Tanya (chapter 36) as well. We know Hashem created this world, which is the lowest of all worlds, by contracting His light through an infinite number of worlds and an infinite number of descending levels to progressively conceal it such that it could form the material from which this world can exist. The Alter Rebbe teaches: “[This world] is on the lowest level, lower than which there is nothing. It is a type of concealment of His light. It is darkness upon darkness to the extent that it is full of husks [impurity] and ‘the other side’ which are literally opposed to Hashem… Behold, the purpose of the chain of the worlds, and the descent from level to level is not for the sake of the upper worlds… Rather, the purpose is this lowest world. It is Hashem’s will to have pleasure [specifically from this lowest world…” 


The Tanya is teaching us that just like Hashem has more pleasure from the Jewish people’s early belief in Him when they followed Him into the desert than He does from the fact that they attained a great level of prophecy, Hashem’s main pleasure from everything He created is the Torah and mitzvos we eke out from this lowest, basest, most physical of all worlds, not the service of the angels in the higher worlds. 


There is a dispute in the Gemara (Sukkah 7b) as to whether a Sukkah should have the qualities of a permanent dwelling or a temporary dwelling. On a deeper level, this dispute is about what kind of mitzvos Hashem values the most. There are certainly some Jews (very few) whose Yiddishkeit is a “permanent dwelling.” They always live in the revealed presence of Hashem. But for most of us, our Yiddishkeit is a “temporary dwelling” in which we try to grab a mitzva here and a mitzva there wherever we can. In fact, the halacha is that a Sukkah must be a “temporary dwelling” because the mitzvos that we scrape together in this world of confusion are more precious in some ways than the service of those few tzadikim who live with Hashem as a “permanent dwelling.”  


That is why the greatest joy on Sukkos is the water drawing ceremony. The wine libations the rest of the year did not bring as much joy because wine indicates the highest level of wisdom being used toward Divine service. But water is the simplest liquid, indicating the simple, initial attempt at Divine service that is so precious to G-d, even more so than the highest level of G‑dliness attained by those who delve into the wine, the secrets, of Torah. By celebrating the water drawing ceremony on Sukkos, Hashem gives us the ability to value and appreciate the simple mitzvos we manage to do even when it isn’t the mainstream, well-worn path. He wants us to sense the preciousness of every single drop of Torah and mitzvos we can do. We must appreciate each act of “when you went after Me in the desert.” 


This Sukkos, may we all merit to recognize that Hashem’s favorite “memories” of us are of the mitzvos and Torah we do for Him when it is outside of the norm. They the most precious. In the merit of the importance we place on the mitzvos which are simple like water, may we merit to watch the water drawing ceremony once again with the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash soon in our days.

Click here to get Dixie Yid in your e-mail Inbox or here to "follow" me on Twitter.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Preparation for Rosh Hashana - Rav Moshe Weinberger on Nitzavim-Vayelech - Children of One Father

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


Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Nitzavim-Vayelech 5774
Children of One Father 


The parsha begins (Devarim 29:9, 11), “You are standing here today, all of you, before Hashem your G-d, your leaders, your tribes, your elders, your officers, every Jewish person…. that you may enter the covenant of Hashem your G-d.” The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh explains the nature of this covenant. He posits that it is one of interpersonal responsibility. It means that every Jew has an obligation to ensure that those with whom he wields influence keep mitzvos and avoid aveiros. Guarantorship also means that Hashem will hold us to account if we abrogate this responsibility. In saying this, the Ohr Hachaim is addressing the following implied question: Why is this covenant of interpersonal responsibility “before Hashem your G-d?” Because each Jew is responsible for another, it is more logical for the covenant to be between the members of the Jewish community, and not between the Jewish people and Hashem. Why is the covenant of guarantorship a covenant between the Jewish people and G-d? 


In the sefer Mesilas Yesharim, Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, the Ramchal, outlines one of the highest levels of human attainment, that of a chasid, a pious individual. Although the Ramchal lived at the same time as the Baal Shem Tov, he uses the word “chasid” in the classical sense, not as it would later be used to connote a specific sect within the Jewish people with distinctive clothing and customs. He explains that the chasid is distinct from a “regular” good Jew. A good Jew avoids sins and does mitzvos. But he does so in order to accumulate reward in the world to come and because he fears punishment. His primary concern is his own spiritual wellbeing, so he does whatever he can to ensure that he and his immediate family and circle of friends are doing well, but he does not concern himself with the spiritual or physical welfare of anyone outside his sphere of personal concern. 


A chasid, on the other hand, is one who is not only motivated by his own reward and punishment. He keeps the same mitzvos and avoids the same aveiros as any other righteous Jew. But he does so not with his own wellbeing in mind, but to give pleasure and pride to the Master of the World. That is primary motivation. The chasid is therefore not satisfied if he does well spiritually while others are not doing well. Because he only wants to give Hashem pleasure and satisfaction, he cannot rest while Hashem’s other children are far from who they ought to be.  He knows that this causes G-d pain, so he is not indifferent to others’ spiritual state. He does whatever he can for those within his own sphere of influence to help and encourage them to draw closer to their Father in Heaven. This way, he can fulfill his true goal, to give G-d more and more satisfaction from His children.  


When Reb Simcha Bunim of Peshischa, zy”a became very old, he was blind and extremely weak. During that period, he once said that if Hashem ever gave him the choice to switch places with Avraham Avinu, with all of Avraham’s merits and mitzvos, he would not trade. Why? Because in the end, G-d would still have one Avraham Avinu and one “Blinder Bunim, Blind Bunim.” While he would have had additional merits if he was Avraham, Reb Simcha Bunim’s only concern was whether such a trade would give anything new to Hashem. There would still only be one Avraham Avinu and only one “Blinder Bunim.” It would not create any net gain for Hashem.


We now understand the difference between the covenant in last week’s parsha, parshas Ki Savo, and the one in this week’s parsha. The covenant of parshas Ki Savo is one between each individual and G-d, where each person is responsible for himself. But the covenant of parshas Nitzavim is one of interpersonal responsibility.  The later covenant is also one between the Jewish people and G-d because the primary reason we take responsibility for others’ physical and spiritual wellbeing is our desire to give pleasure and satisfaction to our mutual father, the King of Kings. That is why the covenant is with “all of you… every Jewish person.” Because our main concern as Jews should not be only for ourselves, but for our Father in Heaven, we must not be indifferent to the welfare of any of His children. 


This is the choice which must be foremost in our minds as we approach Rosh Hashana, when we acknowledge that Hashem will judge us “whether as children or as servants.” A servant is satisfied if he simply does the minimum necessary to receive his salary and avoid punishment by his master. The relationship is also not permanent because a master can sell or free his servant. But a child’s relationship with his father is permanent.  And his main concern is not reward, punishment, or even simply doing his job. His main interest is in making his father happy. He would happily do something for his father even if he would not receive credit for it as long as it makes his father happy. 


