This past Monday (a week ago today), Aish Kodesh in Woodmere held an all-membership meeting at which Rav Moshe Weinberger and the board announced that Rav Weinberger had selected Aish Kodesh's first assistant rabbi: Rabbi Yoni Levin. Rav Weinberger spoke very, very highly about Rabbi Levin and his Rebbetzin, Randi. He definitely has a very impressive background, as you can see from his biography on the YUTorah page where his shiurim are posted
Rabbi Yoni Levin is currently the assistant rabbi at Congregation Aish Kodesh and a rebbe at Yeshivas Lev Shlomo, in Woodmere, NY, an affiliate of HALB. He graduated from Yeshiva College with a B.S. in Mathematics and a minor in Business from the Sy Syms School of Business. He received semicha from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University, and was a fellow at the prestigious Beren Kollel Elyon at RIETS. Rabbi Levin also studied in Israel for a year and a half at Yeshivat Hakotel. In addition, he has written scholarly Torah articles in Yeshiva University’s annual publications, Beis Yitzchak and Kol Tzvi. Rabbi Levin has participated in numerous Yeshiva University Communtiy Kollelim, including the DRS High School kollel in Long Island and others in the New York area. Rabbi Levin has also spent time in the workforce at PricewaterhouseCoopers in the actuarial department. Rabbi Levin and his wife Randi currently live in Woodmere with their five children, Batsheva, Yocheved, Yeshaya, Zev, and Yisroel Meir.
This past Shabbos, parhas Balak, Rav Weinberger was away and we had the zechus to hear Rabbi Levin for the first time as our new assistant rabbi. And he used the opportunity not only to give a drasha, but to share some feelings about beginning his formal role with the shul. This time, it was not me who wrote up the drasha. Rather, Rabbi Levin himself wrote the following, just as Rabbi Norman Lamm did
. It is my privilege to share the following drasha with my readership, which Rabbi Levin was kind enough to permit me to reproduce here:
Rabbi Yoni Levin
Parshas Balak 5775
This is a most humbling honor.
On behalf of my wife, I would like to begin by expressing our
gratitude to the רבונו שלום for this very special
and unique opportunity to be part of this קהילה קדושה,
a קהילה that has been founded on חסידות, פנימיות, לימוד התורה, personal growth, growth in learning, drawing
close to one another, drawing closer to Hashem.
During the past 2 years of giving the morning daf yomi shiur, I
have been met with only positive encounters.
This is a קהילה filled with warmth,
care, and a קהילה that possesses an
extraordinary powerful desire to learn, grow, and spread Hashem’s Torah.
I have had the great זכות
in participating in the various shul-wide events many of which have been led
and organized by יצחק מרדכי Feder. Each event filled with singing, Torah, rebbe,
The חנוכה מסיבה at the Lawrence’s,
the ט"ו בשבט סדר at the Shuckmans, the
Purim Chagiga at the Gelmans, and the ultimate ל"ג
בעומר celebration. In addition
to the בני מחשבה טובה chaburahs that have
been organized by Reb Yirmi Ginsberg and hosted by the Gelmans, Perkels, Lerners, Rosens,
Hoenigs, and the Horowitzs.
Recently, under the guidance and initiative of Efrayim Nudman, Shaul
Harari, and Yaakov Meir Cohen, the shul has begun several new programs. The one that I personally have been involved
in, is the Sunday morning Chabura. It
has been quite a success as a great way to begin our week with in-depth
learning. I very much love the
interactions that I have which each one of the participants and it’s inspiring
to see the tremendous amount of enthusiasm as the Kol Torah echoes through the
upstairs Beis Midrash.
What is unique about these events is that each one of them has been
initiated by one of you. Each one of you
has an overwhelming רצון to create more
events, to infuse more learning, and host these various events.
We can’t forgot the women who are either allowing, encouraging, or
even pushing their husbands to come out and learn on Sundays, or early
mornings, Shabbos afternoons, or late nights.
It is our hope that my wife and I can assist in any way possible in
fulfilling the mission of this קהילה קדושה.
It is our dream that we can help every member, every family grow in
learning, grow in Avodas Hashem each at his or her own pace and level.
Prior to my joining of the shul 2 years ago, I had never met Rav
Weinberger shlit”a. Yet quickly, Rav
Weinberger turned into rebbe. Even
though I am being forced to sit up front, I am a talmid, a congregant of rebbe
just as much as any of you are.
I thirst rebbe’s Torah like any of you. I try to guess at which
Shachris minyan rebbe will be davening just to catch a glimpse of the tzadik
that we are so blessed to have among us.
