Our view of the Galile

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Right Foot -Ha'azinu Sukkot 5773

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

September 28th 2012 -Volume 2, Issue 46 –12th of Tishrei 5773

Ha’azinu/ Sukkot
The Right Foot

So let’s pretend it’s December 22nd. Your driving to the mall and you turn on the radio. Of course no matter what station you flip to you, you hear the usual Jingle Bell- Rudoph, holiday music. You get to the Mall there are decorated trees all over the place, lights for sale, socks hanging out of store windows and big red suited guy with a white beard bouncing children on his lap and asking them in they have been naughty or nice. If you go to the right mall there are also usually a bunch of little elves running around helping you with your purchases and of course the always traditional Israelis standing in their kiosks and selling you Dead Sea mud.

Scene II- Yesterday the 13th of Tishrei 5771, our bus, which incidentally had Moadim L’Simcha-(Happy Holidays) emblazoned on the digital number slots in the front, pulls into the Meah Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem. We are greeted by a variety of Jewish music coming from every corner; Hasidic, Sefardic and even a little bit of Matisyahu reggae in the background. There are tree branches all over the floor being sold as Sechach- the Sukkah cover. All types of beautiful hanging decorations, plastic fruits and even lights with some words that start “ChrXXXmas lights” crossed out and replaced by the word “Sukkot” in Hebrew. There are quite a few big black suited guys with white beards standing around on each street corner peering through magnifying glasses and looking at their Etrogs (Citrons) and Lulavs to see if they are spotted or nice. There are quite a few cute little Israeli elves height five – 10 year olds trying to sell me everything from Lulav holders to posters and pictures of Rabbis, to little homemade Lulav bands to wrap my four species together with. To make it just perfect, this Christian arab approaches me and offers to sell me a flag and map of the US to hang in my Sukkah. He is the American equivalent of the Dead Sea mud guy in the States.

Where do you belong? Where do you feel more comfortable? Which scene is the one that you feel should be the place you are raising your children? I think it’s amazing and tragic but unfortunately true that the average Jewish American-of any denomination, feels at home with the December 22nd scene and would feel that they had landed in Mars- although an incredibly pleasant and even somewhat weirdly but deeply spiritually familiar Mars in Scene II. It shouldn’t be that way. We shouldn’t be that way. The question is, is there anything we can do about it?

The Gaon of Vilna, who spent a good portion of his last years of life doing whatever he could to move to Israel , at tremendous sacrifice and who was ultimately not successful. Use to say that there are two mitzvoth that one can fulfill with ones entire body, just by living and breathing in a certain environment. The first is the mitzvah to live in the Land of Israel , where truly every breath one takes and every step one make is settling our Divinely destined land and absorbing the holiness of the country. The Second mitzvah though you can fulfill in your very own backyard. It is the Mitzvah of Sukkah. Leaving your home. Leaving your flags. Putting aside all the material trappings of your “world” and entering in to the Divine Shade and palace of the Almighty for a week. For those in America it’s like a little visit to Israel . For those of us here- It’s like a visit to what the world will be like when Moshiach comes.

In the times of the Temple there was a mitzvah for every Jew to make an annual Pilgrimage to Yerushalayim for the holiday of Sukkot. This mitzvah was known as Aliyah Li’Regel- literally translated, this means an uplifting-or going up for the foot or festival. The three festivals are known as the three Regalim or three feet as a result of this mitzvah. Our Chasidic masters however see in this word, and homiletically in the words chosen to describe the mitzvah, as being one of raising up ones footsteps in life. Where are you walking and marching to? How do we make our pathways in life become one that leads to Jerusalem? By taking the time a few times a year and immersing ourselves in the seasons that guide us there.

Sukkot is the last of the triumvirate of holidays before we enter the long winter. It’s our last chance to raise up our footsteps and to set the scene for how we want the rest of the year to look like. Spend a little time in that special hut. Think about what it could and should be like all the time. Daven for it a little and tell your family as I will where we really belong and what we are still holing for. And may Hashem bless us all that our mitzvah of Sukkah inspires heavenly mercy to build us the ultimate Sukkah of Peace once again.


