Thursday, November 24, 2016

To Veto Reality (UN/UNESCO) - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Drasha from Parshas Bereishis

Baruch Hashem, Rav Weinberger has approved this version of my write-up of his drasha from parshas Bereishis. See here for past shiurim at'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 Bereishis 5777
To Veto Reality

After all of the Yomim Tovim, we are once again able to focus on current events, namely parshas Bereishis. A couple of weeks ago, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted to deny the Jewish people’s connection to Har HaBayis – the Temple Mount. Let us therefore study a teaching of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zy’a (5 Likutei Sichos p. 4), a tzadik who never set foot in Eretz Yisroel but knew every stream of water and every street corner of the land. He held the deepest, most abiding love for the land of Israel.

As he does so many times, the Rebbe begins his teaching with the first Rashi in Bereishis (1:1):

Why did He begin the Torah with “In the beginning?” It was because of [the passuk] “The strength of His works He related to His people, to give them the inheritance of the nations” (Tehillim 111:6). If the nations of the world say to the Jewish people, “You are thieves because you conquered the lands of the seven nations [of Kena’an],” they will reply, “The entire earth belongs to the Hashem; He created it and gave it to whomever He deemed proper. When He wished, He gave it to them, and when He wished, He took it away from them and gave it to us.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out three difficult questions on this Midrash quoted by Rashi. First, why would the “nations of the world” make this accusation of the Jewish people? Ostensibly, the only people affected by our conquest of the seven nations were the seven nations themselves. Why would the other nations of the world care to get involved in something that never affected them and has nothing to do with them?

Second, the military conquest of land is and has always been a recognized form of national land acquisition. Every nation does this and has done this from time immemorial. Even halachah recognizes this as a form of acquisition (Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Choshen Mishpat, Hilchos Hefker v’hasagas g’vul 63): “A king who conquered some country in war acquires it.” So why would the nations of the world suddenly call us “thieves” for conquering a territory militarily?

Finally, Rashi teaches us (on Bereishis 12:6) that the Kena’anim were not even the original inhabitants of Eretz Yisroel. They conquered the land from the descendants of Shem, from whom the Jewish people are descended! Hashem’s promise to give Eretz Yisroel to the Jewish people was actually an assurance that He would restore the land to its original possessors. Given the fact that when the Jewish people conquered Eretz Yisroel, they were actually reclaiming that which was already theirs, it is even harder to understand how the Midrash could say that the nations would call us “thieves” for taking back land that already belonged to us.

The Rebbe therefore explains that normally, military conquest is only recognized as a form of acquisition as long as the conquering country continues to control the land. As soon as it loses the land to some other conquering power, it no longer has any right to the land. Conquest only gives a nation the right to occupy a land. It does not create any lasting, inherent change in the land’s status or nature.

It is in precisely this respect that the Jewish people’s conquest of Eretz Yisroel differs from all other conquests in history with respect to every other territory in the world. From the moment Yehoshua led our people into the land of Israel, it underwent an existential change in its nature. We did not merely acquire the temporary right to live in Eretz Yisroel as long as we were militarily strong enough to hold onto the land. Forevermore, it could never be considered Kena’an, Palestine, Jordan, or the Ottoman Empire. It would always be, to its very core, only Eretz Yisroel.

Therefore, when we conquered Kena’an, and it transformed eternally into Eretz Yisroel, the land became the one place on earth no other nation could ever truly possess. Why would all of the nations of the earth care if the Jewish people dispossessed a couple of little nations on one small strip of land? How does it affect them? The reality is that even if they do not consciously recognize it, deep within themselves they know that they all lost their potential right to the land when we conquered Eretz Yisroel.

Why do Switzerland, Belgium, Venezuela, Egypt, and Jordan care to call us “thieves?” Because deep inside, they know that they lost out on even the potential to ever have any right or privilege over the land. They hate us because it no longer mattered whether some other nation ever became strong enough to dispossess us of the land. Our birthright prevented them from ever truly possessing the land. That is why Eretz Yisroel never gave itself over to any nation which occupied it after most Jewish people were exiled from the land, whether the Romans, Turks, the British, or the Jordanians. It was always barren for them. But as soon as Hashem’s children, the Jewish people, returned to the land, it bore fruit and blossomed once again.