I have had many rebbeim throughout my years in yeshiva and still
stay in touch with many of them. But I
have never had a rebbe like ours. A
master of all trades – a master in נגלה,
a master in נסתר, a master in עיצה.
It is with much gratitude to Rebbe for giving me this wonderful
opportunity, to work with him in serving this wonderful קהילה
קדושה. I thank him and you,
the קהילה, for placing trust in me and look forward
to an amazing year as we strive to fulfill our mission as a unit, as a קהילה until the coming of משיח
when we will continue this very mission in ירושלים במהרה בימינו
There is an astonishing gemara that appears in Berachos (12b). The חכמים
had a fleeting thought to insert the entire פרשת בלק
smack in the middle of קריאת שמע. Could you imagine saying שמע ישראל ה' אלקינו ה' אחד and then go off on a tangent in reciting
the entire פרשת בלק?!
And the only reason why they held back, was because it would be a טירחא דציבור, an extreme burden upon the קהילה, having to recite the entire פרשת בלק
twice a day in addition the rest of davening.
So what was the reason in the first place if this idea
inserting פרשת בלק in
קריאת שמע, the height of our תפילה,
interrupting our קבלת עול מלכות שמים?
Where is there room in שמע
when we are in the midst of being מקבל קבלת עול מלכות
שמים to insert the story of בלק
and בלעם, the story individuals who wanted to destroy
The answer is found in the gemara. The גמרא
explains that we would have read the entire פרשת בלק
just for the sake of one פסוק. There is this one פסוק
that finds its appropriate placement smack in the middle of קריאת שמע
and that פסוק is:
כרע שכב כארי וכלביא מי יקימנו – “He will crouch and lay down like a
lion, like a young lion – who then can stand up against him?”
It doesn’t come across as a very powerful statement – not earth
stretching by any stretch of the imagination.
This is the pasuk that was but so
close to being inserted in שמע?
What does the pasuk even mean?
Rashi explains that this pasuk is similar to the words that appear
in שמע of בשכבך ובקומך
that הקב"ה watches over us when we get up, when we
are awake and when we sleep. Just as we
describe in קריאת שמע how Hashem protects
us all day and night, so too this פסוק from פרשת בלק describes this very same
concept that Hashem protects us. For
this reason, for this similarity, there was a thought to include פרשת בלק within קריאת שמע.
The truth is, this is the theme of all of פרשת
בלק. As כלל ישראל was innocently journeying through the מדבר their enemies were plotting against them
as they always are. And without us
knowing, הקב"ה as
always, protected us, ensured our safety.
He is constantly fighting our battles, He is forever protecting us from
When we are כרע שכב כארי וכלביא מי יקימנו
– even when we are sleeping who can stand up against us with the protection of
During many of such occurrences, we find ourselves in a deep
slumber completely oblivious to the details of the behind the scenes, but when
we recite קריאת שמע, when we read פרשת בלק, we are reminded that even though we don’t
see and even though we don’t hear of these ניסים,
we know that הקב"ה is forever protecting
והיא שעמדה לאבותינו ולנו שלא אחד עמד עלינו לכלותינו הקב"ה
This is the message of קריאת שמע,
this is the message of פרשת בלק, this is the message
of the פסוק -
כרע שכב כארי וכלביא מי יקימנו. Hashem is forever watching over us.
But there are times when we do forget this and we don’t realize
that Hashem is watching over us. When
times are good, prosperous there is a tendency to forget the source of
everything. We speed through קריאת שמע, we don’t internalize this concept, we
tend to forget that Hashem is watching over us.
Today is שבעה עשר בתמוז, the beginning of the
3 weeks, the beginning of בין המצרים. It is a תקופה
where we feel distant from Hashem, when we recognize the lack of the בית המקדש, the disconnect from Hashem, from ארץ ישראל, from ירושלים,
and feel almost forgotten just as we have forgotten Hashem. We are in a period of very intense אבילות which underscores the distance we are
feeling from Hashem.
How are we supposed to react to this distance? How do we draw closer when feel the we are
drifting further and further?
A few months ago, I sat in a lecture from Rabbi Motti Berger in
Aish Hatorah in the Old City. He gives a
very intense and engaging lecture. He
had presented 2 scenarios asking which would bring a person closer to Hashem -
someone who won the lottery and would have no financial worries or someone, as
he described and apologize for being so extreme in this example, who was on the
top floor of the World Trade Center as the plane hit the building below. The undisputed answer was that the one
experiencing the fear, pain, and threat would sooner acknowledge and draw
closer to Hashem.
