Weekly Dvar Torah
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Thursday, March 26, 2015 / 6 Nissan 5775
Pesach is Only the Beginning
By: Michael Winner

This year I put my foot down and told my wife that I’m doing the food shopping by myself. Every year, since we’ve moved up north, we’ve rented a car and driven to Kiryat Bialik where there is a giant kosher food store. It’s worth the rent, since it’s MUCH cheaper than anything locally and there’s a lot more kosher food compared to anything locally. I enjoy the drive there and back with her, but shopping? No. Most healthy males hate shopping. Most healthy females love shopping. Put those together, and you get trouble. Me? I prefer to look on my list, put the food in the cart, repeat, and checkout. She prefers to double-check everything, triple-check prices, ask me several times what I think (about what? I ask), and finally decides that maybe she’ll buy it (after getting mad at me for not paying attention (to what? I ask.). It’s nothing new. All couples are like this. So, this year I did the shopping on my own, and watched the poor men who were with their wives, moping down the aisles with their carts, begging me with their eyes to end their misery. The point of Pesach preparations under our wives’ iron-fists is that we should feel the pain that we felt in Egypt . . .

Okay, on to Torah!

“If it is brought as a Thanksgiving offering, he should offer together with the Thanksgiving offering unleavened loaves mixed with oil; flat matzos smeared with oil; and loaves of boiled, fine flour mixed with oil” (Vaykira 7:12)

The Likeutei Halachos (I, p.238) writes, “The Thanksgiving offering symbolizes the union of opposites. It was brought with both matzah and chametz, hinting that one should try to join these opposites together, creating a cause for true thanksgiving. On Pesach, we eat only matzah; on Shavous, we bring two loaves of bread (known as ‘thanksgiving loaves’) as an offering. These ‘opposite’ holidays are linked through the Torah portion of Parshas Tzav [this week’s parsha], which details the Thanksgiving offering and is usually read before Pesach to remind us that the main goal of the Exodus on Pesach was to attain the Torah on Shavous.”

Many people think Pesach as the “Jewish Independence Day,” where we left Egypt to travel and gain independent rule in Israel, to live a life where we can do whatever we want and live in peace and happiness.

Too bad: that’s not Pesach.

What happened in Egypt was not “independence” as defined by the Declaration of Independence. Rather, it was a transfer of servitude from Pharaoh to Hashem. When we left Egypt, we stopped being servants to Pharaoh and began being servants to Hashem.

Pesach also serves as a beginning of our birth as a nation. It was the “Lexington & Concord” of our history, and only at Sinai, when we received the Torah, did we reach “the surrender at Yorktown” and our independence was secured (pretty impressive I remember that, no?).

Therefore, we begin our independence on Pesach, not as an end of slavery, but as the beginning of the road to receive the Torah at Sinai.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, March 20, 2015 / 29 Adar 5775
Humility at Home
By: Michael Winner

This week we had our elections, as I’m sure you all know.

Thank G-d it’s all over!

The good news: Bayit HaYehudi and Yeish Atid (the spiritual enemies of the Jewish people) lost seats and their power.

Here in Israel, the results of elections are felt on the personal level. For example, the local Cheder needed a new building several years ago since theirs was very small for the growing population. For two years a secular school that was right nearby was sitting empty, and the city refused to give it to them (I know of two other cases like this). Only when the UTJ (the Ultra-Orthodox party) gained some power, were they able to muscle the city to finally hand it over. Another example: over the past two years, religious education financials and kollel stipends were cut dramatically (I receive $60/month from the government, yet they spend far more doing checks making sure I’m in kollel). So, if a family had both parents as teachers, they started to fall into financial distress. The schools themselves also suffered from financial loss and, needless to say, things like this affect the entire community.

Let us not forget there are issues dealing with the strength of the Rabbinate in terms of conversions, which these parties wish to "secularize," which will cause all sorts of “Who is a Jew?” problems, which has already been going on here.

Either way, it’s a bit of fresh air now that at least Yeish Atid is out and Bayit HaYehudi is closer to being neutralized. Hopefully, we’ll start seeing improvements in these important areas.

On to more important things!

I saw the following from Rav Moshe Aharon Stern:

“A couple once complained of their shalom bayis problems (peace in the house) to Rav Chaim Mordechai Katz. The wife mentioned that her husband refused to take out the garbage, claiming that as a ben Torah it was not fitting. The rav ruled that this was correct. But the very next morning, the Rav Katz came to their house and said, ‘you probably have garbage to take out. I am not a ben Torah, so I’ll do it for you.’