That must be our goal on Rosh Hashana. If we want Hashem to judge us like his children, then we must be loving children who are concerned with making Hashem happy than simply checking off all of our obligations in the big checklist in the sky.  That is why we read parshas Nitzavim just before Rosh Hashana. By doing so, we take upon ourselves the mitzva of guarantorship, interpersonal responsibility, to internalize the realization that all Jews are one family, part of one precious team whose goal is to coronate Hashem as King and reveal His Presence in the world. 


There is a famous story of the Baal Shem Tov which illustrates this concept beautifully. Every Shabbos in shul, the Baal Shem Tov davened a very long shmonah esrei. Normally, the men in shul waited while the Baal Shem Tov finished. But one week, the Baal Shem Tov was taking particularly long. Although it is hard to believe, the men in shul decided to leave and meet back in shul an hour later, thinking that the Baal Shem Tov would still be davening at that time. Just to be safe, however, they sent someone to check on the Rebbe after 15 or 20 minutes, and the man quickly ushered everyone back into shul. The Rebbe was standing by his shtender, waiting for them. Embarrassed because they caused the Baal Shem Tov to wait for them, they returned to shul and finished davening. 


After davening, the Baal Shem Tov explained why he finished shmonah esrei unexpectedly quickly with a parable. The subjects in a certain kingdom found an exceedingly beautiful, rare bird high on top of a tree.  It was so high that no one knew how to reach it, but they very much wanted to bring this bird to the king as a gift. Not knowing what else to do, they told the king about it. Being a wise man, the king instructed them to stand in a tower, each person on the shoulders of the one below.  That way, the king told them, the person on top could reach the bird and bring it to him. The king’s subjects excitedly did as the king suggested and created a human tower. Just as the top person was about the retrieve the bird, one man on the bottom of the tower realized that he had some personal matters that required his attention, so he left. Understandably, the tower collapsed and the man on top was unable to bring the bird to the king. The Baal Shem Tov then went on to tell the chassidim that he was like that man on top of the tower. He is only able to achieve what he can achieve in the higher worlds for G-d’s sake because he is together with other Jews in the shul together. He depends on them. Everyone is necessary and no one is expendible. 


The concept of guarantorship, interpersonal responsibility, is based on the fact that we are all children of the same Father. We are all on the same “team.” None of us can remain content worrying only about ourselves or our immediate friends and family. We are one nation with one Father and one ultimate goal: to reveal the depth of Hashem’s Kingship in this world. It therefore makes no difference if I do a mitzva or someone else does it. The main thing is that we make Hashem proud.


May all of us merit entering into Rosh Hashana as children, and not servants, of the King of Kings. May we care not only about ourselves, but about others’ physical and spiritual wellbeing because all of us are children of one G-d. May we not remain indifferent to the spiritual stature of others and do what we can to give more pleasure and satisfaction to our father in Heaven by working to bring all of His children closer to Him. And may we all be written and sealed for a good year of blessing, health, joy, growth, and happiness, a year in which we will finally experience the long-awaited final redemption with Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash.


Click here to get Dixie Yid in your e-mail Inbox or here to "follow" me on Twitter.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Rav Moshe Weinberger - Parshas Ki Savo - Enough! We're Going Home

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


Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Ki Savo 5774
Enough! We’re Going Home 


I met with a Jew from Paris this week. From the news alone, one cannot properly appreciate the effect increased Anti-Semitism is having on the Jewish community there. This community is over one thousand years old. But now, the main topic of conversation among Parisian Jews is when and how they will move to Eretz Yisroel. For hundreds of years, they felt they had found a place of refuge in Paris, but now they simply feel like strangers, like they do not belong. They wish they had a place in France but now realize that they must move on to either the next step in their exile or back home to Eretz Yisroel.  


The plight of the Jews in France, and in Europe generally, reminds me of the mitzva to create cities of refuge in this week’s parsha. The Bnei Yisaschar finds a hint to the month of Elul, the time when we prepare for Rosh Hashana by doing teshuva, in a pasuk relating to the cities of refuge (Shmos 21:13): “And G-d brought it about into his hand, and I shall make a place for you to which he shall flee.” The Bnei Yisaschar says that the initial letters of the words “אנה לידו ושמתי לך, brought it about into his hand, and I shall make [a place] for you,” spell Elul. Many of us are also “unintentional killers,” having killed our own improvements, hopes, and aspirations from the previous year. We feel so disappointed by our own failures that we think we have no place in G-d’s presence. We feel homeless. But Hashem tells us, “I shall make a place for you, to which [you may] flee.” That is Elul; Hashem’s warm embrace into which He welcomes us back to His presence.


In the physical world, however, we only have one true home. The parsha introduces the mitzva of bikurim, first fruits, with the words (Devarim 26:1), “And it will be when you come to the land which Hashem your G-d has given you as an inheritance and you take possession of it and you dwell in it…” The first word of the pasuk  isוהיה, and it will be,” which implies joy. The Ohr Hachaim says that “this is to point out that there is no joy except in dwelling in the land [of Israel], as the pasuk [Tehillim 126:2] says, ‘Then [when Hashem returns us to Eretz Yisroel,] our mouths will be filled with laughter.’” 


The mitzva of bikurim also concludes with (Devarim 26:11), “And you shall rejoice in all of the good that Hashem your G-d gave you, and in your house…” One can only feel true happiness when he is in his homeland, in his house, in the place where he belongs. That is the only time he is in his place of refuge from the storms of the world.  


In the rebuke found in this week’s parsha, one of the most overlooked of the curses is (Devarim 28:65), “And among the nations you will not find tranquility, nor will your foot find rest. Therefore, G-d will give you a trembling heart, failing eyes, and despair of the mind.” We find this curse in Eicha as well (1:3), where the prophet says, “she dwells among the nations and does not find rest.” The Midrash (Bereishis Raba 33:6) explains why this is: “If they found rest, they would not return [to Eretz Yisroel].” The Midrash says the same thing about the dove in Noach’s ark which did not find rest and the same thing about the pasuk in our parsha, “And among the nations you will not find tranquility.” Sadly, if we found rest among the nations, we would call their land our home. 


Our people thought, many times in history, that we have found “rest” with various nations of the world. But, sooner or later, they remind us that we are G-d’s wandering dove, longing and searching to find its way home. In the late thirteenth century and early fourteenth century, the nation of Poland guaranteed Jews’ religious and civil rights and invited the Jews to emigrate there. It was a country with nothing and they practically begged the Jews to build a community there. Our people even said that the Hebrew word for Poland (פולין) is a contraction of the words “פה לין, here, you shall rest.” To our dismay, we know what happened to the Jews of Poland during the Holocaust. 


The Jews of Morocco used to have a sizable and beautiful Jewish community. Even today, the small community of 3,000 Jews believes that the government of “friendly Arabs” will always protect them. But we see what happened to the Jewish community protected by the Shah of Iran. I have had many students from Persia who showed me pictures of their estates, swimming pools, and mansions with servants from the time of the Shah. Jews had some of the most prominent positions in the government in Iran at that time. But now, the community has dwindled and they are ruled by despots and Islamic extremists. Similarly, the Meshech Chochma presciently wrote that “If the Jew thinks that Berlin is Jerusalem … then a raging storm wind will uproot him by his trunk and subject him before a faraway gentile nation…” 


We are like the dove, wandering from place to place. A dove will always feel driven to return home. Even after Noach’s dove found a place to rest, an olive tree, it still returned back home to the ark. We will never truly be at home until we return to our true homeland, Eretz Yisroel. 


