Our view of the Galile

Thursday, December 22, 2011

What would you do? Mikeitz Chanukah 5772

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
December 23rd 2011 -Volume 2, Issue 8–27th of Kislev 5772

Parshat Mikeitz/ Chanukah

What would you do?

Imagine being in prison; an ancient Egyptian pre-geneva conference prisoner rights prison facing what is certain to be a life sentence. After 10 years there was a glimmer of hope. You’ve befriended one of the Pharaoh’s vassals and he had assured you that he would advocate on your behalf. Yet here you are 2 years later and zip…nada… same old Egyptian prison grind. Bakers who can’t keep pebbles out of his bread, That Egyptian teenager who wrote graffiti all over the pyramid walls (said it was hieroglyphics) in cell 3 the cranky midianite camel thief in cell 4. How long will I be here?

And than your moment arrives. It seems that there is an opening in the dream interpreting department of the pharaoh. The last few guys seemed to have ended up in dreamland themselves after some interpretations they gave just weren’t cutting it with the megalomaniac king. This could finally be it. Only problem is, it seems that this Pharaoh has somewhat of a god complex in  the center of this idol-belt part of the ancient world. And you believe in this “insane” notion of a one God world who happens to abhor idols and men that think they are gods. What do you do? Do you take off your yarmulke and put your religious beliefs on the side to get out of the hell that you have been suffering through and leave your faith out of the workplace? Or do you utilize this momentous-once in a life time opportunity to espouse your religious beliefs in a public way before the king and all his loyal servants and priests (who happen to make a very good living out of the false god mindset of their ancient society) perhaps in the process showing them the error of their ways and the beauty of your faith?

 Scenario II: You are a young child living in an intolerant Greek society. Intolerant is really just being polite, actually they kind of kill you if you don’t worship their gods or if you openly practice your Judaism. So now this young boy is standing in front of the “Caesar” after having watched his 6 older siblings being carted off to be killed for violating those two cardinal crimes. Caesar, being in a bit of a jam after being defied in front of his whole entourage, offers the lad a way out. “I’ll drop my ring on the floor and you bend down to pick it up- that way you won’t technically be bowing down and I’ll save face”; An easy and seemingly quite benevolent solution from a life threatening situation. Do you say to yourself “he who bows down today will live to pray another day”? Or do you take advantage of this tremendous teaching opportunity to point out to the king how silly he is to assume that I, a child, would be more concerned about his honor as a flesh and blood being and a mere mortal king and not worry about the honor and desecration of the name of the King of all Kings, our Father in Heaven?

 Scenario III You live in the quaint Judean village of Mod’in and you have been called to the city square by the newest Greek general in town for a special occasion. An altar is being built and dedicated in the center of town and a sacrifice is being made. You’re not too happy about this invitation. In general you try to avoid these things and truthfully you had other plans this morning, you were going to pick some olives, stamp on some grapes to make some wine for the upcoming Purim holiday  or even suffer through another annoying day sitting through that donkey traffic at the local shuk. Anything but another Greek festival. But you know the price for not coming, and frankly you prefer your head on the top side of your head… so you go.  Yet this  time things go a little differently than usua,l for as the General stands there he orders the local Jewish priest to sacrifice a pig on the altar. Now that’s a big no no, as we all know, but what can you do? They are in power now. Jews don’t fight and particularly not against the largest and strongest army on the planet earth. Listen, if I suffer through this a little bit and pretend to be happy with them, the truth is the Greeks are really not  bad. I mean check out the beautiful streets and markets they have brought to the area. They really cleaned up these slums those barbarian Persians and Babylonians left this country in. The music, the architecture, the literature, the science, the arts. So they have this minor pig- killing- in- front- their- idols fetish. Nobody gets hurt (besides porky), they have fun, we have fun and we all go home happy.