UNESCO’s vote is simply the latest manifestation of this deepest truth. Just last year, the UN adopted 20 resolutions singling out Israel for criticism and only three against the rest of the world combined. The rest of the world is a slaughterhouse, with hundreds of thousands of people being butchered by totalitarian and Islamist regimes, yet the United Nations remains virtually silent. But it is simultaneously apoplectic in its complete intolerance for the existence of the Jewish people in its G-d-given home, Eretz Yisroel.

What motivates this? The Jewish people are simply returning to their home from the time of Shem and Yehoshua. It is clearly something much deeper than international law, which the nationsy conveniently rewrite to facilitate their desire to justify their Anti-Semitism, to scream out, “You are thieves because you conquered the lands of the seven nations!” Indeed the word “Semite” originates from the name, “Shem,” our ancestor and the original occupant of Eretz Yisroel. The nations know deep down that because Hashem gave Eretz Yisroel to the Jewish people as our eternal home, that it is the only place in the world where they can never stake any true claim.

It is because this is their question that we answer them with confidence, “The entire earth belongs to the Hashem; He created it and gave it to whomever He deemed proper.” But why does the Midrash say that we answer them, “The entire earth belongs to the Hashem...” Because the focus is on Eretz Yisroel, why do we explain to them that the entire earth belongs to Hashem? Why not focus on the fact that Eretz Yisroel belongs to Hashem?

Perhaps it is not referring to the quantity of land belonging to Hashem, but on the depth and quality of Hashem’s ownership of the land. Hashem’s control over every territory of land in the world is not limited to the who occupies any given piece of land at a certain time, which might imply that He does not exert control over the essential, deepest nature of any part of the earth. Rather, we are telling the nations that the entirety of any piece of land, qualitatively, belongs to Hashem, all the way down to its very essence. That is why Hashem can, when He chooses to do so, transfer not just possession, but even the essential nature, of a piece of land to the nation of His choosing.

Even if the world does not care to listen to or hear the truth, we must know the truth so that we can hold our heads up high and see our G-d-given connection to Eretz Yisroel. Soon, with the coming of Moshiach, the entire world will be forced to recognize Hashem’s reign with the entire people of Israel fulfilling the Torah of Israel in the land of Israel, may it happen soon in our days.

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It Really Works! - Rav Weinberger's Drasha after the Yomim Noraim

Baruch Hashem, Rav Weinberger has approved this version of this write-up of his drasha from the way back on parshas Haazinu. Big thank you to Reb Dovid Frei who wrote up this drasha! See here for past shiurim at'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 Haazinu 5777
It Really Works!

The tzadikim say that the period between Yom Kippur and Sukkos is a very special time quite apart from the fact that the Jewish people are busily immersed in the building of Sukkos and the acquisition of the four species.

The Tosher Rebbe, zy’a, explains that every day, each Jew enacts the lesson of the opening passuk of our parshah, “Listen o Heavens and I will speak, and the earth will hear the words of my mouth.” A Yid wakes up and immerses himself in davening, reflection, and learning, asking Hashem in Heaven to hear his entreaties. Only after he has sincerely prayed to Hashem is he then in a position to go out in to the world (“the earth”) and embark on his daily working life, always mindful that his actions are governed by “the words of My mouth,” the instructions of Hashem.

Similarly, the intensive period of Elul, Rosh Hashanah, the ten days of teshuvah, and Yom Kippur is one long continuous tefillah, when we are continuously involved in “Listen o Heavens and I will speak,” trying to minimize our contact with the outside world while embracing matters pertaining to the Heavens and fulfilling “and I will speak” with the numerous selichos and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur tefillos.

After Yom Kippur, we have reached the position of “after davening.” Rav Naftali Tzvi Horowitz, the Zerah Kodesh of Ropschitz, zy’a, would say that during the period between Yom Kippur and Sukkos, he could hear the tumultuous sound of Jewish prayers soaring Heavenward.

