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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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Believing in Your Potential - Being Engraved on the Leg of the Throne of Glory - Rabbi Yoni Levin's Shabbos Morning Drasha

Rabbi Yoni Levin, the assistant rabbi at Aish Kodesh, delivered the drasha this Shabbos while Rav Weinberger was at YU for Shabbos. He spoke in  honor of the bar mitzvah of Avi Goldstone. Mazel tov! Below is the drasha which he typed up and emailed to me. Thank you Rabbi Levin for allowing me to share it!

Believing in Your Potential - Being Engraved on the Leg of the Throne of Glory

It’s astounding how each year we read the same stories, we read the same פרשיות, and they never seem to grow old.  We are in the midst of a cliffhanger, a story of suspense. We are on the edge of our seats waiting to see what happens to יעקב אבינו as he runs into the dark of the night all alone, all by himself, scared, and lost.

I’m not sure about each of you, but I could never read the same book twice. 

But when it comes to the תורה for some reason, each year, the story becomes more exciting.  We are reliving the stories of the אבות.  Personally, I get most emotional when we read the end of the תורה, and each year משה רבינו dies again, and it almost brings me to tears, the loss of משה רבינו, our leader, the one who lead us out of מצרים, through the מדבר.

Our נשמות are so connected, they are so involved in each of these stories, in the lives of our ancestors, to the point that the פרשיות truly come to life.

Story of יעקב

So here we are in the middle of ספר בראשית and יעקב is running away since last שבת.  He’s running as fast as he could.  He has been sent off by his parents to escape his brother עשב.  His destination: the house of לבן, his uncle. 

And during this marathon, he keeps looking over his shoulder.  He keeps looking to his right.  He looks to his left.  He is tense and uneasy not knowing where he may confront עשו.   He’s scared from any חיות רעות, he has no support system, no one to protect him, no one to talk to.   He is fighting a battle all by himself.

And as יעקב wanders off on his own, scared, lost, in a cloud of darkness, confusion, he winds up falling asleep in the מקום המקדשה' יתברך puts יעקב אבינו to sleep particularly in the very place that will eventually become the בית מקדשיעקב is lying down in this place of קדושה, where he senses this powerful energy, this מקום full with the potential of greatness. 

While sleeping in this place of the Divine, יעקב is overwhelmed with power, energy and קדושה.  יעקב is overtaken by this dream.  He experiences this vivid, clear, and dominant dream of מלאכים ascending and descending the ladder והנה סלם מצב ארצה וראשו מגיע השמימה.
Message of the Dream

יעקב is at a very delicate moment of his life.  What message is Hashem giving יעקב אבינו at this very tender life-changing moment?

יעקב is transitioning to a life of independence.  יעקב is feeling lonely and lost, without parents and teachers to guide him.

What is הקב"ה teaching יעקב through this dream?  He is expected to be independent and responsible for himself.  He is being forced to grow up.  What חיזוק could הקב"ה possibly give יעקב אבינו at this very sensitive point in his life?

Each one of us has possibly felt this same feeling at some point in our life.  Some of us might be feeling them right now - this feeling of darkness and loneliness.  Perhaps we are struggling with פרנסה, stuck in an unsuccessful business, no place to turn, no place to look.  We might feel this when we get sucked into the darkness of תאוה, drawn into the world of עבירות – this sense of guilt, a sense of regret, depression, fear.  We might feel this in a relationship, this feeling of loneliness, abandonment.

On a global level, as a nation, as part of humanity, we might be feeling lost as we see waves of terror throughout ארץ ישראל.  This past week we lost more קדושים.  We are constantly running away in the darkness from a different brother of ours, ישמעאל.  We are constantly looking over our shoulder. ה' ינקום דמם.

France was hit with a big shock last Shabbos.  Unfortunately, they were hit with reality, a reality that Jews face every day in ארץ ישראל and many cities throughout Europe. 

What is an appropriate message that can help build us back up, strengthen us, put us back on track, both as individuals and as a nation?

And יעקב Wakes Up…

When יעקב אבינו wakes up, he makes an interesting comment. 

ויאמר אכן יש ה' במקום הזה ואנכי לא ידעתי

What does the word אכן mean?    The Artscroll defines the word to mean “surely”.  And יעקב said “surely Hashem exists in this very place, but I was unaware”.  יעקב sensed this magnitude of energy in this מקום המקדש. It was so certain to him, it was so clear, it was אכן, this place was undoubtedly filled with an overflow of קדושה.

