Weekly Dvar Torah
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Friday, May 22, 2015 / 4 Sivan 5775
Cheese vs. Learning
By: Michael Winner

I don’t know if this craze is in the U.S. or not, but over here, tattoos seem to be the "in" thing. It seems that everybody is getting them. Just this week, I saw a very overweight man in his later thirties (clearly a computer programmer), with one leg covered with tattoos and an arm with a name tattooed across.

Personally, I think tattoos are one of the most shortsighted things a person can do because, like it or not, you’re going to get old and fat, and that tattoo is not going to look so good.

I can understand a Marine Recon sniper getting one. When he’s old and gray, his grandson will ask him why he has a skull on his arm, and he can proudly tell over how he used to kill bad guys for a living; to which his grandson will think he’s great. But this computer guy? What’s he going to say? “Well . . . I used to play Marine Recon Sniper on my computer against other people on their computers . . .” It just doesn’t come out the same.

Okay, on to Torah!

The Gemara discusses our obligations during Shabbos and the different holidays. For all of these days, there is an argument if they should be spent “fully for Hashem” or “fully for ourselves.” “Fully for Hashem,” meaning that we should spend our entire day in learning and davening, or “fully for ourselves,” meaning that we should spend our entire day having festive meals. For each of these days, they conclude it should be “half and half,” and for each of these days, the Gemara brings separate proofs for this conclusion.

There is one exception to this: Shavuos. Concerning Shavuos, there is no side to argue “fully for Hashem.” In fact, Shavuos is a bit strange. As we know, there is a custom to stay up all night learning Torah. But this is a CUSTOM. The halacha is that we should make festive meals. That means making a nice cheesecake for Shavuos is bigger than learning Torah all night.

Interesting, no?

Shavuos is the “Rosh HaShanah” for our Torah learning. After all, it is the day we receive the Torah. Our year's worth of learning is dependent a lot on Shavuos. So why does it seem that cheesecake is more important than staying up all night learning?

It’s known that if you walk up to any Star Trek fan, they can name, quote, and describe everything from any episode or movie without a problem. A person, who, G-d forbid, is suffering from a disease will know everything about that disease and all possible treatments, without having to review it. Baseball fans can rattle of stats . . . there’s no end.

Why is this? Because for each of these people, that “something” is very important and dear to them. And when something is important, you don’t need to review it so many times before it’s etched in your memory.

Torah is no different in this regard. If it’s something that’s important to us and something that we dedicate our lives to, then it will seep in and become part of us. However, if it’s a mere obligation for us to do every day so we can move on to “more important (and fun) things,” then it won’t leave it’s mark.

On Shavuos, when we re-accept the Torah, it’s very important to do so with simcha. Meat and wine help bring a person to that Simcha. Shavuos is the time of accepting for the future. So by accepting it with happiness, we will more likely have greater success in the long run to acquire it.

I wish you all a wonderful Shabbos and a Shavuos filled with Simcha!

Michael Winner
Friday, May 15, 2015 / 26 Iyar 5775
Producers and Parasites
By: Michael Winner

Somebody in the community lost A LOT of money with an investor that he’s used over the years, who decided to do something not so kosher. This resulted in 70 million shekels lost, and the man fled the country. This person now is in heavy debt.

He and his wife went to a rav to speak about the situation. The rav told him that in Poland when robbers wanted to rob a store, they would hand a few rubles to a teenager and have him steal something from the store and run out. When the storekeeper ran out to catch the youth, the robbers would come in and take everything.

He said that sometimes we get hit with teenagers stealing things from us, but it’s important to not lose control and let the important things slip away from us, such as our families, our health, our learning. Don’t lose everything else that is dear to you because of money, and make sure those always remain your priority.

This person admitted that before he never had a rav to go to, and he realized that he needed one all along. Now that he has someone to go to with big shoulders, he feels a lot lighter.

Okay, on to Torah!

“If you will go in My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them; then I will provide your rains in their time, and the land will give its produce and the tree of the field will give its fruit…” (Vayikra 26:3-4)

Rashi translates “if you will go in My statutes” to mean “that you should labor (amul) in Torah”

When the Torah states “amul,” it doesn’t mean simply opening up a book and learning, but rather to learn with intensity and focus. Everybody of course should learn what they can on their own level. We see from here that this “amul,” this labor, is the source of brachah in the world, and when people not only increase the quantity, but more importantly the QUALITY of their learning, more brachah is brought down.

