Weekly Dvar Torah
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Friday, June 24, 2016 / 18 Sivan 5776
A Realistic Future
By: Michael Winner

In Shema, we read, “Teach them thoroughly to your children and speak of them while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way . . .”

Being that we don’t own a car, I do a lot of “walking on the way.” This “semester” in the kollel we’ve been learning the halachos of mezuzah, in depth. It’s actually a very interesting subject (which surprised me . . . Israeli submarines need them, by the way, and it’s a big question whether the gates of the Old City of Yerushaliyim should have them). Now, wherever I walk, I see different types of doors, gates, and other things that are questionable. So, I find myself stopping, looking and thinking about each thing and whether there is an obligation or not, and if so, where. One of the joys of learning practical halacha in-depth.


“The rabble that was among them cultivated a craving, and the Children of Israel also turned, and they wept and said, ‘Who will feed us meat? We remember the fish that we would eat in Egypt free of charge . . . .” (Bamidbar 11:4-5)

The above pasuk is not translated correctly. It is how it is commonly translated, but it is not entirely correct. Really, the ending should read, “We remember the fish that we WILL eat . . .”

I once heard a talk from Rav Yaakov Leonard, who quoted somebody (whose name I don’t know) from Los Angeles, who explains the pasuk as follows:

“We remember, when we were in Egypt, how we thought we were going to eat fish for free.”

Being that they were not remembering the fish they ATE, nor is it possible to remember the fish that they were GOING to eat, but they remember how in Egypt that THOUGHT that they WILL be eating fish for free, and that THOUGHT is what they remember. They thought that they were going to be “living it up,” not realizing that freedom from Egypt will be replaced with Torah and mitzvos.

What do we learn from here? One lesson for two groups of people.

The first lesson goes to those in Jewish outreach, who teach the non-religious or those who are on the weaker-end. A person cannot make promises that do not exist in the Torah. One cannot promise somebody, “Yeah, if you become religious, your life will be like X, Y & Z.” Sometimes, promises of “Your life will be wonderful and smooth and you’ll have no worries,” are, in reality, tricking a person. A person should be keeping the Torah because it is truth and it WILL lead you to greater heights. However, it does not necessarily mean that it’s an easy, smooth ride. Years down the road, the same person might turn around and say, “Hey! I remember those promises on what life was going to be like, and it’s not!” It’s one of the biggest pitfalls that an outreach worker can fall into.

This lesson can be and should be applied to us on an individual level as well. When we work hard to improve ourselves in whatever aspects, we must remain cognizant that the results might not look as "romantic" as we thought they would be. One shouldn’t think, once I work on this, then certain issues in my life will go away, because if they don’t, depression can easily follow. Our job is to work hard on whatever issues we have, but we should never be discouraged if the results are not what we expected. Sometimes it’s the battle that we wage that is what is important to Hashem, not necessarily the outcome.

We should always move forward, davening for success, but at the same time knowing that even if that success is not as sweet as we thought it would be, we must continue to move forward.

Have a wonderful Shabbos!
Friday, June 17, 2016 / 11 Sivan 5776
Stepping Up
By: Michael Winner

We had somebody over the other day to look at something in our home. Out of nowhere his phone starts to ring. But not just some normal phone ring, but rather we hear the tune of “Take My Breath Away,” which we haven’t heard in approximately . . . forever.

Of course, my wife and I both hear the same thing, but think completely different thoughts.

She thought: “Ah, a love song”

And I thought: “TOP GUN! Ah, what a great film—F-14s, carrier landings, egos, pilots, MIGs blowing up—ruined by introducing a woman into the movie plot—women have no place in such films! Too bad . . . .”

Since then, I’ve had flashbacks of the opening scene of that movie (undoubtedly, one of the best ever) running through my head.

It’s amazing what things you simply can’t get rid of. Okay, on to more important things.

