Weekly Dvar Torah
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Sunday, April 13, 2014 / 13 Nissan 5774
Making Man
By: Michael Winner

“These are the times that try men’s souls…”

It is quite obvious to me that Thomas Paine was speaking about Pesach cleaning when the children are off of school. It came to a point when I wanted to yell out, “Who wants to be executed?!?!?!?” and knowing them and their lack of English for any word that’s more than two syllables, they would all yell, “I do!!!!!” and then start fighting over who was going to go first….

At least the end is near.

This year, with what little time I had, I was able to listen to a talk from Rav Shimshon Pincus on Pesach.

He spoke about the importance of Pesach in one’s personal development. It’s no coincidence that Pesach is mentioned in the Torah as a holiday that is to fall out in the spring. Just as spring is a time of birth and growth in the natural sense, so is Pesach in the spiritual sense. It is a time when the Jewish people were born, and each individual has the power to transform himself for the upcoming year.

The Seder, says Rav Pincus, is our way of recreating Man. What is man? Science writes that we are mere animals with intelligence. However, the Torah says that man is a being which has the power to connect to Hashem. Without that connection, science is right; we are merely animals with intelligence.

The Gemara says that there are three partners in creating a person. A man, a woman, and Hashem. The man provides that “whites” of the body, such as the bones. The woman provides the “reds” of the body, such as the blood, and Hashem provides the neshama, or soul.

The matzah which we eat, represents the “white,” or the bones. It’s the skeletal structure which gives man the basic form. The matzah is also referred to as the “bread of faith.” It’s when a person eats food he can feel closest to Hashem (which is a whole different talk). He can feel the difference in his body as he eats, as if he is moving away from death (hunger) to life (energy). From this simple act of eating, a person can grasp the basic fundamentals of emunah, faith, in Hashem. It is Hashem Who created his body to act in such a way, and it is Hashem Who has given him food to sustain him.

The wine, which preferably should be red, is the blood of a person. Wine provides energy and excitement. That is why wine is drunk four times throughout the Seder. The entire Seder, like all mitzvos, should be done with excitement and love, and wine helps bring a person to that stage.

And the telling of our freedom from Egypt is the soul, which Hashem provided.

Now, we have an additional understanding of why Matzah is a Torah obligation and wine is Rabbinic. Emunah, the basic belief in Hashem’s involvement in our lives, is the basic, minimum, obligation. However, the excitement in a mitzvah is something that cannot be commanded. It has to come from the heart (like blood), and must be produced by the individual himself, each on his own level.

Rav Pincus continued to speak about Karpas, the eating of the vegetable after Kiddush. Nowhere in the Beis HaMikdash do we see vegetables being offered as an offering. We see meat, wine, and water, but no vegetables. There’s no “importance” to them. The Gemara itself asks, why do we eat a vegetable at the Seder? It answers, to prompt the children to ask why are we doing something so different. So, the entire point of the vegetable is to prompt the child to ask questions.

There are two levels of understanding Hashem. One is the very basic understanding, and one is a deeper understanding. I was trying to think of a good comparison that everybody would understand. I don’t know why, but the American national anthem came to mind. You have a very basic understanding of the anthem, even if you don’t understand all the words: “There was an overnight battle. The American fort held on, and its flag continued to fly at the end.” Great. You don’t need to understand exactly what a “rampart” is, or even know what war it was, or where it was. All you know is some bad people came, tried to kill the Americans, and the Americans held firm. Yeah!

On the other hand, when you understand that it was written by an American lawyer who was on an English warship at Fort McHenry, at the wrong time in the War of 1812, and the Americans were flying a super-large “in-your-face” flag on top of the fort to taunt the British, and things, at the time, were not going well for the Americans, then you have a greater and deeper appreciation for the words.

That being said… our understanding of Hashem and his Torah have two different levels. There’s the lower level, which a “child” understands; there IS Hashem in this world and He took us out of Egypt. And then there are deeper understandings of all the mitzvos and Jewish concepts. The karpas represents the lower level. It’s to prompt the “child” within us to ask basic questions and gain basic understandings of our relationship with Hashem.

