Weekly Dvar Torah
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Friday, January 23, 2015 / 3 Shvat 5775
Living WITH Hashem
By: Michael Winner

There are some things that you really expect to have left behind in America, but somehow make strange appearances.

My son lost his first tooth this week. So, the next morning at cheder, he told his rebbe what happened. As Chaim put it, “He told me that I should put the tooth under a pillow, open the window at night, and then . . . either an akbar (a mouse) or Eliyahu HaNavi . . . I forgot which one . . . comes and leaves a present. I really don’t understand. If it’s Eliyahu HaNavi, he’s dead, right? And if it was an akbar, why would he leave a present?”

What makes this even weirder, besides getting Eliyahu HaNavi and an akbar mixed up, is this comes from a CHASSIDISH rebbe.

Well, it served as good entertainment.

“Come to Pharaoh, for I have made his heart and the heart of his servants stubborn so that I can put these signs of Mine in his midst; and so that you may relate in the ears of your son and your son’s son that I made a mockery of Egypt . . . .” (Shemos 10:1)

Last Friday was the first yahrtzeit of my Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Asher Rubenstein. The funeral was the night after his passing which happens to also be my wedding anniversary. It was quite surreal last year, to be standing in the room with his body wrapped in his tallis prior to his burial, knowing that exactly nine years earlier, he was standing under the chuppah with my wife and me.

It’s still a loss that many of his students are still trying to get over. A few have started an alumni newsletter. The first one was put out last week and most of the 36 pages were small stories and bits from different students of his. There was one particular line that caught my attention and still remains with me. One of the yeshiva’s students, not entirely known for seeing eye-to-eye with the Rosh Yeshivah wrote:

“I recognized Rav Asher's laughter. It was the laughter of an inside joke. He saw the world for what it was. Rav Asher knew he was never alone, Hashem was his constant, and never wavering companion, Who shared the world with Rav Asher.”

A very powerful statement that hit the spot.

This week’s parsha begins with Hashem’s telling Moshe the point of all the strikes against Egypt: “. . . so that you may relate in the ears of your son and your son’s son that I made a mockery of Egypt . . . .”

The point of everything that happened was that we should constantly tell over the story of Egypt in detail to our sons and that they should tell it to their sons.

This serves two points.

The first is one of the basic proofs of the Torah. Rav Avigdor Miller once spent time studying comparative religions. The only group of people that have made a claim that some big miracle happened in front of an entire nation are the Jews. The other religions of the world are based on a “miracle” or a “prophecy” that was witnessed by one or two people. Only the Torah makes the claim that the entire nation witnessed the miracles of Egypt and the giving of the Torah. One could not write the Torah and say, “Okay, guys . . . this is what happened, don’t you remember?” Nor can one write the Torah and say, “This is what happened to your fathers and their fathers. You don’t believe me? Ask your father!” These miracles that affected the nation serve as proof of the Torah’s authenticity.

That’s the first reason.

The second is something that Rav Asher lived to the maximum. He would say that in order to strengthen one’s emunah (faith) in Hashem, one must constantly talk about the good that He has done for us; both as a nation and on an individual level. By speaking out the good that He has done, one’s emunah grows. Not only that, but also the emunah of our children. He related that he has known people, talmidei chachamim, whose children stopped being religious. Why? He said that they never SPOKE words of emunah to their children, never spoke about Hashem.

I was discussing with a good friend of mine the definition of a “Ben Torah.” I’m pretty sure I have it nailed down as somebody who is constantly working on his Torah growth and is living with Hashem. The first part of the definition can be quite easy, compared to the second.

I once asked my rav, why is it that you have some people who can sit and learn all day and really know their learning well, real talmidei chachamim. Yet, every day they walk into davening late, zip through, and are the first ones out the door. Yet, on the other hand, you have others who have a head of wood, work hard to sit and learn, don’t remember anything, and yet all this time, work on their davening?

He answered that Hashem gives different gifts to different people. Some people get the gift that they have the ability to learn Torah well. Others have the gift that they want to grow close to Hashem. They are not necessarily connected, and one is either born with it, or has it given to him in his lifetime. Therefore, yes, you can have a person who learns well, but has no real interest in growth with Hashem in their lives.

