Weekly Dvar Torah
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Friday, February 05, 2016 / 26 Shvat 5776
Being a Lawyer Before Being a Tzaddik
By: Michael Winner

A certain 3-year-old was having a small nuclear meltdown the other day. In the middle of his crying and screaming, the baby (known as “Mr. Shmooshers”) started impersonating the tones of the screaming. He did it so well, the even Mr. 3-Year-Old, realized that the baby was “making fun of him,” to which he immediately responded with, “DIE BABY, DIE!”

No matter how long I’m here for, it’s still hard to get it in my brain that “die” means “stop” in Hebrew . . .

Okay, on to Torah!

The first thing that we learn following the famous Ten Commandments is this week’s parsha which goes into great detail concerning financial law and property law, amongst other things.

Rav Avidor Miller wrote, “The Ten Commandments is the heart of our Torah, and it is like the Midrash that compares the Torah to an important matron; whenever she goes out in public, she is escorted before her and after her by noblemen. This escort is what indicates the matron’s importance. So too, the Torah is escorted by judgment, this is what enhances the importance of the Ten Commandments.

"Idealism is fine, but idealism without practical application will never be sustained. Idealism without legalism will never endure. The idealistic aspects of the Torah are not enough; it must be cloaked within the mantle of the law”.

I remember years ago speaking to somebody, and he explained to me his view on Judaism, “I believe in the spirit of the law, not the letter of the law.”

I never understood that . . . if you ignore the letter of the law, how do you understand the spirit of the law?

Years ago, I was learning Bava Kama (which deals with monetary law). Unfortunately, we only completed half of it. More unfortunately, I don’t remember it. FORTUNATELY, though, I learned that Bava Kamma is one of the life-changing things to learn, even if you are not learning out all the relevant halachos. Why? Because it makes you think before you do anything. Throughout the whole year, everything I started seeing, I started to think, “Is this legal? Is this proper? Whose responsibility is it?”

When you stick a political sticker on somebody’s wall, you are in fact damaging it. When you drive (and I can’t believe people do this) and your children are not buckled and standing on the back seat leaning forward, and G-d forbid something should happen to them . . . YOU are FULLY responsible, and should not be crying, “Why did this happen to me?” This is even for small things with good intentions.

In Jerusalem, it became a “custom” for people to hang or permanently attach tzedakah boxes to bus stops. Then one day, the government took them down (I think with a warning, I can’t remember), took all the money, and put it into one government charity fund. Of course, people were up in arms, but let’s ask the big question: Who says it was halachically legal to attach your tzedakah box to the bus stop?

We learn, “It has been told to you, O Man, what is good and what Hashem asks of you – to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk secretly with Hashem” (Micah 6:8). The first thing on the list is to do justice.

If you do not understand the basics of what belongs to whom, who has responsibility for what, etc., then you have no way of becoming a greater person. Before taking an action that might have an effect on another person, one must thing carefully, and ask proper authorities if such a thing is halachically acceptable.

I would like to finish up with a little bit more of Rav Miller: “Mesillas Yesharim, Chovos Halvavos, Orcahs Tzaddikim (books on ‘self-improvement’) are all fine and good, but one needs to know what to do not to damage his fellow man. A pious ignoramus full of idealism and good intentions – there is no telling the amount of damage he can contrive against his fellow man because he is not learned.”

The more one familiarizes himself with monetary and property laws, the more he becomes aware of other people, and the more he becomes aware of other people, the bigger tzaddik he can become.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, January 29, 2016 / 19 Shvat 5776
The Dentist Arose Early in the Morning
By: Michael Winner

A friend of mine had a baby boy this week (the first boy after four girls . . . good . . .can’t wait to see him suffer now), and unfortunately the baby was born with a defect. They are not sure what the situation is in terms of long-term affects mentally or physically, so if we can all daven for Tinok ben Yael that this defect should end up posing no issues at all.

“And Moshe went up to G-d” (Shemos 34:4)

“And Moshe arose early in the morning” (Rashi)

My friend's (mentioned above) father-in-law came for Shabbos to help out with the family. I happen to know him, since not only am I friends with his son-in-law, but I also shared a room in yeshiva with his son. By trade, he’s a dentist. I happen to know that on the side, he earned smicha (rabbinic ordination), which probably nobody knows about. If you saw him, you wouldn’t think much, he’s rather unassuming.

