|Middle East Links
|Friday, February 27, 2015 / 8 Adar 5775
|Being Part of a Whole
By: Michael Winner
The month of Adar (the month we are currently in), is known as the month of miracles. I recently experienced a series of them in a few hour span.
Earlier this week, my wife and I had to borrow a car and travel to Haifa to take care of something. I can’t go into the entire story, but it consisted of “protexia” (Israeli “who you know can get you what you need that you can’t get through normal channels”), and a general miracle that everything worked out the way it did in such a short amount of time. Those who know the story will think that THIS was big miracle. However, I beg to differ. That day happened to have been my wife’s 21st birthday again (amazing how that works). Naturally, I didn’t have anything prepared (what’s new). As we were leaving, we both realized that we didn’t eat much for breakfast and were quite hungry. There happens to be only one restaurant that I know of in Haifa (a great shwarma/falafel place), but since Haifa is impossible to get around, I had no idea where it was. I said to my wife, “wouldn’t it be great if we found that shwarma place?” A few minutes later, I took a wrong turn and two minutes after that, we passed that exact shwarma restaurant. We took it as a sign from G-d Himself, that we were obligated to eat shwarma. SO… for the first time in five years, I ate shwarma in a lafa (oversized pita), no children were around to annoy me, AND my wife accepted it as me officially taking her out for her birthday.
Can you think of a bigger miracle than THAT???
Okay, on to Torah!
This week’s parsha begins with the commandment that each adult male is required to donate a half-shekel coin. In fact, it is stated in the beginning of Mesechta Shekalim that every Rosh Chodesh Adar the officers of the Beis HaMikdash would begin collecting this half-shekel from everybody throughout the country. This money was collected for two reasons: 1) It enabled us to take an accurate census and 2) the money went towards the buying of korbonos (sacrifices) that were brought twice a day on behalf of the entire nation, and the general upkeep of the Beis HaMikdash. Therefore, everybody had a “piece” in these communal sacrifices.
The rav of the city spoke last week about this mitzvah and he asked a very simple question. It’s very clear that a half-shekel coin must be donated. A rich man cannot give more and a poor man cannot give less. The poor man, we can understand, but why couldn’t the rich man give more? Why specifically a half-shekel coin?
The rav explained that one has to always remember, that even though he is an individual and the sole responsibility of his growth depends on he himself, he is nevertheless part of a whole, and he shares the responsibilities of helping foster an environment that will help others grow as well. He is never “whole,” but is always, part of something bigger than himself.
I was speaking to a friend of mine about a certain kollel which was not doing so well. People were coming in late, not coming at all, etc., etc., and who were the ones who suffered the most? Those who came on time and worked hard. Why? Because it’s difficult to grow in a vacuum. Of course, if you have to, you have to. However, there is something to be said about having a warm environment that will help you push yourself forward. Had the lazy ones thought for a moment that they are not only shooting themselves in the foot, but they are actually harming others, perhaps (though unlikely, I admit) they would understand that they are also part of a whole.
This is applicable to all areas of our lives. When we begin to understand even something as simple as showing up on time to daven or to learn, where you are not doing anything directly, you are nonetheless making a difference in other people’s growth.
Have a great Shabbos!
|Friday, February 20, 2015 / 1 Adar 5775
|Make Me a Sanctuary
By: Michael Winner
A lesson I’ve learned several times after moving away from the “Torah center” of Eretz Yisroel is always check the hechsharim of food produce . . . ESPECIALLY during shmittah.
As we know, during Shmittah, it is forbidden to work the land, and one must let it rest and make the fruits and vegetables open to the public to take for free.
There is something here called Heter Mechirah. Basically, it’s when a Jewish farmer “sells” his land to an Arab for two years (one year of Shmittah for the vegetables and the year after, when the fruits are Shmittah), and then afterwards the land goes back to him. During this time, he works the field as usual, and that’s that. Needless to say, it’s rather controversial (and no, it’s not comparable to selling one’s chametz to a non-Jew).
