Wednesday, June 13, 2018

We Will Surely Succeed! - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha from Shlach 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 Shlach 5778
We Will Surely Succeed!

When we last saw our heroes in last week’s parshah, we were left with a feeling of optimism. Moshe said, “We are traveling to the place about which Hashem said, ‘I will give it to you’” (Bamidbar 10:29). We were on the cusp of entering and building Eretz Yisroel. We are therefore heartbroken when we read, in parshas Shlach, the spies’ report and the people’s reaction to it: “But the nation that dwells in the land is mighty, the cities are great and extremely fortified, and we saw the children of giants there” (ibid. 13:29).

The people broke out into raucous complaining against Moshe and against entering Eretz Yisroel, such that no one even had the opportunity to offer a dissenting opinion. They would not even let Yehoshua speak or be heard. First, this was because he was so closely associated with Moshe. He was considered unreliable because he was part of “the establishment.” And second, they would not listen to Yehoshua because they said, “Can the one with his head cut off speak?!” (Sota 35a). In other words, because Yehoshua had no sons who would inherit the land (Rashi) or fight to conquer it, what right did he have to voice an opinion regarding whether the Jewish people could conquor the land.

There was only one person who was even able to cause his voice to be heard amid the cacophony of voices criticizing Moshe and Hashem. That was Calev, who was looked at as one of “the people,” rather than a member of the establishment: “And Calev silenced the nation to [hear about] Moshe” (Bamidbar 13:30). And what was his message? He stood on a bench to make himself heard (Sota 35a) when he called out: “We can surely ascend and take possession of it, for we can surely succeed in doing it!”

How did Calev succeed in at least making himself heard when no one else could? What made him different? We know that Rashi quotes the explanation that the nation listened to him because he kept the strength of his faith concealed, acting as if he agreed with the other spies. The people quieted down for him because he pretended as if he was about to speak against Moshe. But the Torah also says something else about Calev with which we can further understand how he was able to make himself heard where others could not. The passuk says that “My servant Calev, because he was possessed of a different spirit…” (ibid. 14:24).

What was this “different spirit?” Calev took a different approach than one would expect. The spies levied many specific and apparently well-founded claims to support their contention that the people could not conquer Eretz Yisroel. They cited the hardiness of those who dwelled in the land, how well their cities were fortified, the unusual nature of the produce, and the fact that the land seemed to consume its inhabitants. Yet Calev failed to address even one of these seemingly legitimate concerns. He simply cried out, “We can surely ascend and take possession of it, for we can surely succeed in doing it!” He must have sounded like some sort of messianic dreamer to his fellow spies, like an ideologue worthy of being dismissed. Why was his the only message that was heard?

Oftentimes smaller people get lost in minutia, losing sight of the bigger picture, getting caught in the weeds of the small details. Anyone who has tried to make peace between two long-time friends or a married couple during a fight understands this. If one descends into the details of the multitude of claims each one has against the other, he and they will never emerge. The only way to lead them out is to show them a shining example of the love they used to share. The only way forward is to jump onto a bench and use that different spirit to completely change people’s perspective.

The majority of people can focus on various details, on certain nuts-and-bolts issues. And the Jewish nation relies on such people to get things done – to address day-to-day management of the good things that have been built and to turn visionaries’ plans into reality. But there are rare individuals who can gaze above the details and the obstacles beyond which the realistic people cannot see. The Jewish people would have nothing in this world if it were not for visionaries like Calev.

When the board of Aish Kodesh was meeting years ago, the members did the math in terms of objections of the neighbors, raising the money, and the like, and it did not seem rational or possible to build the building in which we daven today. But there was one Jew there who stood up and called out, “We can surely succeed in doing it!” Once he said that, he and others simply went about the work of figuring out how to resolve the various objections and details. And everyone who initially objected eventually joined in the effort and their nuts-and-bolts attitude helped bring our vision to a reality.

We would never have yeshivos, game-changing developments, or any truly positive institutions in klal Yisroel if it were not for the people who looked beyond what is to see what must be. The reality is that we need the people who can focus on the small details, but nothing would happen without those precious Jews who throw aside all objections, logistical obstacles, and details and simply insist that it can be done. They, together with the nuts-and-bolts Jews who come on board afterward, work together to bring that vision to a reality.


May we all merit to see the ultimate partnership of the dreamers and the realists in causing the arrival of Moshiach and the ultimate redemption – and with it, the building of the third Beis HaMikdash soon in our times!

