Weekly Dvar Torah
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Friday, December 09, 2016 / 9 Kislev 5777
Holiness in the Mundane
By: Michael Winner

Three weeks ago, we started a new custom that will hopefully last during the winter months. We told the kids that if, after Shabbos ends, they help clean up and do it quickly, then they can participate in a Malave Malka (a meal held after Shabbos in honor of the departure of Shabbos). Now, we can’t actually have a meal. Our stomachs are not up for it, and my wife and I need to start work. However, we do something special. I sit down with the kids at the table, and sing special songs for after Shabbos, and my wife makes everybody “smoothies.” We have a few cookies each as well, but the important part is, everybody is together, bringing out Shabbos properly.

Just last week, I started a similar approach to Shabbos night. We hold off on the singing until the end of the meal, and make the meal a little quicker. Afterwards, we clear the table and have dessert with a special drink and popcorn, along with the singing.

So far it’s working out very well.

It’s important that each family finds a way of keeping the kids involved in the Shabbos table, without having to force it on them.

Okay, on to Torah!

“So says Hashem, who redeemed Avraham, to the House of Yaakov” (Isaiah 29:22)

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 19b) explains that it was Yaakov who redeemed Avraham. Rebbe Yehudah explained that he redeemed Avraham by freeing him from the burden of bringing up a big family. While Avraham had two children, Yaakov had twelve (along with four wives). With more “free” time, Avraham was able to travel and spread the concept of Hashem in the world.

Yaakov, on the other hand, we see was very involved, for 20 years, in raising a family and earning a livelihood. In fact, in this week’s parsha ,we see very little spirituality that Yaakov was engaged in. However, Rav Avigdor Miller explains, if we look a little more closely, we will see something interesting.

Yaakov encountered angels on three occasions. The first (28:12), Yaakov saw them in a dream. Twenty years later, he actually saw them (32:2), and in next week’s parsha, Yaakov has physical contact with one. So, obviously, during this time, Yaakov’s spiritual level increased dramatically.

During the twenty years Yaakov lived with the swindler Lavan, he raised a family from scratch, and worked hard raising Lavan’s and later his own, herds. Unlike Avraham, who acquired his riches through gifts (and I think he had some from his family), and unlike Yitzchok who inherited everything from Avraham, Yaakov started out with literally nothing. As he testified to Lavan, he was scorched by the sun, he was bitten by the frost, and he did not close his eyes to sleep (31:40). He was VERY involved in physical pursuits. But despite that, and despite the energy it took for him to raise such a family, he continued to thrive spiritually.

Each individual is given his tailor-made difficulties in life. But each of those difficulties was not made to keep him down, but rather to challenge him and push him to grow.

We also learn that spiritual growth does not happen in just the beis medresh. It happens in every aspect in life. I recently saw Rav Pincus write that when a kollel member has to take off time to take his sick child to the doctor, he might mistakenly think that he is wasting his time from growth to do something he needs to do (take care of his child). But, the truth is just the opposite. True, he is not in the kollel as he usually is, but at this moment he is “partnering up” with Hashem in taking care of his sick child. Similarly, when a person goes out to work, it’s not a matter of “taking off time” from being holy. It’s the opposite! He is (hopefully) BEING holy, by partnering up with Hashem in providing income to his family!

Every aspect of our lives, even the tougher times, are an opportunity for us to make a partnership with Hashem, and spiritualize the physical world.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, December 02, 2016 / 2 Kislev 5777
Hidden Brachos
By: Michael Winner

There is nothing more entertaining than learning the news from your son in cheder. During the week of the fires in Haifa, my son would come back and report on “what’s going on.” We “knew” exactly when the largest “fire-truck plane” (got to love his translations into English) was going to be in Israel. And of course, some boys even saw an Arab, with a donkey and a horse (important pieces of information), trying to light a fire in the nearby valley. And thanks to some small nearby fires, the kids got a free airshow last Friday of a whole collection of different “fire-truck planes.”