We are compared to the dove in another way as well. The pasuk in Tehillim (56:1) says, “For the conductor [to be sung by the levi’im in the Beis Hamikdash], over the mute, distant dove, of Dovid, a michtam [type of song], when the Plishtim captured him in Gass.” Dovid was thanking Hashem for saving him when he was captured by the Plishtim and made himself appear insane, like a mute dove which lacks any outward appearance of intelligence. Because he could not express his true self, he felt silenced, unable to reveal the depth of who he was. He also felt “distant,” far from Eretz Yisroel, and subject to the whims of the Plishtim who wanted to kill him.  


Even in Eretz Yisroel today, the world does not want to hear the truth of the Jewish soul. They do not want to know what we are going through. Not only do we feel distant from the realization of our dreams of revealed Divine providence through the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash, we feel silenced and mute in the court of world opinion. Even potential friends and allies turn against us because they are afraid of raising the ire of those who call themselves the modern-day Plishtim.  


Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, zt”l, expresses our loneliness among the nations, using this imagery: “The mute, distant dove, the rose of the valley, wandering in the markets, where is it, dwelling in the heavens… they were like a vessel desired by no one among the masses…” The Jewish people are unwanted by everyone, like a dirty, earthenware vessel. We are lost in the world, mute, unable to express the truth of who we are as long as we are in exile. We wander among the nations like a homing pigeon, longing to return to where it belongs, unable to speak. We are like the woman in the Song of Songs who wanders around, looking for her beloved (3:2), “I will arise now and wander around the city, in the marketplaces and in the streets. I will seek out the one my soul loves; I searched for him but I did not find him.”


Using a pasuk in this week’s haftara, Rav Kook, zt”l, teaches that although we will ultimately return home to Eretz Yisroel, there are two ways that this might happen (Yeshaya 60:8): “Who are these, blown like a cloud and like doves to their cotes?” Very often, Jews find their way home against their own will, “blown like a cloud” by the winds of hatred and persecution. But there is a better way home. We can return “like doves to their cotes,” to their nests. Fortunate are those Jews who do not wait to be driven to Eretz Yisroel by anti-Semitism. Fortunate are those who return to our homeland like doves who finally find a place to rest in the land of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov.  


Hashem told his people, who feel homeless and hapless, who are seeking His refuge: “I shall make a place for you.” One of the tzadikim of the previous generation acutely felt the call to return home just after the Holocaust. The Klauzenberger Rebbe, zt”l, first moved to New York when he left Europe after the War. Some time later, over parshas Ki Savo, the Torah reader reached the psukim of the rebuke, he followed the regular custom of quietly and quickly reading the horrible curses that will befall our people if we do not keep the mitzvos. But the Rebbe interrupted the reader, calling out, “Louder!”


Confused, the Torah reader paused, not knowing what to do. On one hand, he could not ignore the Rebbe. But on the other hand, the custom is clear. One does not read the curses of the rebuke loudly and slowly. The Rebbe then called out again, “I said, Louder!” The reader was dumbfounded and did not know how to respond. He therefore continued standing there in silence. So the Rebbe spoke up: “Why are you afraid of reading these curses out loud?! We have already endured all of them. We have been through it. It is done. This whole exile is done. I am through here. It is time to return home.” 


Indeed, the Rebbe had already begun making plans to return to Eretz Yisroel. The Torah reader began reading the curses loudly and slowly. Many people in the shul began to openly weep as the enormity of everything that they had been through washed over them. Not long afterward, the Rebbe and many of the chassidim returned home to Eretz Yisroel to build the Torah community of Kiryat Sanz.  


This year, may the wandering dove, the Jewish people, finally find rest for its weary wings in its true home of Eretz Yisroel with the coming of Moshiach and the arrival of the complete redemption.


Click here to get Dixie Yid in your e-mail Inbox or here to "follow" me on Twitter.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Rav Moshe Weinberger's Ki Seitze Drasha - The Empathy of Elul

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


Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Ki Seitze 5774
The Empathy of Elul 


Elul and the Root of Yibum 


We are in the midst of our efforts to prepare ourselves for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur throughout the month of Elul. Our sages have found a number of allusions to the month of Elul in the Torah, including in the mitzva of yibum, levirate marriage, in which one brother marries the widow of his childless, deceased brother. In this week’s parsha, the Torah tells us that the purpose of the surviving brother’s yibum marriage is that “the firstborn son who will be born [of the yibum relationship] will uphold the name of his brother, and his name will not be erased from the Jewish people” (Devarim 25:6).  


This is made even clearer the first time this mitzva is mentioned in the Torah, when Yehuda instructed his son Onan to marry his brother Er’s widow Tamar (Bereishis 38:8). Yehuda told him, “Come to [marry] the wife of your brother and perform yibum with her to establish progeny for your brother.” Establishing a Jewish person’s name and legacy among the Jewish people is really what we are celebrating at every joyous occasion, whether it is an engagement, marriage, birth, bris, or bar or bas mitzva. But Onan did not want to participate in that. The pasuk says about Onan (ibid. 9), “And Onan knew that the children would not be his [לא לו]…” Our sages see in the words “לא לו, not his,” as an allusion to the month of Elul (אלול), which shares the same letters. But what is the connection between the month of Elul and the mitzva of yibum, and, more particularly, Onan’s desire not to do a mitzva to uphold his deceased brother’s name in the Jewish people? 


During Elul, there is a custom to study the sefer Tomer Devorah by Rav Moshe Cordovero, zt”l, the “Ramak.” Tomer Devorah explains we can work to emulate G-d’s thirteen attributes of mercy which we read at Tashlich on Rosh Hashana, and by doing so, draw down a manifestation of those attributes from Above. The fourth attribute is “The remnant [שארית] of His inheritance.” The Ramak points out that the word “שארית, remnant” is connected to the word “שאר, blood relative.” The Ramak writes: 


The Holy One Blessed is He conducts Himself with the Jewish people in the following way: He says, “How will I act with the Jewish people when they are my relatives, I have a blood relationship with them?” They are G-d’s match and He calls them “My daughter,” “My sister,” and “My mother.” As Chazal explain, the pasuk “Yisroel, nation which is his relative,” means that He is literally a relative with them and they are His children. That is what “The remnant [שארית] of His inheritance” means, which is an expression of a blood relationship. In the end, they are His inheritance. That is why the pasuk says “If I punish them, it will hurt Me…”  


The Ramak continues that the pasuk in Yeshaya 63:9 is written one way, but read differently. It is read, “In all of their pain, it pained Him [לו צר],” but it is written “לא צר, it did not trouble Him.” Hashem feels our pain because we are so close to Him. This pasuk also alludes to the month of Elul because the two ways of reading the pasuk (לא/לו) are the same as the letters that spell Elul (אלול).  