When my Rosh Yeshiva first came to learn in Ponevech Yeshivah in Bnei Brak in 1959, he was seventeen years old. One day he received a letter from his mother telling him that a friend of hers would like to meet with him. So he arranged a time and met this 70-year-old friend of his mother's. She said to him, “So . . . during your daily break . . . do you go to the kibbutzim to help pick oranges?”

A bit taken by surprise, he answered truthfully, “I’m sorry, but there are no kibbutzim around Bnei Brak, so no, I don’t.”

“And what about during your break for Pesach? What do you do then? I assume you help then, no?”

“Honestly, no. I usually sit and review everything I learned over the past few months.”


He joked, “Back then, believe it or not, I was quite shy, and didn’t know what to answer her. However, now I would love to answer her: I agree with you, there are producers and takers. I also agree with you, parasites are a terrible thing. However, I don’t agree with you on who is what.

“The only reason there are oranges on the kibbutzim to be picked are because of those learning in Torah. The only reason there is rain is because of those learning in Torah!”

He also related a story of how he was once in Chevron Yeshivah shortly before the 1967 war. He saw two yeshivah students go to Rav Meir Chodosh and ask him if they should leave the yeshivah to volunteer to be ambulance drivers. Rav Chodosh, who normally spoke very softly and very slowly, roared, “If you close your gemaras to drive ambulances, they will need even MORE ambulances to carry the extra wounded that you are responsible for with your learning!”

This is the power of Torah.

And what type of Torah brings these brachos? In-depth learning.

When ArtScroll first came out with their translations of the Talmud, Rav Shach was very much against it. He wanted to put the whole thing in cherem (excommunication). It took Rav Gifter from America to speak to him and convince him that it was needed. Rav Shach backed down, but his opinion did not change. Of course he knew that through ArtScroll, tens of thousands of more hours of learning Gemara would be brought into this world. People who didn’t have a yeshivah background could finally sit and learn Gemara at a simple level. People working full time would be able to find it easier to learn. There is no question of the benefit that ArtScroll would bring. But at what cost? How many people who could be learning in-depth will take the "easy way out" and simply pick up an ArtScroll? True, he argued, quantity will increase, but what will happen with QUALITY?

Every person, when he takes time to sit and learn properly, without interruption and with proper focus, is responsible for the basic brachos in life. When a person, whether sitting in kollel or working during the day, uses his learning time properly, he is a producer in this world. If he is not . . . he’s simply a parasite.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, May 08, 2015 / 19 Iyar 5775
Taking Care of Your Children
By: Michael Winner

Last Shabbos, my wife and I "stacked" the cards in our weekly Uno game. We made sure that Chaim and Rochel Leah (in separate rounds) got only the really good cards. Rochel Leah, when seeing her cards, was smiling but kept her excitement in. Chaim on the other hand, started jumping up and down and yelling about out imminent downfall. I decided at that moment, for his sake, I won’t be teaching him poker.

Okay, on to Torah!

“Say to the Kohanim . . . and tell them” (Vayikra 21:1)

Rashi quotes the Gemara (Yevamos 114a) that states the reason the Torah uses “say” and “tell,” instead of using the verb just once, is to “say” to the Kohanim, and to “tell them,” being to “warn” their children.

Adults are able to comprehend things that they see, due to their (hopefully) mature level. Children on the other hand, need to be warned of possible dangers, since they lack the maturity and experience to be able to “see ahead.”

Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein wrote a frightening story which he personally witnessed. I cannot say it over better than he, so excuse the lack of my personal wording.

“At 7p.m., in Bnei Brak, a group of boys were gathered at one of the park benches, some with their bags from school (being that they have not even been home yet) . . .

“The minutes tick by, until the clock reads 7:30. None of the boys is even thinking of going home. This is a winter night, and it had been dark for quite some time already. Why are these children still outside? Do they not have a home? Of course they have a home. But their parents don’t really pay attention to the fact that their sons have long finished learning in cheder and should have been home for some time already . . . . On this particular evening, one of the neighbors was learning with his son in his apartment, and without warning, the family hears a loud noise from the kitchen. A rock has hit the kitchen window, shattering it and almost breaking the window frame . . . . When the father goes downstairs, he is shocked to discover who this boy is. He is a child of an excellent family, definitely not the type of family that would condone this type of behavior. It IS an excellent family, except when it comes to education.

