Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Rav Moshe Weinberger - Surviving This Year’s Flood

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from parshas Noach 5777 by Dvora Margolis, a talmida of Rebbe. It includes Rebbe's recounting of one of the most fundamental stories of chassidus, the story of the Chiddushei HaRim's wagon driver. Enjoy!

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 Noach 5777
Surviving This Year’s Flood
Adapted by Dvora Margolis

As we journey through the months of the year, we find mitzvos that are connected to each month and each holiday. The month of Mar Cheshvan seems to be an exception. There is very little mentioned about this month in the seforim. What, then, is the unique spiritual service of this month?

The Zohar HaKadosh comments that there is one specific mitzvah that appears to be a passing event in Parshas Noach, but, in reality, is a mitzvah for all generations. This mitzvah is found in when Hashem told Noach, “Come into the taiva [ark], you and all of your household” (Bereishis 7:1).

According to one widely accepted opinion among the Kabbalists, the month of Mar Cheshvan is a time designated for flooding, and the most intense flooding in Noach’s time occurred during this month.

I, myself prefer air travel rather than arks or boats. Aside from occasional rowboating on the lake with my family, I prefer to avoid these types of activities.  Nevertheless, it behooves us to explore how we can perform the mitzvah of “come into the taiva, you and all of your household” in the times we live in now.

Our Rabbis teach us that the mitzvah of “teshuva (repentance) preceded the creation of the world” (Midrash Tehillim Ch. 90). The Rashbah (Siman 9) and other commentaries have difficulty accepting this statement at face value.  How can one discuss chronology before the creation of time itself which began with the word “Bereishis?”

There are other similar comments in the Gemara that refer to creations that occurred before the creation of the world. For example, the Gemara states, “The Torah was hidden away 974 generations…before the world was created” (Shabbos 88b). The usual explanation offered in mussar seforim for this phenomenon is based on the Gemara (and other sources) which states, “Reish Lakish said: Hashem does not afflict Yisroel unless He creates the cure first” (Megilla 13b). If we apply this principle to the statement regarding teshuva, one could posit that Hashem knew that the world would begin coming apart when people sin. He therefore preempted this by creating the teshuva process. This explanation does not adequately answer the question and I believe our sages never used this explanation with regard to teshuva.  

A deeper explanation involves redefining the meaning of the word teshuva. While it is conventionally translated as repentance, this definition is just a small portion of the totality of teshuva. When the Gemara uses the term “preceded”  to describe teshuva, it is not simply describing a chronological event, but refers to the purpose and goal of creation. In other words, teshuva is the objective and purpose of creation. How can understand this more clearly?

When the world was created, there was a separation between Hashem and His creations. The soul was separated from its source and implanted into a body. The purpose of teshuva is to return the creations to Hashem and to a state of “closeness to G-d is my good” (Tehillim 73:28).

It is understood that a natural consequence of returning to Hashem involves removing obstructions that are in the way, including sin. If a husband was, G-d forbid, unfaithful to his wife and she is willing to give him a second chance, he must change his lifestyle and stop doing the destructive actions that were an obstruction to his relationship with his wife. The goal is to return to his wife and the means to this end is entering into a “clean” reality. Similarly, regarding teshuva, the inner meaning is to return. In the process of returning, we remove the obstructions of sin and enter a clean reality.

Let us return to the taiva of Noach. The Ramban points out that any boat maker knows that the dimensions and shape of the taiva do not describe a seaworthy vessel. The Torah delves into the details of its dimensions, in an unusual way, similar only to the descriptions of the dimensions of the Mishkan and Bais Hamikdash. Superficially, it seems that the purpose of the taiva was to rescue a family from a flood. But there are many other ways Hashem could have saved them. The taiva was certainly a means to save a family from a flood but this was not its main goal and purpose.

To understand the ultimate purpose of the taiva, we must know more about the flood in the time of Noach. The Zohar HaKadosh tells us that the flood that appeared as water, but was actually a flood of impurity. The passuk states, “And it [the Flood] blotted out all beings that were upon the face of the earth” (Bereishis 7:23), meaning, a torrential downpour of impurity was unleashed into the world and it destroyed all of creation, except for those who found refuge in the taiva.
Ramchal explains that Hashem revealed something Noach called “the taiva of Noach” that would serve as a barrier between the impurity that was destroying the world and Noach and his family. We do not understand how this physical structure served as a protection, just as we cannot understand all of the benefits the Bais Hamikdash brought to the world.

The taiva was clean reality and “Hashem shut him in” (Bereishis 7:16). Hashem closed and locked Noach and his family inside the taiva so that they would remain untouched by impurity.
When the Zohar tells us that the mitzvah of “come into the taiva, you and all of your household” is a mitzvah for every generation, it does not mean physically entering a boat. Even with regard to Noach, his physical protection was simply a natural consequence of being sealed in the spiritual world of the taiva. This bears a great similarity to entering the world of teshuva. Once one enters this world and establishes a true and deep relationship with Hashem, sin naturally becomes irrelevant. So how does the mitzvah of “come into the taiva, you and all of your household” apply for all generations?

There is a custom in German Jewish communities that when reciting the blessing for the new month, they use a melody that is relevant to the holidays contained in that month. For example, they sing the blessing during the month of Adar to the tune of Megillas Esther and they sing the blessing for the month of Av to the tune of the lamentation “Mourners of Zion.” What tune is used for the month of Mar Cheshvan? The niggun (tune) that is used while studying the Gemara.

