Weekly Dvar Torah
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Friday, September 23, 2016 / 20 Elul 5776
Giving Advice
By: Michael Winner

We’re finally going fully legal on all our income. Joy. (I now have to pay 15% of my income to U.S. Social Security, thankfully child credit helps a bit, and around 15% to the Israeli National Insurance, plus all fees that come with it.)

That being, I needed to find and hire a U.S. accountant and an Israeli accountant, and after speaking to many, I finally settled on two of them.

It’s interesting to see how both accountants work, which clearly reflects how each society views their governments. Every U.S. accountant I spoke with was very straight and not playing around with things. If it wasn’t 100% legal, it cannot be done. When I went to the office of the Israeli accountant, the first thing she said was, “Okay, let’s start off with how much you are REALLY making and work from there.” She then made up a plan, which I can’t go into detail. Technically, it’s legal. Why? Because the government cannot prove otherwise. She figured that it’s best to do that and report everything, so it’s officially legal, compared to simply not reporting everything to the government (which she considers a valid option, but prefers not to take). Basically, the Israeli mentality is, if the government cannot prove that I’m really lying, than it’s legal.

Before I get hit with emails about the halachic aspects of not telling the Israeli government my full income, that has been handled by halachic authorities hundreds of years ago. Basically, the halachic basis that a non-Torah observant government in Eretz Yisroel has a right to tax is not so certain, and many halachic authorities agree that one can HIDE his money, but cannot STEAL money from such a government. It's a whole big discussion for another time.

Basically, everybody follows this mentality here. When you set a price in a cab, you’re doing so off the books. In many places, when you pay for something big in cash, they give you a 9% discount, so you keep your half of the 17% tax and they keep their half. It’s just interesting to hear it from an accountant.

Okay, on to more important things.

“Cursed be the one who causes a blind person to stray along the way” (Dvarim 27:18).

Rashi explains that this is not only to be taken literally, but also teaches us the importance of not giving bad advice.

Once, after Rav Shach visited a certain family in Bnei Brak, he made his way slowly down the stairs of the building. As he was descending, a young man approached and asked the rav a question concerning advice he needed. Seeing that Rav Shach was having a difficult time descending the stairs given his age and health, the young man offered his arm for the rav to hold on to. However, Rav Shach refused to take it and explained, “You have come to ask my advice. If you assist me, I will become biased. I do not wish to be biased when giving advice.”

We see how careful, one must be in this area.

I know somebody here who pushes Americans to make Aliyah, no matter what! He tells them everything they want to hear and pulls on their emotional strings to get them to move. Unfortunately, the statistics of what happens with children who make Aliyah are not the best. In fact, most of his . . . victims . . . have moved to more American communities or back to America. His advice, which serves his own best interests, leads to long-term misery for many children of new immigrants. But, at least in this world, he doesn’t seem to care. So while he’s performing the "mitzvah" of encouraging Jews to move to Israel, he’s tripping on the sin of “causing a blind person to stray . . .”

Whenever we give advice, we need to take into account our personal biases. If we cannot give clean advice, we shouldn’t give any at all.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner

P.S. Thank you Mr. G. Murray for the email. It didn’t have a return address, so I couldn’t reply.



Friday, September 16, 2016 / 13 Elul 5776
Shalom Bayis Candles
By: Michael Winner

Does anybody remember “The Blues Brothers”? Remember how at the end of the film they were surrounded by thousands of officers from every branch of federal, state, and local law enforcement (don’t forget the Illinois Nazi Party)? That’s what the street next to ours looked like this past Shabbos.

We are friends with a couple who many say are special, but we say are crazy. Besides their own children, they are fostering two children who are . . . well, if I say “mentally challenged,” that would be nice (it’s a family custom, it seems, to take in these children; she also is trained in working with them). One of them is a seven-year-old severerly autistic and brain-damaged boy. Honestly, he’s a cute kid, but has no "seichel" whatsoever. This past Shabbos, the husband had to be out of town with this two oldest children, so she was left alone with her other children and these two foster children. One of her children went to their neighbor's, and despite the door being super heavy, this seven-year-old, who has incredible strength, opened it and flew out. She heard this happening and went to chase after him, but he quickly disappeared.