“He shall bring his offering to Hashem . . . for a sin-offering” (Bamidbar 6:14)

In the times of the Beis HaMikdash (and apparently today according to this one guy I met in university and prided himself on being one . . . while not keeping kosher or Shabbos . . .) a person could take upon himself Nazirus and become a Nazir for a certain amount of time. As a Nazir, he was forbidden to drink anything from a grape (read: wine), must not become spiritually impure, not cut his hair, etc. He was, for the time being, above normal, in the spiritual realm.

At the end of his Nazirus he would cut his hair and bring a sin-offering to the Beis HaMikdash. There is a big question here on why specifically a sin-offering. You just finished taking upon yourself a period where you were in a spiritual high. What did you do wrong that you need to bring a sin-offering?

The Ramban brings a unique explanation. Here we have a person who grew by abstaining from many things in this world. The fact is that even after he attained such a position, he still wanted to return to the world of the mundane and physical pleasures. True, he didn’t sin, but for a person to move down from a plateau to the floor, is considered as if he sinned.

Rav Yechezkel Abramsky questions this Ramban. If one is considered a sinner for not extending his vow of Nazirus, how much more so should one who had never even risen to accept the challenge of Nazirus be mandated to bring a sin-offering!

Rav Shmuel Truvitz offers a defense on the position of the Ramban. Achieving such a level as the Nazir is no simple thing. It requires a person of a certain caliber to accept and keep. Not everybody has the ability to do such a thing. Therefore, people who cannot accept this vow of Nazirus, cannot be blamed.

“On the other hand, he who has demonstrated the necessary forbearance and self-control to become a Nazir, demonstrates his individuality by the very nature of his achievement. He has worn the crown of Nazirus. One who has worn the crown, who has been clothed in the raiment of monarchy, sins when he removes the crown of kingship. To achieve spiritual distinction, and then to reject it, denigrates the entire process and demeans the concept of Nazirus.”

On a practical level, we see the importance of doing our best on keeping what we have accepted upon ourselves. Each step in growth that we take should not be taken back. If you keeping stepping down, how do you expect to move forward?

Michael Winner
Friday, June 10, 2016 / 4 Sivan 5776
Every Star Counts
By: Michael Winner



In this week’s parsha, the Torah goes into a very long counting of the Jewish nation. By family, by tribe, and by division (3 tribes per division). Programmers happen to find this parsha very difficult to learn. We don’t like repetitive code. Simply create a function, loop it 12 times, change the variables, and the parsha will be much, much shorter. However, there is a reason for everything. One of the more … popular… explanations is that just as a collector, counts his collection carefully, enjoying each individual item, so too Hashem was counting over his nation, individually.

Every morning in davening, we say “He is the Healer of the broken-hearted, and the One Who binds up their sorrows. He counts the number of the stars, to all of them He assigns names” (Tehillim 147:3-4)

Years ago, I saw a wonderful explanation to this. Basically, the above can be read: A person, who is feeling broken-hearted and low, should know that Hashem will take care of them. Where is their proof to this? He counts the number of the stars and assigns each of those stars a name. There are around 100 billion stars in the Milky Way itself, and Hashem cares enough to name each one individually. All the more so, a human being, a Jew, is also counted and is also recognized by Hashem, each by their name.

It’s very easy to think that you as an individual is a nothing compared to everybody else, but Hashem has shown that He looks after each person on their individual level.

Have a wonderful Shabbos and a meaningful Shavous!
Friday, May 27, 2016 / 19 Iyar 5776
One Above and Seven Below
By: Michael Winner

You may all be jealous of me!

This past Shabbos I ate my first corn-on-the-cob in 10 years!

In Israel, certain vegetables should not be eaten (broccoli, cauliflower, corn-on-the-cob, etc.) unless washed properly. Unfortunately, these things in Israel (compared to the U.S.) are practically impossible to rid of bugs (it's a whole topic of discussion one . . .).

One of the members of the kollel holds a vegetable sale every week with very good prices, all of them grown bug-free. This past week he offered corn-on-the-cob for 18 NIS/kilogram (2.12 USD per pound - is that good?). We bought it for Shabbos, and it was AMAZING! I felt like I was "Mr. Rich Man" eating my fancy, rich-person food.