The Tosher Rebbe explains that after Yom Kippur, we enter into the period of “and the earth will hear the words of my mouth.” We return to the everyday world, interacting with our peers and families, but on an elevated plane so that our actions and speech are infused by a spirit of “the words of My mouth.”  

We are now fortified by our involvement with the Heavens in the Elul/Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur period to go confidently forward to rejoicing with our family and friends over Sukkos in a spirit that “the words of my mouth” will govern our behavior and interactions.

The Tosher Rebbe says that in these days following Yom Kippur, it is important to have faith that out tefillos have been accepted and that Hashem has acknowledged the sincerity of our teshuvah.

He cites a comment of the Bas Ayin on the passuk in Beshalach which speaks of how the Jewish people were hemmed in at the Red Sea, surrounded by wild animals to the sides, the Egyptians behind them, and the sea in front of them. When Moshe cried out to Hashem, He responded by asking (Shmos 14:15), “Why are you davening to Me”?

All the commentaries ask the obvious question: Why was Hashem asking why Moshe was davening? What was he supposed to do at a time of crisis? Are we not all taught to beseech Hashem when in danger?

The Bas Ayin quotes a teaching of the Arizal that the opening letters of the words “Why are you davening to Me? –  מה תצעק אלי” form the word אמת – truth. HaShem was telling Moshe that because his prayers had been expressed with a truthful and sincere heart, he should have the faith and trust that those tefillos have been accepted and no further tefillah was required.

This is the meaning of Rashi’s comment, “The matter is dependent on Me and not you,” i.e., that he had completed his task with the sincerity of his tefillos, and that now he should rely upon Me to answer them. Moshe was therefore commanded, “Speak to Yisroel and they should move forward.” They should proceed confidently into the sea, trusting that their tefillos had been accepted.

This is the position in which we find ourselves after Yom Kippur, needing to truly believe that our tefillos have been accepted. There is a tendency to doubt whether our efforts over the Yomim Noraim have borne fruit.

The Alter Rebbe, zy’a, commenting on the passuk (Tehillim 35:4), “For with You is forgiveness in order that You may be feared,” suggests that Hashem hides the fact that He has forgiven the Jewish people. In other words, He is aware of our forgiveness but we are not aware of it. This is in order that we not become complacent in our teshuvah. The forgiveness is hidden with you.

Nevertheless, Hashem does want us to believe that our tefillos and teshuvah have been accepted and this is our task in the approach to Sukkos – to understand that we are at the stage “and the earth will hear the words of My mouth.”

We are at the point of “Speak to Yisroel and they should move forward.” Significantly, the notion of moving forward is mentioned in the Torah more than once in connection with Sukkos. In Bereishis (34:17), we read that, “And Yaakov travelled to Sukkos,” and in Shmos (12:37) we read “And the children of Israel moved forward from Rameses to Sukkos.” Sukkos is the time to move forward to everyday living when we can fill the world with “the words of My mouth.”

Rav Yisroel of Ruzhin, zy’a, used to comment, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek fashion regarding that which we begin davening on Shmini Atzeres, following the Yomim Noraim season, “May He return the wind and cause the rain to descend.” Because the word for wind (רוח) also means spirituality and the word for rain (גשם) also means materialism, he explained that after such a long period of davening and spirituality, we are asking Hashem to return the spirituality to where it came from and cause the materialism to descend. While he made his point in a humorous way, his lesson, that we should recognize that after Yom Kippur it is time to bring that spirituality back down to earthly life, is equally true.

May we all merit to bring the spirituality and success of our davening during this season into our material lives!