The Ramak then continues by explaining what this attribute of G-d’s means for us: “This is how a person must conduct himself with his friend. All Jews are blood relatives to one another because all souls are part of one totality. Each one has a portion in the other… This is why all Jews are responsible for one another, because each one contains part of everyone else within him.


The fact that Hashem considers us “blood relatives,” as it were, His “empathy” for us is the root of our ability to rejoice in each other’s simchahs and cry for each other’s suffering. That is why, whenever a Jew suffers, even one who is far from being a tzadik, Hashem says (Sanhedrin 46a), “My head hurts, My arm hurts.” We are so intimately connected to Hashem, that He considers us part of his “body,” so to speak. We all know the story that Reb Areye Levin, zt”l, told the doctor, “My wife’s foot is hurting us.” The real trick is living with the consciousness that this is not simply a beautiful idea or a nice slogan. The fact that we are intimately connected to our Father Above, and, by extension, other Jews, is a reality that must inform the way we relate to Hashem and other Jews.


Empathy and the Foundation of the Exodus 


Rav Yosef Albo, zt”l, in his Sefer Haikarim (2:14), explains that G-d feels “pain” when we suffer. He took the Jewish people out of Egypt using this trait when He said (Shmos 3:7-8), “I have surely seen the suffering of my nation which is in Egypt, and I have heard their cry because of their slave drivers, for I know their pains and I descended to save them from the hands of Egypt…”  


Rav Elyah Lopian, zt”l, as recorded in the sefer Lev Eliyahu (Vol. 1, p. 98), teaches that Hashem wanted to infuse this ability to empathize and identify with others into the DNA of our nation. He therefore redeemed us with that trait. Hashem even chose a redeemer who possessed that quality. The first thing Moshe did when he grew up was to exhibit this ultimate marker of maturity and responsibility, as the pasuk (Shmos 2:11) says, “Moshe grew up and went out to his brothers and saw their burdens…” Rashi explains that this means “he directed his eyes and his heart to be pained for them.” 


And the Jewish officers the Egyptians used as enforcers over the Jewish slaves exhibited this remarkable trait as well. The pasuk says that after Pharaoh increased the Jewish people’s workload by forcing them to collect their own straw (Shmos 5:14), “And the officers of the Jewish people who Pharaoh’s taskmasters had appointed over them were beaten…” According to the Midrash (Shmos Raba 5), “They sacrificed themselves for the Jewish people and they endured beatings in order to lighten their [the Jewish people’s] load.” Hundreds of them were killed because they did whatever they could to lighten their brothers’ burdens.  


Because these Jewish officers could not live a life of relative ease while their fellow Jews suffered, they awakened the attribute of “The remnant [שארית] of His inheritance” Above. By caring about their brothers’ pain, they brought down Hashem’s mercy, and, consequently, the redemption itself. That is why Hashem first revealed Himself to Moshe in a burning bush, which Rashi explains (Shmos 3:2) was meant to convey “I am with them in their pain.” Hashem said (Rashi on ibid. at 7), “I set My heart to contemplate and to know their pain and I did not cover my eyes, nor did I conceal My ears from their cries.”


When Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali were kidnapped over two months ago, was there any Jew anywhere in the world who did not hope and pray for them and their parents during those eighteen days during which their fate was unknown? During the past two months of war in Eretz Yisroel, when thousands of rockets were fired at Jews all over Eretz Yisroel and terrorists emerged from tunnels by kibbutzim and towns, was there anyone who did not feel that their brothers and sisters, their own flesh and blood, were in danger? Perhaps one rectification that came about through these harrowing times was some healing from the hatred that became particularly vicious these past two years between the chareidi and non-chareidi communities in Eretz Yisroel. We were reminded that regardless of our differences, we are brothers, flesh and blood.  

The mitzva of yibum in this week’s parsha, whereby a brother does the selfless act of bringing Jewish souls in the world not for his own sake, but to uphold his childless brother’s name among the Jewish people, reminds us not to be like Onan, who felt “the children would not be his [לא לו] …” Rather, Hashem calls on us to recognize that not only are we His “flesh and blood,” so to speak, but that the Jewish people are literally one corpus. We must turn around the letters “לא לו” to spell “אלול, Elul,” by rejoicing in other Jews’ successes, mourning for their tragedies, and not turning a blind eye to their needs. 


Rav Chaim Volozhiner z”l’s son, in his introduction to Nefesh Hachaim, said in Rav Chaim’s name that he repeatedly reminded his children that the purpose of their lives is to do good things for other people. We do not live for own sake. Rather, we live for other Jews’ sake.  


Rav Kook, zt”l, teaches about a person who has internalized this attitude as follows (Oros Hakodesh 30): 
There are those who sing the song of the nation. A person in that category goes out of the sphere of his own private concerns, which he finds to be insufficiently broad, in which idealism does not dwell. He longs for mighty heights and cleaves, with a refined love, to the totality of the Jewish people. He sings its songs, feels its pain, delights in its rectification, and delves into the pure, supernal depths of its past and future. He investigates, with love and wisdom, the depths of its inner spiritual heart. 


The Chozeh and the Barber 


The beauty of a Jew who puts others’ concerns over his own is illustrated by a story told by Reb Shlomo Carlebach, zt”l, about the Chozeh, the Seer, of Lublin: The Chozeh needed a haircut before Yom Tov like anyone else. But everyone knew about the Chozeh’s spiritual sensitivity and were afraid to touch the Chozeh’s head, lest he be unworthy and somehow disturb the Rebbe’s holiness. All of the barbers in Lublin spent several days before each Yom Tov fasting, praying, and doing teshuva in the hopes that whoever the Chozeh chose for his haircut would be worthy enough for the Chozeh to tolerate his haircut.  


Just before one particular Yom Tov, the Chozeh’s assistants, as usual, gave notice to the barbers to begin preparing themselves to cut the Rebbe’s hair. When the day arrived, the barbers lined up outside of the Chozeh’s room. The first barber approached the Rebbe’s chair. But when he touched the Rebbe’s head, although the Rebbe did not intend to insult him, he cried out in pain. He quickly left the room, feeling horrible that he had hurt the Rebbe. The other barbers saw how quickly he left, without giving a haircut, and they became even more afraid. The second barber went into the room and the same thing happened. As soon as he touched the Rebbe’s head, the Rebbe screamed out in pain. The process repeated itself until they ran out of barbers. They did not know what to do in order to arrange a haircut for the Rebbe for Yom Tov.


But someone told one of the Rebbe’s assistants that he saw a strange looking Jew on the streets of Lublin, a traveler, who carried a sign around his neck that said, “I’m a barber and a little bit of a doctor.” After discussing the matter among themselves, they concluded that it was worthwhile to at least try to determine whether this Jew could cut the Rebbe’s hair. Perhaps he was an upright person. When they approached the man about cutting the Chozeh’s hair, they asked him whether he would cut the Rebbe’s hair. Once they assured him that it was a paying job, they asked him if he knew whose hair he was about to cut. He said that he did not but that it did not matter. He was capable of cutting anyone’s hair.  They told him that they were about to bring him to cut the hair of the Chozeh of Lublin. Unfazed, he answered, “Okay, everyone needs a haircut. So does the rabbi. And I’m a barber. No problem. Please bring me to him.” He entered the Rebbe’s room without any preparation.  


