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Weekly Dvar Torah

Vayikra: Idolatry and Korbonos
Monday, March 26, 2001 / 2 Nissan 5761

Within two minutes of my last dvar torah, Mark Steinberg offered his 9 out of ten suggestions on what the Ten Plagues of Men are (somehow Mark is still married):

1. I need money to buy clothes
2. I need your attention when I talk to you
3. What's yours is ours and whats mine is mine
4. Why can't you understand my feelings
5. Why do men have to take an hour in the bathroom
6. I need a break
7 I still need a break
8 The break I got was not long enough
9 (while taking the long break) I miss the kids.

I would also like to thank Jordana Shapiro, who, in her sexist ways, believes that ONLY women clean for Pesach, and that we men should shut up! Well, unfortunately for the male gender, some of us MEN actually do the cleaning too! Until we get married.... :P

Speaking of sexism, this parsha is certainly one of the manlier ones, for a couple of reasons. 1)It deals with karbonos (offerings or sacrifices) 2) Karbonos are really cool. 3) Karbonos are mainly brought in atonement for sinning, and men probably do most of the sinning 4). Most karbonos are meat 5.) See 4 6.) See 5.

So the big question is, why do we have these karbonos? The RambaM believes theat the reason we are to bring them is because people were so accustomed to sacrificing animals to idols. Therefore the Torah takes this weakness and use it for holiness.

The RambaN has a small problem with that theory. Adam, Cain, Hevel, and Noach all brought karbonos, and there was no idol worship around! So how could they have brought it in response to idol-worship? Not only that, but the Ramban writes that when the Moshiach comes and the Beis HaMikdash is rebuilt, "then all the laws of the Torah will be reinstated in their previous form: offerings will be brought, etc...". This also contradicts the Rambam, since we know when Moshiach comes, their won't be any idol-worship, yet we will still bring karbonos.

Good stuff, isnt' it?

I'm sure all of us know that the greater a person is spiritually, the greater his yetzer horah (evil inclination). That's why my yetzer horah is a 300 lbs wrestler named Jim. I'm just too holy. :) Originally, idol-worship started off with good intentions. First people decided to pay homage to the planets and stars since they are Hashem's "officers", if you will, and as such they deserved respect. They had no interest in worshipping them, they simply wished to give it the respect it deserves. Which is a noble thing to do. Unfortunatly, it slowly grew out of control, to the point Hashem was completely forgotten.

During the time of the Second Beis HaMikdash, prophecy was nearly lost, and things were not going well for the Jews. The Sages of the Sanhedrin (Jewish Supreme Court), were successfully able to rid the yetzer horah's power of idolatry from the Jewish heart. Don't ask me how they did it. All I know is that I haven't had an urge to worship a statue of a lizard. Have you?

As they finished the "procedure", the appearance of a young lion of fire emerged from the holiest place in the Beis HaMikdash. A prophet told Israel: "This is the yetzer horah of idolatry". Now doesn't this sound strange? THE yetzer horah of idolatry is coming out from the HOLIEST place in the world? Yet alone in the form of a lion, which we are often compared to?

The fire and the lion both represent enthusiasm. The Gemara which relates this story is hinting that it was misplaced enthusiasm in the service of G-d which, by a small error, became idolatry.

Rambam also suggests that korbonos are an antidote to idolatry. When Moshiach comes, we will once again attain a high level of spirituality. But with that level of spirituality, we might see an increase in some very subtle form, of the yetzer horah. And as we've just seen, the most subtle "attacks" from the yetzer horah, can lead to destruction. That is why we will have karbonos in the time of Moshiach. For we will still need something to counteract the subtleness of the yetzer horah. Have a great Shabbos!

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Vayikra: Do It With a Smile
Tuesday, March 26, 2002 / 13 Nissan 5762

"If (when) you bring a korban mincha of the Bikkurim/first grain (type of offering)"

The word "If" in the Torah is "Im" (pronounced "eem"). When we read the Torah, we literally say, "IF you bring a korban mincha", yet we treat it as it says, "WHEN you bring a korban mincha". There are three other places in the Torah which uses the language "IF", yet it is a commandment, so since we must do it, we read it as "WHEN". Confused yet? Good. Read it one more time, and you should get it.

The three other places are, dealing with the korban Omer (the "wave" offering, Lou Reznick's favorite), the commandment of lending money to the poor, and the commandment of building an alter. Why do these four specific things have the word "IF" when we know that we must do them?

The common thread through each one of these is approaching each mitzvah as if you had a choice (i.e. it's not a mitzvah, hence you don't have to do it), but you do so anyways. All four of these things have a common difficulty in doing them. Simply put, it's hard to do with a smile on your face.

Let's take the Alter. Since we don't have the Alter or offerings, prayer has taken its place. It's pretty difficult davening three times a day, especially when one is tired, and to have concentration and "love" for the mitzvah. What is the korban Omer or Bikkurim? It was to take the first and the best of your fruits and "offer" them in the Beis Hamikdash. Can you imagine the difficulty that a farmer who worked so hard to make things work, having to take his first fruits and give them away? Similarly, concerning giving an interest-free loan to someone in need. It's hard giving your hard-earned money away to somebody you probably don't know, hoping he'll be able to pay it back.

