Rav Noach Weinberg zt"l
Yitro (Exodus 18-20 )
Appreciating his genuine trust in God.
"I am the Lord, Your God, who took you out of the land of Egypt from being slaves." (1)
The first of the Ten Commandments is the mitzvah of Emuna, to believe in the one God as the first Cause of all existence, Who constantly creates and sustains all of creation.(2) There is another fundamental concept that is connected to Emuna, that of Bitachon, trust in God. Is trusting in God a part of the mitzvah of Emuna or is it a separate concept that is not included in any specific mitzvah?
The Chazon Ish explains that Bitachon is not separate at all; rather it is the natural outgrowth of genuine Emuna. The obligation to have Emuna requires that one believe in the fundamental tenets about God such as First Cause and Divine Providence, whereas Bitachon is applying that belief in practice. If a person cannot do this then it reveals that his Emuna is severely lacking. The Chazon Ish gives an example of Reuven who is constantly expressing his Emuna and how everything that he has is from God; he proclaims his recognition that his livelihood emanates purely from God and that there is no need for anxiety. However, when someone else opens a business that rivals that of Reuven, suddenly, all his Emuna fades away and he worries constantly over the future. Reuven's Emuna seemed to be strong when everything was going smoothly, but when he was put to the test he failed to show sufficient Bitachon. This in turn demonstrates that his Emuna was never genuine.(3)
We learn from the Chazon Ish that an essential aspect of Emuna is Bitachon, which means applying one's Emuna to real life situations. The Nesivos Shalom develops our understanding of Bitachon by explaining that there are two levels of Bitachon. There is an inactive kind of Bitachon and there is a proactive Bitachon. Inactive Bitachon applies when one finds himself in a difficult situation in which there is nothing he can do - in such circumstances his job is to trust that everything that happens will ultimately be for the good. Proactive Bitachon becomes necessary when a person is required to do something that demonstrates his trust in God. He cites the example of Krias Yam Suf (the splitting of the Sea of Reeds); Moses and the Jewish people were crying out to God to save them from Pharaoh's advancing army. In response, God told them to stop praying and to go into the sea. The Nesivos Shalom explains that in order for the Jewish people to merit God transcending nature through Krias Yam Suf they had to demonstrate a trust in Him that transcended the normal laws of nature. They had to believe that if God's will was for them to cross the sea then they should trust that He had the ability to enable them to do so, even if they had no idea how it was possible. Accordingly, their stepping into the raging sea before it split was a display of proactive Bitachon that earned them the right to the great miracle of Krias Yam Suf.(4)
By combining the lessons of the Chazon Ish and Nesivos Shalom we conclude that genuine Emuna can only manifest itself in a person who is willing to act with an unswerving trust in God; a belief that if God's will dictates that he act in a certain way, then he can and must take the required action, and that God will enable him to succeed in whatever he endeavors to do. We have just passed the third Yahrzeit of Rav Noah Weinberg, zt"l, and it seems fair to say that epitomized this attribute to a great degree. He is most well-known for his incredible feats in outreach however, as one of his closest friends(5) pointed out, all his accomplishments emanated directly from his deep Emuna and Bitachon.
I merited to learn in Yeshivas Aish HaTorah for four years, and in that time I was fortunate to experience Rav Weinberg's greatness first-hand. I never forget how he made a blessing - he spoke to God as if He was really in front of Him, a demonstration of 'shivisi Hashem kenegdi tamid' (I constantly place God in front of me).(6) When he talked about trusting in God, it deeply influenced his listeners, not because he said anything so unusual, but because he lived such Bitachon and the fact that he internalized it so greatly enabled it to rub off on others just by observing him.
Because his Emuna was so genuine he was able to apply it in practice and thereby express the high level of proactive Bitachon that the Nesivos Shalom described.(7) He used to say that if we see problems in the world there is no reason that we shouldn't go out and tackle them if we believe that God so desires. He is willing and able to help us achieve his Will even if it demands superhuman achievements. If we demonstrate proactive Bitachon then God could make miracles happen for us. This is exactly what took place in Rav Weinberg's life. At a time when outreach was virtually unheard of, he saw a dire need to bring back the countless Jews who knew nothing of Torah observance. Many people mocked his dreams as being completely unrealistic and called him a fool. Nevertheless, his conviction that he was fulfilling God's will enabled him to overcome numerous setbacks and perform miracles in creating a movement that saved thousands upon thousands of unaffiliated Jews from begin totally lost to Judaism.(8)
His son, Rav Hillel Weinberg, the current Rosh Yeshiva of Aish HaTorah, described how he began his quest with three young men in a small room in Kirayt Sanz. No-one could have imagined how those humble beginnings could culminate in Aish HaTorah and its offshoots. No-one, that is, except for Rav Noah himself; those closest to him testify that he genuinely believed that he would bring Moshiach through his efforts - his extensive achievements were small in his eyes because he knew that God wanted so much more. At the funeral, his son, Rav Hillel, told us what Rav Weinberg would tell us if he were standing in front of us. He would say that we could be bigger than him; we could be as big as Moshe Rabbeinu! The Sages' words to this effect were not some vague saying, rather they were real and should be taken seriously.
