Our view of the Galile

Friday, January 27, 2012

Obsessing- Bo 5772

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
January 19th  2012 -Volume 2, Issue 13 –3rd  of Shevat 5772

Parshat Bo

 A question I was sent this week. (I love this Ask the Rabbi website.)
Dear Rabbi,

Why does the Jewish religion seem to obsess over insignificant details? How much Matzah do we have to eat, which spoon did I use for milk and which for meat, what is the right way to tie my shoelaces? It seems to me that this misses the bigger picture by focusing on minutiae. Is this nitpicking what Jews call spirituality?

(I actually already sent you this question over a week ago and didn't receive a reply. Could it be that you have finally been asked a question that you can't answer?!)

Have you ever been approached by some Rob out there. Perhaps well meaning. Perhaps looking to antagonize. Perhaps sincerely seeking an answer that might impact his life, as he looks to find meaning in an otherwise challenged pursuit of spirituality; of an understanding of the secret that Torah Judaism holds in its dearness to its adherents. Are you a Rob?

 I believe there is a little Rob in each of us. Regardless of our religious observance level, regardless of our spiritual upbringing, there is a part of us that seems to feel that the little details and things that we do( or don't) are irrelevant in the big picture. "As long as I basically do what I'm supposed to" or" As long as I'm a 'good' person (good being defined by a general sense of just a little bit better or worse that where I'm at …usually)" than the small little stuff don't really matter. Or as one 'Rob' once said to me. "Rabbi, when they start calling me up on that in the heavenly court I'll know the worst is over".

 This week’s Torah portion we read about the fall of Pharaoh the King of Egypt who has certainly had better years pre- Moshe and Aharon and their monthly tidings of the plagues that were being wrought upon him and his people. It is interesting to note however in Pharaohs reaction to each of the plagues there is what seems to be an extreme fixation on the precision and details by which they are carried out. This reaches its peak by the final plague where Moshe changes the command of God in his warning to Pharaoh of the final plague

And Moshe said "So said God 'At about midnight' I shall go out in the midst of Egypt .. every firstborn shall die.

Rashi points out that God the knower of all times in fact never said 'around midnight'. That was Moshe's change. Because Moshe knew that Pharaoh's timekeepers were not so accurate and if they would miscalculate the time they would later declare Moshe a charlatan for giving the wrong time.

 Can you imagine this? Here Moshe, who predicts each and every plague and miracle, who warns about a mass death of first borns at midnight throughout the entire land, of every Egyptian man, women, slave, and animal. Yet this Moshe would be called a charlatan because it happened at 12:01 instead of 12:00 !?! Why would he think that Pharaoh would do this?

The truth however is, Rabbi Dovid Fohrman suggests, that throughout all the plagues Pharaoh is looking at the details rather than the larger devastation taking place. By the plague of frogs he wants to see if it will stop the following day rather than immediately, by the pestilence he wants to see if any of the Jewish animals were killed rather than deal and assess the damage to his own animals. It is for this reason Moshe understands that in the plague of the first born there should be no room left for denial for the details-obsessed king.

But why was Pharaoh obsessed? Why did the details matter to him? The answer my friends, I believe is because Pharaoh understood what Rob and we don't. That if there is a God that is really running the world than everything counts. Random meaningless acts without precision are the makeup of a God-less world. The view that Moshe and the Jewish people were representing and bringing to the world, was that there was no such thing as too small a detail; that every act that is performed by God and therefore by man has the capacity and ability to transform and elevate or destroy a world. Pharaoh was trying to prove that it wasn't so. Hashem taught all of us through him that it is in fact the details themselves that will lead to the redemption.

 Perhaps that is why the holiday of Passover which commemorates our exodus is the most detail oriented obsessive holiday on the Jewish calendar. The scrubbing and cleaning of the chametz/leaven free house, the overly zealous and punctilious baking of the 18 minute heavily guarded Matzah, the checking of the marror, in the old days the preparing and eating of the phascal lamb, all of these details are our testimony that we appreciate and understand that every action can and should have meaning. Just as each loving act of our Father in heaven is not random but is in fact absolutely divinely sent for the benefits of our lives. So to our actions fill the world with significance and spirituality no matter how small they may seem.

How can this be you ask? For that I turn you back to the answer to Rob

Dear Rob,

I never claimed to have all the answers. There are many questions that are beyond me. But it happens to be that I did answer your question, and you did get the answer. I sent a reply immediately. The fact that you didn't receive it is itself the answer to your question.

You see, I sent you a reply, but I wrote your email address leaving out the "dot" before the "com". I figured that you should still receive the email, because after all, it is only one little dot missing. I mean come on, it's not as if I wrote the wrong name or something drastic like that! Would anyone be so nitpicky as to differentiate between "yahoocom" and "yahoo.com"? Isn't it a bit ridiculous that you didn't get my email just because of a little dot?