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Monday, October 31, 2016

Rav Moshe Weinberger's Sukkos Drasha - Dig Deeper

Baruch Hashem, Rav Weinberger has approved this version of my write-up of his drasha from the first days of Sukkos. See here for past shiurim at'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
Sukkos 5777
Dig Deeper

Let us study a little chassidus together. The Yomim Tovim are the source for everything good in our lives. Pesach, for example, is “the holiday of our liberation.” Any redemption experienced by the Jewish people in general, or an individual Jew in particular, throughout history, comes from the holiness of Pesach. And Shavuos, the “the holiday of the giving of our Torah,” is the source for any ability we have to learn or observe the Torah throughout all of history. And Sukkos is “the holiday of our joy.” In what way is Sukkos the source and root of all Jew a Jew ever experiences?

We can understand this on a superficial level and on a deeper level. On a superficial level, Sukkos is also called “the holiday of the ingathering.” This means that in an agricultural society, the crops are harvested at the beginning of the summer and are then gathered into the granaries and storehouses around the time of Sukkos. Because our cupboards are full and we have everything we need, it is naturally a time of joy, gratitude, and expansiveness. On a surface level, this is why we feel joy at Sukkos time. But is this a source for all joy? There are a number of problems with such a suggestion.

First, there is nothing unique to the Jewish people in rejoicing in the ingathering of the crops. This is something every human being can appreciate. This is in contrast with Shavuos, which is called “the holiday of the giving of our Torah” and Pesach which is “the holiday of our liberation.”

Second, we know from Chazal (Avos 5:16) that “A love which is dependent on something, when the thing is nullified, the love is nullified.” If our joy is dependent on having overflowing storehouses, that joy is by definition transient and ephemeral. There are people who believe they can only be happy if some series of external circumstance align precisely the way they want them. People tell me, “Ah, back in yeshivah in Israel I was happy.” Or, “When I was single and could go where I want whenever I pleased, I was really happy then.”

Other people live for their children throughout their lives. But when the last child moves out of the house, what do they have to live for? What gives them joy? Some people are fortunate to be married to a spouse with whom they are happy. But many others are not so fortunate. But even if they are among the lucky ones, what happens when that person leaves the world? Any happiness based on another person or some external circumstance will ultimately become nullified. The joy of Sukkos therefore cannot be based on some external circumstance.  Such a superficial and fleeting joy cannot be the source for all joy, nationally and individually, throughout time.

What is the joy of Sukkos? Anyone who has studied Mishnayos Sukkah (5:1) knows where the joy of Sukkos comes from: “Anyone who has not seen the joy of the water drawing ceremony [the Simchas Beis Hashoeva in the Beis Hamikdash] has not seen joy in his days.” The Mishnah continues that “there was no courtyard in Yerushalayim which was not illuminated with the light of the water drawing ceremony.” What was the nature of this joyous occasion?

Yerushalayim normally drew its water from an elaborate system of aqueducts and mechanisms that were truly a wonder of engineering. But this system was not used to procure the water to be used for the water libations on the altar on Sukkos. This water was drawn from the Shiloach spring. And as anyone who has been there knows, this spring was not flowing with torrents of water. Rather, the water dripped in, solitary drop by solitary drop.  The kohanim had to fight for every single drop that slowly rose up from the depths of the earth.

At the beginning of creation Hashem separated the upper waters from the lower waters. And ever since then (Tikkunei Zohar, 5:19b), the lower waters have been crying and saying, “We want to be before the King!” On Sukkos, we, who relate so deeply to the lower waters, dig deeply into every crack and crevice to draw out every drop of water from the Shiloach spring to bring it up to the King, up to the alter and connect them to their source. When the kohanim took the water up each of the fifteen steps (מעלות) of the Beis HaMikdash, they said one of the chapters of Tehillim that began “A Song of Ascents (המעלות).” Each little step was such an accomplishment.

Now we can understand the nature of the joy of Sukkos, which is the nature of a Jew’s ability to be happy throughout history. Happiness is not dependent on anyone, anything, any place, or any circumstance outside of one’s self. Rather, joy and happiness come from one’s personal decision to work hard to eke out Divine success and elevation, drop by drop, from the earth.

