Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Highlights from Our Trip to Israel for Our Son's Bar Mitzvah - With Videos and Pictures!

We just returned from our trip to Israel in honor of our only son’s bar mitzva! The whole thing is a bit wacky so for our friends to share in the simcha and for our own memories, here is a brief summary, including a few short videos embedded for audio-visual augmentation. :-)

First of all, we originally planned a traditional bar mitzva celebration in New York, but one Shabbos, about 6 weeks before the big day, because of his desire to have his sister who is studying in seminary this year be part of the occasion, our son suggested that we consider moving the bar mitzva to Israel.

We discussed it further and ultimately decided to do the bar mitzva in conjunction with the children, bar mitzva boys, and teenagers living in the Beit Elazraki (“BE”) Children’s Home in Netanya. Some backstory: our daughter is studying this year in Midreshet Torat Chessed in Netanya, a seminary which partners with BE. The girls participating in the program do Jewish studies in the mornings, pick up a group of kids from BE to do homework and activities with them and then take them to dinner in the afternoon, and then continue learning as part of the seminary in the evenings. So while we are still doing a party for our son’s friends, we thought it would be great to make a celebration for the kids in BE rather than for all of the bar mitzva boy’s parents’ friends. :-)

We went about making all of the arrangements, finding flights, reserving an apartment on AirBnB, and planning our activities. We planned to make the Israel bar mitzva a surprise for our daughter in Israel, working out everything with her seminary, BE, and all of our Israeli and American family joining in the simcha in such a way that she would not find out about our plans. There was one individual with unintentionally loose lips though, so she did end up knowing that something was happening, but not exactly what, when, or the extent of our plans.

Here is a short video showing a few overall highlights from the trip in general:

Our son got an aliya and read haftara for parshas Titzaveh/Shabbos Zachor  at the Young Israel of North Netanya, where the rabbi is one of the rebbeim in MTC. He did an amazing job! 

On Sunday Feb 24th, we visited the only other orthodox part of my side of the family. Originally from Houston, TX, my father’s first cousin and her husband now live in Yerushalayim. Their son, my second cousin, Ari Abramowitz, of The Land of Israel Network ( and their granddaughter (daughter of their daughter) were there and it was a beautiful visit! First time I had seen them in over 20 years.

On Monday Feb. 26, we visited the Central tzedaka organization in Netanya (click HERE for their website and HERE for their donation page), which, among many other services it provides to over 1,000 recipients/families, also distributes bread from Bread for Israel, an organization founded by my CEO. He was astounded by the fact that despite the multitudes of tzedaka organizations all over Israel, that a large minority of children in Israel actually go to bed hungry each night. He therefore went to Israel and personally negotiated an extremely low price of $1 per loaf, including delivery, for bread to distribute throughout Israel. He then developed a network of distribution points and means for getting the word out to the families who need it. The organization now distributes about 100,000 loaves of bread per month, though the demand by hungry people could support an additional 100,000 loaves per month. The only obstacle is money. So let me know if you can help or give on a one-time or recurring basis at The video above has some pictures from our visit to the Netanya central tzedaka warehouse and distribution center.

And that night, we joined Yehuda Cohen, the director of BE Children’s Children’s home for an explanation of BE’s history and what it does. They literally take on the role of parents in all ways for the kids (age 0-17) who have to come to the home because they unfortunately cannot live with their parents or if their parents have passed away. They provide them with whatever they need, including therapy and tutoring, and do whatever parents would event after the kids “graduate.” They provide a place to go home to on breaks from army service, help with college, and they even pay for half the cost of weddings and even walk down the aisle with them when their parents cannot! During our bar mitzva celebration, they even live broadcast a Mazel Tov from the entire BE family to an “alumnus” who had just gotten engaged in America! 

Our son had some time to hang out with the five bar mitzva boys from BE and we were able to give them some gifts and sponsor a celebration for the entire BE family which was beautiful! We were told that this was the first time that a family came to celebrate a bar or bas mitzva with the bar or bas mitzva children from the home who is a sibling of one of the Midreshet Torat Chessed girls. Ashreinu! Here is a short video from the bit night!

Please read up more on BE HERE and please donate to them HERE.

On Tuesday Feb. 27, we spent the morning at a private glass-firing workshop in Yerushalayim with artist Yael Vloch (), who I found out about from It was a great thing to do together! See here for a nice short video highlighting that experience:

I’m the afternoon, we got a private tour of the largest bakery in Israel, Angel’s Bakery in Jerusalem, with Yunti Burstein, one of the main logistics coordinators of Bread for Israel. I was even able to do the mitzva of taking challah for one of the gigantic batches of dough! Check out this video for a quick run-down of what bread production at that huge facility looks like:

We spent a quiet day on Taanis Esther, followed by Maariv and Megila reading at Laniado Hospital in Netanya, to which we were invited by my wife’s second cousin, one of the two orthodox families on my wife’s side, Itzik, who learns with the Rav of the hospital. Itzik is famous in Netanya for being the main source for scuba diving, surfing, and other recreation equipment, at his location by the beach affectionately known as “Itzik BaYam,” Itzik by the Sea. We then joined his family for a beautiful meal after Megilla.

