Sunday, July 29, 2018

Which Odessa Do You Live In? - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha from Last Shabbos - Devarim / Chazon

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from last Shabbos, parshas Devarim / Shabbos Chazon 5778. Rav Weinberger has reviewed this write-up and any corrections are incorporated herein. Enjoy!

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Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Devarim / Shabbos Chazon
Which Odessa Do You Live in?

When Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbos, as it does this year, it creates much confusion. We do not know how to feel. And this internal conflict even expresses itself in halacha. Do we limit ourselves to only learning Torah one can study on Tisha B’Av? Do we visit friends or talk walks Shabbos afternoon? How do we understand this unusual time?

There is a story of the Rebbe Rashab of Lubavitch zy’a, which can help us understand the unique position in which we find ourselves. Two Jews from Odessa, in southern Ukraine, came to visit the Rebbe. In his private meeting with the first one, the Rebbe asked how things are with the Jews in Odessa. The man answered that Baruch Hashem, things were difficult but that there were shuls, learning, davening, and gemachs (charity funds) to help people. The Rebbe seemed very happy with this and gave the man a donation of ten rubles, a large sum.

Very pleased, the man left the room and his friend asked him how it went. The first man showed his friend the donation. He asked what the first man had told the Rebbe, so he answered how he had recounted to the Rebbe the fact that Odessa had shuls, davening, learning, and gemachs. The second Jew was surprised, since things in Odessa were very bad and such good things were hardly a prominent part of life for the people there. He resolved that if the first man got such a good donation for telling the Rebbe a misleading narrative, he would get an even better donation for telling the unvarnished truth.

The second man met with the Rebbe and again, in the course of the conversation, the Rebbe asked how things were for the Jews in Odessa. The man then laid the full story on the Rebbe. The city was full of machlokes – bitter disputes between Jews of different factions. Torah observance was almost non-existent. Physical life was also difficult and life in the city needed drastic improvement. The Rebbe thanked him and gave one ruble, a relatively insignificant donation.

Surprised, the man asked why he had gotten such a relatively small sum when he had merely told the truth about Odessa, while his friend had in fact exaggerated the significance of the good things happening there. The Rebbe answered, “Do you think that I did not already know the situation of the Jews in Odessa? I have been involved in their welfare for a long time. The truth is that there are two Odessas: Higher Odessa and Lower Odessa. Higher Odessa has shuls, learning, davening, and gemachs. Those things are happening in Odessa right now. But there is also a lower Odessa. That city is full of machlokes, non-observance, and bitterness.”

The man then asked the Rebbe why he asked them about how the Jews were doing in Odessa if he already knew the answer to his own question. The Rebbe answered that he asked him about the state of the Jews in Odessa only to see which Odessa he was living in – Higher Odessa or Lower Odessa. “Your friend revealed through his answer that he was living in the part of Odessa where good things were happening. He therefore saw the city through the eyes of one living in Higher Odessa. You, however, resolved to tell me the ‘truth.’ This revealed that you are immersed in the negativity and machlokes of Lower Odessa.”

Ultimate Projection

The root of Tisha B’Av is the sin of the spies. Because they cried for no reason on Tisha B’Av, that day was established as a day of tears for generations to come (Sota 35a). The Lubavitcher Rebbe zy’a, in a sicha, explains that the Torah reveals an additional insight into this question. Moshe told us in this week’s parsha, “You complained in your tents and you said, ‘Because Hashem hated us, he took us out of the land of Egypt to give us over into the hands of the Emori to destroy us’” (Devarim 1:27). How the Jewish people possibly think that Hashem hates them? These are the same people who experienced the ten plagues, the splitting of the sea, the giving of the mon every day, and the well of Miriam which traveled with them in the desert. How is this possible?

Rashi says that by saying this, Moshe was implying to them, “But He [Hashem] loves you! It must be you who hate Him.” The root of understanding what Tisha B’Av is and why it is not yet a Yom Tov is that we must always begin by asking ourselves: “Which Odessa am I living in? Higher Odessa or Lower Odessa?” Each of us explains the world around us according to the world in which we live. If our inner world is focused on or filled with negativity and machlokes, then we look through those glasses and see a world around us filled with darkness, evil and cynicism. But if our focus and inner life is centered around kindness, goodness, learning, davening, giving, and light, then we look through those glasses and see the goodness in the world and people around us.

The Jewish people only felt that G-d hated them because inside, they were living in a world of negativity and hatred. That is why, against all evidence to the contrary, they thought Hashem hated them.

Let us consider an event 900 years after the sin of the spies, the time of the destruction of the first Beis HaMikdash. The Jewish people were entrenched in the Lower Odessa of idol worship, murder, and immorality. We know that whether the kruvim, the golden angels on top of the holy Aron, were facing each other or facing away from each other was a sign of how Hashem was relating to us at that moment. The Gemara says that when the enemies of the Jewish people entered the Holy of Holies, they saw that the kruvim were not only facing toward one another, they were embracing (Yuma 54a). How can we understand this? The only explanation is that Hashem loves us. No matter how much things hurt, no matter how incomprehensible Hashem’s actions are, we can still choose to live in the world of the kruvim embracing one another, the world of Higher Odessa.

A Slap on the Back

There was a well-known Yerushalmi named Nachum Margolios a’h, who was known for always having a smile on his face, though his life was far from easy. He and his wife only had two daughters and it happened that both of them were killed in an accident. To everyone’s surprise, even during shiva, Reb Nachum continued to appear in good spirits, with a smile on his face. Some of his friends asked how he was able to maintain his happiness immediately after both of his children were killed.

He answered them, “Let me explain with an analogy. If you are walking in the street and feel a painful slap on the back, what happens? If you turn around and see that it is a stranger, you are upset at the person and rightfully complain about what he has done to you. But if you turn around and see that it is a close friend, then you immediately realize that it is a slap of love. You embrace your friend with compassion and happiness. So what can I say? I felt a huge slap of pain, but when I turned around, I saw that it was Hashem behind me and I know that He loves me. That is how I am able to continue to rejoice even now despite my tremendous pain.”

When the pain of Tisha B’Av comes motzei Shabbos, we turn around and gaze through the eyes of Higher Odessa and look back at Shabbos, on which we say every Yom Tov, “with love and good will.” We see that Hashem loves us and is behind all of the pain.

Somewhat counterintuitively, this is the most rational response. Each of us have a brother, sister, parent, child, or even a friend who has been good to us over the years and we know that this person loves us. What is our reaction if suddenly they do or say something that hurts and pains us? Do we immediately assume the worst? That the person is intentionally hurting us? Or do we look at the love they have for us and that we have had for them and ask ourselves, “Let me understand more deeply. Someone like this who loves me would not have intentionally hurt me out of the blue. It must be that there is a deeper cause. Perhaps he or she is going through tremendous pain. Perhaps something is going on that we know nothing about that explains this. If we look at our friend or loved one through the eyes of Higher Odessa, we will continue to see the love between us even when they cause us pain.


On this mysterious mixture of Tisha B’Av and Shabbos, may the love of Shabbos color the glasses through which we see the world and particularly the things that cause us pain. In the merit of this, may we see the ultimate sweetening of every drop of pain and suffering with the arrival of Moshiach ben Dovid, the rebuilding of the third and final Beis HaMikdash, and the reestablishment of the permanent revelation of Hashem’s Presence in this world.

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