The Gemara (Yerushalmi Sukkah 50b) says that the prophet Yonah, whose book we just read Yom Kippur afternoon, first drew down the spirit of prophecy from the Simchas Beis HaShoeva: “Yonah ben Amitai was among those who made the pilgrimage to Yerushalayim, he entered into the Simchas Beis HaShoeva, and the spirit of prophecy rested upon him.”  And even though Yonah gave up on himself and descended into the boat to go to sleep and die in the storm (1:5), when he was swallowed by the giant fish, he davened (2:3-5, 7):

I called out in my distress to Hashem and he answered me, from the belly of the grave I cried out, You heard my voice. You threw me into the depths of the heart of the sea, a river surrounded me, all Your breakers and Your waves passed over me and I said, “I have been expelled from before Your eyes. Yet I will again gaze upon Your holy sanctuary!” But you brought up my life from Gehinnom, Hashem my G-d!

When Yonah had lost everything and was sitting in a place no one would ever hope to emerge from or live, he had absolutely no external reason to rejoice or be happy. Yet precisely because he stopped hoping for salvation in any circumstance outside of his connection and relationship to G-d and His will, he finally began to hope and pray again. He once again drew the spirit of joy and prophecy when he turned to G-d’s will for him and not to his own will for himself.  

This is beautifully illustrated in a mysterious story once told by the Freidiker Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rav Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, zy’a, at a farbrengin. In those days, some people made their living as an “organ grinder.” This was an individual who walked around town with a type of music box on wheels. He would set up his music machine at a street corner and start playing. He would have a young boy with him, usually an orphan who he took care of in exchange for work, who would walk around the people who gathered to listen to the music, bang on a drum and call out “More joy! More joy! More joy!”

The Rebbe related that it once happened that after a certain organ grinder began playing, the boy who worked for him did not start walking around and calling on everyone there to enjoy the music. The boy had simply gotten distracted and began daydreaming or playing by himself. He simply did not hear the organ grinder’s music. The man tried repeatedly to get the boy’s attention, but to no avail. Finally, after completely losing his patience, he walked over to the boy, in front of everyone prsent, and smacked him on the side of the head.

Immediately, the boy “woke up” to a feeling of physical pain and complete humiliation in front of everyone present. Without hesitation, he began banging on the drum with a huge smile, calling out, “More joy! More joy! More joy!” At that point, the Rebbe ended the story.

After the farbrengin, the chassidim began discussing the story. In Chabad, stories are not told for no reason. Everyone was trying to discern what the Rebbe had been trying to teach. One group of chassidim believed that the boy was completely heartbroken and humiliated, but that he called out “More joy!” out of a sense of obligation, because he had no choice. He felt no joy inside. The other group of chassidim maintained that despite the slap he had just received, the boy knew and felt, with every fiber of his being, that his entire existence was dependent on this man, and the man needed him to feel joy at that moment, so he felt sincere joy. The chassidim asked the Rebbe’s son-in-law, the future and last Lubavitcher Rebbe, zy’a, what he thought. He answered that there was no doubt at all that the second explanation was the correct one.

May we merit to recognize, despite any pain and suffering that we may experience, that our ability to feel joy and happiness comes from hard work to draw out every drop of light and life from within the wellsprings within us and a recognition that we do not need any person, place, thing, or circumstance in order to connect to the ultimate joy. May we merit seeing the true joy of the Simchas Beis HaShoeva in person, in Yerushalayim at the reestablished fallen Sukkah of Dovid HaMelech, may it be rebuilt soon in our days with the coming of Moshiach!

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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. 


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. 


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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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Narcissistic Controller or Loving Grandparent? - Yaakov and Lavan - Parshas Vayechi

In recent years, I read Lavan's unhinged rant at Yaakov as the frustration of a narcissistic parent seething that he has been unable to manipulate Yaakov and his daughters into serving his own ends (Bereishis 31:43): "The daughters are my daughters, the sons are my sons, the flocks are my flocks, and everything that you have is mine!"

I felt that had Lavan been a healthy parent and grandparent, he would have recognized that his grandchildren "belonged" to Yaakov, Rachel, Leah, Bilha, and Zilpa - and not him. Such an attitude would have demonstrated respect for his daughters and son-in-law as his grandchildren's true parents. He would only have sought to see how he could be helpful, but would not have been controling - he would not have seen his grandchildren as if they were his own children. 