Then, on Purim day we headed down to Holon, where my wife’s great-aunt was having a Purim seuda, and then headed over to to Bnei Brak for our Purim seuda with my wife’s other orthodox family, a second cousin, with a beautiful family who we also got together with last time we were in Israel as a family six years ago. Pictures from Purim are also in the video at the beginning.

On Friday morning Mar. 2, we went horseback riding on the beach in Netanya (again, pictures in the top video), which was beautiful! Then we headed to Yerushalayim where we spent Shabbos and had our meals on at the Prima Palace hotel, just off of Rechov Yafo. We had a meaningful Shabbos afternoon davening at the Kosel. After Shabbos, we sadly said goodbye to our daughter (though IY”H she is coming home for Pesach soon) and to Yerushalayim. Looking forward to next time!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Rav Moshe Weinberger - Elul: What We Left Behind - Parshas Ki Seitzei 5777

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from parshas parshas Ki Seitzei, by a long-time talmid of Rav Weinberger, Dov Elias.  Enjoy!

See here for past shiurim at's website by Rav Weinberger both as Mashpia at YU and from the past 20+ years. You can also click on one of the following links to subscribe to the shiurim: emailrss feedpodcast, or iTunes. Please note that these drashos will only be available online for one month. If you notice any mistakes, please let me know so I can correct it. If you are interested in a particular drasha that is no longer online, you can email me (right sidebar) and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.

Elul: What We Left Behind
Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Ki Seitzei 5777

We recently experienced terrifying events.  Hurricane Harvey caused tremendous suffering for so many.  Thousands of people suffered the loss of their homes.  As always, when any kind of misfortune strikes anywhere in the world, Hashem wants us to contemplate.

Every word of the parsha leading to Rosh Hashanah, the Days of Awe and Yom Kippur is filled with “The King” and filled with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

There are many well-known references in the word “Elul.” The Elya Raba (Orach Chaim 581) offers an astounding hint in the word “Elul” – איש לרעהו ומתנות לאביונים, “man to his friend and gifts to the poor” (Esther 9:22) - an allusion to the mitzvah on Purim to give tzedakah to the poor.  Purim has a way of insinuating itself into every part of the year.  But how is Purim, and specifically the mitzvah of gifts to the poor, connected to Elul?  On a simple level, we understand that this is a auspicious time to give tzedakah, show compassion and increase camaraderie.  Parents experience the greatest nachas when their children get along and treat each other kindly.  This explanation is certainly correct – but there is greater depth in this hint.

With respect to tzedakah and the gifts to the poor, there is an incredible mitzvah.  The pasuk in this week’s parsha commands, “When you reap your harvest in your field, and you forget a bundle in the field, you shall not turn back to take it; it shall be for the proselyte, the orphan, and the widow, so that Hashem, your G-d, will bless you in all your handiwork” (Devarim 24:19).  The previous pasuk (ibid. 18) explains, “You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and Hashem, your G-d, redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this thing.”

The mitzvah of the forgotten bundle is very perplexing.  In general, the Creator wants us to be thoughtful, focused, contemplative, and introspective.  Distraction and absent-mindedness are usually unappealing to Hashem.  Yet, this mitzvah depends on the affluent landowner being distracted.  The impoverished were not invited into the field to partake of his benevolence.  In a moment of weakness, the proprietor drops something and turns around to see a group of less fortunate people picking up what was overlooked.  The mitzvah is based on a series of uncertainties.  Maybe the farmer will forget a bundle behind, maybe not.  Maybe the indigent will notice the famer’s mistake, maybe not.  Is it reasonable to expect broken, sad, and weak Jews to profit from the absentmindedness and mistakes of wealthy and stable landowners?