These are the types of mitzvos that we must work on our "attitude" when doing. When we approach Hashem in davening, or when we give money to those in need, we need to try as hard as possible to "do it with a smile". That was the difference between Cain and Hevel. Cain gave a gift to Hashem, and so did Hevel. But it was the state of mind of the individual that made the difference. Cain brought inferior things. He didn't put much of himself into it, hence it was rejected. While Hevel brought the best of the best, with every intention of becoming closer to Hashem.

This is why it says "IF". Because you should treat these mitzvos, if not all mitvos, as IF you wanted to do them yourself, not because you have too. This is how we can make a difference in the performance of our mitzvos! Have a great Shabbos!

p.s. if this dvar torah was not the easiest to read, my apologies...I'm rather busy here at work....


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Vayikra: A Proper Atmosphere
Wednesday, March 26, 2003 / 22 Adar II 5763

Also, a belated mazel tov to Malky Blaustein on her engagement to Yonah Jungreis from that east-coast city. Normally, I would make an insulting comment on marriage or THAT city, but I saw a picture of this guy, and I have no doubt in my mind that he can inflict indescribable pain on me by simply using his ears, though I've been assured that he's "really a nice guy." Why is it that every person I know who looks like he eats school buses for breakfast is a "really nice guy"?

"If his offering is a burnt-offering of cattle he shall bring an unblemished male; to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting he shall bring it, that it be favorably accepted from him before Hashem" (Vayikra 1:3)

Rashi teaches us that they force him to bring the offering, once he had taken the vow to bring one, even if it was against his will. This is a rather interesting statement Rashi makes. Rarely do we see the advocation of forcing a person against his will. The standard reason given for this is that the soul, in reality, DOES want to do what is right, but that sneaky little evil inclination keeps getting in the way. We see this reasoning put to use in the case where a woman wishes to divorce her husband, and her husband refuses to grant her the divorce. A Jewish court can actually advocate a physical punishment be put on this person until he grants her the divorce. Other than this case, and a couple others, we rarely see this reasoning put into action. Judaism tends not to advocate physical force in individual's lives.

The Chasam Sofer offers a completely different reading into this Rashi. He likens this to a case of a farmer who purposely committed a sin and wishes to repent, back when the Beis HaMikdash was standing. Back then, when a person did sin on purpose, he was required to go to Jerusalem and bring an offering in the Beis HaMikdash. Now here you have somebody who has to buy an offering (where's PETA now???), take time off of his work, and travel all the way to Jerusalem. Already, his yetzer horah is acting up, giving him all sorts of excuses not to go. But, nonetheless, he begins his trip. On his way, he passes by a neighbor. Again, the yetzer horah kicks in. "What happens if he asks where I'm going? I'm going to have to tell him Jerusalem, and he'll certainly figure out the reason that I'm going..." Nevertheless, the farmer forces himself to continue his journey. For several days this argument runs through his head, yet the farmer is persistent. Despite not wanting to go, he knows it's the right thing. Finally, he reaches Jerusalem and the Beis HaMikdash. Now he finds himself surrounded by others who need to bring their own offerings, all for different reasons. Here, he is surrounded by holiness that he could not have found at home. Here, people who are also working on themselves surround him. Now, all of a sudden, he looks forward to properly atoning. He knows that soon he will be able to start his life again with a clean slate.

The Chasam Sofer relates that the farmer forced himself to go against his will, and at the end realized that he did the right thing. I liken this to Yom Kippur. Many people don't look forward to it (with the exception of Mark Steinberg who thrives on pain and anguish for some reason). But when you finally get to it, you realize that Yom Kippur, despite the fasting and the super-long davening, will give you a clean slate.

The Chasam Sofer also tells us that this story shows us the importance of living in a Torah-committed atmosphere. The farmer lived out in the middle of nowhere, and had to force himself just to get to Jerusalem. Yet, once he arrived, all his fears and worries dispersed. When one surrounds himself with the proper atmosphere, he will have less of a personal battle to fight in order to become closer to G-d. Have a great Shabbos!


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Vayikra: Investing in Our Relationship with Hashem
Friday, March 26, 2004 / 4 Nissan 5764

I most humbly apologize for getting this out, in a super-duper late fashion. Due to some DNS problem (yes, it's real) at work, I was unable to reach this site from my office. If it makes you feel any better, Israel is 8 hours ahead of Chicago, so when I move, you can be assured a dvar torah in your mailbox, at the latest, on Friday morning. Okay, on to Torah!
"When any man of you offers an offering to Hashem" (VaYikra 1:2)

Rav Ovadiah Yosef, Shlita, told over a small story concerning this pasuk. A man once walked into a department store and demanded to see the finest mirror that they had. The salesman brought back a mirror, and the customer examined himself in it. After a few seconds, the man told the salesman that he did not like the mirror and he should put it back. When the salesman asked the customer what he didn't like about it, the customer responded, "I see a strange image in the mirror and I don't like looking at it". The salesman looked at the man and immediately understood why. He was wearing dirty clothes, he needed a shower and shave, his face was not washed, etc... So the salesman responded, "Listen, the mirror only reflects what's in front of it. Go home, clean yourself up, come back, and you'll certainly like the image you see."

