Category Archives: parsha

Too cool for shul

This is legit.  Found here.

Come on, at one point we’re all too cool for shul.  I’m uber-guily of this, big time!
I use to like being a wandering Jew.  A weekday minyan nomad, traveling along in a Jack Keroauc-like way, never really staying anywhere too long.  Basing my destination on convenience and ease of parking.
I was wrong.  Part of my wandering was really just because I could wander.   After spending almost 8 years in a one shul city (we lived in Indianapolis from 1998-2006), moving to Chicago was, well like, shul overload.  Sort of like getting a shopping spree at Saint Mark’s Sounds (an excellent used cd store in NYC).  I am not, Chas v’Shalom, downplaying the importance, stability, or value of the “one shul town”, but it’s refreshing to have an option (at times).  Living in a city with one shul helps add a strength of community and lets you really get to know everyone, this cannot be understated (and I somewhat miss that).

So, parshas Bereishis, I found myself in the social hall/basement of Rav Moshe Weinberger’s shul, Congregation Aish Kodesh, during a moving an uplifting shalosh seudos (I’ve previous blogged about the first time I was there for the holy third meal of Shabbos here[insert link]).  I listened, as I heard a message that seemed tailor made for me (if you’ve heard R Weinberger in person, you often think that he’s speaking directly to you) about the importance of making an effort to daven in “our shul”, as he said.  He mentioned that he knows there are many faces that he and the shul only see on Shabbos Kodesh.  Not that people are not going to minyanim during the week, but it’s seems that they tend to davening elsewhere.  Rav Weinberger said that he understands that people have schedules and trains to catch, but if you can figure out a way to go a minyan that not an “18 minute shacharis”, it’s better.  He also said that when you make a commitment to daven in your shul you add to the kedusha of the shul.  This was a very powerful idea.

At that point, I decide, b’li neder, to stop being a wanderer.  I have successfully made it to my shul in the mornings (except when I’ve had carpool responsibilities) and so far, for mincha or maariv.  No more drifting upon the sea of shuls, I’m attempting to anchor myself, finally. 

As heard on parshas Bereishis (Genesis) from Rav Moshe Weinberger

This past Shabbos Bereishis I was at Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, NY (well, actually I was there starting on Hoshannah Rabbah and just got back very early Thursday morning) and wanted to share a small part of what  remember from Rav Moshe Weinberger’s Shabbos drasha.  I take all responsibility for any mistakes and lack of fully explaining any ideas given over by Rav Weinberger.

Rav Weinberger started off mentioning that from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Hoshannah Rabbah we have 51 days.  He then quoted the 4th pasuk from the 4th perek of Bereishis:

4. And Abel he too brought of the firstborn of his flocks and of their fattest, and the Lord turned to Abel and to his offering.
ד וְהֶבֶל הֵבִיא גַם-הוּא מִבְּכֹרוֹת צֹאנוֹ, וּמֵחֶלְבֵהֶן; וַיִּשַׁע יְהוָה, אֶל-הֶבֶל וְאֶל-מִנְחָתוֹ.

The pasuk says “Hevel haivee gam hu” to teach us that Hevel didn’t just bring his karbon, but he brought gam hu “also him[self]”, giving 100% of who he was.
If you give someone a present, just to be yotzei by giving a gift,  it’s isn’t as personal and meaningful as really putting thought i, ento giving someone a present, thereby giving part of yourself to another person.  The greatness of Hevel was that he gave himself over to Hakodesh Baruch Hu.  Much in the same way that Avraham intended for Yitzchak to be a karbon and, in fact, Chazal teach that even it was as if Yitzchak himself became the karbon.

Rav Weinberger then said he had a machshava based on the 1st pasuk in the 2nd perek of Koheles:
1.    I said to myself, “Come now, I will mix [wine] with joy and experience pleasure”; and behold, this too was vanity.
א אָמַרְתִּי אֲנִי בְּלִבִּי, לְכָה-נָּא אֲנַסְּכָה בְשִׂמְחָה וּרְאֵה בְטוֹב; וְהִנֵּה גַם-הוּא, הָבֶל.

