Friday, June 19, 2015

Eretz Yisroel - Aish Kodesh Journey to Ukraine and Eretz Yisroel - June 4-7, 2015

Continuing the summary of the Torah, sights, and sounds the Aish Kodesh chevra experienced in Berditchev and Mezhibuzh and in Breslov and Uman, the chevra came to Eretz Yisroel on June 4, 2015 on Ukrainian International Airlines (after davening in the Kiev airport). The flight was not as bad as the airline's name implies it would have been.

When we arrived, we first checked into the King Solomon hotel.

Whenever Rav Weinberger refers to the maareh mekomos sheets, you can follow along by downloading those here

Reb Gamliel Rabinovitch, Shlita

After settling in to the hotel, we left to have a private meeting wth Reb Gamliel Rabinovitch, shlita. That meeting was remarkable. For those who have not met Reb Gamliel, he is a tremendous gadol in both the revealed and hidden Torah and is the Rosh Yeshiva of the kabbalah yeshiva, Shaar Hashamayim. The Rav is very humble, however, and hides his greatness behind a somewhat eccentric and self-effacing way of acting. Reb Gamliel helped set up the tables and chairs in his apartment himself and at one point even grabbed Rav Weinberger's hands and placed them on his head and would not let go until Rav Weinberger gave him a bracha. Here are some pictures from that visit, including some here of Rebbe with Reb Gamliel.

Click here for the mp3 recording of Reb Gamliel's words to our group. You can see a video of the meeting here:

[Video Coming Soon]

Kivros Hata'avah

Following the meeting with Reb Gamliel, the chevra had dinner at Papagaio, a Brazilian-ish style carnivorous restaurant in Yerushalayim. A good time was had by many a boich. After dinner, everyone was free for the rest of the evening.

Rav Kook Shiur and Kever Rochel

After davening and having breakfast Friday morning June 5, 2015, Rav Weinberger gave a short shiur in Rav Kook. You can listen to the mp3 of that shiur here. A number of young folks from the Shul who are in Eretz Yisroel for the year joined up with the chevra for this portion of the trip as well.

Rabbi Simcha Hochbaum of the Hebron Fund met us in Yerushalayim in a bullet-proof bus. He shared a lot of Torah and history with us as we made the short drive to visit our mother Rochel in Beis Lechem. It was troubling to see how Rochel is closed in on all sides by gigantic concrete walls to protect us from our cousins who wish to hurt us. It was also disheartening to see how we are live like prisoners behind walls at our own holy places in our own land. But it gave us more to daven for as we asked Hashem to remove the degradation of the Jewish people and bring Moshiach.

After the chevra said their own personal prayers and Tehillim, Rav Weinberger led the group in several Tehillim together. Here are some pictures from Kever Rochel.

Chevron and Me'aras Hamachpela

For many people, the highlight of the entire trip was our visit to Me'aras Hamachpela in Chevron, which was surprising since almost everyone had been there many times before.

The visit to Chevron started with Rabbi Hochbaum speaking with us about the history of the Jewish yishuv going back to the time of Avraham in Chevron and how there was literally a Jewish community there from that time (except the period of the Egyptian exile) until 1929, when the local Arabs massacred the Jewish community. He led us around the Jewish community and explained how they fought political and court battles for each and every home, building, and trailer that they built there were great mersirus nefesh. Here are some pictures from our tour of Chevron.

We climbed a hill in Chevron where, at the top, there was a natural spring and a number of olive trees believed to have been alive at the time of Avraham Avinu. Rabbi Hochbaum pointed out that the spring was the only one known to exist in the area, so it is entirely possible that it is the spring referred to in the pasuk when Avraham said to the angels which appeared as men (Bereishis 18:4), "Please take a little water and wash your feet." And it could be that one of the olive trees standing near the spring was the tree about which Avraham told the angels (ibid.), "And rest under the tree." With a fair warning that the water was freezing, many of the chevra immersed in the spring, which was quite an adventure! Here are some pictures of what we saw in Chevron and Mayan Avraham.

We then went down into Me'aras Hamachpela to visit one of the only sections at our holy site where Jews are allowed to pray. Many of us said heartfelt prayers and Tehillim while one of our Yishmaeli "cousins" gave an impassioned drasha in the next room over. The real highlight of the trip was when Rav Weinberger led the group in Tehillim, announcing, "Let us now say Tehillim with all of our strength and drown out the sound of impurity from the next room." I don't know if I've ever heard such heartfelt Tehillim before. One of the loudest lines was when we reached the pasuk, "Pour our Your wrath on the nations who do not know you and who do not call out in Your name!" I know that we shook the ceiling and shterred our neighbors' kavvanah.