During these trying times, when a person is helpless, there is
nobody to rely on except for our Father in Heaven, אבינו
שבשמים. We are being cornered,
we are being forced to recognize Hashem.
Hashem is twisting our arm, making us so uncomfortable through this
period of 3 weeks until we scream “mercy”.
Until we realize that there is nothing but Hashem Above.
But the Magid of Mezeritch explains differently. He gives a positive spin to this period of 3
weeks. The idea is not that we are being
shoved into the center of the circle to dance with the Choson, but instead the
Choson is coming out to greet us. Hashem
is coming closer to us.
Allow me to explain.
The Pasuk in Eicha says that "כל רודפיה
השיגוה בין המצרים".
The Magid explains that כל רודפיה,
anyone who is רודף י-ה, one who chases
Hashem will be משיג him, will catch him,
will come to close him, specifically during the period of the בין המצרים.
But how is it that during this time period when we feel so distant,
we don’t see the light, is it possible to draw closer to Hashem? How does that make sense to draw closer when
we are missing the main vehicle to שמים? We don’t have the בית
המקדש, we don’t have קרבנות,
we have no way to connect.
I recently had taken my kids to Disney World, the Magic
Kingdom. I need to thank Hurricane Sandy
and the insurance company in helping build up credit cards points to pay for
Now in Magic Kingdom, the king is Mickey Mouse. As you can imagine there are many long lines throughout
the park and to take a picture with Mickey is no different. Well for the most part. Waiting to see Mickey is a bit different.
The line for just taking a picture with Mickey begins outside this
large building towards the front of the park.
And as you move inside the building, you go through this door and you
think you are there ready to take that photo you’ve been waiting for. But then you pass through another door… and
you are still not there, until you pass through one final door where you find
yourself in the innermost chamber but still waiting behind a few more families
to meet the king.
The palace, the guards, the glory, make for a beautiful picture, it
instills fear, honor, and respect. But
imagine if there were no palace, imagine if the king were to be walking through
the streets with no place to hide. There
would be no honor, there would be no glory, but it would make for a more
accessible king, it would allow us to see him, come close to him, build a
Says the Magid, that this period of time when we commemorate the
destruction of the בית המקדש among other Jewish
calamities, there are no walls, no guards, no barriers – Hashem is completely
accessible. We can approach him, we can
build a relationship, we can draw closer to Him. This is an incredible opportunity for us to
Embedded within בין המצרים
is a tremendous amount of potential to come closer to Hashem.
The שו"ע paskens that one
should not recite שהחיינו since it is a period
of אבילות, one should not say a ברכה of שהחיינו which express ones
thanks and gratitude, one’s שמחה with the purchase of
a new house or new fruit.
The גר"א, however, argues that
this is an unnecessary חומרא and one may recite a שהחיינו.
Perhaps the idea is that in fact reciting שהחיינו
is not contradictory to this period of time.
Although on the surface בין המצרים
is a period of mourning, but in its פנימיות
there is שמחה, Hashem is closer than any other time of
the year, there are no walls and no barriers.
This is why on תשעה באב itself, which would
seem to be the lowest day of the year, we don’t recite תחנון,
because in פנימיות as חז"ל tells us, תשעה באב is actually a מועד,
it’s a day of celebration. Not on the
surface, but in its פנימיות and we therefore omit
Perhaps this is what is meant by the פסוק
in פרשת בלק
כרע שכב כארי וכלביא מי יקימנו – “He will crouch and lay down like a
lion, like a young lion – who then can stand up against him?”
When we are down and hurting, sleeping like a lion, destroyed and distant,
sad and mourning, מי יקמינו, who can stand up
Our closest connection is specifically during times like these, the
period of בין המצרים. That is when Hashem draws closer to us. That is when we draw closer to each other,
that is when we have אחדות like we saw just a
year ago with the 3 boys in Israel.
The גמרא tells us that when
something bad happens we say ברוך דיין אמת
but לעתיד לבוא we will say a טוב
המטיב because even the bad is really good. We don’t realize it because on the surface it
appears to be bad, but everything is really good. Even the 3 weeks are very good. In פנימיות
everything is good, its only in the external that things appear otherwise.
It is my hope and תפילה, that we come to the
point soon of recognizing everything as טוב, where we can take every opportunity, every
event, every milestone as an opportunity to draw closer to Hashem and draw
closer to each other, as we grow as a community, as a קהילה
led by our leader, rebbe, with our
common goal, our common mission.
Again, I thank you all for this most humbling honor and most
remarkable opportunity. I look forward
to getting to know each and every one of you in the upcoming year.
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