Jan 23 2015

Rabbi Dovid Winiarz zt”l

Rav Dovid Winiarz zt"l

Rav Dovid Winiarz zt”l

At the beginning of this week’s reading, Pharoah flatly rejects the idea that all the Jews should be allowed to leave Egypt to worship G-d. He was willing to consider allowing a subset to leave for a time, but not the entire nation. Yet that is precisely what Moshe demanded, and at the end, of course, that is what happened. Moshe was unwilling to leave anyone behind.

This week, the world of Kiruv, Jewish outreach, lost a true hero. On the way to the conference of the Association for Jewish Outreach Professionals, the car in which Rav Dovid Winiarz zt”l was travelling slid on a patch of black ice, and he died in the accident.

Reb Dovid was a person who believed in the ideal of leaving no one behind, and who lived for that ideal.

He used social media as his vehicle of choice, even adopting the moniker “the Facebuker Rebbe” for his activities. And like any Rebbe, he was there for any Jew with words of advice and inspiration.

He epitomized what outreach is really all about: Ahavas Chinam, love for every person regardless of circumstances. Helping a Jewish person discover the majesty of our Jewish heritage isn’t about saving souls; it’s another aspect of the concern for others we are supposed to demonstrate in all circumstances. Dovid was concerned for others, in every way.

You saw it in the way he did business. He was an agent for Fidelity Payment Services, a popular provider of merchant transaction processing. You saw exactly the same caring person helping his clients as you did in his outreach. The CEO of Fidelity, Benyamin Weiser, mentioned to me that R’ Dovid had a uniquely soft approach in both sales and service, which he attributed to his outreach work, but I feel was simply the essence of who Dovid Winiarz was.

Someone wrote on Facebook that he wanted to hear from R’ Dovid’s close friends about doing something in his memory. I sent that person a note, telling him that he’s going to receive a lot of messages (as I’m sure he did) because everyone felt he was R’ Dovid’s close friend. His enthusiasm was infectious, he was always trying to get more people involved in spreading Judaism, and simply helping others in whatever situation. In just days, hundreds of people have joined the tribute page set up on Facebook in his memory, with countless stories of what he personally did to help so many. One person commented that everyone knew R’ Dovid was a Tzaddik, a truly righteous person. What was hidden about his holiness is that no one knew the superhuman amount that he did for so many people.

As I wrote earlier this week, if we are to learn from R’ Dovid, it would have to be first and foremost his attribute of Ahavas Chinam, free and boundless love for others, that we emulate. Spreading knowledge of our great legacy should be merely one facet of that desire to help.

Rav Dovid Winiarz is survived by his wife and ten children; a fund has been established to help the family.

Jan 09 2015

Criticism Welcome!


CaptureThere is a world of difference between lashon hora, evil gossip, and constructive criticism. First and foremost, criticism can help us to improve.

In this week’s reading, Moshe is warned that he spoke badly of Israel — he said that they will not believe him, and this is why G-d makes his hand turn white with Tza’aras, the affliction that came for speaking lashon hora. The Torah also teaches us how important it is not to embarrass another person, comparing a comment that drains the blood from a person’s face to homicide. Yet the Torah is also filled with instances in which G-d and Moshe rebuke the Jewish Nation.

We are turning to you this week with an open invitation for criticism.

As you have almost certainly heard, we are in the process of laying out a series of improvements to our website and entire Internet presence, ones which we hope will dramatically increase our reach and our ability to touch Jewish lives. We want to know what you think is missing.

As Rabbi Dixler put it, instead of “what’s new at Torah.org,” let’s talk about what’s old!

We will be the first to say that our website is outdated. The menus are clumsy and confusing, and don’t necessarily steer you to the content you will most enjoy. There are no social media connections to make it easier to share our content. We could, of course, offer a wider variety of content, and RSS feeds to permit you to subscribe via the web to writers or topics.

This will help inform our transition, and help others to appreciate its importance. If I try to explain to a supporter that our website is outdated, that’s one thing. But if you, the reader, say “I can barely find your excellent content because your menus are so clumsy,” then you’ve both endorsed the importance of what we offer, and explained how and why we need to improve.

