|Middle East Links
|Friday, November 21, 2014 / 28 Cheshvon 5775
|Learning from the Har Nof Massacre
By: Michael Winner
Well… it’s been a rather emotional week. It was a tad harder, since my wife knew one of the people killed in the attack. It then gets harder when you start hearing of more attempted attacks than I’m sure the news is not reporting. Heck, all around our city the Druzim and the Arabs are going at it, putting each other in the hospitals, and you just don’t know when some Arab is going to attempt to run you down, stab you, shoot you, etc.
There is a pasuk in Yeshaya (Isaiah) which describes what to do when things are getting dangerous, specifically in these times:
“Go, my people, enter your rooms and close your door behind you; hide for a brief moment until the wrath has passed” (Yeshaya 26:20)
Rashi explains that “rooms” means the shuls and batei medrashos (study halls).
So . . . this made me wonder . . . what do you do when THOSE are no longer safe?
Obviously, nobody knows exactly why Hashem does things, but we are obligated to look inwards and ask what the possible lessons are that need to be learned. Why specifically was an Ultra-Orthodox shul in Har Nof targeted? Why specifically this particular minyan? Why were these particular people killed and wounded? We’re not talking about a shul in a settlement (which “makes sense” from an Arab point of view), we’re talking about a shul which is not Zionistic. The minyan itself was not full of people who were standing outside and talking; it was a well-known minyan comprised of very serious bnei Torah. And the people themselves who were killed and wounded are/were known for their yearning for growth. What could possibly be the message?
In the beginning of this week’s parsha, Yaakov is described a “man who dwells in tents.” It’s interesting to note that the Torah uses the plural, “tents,” rather than just, “tent.”
My Rosh Yeshiva would note that the tent he lived and learned in was “double-wrapped.” Just as food which is double-wrapped, can be heated in a non-kosher oven and does not become non-kosher, so too did Yaakov “double-wrap” his tent to keep it from being exposed to the outside world.
Rav Pincus, on the pasuk from Yeshaya, teaches a very similar lesson. In times of great danger, our job is not only to run to the beis medresh, but ALSO to close the door behind us.
People become so wrapped up with the news and everybody’s great ideas on how to solve this huge problem or that huge problem. But people fail to look and see what Hashem has “suggested.” It’s very easy to pound one’s chest and demand that we stop supporting stores that hire Arabs, or that we need to launch this military operation, or we need to . . .
None of those will do anything, because it’s not addressing the core problems that we need to fix.
So, what do we do? Enter your room and close the door behind you.
Cut down on spending time watching and talking about the news. Cut down on keeping up with the latest trends or topics that the world is fixated upon. Cut down on listening to the radio. Cut down on focusing on things that are REALLY not important.
Then, increase the amount of time you spend in the beis medresh. Increase your concentration and time spent on prayer. Increase your mitzvah observance.
My wife just told me something she heard in a shiur, I believe in the name of Rav Ovadia Yosef. It used to be that we would bring korbonos (sacrifices) in the Beis HaMikdash. In it's place, we have davening. However, if we are not fulfilling our duty to daven, then Hashem chooses His own korbonos.
Why was a well-known shul, and why were well respected bnei Torah, targeted? Perhaps to teach us that we are failing in this aspect, in which they worked so hard to perfect. While we are “entering our rooms” to daven and to learn, we are failing to close the door behind us.
When we go to shul, we need to shut off our phones and not talk about the outside world. We need to focus on the only two entities currently residing in the room, Hashem and ourselves.
|Friday, November 14, 2014 / 21 Cheshvon 5775
|Giving Children Room to Grow
By: Michael Winner
My wife and I were talking about the “holiday seasons” that we were brought up with. The sounds and smells of X-Mas. The television specials. The stores and homes all decorated with lights and toys. The snow. . . . That beautiful white snow (which we haven’t touched in years . . . though I did see it on top of the mountains last year during that big fall we had) . . . . It’s something you REALLY enjoy as a kid. And it’s something our children will know nothing of. We were discussing how weird that this “basic” experience that we had will not even be a thought in the heads of our children.
After the conversation, I turned to the table, and saw a giant poster that my daughter had been working on, with the lines of “Hamalach HaGoel Osi” and “Shema Yisroel” (what we say before bed), with night time decorations all around it.