As these thoughts pass through your head you are shaken out of your reverie by this seemingly crazy fanatic Rabbi who pushes his way to the front grabs a sword and kills the priest in front of everyone. This is not going to be good, you think as tens of  soldiers from all sides converge on the middle. I should have called in sick, you think. But then the Rabbi jumps up and announces the start of a revolt.”Who is for Hashem the one true God join with me!” he calls out. “lets run to the caves grab some sticks and begin a guerilla war against the entire Greek empire. Join me on a war that will restore the sanctity of the Temple so that we can once again offer our daily sacrifices and prayer and get rid of these goyim for once and for all.” This does not seem like a good idea. You don’t particularly like caves. You really were never too inspired by the Temple and the whole cow sacrifice thing in the first place. In fact you can’t really remember the last time you made the pilgrimage up there. It’s been a mess these last few years and quite frankly you hated the shlep and were getting kind of used to Pessach and Sukkot at home together with the family in your nice latest greek mosaic furnished living room. Yet something inside of you is saying, maybe the Rabbi is right. Maybe I should stand up. Maybe life was meant to be something more. Maybe if I join the battle, that voice inside of me that has been waking me up in the middle of the night reminding me of my roots will finally be stilled… Be fulfilled.

 From a historical perspective the holiday of Chanukah is not one that I think any of us would dedicate a holiday to. Yes, the old man and his sons led by Yehudah Maccabee did indeed make their way to the Temple in some miraculous victories and they lit a rather pathetic wooden menorah they constructed with some oil that miraculously lasted for eight days. Yet the Greeks were still in control of the Temple mount and still shooting at them from the Temple mount. It wasn’t until after the first 4 sons died in battle and the last son Shimon was left did they final conquer the Temple mount. However his son Yochanan eventually became a Greek once again, and his son Alexander eventually wiped out the Rabbinic leadership and within a few generations the Chasmonean family invited in Rome and the Temple was eventually destroyed. That small light and window in the dark period is not necessarily something to make a holiday for. It would be like making a holiday for a small victory that the Warsaw Ghetto had before their eventual destruction. So what indeed is the holiday about?

The answer, our sages tell us, is that the Jewish holiday is not focused on the battles rather it is all about the lighting of the Menora; The Jews lighting that eternal spark that gave them and us the strength and the fortitude to stand up for our eternal values regardless of the cost, the danger, and the ridicule of those that do not appreciate the special-ness of our Torah. Rav Shabsi Yudelevitch tells a story of how once he was waiting on a hot Tel Aviv day at the central bus station waiting for a bus to Jerusalem to come along with 10’s of other people. When the bus arrived a large burly un-gentleman pushed his way through the crowd to the front of the line. As the crowd who were obviously outraged by his chutzpa (even by Israeli standards) confronted him, he turned to them with arrogance and said

Do you not know who I am?. Do you not see the hat on my head with its symbols and the badge on my chest and on my shoulders? Don’t you see that I am from the Machleket Ha’Sanitorium(the Sanitorium Department)”

For a minute they were all taken aback- not recognizing what the Sanitorium department was. Until someone looked at the badge a little closer and realized that the obviously deluded person was in fact a garbage collector for the Israeli sanitation department. Yet he wore his badge with pride. He had medals. He had a hat and a uniform and he felt he was the king of the world.
Reb Shabsi then turns to his crowd and asks and what than should we feel? The king of all Kings has chosen us to be His nation, His representatives on earth should we not wear His badge with pride. Is there anything that should ever make us feel ashamed of our connection and special relationship with Him. Yosef in the heart of Egypt, The youngest son of Channa and our ancestors the Maccabees lit that that flame and had the strength to respond the way they did because they were proud of their beliefs. Why should they ever want to hide it? How could they. Just as a loving Jewish bubby can’t help herself but to pull out her pictures of her children and grandchildren, or a young groom or bride cannot stop to sing the praises of their fiancĂ©e or a new father or mother who will go on and on about their anecdotes of their babies first crawl,first diaper and first drool, should we feel any less when we have such a special history such an incredible heritage and legacy that we have been chosen and blessed with?