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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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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Gerim - The Best Yichus - Rav Moshe Weinberger - Parshas Nasso 5778

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from this last Shabbos, parshas Nasso 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 Nasso 5778
The Best Yichus

The parshah begins with the conclusion of the census process which occupied the majority of the previous parshah, Bamidbar (Bamidbar 4:1-49). At this point in the Torah, all of our prestigious famlies and tribes have been defined and counted. The Torah describes the encampments and flags of Kohein, Levi, Yisroel, and all of the tribes. It counts the members of the subgroups within the tribe of Levi, Gershon, Kehos, and Merari. The parshah then continues (ibid. 5:1-4) with the purification of the Jewish encampments accomplished through the temporary expulsion of those suffering from certain types of impurity.

And then, seemingly out of left field, the Torah swivels from the establishment of holy Jewish tribes, families, and encampments to the law of gezel hager. Normally, if one steals, he returns the stolen funds plus a 20% fine to the one from whom he stole. And if that person has passed away, he returns the money to the victim’s inheritors. But if someone has no family, like a ger who died without having children after his conversion, the halachah is that the funds must be paid to a kohein (ibid. 5-8). How does this obscure law fit into the flow of the Torah’s recounting of the borders, definitions, and boundaries defining the various parts of the Jewish people?

Why Did Boaz take note of Rus?

Before returning to answer this question, let us first learn more about what makes a ger unique. When Rus began gleaning grain in Boaz’s field, he asked someone, “To whom does this young woman belong?” (Rus 2:5). When he learned more about her background and gave her priority access to gather grain more easily, Rus could not believe it. She asked Boaz, “Why have I found favor in your eyes that you should take note of me, and I am a stranger?” (ibid. 10).

Boaz answered, “It has been told to me all that you did for your mother-in-law after your husband died – how you abandoned your father’s and your mother’s house and the land of your birth and went to a nation that you did not know before. May Hashem reward your deeds and may your repayment be in full from Hashem, the G-d of Israel, because you came to take shelter under His wings” (ibid. 11-12).

What does “may your repayment be in full” mean? The commentaries explain that “in full – שלמה” is a hint to Shlomo (שלמה) HaMelech, who was a descendant of Rus. In fact, we understand that Moshiach will be a descendant of Dovid HaMelech through his son Shlomo (Rambam, Perush HaMishnayos, Hakdama to Ch. 10). So the reward to the woman who said about herself, “and I am a stranger” is that she would be the mother of the greatest source of yichus, pedigree, in the Jewish people, Dovid, Shlomo, and, eventually, the redeemer of the Jewish people and all worlds, Moshiach.

Chazal even teach us that in her old age, Rus merited to sit beside Shlomo HaMelech as he sat on the throne, and that she was called “Mother of Royalty” (Bava Basra 91b). We can only imagine the memories of Moav, Neomi, Boaz, and gleaning fields as a poor stranger which passed through her mind as she sat with her great-grandson in that palace.

There are many levels when it comes to yichus in the Jewish people. When one reads the invitation to a chassidish rebbe’s child’s wedding, it usually recounts the chosson’s yichus, generation after generation, all the way back to the Baal Shem Tov, and the kallah’s family all the way back to, perhaps, another tzaddik like the Noam Elimelech.

And if a descendant of a great tzaddik is highest on the totem pole of great pedigrees, then surely the lowest is a ger or giores. And among gerim, the worst of the worst is to be a giores from Moav, who is barely and only controversially even allowed to marry into the Jewish people (Yevamos 77a). Because of what Rus did, she ascended from the weakest possible yichus to become the source of the greatest yichus on earth, Dovid HaMelech, Shlomo HaMelech, and Moshiach.

How did she accomplish this? How did she break every boundary, limitation, and glass ceiling? Quoting Boaz’s explanation to Rus, Rabbi Chasa says that she merited everything she did “because you came to take shelter under His wings” (Rus Raba 5:4). This is incredible. How do we break through the boundaries of what is natural and normal? By showing up. By showing up to learn in the morning. By showing up for minyan. By overcoming the overpowering inertia of being passive spectator to Yiddishkeit. That is how Dovid HaMelech went from “The stone which they builders have despised” to become “the cornerstone.”

Full Circle

How do we understand the placement of the law of gezel hager? After the establishment and the census of all of our tribes, after every part of the Jewish people was assigned a flag, and after even the impure people were separated from the camp, there was one person standing in solitude – the ger or giores. He or she has no tribe, no special status or encampment, and no flag.  At this moment, Hashem suddenly swoops in with the law of gezel hager. What is the underlying concept of this law?

