Sunday, October 28, 2018

Killed for Your Sake - Brokenness and Comfort - Rav Moshe Weinberger - Lech Lecha 5779

Although he did not know it at the time, Rav Moshe Weinberger delivered this drasha, focusing on how we give our lives in every generation at the hands of those who kill us because we are Jews, and how how G-d comforts us, less than an hour after 11 Jews were slaughtered by an evil terrorist at Congregation Tree of Life in Pittsburgh, PA.

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from Shabbos, parshas Lech Lecha 5779. Rav Weinberger has reviewed this write-up and any corrections are incorporated herein. Enjoy!

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

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Vayeira 5779
Killed for Your Sake – Brokenness and Comfort

We know Chazal teach us that “The deeds of the Avos are a sign for the children” (see Midrash Tanchuma 9). This does not simply mean that we must learn from the lives of the Avos. It also means that we live with what they did and what happened to them every day. The events of their lives course through our veins and us at all times.

When Hashem appeared to Avraham at the beginning of the parsha, Chazal explain that He was fulfilling the mitzvah to visit the sick (see Rashi on Bereishis 18:1). We know Avraham was sick because it was the third day after giving himself a bris (Sota 14a).

The underlying principle behind how one fulfills the mitzvah of visiting the sick in halachah is lightening the burden of the individual’s sickness (see Shita Mikubetzes on Nedarim 41a). This has three elements: (i) helping the person with whatever he or she needs; (ii) praying for the person’s welfare in his presence; and (iii) asking the person how he is doing (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 193:3). This is what Hashem was doing for Avraham. How do we see this visit as a sign in our lives now? How do we see that Hashem visits us when we suffer today?

Rav Mordeichai Yehuda Lubart zt’l, a great talmid chacham and Gerer chassid  who suffered through and survived the Holocaust, explains in his sefer Milchamos Yehuda that bris mila sanctifies G-d’s name in a similar way as when a Jew gives his life to stay true to his or her faith. He bases this on the Gemara’s statement that the passuk, “For we are killed for Your sake all of the time” (Tehillim 43:23) refers to bris mila, which also involves the shedding of Jewish blood (Gittin 43b).

The connection between bris mila and the self-sacrifice inherent in allowing one’s blood to be shed sanctifying G-d’s name is also apparent based on Aruch Hashulchan (Yoreh Deah 265:27), which explains that we do not say the celebratory Shehechiyanu blessing at a bris, even though we rarely get the opportunity to do this mitzvah, because of the Jewish blood being spilled and the child’s pain. We cannot say Shehechiyahu because our joy at the bris mila is not complete. Bris mila, like sacrificing ourselves for G-d’s sake, is a fulfillment of “And I shall be sanctified among the children of Israel” (Vayikra 22:32).

When we go through a period of seeing Jewish blood being shed, just like Avraham Avinu went through when he drew his own blood at the time of his bris mila, we feel broken and sick, not only physically but emotionally and spiritually as well. We need encouragement, strength, support, and greater confidence. That is why Hashem appeared to Avraham after his bris, to help him with whatever he needed and give him support, encouragement, and love. He gave Avraham new life and a feeling of rejuvenation through His visit, after which Avraham felt strong enough to return to welcoming and serving travelers.

How do we see Hashem visiting us through all of the times where Jewish blood has been spilled throughout Jewish history, when we need encouragement, strength, and Hashem’s help more than ever? After the destruction of the first Beis HaMikdash, Hashem sent us the light of Purim, and then Chanukah. After the desolation and murder at the time of the Romans’ destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash, Hashem sent the light of Rabbi Akiva, and his great disciple Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who brought down the inner light of Torah into the world. Following the expulsion of the Jews of Spain, we were blessed with the light of the Arizal. After the brokenness of the Cossack (Tach V’tat) and the Chmielnicki massacres of the mid-1600’s, Hashem sent the Baal Shem Tov into the world.

And following the absolute decimation of our people during the Holocaust, no one could imagine even simple acts of normalcy like getting married or having children, much less recreating yeshivos or learning Torah. Although we felt that we were “despised and isolated from men, a man of pains and accustomed to illness” (Yeshayahu 53:3), we still held onto the recognition that “All of this has befallen us, but we have not forgotten You, nor have we betrayed Your covenant” (Tehillim 44:18). Hashem began visiting and comforting us by opening up the gates of Eretz Yisroel to all Jews and enabling us to renew our life as a people in our own land, and thereby renew the study of Torah in the most remarkable way. He caused the revival of Torah learning and yeshivos in the diaspora as well, not to mention the vibrant baal teshuva movement of the 1960’s.

Yet even with all of those ways that Hashem has consoled us, the Holocaust was a level of destruction we have never known throughout all of human history. We therefore need a revelation of Hashem’s Presence never before seen in human history. We must beg Hashem to complete His appearance in our lives like He did with Avraham Avinu.

To counteract our unprecedented pain, we require an unprecedented expression of His Presence to comfort and heal us. We must daven that Hashem completes His visit by taking away all pain, healing all wounds, and drawing down into the world the light we have been waiting for throughout the millennia, the light of Moshiach and the advent of the next world here on earth with the complete redemption.

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Sunday, October 21, 2018

Rav Moshe Weinberger - How to Mend the World - Parshas Lech Lecha 5779

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from Shabbos, parshas Lech Lecha 5779. Rav Weinberger has reviewed this write-up and any corrections are incorporated herein. Enjoy!