HAR HERZL, JERUSALEM- Israel national military cemetery is perhaps one of the most inspirational and meaningful pilgrimage sites in Israel tragically for most Israelis particularly during this season from after Yom Kippur and through Sukkot the period that commemorates Israels most devastating war in 1973. In addition to the area dedicated to the “Gedolei Ha’Umah- the National Leaders” which includes the past Presidents, Prime Ministers and Knesset House leaders that chose to be buried there most famously perhaps being Yitzhak Rabin, Golda Meir, Yitzchak Shamir and Levi Eshkol (Begin and Ben Gurion chose to be buried elsewhere) there is a special section for the all those who were murdered in acts of terror and monuments that commemorate soldiers who were the last of their family (after the Shoah), Soliders from Ethiopia, illegal refugees that perished, the Dakar submarine and Helicopter tragedies and unknown soliders. The cemetery was named and established for Theodore Herzl who buried in Vienna in 1903 left in his will his desire to be buried in Israel after the establishment of the Jewish State that he envisioned. In 1949 he was brought here to be buried. There is a museum with an inspirational film of his life near his tomb. Yet for the majority of Israelis Har Herzl is the place to come to visit and pray by the graves of their loved ones who perished in service. The cemetery is divided up by wars 48, 56, 67, 73, 82 and from after the 90’s. It is almost impossible to go the cemetery and not meet a family member of someone who is there to share the story of their child, parent or grandparent that perished so that we may live here today. It is mindblowing to see ages of so many of these heroes of which the average is between 18- 25. May their blood be avenged by Hashem who mourns the death of His holy children and may their vision of an Israel that can live in peace with their neighbors very soon be realized.


You can build it very small (1)
You can build it very tall (2)

You can build it very large (3)
You can build it on a barge

You can build it on a ship (4)
Or on a roof but please don’t slip (5)

You can build it in an alley (6)
You shouldn’t build it in a valley (7)

You can build it on a wagon (8)
You can build it on a dragon (9)

You can make the skakh of wood (10)
Would you, could you, yes you should

Make the skakh from leaves of tree
You shouldn’t bend it at the knee (11)

Build your Sukkah tall or short
No Sukkah is built in the Temple Court

You can build it somewhat soon
You cannot build it in the month of June (12)

If your Sukkah is well made
You’ll have the right amount of shade (13)

You can build it very wide
You can not build it on its side

Build if your name is Jim
Or Bob or Sam or even Tim

Build it if your name is Sue (14)
Do you build it, yes you do!

From the Sukkah you can roam
But you should treat it as your home (15)

You can invite some special guests
Don’t stay in it if there are pests

You can sleep upon some rugs
Don’t you build it where there’s bugs

In the Sukkah you should sit
And eat and drink but never…

If in the Sukkah it should rain
To stay there would be such a pain (16)

And if it should be very cold
Stay there only if you’re bold

So build a Sukkah one and all
Make it large or make it small

Sukkah rules are short and snappy
Enjoy Sukkot, rejoice be happy.

1 Maimonides (RMBM) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Sukkah,
Chapter 4, Section 1. The minimum height of a Sukkah is 10 tepachim.
A tepach is a measure of the width of the four fingers of one’s hand.
My hand is 3 1/4 inches wide for a minimum Sukkah height of 32 1/2 inches.
The minimum allowable width is 7 tepachim by 7 tepachim. This would result
in a Sukkah of 22 3/4 inches by 22 3/4 inches.

2 The maximum height is 20 Amot. An Amah is the length from the elbow to
the tip of the middle finger. My Amah is 15 1/2 inches for a maximum height
of 25 feet. Others say that 30 feet is the maximum.

3 According to RMBM the Sukkah can be built to a width of several miles.
Shulchan Aruch also says there is no limit on the size of the width.

4 RMBM Hilchot Sukkah Chapter 4, Section 6.

5 RMBM Hilchot Sukkah Chapter 4, Section 11. RMBM states that one may
construct a Sukkah by wedging poles in the four corners of the roof and
suspending scakh from the poles. The walls of the building underneath are
considered to reach upward to the edge of the scakh.

6 RMBM Hilchot Sukkah Chapter 4, Section 8-10 discusses the ins and
outs of building your Sukkah in an alley or passageway.

7 There is a location referred to in the Talmud called Ashtarot Karnayim.
According to the discussion there are two hills, with a valley in between
where the Sun does not reach. Therefore it is impossible to sit in the shade
of the roof of the Sukkah. I can’t find the reference…hopefully next year.