The man and the Chozeh looked at one another and the Rebbe saw the barber’s little sign and smiled. It seemed the Chozeh already liked this barber. He took out his old scissors and the Rebbe’s assistants began covering their eyes, not relishing the scream they were about to hear. But when the barber touched the Rebbe’s head, he sighed and said, “A mechaya, a pleasure!” And with every single snip, the Rebbe continued to enjoy himself, repeatedly saying, “a mechaya!” As soon as the haircut was over, the man simply left. 


The Rebbe’s assistants followed him, “Sir, sir! Can we ask who you are? Where are you from?” But he simply answered, “You can see on my sign. I am a barber.” Apparently, he did not want to say anything about himself. They formulated a plan, however, to find out more about him. They invited him to a local establishment that served alcoholic beverages. Once he had enjoyed a couple of drinks and they saw that he was in a good mood, they asked him again, “Tell us who you are. When every other barber in Lublin touched the Rebbe’s hair, he screamed out in pain, but when you cut his hair, it was a mechaya. We have never seen anything like that. What is your story? 


Even with a couple of drinks, however, he did not want to talk about himself. But they persisted and asked him repeatedly, “Tell us about yourself. Who are you?” Finally, the barber told them that he had done one that that may be able to explain why the Rebbe was able to tolerate his haircut. He stood up, pulled up the back of his shirt, and they saw that his entire back was covered with horrible, disgusting welts. They chassidim recoiled and asked him, “What happened? What is that?” So he told them the following story: 


I travel from place to place. I am a barber and a little bit of a doctor. I cut people’s hair and do what I can for them. In one town, I saw some sort of commotion. When I approached, I saw that the non-Jewish authorities were dragging a man away from his family and his wife and children were screaming. I asked someone standing there what happened and they told me that something had been stolen in the town. And as the authorities always did, they blamed the Jews and grabbed the first Yid they found. They were going to take him away and give him 100 lashes for his “crime.” The man was so skinny and small that I realized he would die. He would not be able to survive. 


And because I am a little bit of a doctor, I figured that I am healthy and somewhat stronger so that I would probably survive 100 lashes. Also, no one would marry me anyway. I have no wife or children. And even if I am wrong and I die of my injuries, at least I would not leave behind a widow and orphans as this man would. So I walked over to the police and told them, “You have the wrong man. I did it.” I was a strong man and I truly thought I could handle it. But those wicked people beat me with such strength that after ten lashes I was sure that I was going to die. I cried out to Hashem, “You know I am not doing this for myself. I am doing it for this man, his wife, and children. I accepted these lashes only because that man is a Jew and I am a Jew and one must help another Jew. So please Hashem, have mercy and let me  not die.” 


And I do not know how I survived. Every blow felt harder than the one before. But somehow, I endured one hundred lashes. And that is why I walk with a limp and why my back looks this way. But thank G-d, I am alive. 


When the Chozeh saw this Jew, he saw someone who did not turn away from other Jews. This Jew had every reason to run. But he took a beating for another Jew. The Chozeh felt that in the deepest way. His hands and his entire existence were filled with sacrifice for other Jews. 


Just like Hashem says “I am with them in their pain,” “My head hurts, my arm hurts,” and calls us His “blood relative, may we also merit to see other Jews in this way. Let us dance at their weddings like the bride and groom are our own children, sisters, or brothers. Let us cry and daven for other Jews’ pain like we ourselves are suffering. And let us not turn away from other Jews when they are in a time of need. And in that merit, may we see the final redemption just like we did in Egypt in the merit of Moshe’s and the Jewish officers’ acts of self-sacrifice for other Jews.


Click here to get Dixie Yid in your e-mail Inbox or here to "follow" me on Twitter.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Story of the Chozeh of Lublin and the Barber - The Power of Sacrificing for Another

Here is the story of the Chozeh of Lublin and the barber, as retold by Rav Moshe Weinberger, shlita, in the name of Reb Shlomo Carlebach, zt"l, at the Hilula (yohrtzeit celebration) for the Tzadik, Reb Kalonymous Kalmish Shapira in 2010, held by Cong. Aish Kodesh of Woodmere:

Reb Shlomo Carlebach, zt”l, told the following story of the Chozeh, the Seer, of Lublin: The Chozeh needed a haircut before Yom Tov like anyone else. But everyone knew about the Chozeh’s spiritual sensitivity and were afraid to touch the Chozeh’s head, lest he be unworthy and somehow disturb the Rebbe’s holiness. All of the barbers in Lublin spent several days before each Yom Tov fasting, praying, and doing teshuva in the hopes that whoever the Chozeh chose for his haircut would be worthy enough that the Chozeh could tolerate his haircut. 

Just before one particular Yom Tov, the Chozeh’s assistants, as usual, gave notice to the barbers to begin preparing themselves to cut the Rebbe’s hair. When the day arrived, the barbers lined up outside of the Chozeh’s room. The first barber approached the Rebbe’s chair. But when he touched the Rebbe’s head, although the Rebbe did not intend to insult him, he cried out in pain. He quickly left the room, feeling horrible that he had hurt the Rebbe. The other barbers saw how quickly he left, without giving a haircut, and they became even more afraid. The second barber went into the room and the same thing happened. As soon as he touched the Rebbe’s head, the Rebbe screamed out in pain. The process repeated itself until they ran out of barbers. They did not know what to do in order to arrange a haircut for the Rebbe for Yom Tov. 

But someone told one of the Rebbe’s assistants that he saw a strange looked Jew on the streets of Lublin, a traveler, who carried a sign around his neck that said, “I’m a barber and a little bit of a doctor.” After discussing the matter among themselves, they concluded that it was worthwhile to at least try to determine whether this Jew could cut the Rebbe’s hair. Perhaps he was an upright person. When they approached the man about cutting the Chozeh’s hair, they asked him whether he knew whose hair he was about to cut. He said that the did not but that it did not matter. He was capable of cutting anyone’s hair.  They told him that they were about to bring him to cut the hair of the Chozeh of Lublin. Unfazed, he answered, “Okay, everyone needs a haircut. So does the rabbi. And I’m a barber. No problem. Please bring me to him.” He entered the Rebbe’s room without any preparation.  

The man and the Chozeh looked at one another and the Rebbe saw the barber’s little sign and smiled. It seemed the Chozeh already liked this barber. He took out his old scissors and the Rebbe’s assistants began covering their eyes, not relishing the scream they were about to hear. But when the barber touched the Rebbe’s head, he sighed and said, “A mechaya, a pleasure!” And with every single snip, the Rebbe continued to enjoy himself, repeatedly saying, “a mechaya!” And as soon as the haircut was over, the man simply left. 