“The Chasam Sofer points out that throughout Parshas Vayikra, we hear of ‘bnei Aharon’ (the children of Aharon) concerning the work in the Mishkan. However, by Trumos HaDeshem (the removal of the ashes from the altar), is the command directed to Aharon (the Kohen Gadol) himself. Therefore, says the Chasam Sofer, the Torah stresses that any work done because of Hashem’s command is important no matter what, and precisely this ‘lowly’ task should be done by Aharon himself.”

Having humility and realizing where you are “holding” in life is an important key to shalom bayis and spiritual success.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, March 13, 2015 / 22 Adar 5775
Finding True Simcha
By: Michael Winner

I hope everybody had an enjoyable Purim. My apologies for not writing a dvar Torah last week. We hosted the Purim festivities at our home with three other families (plus a few drop-ins), and between cleaning up, and getting ready for Shabbos, I was unable to find time to write.

Concerning drinking on Purim, my belief is simple: start drinking as soon as you can and go to daven mincha in a tipsy mode. It really helps you daven properly (as long as you’re not REALLY drunk).

So, this year was no different.

Except that somebody was dispensing vodka and whiskey in shul right before davening. I chose vodka, followed up with some great davening.

I came home and my wife asked me how davening was. I replied, “It was great! I learned that having a cup of vodka beforehand really helps”

“A cup? You mean a shot.”

“No . . . I mean a cup”

-Silence-

“DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH ALCOHOL THERE IS IN VODKA?!?!?!”

THAT was worth everything. :)

“Like everything that Hashem commanded Moshe, so did the Children of Israel perform all the labour.”(Shemos 39:42)

This week’s parsha goes into minute detail on the construction of the Mishkan. Throughout the entire parsha we see repeatedly that the nation did the work, “as Hashem commanded Moshe.”

Each and every facet was done accordingly.

I saw recently something interesting in Shmuel II (Book of Samuel). Dovid HaMelech (King David), after securing his capital in Jerusalem, attempted to bring the Aron to its proper place. In fact, he made two attempts.

In the first attempt, the Aron was placed on a wagon which was made by the Philistines when they captured it, rather than members of the tribe of Levi carrying it, as they were supposed to. Also, certain musical instruments which were not befitting were used to escort the Aron. The pasuk testifies they “frolicked before Hashem” (Shmuel II 6:5). While everything was done with the right intentions, and Dovid HaMelech had his own calculations, it was not done according to the Torah’s definition of “proper.” It ended with the death of an individual and a clear sign that Hashem was not pleased with what transpired.

Shortly after, Dovid HaMelech made another attempt. This time things were done in a proper manner and the pasuk testifies “they brought up the Aron of Hashem from the house of Obed-edom to the City of David with JOY”(6:12). This time the word “simcha” was used to describe the celebration.

True joy and true service is accomplished only via the way that the Creator Himself declares.

When a company creates a telescope, for example, it also creates a manual on how to use it to its maximum efficiency. Sure, you can skip out learning how to use it and try using it on your own. Perhaps, you’ll even have some success. However, if you wish to MAXIMIZE the joy you have by using it, you need to read the manual first and follow its directions.

All the more so with life itself. To attain true simcha, one has to learn from the “user’s manual” that the Creator wrote. By following it “as Hashem commanded Moshe,” one can achieve happiness and fulfill his personal mission in life.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, February 27, 2015 / 8 Adar 5775
Being Part of a Whole
By: Michael Winner

The month of Adar (the month we are currently in), is known as the month of miracles. I recently experienced a series of them in a few hour span.

Earlier this week, my wife and I had to borrow a car and travel to Haifa to take care of something. I can’t go into the entire story, but it consisted of “protexia” (Israeli “who you know can get you what you need that you can’t get through normal channels”), and a general miracle that everything worked out the way it did in such a short amount of time. Those who know the story will think that THIS was big miracle. However, I beg to differ. That day happened to have been my wife’s 21st birthday again (amazing how that works). Naturally, I didn’t have anything prepared (what’s new). As we were leaving, we both realized that we didn’t eat much for breakfast and were quite hungry. There happens to be only one restaurant that I know of in Haifa (a great shwarma/falafel place), but since Haifa is impossible to get around, I had no idea where it was. I said to my wife, “wouldn’t it be great if we found that shwarma place?” A few minutes later, I took a wrong turn and two minutes after that, we passed that exact shwarma restaurant. We took it as a sign from G-d Himself, that we were obligated to eat shwarma. SO… for the first time in five years, I ate shwarma in a lafa (oversized pita), no children were around to annoy me, AND my wife accepted it as me officially taking her out for her birthday.

