Monday, November 19, 2018

Guard Over This House - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha on Parshas Vayeitzei 5779

This is the first drasha Rav Moshe Weinberger has given following the murder of 11 Jews Pittsburgh, PA three weeks earlier.

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from Shabbos, parshas Vayeitzei 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 Vayeitzei 5779
Guard Over This House

What can we work on in the aftermath of the massacre of eleven Jews in Pittsburgh? I believe our approach to this can be summed up with a few words from the beautiful song, “Al Kol Eleh – For All of This” by Neomi Shemer:

My G-d, guard over this house
Over the garden and over the wall
From agony, sudden terror, and from war
Guard over the little that I have
Over the light and over the children
Over the fruit that has not yet ripened and the ones I have picked

When our ability to be safe doing things we have taken for granted for so long begins to feel threatened, it reminds me that we must put things back in perspective.

Last year during the week of Parshas Vayeitze I was in Eretz Yisroel. During that trip, I heard an original idea on the parshah from a taxi driver, as often happens, whether the driver appears outwardly observant or not. The driver, Shimon, asked me, “Rabbi, I have a question on the parshah. When Yaakov Avinu says, ‘If G-d will be with me and guard me on this path that I am walking and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear…’ )Bereishis 28:20), why does he say ‘bread to eat?’ What else would one do with bread? And why does it say, ‘clothing to wear?’ What else would one do with clothing? What do you think, Rabbi?”

I could see that he had an answer to the question, so I said, “I don’t know. What do you think?” Shimon responded, “A person can have cupboards full of food and closets full of clothing but always desire newer, more exotic foods to eat and new styles of clothing to wear. Yaakov was not asking for something that he did not have. He was asking that Hashem help him want to eat the bread he had and wear the clothing he already had. He wanted to make sure he never took that which was simple or ordinary for granted.

Shimon’s idea is so deep. I offered him another example of the same idea. The passuk says that the Jewish people wore the same clothing throughout the entire forty years in the dessert, but He told us, “Your clothing did not wear out upon you” (Devarim 8:4). Although people wore the same clothing for forty years, they did not come to despise or tire of it. It always felt clean, fresh, and new. This gratitude and pleasure in the same things one enjoyed the day before is the true inner nature of this blessing Hashem bestowed us in the dessert.

This is perhaps also why Yitzchak did not dig new wells when the Plishtim filled up the wells Avraham dug in the previous generation. The passuk says, “And Yitzchak again dug the wells of water which they dug in the days of Avraham, his father” (Bereishis 26:18). If these wells were good enough for his father, they were good enough for him. He knew what it meant to be grateful for what he had without the need to seek out new things. All we really need is for G-d to “guard me on this path that I am walking.” I do not need to constantly seek out new paths.

According to the Midrash (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 31), the ultimate redemption comes not through some new method, but through a well-worn path: “Avraham got up early in the morning [to perform the akeida] and he took Yishmael, Elifaz, and Yitzchak his son with him and he saddled the donkey. [To which specific donkey does the definitive article ‘the’ refer?] This is the same donkey… which was created during twilight [at the end of the 6th day of creation].... This is the same donkey Moshe would ride upon when he came to Egypt.... This is the same donkey that the son of Dovid will ride upon, as it says, ‘a poor man riding upon a donkey’ (Zecharia 9:9).”

We live in a time where someone feels like a failure if he still has the Galaxy 8 after the Galaxy 9 has come out. People have closets full of cloths but feel they do not have enough to wear. They must travel to more and more exotic locations because even the Far East is becoming old hat. We must try each new type of cuisine as our palates tolerate familiar foods less and less.

But the truth is that even the most basic amenities in life are not guaranteed. The same Jew one assumes will be in shul every week, asking to slide past him into his row may never come back. The events just three hundred miles away in Pittsburgh remind us that we must always work to be thankful for the simplest people and things in our lives. We must mentally turn and think about the person next to us in shul or at home and daven, “Hashem, please protect this person. Keep him or her healthy and fulfill the person’s every need.”

I feel that after Pittsburgh, Hashem wants us to cherish and protect that which He has already given us. That is why I no longer harbor second thoughts about the volunteer-based security program in our shul. I was starting to wonder whether we should attempt to raise the money to pay for standard security guards. Was it really worth it to ask members of the shul to miss portions of davening or stand outside in the heat of summer and cold of winter? But now I realize that it is priceless to give Hashem the opportunity to look down on our shul and see its members watching over it, asking Him to please “guard over this house.”

I once met with an insurance agent who attempted to gather information to predict my lifespan by asking questions about how old my grand-parents were when they died. He was shocked when I told him how young they were when they died and asked what happened. I had to explain to him, “You don’t understand. They did not die of natural causes or disease. They were murdered by the Nazis.” This man could not understand what it means to be a Jew. Similarly, hired security guards cannot possibly know what it means to live precariously as a Jew in this world, wondering when the next attack will come. Nothing can show Hashem how we love, are grateful for, and appreciate the house of worship He has given us like seeing us personally guard over the shul and its members.

There is a beautiful poem along these lines by Sorah Rosenblatt a’h, aka Ruth Lewis:

Thanks for This Day
Thanks for this day, in which nothing out-of-the-ordinary
happened at all: Shloimy couldn’t find his sandal. Aidey
couldn’t find her math book. My baby kissed me. I made
Hotdogs and French fries for lunch.
The kids did homework, played a game of cutting and
pasting – filled the floor with scraps. Some neighbors’ kids were
helping. They sang a silly songs. Feigy made egg salad sandwiches and
They went to the park. Meanwhile, I got some ironing done.
A breeze blew in, birds sang,
the sky was blue, the clouds were white. And oh, I know
that nothing I
could ever do or say or write would ever, ever be
enough to thank You for one second’s sweetness of this
ordinary day.

May Hashem guard this house and bless us that we should appreciate all of His gifts, even the most basic. May Hashem protect us, our husbands, wives, children, relatives, houses, yeshivos, shuls, refrigerators, and pencils. And may he finally bring back that ancient animal so that we may finally merit to welcome that “poor man riding upon a donkey” with the coming of the complete redemption soon in our days. 

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