Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Weinberg, mashgiach ruchani of Yeshiva University’s SBMP (Irving I Stone Beit Midrash Program) was born and raised in Philadelphia. Rabbi Weinberg currently lives in Bergenfield, NJ with his wife and three daughters.
KG: You have been educating students for a long time? How did you make the transition to educating the public?
RW: I feel very fortunate to have been blessed with opportunities to speak beyond my “official” teaching positions. When we lived in Teaneck, I had numerous opportunities to give Shabbos derashos and shiurim in our young couples shul. From there I began speaking in someone’s home in Bergenfield on Thursday night, and as the shiur grew, we moved it to Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck. The Thursday night parsha and chassidus shiur has been one of the highlights of my week for the last 2 years. The shiurim were well received and it has led to invitations from other communities, schools and camps to share the messages of our Torah.
What is it about your messages that you think resonates with younger audiences?
While it may seem somewhat obvious, I have always tried to speak to the heart of my audience. I once read a great quote from the Bendiner Rav (who was a son-in-law of the famed Gerrer Rebbe, the Sfas Emes). He said in the name of his grandfather, “Just as a person from England only understands English, so too the heart only understands the language of the heart.” I have tried (and continue to strive) to learn to speak and teach “the language of the heart” to all who are open to learning it. The shiurim I give are always filled with a wide-range of Torah sources ranging from the words of our sages to the writings of the great Chassidic masters and Mussar giants. If you offer a wide range of approaches and ideas, hopefully everyone finds something to leave them feeling inspired.
What message do you hope young audiences come away with?
There is no doubt that we live in spiritually trying times. The challenges facing today’s youth can be extremely overwhelming. I try to inspire people to believe in themselves and to strive for true greatness. We have come so far as a people and to see people lose confidence in their ability to make a difference is a real tragedy.
What do you think educators can learn from camp programs?
I love the camp atmosphere! I wish our schools would adopt some of the great benefits of informal Jewish education and try to incorporate them into the regular school year. In truth, I would love to see grades removed from all Judaic Studies classes and allow students to study the Torah for its sake. While I certainly understand the challenges of doing so, it troubles me that we have turned Torah study into just another class. Our students have to see Torah as the basis of their very lives and not some external system imposing itself upon them. Camp creates a great opportunity to grow spiritually as the religious experiences are usually presented without the pressures of a formal school environment. The past two summers I have headed a post-Israel learning program for young women returning from seminary. Their enthusiasm for Torah and religious growth is remarkable and they are a great pleasure to teach and spend time with.
What do you see as the main philosophy in chinuch?
As I see it, we have to face the harsh reality that the lure of secular society is tugging at the hearts and minds of today’s youth. We therefore have an absolute obligation to make Judaism as meaningful and attractive as possible. If we can’t inspire our children and students to believe that our relationship with our Creator is our greatest gift and privilege, then we risk losing the future of the Jewish people to the fast-paced hedonistic world around us. As a teacher, I have to know that at the end of the day, each student will choose the lifestyle that he or she wants to live. Sadly, forcing a student to be obedient to Torah will only last until he reaches an age where he can sever those ties. We must show the next generation the great beauty and depth of meaning and purpose that accompanies a religious lifestyle. Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld of Yerushalayim was once asked to give a letter of recommendation for a new yeshiva opening in his neighborhood. He responded that he would only do so if the school felt confident that Mashiach could be a graduate of their program! We need our students to be proud Jews and feel that they have endless potential to impact the world around them.
This is one of the reasons I am always looking for new opportunities to speak in communities and spread the teachings of the Torah, in particular the ideas of the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of Chassidus) and his disciples. I find that many who would label themselves as modern-Orthodox and have had minimal exposure to this world of Jewish thought, find it so enriching upon learning more.
Can you give us a brief idea for Yom Kippur?
Towards the end of Yom Kippur we read the story of Yonah. The Chofetz Chaim in his great halachic work, Mishnah Berurah, cites two explanations. One, that the story of Yonah is simply the story of a Navi (prophet) called to awaken people to repentance. In addition, the story shows how “one cannot escape from G-d,” as Yonah is pursued and punished by Hashem for sinning and attempting to flee.
However, I once saw an explanation from a great Torah teacher that it was not just a question of being punished for his misdeed; rather the story serves as a reminder that we cannot escape our mission as Jews. The story is meant to impress upon us that there is a higher purpose to our lives, a reason why G-d created us, and a destiny from which we cannot escape. Hopefully on Yom Kippur, we can come to terms with that reality of our existence and embrace it fully.
About the Author: Karen Greenberg lives in Queens, NY. She attended the Yeshiva University High School for Girls (Central) and spent her year in Israel studying at Midreshet Harova. She is now a junior at Queens College with a major in English and a double minor in business and secondary education. This article was originally posted at www.cross-currents.com.
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