Yartzeit of Reb Avraham Weinfeld

This week will be the Yahrzeit of the Rav’s father, Reb Avraham Weinfeld, on the 15th of Shevat. He was born in 1930, came to the United States in 1947 on the 15th of Shevat and passed away in 1987.

As the shul was davening outside, the Rav was thinking how spoiled people have become that standing outside in semi cold weather for an hour or two became such a challenge. As opposed to a person like the Rav’s father who at the age of fourteen went to Auschwitz in May 1944 and spent the entire winter of 1945 in an Austrian concentration camp where the temperatures were way below zero. In such weather, all he had was a thin pajama like clothing and he had to work all day outside only to come back to the barracks at night which were also freezing cold. People went through this for an extended period of time and nonetheless didn’t lose it. Therefore, we should learn to appreciate what we have and we shouldn’t take things for granted and that it’s never so bad. As a הקדמה to discussing the life of the Rav’s father, the Pasuk in Koheles 1:4 says דור הולך ודור בא that one generation leaves in present tense and the other generation enters in present tense. However, our generation experiences a דור הלך, in past tense, because the generation was gone before the next generation had a chance to grow up and therefore we are, in a way, cut off from our past.

In the Yehi Ratzon that is said after Krias HaTorah on Mondays and Thursdays, it says יהי רצון מלפני אבינו שבשמים לקים בנו חכמי ישראל הם ונשיהם ובניהם ובנותיהם ותלמידיהם ותלמידי תלמידיהם וכו'. To daven for the חכמי ישראל makes sense, but why are we davening for their wives, sons, and daughters? Why is that a communal issue? It would seem that just like we daven for their ותלמידיהם ותלמידי תלמידיהם because they transmit the Torah of the חכמי ישראל, so to the נשיהם ובניהם ובנותיהם their presence among us allows us to see a glimpse into the past.
Therefore the Rav feels a sense of אחריות, just like in every generation, to transmit to the next generation what once was. Especially because today in America, unfortunately, communities have new shuls opening up every five years and the thirty years olds aren’t davening with the twenty five year olds. It used to be that the people in their twenties were davening with people in their eighties so the younger generation was exposed to the older generation. But today, every five years is a new generation and the younger generation doesn’t even want to know people that are a bit older than them.

After the Rav’s father went through the war and lost his entire family as a child and came to America all alone, he was actually fasting every day of the Shovavim while he was in his twenties. When he once fainted on the train, only then did his wife stop him from continuing with these fasts. It’s mindboggling to think that after a person went through so much pain and suffering and can still feel that he needs to add another Taanis, to fast all these days.
In the Hakdama to one of his Seforim, Reb Avraham Weinfeld writes that he took a נדר as a child during the war (was age 14 to 15) that if he survives it, he will dedicate his entire life to learning Torah. This was in spite of the fact that he came from a Balebatish family where his father and grandfather owned a factory and were well to do people. The idea of dedicating his life to Torah was all his own idea.

When he became engaged (to the Rav’s mother), they went to the Satmer Rebbe, Reb Yoel, and the Rebbe asked him what he’s going to be doing to which he responded that he is going to learn. So the Rebbe asked him if you’re going to learn then what are you going to live from. So he answered him that he made a נדר in the concentration camps that if he survives then he will dedicate his life to learning Torah. So the Rebbe responded (in a matter of disregard with his hands) that it was just נדרי אונסין and therefore doesn’t need to keep to it, but he nevertheless did not give up.

However, to dedicate one’s life to learning was not simple in those days as there was no such thing as a Kollel.