So I was surprised when, this year, I noticed that in parishas Vayechi, Yaakov himself says something that initially sounds similar to what Lavan said to him years earlier (Bereishis 48:5): "And now, the two sons born to you in Egypt... are mine, they shall be like Reuven and Shimon to me." While I am aware of the normal meaning ascribed to this passuk, it would be irresponsible not to notice the similarities (and differences) between Yaakov's words here and what Lavan said to him in parshas Vayeitze.

Reading the conversation between Yaakov and Yosef, however, the whole tone is one of love and an intent on Yaakov's part to give the same blessings to Yosef's sons that he gave to his own. Lavan, on the other hand, flew into a rage because of his inability to control Yaakov and his children. 

After noticing Yaakov's words' superficial similarity to Lavan's diatribe, I revised my earlier thinking to one that is less black-and-white. After all, Chazal say on his words (Pirkei D'Rabi Eliezer 35), "Grandchildren are like children." Lavan was not wrong because it is always self-centered to consider one's grandchildren his or her own. Rather, like virtually everything else, there's a right way and a wrong way to do something.

Yaakov wanted to give Efrayim and Menashe the same blessings he was giving to his own children. Lavan wanted to control Yaakov, his grandchildren, and his daughters. The key difference is between profound love and giving to the extent that one loves his grandchildren as much as his own, on one hand, and, on the other hand, selfishness, to the extent that one believes he can control his grandchildren to the same extent he thinks he should be able to control his children, both of whom he views as his property.

May HaShem help us adopt an attitude of giving in all of our relationships, not asking what others should be doing, but rather what we can do to be helpful and of service to others!

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Believing in Your Potential - Being Engraved on the Leg of the Throne of Glory - Rabbi Yoni Levin's Shabbos Morning Drasha

Rabbi Yoni Levin, the assistant rabbi at Aish Kodesh, delivered the drasha this Shabbos while Rav Weinberger was at YU for Shabbos. He spoke in  honor of the bar mitzvah of Avi Goldstone. Mazel tov! Below is the drasha which he typed up and emailed to me. Thank you Rabbi Levin for allowing me to share it!

Believing in Your Potential - Being Engraved on the Leg of the Throne of Glory

It’s astounding how each year we read the same stories, we read the same פרשיות, and they never seem to grow old.  We are in the midst of a cliffhanger, a story of suspense. We are on the edge of our seats waiting to see what happens to יעקב אבינו as he runs into the dark of the night all alone, all by himself, scared, and lost.

I’m not sure about each of you, but I could never read the same book twice. 

But when it comes to the תורה for some reason, each year, the story becomes more exciting.  We are reliving the stories of the אבות.  Personally, I get most emotional when we read the end of the תורה, and each year משה רבינו dies again, and it almost brings me to tears, the loss of משה רבינו, our leader, the one who lead us out of מצרים, through the מדבר.

Our נשמות are so connected, they are so involved in each of these stories, in the lives of our ancestors, to the point that the פרשיות truly come to life.

Story of יעקב

So here we are in the middle of ספר בראשית and יעקב is running away since last שבת.  He’s running as fast as he could.  He has been sent off by his parents to escape his brother עשב.  His destination: the house of לבן, his uncle. 

And during this marathon, he keeps looking over his shoulder.  He keeps looking to his right.  He looks to his left.  He is tense and uneasy not knowing where he may confront עשו.   He’s scared from any חיות רעות, he has no support system, no one to protect him, no one to talk to.   He is fighting a battle all by himself.

And as יעקב wanders off on his own, scared, lost, in a cloud of darkness, confusion, he winds up falling asleep in the מקום המקדשה' יתברך puts יעקב אבינו to sleep particularly in the very place that will eventually become the בית מקדשיעקב is lying down in this place of קדושה, where he senses this powerful energy, this מקום full with the potential of greatness. 