If so, why do we not start the Seder with Karpas? Why do we start with Kiddish, which is deeper? Rav Pincus answers that sometimes, such as Seder night, we need to “skip levels.” Sometimes, we don’t, nor should we, wait for the “basics.” Sometimes, we need to act on a deeper level, even though we might not be holding there at this time. Of course, this is on condition that we eventually go back to the karpas, and understand everything on a basic level. One can, temporarily, skip levels, but one must always make sure he has a fundamental understanding of the basics.

From here Rav Pincus urges us never to give in to the temptation to say about the Pesach Seder, “Who am I to get excited about these things? I’m not on the appropriate level to be acting all religious and fanatical. I’ll do my basic obligations and that’s it.”

Pesach is a time of immense spiritual overflow. He gives us a spiritual “high” on the first day of Pesach, which nobody is fit for, even the greatest tzaddikim. The next day, He brings us back down to our regular level and gives us 49 days to bring ourselves up, so by Shavous we would be fit to receive the Torah.

May we use this Pesach appropriately, and truly grow in our relationship with Hashem.

Have a wonderful Pesach and we’ll see each other again for Parshas Kedoshim.

Michael Winner
Friday, April 04, 2014 / 4 Nissan 5774
Purifying the Impure
By: Michael Winner

Okay, you may all be jealous…

I got a car.

Granted, it’s only for three weeks, it’s literally being held up in some areas with scotch tape, and the brakes squeak a bit, but it works!

Living in the North without a car is certainly doable, but a lot more trouble than in Yerushaliyim, ESPECIALLY before and during Pesach. So, when I heard that a friend is leaving the country for Pesach, I asked him if he would mind renting his car to me. So, I have it for three weeks at the rate of 1 Shekel per kilometer.

While, I honestly would not want a car on a day-to-day basis (people don’t understand what they’re missing when they have to walk everywhere), I’m excited about having one now. We need to go shopping for Pesach near Haifa and the only way to do that is via car. Plus, on Pesach itself, we’re planning to go to the zoo and the new IKEA (kids love visiting and playing at IKEA) just north of Haifa, and this will make it much easier and quicker to travel than via bus. So happy are us.

Okay, on to Torah!

Shortly after Sukkos, the only Breslov chossid in our kollel invited me to join him and a small group of people to start a weekly Malave Malka (a meal after Shabbos to escort the Shabbos Queen away). While I usually work after Shabbos, my wife and I decided it would be proper to take away time from it to attend. While it’s not an obligation, it is a mitzvah to have one, and it’s considered an important one at that. Basically, we have four regulars with four 75-percent regulars who come together for an hour and a quarter. This chossid brings hot challah and soup and others bring dips and drinks. We have the standard after-Shabbos zemiros (songs), he gives a lesson from Sichos HaRan (one of the big Breslov books), and we send Shabbos off in a proper manner. At first it started in a location which wasn’t very pleasant, so I volunteered my home to be our new base of operations. As a “thank-you” this Purim, I received a set of Chumashim with “Lekutei Halachos” (Breslov commentary in Jewish law). It’s a really nice set with beautiful print, so I’m happy to be able to write something short from it.

“This will be the law (Toras) of the Metzorah” (Vayikra 14:2)

The Metzorah was somebody who became ritually impure to a very high degree, usually for speaking loshon horah, and usually after ignoring several warnings. “Toras” is usually translated as “the laws of,” however, if you read it literally, the pasuk is speaking of the “Torah of the Metzorah”.

The Lekutei Halachos speaks a bit at length about the lesson here. To simplify, the Torah goes with you no matter how spiritually low you go. If even the Metzorah, who cannot even live with the rest of the community due to the severity of his impurities, can have Torah, than anybody can. The Torah will “follow you down” to the deepest depths and will help purify and light you up. It is only via the power of osek Torah (delving in Torah), says the Lekutei Halachos, that one can lift himself from any spiritual depths.