It’s a big, long story, but it goes back to the 1880s when the original charedi yeshuvim did not know what to do with Shmittah, since it was literally a life and death situation not to farm and grow food. The charedi rabbis were split on this issue. Some tried to make this heter mechira (“permission to use the land through sale”) because of the situation, and some maintained that it was impossible. Both sides included big people, and nobody was looking for any excuses not to keep Shmittah. Even those who believed it was possible to sell the land under such conditions believed that such a leniency was only temporary and should not be used in a permanent way. In fact, Rav Kook himself wrote, “Did I not repeatedly state that this rule is only temporary and only as need and when the necessity is great? Far be it from me to uproot such a great mitzvah such as the sanctity of Shmita without great necessity . . . that people would die, G-d forbid, from starvation without work or a means of sustenance . . .” (Igrot Hare’iyah II #555)
Either way, today the sale is still being used as a permanent thing. Some say so we don’t buy from and support Arabs (yet, they do by hiring them for work, shopping at stores that hire them, pay taxes that pay for Arab workers, buy homes that are built by them, buy vegetables from them during the other six years, pay taxes to the government that give money to them . . .). Some say it’s okay since many of the farmers are not religious and will be farming anyhow, so we should at least “minimize the damage” (I personally prefer this reasoning). Either way, the vast majority of chareidi and a good number of religious Zionist rabbis (don’t know the numbers from them) hold that heter mechirah today should not be relied upon. Therefore, like any other produce that is illegally farmed on Shmittah, it has the status of “not kosher,” just like a chicken and cheese sandwich. And since that is what my rabbeim hold, so do I.
That being, I bought a package of potato chips last Thursday for Shabbos. When I got home, I opened the package, ate two, and was closing it to put away . . . THEN I realized they were heter mechirah chips. Now, I’m in a bind. On one hand, for me they are treif. On the other hand, they have the sanctity of Shmittah, and I cannot do anything to ruin them. So, now I have to find a nice safe, out-of-the-way place to keep them for the next who knows how long until they spoil. After they spoil, they lose their kedushah, and I can throw them away. Nor can I sell them, since I cannot do business with Shmitah produce.
I was a bit annoyed at myself for not being more careful, until a certain talmid chacham told me that he bought heter mechira jam last Shmittah, and it’s still sitting in his apartment.
Only in Eretz Yisroel!
“And they shall make for Me a Sanctuary” (Shemos 25:8)
This week’s parsha begins to describe the construction of the Mishkan and the Beis HaMikdash. The Gemara in Megillah 29a learns out from a pasuk in Yechezkel, that today’s shuls, yeshivas, and battei medreshot (places to learn Torah) have the status of a “small Beis HaMikdash.”
Rav Pincus said that this is not just a cute hint to the sanctity of the shul, but it is actually a halachic issue. The way we treat our shuls and yeshivos are a matter of Jewish law straight from the Torah (as opposed to rabbinic), not a matter of simply “what’s nice.”
The Chofetz Chaim writes in the name of Sefer Yareiyim that one is obligated to have fear of Heaven in the shul and not joke around, and this is a Torah obligation.
Therefore, one must be careful on how we treat our shuls and yeshivos. Our conversations should be self-monitored and our conduct should be befitting as if we were in the Beis HaMikdash itself.
One (and one’s children) should also be careful to throw away their garbage when they are done. One should return books to their places when they are done, so it looks clean and others can use them when they are needed. There are many things one can do to fulfill this particular mitzvah.
When the Jewish nation was in the desert, they donated gold and silver and used their talents to build the Mishkan. So too, throughout the generations, we have donated our money and talents to our shuls to keep them running smoothly and looking properly.
One need not go farther than their local Sphardi shul to see how to perform this mitzvah properly. For whatever reason, the Sphardim are very particular about this.
In fact, when we were living in Yerushaliyim, we lived on a street where there several “not-so-high-class” Sphardim. I remember one teenager (I named him “Elvis” in my head, since it looked like he was trying to copy him a bit), who was not the most religious person, if he was religious at all. The whole family was like this . . . not such a simple case.
Either way, most of the time, he spent outside “being cool” with his friends. However, I remember him once coming into shul for something, and he was literally a completely different person. No attitude was etched on his face, he was modest, he was quiet. It was interesting to see such a change.
May we all learn this lesson from such a person, the importance of guarding the sanctity of our shuls.
Have a great Shabbos!
|Friday, February 13, 2015 / 24 Shvat 5775
By: Michael Winner
You can tell that the election season is nearing with all the ads coming out for this party or that.
