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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