This was at 1 p.m. Shabbos day. People in the religious community started hearing of what happened a few hours later (she didn’t make it so public at first, since she thought she would easily find him). By the time it became public, the police became more and more heavily involved and practically everybody with a kippah on their head, from all streams, were combing the city. The rav came out and announced that even if you have to break Shabbos, you must in order to find the child. Hundreds of the religious community were out, along with a helicopter and drone (the kids loved those). Even the Border Police stationed outside of the city got involved. I got the idea of flagging down a few cabs from different companies so they could call other cabs so they should keep their eyes open. You should have seen the look on the drivers faces when I, dressed in my Shabbos clothes, was telling them to pull over. :)

In the end, 30 minutes before sunset, somebody from the community found him, half naked a kilometer-and-a-half away from his home. One of the officers kept saying to the mother, “You have an amazing community here. Amazing! They all came out, got organized, and helped out!” The police recognized that they didn’t have the manpower to do it themselves, and there was close work between us. My son, when we were looking together, received a few waves from officers passing by in their cars, and even several secular residents helped to get involved when they felt the "power" of the community at work.

If this happened to somebody secular, the police would have gotten involved, a few friends would have posted the photo on Facebook and help out with the search. But nothing would have occurred that matched this. Here, HUNDREDS of people were searching, and wives were bringing out bottles of water and snacks to help out. Most did not daven mincha at all or eat the third meal for Shabbos. In the end, it was a very big kiddush Hashem with a happy ending.

Except for one man. The head of the local Hatzolah. He was away that particular Shabbos and was VERY upset that they had to lose this child on that particular Shabbos when he was away. For him, it’s a dream come true to help organize and run such an operation and he missed out! :)

Every year, I usually receive a small dose of help from Above on something. Last year, I wasted it on correctly guessing how far along my wife was in labor when we arrived at the hospital. This year, thankfully, I received it when I was learning. So, this is an original dvar Torah. True or not? I have no idea. It sounds good and even if it’s not true, it’s not one of those “Oh! According to my calculations, there are really EIGHT AND A HALF gods!” so you won’t really be burning for reading it.

The Gemara (Shabbos 23b), asks, if one has enough money for only a candle for Chanukah or only a candle for Shabbos, what should he buy? It then answers a candle for Shabbos, because of Shalom Bayis (peace in the home). It then asks, if he had only for Kiddush or candles? Again, Shabbos candles, because of Shalom Bayis. Then, it continues and says that somebody who lights candles (Shabbos or Chanukah) regularly, will merit children who are Talmidei Chachamim (scholars).

I was confused by this, since many light candles regularly and do no merit children who are Talmidei Chachamim. So, I gave thought to it and have a small theory, which I would like to share.

We see that the Gemara clearly equates Shabbos candles to Shalom Bayis. There are many different reasons for it, the main one given is that there is light in the house on Shabbos, and confusion does not reign free. For whatever reason, when we say Shabbos candles, we are also saying Shalom Bayis.

PERHAPS, the Gemara is saying that somebody who regularly has Shalom Bayis, will merit Talmidei Chachamim. Of course, this is not the only ingredient and there are many different factors, but it is acknowledged that many times when children leave the religious world, there are issues at home (again, not all the time, and possibly not most; I don’t know, but Shalom Bayis does contribute to such things).

I then saw that the Bach (Orach Chaim 263:1) asks on this Gemara: it seems that from this Gemara, that lighting candles is not obligatory and the reward is children who are Talmidei Chachamim. However, we see further on, that it is really an obligation to light. So, if it’s an obligation, why did this Gemara word the promise in such a way as if it were not obligatory? He answers that if a person lit Shabbos candles, he did his (or really her) obligation. But, if they do it in a proper, “mehudar” (extra careful) way, they will earn this promise.

As a side note, my Rosh Kollel asked when I showed him this, “What does it mean ‘mehudar’ when lighting Shabbos candles? Okay, using olive oil instead of wax candles, perhaps, but what else is there to be ‘mehudar’ about? " This question only adds fuel to my theory, that perhaps we not talking about only lighting candles.

So, let’s rephrase what the Bach was saying with my idea: If a person does the mitzvah of Shalom Bayis (by lighting the candles), he did his (or really her) obligation. But, if they do it (Shalom Bayis) in a proper “mehudar” way, they will earn this promise.

It’s hard work to have Shalom Bayis, but to do it in a mehudar way? That takes even more work, effort, and teamwork; but perhaps, when the children see and feel the atmosphere of love and respect between their parents, they will be empowered in their Torah observance.

Just an idea.

Have a wonderful Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, September 09, 2016 / 6 Elul 5776
The Crown of Torah
By: Michael Winner

I hope everybody enjoyed their summer.

We survived, thanks to alcohol.

We enjoyed the pool, the beach, Zichron Yaakov (great outdoor tank museum there), Yerushaliyim (attended the bris of friends who just had their first child after 19 years), drinking alcohol, watching the kids fights, etc.