When he came to the United States as a Bochur, he was in the lower east side and every day he was by Reb Moshe Feinstein. In the first year that he was there when he was eighteen, he got Semicha on three חלקים of שולחן ערוך (Just to give an idea how much he was learning). When he became engaged, his Kallah was also a survivor, and he knew he had to find a place to live but he had no concept of any of the neighborhoods. So he bought a newspaper and looked at the classifieds and he chose an apartment that was in Harlem. Although Harlem back then was not like it is today, it was still rather strange for someone like him to live in such a place. The first day of Sheva Brachos, he went to daven Mincha/Maariv in a Shul that he found. After Mincha, a few old men approached him and asked him if he could give a Shiur on Mishnayos. So he agreed and they said they’ll start with Masechta Brachos and he gave the Shiur. After Maariv, the shul members asked him if he’ll become the Rav. It’s quite amazing that he had no idea what he was going to live from and nevertheless landed this job. It comes to show like the Gemara Brachos 35b says הרבה עשו כרבי שמעון בן יוחי ולא עלתה בידן and the Maharsha says that הרבה can’t do like רבי שמעון בן יוחי but only individuals who are totally dedicated could do כרבי שמעון בן יוחי and don’t have to worry about פרנסה. For ten dollars a month he became the Rav of that shul and eventually another shul hired him, paying him twelve dollars a month and he alternated between the shuls and that is what he lived from. One time during the Mishnayos shiur, he got to the Mishna that discusses דקדוק באותיותיה, and he read the רע"ב that says ולא יניח הנד ולא יניד הנ. Being that he went to a Cheder that didn’t really focus on Dikduk, he had no clue what this meant and he hadn’t prepared and he used to give this shiur on the spot. So he glossed over it and attempted to go on. However, there was an Alter Litvak in the back of the shul who piped up and asked what it meant. He said from that point on, he never gave a shiur without preparing because you never know.

In that first shul, there was a balcony but no women really came to shul so there wasn’t much of an issue. But came the high holidays and women were now going to come to shul and he told the people in the shul that they need a mechitzah. The members responded that this shul is a hundred years old and this is the way they’ve been davening for all these years and they weren’t interested in a nineteen year old boy to be telling them how to daven. Nevertheless he told them that he can’t daven there if there is no mechitzah. The came up with a solution and they built a mechitza around his seat. This is how it was on Rosh Hashanah. Came Yom Kippur and to his surprise, he saw everyone in the shul wearing leather shoes. So during his drashah before Kol Nidrei he told everyone that they can’t wear shoes so they all listened, besides for the president of the shul who refused, and they removed their shoes. The next morning, Reb Avraham came back to shul and he sees his mechitza is gone and they tell him that the president took it down. So he went over to the president and the president told him that the way he is living is not how people live. To which Reb Avraham responded, which he always said, that if a person lives על פי תורה he lives and if he doesn’t, it’s not a life. So he left the shul and walked, Yom Kippur morning, from Harlem to Williamsburg to daven by the Klausenberger Rebbe. When he came back home Motsei Yom Kippur, in the hallway to his apartment, all the people of the shul were gathered there. They told him that morning, the president of the shul dropped dead in the middle of davening and they were all spooked and asked him Mechila and he told them that it had nothing to do with him but he quit that job and he eventually moved to the Bronx. The Klausenberger Rebbe found him in the Bronx and brought him to Williamsburg to be the Rosh Kollel of a Kollel founded by the Rebbe in 1952. But it didn’t work out so he began looking for a job.

Reb Avraham heard there was a job opening in Scranton, PA. In those days Scranton was referred to Yerushalayim of America as it was a very choshuv community. He heard that Reb Simcha Schustal, the son in law of the Mattersdorfer Rav, who he had bumped into a few times in the lower east side, was in Monsey in Beis Medrash Elyon and he has information about this job. So on a spring day in 1953, Reb Avraham went to Monsey to speak with Reb Simcha Schustal about the job in Scranton. As he was standing outisde on the porch in Beis Medrash Elyon, he came to the conclusion that this is where he wanted to be. He was taken by the scenery and tranquility of Monsey of those days. But Reb Simcha told him that the Yeshiva wasn’t taking any Kollel yungerleit and there weren’t really Balabatim at that time in Monsey so how was he to live in Monsey. But he got it in his head to move to Monsey and that’s what he decided and he went back home to Williamsburg. The next day, he was approached by a wealthy balabus in Monsey whose name was Rephael Eisenberger (who is the grandfather of Reb Sholom Povarskys wife) at Mincha in Torah Vodath. He told him that he heard he was looking to move to Monsey. And he tells him that he just made up his mind that he wants to take off every Wednesday and dedicate the whole day to learning and he needs someone to learn with. So he told him that if he agrees to learn with him every Wednesday, he has an extra house that he could live in. This is how Reb Avraham Weinfeld came to Monsey. It further comes to show that if a person is really dedicated and committed, Hashem sets things up for him.