Hence, a real Ben Torah, is a person who lives (or is trying to live) his life WITH Hashem’s being an active participant in his life. He is there wherever you are, and all the time.

How does one live with Hashem? By constantly speaking with Him and about Him. When you make Him your constant companion in life, He is always there for you, and you really begin to feel that there is this “inside joke” that you understand, but the world at large does not.

The morning after I read the above quote, I went to my usual minyan, and started at my usual time. I generally go and start a bit earlier than the rest so I can daven at a more proper speed. Thirteen minutes after the minyan starts, a well-learned individual (who once admitted to me that davening “isn’t really so important”) runs in, throws on his tallis and tefillin, and quickly rambles his way through davening. I have to admit, at that point, I felt a bit of the inside joke that I understood on my own level, that he was unwilling to acknowledge: Hashem is part of our day-to-day life.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, January 16, 2015 / 25 Teves 5775
Consideration for others
By: Michael Winner


This email list is now sixteen years old.

Very strange.

“Pharaoh called to Moshe and Aharon and said, ‘Go and bring sacrifices to your G-d in the land’. Moshe said, ‘It is not proper to do so, for we will offer the god of Egypt to Hashem our G-d – for if we were to slaughter the god of Egypt in front of their eyes, will they not stone us?’” (Shemos 8:21-22)

It’s nice when you have a question that’s been bothering you for a while and you finally find an answer.

Egypt just took a few beatings and is on the verge of collapse. Pharaoh is giving up a little, and is allowing the Jews to make sacrifices to Hashem, but only in Egypt. Moshe replies, “Sorry, but if we do that, than the Egyptians are going to kill us for sacrificing sheep, which are their gods.”

So, the blaring question is: what is there to worry about? They were just hit with four plagues! Are they in any position to kill Jews? On top of that, don’t we have Hashem to protect us? He’s been doing a fairly good job of that up until now!

Rav Avrohom Pam cites the Chasam Sofer who asks this question and provides an answer.

“Moshe meant to say that when the Egyptians would see the Jews slaughtering their deity, they would become so infuriated that they would WANT to stone them. Since they had already been humbled by the four plagues, they would be powerless to harm the Jews. This would make their frustration that much greater, and it would not be proper for the Jews to do this if they had another alternative, such as bringing the sacrifices outside the city limits.

“This is what Moshe meant when he said it is not proper conduct on our part to act in a manner that will cause unwarranted psychological pain to the Egyptians. True, they deserved more punishments for their subjugation, but this type of torture was unnecessary.”

Rav Pam learns from here a very applicable lesson.

Sometimes a person will take on an extra stringency in halachah, and will practically go out of his way to flaunt it to show that he doesn’t care what people think.
The Mesillas Yesharim writes about it and said that if something is required by halachah, thn a person cannot hold back just because others will scoff at him. However, when the action isn’t an absolute requirement, but rather a praiseworthy thing to do, then it is a bit more complicated.

Obviously, in such cases, a rav should be consulted.

What we learn from here is the importance of taking other people’s feelings into consideration. Sometimes, we need to ignore those feelings and sometimes we need to bow to them. However, we see that even the Egyptians’ feelings were to be taken into consideration, all the more so, other peoples’ should be as well.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, January 09, 2015 / 18 Teves 5775
Walking Animals
By: Michael Winner

I have become more and more of a proponent of polygamy.

My mother-in-law has come for her once-a-year visit. Unfortunately, it lasts only a week. However, one of the upsides is that she becomes a husband to my wife and a father to my children. I no longer exist in the house.

What a great thing!

Not only that, but since she’s an extra hand with the kids or with cooking, my wife’s productivity has increased tremendously. Usually, for dinner, my wife gives me two choices, “Fridge Grime” or “Knuckle Sandwiches.” Every night this week I’ve received a hot meal! Unbelievable! And since Moshiach . . . I mean, Safta, is here, the children are BEHAVING! And it’s not just because it’s my mother-in-law.