First, the Torah expresses the fact that the ger has no inheritor by saying, “and if the man has no redeemer” (Bamidbar 5:8), a phrase highly reminiscent of the role of redeemer Boaz took on for Rus (Rus 3:9, et sec.). It then states that if the ger has no inheritors, the money should be returned “to G‑d, to the kohein” (Bamidbar 5:8). In other words, the money must be returned to G-d directly, but since G-d does not have a physical presence, the thief must return the money to the kohein as G‑d’s agent. Why must the money due to the ger go to Hashem? The Chizkuni explains that the money is paid “to Hashem, the father of converts.” G-d Himself is the closest living relative of the ger, so the money must be returned to Him.

Through the law of gezel hager, in the context of these parshios, Hashem is telling us that “because you came,” showing up, and sacrificing one’s own comfort and an easy lifestyle, breaks through all boundaries and limitations. The same applies to baalei teshuva, whether born into non-observant or from frum homes. Hashem wants us to understand that by sacrificing and going beyond what is comfortable, all boundaries and borders are nullified.

Ami Magazine recently (Mar. 28, ‘18/ 12 Nissan 5778) published several poems by Ruth Lewis a’h, a Breslover baalas teshuvah and author of the beautiful book of poetry, “Memo to Self,”. One of those expresses this point powerfully:

Deprived

When they play Jewish
Geography, it’s got nothing to do with me
“Oh, you’re from Detroit? You must know my Tante Perel!”
“You’re from Netanya? I knew your Zeide Berel!”
“I know who you are! I know your mother!
Her second cousin married my uncle’s brother!”
Your sister taught me in Sem!”
Such a great game for them!
Poor them!
They have frum parents, relatives,
Teachers, friends tried and true,
while I have no one
but You!

The ger, giores, and anyone who “shows up” in Yiddishkeit with self-sacrifice, has the greatest yichus in the world. Hashem is telling them that whether or not they have brothers and sisters, uncles, aunts, or grandparents in their communities, He is their Father, and that is the greatest yichus of all. With connections like that, they can accomplish anything.


May Hashem reveal His closeness to everyone who feels alone, and may we all see how everyone fits into His plan to bring the world to the point when it is ready for the rule of Rus’s great, great-grandson, Moshiach, may he come soon in our days.

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Monday, June 4, 2018

The Dialogue - Body & Soul - Rav Moshe Weinberger - Parshas Beha'alosecha 5778

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from this past Shabbos, parshas Beha'alosecha 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 Beha’aloscha 5778
The Dialogue

The Torah says that “With the word of Hashem they camped, and with the word of Hashem they traveled” (Bamidbar 9:20). All of us are on a journey through life, and this journey must be undertaken with Hashem’s guidance. What does he want us to know to succeed in our trek through this world?

I would like to share a remarkable teaching from Rav Yaakov Abuchatzeira zt’l, found in the sefer Pituchei Chosam, explaining the deeper meaning of the dialogue between Moshe Rebbeinu and his father-in-law Yisro (ibid. 10:29-34). In this conversation, Moshe Rebbeinu is the soul, consisting of three parts, the nefesh, ruach, and neshama. Thus, Moshe’s side of the conversation uses the first-person plural – “we.” And Yisro is the body. Rav Abuchatzeira explains that “It is known that the body is made of course material. Its desire and longing is therefore to attach itself to the vanities of this world and its pleasures; while the soul’s desire and longing is only for Torah and good deeds, which are her primary purpose for coming [into the world] because she is a piece of G-d above.”

Because the body will eventually end up the grave, the soul tries to cause it to realize that pursuing physical pleasures to the exclusion of eternal, lasting goals is pointless. And because the soul is dependent on the body to fulfill its eternal purpose, it attempts to enlighten the body to focus on the supernal parts of life benefits the body as well as the soul.

When the passuk says, “And Moshe spoke,” it refers to the soul. “To Chovev [Yisro]” refers to the body because the word Chovev comes from the root word meaning “precious,” since the body can also recognize the preciousness of Torah and good deeds. And the Torah calls Yisro “ben Reuel,” which literally means “friend of G-d” – even the body is called Hashem’s friend when it works to learn Torah and do mitzvos. The passuk then describes Yisro as “chosein Moshe,” father-in-law of Moshe. But the word for father-in-law also means “chassan,” groom, because the body is the soul’s partner in their joint pursuit of Torah and mitzvos in this world.