This week, the price dropped to 14 NIS/kg.

And the best part? Most of our kids don't like it!

More for us!

Okay, on to Torah!

I have to thank Rabbi Yechezkel Hirshman and his book “One Above and Seven Below: A Consumer’s Guide to Orthodox Judaism from the Perspective of the Chareidim.”

I bought it around seven years ago from the author’s son, who, at the time, was in our yeshivah. (He ended up leaving to go to the army in order to start working. He once came to visit in uniform and before he left, we asked that next time he bring two Arab heads with him. He told us, “YOU guys better do your jobs right and learn well, so we can be successful out there. Obviously, his parents did something right.)

The book is designed for the NCOJ (Non-Chareidi Orthodox Jew) to show him how the Chareidi Jew thinks. He of course defines “what is a chareidi” and in the end says that you can substitute many different names in place of Chareidi, and you will get the same affect. In this case, I want to use “Ben Torah” instead of Chareidi. The book itself is very easy to read and, I think, gives a good accounting to what the difference is between a Ben Torah and an NCOJ. I recommend reading it, since he does a good job helping define what are Chareidim and does it in a clear, entertaining way.

The Torah states (Vaykira 26:3-12): “If you are to walk within my statutes and guard my commandments and perform them. And I shall give the rains in their time and the land will give forth its yield and the tree of the field will give its fruit . . . . And I shall walk in your midst and be your G-d and you shall be to me for a nation . . .”

This week’s parsha gives us a good deal: Walk within His statues and guard His commandments, and He shall take care of us.

What does Rashi say concerning “If you are to walk within my statues”:

“I would assume that this is the fulfillment of the commandments. However, when the verse states ‘and guard my commandments,’ the fulfillment of the commandments is indicated. So, how am I to maintain ‘If you are to walk within my statues?’ that you must toil in the study of Torah?”

The parsha continues, “And if you do not hearken to Me and you do not perform all of these commandments. And if in My statutes you will display loathing . . . .” To which Rashi comments:

“And if you do not hearken to Me: To toil in Torah and to be knowledgeable of the exegeses of the Sages . . .”

Rashi continues further down describing what happens when a person does not toil in Torah:

“Here are seven transgressions, the first one draws in the second one, and so on until the seventh. And these are they: Does not study; does not perform; loathes others who perform; despises the Sages; prevents others from performing; denounces the commandments; denounces the main concept.”

We see that by toiling, not simply learning lightly, but by exerting ourselves in Torah, we bring great brachah to this world. However, but failing to toil, one begins down a very slippery slope. Hence we either are the “One above” by toiling in Torah, or one of the “Seven below,” by not.

Rabbi Hirshman explains that there are two types of people: consumers and providers. He writes:

“In some religions there is a marked distinction between the providers and the consumers, a caste system of sorts. The providers are called clergy and the consumers are called laymen. Laymen are discouraged from encroaching into the domain of the clergy. Orthodox Judaism does not advocate such a schism between clergy and layman. Every Jew is encouraged to be as knowledgeable about his religion as he can be. We consider it to be ideal for every Jew to be a provider. Consumerism is deemed not ideal, but still acceptable.”

A Ben Torah will always look at being a consumer to be something that is not “first rate” and should only be relied upon when he has no choice. A non-Ben Torah Orthodox Jew, will be happy being a consumer. He doesn’t need to know the details, just to know what the basics are.

Of course, on some level, we are all consumers. When we buy food, we are relying on the kashrus organization to be doing proper checks on the product. We are the consumers, and they, who are knowledgeable of this particular product, are the providers. But, in many matters of halachah and Jewish thought, it is imperative that one strives to be a provider.

He writes that there are six hazards to being a consumer:

1. A lack of faculties to deal with the situation when one suddenly finds oneself in a position where he must be a “provider.” He gave an example of how he and several families were at a hotel for Shabbos. He and another person were discussing before Shabbos on how to properly put up an eruv, which will allow them to carry objects within the hotel grounds. A third person came up and said, “What’s the problem? Just tie a string from there to there!” When a consumer sees an eruv, he simply sees a string. When a provider sees an eruv, he sees all aspects of the halachic issues that go into making an eruv (which is a complicated subject).

