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!

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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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