In the US, things are relatively boring. You have Republicans, Democrats, and a few Independents. Everybody, politicians and citizens alike, tend to stay with “their” party, and that’s it.
In Israel, you have a few “old time” parties such as Likud and Labour, but being “old time” doesn’t equal being powerful. Every election brings us new parties and politicians are constantly moving around as well.
Last election we saw the “Pirateem” (The Pirate Party—a European-based party, I believe), and a few years before that, we saw the “Pensioner” Party, whose sole goal was to gain the votes of old people to get more money and benefits for them. This year, somebody decorated their home with posters from what I thought was the “K’Chalon” Party (“Like a Window” Party . . . you know . . . everything they do is visible to everybody), until somebody told me “Kachlon” is somebody’s name.
And because each party gets seats according to how many votes they receive, you never know who’s going to end up in the Knesset and who will end up in the ruling coalition.
Far more entertaining than the US system!
Okay, on to Torah!
Note: This is a dvar torah to learn out a concept, not to learn practical halachah, so always ask your rav what to do in such a situation.
“After the majority, you shall follow” (Shemos 23:2)
This pasuk is clearly talking about concerning following the majority of sages in a Jewish court. If there is a difference of opinion in a court, you go after the majority.
However, there is another application used with this pasuk.
Let’s say you have a bowl into which three pieces of meat fell ACCIDENTALLY; two of them are super-kosher and one of them is super-pig. However, you don’t know which piece is which. According to the Torah, this mixture is considered kosher.
There is a disagreement between the Rosh and the Rashba (halachic commentators) if one is allowed to eat them together at once or if one can eat only one piece at a time.
According to the Rashba (for reasons too complicated to get into), there is a rabbinic enactment saying that one cannot eat them at once. Rather, one can only eat from one piece at I time, and he will have the mindset of “THIS piece is kosher, the non-kosher piece is one of the other two.”
The Rosh on the other hand brings in the pasuk, “After the majority, you shall follow.” According to this line of thinking, the Rosh rules that one is allowed to take little pieces from each piece and eat them together at once. Why? Because the Torah ruled that if this is the majority that is the end of the discussion; the entire mixture is completely kosher! This is probably one of the few, perhaps the only, case where you will be able to eat kosher pig.
In the end the Shulchan Oruch and the Rema both side with the Rashba. However, the Rema says that in a time where there would be some form of loss, one can rely on the Rosh.
We see that the Torah gives power to the majority, even going so far to make pig kosher!
|Friday, February 06, 2015 / 17 Shvat 5775
|Hear Me Now and Believe Me Later
By: Michael Winner
Over the past week or so, my nine-year-old daughter has been spending a large amount of time on the phone. Yes, I know . . . girls at this age do these things. But suddenly there was a dramatic increase in faxes that she was receiving on our machine (fax = Israeli Chareidi Email). It turns out that my daughter recently became one of three teachers in her class, and is “very busy” communicating with the principal and the other teachers . . .
Yeah . . .
It seems that the whole class of 24 girls, during their two break periods, play “school.” There is one principal, one secretary, three teachers, and the rest are students (I think). The principal made an official schedule, and every break, the “teachers” “teach.” Next week, they have parent-teacher conferences. Where each student has to take home a note announcing it, and they in turn will sign it as “parents,” and will have to meet with their teacher as their own “parents.”
It gets confusing, I know. However, my wife reminded me that, thank G-d, unlike their non-religious counterparts here who are staring at iPhones all day, they are doing something wholesome.
“Yisro, the priest of Midian, the father-in-law of Moshe, heard all that G-d did to Moshe and to Israel . . .” (Shemos 18:1)
Rashi comments that he heard about the splitting of the Red Sea and the war with Amalek. And because of this, he came to the Jewish people to join them.
An interesting question is raised. A few lines later, the Torah reports, “Moshe told his father-in law everything that Hashem had done to Pharaoh and Egypt for Israelis sake . . . Yisro rejoiced over all the goodness that Hashem had done for Israel . . .”
We see from the first pasuk, that Yisro already knew about all that Hashem did. It impressed him so much, that he left his home to join the Jewish people in the desert. What was the new thing that Moshe told him that impressed him that he should rejoice, seemingly, for a second time?