Says, Rav Yosef, this applies to the relationship between Hashem and ourselves. The more that we put ourselves into our relationship with Hashem, the more He, so to speak, puts into His relationship to us. We have very little right to complain to Hashem about our lives, when we are not learning and trying to observe the mitzvos. When we put effort into our day to become closer to Hashem, He will 'reward' us, by 'paying more attention' to our needs, and helping us along the way.

This week's parsha lists out all the different korbonos (sacrifices) that are to be brought in the Beis HaMikdash. The word, 'korbon', comes from the root 'karov', which means, 'close'. When a person brought a korbon and did so with the intention of coming closer to Hashem, he was successful in his endeavors. While today, we do not have the Beis Hamikdash or korbonos, we have davening and mitzvos. When we do the mitzvos, with a whole heart, then, we too, will become successful in our undertakings.

Have a great Shabbos!


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Vayikra: The Few Saving the Many
Friday, March 18, 2005 / 7 Adar II 5765

I apologize for last week’s absence. I'm still trying to put together a schedule that is maintainable, and I have been quite busy lately. For those who are interesting, Rav Brody has put his site only once again. He also is publishing his first English book (he has published two in Hebrew) called Trail to Tranquility. It should be out this June. The link to his site and information on his upcoming book has been posted on the website.

Okay, on to Torah!
"And when any will offer a meal offering (mincha) to Hashem, his offering shall be of fine flour; and he shall pour oil upon it, and put frankincense on it; And he shall bring it to the sons of Aharon the kohanim; and he shall take from it his handful (kamitza)" (Vayikra 2:1-2)

"Haman went and found that the rabbis were sitting before Mordechai, and he was demonstrating the laws of kemitza (taking the handful of flour) to them... Haman asks the students, 'What topic were you studying?' They answered him, 'When the Beis Hamikdash was in existence, one who pledge a minchah offering would bring a fistful of flour and would gain atonement through it.' Haman said to them, 'Your fistful of flour has come and has pushed aside my ten thousand silver talents (used to buy the 'rights' to destroy the Jews)" (Gemara, Megilla 16a)

Rav Mordechai Rogov writes that when Haman approached Mordechai, Mordechai was fearful that Haman was going to prevail against the Jewish people. Had the Jews maintained the Torah to such a degree as they once did, Mordechai would have had no fears at all, for when the entire nation keeps the Torah, nothing has or can harm them. Yet, the Jews in the days of Purim were certainly not on that level. Intermarriage and assimilation were taking their toll on the nation. We see in the beginning of the Megilla how the Jewish people partook of Achashverosh's banquet. All that was left were Mordechai and a few staunch supporters of Torah. These were apprehensive times for Mordechai.

Then, at that point, when Mordechai began to review the laws of Kamitza, Mordechai gained insight that he previously did not have. When a person brings a mincha (meal offering), he needed to bring flour as well. The entire measure of flour was to be given over to the Kohen, only after a fistful was taken and burned on the altar.

From here Mordechai was deduced an important lesson. Only a fistful of flour is given to the altar, yet without this fistful, the offering is not complete. This fistful has the power of sanctifying the entire offering. So too, Mordechai reasoned, a small group of people who faithfully follow the Torah, have the power to save the entire nation. Mordechai then realized that even though he had only a small group of students, they had the power to merit the salvation for the Jewish people.

Now we live in times where assimilation is increasing at an exponential rate. In the times of Mordechai, there were those who assimilated and those who were loyal to Torah. Those few dedicated ones had the ability to save the entire nation. The rules in today's world are no different. If one truly wants to make a difference in the Jewish world, one can easily accomplish this by their loyalty to Hashem. When we cleave to the Torah, we CAN make a difference and merit to save an entire nation. Have a great Shabbos!

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Vayikra: Offering Our Souls
Tuesday, March 28, 2006 / 28 Adar 5766

Today’s Election Day in Israel!

My first.

Quite exciting.

Those of us who are religious, thankfully, do not have to worry about where to place our votes. There are those who refuse to take part in the elections since they do not wish to partake in anything to do with the State of Israel, due to the State’s not so pretty history concerning its relationship with religious Jews and Judaism in general.

However, most Gedolim (Torah leaders) have come out and said that one is obligated to vote for one of the two religious parties in the elections, since whether we like the State or not, one has to protect the interests of Judaism. Being that, there are only two parties which can say they are religious and that they follow Da’as Torah (Torah leadership). Sfardim will be voting for “Shas”; and Ashkenazim and Chassidim will be voting for “Deiglah HaTorah”.

Thankfully, the religious generally vote as a block, since we have the same goal in mind: Seeing Judaism in Israel flourish. Being that there are only two religious parties that follow Da’as Torah, a religious person has no questions on who to vote for! We don’t need to argue it out amongst ourselves, since our goals are the same, and we do our best to follow the mitzvah of adhering to the words of the leaders of the generation.

While we certainly do not have a majority in the country, it’s a Kiddush Hashem (Sanctification of G-d’s Name) to vote as one block, to show those out there (such as Likud, Kadima, Labour, Meretz, etc), that whether they like it or not, Judaism here in Israel will continue to grow!