The Rebbe’s assistants followed him, “Sir, sir! Can we ask who you are? Where are you from?” But he simply answered, “You can see on my sign. I am a barber.” Apparently, he did not want to say anything about himself. They formulated a plan, however, to find out more about him. They invited him to a local establishment that served alcoholic beverages. Once he had enjoyed a couple of drinks and they saw that he was in a good mood, they asked  him again, “Tell us who you are. When every other barber in Lublin touched the Rebbe’s hair, he screamed out in pain, but when you cut his hair, it was a mechaya. We have never seen anything like that. What is your story? 

Even with a couple of drinks, however, he did not want to talk about himself. But they persisted and asked him repeatedly, “Tell us about yourself? Who are you?” Finally, the barber stood up, pulled up the back of his shirt, and they saw that his entire back was covered with horrible, disgusting welts. They chassidim recoiled and asked him, “What happened? What is that?” So he told them the following story:

I travel from place to place. I am a barber and a little bit of a barber. I cut people’s hair and do what I can for them. In one town I went to, I saw some sort of commotion. When I approached, I saw that the non-Jewish authorities were dragging a man away from his family and his wife and children were screaming. I asked someone standing there what happened and they told me that something had been stolen in the town. And as the authorities always did, they blamed the Jews and grabbed the first Yid they found. They were going to take him away and give him 100 lashes for his “crime.” The man was so skinny and small that I realized he would die. He would not be able to survive.

And because I am a little bit of a doctor, I figured that I am healthy and somewhat stronger so that I would probably survive 100 lashes. Also, no one would marry me anyway. I have no wife or children. And even if I am wrong and I die of my injuries, at least I would not leave behind a widow and orphans as this man would. So I walked over to the police and told them, “You have the wrong man. I did it.” I was a strong man and I truly thought I could handle it. But those wicked people beat me with such strength that after ten lashes I was sure that I was going to die. I cried out to Hashem, “You know I am not doing this for myself. I am doing it for this man, his wife, and children. I accepted these lashes only because that man is a Jew and I am a Jew and one must help another Jew. So please Hashem, have mercy and let me  not die.” 

And I do not know how I survived. Every blow felt harder than the one before. But somehow, I endured one hundred lashes. And that is why I walk with a limp and why my back looks this way. But thank G-d, I am alive.
 
When the Chozeh saw this Jew, he saw someone who did not turn away from other Jews. This Jew had every reason to run. But he took a beating for another Jew. The Chozeh felt that in the deepest way. His hands and his entire existence were filled with sacrifice for other Jews.

Click here to get Dixie Yid in your e-mail Inbox or here to "follow" me on Twitter.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Rav Moshe Weinberger - Parshas Shoftim - Trust Me

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

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Shoftim 5774
Trust Me 

The Sefer Mitzvos Katan (“Smak”) counts one seemingly ambiguous mitzvah as one of the 613 mitzvos (Devarim 18:13): “You shall be wholehearted [תמים] with Hashem your G-d.” The Hebrew word translated here as “wholehearted” does not always have a good connotation. We are accustomed to hearing it in the context of one of the four sons in the Hagada, the תם, the simple son. When he asks, “What is this,” we recognize that this simple son is not very bright. It seems he is “not the sharpest tool in the shed.” The Yerushalmi even identifies the son as the “fool,” rather than the “simple son.” Even the Maxwell House Hagada’s illustration of the simple son is not very complimentary. In addition, the Even Shoshan dictionary explains that a תם is a “simpleton, naive, not proficient in the ways of the world.” Can it be that one of the 613 mitzvos of the Torah is that we must be naive simpletons?! That is clearly absurd. 


While the connotation of the word תם in recent millennia is not complimentary, we see a completely different usage in Tanach. The Torah (Bereishis 6:9) glowingly calls Noach a “righteous man, perfect [תמים] in his generations.” Onkolus, in his Aramaic translation of the Torah, translates תמים as “a righteous man, perfect.” The Torah even calls Yaakov (ibid. 25:27) “a simple man [תם], dwelling in tents.” Onkolus again translates the word תם as “perfect.” Hashem even tells Avraham (ibid. 17:1), “Be wholehearted [תמים].” And the pasuk describes Iyov as “perfect [תם] and straight” (Iyov 1:1). How did the word תם go from describing a perfect tzadik to connoting a naive simpleton? What is the connection between these two meanings?

Let us return to the meaning of the mitzva in this week’s parsha. Onkolus, as expected, translates the commandment to be תמים as: “You shall be perfect in your service of Hashem your G-d.” But Rashi, who normally follows Onkolus’s translation, abandons it here, instead explaining as follows: “Go with Him with simplicity and hope in Him.  Do attempt to predict the future. Instead, accept whatever happens to you with simplicity. Then, you will be with Him as His portion.” Why did Rashi choose not to follow Onkolus’s explanation of the mitzva? Why did he say that it means to accept Hashem’s will simplicity without trying to predict the future? Why did he not explain, as Onkolus did, that it is a mitzva to be a perfect tzadik to the extent one is able?  

To understand the answer to this question, we must examine the context of this mitzva to be תמים. It follows a long list of prohibitions against sorcery, witchcraft, divining auspicious times, soothsaying, necromancy, and fortune-telling. Following those prohibitions, the pasuk preceding the mitzva says, “Because of these abominations, Hashem your G-d is dispossessing them [the nations living in Eretz Yisroel] before you.” According to Onkolus, who maintains that תמים simply means “perfect,” it was not necessary for the Torah to use that word here. It could have simply said “And you shall fear G-d” like it does after many other mitzvos. But the use of the word is completely understandable according to Rashi’s explanation. Each of the prohibitions which preceded this mitzva share a common denominator: G-d does not want us to seek out tricks or schemes to predict the future. Our actions must be guided by what the Torah teaches us is Hashem’s will; not that which will allow us to achieve or avoid some prediction made by a fortune teller. Rashi explains as he does because of the context of the pasuk. 

Rashi’s understanding of the pasuk also jibes with the Smak’s explanation of the mitzva: “To be simple; meaning not to ask sorcerers or astrologers to know the future. Rather, one should say, ‘Whatever Hashem desires will happen.’ As the Gemara in Brachos (10a) says, ‘Why are you concerning yourself with the secrets of Hashem?’”  

It is very instructive to read the context of that Gemara, which explains the back-story of the encounter between King Chizkiyahu and Yeshayahu Hanavi when Chizkiyahu was critically ill (Yeshaya 38:1-5). According to the Gemara, after Yeshayahau told Chizkiyahu, “You are dead and will not live,” Chizkiyahu asked “Why is this?” In other words, Chizkiyahu was a great tzadik. Why was he suddenly facing death? Yeshayahu answered him, “Because you did not involve yourself in the mitzva to be fruitful and multiply.” Chizkiyahu responded that it was “because I saw with my Divine inspiration that I would produce sons who would not be worthy.” Yeshayahu answered, “Why are you concerning yourself with the secrets of Hashem? Do whatever it is that Hashem expects of you.” Yeshayahu essentially gave Chizkiyahu a lesson in the mitzva to be wholehearted with G-d according to Rashi’s explanation. 