When he was only fifty three years old, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and he was given between six weeks and three months to live. Nevertheless he lived on for almost five more years. About an hour after he was got this information, the Rav was speaking to him and he told him that he’s not upset and most of his friends died forty years ago (in the concentration camps) so he viewed it as if he was given an extra forty years to live, to daven a little and learn a little. What was he to be upset about? He said, “Did I have a contract with the Ribono Shel Oilam for 80 years? Of course not, because every day of life is a Chessed Hashem and this is what it is. He was very realistic and saw it the way it was. He was always very pleasantly surprised when he kept on living. The doctors told him if he takes chemo, he would live for another six months, but he felt that with chemo it wouldn’t be a life and therefore just accepted it. At the time, he was the second longest living person with pancreatic cancer. In his siddur by Chanukah, he would write the Baruch Hashem he was able to light with the year, year after year. The last time he lit, he wrote he lit again…?, because he realized that would be the last time and he died two months later.

Hashem in the Hardening

בא אל פרעה כי אני הכבדתי את לבו The Parsha begins with Hashem telling Moshe בא אל פרעה and the reason is כי אני הכבדתי את לבו. It’s interesting that Moshe is being told to come to Pharaoh because Hashem hardened his heart. On the contrary, כי אני הכבדתי את לבו would be more of a reason for him not to go to Pharaoh. But the Chida writes in his sefer נחל קדומים which can be found in the set תורת החיד"א as follows: בא אל פרעה פירש"י והתרה בו. וראיתי להר' רבינו שלמה אסתרוק ז"ל (שהי' בשנ' קי"ט לאלף הששי בדור הריטב"א והר"ן) בפרישתו כ"י שפי' כי אני הכבדתי את לבו אע"פ שאני הכבדתי את לבו כטעם רפאה נפשי כי חטאתי לך והוא פירש לפי דרכו. ואפשר לפרש דבא ללמד דתמיד הבחירה ביד ב"ו ויכול להתגבר על יצרו וז"ש והתרה בו אע"פ שאני הכבדתי עדיין הבחירה בידו. וזה ע"ד מ"ש שובו בנים שובבים חוץ מאחר וכתב הרב מהרימ"ט בתשו' א"ח (סי' ח) דעכ"ז הי"ל לשוב וזה רמז כל מה שיאמר לך בעה"ב עשה חוץ מצא ע"ש וכ"כ הרב ראשית חכמה ע"ש והיינו דהבחירה בידו וגם לפרעה הגם שהכביד את לבו הוא ית' השאיר הבחירה אבל צריך להתגבר מאד על יצרו וסמך לזה ולמען תספר באזני בנך ובן בנך לומר דגם זה עיקר גדול לספר מה שהפליא הקב"ה לעשות דהבחירה תהיה ביד האדם ואם יזכה יכול להתגבר על יצרו.

But perhaps this question of why the Pasuk says כי אני הכבדתי את לבו can be answered in a slightly different way. The Zohar asks if Hashem is telling Moshe to go to Pharaoh, it would be more proper for the Pasuk to say לך אל פרעה so why does the Pasuk says בא?

The Kotzker Rebbe once said that if it said לך instead of בא, then we wouldn’t have שובבי"ם. The Chidushei Harim said that everyone thinks that this is a מליצה, but it is really a real vort and that is what Shovavim is all about.

The Rav went on to elaborate on what the Chidushei Harim meant.