8 RMBM Hilchot Sukkah Chapter 4, Section 6. You can go into a Sukkah
built on a wagon or a ship even on Yom Tov.

9 RMBM Hilchot Sukkah Chapter 4, Section 6. OK, RMBM says a camel
but dragon rhymes with wagon a lot better, don’t you agree. Anyway,
RMBM says you can build your Sukkah on a wagon or in the crown of a tree,
but you can’t go into it on Yom Tov. There is a general rule against riding a
beast or ascending into the crown of a tree on Yom Tov.

10 Chapter 5 deals with the rules for the scakh. Basically, you can use
that which has grown from the ground, and is completely detached from
the ground. So, for example, you cannot bend the branches of a tree over
the Sukkah to form the scakh. But you can cut the branches from a tree
and use them as scakh.

11 This would be a violation of the rule cited in the prior footnote.

12 Shulchan Aruch, Hilchot Sukkah, Perek 636, Section 1
The Sukkah should not be built sooner than 30 days before the Hag.
However, if the structure is built prior to 30 days, as long as something
new is added within the 30 days, the Sukkah is kosher.

13 Of course it’s a well known rule that you must sit in the shade from
the roof of the Sukkah and not in the shade that may be cast by the walls.
It seems that this might affect the height of the walls, depending on the
longitude of the location where you are building your Sukkah.

14 Traditionally, women, servants and minors are patur from the Mitzvah of
Sukkah. In our day we hope we know better than to read out half the
Jewish people from the observance of Mitzvot. Of course, that’s just a
personal opinion of the author.

15 MBM ibid Chapter 6, Section 6 explains that you should eat, drink and
live in the Sukkah for the 7 days as you live in your own home.
One should not even take a nap outside of the Sukkah.

16 RMBM ibid, Section 10 If it rains one should go into the house.
How does one know if it is raining hard enough? If sufficient raindrops
fall through the scakh and into the food so that the food is spoiled - go inside!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Yom Kippur’s Mystery Man Tour-Vayeilech 2012

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

September 23rd 2012 -Volume 2, Issue 45 –5th of Tishrei 5773!!

Vayeileich/Shuva/ Yom Kippur
Yom Kippur’s Mystery Man Tour
One  of the rewarding skills that you develop when training to become a tour guide, is the ability to see things along the road that you might pass daily and learn to appreciate the hidden secrets and history that might lie behind their simple appearance.

“Look out from this vantage point over here. Here’s where Avraham stood and looked out with his son to the mountain of Hashem before the binding of Yitzchak”

“This valley we are standing in is the same valley where David fought Goliath”

“This stream we are kneeling before is the one that Gideon had his troops kneel before to drink before the battle against the Midianites”

“See those white ripples in the middle of the kinneret that is where our sages tell us the well of Miriam is still rolling under the great lake-or maybe it’s those ripples…or those…”

Our Tanach, our history, and our tradition all come alive when you are standing at various places and you uncover the history that took place there. The connection we have and feeling for our heritage is awe inspiring. One of the greatest treats of being a tour guide here in Israel is to be able to reveal those hidden connections to your tourists, as you show them that the stories and inspiring figures that they are familiar with are not just fairy tales of the past that they read about in books, or even study about in Yeshiva, rather they can reach out, touch and connect with those same figures as they traverse the Holyland where they once dwelled.

The truth of the matter is, that it is not only a tour guides job to do this.  Every Rabbi, parent and teacher as well is meant to pass down our tradition in that same way. Our Pessach Seder is based on this concept of a hands-on experiential telling of the story; from the Matzah, Bitter herbs and four cups of wine. Our Purim feast gives a taste of the joy of the holiday, our Chanuka candles connect us to the light of the miracle of the Menorah and our sitting on the floor, fasting and mourning customs connect us to the destruction of the Temple on Tisha B’Av. Our religious experiences are not only meant to be days of commemoration but experiences that have many layers, insights and nuances that are all there waiting to be uncovered and most powerfully to give us a sense of appreciation and connection to the thousands of years that our ancestors have been doing the same things at the same time.