I heard an incredible story about how Rav Weinberg put his Emuna into practice; At the shiva (mourning period) his daughter told over that once a chess champion came to Aish, learned for a few days, and decided to leave. Rav Noah challenged him to a game of chess, on the basis that if the student won, he could leave, but if Rav Noah won, he would stay. Rav Noah won. When asked how he could have had the audacity to propose such a deal, he said that he knew God wanted the young man to stay, so he trusted that God would make him win.(9)
It is appropriate to end with one of his oft-told stories, one that I have discussed before, but one that should never fail to arouse us. Many years ago, the great Sage, Rav Shach, came to Aish HaTorah for a bris. Upon seeing numerous baalei teshuva, people who had come from the most distant backgrounds, Rav Shach told over an idea that he had never expressed before.(10) He quoted the Navi, Hoshea; "Return, Yisroel, to Hashem, your God because you have stumbled in your sin." (11) He asked that the Navi implies that the reason that Yisroel should return to Hashem is because they stumbled in sin - why is the stumbling in sin the reason that Yisroel should return to G-d? He answered by explaining that we know that however powerful evil is, the power of good is greater. Accordingly, the very extent to which Yisroel sinned is the proof that they have the power to do teshuva, because however powerful a person's yetser hara, their yetser tov is greater. Based on this, Rav Shach said, that if one man can destroy six million lives, then one man can save six million lives. He was clearly aroused to express this idea by the remarkable feats that Rav Weinberg had already performed. Rav Hillel added that the man who caused so much destruction, Hitler, yemach shemo, was not a particularly talented or intelligent person and yet he was able to do so much harm. Therefore, each of us, no matter how ordinary we consider ourselves, have the potential to do more good than the evil that he perpetrated. How can we achieve this? By learning from Rav Noah and developing an Emuna and Bitachon that will strengthen us with the belief that we can achieve incredible feats if God so wills it.
It seems difficult to aspire to the level of Emuna and Bitachon that Rav Noah Weinberg attained. However, his greatness in this and all areas did not come about as a result of his natural talent - it was a result of years of hard work in developing his relationship with God. He constantly exhorted us to learn about and internalize the Six Constant mitzvot, the mitzvot that encapsulate a Jew's relationship with God. An appropriate way of remembering him would perhaps be to listen to his teachings and strengthen ourselves in our relationship with God through learning about these Mitzvot, beginning with Emuna.(12) This is the key to achieving the level of proactive Bitachon that the Jews reached at Krias Yam Suf and that Rav Weinberg epitomized throughout his life. May we all merit to learn from Rav Noah Weinberg and ensure that his dreams are fulfilled and that every Jew will return to his Father in Heaven.
1. Yisro, 20:2.
2. See Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvos.
3. See Emuna and Bitachon of the Chazon Ish, Ch.2, Part 2.
4. Nesivos Shalom, Parshas Beshalach.
5. Rav Chaim Uri Freund, Rosh Yeshivas Toldos Aharon.
6. See Rema, Orach Chaim, Simun 1, sif 1.
7. Incidentally, Rav Noach was a great-grandson of the first Slonimer Rebbe, the Beis Avraham, and a cousin with the Nesivos Shalom.
8. Included amongst his achievements are; His establishment of the thriving Aish HaTorah Yeshiva in the Old City opposite the Western Wall; over 25 branches throughout the world spanning five continents, including places such as Moscow, Australia and Chile; the Fellowships program which have brought 10,000 secular Jews on inspiring trips to Israel; the Discovery Program which teaches the evidence of the validity of Torah to skeptical Jews, this is attended by nearly 10,000 people each year; the Aish HaTorah website which has 260,000 subscribers, and receives over 2 million hits per month, making it the largest Jewish website in the world.
9. Heard from Rbsn Gila Manolson.
10. This fact was heard directly from Rav Weinberg himself.
11. Hoshea, 14:2.
12. Here are suggested sources to begin learning about the 'shesh mitzvos': The Sefer HaChinuch is the source of the concept that there are Six Mitzvos that a person is constantly obligated to fulfill. The Chofetz Chaim zt"l in the second Biur Halacha of Mishna Berurah, discusses the importance of these Mitzvos. In addition excellent shiurim by Rav Weinberg himself and ybl"c, my Rebbe Rav Yitzchak Berkovits Shlita, can be obtained in the Aish HaTorah Audio Center.