Can you think of a bigger miracle than THAT???

Okay, on to Torah!

This week’s parsha begins with the commandment that each adult male is required to donate a half-shekel coin. In fact, it is stated in the beginning of Mesechta Shekalim that every Rosh Chodesh Adar the officers of the Beis HaMikdash would begin collecting this half-shekel from everybody throughout the country. This money was collected for two reasons: 1) It enabled us to take an accurate census and 2) the money went towards the buying of korbonos (sacrifices) that were brought twice a day on behalf of the entire nation, and the general upkeep of the Beis HaMikdash. Therefore, everybody had a “piece” in these communal sacrifices.

The rav of the city spoke last week about this mitzvah and he asked a very simple question. It’s very clear that a half-shekel coin must be donated. A rich man cannot give more and a poor man cannot give less. The poor man, we can understand, but why couldn’t the rich man give more? Why specifically a half-shekel coin?

The rav explained that one has to always remember, that even though he is an individual and the sole responsibility of his growth depends on he himself, he is nevertheless part of a whole, and he shares the responsibilities of helping foster an environment that will help others grow as well. He is never “whole,” but is always, part of something bigger than himself.

I was speaking to a friend of mine about a certain kollel which was not doing so well. People were coming in late, not coming at all, etc., etc., and who were the ones who suffered the most? Those who came on time and worked hard. Why? Because it’s difficult to grow in a vacuum. Of course, if you have to, you have to. However, there is something to be said about having a warm environment that will help you push yourself forward. Had the lazy ones thought for a moment that they are not only shooting themselves in the foot, but they are actually harming others, perhaps (though unlikely, I admit) they would understand that they are also part of a whole.

This is applicable to all areas of our lives. When we begin to understand even something as simple as showing up on time to daven or to learn, where you are not doing anything directly, you are nonetheless making a difference in other people’s growth.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, February 20, 2015 / 1 Adar 5775
Make Me a Sanctuary
By: Michael Winner

A lesson I’ve learned several times after moving away from the “Torah center” of Eretz Yisroel is always check the hechsharim of food produce . . . ESPECIALLY during shmittah.

As we know, during Shmittah, it is forbidden to work the land, and one must let it rest and make the fruits and vegetables open to the public to take for free.

There is something here called Heter Mechirah. Basically, it’s when a Jewish farmer “sells” his land to an Arab for two years (one year of Shmittah for the vegetables and the year after, when the fruits are Shmittah), and then afterwards the land goes back to him. During this time, he works the field as usual, and that’s that. Needless to say, it’s rather controversial (and no, it’s not comparable to selling one’s chametz to a non-Jew).

It’s a big, long story, but it goes back to the 1880s when the original charedi yeshuvim did not know what to do with Shmittah, since it was literally a life and death situation not to farm and grow food. The charedi rabbis were split on this issue. Some tried to make this heter mechira (“permission to use the land through sale”) because of the situation, and some maintained that it was impossible. Both sides included big people, and nobody was looking for any excuses not to keep Shmittah. Even those who believed it was possible to sell the land under such conditions believed that such a leniency was only temporary and should not be used in a permanent way. In fact, Rav Kook himself wrote, “Did I not repeatedly state that this rule is only temporary and only as need and when the necessity is great? Far be it from me to uproot such a great mitzvah such as the sanctity of Shmita without great necessity . . . that people would die, G-d forbid, from starvation without work or a means of sustenance . . .” (Igrot Hare’iyah II #555)

Either way, today the sale is still being used as a permanent thing. Some say so we don’t buy from and support Arabs (yet, they do by hiring them for work, shopping at stores that hire them, pay taxes that pay for Arab workers, buy homes that are built by them, buy vegetables from them during the other six years, pay taxes to the government that give money to them . . .). Some say it’s okay since many of the farmers are not religious and will be farming anyhow, so we should at least “minimize the damage” (I personally prefer this reasoning). Either way, the vast majority of chareidi and a good number of religious Zionist rabbis (don’t know the numbers from them) hold that heter mechirah today should not be relied upon. Therefore, like any other produce that is illegally farmed on Shmittah, it has the status of “not kosher,” just like a chicken and cheese sandwich. And since that is what my rabbeim hold, so do I.