As I was walking out of davening this morning, I complained to him about the chutzpah that his children had: having a boy. Because of that I will have to leave my house Shabbos night, when I’m already exhausted just to go to the Shalom Zachor (let’s just describe it as a mini-“Kiddush” held Shabbos night after a boy is born). Usually I don’t go to them, since I’m too physically exhausted. He agreed with me and said how at home, he and his wife always eat alone and never go out Shabbos night. He described his night as, “I fall asleep in my chair at 7:30 p.m., wake up, go to bed, wake about around 3 a.m., make coffee and sit and learn in peace and quiet until davening.”

He’s a dentist by the way. Did I mention that? But that’s not his main calling in life. His goal is to be a proper “servant of Hashem.” He does that by waking up every morning nice and early to start his day properly, even earlier on Shabbos, when most people do the opposite!

Avraham rose early in the morning, Moshe rose early in the morning, and the Dentist rose early in the morning . . .

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, January 22, 2016 / 12 Shvat 5776
Uneducated Masses
By: Michael Winner

I received an email from a good friend last night:

“Unbelievable! We’re in the car yesterday on a trip. The conversation turns to Harrison Ford and my wife mentions that Harrison Ford plays Luke Skywalker!! Now I ask you: Do women worldwide have a girls-only Skype session each night during which they conjure up ways to make us men come unglued?”

Honestly! What’s going on here?

I spoke to a friend of mine about this and he said that according to Jewish law, I have the right to divorce my wife over such a thing and I have no obligation to give her the money stated in the kesubah.

Women . . .

It's amazing that my friend and I no longer have any "connection" with Star Wars, yet we get so upset when our wives make simple mistakes about it!

“And he took his people with him” (Shemos 14:6)

After the Jewish nation left Egypt, Hashem hardened Pharaoh’s heart one last time. He gathered his army and began to chase after them in the desert, to meet his destruction. It’s interesting to note, though, that the pasuk states that he took his PEOPLE with him, not just his army.

Rav Shach asks, “It’s not surprising that Pharaoh and his soldiers chased after the fleeing Jews, since we are told that Hashem hardened their hearts. But why did the rest of the people agree to join them? After all, they had already witnessed what Hashem had wrought in Egypt and it is never suggested that their hearts were also hardened!”

Rav Shach answers that we see how unthinking masses have conducted themselves throughout history. If each person thought, for one moment, about what they were doing, perhaps they would come to a different conclusion. However, it’s so easy to be caught up in the "wave" that one cannot think straight.

As mentioned a few weeks ago, there is a certain group calling themselves Orthodox that is making inroads in the Jewish community. They are gaining support, not from those who are educated in yeshivas, but rather in those communities that are weak on Jewish education and strong on secular education. But, because they are the uneducated masses (Jewishly speaking), they are more likely to fall prey to this group and to actually believe that these ideas and thoughts that this group is teaching represent authentic Torah Judaism. Why? Because it’s easier to think with one’s emotions than thinking with one’s brains. THAT is what the Egyptians did when they followed Pharaoh. They allowed their emotions to get the better of them, and en masse, riled themselves up.

A few years ago, some people wanted to make a change in the community, and were trying to rally support on the grass-roots level. When they approached a friend of mine, he simply asked, “And what does the Rav think about this idea?”

(Silence)

When a group of twenty-something-year-olds come and try to rally support against the Talmidei Chachamim of the city, it’s safe to assume, no matter how logical their arguments might be, that they are in the wrong.

When issues, especially public issues, come up, it is always best to sit in the back and watch silently, think carefully, and when needed, acknowledge that you might not have an educated position on the matter at this time (especially when bigger people have made their positions clear). When people try to get you to join them, more often than not, they will use emotional techniques to get you to see their vision, and you don’t want to end up running into your own Red Sea.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, January 15, 2016 / 5 Shvat 5776
The Night of Guarding
By: Michael Winner

When I was living in Yerushalayim, a friend and I would learn on the bus a little on the way to kollel every morning. When we moved up north, we agreed to try our best to continue to learn on the phone for 5 minutes. Thankfully, we’ve been able to keep up with each other.

This past Sukkos, he went back to the States for Sukkos, and I told him that I expected him to bring back a gift for me. This past week, he came up with his family for Shabbos, and actually handed me a gift he bought: a Luke Skywalker action figure!

So, I set up Luke on my bookshelf before Shabbos, complete with lightsaber in hand. My son picks it up and starts looking at it and asks, “Who is this? And why is he holding a blue stick?”

I was pretty happy with those questions. What happened next did NOT make me happy. Right after he was done, my wife looked at it and said, “He doesn’t look like Harrison Ford.”