2. A lack of intellectual capacity to discern between an authentic religious phenomenon and a semblance of one. People who read blogs written by so-called Orthodox writers tend to fall for their arguments due to their lack of knowledge in certain areas.

3. Vulnerability for allowing concepts (read: propaganda) from non-religious sources to influence one’s position on religious issues. A great example is when mitzvah-observant Jews fight openly for gay marriage. It’s anti-Torah. Period. But they have a concept of “separation of church and state” in their heads. So being American is a bigger priority than being a Torah Jew.

4. Vulnerability to the erroneous impression that one need not “buy all the items in the product line” (i.e. he can pick and choose which halachos he wants to follow). Examples are: married women not covering their hair, not abiding by laws that prohibit touching between non-related men and women, cooking done by non-Jews, etc. We’re not talking about people faltering, or people coming from non-religious backgrounds who are taking things slowly, we’re talking about people saying “yes” to these halachos and “no” to those halachos, without any intention of moving upwards.

5. A lack of knowledgeable conviction to inspire subsequent generations to remain within the fold.

6. A consumerist Jew is in danger of regarding himself to exist on a plane that is separate from other observant Jews whereas, and in many cases because, he does not comprehend their ideology. This is where Isaiah comes in:
“Hear the word of G-d, those who are anxious (in Hebrew: chareidim) towards His word; your brethren, those who hate you, those who shun you, have said, ‘It is for my name’s sake that G-d finds glory,’ and we shall see in your rejoicing and they will be ashamed” (Isaiah 66:5).

There are a few commentaries that give different explanations on this pasuk. However, Rashi, Radak, Malbim and others write that these “brethren who hate you” are religious Jews who hate those who are more learned than they. They ARE our brethren (the Malbim writes "brethren in commandments") but they hate those who are “anxious (chareidim) toward his word.”

He continues on with different examples of each of these hazards, but if a person is honest with himself, he can find several of these in his own life, either currently or (hopefully, just) in his past.

When a person toils or participates in some way in “toiling in Torah,” he is not only bringing brachah into this world, but he is also strengthening his entire core. When a person WHO KEEPS MITZVOS AND CALLS HIMSELF ORTHODOX AND FOLLOWS HALACHAH, yet remains a consumerist, he, or his children WILL stop performing, and will loathe others who perform, will despise the Sages . . .

This, I believe, is the fundamental difference between a Ben Torah, and religious Jew who is not. One does NOT need to sit in kollel all day and learn. However, he needs to recognize the fact that toiling in Torah is one of the most fundamental aspects of Judaism and one of the most important things he can do for himself and for his future generations. The more one is educated about the product that he is trying to use, the better he is able to use such a product and pass it on to others.

I was discussing this concept with another member of the kollel. He’s a fellow Canadian, in his early 60s. He moved to Israel when he was 16 or so, was completely non-religious, a veteran of two wars, has a mother who dated William Shatner, and is a bigger nerd than I. We were once laughing at certain concepts that we once carried in our heads about Judaism, and how things were "straightened" out by simply sitting and learning.

People should not overestimate and think that they need to know what they already know and that’s that. They should always be pushing themselves in toiling in Torah, each on their own level, and each according to their own strengths. There is a fine line between being a “One Above”-nik or becoming a “Seven Below”-nik. Both can be called Orthodox, but only one will be a Ben Torah.

With that, I wish you all a wonderful Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, May 20, 2016 / 12 Iyar 5776
Peace, But at What Price?
By: Michael Winner

My daughter is currently in kindergarten and is born in a month which is on the border of moving to first grade vs. staying another year. The teacher wants her moved up yet the principal of the school doesn’t like taking girls that are born in that month, and wants her to stay another year. What they do to compromise is bring a psychologist to the kindergarten to see how the girls act and speak with them. There are several girls in her class that are in the same situation.