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

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Lech Lecha 5779
How to Mend the World

One of the tefilos said on Rosh HaShanah is Achos Lanu Ketana, “We have a little sister,” the title of whichis based on Shir HaShirim 8:8. Rashbam on that passuk explains that the “little sister” refers to the Jewish people. We are called Hashem’s little sister. Just like a big brother loves and feels protective of his younger sister, so too, Hashem loves us in a protective way. But the Midrash (Bereishis Raba 39:3) explains that “little sister” refers to Avraham Avinu. This is because the Hebrew word for sister – אחות – is related to the word לאחות – “to mend.” He was given this appellation because he mended together all those who came into the world and “mended the ripped world – מאחה את הקרע.” How did Avraham mend a torn world?

To answer this question, I will recount a story that connects two well-known yohrtzeits which occur today, 11 Mar-Cheshvan, those of Rochel Imeinu and Rav Nochum Chernobyler, the Meor Einayim zy’a. We know that the one mitzvah Rav Nochum constantly did was raise money for pidyon shvuyim, the redemption of captives. In those days, our gentile neighbors were fond of kidnapping Jews or arresting them on trumped-up charges to exact a ransom from their communities. Rav Nachum traveled frequently to raise money to free imprisoned Jews. Another feature of life for Jews at this time was that unless they were freed, imprisonment meant almost certain death. Accordingly, the mitzvah of pidyon shvuyim is extremely important.

During one fundraising trip, the Meor Einayim was carrying a significant amount of money which had been donated by wealthy Jews. The non-Jewish authorities used this money as a pretense to arrest him, accusing him of stealing money from gentiles. Some wealthy chassidim bribed the officials at the prison to move him out of the underground dungeon where he was being held to a second-floor cell with a small, barred window.

The Rebbe was feeling extraordinarily broken at this time. He had dedicated his life to helping Jews escape false imprisonment, but instead of continuing to work on this critical mitzvah, he himself was now falsely imprisoned and suffering. Now he could not continue involving himself with the mitzvah and others would have to redeem him. He could not understand why this was happening and was extremely discouraged.

At one point, he heard a woman’s voice through the window, “Reb Nachum!” He walked over, looked out the window, and saw a woman outside. She said, “Can I tell you a vort on this week’s sedra, parshas Lech Lecha?” “Of course,/” he responded. The woman then said, “We know Rashi says on the first words of the parshah, ‘Go for yourself,’ that Hashem was telling Avraham that he should travel for his own benefit and for his own enjoyment (see Rashi on Bereishis 12:1). If Avraham benefited personally from the journey, why was this considered one of his ten tests?”

Answering her own question, the woman explained that the reason this was considered a test is because Avraham’s mission in life was to provide hospitality and healing to travelers, those who were homeless. Hashem wanted Avraham to truly know the pain of being a traveler who does not know where he will sleep at night or where he will find his next meal. He knew that Avraham would be able to heal the world more effectively and that he would benefit by doing the mitzvah on an even deeper and greater level after personally being humbled and experiencing the same feeling of being a stranger in a strange land that his guests feel.

At this point, Reb Nachum realized that the woman outside the jail was Rochel Imeinu herself, a woman who knows exile because she is buried by the side of the road, away from her husband and the rest of her family in Beit Lechem (Bereishis 35:19). She continued, “So too, Reb Nachum, this imprisonment is ‘for your benefit and for your enjoyment.’ Now you will truly know the pain of those you are working to liberate. While it may seem discouraging, it is for your benefit because you will be able to involve yourself in the mitzvah without hesitation because you will have truly nullified yourself through your deep understanding of others’ pain and suffering.”

How did Avraham Avinu’s and the Meor Einayim’s suffering enable them to mend the world? It caused them to disregard any sense of self and any personal considerations because of their intimate recognition of the pain of those they were responsible to alleviate. Rebbe Nachman says, “Everything a person lacks, whether children, a livelihood, or health, comes from the person himself. This is because the light of Hashem shines upon him constantly. But the person, through his own evil actions, casts a shadow over himself which prevents the light of G-d from reaching him” (I Likutei Moharan 172).

Rebbe Nachman continues, explaining how one can nullify this shade through an amazing reading of the passuk, “The glory of Hashem fills the earth”  (Yeshayahu 6:3). He says that the word for “fills – מלא” can also be read as a “from no.” In other words, through “no,” i.e., the negation of one’s sense of independent self, the nullification of one’s own ego, one can recognize that “the whole earth is His glory.” When one eliminates his own sense of self, he removes the blockage that prevents the Divine light from shining into every corner of his life. When Avraham and Reb Nachum went through the same suffering as the people they were working to help, it helped them bring G-d even more deeply into their own lives by eliminating any consideration of themselves when they worked to serve others.

The Midrash we quoted earlier says that Avraham Avinu mended the world and mended the relationships between people. The sins of the tree of knowledge of good and bad, the generation of the flood, and the generation of the dispersion, where humanity was literally torn and divided (הפלגה) from one another created a separation between humanity and Hashem and created division between people.

We know Avraham mended this separation because before him, even the righteous king, Malkitzedek, was called only “priest to G-d above (Bereishis 14:18), implying that G-d’s existence above was apparent, but His presence on Earth was completely hidden from man. But Malkitzedek blessed Avraham “to G-d above, who possesses Heaven and Earth” (ibid. 19). Avraham mended the division between Heaven and Earth, revealing Hashem’s glory not only in Heaven, but here on Earth as well. How did he do this? How was he able to influence the world in this way, drawing people closer to one another and to G-d?

Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohein Kook zy’a, writes (I Oros HaKodesh p. 86) that this influence does not take place in the obvious way one might think: “The universal longing for the influence of the Jewish people in the world does not take place through the dissemination of intellectual teachings, via straightforward and obvious influence and instruction. Rather, when this [the Jewish] nation fully internalizes its unique role, the world is naturally elevated simply through [the Jewish nation’s] possession of this unique mission as part of its own humanity.”

In other words, we mend the world and unite it with its Creator not by broadcasting Torah teachings to the furthest reaches of the world or by having inspiring speakers travel on lecture circuits around the world, as nice as those activities might be. The primary way we heal the world is by nullifying the parts of ourselves which separate us from a true connection with our special and unique mission in the world – to act as agents responsible to reveal G-d’s will and Presence in this physical world.

May Hashem enable us to put aside our own personal concerns to serve Him and help others, thereby removing the blockages we create between His light and our lives. May we thereby mend the brokenness of the world and soon see the time when “the Earth will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem like the water covers the seabed” (Yeshayahu 11:9) with the arrival of Moshiach and the complete redemption soon in our days!

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Monday, October 15, 2018

Rav Moshe Weinberger: Infused with Tears - Drasha on Parshas Noach

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from Shabbos, parshas Noach 5779. Rav Weinberger has reviewed this write-up and any corrections are incorporated herein. Enjoy!

See here for past shiurim at YUTorah.org's website by Rav Weinberger both as leader of Emek HaMelech, as former 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 5779
Infused with Tears

Because this Shabbos is the yohrtzeit of Rav Kalonymous Kalman Shapira, the author of Aish Kodesh, Hy’d, I held a postcard written by the Rebbe in my hands this morning. While doing so, I asked Hashem what the Aish Kodesh would have wanted us to learn. It then came to me that He would want us to focus on how to better reach the youth in our shul.

To do this, let us first understand the answer to a fundamental question on our parshah. Why was it necessary for Hashem to command Noach to build the ark, the teiva.  He could have told Noach to bring those He wanted saved to Eretz Yisroel, where there was no flood )see Bereishis Raba 33:11). And when Hashem told Noach, “Build for yourself an ark” (Bereishis 6:14), Rashi says that Hashem wanted him to personally build it over a 120 year period. He didn’t want Noach to hire workers to do the job more efficiently. Why?

Hashem did not merely want Noach to build the teiva as a way of saving certain people and animals. He wanted the vessel through which He would save people to be infused with the tefilos of Noach through all those years while he tried to encourage the people around him to do teshuvah to avoid the destruction of the world. He wanted Noach’s tears to be embedded into the wood of the ark.

Tanach is replete with other examples of mundane objects infused with extraordinary significance through the hopes and prayers of tzadikim and tzidkanios. For example, we see this when Shaul asks a sorceress to summon the soul of Shmuel HaNavi (I Shmuel 28:14). When she says that she saw Shmuel, Shaul asks what he looked like in order to determine whether she saw the correct person. She says that he looked like “an old man ascending, wrapped in a cloak.” Shaul immediately knew that she was referring to the correct person.

Why was the cloak such a clear sign that she had seen Shmuel HaNavi? What was the significance of this cloak? In her joy and gratitude for Shmuel’s birth, Chanah, his mother, who had davened for him for so many years, made him a special cloak (see I Shmuel 2:19). Normally, a cloak is an honorable garment only worn by adults. But Chanah made one for young Shmuel and he wore it throughout his life. Chazal tell us that it grew with him over time. This is why this cloak was such an identifying characteristic through which Shaul was able to recognize him in the sorceress’s description. A loving mother’s hopes and prayers infused this cloak with such deep significance that he wore it throughout his life, was buried with it, and it stayed with him even into the next world. The energy of Chana’s love that filled every fiber of the cloak infused Shmuel with a boundless love for his people and gave him the strength to spend his life teaching and guiding them.

We see an example of another such object, the staff of the prophet Elisha, which he gave to Gechazi to touch to a young boy’s face to bring him back to life (II Melachim 4:29-31). While the power to revive the dead would have come from Hashem through the navi, and not through some sort of “magic wand,” we see that this power was personified through a significant physical object.

Similarly, although Hashem could have saved Noach, his family, and the animals in other ways, He wanted Noach to use a teiva infused with millions of tears as the vessel through which He would save mankind. For me, my postcard held and written-on by the Aish Kodesh has similar significance.

We are living in strange times, where our children find themselves facing temptations, distractions, and confusion unlike any other generation. Each of us must provide our children with a home that can serve as a teiva in which they can take refuge during this flood of insanity and confusion preceding the coming of Moshiach.

We must understand how to do this in each generation. The passuk tells us that Noach was “a pure tzaddik in his generations” (Bereishis 6:9). What does it mean that he was a tzaddik in “his generations?” The truth is that it is relatively easy to be a tzaddik for one’s own generation, to understand their nature and what they need. It is much rarer to find a tzaddik who knows what his children’s and grandchildren’s generation needs.

How can we do this for our children’s generation? One way is by showing our children that we are there for them 100% by spending time with them without constantly checking our phones. When we play Scrabble, Monopoly or chess with our children, if we are constantly engaging with clients or business matters, on chat rooms, reading articles, or checking sports scores, the message our children get is that to one extent or another, they are on their own. Distracted parenting makes us unable to create a home which can serve as a refuge in which they are safe, happy and secure. But if we give our children our full attention, we are building an ark into which they can always return no matter what they are going through outside.

