Weekly Dvar Torah
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Tuesday, October 07, 2014 / 13 Tishrei 5775
The Simcha of Sukkos
By: Michael Winner

Right now we have a small break from Kollel and school to get everything ready for Sukkos. Thankfully, I’ve had time to go learn every morning for an hour and a half or so. During that time, two days ago, my hiking partner called me but I didn’t answer. I tried calling him back after learning, but he didn’t answer. So, I began to build the Sukkah with ‘help’ from the kids. Of course, within 15 minutes, in order that I should spare their lives, I opened a bottle of wine and helped myself to a few cups. Even with that help, they barely survived. I then received a call from my friend, “WHERE WERE YOU??? I was trying to put up the Sukkah and the kids were driving me crazy and I called you for support! Instead, I had to turn to my other good friend, Johnny Walker, to help me out!”

I told him that I was in the exact situation and had the same solution. We then noticed how it’s depressing that you go straight from Yom Kippur into preparing for Sukkos, which is known as Yom Simchaseinu (Day of our Simcha), and all you want to do is kill your children. THEN, you start feeling bad for having those feelings, AND you have all of those feelings in you as you’re doing the mitzvah of building the Sukkah, which should be done in happiness! It doesn’t make any sense!

So, I had wonderful thought about this. What is the Simcha that is so special about Sukkos? The fact you’re going into Sukkos and you DIDN’T kill your children, despite the strong desire to. THAT is the true happiness of Sukkos! Makes sense, no?

Okay, on to real Torah.

Rav Shimshon Pincus asks an excellent question. The progress we make, beginning with the month of Elul, followed by the Ten Days of Repentance (sounds terrible in English), followed by Yom Kippur, followed by Sukkos and Shmini Atzeres, lends us to believe that Sukkos and Shmini Atzeres are the height of the whole “holiday season”. In fact, there are many other proofs that say this. Yet, on the other hand, the Ramchal describes Yom Kippur as the day we reach the level of Adam HaRishon (Adam) before the sin. It seems as if Yom Kippur is the pinnacle of the season, and then we go “downhill” from there.

As a nation, we started off on Pesach, the birth of the Jewish people. After that came Shavous, where we received the Torah and which the Gemara (Taanis 26b) calls, “The Day of His Marriage”. The Gemara, continues and says “The Day of His Hearts Simcha” (this all sounds better in Hebrew, sorry), is the day the Beis HaMikdash was built.

Our “marriage” to Hashem was not called “simchas leibo” (simcha of His heart), because while the bride and groom our happy on their marriage day, it’s not a true simcha. For beneath their smiles, there is still trepidation of their future. Will the marriage be okay? Will we get along well? Will we bond? When is it that a couple becomes stronger and bonded closer together? After their first fight. After surviving the first troubles of marriage, the couple comes out stronger. They now have a better understanding of each other than they had before.

Shortly after we received the Torah, what happened? The Sin of the Golden Calf. After they realized what they did and did proper tshuvah, Hashem sent the second set of “Ten Commandments”, and started giving instructions on how to build the Mishkan (the predecessor to the Beis HaMikdash), so Hashem could dwell amongst the nation.

For us, our season begins with Tisha B’Av. We begin from the ruins of the Beis HaMikdash to improve ourselves and start the path of tshuvah. It continues stronger throughout the month of Elul. On Rosh Hashanah, we are all created anew. What Pesach is for the Jewish Nation, Rosh Hashanah is for the individual, a new beginning. On Yom Kippur we are forgiven for previous sins and our connection to Hashem is renewed and re-strengthened. It is also on Yom Kippur that we received the second set of “Ten Commandments”. After this rejuvenation, we go into Sukkos, “Yom Simchaseinu”. Despite our past “fights” with Hashem, Hashem has forgiven us and the bond between us is stronger than ever. For THAT is true simcha and the simcha of Sukkos.

I hope that everybody has a wonderful Sukkos and we’ll see you after Simchas Torah!
Monday, September 29, 2014 / 5 Tishrei 5775
Spiritual Downpayments
By: Michael Winner

I had a good laugh at one of our meals on Shabbos. Much to my wife’s annoyance, there are certain foods that have taken on names which she doesn’t approve of. For example, ONCE, when Rochel Leah was two, I made her scrambled eggs. Ever since then, she (and now the rest of the family) calls scrambled eggs “Abba Eggies.” Again, I made them ONCE, compared to my wife who makes them ALL THE TIME. Yet, I have the honor of having them named after me.