The כי in the Pasuk could really mean “because” like the simple explanation of the Pasuk, unlike the explanation brought in the Chida above. But the emphasis of the Pasuk shouldn’t be on the הכבדתי את לבו rather it should be on the אני that I Hashem, was הכבדתי את לבו. Hashem was telling him to not be overwhelmed by his hardening of heart and not to despair and be discouraged even though he wasn’t making any progress. Because it’s all Hashem who is hardening his heart and Moshe was being sent to deal with an outside power rather Hashem is there and present in that struggle. It’s true the Jews weren’t being released at that point but nevertheless Hashem wanted Moshe to go and warn Pharaoh about the Makkos because it wasn’t about accomplishing the immediate goal of freeing the Jews from Mitzrayim. Rather it was למען שתי אתתי אלה בקרבו that they are creating the story. So the בא אל פרעה כי אני הכבדתי את לבו was Hashem inviting Moshe to talk to Pharaoh because Hashem was, as if to say, next to Pharaoh. That is the בא and not the לך because Hashem was saying come there and that is where he is! Whatever nisayon that you may encounter in life, I will be there. Hashem was present on both sides. Hashem is in our struggle.

This idea is said in the Sefer HaTanya Chapter 26 as follows:

ועל כן צריך לשמוח בקיום הלאו כמו בקיום מצות עשה ממש ואדרבה העצבות היא מגסות הרוח שאינו מכיר מקומו ועל כן ירע לבבו על שאינו במדרגת צדיק שלצדיקים בודאי אין נופלים להם הרהורי שטות כאלו כי אילו היה מכיר מקומו שהוא רחוק מאד ממדרגת צדיק והלואי היה בינוני ולא רשע כל ימיו אפי' שעה אחת הרי זאת היא מדת הבינונים ועבודתם לכבוש היצר וההרהור העולה מהלב למוח ולהסיח דעתו לגמרי ממנו ולדחותו בשתי ידים כנ"ל ובכל דחיה ודחיה שמדחהו ממחשבתו אתכפיא ס"א לתתא ובאתערותא דלתתא אתערותא דלעילא ואתכפיא ס"א דלעילא המגביה עצמה כנשר לקיים מ"ש אם תגביה כנשר וגו' משם אורידך נאם ה' וכמו שהפליג בזהר פ' תרומה [דף קכח] בגודל נחת רוח לפניו ית' כד אתכפיא ס"א לתתא דאסתלק יקרא דקב"ה לעילא על כולא יתיר משבח' אחרא ואסתלקות' דא יתיר מכולא וכו'. ולכן אל יפול לב אדם עליו ולא ירע לבבו מאד גם אם יהיה כן כל ימיו במלחמה זו כי אולי לכך נברא וזאת עבודתו לאכפיא לס"א תמיד. ועל זה אמר איוב בראת רשעים ולא שיהיו רשעים באמת ח"ו אלא שיגיע אליהם כמעשה הרשעים במחשבתם והרהורם לבד והם יהיו נלחמים תמיד להסיח דעתם מהם כדי לאכפי' לס"א ולא יוכלו לבטלה מכל וכל כי זה נעשה ע"י צדיקים. ושני מיני נחת רוח לפניו ית' למעלה. א' מביטול הס"א לגמרי ואתהפכא ממרירו למתקא ומחשוכא לנהורא ע"י הצדיקים. והשנית כד אתכפיא הס"א בעודה בתקפה וגבורתה ומגביה עצמה כנשר ומשם מורידה ה' באתערותא דלתתא ע"י הבינונים וכו' ע"ש.

Some people will never rid themselves of their evil inclination and their mission in life is to constantly be engaged in battle with their Yetzer Hara and that is how they will bring a נחת רוח to Hashem. This is the idea of אני הכבדתי את לבו but nevertheless don’t give up because it’s בא אל פרעה. Because although a person might be in constant battle and he might not ever be triumphant over his Yetzer Hara, but nevertheless that is what Hashem wants, for him to constantly be battling the Yetzer Hara. That is the בא אל פרעה כי אני הכבדתי את לבו. By the עץ הדעת, Adam HaRishon says הוא נתנה לי מן העץ ואכל. The medrash says that Adam said אכלתי ואכלתי עוד. This would seem to be a very rebellious statement when he should be just apologizing. Reb Tzadok writes in the Pri Tzadik by Shabbos Shuva that ח"ו Adam wasn’t being rebellious, rather he was מיואש, that he was giving up hope and saying that if he sinned once, he’s probably going to sin again. He didn’t feel like he could do Teshuva.