I then thanked G-d for being given the opportunity to raise our children in such an environment.
Okay, on to Torah . . .
The Chizkuni (Bereishis 24:13) teaches that when looking for a wife for Yitzchak, Eliezer did not want to go to the house of the girl to check her out, rather he wanted specifically to see the behavior of the girl when she was outside of the house. The way a child behaves outside the house does not necessarily equal the behavior inside the house.
Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch writes that parents must not only guide their children in the house and teach them what is proper and not proper, but it is also important to give them decisions for themselves to make on their own. Through these decisions, the children will be able to put to practice the education they received inside the house, and strengthen that foundation.
Rav Shlomo Wolbe believes that even within the house, children need to have their own space to make their own decisions. If they are never given their own decisions to make, they will be like robots, preaching only what their parents want.
It reminds me of a time we had somebody’s child over when his mother went to the hospital. When we asked him what he wanted for dinner, he thought, and replied “ice cream.” We told him that it wasn’t a viable option in our house and gave him a list of real options. When my wife related this to his mother, his mother said, “You give your children options on what they can eat? I simply make what I make and give it to them. If they don’t like it, they don’t eat it.” She was baffled at the idea of her children’s making choices on their own. But what was the casualty? Her son didn’t know HOW to make choices. We were always taught that when children are old enough to make choices in their lives (such as what clothes to wear, what to eat, etc.) they should be given that choice to make (within certain rules or a set of choices, of course).
Rav Aryeh Brueckheimer writes that this week’s parsha is often read on the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh Kislev, the month of Chanukah. “And with Chanukah, there are many parallels to the halachos of the menorah and education. For example, one of the laws of Chanukah is that one may not remove the shamash from the wick until the newly lit candle can burn on its own. Only then has one fulfilled the mitzvah. Similarly, in education, we must give over a strong foundation to our children, but the education isn’t complete until they are capable of applying on their own the values and ideals that we have instilled in them.”
Have a great Shabbos!
|Friday, November 07, 2014 / 14 Cheshvon 5775
|Prophecy vs. Prayer
By: Michael Winner
One of the joys of raising children is seeing them take an interest in what you have an interest in. For me, that is the Holy Shabbos Chicken Soup. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for chicken soup on Shabbos. So, too, now have the children. In fact, we keep it on the hotplate and have some on the next day. So, with the longer winter nights and more chicken soup being eaten, I called a War Council of the Chicken Soup Elders to discuss and decide if we were to use the standard pot and risk not having a lot for the next day or make it in a bigger pot and risk having it too watery on Shabbos night.
A tough decision, I know. Hence the war council.
Chaim immediately voted for a larger pot—not surprising, since he is a man and “thinks” like one. Rochel Leah, on the other hand, threw me for a loop and said, “We should use the regular pot because the celery is shmittah and will cause the whole pot of soup to be shmittah, and if we don’t eat it all, we’ll have to leave it out in the pot until it gets disgusting, before we can throw it away.”
That sort of thinking was NOT expected.
It gives me hope that we’re doing something right in this house.
Okay, on to Torah!
In this week’s parsha, Hashem informed Avraham that He will be destroying the city of Sodom, and Avraham, in turn, pleaded for Sodom to be spared.
“. . . and Avraham was still standing before Hashem. Avraham came forward and said . . .” (Bereishis 18:22-23)
Rav Ahron Leib Shteinman said that we learn the awesome power of prayer in these two verses. When Avraham, was “standing before Hashem,” he was in the middle of prophecy. Rashi explains that “came forward” means “coming forward to prayer.” That being Avraham left the mode of prophecy and ascended to that of prayer. Translation: while prophecy is high, prayer, even a simple prayer asking for one’s needs, brings you closer to Hashem.
When we stand in prayer during Shachris, Mincha, and Maariv, we are bringing ourselves to an unbelievable closeness to Hashem. We are literally in front of Him and have His complete attention. Let us keep this in mind right before we start to daven every day. Perhaps we’ll slow down a little bit, stop looking around so much, etc., etc.
Of course, prayer does not just mean davening three times a day. It means anytime one speaks to Hashem to ask for something, he is bringing himself to stand in front of Hashem Himself.