“The person whose apartment was hit by the rock told me that he went to the father of the boy who threw the rock and told him what his son had done. He warned him about the dangers of allowing a child to spend hours every night with his friends unsupervised in the local park. ‘Do you want your son to become a youth at risk?’ he asked the father.

“The father’s answer was unbelievable. ‘I agree with you,’ he said, ‘but I don’t have the energy to keep the kids at home for such a long time.’

“He doesn’t have the energy, so he prefers to leave his son out in the park and expose him to the terrible influences of the street . . .

“Why are the parents so blind to what is happening to their children? How do they ignore the terrible dangers of the street? The argument that ‘I don’t have the energy to keep the kid at home’ is so ludicrous that it does not even deserve an answer. All we can say is that if the parents would take their responsibility to care for their children seriously, they would find the energy to keep their children safely occupied . . .

“Sometimes I wonder: How is it that fathers do not fulfill their minimal responsibilities toward their children? For instance, during davening on Shabbos, many children go out to the hallways of the shul and play with their friends. These rowdy games not only disturb the people who are praying, they also train children to do the very opposite of davening. If a father feels that his son is not capable of sitting the entire time and pray, he should not send him outside; he should send him home! Let’s not fool ourselves, though. Many times the children who are playing outside are eminently capable of sitting inside the shul and daven. It’s just that the fathers are not doing what they are supposed to be doing: training their sons to sit in the shul and daven. One would almost think that these fathers do not care about their children. Is such a thing possible?”

Being a parent of small children is hard. Picking up the pieces later in life is even harder. Better to invest early.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, May 01, 2015 / 12 Iyar 5775
You are what you wear
By: Michael Winner

I’ve found one of the keys to a successful Shabbos is to have an activity that all enjoy. When my mother-in-law last came, she bought a deck of Uno, which has become the officially family Shabbos game. The kids know that if they let my wife and me take a nap while they behave nicely, we’ll have a Brachos Party and Uno game.

What’s best is how involved and serious they get. The “Take Two,” “Take Four," “Skip,” and “Reverse Cards” are all called “Tzarot” (“tzar”=pain), and they take extra joy in when they put those cards down against each other. The most amazing part is our four-year-old daughter, who spends half the game in space and has no tactics, will end up winning half the time.

Somebody once asked a rav of mine if after Shabbos he should take his son to the beis medresh to learn with him. He responded, “You know . . . some of the best times I’ve had with my kids was after Shabbos, eating ice cream and playing board games with them.”

On Shabbos, we need to take care of ourselves spiritually, and often that is forgotten. However, when it comes to children, it’s important that they have the physical fun as well (as long as it does not take away the spirit of Shabbos, of course).

Okay, on to Torah!

“They are sacred vestments” (Vayikra 16:4)

I saw a wonderful story in Aleinu L’Shabeich last Shabbos.

A famous outreach professional here in Israel used to work for a certain company. The way he dressed and conducted himself on a daily basis earned him the respect of all his co-workers. Once, the company hired a new worker, a woman who did not dress modestly. After introducing himself, he asked in a polite and gentle way if she can dress more appropriately. Not knowing that she was speaking to such a highly-regarded person in the company, she replied, “What is this? Russia! I will not allow democracy to be trampled in this company!”

He didn’t respond and continued on as if nothing happened.

The next morning, before leaving his home, he soaked a second pair of clothes in vinegar and put them in a bag. When he arrived at the office, he put on the second pair of clothes and walked into the room where this woman worked. Noticing the smell she yelled, “Are you out of your mind? What kind of clothes are you wearing?”

The man replied with one word: “Democracy.”

She understood the lesson and dressed modestly the next day.

People don’t understand that one can easily be offended or disgusted with the eyes just as easily as with the nose. I’ve heard women complain against the idea of modesty with, “Well, that’s HIS problem if he doesn’t like how I dress,” yet will have no problem saying, “It’s MY problem the way he smells.”

Even the way we dress will have an effect on other people. If we dress inappropriately, then don’t be surprised when people look and treat you inappropriately. However, if we dress (and act) in a proper manner, people are more likely willing to treat us with the respect due.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner
Friday, April 24, 2015 / 5 Iyar 5775
The Bigger Picture
By: Michael Winner

I heard a great story yesterday.

Somebody I know used to live in Kiryiat Arbah (aka Hebron), and his neighbor was one of those people who always brought different people home after Shabbos davening for the meal. It was known that if you didn’t have any plans, he would be happy to host you for a meal.