However, there is another understanding of the word אכן.  Not in the פשט, but in the רמז, the hint behind this word, concealed within each letter of the word אכן.

The Acronym of אכ"ן

Many מפרשים explain that the word אכן is actually an acronym.  יעקב אבינו was sleeping in the מקום המקדש, the center of the world, the center of the universe, the center of שמים.  He was lying below the center of the עליונים, the upper spheres.  He was lying directly below the כסא הכבוד, Hashem’s Throne of Honor, beneath the very legs that upheld the כסא הכבוד.

This כסא הכבוד, this throne on which the שכינה resides, had 4 legs no different than any other throne that a king might be sitting on.

On each of the 4 legs was engraved a different image.  There was a lion, an אריה, which is hinted by the letter א'.  Another leg had a כרוב, one of the כרובים, an image of a baby, hinted by the letter כ'.  And a third leg was engraved with the image of an eagle, a נשר, hinted by the letter נ'.  This spells out the word אכן, אריה, כרוב, and נשר

And what was the 4th image on the 4th leg?  אכן יש ה' במקום הזה, יעקב says that he knew the three legs, the אכן but אנכי לא ידעתי.  The fourth I didn’t know, he says.  The word אנכי contains the three letters of אכן plus the letter י.  The 4th leg is represented by the letter י'.  What does the letter י' stand for?  חז"ל tells us that the image of יעקב was engraved on the 4th leg.  The letter י' represents יעקב himself.  Now when יעקב says אנכי לא ידעתי it means he didn’t know the letter י, he didn’t know himself, he didn’t know אנכי.  He didn’t realize that he himself was the 4th leg.

The Image of יעקב

יעקב was in a difficult stage of his life.  He was forced to grow up.  He was off on his own.  And during this very challenging stage הקב"ה shows him a dream.  ה' יתברך shows יעקב אבינו how much potential he has.  He shows him the tremendous heights that he can reach.  יעקב says אנכי לא ידעי, I didn’t know how far I can reach, I didn’t know that my image touches the כסא הכבוד.  I didn’t realize my actions have ripple effects in the World above.

This message of teaching יעקב אבינו how much he could accomplish is also the message behind the ladder.  The ladder is rooted in the ground והנה סלם מוצב ארצה but ראשו מגיע השמימה that we can reach tremendous heights.

Our Image in the 4th Leg
The truth is, if you look at the גמ' in חגיגה which records the 4 legs of the כסא הכבוד doesn’t say that יעקב is the 4th leg but the 4th leg is אדם – any person.  Each one of us has our image imprinted on that 4th leg.  Avi  - you have your image on the 4th leg of the כסא הכבוד.  You have the ability to reach tremendous heights and lofty goals. 

This 4th leg is a mirror.  And when each one of us look up at this mirror we see ourselves imprinted on the כסא הכבודThis is both a daunting realization, yet an empowering message.  We have the ability to shake the world above, make waves in שמים.

We have to internalize how powerful our actions are, how high they can reach, how we can turn over worlds, we can make changes in the עליונים.

There is a striking Gemara in גיטין that records a debate about the details that surround the story of פילגש בגבעה

תלמוד בבלי מסכת גיטין דף ו עמוד ב
ועוד, הא ר' אביתר הוא דאסכים מריה על ידיה, דכתיב: בותזנה עליו פילגשו, רבי אביתר אמר: זבוב מצא לה, ר' יונתן אמר: נימא מצא לה, ואשכחיה ר' אביתר לאליהו, א"ל: מאי קא עביד הקב"ה? א"ל: עסיק בפילגש בגבעה, ומאי קאמר? אמר ליה: אביתר בני כך הוא אומר, יונתן בני כך הוא אומר, א"ל: ח"ו, ומי איכא ספיקא קמי שמיא? א"ל: אלו ואלו דברי אלהים חיים הן זבוב מצא ולא הקפיד, נימא מצא והקפיד. אמר רב יהודה: זבוב בקערה, ונימא באותו מקום, זבוב - מאיסותא, ונימא - סכנתא. איכא דאמרי: אידי ואידי בקערה, זבוב - אונסא, ונימא – פשיעותא

What is most striking though is that when Hashem is learning this topic, he is quoting ר' אביתר and ר' יונתן.  And the same holds true, when we are learning and we are מחדש something, Hashem will quote us.  That is as if to say, we are placing the words in Hashem’s mouth.  We are dictating what is being said upstairs in שמים!