Another time happened several months ago, when my wife bought these weird “vegetarian steaks” for the kids for Shabbos. As they stared at what was in front of them, they asked, “What ARE these?” to which I answered, “snake steaks!” to which Chaim responded with, “WOW!” which in turn led to all the “snake steaks” being devoured. And “snake steaks” have been a regular request ever since.

This Shabbos, my wife served a brown, noodle-salad-thingy. Those of you who did not grow up with many friends would recognize this dish as “gagh,” or “serpent worms,” a Klingon cuisine (best served live). Simcha was pointing towards it and crying “want it.” I asked him if he wanted any “gagh” to which he nodded his head. After eating a few bites, he turned to my wife and said, “blah, blah, blah, gagh, blah, blah, blah”

I really feel sorry for her.

Okay, on to Torah!

I recently heard a talk that was centered around Rav Yitzchak Blazer’s writings of tshuvah (repentance). In it, he brought a Gemara which told over the following story. Once, a few hours before Yom Kippur, Rav (one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Babylonia) was heading toward the marketplace. It seems that at some point earlier a local butcher offended Rav and never asked Rav for forgiveness. Therefore, Rav decided to go to him . . . perhaps if he walked by the butcher, it being right before Yom Kippur, the butcher will realize what he did and ask Rav for forgiveness.

On the way there, he met with Rav Hunah, who asked him, “Where are you going?”

Rav replied, “To the marketplace. There is a certain butcher who needs to ask me for forgiveness. Perhaps he will see me and then ask . . .”

Rav Hunah replied, “You are going to kill the butcher!”

Rav continued to the marketplace and went before the butcher. At that moment, the butcher was chopping the head of an animal and yelled, “Rav! Go away! I have nothing to say to you!” At that moment, a bone flew from the animal he was chopping and stabbed him in the throat, killing him.

Rav Blazer noted that had Rav not gone in front of the butcher, the butcher would not have died. Yes, he would have had this sin on his head, which in itself is terrible, but perhaps the judgment would not have been so severe. However, now that Rav was standing right in front of him, and he had this unique and easy opportunity to ask for forgiveness, which he threw to the floor . . . now the judgment is stricter.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are connected with the “Days of Repentance.” It is a time we focus on repentance and is a unique time where Hashem “puts Himself in front of us” and is “extra willing” to grant forgiveness for those who are sincere. If we use it wisely, we are gaining a great deal, and if we don’t, we stand to lose more.

My Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Asher Rubenstein, gave his “Four Easy Steps to Tshuvah” . . . it’s worth getting a hold of, if you can. In his talk, he explains that tshuvah is far easier than people think.

Basically, a person needs two plans to present to Hashem. A long-term plan (what type of person do I want to be near the end of my life) and a short-term plan (who do I want to be next year at this time). Of course, Hashem can say, “Plans are all nice . . . you had a few last year as well, no?”

At this point, you need to give a “down-payment.” What is this down payment? A small amount of real tshuvah, for right now. And what is this small amount of tshuvah? His example is as follows:

Suppose you have two boys in yeshivah who are sharing a dorm room. One of them brings in a whole stack of extremely inappropriate reading material, and the other boy happens to have an addiction to such material. Naturally, this boy starts going through the books, and finds a few books written by an author, whom even he cannot stand . . . but . . . it's still reading, so he reads even that.

What is a down payment for such a person?

To make it his goal not to take the books written by this particular author.

That’s it!

Yes, it’s best to refrain from all of those books, and it should be his goal; but for now, his down payment is not to read from the author he cannot stand.

What’s the logic behind this?

It’s simple.

There are two types of sins. One is a sin which is very hard for a person to overcome. Another is a sin which is very easy for him to overcome. The punishment for the easy-to-overcome sin is far greater than that of the hard-to-overcome sin. Why? Because Hashem understands that you had a hard time overcoming a certain temptation. Fine. It’s understandable. But not to overcome an easy temptation? That’s showing Hashem you don’t really care.

By taking the easy sin (which is worth more), and giving it as a down payment, you are showing Hashem that you really DO care, and that this is only a beginning.