The soul tells the body “We are travelling.” The soul is trying to deliver the message that no one knows how long he or she will be in the world such that he could think, “Because I have a long time still left to live, I can do teshuvah later.” Every day could be his last. Accordingly, she tells the body that “We are traveling” from this world today or tomorrow. We must live today with our eternal welfare in mind because we do not know how much more time we have.

Moshe continues that we are traveling “to the place,” meaning to the World to Come, “about which Hashem said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Go with us.” In other words, “Follow our advice and only devote yourself to good deeds.” If you do this, Moshe/the soul assures the body, “We will cause it to be good for you.” Meaning that through Torah and mitzvos, the body also gets tremendous benefit, because it is only through those good deeds that it merits to come alive again at the time of the resurrection of the dead. It will then have its soul returned to it and attain great and lofty spiritual levels.

The soul then clarifies that the body will also benefit because “Hashem has spoken good regarding the Jewish people.” Resurrection of the dead is only for the Jewish people. The soul tells the body, “Because we have a right to earn this eternal, why should we miss out by squandering our life here on earth with ephemeral and fleeting pursuits?”

At first, the body refuses: “And He [Yisro] said, ‘I will not go.’” Because its nature is part of the natural world, it responded that it would not follow the soul’s advice by nullifying the pleasures of this world. “Instead, I will go to my land and birthplace.” The body demurs, saying that it will follow its own earthly, physical nature and pursue the pleasures of this world.

Moshe/the neshamah therefore redoubles her efforts: “Do not abandon us!” The soul needs the body because it is only through the body that the soul can act in the physical world. “You know our encampments in the desert.” In other words, “You know that our only encampment in this world is within you.” The passuk hints at this because the word desert (מדבר) also means “one who speaks – מדבר – a human being. The body is the soul’s “spokesman” because only through the body can the soul engage with the world.

The soul then continues, “And it will be when you go with us…” As we know, the word meaning “And it will be” implies joy and happiness (Bereishis Raba 43:3). The soul is telling the body that, it can experience no greater joy than going with her and following her guidance. “You will receive that same good that G-d will do with us” In other words, “You will enjoy that same world of the resurrection of the dead that we will enjoy,”

The body then agrees, as the next passuk says, “And they traveled from the mountain of G-d.” Because the mountain hints at the evil inclination (see Sukkah 52a). The body, together with the soul, travels away from evil and the pursuit of ephemeral pleasures. The Torah then says that the newly unified team traveled “a three-day journey.” This hints at their devotion to the three parts of Torah to which a person dedicates himself – Tanach, Mishnah, and Gemara (Kiddushin 30a).

 We find additional good advice in our journey through life from a sweet story of Rav Nachum Chernobyler zy’a, known as the Meor Einayim. One day it happened that the family panicked because one of the Meor Einayim’s young grandchildren, Yochanan, who was called Yochantche, was missing. The family could not find him, but they knew that the Chernobyler had special eyes, so they ran to the boy’s grandfather to see if he could tell them where to find little Yochanan. The Rebbe “looked” for his grandson and told the family, “I do not know where Yochantche is, but he is alright. You will see that he will return home soon on his own.”

When he came back, they brought him to his grandfather. The Meor Einayim sat his grandson on his lap and asked him to tell him where he had gone and what had happened. The boy answered,

I heard two Jews talking outside Zayde’s house and they said that Eliyahu HaNavi was in the marketplace. I got excited and so I went to the market. I looked around, walking past each of the stalls. I saw many of the Jewish merchants, but I did not see Eliyahu. When I reached the end of the market street, there was a square with horses in a pen available for sale. I stood on the side watching. And I noticed that there were two types of horses. When the potential buyers came to “test drive” each horse, I noticed that some of them were a pleasure to ride. When the driver indicated that the horse should turn right, it turned right. When they indicated that the horse should stop, go, slow down, or speed up, the horse would immediately do it. But I noticed a different type of horse. There were some who were always conflicted, going this way and that, and the people test driving those horses were constantly struggling with their horses and attempting to cause them to go in the right direction. After watching for a while, I noticed that the horses who were attentive to their drivers’ directions had all gone home with nice Jewish owners. But the rowdy, chaotic horses remained there still for sale at the end of the day.

The Meor Einayim told Yochantche that it seemed to him that he did see Eliyahu HaNavi in the lesson he learned from those horses. When the body, which is a Jew’s horse, listens to the soul’s guidance and advice, both of them are happy and both of them benefit in the long term. When one’s body remains conflicted and ignores the good advice of its rider, its soul, no one is better off in the end.