Surviving the Flood

The Baal Shem Tov teaches that the word “ark – תיבה” can also be translated as “word,” referring to a Jew’s words of Torah and prayer. Based on the passuk, “In the six hundredth year in the life of Noach…all the wellsprings of the great deep burst open, and the windows of Heaven were opened” (Bereishis 7:11), the Zohar states “in the 600th year of the sixth millennium, the gates of supernal wisdom will be opened as will the springs of earthly wisdom” (I Zohar 117a). Indeed, the 56th century from creation corresponds with the period beginning in the mid-1700’s in the secular calendar. During these years, a confusing flood of information, both pure and impure, entered the world. To counteract the flood of impurity, Hashem revealed more openly the wisdom of the inner world of Torah, as personified by the Baal Shem tov, the Vilna Gaon, and others.

We are living in a time of great flooding. If one disagrees with this, it is probably because he or she has already drowned. If one care about holiness, he realizes how we must struggle to keep our heads above the water of impurities that surround us. A person who desires sanctity must enter into the taiva, the words of Torah and prayer, with every fiber of his being. This translates into coming to study Torah on time and putting one’s soul into the learning. At the end of time, the only way that we can hope to achieve “closeness to G-d is my good” is by sealing our hearts, minds and souls into the taiva.

My Rebbe, Rav Dovid Lifschitz zt’l, was one of the happiest and most loving people I have ever met, but there were certain things he could not tolerate. He could not understand how a person could lean back and tilt his chair while studying Torah, as if he were watching a baseball game. Putting aside the damage he is causing to the chair, how could he approach Torah in this manner? Similarly, I have observed people walking with their hands in their pockets during davening or sitting with their feet crossed as if reading the Wall Street Journal. While we may have lost some of our sensitivities over time, we must realize the importance of entering into the spiritual taiva with our entire being.

This applies whether one is studying Torah full-time or working. If a person is living in the world of the taiva, it will not occur to him to bring a phone into the beis midrash. He does not refrain from doing so because of fear that his teacher will penalize him, but because he exists in a place of purity. To avoid drowning, a person must delve deeply into the inner Torah. If he sticks his head out of the taiva for a minute, he is finished.

The World of Illusion

One wintry Friday, The Chiddushei HaRim (Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, founder of the Gerrer Chassidic dynasty zy’a, once had a tremendous desire to go to Kotzk to be with the Kotzker Rebbe for Shabbos. After much effort, he found a simple Jewish wagon driver (who was not particularly mitzva-observant) willing to take him, but the wagon driver did not appear healthy, and neither did his horses. They began the difficult journey and soon a heavy snow began to fall. The Chiddushei HaRim tried to dissuade the driver from continuing, offering to stop in a nearby town for Shabbos. The wagon driver refused to be deterred and he pushed his horses to go even faster. Suddenly, one of the horses collapsed and died.

The wagon driver persisted in continuing the journey to Kotzk despite the Chiddushei HaRim’s protestations. They arrived in Kotzk just before candle-lighting, and immediately the other horse collapsed and died. The Chiddushei HaRim gave the wagon driver a hug, thanked him, and ran to the mikvah and to pray. He sent a group of chassidim to assure the wagon driver that he would purchase two new horses for him at the conclusion of Shabbos. But the messengers reported back the unfortunate news that the wagon driver had also died, most likely as a result of the strenuous journey. The Chiddushei HaRim was distraught and did not conduct himself regularly the entire Shabbos. At the conclusion of Shabbos, he locked himself in a room and the chassidim could hear him screaming and crying. Finally, he emerged with a smile on his face. He offered the following explanation:

When the wagon driver passed on to the next world, there was a judgement against him in the Heavens because of his many sins, stating that he was deserving of Gehinom. At that moment, a great defending angel stood up and proclaimed, “How can we allow this Jew to go to Gehinom when he gave up his life to bring a tzaddik to Kotzk?” There was a big tumult in heaven and finally it was decided not to send him to Gehinom. However, because of his sins, he could not be allowed into Gan Eden either. Instead. he was relegated to the “World of Illusion” where he would continuously imagine himself as a wagon driver in Poland, driving his customers on a beautiful sunny day, in a handsome wagon, with four fine horses. This scene would continue for eternity and he would not realize that he was in the World of Illusion. The Chiddushei HaRim could not leave this Jew in such a sorry state for all eternity, and he stormed the Heavens on his behalf until the man realized the false nature of the world in which he found himself and begged for whatever atonement would be necessary to bring him into Gan Eden.

Entering into the taiva is the only way to avoid the World Illusion that exists in our day. These delusions and fantasies may present as driving a nice car, elaborate vacations etc., popular entertainment, professional prestige and success, or an infinite number of variations on the wagon driver’s smooth Polish highway. The average Jew does not understand his purpose in this world. Closeness and attachment to Hashem is our purpose and anything that prevents this is “the flood.”

May each of be blessed to sing the niggun of Torah and prayer, not only in the month of Mar Cheshvan, but throughout our lives. 

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Rav Moshe Weinberger - Parshas Pinchas 5777 - You've Got Mail!

B"H, I have begun posting write-ups of drashos by Rav Moshe Weinberger by other adapters which are also approved by Rav Weinberger. I work with these other adapters as well to ensure that these adaptations are largely consistent stylistically with my adaptations until now.

I therefore am happy to present this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from last Shabbos, parsahs Pinchas 5777, by Refoel Zev Kahane, a talmid of Rebbe. Certainly still very apropos to the Three Weeks and the Nine Days period that we're in now.