Which brings us to Yom Kippur; the day that should be the most inspirational of the year. For many though, the 15 out of 25 waking hour fast day, stuck in synagogue with a prayer book that never seems to end, recounting your long litany of sins, fasting, looking at your watch and wondering how much longer do we have go, does not necessarily seem like the most exciting way to spend your Tuesday night, Wednesday morning, afternoon and evening. Chazanut and singing is nice for a bit. But wouldn’t it be great to have a tour guide through the Yom Kippur davening? Someone who can make the prayers a little more alive for us?  A guide to connect me and my prayers on a deeper level to thousands of years my ancestors have been saying these same words? Back in the old country J Our West Seattle TLC Yom Kippur services were kind of like that as I would intersperse our davening regularly with different insights.(For those of you still in Seattle you can experience that still with the TLC’s newest Rabbi in West Seattle my colleague Rabbi Yehudah Greer-contact the Seattle Kollel for more details) Here in Israel though it is my understanding that if the Rabbi tries to speak more than once during a service and for more than 10 minutes he is liable to be left without a Minyan by the time he is done in the best case scenario and he may himself be given a tour by the few remaining members. So instead we have this weekly E-Mail to give you, my beloved readers and for that Rabbi/Tour Guide in me the outlet to share with you a little bit of inspiration for your Yom Kippur Tour this year as you prepare for our upcoming day of Judgment.

Today’s tour, which of course has to start with a connection to the weekly Parsha as we come closer to the end our annual Torah reading and the end of the Moshe our great leaders life, starts with Moshe’s statement that he is 120 years old, his birthday and day of passing and he is preparing for death. The Talmud tells us that when Moshe went up to receive the Torah Hashem instead shows him the future generations. In this vision he sees another great figure over a thousand years later, the great Rabbi Akiva who is teaching Torah in the Beit Midrash. Moshe is overwhelmed at how Rabbi Akiva would explain even the small shapes and crowns of each letter in the Torah, to the degree that he says “You have Rabbi Akiva what do you need me for?” When Rabbi Akiva than says that we have learned this all from Moshe on Sinai though Moshe is consoled.

Rabbi Akiva, who like Moshe according to the Medrash also lived 120 years (Hillel and Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai are the other two mentioned), is the hidden figure that if one looks carefully can be found all over the Yom Kippur davening. In fact the Chi”da notes that Rabbi Akiva, who was martyred on Yom Kippur, is in fact the essence of Yom Kippur and all of our prayers should be in his merit. So let’s start from the beginning (a very good place to start) and your homework this Yom Kippur is to find various places in the service where our sages, who formulated our prayers, placed references to Rabbi Akiva and his ideas.

Our introduction to the Yom Kippur service before Kol Nidrei is the recital of the verse
Ohr ZaruAH La’TzadiK U’LiyishreI LeV SimchA- A light shall shine for the righteous and joy for those of a stalwart heart”. If you noticed the last letters of each one of the words actually spell out Rabbi Akiva’s name. Cool! Well that’s pretty neat (we tour guides like it when you say that). So our prayers start off with a hint of Rabbi Akiva. Even more inspiring though is that as this is said we take that Sefer Torah, that he explained every nuance of (even the word Es), around the Beit Knesset and lovingly kiss it as we think of the love he had for the Torah. We then recite verses and a statement of how we are permitted to pray together with sinners for in truth
Kol H’Am Bi’Shgagah- we are all unintentional sinners (at least)”
 That concept of all of us being connected and responsible for one another falls under what Rabbi Akiva coined as the Torah’s golden rule- “Amar Rabbi Akiva- Va’Ahavta Li’rayacha Kamocha- Zeh Klal Gadol Ba’Torah- And you shall love your fellow as your self is a primary principle of the Torah.”

Next before we recite our Shmona Esrei for the evening service, we recite the verse
“On this day you shall atone for all your sins to cleanse you; from all your sins; before Hashem you shall be cleansed.” Once again we can hear the voice of Rabbi Akiva as he exclaimed upon reading this verse
How fortunate are you Israel! Before whom are you purified and who purifies you? Our Father who is in heaven. Just as a Mikva purifies the un-pure so too Hashem purifies Israel.”
One can feel the awe of the day that Rabbi Akiva must’ve had.. All we have to do is jump into that mikva that is the love of our forgiving Father and and Hashem himself will clean off all the shmutz our soul has accumulated over the year.

The truth is, there is perhaps no greater figure in our history who symbolizes new starts and the concept of Teshuva. Rabbi Akiva who only started off himself learning to read Hebrew at age 40 (when he would go to cheder with his little son) writes about himself that when he was a simple shepherd and saw a Torah scholar he would say- “give me a Talmid Chacham and I will bite him like a donkey!”When asked, “Why not like a dog?” he answered: “A dog’s bites tears the flesh, but a donkey’s bites breaks the bones. Can you hear in these words sadly many of our typical secular and anti-religious brothers and sisters? Yet, with all the challenges of a secular background and inspired by the potential he saw in the power of water to penetrate a rock, he decided that his heart which is so open to the love of Hashem, and the Torah which is so powerful should certainly be able to return, grow and develop.