If we can just take this idea to heart and realize how far reaching our speech, our thoughts, our actions can go, it will drive us to do only good.

We need to be confident in ourselves, confident in our actions - how we act really does make a difference. 

A Little Bit About Avi

When you take a look at Avi, one thing immediately comes to mind; and that’s his precious smile - that smile that goes from cheek to cheek.  Avi is forever in the state of שמחה

שמחה is key to reaching one’s true potential, one’s true heights.  It indicates a healthy dose of confidence that will enable Avi to reach immeasurable heights.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף קל עמוד א
תניא, רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומר: כל מצוה שקיבלו עליהם בשמחה כגון מילה, דכתיב שש אנכי על אמרתך כמוצא שלל רב - עדיין עושין אותה בשמחה,

Avi is starting off his life as a בר מצוה boy with an unthinkable amount of שמחה.

Now Avi, as you embark on this new journey supplied with the proper tools to succeed, you need to believe in yourself and your ability to succeed.  You already have shown us an enormous amount of success with your dedication to daven, perform מצוות and learn.  You need to remember והנה סולם מוצב ארצה, that the ladder is grounded, you need to stay firm and grounded with a strong base, a healthy one.  But you also need to look forward and find your mission in life and to realize that you can be מגיע השמימה.

We look forward to seeing you continuously grow and you should only bring Nachas to your family and continue to inspire all of us around you with your smile, your happiness, your dedication to Torah, Tefila and Mitzvos!

Mazel Tov and Good Shabbos!

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Rundown of Major Articles/Events in Connection with Aish Kodesh Hilula and Sefer Debut

There are a lot of exciting things going on  in connection with the big hilula being held by my shul, Aish Kodesh (Woodmere, NY), this motzei Shabbos at the Young Israel of Lawrence-Cedarhurst.

First is the Hilula itself.  Besides naming the shul after the sefer Aish Kodesh by Rav Kalonymus Kalman Shapira of Piaseczna, Hy"d, Rav Moshe Weinberger has been holding hilulas (events to celebrate the life and teachings of a tzaddik on his yahrtzeit) in honor of the Piaseczner Rebbe since 2000. As noted above, this year's hilula is going to be this motzei Shabbos, right after parshas Noach, at 8:30 p.m. at the Young Israel of Lawrence-Cedarhurst (corner of Broadway and Spruce in Cedarhurst, NY in the Five Towns). Yosef Karduner will be playing with Gadi Pugatch on violin (who you might recognize from HERE) and Rav Weinberger will be speaking. So if you're in the tri-state area, come on out motzei Shabbos! It promises to be an amazing evening.

Second is the sefer debuting at the hilula. Many moons ago, Rav Weinberger asked me to make a sefer adapting the talks he gave at previous years' hilulas into writing. B"H, with the help of many sponsors, I did that and the sefer is now out and ready to be read! It's entitled "Warmed by the Fire of the Aish Kodesh - Torah from the Hilulas of Reb Kalonymus Kalman Shapira of Piaseczna." There will be many copies of the sefer available for purchase at the hilula. If  you can't be there, you can also buy it at your local Jewish bookstore, through Feldheim's website or on

I also recommend that you read a review of the book that Neil Harris just posted at his blog Modern Uberdox. Really heartfelt and beautiful. To me, the key line from the review is this:
I think the greatness of this publication is that it opens up a thirst that we don’t even know we have. We learn about and from the Piseczna Rebbe and the sefer leaves you wanting more. Wanting to learn his seforim, wanting to overcome the darkness in your life, wanting to come closer to Hashem. That’s why this is a more than just a sefer.
If you want to get more insight into what is motivating Rav Weinberger to do so many things to perpetuate the teachings of the Aish Kodesh (naming the shul after him, holding an annual hilula on his yahrtzeit, instituting a siyum on Shas by the men in shul and on Tanach by the women in shul on the yahrtzeit), I definitely recommend you watch this video. Rav Weinberger let me sit down with him for an "interview" motzei Shabbos Shuva. It's 8 minutes long and in the video, Rav Weinberger gives a much deeper insight into what motivates him to do so much for the Piaseczner and why his teachings seem to speak so much to this generation. Just turn the volume up on your computer/device though because unfortunately the sound is a bit low!