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 Pinchas 5777
You’ve Got Mail
Adapted by Refoel Zev Kahane

This Shabbos we began reading the first of the three haftorahs from Yirmiyahu, describing the imminent destruction of the Beis Hamikdash customarily read before Tisha Ba’av. Hashem warns the Jewish people, "For, behold I am calling all the families of the kingdoms of the north…and they will come and place, each one his throne, at the entrance of the gates of Yerushalayim" (Yirmiyahu 1:15). This is a warning that if the Jewish people don't change their ways, Hashem will call the Babylonian leaders to begin the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash with the placement of their chairs in the gates of Jerusalem, a symbolic act of conquest. Indeed, as Rashi points out, the outcome of this prophecy is recording later in the Navi: “And in the eleventh year of the reign of Tzidkiyahu, on the ninth day of the fourth month, the walls of the city were breached. And all the officers of the king of Babylon entered and sat in the middle of the gate” (Yirmiyahu 39:2-3).

We need to understand what the Navi means when he says "Behold I am calling" the leaders of Babylonia. What does he mean the Hashem called these leaders? Can it be that the leaders of Babylonia were sitting around and suddenly Hashem appeared to them in a vision? Did they hear some sort of Heavenly proclamation from Hashem? The Jewish people today do not receive direct messages or imperatives from Hashem, so how could it be that these Babylonians merited such a thing? We have to understand what this calling really is.

The Radak shares a powerful idea with us. He explains that Hashem is saying that "It is as if I am calling them to come. In other words, I will place in in their hearts that they should come." There was no audible announcement from the Heavens summoning the leaders to attack Yerushalayim. Hashem did not actually say anything. And they did not actually hear anything. Rather, Hashem placed this idea in their hearts. The Babylonian leaders felt as if they were following their own desires. They thought that they were acting based on their own inspiration. But really, their plans stemmed from the Divine inspiration implanted in their hearts by Hashem. Hashem placed these ideas in their hearts in order to carry out His plans. So, what is the calling of Hashem? It is not a booming voice descending from Heaven. The calling of Hashem is a quiet voice heard only in the inner depths of our hearts.

Chazal describe the conversation between Moshe Rabbeinu and Pinchas before Pinchas arose and killed Zimri. (Sanhedrin 82a). Pinchas, after witnessing the terrible act of Zimri's relations with the Midianite woman, came to Moshe with the halacha of kanaaim pogim bo, meaning, if someone witnesses two people engaged in such an act, a zealot should get up and execute the violators. Pinchas was bothered by the fact that nobody was getting up to take action, as the halacha seems to mandate. What was Moshe's response? "Let the one who reads the letter be the agent to fulfill its contents." Moshe was telling Pinchas that if he was the one who recalled such a halacha, then he should be the one to act on it.  

The Ran points out a difficulty in the response of Moshe Rabbeinu. While it is true that the halacha is kanaaim pogim bo, there is a second halacha that tells us that we do not actually teach this law when asked. We conceal that this is in fact the halacha. We will not find this halacha in the Shulchan Aruch. The rebbe is not supposed to teach his talmid this halacha. This halacha is concealed because a zealous act like this can only come about through a spontaneous response. If one only acts after seeing the halacha formally codified, that is not the zealotry permitted by the Torah. And yet, the Ran points out, Moshe Rabbeinu does seem teach the halacha that a zealot may kill those engaging publicly in sexual immorality to Pinchas. When Pinchas asks if this halacha is in fact correct, Moshe's response of "Let the one who reads the letter be the agent to fulfill its contents" seems to be an approval by Moshe Rabbeinu. He seems to be telling Pinchas to get up and take action. How could Moshe approve of this if we do not actually teach this halacha? How did Moshe seemingly permit Pinchas to carry out this zealous act?

The Ran answers that Moshe did not actually tell Pinchas to act. Rather, all he did was point out to Pinchas that he received a letter. "Let the one who reads the letter be the agent to fulfill its contents." What was this letter that Pinchas received? This was the burning desire that Pinchas felt within him to get up and act, a desire that was placed in the heart of Pinchas from Hashem. All Moshe said was that if you received a letter from Hashem, then you should read it, listen to it, and do what it says. If you feel something deeply in your heart, then you should know that it is a letter from Hashem. Just like Hashem called to the Babylonian leaders in the inner recesses of their hearts, so too, Hashem called to Pinchas in the inner recesses of his heart. This is the calling – or letter – of Hashem.  

We also find the calling of Hashem by the construction of the Mishkan. "See, I have called out by name of Betzalel, the son of Uri, the son of Chur, of the tribe of Yehuda. I have endowed him with a Divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge in every kind of craft" (Shmos 31:2-3). What does it mean that Hashem called out to Betzalel? Did a voice come down from heaven? Did Betzalel receive a prophecy which commanded him to be the chief architect and builder of the Mishkan? Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l explains (Drash Moshe, Ki Tisa) that, like the leaders of Babylon and like Pinchas, there was no actual calling. If a person sees that he has certain skills, talents, and abilities, then this is his or her calling from Hashem. Betzalel was a skilled architect and artisan. He had special talents. Hashem gave him these talents for a specific reason. Betzalel listened. He saw these talents, and he understood what Hashem was telling him. Like Pinchas, Hashem sent Betzalel a personalized letter.

