Weekly Dvar Torah
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Friday, April 22, 2016 / 14 Nissan 5776
The Tshuvah of Pesach
By: Michael Winner

My wife and I had a . . . discussion on whether or not we should clean certain toys or if checking them for chametz is good enough. I’ll let you figure out who the non-Jew was in this argument . . . I mean . . . discussion.

So, we agreed to call the rav and see what he says. I posed the question to him and he answered, “It depends on who you ask. If you ask me, checking it is fine. You won’t find enough of anything to be considered chametz. If you ask my wife however, she will tell you that OF COURSE you have to clean it, because the kids have dirty hands with chametz, chew gum, etc. etc. . . . So, in the end . . . do what you want.”

So, when I told my wife, I thought what he said was pretty clear and she held that he was in doubt on what we should do.

I’m beginning to understand how we have so many arguments in Gemara and halacha. Two different people hear the words of one person and come up with two different answers.

Needless to say . . . we locked those toys up in the end.


Okay, on to Torah!

I heard a wonderful piece from Rav Yaakov Leonard this past week. It was one of many, but this particular piece stood above.

We know that Pesach is a time of tshuvah, repentance. However, it’s missing all the elements that are associated with tshuvah. We don’t wake up early to say slichos. We don’t fast. We don’t say viduy. In fact, it’s a time of joy! We don’t say tachnun the entire month!

We can bring in the case of two different people.

The first person grew up in a very religious home. Went to the best yeshivos and has proven to be a Ben Torah. However, he made a mistake, and ended up doing a big sin. After realizing what he did, he went to his rav and spoke it over with him. The rav told him to say viduy and gave him a program to help him complete his tshuvah and to see that he doesn’t fall in that particular area again.

The second person was raised by the mafia. All he has known his whole life is stealing and swindling. One day he wakes up and realizes that he needs to change his life around. So, he goes to his local rav. What does the rav do? Does his tell him to say viduy? Does he give him some “12-step program”? No! For this particular person, he needs an entire change in his outlook in life. He requires a complete rewiring of his life and his mentality. Viduy won’t do a thing!

Everybody who grew up non-religious and changed his life completely around can understand where the second person is coming from. Things that used to be funny, now sicken him. Things that bothered him, no longer do. It’s not that he has kept his outlook in life, but now keeps Shabbos and kosher, it’s more than that. He’s a completely different person!

My wife and I once came to the conclusion that if we both remained where we were going in life, we would have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Nothing. But what we were is not who we are now.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is the time for the first person. It’s a time we focus on our sins and try to clean them up, and see that they don’t happen again.

Pesach on the other hand, is the time for the second person. We’re not focusing on sins. We’re focusing on our entire essence. When we were taken out of Egypt, we went from one spiritual plane of existence, to a completely different plane of existence that we didn’t even know about. THAT is the repentance of Pesach. On Pesach, especially Seder night, we have the ability to jump from one level to another level. We need to obviously learn and focus on what we want to become in our lives, but this is the time to help change things around.

On Pesach night, we can decide and begin the process of going where we want to be in life, of changing ourselves. We then have seven weeks to Shavuous, to work on that change and ingrain that change into our souls.

Have a wonderful and meaningful Pesach!

Michael Winner
Friday, April 15, 2016 / 7 Nissan 5776
Next Year at Home!
By: Michael Winner

Do you know why women can’t become rabbis? It’s very simple. They have complete "control" over a few aspects in life, where their word is THE word. One of them is, of course, cleaning for Pesach. And we know that if the Shulcan Oruch says we should clean like this, and your wife responds, “Why is he so lenient? Is he even Jewish?” we follow the opinion of The Wife. Can you imagine if they were in charge of everything?? If people complain that rabbanim today are too stringent . . .

Okay, on to Torah!

I saw an interesting question on the Haggadah Talelei Oros, “Our current exile—the last one before the Final Redemption—is very different from the exile we endured in Egypt. Pharaoh made us into slaves. We were impoverished and severely afflicted. Looking around today, however, many countries give Jews equal rights and complete freedom, and most of us are quite comfortable and well off. One needs to wonder, 'Why has the Holy One arranged things this way for our generation, as we near the promised end?'"