May we see only good things coming from this election that will allow Torah to flourish and the Jewish people to live safe in Eretz Yisroel.
“A soul (nefesh) that will offer a meal-offering (Mincha) to Hashem…” (Vayikra 2:1)

This week’s parsha begins going through all the different korbonos (offerings) and the various reasons that a person has to bring them.

Rashi notes that the word nefesh (soul) is only used concerning the Mincha Offering which are brought by a person by his own free will (compared to ones that are brought if he sinned, etc).

The Korbon Mincha was brought by people who could not afford much. While wealthier individuals brought bulls or sheep, poorer people could only bring the Korbon Mincha that consisted of flour and oil.

Rashi writes, “Said G-d: I consider him as though he had offered his own soul (nefesh)”

Why? Because, despite his poor financial standings, he still brought something, despite how minimal it was.

Rav Eliyahu Meir Bloch adds on to this idea. When a wealthy person brings korbonos, he feels as if he is truly paying back Hashem for everything He has given him. When a man brings bulls and sheep by the multitude to the Beis Hamikdash, he certainly has a feeling that he is thanking Hashem for everything he has.

A poor man, however, is different. When he sees the rich person is bringing so much, and he looks down and sees that he’s bringing flour and oil, he is forced to acknowledge that he is giving very little in comparison. This fact humbles the poor man and brings him to a high level of humility. He truly realizes that no matter how much a person has, he certainly cannot thank Hashem enough for everything. It is with this humility that allows this poor person to not only bring his Mincha as a korbon, but his nefesh as well.

May we be as sensitive as the poor man and realize that no matter how much we have and how much we give, our only real offering should be our humble souls.

Have a great Shabbos!

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Vayikra: Living in a Torah Environment
Thursday, March 22, 2007 / 3 Nissan 5767

My wife thinks I’m a ‘creep’.

Unfortunately, I must leave the confines of Eretz Yisroel for a few days after Pesach and visit the States (East Coast only, no New Y*rk). Fortunately, I get to see my parents (they read this).

Being that I’m being coerced to leave the Holy Land and travel oversees with a 15-month old girl who has absolutely no concept of sitting still, I made a few ‘demands’ from family members.

My wife cannot complain about the hardships of traveling with our daughter. Concerning my mother-in-law; the second I land on US soil until the second I leave, I absolve all responsibilities that a father has for his child. Up to, and including, diaper changes, feeding, running around, and staying up all night because of the jet lag.

My brother-in-law will have to give me one lesson in Photoshop and my father-in-law will have to teach me the art of getting away with doing absolutely no domestic choirs and still maintaining a healthy marriage.

It seems we all agree to these stipulations.

Then, as my wife and I were sitting on the bus yesterday, it hit me and I cried out, “I get the window seat! Both ways!”

Naturally, she complained that that would leave her to take care of Rochel Leah throughout the flight, such as walking her around and changing her diaper.

Smart woman. But not smart enough to call the window seat before I. And because of my brilliance, I’m the creep…

Okay, on to Torah!“If one’s offering is an olah (elevation offering) from the cattle, he shall bring an unblemished male. He shall bring it to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, voluntarily before Hashem” (Vayikra 1:3)

Rashi notes from the usage of the words “he shall bring it”, that a person can actually be forced to bring an olah, which is brought when a person intentionally sins on certain mitzvos.

This is interesting since the pasuk specifically states that he should bring it “voluntarily”. Rashi has his own answer for this seemingly contradiction. However, I saw today Rav Pam quoting the Chasam Sofer, with his take on it:

A farmer living in a tiny rural community far away from the center of Torah in Jerusalem commits a sin for which he is required to bring a korban olah.

He knows that the proper thing to do is to take off time from his farming chores and make the long trip to Jerusalem to bring the korban and, thereby, acquire forgiveness for his sin. But the Yetzer Horah begins to work on him and tells him, “True, you sinned. But everybody occasionally makes mistakes. Do you have the time now to travel to Jerusalem? Who is going to tend the farm in your absence? Can you afford it?...”

The farmer battles his Yetzer Horah and stubbornly decides to undertake the journey. On the way, he meets and acquaintance who asks him where he is heading. The farmer blushes and mumbles that he’s on his way to Jerusalem.

“What’s the occasion? A simcha in the family?” asks the acquaintance. “No, I have some business to attend to“, replies the embarrassed farmer. He thinks to himself, “What will people think of me if they find out that I did a sin and need forgiveness?”

The farmer fights the urge to forget about the whole thing and not bring the korban. It is a battle every step of the way as the Yetzer Horah tries everything in his power to discourage him. Finally, the framer arrives at the walls of Jerusalem. One can just imagine the mood he’s in and the lack of desire and enthusiasm that he has for his task.

Once he comes to the courtyard of Beis Hamikdash, his attitude changes. The farmer is enveloped in its holiness. He is awed at the sight of the Kohanim and Leviyim doing their duties. He takes in the imposing sight of the Sanhedrin in session and witnesses some of the daily miracles that take place in the Beis Hamikdash. He is caught up in the atmosphere of pure truth that permeates the Beis Hamikdash and has an overwhelming desire to seek closeness with his Creator. The guiles of the Yetzer Horah are finally negated and he willingly and joyfully brings his korban to Hashem. He is grateful for the opportunity to rid himself of the stain of sin and is not concerned with what the korban costs him in time, money and ego.

