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!

See here for past shiurim at YUTorah.org's website by Rav Weinberger both as 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 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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Friday, June 22, 2018

I Know - Rav Moshe Weinberger - Personal Story with the Lubavitcher Rebbe - Korach 5778

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from this last Shabbos, parshas Shlach 5778. 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 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 Korach 5778
I Know

Despite all of the difficulties caused by Dasan and Aviram, Moshe made one final attempt to speak with them. But when they made it clear that they would not even engage in a sincere conversation with him, saying, “We will not ascend” (Bamidbar 16:12), Moshe became angry. He said to Hashem, “Do not accept their offering!” (ibid. 16). Rashi, quoting the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabah 10), explains that Moshe was saying, “I know that they have a portion in the communal Daily Offerings. May their portion not be accepted favorably before You. Cause the fire to leave it and not consume it.”

First, why does Moshe say “I know that they have a portion…,” as if this is some special secret that only he knows about? Everyone knows that the Tamid, Daily Offering, is paid for with the half Shekel collected from every single Jew. Second, the truth is that no individual has a portion in the Tamid offerings because they are communal offerings, which are distinct from individual offerings and from offerings brought by several partners. In each of these scenarios, there are identifiable individuals to whom the offering is associated. Communal offerings, by contrast, are not attributable to a million individuals. Rather, the Communal offerings have only one owner – the Jewish people as one whole. So how can Moshe say that Dasan and Aviram have a portion in the Tamid offering?

These questions are answered in Likutei Sichos 33 by the tzaddik whose twenty-fourth yohrtzeit is today, 3 Tamuz, the Lubavitcher Rebbe zy’a. There, the Rebbe explains something about tzaddikim in general, but there is no question that he was describing himself to a T. The Rebbe reiterates the point that communal offerings are not ascribed to any one, or even to a collection of individuals, by quoting the Gemara (Zevachim 4a). According to Chazal there, if the kohein bringing an individual offering has in mind the wrong individual, the korban is disqualified. But when it comes to a communal offering, if the kohein thinks about an individual, even an idol-worshiper, it does not affect the offering. This is because the communal offering belongs to only one owner, the Jewish people. After an individual donates his half Shekel to the Beis HaMikdash, the Tamid and other communal offerings purchased with that money is no longer identified with that individual. They are only identifiable as part of something greater, the Jewish people as a whole.

Two Modes of Government

The Rebbe explains that there are two primary philosophies undergirding the various forms of government: those that prioritize the individual and those that prioritize the community. This debate rages on until today. Systems of government which prioritize the community recognize that they must sometimes do so at the expense of individual rights. For example, New York City’s recent stop-and-frisk policy was based on statistical data and was successful in reducing crime in communities plagued by high crime rates. Yet because of the program’s nature, the subjects of the policy disproportionately belonged to certain races, regardless of whether they, as individuals, had any greater likelihood of possessing contraband. To the extent a policy favors the community, it will come at the expense of individual rights.

And in this example, governments which prioritize individual rights over those of the community would say that it is better to allow crime rates in impoverished communities to increase rather than infringe on the rights of any individuals within those communities. These two general approaches are mutually exclusive. Any increase in the emphasis of one comes at the expense of the other.

This tension between the needs of the group and the needs of the individual is extremely difficult to balance, even for much smaller collectives. Within a family, for instance, if there is only one child, it is not very challenging. But in families with two or more children, the parents naturally tend to govern based on the wellbeing or vision of how the entire family should look. Children who do not neatly fit into this overall vision often suffer. It is very difficult to act with every individual child according to his or her nature without this negatively affecting other children or the family as a whole.

The challenge becomes even more difficult for teachers and rebbeim. Most work to enable the class as a whole to prepare for the next regent or test, even though some children are left behind. It is a rare teacher who is able to drive the class as a whole forward while working with individual students who would otherwise feel left out, giving them what they need to succeed as well.

The tzaddik is the rare individual who knows how to contain within himself an impossible duality –  unbreakable focus on the welfare and development of the entirety of the Jewish people with an unwavering focus on the wellbeing and growth of every individual. This is why Moshe Rebbeinu said “I know that they have a portion….” In almost every way, the individual Jews’ portions in the communal offerings is lost. Only the tzaddik has the ability to see every individual’s portion within the national offering.