Our tour continues with another prayer that we have recited repeatedly since Rosh Hashana and will recite multiple times on Yom Kippur; The prayer of Avinu Malkeinu- our Father our King (see my email last week). The Talmud tells us that the author of this prayer was none other than our Rabbi Akiva. The story being, that it was a time of famine without any rain falling in Israel and many of the sages tried praying for rain to no avail. Until Rabbi Akiva was got up and recited this prayer which was accepted. Why Rabbi Akiva? The Talmud says that although his teacher Rabbi Elazar was greater than him but Rabbi Akiva was one who was able to transcend his natural instincts and have mercy even in places and times when he was justified to act harshly. How appropriate it is that the quote mentioned from Rabbi Akiva in Ethics of our Fathers is
“Beloved is the man that he was created in the image of God; an extra love is made known to him that he was created in God's image, as it says (Genesis 9:6) "for in His own image God made humankind." Beloved are the Jews that they are called sons to God; an extra love is made known to them that they are called sons to God, as it says (Deuteronomy 14:1) "You are children of the Lord your God." Beloved are the Jews that there has been given to them the precious instrument; an extra love is made known to them that they were given the precious instrument of the world's creation, as it says (Proverbs 4:2) "For I give you good precepts; do not forsake my teaching."
Rabbi Akiva was able to transcend because he knew he was created in the image of Hashem who does so as well. He felt beloved by our Father and inspired by the Torah and he taught us how fortunate we are to have the power of that knowledge embedded in our souls. And when we behave in that fashion Hashem as well reflects that and grants us renewed life.

Finally for the conclusion of today’s tour we recite during our Musaf prayer the story of the death of Rabbi Akiva. His martyrdom  was on this holiest of days in the theater of Casarea, before the mocking Roman masses as his skin was flailed off his body with burning iron combs for the crime of teaching our tradition to his people. His students cried out
“Is this Torah and is this its reward?’ and Rabbi Akiva responded
“My whole life I have recited the Shema and have been unable to fulfill the verse to serve Hashem with all of my soul and now I have been given the opportunity to fulfill that as well
Rabbi Akiva died in an act of martyrdom. Ironically enough it was Rabbi Akiva himself who taught that one is not obligated to give up one’s life for another commandment besides the three cardinal sins (even to save a fellow Jew). For the Torah teaches us that one is meant to “Live by the commandments”- not die by them. Yet for him a life without the study of Torah without closeness to God was not a life worth living or as he described like a fish without water. That was life. It is that life that we are praying to be written and sealed in this Yom Kippur.

Rabbi Akiva died with the words Shema Yisrael on his lips as he sanctified Hashem’s name one final time before his death. We, as well, conclude our Yom Kippur Neila service with that cry of Kiddush Hashem, Shema Yisrael, echoing that call of Rabbi Akiva that has held us together as a God’s chosen nation for millennia. May Hashem bless all of us this year, in the merit of the teachings and inspiration of the great Rabbi Akiva whose ways and deeds still serve as a light for us, that we be signed and sealed in the book of good life, redemption and salvation, sustenance and support, merits, forgiveness and pardon.

May your first Shabbos of the year 5773 be an incredible start to a fantastic year
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

GRAVE OF RABBI AKIVA,TIVERYA- High up on the mountain top overlooking the kinneret and the city of tiverya, th Golan (and on a good day even the Hermon) is the grave of the great sage Rabbi Akiva. Although Rabbi Akiva was killed in Casera seemingly his body was brought here the final resting place of the Sanhedrin of which he was a part of for burial. Interestingly enough Rabbi Akiva’s great wife Rachel who attributed all his greatness (Rabbi Akiva says Who is a rich man?- he who has a wife who has beautiful deeds) to is not buried near him rather she is lower in the city of Tiverya. The reason being that Rabbi Akiva was married three times his last wife the former wife and convert of the Roman governor Turnus Rufus is buried here with him. Also a much later tradition places the burial of Rav Moshe Chaim Luzatto (Ramchal) the 18th century Italian Jewish writer, kabbalist, philosopher and Ethicsist who wrote the great Mussar works Mesilat Yesharim and Derech Hashem, who was persecuted and eventually died in Akko. There are those that suggest that the RaMChaL only lived for 40 years and as Rabbi Akiva did not study for the first 40 years of his life he shared the soul of RaMChaL who rectified and completed the soul of Rabbi Akiva. One rarely will come to visit this grave and not find a group of sefardic Jews that are Barbequing and picnicking at this incredible spot for prayer and gorgeous views. Who knows maybe they”ll let you join them.