No, it's not ridiculous. Because the dot is not just a dot. It represents something. That dot has meaning far beyond the pixels on the screen that form it. To me it may seem insignificant, but that is simply due to my ignorance of the ways of the web. All
I know is that with the dot, the message gets to the right destination; without it, the message is lost to oblivion. Jewish practices have infinite depth. Each nuance
and detail contains a world of symbolism. And every dot counts. When they are performed with precision, a spiritual vibration is emailed throughout the universe, all the way to G-d's inbox.

If you want to understand the symbolism of the dot, study I.T.

If you want to understand the symbolism of Judaism, study it.

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


Chatzor Ha’Glilit Located on what is known the Etzba (finger) of the Galile the pan handle that stretches up. The beautiful city is most well known for the great Tzadikim  that are buried there. The most famous is the Sage from the 2nd temple era known as Choni Ha’Ma’agel- Choni the circle maker. Although there are no halachot quoted from the great Choni there are stories about him in the Talmud as being this righteous sage who when there was a shortage of rain Israel he drew a circle around himself and demanded that God bring rain or he wouldn’t leave. First it drizzeled but that wasn’t good enough for him, then it came too hard-also not good, until he prayed and said Hashem too much punishment in lack of rain they can’t handle and too much blessing also not please give them rain that is easy and simple that is enough for them and not more. And sure enough.. it stopped. The great sage of the time Shimon Ben Shetach responded that we would put Honi in excommunication for having such chutzpah demanding from God in such a way, but what can we do, he is like a dear child before Hashem and he gets answered as such.

The Talmud tells us other legends of Choni as the original Rip Van Winkle who after questioning the wisdom of one who was planting a carob tree which wouldn’t grow for many years-fell asleep for 70 years and awoke to see the tree and the grandchildren of that individual enjoying it. The Talmud states the famous quote- I came in the world that had carobs I will leave a world with them as well” Because of these stories Choni, who incidentally his yartzeit (anniversary of death) tradition tells us is on the 5th of Iyar- Israeli independence day became the ecological environmental pilgrimage when ever there is a lack of rain in israel. During the wars of Israel when missles flew into Israel from Lebanon the inhabitants of Hatzor attribuite their protective status- as mislles hit around their city-but not in it- to the merit of Choni .

In addition to the grave of Choni is that of his grandsons Abba Chilkiya and Chanan Hanichbeh - who the Talmud tells us also followed in his path of performing miracles for rain. In fact the Talmud tells us the story of how the sages came for him to pray as well however he ignored them (being a hired worker) and unable to interrupt and upon arriving home went up to pray with his wife and the rain fell on her side rather than his which he explained that her acts of charity of giving prepared food to the poor rather than money that he gave was greater than his.

For one that seeks miraculous places for salvations Hatzor Ha’Glilit is truly a special place.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"Dying For You" said the Frog- Vaeyra 2012

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
 January 19th  2012 -Volume 2, Issue 12 –25th of Tevet 5772

Parshat Va’era
"Dying for You"
..said the frog

Lion King, Charlottes Web, March of the Penguins, Mr. Ed, Lassie, it seems we humans have a fascination with animals, particularly ones that can talk or teach us lessons. As a child growing up my parents owned a dog. Brandy, our Schnauzer, never really taught us any lessons, except not to leave the door open when we went out to carpool in the morning when he escaped. Living in NY, our small apt. of course didn't afford us the opportunity to have any pets. Quite frankly, I think they were scared how the rats in the basement might feel about more company. When we moved to Iowa however, that glorious corn filled, hog infested, farming state, we became very conscious of our pet-less existence. And so caving into the pressure of neighbors, students and Shani, (a really cute 6 year old daughter... who at one point I had a hard time saying no to…- pre- ipod days) we became the proud owners of Porky, the pig. Guinea pig that is.

Porky was my kind of pet, you see. He never needed to be walked, just ran around that wheely thing a lot. He was able to be taken out and cuddled and yet at the same time was quite happy being left alone. We got Porky with the cage, and even some food, but he was a Kollel Rabbi's pig. He had no problem dining on all the leftover salads from Shabbos, and so financially he was certainly not an added expense to our limited Kollel budget. Shani loved him, my students loved the Rabbi with a pig, and everyone was happy.

Yep Porky was perfect. Until he died.

Two weeks after we got him.

From a simple cold.

Good Bye Porky.

Now how do I tell my kids? How do I tell Shani?

I knew I shouldn't have gotten this pig.

So I did what every good father would do in that situation. I knew my daughter and my students temperament. I was not up to pig- grief counseling. They left that out of my Rabbinic training course. So instead I ran to the pet store and bought another pig that looked like Porky and put him in the cage. And prayed they wouldn't notice. The prayers didn't work (that's what happens when you pray for pigs). So I sat down and had that dreadful conversation about animals dying that incidentally did not include pig heaven. In fact it included some other animals dying; the animals of this weeks Torah portion.