It’s good to be a kid during times of national disaster (that don’t affect you, of course).

Okay, on to Torah!

Rav Avigdor Miller learns out a very important lesson from this week’s parsha and those of the next few weeks.

We have a lot to thank Eisav for. For without him, where would Bnei Yisroel be? Had Eisav behaved himself, there wouldn’t be a Jewish people. We would be davening to Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchok, v’Elokei Eisav. However, Eisav’s hatred for Yaakov forced Yaakov to flee to Lavan, his uncle. Had he not fled, Yitzchok would have sent someone to Lavan to bring a wife back for Yaakov. Naturally, Lavan would have sent his oldest daughter Leah to marry him. However, Hashem had other plans. Because he had to flee himself, Yaakov ended up marrying both Leah and Rochel.

Who came from Rochel? Yosef. Yosef ended up being the king of the Jews and second-in-command of all of Egypt. “Rochel was a fiery girl who gave birth to a fiery son,” says Rav Miller. That son, who commanded more power and respect than Moshe himself, who set up the Jewish people to spiritually survive in Egypt for hundreds of years, was born because of Eisav.

“The deeds of the Avos (forefathers) are an indication of what will happen to their children in the future” (Ramban, Bereishis 12:6)

We have always been attacked by our enemies and always scolded. During those terrible times, there were hidden brachos: assimilation was practically nil, nobody intermarried, the Jewish community continued to flourish. As a friend pointed out, if you look at some of the major commentaries we have, many of them were written while “on the run.”

The opposite is also true. After the walls of the ghettos fell and we were given more rights, assimilation grew, intermarriage is at an all-time high . . . and it’s hard to know who is halachically Jewish!

“According to the difficulty is the reward” (Avos 5:26)

The harder the times, the more the reward. We must realize that when things are getting tough for the nation as a whole, and for individuals, there is always hidden brachos around. If the nation or individual approaches their trials and tribulations with this in mind, they can grow to newer heights.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, November 25, 2016 / 24 Cheshvon 5777
The Real Matchmaker
By: Michael Winner

For those Chicagoans out there, Dr. Yerachmiel Kramer, formerly of Chicago, passed away suddenly last erev Shabbos. I spent most of my day Sunday on the road to get to and from his home to see his family.

They were my neighbors in Chicago, and I had open access to their home for several years. All their children were born in Bnei Brak, and they had to return to the States for a few years, for personal reasons. Knowing it was temporary, they continued as best as they could to maintain an Israeli lifestyle while in Chicago. Finally, a few years after I moved here, they were also able to return.

They had a very big impact on my life at that time, and share in the responsibility of where I am today.

I spent several hours with the family alone, and got to hear some recent stories that I didn’t know about. While he worked as a psychologist in Bnei Brak, his life was Torah. In fact, he asked Rav Chaim Kanievsky if he can quit his work and learn full-time. Rav Kanievsky told him that under no circumstances should he do such a thing. He was to continue to help people in whatever capacities he could as a psychologist. So, he was to continue to learn whenever he could. What was the definition of “whenever he could”? He son said that recently he came home around midnight to find his father sitting at the table, drinking a tea, clearly just having arrived home himself. He wished his father a good night and went to bed. The next morning he awoke, his father had already left (he always caught the first possible minyan), and books were left on the table, obviously used just a few hours previously.

What’s more interesting is that he passed away shortly after coming home from the mikvah. He died and was buried on erev Shabbos, which is considered to be a very good time to pass away and to be buried. To die and be buried at such a time and right after the mikveh . . . well, the family was very comforted by such a thing.

May we only hear good news.

“And Lavan and Besuel responded . . . ‘The matter is from Hashem'” (Bereishis 24:50)

When the Beis HaLevi was ready for marriage, his uncle, Rav Itzele of Volozhin, took it upon himself to find a wife for his nephew. He was looking for a woman from a distinguished family who can also support the Beis HaLevi until he found a rabbinic position.