Of course . . . he brings an answer (from the Malbim) and of course . . . it’s a parable . . . and of course . . . it’s about a king and his son!! What’s a Pesach story (or any Jewish story for that matter) without one of those!

Our king had a son . . . of course, an only son, who tended to not really care about the concept of good behavior. Finally, after spending thousands of dollars on therapists, psychologist, hypnotists, army drill sergeants, and the like, the father decided to send his son away where he was forced to do hard labor.

Naturally, within a short while, the father started receiving letters from his son, begging him to take him back, promising him that he will be a better person. The father, feeling his son’s pain, brought him home.

Within a short while, the son was back at it again, and the father sent him away once again. Not long after that, the father started receiving the same letters as before, with the same promises.

This time the king was doubtful: "Maybe he regrets his sinful behavior only because he is suffering. But when he will be ridded of his suffering, he probably will return to evil."

So, the king sent a messenger to free his son, but it was kept a secret that the money came from the king. If after being free he would continue to be allowed back home, it’s a sign that he really repented. However, if he continued on with his life, showing no interest in coming home . . .

The Malbim concludes, "In the same way, we say at the seder, 'This is the bread of affliction that our forefathers ate in Egypt.' These days (mid- to late-1800s when being written, but certainly applicable today), thanks to Hashem, our situation is considerably better than it was in Egypt. We are well off and comfortable, so we are even able to invite others into our homes to share our blessings. We ask, nevertheless, 'Next year in the Land of Israel,' for in our exile, we cannot fulfill the mitzvos that are dependent upon living in the Holy Land. Although we are comfortable, we want to come home! We yearn to be free to do everything that the King wants – every mitzvah of the Torah! Yes, we have been sent from the 'palace' because of our sins, but we truly want to return!'"

I’m not sure what next week will bring, so if we don’t speak then, I would like to wish you all a wonderful Pesach and a great Shabbos, and we’ll see each other in a few weeks' time!

Michael Winner
Friday, April 08, 2016 / 29 Adar II 5776
Their Faults Are Our Faults
By: Michael Winner

We just finished a six-month “semester” in the kollel and will be returning in a month. Usually it’s a bit of a weird feeling. We live in a small community, so I’m still seeing the same people, except for all those who go away to family for Pesach, but it’s still strange, as if something has ended. This particular time was extra strange. For the past two-and-a-half years, we have been learning the laws of kashrus, all day, every day. So, even when we were going on break, we knew it was merely a break. Now, it’s putting books back on the shelf that we have been using nonstop for the past several years, getting ready to start something new. I would like to go back to this subject, since you really cannot learn kashrus just once. It’s a complicated subject that needs in-depth review several times over, but I am looking forward to what’s next.

The Rosh Kollel suggested we learn something “light” until the fall, such as the laws concerning mezuzos. And in the afternoon, we’re going to start our journey through the Tractate of Shabbos. Then, hopefully, in the fall, we’ll starting learning the laws of Shabbos, in-depth, for the next few years. Shabbos is supposed to be much easier to "digest" than kashrus (excuse the pun), so I, for one, am excited.

“And (the person who has tzaaras, (a physical/spiritual skin ailment) shall call out: ‘Unclean, unclean!’” (Vayikra 13:45)

The Shaloh writes that this verse can be read as, “(the) Unclean (says): Unclean!” Being that an unclean person will often accuse others of being guilty of the exact same thing he himself is guilty of. As a result of this imperfection in himself, he has an unconscious desire to bring others down, to make himself feel better about his own issues. The Gemara (Kedushin 70a) says, “Those who try to invalidate others do so with their own blemishes.”

Rav Zelig Pliskin comments, “One means of finding out your own faults and blemishes is to see what faults you tend to notice in others. If you focus on certain negative aspects of others, it is possible that you have those same tendencies yourself.”

We see from here that when we are finding the same, constant issues in other people, we need to see if perhaps we are suffering from those same issues, and simply, in the back of our mind, attempting to "calm ourselves" at the expense of others.

And on that note: I happen to think you are all wonderful people without any blemishes whatsoever!

Have a wonderful Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, April 01, 2016 / 22 Adar II 5776
One Little Mitzvah
By: Michael Winner

My wife and I got in a very heated fight over Shabbos. The result of said fight would have had no bearing on our lives whatsoever, and it really had no point except that I thought that I was right and she thought that she was right. So, we were fighting and yelling (it was really fun), each trying to convince the other side of their rightness, until my oldest daughter actually started to get worried that we were REALLY fighting. So we had to call a truce and told her not to worry.