You knew I was going to get here. So here we are. This weeks Torah portion tells us about some other animals. There are snakes, crocodiles, lice and wild beasts. Yet I'm sure everyone's favorite animals of the story, are those green, little, amphibian croakers, the jumping frogs. The idea of a world power being brought to its knees by these hopping little menaces is as humorous as it is frightening. Yet the Talmud tells that these brave little frogs imparted a lesson to mankind. In their heroic act they merited to become a symbol for perhaps the 2nd greatest act a divinely created being can accomplish.

The verse tells us of Hashem's command for Moshe to relate to Pharaoh.

Send out my people so they may serve me. But if you refuse.. I will strike your borders with frogs... and they shall ascend and come to your palace and your bedroom and your bed and your house of your servants. And into your ovens and your kneading bowls and into you and your people and all your servants the frogs shall ascend.

In the aftermath of the story we are told when Pharaoh finally caves in

And Hashem did as Moshe requested (to remove the frogs) And the frogs died from the houses the courtyards and the fields.

Our sages note that the Torah in detailing the places the frogs died rather than just saying they died, is teaching us that there is one place the frogs didn't die from. Conspicuously missing if you’ve noticed is the frogs that jumped into the ovens. The Talmud suggests that because of their act of dedication and their willingness to give up their frog lives for the fulfillment of God's commandment they were miraculously rewarded with life.

Even more fascinating the Talmud tells us that later on in Jewish history, at the time of the destruction of the Temple, the evil king Nebuchadnezzar threatened three young prophets Chanania, Mishael and Azarya with being thrown into a fiery furnace or bowing down to an image (perhaps not even real idolatry according to some commentaries), and they remembered the lesson of the frogs. They allowed themselves to be thrown in rather than fleeing. They realized that although God didn't specify which frogs should go into the ovens and which should go into the Boston cream pie, the Egyptian spas or falafel shops. There were a few frogs that realized that someone had to jump into the ovens in order to show that Hashem's commandment would be fulfilled. In their act of Frog martyrdom they showed that ultimately their life’s role would reach its fulfillment in serving the will of God.

Perhaps one can suggest that the Jewish people themselves learned that lesson in next week’s portion. They put their lives at risk, tying to their beds, sacrificing, door- post blood-placing, and roasting the Paschal lamb which was the God of the Egyptians. This incredible act of Mesirut Nefesh/ the risking or sacrificing of life in order to prove and to make a statement that there are some things in life that are worth dying for, ultimately earned the Jewish people as it did Chananiah and Mishael And Azarya and even our little hoppy friends added and extended life. As well as a permanent share as the role models for which we aspire to become.

I have always noted how our culture, TV, Novels, Hollywood always present these moving and touching depictions of true love. We watch or read stories of how one is willing to give up their life for love; for a pretty young maiden. Perhaps, even one you sort of just know for a few minutes, but who magically you have found to be your soul mate. All those soppy radio love songs about dying for you. Many of us get influenced by them at least until we get married and the "real world" might set in. Fascinatingly enough though that same shlub that said he would die for her, five months later kvetches about taking out the garbage or picking up his socks. But it still certainly remains an ideal to strive for in our culture. To feel as if you would be willing to die for someone you love; to give it all up.

Yet at the same time I believe our same culture looks with pity, horror and aghast-ness at people that willingly sacrifice or give up something for a Divine cause or for a spiritual love. Do not get me wrong I am not a proponent of becoming a death martyrdom focused culture. There's billions of others out there- thank you very much- that are doing a bad enough job of that. Judaism is a religion and culture of life. In fact one of the primary Mitzvoth we have is to live, even at the expense of violating most commandments. Yet at the same time there has to be recognition that the life that we do have, ultimately has a purpose. To serve, relate and accomplish our special and unique role which will sanctify God and His Creation. We recite each day the Shema our declaration of love, the love of God for us- the love of us for God. In reciting the Shema the Kabbalists say one should have in mind that the love is so strong that we would even give up our lives

Bchol Livovicha, Bchol Nafshiecha, Bichol Meodecha- With all your heart with all your life with all your possessions.

True love, nay true life, is about the recognition that every moment I have can be meaningful if I have a connection to the Divine. It is perhaps those moments when one feels most alive. Unfortunately most of us don't live our lives with that sense. The frogs did. King David in his work Perek Shirah, which describes the songs of all creatures to their Creator, writes that the song of the frog is the phrase that accompanies the Shema. The phrase of the sanctification of Gods name and of a life fulfilled. It is the love song of the Frog.

Boruch Shem Kvod Malchuso Lolam Vaed- Blessed is the glory of His kingdom forever and ever

As Jews it is our mandate to ask ourselves if we can live as Jews- the 1st greatest act we can accomplish- not only if we will die as Jews. If we have lived and sanctified Hashem with our lives, Than when we pass on our lives will have had meaning. We will eternally live on as our ancestors do, as the frogs did. If however we choose to go for the cream pie or just run around on guinea pig wheels all day, without aspirations of growth and meaning like your typical guinea pigs, neither our lives or death will experience the love and closeness that our souls thirst for and which we all hope to achieve. May each of us live each sacred moment of our lives with frog like aspirations and songs leading a purposeful life to its absolute fullest.