The holiday of Chanukah is celebrated by lighting that age old flame and remembering the courage and pride of our ancestors and then with the singing of songs of praise of how lucky we are. We light those candles in a place that our children, family and those out in the streets can see. So that the world will know that we have nothing to be embarrassed of and we take pride in our special-ness. May we very soon merit to shine the eternal flame of our people with pride once again in the Temple rebuilt soon in our days.

Good Shabbos and a Bright and light filled Chanukah,

Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz




(funny but sad of those who don’t necessarily appreciate the pride of Chanuka)  



THE SOUTHERN TEMPLE MOUNT WALL Not being able to go up to the Temple wall due to our state of impurity and lack of knowledge of exactly what the permitted areas for the Tamei to walk and not walk we can still today however get an appreciation of the Temple and the period by viewing some of the excavations from the Southern wall. Underneath Robinsons Arch we can see the old city street where there were stores and mikvaot to buy animals for sacrifices and purify oneself before you go up to the mount. The arch itself was not the entrance for the regular people rather it was for the palace that Herod had built for all the non Jewish dignitaries to view the Temple, it was actually built near the foundations of the Greek Chakra where the Greeks had built a fortress and temple for idolatry and during the Chanukah story when the Maccabees restored the service was still active and in fact a firing point against them.

 On the SouthWest corner of this wall there was found a rock that had fallen from the Temple mount when it was destroyed by the Romans that stated that this is the stand of the Shofar blower, where as the Talmud tells us each Friday the Shofar would be blown to call people from the fields for Shabbat. Further along the gate one can see the remains of the various former Arab Palaces that were built here and finally one can see the Hulda double gate where the pilgrims would actually go up to the temple. One gate to enter and one gate to exit exceot for mouners who would walk in the wrong door so that all who would see them would comfort and console them on their loss.  May we soon merit to see the Temple in its former glory restored once again.

Lighten up! -Vayeishev Chanuka 5772

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
December 16th 2011 -Volume 2, Issue 7–6th of Kislev 5772

Parshat Vayeishev

Lighten Up

There is a story I once heard from Rabbi Berel Wein about one of his older congregants, a simple older woman, who not having been raised with much Torah education would approach him after shul each week with questions and issues about the various biblical stories from the weekly Torah portion that would trouble her. When Parshat Vayeishev came, he recalls she came to him in tears and full of indignation for poor Yosef- Joseph.

"How could they do this to him?" she cried. "Such a poor young man, and his own brothers try to kill him, and then they sell him" How could this happen!?

Rabbi Wein did his best to console the woman, yet he feared that somehow he would never be able to explain to her properly one of the more difficult Torah narratives. As the year went on and her questions persisted Rabbi Wein dreaded the upcoming anniversary of the Vayeishev Yosef story. Much to his surprise though, after services the much awaited outburst never came. When he approached her and asked what she thought of the story this year and why she had not responded again. She replied

"Listen Rabbi, once I can feel sorry for him, but if he was dumb enough to go back again this year to his brothers, than it's his fault – Tze Koomt Em- he deserves it"

Simple old women stories aside though, this weeks Parsha certainly contains in it some of the most troubling stories of our forefathers. Every year when I read this Parsha it always strikes me how contrary to other ancient "histories" of all other cultures that tend to at best whitewash their laundry, but more often than not even fabricate legends heroics and even god-like figureheads of their founders. Judaism and the Torah with its dedication to truth and moral lessons paint a very disturbing and critical image of our ancestors from whose fabric our nation is sewn.

 We read in this week's portion about Yackov and his favoritism for his son Yosef over his other children. We read about Yosef's dreams of leadership that he exacerbates his brothers with. We read about their jealousy, their scheming, and their deception to their father. The Torah even goes out of its way to tell us even the most scandalous stories about Yehudah and his relationship with his Daughter-in- law who poses as a harlot and Yosef's almost-seduction by his Egyptian bosses wife ( have I tempted you enough to come to shul this Shabbos yet?J). No, it does not look good for the Jewish people.