Inyan Magazine Cover Story This Week, My Five Towns Jewish Times Article, and Nachum Segal JM in the AM Appearance

In honor of the Piaseczner's yahrtzeit and to raise awareness about this tzaddik so people will explore his teachings more, I wrote the cover story for this week's issue of Hamodia Weekly's Inyan Magazine! So pick up a copy of that this week! I assume it will be on shelves tomorrow (Wednesday) or Thursday. [Update 10/14/15: I've inserted a picture of the Inyan Magazine cover on the right and you can see some pictures of the interior of the issue here as well.]

[Update 10/15/15: My article in the Five Towns Jewish Times about the Hilula and other goings-on at Aish Kodesh just went online today! So you can read that HERE. Enjoy!

I am also going to be a guest on Nachum Segal's JM in the AM show at 7:45 tomorrow (Wednesday) morning at about 7:45 a.m. to talk about the hilula and what it's all about! So listen in at that time at 91.1 FM or online. I'll IY"H update this post with a link to the audio when it's available on their website. [Update 10/14/15: You can now listen to the full interview online HERE - 24 minutes - or in the embedded Youtube video below. Nachum asked me about the Hilula, the sefer release, and a few questions about my somewhat unusual personal background as well.]

Most importantly, pick up one of the Piaseczner's seforim and make a seder in learning and applying it!

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Rav Moshe Weinberger's Guidance to Me on Responding to Tragic News in the Community

The daughter-in-law of an acquaintance of mine in the community just passed into the next world two days ago, on Monday. They discovered that she was suffering from oso hamachla 8 weeks ago, when she was 7 months pregnant. They caused the birth of a baby girl 4 weeks ago and operated at that time. A tremendous number of people in the community and around the world have been davening for her recovery. But in the end, she passed away anyway. She was 31 years old and left behind a husband and 3 daughters under 7 years old.

Because I wanted to support the father-in-law in this incredibly difficult time, I worked from home yesterday and attended the funeral, which was obviously very hard.

After mincha/maariv last night, I mentioned to Rav Weinberger that I had been at the funeral and that it was‎ very difficult. I think because he knew that I did not have a very close personal connection with the family, and I was not a close relative, this is what he said:

"It's very hard, but there is also such good news. Chanan (a member of the shul) just had a baby boy. So many other babies have come into the world in the past couple of days. Misha and Estee (other members of the shul who were in a serious car accident Sunday night) have seen tremendous miracles in their recovery‎. There is so much to be thankful for."

Rav Weinberger was giving me gentle mussar and teaching me an important point. There is bad news all over the world and I (and i'm sure many other people - that's why i'm posting this) focus excessively on that or feel that I'm not feeling other Jews' pain if I don't dwell on tragedies. 

‎It's important to note that the nifteres here was not my sister, best friend, or sister-in-law. Accordingly, this was not my pain. It was a question of feeling other Jews' pain. So Rav Weinberger was showing me how someone in my position should view tragedies. I should not put such an inordinate focus on them to the exclusion of other Jews' joyous occasions and smachos. ‎It shows that I don't truly connect to other Jews if I fail to focus on their celebrations and only notice tragic news. That lopsided focus only empowers the Kingdom of Sadness.

May I and the rest of us merit to rejoice in other Jews' much-more-numerous happy occasions and not place an inordinate emphasis on the sad times.

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Monday, July 6, 2015

Rabbi Yoni Levin's Innagural Drasha as Assistant Rabbi at Aish Kodesh, Woodmere - Parshas Balack 5775

This past Monday (a week ago today), Aish Kodesh in Woodmere held an all-membership meeting at which Rav Moshe Weinberger and the board announced that Rav Weinberger had selected Aish Kodesh's first assistant rabbi: Rabbi Yoni Levin. Rav Weinberger spoke very, very highly about Rabbi Levin and his Rebbetzin, Randi. He definitely has a very impressive background, as you can see from his biography on the YUTorah page where his shiurim are posted:

Rabbi Yoni Levin is currently the assistant rabbi at Congregation Aish Kodesh and a rebbe at Yeshivas Lev Shlomo, in Woodmere, NY, an affiliate of HALB. He graduated from Yeshiva College with a B.S. in Mathematics and a minor in Business from the Sy Syms School of Business. He received semicha from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University, and was a fellow at the prestigious Beren Kollel Elyon at RIETS. Rabbi Levin also studied in Israel for a year and a half at Yeshivat Hakotel. In addition, he has written scholarly Torah articles in Yeshiva University’s annual publications, Beis Yitzchak and Kol Tzvi. Rabbi Levin has participated in numerous Yeshiva University Communtiy Kollelim, including the DRS High School kollel in Long Island and others in the New York area. Rabbi Levin has also spent time in the workforce at PricewaterhouseCoopers in the actuarial department. Rabbi Levin and his wife Randi currently live in Woodmere with their five children, Batsheva, Yocheved, Yeshaya, Zev, and Yisroel Meir.

This past Shabbos, parhas Balak, Rav Weinberger was away and we had the zechus to hear Rabbi Levin for the first time as our new assistant rabbi. And he used the opportunity not only to give a drasha, but to share some feelings about beginning his formal role with the shul. This time, it was not me who wrote up the drasha. Rather, Rabbi Levin himself wrote the following, just as Rabbi Norman Lamm did. It is my privilege to share the following drasha with my readership, which Rabbi Levin was kind enough to permit me to reproduce here:

Rabbi Yoni Levin
Parshas Balak 5775

This is a most humbling honor.

On behalf of my wife, I would like to begin by expressing our gratitude to the רבונו שלום for this very special and unique opportunity to be part of this קהילה קדושה, a קהילה that has been founded on חסידות, פנימיות, לימוד התורה, personal growth, growth in learning, drawing close to one another, drawing closer to Hashem.
During the past 2 years of giving the morning daf yomi shiur, I have been met with only positive encounters.  This is a קהילה filled with warmth, care, and a קהילה that possesses an extraordinary powerful desire to learn, grow, and spread Hashem’s Torah.

I have had the great זכות in participating in the various shul-wide events many of which have been led and organized by יצחק מרדכי Feder.  Each event filled with singing, Torah, rebbe, and אחדות.  The חנוכה מסיבה at the Lawrence’s, the ט"ו בשבט סדר at the Shuckmans, the Purim Chagiga at the Gelmans, and the ultimate ל"ג בעומר celebration.  In addition to the בני מחשבה טובה chaburahs that have been organized by Reb Yirmi Ginsberg and hosted by the Gelmans, Perkels, Lerners, Rosens, Hoenigs, and the Horowitzs.  

Recently, under the guidance and initiative of Efrayim Nudman, Shaul Harari, and Yaakov Meir Cohen, the shul has begun several new programs.  The one that I personally have been involved in, is the Sunday morning Chabura.  It has been quite a success as a great way to begin our week with in-depth learning.  I very much love the interactions that I have which each one of the participants and it’s inspiring to see the tremendous amount of enthusiasm as the Kol Torah echoes through the upstairs Beis Midrash. 

What is unique about these events is that each one of them has been initiated by one of you.  Each one of you has an overwhelming רצון to create more events, to infuse more learning, and host these various events. 

We can’t forgot the women who are either allowing, encouraging, or even pushing their husbands to come out and learn on Sundays, or early mornings, Shabbos afternoons, or late nights.   

It is our hope that my wife and I can assist in any way possible in fulfilling the mission of this קהילה קדושה.

It is our dream that we can help every member, every family grow in learning, grow in Avodas Hashem each at his or her own pace and level. 

Prior to my joining of the shul 2 years ago, I had never met Rav Weinberger shlit”a.  Yet quickly, Rav Weinberger turned into rebbe.  Even though I am being forced to sit up front, I am a talmid, a congregant of rebbe just as much as any of you are. 

I thirst rebbe’s Torah like any of you. I try to guess at which Shachris minyan rebbe will be davening just to catch a glimpse of the tzadik that we are so blessed to have among us. 

I have had many rebbeim throughout my years in yeshiva and still stay in touch with many of them.  But I have never had a rebbe like ours.  A master of all trades – a master in נגלה, a master in נסתר, a master in עיצה. 

It is with much gratitude to Rebbe for giving me this wonderful opportunity, to work with him in serving this wonderful קהילה קדושה.  I thank him and you, the קהילה, for placing trust in me and look forward to an amazing year as we strive to fulfill our mission as a unit, as a קהילה until the coming of משיח when we will continue this very mission in ירושלים במהרה בימינו אמן! 