Have a great Shabbos!
|Friday, October 31, 2014 / 7 Cheshvon 5775
|Fixing the World
By: Michael Winner
Does anybody know anything about lemons?
We had to repaint our home two years ago (had several leaks) and the painter had to cut a lot of our lemon tree. Since then, it has produced one whole lemon, which is still hanging there. Just yesterday, I went out and found three more lemons. I could have sworn that before Rosh HaShanah, those lemons were not there. Usually, lemons don’t start growing during this time of year, nor do they usually grow so quickly. Had it been any other year, it wouldn’t have bothered me, but now, I have an interesting situation.
Since its a shmittah year, any fruits the begin to grow on the tree after Rosh Hashanah, have the status of shmittah fruit, and have to be treated with special care. Plus, one is not obligated (nor allowed) to take trumah and maiser (tithes) from it. However, if it began to grow before Rosh HaShanah, it has no special holiness to it, and is obligated for trumah and maiser.
I took some pictures of the lemons and will be finding a frum professional gardener to tell me what he thinks. I wouldn’t be surprised if they started growing only a month ago, since Shmittah stories like this happen quite often.
Okay, on to Torah!
Last week, we spoke about the two different levels of Noach and Avraham. Noach represents the concept of strengthening and shielding oneself from the outside world, while Avraham represents the concept of going out and helping others in the world. We concluded that in order to properly reach Avraham’s level, we first need to perfect Noach’s level, which is no easy feat.
With your permission, well, frankly, even without your permission, we’ll discuss a little bit about the level of Avraham and how it can be applied safely, by all of us, even before perfecting the level of Noach.
After last week’s dvar Torah, Rabbi Gershon Seif emailed me the following on Rav Hirsch’s “take” on Avraham:
“Rav Hirsch writes that while Avraham Avinu did a lot of outreach, he actually did it while keeping his distance. He went ‘between the mountains’ never living within the cities he was reaching out to. He lived in the outskirts of town. People had to come to him where he was busy calling out in the name of Hashem.”
We see that even Avraham, who challenged the world’s belief system, did so in the spiritual protection of his own home.
My Rosh Yeshivah was very much against the idea of people learning in kollel for a few years and then heading out into a spiritual wasteland with his family to do outreach. The dangers of the negative effect on the individual and the family were too great and too risky. However, when my friend accepted an offer to work in an outreach beis medresh in a frum neighborhood, whose focus was to work with those who are beginning to learn about Judaism, my Rosh Yeshivah was happy. He was happy that my friend was going out to help other Jews, all while being able to live in a healthy Jewish environment.
My Rosh Yeshivah also pushed members of the yeshivah and the kollel to donate a certain amount of time per day to help out other members who are weaker in learning.
There are plenty of ways of “helping the world” while not putting oneself at risk. Perhaps it’s not as glorified, but there is no point in helping others while causing loss to ourselves and our families.
Another aspect of Avraham comes with the famous Medrash where Nimrod, the ruler at the time, threw Avraham into a furnace for his heretical beliefs. Hashem performed a miracle and saved Avraham. At that point, the entire world saw and understood, “Hashem – Hu HaElokim” (Hashem – HE is G-d). Hashem’s miraculous intervention made it clear that He was in charge and that He was with Avraham. This is why, according to halachah, one, at minimum, needs to have proper concentration during the first brachah of the Shemoneh Esrei. What is the first brachah? “Magen Avraham” (the shield of Avraham). When Hashem protects and keeps the Jewish people alive and acts as our shield, He is saying, “I am still with Avraham.”
When a Jew walks down the street wearing Jewish clothes, he is saying to the world, “We are still here, and Hashem is still with us.” I think about it nearly every day when I walk down the street in my hat and jacket. Despite the attempt of local or national politicians, we are STILL here.
Just by dressing and acting in public, like a Jew should, one is acting like Avraham, and showing the world “Hashem – Hu HaElokim.”
Have a great Shabbos!
|Friday, October 24, 2014 / 30 Tishrei 5775
|Building Your Own Ark
By: Michael Winner
I hope everybody had an enjoyable Sukkos. Thankfully, we have a nice-sized Sukkah, which we were able to live in and sleep in. In the summer, it gets very humid, even at night, and you need to use the air-conditioning. However, right now, even though it’s still hot during the day, it’s been nice and cool at night, so sleeping in there was a real pleasure. What was strange is that every single night I slept in the Sukkah I had dreams, which is very rare for me. My wife wasn’t surprised and summed it up with: “You’re getting a regular night’s sleep and you’re going to bed relaxed. Of course you’re going to have dreams.” Too bad I have to wait until Pesach for that to happen again.