And our shul, named after the Rebbe’s sefer Aish Kodesh, is attempting to create a similar environment with our new teen program and minyan which begins this Shabbos. We have had many wonderful bar mitzvah celebrations recently, and each one marked the transition into next stage of development of unique, intelligent, and idealistic young men. But where are these boys now? Some are in the new teen minyan or other local minyanim. But we know that others are not. They are still in bed or are reading novels at home rather than davening.

This is why we have instituted a new teen minyan different from the type that exists in many places around the world, which often serve as meeting places for boys and girls, rather than between young people and the Creator. This new teen minyan also has a strict “no adults policy.” Young people need a place where they can be themselves, and this cannot happen if their or their friends’ parents are also present. They must feel safe to be themselves.

My mother created this environment for my sister and I through her tefilos. Every Friday night, by candlelighting, we saw her literally weeping as she davened for us. This leaves an impression. I have also seen how my wife’s tefilos have made a significant difference with our own family as well. Our children need their parents’, and especially their mothers’, tefilos more than ever.

I was speaking one motzei Shabbos approximately twenty years ago at a shul in Kew Gardens, NY. After the drasha, as I was moving toward the exit, a man approached me saying that he wanted to share something. He told me that he knew my shul is named after Rav Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, the Rebbe of Piaczezna and that his father was a student of the Rebbe. Intrigued, I asked him to share with me something his father told him about the Rebbe.

He told me that his father said that the Rebbe and his Rebbetzin took in orphans and other homeless children into their home during the time leading up to the Holocaust. These boys slept in a certain room in the Rebbe’s house. They fed and provided for these children. The man’s father was one of these boys. He related how, before going to bed, the Rebbe would walk through the house, checking to ensure that each boy was fully covered and not cold. He told me how one night, very close to the War, his father was not completely covered by his blanket. He was awake but pretended to be sleeping. The Rebbe fixed his blanket, but continued standing over him for several more moments afterward. His father felt a single tear fall on his forehead, as the Rebbe davened for him. He then heard the Rebbe say, “This one is going to live.” He didn’t know what it meant at the time or how or what the Rebbe knew about what was coming, but his father did indeed survive the War, even though most of those boys, along with most Jews in Poland, did not make it.

Just like the Rebbe did for the children in his care, may we merit to create homes in which our children feel that they are loved and supported, believed-in, and davened-for more than any other place in the world. May they never want to look in the outside world for fulfillment. May Hashem make our homes vessels to give us everything good in ruchniyus and gashmius!

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Sunday, October 7, 2018

Wake Up - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha on Parshas Bereishis 5779

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from Shabbos, parshas Bereishis 5779. Rav Weinberger has reviewed this write-up and any corrections are incorporated herein. Enjoy!

See here for past shiurim at YUTorah.org's website by Rav Weinberger both as leader of Emek HaMelech, as former 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 Bereishis 5779
Wake Up

There is an ancient custom to connect the end of the Torah, “There has not arisen again in Israel a prophet like Moshe . . . before the eyes of all Israel” (Devarim 34: 10, 12), with the beginning of the Torah, “In the beginning of G-d’s creation….” (Bereishis 1:1). This connection of the end with the beginning creates a circle. That is also why we dance in circles together on Simchas Torah and start reading the beginning immediately after completing it.  I will therefore attempt to continue in this tradition now.

Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, the Kotzker Rebbe zy’a, points out that while the Torah says, “And Hashem caused a deep sleep to fall upon man…” (Bereishis 2:21), it never says that he woke up. In other words, Adam possessed a clarity and wakefulness when he was first created that he never quite regained. This is related to what ultimately caused him to fail in his test involving the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The Kotzker says that because of this sleep in which we find ourselves, this lack of clarity with respect to the true nature of reality in which we find ourselves, it is our job in every generation to try and wake ourselves up.

This teaching from the Kotzker from Poland is so deep. We can understand how it applies to us more readily in light of a teaching by Rav Shimon Schwab zt’l. Rav Schwab asks several questions about the brachah we say at the end of the morning blessings, “Blessed is the One Who… removes sleep from my eyes and slumber from my eyelids.” First, if this blessing is meant to thank Hashem for waking us up from our physical sleep, why is it not the first brachah we say in the morning upon waking up? In fact, by the time we say this brachah, we have already thanked G-d for waking us up through two other brachos, “Who opens the eyes of the blind” and “who returns souls to dead bodies.” Given these points, how is it possible to say that thanking G-d for “remov[ing] sleep from my eyes” refers to physical sleep?

Second, what is the connection between the introductory portion of this brachah, “Blessed is the One Who… removes sleep from my eyes,” and the continuation, which asks G-d to “accustom us to Your Torah and attach us to Your mitzvos…”? If we are primarily thanking Hashem for waking up from sleep, how is this related to the continuation of the blessing?

Finally, how can we understand the conclusion of the brachah, which is, “Blessed is the One who bestows generous, good kindness to His nation, Israel”? Gratitude for waking up and being alive is not unique to the Jewish people. All human beings, and even animals, are grateful for waking up in the morning because it is better than the alternative. How is this considered a generous kindness bestowed only on Hashem’s nation, the Jewish people?