What is the idea behind this mitzvah? Perhaps the goal is that when the wealthy person looks back and sees poor people scrounging for food in his field, he will unexpectedly recall that all Jews were all once “forgotten,” when we were slaves in Egypt.  Suddenly, he may recall that all Jews were once in the same boat.  For that moment, the wealthy landowner is transported to a different time and a different place. He feels a fellowship with people who do not have what he does.
What is really happening?  The landowner ponders the plight of the wretched - realizing that an entire sheaf was left behind (see Peah 6:8).  The Midrash (Vayikra Raba 34:8) says, “R’ Yehoshua taught: more than the homeowner does for the poor man, the poor man does for the homeowner. Rus said to Naomi, ‘the name of the man whom I did for today is Boaz’ (Rus 2:19).  It does not say ‘who did for me.’ It says, ‘who I did for’ – as if to say, ‘I did many deeds and favors for him today in exchange for the morsel that he gave me.’”  Rus, the widow, the convert, the impoverished, did chesed for the wealthiest and greatest man of the generation.  In fact, Boaz himself later acknowledges this, “Be blessed of Hashem, my daughter; you have made your latest act of kindness greater than the first” (3:10).  Rus, the widow, the convert, the pauper, bestowed kindness upon the wealthy Boaz.

What is the great chesed that the poor do for the wealthy?  The secure and successful rich person looks back to see the desolate one scrambling to pick up his overlooked crops.  If he is a sensitive person, he hears the Master of the World whisper in his ear, “Do you think that the only thing that has fallen out of your basket is a couple of stalks of grain?  Look at yourself and then look at the poor person.”  One begins to consider and recollect that there are holes, gaps and neglected moments in his or her “successful” life as well.  If one takes genuine stock of his own life and remembers, “Thank G-d I am Jewish, and, thank G-d, I have a family, and even parents.  I am not an orphan or a widower.”  However, Dovid Hamelech, who was the richest man in the world, saw himself as a convert and an orphan, “I am a sojourner in the world” (Tehillim 119:19), “Though my father and mother have forsaken me” (27: 10).  He was not an orphan and he certainly was not poor.  However, when Dovid Hamelech looked back at the last year or at his life, he would describe himself as, “And if I be demeaned more than this, and be abashed in mine own eyes” (Shmuel II 6:22).

The mitzvah of the forgotten sheaf reminds a person: “We are only superficially any different from these pitiful people.  Ultimately, what is all of our security and stability worth?”  The Master of the World, in middle of the field, says to us, “R’ Yid!  Tell the truth!  You forgot!  You have forgotten so much - not only the sheaves.”  Not everything is perfect and beautiful.  Hashem says, “Think and tell the truth: Did you not forget Me?  Did you not forget your wife, your sons, your daughters, etc. along the way, while you were busy with all of your acquisitions?  Are they not the casualties and ignored of your life?  Are you not a convert; are you not an orphan; are you not a widow?  Are you not a pauper?”  This is the amazing kindness that the poor person does for the affluent one.  When we see people wading around in the waters in Houston or South Florida trying to pick up some of the pieces that Harvey or Irma left behind – it reminds us that we also are converts, paupers, orphans, and widows in this world.

Fathers have plans to learn masechta after masechta with their sons and they have policies to make sure that their girls are always dressed properly – but they often end up leaving their children behind.  In many ways, the ones we love most are the ones who fall out of our basket.  The One we forget more than anyone is the One Who never stops thinking about us, Hashem.

This brings us to the light of Purim and of Queen Esther, “man to his friend and gifts to the poor.”  This time of the year, Elul, even people who do not normally attend shiurim, attend many shiurim - even Jews who are not usually careful about davening with a minyan, try very hard to do so.  On a simple level, people are scared.  But on a deeper level, everyone desperately wants to be beautiful in the eyes of the King.  The rest of the year, we are not so particular about how we look.  The time has come and behold the King is arriving to judge. 

Megillas Esther (2:12-13) tells us, “When each girl’s turn arrived to come to the King… six months with oil of myrrh and six months with perfumes and cosmetics. Thus the girl came to the King…”  The Zohar [source?] teaches that “each girl” refers to each Jewish soul.  All of the makeup, cosmetics and perfume were to cover up and conceal.  The other women, not Esther, were preoccupied with superficially beautifying themselves – making themselves smell better than they smelled and look better than they looked.  When one comes before the King to be judged, one wants to look one’s best and be on one’s best behavior because everyone wants to be inscribed and sealed in the book of life and the book of righteous. 

“Now when the turn came for Esther,” (2:15) – Esther came, as we recite in Selichos, “like the poor and the downtrodden we have knocked on Your door.”  Esther came without making herself up.  She comes as she was. “And so (ובכן) I will approach the King, against the law” (Megillas Esther 4:16).  The Tur (582) explains that this is why, throughout the tefillos of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we repeat the word “ובכן” – “And so, too may Your Name be sanctified…  And so, too, O Hashem, our G-d, instill Your awe…  And so, too, O Hashem, grant honor to Your people…  And so, too, the righteous will see and be glad…”

Like Esther, we say, “Master of the World, You know the truth. You know how much I have forgotten everything this year.  You know, more than anyone else does, how I have forgotten my wife, my kids.  I have forgotten You.  I have forgotten how to learn and how to daven like a Jew.  There is so much forgetfulness in my life.  I am so grateful that I am reminded by the poor that I myself am so poor, so alone without You – such an orphan, widow, convert.”
Just like in the Megilla, when the King looks up, He sees a Jew who is honest and just comes knocking on his door…

The words of an old Paul Simon song capture this sentiment.  “And here I am, Lord, I'm knocking at your place of business.  I know I ain't got no business here.  But you said if I ever got so low I was busted, You could be trusted.”