Last week I discovered an mp3 on my computer that I never listened to. It was a two-hour lecture from Rav Shlomo Brevda on Parshas Noach. For those not familiar with Rav Brevda, they should become so as soon as possible. He was American born and raised, and “grew up” with some of the biggest rabbanim in Eretz Yisroel. He had an uncanny ability to rip a person’s heart out, slowly scrub it with metal scrubbers, and put whatever is left back into his chest cavity—all using his power of speech. Was that graphic enough? He came to our yeshivah a few times to speak and I never felt the time go by.
He started off with the famous Rashi in the beginning of the parsha. Rashi explains that when the Torah said that Noach was a tzaddik “in his generation,” it can be read for good or bad. Good, being that he was THE tzaddik of his generation, and he was on such a high level, that he was saved from the flood. On the other hand, it could be read for the negative, being “in HIS generation,” but if he were to live in the generation of Avraham, then compared to Avraham, he would not be a tzaddik. Why? Because Avraham was successful in having a positive effect on the world around him, while Noach was not successful.
Most of the time, we like to take the more negative view. But we really have to understand who Noach was and what he accomplished.
During the First World War, the Brisker Rav found himself in the city of Minsk. There, he found a situation in which there was a breakdown in modesty between men and women. He protested strongly against it, but nobody listened to him. So, he rented out a home for himself and his son, and locked himself in, without coming out once, and without allowing anybody in.
The rav of Minsk came to the house and demanded to see the Brisker Rav. Being that he was the rav of the city, the Brisker Rav let him in. The rav wanted to know why the Brisker Rav had locked himself in the house. The Brisker Rav responded that the spiritual level of the city was obviously compromised and he did his best to change it. Being that he failed, he followed the recommendation of the Rambam when in such a spiritual environment: He “ran away to the desert.”
The rav said that he understood the position of the Brisker Rav, but while the Brisker Rav was saving himself and his son, what about everybody else who could still gain from the Brisker Rav?
The Brisker Rav responded with a statement made by Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai, “The world possesses not less than thirty men as righteous as Abraham. If there are thirty, my son and I are two of them; if ten, my son and I are two of them; if five, my son and I are two of them; if two, they are my son and me; if there is but one, it is I, Rav Shimon – for it is written that one righteous person is an everlasting foundation.’ A voice resounded from heaven at that moment, saying, ‘Happy is your portion, Rav Shimon. The Holy One issues a decree, and yet you annul it down below.’”
Being that even if there is only one complete tzaddik in the world, it is THAT tzaddik that is holding up the world.
Noach lived in a time of rampant idol-worship. Every day, there were protests outside of his home when he was building the Ark. Every day, he was verbally attacked, and people tried to persuade him of how wrong he was. The entire world was against Noach, yet Noach tuned the world out and remained a tzaddik. Before the flood, Noach was in a spiritual “ark,” separated from the world around him, and that was his savior, when he was placed in the physical ark, separated from the world around him.
So too, today, says Rav Brevda, when we have every possibility of filth from the outside world at our fingertips; we must be like Noach. We need to try to cut ourselves off from as much impurity as possible and to create our own spiritual “ark.”
And, Rav Brevda says, you might ask, “Isn’t it better to be like Avraham and try to change the world for the better?” True . . . that’s a higher level. HOWEVER, he explains . . . There is a reason that Parshas Noach comes before Parshas Lech Lecha (where we meet Avraham). That reason is because in order to reach the level and obligation of Avraham, we need to first master the level of Noach, which in itself, is a lifetime of work. Before worrying about the world, we need to master ourselves. We need to be able to be strong enough that the outside world and way of thinking does not affect us. If you’re somehow able to reach that level, you can then contemplate the level of Avraham.
So it’s true, Noach did not reach the level of Avraham. However, the level he mastered was a very high level, which we would be lucky to even think about reaching in our lifetimes.