Have a super Shabbos,

Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


Keren Carmel/ Mukraka – I don’t generally describe churches (or mosques for that matter) as cool places in Israel, but when it comes to Mukrakah on the top of the Carmel I have to make an exception because it is truly one of the most glorious views in Israel (and you don’t’ have to go in the church just on the roof). Located on the highest point  of the South Eastern side of the Carmel mountain range in the North of Israel on the top of the Carmelite Church called Mukraka one can see the entire Jezreel Valley the incedible mountains of the lower Galile Mt. Tabor and Nazareth, one can even make out the hermon in the background on the other side one can see the Mediteranean Sea and the Hills of Menashe. Truly spectacular! But what makes this site even cooler is that it was very likely here where the famous story of Eliyahu the prophet and the prophets of Baal took place.  Eliyahu told his lad to go up to see the clouds over the sea and after the great Sacrifice showdown-in which the 450 prophets unsuccessfully tried to get Baal to send down a fire and eat the sacrifice and Eliyahu after pouring water three times over the sacrifice asked Hashem to answer him and a fire from heaven devoured everything- and it was here that Eliyahu went down to the Kishon river to kill them all- which you can see right under this lookout. The Carmelite monks built a church here (as Eliyahu is their patron saint) on ancient byzantine church ruins and there is a huge statue dedicated to Eliyahu on the top. Really a very cool place!


Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Worst Jew- Shemos 5772

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

January 13th  2012 -Volume 2, Issue 11 –18th of Tevet 5772

Parshat Shemos

The Worst Jew

Close your eyes for a moment. Now I want you to picture for me what the worst Jew in the world looks like. Are your eyes closed? Then how are you reading this…? J Anyways, so how do you picture this person? Is he or she a raving anti-Israel pro Palestinian liberal? Or maybe one of those nut job Child spitting or stone throwing “Hareidi” jews in Jerusalem. Or maybe perhaps some ponzi scheming yuppie? Could it be the neo-nazi self hating Jews, the close minded misogynist orthodox, the assimilating pro-choice feminist, the alternate lifestyle reform female reconstructionist, or the racist bigoted loudmouth Jewish republican? Is it the Jew that married out? Converted out?  Both?

One thing that I can guarantee you about the image of the worst Jew that is in your mind now (with your eyes closed of course), is that he or she does not look anything like you…(and hopefully not like me). It’s funny how we are pretty sure of that. The other thing I can tell you about the image in your mind is that whatever image or whoever you have conjured up is almost positively not a correct depiction. Not even close, in fact it may even be quite the opposite.

This week we begin the story of the birth of the Nation of Israel in Sefer Shemot. Our story begins with a family that has developed into a nation that is enslaved by Egypt, until as we shall see in the next few Parshas, we are miraculously saved by Hashem. You know this already. You read the book, saw the movie, heard it from your parents and grandparent or at Sunday School, or read it once in an E-Mail from some Rabbi. You may also remember that this slavery was in fact foretold to our Forefather Avraham in the famous Bris Bein Habesarim (covenant between the pieces) prophecy how his descendants would be slaves for four hundred years and then they will be redeemed. The problem is though that when you do the math we find that the Jews were only enslaved for 210 years. 190 years short of the promise. Our sages tell us the reason for our early release was because Hashem in his kindness realizing that the Jewish people had sunk to the lowest level of impurity (-49), and had they stayed any longer they would have reached the point of no return; the 50th level of Tuma’ah impurity. In fact we are even told that when it came time to split the red sea the angels in heaven objected to the miracle claiming “these are idolators like the Egyptians why should the Jews be saved”. So there you have it these are the Jew at the lowest of the low. The worst Jews ever.

Now how did these Jews look? Here comes the interesting part. Our sages derive from the verse that tells us that the Jews were distinguished- mitzuyanim -in Egypt, that although they were idolatrous, they however maintained their Jewish identity’s. In the words of our sages “

“They did not change their names, their clothes, and their language (to the Egyptian mode)”

If we had to put a modern day twist to that image of the worst Jew ever (as no Jew has ever since reached a point of the 49th level of impurity) it would be someone with a long beard, a long black “old country” coat and fur hat with a name like “Yankel Shmiel”. Even stranger than that image of the worst Jew ever, would be the next Medrash that tells us that these worst Jews never engaged in licentious relationships- which was the norm and quite accepted in Egypt at the time. Even more strained is the next midrasha that tells us that we were redeemed for the incredible chesed/ kindness that they did for one another. We even have the stories in the Torah of some Jews taking the blows for others. Yet once again these are the images the Torah tells us of the worst Jews of all time. Somebody that was kind, virtuous in their marriage relationships, dressed pious and modestly with a strong Jewish identity. Huhhh? How can it be?