When the King looks at Queen Esther, who comes without any perfumes and cosmetics, who comes herself, as she is – the King looks up with chesed and grace and says, “I never saw such a beautiful Jew.”  He then extends the golden scepter and brings that Jew into the palace.  That is how a Jew comes to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  The Master of the World loves Jews like that.

Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Remembrance.  In Mussaf on Rosh Hashanah, we say, “For it is You Who eternally remembers all who are forgotten, and there is no forgetfulness before Your Throne of Glory.”  Initially, the rich landowner felt very bad when realizing that something was neglected.  Then, upon seeing the poor people, something is remembered, one remembers him or herself, one remembers that he or she is also poor.  We remember that, with all that we have gathered in life, we are empty - just like them. 

The Master of the World remembers everything.  There is no forgetfulness.  He loves every Jew.  However, who does He remember most?  Whom does He love, cherish and draw closest?  “He remembers all who are forgotten” – all those Jews who are forgotten, who feel forgotten and all those Jews who remember how much they forget, who are honest, humble and real – all those Jews who see other Jews who others have forgotten.  The Master of the World’s “forgotten stalks” includes the new boy in yeshiva who does not fit in.  The Master of the World never forgets.  He remembers when we remember and present ourselves sincerely, without any makeup.  “This is us.  We messed up.”  Then, we feel the King smile and pulling us in with the golden scepter.

On the first night of Sukkos, Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi of Porisov zy’a, a grandson of the Yid Hakadosh zy’a, was entering the sukkah with his family and his chassidim to greet the ushpizin.  He stopped at the entrance and could not enter the sukkah.  He leaned his head against the doorway and the chassidim heard him crying, “A man’s origin is from dust and his destiny is back to dust… he is likened to a broken shard… a passing shade, a fleeting dream” (Unesaneh Tokef, Mussaf of Rosh Hashanah).  The Rebbe exclaimed that an earthenware vessel is not allowed in the sukkah because it retains impurity.  If man is dust, how I dare walk into the sukkah?  He sat there crying.  Suddenly, he stood up and screamed that breaking a clay vessel is how one purifies it.  With that, they all proceeded to go into the sukkah.

Hashem should help that in the merit of our being able to feel brokenhearted and impoverished, that He fil all of our baskets with all of the things that we, and the entire Jewish people, need “until there be no room to suffice for it” (Malachi 3:10).

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Rav Moshe Weinberger - Raising Our Heads - Parshas Mishpatim/Shkalim 5778

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from parshas Mishpatim/Shabbos Shkalim 5778.  Enjoy!

See here for past shiurim at's website by Rav Weinberger both as Mashpia at YU and from the past 20+ years. You can also click on one of the following links to subscribe to the shiurim: emailrss feedpodcast, or iTunes. Please note that these drashos will only be available online for one month. If you notice any mistakes, please let me know so I can correct it. If you are interested in a particular drasha that is no longer online, you can email me (right sidebar) and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.

Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Mishpatim – Shkalim 5778
Raising Our Heads

In parshas Shkalim, the Torah says, “When you count [lit. ‘lift up’] the head of the Jewish people according to their counting” (Shmos 30:12). Commenting on this passuk, the Midrash says, “By your life, just like you stand now and give them parshas Shkalim and raise their heads, so too, every single year, when they read it before Me, it will be as if you are standing there just as you are standing today and raising their heads” (Tanchuma Ki Sisa 3). How does the mitzvah to give a Half Shekel and the reading of parshas Shkalim lift up our heads? What is the connection?

Also, why does Parshas Shkalim always serve as the transition into the month of Adar and the season of Purim? As the first Mishna in Shkalim states, “On the first of Adar, we announce regarding the shkalim.” And the Gemara says, “It is revealed and known before the One who spoke and the world came into being, that in the future, Haman would pay shkalim for the Jewish people. Therefore [Hashem] caused their shkalim to preempt his shkalim. That is why the Mishna says, ‘On the first of Adar…’” (Megillah 13b). How is the mitzvah of giving the Half Shekel able to counteract the money Haman paid Achashveirosh to buy and ultimately destroy us? What is the connection? How is this one mitzvah able to both lift up our heads and defeat Haman’s shkalim?