Mrs. Epstein, A Hebrew School teacher at Beth Israel Congregation had just concluded her lesson in preparation of Yom Kippur and wanted to make sure she had made her point. She asked her class, “Can anyone tell me what you must do before you can obtain forgiveness for transgressing one of the commandments?”
There was a short pause and then, from the back of the room, a small boy spoke up and said, "Transgress one of the commandments.”

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Father's Gift- Nitzavim/ Rosh Hashana 2012

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

September 14th 2012 -Volume 2, Issue 44 –26th of Elul 5772

To all of my beloved readers I would like to share with you the opportunity before the High Holidays to share in the merit of supporting our programs and projects. These weekly Insights are part of our larger project of supporting our congreagation that brings Jews from all backgrounds together, encourages and assists new Olim in moving to Israel as well as spreading Torah and love of Jews and Eretz Yisrael to the world. It is a great merit to have in your hand as you approach Hashem these Holy Days and your support can help us firther our programs. Please click on the link on our blog  for our High Holiday Young Israel campaign. Online PayPal or credit card contributions can be made in memory of a loved one, and in honor of  Simcha or a mere appreciation for your weekly E-Mail J)
or if you would like you can send a charitable donation to the International Young Israel Movement and send it to
Ephraim Schwartz 25441 Gardner
Oak Park Michigan 48237
Or in Israel to
Ephraim Schwartz
10 Eshel
Karmiel, Israel 21681
Thanks so much for your support!

Nitzavim/ Rosh Hashana
A Father's Gift
He was so far from yiddeshkeit. So very far. Anatoly was raised in Odessa in a completely secular environment. No Shabbos, no Kosher, no Chanukah Menorah, he never even knew about the High Holidays or Rosh Hashanah until last year. He had come to America, made a life for himself, built a family, but Judaism was never something that interested him. It was a new world, the faith of his ancestors was exactly that; something his Old Russian grandparents had practiced and gotten persecuted for. Even if there was a G-d, Anatoly thought he certainly was never going to find anything to connect him with Him. That was until he went to Israel for the first time to visit some relatives he had there.
Somehow everything seemed to change for him over there on that trip. He felt stirrings somewhere deep inside that he couldn’t identify. He felt that he had been there before. He saw Jews of all hats and backgrounds and he felt an allegiance towards them. He spoke with some Rabbis he had met there and they had opened up a world to him. It was a foreign world, a world that he wasn’t sure he would ever have anything to do with. But something spoke to him, a voice he couldn’t seem to shake.
On his way back home to Los Angeles he had arranged to have a flight that would layover in Odessa , his old childhood home. He walked around his old neighborhood and as Jewish fate always seems to have it, he bumped in to an old man who recognized him. As he shared with the old man his experience in Israel the old man told him about how difficult it had been to be Jewish in Russia growing up. He then handed Anatoly the gift that would change his life forever. One who’s lesson has certainly inspired mine.
It was an old worn out Rosh Hashanah Machzor-prayer book. Its pages were old and brittle but seemingly very typical. Yet as he flipped through the pages something caught his eyes. He noted that by one of the prayers the words were crossed out. In the famous prayer Avinu Malkeinu- Our Father Our King- recited throughout the High Holiday season the word Malkeinu-Our King was crossed out and replaced with the word Czar. Then the word Czar was crossed out too, and replaced with the name Stalin; which was also crossed out as well. Seemingly the owner of this Machzor fearing for their lives from the Czarist or Communist Governments had changed the text. Tears began to rush down his face as he considered the conditions that this Machzor owner must have lived under, and what he would've given to be able to live with the freedom that Anatoly now possessed. He was shaken to his core that this Machzor had some how made its way into his hand. He kissed the precious book and made a New Years resolution. The Malkeinu- would know longer be erased, he Anatoly would make God his King and find out about his tradition.  This is the first part of the story.
This week's Torah portion the one always read before Rosh Hashanah contains in it the Eternal promise of the Jewish people. After reiterating the blessings and curses that will come in response to our observance of the commandments, Hashem says
"When all these things come upon you and your heart will return to you amongst all the nations of which Hashem your God has dispersed you; and you will return to Hashem your God and listen to His voice … If your dispersed will be at the edges of the heaven from there Hashem, your God will gather you in and will take you."
Reb Zalman Sorotzkin notes that Hashem is not speaking here about merely the physical ingathering of Exiles that is a principle of Jewish faith; for if so it should say "from the edges of the earth". Rather it is talking about the spiritual in-gathering that will happen. Those who have been pushed away from any piece of heaven. Our brothers… our sisters… ourselves who sometimes feel we have fallen so far we could never get back. We too Hashem will bring us back. But why does He do this. Haven't we abandoned Him? The answer lays in part II of Anatoly's story.
After Odessa , Anatoly went back to L.A. a changed man. He found himself a Synagogue, began to study and developed a relationship with a special Rabbi he had met. One day he worked up the courage and showed him his precious Machzor.  When the Rabbi saw the Machzor he pointed out to Anatoly an even more incredible lesson. He told Anatoly to note that the word Malkeinu was crossed out, but the first word Avinu- Our Father, never was. There are times throughout history when Jews have felt they had pressures, forces, and threats that were too overwhelming; they crossed out the Malkeinu in their books. They came to new worlds where different gods ruled in their minds. But they never could replace Avinu- our loving caring Father in heaven.
We approach Rosh Hashanah this week. Many of us have not necessarily lived this year as our King would've wanted us too. We question if there's a place for us back home. Who are we to come to Shul, blow a Shofar proclaiming Hashem as our King and hope to be judged for a good year? The answer is that he is also Avinu- our Father. He is our Father who has promised us that no matter how far to edges of heaven we have floundered we can come back home. He will bring us back Home. We just have to open our Machzors, open our hearts, and take our rightful places at our ancestral heritage and heavenly palace. He'll take care of all the rest. Fathers are like that sometimes. Hashem is like that always.