The truth is it’s a difficult question that I don’t really have a good answer to. How do we reconcile the words of our sages in regards to these worst Jews with their other description that is not too dissimilar from what we ourselves might describe ourselves as being or even aspiring to becoming; pious, traditional, strongly identified, charitable and kind? It’s hard to explain and understand perhaps because we can’t fully grasp the sin of idolatry or the expectations of the level these early Jews were meant to be on that they had fallen so far from. Yet there are still two very important messages that I believe our sages are trying to convey to us in these varying messages. Two lessons that would serve us well as we try to grow in our spiritual lives.

The first lesson is that the Jew that you and I might think is the worst Jew; the one that we feel is the most despicable and or reprehensible is not the worst Jew ever. We came from worse. And whatever actions, ideas, causes, statements and more often mistakes and misguided sense of Judaism that we may perceive in someone else, will never put them on a lower level from where we all started out from. Nobody today is even close to the 49th level of Tum’ah/ impurity and as a nation that came from such truly humble idolatrous beginnings we should never paint another as the worst.

The second and even more powerful lesson is that even the worst Jew ever- and close your eyes again and picture that person- is loved and saved by Hashem. The story that we read and the story of our people is a story of one of the most un-deserving nations-based on our own merits- in the history of our people that were picked up literally by Hashem, our loving Father, and taken out with miracles out of His never-ending unconditional love for us. Yes, that worst Jew in your mind is also a child of God’s. He (or she-although I bet most of you are thinking of a he) also has a Father in heaven that wants nothing more than to bring that poor misguided mistaken lost child home. When we as children of His Chosen people bicker, put each other down berate, isolate and alienate another one of His children… there is nothing more painful. And when we embrace, bring close, hold dear and restore one another, the good the bad and the sometimes ugly, we bring the Shechina the heavenly presence back among our family.

It’s so easy sometimes to try to place ourselves above others by comparing and contrasting with others that we know. “I’m not as bad as them” I’m a better Jew because I do this and that and don’t do…” But our relationship with Hashem is not a scorecard. It’s about how close we can get to Him and how close we can bring others to His light. There are enough other people out there that have labeled us and judged us, we need not do it to one another. We should rather try to see the spark and love that Hashem sees in each of his children no matter how far they have fallen and gone. We will then fulfill our destiny having risen from the worst nation to ultimately the best.

Have the Best Shabbos ever,

Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

This weeks Insights and Inspiration is dedicated by my good and dear friends Bud and Cindy Flowers of Puyallup Washington in appreciation of Rabbi Schwartz and the entire Schwartz family for all you have done for us and all the inspiration you continue to give. We miss you tremendously and we wish you continued success in your great holy work in the Holy Land.



El Rom/ Emek Ha’Bacha – In English this valley on the border of Syria in the Golan Heights is known as the valley of tears above the valley stands a monument and two tanks to memorialize the heroism of the soldiers that perished in the yom Kippur war the 87th division- in Hebrew the number is Oz (meaning brazen strength) of the Barak Brigade. Faced with a surprise attack on Yom kippur of 1973 the valley of tears was seen as the stronghold to prevent the syrains from coming in and taking over the entire region. The Israelis-40 tanks in terrible condition- the Syrians- over 600 tanks with infrared night vision and heavy reinforcements. As the Israelis scrambled among the Syrian tanks and as the soldiers clamored for help the Syrians came with newer refreshed soldiers. The jews however held on jumping from burning tank to tank. Cleaning out the blood and dead and coming straight from the medics back into the field with knowledge if they did not hold out the Golan was lost. And miracles fo Miracles. They won, We won. Hashem Won. Today before visiting the Valley one can go to the Kibbutz acroos the road called EL Rom that  has a film with life footage and interviews of the battle with soldiers who faought in it before visiting the valley and truly appreciate the intensity of the battle and the heroes that died for our country.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Blessing of Children-Vayechi 5772

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
January 6th  2012 -Volume 2, Issue 10 –11th of Tevet 5772

The Blessing of Children

She was a new nurse in the maternity ward in Israel, not aware of the miraculous births that take place here. As she entered the first room she saw a new mother with 4 newborn babies lying next to her in their hospital bassinets. “Wow” she said “are all of these yours?” “Yes” said the new mother. “I just had quadruplets last night, but actually…” she said “that’s quite common.  You see, I come from the city of Kiryat Arba (the Israeli community translated as “village of four) and a lot of my friends have four children.”