The primary coin used in the Torah is called the shekel. What is the root meaning of this word? It means “weight,” or “to weigh.” Something weighty, or heavy, is difficult to lift up, as the passuk says “And the hands of Moshe were heavy” (Shmos 14:12) in the fight with Amalek. What happens when weighty matters are treated lightly? The prophet explains that when the time of Moshiach approaches, “they shall behave with arrogance, the youth against the elder and the light-weight against the honorable [נכבד]” (Yeshayahu 3:5).  The word for honorable comes from the root word meaning “heavy.” Those with no substance will treat sages and people with life-experience without any respect. Young people often have no regard for older people, those with experience and wisdom. They feel they cannot daven in the same shul with them. While living in Eretz Yisroel these past few months, I saw that America does not have a monopoly on the prevalence of teen and “young couples” minyanim.  

The Aramaic word for kavod, which simultaneously means “honor” and “weight” is “yakar,” which also means “precious” or “valuable,” as the passuk says, “For the Jewish people, there was light, joy, gladness, and honor” (8:16). And Achashveirosh decreed that “all women must give honor to their husbands…” (1:20). Both of these psukim use the word yakar for honor. When something is seen as weighty, valuable, or expensive, it is given honor. And conversely, calling something of light weight shows that it is cheap, expendable, and not worthy of respect. And what is the word for degradation and disrespect? It is zilzul, which comes from the root word zol, meaning “cheap.” The prophet Yeshayahu uses the word “zalzalim” to refer to twigs (18:5), small branches blown around by the wind without any staying power.

Based on the above, we can see that any reference to the shekel means something which valuable and important. It is heavy and can therefore outweigh anything placed against it. That is why the Navi tells us that Hashem says, “My son Efrayim is precious [yakir] to me” (Yirmiyahu 31:19). When this passuk was written, the tribe of Efrayim was not doing well spiritually. Yet Hashem wanted the prophet to tell us, “Efrayim, you are still My child. You are precious to Me.” Every Jew, regardless of how well he is doing, is important. He or she is a heavy-weight and must recognize his or her own immense value.

Hashem demonstrated how the Half Shekel was meant to look by taking a coin out from under His Throne of Glory (kavod) (Rashi on Shmos 30:13; Tanchuma Ki Sisa 9). This coin is used to count the Jewish people, and, because it comes from under Hashem’s throne above,  its very essence is a testament to every Jew’s value. We come from the upper world. We have unfathomable importance and worth. The half shekel shows us that we can rise above all the details of this world. One of the things done with the half shekel is paying for the communal offerings in the Beis HaMikdash. We “count.” Even the “simplest” Jew is a heavy-weight, whose Half Shekel is used to bring a korban that transcends this world, binding Heaven and Earth together.

The Gemara tells us that when Hashem gave us the Torah, He sent angels to place two crowns on our heads (Shabbos 88a). He wanted us to understand how precious and valuable we are. It was as if He was calling out to each one of us, “Precious Jew! My precious child, Efrayim! Do you have any idea how valuable you are? How important? How honored and respected because of your incomprehensible worth?” When a Jew feels that he is worthless because of what he has done or what he has looked at, he must reach up and feel those crowns on his head in order to remember that he is connected to something much greater than himself. His life has infinite value and importance beyond what he can see in his everyday, pedestrian life.

Similarly, when a Jew reads the Torah and sees the “crowns” drawn over so many of the letters, they remind him that there is something much greater and deeper than what he can see with his eyes. And when a Jew gives the half shekel or reads parshas Shkalim, it reminds him that even he has weight. He is part of a collective body, something larger than himself, part of a mission from G-d Himself. That is how the half shekel lifts up his head.

This is related to the Arizal’s teaching that even though we lost our crowns after the sin of the golden calf, the passuk which teaches us the mitzvah of the Half Shekel shows us that these crowns are returned to us every Shabbos. The passuk says, “When you count [lit. ‘lift up’] the head [ראש]….” If one “lifts up,” i.e., takes the letter above each letter in the word rosh, it spells Shabbos (שבת). Throughout the week, a Jew feels scattered, cheap, and blown around by the winds of the world. But when Shabbos comes, he feels his crowns returning. He can once again access that sense of purpose – that feeling of being part of something larger than himself. He once again feels the weightiness of the holy shekel of which he is a part. 

We can now understand how the Half Shekel preempts Haman’s shkalim. What was the essence of Haman’s shkalim? Esther said, “For I and my nation have been sold to be destroyed, killed, and lost. If we had only been sold as manservants and maidservants, I would have remained silent… (Esther 7:4). Haman’s payoff to Achashveirosh to bring about our genocide made us feel worthless, to the extent that we would not even have complained if we had only been sold as slaves. We felt that a little money was worth more than we were, like we were mere chattel. And while we were despised, Haman was lauded and honored wherever he went and Achashveirosh made him viceroy (ibid. 3:10).