Rav Schwab explains that because of these questions, we must say, and I believe this is the way we must understand the Kotzker’s statement as well, that when we say, “Blessed is the One Who… removes sleep from my eyes,” we are not referring to physical sleep or physically waking up. Rather, we are thanking G-d for allowing us to wake up from the form of sleep which plagues all of mankind, the deep slumber of Adam from which we never fully awoke. While the rest of humanity remains in a trance-like state, oblivious to the reality and purpose of life, we give Hashem our undying gratitude for pulling away the mask that conceals the truth from us.

This is why, after thanking G-d for waking us up from our stupor, we express our gratitude for “accustom[ing] us to Your Torah and attach[ing] us to Your mitzvos….” It is only through learning Hashem’s Torah and performing His mitzvos that we are reminded what our purpose in creation is and what this life on earth is all about. That is why the brachah concludes with a recognition that G‑d “bestows generous, good kindness to His nation, Israel.” We can never fully express our appreciation that Hashem only chose the Jewish people, as a nation, to be awakened from the world’s slumber.

Why do we thank Hashem for removing sleep “from my eyes”? In the tefilah U’va L’tziyon, we say “May it be Your will… that we merit to live to see and take possession of good and blessing….” What does it mean to “see” good, as opposed to merely having it? Rather, when we ask Hashem to see goodness and blessing, what we truly want is that our eyes should not be blinded to the true reality of what He gives us. Our greatest fear is sleeping our lives away, as Rabbi Binyomin said on the passuk, “And G-d opened her [Hagar’s] eyes” (Bereishis 21:19): “All people are considered blind until Hashem illuminates their eyes” (Bereishis Rabah 53:14). That is why we ask Hashem to see the good in our lives and in the world – to save us from the blindness which prevents us from seeing what we have and why we are here.

This is also the connection between the end of the Torah and the beginning. Hashem revealed the Torah before “the eyes of all Israel.” The greatest gift Moshe gave us is the fact that the Torah opens our eyes to see that in the beginning, Hashem created us. We are here for a purpose. We desperately hope that Hashem opens our eyes and does not allow us to fall back asleep into the confounding busy-ness of the world. Rather, we thank G-d every morning for removing sleep from our eyes to clearly see that we are here to elevate our lives and the world through studying Torah and attaching ourselves to His mitzvos.

The Baal Shem Tov zy’a relates that he attended a horrible cheder, school, in his small village of Okop, Ukraine. In those days, there were no institutional yeshivos or principals greeting all of the boys each morning with a smile each day. The wealthy families hired better rebbes and brought them into their nice homes to teach their children. The poorer families scraped together whatever they could for the lesser-trained rebbes and the boys went to learn in the rebbe’s “house,” which was often little more than a shack.

Little Yisroel (who was known as Srulik at the time), the future Baal Shem Tov, was an orphan, so his lot was even worse than most. The people in Okop did what they could to provide a rebbe for little Srulik, but the rebbe’s home was a disgusting mess which made him very uncomfortable. And the rebbe was a coarse person who unfortunately often used the back of his hand to communicate the lessons to the boys. The rebbe and his wife would often fight and yell at each other as well. Little Yisroel was a sensitive boy and he was extremely upset by every aspect of this cheder.

One day, when he could not tolerate it any more, little Yisroel skipped school and went to daven in the woods by the village for salvation from this cheder.  He prayed, “My mother and father have left me, now Hashem gather me up!” (cf. Tehillim 27:10). Suddenly, he felt a tap on his shoulder and there was a man who he did not know standing there, which was unusual, because he knew every face in the small village. The man said to him, “Srulik, I want to give you a brachah that you should have eyes to see.” Little Yisroel said, “Amen,” and with that, the man left.

Yisroel could not skip school forever and when he returned, he suddenly saw everything differently than before. When the rebbe got angry with the boys, little Srulik saw that this was because he felt ashamed of his poverty and lack of knowledge. When the rebbe fought with his wife, he saw that this was only because of the difficult circumstances of their lives, they could no longer see each other for who they were and could be. The Baal Shem Tov relates that after this blessing from a man he believed to be Eliyahu HaNavi, he never saw the world the same way again.

May Hashem also grant us eyes to see the truth of the world around us and the truth about ourselves – that we are here for a purpose. May we merit to continually wake up to a recognition of the reality of what we are living for. And as it says in the continuation of the line quoted earlier in U’va L’tziyon, “May it be Your will… that we live to see and possess good and blessing in the years of the times of Moshiach and the life of the World to Come.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Article by R' Boruch Leff related to the Recent Flurry of Articles/Letters/Shiurim re Mishpacha Magazine/Chassidus

Relevant to the recent flurry of articles following Mishpacha Magazine's recent article relating to the resurgence in interest in penimius HaTorah and chassidus, it is worthwhile to check out Rabbi Boruch Leff's article from his book, Are You Growing?, which relates to Rav Moshe Weinberger's recent shiurim also on these issues, "Hashem's Unbreakable Love for Every Jew - Part 1" and Part 2:

Hashem Awareness Even When Learning Torah

Generally, there is a perceived difference of opinion between chassidim and non-chassidim regarding how much emphasis should be placed on actually thinking about Hashem within the realm of Torah study. This essay’s purpose is to show that while such a debate indeed exists, the two sides have much more in common than is usually understood.