Have an inspirational last Shabbos of the and may we all be written in the Book of Life and all that is good this coming year.
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

The Young Israel of Karmiel J- my personal favorite shul in Israel. The shul founded a year and half ago is the first of the new project Kehillot Ha’Galil of the International Young Israel Movement, as we begin to develop a synagoguge movement in Israel that views the Shul as the community center for classes, programs, socials and a place to join together with your community. The Young Israel movement as well is looking to bridge the differences between our somewhat divided people bringing together Chareidi Jew, Religious Zionists, Ashkenaz, Sefard, Olim, Anglos, Native Sabras and Secular Jews who are all part of our community in a non-judgemental warm and welcoming environment where we can grow together in our service to Hashem, the love of Jews and an appreciation of Eretz Yisrael. In the Young Israel of Karmiel we delight in our warm carlbach style Friday night services our weekly chulent Kiddush and our growing Olim population as well as the many secular Jews who have felt comfortable to join us for their simchas and services. We also love our Rabbi J although he does have a tendency to speak a little to long. So if you’re looking for a place for the High Holidays come join us and be part of this special exciting Shul!


(and he looks nothing like me!)

It was Rosh Hashanah evening. In the old Jewish neighborhood, everyone was heading to services. And on his way to synagogue, the Rabbi notices one of his neighbors - an old timer - sitting on a park bench.
"Sam. Aren't you going to services."?
"Not this year, Rabbi."
"Why not Sam? Don't you think you should ask G-d for another year of good health?"
"Rabbi. I'm ninety-three years old. Most of my friends are gone. And I have a hunch. I think that in heaven they've forgotten about me. And the last thing I want to do... is remind them!"

Friday, September 7, 2012

Timely Message- Ki Savo- 2012

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

September 7th  2012 -Volume 2, Issue 43 –19th of Elul 5772
Parshat Ki Savo

Timely Message

Nobody likes to hear Pesach or Haggadah Dvar Torahs after Pesach. People pretty much overload on them during the Seder. The little kids with all their questions from Gan or school. The yeshiva Bochrim with their boxes of notebooks full of Drashos that their Rebbe has been packing them up with so that we feel we are getting something out of our High School Yeshiva education. Frankly I’d be a little happier with some more help cleaning out the car of Chametz and checking the maror and other errands then lengthy Dvar Torahs but that’s just me. But by the time Pesach is over I am certainly not interested in any more Dvar Torahs about the Seder. I’m not interested in Matzah Brei or Matzah lasagna either. Same thing with Chanukah. I don’t want Latkas (or jelly doughnuts) after Chanukah or Hamantash after Purim. I love them on their respective holidays. But the second the day is over. I’m done. The exception being chulent after Shabbos. But that’s because we have a special relationship. Years of Yeshiva food trained me to appreciate chulent until even Monday. And I haven’t lost it yet.