We got a sigh of relief and a chuckle over the fact that she started getting emotional over our "fight." Thankfully, we never fight like that. Usually, if we get into an argument, I refuse to speak to my wife and tell my daughter to tell my wife, that I’m not speaking to her and that she smells, but she’s never seen us actually raise our voices against each other and FIGHTING. On the other hand, it makes you think about all the other kids who see their parents doing that on a regular basis . . .

Always something to keep in mind . . . especially with Pesach cleaning around the corner.

“Aaron’s sons brought forth the blood, and dipping his finger in the blood, Aaron placed some on the altar’s protrusions . . .” (Vayikra 9:9)

The Gemara in Moed Katton (25b) writes that when the children of Rebbe Yishmael died, four rabbeim came to console him. Rebbe Tarfon (who the Winner family visits once a year, since he’s buried nearby) said [when Aarons two sons were killed for bringing a non-authorized offering], Moshe said to Aaron, "As far as your brothers are concerned, let the entire family of Israel mourn for the ones whom G-d burned" (Vayikra 10:6). We learn from here that Aaron’s sons were mourned by the one mitzvah that they did properly (bringing forth the blood for the legitimate offering), so much so, your children, Rebbe Yishmoel, should be mourned by all of the nation for all of the mitzvos that they did.”

We see from this Gemara the importance of even one mitzvah done properly. One of the reasons given (forgot where, sorry) for so many mitzvos given to us, is that hopefully, we will be able to do at least one 100% correctly, both in action and intent. Of course, it’s our job to try to do our best to do each mitzvah properly, but don’t get distressed if you fall short here and there.

Have a wonderful Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, March 18, 2016 / 8 Adar II 5776
Miracles in Eretz Yisroel? No Big Deal.
By: Michael Winner

We received a catalog of costumes for Purim last week, which, naturally, the children pounced on immediately. As my seven-year-old son was looking at it, he was clearly getting upset at something. Finally his silence broke, “Look at this Kohen Gadol!!! This isn’t how he dressed! Look at the choshen! It’s not according to ANY opinions!! And look at this! This isn’t right either! Who made this?? A non-Jew?!?!?”

He then made up his mind: HE’S going to make the clothing of the Kohen Gadol. Not for Purim (he’ll be "working" for Hatzalah then), but just BECAUSE, gosh darn it! So, over the past week my wife bought him the supplies he needed, and he’s been working on it. He came to me asking what he should do, since there was a three-way argument over how something was made. I scratched my beard to show that maybe, perhaps, I could pretend to appear that I knew what he was talking about, and gave the sagely advice "Mmm . . . . Good question."

When I was his, age, I was out in the suburbs of Chicago in full fatigues on missions protecting the village from possible Communist paratroopers (we had constant patrols out . . . you can never be too careful with those Commies). Now, here I am, on the other side of the world, with a son making his own Kohen Gadol outfit. Strange how things work out.

I thought I might have written on this before, but I don’t see it anywhere, so I apologize if this is a repeat.

The Vilna Gaon in his commentary on Megillas Esther, quotes the Gemara (Chulin 139b) that asks, “Where do we find Esther mentioned in the Torah?” The Gemara then gives an answer: “Hester Panim," “I will surely hide My face” (Dvarim 31:18).

The Vilna Gaon then asks, why does the Gemara single out Esther? What happened to other tsaddikim? What about the miracle of Chanukkah? The Gemara doesn’t ask about where THAT is found?

He then answers, “A miracle in Eretz Yisroel isn’t 'such a big deal,' therefore, Chanukkah wasn’t as big as a miracle as Purim was. When the Torah hints to Purim, it hints to it in the pasuk of 'I will surely hide My face.' When is that? In exile, when He will do for us a great miracle such as this.”

From here we see the greatness of Eretz Yisroel, a Land of Miracles. Had Purim taken place in Eretz Yisroel, perhaps we would not be celebrating it like we do today. Why? Because a miracle in Eretz Yisroel, is closer to “natural,” then a miracle outside of Eretz Yisroel.

May we all merit to return soon and witness such a phenomenon on a personal level.