This is the case the Chasam Sofer gives to describe the meaning of this pasuk. At first, he has no desire to travel to Jerusalem. In fact, it’s the opposite, and every step of the way, his Yetzer Horah does his best to stop him. Nonetheless, he forces himself to go “against his will”. Only after arriving in Jerusalem, which is surrounded by holiness, does his will suddenly turn towards the Beis Hamikdash, and he desires nothing more than coming closer to Hashem.

The lesson to learn from the Chasam Sofer, says Rav Pam, is the importance of living in a Torah atmosphere. When we are not in a Torah community, we need to constantly force ourselves to do mitzvos “against our will”. However, when we surround ourselves with people who not only learn Torah, but actually live it, than we too are affected and have a desire to live Torah.

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Vayikra: Be Yourself!
Friday, March 14, 2008 / 7 Adar II 5768

I’m adding a long introduction this week which is a must read. It’s from Rav Brody concerning one of the young men who were killed in the terrorist attack in Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav. I believe everybody is obligated to read it at the Shabbos table and take something from it.

The original printing can be fount at: http://lazerbrody.typepad.com/lazer_beams/2008/03/doron-story-of.html

Doron Mahareta of blessed and saintly memory HY"D was one of the eight Yeshiva students that were massacred last week in Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav in Jerusalem.

Last night, I paid a shiva (condolence) call to Doron's family. Every single type of Jew was sitting together, from Ethiopians to Polish Chassidim, from knit kippot to Yerushalmi white kippot, from jeans and sandals to long black frocks. Too bad that it takes a martyr of Doron's magnitude to unite everyone.

One of the rabbis from Mercaz HaRav told me the most amazing story you'll ever hear about Doron's dedication to learning Torah, a story that competes with the Gemara's account of Hillel's near freezing on the roof of Shmaya and Avtalion's Yeshiva (see tractate Yoma, 35b).

Doron wanted to learn Torah in Mercaz HaRav, one of the best of Israel's yeshivas. But, since his early schooling was in Ethiopia, he lacked a strong background in Gemara. The Yeshiva rejected him. He wasn't discouraged. He asked, "If you won't let me learn Torah, will you let me wash the dishes in the mess hall?" For a year and a half, Doron washed dishes. But, he spent every spare minute in the study hall. He inquired what the yeshiva boys were learning, and spent most of the nights and all of his Shabbatot with his head in the Gemara learning what they learned. One day, the "dish washer" asked the Rosh Yeshiva to test him. The Rosh Yeshiva politely smiled and tried to gently dismiss Doron, but Doron wouldn't budge. He forced the Rosh Yeshiva into a Torah discussion; the next day, he was no longer a dish washer but a full-fledged "yeshiva bachur".

On weekends, when Doron would come home to visit his family in Ashdod, he'd spend the entire Shabbat either in the Melitzer Shul or the neighboring Gerrer shtiebel learning Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries. Three weeks ago, he finished the entire Shulchan Aruch and principle commentaries. Doron achieved in his tender 26 years what others don't attain in 88 years. He truly was an unblemished sacrifice, who gave his life for all of us.

The next time you want to close the Gemara to watch TV, think of Doron. The next time your son doesn't want to do his Torah homework, tell him about the price that tzaddikim like Hillel the Elder and Doron Mahareta paid to learn Torah. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Doron wasn't a reincarnation of Hillel. May his holy soul beg mercy for the grieving nation he left behind, amen.Okay, on to more Torah!

"Every meal offering that you offer to the Almighty do make it chometz for you shall burn no yeast, no any honey, in any offering of the Almighty made by fire. With all your offerings you shall offer salt" (Vayikra 2, 11 13)

The pasuk mentions that there are two things that are not allowed to be brought with any meal (flour) offerings: yeast and honey. Yet we are supposed to add salt, nonetheless.

The first two are external items not found in dough. Yeast makes the dough rise and honey makes it sweet. While both add to the dough to make it better, both are additives.

While salt is an additive it does not add a new taste as much as it brings out the natural flavour of the food.

Rav Mordechai Gifter says this symbolizes a principle in spiritual matters. We don't want to be like the yeast that distorts the dough to make it larger than it naturally is. Honey too gives a false taste to the dough making it sweeter than it is. Salt, on the other hand, brings out the natural taste of the dough.

From this we see the importance of serving Hashem with our natural talents and personalities. Of course we must refocus our talents to serve Hashem and we must change certain aspects of our personalities that run contrary to the Torah. However, our core personalities and talents we do not need to change to serve Hashem.

We have one rav in the yeshiva who is very quiet and never raises his voice. We also have another who is on a constant caffeine high, hits his students in the back of the head for no reason, and yells “NOOOOOOO!!!!” when somebody answers one of his questions incorrectly.

Both are extremely knowledgeable in Torah and are serving Hashem with their own personalities in their own ways. If they tried to act like one another they would both fail.

Serving Hashem does not mean be a robot. It means use your skills, talents, and personalities to better yourself and those around you.

Have a great Shabbos!

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Vayikra: Your Tree of Life
Thursday, May 29, 2008 / 24 Iyar 5768

I received some interesting parenting insight last week.