There is an astonishing gemara that appears in Berachos (12b).  The חכמים had a fleeting thought to insert the entire פרשת בלק smack in the middle of קריאת שמע.  Could you imagine saying שמע ישראל ה' אלקינו ה' אחד and then go off on a tangent in reciting the entire פרשת בלק?! 

And the only reason why they held back, was because it would be a טירחא דציבור, an extreme burden upon the קהילה, having to recite the entire פרשת בלק twice a day in addition the rest of davening.

So what was the reason in the first place if this idea inserting פרשת בלק in קריאת שמע, the height of our תפילה, interrupting our קבלת עול מלכות שמים? 

Where is there room in שמע when we are in the midst of being מקבל קבלת עול מלכות שמים to insert the story of בלק and בלעם, the story individuals who wanted to destroy כלל ישראל? 

The answer is found in the gemara. The גמרא explains that we would have read the entire פרשת בלק just for the sake of one פסוק.  There is this one פסוק that finds its appropriate placement smack in the middle of  קריאת שמע and that פסוק is: 

כרע שכב כארי וכלביא מי יקימנו – “He will crouch and lay down like a lion, like a young lion – who then can stand up against him?” 

It doesn’t come across as a very powerful statement – not earth stretching by any stretch of the imagination.   This is the pasuk that was but so close to being  inserted in שמע?  What does the pasuk even mean? 

Rashi explains that this pasuk is similar to the words that appear in שמע of בשכבך ובקומך that הקב"ה watches over us when we get up, when we are awake and when we sleep.   Just as we describe in קריאת שמע how Hashem protects us all day and night, so too this פסוק from פרשת בלק describes this very same concept that Hashem protects us.  For this reason, for this similarity, there was a thought to include פרשת בלק within קריאת שמע.

The truth is, this is the theme of all of פרשת בלק.  As כלל ישראל was innocently journeying through the מדבר their enemies were plotting against them as they always are.  And without us knowing, הקב"ה as always, protected us, ensured our safety.  He is constantly fighting our battles, He is forever protecting us from our enemies.   

When we are כרע שכב כארי וכלביא מי יקימנו – even when we are sleeping who can stand up against us with the protection of Hashem. 

During many of such occurrences, we find ourselves in a deep slumber completely oblivious to the details of the behind the scenes, but when we recite קריאת שמע, when we read פרשת בלק, we are reminded that even though we don’t see and even though we don’t hear of these ניסים, we know that הקב"ה is forever protecting us. 

והיא שעמדה לאבותינו ולנו שלא אחד עמד עלינו לכלותינו הקב"ה מצילנו מידם

This is the message of קריאת שמע, this is the message of פרשת בלק, this is the message of the פסוק -    כרע שכב כארי וכלביא מי יקימנו.   Hashem is forever watching over us. 

But there are times when we do forget this and we don’t realize that Hashem is watching over us.  When times are good, prosperous there is a tendency to forget the source of everything.  We speed through קריאת שמע, we don’t internalize this concept, we tend to forget that Hashem is watching over us. 

Today is שבעה עשר בתמוז, the beginning of the 3 weeks, the beginning of בין המצרים.  It is a תקופה where we feel distant from Hashem, when we recognize the lack of the בית המקדש, the disconnect from Hashem, from ארץ ישראל, from ירושלים, and feel almost forgotten just as we have forgotten Hashem.  We are in a period of very intense אבילות which underscores the distance we are feeling from Hashem.

How are we supposed to react to this distance?  How do we draw closer when feel the we are drifting further and further? 

A few months ago, I sat in a lecture from Rabbi Motti Berger in Aish Hatorah in the Old City.  He gives a very intense and engaging lecture.  He had presented 2 scenarios asking which would bring a person closer to Hashem - someone who won the lottery and would have no financial worries or someone, as he described and apologize for being so extreme in this example, who was on the top floor of the World Trade Center as the plane hit the building below.  The undisputed answer was that the one experiencing the fear, pain, and threat would sooner acknowledge and draw closer to Hashem. 

During these trying times, when a person is helpless, there is nobody to rely on except for our Father in Heaven, אבינו שבשמים.  We are being cornered, we are being forced to recognize Hashem.

