Weekly Dvar Torah
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Friday, July 22, 2016 / 16 Tamuz 5776
Inner Mitzvos
By: Michael Winner

My wife and I were beginning to feel “the burn,” and with the summer coming into full power (both heat-wise and children-wise), we knew we had to do something about it soon, or we wouldn’t have any opportunity until at least after Sukkos. So, we found places for the kids, rented a small car, and took a day-and-a-half vacation driving in the north. We first went to Meron to pick up some healthy snacks, since you can get food with good kashrus there, and then headed north towards Kiryiat Shmoneh, which is very close to the Lebanese border. From there, we headed east and went to the Banyas in the Golan, which contains a small hike around the beginning of the Jordan river (beautiful waterfall, by the way).

From the Banyas, we travelled down the middle of the Upper Galil and returned back to the Golan and went to Katzrin. In Katzrin, they have an archeological museum and a very interesting 15-minute film about the fall of Gamla to the Romans. The “second-half” of the museum was a five-minute car drive away, which contained the remnants of a village they unearthed—complete with a shul. There was also a small film that they recommended we see there. We thought it would be a film similar to the first, something educational. Instead, it was about a story in the Gemara about Rebbe Meir and his rav, Acher. The entire thing was crazy and the whole point of the "story"? We “learn” from the Gemara, that the Ultra-Orthodox need to be more open-minded. It was said without being said, but it was VERY “not said.” Of course, if you actually KNOW the Gemara and a bit of history concerning the story, you’ll understand how they did not fully research it or they would have not been able to come up with such a conclusion. At least the kids weren’t there.

From there, we drove to the eastern side of the Kineret and found a nice place overlooking the sea for a late lunch. From there, we went to Tiveria to stay overnight and actually get a regular night’s sleep. We returned around noon and felt nice and relaxed until 3 minutes after the kids got home.

We agreed that next time we do this, it will be for two days.

Okay, on to Torah!

“And what does Hashem require of you but . . . that you walk modestly” (Haftorah, Micha 6:8)

The Gemara (Makkos 24a) learns from this pasuk that “walk modestly” refers to tending to the dead and escorting a bride to the wedding canopy. This leads us to an interesting question: These mitzvos are public mitzvos, what’s the connection with “walk modestly”?

Rav Schach answers that the modesty in this pasuk refers to the inside. It’s easy to be modest when things are done in a quick manner. But to bring simcha to a bride and groom, for example, while one is in public doing so, he must on the inside be doing it modestly. He shouldn’t be doing it to impress others or to be the center of attention, rather, he should be doing it to fulfill the mitzvah in the proper way.

By tending to the dead, one must also be modest by not just doing the necessary preparations, but to also feel the pain that the family is going through to properly console them.

By working on our sensitivity to others on our insides, we are able to able to “walk modestly” even regarding the most public of mitzvos.

This Shabbos begins the Three Weeks of mourning which ends with Tisha B'Av. But really, it doesn't end there. We are entering a period which really ends on Simchas Torah. We are now entering a "low" stage in our relationship with Hashem, when we are at our "furthest", so to speak. And from Tisha B'Av on, throughout Elul, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkos, we slowly build up ourselves and our relationship with Him. By focusing and working on our inner qualities, we will be able to make the best use of such an important period

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, July 15, 2016 / 9 Tamuz 5776
Making Calculations
By: Michael Winner

When it was announced before Pesach that we would be learning the halachos of mezuzah, we were wondering “where did THAT come from”.

We figured it out.

Our Rosh Kollel is obviously working with the local mezuzah writers and is getting a cut of any future deals. It’s the only explanation.

The more you learn, the more you know. The more you know, the more you need to do. Now, people are realizing (including myself) that they have certain places where they are really obligated to put up a mezuzah.

However, I’m happy to say, I DID save myself some money. I’m overdue to get my mezuzos checked, and I just saw that you can do it yourself and don’t need to be an expert in the field, as long as you know the mezuzos were 100% to begin with.

Ha! Take THAT Rosh Kollel!!

Okay, on to Torah!

“Because of that, they who speak in parables (Moshlim) say: ‘Come to Cheshbon. Let the city of Sichon be built and established’” (Bamidbar 21:27)

The Gemara (Bava Basra 78b) says on the above verse that the “Moshlim” are those who rule over their impulses. “Come to Cheshbon” while the Torah is speaking of a place, it literally means, “come to make a calculation (cheshbon)”.