All those who study Torah in order to come closer to Hashem (which should include everyone) must make a real connection with Hashem within their learning. It is difficult to learn in this fashion. Most people simply open the sefer and begin to learn. Learning Torah in any fashion is a great mitzvah and we admire all those who do so, especially the yeshiva bochrim and Kollel students who learn most of the day. However, as difficult as it might be, we all should try to bring more Hashem awareness into our learning.

Perhaps you were surprised by the title: Even when learning Torah? Isn’t it obvious that when we learn Torah we are performing a mitzvah and are very much aware of Hashem?  Let me tell you a story which will explain the title.

The famous Rav Shmelka of Nikolsburg was once learning in the beis medrash alongside his equally famous brother Rav Pinchas Horowitz, author of the seforim HaMakneh and Hafla’ah. Rav Pinchas noticed that every so often, the shammas attendant of Rav Shmelke would interrupt Rav Shmelke and whisper something into his ear. After a number of times of watching this, Rav Pinchas couldn’t contain his curiosity bordering on anger at the shammas for interrupting his brother’s learning.

Rav Pinchas finally asked his brother what the shammas was saying to him, “Why do you permit him to continuously interrupt your learning?! Tell him of the prohibition of bitul Torah—that he shouldn’t waste any of your time, especially when you are learning in the beis medrash!”

Rav Shmelke responded, “My brother, you misunderstand. I told my shammas to interrupt me. You see, when I learn Torah, there are times that I get so involved in what I’m learning and I enjoy it so much that I forget there’s a Ribbono Shel Olam! I told my shammas that every so often, even when I’m learning, he should whisper in my ear, ‘There is a Ribbono Shel Olam!’ This is what brings me back to the purpose of my learning Torah—to understand Hashem and His will better and to attach myself to Him!”

A poignant story. The story’s lesson is related to what the Kotzker Rebbe once said, “The Torah prohibits us from worshipping idols, avoda zara. . .even of the Torah itself!” This means that we can’t allow our Torah learning to take on a life of its own. We must always learn with a real and continuous awareness of why we are learning and for whom we are learning.

WHILE YOU’RE LEARNING YOU MUST LEARN

This does not mean that we must meditate upon Hashem while actually learning. Certainly, when we learn, we must concentrate and attempt to understand what Rashi and Tosafos and the Rashba are saying. But, as Rav Shlomo Brevda, shlita, once told me, in order to maximize the hashpaah, the powerful spiritual influence that Torah study can have upon our souls and our midos, we must fulfill the requirements of the prime student of the leader of non-chassidim, the Vilna Gaon. His prime student, Rav Chaim Volozhin, writes in the Nefesh HaChaim (Shaar 4:6):

“This is the proper true path that Hashem has chosen. Whenever a person prepares himself to learn Torah, he should sit down before he learns, at least for a short time, with a pure heartfelt fear of Hashem, and confess his sins from the depths of his heart, so that his Torah will be more pure and holy. He should then have in mind that he will attach himself to Hashem through learning His Torah, because by studying the word of Hashem, halacha, with all one’s strength, with this, one attaches himself to Hashem as much as possible. This is because He and His will (the Torah) are One.”

The Nefesh HaChaim (4:7) continues:

“Before learning Torah, a person should think about Hashem with purity of heart and fear of Him, and cleanse himself with thoughts of repentance, so that He can connect and attach himself to the will of G-d when he learns. He should also accept upon himself to observe and fulfill all that is written in the entire Torah and he should pray that Hashem will lead him to discover the truth of Torah.”

This should be done even in the middle of learning. Permission is given to interrupt regular learning subjects, for a short time, before the passion of the fear of Hashem becomes extinguished from his heart, (to reignite) all that he accepted upon himself before he began learning. He should think again of the fear of Hashem. . .This is not bitul Torah, because it is necessary in order for the Torah to have a lasting impact.”

LEARNING LIKE RAV YISRAEL SALANTER

This approach to Torah study is vital in order to avoid the warning of the Kotzker Rebbe mentioned above. By actively and directly connecting our Talmud Torah to the Ribbono Shel Olam in a real sense, and not merely in a general, disconnected way, the learning becomes a vehicle for true dveikus with Hashem.

Rav Shlomo Wolbe writes similar thoughts in Alei Shur (Volume 2, page 106). He says that there are many ways to learn Torah—iyun, bekius, pilpul, in-depth analysis, general factual knowledge, to name a few. But there is also a ‘Yiras Shamayim’ way of learning. This path does not negate any of the others but accompanies them. Every sugya and subject in Shas has the fear of Hashem within it if we but pay attention to it. All of the decrees from the rabannan are derived from a fear of Hashem not to transgress His Torah.

A person can inject fear of Hashem into all that he learns, says Rav Wolbe. Frequently, the gemara says ‘Amar Mar—the (anonymous) Master said.’ The Midrash Tanchuma says that Mar refers to Hashem! Thus, instead of saying Mar, when learning the gemara, one should substitute the words Amar HaKadosh Baruch Hu! And then state the halacha the gemara mentions. This is the path and method that Rav Yisrael Salanter utilized to directly connect what he was learning to Hashem and His ratzon. This is how we can discover yirah and mussar in whatever we learn.

Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh states that fulfilling the Nefesh HaChaim’s guide to Torah learning is a major component to the mitzvah of Shivisi Hashem L’Negdi Samid, I set Hashem before me always (Tehillim 16:8). Though the Rema begins the Shulchan Aruch by saying this avodah of Shivisi is among the maalos of tzadikim, the highest levels of the righteous, the Biur HaGra there says, ‘This concept includes all the levels of the righteous—vezehu kol maalos hatzadikim!