Rav Asher Rubenstein said over once in one of his weekly talks that Yisro did NOT hear anything new from Moshe. In fact, he heard the exact same thing he heard beforehand. However, Yisro did something that most of us find difficult to do: “Yisro HEARD.”
The parsha in which the Torah is given starts with Yisro’s HEARING. Before any acceptance of Torah, once must be willing to HEAR Hashem’s word.
The Torah is not some intellectual study. It is something that one is to take and bring into his heart. One of the greatest proofs of this is the final test Avraham had regarding bringing Yitzchok as a sacrifice. He was promised by Hashem Himself that his children will grow to be great and numerous, and now Hashem is telling him to sacrifice his only son (with Sarah). He could have easily, and respectively, asked, “Wait… didn’t You tell me that I will have descendants through Yitzchok?” He had a very good question he could have asked, however, he pushed that down and listened to Hashem.
Hashem has given us intellect to use. However, that intellect is to be used to serve G-d, and not ourselves.
We are servants to Hashem. A servant doesn’t use his intellect to decide whether or not to serve his master. Rather, he uses it to decide how best to serve his master. So, too, must we negate our intellect when it comes to “Is the Torah applicable to me?” and use it as “How can I best serve Hashem?”
First we must HEAR and LISTEN to Hashem, even if it goes against our intellect. We then can look into things and see how our intellect can understand what Hashem wants from us. But for us to first use our intellect to decide if we should or should not listen? That’s not what Yisro did.
The key to successful mussar (self-improvement) is not the “newness” of what you are learning. It is taking what you hear, over and over again, and placing it in one’s heart. Rav Asher found that there are some people who, when the rav speaks about self-improvement issues, quietly open up their books and continue learning what they were learning. Why? Because, what the rav is saying isn’t “intellectual enough” or “doesn’t apply to me.”
Again, this is not what the Torah wants from us.
The key to successful growth is first to HEAR. When one takes what he hears and pushes it into his heart, without petty excuses for why this or that might not apply to him, then he will continue to grow. If not, the Torah will remain a mere intellectual study and won’t leave a mark on his soul.
Have a great Shabbos!
|Friday, January 23, 2015 / 3 Shvat 5775
|Living WITH Hashem
By: Michael Winner
There are some things that you really expect to have left behind in America, but somehow make strange appearances.
My son lost his first tooth this week. So, the next morning at cheder, he told his rebbe what happened. As Chaim put it, “He told me that I should put the tooth under a pillow, open the window at night, and then . . . either an akbar (a mouse) or Eliyahu HaNavi . . . I forgot which one . . . comes and leaves a present. I really don’t understand. If it’s Eliyahu HaNavi, he’s dead, right? And if it was an akbar, why would he leave a present?”
What makes this even weirder, besides getting Eliyahu HaNavi and an akbar mixed up, is this comes from a CHASSIDISH rebbe.
Well, it served as good entertainment.
“Come to Pharaoh, for I have made his heart and the heart of his servants stubborn so that I can put these signs of Mine in his midst; and so that you may relate in the ears of your son and your son’s son that I made a mockery of Egypt . . . .” (Shemos 10:1)
Last Friday was the first yahrtzeit of my Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Asher Rubenstein. The funeral was the night after his passing which happens to also be my wedding anniversary. It was quite surreal last year, to be standing in the room with his body wrapped in his tallis prior to his burial, knowing that exactly nine years earlier, he was standing under the chuppah with my wife and me.
It’s still a loss that many of his students are still trying to get over. A few have started an alumni newsletter. The first one was put out last week and most of the 36 pages were small stories and bits from different students of his. There was one particular line that caught my attention and still remains with me. One of the yeshiva’s students, not entirely known for seeing eye-to-eye with the Rosh Yeshivah wrote:
“I recognized Rav Asher's laughter. It was the laughter of an inside joke. He saw the world for what it was. Rav Asher knew he was never alone, Hashem was his constant, and never wavering companion, Who shared the world with Rav Asher.”
A very powerful statement that hit the spot.
This week’s parsha begins with Hashem’s telling Moshe the point of all the strikes against Egypt: “. . . so that you may relate in the ears of your son and your son’s son that I made a mockery of Egypt . . . .”
The point of everything that happened was that we should constantly tell over the story of Egypt in detail to our sons and that they should tell it to their sons.