The Gemara continues, “Think about what you lose by performing a good deed and weigh that against all that you lose by performing a good deed and weigh that against all that you gain from it. Think about what you gain from transgressing and weight that against what you lose. If you do this, you will be built up in this world, and will be established in the world to come”

A person who does not regularly take time to go over his life and where he is heading, is comparable to a person who is driving without bothering to look at any signs, not knowing where exactly he is going. The important part, for him, is that he is going… which direction? That’s not so important.

However, a person who takes is constantly looking at the different signs on his drive, or in his life, will be able to reach his destination on time and in good condition.

Five minutes a day to give thought of what you did right, what you did wrong, how to improve and where are you going, can save you a lot of trouble down the road, and most importantly, deliver you to your destination.

Have a great Shabbos!
Friday, July 08, 2016 / 2 Tamuz 5776
Personal Interests
By: Michael Winner

One of the toughest things about living here in the summer is that you have nowhere to go.

After Tisha B’Av, there is a three-week break. Everybody has family to go to or to come to them. We don’t. In the past, we were able to meet up with friends and stay over and visa-versa, but since the family sizes are growing and the ages are getting older, it’s become hard to do that. Plus, not having a car in the north, makes it even more difficult. So, this week we purchased an above-ground 4.5x2.2x0.84 meter pool which fits perfectly in the back. We have to watch the kids constantly, but we’re hoping that they plan on living in it throughout the summer. I personally will have to wait until after Tisha B’Av before going in, since I don’t have the time now, but I feel, I will be banished there as well for most of each day.

I can think of worse things, I guess.

A friend of mine told me a nice piece on this week’s parsha.

As well all know and remember, during the forty years in the desert, mun fell every morning and was used as food for the entire nation. Where the mun fell for each person was dependent on who that person was. A tzaddik would have his mun ‘home-delivered’, he would just have to open up the door and it would be there. Somebody on the other hand end of the spectrum would have to walk quite a distance to get his.

So the question comes up… what happened with Korach. Korach started out pretty well for himself. He was on a high spiritual level and then sunk (literally) to a very low level. During the time that he was planning and executing his rebellion against Moshe, the mun must have slowly moved farther and farther away from his home. If that was the case, did Korach not notice this? And most importantly, why didn’t he realize the clear sign that he was in the wrong?

The answer lies with the fact that since Korach was personally involved, he interpreted these signs according to how HE wanted to understand them. He figured that since his rebellion was really a mitzvah, the fact that the mun was moving farther away from him meant that he was not applying himself fully in the execution of the mitzvah. He simply needed to work HARDER to overthrow Moshe!

Here we see the importance of pulling oneself away from having personal interest when it comes down to decisions, whether halachic or hashkafic (Torah thought). When a person has an interest in the manner he will do his best to twist things around to fit his viewpoint. That is why it is best to have somebody (rav or rebbetzin) to go to who will be able to listen and understand any questions and can guide you without that personal interest getting in the way.

Have a great Shabbos!
Friday, July 01, 2016 / 25 Sivan 5776
No Excuses!
By: Michael Winner

All the parents received a letter from the boys’ school this week asking us to put pressure on the city council. Right next to the school is another school that is attended by, literally, no more than 30 teenagers, many of whom are bused in from outside of the city. It’s not a regular school, but a school for “misfits” (tattoos, strange haircuts, etc., etc.). They are in possession of several buildings, including one that has been lying completely empty. This particular building is practically on the grounds of the boys’ school.

Currently, the boys’ school is set up to hold 95 students. However, more than 200 are attending, and the numbers will continue to grow. There are four bathroom stalls, and a trailer for the second grade (that's where my son learns), with an air-conditioner that barely works.. For years, the school has been trying to get hold of this unused building so they can expand. Instead of doing so, the city has decided to use it for dance lessons in the afternoons. I remember something exactly like this happening in our neighborhood in Yerushaliyim several years ago. The Chareidi schools are busting out of the seams, and the secular ones are lying dormant. Yet, the government does what it can to keep it out of the hands of the chareidim.

A few years ago, when they were opening up a new yeshivah, a small group came out and took it to court to try to stop it from opening. Their legal grounds? It will change the makeup of the entire city (we’re a very small minority here), and everything will go down the drain from there. The court threw that argument out. The irony was, the head of the group was selling his apartment to move to another. Whom did he sell it to? An Arab.