Yet it is in this Parsha also that beneath the scenes of all the chaos that is going on the seeds of redemption are being planted. From Yosef going down to Egypt the road is being paved for the Jewish peoples sojourn and survival in exile in the upcoming famine. As he is falsely thrown into jail for having committed a sin with his seductress he is merely being prepared for the time when he will be able to be given the opportunity to be released and become the vice premier to Pharoh. Even slightly more hidden in the parsha though, is that from the seemingly illicit relationship of Yehudah and Tamar the eventual seeds of Moshiach and King David comes forth and are born. In the darkness there is light and it is precisely in the worst of times when redemption can most be found.

This parsha is always read Chanukah time. It is an interesting holiday Chanukah. In the large picture of history one would think that it would almost be irrelevant. To get a picture of the times, the much fragmented Jewish people to a large part had assimilated into the beauty and immorality of Greek culture. The Greeks were not interested in destroying the Jewish people or even the Jewish religion. They just wanted it Greekified. Have your temple- but also worship our gods. Bring your sacrifices- but also slaughter pigs. Light your menorah- just use defiled oil… and just place it next to your Chanukah bush..(oops). And the Jews to a large degree did. The situation seemed hopeless. One can almost hear the sages of the time raising their voices in prayer Mimaakim Karsicha Hashem- From the depths I have called out to you Hashem. Will we ever be able to rebuild? Can a small group of Kohanim- temple priests dedicated to a life of service in the Temple ever win against the largest world power and army? Can we ever be whole again? And it is then that we were granted our miracle.

 It is perhaps very revealing, that the Holiday of Chanukah really does not put its focus as much on the miraculous victory of our small nation against the mighty world empire of Greece , as it does around the miracle of the oil; the miracle of the light that would not be extinguished, the flame of the Menorah. In fact within 50 years after the Chanukah victory, the new empire on the block, Rome had already begun to make it's inroads into Israel and influencing and assimilating the children of the Maccabees. Not much further down the road they would eventually pillage and destroy that temple, for which the Chasmonaim gave their lifeblood to rededicate, and it would not be rebuilt again even until our day. Yet Chanukah is still celebrated. Celebrated because in the darkness we were able to glimmer at the light. We were able to see the miraculous hand of Hashem in a situation that seemed hopeless.

 It is a unique holiday. Whereas all the other holidays fall out in the middle of the month Chanukah is at the end, when the moon is the smallest, when it is the darkest. On all other holidays the mitzvah rituals, matzah eating, Sukkah sitting, Megillah reading, take place during the day and the night. On Chanukah when the nights are the longest and the darkest we only light our Menorahs in the evening at night. And what is our mitzvah? To take a small wick and oil (or candle) and to light a small flame and to remember and focus on the incredible light and flame that still burns within us.

The kabbalah notes how the word for oil- Shemen has within it the same root as the word for soul Neshomah.

"Ner Hashem Nishmas Adam- The candle of Hashem is the soul of man"

King Solomon wrote. There is a spark within each of us, the Zohar tells us, that is always connected, that can never become sullied and defiled, that can always be redeemed and shine forth. That is our Shemen, that is our lovingly entrusted Neshomah; our soul. And just as oil no matter how diluted you may try to make it will always eventually rise to the top. So too our inner flame no matter how dark and lonely, and no matter how distant we may have wandered, will always be able to come forth and shine through.

 So as we gaze, like our ancestors before us have for millennia, into the soft welcoming flame of our menorahs. Let us pray and hope that Hashem helps us find and light that spark of holiness and redemption within us. That He once again picks us up from the depths and the darkness. May he give us the joy and health that we long for and the Divine love that we so sorely miss. As he did for our Yosef and our forefathers so long ago in Egypt , as he did for the Maccabees in Israel and as he still does for us in our time. May it be his will as we say in our blessing on our menorah that we truly are able to feel the SheOsah Nisim L'Avoseinu Ba'Yamim Haheim Ba'Zman Hazeh- that He performs miracles for our forefather in those days in this time.