May all of us merit that our bodies and our souls work together in harmony harnessing the guidance of our souls and the power of our bodies to sanctify the physical world with the light of Hashem’s Presence throughout each of our journeys in life.

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Friday, June 1, 2018

True Victory - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha from Tazria-Metzora - Adapted by Dov Elias

Below, please find this adaptation, by the inimitable Dov Elias, of Rav Weinberger's drasha from this parshas Tazria-Metzorah 5778. Rav Weinberger has reviewed this write-up and any corrections are incorporated herein. Enjoy!

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Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Tazria-Metzorah 5778
True Victory
Adapted by Dov Elias

The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 16:2) relates the following story:  A peddler (רכיל) would travel to various towns and proclaim, “Who wants to buy the elixer of life?”  R’ Yannai heard him and said, “Sell it to me."  The peddler took a Book of Tehillim and showed him the verse, "Who is the man who desires life... guard your tongue from evil, etc."  (Tehillim 34:13-14).  R’ Yannai replied, "All my days I read this verse and I did not know how to interpret it until this peddler came and made it understood.”

R’ Yannai’s statement is confounding.  What was so novel about the peddler’s interpretation?  He merely explained the passuk according to its plain meaning.

This coming week’s sefira is netzach.  Netzach means “victorious,” but it also means “eternal.” Combining these concepts, netzach means “eternal victory.” This idea contains and instructs us in a fundamental aspect of our avodas Hashem.  It is relatively simple to understand, but it is not easy to live. 

Everyone wants to win.  We may not always be sure what the competition is, but we want to win.  For example, in a war, there may be a skirmish over a little village.  The fact that the little village was conquered does not mean that the conquering army or country vanquished the enemy. It merely means that along the way, they won a battle. Victory in the war, a lasting victory, is what counts.  When building a house, one does not celebrate when he lays the first brick.  That is merely part of the process.  Netzach is the completion of the house.

As children, it never rang true when the adults said “It’s not whether you win or lose – it’s how you play the game.”  In reality, it was all about winning. We wanted only to crush, defeat, humiliate and destroy.  “It’s not whether you win or lose – it’s how you play the game” was only something adults told us to pacify the losers.  

Now let us consider the example of two chavrusas, Reuven and Shimon.  Both young men are serious, sincere and focused on growth.  They arrive on time to davening.  They attend every seder and every shiur.  They review.  They take notes. They have been learning together for years.  The only difference is that Reuven’s dream is to be a scholar. He wants to hold his own with other rabbis.  He hopes one day to be a renowned rosh yeshivah.  He imagines himself surrounded by students who heap accolades on him.  This is not always at the forefront of his consciousness, but it is always in the back of his mind. 

Shimon is just as proficient in learning, but he does not have these visions of grandeur. He may teach Torah one day.  But, equally plausibly, he could go into business.  When Shimon learns, it is not about the conquest, the siyum, or writing a sefer.  What motivates Shimon is one thought: “There is a Creator of the Universe, Who I believe in with all of my heart and I was taught that there is no greater way to attach myself to the Master of All Worlds than by learning His Torah and entering into His ‘brain.’” He has complete emuna that every word of learning and davening provides Hashem with pleasure, nachas.

Which one is a winner and which one is a loser? For Reuven, victory will only come when he earns smicha, becomes a rosh yeshivah, impresses his rebbe with a sharp question, or writes a sefer.  If those do not materialize – he is a loser.  Even along the way, if he cannot understand a Tosfos – he is a loser.  In the scheme of life, his chances of winning are very slim. 

By contrast, Shimon would never forego the present moment of learning.  He tastes the word of the Living G-d in every single word from the sefer.  That is netzach.  He attains a new victory at every moment.  What is he defeating?  He defeats the urge to remain in bed for another two hours.  He defeats the urge to succumb to illicit desires which would pull him away from what he is trying to accomplish.  He defeats the darker part of who he is and he tastes the unbelievably delicious flavor of victory.  That taste of victory in the present moment has nothing to do with whether or not he will succeed the next day.  It is a moment of netzach; a moment of overcoming the impulse that tries to seduce us into believing that G-d does not care if we daven or learn. And his victory in that moment lasts forever, even if he stumbles the next day, or even at the next moment.