Pretty amazing” the nurse thought as she went to the next room. Much to her surprise the next patient was lying down with 7 little infants around her. “Are these all yours?” she again asked in shock. “Certainly” the proud mom exclaimed, “I’m from Be’er Sheva (the well of seven) and many of us have septuplets”. The next room had a mother from the city of Kiryat Shmona (the city of eight) and sure enough 8 adorable little babies were pleasantly cooing around the mother’s bed. When the nurse came to the next room though, she immediately turned around and started running out of the hospital. On her way out the doctors asked her where she was going. With a sign of total resignation the poor lady said “I quit! There’s no way I am going in the next room”. “Why? What’s the matter?” the doctor said. “Don’t you know,” the exasperated and clearly overwhelmed nurse responded. “The lady in the last room is from Meah Shearim (the city of 100 measures)!!!” JJ

Jokes aside, (although I thought this was a pretty funny one), we have lots of babies here in Israel…especially in Meah Shearim. The Satmar Rebbe was once quoted as saying “Ahhhh don’t you love the little Yerushalmi children, when they’re young they’re so cute, you could just eat them up… when they get older though, you sometimes wish you had…”. I don’t know if it’s only Yeurshalmi children. The kids here are different then the ones in the States. I don’t see a lot of computer games or sitting in front of TV sets, nor are there a lot of tennis lessons or even little leagues. The kids that I see here like cats… running around in the streets. They like hiking through the woods, jumping down waterfalls, playing jump-rope, hop-scotch, marbles, nuts, and one of the new fads in the religious circles are trading Rebbe cards and mitzvah stickers. There’s such an incredible innocence and perhaps even a more natural sense of discovery and fulfillment that children in Israel have. It’s not the newest toy or gadget that will make them happy. It’s reveling in the beauty and history of our country and people and the thrill of discovery that makes there childhood so special. It is truly a country that was made for kids. And kid that I am, a country for me…

This week’s Torah portion the last of the book of Bereishis ends with the story and blessing of Jewish children. Truth is most of the book and stories revolved around the families and challenges that led to the people of Israel. Adam and Eve and their two children-fighting over who would inherit the world (medrash). Noach and his three children and once again one of them Cham, also concerned about his legacy if his father should have more children, gets thrust and cursed out of the family. Isaac and Yishmael, Jacob and Esau, Yosef and his brothers- all seemingly dysfunctional families of children who seemingly can’t get along, who fight over their rightful roles, and who many of us might have said thank god that’s not our family… it is. They were and are our roots and the Sefer Bereishis that we read each year doesn’t give us much chance to hide from it. The good news though is that the story of Bereishis doesn’t end there. It concludes this week with the story of two more brothers, and the story of their blessing. Perhaps the perfect answer, message and legacy to the millennia story of the family that was very soon to become the nation of Israel. Perhaps the reason of how we were finally able to become a nation.

 And he (Yaackov) blessed them on that day sayingBicha Yivareich Yisrael-So shall Israel bless saying-‘May Hashem place you like Ephraim and Menashe’ and he placed Ephraim before Menashe.” The Torah shares us the strange story of Yaakov’s blessing of these two children of Yosef. We are told that Yaakov switches his hands placing his right hand on the younger brother and the left on the older brother in opposition to Yosef who feels the older brother should get the more important right hand blessing. Yosef perhaps suffering from the years of knowing that bad things happen in this family when younger brothers are placed first. Yet Yaakov persists claiming ultimately Ephraim will be greater so he deserves the right hand blessing. It is a strange story. One that is difficult to understand. But stranger still is the blessing itself. What type of blessing is this? Is it a blessing that all Jews will be blessing using your names and stature? And why does the Torah need to tell us that he placed Ephraim before Menashe, don’t we know that already? It is interesting and perhaps revealing that the Torah uses the same root word. “May Hashem place you… and he placed Ephraim before Menashe”

The 13th century scholar Rabbeinu Bachaya says a fascinating insight into this blessing. He suggests that the placement of Ephraim before Menashe, his older brother was not to give him greater honor, rather the opposite. He placed him before him in order to humble him before him as one who should honor he who he is standing before and be subservient and respectful towards. Yaakov was teaching Ephraim, that although he may be greater and more scholarly and have descendants who become leaders spiritually and physically (Joshua being a descendant of Ephraim). He should never let it get to his head. He should always remember to give honor and respect to his brother who is older. Although Menashe and his desendants may not be the movers, shakers leaders and rabbis that Ephraim may be, yet each of them have their own role, none is greater than the other and their blessing is and will be that all of the Jewish people will long for the placement and legacy that these two brothers will leave. Each fulfilling their own God given destiny, yet each cherished in their understanding that no Jew is more loved than another before our Father and the job and life mandate of each of them are equally important in the eyes of Hashem.

This past week we observed the fast of the tenth of Tevet; the date when the siege, a year and half before the destruction on the city of Jerusalem began. This year when the fast came I mourned. I mourned not as much on the destruction of the Temple but for what our sages tells us what the root cause of its destruction and why we have not yet merited for it being rebuilt. The sages put a word on the cause- Sinat Chinam- baseless hatred. I mourned as I read the newspaper 2000 years after the Temple had been destroyed and saw that nothing has really changed. I mourned when I read about “religious Jews” who were screaming protesting and worse women and children that they did not feel were behaving as religiously as they did. I mourned when I read in the media about how terrible religious jews are who don’t serve in the army who are parasites of society and who should be expelled from the country at best. I mourned when I read about left wing jews decried “settlers” who have no place in our country and endanger our lives by living where they do-in “arab land occupied by Israel” and there “price tag” response to being thrown out of their unjustly occupied homes. And I mourned as I read those same settlers calling the left wingers anti-zionist, anti jewish, traitors and proletariat elite that have lost their way. Not a day goes by that our army- the first Jewish army since the times of Bar Kochva thousands of years ago, has internal debates whether it is worthwhile to accommodate religious beliefs, should soldiers be forced to listen to women singing, should women soldiers be discriminated against and be made to feel less than or as mere objects of male frailty and at what point are we a Jewish army and at what point are we a melting pot of modernity like every one else. What has happened to the children of Hashem? Where are those cute adorable children that Hashem through his prophet had said