We have entered the period of the three weeks where we mourn the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. Chazal tell us that "the humility of Rabbi Zecharia ben Avkolas destroyed the temple and exiled us from our land" (Gitten 56a). Without getting into the details of the story, we see that sometimes humility is a bad thing. Sometimes, we are so humble that we do not hear the calling of Hashem. We fail to read His personalized letter. Perhaps we do not make an effort to listen to the letter, or, maybe even worse, we do not believe that Hashem would even send us a letter at all. This is improper humility. If Hashem gave us talents, we must use them for avodas Hashem. If we feel inspiration deep down in our hearts, we must act on it. We must realize that is the calling of Hashem.

In the haftorah, Hashem tells Yirmiyahu, "Before I created you in the womb, I knew you" (1:5). Hashem was telling Yirmiyahu that he had given him certain talents and abilities which would enable him to lead the nation. Those talents were destined to be given to him even before Yirmiyahu was born. And yet, Yirmiyahu responds, "Hashem, I don't know how to speak. For I am still a young boy"(1:6). Yirmiyahu did not believe in himself. He was afraid to read his letter. He did not want to listen to the calling. But Hashem told him, "Do not say that I am still a young boy…Do not fear, for I am with you to protect you" (1:7-8). Hashem was telling him, “I have given you tremendous talents and abilities. I am calling upon you. You will succeed.” We too, have to realize that we are not simple young boys and girls. Hashem has called out to us as well through our inclinations, talents, abilities, and opportunities.

Rav Yeruchum of Mir zt"l once lamented, "How many talents were wasted, and how many gedolim have fallen, and how much Torah has been lost, simply because we did not hear the cry of Hashem, 'Do not say that I am still a young boy.'" Many of us grow up thinking that we are only young boys or girls. Many of us even live out our adult lives thinking that we are lightweights, nobodies. We must listen to the callingp of Hashem from within. We see the talents with which Hashem has blessed us. We cannot make the mistake of not using these talents, or the mistake, chas v'shalom, of using these talents inappropriately.

For some of us, our letter tells us to do beautiful acts of chesed. These Jews are blessed with a heart to be concerned for the needs of others. For some of us, our letter tells us to study and reveal novel Torah thoughts. These Jews are blessed with a mind to understand the depths of the Torah. For others, our letter tells us to compose beautiful niggunim for the Shabbos table. These Jews are blessed beautiful voices and the ability to understand music. And for some of us, our letter tells us to be leaders of Jewish communities. These Jews are blessed with organizational and leadership skills.

Hashem wrote each and every one of us a personalized letter – let's make sure to read it. 

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Rav Moshe Weinberger - Parshas Vayishlach-Chanukah 5777 - All Alone with Our Essential Name

As referenced yesterday, I will begin posting write-ups of drashos by Rav Moshe Weinberger by other adapters, periodically at first, and then more regularly, which will also be approved by Rav Weinberger. I work with these other adapters as well to ensure that these adaptations are largely consistent stylistically with my adaptations until now.

I therefore am happy to present this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from this most recent parshas Vayishlach-Chanukah 5777 by Dvora Margolis, a talmida of Rebbe. Enjoy!

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 Vayishlach-Chanukah 5777
All Alone with Our Essential Name
Adapted by Dvora Margolis

It is quoted in many sources including Reishis Chochmoh, Kitzur Hasheloh, Sefer Eliyahu Rabbah, as well as in the poskim, that when a person leaves this world after 120 years, he will be asked a series of questions, the most important of which is “What is your name?”  The seforim say that righteous people will remember their names, while evildoers will forget them.  If a person is unable to answer this question, angels of destruction will seize him and bring him to a world of chaos (tohu) where he will suffer intense disorientation. A person’s name defines his essence and the root of his soul, his purpose in this world and what he is expected to accomplish.

The Sheloh Hakadosh offers a segula to remember one’s name when asked this all-important question. He recommends that before stepping back three steps at the end of shmoneh esrei, a person should recite a passuk that corresponds to his name. Many siddurim contain lists of these verses in alphabetical order by name, so that the first and last letters of the passuk correspond with the first and last letters of the person’s name. The Sheloh is telling us that by delving into these verses in a deep and meaningful way, a person will come to understand the root of his identity and what he should be focusing on in his life. The Sheloh and others such as R’ Menachem Mendel Vitebsker zy’a (Parshas Vayigash) and the Meor Enayim (Parshas Vayakhel), explain that the question “What is your name?” is not a simple test of memory, but rather, an inquiry as to whether a person has accomplished and fulfilled his life’s purpose which is hinted at and embedded in his name.

The passuk says (Bereishis 32:25) “And Yaakov was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.” (There is a popular song that contains these words. Fortunately, we still have music that enables us to at least know some psukim by heart!) Yaakov Avinu had forgotten some small jugs and gone back across the river alone to retrieve them. He was then confronted by “a man” whom we are told was the angel of Esav, an otherworldly power who fought with him until daybreak. This epic battle had tremendous repercussions regarding our future exile and redemption.

 The Gemara (Chullin 91a) describes how this battle caused a tremendous commotion in the world and that the particles of dust generated by it rose up to the heavenly throne. Bereishis Rabbah (77:1) states “Just as it says about Hashem ‘The Lord alone shall be exalted on that day’ (Yeshayahu 2:11), so too does it say about Yaakov ‘And Yaakov remained alone.’” The commentaries are extremely disturbed by this comparison. Hashem is unique in His Oneness. Even though we may refer to Yaakov as a great person, how dare we compare a human being to Hashem who is unknowable and alone in His Essence?