My Story

While the Lubavitcher Rebbe concerned himself with building Jewish institutions and Jewish life in every nook and cranny throughout the world, most stories people tell about him involve the Rebbe’s unique ability to take care of individuals’ needs, no matter who they were or where they lived. In fact, this time last year, a book was published called “My Story,” recounting 41 individuals’ stories of their encounters with the Rebbe.

I would therefore like to share my own story with the Rebbe: When I was in my last year of college at Yeshiva University, I was at a crossroads – facing what I felt was the most critical decision in my life. On one hand, I considered attending law school. I had even attended the Kaplan LSAT preparation course, though I spent most of those classes listening to Simon and Garfunkel on my Walkman. My mother was an extremely strong and persuasive proponent of this option. And my father always told me that it was better to go into a profession than into business because it would be easier to find a job even in difficult economic times. But my heart told me that I should continue learning Torah and pursue chinnuch, teaching in yeshivah. It was an extremely difficult choice.

Despite the fact that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was no longer holding individual meetings, I traveled to Crown Heights one Sunday. I did not have a clear plan, but I knew that the Rebbe finished Micha and left to daven at the grave of his father-in-law, the Friediker Rebbe zy’a, at the same exact time every Sunday. I suppose that I planned to try and catch the Rebbe’s attention and ask my question before he got into his car. If he normally left at, for example 3 p.m., I waited outside 770 Eastern Parkway at 2:55. I was initially pleasantly surprised by the fact that there were only three or four other people around. I thought it might be easier than I had originally anticipated to catch the Rebbe’s attention. Unfortunately, at approximately 2:59, hundreds chassidim appeared seemingly out of nowhere and gathered on either side of the sidewalk between the exit from 770 and the Rebbe’s car.

Not being a particularly pushy individual, I found myself about three rows back from the front of the row of people on my side of the sidewalk. My hopes of even catching the Rebbe’s eye now seemed completely unrealistic. A few of the chassidim around me, however, seemed to feel bad for me, realizing that if a young man like me, with a little kippah srugah, knitted yarmulke, was there, I must have some important reason for wanting to see the Rebbe. They therefore pulled me to the front row. Thankful for their help, I hoped that I would at least have the chance to make eye contact with the Rebbe.

When the Rebbe emerged from 770, he walked extremely quickly, carrying a siddur in one hand and a bag of kvitelach to bring to the Ohel in the other hand. With each step he took, he nodded purposefully at those in the crowd around him. As he sped past, I sadly realized that the Rebbe did not even notice my presence and I was not able to make eye contact.

The Rebbe began to duck into the car waiting for him when he paused for a moment. He then turned around and walked straight up to me. He stood about one foot in front of my face without saying a word. After a moment, looking at me straight in the eyes as he did so, he simply pumped his fist into the air in a gesture which said to me, “You can do it! You will succeed!” And just as quickly as he had come, he turned back toward his car, got in, and left. The chassidim around me were baffled, and asked me what was going on and why the Rebbe had stopped and gestured to me.

Afterward, when I returned home to process what had happened and what the Rebbe’s message meant to me, I understood it to mean that despite the fact that Torah and chinnuch held a more uncertain financial future, that I could do it, and that I would succeed. My mother, however, was convinced that the Rebbe was telling me, “You can get into Columbia Law School!” But in the end, I took the Rebbe’s encouragement to mean that I should continue to pursue my dreams of continuing to focus on Torah and chinnuch.

That is why we need and love true tzaddikim like the Lubavitcher Rebbe. While they live and die for the welfare and development of the Jewish people, they continue to concern themselves and care about every single one of us as well. They tell each of us, “I know. No one else may understand you, but I know your pain and your deepest desires and dreams. I haven’t forgotten about you.”


May Hashem send the ultimate tzaddik, Moshiach Tzidkeinu, into the world soon in our times so that we can also return to Yerushalayim for the ultimate fulfillment of our national and individual potential.

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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!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

New Video of History of Aish Kodesh/Rav Moshe Weinberger Posted!


This video, created by the amazingly talented David Jassee of DMJ Studios, has amazing interviews with Rav and Rebbetzin Weinberger and many others from the shul. It has amazing pictures from past decades and the shul. It is beautiful, inspiring, and funny. I definitely reccomend seeing this extremely professional video.






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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Clothing Makes the Man - Rabbi Yoni Levin's Shabbos Morning Drasha - Parshas Tetzaveh

Rabbi Yoni Levin, the assistant rabbi at Aish Kodesh, was kind enough to send me his Shabbos morning drashah from this Shabbos, parshas Tetzaveh. Enjoy!
Clothing is an extraordinarily powerful tool.