Have a wonderful Shabbos!
|Tuesday, October 07, 2014 / 13 Tishrei 5775
|The Simcha of Sukkos
By: Michael Winner
Right now we have a small break from Kollel and school to get everything ready for Sukkos. Thankfully, I’ve had time to go learn every morning for an hour and a half or so. During that time, two days ago, my hiking partner called me but I didn’t answer. I tried calling him back after learning, but he didn’t answer. So, I began to build the Sukkah with ‘help’ from the kids. Of course, within 15 minutes, in order that I should spare their lives, I opened a bottle of wine and helped myself to a few cups. Even with that help, they barely survived. I then received a call from my friend, “WHERE WERE YOU??? I was trying to put up the Sukkah and the kids were driving me crazy and I called you for support! Instead, I had to turn to my other good friend, Johnny Walker, to help me out!”
I told him that I was in the exact situation and had the same solution. We then noticed how it’s depressing that you go straight from Yom Kippur into preparing for Sukkos, which is known as Yom Simchaseinu (Day of our Simcha), and all you want to do is kill your children. THEN, you start feeling bad for having those feelings, AND you have all of those feelings in you as you’re doing the mitzvah of building the Sukkah, which should be done in happiness! It doesn’t make any sense!
So, I had wonderful thought about this. What is the Simcha that is so special about Sukkos? The fact you’re going into Sukkos and you DIDN’T kill your children, despite the strong desire to. THAT is the true happiness of Sukkos! Makes sense, no?
Okay, on to real Torah.
Rav Shimshon Pincus asks an excellent question. The progress we make, beginning with the month of Elul, followed by the Ten Days of Repentance (sounds terrible in English), followed by Yom Kippur, followed by Sukkos and Shmini Atzeres, lends us to believe that Sukkos and Shmini Atzeres are the height of the whole “holiday season”. In fact, there are many other proofs that say this. Yet, on the other hand, the Ramchal describes Yom Kippur as the day we reach the level of Adam HaRishon (Adam) before the sin. It seems as if Yom Kippur is the pinnacle of the season, and then we go “downhill” from there.
As a nation, we started off on Pesach, the birth of the Jewish people. After that came Shavous, where we received the Torah and which the Gemara (Taanis 26b) calls, “The Day of His Marriage”. The Gemara, continues and says “The Day of His Hearts Simcha” (this all sounds better in Hebrew, sorry), is the day the Beis HaMikdash was built.
Our “marriage” to Hashem was not called “simchas leibo” (simcha of His heart), because while the bride and groom our happy on their marriage day, it’s not a true simcha. For beneath their smiles, there is still trepidation of their future. Will the marriage be okay? Will we get along well? Will we bond? When is it that a couple becomes stronger and bonded closer together? After their first fight. After surviving the first troubles of marriage, the couple comes out stronger. They now have a better understanding of each other than they had before.
Shortly after we received the Torah, what happened? The Sin of the Golden Calf. After they realized what they did and did proper tshuvah, Hashem sent the second set of “Ten Commandments”, and started giving instructions on how to build the Mishkan (the predecessor to the Beis HaMikdash), so Hashem could dwell amongst the nation.
For us, our season begins with Tisha B’Av. We begin from the ruins of the Beis HaMikdash to improve ourselves and start the path of tshuvah. It continues stronger throughout the month of Elul. On Rosh Hashanah, we are all created anew. What Pesach is for the Jewish Nation, Rosh Hashanah is for the individual, a new beginning. On Yom Kippur we are forgiven for previous sins and our connection to Hashem is renewed and re-strengthened. It is also on Yom Kippur that we received the second set of “Ten Commandments”. After this rejuvenation, we go into Sukkos, “Yom Simchaseinu”. Despite our past “fights” with Hashem, Hashem has forgiven us and the bond between us is stronger than ever. For THAT is true simcha and the simcha of Sukkos.
I hope that everybody has a wonderful Sukkos and we’ll see you after Simchas Torah!
|Monday, September 29, 2014 / 5 Tishrei 5775
By: Michael Winner
I had a good laugh at one of our meals on Shabbos. Much to my wife’s annoyance, there are certain foods that have taken on names which she doesn’t approve of. For example, ONCE, when Rochel Leah was two, I made her scrambled eggs. Ever since then, she (and now the rest of the family) calls scrambled eggs “Abba Eggies.” Again, I made them ONCE, compared to my wife who makes them ALL THE TIME. Yet, I have the honor of having them named after me.