Rav Yeruchem Levovitz zt’l offers a beautiful explanation that is very relevant to a test many of us face in today’s turbulent times. Hashem, for whatever reason, decided to create the world and to surround himself with a multitude of holy angels, who often function as messengers to carry out His commands. But despite being surrounded by throngs of angels, it is obvious to any believing person that Hashem is still the One and Only. So too, Yaakov Avinu was an extremely busy person, surrounded by the two camps of his large family. He had many possessions and was deeply engaged in the task of “And you shall gain strength westward and eastward and northward and southward” (Bereishis 28:14). He had many appointments and people to see. Yet, despite all of this, the Torah tells us that he was utterly alone. Yaakov states “For with my staff I have crossed this Jordan” (ibid. 32:10). The word for staff in Hebrew (“מקל”) is a derivative of three words: “לך קוינו מעולם,” meaning, “Forever, in You (Hashem) I place my hope.” He was on one side of the river, and everyone else was on the other side. The Hebrew term for river is “נחל,” a derivative of “ לה׳ חיכתה נפשנו - Our  souls pine for G-d” and “ חנוכה נר להדליק – To light a Chanukah candle.”

Although Yaakov was surrounded by a multitude of family, friends, acquaintances, and students, at the end of the day he was still alone. His essence was unknown even to those closest to him. There was a “Holy of Holies,” an inner sanctum within himself that no one was allowed to enter.  The passuk says “Yaakov became very frightened and was distressed, so he divided the people who were with him…into two camps” (ibid. 32:8). What did Yaakov Avinu fear most? He wanted to make sure that although his strength, time and energy were dispersed and divided, he should never forget his name, his essence, his self.

This is one of the main tests we face in the year 5777. When our soul was created in Heaven, a part of it crossed over into this world.  It is so easy to forget our soul’s source and true identity. In today’s busy world, a person could be learning Torah and doing mitzvos and still forget his essence, his name.

When Hashem created man, he created him as an individual. He did not come into the world together with a family, a community, a town or a village. These things only form later. But the original existence of man which is woven into the structure of each and every one of us, is not a dual structure. We were not created with an iPhone, a computer, a chat group, or a network of acquaintances, friends, or even a wife. The Torah clearly emphasizes that man came into existence alone. After his initial creation, we see the division begin. This is similar to what the passuk states regarding Yaakov, “and now I have become two camps.” Marriage was the beginning of Adam’s division, the way Hashem wanted it to be.

Within each person there are two distinct forces. The first is the power of connection, the natural tendency and drive for a social being to live in a world among others. We desperately long for companionship, marriage, family, friends, and community. We need to develop connections and to network with others.

A second, deeper force exists in a person prior to the drive for connection, the need to be alone. The need to understand one’s essence and identity is accompanied by a fear that we may forget our individuality due to the distraction of others.

As children we are dominated by the need to be connected. We are totally dependent on friends and will ingratiate ourselves to others. A classic example of this might be: “I’ll be your best friend if you give me some of your potato chips!” As teenagers, we are trying to decide who our real friends are, and we yearn for the affirmation and approval of others. As we mature and marry, marriage represents a deep essential connection, in which our spouse becomes our closest friend, and the need for other friends diminishes in significance. But another level of maturity that Hashem desires from us is the ability to be alone. A person must first reach a level of “And Yaakov was left alone” where he comes to understand his true essence. Only then can he form a true connection with Hashem as is stated “And Hashem alone will be exalted on that day.”

Hashem does not want us to be alone by abandoning our family or friends. He wants us to achieve a healthy balance between being alone and connecting with others. There were a few exceptional tzaddikim who actually lived alone, but most did not. One notable exception was the Vilna Gaon (GRA), who spent all week alone and only was with other people on Shabbos.

In the world of 5777,  it is too easy to forget the wonderful world of self, of being alone. It is one of the greatest tests of our generation. The prophet says “Hashem was not found in the wind… Hashem was not found in an earthquake…Hashem was not found in fire” ( Melachim I 19:11-12).  Rather, Hashem is found in a “still small voice.”  I believe that this refers to the power of being alone, still and quiet. The kumzitz and the comradery and brotherhood and are holy and wonderful tools when it comes to serving Hashem, but they are not the end purpose. We were not meant to be stuck in chat rooms, even when using them for holy purposes!

The Midrash (Shmos Rabbah 20:29) says, “When Hashem gave the Torah, a bird did not chirp, fowl did not fly, bulls did not make sounds, Ofanim angels did not fly, Seraphim angels did not say ‘Holy, Holy’, the oceans stood still, no creation spoke, the world was utterly silent and a voice proclaimed ‘I am the Hashem your G-d.’”  The only way the Torah was originally received was in silence and solitude and this is the only way we are able to receive it today.

“And a man wrestled with him.” This battle between Yaakov and the angel of Esav is the life battle we all face of trying to maintain our selves, our essence, while living a life with others. There are tempting and even seductive forces trying to pull us away from being alone, causing us to forgot our names, our essence, and our entire life’s purpose.

Now we can understand why the angel of Esav asked Yaakov (Bereishis 32:28,29) “What is your name? And he said ‘Yaakov.’ And he said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called ‘Yaakov,’ but ‘Yisroel,’ because you have commanding power with [an angel of] G-d and with men, and you have prevailed.” The Gemara  distinguishes between our patriarchs Avraham and Yaakov. When Avraham’s name was changed from Avram, we are no longer allowed to refer to him by his former name. In contrast, even after the Yaakov’s name is changed to Yisroel he is still sometimes referred to as Yaakov. Why?