Rav Weinberger noted that again we have almost the same loshon of gam hu havel as in the pasuk in Bereishis.  If I recall correctly, we can replace “havel” with “Hevel“, and see again that we have to give of ourselves when severing Hashem. with joy and pleasure.

He concluded by saying that a person can spend those 51 days between Rosh Chodesh Elul and Hoshannah Rabbah going those the actions offering up karbonos of Selichos, mikvah, teshuva, davening, mussaf, al chaits, living in the sukkah, saying hallel, shaking our lulavim and esrogim, and performing hoshannos, but if we are not prepared to fully give ourselves, “gam hu“, then it’s as if we aregive a present in a haft-hearted way and not fully giving a karbon to Hashem in the most beautiful way possible.  We each have to give of ourselves to Hashem.  That’s what he wants from us.

The Alter of Kelm on Ki Sisa

The following was sent to subscribers of R Zvi Miller’s Salant Foundation email list:


HaShem selected Betzallel to form the vessels of the Mishkan, i.e., Tabernacle. However, the criterion to serve as the “chief artisan” was not based on his artistic ability. Rather, HaShem selected Betzallel because he had “a good name.”

In light of this the Midrash cites the verse (Kohelles 10:1), “Dead flies putrefy the fragrant oil, whereas a good name falls on a corpse and does not putrefy.”  This poetic verse cries out for an explanation! Moreover, what possible application can we draw to Betzallel from the concept of “a good name falling on a corpse?”

Rather, the verse metaphorically uses the terms “fragrant oil” and “a good name” to depict two divergent types of people in relationship to the performance of Mitzvoth.

“Fragrant oil” refers to a person who suppresses his negative impulse in order to perform a good deed. For instance, Shimon is miserly by nature. Therefore, in order to fulfill the Mitzvah of tzedakah (charity), he consciously forces himself to give to others. HaShem recognizes his struggle and merits him accordingly.

However, the inner conflict impedes him from giving generously and joyously. As a result, he does not find much favor in the eyes of the community. Resultantly, his Mitzvoth are like fragrant oil, putrefied by dead flies, i.e., his unrefined character traits.

Whereas, a “good name” refers to a person who has rectified his character to pure goodness. Through the combination of his excellence of character and the Mitzvoth that he performs, he faithfully and graciously serves his community.

In this light, “a good name falls on a corpse and does not putrefy.” That is, even when he performs Mitzvoth that might awaken base character traits, his goodness is constant and absolute.

Betzallel transformed himself. That is, he was filled with compassion and kindness, and had no inner harshness, whatsoever. The Mishkan was the place where HaShem revealed His compassion and forgiveness. Therefore, HaShem chose Betzallel, to assemble His holy dwelling place on earth, amongst the Children of Israel.

[Based on Ohr RaShaz of the Alter of Kelm]

Alter of Slabodka on Mishpatim (and his yartzeit)

This Shabbos, the 29th of Shevat is the yartzeit of R Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the Alter of Slabodka.  The following was story was printed in Likutei Peshatim, published weekly by the Hebrew Theological College.
“And when a man opens a pit…and he does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it.” Shemos 21:33

One of the students studying in the Yeshiva of Slobodka saw a piece of paper on the floor. He bent over to pick it up, thinking that it might have been a scrap from a holy text which would require that it go into a geniza (a burial vault) to maintain its holiness. When he realized, however, that the material written on it was merely some trivial matter, he threw it back on the floor.

The Saba from Slobodka noticed his actions and called him over to speak to him. “It was an act of negligence on your part to toss that paper back on the floor!” he said. “You have now created a hazard in the public domain with that crumpled up paper.” The student was amazed. A “pit” is an obstacle which may cause an animal to stumble into it or a person to get injured. What damage could a simple piece of paper cause?