Another time happened several months ago, when my wife bought these weird “vegetarian steaks” for the kids for Shabbos. As they stared at what was in front of them, they asked, “What ARE these?” to which I answered, “snake steaks!” to which Chaim responded with, “WOW!” which in turn led to all the “snake steaks” being devoured. And “snake steaks” have been a regular request ever since.
This Shabbos, my wife served a brown, noodle-salad-thingy. Those of you who did not grow up with many friends would recognize this dish as “gagh,” or “serpent worms,” a Klingon cuisine (best served live). Simcha was pointing towards it and crying “want it.” I asked him if he wanted any “gagh” to which he nodded his head. After eating a few bites, he turned to my wife and said, “blah, blah, blah, gagh, blah, blah, blah”
I really feel sorry for her.
Okay, on to Torah!
I recently heard a talk that was centered around Rav Yitzchak Blazer’s writings of tshuvah (repentance). In it, he brought a Gemara which told over the following story. Once, a few hours before Yom Kippur, Rav (one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Babylonia) was heading toward the marketplace. It seems that at some point earlier a local butcher offended Rav and never asked Rav for forgiveness. Therefore, Rav decided to go to him . . . perhaps if he walked by the butcher, it being right before Yom Kippur, the butcher will realize what he did and ask Rav for forgiveness.
On the way there, he met with Rav Hunah, who asked him, “Where are you going?”
Rav replied, “To the marketplace. There is a certain butcher who needs to ask me for forgiveness. Perhaps he will see me and then ask . . .”
Rav Hunah replied, “You are going to kill the butcher!”
Rav continued to the marketplace and went before the butcher. At that moment, the butcher was chopping the head of an animal and yelled, “Rav! Go away! I have nothing to say to you!” At that moment, a bone flew from the animal he was chopping and stabbed him in the throat, killing him.
Rav Blazer noted that had Rav not gone in front of the butcher, the butcher would not have died. Yes, he would have had this sin on his head, which in itself is terrible, but perhaps the judgment would not have been so severe. However, now that Rav was standing right in front of him, and he had this unique and easy opportunity to ask for forgiveness, which he threw to the floor . . . now the judgment is stricter.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are connected with the “Days of Repentance.” It is a time we focus on repentance and is a unique time where Hashem “puts Himself in front of us” and is “extra willing” to grant forgiveness for those who are sincere. If we use it wisely, we are gaining a great deal, and if we don’t, we stand to lose more.
My Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Asher Rubenstein, gave his “Four Easy Steps to Tshuvah” . . . it’s worth getting a hold of, if you can. In his talk, he explains that tshuvah is far easier than people think.
Basically, a person needs two plans to present to Hashem. A long-term plan (what type of person do I want to be near the end of my life) and a short-term plan (who do I want to be next year at this time). Of course, Hashem can say, “Plans are all nice . . . you had a few last year as well, no?”
At this point, you need to give a “down-payment.” What is this down payment? A small amount of real tshuvah, for right now. And what is this small amount of tshuvah? His example is as follows:
Suppose you have two boys in yeshivah who are sharing a dorm room. One of them brings in a whole stack of extremely inappropriate reading material, and the other boy happens to have an addiction to such material. Naturally, this boy starts going through the books, and finds a few books written by an author, whom even he cannot stand . . . but . . . it's still reading, so he reads even that.
What is a down payment for such a person?
To make it his goal not to take the books written by this particular author.
Yes, it’s best to refrain from all of those books, and it should be his goal; but for now, his down payment is not to read from the author he cannot stand.
What’s the logic behind this?
There are two types of sins. One is a sin which is very hard for a person to overcome. Another is a sin which is very easy for him to overcome. The punishment for the easy-to-overcome sin is far greater than that of the hard-to-overcome sin. Why? Because Hashem understands that you had a hard time overcoming a certain temptation. Fine. It’s understandable. But not to overcome an easy temptation? That’s showing Hashem you don’t really care.
By taking the easy sin (which is worth more), and giving it as a down payment, you are showing Hashem that you really DO care, and that this is only a beginning.
May we use these next few days working hard on our down payments.