Perhaps we can explain this in the following manner. The name Yisroel refers to a powerful person who is in control in relation to others. This name represents the power of connection.  It is the name with which the world knows a person. However, the name Yaakov was his original name, his essential name, and represents the ability to be alone. The angel of Esav wants nothing more than for us to forget our essential name! He wants to push us away from living in our own thoughts, and towards constant merging with others. He wants us to be so busy with others that we neglect the vital work of self-reflection and the power of solitude. This is hinted to in the words, “Your name shall no longer be called Yaakov.” The angel of Esav wants us to forget that Adam was created alone, as an individual.

The passuk in Shir HaShirim (1:6) states: “They made me a keeper of the vineyards, my own vineyard I did not keep.” We often become so busy with everyone and everything around us that we neglect our own “vineyards.” It is essential for a person to set aside time for himself, especially during the long winter Friday nights. In general, Shabbos is a time connected to this idea of the power of self, and Shabbos is also specifically associated with Yaakov Avinu, as we say in Kiddush (based on Yeshayahu 58:14), “And I will feed you with the heritage of Yaakov your father.” The angel fighting with Yaakov is the battle we face all week in our interactions, texting, phones, and email. It is essential for us to have time for “And Yaakov remained alone,” especially on Shabbos.
Yaakov Avinu asks the angel “What is your name?” and the angel has no response. An angel does not have this power of being alone. We, the Jewish nation, have this power as alluded to in the events of Chanukah. We had to locate a single jug of oil, untainted by others. The Chashmonaim won the battle of “the few against the many.” On Chanukah, one must have times set aside for himself, to put himself on one side of the river, while everyone else is on the other side, as our forefather Yaakov did.

“Shall he make our sister like a harlot?” (Bereishis 34:31). Hashem sees us texting  and using other social media with great abandon, interacting improperly with whole world. This is the opposite of what the Chashmonaim fought for. They were fighting against intermarriage and assimilation. The Greeks were attempting to remove our uniqueness, our solitude as a nation who dwells alone. 
A story is told about the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson zy’a (1880-1950). He lived in Russia at the time of the Bolsheviks and the communists. At that time, it was illegal to teach any religion, and especially Judaism. Every time the communists made a decree against Judaism, the Rebbe would counter by opening more Jewish institutions, yeshivos, and mikva’os. The Rebbe was arrested and brought to a local jail. As they led him out to a wagon in chains to be brought to a big prison in Petersburg, the chassidim watched in horror and tears. They feared that they would never see him alive again. He looked up and seeing his chassidim he stood up and screamed “Yidden! These evil men are not the ones putting me in prison! They are not capable of putting any Jew in exile! Hashem sent us here and put our bodies into this exile but the soul of a Jew is never in exile. Build more yeshivos! Build more mikva’os!” This is the power of one individual, the power of being alone. A person can change the whole world for the better, but first he must know his true self.

Hashem called out to Yaakov as he is going into exile “And Hashem said to Yisroel in visions of the night, and he said, ‘Yaakov, Yaakov!’” (Bereishis 35:10). Hashem repeated his name twice to emphasize to all Jews in exile, never to forget our names, our essence. There is one part of a Jew that can never be violated by any person, just as the single jug of oil with the seal of the Kohein Gadol was left alone and unadulterated. This challenge is extremely difficult in our times because of the common desire to be in the company of others, and never alone.  But this is crucial, and if we don’t address this, Hashem will ask us, as He asked Adam “Where are you?” (Bereishis 3:9). What has become of the essential you?

May Hashem help us all to be Jews who remember our names, and may this be our last Chanukah in exile. 

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Rav Moshe Weinberger - Parshas Mishpatim-Shekalim 5777 - Adar – The Art Of Joyous Thinking

Welcome back after a long hiatus! IY"H, I will begin posting write-ups of drashos by Rav Moshe Weinberger by other adapters, periodically at first (though another one is coming tomorrow morning!), and then more regularly, which will also be approved by Rav Weinberger. I work with these other adapters as well to ensure that these adaptations are largely consistent stylistically with my adaptations until now.

I therefore am happy to present this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from this most recent parshas Mishpatim 5777 by Dov Elias, a talmid of Rebbe and translator of Rav Menachem Azolai's Ohr HaEmunah, available HERE. Enjoy!

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 Mishpatim-Shekalim 5777
Adar – The Art Of Joyous Thinking
Adapted by Dov Elias

The Mishna (Megillah 1:1) states, “On the first of the month of Adar, a proclamation is made about the [giving of the] shekalim [the required half shekel contribution] and about kilayim [forbidden grafting of plants or breeding of animals].”  What is the connection between donations to the Temple and forbidden grafting or breeding? 

In addition, Rashi (on Shmos 30:13) says that because Moshe Rabbeinu had difficulty understanding the half shekel, “Hashem showed him a kind of fiery coin the weight of which was half a shekel and said to him, ‘Like this shall they give.’”  In two other places, Chazal offer a similar idea.  Rashi (on Shmos 25:40) tells us, “Moshe was puzzled about the workmanship of the Menorah until Hashem, showed him a Menorah of fire.”  Rashi (on Shmos 12:2) says, “Moshe was perplexed regarding the new moon — how much of it must be visible before it is proper to consecrate it as new moon.  He [Hashem] therefore pointed to it in the sky with His finger and said to him, ‘Behold, when it like this, consecrate it.’”  While we can understand how Moshe might have had difficulty with the concepts of the Menorah and the sanctification of the new moon, because they are complex concepts, what was difficult for Moshe understand about half of a coin?  It is just that – a half coin.