Naturally, this would take some time, and the Beis HaLevi continued in his studies.

One day, one of the local residents asked the Beis HaLevi if he was interested in getting married. The Beis HaLevi replied that he was, and the man offered to set him up with the baker’s daughter. The Beis HaLevi agreed, but, quoting halacha, told him that it is forbidden to marry a woman without seeing her first.

This particular woman happened to be extremely short, and a bit hunchbacked, so the matchmaker instructed her father to have her stand on a stool beside the window while she was bent over, working the dough.

That day, the Beis HaLevi walked past with the matchmaker and saw the young woman, and commented, “I see that she is a ‘woman of valour,’" and agreed to the match.

When the uncle of the Beis HaLevi heard that his nephew was engaged, and to whom he was engaged to, he gave a slap on the tabled and declared, “Mazel tov! Master of the Universe, You won!”

The obvious lesson to be learned, is . . . well . . . obvious, when it comes down to marriage. But, the story is equally applicable to all areas in life.

Sometimes, we have our ideas on what needs to happen in life, whether regarding marriage, income, children, etc., but Hashem is the ultimate "match-maker" in life, and sets people up with exactly what they need in their particular lives at certain particular times. Yes, we do our best to see that what we think is best for us, comes to fruition; but in the end, when decisions have been made, we should always accept it, and say, “Master of the Universe, You won!”

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, November 18, 2016 / 17 Cheshvon 5777
By: Michael Winner

My apologies for last week. We received an invitation by a family that I’ve been close with in Jerusalem for 20 years, for Shabbos (our first "out Shabbos" in two years!). I rented a car for the younger kids, and sent my 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son on the bus. All-in-all it was a very relaxing Shabbos, and I had the honor of davening with Staliner Chassidim who yell nearly the entire davening. Believe it or not, it was one of my better davenings that I’ve had in a long time. I think the best part was taking the kids out on a walk during Shabbos day, and the entire neighborhood was filled with all sorts of frum Jews everywhere, and not a car in sight.

Okay, on to Torah!

This week’s dvar Torah is another Winner Original, so take it for what it’s worth (which is probably not much). I had a thought, and figured I would share it and see if it makes sense.

In last week’s parsha, Sarah is kidnapped by Pharaoh, who thought she was not married. Upon entering Egypt, Avraham realized that they will most likely kill him and take her, so they agreed to say that he is her brother. Right after she was taken, Pharaoh and his household were smitten with a plague. Realizing on his own what is happening, Pharaoh asks Avraham, “Why did you tell me she was your sister?” and before giving him time to respond, has them escorted out of the country.

In this week’s parsha, the story is nearly repeated with Avimelech. After taking Sarah, he receives prophecy from Hashem telling him that Sarah is really Avraham’s wife and should be returned immediately. Avimelech does so and like Pharaoh, asks Avraham why he lied to him. Avraham explained that he saw that there was no fear of Hashem in this land and he was afraid that he was to be killed. Avimelech gives them both presents and offers them to live in his land undisturbed.

I wondered: why did Avimelech receive prophecy and Pharaoh did not and had to figure it out himself? One would think that we can compare Pharaoh and how he kicked Avraham out to Avimelech and how he offered for them to stay. I want to take another angle.

When Pharaoh asked Avraham why he was lied to, he didn’t give Avraham a chance to answer, he continued on his yelling spree. Yet, Avimelech asked him and DID give him a chance to answer.

From here, we see the differences between the two.

Pharaoh wasn’t interested in hearing Avraham’s answer. He was mad at Avraham, blamed him for what happened, and wanted him out. Avimelech on the other hand, DID want to know why Avraham lied, and when he learned the truth, he promised them that they will be left alone.

Pharaoh’s mindset was stuck at “I’m right and you’re wrong” and was unwilling to learn and grow. Avimelech’s mindset was set to learn and to grow. With such a mindset, it’s not so surprising that even he should receive prophecy.