While sleeping in this place of the Divine, יעקב is overwhelmed with power, energy and קדושה.  יעקב is overtaken by this dream.  He experiences this vivid, clear, and dominant dream of מלאכים ascending and descending the ladder והנה סלם מצב ארצה וראשו מגיע השמימה.
Message of the Dream

יעקב is at a very delicate moment of his life.  What message is Hashem giving יעקב אבינו at this very tender life-changing moment?

יעקב is transitioning to a life of independence.  יעקב is feeling lonely and lost, without parents and teachers to guide him.

What is הקב"ה teaching יעקב through this dream?  He is expected to be independent and responsible for himself.  He is being forced to grow up.  What חיזוק could הקב"ה possibly give יעקב אבינו at this very sensitive point in his life?

Each one of us has possibly felt this same feeling at some point in our life.  Some of us might be feeling them right now - this feeling of darkness and loneliness.  Perhaps we are struggling with פרנסה, stuck in an unsuccessful business, no place to turn, no place to look.  We might feel this when we get sucked into the darkness of תאוה, drawn into the world of עבירות – this sense of guilt, a sense of regret, depression, fear.  We might feel this in a relationship, this feeling of loneliness, abandonment.

On a global level, as a nation, as part of humanity, we might be feeling lost as we see waves of terror throughout ארץ ישראל.  This past week we lost more קדושים.  We are constantly running away in the darkness from a different brother of ours, ישמעאל.  We are constantly looking over our shoulder. ה' ינקום דמם.

France was hit with a big shock last Shabbos.  Unfortunately, they were hit with reality, a reality that Jews face every day in ארץ ישראל and many cities throughout Europe. 

What is an appropriate message that can help build us back up, strengthen us, put us back on track, both as individuals and as a nation?

And יעקב Wakes Up…

When יעקב אבינו wakes up, he makes an interesting comment. 

ויאמר אכן יש ה' במקום הזה ואנכי לא ידעתי

What does the word אכן mean?    The Artscroll defines the word to mean “surely”.  And יעקב said “surely Hashem exists in this very place, but I was unaware”.  יעקב sensed this magnitude of energy in this מקום המקדש. It was so certain to him, it was so clear, it was אכן, this place was undoubtedly filled with an overflow of קדושה.

However, there is another understanding of the word אכן.  Not in the פשט, but in the רמז, the hint behind this word, concealed within each letter of the word אכן.

The Acronym of אכ"ן

Many מפרשים explain that the word אכן is actually an acronym.  יעקב אבינו was sleeping in the מקום המקדש, the center of the world, the center of the universe, the center of שמים.  He was lying below the center of the עליונים, the upper spheres.  He was lying directly below the כסא הכבוד, Hashem’s Throne of Honor, beneath the very legs that upheld the כסא הכבוד.

This כסא הכבוד, this throne on which the שכינה resides, had 4 legs no different than any other throne that a king might be sitting on.

On each of the 4 legs was engraved a different image.  There was a lion, an אריה, which is hinted by the letter א'.  Another leg had a כרוב, one of the כרובים, an image of a baby, hinted by the letter כ'.  And a third leg was engraved with the image of an eagle, a נשר, hinted by the letter נ'.  This spells out the word אכן, אריה, כרוב, and נשר

And what was the 4th image on the 4th leg?  אכן יש ה' במקום הזה, יעקב says that he knew the three legs, the אכן but אנכי לא ידעתי.  The fourth I didn’t know, he says.  The word אנכי contains the three letters of אכן plus the letter י.  The 4th leg is represented by the letter י'.  What does the letter י' stand for?  חז"ל tells us that the image of יעקב was engraved on the 4th leg.  The letter י' represents יעקב himself.  Now when יעקב says אנכי לא ידעתי it means he didn’t know the letter י, he didn’t know himself, he didn’t know אנכי.  He didn’t realize that he himself was the 4th leg.

The Image of יעקב

יעקב was in a difficult stage of his life.  He was forced to grow up.  He was off on his own.  And during this very challenging stage הקב"ה shows him a dream.  ה' יתברך shows יעקב אבינו how much potential he has.  He shows him the tremendous heights that he can reach.  יעקב says אנכי לא ידעי, I didn’t know how far I can reach, I didn’t know that my image touches the כסא הכבוד.  I didn’t realize my actions have ripple effects in the World above.