 It’s not only a way of covering up one’s body, but it’s a way expressing one’s inner most feelings.  There are studies done about how people feel when it rains versus when it‘s sunny outside; and those feelings will in turn affect their decision making and particular what clothing they might wear that day. If someone is feeling down, he or she might wear black clothing.  And someone who is feeling chipper might decide to wear colorful and bright clothing. בגדי כהונהAlthough at first glance, clothing is very superficial, very external, the תורה describes the בגדי כהונה as לכבוד ולתפארת, clothing of honor and glory.   The בגדי כהונה demanded respect; it imbued a great sense of fear to whoever was זוכה to see the בגדי כהונה.

 When the כהן גדול would walk through the hallways of the בית המקדש with his long coat, almost like a cape with the melodious bells ringing, wearing his finely hand-woven shirt and pants, and those shining jewels lined across his חשן משפט, and his prestigious hat, and the name of Hashem written across his forehead.  A person would tremble at the very jingling of the bells, let alone when the כהן גדול stepped into your presence.  It would make you melt, crumble into pieces.  It would instill guilt for everything you’ve done wrong making you shatter.  You feel the presence of greatness, of קדושה, you feel as if the שכינה is hovering in front of your very eyes. It’s amazing what someone else’s clothing can do to us.   It is amazing how are feelings can be altered by someone else’s clothing.  It could make us jealous.  It could make us scared.  Sometimes it can even make us laugh. 

How Our Clothing Affects UsThat’s how other people’s clothing affects us.  But let’s not focus on other people’s clothing.  Let us take a look out ourselves.  How do our clothes affect us?  How does that shirt that I put on this morning affect me?  How do those shoes that I just slipped on affect me? 

Delivery of Uniforms on Shabbos

The following Shailah was once presented to Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach.  There was a חיל who was on duty on Shabbos at the army base.  A package was delivered and he knew that it was the new uniforms that had been ordered.  He wasn’t sure if was permitted to open it up and give them up, or if it as prohibited because of מוקצה.  The boy decided to play it safe and he did not open thr package on Shabbos.

 After Shabbos he sent the Shailah to Rav Shlomo Zalman wanting to know whether he had made the right decision or not.  Rav Shlomo Zalman’s response was that he should have opened up the package and given them out.  Because a soldier feels like a new person with a new uniform, he is reinvigorated with new energy, strength and confidence.  It will motivate him to perform and serve his duty even better.

 Rav Shlomo Zalman understood how clothing can impact a person’s confidence, his perspective, his ability to perform. 

Clothing Transforms us

Although clothing is so superficial and so external, it has an ability to transform a person.  The גמ' says that a כהן is not a כהן unless he is wearing the בגדי כהונה.  The clothing makes him into who he is.  בזמן שבגדיהם עליהם כהונתכם עליהם אין בגדיהם עליהם אין כהונתכם עליהם When a person wants to change, when a person wants to overcome a struggle, a תאוה, it requires baby steps.  It requires small changes - changes in things that seem so insignificant, so minor, so mundane, yet to easy that can have enormous impact. 

Overcoming the WeatherMy wife told me that whenever it would rain, she would wear black because that’s how she felt.  But then she starting thinking that she didn’t want to be sad, she didn’t want to be gloomy just because it was nasty outside.  She didn’t want the weather to dictate how she felt. She decided instead to fight the weather and that whenever it would rain she would do the opposite.  She would wear brighter clothing on the rainy days.  Her clothing would put her in a better mood and fight the downwards pull of the weather. 

Overcoming our יצר הרע

When kids go to Israel for a year, everyone makes fun of those guys who quickly start wearing black and white.  Many times these are the kids who are struggling most, and by them changing their clothing, it shows us where they want to be, it shows their רצון to overcome their struggles in life.  These young boys would like to be learning in the Beis Midrash more.  There is this pull that’s taking them outside.  It could be the phone, the internet; it could be girls; it could be drinking.  Whatever dark world that they are living, the have the רצון to pull out of it.  If they dress the part, they are hoping they can play the part.  Not always successful, but it comes from a deep place within them.

 The ספר חינוך is famous for writing in a number of places how the חיצוניות positively impacts the פנימיות, how the external, how one dresses really does affect the deeper part of the נשמה. This is not full-proof by any means.  Just because someone begins to dress a certain way, and affiliate with a certain type, it by no way means that the person will actually change.  But it is at the least a start.  It is an easy change and helps get the ball moving. 