Actually, without any friends around, the children spent a lot more time together, and it was interesting how all of them interacted with each other. Sometimes this one would play with that one, and that one with this one, and this one with that one. Just watching our 10-year-old daughter interact with her 4-year-old brother was interesting to see.

However, I learned a very important lesson in marriage. If you want to have a healthy marriage, have lots of children. During vacation, when they are home and bored, you will both have no desire other than to escape and spend some quiet time by yourselves.

Okay, on to Torah!

“You shall surely place over yourself a king” (Devarim 17:15).

The Rambam writes (Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:1) that the Jewish people were granted three crowns: the Crown of Torah, the Crown of Priesthood, and the Crown of Kingship. The Rambam writes, “And if you will say that the other crowns are greater than that of Torah, behold it is written, ‘Through me (the Torah) do kings rule’ (Mishlei 8:15). From here we learn that the crown of Torah is greater than either of the others.”

Rav Shach notes that only regarding an actual monarch, does the Rambam write “Great honor must be conferred upon him, and trepidation and fear with respect to him must be instilled in the hearts of all the people” (Hilchos Melachim 2:1). Rav Shach continues and asks, "If the crown of Torah is greater than that of monarchy, why is there no similar requirement towards scholars?"

He answered his question by stating that a Torah scholar has inherent honor, as it is written, “The wise shall inherit honor” (Mishlei 3:35).

After seeing this piece, I thought about the elections of the Pope in 2005. The Catholic Church needed a new Pope, so they had some internal elections, and voila, new Pope.

Of course in Israel, official rabbis are also elected to certain positions, but those are government positions. The official Chief Rabbi of Israel might hold that position, might be a big talmud chacham, but will not be recognized as one of the leaders of the Jewish people. There are certain exceptions of course, notably, Rav Ovadia Yosef.

However, those recognized as leaders of the Jewish people were not anointed nor elected. They were recognized by those above them and those below them as spiritual giants. They didn’t run for the position and tended to shy from such a position, yet the honor was heaped upon them.

When a person is genuine, the nation "senses" it, and is drawn to such a person. There is no need for fancy titles or even to be well-known. A true Torah Scholar is recognized for his Torah and needs nothing else.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, August 12, 2016 / 8 Av 5776
What We Have Done and What We Could Have Done
By: Michael Winner

Last Shabbos was . . . full of excitement amongst the children, as alliances were made and alliances were broken.

My wife and I were discussing what in the world are we going to do over the next three weeks, with no school, no camp, and no car (only 10,000 shekels (minimum) to rent a mini-van for two weeks!).

My wife decided that we’re going to start a boot camp, and keep them moving throughout the day. Wake up is early, starting with physical training, davening, breakfast, etc. If you don’t eat during the 20 minutes, you lose out, son! I came up with the idea of buying the traditional “black hats” that drill sergeants use and marching the kids in formation up and down the street chanting:

Me: Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear!
Them: Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear!
Me: Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair.
Them: Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair.
Me: Sound Off!
Them: One Two!
Etc. etc.

The really annoying part about this? My wife and I have had this in our heads the whole week.

Now, it’s my gift to you. :)

Before we begin, since I’m not sure what in the world my life is going to bring over the next three weeks, Frumg.org might or might not be on vacation.

“Hashem, our G-d, spoke to us in Horeb (Mt. Sinai), saying, ‘You have had much dwelling by this mountain . . .’” (Devarim 1:6)

Rashi comments, “There is much eminence for you, and reward for your having dwelt at this mountain. You made the Mishkan, the Menorah, and the other holy vessels; you received the Torah; you appointed the Sanhedrin . . . .”

Several years ago, my Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Asher Rubenstein, spoke Erev Tisha B’Av. He noted that Tisha B’Av is the end of the “yeshivish” year, since the standard calendar for yeshivos and kollelim begins on the first day of Elul (in three weeks) and ends on Tisha B’Av. Like all end-of-years, it’s good that a person should look back and see his accomplishments.

In this week’s parsha, he said, we see a hint of this. While we were at Mt. Sinai, we received the Torah and built the Mishkan. We focused on the positives. So too, on the day before Tisha B’Av, we should look back at our accomplishments and take some pride on what we have accomplished. It’s important to do so, having this positive mentality will help push us for the upcoming year of learning.

However, Tisha B’Av comes. And on Tisha B’Av, we realize everything we didn’t accomplish that we could have.

Let us clarify that for a moment.