May we use these next few days working hard on our down payments.
Friday, September 19, 2014 / 24 Elul 5774
Tearing Decrees
By: Michael Winner

As per tradition (at least here in Israel… don’t know about other places), when a boy starts learning in Cheder, he starts learning Chumash, not from the beginning at Bereishis, but rather from Vayikrah, which deals with offerings. So, last Shabbos Chaim came home with a cut out picture of a cow and was explaining to my wife how to properly slaughter the animal and what to do with it to bring it as an offering. There’s something very interesting about watching a child explain how to kill animals, in "matter-of-fact" way, while knowing perfectly well, that he has no mental issues.

Okay, on to Torah.

This week, Rav Zonnenfeld from Rechasim came to speak to the kollel. For those who recognize the name, it was his grandfather who was the Rav of Yerushalayim in the early 1900s. Naturally, he spoke about Rosh Hashanah with an additional twist.

As we know there are three major parts in the davening of Rosh Hashanah. Malchiyus (Kingship), Zichronos (Remembrance), and Shofros (The Shofar). He focused his talk on Malchiyus, since that is what the essence of Rosh Hashanah is: to “coronate” Hashem as the King.

He started with a parable (of course) about a king (of course) that came to visit one of his cities. On both sides of the streets, thousands of his subjects stood and cheered as he passed by, each crying, “Long live the king!” However, there was one person who took exception to this, and as he cried out “Long live the king!” he lifted up a rock and threw it at the king, which hit the king right in the head. The person was immediately grabbed by the king's guard and brought to the king's palace, where he was to be punished. As he came before the king for his punishment, the king asked him, “I have to know . . . why did you throw a rock at me? What did I do to you to warrant such a thing?”

The person answered, “Because I LOVE the king!”

Of course, the king was a bit baffled by this . . . “I’m sorry . . . what?”

“Because I love the king! While everybody just was saying ‘Long live the King’, I wanted to do something MORE . . . that’s why!”

The king then understood and told his guards to release the man. When questioned on his decision, the king responded, “It’s clear to me this person has mental problems . . . how can I punish somebody who can’t think straight?”

Throughout davening (all davening, not just Rosh Hashanah), people say Kaddish at certain points, and we respond, “Amen! Ye’hey shmei rabah . . .” (Amen. May His great Name be blessed forever and ever). The Mishnah Brurah explains that somebody who says this line with great concentration and belief (not just yelling it as some people mistakenly think), decrees against him will be nullified. And if he talks during Kaddish . . . well . . . it’s REALLY not good.

What’s the reason for this, asks Rav Zonnenfeld? Because whenever we do an aveirah, we are throwing a rock at Hashem, and we are written up for punishment. However, if we have proper motivation when we say “Ye’hey shmei rabah . . .” (or “Long live the King”), then Hashem sees that it’s true . . . we DO love Him, and we simply had a “mental breakdown” when we did that sin.

Rosh Hashanah is a day full of “Long live the King.” It is the essence of the day. When we go into Rosh Hashanah properly, Hashem looks at our past aveiros and "realizes" that they are not really the essence of who we are. With that "in mind," He will hopefully write us for a good new year.

Have a great Shabbos and a wonderful Rosh Hashanah!

Michael Winner
Friday, September 12, 2014 / 17 Elul 5774
Reward and Punishment
By: Michael Winner

Chaim started first grade this year. That being, he no longer goes to pre-school or kindergarten, but he is now in cheder (religious boys’ school). This moment has always scared me, since the religious education system is on a higher “academic” level, than those in America. And, since I never received any “academic” education in America, I expect to be overtaken by him, in another four years or so 

Thankfully, he seems to have an excellent Rebbe (chassidish… always the best for teaching positions), and a good group of boys in his class. He’s already started to learn Chumash, and is proud that he can (sort of) read Rashi. I hope this will be the beginning of a long and productive “learning career.”

Okay, on to Torah.

Many people mistakenly think that on Rosh Hashanah we a judged for the previous year and how we lived it. Based on that judgment, we are rewarded with a year of good life in the upcoming year if we deserve it, and if not, we go to the grave.

We know that many good people die every year and many evil people are successful in their endeavors. So, either there is something very corrupt with the system, or we simply don’t understand the judgment of Rosh Hashanah.