But the mitzvah of the Half Shekel shows us that we are not worthless like our enemies claim and like we often see ourselves. Hashem whispers to us, “Place Me like a seal on your heart, like a seal on your arm because love is as strong as death… If a man would give away all the wealth of his house for love, he would be despised” )Shir HaShirim 8:6-7). Yet Hashem is telling us that we are worth more than all the wealth in the world. We are part of something much greater than ourselves. We are part of Him. And that makes us worthy. That gives us weight and immeasurable importance. They announce the half Shekel on the first of Adar because that is what counteracts the cheapness of Haman. Shabbos Shkalim reminds us that we still have our crowns. We are part of the “royal family,” as children of Hashem.

We need to be reminded of this all of the time. It once happened that the Rebbe Maharash from Lubavitch zy’a, was taking one of his daily walks, deep in thought and not aware of his environment. Because of this, he inadvertently walked into a part of town Jews were not supposed to enter. A Russian guard yelled at him from across the street, but because he was contemplating so deeply, he did not hear the warning. Furious, the soldier ran over to the Rebbe and screamed in his face, “Who are you? Where are you going? What are you doing here?” Not intimidated in the least, the Rebbe asked him, “How much do they pay you?” A bit taken aback that this Jew was talking back to him, the man answered honestly, “I am paid ten rubles per day.” The Rebbe responded, “I will pay you ten times ten rubles to come over to me every day and ask me what  you did today, “Who are you? Where are you going? What are you doing here?”

We forget our value, we see ourselves and cheap and therefore cheapen ourselves only because we fail to think about the greatness we have inside. We forget who we are, who our Father is, where we come from and why we are here. We forget that we are heavy with the responsibility of being a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. May Shabbos Shkalim remind us of who we are and what we are doing. And may we merit to give the half Shekel once again with the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash, may it be soon in our days.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

New Video of History of Aish Kodesh/Rav Moshe Weinberger Posted!

This video, created by the amazingly talented David Jassee of DMJ Studios, has amazing interviews with Rav and Rebbetzin Weinberger and many others from the shul. It has amazing pictures from past decades and the shul. It is beautiful, inspiring, and funny. I definitely reccomend seeing this extremely professional video.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Clothing Makes the Man - Rabbi Yoni Levin's Shabbos Morning Drasha - Parshas Tetzaveh

Rabbi Yoni Levin, the assistant rabbi at Aish Kodesh, was kind enough to send me his Shabbos morning drashah from this Shabbos, parshas Tetzaveh. Enjoy!
Clothing is an extraordinarily powerful tool.

 It’s not only a way of covering up one’s body, but it’s a way expressing one’s inner most feelings.  There are studies done about how people feel when it rains versus when it‘s sunny outside; and those feelings will in turn affect their decision making and particular what clothing they might wear that day. If someone is feeling down, he or she might wear black clothing.  And someone who is feeling chipper might decide to wear colorful and bright clothing. בגדי כהונהAlthough at first glance, clothing is very superficial, very external, the תורה describes the בגדי כהונה as לכבוד ולתפארת, clothing of honor and glory.   The בגדי כהונה demanded respect; it imbued a great sense of fear to whoever was זוכה to see the בגדי כהונה.

 When the כהן גדול would walk through the hallways of the בית המקדש with his long coat, almost like a cape with the melodious bells ringing, wearing his finely hand-woven shirt and pants, and those shining jewels lined across his חשן משפט, and his prestigious hat, and the name of Hashem written across his forehead.  A person would tremble at the very jingling of the bells, let alone when the כהן גדול stepped into your presence.  It would make you melt, crumble into pieces.  It would instill guilt for everything you’ve done wrong making you shatter.  You feel the presence of greatness, of קדושה, you feel as if the שכינה is hovering in front of your very eyes. It’s amazing what someone else’s clothing can do to us.   It is amazing how are feelings can be altered by someone else’s clothing.  It could make us jealous.  It could make us scared.  Sometimes it can even make us laugh. 

How Our Clothing Affects UsThat’s how other people’s clothing affects us.  But let’s not focus on other people’s clothing.  Let us take a look out ourselves.  How do our clothes affect us?  How does that shirt that I put on this morning affect me?  How do those shoes that I just slipped on affect me? 