Last week my wife went to meet with the psychologist and the teacher to discuss her findings. In the end, she believes that she’s ready to move up. However, she wanted to go over some of the questions my daughter could not answer. One of them was, “Why do people go out to work?” My daughter had no clue. The teacher said that it was an unfair question: if money isn’t a value in the home, why would a child know about it? If anything, it might a bit worrisome if they know the answer. The psychologist thought about it and agreed with her. After the meeting one of them said to my wife that one of the girls answered, “TO MAKE LOTS OF MONEY!!!” and THAT worried the teacher.

I came home and asked my seven-year-old son the question. He didn’t know. I asked him in Hebrew, thinking he didn’t understand me clearly. He really didn’t know. I then asked my ten-year-old daughter. She answered, “To make money.” “And why does a person need to make money?” I asked. “To support himself," she answered.

It’s interesting how one’s values are passed on without realizing it. We teach them the importance of not wasting money, but we never discuss making or acquiring it. It’s just not what our life revolves around.

Interesting thought to ponder.

Okay, on to Torah!

“And the Almighty said to Moshe, ‘Speak to the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon, and say to them, for a person shall not defile himself among his people’” (Vayikra 21:1).

The Chozeh of Lublin explains that Moshe was told that the kohanim need to be worthy of being descendants of Aharon. Just as Aharon’s main quality was pursuing love and kindness, so too, they should work hard in making this a priority in their lives.

However, the second part of the pasuk serves as a warning. “For a person shall not defile himself among his people.” True, the kohanim (and everybody in this regard) should strive for peace, but not when the cost is oneself. One should always distance himself from people who will defile him and bring him down. I remember when I was a lifeguard, the number one rule was: look out for yourself. If the victim was grabbing hold of you as you were trying to save them, and you could not control the situation, simply move away and let them drown. Hopefully, you can grab them immediately afterwards and save them, but to sacrifice your life as well is futile. So too with the spiritual world. Yes, go out and make peace! But, if you are going to start making friends or spending too much time with the wrong people . . . Therefore, the pasuk reminds him “not to defile himself among his people.”

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, May 06, 2016 / 28 Nissan 5776
Identical Cousins
By: Michael Winner

I hope everybody enjoyed their Pesach. Ours was relatively enjoyable. In Israel, the "in-between" days of Pesach and Sukkos are very family oriented. Everybody goes to their families for different meals or has their families come to them. So, it gets hard when you have kids and they have nowhere to go and nobody visiting them. Thankfully, we received two invitations from good friends in the same neighborhood in Yerushaliyim to visit, so we took a quick 24-hour (no shopping!) trip, where we just relaxed and enjoyed “the family.”

For the last day of Pesach, we received an invitation from our neighbor to join them for a meal. Their kids were trying to tell jokes that they knew that were based on English words that also have meanings in Hebrew. However, I didn’t catch half of them, since they were not using the English properly. At one point, my 5-year-old was bothering their 15-year-old and I didn’t see what was going on. He turned to me and asked me how to say “Oaf” in English (why he wanted English, I have no idea). So, I told him “chicken.” He turned around and said to her, “Chicken! Chicken!” I started to get confused, so the father, with food in his mouth, and who knows some words in English, said, “KOAF!” Still confused, I said “monkey” (Koaf in Hebrew), so the 15-year-old turned to her and said, “Monkey! Monkey!” I finally asked him what he was trying to say to her. He explained that he wanted her to go away and wanted to know how to say “L’Oaf” (to fly away) in English. Ahhh . . . that clarifies everything! I then told him how to say “Go away.” and all parties were happy.

Okay, on to Torah!

“He (the Kohen Gadol) shall take the two goats and stand them before Hashem, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting” (Vayikra 16:7)

One of the more well-known parts of the Yom Kippur service is where two goats, who looked identical to each other, were brought before the Kohen Gadol. Two identical lots were brought before him, and he would pick one up in each hand. Depending on which lot came out on which goat, one goat would be offered in the Beis HaMikdash as an offering, and the other would “carry the sins of the nation” and be taken to the desert to be killed.

I saw something in Lekutei Halachos and I want to add my own spin to it.