“Since you did not serve Hashem your G-d in joy and gladness of heart, in abundance of everything” (Devarim 28:47)

The Rambam explains on this pasuk, “This means to say that if you served Hashem in joy . . . He bestows upon you these blessings . . . to the point that you will be free to grow wise in Torah and involve yourselves in it, so that you will merit the life of the World to Come . . . But if you left Hashem . . . He brings upon you all these curses . . . and your mind will not be free, nor your body sound, to do the mitzvos, so that you will lose the life of the World to Come. Consequently, you will have lost two worlds” (Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 9:1)

We don’t ask for a good year for the sake of having a good year. We ask for a good year, so we will be free from negative things to serve Hashem properly. When we use the year to serve Hashem in joy, He, in turn, will grant you a year of blessing, so you can continue to grow. If you do not, Hashem will put things in your way that will make it more challenging to follow the Torah with joy. You will still be able to if you WANT to, however, it will be more difficult.

When we say, for example, in the Rosh Hashanah davening, “Who will be poor and who will be rich,” we are saying, “Who will have a harder time giving tzedakah and giving loans, and who will have an easier time giving tzedakah and loans."

On Rosh Hashanah, Hashem sees how we’ve used the past year to further ourselves in our growth. If He sees positive improvement, then He will continue to give us tools to grow. If not, He will simply not give us the tools. If we showed Him in the previous year that we were not interested in His help, then He won’t help in the upcoming year.

Says Rav Pincus, when we use the terms “Tzaddik” and “Rasha” (evil person) on Rosh Hashanah, we are not describing people who are trying to be good or trying to be evil. Rather, a tzaddik, somebody who was granted life, is a person who uses all of his energies to use the tools that Hashem has given him. A rasha, on the other hand, is somebody who was written in the “Book of Death” simply because he refused to take advantage of Hashem’s help, and he refuses to aspire to any greatness in this world or the next.

May we all merit to use the next two weeks wisely, to show that we DO wish to continue to receive help from Above.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, September 05, 2014 / 10 Elul 5774
What is a Bris?
By: Michael Winner

It’s all very exciting. Starting Rosh HaShanah, the Shmittah year begins (our second round through). Simply put: Every seven years, farmers in Eretz Yisroel are commanded to stop working the fields. Any produce that comes from those fields, has kedusha (holiness) to it, cannot be sold or traded, and must be treated as if you were treating a siddur. There are many laws concerning Shmittah that one needs to learn and understand, because for the next year and a half (Shmittah fruit is widely available after Shmittah ends), one's “eating life” will be turned upside down.

For Bnei Torah living in Yerushaliyim, Bnei Brak, or other major frum centers, produce is available throughout the year. One needs to note where it came from, such as outside of Eretz Yisroel (the food has no kedusha), if it’s from the previous year (no kedusha), if it’s from Otzer Beis Din (where a Jewish court takes over a field and distributes the food (at cost to deliver it, and which definitely has kedusha), if it’s Arab produce (big argument dating back several hundred years, some hold it does have kedusha, some say no . . . whatever you want to do . . . our family holds "yes"), or if it was grown, farmed, and traded against halacha by Jews on a Jewish-owned field, in which case could possibly make your kitchen not-kosher.

On top of that, any fruits or vegetables that have kedusha, or any food that has been cooked with such fruits and vegetables, must not be thrown in the garbage or on the floor, etc., until they lose that kedusha (i.e. they begin to spoil). Nor can it be sent outside of Eretz Yisroel (since it’s degrading the fruit). So, it’s a whole change in food lifestyle for the next 18 months or so.

This year will probably be more complicated, given that none of the stores have a reliable kashrus certificate concerning fruits and vegetables. I believe we’ll be able to buy fruits from them up until Purim time, but vegetables, not. From what I understand, the entire frum community will be able to order once a week their vegetable supply from outside sources. Unfortunately, this system is in place now (since they have much better prices), but the quality of the vegetables has what to be desired (hence, why buy from them if they are going to spoil in three days?).

Well . . . we’ll have to see. I’m looking forward to it!

In the Musaf prayer for Rosh Hashanah, we conclude with the blessing, “Baruch Attah Hashem, zocher habris.” We ask that Hashem should remember the bris (covenant) between Him and the Jewish nation, and that this remembrance should save us from judgment.

Rav Shimshon Pincus asks, “What is the meaning of bris?” And quotes the Sefer Yetzirah to answer:

“Stop your mouth from speaking and your heart from thinking. And if your mouth runs to speak, and your heart to think, return to Hashem. About this . . . a bris was established.”

The Vilna Gaon defines a bris as follows. If a person has a friend whom he loves very clearly, and he wishes never to part from this friend for eternity, he makes a covenant with him. How? He takes from himself the thing that is most precious to him, and gives it to his friend. In this way, he is guaranteed never to forget about this friend.