A couple of months ago, my wife’s friend needed a day off since her husband had to go to the States for three weeks, leaving her with four children. She came here for only 20 hours, and even during that time, I had a hot meal, didn’t have to sit with everybody (since I didn’t exist), didn’t do bedtime, and the children behaved wonderfully.

I’m telling you, two “wives” can really enhance a person’s lifestyle . . . Of course, only if you keep the credit cards out of their hands . . .

Okay . . . on to Torah!

“Every son that is born you shall cast him into the Nile” (1:22)

At first, the Egyptians threw only threw only the Jewish boys into the Nile, but afterwards they obligated even the Egyptians to throw their sons into the Nile as well. This was caused by the fear that perhaps even an Egyptian male will bring the Jews out of Egypt, as Pharaoh was told by his astronomers.

It’s a rather difficult thing to imagine that an entire nation would actually obey such a directive. However, we still have eye-witnesses alive who can remember Germany doing the exact same thing seventy years ago.

Rav Shach explains that this mentality stems from a worldview that animals and humans are no different from each other. To hunt an animal or to hunt a human being . . . it’s all the same, since humans are mere animals after all!

When we forget the basic value of human life, that we were created in Hashem’s image, that we ARE the raison d’etre of the creation of this world, then we can descend into the lowest depths.

Our society, in many ways, has also reached such a stage, where human life has little meaning. Somebody once told me that when a new video game, known for its violence, came out, there was a long line of people waiting to buy it at a certain store. Out of nowhere, a person came, dressed as one of the characters, and stabbed to death one of the people in line. What was the reaction? Everybody clapped and cheered, thinking that this was all part of the act.

Just this week, in separate incidences, my wife and I were nearly hit by cars while crossing the street. In my case, I was on a one-way street with no crosswalk, and I had to cross my son and his friend. So, I went into the middle of the street and started waving the kids across. A car came down the road, gave a quick “honk” and, without slowing down a bit, continued driving toward me. Thankfully, I jumped out of the way on time. He didn’t even bother looking at me . . . just kept driving. My wife had a similar incident the next day when she was in a crosswalk with our daughter. A woman barely missed them, since she wanted to drive around them. And I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen people driving around with their children jumping in the car without seatbelts.

The list can go on.

The point is, when society believes that we are merely walking animals, and that our main point in life is to lead such a life, one must be extra careful and not be surprised by such attitudes. Most importantly though, is to make sure that this belief does not seep into our own world. And in today’s world of technology where we deal more with screens than with people, we must be extra vigilant to remember that other people are also created in G-d’s image.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, January 02, 2015 / 11 Teves 5775
Everything Has a Place
By: Michael Winner

Most big supermarkets in Israel have delivery services, since not everybody has a car. There is one particular place my wife goes to for bigger shopping "sprees" that has one delivery guy. He happens to be a religious Arab. Nice guy actually. He has a high-school degree and is very appreciative of Israel. After coming back from Egypt visiting family, he told us, “People don’t know how good they have it here.”

Anyways, he sometimes comes with an “assistant,” a Jewish man named Moshe. Now, Moshe isn’t exactly 100% there (hence he’s only an ASSISTANT deliveryman), and he was hired as a chesed toward him.

We recently had a delivery, and when they walked in, the Arab turns to my wife and says, “Did you know that Moshe’s name isn’t really Moshe? It’s really Omri! Are you allowed to just change your name like that?” Moshe/Omri then whispers to him, “You can’t ask her, she’s religious!” to which he responds in a loud voice, “And that’s WHY I’m asking her, because religious people know these things! You can’t just do whatever you want like change your name! You have to first ask a rav to see if you can! And until you get permission, I’m going to call you Omri and not Moshe, since Omri is your real name! So, Mrs. Winner, are you allowed to change your name?”

My wife responded that she really didn’t know, but she would ask me when I come home to see if I knew. To that, the Arab responded with a big smile, “You see Omri! What a good wife she is! If she doesn’t know that answer, she asks her husband!”

Here we have an an Arab teaching an important lesson, “You can’t just do whatever you want until you ask a rav!”