The Saba noticed the student’s lack of understanding and he explained. “Do not think that a ‘pit’ is only dangerous when you create a trap which may ensnare and injure another person or animal. Even now, you have required another person to have to bend over and to clean up this trash. His path is disturbed and he will be delayed in his studies. You have stolen from his time. This is also a damage, and it falls under the category of “bor” – the prohibition of creating an obstacle which causes harm to others.

“Furthermore, although you are not the one who owns the paper and you did not toss it on the ground originally, you have legally acquired it by lifting it up.” (See Bava Kamma 30a).

HaSaba MiSlobodka

The other side of Lech Lecha

Bereshis 14:13 And the fugitive came and he told Abram the Hebrew, and he was living in the plain of Mamre the Amorite, the brother of Eshkol and the brother of Aner, who were Abram’s confederates.

Rashi: הָעִבְרִי [So called] because he came from the other side (מֵעֵבֶר) of the [Euphrates] river (Gen. Rabbah 42:8). [Text from and the JPS Transation]

Rav Shlomo Friefeld explains,  as printed in the book In Search of Greatness, (on page 14) quotes the actual Midrash, that “explains why Avraham was called Avraham the Ivri.  What is an Ivri?  The Midrash says that the term Ivri come from the word ever, which means a side.  It is often used for a riverbank.  Every river has two sides, this riverbank and the opposite one.  Avraham was called Avraham the Ivri, the “sider,” or one who stood on the side.  What does that mean?  The Gemara says that Avraham stood on one side and the entire world stood on the other.  He had his beliefs, and the entire world was opposed to them.

Now, I saw a very similar idea brought down by Rav Dovid Hanania Pinto, shilta in Pahad David.  Rav Pinto says:

It is written in the Torah that the children of Israel were called “Ivrim”. The first person to be given this name was our patriarch Abraham. The term “Ivrim” has two meanings:

When man comes close to the Eternal by studying the Torah and observing the Mitzvot, he “comes from the other side” (“Ivri” means one from the other side of the river) just like our patriarch Abraham did. A man bound to the Torah is able to live with another who is not, even if their opinions are different. Why? Because the first man, as Abraham did, adjusted his convictions to the “other side”.

There is another reason why the children of Israel are called “Ivrim”. The root  of this word is “Avar” (past). This means that instead of being satisfied with everyday life that  keeps changing from one day to another, they lived attached to their past. They were bound to the magnificent past of our Saintly Forefathers, and this past is immutable in the image of the Holy Torah revered by our ancestors.

The ability to stay strong in your convictions and live with others who think differently than you is the mark of greatness.  It’s that ability, when rooted, as Rav Pinto writes, in the past, in Emunas HaChamim (faith in our Sages) and Zechus Avos (merit of our Forefathers) that gives each Jew the strength to be an Eved Hashem, like Avraham Avinu.

This was written Zecher Nishmas my father-in-law, Dan HaLevi ben Aharon a”h.  My father-in-law a”h not only survived the Shoah, but remained a proud Jew every day of his life.

Previous posts on Lech Lecha can be found here and here.

Rav Hirsch on Vayishlach-Property of a Righteous Person‏

The following was sent to me from from Dr. Levine’s email list.
Property of a Righteous Person‏
The following is from the new translation of RSRH’s commentary on Chumash Bereishis on 32: 25 Ya’akov was left alone, and someone wrestled with him until the break of day.

According to our Sages, nistyar al pachim k’tanim ( Chullin 91a): After he
brought everything across, he returned to see whether something had
been forgotten. And to this they add: mekan l’tzadikim shechaviv alayhem
m’monom yoser m’goofom v’kol kach lamah l’fee sheain poshtin yadeihen b’gezel (ibid.).
Property that a righteous person acquires honestly — even
something of the slightest value — is sacred in his sight. He will not
squander it or allow it to go to waste, and he is held responsible for its
proper use. A vast sum is like a shoelace to him, when he gives up this
sum for the sake of a good cause; but a shoelace is like a vast sum to
him, if it is about to be wasted for no reason or purpose. A person who
is not poshat yado b’gezel, who calls his own only what he has acquired through
honest effort , will see the graces of God’s providence in every possession
that he acquires; everything that he owns — even the very smallest
possession — has come to him through honest sweat and toil and
through God’s blessing, and hence is of inestimable value.