(silence)

Okay, I admit. I was very careful in wife-choosing that she should NOT like Star Trek or Star Wars, because I wanted to marry somebody normal. HOWEVER, I DID expect to marry somebody who knew the basics in Jewish beliefs, and the fact that she thinks Luke Skywalker was played by Harrison Ford, is simply outrageous! I’m going to have to speak to my rav about this.

On a funny Harrison Ford note: Years and years ago, there was a well-known rav living in Chicago. Once, his eldest daughter, let’s call her Esti Ploni, took some of the younger kids downtown on one of the water taxis. As they were on the boat, she noticed that they were talking to an older man, peppering him with questions, and whatnot. She walked up to the man and apologized for the kids’ bothering him. He smiled and said that they weren’t bothering him at all, “and by the way, my name is Harrison Ford.” Not having a clue who Harrison Ford was, she simply replied, “Nice to meet you, my name is Esti Ploni.”

Okay, on to Torah.

“It [Pesach] was a night of guarding” (Shemos 12:42)

A question came before Rav Eliashuv.

Yonasan was asked by his friend to watch over his expensive candelabra while the friend goes out of town for Pesach. After the Seder, Yonasan did not lock his front door, as is an accepted custom to do on the night of the Seder. The Magen Avraham brings down this well-known custom in the name of the Maharil, stating that since this is a “night of guarding,” Hashem watches over the homes. That night, however, some thieves sneaked into his home and stole the candelabra.

Is Yonasan relieved of his obligation to pay for it, since he was observing this custom, or does he have to pay due to negligence for not locking the door?

Rav Eliashuv responded: The custom cited by the Maharil is great and exalted, and applies to everyone – for his own household and everything that concerns the person himself. However, when one is entrusted with someone else’s property, he has a halachic obligation to guard and protect that property.

Simply put: when it comes down to ourselves, feel free to be “frum.” But we cannot place our “frumness” over any halachic obligations that we have for other people and their property.

I remember shortly after my first daughter was born I went to speak to the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Asher Rubenstein, about my financial situation. We were receiving no outside help, and my wife’s income was earned at night, while working in an office. Seeing that she would have to lose some income, I was beginning to worry about our financial state. After explaining the situation, the Rosh Yeshiva replied with, “You know, you can always follow the Rambam…” (referring to the Rambam that states that a person can continue to learn and rely on Hashem to support him…). To this I simply replied, “I’m not holding on that level…” To which he replied, “No problem! So, this is what you’ll do…”

Thankfully, I’m still following that same advice to this day.

However, the point is, my Rosh Yeshiva had every right to speak about faith and trust in Hashem. He LIVED it. He was not supported with outside help, yet he lived and learned in Eretz Yisroel during not so easy times, and successfully raised ten children in a two- (or three-) bedroom apartment. Yet, he never expected ME to live like HIM. The option was there, but he never expected his students to live on levels that they were not yet ready for.

So, concerning ourselves and our homes, we should strive for the highest levels in faith and belief (each on his own level). However, in regard to others and other people’s properties, we need to maximize our worldly obligations according to the strictest level of the law.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, January 08, 2016 / 27 Teves 5776
The Right Match
By: Michael Winner

This week we celebrated our eleventh anniversary, which is . . . weird.

I was personally hoping that this anniversary would be celebrated like last year: “Did you know that today is our anniversary?” “Yeah, strange, isn’t it?” “Yeah. Can you pass that diaper over there?”

I learned that morning that Steel is the official gift for the eleventh anniversary. Perfect! The recycling bins are made of steel! And she’s always begging me to take out the recycling! So, that morning, I proudly told her for our anniversary gift, I will take her to the recycling bins, since they were made of steel, and we have to follow this whole silly idea, since I can’t come up with anything else that’s good.

I was pretty proud of myself, since the house was a war zone, and there was no way she would be able to top it.

To my surprise, when I came home, everything was clean (relatively) and the table was set. She made dinner! Now, remember, we are a “lunch-based” society, so our main meal is during the day. I usually sneak in some rice-cakes for dinner, and here she is making a REAL dinner.

The children were going to be the waiters and serve us. However, they’ve never been to a restaurant before, so we had to tell them what to do. My eldest daughter wrote a menu, the way my wife told her to. Underneath the food, she included, “plates, forks, spoons, cups, napkins,” and I believe she charged us for those as well.

All in all, it was a nice anniversary dinner, even though the waiters were munching on food looking over our shoulders half the time, and she was VERY happy we went to walk it off with a trip to recycling afterwards.