Good Shabbos and a Bright and light filled Chanukah,

Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

UNDER THE “ROVA” IN JERUSALEM – up on top of the jewish quarter of the old city of jerusalem one sees youth playing, tourists from all over the world, pizzas shwarmas and even holy bagels being sold out of every crack in the wall… truly a prophesy of the once destroyed city restored has been fulfilled at least in part as we still await our temple. Yet to truly appreciate the restoration one has to travel back 200 thousand years and a few meters below ground in the wohl archeological museum and to “the burnt house museum” to truly appreciate what this city endured during its destruction. From 1948 until 1967 the jewish rova was under jordanian control and they destroyed the homes on top. In 1967 when we returned to our ancient city the unique opportunity to explore for the first time since the destruction of the temple as they excavated before rebuilding the now new and imporved rova arose. And amazing finds were found. 6 homes that belonged to the elite of the kohanim who lived in the upper city were uncovered with gorgeous mosaic floors, ballrooms elaborate bathrooms and of course mikvaot to purify themselves. There were coins that were minted during the jewish revolt with the date “ to the year of the redemption of jerusalem and even- in honor of chanuakah a hand drawing – the oldest of its kind – of the menorah that was in the temple giving us a idea of what it looked like with vessels that go back to the period of the chashmonaim. All this and more can be seen in the wohl museum.

In the burnt house one can actually go to the home of kitros upon who the talmud says

"...woe is me because of the house of kathros, woe is me because of their pens. ... For they are the high priests, and their sons are treasurers, and their sons-in law are trustees, and their servants beat the people with staves".

Archeologists believe this is house because a weight was found that states his name on it there. Nice to find a proof of the name of someone the talmud says lived there. There is a very moving short film of the story of the destruction and the civil war between the rebels that led to the destruction. In the home one sees the burnt walls from its destruction a month after the temple was destroyed and pictures of the skeleton of a human female arm right next to a spear head. Was she killed with it was she reaching for it… we will never know…. Regardless it is impossible to not appreciate the incredible miracle of our return home 2000 years later once again. May the final and complete redemption come again soon…

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Jewish Guilt- Parshat Vayeitzei 5772

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"

December 2nd 2011 -Volume 2, Issue 6–6th of Kislev 5772

Parshas Vayitzei

Jewish Guilt

"What do you mean you’re not finishing up your supper?? Don't you know that there are starving people in Ethiopia ...that would give anything to have a little something to eat??"

Thus I was introduced to our wonderful national attribute... good old Jewish guilt. (Incidentally it also was the beginning of my weight struggle.. a little back at you Mom .) Yes we are certainly a people that are nursed on healthy sense of guilt. Perhaps it is what makes us so focused on creating a better society... one where we won't have to feel so guilty about all the worlds’ problems. It has always been fascinating to me the extent to which our people are at the forefront of almost every cause that the world has. World peace, civil rights, hunger in Africa (we just want to be able to leave over some supper one day y'know), Environment, education there is nary cause out there that you won’t find Jews  in the forefront of the battlefield to improve and enhance and to... stop feeling guilty?

Now in case this e-mail is making you feel guilty about feeling too guilty-yes we do that too, I will do my small share as a Rabbi to ease your pain and help you realize that there is absolutely nothing that you are able to do about that sinking sense you get regularly or those strains of conscience that keep you up at night. The fact it is to a certain degree they are our birthright and our namesake going all the way back to the beginning. to the defining essence of our people when our Matriarch Leah first named our first ancestor. This is who we are.

In this week’s Parsha we read of the birth of the twelve tribes to Yaacov and his wives. None of the births were natural and they all came after much prayer and tears. A lesson in of itself. Leah, who was certainly not the favored of Yackov’s four wives, spent years crying and praying that she should merit to be married to Yaacov, rather than his older brother the brutal hunter Esav. Finally as she merits her marriage with him and begins to bring forth the future Jewish people names each of them with the power and thoughts of her emotions and prayers. Reuven -God has seen my affliction- Shimon- God has heard my grief. Levi - I have been able to accompany my husband.