There are examples in the material world as well. Let us imagine that Reuven and Shimon are both overweight and both want to lose weight.  Reuven’s goal is to lose 50 pounds by Succos because he wants to feel good, be healthy, and fit into the suit that he used to wear.  He plans to train and maintain a strict diet.  Shimon is also on a diet.  However, he is dieting because he realizes that, somewhere along the way, he became animalistic.  He realized, after knocking over an 80-year-old woman at a smorgasbord to get some spare ribs, that he would no longer allow his baser urges rule over him any longer. 

How do these two approaches differ?  If Reuven meets his goal of losing 50 pounds – he wins.  But if he succumbs in the last few days of his diet plan, he is a loser. By contrast, every time that Shimon declines a piece of cake – he is liberated of his urges.  He is G-dly.  He is a winner who defeats his urges.  He is not merely a body without a soul; he has a soul.  He can even enjoy food – within reason.  He is an eternal winner; every moment he holds back is an eternal victory.  Even if he eats cake the next day, that is a different war.  Today, he won.

Lest one think that this assertion that every moment’s victory is eternal, even if followed by defeat at some other moment, let us learn what Rebbe Nosson zy’a, says about the matter. He writes (Likutey Halachos, Birchas Hariyah 5:2) that the main victory is an eternal victory.  One who is victorious over himself and defeats his illicit desires and negative traits wins an everlasting victory.  He can defeat any obstacle which attempts to prevent him from seeking truth or that tries to distance him from his Father in Heaven, G-d forbid.  Since his intent is truly for Heaven, every moment in which he overcomes his darker impulses is a victory. Someone whose intentions are truly for the side of holiness, to do Hashem’s will – no matter what he does afterward, he always wins.

Only Hashem is forever.  Therefore, all those who sincerely desire to do His will merit netzach.  That is true victory.  “Netzach of Israel will not lie” (Shmuel I 15:29).  All other victories are false.  They are relative and dependent.  Only the Infinite One is eternal.

Rabbi Yaakov Bender, rosh yeshivah of Darchei Torah, sometimes walks my father, a survivor of  Mathausen, home from shul after shacharis. He noticed that my father seemed to truly enjoy watching the children waiting for their school buses to go to yeshivah. Rabbi Bender, at a recent event, told how one time, he asked my father why he enjoyed watching the children waiting to go to yeshivah. He answered very simply, “Because when I look at them, I know – we won.”   

The numerical values of “Nachman” and “netzach” are the same.  When Rebbe Nachman of Breslov zy’a, died, at 38 years old, from Tuberculosis, he famously said, “I have been victorious and I will be victorious.” 

When a person sees himself as a loser because he occasionally gives into an illicit desire, he lets go of himself.  Based on the many people I have spoken to, I believe that a vast majority of the lethargy and lack of motivation for davening, getting out of bed, or learning is due to having succumbed to the desire to gaze at forbidden images.  Shimon is not perfect.  Shimon also has problems with his illicit desires.  However, Shimon’s attitude is that even if he erred the night before and watched what he should not have watched, today will be better.  He is already a winner.  He is victorious. 

This is why Dovid Hamelech was open about his struggles and begins so many of his Psalms with the word “Lamnatzeachnetzach.”  He knew how to take all the low notes and high notes and compose a song.  Some days are better, some days are worse.  Dovid Hamelech always came out with a song.  He also failed, on his level.  Yet, when he looked back at his life – he was able to say, “I was victorious and I will be victorious.”

We began by asking what was so novel about the peddler’s interpretation to R’ Yannai.  He merely interpreted the passuk according to its plain meaning.  R’ Tzakok Hakohen (Pri Tzaddik, Rosh Chodesh Sivan 2) explains that the peddler was called a “Rochel,” which means a “traveling salesman,” but also implies that he had been a “הולך רכיל,” a talebearer (Mishlei 11:13).  He had been a habitual speaker of rechilus and lashon harah.  Later in life, he had done teshuva.  Once he repented, he tasted the sweetness of the passuk, "Who is the man who desires life... guard your tongue from evil, etc."  This Jew’s life – his history – added an entirely new depth to the passuk. R’ Yannai learned that only a Jew who has been victorious can understand the depths of the sweetness of that pasuk in Tehillim


Hashem has put each of us on the winning team.  All we have to do is get off the bench.  May Hashem help each of us, in whatever war we may be fighting, succeed in being present at the celebration for the final and ultimate victory.  May we will all be able to say, “We won.  We defeated Amalek, Hitler, our illicit desires, and the evil inclination.”  We are winners.  May Hashem cause us to sing the song of the grandson of Dovid, the King Moshiach, on that day.

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