Taking that lesson to heart, Chizkiyahu said to Yeshayahu, “Now, give me your daughter [as a wife]. Perhaps my and your merits will cause [the decree to be changed and I will live and have children who will not be wicked].” But Yeshayahu answered, “The decree [that you will die] has already been made.” Essentially, “Your future is that you have no future.” Seeing the irony in Yeshayahu’s response, having just told Chizkiyahu not to base his actions on predictions about the future, he responded, “Ben Amotz [a derogatory way to address Yeshayahu], finish your prophecy and go. I received a tradition from my grandfather [Dovid Hamelech’s] house, ‘Even if a sharp sword is placed on one’s neck, do not give up hope of [Hashem’s] mercy.’” 

Chizkiyahu internalized the lesson and realized that a Jew must not be concerned with people’s predictions for the future, even if those predictions are based on Divine inspiration or prophecy. A Jew is obligated to focus on prayer, mitzvos, and Torah. He must do what Hashem demands of him, regardless of whether experts predict that he will be “successful” if he does so. Vindicating this approach, Hashem answered Chizkiyahu’s sincere prayer and granted him an additional fifteen years of life. 


This lesson is certainly fitting this time of year, having just entered the month of Elul, the time of teshuva and preparation for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. We are preparing to say “Teshuva, prayer, and tzedakah remove the evil decree.” The mitzva to “be wholehearted with G-d” frees us of the shackles of the fortune tellers of today, whether they are statisticians or political analysts. A  Jewish publication recently printed an article claiming that if a girl is not married by age 25, she only has a 15% chance of getting married. 


While it is certainly important to evaluate any situation using whatever data we have at our disposal, still, the effect such statistics can have upon individuals can be devastating. Can you imagine a girl reading that article who is probably already broken-hearted in what is often a difficult situation? Does the author believe that Dovid Hamelech’s exhortation that “Even if a sharp sword is placed on one’s neck, do not give up hope of [Hashem’s] mercy” does not apply to this young woman? Does he believe the Jewish people are subject to statistical calculations? Does he think that G-d and the Jewish people are not above all of that? The mitzva to be “wholehearted with G-d” tells us to put our trust in Him alone, and not in the modern day sorcerers and fortune-tellers. Just as Hashem told Chizkiyahu (Yeshayahu 38:5), Hashem tells each of us, in whatever straights we find ourselves, “I have heard your prayers, I have seen your tears.”  


Being a תמים, a perfect, whole person means being childlike (not childish) in a sense. One must look past all of the evil, complications, deficiencies, and cynicism of the world. It does not mean that one must not be sharp, bright, or deep. But it means that he lives with the knowledge of the presence and providence of G-d such that he knows that all of the negativity, uncertainty, confusion, and evil are not the whole picture. Material existence may seem bleak and pessimistic but one must know that this is only one part of reality. Hashem and spiritual realty extend far beyond that which we can grasp intellectually. We must have wholehearted, simple trust in G-d that He knows what he is doing. All we have to do is fulfill His will to the best of our ability and trust that He will work everything else out in the end. 


After the recent war in Gaza and its ambiguous conclusion, political pundits, politicians, journalists, and analysts are picking apart every move and predicting the future every day. It is possible to go insane when one reads all of the analyses. But a Jew must re-center himself and realize that there is a G-d in the world. The Jewish people are not the hapless subjects of statistics and political realities. We are children of the Living G-d and there is much more to His plan than any of us can possibly know. We need not become stressed about the unknown future. Instead, let us simply trust in G-d and rely on Him.  

May Hashem soon send the ultimate redeemer who will unravel all of the puzzles of this world, when we will finally see how all of the twists and turns of life in this world were all pieces in the great puzzle of the ultimate revelation of His will.

Click here to get Dixie Yid in your e-mail Inbox or here to "follow" me on Twitter.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Rav Weinberger's Parshas Re'eh Drasha - Search Required

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

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Re’eh 5774
Search Required

Throughout the summer, we have come under attack physically and verbally both in Eretz Yisroel and around the world. We therefore long even more for the ultimate revelation of Hashem’s truth. We hope and pray that Hashem will soon cause His presence to become apparent in the world through the long-awaited rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash. And the search for the Beis Hamikdash is one of the central points in this week’s parsha as well. Without specifically identifying its location, the pasuk (Devarim 12:5) says, “… the place Hashem your G-d will choose from all of your tribes to affix His name there, you shall seek Him there at His dwelling and come there.” The Torah is telling us that an integral part of the building of the Beis Hamikdash is that we must “seek Him there…”  

The Location of the Beis Hamikdash – Predetermined or Subject to Choice 

Instead of specifying the place where the Beis Hamikdash would be built, the Torah repeatedly says that the Beis Hamikdash shall be in “the place Hashem your G-d will choose.” This phrase is used no less than sixteen times in this week’s parsha alone. According to our Sages, this is why the Beis Hamikdash is called “בית הבחירה, The House of Choice.” 

But why is the location of the Beis Hamikdash treated by the Torah as such a mystery? Why must the Torah repeatedly say that it is in “the place Hashem your G-d will choose?” It is clear from Chazal that Hashem designated the future location of the Beis Hamikdash from the beginning of time, even carving  out the site of the alter and canals for the wine libations at the time of the six days of creation (Sukkah 49a). The Rambam (Beis Habechira 2:2) teaches that:  

There is a tradition maintained by everyone that the place where Dovid and Shlomo built the alter is the same place where Avraham built an alter and bound Yitzchak, the same place where Noach built [an alter] when he left the ark. It is the [location of] the alter on which Kayin and Hevel offered sacrifices, and on which Adam sacrificed an offering when he was created, and Adam was created from that place. The sages say, “Man was formed from the place of his atonement.” 

It is clear that we have known from the time of creation that the Beis Hamikdash would be built on a certain mountain in Yerushalayim. According to the Midrash (Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer 28), Avraham circumcised himself at the future location of the Beis Hamikdash and his blood flowed into the earth that would eventually fill the alter. If this was known long before Hashem gave us the Torah, why does He conceal the location? Rav Shlomo Hakohein Rabinowicz of Radomsk, zt”l, the “Tiferes Shlomo,” expressed the question clearly: Why did the pasuk not explicitly say, “the place that Hashem will choose, the holy mountain in Yerushalayim”? It would have been much clearer. Why the mystery? 

The answer to our question lies in the very same pasuk we started with.  In order to find the location of the Beis Hamikdash, “you shall seek Him there at His dwelling.” We must seek it out. As the Midrash (Sifri) says, commenting on the pasuk, “Seek and you shall find it. And afterward, the prophet will tell you [that it is the correct spot].” Expanding on the Ramban, zt”l, on the same pasuk, the Malbim, zt”l, says: “This teaches them that Hashem will not reveal the chosen place through His prophets until they make an effort and seek it out. Then, [Hashem] will pour a spirit from above upon them after the appropriate preparation…” Along these lines, the Chasam Sofer, zt”l (Resp. Yoreh Deah 234), teaches that the location of the Beis Hamikdash was “hidden until [Hashem] illuminated their eyes in the days of Dovid Hamelech.”  