This is why the Gemara describes the Torah as something that cannot become impure. It has the power of taking the impure and making it pure.

We also see that the Torah has the power of taking even curses and turning them into brachos. Bilaam, who tried several times to curse the Jewish nation, was forced, instead, to bless them. He cried out, “How good are your tents, Yaakov!” What are these tents? The kollels and yeshivos where Torah is learned. “They stretch out like streams, like gardens by the river…” Just as water (via washing our hands or going to the mikvah, depending on the level of impurity) takes the impure and makes it pure, so too does the in-depth study of Torah. This Torah raises the person from his impurities and makes him pure once again.

From here we see the power of learning Torah properly! In Israel, many outreach groups take the approach of “Get a person inside a beis medresh or yeshiva, just to learn a little bit every week, and he will take off from there,” and you see the success that this approach has brought. Many, MANY secular Israelis have changed their lives around just by sitting and learning a little every day or at least a few times a week. The Torah that they continue to learn, takes their impurities and not only cleanses them, but makes them shine.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, March 28, 2014 / 26 Adar II 5774
The Importance of Education
By: Michael Winner

My apologies for last week. My wife was down with what is now being called “The Alien Martian Death Flu” (no, I did not come up with it…one of her friends did). She was out of commission, leaving me to make Shabbos on my own.

Either way, I hope everybody enjoyed their Purim. We had four families together for our Purim meal…that was eleven adults and twenty-five children. It was really enjoyable. A few people dropped by, including a friend who was born in Ukraine, moved here and received a bris at 14, and has been learning since. Naturally, he was full of vodka, so we did a few shots and sang the Soviet national anthem (I had a transliteration). The token Breslov chossid from the kollel came and was likewise out of his mind. All the kids enjoyed watching the “shikurim” (drunks), and even Chaim testified that he got “shikur” on some RC that we let him have. All in all, it was really enjoyable.

Okay, on to Torah!

In this week’s parsha we learn about the spiritual status of a woman after she gives birth. One of the offerings that she is required to bring is a Chatas (Sin Offering), which one usually brings when they sin accidentally.

This, of course, raises a big question. Why does a woman have to bring a Chatas for having given birth?

Rabbeinu Bachya (Vayikra 12:7) explains that she is bringing this offering, not for herself, but rather for Chava (commonly known as “Eve”). Chava followed her desires, ate the fruit, and for that, all women were to suffer pains in labor. It was Chava who instilled in her offspring the desire to fulfill one’s desires, and for this women need to bring a Chatas.

From here we have an important lesson. Our middos, spiritual character traits, can and will be passed down from generation to generation, whether they are positive or negative. With this, we need to constantly keep in mind the impact our actions will have on our descendants.

Somebody I know is leaving the country with his family for Pesach, to go to their parents. On one hand, you can be a tad jealous that they are free from having to clean up and take care of kids during the vacation, which can get quite stressful. However, I realized that he, and more importantly his children, are missing out on a VERY important time for education. They have yet to experience cleaning their own home for Pesach, setting up for Pesach, having their own Seder, etc… While his children will be running around playing with their cousins during the Seder, ours will be AT the Seder, since it’s geared towards them (last year, they sat at the table until 12:30 a.m.), and will be participating and learning (which is exactly what the Seder is about).

It’s very easy to forget, in our hectic days, that we have an ongoing obligation to educate our children. It might not be easy, but the obligation remains. By working on ourselves and our personal growth, we are developing spiritual “genes” to pass on to the next generation, and by taking the foremost role in our children’s education, we can help them grow into Bnei Torah.

Have a wonderful Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, March 14, 2014 / 12 Adar II 5774
Drinking with Purpose
By: Michael Winner

A friend of mine, who happens to always have weird things happen to him, came late to kollel one morning. I asked him if everything was okay. He explained that he was in an office building a few hours ago and, as he was waiting to speak to somebody, somebody grabs him and says, “You’re a rabbi! You need to come immediately! It’s an emergency!”