But the most amazing part was feeling the electricity in the room of Avraham Avinu and Sorah Imeinu, Rav Weinberger led the group in screaming out the 13 attributes of Hashem's mercy: "G-d, G-d, merciful and compassionate G-d, patient, with great kindness and truth, who gives kindness to thousands [of generations], who carries sin and iniquity, and error, and who cleanses." Everyone cried out those words (in Hebrew obviously) seven times in unison at the top of their lungs. Rav Weinberger then led everyone in saying "Ana Hashem Hoshea Na" and "Ana Hashem Hatzlicha Na." Finally, we screamed out "Shma Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad!" There are no words to describe the feeling at that moment except, perhaps, for the words chosen by one of the chevra to describe that moment: "We rocked Shamayim." When the moment was over, we had a nice rikud. No one was able to take out a phone to film the davening, but [here] is a video of a portion of the dancing [coming soon].

After we took a group picture on the steps of Me'aras Hamachpela, our fearless organizer, Yitzchak Mordechai Feder, told us that Rabbi Hochbaum was trying to raise $10,000 to build much needed bathrooms for Chevron residents and run a summer program for the children of Chevron to give them chizuk in their pressure-filled life because of the area in which they live. He then began taking pledges and reached over $11,000 in approximately 60 seconds. It was gevaldik! Many people made their payments right then and there, rather than relying on their memory to fulfill their pledges later. It was a beautiful moment and a great conclusion to a very, very high visit to Chevron and Me'aras Hamachpela.

We have a partial video here, but here is a longer video of the dancing after the Tehillim and tefilos at the end of our visit to Me'aras Hamachpela:

[Coming Soon]

Shabbos in Yerushalayim

We took taxis to the Kosel in time to finish mincha before candle lighting time in Yerushalayim. We davened mincha in the Kosel plaza, but had to go into the interior area of the Kosel because one of the groups behind us was too loud for us to hear ourselves. We had a beautiful kabbolos Shabbos and Maariv led by Yitzy Halpern. Many people of all stripes, including chassidim, tourists, and everything in between joined with us. The dancing and Lecha Dodi was great. A non-observant father and two sons from San Diego davened with us and a couple of us helped them keep up with the pages in an Artscroll siddur. It turned out that the younger son was there for his bar mitzva and, in the middle of Maariv, blurted out to one of the chevra, "This is awesome!" IY"H, our davening was a kiddush Hashem not only for us but for those around us as well.

There were two other amazing things about davening with Rav Weinberger at the Kosel. First, a lot of old friends came to meet us there, so we saw former members who had made aliyah, and other long-time fans and chassidim of Rebbe. The second was the fact that wherever we went, it was obvious that Rav Weinberger is someone big because all people saw was a group of thirty men following closely behind a holy looking rabbi. So everywhere we went, people asked members of the chevra, "Who is that?" and then gave a knowing look when the answer was "Rav Moshe Weinberger."

Shabbos morning many people davened in the shul in the hotel. Others davened in a shul on the ground floor of a nearby apartment building. And another small group joined Aish Kodesh's friend Chaim Dovid at a small minyan at the Kosel led by an elderly Lelover chossid and mekubal, Rav Scheinberger. The chevra all got aliyos so they could say Hagomel and then went with everyone in the minyan to Rav Scheinberger's apartment in the Old City for kiddush and a drasha. One of the guys had a personal matter about which Chaim Dovid requested a bracha from Rav Scheinberger. Rather than giving a bracha, the Rav gave very specific directions regarding a specific series of actions the person was to take as a segulah to help with his issue. It was very intense. The guys by Rav Scheinberger were very eclectic ranging from chassidim to misnachalim types, to Americans and others. We sat very close to Rav Scheinberger and he was very friendly, asked us about ourselves and our Rav (he was familiar with Rav Weinberger) and wanted to make sure we ate everything we were served at the table.

Following kiddush and Rav Scheinberger's drasha, the Aish Kodesh chevra enjoyed a tour of Chaim Dovid's home and the beautiful view from his roof overlooking the Kosel and the Old City, including a number of beautiful Jewish homes in the "Muslim Quarter" which sported large, flowing Israeli flags. As he walked us out back toward our hotel, we met Motti Dan, one of the major figures at Ateret Kohanim, a group which purchases property in the "Muslim Quarter" of the Old City, Silwan, and other parts of Yerushalayim. It was fascinating to walk with him and see his home in the middle of the Arab neighborhood and other nearby Jewish buildings smack in the middle of that area, each sporting large, beautiful Israeli flags. The whole Shabbos morning was one adventure after another. Baruch Hashem!