From Avimelech’s behavior, he can learn how we should deal with failures in life. We can be like Pharaoh and blame others, or we can be like Avimelech and learn our lessons and move forward.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, November 04, 2016 / 3 Cheshvon 5777
Davening For Others
By: Michael Winner

Wow… the Cubs did it.

I haven’t followed sports in who knows how long. Honestly, I could care less about it. I heard last week that they made it to the World Series, which surprised me, but as a long-ago Cubs fan, I knew what was going to happen and they would lose. Then, I was informed that they actually won! I spoke to a few former-Chicagoans here, and even though none of us could name a single player or stat or ANYTHING about baseball in the past 15-20 years, there was this weird…. Something.

My wife couldn’t understand it. She found it funny how we were happy about such a thing even though we didn’t even know they were doing well in the first place. I guess I can’t blame her, but any Cubs fan… heck… any fan of baseball knows that the Cubs winning the World Series must be a sign of something good coming up.

Okay, on to Torah!

“For this is to Me like the waters of Noach” (Haftorah, Yeshayahu 54:9)

Many wonder why the religious world is concerned about the lack of education, mitzvos observance, etc… of the non-religious world. While the religious world does not go out and burn people at the stake for not being religious, a lot of time and money is spent on people to dedicate themselves to help give the non-religious some form of Torah education. Why put in all that efforect? After all, let bygones be bygones!

Yeshayahu describes the flood as “the waters of Noach”, as if it were HIS flood and HE was responsible. The Sages explain that the flood was named after Noach because Noach failed to pray on behalf of the generation to save him.

While the Torah testifies that Noach was a “righteous and flawless man”, and worked for 120 years, building the ark, he STILL was held accountable for not helping his generation repent in any way. Each person has some ability to help for others… just by davening for them! And those who happen to be more inclined to be actively educating others? They might have even a bigger obligation!

I once heard Rav Dovid Orlofsky talk about how he started off his “speaking career”. He explained that when he was in kollel, he was receiving pressure to take over a directorship of a region in NCSY. He wanted to stay in learning, but he already had a proven success record in working in outreach. He did not want the position, but was pressured to go and see Rav Scheinberg; who sat there and lifted one hand and said, “One on hand, you have Torah learning!”, then would raise the second hand and said, “On the other hand, you have a mitzvah that only you alone can do…”. After repeating this for several minutes, Rav Scheinberg told him to take the position. Not being happy with this answer, he went to Rav Eliashuv, who told him the same thing.

Not everybody is “cut out” for outreach… in fact, many people aren’t. But, a person should nonetheless, FEEL a sense of obligation for those who were not as fortunate to receive a proper Jewish education. So, even if he davens for others, he is fulfilling his obligation.

Have a great Shabbos!
Friday, October 28, 2016 / 26 Tishrei 5777
In the Image of G-d
By: Michael Winner

I hope everybody had a good yom tov.

This year, a few members of the kollel put together an early minyan at the cheder. There were around fifteen of us all in all. Davening started at 6 a.m. and everything finished at 11:30 a.m. Since it was a small group, the dancing was great, it went much quicker, without feeling rushed. The women had a much bigger area, both inside and outside, and the kids, instead of playing around or doing who-knows-what, were dancing as well.

At one point, different people were given "honors" to lead a particular hakafah. One said it in Yiddish, and one said it in Russian. They then wrapped up my soon-to-be eight-year-old son in a tallis, so he can “lead” and were pressuring him to say it in English. Unfortunately, he couldn’t, since his English is not as great as they think it is. But, he did it well in Hebrew, and felt like “one of the guys.”

My wife made an interesting observation. If I was not the oldest, I was the second oldest in the group. Most of the men were in their mid to late twenties, and between us . . . I’m not. Yet, they were able to put together a minyan; several of them knew how to read the Torah properly; they knew what changes in davening there were; what tunes are used, and it ran smoothly.