That being, I bought a package of potato chips last Thursday for Shabbos. When I got home, I opened the package, ate two, and was closing it to put away . . . THEN I realized they were heter mechirah chips. Now, I’m in a bind. On one hand, for me they are treif. On the other hand, they have the sanctity of Shmittah, and I cannot do anything to ruin them. So, now I have to find a nice safe, out-of-the-way place to keep them for the next who knows how long until they spoil. After they spoil, they lose their kedushah, and I can throw them away. Nor can I sell them, since I cannot do business with Shmitah produce.

I was a bit annoyed at myself for not being more careful, until a certain talmid chacham told me that he bought heter mechira jam last Shmittah, and it’s still sitting in his apartment.

Only in Eretz Yisroel!

“And they shall make for Me a Sanctuary” (Shemos 25:8)

This week’s parsha begins to describe the construction of the Mishkan and the Beis HaMikdash. The Gemara in Megillah 29a learns out from a pasuk in Yechezkel, that today’s shuls, yeshivas, and battei medreshot (places to learn Torah) have the status of a “small Beis HaMikdash.”

Rav Pincus said that this is not just a cute hint to the sanctity of the shul, but it is actually a halachic issue. The way we treat our shuls and yeshivos are a matter of Jewish law straight from the Torah (as opposed to rabbinic), not a matter of simply “what’s nice.”

The Chofetz Chaim writes in the name of Sefer Yareiyim that one is obligated to have fear of Heaven in the shul and not joke around, and this is a Torah obligation.

Therefore, one must be careful on how we treat our shuls and yeshivos. Our conversations should be self-monitored and our conduct should be befitting as if we were in the Beis HaMikdash itself.

One (and one’s children) should also be careful to throw away their garbage when they are done. One should return books to their places when they are done, so it looks clean and others can use them when they are needed. There are many things one can do to fulfill this particular mitzvah.

When the Jewish nation was in the desert, they donated gold and silver and used their talents to build the Mishkan. So too, throughout the generations, we have donated our money and talents to our shuls to keep them running smoothly and looking properly.

One need not go farther than their local Sphardi shul to see how to perform this mitzvah properly. For whatever reason, the Sphardim are very particular about this.

In fact, when we were living in Yerushaliyim, we lived on a street where there several “not-so-high-class” Sphardim. I remember one teenager (I named him “Elvis” in my head, since it looked like he was trying to copy him a bit), who was not the most religious person, if he was religious at all. The whole family was like this . . . not such a simple case.

Either way, most of the time, he spent outside “being cool” with his friends. However, I remember him once coming into shul for something, and he was literally a completely different person. No attitude was etched on his face, he was modest, he was quiet. It was interesting to see such a change.

May we all learn this lesson from such a person, the importance of guarding the sanctity of our shuls.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, February 13, 2015 / 24 Shvat 5775
Kosher Pig?
By: Michael Winner

You can tell that the election season is nearing with all the ads coming out for this party or that.

In the US, things are relatively boring. You have Republicans, Democrats, and a few Independents. Everybody, politicians and citizens alike, tend to stay with “their” party, and that’s it.

In Israel, you have a few “old time” parties such as Likud and Labour, but being “old time” doesn’t equal being powerful. Every election brings us new parties and politicians are constantly moving around as well.

Last election we saw the “Pirateem” (The Pirate Party—a European-based party, I believe), and a few years before that, we saw the “Pensioner” Party, whose sole goal was to gain the votes of old people to get more money and benefits for them. This year, somebody decorated their home with posters from what I thought was the “K’Chalon” Party (“Like a Window” Party . . . you know . . . everything they do is visible to everybody), until somebody told me “Kachlon” is somebody’s name.

And because each party gets seats according to how many votes they receive, you never know who’s going to end up in the Knesset and who will end up in the ruling coalition.

Far more entertaining than the US system!

Okay, on to Torah!

Note: This is a dvar torah to learn out a concept, not to learn practical halachah, so always ask your rav what to do in such a situation.

“After the majority, you shall follow” (Shemos 23:2)

This pasuk is clearly talking about concerning following the majority of sages in a Jewish court. If there is a difference of opinion in a court, you go after the majority.

However, there is another application used with this pasuk.

Let’s say you have a bowl into which three pieces of meat fell ACCIDENTALLY; two of them are super-kosher and one of them is super-pig. However, you don’t know which piece is which. According to the Torah, this mixture is considered kosher.

There is a disagreement between the Rosh and the Rashba (halachic commentators) if one is allowed to eat them together at once or if one can eat only one piece at a time.

According to the Rashba (for reasons too complicated to get into), there is a rabbinic enactment saying that one cannot eat them at once. Rather, one can only eat from one piece at I time, and he will have the mindset of “THIS piece is kosher, the non-kosher piece is one of the other two.”