The Torah (Shemos 34:27) writes, “According to these words, I made you a bris.”

Hashem wished to strengthen the relationship with us, so he gave us something precious to Him – the Torah. By maintaining the Torah, we are maintaining and guarding something precious to Hashem and therefore maintaining this bris. How do we properly keep the Torah? “Stop your mouth from speaking and your heart from thinking . . .”

When we take our thoughts and speech, two things that are very precious to us, and we dedicate them to Hashem, we are giving over OUR precious objects for Hashem’s keeping.

May we merit to use this month before Rosh HaShanah properly!

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, August 29, 2014 / 3 Elul 5774
Whose war is this?
By: Michael Winner

My apologies for the past few weeks. We were officially on “vacation,” though I use that term lightly considering we spent it with the children. Thankfully, a good friend of ours in Yerushaliyim found somebody to rent our home for three days. During that time, plus more, we stayed by them and at another friend’s empty apartment in Yerushaliyim for five days, all for free. It’s pretty sad when you look at Yerushaliyim as the gashmiyus (physical pleasure) capital of your life. We felt like country bumpkins coming to the big city. My kids loved the idea of playing in the streets on Shabbos and seeing thousands of other frum Jews. I was simply happy walking around with my head up knowing that the chances of my seeing a partially-clothed, overweight, over-aged Russian woman was dramatically reduced.

We ended up taking the money from the rent and putting it directly into a car for two weeks. We took a lot of day trips, including Yokneam, Haifa, Nahariya, Rosh HaNikrah, Teveria, The Golan, The Banyas (where the Jordan river starts), etc. The car rides were fun when the kids were behaving. At one point, to bypass rush hour, we drove through an Arab village. I told the kids that if they don’t behave, I’ll drop them off and leave them with the “Aravim” (Arabs). Chaim piped up and said, “Hey Tova! Hit Rochel Leah right now!!” Smart kid.

All in all, I think everybody had fun . . . though I bit my tongue from reminding my wife that children were HER idea . . . I was happy buying a fish.

As my post-vacation gift, I hereby give forth some photos of the North:


Okay . . . on to Torah.

“When you approach the place of battle, the Cohen shall step forward and speak to the people. He shall say to them . . . G-d your L-rd is the One who is going with you. He will fight for you against your enemies and He will deliver you.” (Devarim 19:2-4)

My wife was listening to a speaker a few weeks ago, who was discussing the war. He raised an interesting point. If you were to ask somebody from Hamas who is running the war, chances are they would reply, “Allah is.” If you were to ask somebody from the government or the IDF who is running the war, chances are they would reply, “We are.”

My Rosh Yeshiva once noted that ever since the Yom Kippur war, the State of Israel has gotten smaller and smaller. We have literally lost land. We used to travel anywhere we wanted to, including Chevron (Hebron) and other places well over the green line. Then things got heavy and we couldn’t go without an army escort. Then land was transferred to the Arabs, whether within the West Bank or all of Gaza. Now, the south is full of ghost towns, with the remainder of the population living without any security or any feelings of security. Now, as I type, Al Qaeda has gained control of parts of the Syrian side of the Golan Heights up in the north, and northern residents have been warned to keep a low public profile. Slowly, but surely, Hashem is taking parts of Eretz Yisroel away from us.

During the Gulf War, we had the Patriot Missile System, which successfully knocked down several of Iraq’s SCUD missiles. In this war, we have the Iron Dome, which has performed remarkably. However, we constantly praise ourselves for creating or using such systems, and we look at them as our new god who is protecting us. Yet . . . as we see . . . it hasn’t.

There is one common factor we saw in this last “war.” Anti-Semitism increased dramatically around the world. Not just anti-Israel, but real, good ol’ fashioned anti-Semitism. On top of that, we saw that despite the clear, overwhelming evidence of Hamas’s war crimes and Israel’s constant attempts to keep to the rules of war (better than any other country), Israel took the battering, and was constantly pressured by “friends and allies” to make peace with an internationally recognized terrorist organization. It isn’t the Israeli government that is controlling its foreign affairs. It’s the rest of the world.

Over a hundred years ago Theodor Herzl had a dream to end anti-Semitism. It was to convert en masse to Christianity.

That idea didn’t pan out.