Thankfully, for the most part, there is very little tension between the religious and non-religious here. Everybody behaves and minds their own business, since neither side wants any trouble. But sometimes it’s the people in power who can cause the biggest troubles and open the biggest rifts.

My Rosh Yeshivah once praised the government’s decision to cut funds to yeshivos: “Now, the learning we do will be considered more lishmah (for the sake of Heaven)!” So, I guess that’s what we have to pass on to our children when they see the very apparent differences in educational facilities that they have compared to their secular counterparts.

Okay, on to Torah!

“For he has reviled the word of Hashem” (Bamidbar 13:31)

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 99a) lists a number of people whom this verse applies to. One of them is the individual who has the opportunity to engage in Torah study but neglects to do so.

I just learned a Gemara yesterday (Shabbos 15a) which was going over a few of the more famous arguments between Hillel and Shammai. One of them dealt with an issue of purity/impurities. The Gemara stated, Hillel says this opinion, Shammai says this opinion, and the Rabbis say it was neither opinion, rather than a third opinion. Then the Gemara continues that the Rabbis held this position until “two weavers from the Dung Gates came and testified that (the Rabbis) Shmiya and Avitalyon ruled in this way, and the Rabbis immediately accepted their testimony and changed their opinion.”

Rashi brings in a Tosefta (Ediyos 1) which asks, why were the jobs and where they lived specifically mentioned? It then answers that being a weaver was considered to be a very lowly job and there was no lower place in Yerushaliyim to live than that of the Dung Gate. However, this did not give any them any "excuse" to stop learning in the beis medresh. THAT is why their livelihood and residency were mentioned. Despite those two things, they were still considered learned, and not only learned, but learned enough that their testimony was accepted by those who were greater than them in learning!

No excuses!

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, June 24, 2016 / 18 Sivan 5776
A Realistic Future
By: Michael Winner

In Shema, we read, “Teach them thoroughly to your children and speak of them while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way . . .”

Being that we don’t own a car, I do a lot of “walking on the way.” This “semester” in the kollel we’ve been learning the halachos of mezuzah, in depth. It’s actually a very interesting subject (which surprised me . . . Israeli submarines need them, by the way, and it’s a big question whether the gates of the Old City of Yerushaliyim should have them). Now, wherever I walk, I see different types of doors, gates, and other things that are questionable. So, I find myself stopping, looking and thinking about each thing and whether there is an obligation or not, and if so, where. One of the joys of learning practical halacha in-depth.

“The rabble that was among them cultivated a craving, and the Children of Israel also turned, and they wept and said, ‘Who will feed us meat? We remember the fish that we would eat in Egypt free of charge . . . .” (Bamidbar 11:4-5)

The above pasuk is not translated correctly. It is how it is commonly translated, but it is not entirely correct. Really, the ending should read, “We remember the fish that we WILL eat . . .”

I once heard a talk from Rav Yaakov Leonard, who quoted somebody (whose name I don’t know) from Los Angeles, who explains the pasuk as follows:

“We remember, when we were in Egypt, how we thought we were going to eat fish for free.”

Being that they were not remembering the fish they ATE, nor is it possible to remember the fish that they were GOING to eat, but they remember how in Egypt that THOUGHT that they WILL be eating fish for free, and that THOUGHT is what they remember. They thought that they were going to be “living it up,” not realizing that freedom from Egypt will be replaced with Torah and mitzvos.

What do we learn from here? One lesson for two groups of people.

The first lesson goes to those in Jewish outreach, who teach the non-religious or those who are on the weaker-end. A person cannot make promises that do not exist in the Torah. One cannot promise somebody, “Yeah, if you become religious, your life will be like X, Y & Z.” Sometimes, promises of “Your life will be wonderful and smooth and you’ll have no worries,” are, in reality, tricking a person. A person should be keeping the Torah because it is truth and it WILL lead you to greater heights. However, it does not necessarily mean that it’s an easy, smooth ride. Years down the road, the same person might turn around and say, “Hey! I remember those promises on what life was going to be like, and it’s not!” It’s one of the biggest pitfalls that an outreach worker can fall into.

This lesson can be and should be applied to us on an individual level as well. When we work hard to improve ourselves in whatever aspects, we must remain cognizant that the results might not look as "romantic" as we thought they would be. One shouldn’t think, once I work on this, then certain issues in my life will go away, because if they don’t, depression can easily follow. Our job is to work hard on whatever issues we have, but we should never be discouraged if the results are not what we expected. Sometimes it’s the battle that we wage that is what is important to Hashem, not necessarily the outcome.