Delivery of Uniforms on Shabbos

The following Shailah was once presented to Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach.  There was a חיל who was on duty on Shabbos at the army base.  A package was delivered and he knew that it was the new uniforms that had been ordered.  He wasn’t sure if was permitted to open it up and give them up, or if it as prohibited because of מוקצה.  The boy decided to play it safe and he did not open thr package on Shabbos.

 After Shabbos he sent the Shailah to Rav Shlomo Zalman wanting to know whether he had made the right decision or not.  Rav Shlomo Zalman’s response was that he should have opened up the package and given them out.  Because a soldier feels like a new person with a new uniform, he is reinvigorated with new energy, strength and confidence.  It will motivate him to perform and serve his duty even better.

 Rav Shlomo Zalman understood how clothing can impact a person’s confidence, his perspective, his ability to perform. 

Clothing Transforms us

Although clothing is so superficial and so external, it has an ability to transform a person.  The גמ' says that a כהן is not a כהן unless he is wearing the בגדי כהונה.  The clothing makes him into who he is.  בזמן שבגדיהם עליהם כהונתכם עליהם אין בגדיהם עליהם אין כהונתכם עליהם When a person wants to change, when a person wants to overcome a struggle, a תאוה, it requires baby steps.  It requires small changes - changes in things that seem so insignificant, so minor, so mundane, yet to easy that can have enormous impact. 

Overcoming the WeatherMy wife told me that whenever it would rain, she would wear black because that’s how she felt.  But then she starting thinking that she didn’t want to be sad, she didn’t want to be gloomy just because it was nasty outside.  She didn’t want the weather to dictate how she felt. She decided instead to fight the weather and that whenever it would rain she would do the opposite.  She would wear brighter clothing on the rainy days.  Her clothing would put her in a better mood and fight the downwards pull of the weather. 

Overcoming our יצר הרע

When kids go to Israel for a year, everyone makes fun of those guys who quickly start wearing black and white.  Many times these are the kids who are struggling most, and by them changing their clothing, it shows us where they want to be, it shows their רצון to overcome their struggles in life.  These young boys would like to be learning in the Beis Midrash more.  There is this pull that’s taking them outside.  It could be the phone, the internet; it could be girls; it could be drinking.  Whatever dark world that they are living, the have the רצון to pull out of it.  If they dress the part, they are hoping they can play the part.  Not always successful, but it comes from a deep place within them.

 The ספר חינוך is famous for writing in a number of places how the חיצוניות positively impacts the פנימיות, how the external, how one dresses really does affect the deeper part of the נשמה. This is not full-proof by any means.  Just because someone begins to dress a certain way, and affiliate with a certain type, it by no way means that the person will actually change.  But it is at the least a start.  It is an easy change and helps get the ball moving. 


Perhaps this is why the word is בגד, the 3 consecutive letters in a row, בג"ד.  This indicates how clothing, בגדים, something so small, something so mundane, can push us and encourage us helping us grow on a slow, steady and healthy path – from a ב to a ג to aד. It is similar to learning Daf Yomi which also starts with a ב, every מסכתא, starts with a בג"ד.  That too is about taking small strides in growth.  Just one Daf a day.  Even if you aren’t feeling the drive, but you know you should be learning.  Showing up for 45 minutes a day, one daf after the next, will engender a healthy growth in learning.

 This coming Monday night, thanks to Jeremy Feder, we are beginning Maseches Megilla.  Each night we will be learning one Daf.  It is a great opportunity to take upon yourself a small and reachable goal.  In just 30 days we will iy”h be making a Siyum. 

Even the Mundane is HolyI know what you are all thinking about.  Rav Weinberger goes to Israel and I am trying to convince you all to start wearing white shirts, black hats, streimels? I am not talking about what we wear, but how we wear the clothing, how we get dressed. You know, there are הלכות about how to get dressed.  Something so mundane, something so routine and something so meaningless also has rules.  And it is not because the Torah and Chachamim are trying to be difficult and make our lives miserable ח"ו, but it’s the opposite.  Getting dressed is full of so much קדושה, we just don’t realize it!  Everything in this world is full of קדושה, from getting dressed to eating, from sleeping to walking. There is קדושה everywhere we go, every person we see, every creature that we encounter, every blade of grass we see, everything we do. The כהן גדול is not a כהן גדול unless he has the special clothing.  We don’t have special clothing to wear, but perhaps if we internalized what clothing means, what it means to get dressed it can help transform us us like the בגדי כהונה did to the כהנים. 

Marine Commercial

I remember growing up seeing a commercial about joining the marines.  You would see the camera focuses on just a boot.  The boot was shiny black looking like brand new.  You would see hands tying them really neatly and comfortably.  Then the camera would focus on the body of a person putting on a perfectly tailored jacket buttoning to perfection.  Then you would see just the head with a cap being tightly placed on top.  And then the video would zoom out showing the marine in the finest uniform, standing with perfect posture ready to serve. Every morning we should be getting dressed like this.  We should be dressing up ready to meet the King of the Universe, to speak to him.  Each sock that we put on, each button that we button, should be done with care and intent on meeting face to face with בורא עולם.