This serves two points.
The first is one of the basic proofs of the Torah. Rav Avigdor Miller once spent time studying comparative religions. The only group of people that have made a claim that some big miracle happened in front of an entire nation are the Jews. The other religions of the world are based on a “miracle” or a “prophecy” that was witnessed by one or two people. Only the Torah makes the claim that the entire nation witnessed the miracles of Egypt and the giving of the Torah. One could not write the Torah and say, “Okay, guys . . . this is what happened, don’t you remember?” Nor can one write the Torah and say, “This is what happened to your fathers and their fathers. You don’t believe me? Ask your father!” These miracles that affected the nation serve as proof of the Torah’s authenticity.
That’s the first reason.
The second is something that Rav Asher lived to the maximum. He would say that in order to strengthen one’s emunah (faith) in Hashem, one must constantly talk about the good that He has done for us; both as a nation and on an individual level. By speaking out the good that He has done, one’s emunah grows. Not only that, but also the emunah of our children. He related that he has known people, talmidei chachamim, whose children stopped being religious. Why? He said that they never SPOKE words of emunah to their children, never spoke about Hashem.
I was discussing with a good friend of mine the definition of a “Ben Torah.” I’m pretty sure I have it nailed down as somebody who is constantly working on his Torah growth and is living with Hashem. The first part of the definition can be quite easy, compared to the second.
I once asked my rav, why is it that you have some people who can sit and learn all day and really know their learning well, real talmidei chachamim. Yet, every day they walk into davening late, zip through, and are the first ones out the door. Yet, on the other hand, you have others who have a head of wood, work hard to sit and learn, don’t remember anything, and yet all this time, work on their davening?
He answered that Hashem gives different gifts to different people. Some people get the gift that they have the ability to learn Torah well. Others have the gift that they want to grow close to Hashem. They are not necessarily connected, and one is either born with it, or has it given to him in his lifetime. Therefore, yes, you can have a person who learns well, but has no real interest in growth with Hashem in their lives.
Hence, a real Ben Torah, is a person who lives (or is trying to live) his life WITH Hashem’s being an active participant in his life. He is there wherever you are, and all the time.
How does one live with Hashem? By constantly speaking with Him and about Him. When you make Him your constant companion in life, He is always there for you, and you really begin to feel that there is this “inside joke” that you understand, but the world at large does not.
The morning after I read the above quote, I went to my usual minyan, and started at my usual time. I generally go and start a bit earlier than the rest so I can daven at a more proper speed. Thirteen minutes after the minyan starts, a well-learned individual (who once admitted to me that davening “isn’t really so important”) runs in, throws on his tallis and tefillin, and quickly rambles his way through davening. I have to admit, at that point, I felt a bit of the inside joke that I understood on my own level, that he was unwilling to acknowledge: Hashem is part of our day-to-day life.
Have a great Shabbos!
|Friday, January 16, 2015 / 25 Teves 5775
|Consideration for others
By: Michael Winner
This email list is now sixteen years old.
“Pharaoh called to Moshe and Aharon and said, ‘Go and bring sacrifices to your G-d in the land’. Moshe said, ‘It is not proper to do so, for we will offer the god of Egypt to Hashem our G-d – for if we were to slaughter the god of Egypt in front of their eyes, will they not stone us?’” (Shemos 8:21-22)
It’s nice when you have a question that’s been bothering you for a while and you finally find an answer.
Egypt just took a few beatings and is on the verge of collapse. Pharaoh is giving up a little, and is allowing the Jews to make sacrifices to Hashem, but only in Egypt. Moshe replies, “Sorry, but if we do that, than the Egyptians are going to kill us for sacrificing sheep, which are their gods.”
So, the blaring question is: what is there to worry about? They were just hit with four plagues! Are they in any position to kill Jews? On top of that, don’t we have Hashem to protect us? He’s been doing a fairly good job of that up until now!
Rav Avrohom Pam cites the Chasam Sofer who asks this question and provides an answer.
“Moshe meant to say that when the Egyptians would see the Jews slaughtering their deity, they would become so infuriated that they would WANT to stone them. Since they had already been humbled by the four plagues, they would be powerless to harm the Jews. This would make their frustration that much greater, and it would not be proper for the Jews to do this if they had another alternative, such as bringing the sacrifices outside the city limits.