Let’s take people who lived a mere 100 years ago and bring them into this world. Can you imagine their shock? Cars, trucks, planes, internet, cellphones, etc., they would have no concept of how our world works. Rav Shimshon Pincus says that the opposite is true spiritually speaking. Today’s Jew is a much more different Jew than a Jew from 100 years ago. And we’re not talking religious vs. non-religious. We’re talking religious vs. religious. It’s a concept that we can barely fathom. Can you imagine a Jew from two-thousand years ago? Can you fathom what a Jew was when the Beis HaMikdash was standing? When there were korbonos? When there was a Kohen Gadol? No, you can’t, because we have no real connection to it any more. However, we do know that the Torah, and obligations that it has, is the exact same Torah and obligations that we have today.

Tisha B’Av is a time that we cry for what we are missing. Not only are the Jewish people still in exile, but so is Hashem, so to speak. When He is in exile, we are missing a major component in our lives. Our potential drops further and further as each passing generation goes by.

However, we don’t give up, because that is not a Torah concept. We continue to push ourselves, and daven that Hashem should help us and return even a small portion of that potential to us. But we cannot just daven for it, we must ACTUALIZE it. We must push ourselves 100 percent, so Hashem will add on another 10 percent.

We are told that “Moshiach is born on Tisha B’Av.” What does that mean? It means our personal “Moshiach” is born when we cry over Tisha B’Av and ask Hashem to bring Himself and us out of exile together, and to restore our spiritual potentials. Through acknowledging and crying over the fact that we are missing so much, spiritually, and promising to do our part, our “Moshiach” is being born.

And when the entire nation does this . . . Moshiach himself is being born for the community.

This Shabbos, we should look back over the year, and take some pride over what we have accomplished. Yet, after Shabbos, when Tisha B’Av begins, we should acknowledge the fact that we could have and need to push harder. We realize that we are missing so much, spiritually-speaking, than the previous generations, and that our only desire is to return to such a level. When this concept becomes a reality to us, Moshiach will arrive.

Have a wonderful Shabbos and a meaningful Tisha B’Av.

Michael Winner
Friday, August 05, 2016 / 1 Av 5776
Be Prepared!
By: Michael Winner

I learned a very important lesson this past Shabbos.

Shabbos morning while I was in shul, a great cry rang out in our house. My wife saw a large cockroach in our room. My seven-year-old son ran in with the broom, risking his life, trying to catch it and sweep it up, but alas, he was unsuccessful, and the cockroach escaped.

That afternoon my wife was contemplating whether she should take a nap upstairs since the cockroach was still on the loose. I joked that the worst that could happen is that the cockroach would walk all over her while she was asleep. She went ahead anyhow, and the cockroach did not make his appearance.

That night, around 2 a.m., as I was asleep, I felt something crawling on me. Somehow, I knew what it was, and I woke up brushing myself and my bed. I turned on the light and . . . I saw nothing! Phew! Only a dream . . . until I saw the cockroach on the floor, right where I threw him. He was executed shortly afterwards.

Lesson learned: be careful with your words!

Before we begin, I would like to welcome everybody living outside of Eretz Yisroel, back. Since Shavous, you folks have been a week behind us in the Torah reading. Finally, you decided to catch up! Which will save my proofreader and me a lot of confusion.

“And the Almighty spoke to Moshe at Arvos Moav by the Jordan at Yericho saying . . .” (Bamidbar 33:50)

For forty years, the Jewish nation wandered in the desert and now is finally receiving the command to go into Eretz Yisroel. But, before that, they are given the explicit warning that ALL forms of idol worship found in Eretz Yisroel are to be destroyed. Failure in this commandment, will ultimately lead to the Jewish nation's following such practices (as it eventually did).

Rav Zelig Pliskin writes that we learn the importance of removing temptation from one's environment as early as possible. When a family needs to move to a new community, they first check out possible communities to live in. They weigh the good and the bad, and if they decide to move, they make whatever necessary arrangements to make sure that the bad does not affect them.

When we moved up north, there were several concerns. As one rebbetzin said to my wife, “So . . . you turn your home into a spiritual fortress.” There are certain children we need to keep ours away from, and there are certain things we need to keep them away from. It’s not easy. Nor is “where is the boundary?” However, provisions must be made to keep certain influences out of their lives and to keep any taste of “idolatry” out of their systems.

By being complacent about things that will eventually lead us down the wrong path, we are already beginning down that path without even knowing it. And in the end, it will be much harder to say, “how did this happen?”

May we have the ability to see stumbling blocks down the road and the strength to take the proper actions to prevent them.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, July 29, 2016 / 23 Tamuz 5776
Zealotry
By: Michael Winner



I saw an interesting question asked this past Shabbos.