It turns out a seventeen-year-old girl was half-way out of a window about to jump. My friend was able to speak to her and calm her down until the police arrived. Thank G-d it all ended well.

It was funny, since my friend is not a rabbi. He happens to learn in kollel and work in the evenings as a “fix-it man” around the city. Because he’s a foster-father to two children who are not 100 percent, and other reasons, he also happens to know how to handle these situations.

It’s interesting the role an ultra-Orthodox person plays in a secular city. When you’re living in a frum community, you’re just another person. However, when you’re in the vast minority, suddenly you become a “rabbi.” I’ve been stopped numerous times on the street by people with questions in basic halacha or asking where they can buy certain religious things. Each time, it starts with, “Slicha, haRav?” (“excuse me, rabbi?”). Which is strange, since I’m just a computer nerd with a hat, jacket and beard.

Well, the lesson is: always be on your best behavior.

Okay, on to Torah

One of the more popular songs (based on halacha) we sing is about our obligation to drink on Purim until we don’t know the difference between “Curse Haman and bless Mordechai."

I saw in the name of the Chachmas Manuach, that “Curse Haman” and “Bless Mordechai” are allusions to hatred and jealousy. “Curse Haman” refers to hatred that a person has for another person, because that person wronged him in some way. “Bless Mordechai” refers to the jealousy a person has towards somebody for that person's successful endeavors (whatever they may be). We see this alluded to at the end of the Megillah when it records that Mordechai was raised to an elevated position and found favor in the eyes of “most” of his brethren.

Thus we are obligated to drink until we don’t know the difference between “Curse Haman” (how we dislike others) and “Bless Mordechai” (how we are jealous of others). By drinking and eating together, we can forget why we were wronged, and perhaps even see that we weren’t REALLY wronged, and perhaps even forgive the person, who wronged us; we can also forget the jealousy and pain that is caused by such jealousy.

With proper use of food and drink on Purim, we can uproot our anger and jealousy all at once!

Have a wonderful Purim and Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, March 07, 2014 / 5 Adar II 5774
The Atzeres Tefillah
By: Michael Winner

As you might have seen, this “Atzeres Tefillah”, or the “Gathering for Prayer”, that took place in Jerusalem this past week has been in the Jewish news quite a bit. For those, who haven’t seen, basically somewhere around 600,000 Jews, compromising (mainly the) Ultra-Orthodox, Ashkanazim, Chassidim & Sfardim, and many within the National Religious camp, men, women, and children, came to Jerusalem to pray that somehow Hashem should overturn the law that will throw people into prison if they refuse to stop learning in yeshivos and kollels to join the army (something I don’t think even non-Jewish governments have… at least the non-evil ones). Unfortunately, I was unable to go, but nearly the entire kollel, along with others from the local Hesder Yeshiva (Religious Zionist) and working men, went. I was told, and one could see from the photos, that it was a sight to behold. What was most important is that it wasn’t a protest, as reported in the press. Everybody came, davened Mincha, said certain Psalms, and that was that. No protest against the government. No protest against individuals. No violence broke out. Just davening.

Just as in Purim, when we had nobody to turn to but Hashem, the community has acknowledged that even the religious MKs in the Knesset are powerless, and there is only one direction to channel our hopes towards.

I was discussing this with a friend of mine, and I mentioned that we both know that many people who keep Shabbos and Kashrus still don’t understand what this is all about. They think it’s politics; they think that everybody doesn’t want to work, or that they wish to see the State of Israel destroyed… they cannot grasp the concept that the Torah is very clear that we have been put on this world to be osek in Torah (“osek” can be translated as “delve”or “learning”… but it’s more than just “learning,” it’s putting all your effort and time into that learning), and to fulfill the mitzvos. Why can’t even THEY understand this basic and fundamental belief in Judaism (please see Nefesh HaChaim, Gate 4… it’s even published in English, for more details on this concept).