The Kohen Gadol represents the tzaddik, the righteous person. He does not decide which goat is offered in the Beis HaMikdash and which is killed in the desert. Hashem does, but does it via the Kohen Gadol who serves as a messenger of sorts.

One of the goats represents “truth” and the other represents “falsity.” Like the goats themselves, many times truth and falsity look exactly alike. Sometimes, because of the situation itself that a person is in, it’s not easy to discern the difference between the two. Many times, it’s because one’s yetzer horah deceives a person so much that he cannot see the difference between truth and falsity.

Therefore, when one is confronted with an issue where he cannot make out the difference between truth and falsity, he needs to go to the tzaddik. That tzaddik, being a messenger of Hashem, will help that person discern what is true and what is false. With a clearer picture at hand, that person is now able to make a proper and educated decision.

With that, I wish you a wonderful Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, April 22, 2016 / 14 Nissan 5776
The Tshuvah of Pesach
By: Michael Winner

My wife and I had a . . . discussion on whether or not we should clean certain toys or if checking them for chametz is good enough. I’ll let you figure out who the non-Jew was in this argument . . . I mean . . . discussion.

So, we agreed to call the rav and see what he says. I posed the question to him and he answered, “It depends on who you ask. If you ask me, checking it is fine. You won’t find enough of anything to be considered chametz. If you ask my wife however, she will tell you that OF COURSE you have to clean it, because the kids have dirty hands with chametz, chew gum, etc. etc. . . . So, in the end . . . do what you want.”

So, when I told my wife, I thought what he said was pretty clear and she held that he was in doubt on what we should do.

I’m beginning to understand how we have so many arguments in Gemara and halacha. Two different people hear the words of one person and come up with two different answers.

Needless to say . . . we locked those toys up in the end.

Women.

Okay, on to Torah!

I heard a wonderful piece from Rav Yaakov Leonard this past week. It was one of many, but this particular piece stood above.

We know that Pesach is a time of tshuvah, repentance. However, it’s missing all the elements that are associated with tshuvah. We don’t wake up early to say slichos. We don’t fast. We don’t say viduy. In fact, it’s a time of joy! We don’t say tachnun the entire month!

We can bring in the case of two different people.

The first person grew up in a very religious home. Went to the best yeshivos and has proven to be a Ben Torah. However, he made a mistake, and ended up doing a big sin. After realizing what he did, he went to his rav and spoke it over with him. The rav told him to say viduy and gave him a program to help him complete his tshuvah and to see that he doesn’t fall in that particular area again.

The second person was raised by the mafia. All he has known his whole life is stealing and swindling. One day he wakes up and realizes that he needs to change his life around. So, he goes to his local rav. What does the rav do? Does his tell him to say viduy? Does he give him some “12-step program”? No! For this particular person, he needs an entire change in his outlook in life. He requires a complete rewiring of his life and his mentality. Viduy won’t do a thing!

Everybody who grew up non-religious and changed his life completely around can understand where the second person is coming from. Things that used to be funny, now sicken him. Things that bothered him, no longer do. It’s not that he has kept his outlook in life, but now keeps Shabbos and kosher, it’s more than that. He’s a completely different person!

My wife and I once came to the conclusion that if we both remained where we were going in life, we would have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Nothing. But what we were is not who we are now.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is the time for the first person. It’s a time we focus on our sins and try to clean them up, and see that they don’t happen again.

Pesach on the other hand, is the time for the second person. We’re not focusing on sins. We’re focusing on our entire essence. When we were taken out of Egypt, we went from one spiritual plane of existence, to a completely different plane of existence that we didn’t even know about. THAT is the repentance of Pesach. On Pesach, especially Seder night, we have the ability to jump from one level to another level. We need to obviously learn and focus on what we want to become in our lives, but this is the time to help change things around.

On Pesach night, we can decide and begin the process of going where we want to be in life, of changing ourselves. We then have seven weeks to Shavuous, to work on that change and ingrain that change into our souls.

Have a wonderful and meaningful Pesach!

Michael Winner






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