This message of teaching יעקב אבינו how much he could accomplish is also the message behind the ladder.  The ladder is rooted in the ground והנה סלם מוצב ארצה but ראשו מגיע השמימה that we can reach tremendous heights.

Our Image in the 4th Leg
The truth is, if you look at the גמ' in חגיגה which records the 4 legs of the כסא הכבוד doesn’t say that יעקב is the 4th leg but the 4th leg is אדם – any person.  Each one of us has our image imprinted on that 4th leg.  Avi  - you have your image on the 4th leg of the כסא הכבוד.  You have the ability to reach tremendous heights and lofty goals. 

This 4th leg is a mirror.  And when each one of us look up at this mirror we see ourselves imprinted on the כסא הכבודThis is both a daunting realization, yet an empowering message.  We have the ability to shake the world above, make waves in שמים.

We have to internalize how powerful our actions are, how high they can reach, how we can turn over worlds, we can make changes in the עליונים.

There is a striking Gemara in גיטין that records a debate about the details that surround the story of פילגש בגבעה

תלמוד בבלי מסכת גיטין דף ו עמוד ב
ועוד, הא ר' אביתר הוא דאסכים מריה על ידיה, דכתיב: בותזנה עליו פילגשו, רבי אביתר אמר: זבוב מצא לה, ר' יונתן אמר: נימא מצא לה, ואשכחיה ר' אביתר לאליהו, א"ל: מאי קא עביד הקב"ה? א"ל: עסיק בפילגש בגבעה, ומאי קאמר? אמר ליה: אביתר בני כך הוא אומר, יונתן בני כך הוא אומר, א"ל: ח"ו, ומי איכא ספיקא קמי שמיא? א"ל: אלו ואלו דברי אלהים חיים הן זבוב מצא ולא הקפיד, נימא מצא והקפיד. אמר רב יהודה: זבוב בקערה, ונימא באותו מקום, זבוב - מאיסותא, ונימא - סכנתא. איכא דאמרי: אידי ואידי בקערה, זבוב - אונסא, ונימא – פשיעותא

What is most striking though is that when Hashem is learning this topic, he is quoting ר' אביתר and ר' יונתן.  And the same holds true, when we are learning and we are מחדש something, Hashem will quote us.  That is as if to say, we are placing the words in Hashem’s mouth.  We are dictating what is being said upstairs in שמים!

If we can just take this idea to heart and realize how far reaching our speech, our thoughts, our actions can go, it will drive us to do only good.

We need to be confident in ourselves, confident in our actions - how we act really does make a difference. 

A Little Bit About Avi

When you take a look at Avi, one thing immediately comes to mind; and that’s his precious smile - that smile that goes from cheek to cheek.  Avi is forever in the state of שמחה

שמחה is key to reaching one’s true potential, one’s true heights.  It indicates a healthy dose of confidence that will enable Avi to reach immeasurable heights.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף קל עמוד א
תניא, רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומר: כל מצוה שקיבלו עליהם בשמחה כגון מילה, דכתיב שש אנכי על אמרתך כמוצא שלל רב - עדיין עושין אותה בשמחה,

Avi is starting off his life as a בר מצוה boy with an unthinkable amount of שמחה.

Now Avi, as you embark on this new journey supplied with the proper tools to succeed, you need to believe in yourself and your ability to succeed.  You already have shown us an enormous amount of success with your dedication to daven, perform מצוות and learn.  You need to remember והנה סולם מוצב ארצה, that the ladder is grounded, you need to stay firm and grounded with a strong base, a healthy one.  But you also need to look forward and find your mission in life and to realize that you can be מגיע השמימה.

We look forward to seeing you continuously grow and you should only bring Nachas to your family and continue to inspire all of us around you with your smile, your happiness, your dedication to Torah, Tefila and Mitzvos!

Mazel Tov and Good Shabbos!

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