Shabbos afternoon at shalosheudos, Rebbe spoke about many things, including the "Hungarian Wine" we had tasted during the trip and pressed us to consider how we would bring what we gained back to Woodmere to lift up the community and not allow the effect of the experience to be lost. Ephrayim Nudman, our faithful president, adjured the chevra to think about this when he spoke at one of the Shabbos seudos. So people should please continue discussing this after the trip is over!

Melaveh Malka on Netiv Areye Roof Overlooking Kosel with Shlomo Katz

We were zoche to have a Melaveh Malka led by Reb Shlomo Katz. Here are a few pictures of Rebbe with Shlomo. Some very great tzadikim and talmidei chachamim joined us as well. First, Rav Shlomo Bussu, who Rav Weinberger goes to for guidance, joined us for almost the entire Melaveh Malka, which is remarkable because he measures every single second with precision and rarely leaves his established schedule of Torah, avodah, and helping other Jews.

Rav Nosson Maimon of the Breslov Research Center was also there. In addition, Rav Yoel Rakovsky, a rebbe at Netiv Areye and mashpia to a number of the Aish Kodesh "yutes," was there. We were also happy to see Chaim Dovid there as he's a good friend of Rebbe and the shul, There were so many other great people there and old friends of the shul who came out to the Old City.

An mp3 of Rebbe's shiur from the Melaveh Malka, which was so moving and included some incredible stories, can be heard here.

Click here for a video of a portion of the Melaveh Malka which was circulated widely on Facebook and here for some pictures. And click here, here, and here for few videos taken from a nearby rooftop of our Melaveh Malka!

Here's a video of the whole Melaveh Malka:

After the Melaveh Malka was over, at about 1:30 am, Rav Weinberger walked to the Kosel with a group of people from the Melaveh Malka to say Tikkun Leah of the Tikkun Chatzos. Here is a video of a portion of that. After that, as noted above, people around the Kosel took note of the Rav wearing a shtreimel being followed by a large entourage and they posted a number of pictures, videos, and an article about Rav Weinberger's visit to the Kosel. You can see those here, here, and here. 

Meron, Tiveria

Right after davening on our last day in Eretz Yisroel, we left the hotel for good and headed up to Meron to daven by the kever of Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Click here to see some pictures of that. Following individual tefilos, everyone said Tikun Klali together and then sang "Bar Yochai" and "Amar Rebbi Akiva" with Yosef Karduner. A video of that is here:

Afterward, we went to the home of Menachem Solarsh, who has a beautiful home in Meron, very close to the kever of Rebbi Shimon. Click here for some pictures from that shiur. Mr. Solarsh is the owner of the Uman Inn where we stayed in Uman, so it was a great piece of continuity. Following that, we traveled up to Tzfas and immersed in the mikvah of the Arizal and davned by the kever of the Arizal. Finally, before traveling to the airport, we went to the kevarim of Rebbi Akiva and the Ramchal in Tiveria.

Here is the mp3 of the Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai shiur in Meron.

Rebbe gave a beautiful drasha at Mr. Solarsh's house. One small point that he made was an idea he quoted in the name of the Alter Rebbe. He said that while the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash took away the revelation of Hashem's presence from the Jewish people generally, it had no effect on the revelation of the Divine Presence for the greatest tzadikim. The specific tzadikim the Alter Rebbe mentioned were Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the Arizal, and the Baal Shem Tov. He then pointed out how we are so fortunate to be going to visit each of those three tzadikim in one week. Ashreinu!

Here is a video of that shiur:

As our last "activity" in Eretz Yisroel before leaving for the airport, following our visit to Meron, the group traveled to Tiveria and davened by the kevarim of Rabbi Akiva, the Ramchal, and the Arizal. Before davening by the Arizal's kever, most of the chevra immersed in the Arizal's mikva which, as cold as it was, was a cinch compared to the Mayan Avraham mentioned above! 

Here is the mp3 of the shiur Rav Weinberger gave by the kever of Rabbi Akiva.

And here is the final shiur Rav Weinberger gave during the trip, after davening at the kever of the Ramchal, which included a Baal Shem Tov story illustrating the fact that every Jew goes to the tzadikim, waiting to hear his own story.

Finally, here is a beautiful video showing highlights from the entire trip from Betditchev to Tiveria, put together by Sara Mehlman, a powerhouse of a woman, who put together the Ukraine leg of the trip and joined us for several parts of the program in Eretz Yisroel as well:

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