 And it is not just because we have to be presentable to ה' יתברך, but because our נשמה needs it.  Our attitude and our feelings are affected by the way we dress.

 When we are struggling to fight that יצר הרע each day, we need to be prepared to battle, we need to wear our uniform in whatever color and size they come in.  We need to wake up and get dressed with confidence, with a goal, with a mission and say that today I will not give in to my יצר הרע. Just because yesterday you did something you shouldn’t have done.  You looked at something you shouldn’t have looked at.  You said something that you shouldn’t have said.  ה' יתברך gives us a new chance each morning.  We wake up and get dressed and can be transformed by putting on different clothing than the day before.  And even if you wear the same clothing his works. אדם וחוהAfter the חטא of אדם וחוה, the first thing that happened was that they got embarrassed and realized that they weren’t dressed.  הקב"ה with his boundless חסד provided them with clothing, he provided them with an opportunity to cover up their shame, the opportunity to change who they are by simply putting on clothing. 

Setting the Tone for the Day

The ספרים speak about how the first moments of the day when we wake up really sets the stage for that entire day.  If we wake up and run over to check our phone, likely that the rest of the day we will be checking our phone.  If we run over to check the scores in the game, then that will be the focus of the day. But if we wake up and look ourselves in the mirror and say that today will be a better day.  If we get dressed being cognizant that we are soldiers prepared to fight a battle and that we are getting dressed in our uniform, then our day will be filled with us overcoming fights and struggles. 


The מדרש teaches us that before the חטא of אדם וחוה, they had clothing of אור, אור with an א, meaning light.  They were clothed with light, they were surrounded by light.  Iy”h we should be זוכה by fighting the יצר הרע day in and day out to that כתונת אור to that coat of light.  By changing not what we wear but how we wear it, by dressing like soldiers, ready to battle, each day starting new, starting fresh, we should be זוכה to overcome our struggles, overcome our יצר הרע, and very soon be זוכה to the כתונת אור of אדם הראשון!

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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Narcissistic Controller or Loving Grandparent? - Yaakov and Lavan - Parshas Vayechi

In recent years, I read Lavan's unhinged rant at Yaakov as the frustration of a narcissistic parent seething that he has been unable to manipulate Yaakov and his daughters into serving his own ends (Bereishis 31:43): "The daughters are my daughters, the sons are my sons, the flocks are my flocks, and everything that you have is mine!"

I felt that had Lavan been a healthy parent and grandparent, he would have recognized that his grandchildren "belonged" to Yaakov, Rachel, Leah, Bilha, and Zilpa - and not him. Such an attitude would have demonstrated respect for his daughters and son-in-law as his grandchildren's true parents. He would only have sought to see how he could be helpful, but would not have been controling - he would not have seen his grandchildren as if they were his own children. 

So I was surprised when, this year, I noticed that in parishas Vayechi, Yaakov himself says something that initially sounds similar to what Lavan said to him years earlier (Bereishis 48:5): "And now, the two sons born to you in Egypt... are mine, they shall be like Reuven and Shimon to me." While I am aware of the normal meaning ascribed to this passuk, it would be irresponsible not to notice the similarities (and differences) between Yaakov's words here and what Lavan said to him in parshas Vayeitze.

Reading the conversation between Yaakov and Yosef, however, the whole tone is one of love and an intent on Yaakov's part to give the same blessings to Yosef's sons that he gave to his own. Lavan, on the other hand, flew into a rage because of his inability to control Yaakov and his children. 

After noticing Yaakov's words' superficial similarity to Lavan's diatribe, I revised my earlier thinking to one that is less black-and-white. After all, Chazal say on his words (Pirkei D'Rabi Eliezer 35), "Grandchildren are like children." Lavan was not wrong because it is always self-centered to consider one's grandchildren his or her own. Rather, like virtually everything else, there's a right way and a wrong way to do something.

Yaakov wanted to give Efrayim and Menashe the same blessings he was giving to his own children. Lavan wanted to control Yaakov, his grandchildren, and his daughters. The key difference is between profound love and giving to the extent that one loves his grandchildren as much as his own, on one hand, and, on the other hand, selfishness, to the extent that one believes he can control his grandchildren to the same extent he thinks he should be able to control his children, both of whom he views as his property.

May HaShem help us adopt an attitude of giving in all of our relationships, not asking what others should be doing, but rather what we can do to be helpful and of service to others!

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