In other words, Hashem is telling us that it is not enough that He chose the location of the Beis Hamikdash. We must choose it, seek it out, long for it, and do everything we can to find it. And who finally revealed Hashem’s choice as the actual location of the Beis Hamikdash? The man who felt more “unchosen” than anyone else in the world: Dovid Hamelech.  

Dovid wrote about himself (Tehillim 118:22), “The stone despised by the builders became the cornerstone.” It became the very foundation of the entire Beis Hamikdash. Even after Shmuel Hanavi told Yishai that one of his sons would be the next anointed king and excluded all of Dovid’s other brothers, it still never even occurred to his father and brothers that Dovid could possibly be the anointed one (Shmuel I 16:6-11). Yet Dovid, the “stone despised by the builders,” became the cornerstone, the beginning of a new dynasty to which Moshiach himself would eventually trace his lineage.   

Dovid said (Tehillim 42:8), “All of Your breakers and waves passed over me.” He went through so much suffering. Chazal even discuss (see Yevamos 77a-b) whether Dovid was allowed to marry into the Jewish people! Dovid certainly knew what it meant to feel “unchosen” and what it mean to seek, work, long, pray, and toil until he found his place in the Jewish people. Hashem therefore chose him to clearly reveal the location of the Beis Hamikdash and build its foundation. Dovid Hamelech represented the pinnacle of choice, the highest fulfillment of our obligation to “seek Him there at His dwelling and come there.

In verses that Chazal say refer to Dovid, Shlomo Hamelech described this attribute of his father as follows (Shir Hashirim 3:1-2): “In my bed at night I sought that which my soul loves; I sought but I did not find. I will arise and walk around the city, in the market places and city squares. I will seek that which my soul loves. I sought but I did not find.” What was it that he sought out so deeply? What was it that robbed him of sleep? Dovid wrote in Tehillim (132:1, 3-5), A song of ascents: Remember, Hashem, Dovid, all of his affliction [in his toil to find a place for Hashem’s presence to rest – Rashi]… I shall not come into the tent of my house, I shall not go upon the bed that was prepared for me. Nor shall I give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my pupils until I find a place for Hashem, dwelling-places for the Mighty One of Yaakov.”  

All Dovid Hamelech sought was the place where Hashem’s presence could be felt on a permanent basis in this world. He conducted his investigation by indefatigably searching through the streets and markets of Yerushalayim, looking for clues, comparing each location to maps and psukim, trying to find the exact location of the alter and the Holy of Holies. That is why Hashem answered his prayers and rewarded his search with success. Hashem chose the place where we chose Him (ibid. at 13-14), “For Hashem has chosen Zion, He desired it for a dwelling-place. This is My resting place forever, here I shall dwell, for I desired it.” 

It is the same now. We may know the location of the Beis Hamikdash but strangers defile it every single day and we cannot rebuild. Vile terrorists fire rockets at Yerushalayim and Jews all over Eretz Yisroel. So we continue to daven for the Beis Hamikdash, to seek it out. As the Tiferes Shlomo says, “Even if we know this place, that it is in Yerushalayim, and that no other place will be chosen, nevertheless, it is still impossible to build [the Beis Hamikdash] there until Hashem chooses our prayers and desires ‘from all of your tribes,’ that they are worthy that it should be built for them and that Hashem should cause His presence to dwell among them.” 

We may know where the Beis Hamikdash will be rebuilt, but there is so much impurity standing in the way and the right time has not yet arrived. In fulfillment of the pasuk, “you shall seek Him there at His dwelling,” we must daven and hope for the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash constantly. 

Marriage Partners – Predetermined or Chosen 

Just like one must seek out Hashem, the One without Whom we are incomplete,  we also seek out a marriage partner, the one with whom we will build a home that serves as a microcosm of the Beis Hamikdash. 

Why is there so much searching involved in finding one’s mate? We know Chazal say (Sota 2a), “Forty days before a fetus is formed, a Heavenly Voice goes out and says, ‘the daughter of so-and-so to so-and-so!’” If the right person is predetermined, why is it so hard to find one’s destined soul-mate?  

First, one cannot find his mate without first feeling a profound sense of loneliness. One must feel he is missing an essential part of himself, that “it is not good for man to be alone.” Bereishis 2:18. One must first experience that existential loneliness before he is reunited with his other half and can say (ibid. at 23), “This time it is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” 

The pasuk which personifies the connection between marriage and our loving relationship with Hashem is (Shir Hashirim 6:3), “אני לדודי ודודי לי, I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” We know that Chazal teach that the first letters of those words spell “אלול, Elul,” the month in the Hebrew calendar which starts this week and marks the beginning of the teshuva process. This pasuk shows that we must first seek out our beloved. Only when “I am my beloved’s,” when I search out the one I love, will I merit to attain the level called “And my beloved is mine.” Anyone in a successful relationship knows this to be true. It is so sad to have a wife and to give up searching for her, to have a child and to no longer seek him out. 

This two-stage process is also reflected in the double meaning of the Hebrew word for “betrothed, מקודשת.” The chosson says to his bride, “הרי את מקודשת לי, Behold you are betrothed to me.” On one hand, the word implies that she is forbidden to every other man in the world. Betrothed here is a word signifying exclusion. This meaning of the word is related to the word “הקדש, sanctified to the Beis Hamikdash,” i.e., forbidden to everyone such that no one may use the sanctified object for anything other than its designated purpose. So too, the bride and groom agree, through their betrothal, not to look anywhere else in the world. But the word “betrothed, מקודשת,” also means that the two are dedicated to one another. This usage implies inclusion, a positive, proactive dedication to one another. They are saying that they one have eyes for one another.

These two aspects of the relationship between a husband and wife are also apparent in our relationship with Hashem, as hinted at in the pasuk (Tehillim 100:3), “He made us and we are His.” The word for “His,” however is read one way and written another way. It is written as if says “לא, no/not.” According to this reading, the pasuk says “He made us and not us,” i.e., we did not make ourselves. We must know that our relationship with Hashem must exclude the perception that we take credit for any aspect of attainments, skills, or accomplishments. It is a word of exclusion. But the word is also read as if it says “לו, His.” According to this reading, the pasuk says, “He made us and we are His.” It is not enough to look to Hashem alone and not give ourselves credit for anything we have. We must also realize that we are His, we have a unique and special relationship with Him. In fact, if we put the two ways of reading that word together (לו/לא), it contains the same letters as the month of אלול, Elul. 

Whether it is an intimate human relationship, our relationship with Hashem, or meriting the fulfillment of Hashem’s dwelling place on earth, where the intimacy of the relationship between the Jewish nation and G-d is most revealed, there is always a duel nature. On one hand, there is the exclusion of all else which is personified by searching and longing. And there is the dedication to one another, the intimacy personified by Hashem’s revelation of the location of the Beis Hamikdash after our search and by the way a husband and wife find each other. 

May Hashem put all of our difficulties behind us, may He reveal the way forward toward the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash soon in our days, and may every husband and wife merit finding one another and never looking at anyone else but their beloved.
 
Click here to get Dixie Yid in your e-mail Inbox or here to "follow" me on Twitter.