Later he decided that if we had our own country and army, then we would be like all the other nations of the world. We would finally be respected and we would be able to defend and govern ourselves at will.

A certain rav of mine, right before the war picked up, pointed out, “I believe today’s events have proved once and for all that Zionism is dead.”

It’s very clear that we are not respected by the world, nor do we have the ability to govern or defend ourselves. Even when the situation is so black and white, we must answer to the US, UN, and Europe, and we follow what they say. And if we don’t (or even if we do), anti-Semitism throughout the world increases.

Why? Because we never left Golus (exile). We might have physical control of parts of Eretz Yisroel, but we are not a free nation. We are still a nation that lives in exile, whether you live in Chicago, New York, London, Brussels, Sydney, or Jerusalem. We are under the yoke of Eisav, and there is nothing we can (physically) do about it.

Rav Dessler writes in Michtav M’Eliyahu (Vol. III p. 217):
In the days before the coming of Moshiach, "chutzpah, brazenness, will increase" (Sota 49b), then the exile of G-d's presence will be under those Chutzpadik Jews. These "Chutzpadik Jews" have the souls of the Erev Rav (those who cause trouble within the nation), which is the source of impurity and have the characteristics of Amalek. This is the language of the Zohar: "The Erev Rav is Amalek . . . the rulership of the holy people will be given over to the Erev Rav."

Explains the Vilna Gaon: "The Erev Rav will be the head of the nation in the last exile."

Continues Rav Dessler: "The rulership will try to influence the nation with its impurities and its heresy of “Through my strength, I did this . . .”

“This is the test the nation of Israel has been thrown into during these days. Hashem has returned the Jewish people in large numbers to Eretz Yisroel and has allowed them to govern themselves, and they have unloaded themselves from the yoke of Torah, they have claimed that it was through their hands that they have succeeded, their brazenness has increased, and they have taught things that are contrary to Torah . . . THIS IS THE LAST TEST OF THE EXILE, AND IT'S A VERY DIFFICULT TEST.”

Someone recently mentioned, “It’s interesting to note, the same government who’s been waging war against Hamas, has been waging a successful war against religious Jews in Israel for the past year.”

The government, naturally, sees no hand of Hashem in things. They “are in charge” and that is that. They disagree with the Torah’s teachings, so they try to cut it out from our lives as much as possible (and boy, are we feeling it here). However, it’s merely a test for us, and one that is becoming more blatantly obvious.

When we go to war, whether physically against another enemy, or spiritually against our Yetzer Horah, it will not be an Iron Dome to protect us, nor a Prime Minister, nor an IDF . . . rather, “G-d your L-rd is the One who is going with you. He will fight for you against your enemies and He will deliver you.”

By living with THAT in mind, you will help keep a safe Eretz Yisroel in Jewish hands.

Have a wonderful Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, August 01, 2014 / 5 Av 5774
The War During the Three Weeks
By: Michael Winner

We’re friendly with a divorced woman here whose son is currently serving in the Armored Corp in Gaza. He’s been there for two weeks now with little to no contact with his mother, for obvious security reasons. She told my wife that she does not watch the news, so as not to worry herself too much, and she cannot sleep, because she’s already too worried.

Just the other day, he was granted the day off, but because he’s all the way in the south and we’re all the way in the north, he had only a few hours to visit. Hearing that he was coming back, my kids all drew pictures and made cards for him and his friends in his unit. When my wife gave the cards to her to give to her son, she asked, “Do you know what they do with pictures and cards like these? They paste them on their tanks right before they go in!” So, as we speak, my kids’ cards are pasted on some tank in Gaza. If you happen to see a photo of a tank with cards cut in the shape of a teddy bear head… well… you know where it came from….

My wife asked for her sons name so we can daven for him, and she, who’s completely secular, replied, “You know, the davening is the most important thing you can do. That’s the best, most important thing in this war. Just keep davening!”

I received a talk from Rav Yaakov Leonard this morning. As usual, it was pretty powerful.

The Marsha writes that the 21 days between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av corresponds to the 21 days between Rosh Hashanah and Simchas Torah. Just as we can reach unbelievable heights from Rosh Hashanah to Simchas Torah, so too, can we reach unbelievable heights during the three weeks of mourning. Just like Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkos, and Simchas Torah have their own particular avodah (thing to work on), so too do the three weeks, culminating in Tisha B’Av, which is crying and feeling the pain of exile.