So please, have at it! We don’t promise to publish every comment, but we will certainly read them.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Jan 02 2015

Do the Right Thing


bless-childrenYaakov blesses all of his sons before he dies. But before this, Yosef takes his sons Ephraim and Menashe to see their grandfather, who gives them a special blessing — first and foremost, by elevating them to have the same status as his own children. Throughout the rest of the Torah, the tribes of Ephraim and Menashe are similar to any of the others. In the desert, the new nation of Israel traveled with the descendants of Levi in the center, with the Mishkan (Tabernacle), while three tribes camped in each of the four directions around them. The tribes of Menashe and Benyamin joined under the flag of Ephraim, to the West. In the Land of Israel, each was allocated a separate region of the country.

This is not all, however. Yaakov gives Ephraim and Menashe a unique distinction — that throughout Jewish history, fathers in the Nation of Israel will bless their sons by saying, “G-d should place you like Ephraim and Menashe.” Our Sages established that parents should bless their daughters to be like the four original mothers of Israel: Sarah, Rivkah (Rebecca), Rachel and Leah. But instead of blessing boys to be like our forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, instead the paradigms are Ephraim and Menashe.

Even more so, Yaakov excludes any future sons of Yosef from his blessing. On the contrary, he says they will be absorbed into the tribes of their older brothers. Why — what makes Ephraim and Menashe so unique?

Rabbi Shmuel Hominer zt”l explains that unlike the children of Yosef’s brothers, Ephraim and Menashe grew up in Egypt, surrounded by idolatry and impurity. Instead of living in the Land of Israel, with their grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins all dedicated to continuing in the way of their forefather Avraham, the honored guests in their home were government officials, Pharoah’s magicians, those given prestige by the surrounding society.

When Yaakov came down to Egypt, he discovered that Ephraim and Menashe had not been drawn away from the path of their forefathers. They were not influenced by the idolatrous society around them. On the contrary, he recognized that they had clearly learned from their father, Yosef HaTzaddik, the righteous Joseph, to follow the path of Torah.

It is obvious that for them to have achieved this level was not accomplished easily. Their life was no bed of roses. There were many very serious tests of their commitment along the way, and they could certainly have turned out very differently. Nonetheless, they clung to what they learned from their father, and not all those around them.

This is why Yaakov singled out Ephraim and Menashe — so that all of us should similarly be blessed to follow a different path, no matter what society says. What society believes is worthwhile or honorable, and what the Torah says, can be two profoundly different things. And each of us must seek, and be blessed, to follow the Jewish path in all our ways.

Dec 26 2014

All According to Plan


business-planning-guideIf there is one lesson to be learned from this week’s reading and those of the past few weeks, said Rav Asher Rubenstein zt”l, it is that G-d runs the world, and He has a Plan. We can either follow the plan, or we can fight the plan, but it’s going to happen anyways.

Yosef had dreams, dreams that indicated his brothers would bow to him. Yosef knew they were prophetic. His brothers, though, dismissed them, and when they threw him into a pit and then sold him into slavery, they said “let’s see what comes of his dreams!” [Gen 27:20]

Now read the story. What happens afterwards? What action set the process in motion by which Yosef was elevated to the position of viceroy of Egypt, second only to the King, to whom the brothers would bow? It happened because the brothers sold him into slavery. The very thing that they believed would destroy any prospect of the dreams turning into reality, caused them to turn into reality.

Yosef, for his part, acted to ensure that the dreams would come true. He followed the plan. When ten of the brothers came down to Egypt and bowed to him, he realized that something was missing — because the dreams included his brother Benyamin. All eleven brothers had to bow to him, so he had to do something to ensure that Benyamin came down and joined them.

There was no basis on which to accuse the brothers of “spying;” they came to buy food like anyone else. And certainly it was ridiculous for Yosef to claim that he was unable to recognize that all ten of them were brothers, but the addition of an eleventh man would somehow prove to him that they were indeed all related and were telling him the truth. As soon as he said that, the brothers said to each other something equally nonsensical: that this is all because they were guilty, because they saw their brother in pain and did not listen [42:19-21]. Yosef’s behavior, otherwise, made no sense at all… and even so, it didn’t make sense — until he stood and declared, “I am Yosef!”

Then, of course, it all made sense. And it all went according to Plan.

The Torah describes the plan, and guides us in following it. What can we do to align our lives more with the plan, so that when it all eventually happens, we will know we did our part?

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