We ended up parshas Balak with Pinchas killing Zimri for having relations with a woman from Midian. In parshas Pinchas, we see Hashem rewarding Pinchas for his zealotry. Yet, in Sefer Bereishis, when Shechem forcibly took Yaakov’s daughter Dina, and Shimon and Levi avenged her by killing him and his city, Yaakov grew angry at them and warned them about their "zealous" nature.

What is the difference between the two cases?

According to the Medresh, before killing Zimri, Pinchas asked Moshe for permission to do so, for the halacha states that a zealot, in this case, may do so. With that permission, Pinchas killed Zimri.

In contrast, Shimon and Levi did not asked Yaakov for permission. Rather, they decided on their own to avenge Dina. Even though it was done for the sake of Heaven, Yaakov chastises them for not following "the chain of command."

There is nothing wrong with zealotry. It comes to be problematic, however, when it is used inappropriately or by inappropriate people. That is why it is important to speak to one's mentor before doing anything close to zealotry.

We see this difference, unfortunately, in Yerushaliyim. Sometimes something happens, and a bunch of hooligans call for protests which attract 50-100 people, which causes public and private damage and throws everything off kilter for anybody travelling in the area. However, when protests are called by the acknowledged leaders of the religious world, you can have literally a half million or more people converge over a large section of the city, and the police will stand there idly with nothing to do. I remember attending one such protest, and it was truly an amazing thing to see.

Acting TRULY for the sake of Heaven is commendable. However, from our Medresh, we see it can only be done with the approval of one’s spiritual leader.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, July 22, 2016 / 16 Tamuz 5776
Inner Mitzvos
By: Michael Winner

My wife and I were beginning to feel “the burn,” and with the summer coming into full power (both heat-wise and children-wise), we knew we had to do something about it soon, or we wouldn’t have any opportunity until at least after Sukkos. So, we found places for the kids, rented a small car, and took a day-and-a-half vacation driving in the north. We first went to Meron to pick up some healthy snacks, since you can get food with good kashrus there, and then headed north towards Kiryiat Shmoneh, which is very close to the Lebanese border. From there, we headed east and went to the Banyas in the Golan, which contains a small hike around the beginning of the Jordan river (beautiful waterfall, by the way).

From the Banyas, we travelled down the middle of the Upper Galil and returned back to the Golan and went to Katzrin. In Katzrin, they have an archeological museum and a very interesting 15-minute film about the fall of Gamla to the Romans. The “second-half” of the museum was a five-minute car drive away, which contained the remnants of a village they unearthed—complete with a shul. There was also a small film that they recommended we see there. We thought it would be a film similar to the first, something educational. Instead, it was about a story in the Gemara about Rebbe Meir and his rav, Acher. The entire thing was crazy and the whole point of the "story"? We “learn” from the Gemara, that the Ultra-Orthodox need to be more open-minded. It was said without being said, but it was VERY “not said.” Of course, if you actually KNOW the Gemara and a bit of history concerning the story, you’ll understand how they did not fully research it or they would have not been able to come up with such a conclusion. At least the kids weren’t there.

From there, we drove to the eastern side of the Kineret and found a nice place overlooking the sea for a late lunch. From there, we went to Tiveria to stay overnight and actually get a regular night’s sleep. We returned around noon and felt nice and relaxed until 3 minutes after the kids got home.

We agreed that next time we do this, it will be for two days.

Okay, on to Torah!

“And what does Hashem require of you but . . . that you walk modestly” (Haftorah, Micha 6:8)

The Gemara (Makkos 24a) learns from this pasuk that “walk modestly” refers to tending to the dead and escorting a bride to the wedding canopy. This leads us to an interesting question: These mitzvos are public mitzvos, what’s the connection with “walk modestly”?

Rav Schach answers that the modesty in this pasuk refers to the inside. It’s easy to be modest when things are done in a quick manner. But to bring simcha to a bride and groom, for example, while one is in public doing so, he must on the inside be doing it modestly. He shouldn’t be doing it to impress others or to be the center of attention, rather, he should be doing it to fulfill the mitzvah in the proper way.

By tending to the dead, one must also be modest by not just doing the necessary preparations, but to also feel the pain that the family is going through to properly console them.

By working on our sensitivity to others on our insides, we are able to able to “walk modestly” even regarding the most public of mitzvos.

This Shabbos begins the Three Weeks of mourning which ends with Tisha B'Av. But really, it doesn't end there. We are entering a period which really ends on Simchas Torah. We are now entering a "low" stage in our relationship with Hashem, when we are at our "furthest", so to speak. And from Tisha B'Av on, throughout Elul, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkos, we slowly build up ourselves and our relationship with Him. By focusing and working on our inner qualities, we will be able to make the best use of such an important period

Have a great Shabbos!


Michael Winner
mwinner@frum.org






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