In Megillas Esther (8:5), Esther asks the king to return the letters that contained the “thoughts of Haman.”  The Gemara (Chullin 139b) asks where Haman is known from in the Torah and answers with the verse (Bereishis 3:11), “Is it of the tree,” referring to the Tree of Knowledge that Hashem had forbidden.  Haman is derived from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil.  As such, Haman’s way of thinking defines the character of the world that we live in because it was the beginning of the world.  In chassidus, this world is called the world of doubt – and the tree of knowledge is called the “Tree of Doubt.”  Amalek has the same numerical value as the word “safek” – uncertainty, doubt and confusion.  Haman’s way of thinking is in play whenever the borders between good and evil, right and wrong, belief and heresy are blurred. 

When Amalek attacked the Jewish people, the pasuk uses the term “karcha,” to cool off, to chill.  When a person is the path to experience G-dliness, to connect to the Creator of the World – there is a coldness along the way.  A Jew begins to wonder - is Hashem among us or not?  How can I be sure?  How do I know?  It is a poison in our lives.

This happens in many marriages, unfortunately.  At first, it is so beautiful.  Then, something happens along the way and the wife begins to wonder, “Why did I marry this man?”  The question as to whether Hashem is among us is not limited to belief in G-d – it questions belief in a husband or a wife – it includes questioning belief in whether we are good parents or good friends.  It means skepticism and uncertainty.  It is Haman’s mindset, “Maybe this was wrong.  Maybe this was a mistake.”

The Beis Yosef (231) says that the rule of life is that a person must weigh (לשקול), on the scales of his mind, all of the details of his life.  When there is an opportunity to go somewhere or do something, one must weigh, measure and clarify in his mind – this moment, what he is about to do, what he is considering reading or the words that he is considering saying.  Will it bring delight to the One who created him?  Will it strengthen the G-dliness within him?  If it will, he should do it.  If it will not, he must push it away with both hands.

The Mishnah’s instruction to proclaim about the shekalim means that the purpose of our lives is to use our minds to distinguish and differentiate – i.e. to weigh and measure every thought, action and word and to ask ourselves if what we are about to do is something that gives pleasure to Hashem and to our Divine soul.  While anything forbidden by the Shulchan Aruch is clearly forbidden - many matters are not clear.  A person can develop rationalizations that would seem to support precisely what he wants to do.  Often, that desire comes from a place that is not right, not holy and not pure.  The scales of our minds have been skewed to think a certain way. 

Proclaiming about the shekalim means, as Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato (the Ramchal) zt’l describes at the beginning of Mesilas Yesharim, “The foundation of chassidus and the root of the perfect service of Hashem is to clarify and honestly assess what a person’s obligation are in this world – why was he created, what is his purpose in life?”  On the first of Adar, they proclaim about the shekalim because Haman’s lottery indicated this was the best time of year to destroy us.  Haman’s mentality is the world of kilayim (grafting and interbreeding), not knowing the difference between Cursing Haman and Blessing Mordechai.  While it is true that, on Purim, it is considered an accomplishment not to know the difference - that is only for someone who knows the difference during the rest of his life.

Recently, there was a farcical trial in Eretz Yisroel.  The world could not seem to differentiate between a Palestinian terrorist and an Israeli soldier, a boy who was worried and frightened.  There is obvious confusion when a newspaper can print a headline stating, “An Israeli soldier is convicted for shooting an injured Palestinian” - as if the Palestinian was innocently taking his children to the park.  He was terrorist and he was a murderer.  The entire world is besieged by the sickness of kilayim.  Where there were once clear distinctions between good and evil, right and wrong, boys and girls.  There no longer is.  We are living in a time where there are marriages between two boys or two girls.  There is a blurring of boundaries that separate between the species of this world – between what is and what is not; what belongs and what does not.  Hashem gave each of us shekalim – the ability to weigh, on the scales of our minds.  Nevertheless, there is also kilayim.  A person has a choice in life.  When a person thinks like Haman, G-d forbid, it is called kilayim, confusion.  The purpose of his life, right and wrong, and good and bad is not clear to him. 

In this state of confusion, it is impossible to feel joy.  “With joy” (בשמחה) is same letters as “thought” (מחשבה).  When Adar arrives, we increase joy.  The Sfas Emes quotes the Chidushei Harim, who points out that Chazal do not say, “When Adar arrives, we increase joy - it says, “When Adar enters, we increase joy.”  It is not automatic, like some magic potion, as if before Adar, we were depressed, but now that Adar started, we are automatically happy.  Does it suddenly not bother a person that three of his children have strayed from the proper path?  It unexpectedly does not bother another that his 42-year-old daughter is not married?  Is a third person suddenly not troubled by the fact that his wife cannot stand him?  It does not bother a person that he has no money?  It does not bother him that he has not talked to his brother in 45 years?  Adar started so a person is happy and life is great?

“They proclaimed about the shekalim” means that we must weigh our lives – consider the purpose of life.  Of course, there are difficulties and challenges.  The Gemara (Taanis 29a) tells us that if a person has a court case with a gentile, he should try to push it to Adar because Adar has a strong mazal.  The Sfas Emes explains that this refers to a person’s debate with the gentile in his own head, that part of us that comes from the Tree of Doubt and takes away all of the joy of life, the part of us that thinks: “I do not believe that my wife loves me,” “I do not believe that that my kids are good, “I do not believe that Hashem is thinking about me.”  The Beis Yisroel explains that it means that gentile inside of us that tortures us and robs us of our joy because we are not living with clarity regarding our mission in life.  We cannot see the boundaries between good and evil, right and wrong.  Consequently, we cannot feel the joy that we should be feeling. 