My daughter took a spill which resulted in two bleeding kneecaps. That night, before going to maariv, I was changing her into her pajamas when she asked me to daven to Hashem to give her "boo-boos" a "shleyma" (short for "refuah shleyma" or "to get healthy")

Also, when we informed her that a mother of a good friend of hers had a baby boy, she turned to my wife and said excitingly, "Rochel Leah and Mommy go to bris?!"

Several years ago, I got into a debate with a proud reform Jew. He was pleased to announce that his son, who is turning bar mitzvah, will be doing a "mitzvah project", by actually building a sukkah.

He believed that his child will turn out to be a better Jew because I'm keeping my kids from seeing the greatness of the world, such as TV, college, etc... while his child will be open-minded and will be better able to understand his Judaism. He believes that you can be open about everything and STILL be a very active Jew! After all... his child is doing a mitzvah project!

My daughter at the age of two and a half, has a concept of Hashem, knows we go to a kiddush for the birth of a daughter and a bris for the birth of a son, knows all of the holidays and what we do on them, and knows about Shabbos and the all the special things we do on it. She knows about davening, bentching, and how to wash her hands before eating bread. Last year, we had a secular Israeli woman over for a meal, and she had no idea that you were supposed to wash before eating bread. Yet, my daughter takes this fact as granted!

It's clear proof that if you want your children to internalize Judaism, you have to make Torah THE focus in your life, each and every moment.

Of course, I won't bring up the fact that on Pesach, I showed her a picture of an Egyptian beating a Jew, pointed to the Egyptian, and asked her who he was, and she replied "Mordechai!"

Okay... she was correct in a way. I wouldn’t be surprised if in some parallel universe Mordechai had an evil twin brother. And if he did, he probably would have looked like that…

Okay, on to Torah!"And with you shall be one man from each tribe, each man should be the head of his family" (Bamidbar 1:4)

A simpleminded person from an illustrious lineage was arguing with a scholar from a lineage that he couldn't boast about.

"I am a scion of great people. Your ancestors are nothing compared to mine", he said.

"True, you come from a long line of great people. But unfortunately the line ends with you. My family tree begins with me"

This is the idea of the above pasuk, says Rabbi Moshe Chaifetz. Each person should look at himself of the head of his family. Even with his parents still alive, he should consider himself as the beginning of the family tree, and that the "branches" are dependent on the root: his spiritual growth.

Instead of focusing on one's lineage, he should focus on the tree which will grow from him.

Have a great Shabbos!

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Vayikra: Remembering Your Learning
Friday, March 27, 2009 / 2 Nissan 5769

One of the lessons of Pesach is that we are not to let our mitzvos become “chametz” or stale. It is to remind us that our mitzvos should be performed with alacrity and energy as if it was the first time you have ever done it in your life.

There is an older man in our minyan in the morning. I don’t know his age, but I do know he learned with Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky. He’s an excellent example of what a frum “working man” is. He used to work full-time for a living, but his learning was his priority, hence his ability to learn every night with Rav Kaminetsky, and his current chavrusa Rav Barcley (author of the Guideline Series).

Unfortunately, he is suffering with cancer. When his doctors heard that he was planning to move to Eretz Yisroel, they warned him that he will never be able to return to America again since he will be too weak to fly back. Despite the fact that most of his family is there, him and his wife picked up and has never left Eretz Yisroel since.
Officially, the minyan starts at 6:30 am. With the exception of two days a week, when he is physically unable to come to shul due to his treatments from the previous day, he is the first one to come at 5:50 am every morning. I have NEVER seen him show up late. Here we have a man, in physical pain, making a slow 15-20 minute walk to shul every morning, to show up 40 minutes before davening, so he can begin early and daven properly.

All I can think of every day when I see him is, “And what excuse do I have for not showing alacrity?”

Okay, on to more Torah!“And if any person will sin and violate one of the commandments of the Almighty which he should not have done, and he did not know, he is guilty and shall bear his iniquity” (Vayikra 5:17)

Rav Eliyahu Dessler notes how the Torah obligates a person to bring a korban (offering) as a punishment when a person does an aveirah, even if he did it without any intent of doing wrong. Why is this?

Rav Dessler answers that a person will not forget or make mistakes concerning matters that are an integral part of his life. If you make a mistake, that is a sign that that issue is not fully part of your being.

This lesson is brought forth through the following incident related in the “Geonai Polin Hoachronim”:

A person came to the Chiddushei HaRim and complained that he continuously forgets the Torah that he studied.

“Do you also forget to eat?” the Rebbe asked him

When the person replied, “No”, the Rebbe asked him, “Why not?”

“My life is dependent on my eating,” the man replied.

“Your life is also dependent on that Torah that you study,” said the Chiddushei HaRim.

Our job is not to simply learn Torah as if it were some intellectual exercise. It’s to incorporate its lessons and teachings into our lives to the point that it is as important to us as eating or sleeping. To successfully accomplish this, a person needs to maximize his time, speech and behaviour for Torah, and minimize his time, speech and behaviour for non-Torah subjects. The soon-to-be doctor sits day and night over his medical books. That’s his life. To understand the subject well, he uses all his time and energy into learning and reviewing. Is Torah any less important to us than medicine is to a medical student? Rav Dessler continues, “By brining a sacrifice, a person reminds himself to integrate Torah values until they become so much a part of our personality that we will always remember them”

Have a great Shabbos!