Ha’Ben Yakir Li Ephraim, Ki yeled Shaa’shuim- my dearest son Ephraim the child of my delights, whenever I speak of him I remember him more and more

Why can we not appreciate the fact that Hashem loves each of us created each of us with a different challenge and different role. Some were raised religious, some without. Some who’s role is to learn Torah, some to serve in the army; Some to reach Hashem on one path and others though a different. Why can’t we respect and love one another and why must we always judge? Ephraim and Menashe lived up to their blessing and each of us who bless our children at that most loving moment during the week or during their children’s lives must pass on that message to them. We are special, you my dear children are special…but you are never better. You should never judge and you must always appreciate your brother and sisters as different as they are. They are special too. And their father, our Father loves all of them just as much as you.

May Hashem bless all of his children with the realization of the specialness of one another.

Have a special Shabbos that brings blessing to all,

Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

Tel Be’er Sheva – located in the south of Israel the ancient city of Be’er Sheva the home of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob can still be seen today. At least that is what tour guides might tell you. The truth is we do not have any archeological finds like a door sign that says Abraham lived here. Although there is a beautiful Eshel/tamarisk tree that grows when one comes to visit this Unesco recognized World Heritage site, which the Torah tells us what Abraham planted under which he greeted and welcomed guests (and angels). We also have an incredibly elaborate well that reminds us and gives an appreciation of the wells that were dug in the area which both Avraham and Yitzchak fought with the Avimelech the philistine king over. But probably not from their times as well.

There are however great historical ruins from the period of the kings of Israel that have been found in the incredibly well preserved 10th century BC city from the periods of the kings of Israel. It is from here where one can see the elaborate 4 room houses of the period and even more fascinating the 4 cornered altar that was dedicated to idolatry that was de-constructed and buried side by side- as the prophets tell us by the king Chizkiyahu and Yoshiyahu as they tried to create a return to Jewish ways away from idolatry. One can also see one of the most beautiful ancient water pits and tunnels that is just amazing as it led down to the stream of the Hebron river that flows on the bottom of the tel. In these colder rainy moths a trip down history lane to the warm climate not too far from the center of the country is a great trip for the whole family.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Bar mitzvah-less Vayigash 5772

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
December 30th  2011 -Volume 2, Issue9 –4th of Tevet 5772
Bar Mitzvah Speech-less

I have always loved Parshat VaYigash. As Bar Mitzvah Parshiyot go, it was a very exciting one to have had for my Bar Mitzvah. The story of Yosef’s reuniting with his father and his brothers after so many years told me the story and significance of family. Hashem’s promise to be with Yackov and the Jewish people as they made their way down to Egypt sent me a message that Hashem is always with us. There is Yosef’s leadership role in taking responsibility for Egypt, which was a perfect lesson in a Jew’s responsibility to see beyond himself and his community by living up to our mandate to be a light to the world. Yes, it was a Parsha that had the potential to give me the perfect Bar Mitzvah speech. Yet, it was the speech that was never said. I had spent months working on it. The day came and when my turn to speak came up by the Bar Mitzvah party the speech was never said, for my uncles and friends sang every time I opened my mouth to speak. It is in fact a hallowed Jewish tradition that was developed so as not to embarrass the boy who can’t speak I was told, after they were done singing. So there you have it my perfect speech on the perfect Parsha was never said.

It has been quite a while since that memorable day. I’ve had plenty of time make up for that Drasha. I’ve found mediums by which I can share my own inspiration, whether in classes I’ve given, Drashot I’ve shared, weekly Emails and most recently through my Holyland Blog. Yet, that drasha I never gave still sits in my heart. It was my first opportunity to prove myself as an adult and to deliver a message that could inspire others and perhaps even touch them. Instead I joined the singing (even after they quieted down…when my grandmother of Blessed memory threatened them with a shpritz seltzer bottle- a sight I will never forget) and learned that not every time that you want to speak you should. Sometimes and perhaps most times its better to sit back and listen than to push forward and say what you feel needs to be said.