The Ropshitzer Rebbe, in his sefer, Zera Kodesh, in Parshas Terumah, asks why all of the measurements given for the Ark are half measures (e.g. “two and a half cubits its length”).  The measurements of all of the other vessels in the Mishkan do not contain halves.  Similarly, why do we donate a half shekel?  Why broken measurements and halves?  He explains that a person’s purpose in the world is to break everything open – to analyze, to examine, to search within himself whether something is right or wrong.  Is Hashem happy with that which a person is about to look at?  One does not always have to look everything up in Shulchan Aruch.  He has a Jewish heart.  If one analyzes and dissects, it becomes very clear that something does not necessarily cause sanctification of Hashem’s name.

To measure, a Jew must examine every moment of his life (every thought, utterance and action) and ask, “Is it ‘Cursed is Haman’ or ‘Blessed is Mordechai?’”  We rationalize by distorting disputes between our holy Rabbis to look for some basis or some opinion that supports what we want to do.  We can play such games that come from the Tree of Doubt, the thoughts of Haman, where life is blurred and unclear.  When a person lives that life, there is no joy.  Everything is marred and stained by uncertainty, doubt, and confusion.

So many aspects of our lives are unclear.  When should we be strict with our children and when should we allow them more freedom?  It is not always clear which choice is correct.
Haman thought Adar would be a good time to defeat the Jews.  The Amalek within our own minds causes the confusion that is the mindset of Haman, the Tree of Doubt.  Therefore, when Adar begins, we proclaim about the shekalim – we weigh things carefully and warn Jews not to become mixed up or lost in the world of chaos.

Chazal (III Zohar 31a) describe the Torah’s prohibition against breeding an ox with a donkey as referring to mixing Eisav, the ox, with Yishmael, the donkey.  The crossbreeding of these two produces the dog, Amalek.  That is our final exile.  The Maharal, based on Midrashim, foretold of a strange grafting of east and west in which Yishmael will invade the western world.  The nations are symbolized by the United Nations, where, over the years, we have seen this bizarre mixture of the coldness of the west (i.e. Eisav, the ox) and the filth and immorality of the east (i.e. Yishmael, the donkey).  The Maharal concluded that the kilayim of East and West, at the end of time, will rise up against Yerushalayim.  These are our times. 
How can a fair-minded, intelligent non-Jew not clearly see the difference between a terrorist and a Jew, a soldier?  How can they discuss “occupied territories?”  How can they even consider the possibility that Yerushalayim may not belong to the Jews?  How can the western world be so reckless as to allow a single Yishmaeli into their countries?  Do they not see the danger?  The other Arabs countries refuse to let them in.  Yet, the west welcomes them.  The newspapers refer to Jews as Nazis and to Palestinians as Jews.  How can there be such confusion?

The Torah, the Zohar and Chazal have addressed this a long time ago.  There was a wedding between Yishmael and EisavEisav married Machlas, Yishmael’s daughter (Bereishis 28:9).  That crossbreeding has propelled the world into such confusion – what is a boy or a girl, what is good or evil, right or wrong.  All a Jew has is the Ark and the Torah, and they instruct us to clarify our obligation in the world.

Moshe Rabbeinu is the intelligence and understanding of a Jew.  When Moshe Rabbeinu asked what the half shekel was, Moshe was very concerned as to how a Jew would be able to differentiate between “Cursed is Haman” and “Blessed is Mordechai.”  How will a Jew have the strength to weigh and clarify?  The world is crazy.  How would they find clarity?

Hashem showed Moshe a fiery coin taken from under the Throne of Glory.  The Sfas Emes explains: every Jew is a half shekel, half of a Jew in this world with a higher half under the Throne of Glory.  The fiery coin under G-d’s Throne represents the essence of who we are; a Jew has a G-dly soul.  The purpose of our lives is to compare and connect to our upper portion.  We have to take the half of who we are in this world and compare it to the half of who we are in the world above.  We must join the two halves – the half in this world that we see with our eyes and the upper half, who we really are, the fiery coin that Hashem keeps under His Throne. 

That is what it means to overcome kilayim and why Megillas Esther speaks of “up to half of the kingdom.”  The King of All Kings tells Esther, who represents every Jew going through a difficult time, “I gave you half the kingdom – I gave you half of Myself.  I cannot give you the rest because the second half is up to you to draw down yourself.” 

How can we keep our heads clear in 2017, even with all of the insanity of the world, the time of Amalek, the kilayim, the dog?  The answer is that there is something much deeper inside of us.  If we daven for that, especially in the month of Adar, we can make good decisions.  When we live a life that is meaningful and purposeful – when we are clear about the truth – then, when Adar comes, when that clarity enters a person, there is more joy.  Serving Hashem with joy does not just happen; it requires a lot of toil, thought, and analysis– a life that is filled with shekalim

Maybe that is what is meant when Chazal say that after the story of Purim, they accepted above what was accepted below.  A Jew can accept below and connect to the half above.  The two halves meet – he feels complete.

Hashem should help each of us, in this time of such confusion, to achieve real joy and clarity by thinking in a Jewish way.  It is hard work, but if we put in the work and we let Adar into us, we are guaranteed to feel tremendous joy and experience the redemption of Purim, Pesach and iy”h Moshiach.

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