Have a wonderful Shabbos and a wonderful Purim.

See you in two weeks!

Michael Winner
Friday, March 11, 2016 / 1 Adar II 5776
Why ARAB Terror?
By: Michael Winner

I just came back from Yerushaliyim where I did my annual matzah baking. As usual, I have the most important job in the group: weighing, packing, and labeling. Most people don’t consider this important, but in our group, it IS considered important, since I also write personalized nonsense on each box; such as “Find a Pita: Win a Prize,” “Don’t worry, this year we washed our hands before,” “Certified Kosher, Minus the Certification” . . . things like that.

It would annoy my friend, who was doing the baking and running the operation, that everybody came in during their breaks to see what I was writing and not pay any attention to him, but he told me that this year one woman was worried that I wasn’t going to be in to write something funny on their box. For some reason, people look forward to them.

Last year, the rav who checks all the matzos asked me not to write anything on his box, since his wife gets embarrassed. “No problem,” I said. So, I wrote on the inside of the four flaps of the box, so when you open it up you see, “YOU CANNOT SILENCE ME.” This year he came up and told me how much he liked it.

I also got a little mean this year. On my birthday, my wife made a mug for me and put a plastic cockroach in the cup (our family "bug") hoping to scare me (it didn’t). I eventually avenged myself upon her with said cockroach. However, it was my friend (technically his wife) who sent the plastic cockroach to my wife for her "gift" in the first place. So, naturally, I had to avenge myself upon THEM. So, I wrote on his box, “Find a cockroach and win a prize!” placed a plastic toy under the matzos and a plastic cockroach on the top. I knew he would get home and open the box to air out the matzos from any trapped heat. Needless to say, I received a call five minutes after dropping him off: “YOU ARE A DEAD MAN! Do you know how high I jumped when I saw that?!”

Mission Accomplished.

Before I went the make the matzos, I went to visit a former Rosh Yeshiva of mine from 20 years ago (let’s not ponder that number, shall we?). He runs a small yeshiva for boys who are coming from a non-religious background. At the end of our conversation he told me, “This morning I overheard some of the boys discussing the sitcom they watched last night over their phones. You know . . . in your times, when you guys came to Israel to learn, you were cut off from America (this was before email picked up), and left it all behind. Nowadays, they simply bring it with.”

I later went to quickly see a friend of mine whom I haven’t seen in years. He is a very big talmid chacham nowadays, sitting and learning in Mir Yeshiva. He told me an interesting dvar torah concerning the attacks (there were two in Yerushaliyim that day) that we have been going through. He said that there is a Gemara that discusses the death of Rebbe Yehudah HaNasi. Shortly before his death, his students were asking him deeper questions, and one of them was, “Who are the Yishmaelim (our Arab cousins)?” He answered that they are “The Shaiddim of the Beis HaKisei” or in English, “The Demons of the Bathroom.”

My friend continued, ”Why did we have the Holocaust? Because we placed such a great importance on Western Civilization. We started to worship them and their universities, and through the Enlightenment, we left Torah. So, Hashem punished us through that which we worshipped. The Germans were known for their academia, universities, and enlightenment. After all, it was not Mengele who was killing Jews, it was DOCTOR Mengele . . .

“So, now, here we are, being attacked in the streets and in our homes by ‘Demons of the Bathroom.’ Not ‘Demons of the Fields’ or ‘Demons of the Mansions,’ but the BATHROOM! The disgusting of disgusting! Why? Probably because that is exactly what we are worshipping today: nonsense and disgusting things.”

It’s an interesting insight he had. In previous times, people left Torah because of different ideologies, like Socialism, Communism, and such. They might be anti-Torah, but at least there was some SOMETHING to it, some THOUGHT! But nowadays, our fight isn’t against anything intellectual, but rather it’s simply against physical desires and pleasures with minimal brain usage necessary. That is the battle that we are fighting today, and that is why, he believes, when we worship things that are low and disgusting, we are killed by those who are low and disgusting.

May we all be able to find some way of lifting ourselves above the muck, at least a little bit, to deserve some quiet and peace from our tormentors.