The Rosh on the other hand brings in the pasuk, “After the majority, you shall follow.” According to this line of thinking, the Rosh rules that one is allowed to take little pieces from each piece and eat them together at once. Why? Because the Torah ruled that if this is the majority that is the end of the discussion; the entire mixture is completely kosher! This is probably one of the few, perhaps the only, case where you will be able to eat kosher pig.

In the end the Shulchan Oruch and the Rema both side with the Rashba. However, the Rema says that in a time where there would be some form of loss, one can rely on the Rosh.

We see that the Torah gives power to the majority, even going so far to make pig kosher!

Michael Winner
Friday, February 06, 2015 / 17 Shvat 5775
Hear Me Now and Believe Me Later
By: Michael Winner

Over the past week or so, my nine-year-old daughter has been spending a large amount of time on the phone. Yes, I know . . . girls at this age do these things. But suddenly there was a dramatic increase in faxes that she was receiving on our machine (fax = Israeli Chareidi Email). It turns out that my daughter recently became one of three teachers in her class, and is “very busy” communicating with the principal and the other teachers . . .

Yeah . . .

It seems that the whole class of 24 girls, during their two break periods, play “school.” There is one principal, one secretary, three teachers, and the rest are students (I think). The principal made an official schedule, and every break, the “teachers” “teach.” Next week, they have parent-teacher conferences. Where each student has to take home a note announcing it, and they in turn will sign it as “parents,” and will have to meet with their teacher as their own “parents.”

It gets confusing, I know. However, my wife reminded me that, thank G-d, unlike their non-religious counterparts here who are staring at iPhones all day, they are doing something wholesome.

“Yisro, the priest of Midian, the father-in-law of Moshe, heard all that G-d did to Moshe and to Israel . . .” (Shemos 18:1)

Rashi comments that he heard about the splitting of the Red Sea and the war with Amalek. And because of this, he came to the Jewish people to join them.

An interesting question is raised. A few lines later, the Torah reports, “Moshe told his father-in law everything that Hashem had done to Pharaoh and Egypt for Israelis sake . . . Yisro rejoiced over all the goodness that Hashem had done for Israel . . .”

We see from the first pasuk, that Yisro already knew about all that Hashem did. It impressed him so much, that he left his home to join the Jewish people in the desert. What was the new thing that Moshe told him that impressed him that he should rejoice, seemingly, for a second time?

Rav Asher Rubenstein said over once in one of his weekly talks that Yisro did NOT hear anything new from Moshe. In fact, he heard the exact same thing he heard beforehand. However, Yisro did something that most of us find difficult to do: “Yisro HEARD.”

The parsha in which the Torah is given starts with Yisro’s HEARING. Before any acceptance of Torah, once must be willing to HEAR Hashem’s word.

The Torah is not some intellectual study. It is something that one is to take and bring into his heart. One of the greatest proofs of this is the final test Avraham had regarding bringing Yitzchok as a sacrifice. He was promised by Hashem Himself that his children will grow to be great and numerous, and now Hashem is telling him to sacrifice his only son (with Sarah). He could have easily, and respectively, asked, “Wait… didn’t You tell me that I will have descendants through Yitzchok?” He had a very good question he could have asked, however, he pushed that down and listened to Hashem.

Hashem has given us intellect to use. However, that intellect is to be used to serve G-d, and not ourselves.

We are servants to Hashem. A servant doesn’t use his intellect to decide whether or not to serve his master. Rather, he uses it to decide how best to serve his master. So, too, must we negate our intellect when it comes to “Is the Torah applicable to me?” and use it as “How can I best serve Hashem?”

First we must HEAR and LISTEN to Hashem, even if it goes against our intellect. We then can look into things and see how our intellect can understand what Hashem wants from us. But for us to first use our intellect to decide if we should or should not listen? That’s not what Yisro did.

The key to successful mussar (self-improvement) is not the “newness” of what you are learning. It is taking what you hear, over and over again, and placing it in one’s heart. Rav Asher found that there are some people who, when the rav speaks about self-improvement issues, quietly open up their books and continue learning what they were learning. Why? Because, what the rav is saying isn’t “intellectual enough” or “doesn’t apply to me.”

Again, this is not what the Torah wants from us.

The key to successful growth is first to HEAR. When one takes what he hears and pushes it into his heart, without petty excuses for why this or that might not apply to him, then he will continue to grow. If not, the Torah will remain a mere intellectual study and won’t leave a mark on his soul.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner






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