When she reaches Son number four however, Yehudah-Judah, she announces

"This time I will praise Hashem"

Rashi as well as the other commentators note that what was different this time was that now she has received more than her portion… more than she felt she deserved. Being that through prophesy all had known that there would be 12 tribes and that Yackov had four wives, by having merited to produce a fourth she recognized that her blessing was one that was more than the others would have. Her share felt now extra blessed than others and in turn she had to do something back. She had to give back to Hashem, with praise, that sense of appreciation for an undeserved blessing.

Rabbi Dr.Abraham Twerski points out that in Hebrew there are three words that all have the same root. To praise- Hodaah- To thank-Todah- To confess- Viduy. He also notes that in his 40 years of professional practice he has come to understand that those three words are the three most important words to learn when building a happy and fulfilled relationship. "I am sorry" I appreciate you" and " I admire you". The connecting link in all three of these things is that there is an incredible capacity within us human beings to live our lives, our marriages, our gifts and our blessings with an oblivious sense of their source coming from outside of ourselves. We live, we happen and we take for granted. If we fail someone, particularly someone we love, particularly Hashem, we would rather just move on. It is hard to face our mistakes and to meaningfully say we're sorry. If someone does us a kindness it is not natural to focus and praise and express our appreciation. Perhaps we are scared of the imbalance it might cause us in our relationship. Perhaps it might make us feel unworthy or guilty.

Yet, Rabbi Twerski notes, in fact the opposite actually occurs . The more one can express their admission, be it thanks, apology or praise and admiration, the greater and closer the relationship becomes. The more we are able to perform Hodaah, to channel our feelings of undeserved-ness into a reciprocal giving back to the source of our blessing the better and ultimately the more deserving we become and experience in the relationships we will have.

We are a people that are called Jews. Although we decend from all of the twelve tribes the name of the tribe of Yehudah-Judah has become our title; the little sticker nametag on our shirt.

Recently while visiting one of the many museums here in Israel I watched film footage of our people with that sticker on our shirt. Except that it wasn't a white sticker  in a little plastic case nametag safty-pinned on. It was yellow and it was in the shape of a star and  it said JUDEN-Jew. In Hitler's Mein Kampf he writes "The Jews have an inflicted two wounds upon society circumcision on their bodies and a conscience on their soul". That is our yellow star. That is our essence. To bring a sense of appreciation and yes even a feeling of undeserved-ness to the world of the incredible blessings and responsibilities that come with them for all mankind.

We are Yehudim and yes we may suffer from a little guilt. But as my mother would say a little guilt can go a long way;  especially if it is the way to Hashem our loving and most important relationship and the way to our home. So do a little guilt, say your sorry, say thank you, express your admiration for all the love and blessings you have. Mean it. And you’ll have a better Shabbos. I promise.

Have a happy earliest Shabbos of the year J,

Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


Hammat Tiverya – These ancient hot springs which still flow today right across from the Kinneret we are told by our sages found their source goes back to the times of the flood when the water came up from the depths of the earth. Arab sources bring a legend that King Shlomo (or Suleiman as they call him) sent demons underground to heat up the waters and then he made them deaf so that they wouldn’t know of shlomo’s death so they would continue to heat the waters and not rebel later. The Talmud and Josephus all quote sources that this was a central healing place for much of the Roman and Jewish world. In fact the Talmud states that the reason Hashem didn’t create hot springs in Jerusalem was because He didn’t want people coming to Jerusalem and saying “if we had only come for the hot springs (rather then to see the Temple) it would have be enough.

Also located at the natural parks of Hammat Tiverya are the excavations of ancient 4th-6th century synagogues that functioned during those periods. Having undergone repeated earthquakes (being at the edge of the Syrian/african tectonic plates divide) they as well as much of the Galile faced devastating destruction almost every 1 or two centuries. Each synagogue was built on top of the remains of the previous one and one can see incredible mosaic floors that remain with the fascinating astrological circles and even pictures of Helios the ancient sun god a common motif back then but not something you would expect to find in any traditional synagogue today.

You can also pop in to see the ancient Turkish baths and msuem there. However to really get a feel of the healing powers pop across the street to the modern day baths in the Tiberias hot springs and soak your worries away.