So, one Shabbos morning he brings home this “Na-Nacher” (an interesting ‘hippy’ group that calls themselves Breslov… basically, it’s a result of taking a hippy, adding light drugs, no Torah learning, and lots of Breslov belief mixed into one…they’re quite common here…long story on why they are called “Na-Nachers” or “Nachmanim” in Hebrew. They do and say whatever they want, because… well, that’s what hippies do. Needless to say, they are not taken seriously here and are a interesting form of entertainment, as we shall soon see).

Anyhow, after eating the meal, the Na-Nacher moves over to the couch and promptly falls asleep. A few hours go by and they realize that they need to go to shul to daven. So they wake up the Na-Nacher and he goes to shul with them… only to return for ANOTHER meal. After THAT meal, he goes to daven maariv with them, only to return for havdalah. Finally, after havdalah, he asks the host, “Before I leave, can I make a phone call?” So they hand him the phone, he dials a number, and they hear a woman shrieking on the other end.


He coolly responds, “Amarti b’chatuna shelanu… ani eved Hashem, lo eved shelach” (“I told you when we got married, that I’m Hashem’s servant, not yours”)

And the best part is, he honestly believed that going to somebody else’s house and eating and sleeping all day, without telling his wife, is being a “servant of Hashem”.

It’s great!!

Even better? It ties in perfectly with this week's dvar Torah.

In this week’s parsha, the Torah goes into detail about the Metzorah, somebody afflicted by a spiritual/physical kind of leprosy called Tzaraas. It is generally accepted that one of the main causes of Tzaraas is loshon horah. After one is afflicted, one needs to do tshuvah and is required to go through a purification process which entails bringing a bird as a korban.

Rav Moshe Aharon Stern adds an extra dimension to this issue. He says, “A person cannot live like a free bird. The metzora who worried only about himself and lived like a free bird, chirping and saying what he pleased, eventually has to ‘slaughter the living bird’ to become pure and before that he sits by himself and thinks how low his actions brought him. Then he accepts the yoke of communal living with the obligations this entails.”

One of the ways a person can learn to control his speech and thought is through a healthy outlook of living as part of a community, and living together in peace with one’s spouse. When you realize that you are not the center of the universe, but rather you are part of something bigger (and you are constantly aware of that), then other people will begin to take a more important role in your life, and their happiness will begin to become more of a priority over yours. By constantly looking out for other people’s needs, you can remove the "self-important smug" that was previously controlling your life, and causing you to speak ill of others.

Have a great Shabbos!
Friday, April 03, 2015 / 14 Nissan 5775
Torah Telephone
By: Michael Winner

The morning after we switched over the kitchen, my son came down and in complete disbelief cried out, "Mommy! Somebody came and took out all the Pesach stuff!" Later in the day, I took out all the kids to contemplate my suicide, and allow my wife to cook. When we returned, he cried out, "Mommy! Somebody made a HUGE mess!" The next morning, after my wife spent hours cleaning up, he came down and saw it was all clean and cried out, "Mommy! Somebody cleaned up the huge mess!"

Getting tired of witnessing proof that she failed to pass down her "brain genes", she asked, "Who do you think cleaned it up?"

After giving it some thought, he answered, "Oh! Abba must have!"

I guess it's better than "the Pesach elves"...

I saw a very powerful minute and a half video of Sir Nicholas George Winton, a person responsible for saving 669 Jewish children from the Nazis, by bringing them to England before the war began. It was a clip from a show in the 1980s, where he was sitting in the front row of the audience and the host was speaking of his accomplishments. She then pointed out that they found one of the Jewish children and told him that she is now sitting next to him in the audience. Obviously, it was quite an emotional ‘reunion’. The video skips ahead to further on in the show and the host asks, “In fact, is there anybody else in the audience who owes their life directly to Sir Winton?” Several rows of people surrounding him slowly stood up in silence. He looked to both sides of him, stood up, turned around, saw the amount of people that he saved, and realized the enormity of what he accomplished. He then silently turned back around, sat down, and wiped the tears from his eyes. Not only did he save 669 children, but countless of their future descendants.

My wife recently heard a talk given by Rav Zev Leff. He said that we all know that in the game of “Telephone”, the final message is most likely going to be quite different than the original message given. Especially as the “line” grows longer. He then pointed out what it would be like if you had 600,000 people in a row, and each of those 600,000 people was a head of its own “Telephone Line”. Undoubtedly, by the time the message got to just the 10th person in each row, you would have 600,000 different messages.