Only in Israel.

“I will divide them among the rest of Yaakov and I will spread them among Yisroel” (Bereishis 49:7)

Shortly before his death, Yaakov gave each of his sons a personal brocha. Concerning Shimon and Levi, he gave them a harsh rebuke for the violence they did against Shechem after the incident with Dina. In the brocha, he promises that Shimon and Levi will be spread throughout Israel, not having their own place. On the face, it doesn’t seem to be much of a brocha, but rather a curse.

The Chasam Sofer explains that really, it IS a brocha. True, Shimon and Levi overreacted with violence, however they did it with honorable intentions. The other brothers, on the other hand didn’t do a thing, which was also incorrect. Therefore, Yaakov was saying, “I’ll take away some of the anger of Shimon and Levi and spread it among the other brothers for they need more than they have now. Then they will all have this trait in a proper amount.”

Every human middah (virtue) has a place in our lives. Even anger. But each virtue needs to be used in its proper time and in proper amounts.

This reminded me of an incident that once took place. I happen to know of a person who has a terrible driving record. Not only does it include several driving violations, but he was involved with one accident that put a biker in the hospital and a separate accident sent a pedestrian straight to the morgue. Why is this person still allowed in a car? Ask the State that charged him and sentenced him . . . I can’t imagine why, personally.

Either way, I once heard that Person A. was going to be getting a several-hour ride with Mr. Driver. Knowing the information that I knew, I asked a rav if I could, or was obligated, to speak to Person A. The rav told me that I was obligated. Being that I didn’t know Person A. so well, I asked Person B., who knows of Mr. Driver’s record and is friendly with him, to speak to Person A., since they were both friends. Person B. is very much into being friends and being friendly with everybody, and therefore he made it clear he did not want to say such "not nice things" about Mr. Driver. In the end, I pulled over Person A. and spoke to him. He was very thankful for the information, and found another driver.

Now, let’s say I didn’t speak to Person A, and G-d forbid, something had happened to him. Forget how Person B. might feel, but think about what he would have been held accountable for after 120 years? He knew, and purposely withheld, information that could have saved a life! All because he wants to be and remain friends with everybody!

Every middah has its place and its use. Sometimes, when we think we are doing the “nice” thing, we can be doing the wrong thing, and it could result in disaster.

When we are in doubt or have questions about when to use our different middos, we have rabbeim and rebbetzins to go to. Often it’s a matter of halacha (such as in the case above), and often it’s a matter of asking somebody who himself has mastered (or come close to) his own middos to help you use yours properly.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, December 26, 2014 / 4 Teves 5775
Building the Roots of a Community
By: Michael Winner

Many people have emailed me asking, “Michael, it’s clear that you have such a perfect marriage. How can I be sure that my marriage is on the right track?”

Well . . . technically, I’ve never received such emails, HOWEVER, I’m sure that many of you are thinking that question right now (mainly because I just put it in your heads).

Let me relate to you one of the sure signs that you have a good marriage: When, for a gift, your wife buys a special maker used to draw on coffee mugs, and makes a mug that says, “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoyah . . . You drank my coffee. Prepare to die.”

For those of you who get it, you’re probably laughing really hard, and quite possibly jealous of my marriage. For those of you who didn’t . . . well, you’re either too old, too young, or simply not civilized enough to have seen some of the classics when you were younger.

Okay, on to Torah!

This week, I was looking at a sefer on the parsha and, lo and behold, the name of the subject was the Rav of our city, and certainly since I had heard the Rav say over the story, I couldn’t pass it over.

“And he sent Yehudah ahead of him . . . to show the way before him.” (Bereishis 46:28)

After learning that Yosef was still alive, Yaakov sent Yehudah ahead of everybody to Egypt to prepare for their arrival. The Fifsei Chachamim notes that the word “to show,” l’horos, is missing the letter vav, leaving the rest of the letters in the word to be: heh, vav, reish, and tav, which also can spell “Torah.” From these, the Gemara learns that Yehudah was sent ahead to Egypt to prepare their yeshivah before they arrived.