In most other religions outside of Judaism, you need a priest, cleric, rabbi, Grand Poomba, or whatever in order to “have a service.” That cleric is the educated person, and acts as the manager or the “go-between,” between the congregation and whatever they are worshipping. Without him, nobody knows what to properly do.

Torah Judaism is completely different.

Within the Torah world, Torah education is primary. Therefore, if you receive a proper education, YOU will know what to do, and YOU can get together and make your own “service,” without some “go-between.”

Interesting observation.

“In the image of G-d (B’tzelem Elokim), He created him . . .” (Bereishis 1:27)

A somewhat famous question comes from this. We know that Hashem does not have a body. If so, how can we be created in “His image (b’tzelem)”?

Rav Meshulum Finkelstein writes in the name of the Arizal, that there are three tools that are useful to use when davening (which we know, is a form of connection between us and Hashem). Tzedakah, Lilmod Musar (learning ethical works), and Mikvah.

Concerning Tzedakah, it is known that somebody who gives tzedakah maintains or shares in the creation of the world. It is said in Tehillim 89:3, “Forever (olam) will kindness be built.” However, it can also be read (through the Hebrew, of course), “The world (olam), with kindness, is built.” So, like Hashem, when you give tzedakah, you are also building the world.

Concerning Lilmod Mussar, learning ethical works; when a person learns mussar, he is learning how to act as a Jew should act. Many such ethical works show how to learn through Torah how Hashem acts, and how we need to act in similar ways. So, by learning mussar, we are emulating how Hashem acts.

When a person goes to the mikvah, his body and soul receive a purification of a sort, which brings him to a higher level of purity, and closer to Hashem.

These three things, say the Arizal, are helpful tools to connect to Hashem in prayer. If you take the first letter of each thing: “Tzedakah” is a tzadi, “Lilmod mussar” is a lamed, and “Mikvah” is a mem, and put them together, you get the word “Tzelem,” or “image.” By using these tools in our davening, we are, in practice, being “in His image.”

Have a wonderful Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Tuesday, October 11, 2016 / 9 Tishrei 5777
Our Skin Problem
By: Michael Winner

Rav Shimshon Pincus asks a very famous question. If it’s true that a person is recreated during the period of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, why is it, immediately after Yom Kippur, we’re stuck doing the same sins, having the same lack of concentration during davening and brachos, etc, etc… as if nothing ever happened?

He begins his answer by quoting the Rambam (Hilchos Shogagim) who writes that if a person does not believe that Yom Kippur cleanses him, then Yom Kippur will not work. However, somebody who believes that Yom Kippur DOES clean his soul from sin, then Yom Kippur does work.

This issue is compared to a person who goes to a doctor with marks and scabs on his skin. The doctor informs him that he is suffering from an internal infection and the marks and scabs are simply the symptoms. The doctor then gives him medication to clear the infection and puts him on a special diet to continue to keep the infection away. After a week or so, the man returns complaining, “Why should I keep up with this hard diet? Look! My skin is still the same! Your medicine didn’t work!”

The doctor replies, “You’re wrong. Your infection is completely clear. Your skin WILL clear up, but it takes a little more time, that’s all. If you give up on your diet, the infection will come back, and not only will your skin not recover, but neither will your body”.

This answers the question.

When we leave Yom Kippur, we need to know that our soul has been cleaned! True, we still have certain sins we still feel a connection to, we still have concentration problems in our davening and brachos… but those are only the lingering effects of the sin, they are not the sin itself! If we continue with our “diet”, if we continue living, for at least throughout Sukkos and to the next month, as if it were still the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we will start to see improvement even in those areas.

The important part is to KNOW, the Yom Kippur does atone for a person. Hashem DOES make us anew and creates us with a clean soul. It’s up to us to know that and to do our best to continue to keep it as clean as we can.

Have a wonderful and meaningful Yom Kippur, Sukkos, and Shmimi Atzeres!

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