Yet, Judaism doesn’t seem to be that way. We have a solid mesorah (transmission) on what happened in Egypt, the Red Sea, and at Sinai. We don’t have 600,000 different versions; we have one! And no, you cannot say, “What about the Reform or Conservative versions?” because they have no “versions”. They have no mesorah for what happened. They simply have “re-interpreted” the story in order to fit it to their social beliefs of the day.

Every Pesach for 3300 years, each Jewish family has sat down and transmitted the history of the birth of the Jewish nation. Those who have changed the history or “re-interpreted” it only ended up with their “line” cut while others have seen their lines branch out and grow.

After seeing the above-mentioned clip, I was thinking about a friend of mine with ten children, and several grand-children (only the first four are married so far). True, my friend didn’t “save” any children in the traditional sense, yet, he has created Jewish children who are carrying on the transmissions, and who knows? Possibly 100 grandchildren who will come into this world continuing this ONE version of the original story as a result!

By sitting down at the Seder table and properly transmitting over the birth of the Jewish people, you are in essence, saving who-knows how many Jewish children from a spiritual demise. You are also participating in the ongoing miracle of “Torah Telephone”, transmitting the Torah from one generation into the next. THAT, says Rav Leff, is how we fulfill our obligation to feel as if we personally left Egypt. By transmitting the same details as the original witnesses testified, we are in essence reliving what they once witnessed.

Have a great Pesach and Shabbos!

* Please note that the Frum.org staff will be taking off all of Pesach and will hopefully be returning shortly after. I’m also not planning to be around checking my email during Pesach at all, so if you write and don’t hear back from me, you now know why.

Thursday, March 26, 2015 / 6 Nissan 5775
Pesach is Only the Beginning
By: Michael Winner

This year I put my foot down and told my wife that I’m doing the food shopping by myself. Every year, since we’ve moved up north, we’ve rented a car and driven to Kiryat Bialik where there is a giant kosher food store. It’s worth the rent, since it’s MUCH cheaper than anything locally and there’s a lot more kosher food compared to anything locally. I enjoy the drive there and back with her, but shopping? No. Most healthy males hate shopping. Most healthy females love shopping. Put those together, and you get trouble. Me? I prefer to look on my list, put the food in the cart, repeat, and checkout. She prefers to double-check everything, triple-check prices, ask me several times what I think (about what? I ask), and finally decides that maybe she’ll buy it (after getting mad at me for not paying attention (to what? I ask.). It’s nothing new. All couples are like this. So, this year I did the shopping on my own, and watched the poor men who were with their wives, moping down the aisles with their carts, begging me with their eyes to end their misery. The point of Pesach preparations under our wives’ iron-fists is that we should feel the pain that we felt in Egypt . . .

Okay, on to Torah!

“If it is brought as a Thanksgiving offering, he should offer together with the Thanksgiving offering unleavened loaves mixed with oil; flat matzos smeared with oil; and loaves of boiled, fine flour mixed with oil” (Vaykira 7:12)

The Likeutei Halachos (I, p.238) writes, “The Thanksgiving offering symbolizes the union of opposites. It was brought with both matzah and chametz, hinting that one should try to join these opposites together, creating a cause for true thanksgiving. On Pesach, we eat only matzah; on Shavous, we bring two loaves of bread (known as ‘thanksgiving loaves’) as an offering. These ‘opposite’ holidays are linked through the Torah portion of Parshas Tzav [this week’s parsha], which details the Thanksgiving offering and is usually read before Pesach to remind us that the main goal of the Exodus on Pesach was to attain the Torah on Shavous.”

Many people think Pesach as the “Jewish Independence Day,” where we left Egypt to travel and gain independent rule in Israel, to live a life where we can do whatever we want and live in peace and happiness.

Too bad: that’s not Pesach.

What happened in Egypt was not “independence” as defined by the Declaration of Independence. Rather, it was a transfer of servitude from Pharaoh to Hashem. When we left Egypt, we stopped being servants to Pharaoh and began being servants to Hashem.

Pesach also serves as a beginning of our birth as a nation. It was the “Lexington & Concord” of our history, and only at Sinai, when we received the Torah, did we reach “the surrender at Yorktown” and our independence was secured (pretty impressive I remember that, no?).

Therefore, we begin our independence on Pesach, not as an end of slavery, but as the beginning of the road to receive the Torah at Sinai.

Have a great Shabbos!

Michael Winner

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