Noach and Avraham- as heard from the Novominsker

Last year, on Shabbos Lech Lecha a friend and I went to a tisch bei Rav Yaakov Perlow, the Novominsker Rebbe, while he was visiting Chicago (the tish was in Lincolnwood).  The Novominsker said over the following regarding the debate over the status of Noach if he had lived in the generation of Avraham.

He said that, while he was holding up a shot glass, that for 2000 years before Avraham the world was empty. He then filled the shot glass half way with wiskey and said that in Noach’s zechus the world was saved.  Noach’s level of Torah was not as great as that of Avraham, but Noach helped fill the world with his understanding of Hashem and his Torah.

The Novominsker went on to say that in life we can look at a glass as either half empty or half full.  He said, we should look at it as half full.  Because of Noach we are alive today.  Noach was able to recognize that the glass was half full.  He had a relationship with the one who poured the drink.  Then came Avraham.   His job was to m’kadesh the world around him. That’s why the Chumash says that he and his children walked w/ Hashem in Tzedek (charity) and Mishpat (justice).  These ideas are known to the non-Jewish world, too.  The difference is that Avraham was able to m’kadesh these concepts.  That was his gadlus.  Avraham took the half filled glass and made a bracha over it, using it for kedusha. That was Avraham’s avodah…to m’kadesh everything in his world.  This is also our avodah today.  Noach stated the work, Avraham continued, and now it’s our turn.

Birkas Kohanim: A look inside

כד יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ. The LORD bless thee, and keep thee;כה יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ. The LORD make His face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; כו יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם. The LORD lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.
(text from here)

This past Shabbos, in Parsha Naso, we find the Mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim. I admit that when I give my children these brachos every Shabbos night, I’m quite aware of the translation of what I’m saying, but until this week, while reading up on the fomulation of Birkas Kohanim, I really never gave the words too much thought. That, of course, has all changed.

My reseach included Rashi, Rav Hirsch’s commentary, and Rav Schwab on Prayer. I found it interesting that when the Kohanim bless B’nai Yisrael, they (the Priests) are not actually blessing “the people; rather, they are commanded to express their wish that HaKodesh Baruch Hu may bestow His blessings.” (straight out of Rav Schwab on Prayer pg 528)

This means that I’m also only wishing that Hashem blesses my own children when I say these same brachos every Shabbos night.

The first bracha, יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ is for protection and physical/material things. Food, clothing, a place to live, parnassah. All of the physical, maybe gashmius-type things that we need to live and function in this world.

The second bracha, יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ is for one’s spiritual needs. Asking that Hashem’s face should shine towards us implies that we should see the hand of Hashem in what transpires in our own lives. Hashem is in direct control of everything. The whole “being gracious unto thee” is really a hard way to translate ” וִיחֻנֶּךָּ”, which come from the word “chain” meaning favor, gift, or pleasantness. Rav Hirsh (both in his commentary and quoted by Rav Schwab [no surprise there]) say that this refers to a “spiritual endowment”. Artscoll actually quotes the Degel Macheneh Ephraim) and he says that this bracha is about finding “favor in the eyes of others”. One must have a great relationship with other and be appreciated by others, as this builds mutual respect.

The third bracha, יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם is about our relationship with Hashem. We ask for a bracha that Hashem should “lift His face” towards us. In the world of Mitzvos and Aviros, we either have opportunities to come closer to Hashem or we distance ourselves from our creator. This bracha reminds us that Hashem is never far from us. The last three words, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם “and give you peace”, descibe the peace and shalaimus (completeness) between the first two brachos, that Hashem should bless our phyiscal needs and our spiritual needs together as one.

These thoughts were said over in loving memory of my mother-in-law, Rivka bas Chaim Yosef a’h, on her first yahrzeit. A person who was protected and survived the Holocaust, had a stong attachment to Yiddishkeit, saw the chessed that Hashem did for her thoughout her life, and always knew that Hashem was with her.