Aw man . . . next year is linen or silk. Dang!

Okay, on to Torah!

Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein was once asked a question from a young man who was looking to marry, and had two possible girls he could meet. One was a wonderful girl who came from a very good family. All her brothers were well-known Bnei Torah in their communities. At the same time, he was offered to meet a wonderful girl from a very simple family who did not stand out as Bnei Torah. However, the girl herself had a great love of Torah and great respect for Talmidei Chachamim. Which one should he meet first?

Of course, we will all automatically say ‘the simple girl’, since we all grew up on Disney movies. However, this is a legitimate question. The Gemara in several places discusses marrying into a distinguished family of Talmidei Chachamim, and there is no question, that it IS nice to know that the future grandparents will be outstanding examples for one’s children. It’s a legitimate question, that needs to be thought out.

Rav Zilberstein brought a pasuk from this week’s parsha: “And Elazar, the son of Aharon, took for himself from the daughters of Putiel (Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law), to be for him a wife.” (Shemos 6:25)

The Ha’amek Davar comments that the language “took for himself” is not a typical expression.

Yisro, somebody who, up until recently dabbled in all sorts of idol-worship, could certainly not be considered "great ancestry." However, Elazar saw greatness in Yisro's daughter, a greatness that would help him become great as well. That is why he “took for HIMSELF,” that she should be “for HIM.” Her greatness would help him become great himself. THAT is what he saw in her, and that is why her ancestry did not have any bearing on his decision.

Of course, such a story is applicable to all areas in life. When we make decisions, there are certain "external" issues that we need to take into consideration, however, the MAIN question is: if I choose this, will it help me become a better person than the other choices?

If so, than all other issues can fall by the wayside.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, January 01, 2016 / 20 Teves 5776
Fools rush in...
By: Michael Winner

I’ve always read and heard from various sources the importance of keeping non-Torah things out of one’s life. It’s not easy when you come from my background. My wife and I often trade “one-liners” from old movies or television shows, and things from the past always seem to pop up.

However, our house is generally run differently than my brain. My life consists of kollel, family, and work. That’s it. We don’t have any interest in sports or culture. They children aren’t allowed near the computer for any reason. They go to their schools, where their main focus is Torah, building things with wood found on the street, “Hello Kitty”, and other such things. Thankfully, my kids are a bit “purer” than their parents.

Just the other day, my ten year-old daughter was holding and playing with the baby. He was busy trying to grab her face, and she was laughing and trying not to be grabbed. Every time he grabbed something, she would laugh, and quote a line from Tehillim. When he grabbed her eyes, she said, “they (idols) have eyes, but they don’t see”. When he grabbed her mouth, “they have mouths, but they don’t speak”.

There’s something very nice seeing your children playing in this manner…

Okay, on to Torah!

“And he said, ‘Do not come any closer; take off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground’” (Shemos 3:5)

“’Yehudah has gone into exile’ (Eicha 1:3). Do not non-Jewish nations go into exile? The fact is, however, that through they go into exile, it is not really exile. The non-Jewish nations who travel in their groups do not experience real exile; but Yisroel who walk barefooted do experience exile…” (Midrash, Eicha Rabbah 1:29)

So what’s special about being barefooted? When Moshe goes to a holy place, he needs to go barefooted. When the Jewish people go into exile, they go barefooted.

Rav Mordechai Rogov explains that shoes protect a person in order that he does not stumble around and hurt himself. When a person is not wearing shoes, he’s very wary and very careful when he walks so he doesn’t hurt himself.

When other nations go into exile, that period of exile is very short. Within time, that group assimilates into the host nation and becomes one with it. The Jewish nation on the other hand, does not share that same fate. Throughout the 2000 year exile, we have been pushed out of one country after another. Even in America, anti-Semitism is becoming more and more rampant on university campuses. In Europe, many don’t wear kippas on public… and not just out of fear from the local Arabs… Wherever we go in exile, we tread carefully, not knowing what will happen to us around the corner.

Also, we learn a lesson on how we should behave, spiritually, in exile. We should be walking carefully in a spiritual sense as well. The intermarriage rate in the United States is at least in the 75% range within the non-religious world, and even the religious world is not immune to the effects of the secular world. In this regard as well, we need to tread carefully, making sure that decisions we make in life have only a positive effect on our spiritual selves.

This also would explain why Moshe had to walk barefoot and why the Kohanim in the Beis HaMikdash had to walk barefoot. These places contained such kedusha, such holiness, that it was important that every step taken was carefully thought of. Any misstep could result in some damage.