Thus, we must work on trying to feel Hashem’s presence at all times, and as we’ve seen, this applies even when we are learning Torah.    

THE GOAL OF ALL MITZVOS

What is the goal of life? Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh (Volume 3) states that we must crystallize the answer to this question before we can progress in our service of Hashem. We think the answer to this question is very obvious—most people would say the goal of life is to involve ourselves in mitzvos, and to learn Torah in order to know Shas and poskim. But the Ramchal writes differently.
           
In Mesilas Yesharim, right in the beginning of the first perek, the Ramchal says the goal of life is ‘l’hisaneg al Hashem,’ to derive pleasure from being close to Hashem. We are to put all of our drives into coming close to Hashem, to the ultimate extent of being drawn like a magnet to Him. This doesn’t mean, says Bilvavi, that we are not supposed to learn as much Torah as we can at every possible moment, trying to know Shas and poskim. As Chazal say, the world only continues to exist through the merit of learning Torah. But we must realize that the purpose of all of our learning is to attach ourselves to Hashem.
           
There are those who say that since the Zohar says that HaKadosh Baruch Hu, Oraysa, V’Yisrael Chad Hu—Hashem, the Torah, and the Jewish people are one, then when we learn Torah, we are automatically attaching ourselves to Him, whether we intend to or not. If we are attached to the Torah, we are attached to Hashem.

But Bilvavi points out that one can’t consciously ignore dveikus B’Hashem even when learning Torah, because according to this thinking, then when we’re involved and attached to other Jews, or when we’re ‘attached’ to ourselves only, we’re also attached to Hashem. After all, the Zohar says Yisrael V’Hashem is also chad hu. Rather, even when learning Torah, we must make a conscious effort to be cognizant of the goal which Torah learning is supposed to produce—dveikus B’Hashem.   

IDEAS FROM RAV SHIMSHON PINCUS

Rav Shimshon Pincus (Nefesh Shimshon-Torah V’Kinyaneha, page 218) says that if a person wants to be able to learn Torah with an awareness of Hashem, he should make sure to recite the tefila from Chazal that is designed to be said before we learn Torah. Brachos 28b says that Rav Nechunya ben Hakanah would recite a tefila before he entered the beis midrash to learn Torah. The tefila was comprised of a request that he become successful to discover the truth of Torah and avoid any obstacles that would stand in the way of this goal. He would also say a tefila after he left the beis midrash thanking Hashem for the merit to be able to learn Torah.

The Mishna Berura (110:37) brings the Rambam in the Peirush Mishnayos who says that reciting this tefila is an absolute obligation because the mishna did not tell us what Rav Nechunya did to simply tell us a story; rather, the mishna is telling us what we must do to emulate Rav Nechunya. Rav Pincus declares that whoever says this tefila is guaranteed to be successful in his learning. 

Rav Pincus continues to say that when we learn we should envison HaKadosh Baruch Hu Himself as our chavrusa, learning with us. The Nefesh Hachaim shows from many statements in Chazal that when we learn Torah, Hashem is mouthing the words along with us. He is literally with us—and we must be cognizant of this attachment with Him when we learn.

KISSING THE GEMARA

We all need rebbeim. We all need to search for and find great rebbeim. There are different kinds of rebbeim. Some rebbeim teach us the Gemara or the Chumash. Yet this does not suffice. We need rebbeim who can teach us something else, just as important.

Rav Yaakov of Ishbitz, son of the Mei HaShiloach and author of Beis Yaakov on Chumash, would give a shiur for a select group of students from 12AM until 4 AM every night of the week except Shabbos. Rav Moshe Weinberger, shlita, tells the story of one of the students who attended these amazing shiurim. Years later, the student described that he remembers how Rav Yaakov was very meticulous about time and every night at exactly 12AM—one could even set his watch— two of Rav Yaakov’s attendants would escort him into the room, one holding a candle and one holding the big gemara. Rav Yaakov would give the shiur with amazing pilpul and chiddushim. It felt like one was at Sinai. At exactly 4AM, the two shamashim came forward again, one with a new candle to lead him out into the street, and the other to hold the gemara.

This talmid reflected that he loved going to this shiur, but he now remembers very little of the insights from the shiurim. “I experienced tremendous suffering in my life and I have forgotten most of what I learned. But there is one thing I never forgot, one memory that stayed with me and encouraged me throughout my years and throughout my suffering. The memory of how Rav Yaakov lovingly kissed his gemara when the shiur was over is the fire which keeps me going.”

There’s the teaching of the gemara and there’s the kissing of the gemara. If we only have a rebbe who is able to teach us the gemara, we need to find one who can also teach us how to kiss the gemara.

When we kiss the gemara properly, we show that the learning is a vehicle to bring us closer to Hashem.

-Rabbi Boruch Leff

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Highlights from Our Trip to Israel for Our Son's Bar Mitzvah - With Videos and Pictures!

We just returned from our trip to Israel in honor of our only son’s bar mitzva! The whole thing is a bit wacky so for our friends to share in the simcha and for our own memories, here is a brief summary, including a few short videos embedded for audio-visual augmentation. :-)

First of all, we originally planned a traditional bar mitzva celebration in New York, but one Shabbos, about 6 weeks before the big day, because of his desire to have his sister who is studying in seminary this year be part of the occasion, our son suggested that we consider moving the bar mitzva to Israel.