This is the message of שובו בנים שובבים being understood in the בא אל פרעה. Only when a person understands that it’s not the person hardening his heart but it’s the Ribono Shel Oilam doing it and even if he fails, he could always bounce back and try again. This is what Hashem was wanting from Moshe as the Pasuk says ולמען תספר באזני בנך ובן בנך את אשר התעללתי במצרים, that Hashem played the game on him and Hashem wants a person to be מתעלל with his Yetzer Hara. This is a person’s mission and therefore he should not give up when he fails time and time again because every try and effort makes a difference and changes the world!

First Born captives and First Born Slaves

There is an interesting דיבור המתחיל of Rashi where he quotes something that is not found in the Pasuk. By the warning of Makas Bechoros, the Pasuk says מבכור פרעה הישב על כסאו עד בכור השפחה (יא, ה). Although the Pasuk says עד בכור השפחה, Rashi says עד בכור השבי and he explains the reason why the captives were killed in this מכה was כדי שלא יאמרו, יראתם תבעה עלבונם והביאה פורענות על מצרים- they shouldn’t say their gods saved them and brought this punishment on the Mitzriim. Therefore not only did a bechor Mitzri need to get killed but even a Turk who was a captive in Mitzriim needed to get killed if he was a bechor. It can’t be that Rashi had a different Girsa because the next דיבור המתחיל is מבכור פרעה עד בכור השפחה and Rashi explains the reason why the בכור השפחה was also punished was because שאף הם היו משעבדים בהם ושמחים בצרתם-they also were involved in enslaving the Jews and they were happy seeing the Jews suffer. So why does Rashi say here עד בכור השבי if it’s not in the Pasuk?

Later on by the actual מכה, the Pasuk says מבכר פרעה הישב על כסאו עד בכור השבי (יב,כט). So which of the two categories is actually the lowest, is it בכור השבי or בכור השפחה?

Perhaps an explanation could be (see רא"ם) as follows. The people that were actually involved in enslaving the Jews, they got the Maka מעיקר הדין and that included the בכור שפחה as Rashi says שאף הם היו משעבדים בהם ושמחים בצרתם. However, the בכור השבי only died as collateral damage, in order that they shouldn’t say it was their god who brought the punishment and saved them. But really they didn’t deserve to be punished. Therefore, when Moshe was warning Pharaoh, the בכור השבי weren’t included in the התראה which was “מהלכות המכה” as it was only for those who had a control of their own destiny and were therefore being warned. But the בכור השבי who weren’t in control of their own destiny, it didn’t make sense to include them in the התראה because it wasn’t in their power to prevent it. Therefore they weren’t included in that Pasuk and Rashi was just coming to explain why the בכור השבי were hit.

Importance of Family Connections

This week’s Parsha has the Korban Pesach. The Korban Pesach is an interesting Korban being that it isn’t exclusively a קרבן ציבור or a קרבן יחיד as opposed to any other Korban that is either a קרבן יחיד or a קרבן ציבור. The Korban Pesach seems to have qualities of both. On the one hand it’s קרבן יחיד in the sense that it comes from the individuals money but on the other hand it’s a קרבן יחיד because אתי בכנופיא (ע' יומא נא ע"א) that it was done בחבורה. What is the significance of such a unique Korban at this point in Jewish history? By Jews, there is an emphasis of חייך קודמין לחיי חבירך, there is a concept of a person’s responsibility to his family, and then there is a concept of עניי עירך קודמין. It’s clear that there is an order of precedence, סדר הקדימה, when it comes to taking care of others and it’s unhealthy to skip levels of precedence. If one desires and does take care of others before himself, it means there is something off.