To take that point a bit further, as one becomes holier himself, he needs to be more careful and more attuned to what is dangerous for him. Perhaps something, years ago, might not have been so dangerous, could be dangerous now, after he has refined his soul.

We are a “barefooted” nation. We need to tread carefully in terms of our relationship with our host countries, and we need to tread carefully in our road to kedusha. We all know the famous line, “Fools rush in where angels dare to tread”. It’s quite fitting here to use. Move forward in life, never stop, but always be careful each step you take.

Have a great Shabbos!
Friday, December 25, 2015 / 13 Teves 5776
True Talmidei Chachamim
By: Michael Winner



Before Yaakov’s death, he gave each and every one of his children a brachah. To Yissachar, he said that he “bent his shoulder to bear the yoke of Torah and became for his fellow Jews a servant of his people” (Bereishis 49:15). On this, Rashi says, “This was done by rendering halachic decisions and teaching the many complex issues that govern the fixing of leap years.”

Rav Avraham Pam, assumingly based on this Rashi, said that the highest form of those who deal with the needs of the community are those who remain in the Beis Medrash and devote their years to intense study. When a person devotes so many of his years of his life to get a true understanding of halachah in its daily application, he is able to help others who are not on such a level move through life according to the dictates of Hashem.

Over the last two-and-a-half years, our kollel has been working on the halachos dealing with kashrus. It’s certainly not the easiest, and in theory, when we are done, those who know and understand should be able to go out and render decisions on dealing with most issues of that field. That’s just kashrus, and that’s been the subject for full-day learning. Imagine how much time it would take to learn Shabbos properly? Or brachos? Or Schittah? Or any other subject matter? (Let’s not go into monetary issues . . .)

There’s somebody in our kollel, a few years older than I, who, well . . . is brilliant. He’s currently studying (and remember, he’s been learning his whole life, and is brilliant) to be able to go into dayanus (sit on a Jewish court). He’s doing this while teaching a bit and running the community tzedakah fund, and helping out everybody with marriage issues, children issues, halachic issues . . . you name it. My friend calls him the “Batman” of our city; he works in the darkness without making a big deal about things. In fact, when I mentioned this compliment to him, I asked him, “Do you even know who Batman is?” He smiled, and said, “Not really . . . I’ve heard the name and I know he has something to do with comics . . .”

Here is a person who has dedicated his life for the community. He’s not taking some four-year “Look I’m a Rabbi!” course. He’s sitting and pushing himself to gain a proper understanding of the working of halachah, so when modern issues come up that are not spoken about in the Shulchan Oruch, he will have the ability to properly understand and determine what the Torah wants from us in different situations.

In the past I’ve seen and heard of people learning for a bit, getting smichah in some area or another in halachah, and going and taking rabbinic jobs, which quite frankly, they are not truly ready to take on. However, they have smicha now and need a job, and want to “make the world a different place,” and they get to be called “Rabbi So-and-so.” It comes to no surprise when, years later, I hear that they’ve become “controversial” to say the least, because they issue “interesting” decisions in halachah or Jewish thought.

Just recently, a large group of leading rabbanim in the United States finally came out against one particular “yeshivah” that has produced, through their four year “learn-it-all” program, “rabbis” who now state that people wrote the Torah, and other wonderful ideas (I happen to know the head of this movement, hence it came to my attention). Unfortunately, this place is turning out "rabbis" who do not have the Jewish education to take rabbinic positions. More unfortunately, congregations, which do not have talmidei chachamim in them, are hiring such people.

The one thing I keeping learning in kollel is: A true talmid chacham is one who spends his life delving into Torah and understanding it to the fullest. Perhaps he does have other obligations in his life . . . but his true burden is Torah . . . not getting a Masters in Jewish thought, not going out and being politically correct, not hugging whales, nor writing on blogs and for newspapers. Simply put, he’s not wasting his time on things that have no relevance to his growth as a Jew.

I’m not talking about this particular group of people. I’m speaking about everybody. Complex halachic issues cannot be solved by a person who learned for a few years in a program and has an MA in Jewish Thought. It can only be dealt with by people who have dedicated their lives to truly understanding what Hashem wants from us.

And our job, as laymen within the community, is to see that such people are given our fullest support to do their jobs properly (whether financially, emotionally, etc.), and that these TRUE talmidei chachamim, are raised to levels of leadership, and that we, who know very little, should recognize that fact, and submit ourselves to their decisions.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner






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