Rav Schach would say that it was this yeshivah that was the anchor of the Jewish world which helped keep the Jews “Jewish” in Egypt.

Once, the Rav of our city went to Rav Schach to ask him if, as rav of a city, it was his responsibility to establish a yeshivah there. Perhaps it was more important that he concentrate his rabbinical obligations on things such as kashrus, marriage, outreach, etc.

Rav Schach said that making sure that there was a yeshivah IS part of a rav’s responsibility to his city. When a yeshivah is established and people see how their students conduct themselves, then that, in and of itself, is part of outreach.

This reminds me of a story somebody told me not long ago. To the right of the local cheder (boys elementary school) is a school for the non-religious. One of the cheder teachers was walking past that school and saw a technician installing security cameras. He started speaking to the technician and learned that all of the schools in the city (or country, I forgot this detail) are having security cameras installed because of the growing violence and drug problems. This amounts to millions of shekels being spent. When the rebbe from the cheder asked if that includes the cheder and yeshivah, the technician laughed and replied, “Of course not! You guys don’t have these issues!”

Anyhow, back to the main point of the dvar Torah.

Any community that wants to build itself on the foundations of Torah always needs to begin with a yeshivah or kollel as its base. When the yeshivah is the root of the community, then that means Torah is the root of the community. When something else is the root of the community, the community will be destined to die out.

With that, I leave you with a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Monday, December 22, 2014 / 30 Kislev 5775
By: Michael Winner

Somebody from American asked my wife what my son would want for a Chanukah gift. She told her, “a mechanical pencil”. Her friend replied, “That’s it?? He is sooooo Israeli”

Rav Shimshon Pincus describes the year as follows: Pesach is the birth of the Jewish nation. Everything needs to be cleaned and sanitized to perfection. Even an iota of chametz can be dangerous to our souls. We then grow up a little and reach our Bar Mitzvah on Shavous, where we accept the yoke of Torah. Further down in Elul, we become engaged. With the wedding scheduled for Shmini Atzeres/Simchas Torah, we use Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for tshuvah and getting ourselves ready to start our new lives with a clean slate.

Loyalty between a man and a woman doesn’t really apply at the wedding. There is no need for it there. Why not? Because, when a man and a woman are standing under the chuppah, there is only one woman in the man’s eyes and there is only one man in the woman’s eyes. There is nothing else besides them. Hence, loyalty has no place.

This feeling continues throughout the first few weeks or (if they’re lucky) months, until, suddenly… something happens. This could (and mostly is) be something stupid the husband says to his wife or it could be something stupid the wife says to the husband (such as, ‘Does this look fat on me?’). It could be somebody’s parents get involved in something. It could be money. It could be bad cooking. Either way, the result is the same… a fight between them.

During this time, their marriage is at its darkest. He can’t be around her and she can’t be around him. At this point, loyalty kicks in.

In reality (I assume) most ‘extra-marital relationships’ occur as a result of friction between husband and wife. At that point, the husband begins looking at other things, and the wife begins looking at other things (though, it’s usually the husband). If loyalty doesn’t kick in here, then the husband will continue on a not-so-nice path…

This is Chanukah. It’s in the midst of the dark winter. It’s not surrounded by holidays. It’s far away from the affects of Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur/Sukkos.

When a person starts feeling a spiritual ‘decay’, when his learning doesn’t taste the same, when his davening doesn’t feel the same, when it’s harder to keep a spiritual high, you have two choices: Loyalty or Looking Elsewhere for a ‘pick-me-up’.

What was Greek culture? It involved greatness. Whether scientific, political, sociological, etc… most of Western Society is based off of it, and has benefitted from it. However, it was “the other woman” in the eyes of the Torah, and that was the inherent danger.

During the time of Chanukah, many Jews went looking elsewhere. The assimilation rate was high, and those who were loyal to Torah were turned upon. It was a very dark period for the Jewish people. But it was a small group of Jews who, despite everything, remained loyal to Torah. It is exactly that loyalty that resulted in the Jewish people being here today, and it is that loyalty that we commemorate by lighting the menorah.