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Vayikra: Korban Mincha
Friday, March 19, 2010 / 4 Nissan 5770

Eisav hates Yisroel.

Ramat Shlomo is situated in northern Jerusalem. It has a population of 20,000, all religious. While technically, it’s considered “East Jerusalem”, because it’s over the green line, its well west of where we live, which also is strongly Jewish. In between us and Ramat Shlomo is the Shuafat “Refugee Camp”. I quote that, because the media uses the term whenever it can to invoke sympathy for the poor Arabs that live there. After all, when you hear “Refugee Camp”, you think lack of food, lack of medicine, ghettos, etc… The truth of the matter is, Shuafat is home to a whole slew of Arabs with lots o’ money, who own beautiful homes, cars (which is a luxury here), don’t pay taxes, and have the ability to go in and out whenever they want.

Suddenly, when it’s announced that Ramat Shlomo will be expanding (most of the permits are permits to build on to existing apartments, an extra room here, and extra porch there), the world erupts with indignation. After all, what of the poor Arabs?

One can get really upset about this. After all, we’re living in a world where we should be well informed and see such things for what they are. Plus, the Messiah himself sits in the White House, yet him and his administration is acting no differently than previous administrations.

Me? I get a good laugh off of the whole thing. Eisav hates Yisroel. It’s that simple. And until we improve ourselves and bring Moshiach, it will only continue. So, in reality, it’s all up to us.
“And if you bring near a flour offering baked in an oven… and if your offering is a flour offering baked in the pan, and if your offering is a flour offering baked in a pot…” (Vayikra 2:4-7)

Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explained that the Korban Mincha (flour offering) expresses our acknowledgement to Hashem visa-vie our physical comforts in which Hashem has given us.

The offering baked in the oven is bread, in the pan, is a cake, and in a pot is ‘marcheshes’, a dish prepared for a special occasion.
Bread is ordinary food, a staple in our lives. It represents the basic necessities that we receive everyday to live. The cake represents additional enjoyment, the extra, more luxurious things, in the life, that we don’t really need, but we really enjoy having. The ‘marcheshes’ is something that is for a special occasion, something that happens once in a while, and is only temporary.

By bringing all three types of flour offerings, we are acknowledging the different degrees in which Hashem cares for us. That is why, even today, we should try our best to recognize all the different levels of goodness that we are given every, single, day.

Have a great Shabbos!

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Vayikra: The New Year of Kings
Friday, March 23, 2012 / 29 Adar 5772

We have a small makolet (food store) in the area. It’s run by a frum man by the name of Yoel. Hailing from Mexico, Yoel has been here for 20-some years. He tries to carry many Mehadrin (higher-level kashrus) products and if you’re Ultra-Orthodox and try to check out with a non-Mehadrin product, he’ll stop to warn you first, despite the loss of sale. As I mentioned a few months ago, finding Mehadrin butter here is very difficult. Once, I heard that he received a shipment and I went to look. Nothing but regular butter. So, I asked him when he’s going to get another shipment in. “How many do you need? I can give you ten or twenty right now!” “Yoel”, I replied, “there’s only regular butter.”

He takes me by the sleeve to the freezer… “Look BEHIND the regular butter”, he says with a smile. He explained that he didn’t want customers who could care less, taking the Mehadrin butter, so he put it in back for those who are careful about it.

Just last week, I bought two challahs for him. Instead of charging me, he hands me a piece of paper with his mother’s name (who passed away a month earlier) on it. “Instead of paying, can you please make the bracha on the challah in her merit this Shabbos?”

It’s good to be around such people.“There are four new years: The first of (the month of) Nissan is the Rosh Hashanah for kings and for holidays…” (first Mishnah of Tractate Rosh Hashanah)

Nissan is considered the first month of the year and Pesach is considered the first holiday of the year. We just finished one cycle with Purim, and in two more weeks, we will begin a new cycle with Pesach.

The Mishnah states that Nissan is the Rosh Hashanah for kings and for holidays. We just explained the holidays, but what’s this about the kings? The Gemara goes through and explains that the kings would count their reigns according to the first of Nissan (which was important to know, since this was used in dating contracts). So, if a king began his reign on Purim, two weeks later, on the Rosh Chodesh Nissan, he will begin the second year of his reign.

Fine.

I would like to humbly suggest an alternative way of understanding the Rosh Hashanah for kings. As we know, Hashem is THE king, and being that, we are the children of the King… or “mini-kings” if you will. What is Pesach? Pesach is the birth of the Jewish nation. It was when Hashem took us out of Egypt and formed an official bond with the entire nation (compared to individual people as was done earlier). It was at this point we officially became a people and began our relationship with Hashem. Rosh Chodesh Nissan is the beginning of this tekufah, or season, of Pesach. It is a time where we begin to not only physically prepare of Pesach, but also spiritually prepare. NOT ONLY that… but since Nissan is a beginning of a new time cycle and a new spiritual cycle, it is also an opportune time of teshuvah and turning one’s life around. Perhaps, this is another meaning of the Mishnah… Rosh Chodesh Nissan is the Rosh Hashanah for kings… the Jewish nation.