We discussed it further and ultimately decided to do the bar mitzva in conjunction with the children, bar mitzva boys, and teenagers living in the Beit Elazraki (“BE”) Children’s Home in Netanya. Some backstory: our daughter is studying this year in Midreshet Torat Chessed in Netanya, a seminary which partners with BE. The girls participating in the program do Jewish studies in the mornings, pick up a group of kids from BE to do homework and activities with them and then take them to dinner in the afternoon, and then continue learning as part of the seminary in the evenings. So while we are still doing a party for our son’s friends, we thought it would be great to make a celebration for the kids in BE rather than for all of the bar mitzva boy’s parents’ friends. :-)

We went about making all of the arrangements, finding flights, reserving an apartment on AirBnB, and planning our activities. We planned to make the Israel bar mitzva a surprise for our daughter in Israel, working out everything with her seminary, BE, and all of our Israeli and American family joining in the simcha in such a way that she would not find out about our plans. There was one individual with unintentionally loose lips though, so she did end up knowing that something was happening, but not exactly what, when, or the extent of our plans.

Here is a short video showing a few overall highlights from the trip in general:


Our son got an aliya and read haftara for parshas Titzaveh/Shabbos Zachor  at the Young Israel of North Netanya, where the rabbi is one of the rebbeim in MTC. He did an amazing job! 

On Sunday Feb 24th, we visited the only other orthodox part of my side of the family. Originally from Houston, TX, my father’s first cousin and her husband now live in Yerushalayim. Their son, my second cousin, Ari Abramowitz, of The Land of Israel Network (http://thelandofisrael.com/about-us/) and their granddaughter (daughter of their daughter) were there and it was a beautiful visit! First time I had seen them in over 20 years.

On Monday Feb. 26, we visited the Central tzedaka organization in Netanya (click HERE for their website and HERE for their donation page), which, among many other services it provides to over 1,000 recipients/families, also distributes bread from Bread for Israel, an organization founded by my CEO. He was astounded by the fact that despite the multitudes of tzedaka organizations all over Israel, that a large minority of children in Israel actually go to bed hungry each night. He therefore went to Israel and personally negotiated an extremely low price of $1 per loaf, including delivery, for bread to distribute throughout Israel. He then developed a network of distribution points and means for getting the word out to the families who need it. The organization now distributes about 100,000 loaves of bread per month, though the demand by hungry people could support an additional 100,000 loaves per month. The only obstacle is money. So let me know if you can help or give on a one-time or recurring basis at www.breadforisrael.org. The video above has some pictures from our visit to the Netanya central tzedaka warehouse and distribution center.

And that night, we joined Yehuda Cohen, the director of BE Children’s Children’s home for an explanation of BE’s history and what it does. They literally take on the role of parents in all ways for the kids (age 0-17) who have to come to the home because they unfortunately cannot live with their parents or if their parents have passed away. They provide them with whatever they need, including therapy and tutoring, and do whatever parents would event after the kids “graduate.” They provide a place to go home to on breaks from army service, help with college, and they even pay for half the cost of weddings and even walk down the aisle with them when their parents cannot! During our bar mitzva celebration, they even live broadcast a Mazel Tov from the entire BE family to an “alumnus” who had just gotten engaged in America! 

Our son had some time to hang out with the five bar mitzva boys from BE and we were able to give them some gifts and sponsor a celebration for the entire BE family which was beautiful! We were told that this was the first time that a family came to celebrate a bar or bas mitzva with the bar or bas mitzva children from the home who is a sibling of one of the Midreshet Torat Chessed girls. Ashreinu! Here is a short video from the big night!


On Tuesday Feb. 27, we spent the morning at a private glass-firing workshop in Yerushalayim with artist Yael Vloch (), who I found out about from funinjerusalem.com. It was a great thing to do together! See here for a nice short video highlighting that experience:


I’m the afternoon, we got a private tour of the largest bakery in Israel, Angel’s Bakery in Jerusalem, with Yunti Burstein, one of the main logistics coordinators of Bread for Israel. I was even able to do the mitzva of taking challah for one of the gigantic batches of dough! Check out this video for a quick run-down of what bread production at that huge facility looks like:


We spent a quiet day on Taanis Esther, followed by Maariv and Megila reading at Laniado Hospital in Netanya, to which we were invited by my wife’s second cousin, one of the two orthodox families on my wife’s side, Itzik, who learns with the Rav of the hospital. Itzik is famous in Netanya for being the main source for scuba diving, surfing, and other recreation equipment, at his location by the beach affectionately known as “Itzik BaYam,” Itzik by the Sea. We then joined his family for a beautiful meal after Megilla.

Then, on Purim day we headed down to Holon, where my wife’s great-aunt was having a Purim seuda, and then headed over to to Bnei Brak for our Purim seuda with my wife’s other orthodox family, a second cousin, with a beautiful family who we also got together with last time we were in Israel as a family six years ago. Pictures from Purim are also in the video at the beginning.

On Friday morning Mar. 2, we went horseback riding on the beach in Netanya (again, pictures in the top video), which was beautiful! Then we headed to Yerushalayim where we spent Shabbos and had our meals on at the Prima Palace hotel, just off of Rechov Yafo. We had a meaningful Shabbos afternoon davening at the Kosel. After Shabbos, we sadly said goodbye to our daughter (though IY”H she is coming home for Pesach soon) and to Yerushalayim. Looking forward to next time!