When things are dark and hard for us, spiritually-speaking, Rav Pincus says, “GO TO SLEEP! Don’t do anything! Don’t open a newspaper, don’t turn on the television, DON’T LOOK AROUND! JUST GO TO SLEEP!”

THAT is loyalty.

Despite everything coming down on you. Despite the staleness in your spiritual life. Don’t look else ware. If you sit in a room and do nothing but sleep, you are not going to lead your life astray. And that ‘nothingness’ translates to loyalty to Hashem. And slowly but surely, the spring will come, and you will crawl out of your spiritual slumber. Perhaps you didn’t jump ahead during the winter, but at least you stayed where you were.

THAT is loyalty, and that is what one of the lessons of Chanukah is all about.

Have a great and meaningful Chanukah!
Friday, December 12, 2014 / 20 Kislev 5775
Keep on Advancing
By: Michael Winner

I had an interesting morning yesterday.

As I was walking to shul, a lady came running up to me yelling, “The shul’s on fire!” I asked her to repeat herself, just to make sure I heard correctly. Thankfully, another person was also going to shul and was right behind me. So, he called the fire department and together we ran towards the shul. As usual, we were the first people to arrive (we like the concept of "early") and saw that the entrance room to the shul was filled with smoke and fire. Since it was past the stage of "raging fire" and it was threatening to crawl up another bookshelf, he and I got to work quickly, taking buckets of water and dousing the bookshelf (with siddurim and chumashim) and the source of the fire itself. I checked the main beis medrash, which was empty of people and fire, but was thick with smoke, and we were able to put out the fire in time for the fire department to come to "save the day."

I came home after davening (in a different location, obviously) smelling of smoke, with a chest-full of smoke, and black hands and face. I changed, ate, and went back to the temporary beis medrash set up in the basement.

In the end, they believe there was an issue with the electricity that started it. I received several “Ah! The hero of the shul!”s from people, for not doing anything so heroic (so, I told them that I found an old lady and her cat on the shul floor and after ripping off my shirt, I carried them to safety). Thankfully, the fire damage was limited to the complete destruction of the front room, but the main shul smells like smoke, and all the books that were in the other room took smoke damage (that’s a couple thousand books). B”H, nobody was hurt and the shul is still standing. The big winner, though? My son. He got to go to cheder and tell all his friends about how Abba ran into a room full of fire and smoke and put it out and got to speak to the police and got to speak to the firemen, and blah, blah, blah . . .

Okay, on to Torah!

“Yaakov settled in the land of his father’s sojourning, in the land of Canaan . . . .”

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 106a) writes, “Rebbe Yochanan says, ‘Wherever it says ‘Vayeishev’ (he sat, he settled), it’s only a language of upcoming troubles, as it says, ‘And Israel settled in Shittim and the nation began to do immoral things with the daughters of Moav’, and ‘Yaakov settled in the land . . .’ which turned to the sale of Yosef, etc.”

The lesson here is quite simple. Our goal isn’t to “settle down” and be comfortable with life. We are to be on the constant move, constantly growing and pushing ourselves. I saw recently in one of Rav Pincus’s sfarim that Hashem sends us "incidences" in our lives in order to prod us to daven to him and to grow. However, one can "take away Hashem’s excuse" to send us lessons, by constantly being "on the move." When we are causing our own "growing pains," we are constantly keeping ourselves close to Hashem, and Hashem has little to no reason to send us reminders that He is around.

I’m sure I’ve brought this up before, but I’m a firm believer that General George Patton’s speech to the Third Army is probably one of the best American speeches out there. However, it’s extremely . . . colorful . . . and well . . . shouldn’t be read in front of company. However, his points are very applicable to life in general. One particular line of his always stands out in my mind:

“I don't want any messages saying 'I'm holding my position.' We're not holding a thing. We're advancing constantly and we're not interested in holding anything except the enemy! . . . Our plan of operation is to advance and keep on advancing.”

Personally, I think this makes a great life motto.

Keep on moving, keep on advancing. That is our job in life. Any laziness or desire to simply relax and take it easy, will only invite trials and tribulations.

With that, I wish you all a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner

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