Now as the Jews are becoming a nation, the Pasuk says by the Korban Pesach איש שה לבית אבת שה לבית that there is a special emphasis on not losing the sense of אחריות that one should have for his family, his neighbor, and his community. In the opposite sense, in Russia during the communist regime of Stalin, they tried to encourage children to snitch on their parents, and parents to snitch on their children, brothers to snitch on their sisters, people to snitch on their neighbors and so on. They were trying to convince people to believe that the good of the nation and the good of the people was dependent on people getting rid of all connections a person naturally has. However as Jews, we believe the opposite and on the contrary, if someone disregards family and community and is just for the nation, it’s clear that his perspective and attitude is warped and there is something wrong with the person. Therefore, as we are building the Klal Yisrael, it is one family at a time. אין בכלל אלא מה שבפרט that the כלל can only be strong and healthy if it consists of smaller units of family of real people and not to start worshiping an abstract idea of people who uproot all natural instincts of connection that people are born with for a good reason.
For more of an elaboration on this idea, see the Mirkeves Yecheskel Parshas Bo page 146 ד"ה וי"ל בזה until the end.

Mr. Mikvah

In the 60s and 70s, there was a wealthy man named Max Schreiber and he was known as Mr. Mikvah. He built over a hundred מקואות in Eretz Yisrael. He had some emotional challenges and he went to the Chazon Ish in the early 50s. The Chazon Ish told him that it would be a good idea to get involved in building Mikvaos. He explained to him that by Korban Pesach in Mitzrayim, the Jews tied the שה to the bed post because Jewish Mesiras Nefesh begins from the bed and טהרת המשפחה is the basis of קדושת ישראל. He then dedicated his life to this cause.

Blood as a Sign

There is a Tshuvos HaRashba 4:187 where he is fighting a מין who was claiming that the Mashiach already came.

(The Rambam in the end of Hilchos Milachim describes a מין as someone who doesn’t believe in Mashiach and is not מצפה for his coming. They say in the name of the Brisker Rav that you see from the Rambam that even if someone believes in his coming but is not מצפה for Mashiach to come, he doesn’t anticipate his coming, is considered a מין. But the Rav suggested that maybe all the Rambam means when he says אינו מצפה לביאתו is because he thinks he came already. But if he believes Mashiach didn’t yet come but nevertheless will, even if he isn’t מצפה for his coming, he is not considered a מין. This is an important idea because when people exaggerate, it becomes unreal and they feel about themselves that they aren’t believers even though they are.)

The Christian wanted to prove to the Rashba that Mashiach already came because there can’t be another Beis Hamikdash after the second one because the Pasuk says גדול יהיה כבוד הבית הזה האחרון מן הראשון referring to the second Beis Hamikdash as the last one. The Rashba answered back that אחרון doesn’t have to mean “the last” but can mean the last one so far and he brought a proof from the Psukim when Yaakov was meeting Eisav, it says וישם את השפחות ואת ילדיהן ראשונה ואת לאה וילדיה אחרונים ואת רחל ואת יוסף אחרונים. It’s clear from the Pasuk which says אחרונים after Leah and her children even though the last one was Rachel and Yosef. The Min responded that there is no proof from there because that is לשון בני אדם who don’t have the power to know if something is אחרון. But the Navi knows and therefore can say אחרון actually meaning the last. To which the Rashba responded back that when Hashem told Moshe about the first two מופתים, staff turning into a snake and getting Tzaras on his hand, Hashem says as follows: והיה אם לא יאמינו ולא ישמעו לקול האות הראשון והאמינו לקול האות האחרון. והיה אם לא יאמינו גם לשני האותות האלה ולקחת גם ממימי היאור. It’s clear that Hashem referred to the second אות, Moshe getting Tzaras on his hand, as the אחרון even the אות of דם was going to come. (See the Tosfos Yom Tov in Demai 7:3, who didn’t see the Rashba and says the same thing.)

The Rav once heard that the Pasuk says (יב,יג) והיה הדם לכם לאת על הבתים which means that they were to put the blood on the doorposts as a sign as to which house was a Jewish house and which was a Mitzri house, meaning the blood was a sign for the house. But על דרך צחות, when it says והיה הדם לכם לאת, it’s referring to the מכת דם which was the אות האחרון after the first two מופתים of the נחש and the צרעת, that it’s an אות על הבתים because it proves that in the Pasuk גדול יהיה כבוד הבית הזה האחרון מן הראשון that the בית שני is not the last בית and there will be another!


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