My friend explained that the difference between such people and ourselves is simple. We believe that and they don’t. We believe that Torah is the center of our lives and the key to success in this world and the next, while they believe in living their lives as much as they can as long as it’s not explicitly forbidden by the Torah.

It reminded me of an email somebody sent me. He told me that somebody whom he knows made mention about his upcoming vacation. He was proud of himself for learning Daf Yomi (where you learn one page of Gemara a day) ahead of time, so he will be “free” to enjoy his vacation to the fullest.

That is an idea which the Torah does not encourage.

We don’t view learning Torah as something you pick up, learn a little, and put down. We believe in being “osek” in Torah, that is putting our full energies into it, to delve into it, and to understand it as much as possible. This obligation is upon every Jewish man, whether he is working or learning full-time. Obviously, it is best to be able to sit and learn and devote as much time as one can to his learning. Each person needs to make a schedule according to his life, but nonetheless, it should be the main part of his life.

This week we begin Sefer Vayikra, the third in the five books of the Torah. Throughout most of the next few parshiyos, the Torah goes into detail about all the different types of korbonos, sacrifices.

One of the points of these korbonos (depending which ones), is that one should feel that he is “sacrificing” himself by giving all his energies to Hashem and developing his relationship with Him. THIS is one of fundamental beliefs that Jews have.

This “Atzeres Tefillah” is not about working vs. not working (most men after several years of kollel DO go out to work in some capacity, contrary to popular belief). This is not about pro- vs. anti-army. This is about the ability to leave this community to be osek in Torah and to allow young men, especially in the beginning years of marriage, to build themselves in Torah while they still have the opportunity to, before they have to start to work more to support a larger family.

I would like to end off with a story I saw printed that was said over by Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein, one of the leading rabbeim of our generation:

“After the group tefillah (prayer), the masses dispersed in an orderly fashion to their homes and cities. I sat in a car as we tried to navigate our way through the crowds streaming toward the entrance of the city. It was hard to move because of the mass of people. Suddenly, I noticed a policeman approaching the car, trying to open a path to us. He saw that I have a white beard, and thinking perhaps that I was a Rav asked to talk to me.

“This is what he said, which moved everyone around us: ‘I have to tell the Rav that I’ve been here since the beginning of the day, but I had nothing to do the whole time because everyone behaved so decorously. I really identify with you, and wondered what I could do to fill the time. And when I saw this crowd of quality people, each holding a pamphlet and praying from it, I asked someone if they had one for me, and I recited the entire prayer from the paper.

“Then I spoke to the Creator in my own language and I told Him, “G-d in Heaven, I see a huge crowd of quality people, and all they want is to be able to continue learning Torah,” and I asked that He should fulfill the wishes of the Chareidim (Ultra-Orthodox), and added that although there are people in this country who don’t want to allow them this, and even persecute them, “You, G-d, know better than anyone how to manage with them; please arrange that they should allow this sector to continue doing the only thing they yearn to do.’”

Have a great Shabbos

Michael Winner
Friday, February 28, 2014 / 28 Adar I 5774
Proper Environments
By: Michael Winner

Early this week, an old friend, whom I haven’t seen in ten years, came to Israel with his wife to visit his daughter in seminary. Since he was in the country for 10 days, he decided to come up north, and they had dinner and spent the night in our home. We have a custom that whenever guests come, the kids make "welcome" signs for the front door. Chaim, who still has yet to master the skill of writing, took it upon himself to right a small message for them. Since, all I saw were seemingly random letters in Hebrew, my wife was more than happy to read what Chaim wrote to our esteemed guests:

If you come into our house, a poisonous snake is going to eat you
-Chaim Moshe

My wife said he was snickering the whole time as he wrote it. Obviously, we know where he gets his sick sense of humor from….

Okay, on to Torah!