With that, I wish you all a good Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, March 04, 2016 / 24 Adar I 5776
Secular Studies in Yeshiva
By: Michael Winner

While my children first learn English, their "mother tongue" is Hebrew. We speak to them in English, using a (growing) amount of Hebrew thrown in here and there, but they think and speak in Hebrew. That being so, when they use new words, they often use Hebrew grammar rules, or translate literally. "I'm watching the baby" is now "I’m saving on the baby," for example.

The other Shabbos, the kids went for a walk around the block, and came back all excited. It seems our neighbor bought a dog . . . a rather large, ugly dog. When they first saw it, it was walking around without any owner, and with a giant fish head in his mouth, or "head fish" (remember, in Hebrew adjectives come after nouns). And my three-year-old was yelling, "He had devek (glue), lots and LOTS OF DEVEK in his mouth!!!!" (We assume he was talking about the gums and lips. So, now we have a new character in our life story: "Head-fish dog" (with LOTS OF DEVEK!!!!!).

They're fun creatures.

Okay, on to Torah!

"Every naturally talented individual among you shall come forth and make all that G-d has ordered" (Shemos 35:10).

Rav Shimshon Pincus was once speaking to a person about secular subjects and day schools that devote a significant amount of their day to secular studies. Rav Pincus asked this person whether he thought that the Moshiach would view yeshiva high schools offering secular studies alongside with Torah studies as a proper path.

This person’s father was a well-known, religious doctor. A few days later, Rav Pincus received a letter from this professor.

"Dear Rav Pincus, I wish to ask you a question: If the Rambam would come alive today, would he be accepted as a rebbe in one of the yeshivas that do not focus on secular subjects? Didn’t the Rambam also study philosophy, medicine, and general science?"

"Indeed," answered Rav Pincus, "the professor posed a good question, to which we should devote some thought. As we know, the yeshivas do not teach secular subjects (Michael’s note: with exception of some of the basics such as math and some science). Why? What is our outlook on secular studies, and how do we explain the fact that great Torah luminaries of the past engaged in various secular studies such as science? If this was acceptable for the Rambam, why isn’t it acceptable for us? The best answer to this question lies in the Rambam’s own words, in a letter he sent to a student of his (Teshuvos HaRambam III p.57):

"'Before I was formed in the womb, I knew the Torah. And before I left the womb, You sanctified me. And in order to disseminate the fountains of Torah, you placed me. And Torah is my beloved gazelle and the wife of my youth. In whose love I have been engrossed since I was young. Nevertheless, many foreign women became her associates: Moabites, Ammonites, Sidonites, Edomites and Hittites.

"'Hashem, may He be blessed, knows that they were taken in the first place only to be perfumers, cooks and bakers for her - to show the nations and the princes her beauty, for she is of exceptionally fine appearance.'"

We see that the Rambam himself testifies that there were "other women" in his life, next to the Torah, his wife. However, he also testifies that they were mere "perfumers, cooks, and bakers," and nothing more.

Let me give a brief example.

There are two members of the kollel who are basically "doing their own thing." They are well above everybody else in terms of brains and the ability to sit and learn. Their view on learning is simple: know it well and see it with your own eyes. One of the things they have been learning is dealing with time. When does the day start, when does it end. (Believe it or not, it's not so simple.) When they learned that I know a bit of astronomy, they took my astronomy books and studied the relevant things that they needed to know. Then they had me take them out at 2 a.m. to show them the stars and give them a first-hand tour of the night sky. And every night, they go out to the same spot where they have a clear view, and mark down when certain stars start to become visible. They know more about astronomy then most secular high-school seniors.

This is only one example of many, concerning their studies.

Secular studies are not inherently evil, but they must be used properly. They are mere "servants of the house." If you or your husband had a cook at home who was young and attractive, and you saw that you or your husband was making a connection with said cook on any emotional level, that cook would be out the door for the sake of your marriage. That is why there is no focus on secular subjects in yeshiva. The students need to love only one woman. When they need to know more information to help them in their studies or other areas of life, they will be able to learn it, but they will always know who is the wife, and who is the cook.

Ironically, there is a school in the States named after the Rambam that mixes up the daily schedule: religious studies, secular studies, religious studies, secular studies, to show that both are "Torah." But we see from the words of the Rambam himself that he never believed in such a thing. Torah is the main subject, and everything else is secondary, and is used only in order to help "show the nations and the princes her beauty."

Have a wonderful Shabbos!

Michael Winner

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