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!

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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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