In this week’s parsha, the Torah finishes the description of the building of the Mishkan. It notes (Shemos 40:18) that Moshe first put up the curtains and then put up the support beams. This poses a difficult question: how do you put up the curtains without the support beams? Two answers are given. One, is that people held the curtains up while the support beams were put in place and another is that miraculously the curtains were suspended in midair.

So, this brings forth a second question: why was it done in such a way?

I saw an answer given by Rav Aryeh Brueckheimer, which came to the same conclusion as I, but in a different way. Since, I like my way better, and I’m writing, I’m going to give my answer. :)

The curtains were obviously on the outside of the support beams. By putting up the surrounding curtains first, Moshe was showing the importance of surrounding oneself within a proper environment. When one surrounds himself with holiness, via a “closed off” house from the outside world, or by surrounding himself with proper friends who will help him grow, then he is setting himself up for success. For as long as he is surrounded by people and things that distract him from his spiritual growth, he will always be held back. But, when he surrounds himself in an environment of growth, he will have unlimited success.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, February 21, 2014 / 21 Adar I 5774
Torah and Prison
By: Michael Winner

Well… it’s seems that the Jewish State has made it illegal for people to learn Torah in kollel without having to serve time in an army which does not respect their religious rights and has constantly broken their promises to the community concerning religious freedom. (yes, that was a long sentence)


I heard recently that there is no way we can call Israel a Jewish State. A State for Jews? Sure. But “Jewish”? One that upholds Jewish law and ethics? One that is actually JEWISH?


Several years ago, we bought an apartment across “the green line” as an investment. Before buying it, we went to one of our rabbeim to seek his advice. One of the issues that we discussed is what happens if the government turns over said community to the Arabs? His response was classic and you need to picture an old, Englishman, smiling and saying: “So what? We’re chareidim! What do we care what the government said! So, they’ll come with their police and army took take everybody away? We’ll bop them on the head! Okay… they’ll probably be wearing helmets… so we’ll bop them on their helmets!”

Whenever there have been anti-Torah legislation in Israel, the religious world has come out on top. We’re not afraid to go to prison, and we certainly cannot pay any fines, and I know they were/are (?) looking to take away even more money (60% cuts weren’t enough) from the yeshivos… but in the end, the religious world has some support Above which the government does not have…

“And he made for it a crown of gold all around” (Shemos 37:2)

The incense Altar, the Table, and the Holy Ark all had golden crowns on them. They represented the three spiritual crowns: The crown of Priesthood, which the Cohanim have. The crown of Kingship, which belongs to King David. And finally the crown of Torah, which is free for all who want (Yoma 72b).

Once Rav Shach was walking with his grandson, Rav Avraham Bergman in Bnei Brak. He stopped, sighed, and said, “Archeologists, collectors, and antiquities hunters pay enormous sums for broken and worm riddled artifacts from just a few hundred years ago. Our Torah is the most previous object in heaven and earth and it was given to us more than three thousand years ago, yet it lies in the corner and no one wishes to claim it! No one chases after it to raise it up and embrace it in his arms! When the Holy Ark fell into the possession of the Pelishtim (Book of Samuel), even THEY were awestruck, saying ‘Oh! Who will save us from the hand of this mighty G-d?’”

Amazing! Even the non-Jews living in Eretz Yisroel were humbled and awed by Hashem and his Torah and here, today, we have a government full of Jews doing its best to limit it!

Perhaps, the reason that the government has been so successful in their edicts recently is because we ourselves have failed to appreciate Torah learning. Perhaps, we are not supporting it financially. Perhaps, we are not learning it enough (or at all). Perhaps, even when we are supposed to be learning it, we are talking to our friends instead. Who knows? But every decree so far has been targeting the learning of Torah.

We do know one thing. Decrees limiting Torah learning (via financial threats and imprisonment) and practice (via the army and their rules), do not come into the world randomly. Hashem sends these people, like He sent Haman, to pass these decrees to force us to do teshuvah. When we identify and correct our sins, like Purim, the decrees will be nullified, Haman and his family will be punished, and we we’ll grow to new spiritual heights.

Have a great Shabbos!

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