Tonight we begin a very special day. It’s not only Shabbos, but it’s also Rosh Chodesh Nissan. The kedusha that enters the world at this time is more than that of a regular Shabbos. If we can begin a “new leaf” this Shabbos, we would be making the optimal use of the double-kedusha of Shabbos/Rosh Chodesh Nissan, and we will certainly be worthy of the title of kings.

Have a great Shabbos!



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Vayikra: The Atzeres Tefillah
Friday, March 07, 2014 / 5 Adar II 5774

As you might have seen, this “Atzeres Tefillah”, or the “Gathering for Prayer”, that took place in Jerusalem this past week has been in the Jewish news quite a bit. For those, who haven’t seen, basically somewhere around 600,000 Jews, compromising (mainly the) Ultra-Orthodox, Ashkanazim, Chassidim & Sfardim, and many within the National Religious camp, men, women, and children, came to Jerusalem to pray that somehow Hashem should overturn the law that will throw people into prison if they refuse to stop learning in yeshivos and kollels to join the army (something I don’t think even non-Jewish governments have… at least the non-evil ones). Unfortunately, I was unable to go, but nearly the entire kollel, along with others from the local Hesder Yeshiva (Religious Zionist) and working men, went. I was told, and one could see from the photos, that it was a sight to behold. What was most important is that it wasn’t a protest, as reported in the press. Everybody came, davened Mincha, said certain Psalms, and that was that. No protest against the government. No protest against individuals. No violence broke out. Just davening.

Just as in Purim, when we had nobody to turn to but Hashem, the community has acknowledged that even the religious MKs in the Knesset are powerless, and there is only one direction to channel our hopes towards.

I was discussing this with a friend of mine, and I mentioned that we both know that many people who keep Shabbos and Kashrus still don’t understand what this is all about. They think it’s politics; they think that everybody doesn’t want to work, or that they wish to see the State of Israel destroyed… they cannot grasp the concept that the Torah is very clear that we have been put on this world to be osek in Torah (“osek” can be translated as “delve”or “learning”… but it’s more than just “learning,” it’s putting all your effort and time into that learning), and to fulfill the mitzvos. Why can’t even THEY understand this basic and fundamental belief in Judaism (please see Nefesh HaChaim, Gate 4… it’s even published in English, for more details on this concept).

My friend explained that the difference between such people and ourselves is simple. We believe that and they don’t. We believe that Torah is the center of our lives and the key to success in this world and the next, while they believe in living their lives as much as they can as long as it’s not explicitly forbidden by the Torah.

It reminded me of an email somebody sent me. He told me that somebody whom he knows made mention about his upcoming vacation. He was proud of himself for learning Daf Yomi (where you learn one page of Gemara a day) ahead of time, so he will be “free” to enjoy his vacation to the fullest.

That is an idea which the Torah does not encourage.

We don’t view learning Torah as something you pick up, learn a little, and put down. We believe in being “osek” in Torah, that is putting our full energies into it, to delve into it, and to understand it as much as possible. This obligation is upon every Jewish man, whether he is working or learning full-time. Obviously, it is best to be able to sit and learn and devote as much time as one can to his learning. Each person needs to make a schedule according to his life, but nonetheless, it should be the main part of his life.

This week we begin Sefer Vayikra, the third in the five books of the Torah. Throughout most of the next few parshiyos, the Torah goes into detail about all the different types of korbonos, sacrifices.

One of the points of these korbonos (depending which ones), is that one should feel that he is “sacrificing” himself by giving all his energies to Hashem and developing his relationship with Him. THIS is one of fundamental beliefs that Jews have.

This “Atzeres Tefillah” is not about working vs. not working (most men after several years of kollel DO go out to work in some capacity, contrary to popular belief). This is not about pro- vs. anti-army. This is about the ability to leave this community to be osek in Torah and to allow young men, especially in the beginning years of marriage, to build themselves in Torah while they still have the opportunity to, before they have to start to work more to support a larger family.

I would like to end off with a story I saw printed that was said over by Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein, one of the leading rabbeim of our generation:

“After the group tefillah (prayer), the masses dispersed in an orderly fashion to their homes and cities. I sat in a car as we tried to navigate our way through the crowds streaming toward the entrance of the city. It was hard to move because of the mass of people. Suddenly, I noticed a policeman approaching the car, trying to open a path to us. He saw that I have a white beard, and thinking perhaps that I was a Rav asked to talk to me.

“This is what he said, which moved everyone around us: ‘I have to tell the Rav that I’ve been here since the beginning of the day, but I had nothing to do the whole time because everyone behaved so decorously. I really identify with you, and wondered what I could do to fill the time. And when I saw this crowd of quality people, each holding a pamphlet and praying from it, I asked someone if they had one for me, and I recited the entire prayer from the paper.

“Then I spoke to the Creator in my own language and I told Him, “G-d in Heaven, I see a huge crowd of quality people, and all they want is to be able to continue learning Torah,” and I asked that He should fulfill the wishes of the Chareidim (Ultra-Orthodox), and added that although there are people in this country who don’t want to allow them this, and even persecute them, “You, G-d, know better than anyone how to manage with them; please arrange that they should allow this sector to continue doing the only thing they yearn to do.’”

Have a great Shabbos

Michael Winner

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