“This is what Moshe meant when he said it is not proper conduct on our part to act in a manner that will cause unwarranted psychological pain to the Egyptians. True, they deserved more punishments for their subjugation, but this type of torture was unnecessary.”
Rav Pam learns from here a very applicable lesson.
Sometimes a person will take on an extra stringency in halachah, and will practically go out of his way to flaunt it to show that he doesn’t care what people think.
The Mesillas Yesharim writes about it and said that if something is required by halachah, thn a person cannot hold back just because others will scoff at him. However, when the action isn’t an absolute requirement, but rather a praiseworthy thing to do, then it is a bit more complicated.
Obviously, in such cases, a rav should be consulted.
What we learn from here is the importance of taking other people’s feelings into consideration. Sometimes, we need to ignore those feelings and sometimes we need to bow to them. However, we see that even the Egyptians’ feelings were to be taken into consideration, all the more so, other peoples’ should be as well.
Have a great Shabbos!
|Friday, January 09, 2015 / 18 Teves 5775
By: Michael Winner
I have become more and more of a proponent of polygamy.
My mother-in-law has come for her once-a-year visit. Unfortunately, it lasts only a week. However, one of the upsides is that she becomes a husband to my wife and a father to my children. I no longer exist in the house.
What a great thing!
Not only that, but since she’s an extra hand with the kids or with cooking, my wife’s productivity has increased tremendously. Usually, for dinner, my wife gives me two choices, “Fridge Grime” or “Knuckle Sandwiches.” Every night this week I’ve received a hot meal! Unbelievable! And since Moshiach . . . I mean, Safta, is here, the children are BEHAVING! And it’s not just because it’s my mother-in-law.
A couple of months ago, my wife’s friend needed a day off since her husband had to go to the States for three weeks, leaving her with four children. She came here for only 20 hours, and even during that time, I had a hot meal, didn’t have to sit with everybody (since I didn’t exist), didn’t do bedtime, and the children behaved wonderfully.
I’m telling you, two “wives” can really enhance a person’s lifestyle . . . Of course, only if you keep the credit cards out of their hands . . .
Okay . . . on to Torah!
“Every son that is born you shall cast him into the Nile” (1:22)
At first, the Egyptians threw only threw only the Jewish boys into the Nile, but afterwards they obligated even the Egyptians to throw their sons into the Nile as well. This was caused by the fear that perhaps even an Egyptian male will bring the Jews out of Egypt, as Pharaoh was told by his astronomers.
It’s a rather difficult thing to imagine that an entire nation would actually obey such a directive. However, we still have eye-witnesses alive who can remember Germany doing the exact same thing seventy years ago.
Rav Shach explains that this mentality stems from a worldview that animals and humans are no different from each other. To hunt an animal or to hunt a human being . . . it’s all the same, since humans are mere animals after all!
When we forget the basic value of human life, that we were created in Hashem’s image, that we ARE the raison d’etre of the creation of this world, then we can descend into the lowest depths.
Our society, in many ways, has also reached such a stage, where human life has little meaning. Somebody once told me that when a new video game, known for its violence, came out, there was a long line of people waiting to buy it at a certain store. Out of nowhere, a person came, dressed as one of the characters, and stabbed to death one of the people in line. What was the reaction? Everybody clapped and cheered, thinking that this was all part of the act.
Just this week, in separate incidences, my wife and I were nearly hit by cars while crossing the street. In my case, I was on a one-way street with no crosswalk, and I had to cross my son and his friend. So, I went into the middle of the street and started waving the kids across. A car came down the road, gave a quick “honk” and, without slowing down a bit, continued driving toward me. Thankfully, I jumped out of the way on time. He didn’t even bother looking at me . . . just kept driving. My wife had a similar incident the next day when she was in a crosswalk with our daughter. A woman barely missed them, since she wanted to drive around them. And I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen people driving around with their children jumping in the car without seatbelts.
The list can go on.
The point is, when society believes that we are merely walking animals, and that our main point in life is to lead such a life, one must be extra careful and not be surprised by such attitudes. Most importantly though, is to make sure that this belief does not seep into our own world. And in today’s world of technology where we deal more with screens than with people, we must be extra vigilant to remember that other people are also created in G-d’s image.
Have a great Shabbos!