We should always move forward, davening for success, but at the same time knowing that even if that success is not as sweet as we thought it would be, we must continue to move forward.

Have a wonderful Shabbos!
Friday, June 17, 2016 / 11 Sivan 5776
Stepping Up
By: Michael Winner

We had somebody over the other day to look at something in our home. Out of nowhere his phone starts to ring. But not just some normal phone ring, but rather we hear the tune of “Take My Breath Away,” which we haven’t heard in approximately . . . forever.

Of course, my wife and I both hear the same thing, but think completely different thoughts.

She thought: “Ah, a love song”

And I thought: “TOP GUN! Ah, what a great film—F-14s, carrier landings, egos, pilots, MIGs blowing up—ruined by introducing a woman into the movie plot—women have no place in such films! Too bad . . . .”

Since then, I’ve had flashbacks of the opening scene of that movie (undoubtedly, one of the best ever) running through my head.

It’s amazing what things you simply can’t get rid of. Okay, on to more important things.

“He shall bring his offering to Hashem . . . for a sin-offering” (Bamidbar 6:14)

In the times of the Beis HaMikdash (and apparently today according to this one guy I met in university and prided himself on being one . . . while not keeping kosher or Shabbos . . .) a person could take upon himself Nazirus and become a Nazir for a certain amount of time. As a Nazir, he was forbidden to drink anything from a grape (read: wine), must not become spiritually impure, not cut his hair, etc. He was, for the time being, above normal, in the spiritual realm.

At the end of his Nazirus he would cut his hair and bring a sin-offering to the Beis HaMikdash. There is a big question here on why specifically a sin-offering. You just finished taking upon yourself a period where you were in a spiritual high. What did you do wrong that you need to bring a sin-offering?

The Ramban brings a unique explanation. Here we have a person who grew by abstaining from many things in this world. The fact is that even after he attained such a position, he still wanted to return to the world of the mundane and physical pleasures. True, he didn’t sin, but for a person to move down from a plateau to the floor, is considered as if he sinned.

Rav Yechezkel Abramsky questions this Ramban. If one is considered a sinner for not extending his vow of Nazirus, how much more so should one who had never even risen to accept the challenge of Nazirus be mandated to bring a sin-offering!

Rav Shmuel Truvitz offers a defense on the position of the Ramban. Achieving such a level as the Nazir is no simple thing. It requires a person of a certain caliber to accept and keep. Not everybody has the ability to do such a thing. Therefore, people who cannot accept this vow of Nazirus, cannot be blamed.

“On the other hand, he who has demonstrated the necessary forbearance and self-control to become a Nazir, demonstrates his individuality by the very nature of his achievement. He has worn the crown of Nazirus. One who has worn the crown, who has been clothed in the raiment of monarchy, sins when he removes the crown of kingship. To achieve spiritual distinction, and then to reject it, denigrates the entire process and demeans the concept of Nazirus.”

On a practical level, we see the importance of doing our best on keeping what we have accepted upon ourselves. Each step in growth that we take should not be taken back. If you keeping stepping down, how do you expect to move forward?

Michael Winner
Friday, June 10, 2016 / 4 Sivan 5776
Every Star Counts
By: Michael Winner

In this week’s parsha, the Torah goes into a very long counting of the Jewish nation. By family, by tribe, and by division (3 tribes per division). Programmers happen to find this parsha very difficult to learn. We don’t like repetitive code. Simply create a function, loop it 12 times, change the variables, and the parsha will be much, much shorter. However, there is a reason for everything. One of the more … popular… explanations is that just as a collector, counts his collection carefully, enjoying each individual item, so too Hashem was counting over his nation, individually.

Every morning in davening, we say “He is the Healer of the broken-hearted, and the One Who binds up their sorrows. He counts the number of the stars, to all of them He assigns names” (Tehillim 147:3-4)

Years ago, I saw a wonderful explanation to this. Basically, the above can be read: A person, who is feeling broken-hearted and low, should know that Hashem will take care of them. Where is their proof to this? He counts the number of the stars and assigns each of those stars a name. There are around 100 billion stars in the Milky Way itself, and Hashem cares enough to name each one individually. All the more so, a human being, a Jew, is also counted and is also recognized by Hashem, each by their name.

It’s very easy to think that you as an individual is a nothing compared to everybody else, but Hashem has shown that He looks after each person on their individual level.

Have a wonderful Shabbos and a meaningful Shavous!

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