I thought of that moment and lesson fondly this week as I attended another Bar Mitzvah this week here in Karmiel when a young boy also had his drasha interrupted by the traditional singing. I was impressed by his perseverance as he repeatedly just plowed through his speech above all the singing. He finished his Drasha and sat back down, proud of the fact that he had said his speech, although I don’t believe anyone heard it. I complimented him on his speech afterwards and I shared with him the Bar Mitzvah Drasha lesson I had learned from my Rebbe when I first became a Rabbi. He told me that sometimes the speech that you don’t say can have even more meaning than the one that you do say. I know it sounds kind of cliché and it was certainly not the lesson I or he were looking to hear that night. But in truth it is probably one of the most important I had ever gotten.

Wonderfully enough this weeks Torah portion begins with a speech as well. It is the longest speech of any of our forefathers. For 17 verses the Torah shares with us Yehudah’s pleading before Yosef to allow him to take the place of his brother Binyamin. Yehudah recounts in this speech the entire story of the saga of Yosef’s “disappearance”. He vividly describes Yaakov’s affection for Yosef and Binyamin, how taking this youngest son would endanger Yaakov’s life. Finally Yehudah tells Yosef who was posing as the monarch of Egypt, about the personal responsibility he took upon himself to return Binyamin home. For those of us that have been attending Shul the past few weeks and paying attention to Torah reading we know all this already. It’s a speech we’ve heard before. To Yosef it certainly was a speech that he didn’t need to hear. He was on the verge of revealing himself and really never had any intention of holding Binyamin in the first place. Yet he listens anyways. He lets Yehudah say his piece and then he renders him and all the brothers speechless.with five Hebrew words

“Ani Yosef Ha’Od Avi Chai- I am Yosef- Is my father still alive.”

Vlo Yochlu Echov Lanos Oso ki Nivhalu MiPonuv- And the brothers couldn’t answer him for they were stunned before him.

Here you have the longest, most important speech that Yehudah probably spent much time preparing. Weighing each word for impact and figuring out how to muster mercy before Yosef. How to show him his humility, but at the same time his determination. Yet all of it was for naught. It was a speech that didn’t have to be said. It was a speech that in retrospect he probably felt foolish having said. Who was he Yehudah to talk about his fathers love for Yosef? Where was he years before when Yosef was sold? What can he say now?

But he says it. And it is recorded to teach us a lesson; a Bar Mitzvah lesson about speeches and about life The Talmud tells us Reb Elazar Ben Azariah says

“Woe upon us before the Day of Judgment Woe upon for that moment of rebuke. For Yosef said just five words to his brothers and they were speechless. What will we say when we stand before the Almighty on that great day”

It is remarkable how deep the insights of our sages are. We read a story in the Torah and to us it feels like a somewhat repetitive narrative of the reuniting of this family. Rav Elazar however hears in this story a powerful question and insight into the life we live and the speeches we give.

Our lives, to a large degree, are really one big speech to the Almighty. How we treat one another, the choices that we make and the words that we say and use are all the words and polemic of which we will one day have to justify ourselves. There are things that like the speech of Yehudah may have seemed at the moment the right thing but in the end were just hollow words. There are others small acts, like the few words of Yosef, which will ring eternally for us. Sometimes it is important for us to have gotten up and have made a meaningful statement or even more importantly an action that will inspire and resonate. At other times it is perhaps better that we take a seat and let Hashem take charge and just join the singing and hope that all will turn out all right.

It is the speech of our lives. The ability to gauge and learn with humility how to write and develop that speech is what we are here to do. But of one thing we can be assured. Our loving Father in Heaven is listening intently; he wants to hear the end. He is standing right above us and rooting for us to accomplish all we can. We are His Bar Mitzvah children.

Have a tremendously special Shabbos,

Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz



AVNEI EITAN This small yishuv in the southern Golan (on the other side of the kinneret) is a really little known about incredible place for a family trip. The yishuv named after for 7 founders who died during the Yom Kippur War the name of the yishuv being an acronym of their names. Founded after that war, in 2006 the yishuv welcomed in the members of those settlers from the Gush Katif Gaza area who were “removed” from their homes when it was given to the Palisitinians. They Yishuv has built an incredible museum that tells the powerful story of that expulsion with a film that documents that most tragic story of Gush Katif. The images of the Garden of Eden lifestyle the founders and children had when they moved there at the behest of the Israeli government under Yitzchak Rabin, the empire of organic and bugfree vegetables they grew and developed in the sand dunes, and then the shock of being told they must leave it and all  give it to the arabs who had been constantly bombarding them with missles. The film shows the Achdut of the Jewish people who united to their cause linking arms all the way to Jerusalem in protest and the gut-wrenching sadness of soldiers and settlers crying as they were being torn from their homes and for the soldiers that had to carry out this tragic edict. The museum also has games for children that captures many of the stories of the miracles that took place for the settlers during those tragic times and films that truly present the heroism of these special people.

Right outside of Anvei Eitan one also must go visit the Robotic farm, which is a total blast as the children can feed the cows and learn about this incredible robot that the cow’s milk themselves with that feeds them, monitors their comings and goings and even gives them their “cow” wash. Afterwards all their guests join for some chocolate milk and stories as they each make cheese on the spot in this truly unique Israeli experience.