He quoted the Gemara (Moed Katon 25a) which states that when an “Adam Kasher” (a ben Torah, for example) dies, a person should cry over him, and all his (the person’s) sins will be forgiven. If a person fails to cry, then he and his children will die.

Rav Yisroel Salanter explains this Gemara as follows: When a person dies, we can look at it from a logical point of view, and say, “There is a G-d, this person has earned his Olam Habah (Next World), it’s all for the best…,” and that’s it. But, that’s not what Hashem wants from us. Yes, it’s true, he will have a great Olam Habah; yes, it’s true, that Hashem runs the world; and yes, it's true, that all is for the best. But we have an obligation to treat every “Adam Kasher” as if he were part of our own family and to be emotionally connected to what’s going on around us.

Rav Leonard continued to explain, that while many of the 61 soldiers killed were not religious, they died simply because they were Jewish. That, in and of itself, makes them worthy of Olam Habah, and gives them the title of “Adam Kasher.” More than sixty-one families have been sitting shiva throughout the country. Mothers, fathers, wives, sons, daughters… We have an obligation to feel it, to be connected, and to understand that 61 Jews were killed just for being Jewish.

Rav Leonard than told a story of what happened 12 years ago on the night of Tisha B’Av. He was in the hospital with his wife who was in labor. Things were not going well and at one point they rushed her into the operating room, leaving him outside. After a while, a nurse ran out crying, completely ignoring him. He ran up to her and asked her what happened. She looked at him with tears in her eyes and said, “Oh… right… I’m sorry… Baruch Hashem… your wife and child are fine… it was a miracle in there….”

“It’s funny,” he continued, “The same tears we cry when we’re sad are no different than the tears we cry when we’re happy.”

Those tears that we’ve cried over the past two thousand years, and that we continue to cry today, will be turned to tears of joy sometime soon, when the end comes.

End Rav Leonard. Begin Mr. Winner:

Is this “the” end? Who knows? But the coming of Moshiach is compared to the birth of a child. With every painful contraction, we get closer and closer to the end. To be able to live in such times, which everybody agrees is now, is an unbelievable thing. But in order for one to be part of it, he has to BE PART OF IT. He cannot sit by idly, and think, “Okay, it’s all in Hashem’s hands.” He needs to be emotionally connected to what is happening, to understand that Hamas, the UN, Europe, Obama, etc… are NOT the root cause of our problems… but are tools of Hashem to prod us to move to the right direction.

The number of open miracles that have taken place here, confirmed stories of the strange behavior of the missiles and rockets, the stories coming back from Gaza of what soldiers have experienced… The amount of chesed being done… You have no idea. When was the last war Americans had to face on their own ground with an 85% approval rating? I believe never. Not even the Revolutionary War. Yet here, in a traditionally … argumentative… society, people are going to the war zones to help soldiers and civilians alike. Many yeshivos have out-right cancelled or changed the traditional post-Tisha B’Av break in order to continue to learn on behalf of all who are in danger. In fact, just last week, in the biggest building of Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem, the Rosh Yeshivah gave a bang, and told all 5000 people learning to close their Gemaras, and to start tying tzitzis, because there has been such a high demand from soldiers (both religious and secular), that the army doesn’t have enough.

You have no idea.

Every time Hashem sends us these tragic events, we have two options: 1) sit back and be disconnected, or 2) be part of it via teshuvah, chesed, Torah, davening, tears… and be part of Moshiach’s arrival.

For each contraction we’ve endured, we might not have seen some en masse movement of teshuvah, but we have seen bits and pieces here and there. And slowly, but surely, those pieces add up.

Rav Leonard finished off the talk with a story he heard from Rebbetzin Mizrachi, a big speaker for women here in Eretz Yisroel. When the three boys were kidnapped, she went to visit the families of each one. When she came to the home of the Yifrachs, the family asked her to speak to Mrs. Yifrach who had been sitting by the door the whole time, not willing even to go to bed. When Rebbetzin Mizrachi approached Mrs. Yifrach and asked her why she’s sitting there, Mrs. Yifrach replied, “I’m waiting for my son…”

A few days later, when the terrible news was revealed, Rebbetzin Mizrachi returned to the home of the Yifrachs to make a shiva call. And lo and behold, Mrs. Yifrach was sitting at the door, not willing to budge. Again, Rebbetzin Mizrachi asked why she’s sitting by the door, and Mrs. Yifrach answered, “I’m waiting for Moshiach…”

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