Hashem is twisting our arm, making us so uncomfortable through this period of 3 weeks until we scream “mercy”.  Until we realize that there is nothing but Hashem Above.

But the Magid of Mezeritch explains differently.  He gives a positive spin to this period of 3 weeks.  The idea is not that we are being shoved into the center of the circle to dance with the Choson, but instead the Choson is coming out to greet us.   Hashem is coming closer to us. 

Allow me to explain. 

The Pasuk in Eicha says that "כל רודפיה השיגוה בין המצרים".  The Magid explains that כל רודפיה, anyone who is רודף י-ה, one who chases Hashem will be משיג him, will catch him, will come to close him, specifically during the period of the בין המצרים.   

But how is it that during this time period when we feel so distant, we don’t see the light, is it possible to draw closer to Hashem?  How does that make sense to draw closer when we are missing the main vehicle to שמים?  We don’t have the בית המקדש, we don’t have קרבנות, we have no way to connect. 

I recently had taken my kids to Disney World, the Magic Kingdom.  I need to thank Hurricane Sandy and the insurance company in helping build up credit cards points to pay for the trip. 

Now in Magic Kingdom, the king is Mickey Mouse.  As you can imagine there are many long lines throughout the park and to take a picture with Mickey is no different.  Well for the most part.  Waiting to see Mickey is a bit different.

The line for just taking a picture with Mickey begins outside this large building towards the front of the park.  And as you move inside the building, you go through this door and you think you are there ready to take that photo you’ve been waiting for.  But then you pass through another door… and you are still not there, until you pass through one final door where you find yourself in the innermost chamber but still waiting behind a few more families to meet the king. 

The palace, the guards, the glory, make for a beautiful picture, it instills fear, honor, and respect.  But imagine if there were no palace, imagine if the king were to be walking through the streets with no place to hide.  There would be no honor, there would be no glory, but it would make for a more accessible king, it would allow us to see him, come close to him, build a relationship. 

Says the Magid, that this period of time when we commemorate the destruction of the בית המקדש among other Jewish calamities, there are no walls, no guards, no barriers – Hashem is completely accessible.  We can approach him, we can build a relationship, we can draw closer to Him.  This is an incredible opportunity for us to draw closer.

Embedded within בין המצרים is a tremendous amount of potential to come closer to Hashem. 

The שו"ע paskens that one should not recite שהחיינו since it is a period of אבילות, one should not say a ברכה of שהחיינו which express ones thanks and gratitude, one’s שמחה with the purchase of a new house or new fruit.

The גר"א, however, argues that this is an unnecessary חומרא and one may recite a שהחיינו.  Perhaps the idea is that in fact reciting שהחיינו is not contradictory to this period of time.  Although on the surface בין המצרים is a period of mourning, but in its פנימיות there is שמחה, Hashem is closer than any other time of the year, there are no walls and no barriers. 

This is why on תשעה באב itself, which would seem to be the lowest day of the year, we don’t recite תחנון, because in פנימיות as חז"ל tells us, תשעה באב  is actually a מועד, it’s a day of celebration.  Not on the surface, but in its פנימיות and we therefore omit תחנון.

Perhaps this is what is meant by the פסוק in פרשת בלק

כרע שכב כארי וכלביא מי יקימנו – “He will crouch and lay down like a lion, like a young lion – who then can stand up against him?”

When we are down and hurting, sleeping like a lion, destroyed and distant, sad and mourning, מי יקמינו, who can stand up against us? 

Our closest connection is specifically during times like these, the period of בין המצרים.  That is when Hashem draws closer to us.  That is when we draw closer to each other, that is when we have אחדות like we saw just a year ago with the 3 boys in Israel.

The גמרא tells us that when something bad happens we say ברוך דיין אמת but לעתיד לבוא we will say a טוב המטיב because even the bad is really good.  We don’t realize it because on the surface it appears to be bad, but everything is really good.  Even the 3 weeks are very good.  In פנימיות everything is good, its only in the external that things appear otherwise.

It is my hope and תפילה, that we come to the point soon of recognizing everything as טוב,  where we can take every opportunity, every event, every milestone as an opportunity to draw closer to Hashem and draw closer to each other, as we grow as a community, as a קהילה led by our leader, rebbe,  with our common goal, our common mission.

Again, I thank you all for this most humbling honor and most remarkable opportunity.  I look forward to getting to know each and every one of you in the upcoming year.


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