בגד

Perhaps this is why the word is בגד, the 3 consecutive letters in a row, בג"ד.  This indicates how clothing, בגדים, something so small, something so mundane, can push us and encourage us helping us grow on a slow, steady and healthy path – from a ב to a ג to aד. It is similar to learning Daf Yomi which also starts with a ב, every מסכתא, starts with a בג"ד.  That too is about taking small strides in growth.  Just one Daf a day.  Even if you aren’t feeling the drive, but you know you should be learning.  Showing up for 45 minutes a day, one daf after the next, will engender a healthy growth in learning.

 This coming Monday night, thanks to Jeremy Feder, we are beginning Maseches Megilla.  Each night we will be learning one Daf.  It is a great opportunity to take upon yourself a small and reachable goal.  In just 30 days we will iy”h be making a Siyum. 

Even the Mundane is HolyI know what you are all thinking about.  Rav Weinberger goes to Israel and I am trying to convince you all to start wearing white shirts, black hats, streimels? I am not talking about what we wear, but how we wear the clothing, how we get dressed. You know, there are הלכות about how to get dressed.  Something so mundane, something so routine and something so meaningless also has rules.  And it is not because the Torah and Chachamim are trying to be difficult and make our lives miserable ח"ו, but it’s the opposite.  Getting dressed is full of so much קדושה, we just don’t realize it!  Everything in this world is full of קדושה, from getting dressed to eating, from sleeping to walking. There is קדושה everywhere we go, every person we see, every creature that we encounter, every blade of grass we see, everything we do. The כהן גדול is not a כהן גדול unless he has the special clothing.  We don’t have special clothing to wear, but perhaps if we internalized what clothing means, what it means to get dressed it can help transform us us like the בגדי כהונה did to the כהנים. 

Marine Commercial

I remember growing up seeing a commercial about joining the marines.  You would see the camera focuses on just a boot.  The boot was shiny black looking like brand new.  You would see hands tying them really neatly and comfortably.  Then the camera would focus on the body of a person putting on a perfectly tailored jacket buttoning to perfection.  Then you would see just the head with a cap being tightly placed on top.  And then the video would zoom out showing the marine in the finest uniform, standing with perfect posture ready to serve. Every morning we should be getting dressed like this.  We should be dressing up ready to meet the King of the Universe, to speak to him.  Each sock that we put on, each button that we button, should be done with care and intent on meeting face to face with בורא עולם.

 And it is not just because we have to be presentable to ה' יתברך, but because our נשמה needs it.  Our attitude and our feelings are affected by the way we dress.

 When we are struggling to fight that יצר הרע each day, we need to be prepared to battle, we need to wear our uniform in whatever color and size they come in.  We need to wake up and get dressed with confidence, with a goal, with a mission and say that today I will not give in to my יצר הרע. Just because yesterday you did something you shouldn’t have done.  You looked at something you shouldn’t have looked at.  You said something that you shouldn’t have said.  ה' יתברך gives us a new chance each morning.  We wake up and get dressed and can be transformed by putting on different clothing than the day before.  And even if you wear the same clothing his works. אדם וחוהAfter the חטא of אדם וחוה, the first thing that happened was that they got embarrassed and realized that they weren’t dressed.  הקב"ה with his boundless חסד provided them with clothing, he provided them with an opportunity to cover up their shame, the opportunity to change who they are by simply putting on clothing. 

Setting the Tone for the Day

The ספרים speak about how the first moments of the day when we wake up really sets the stage for that entire day.  If we wake up and run over to check our phone, likely that the rest of the day we will be checking our phone.  If we run over to check the scores in the game, then that will be the focus of the day. But if we wake up and look ourselves in the mirror and say that today will be a better day.  If we get dressed being cognizant that we are soldiers prepared to fight a battle and that we are getting dressed in our uniform, then our day will be filled with us overcoming fights and struggles. 

Closing

The מדרש teaches us that before the חטא of אדם וחוה, they had clothing of אור, אור with an א, meaning light.  They were clothed with light, they were surrounded by light.  Iy”h we should be זוכה by fighting the יצר הרע day in and day out to that כתונת אור to that coat of light.  By changing not what we wear but how we wear it, by dressing like soldiers, ready to battle, each day starting new, starting fresh, we should be זוכה to overcome our struggles, overcome our יצר הרע, and very soon be זוכה to the כתונת אור of אדם הראשון!

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