Now where am I going with all this? Well when one opens this week’s Torah portion and pays attention to the reading one all of sudden might hear the familiar sound of the Haggada reading as the Torah recites the confession of one who brings his Bikurim/ first fruit offerings (on Shavuot incidentally another holiday that is long gone).

And you shall call out and say before the Lord, your God, "An Aramean [sought to] destroy my forefather, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there with a small number of people, and there, he became a great, mighty, and numerous nation.   6. And the Egyptians treated us cruelly and afflicted us, and they imposed hard labor upon us. So we cried out to the Lord, God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.   8. And the Lord brought us out from Egypt with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm, with great awe, and with signs and wonders.   9. And He brought us to this place, and He gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

The question of course is why are we reading this now. Pesach or Shavuot makes sense but this is Rosh Hashana season. Now if you then turn to me and say listen Rabbi it just happens to fall out this way in our annual cycle. The Talmud however tells us that even in times when there would be a tri-annual cycle they would pause and read the Torah reading of Parshat Ki Tavo the week before Rosh Hashana in order to read the blessings and curses at the end of the portion before the end of the year. This seemingly misplaced reading of the Arami- being Lavan of course, who tried to kill our forefather Jacob and the eventual Egyptian exile and redemption, however was also included. So there must be a message in ti for us as well. And I don’t think it is to think about the Matzah Brei.

There is an interesting Rashi that notes that the word in Hebrew destroys when it mentions the Arami is actually not necessarily literal (thus the above brackets {sought to} are our own). Meaning that Lavan in fact was unsuccessful in destroying us, proof being- we are here reading this E-mail today. Rather Rashi says that he tried to kill Yackov and de-facto his children however Hashem thwarted his plan. Yet Hashem considers the thoughts of evil-doers as if they had actually committed the acts. In a similar vein the Talmud tells us that righteous who try to do acts but are unsuccessful- for example one gives charity to someone who is a fraud, one places on tefillin that may not be kosher, one tries to make it to Minyan or read an entire Torah email but somehow doesn’t make it through. As long as one puts in all his best effort Hashem considers it as if he fulfilled the Mitzvah.

Rabbi Yochanan Zweig notes that the reason for this Divine rule is that when an evil person like Lavan is committed to doing something destroy us there is virtually nothing within take nature that can stop him. (One can certainly that same lesson today with our enemies who are constantly shooting missiles and attacking us throughout the years with overwhelming odds and yet…). The reason they are not successful is because of extra Divine intervention. Thus it is considered as if they have accomplished their goals. It is for that reason that we thank Hashem as if they had destroyed us and He saved us.

Perhaps even more inspirational is that the opposite is true as well. When a Jew sets his mind to do a mitzvah, a good deed, an act of Godliness, there is no natural physical force that would prevent him from accomplishing his goal. It’s a rule of nature in as much as gravity is. The only reason why we would not be successful is because there is some type of Divine plan and intervention that prevents us from actually carrying it out. Hashem does not make us lose out as a result of that. We are rewarded as if we actually accomplishe what we set out to do.

Which then brings us from Pesach when we first experienced the attempt to destroy our people, and Shavuot when we bring our first fruits to Hashem saying that we have actually done all you have asked of us. Meaning you have blessed us with the opportunity to actually fulfill the mitzvah to its culmination. To the holiday of Rosh Hashana when we add in this extra Torah reading as we examine our actions of the previous year and pray for a renewed better one this coming year. One of the greatest challenges as we approach this special day is the feeling of un-worthiness many of us have. If you were God would you invest in you for the coming year to serve Him, to emulate His ways, to be his “face-man” for the rest of the world? We look at all of the things that we had meant to accomplish this past year, so many of the resolutions we might have made to improve and here we are at the same place again. From where do we get the chutzpah to ask for another chance of after all our failures?

The answer I believe lies in this mitzvah of Bikkurim. Hashem does not judge us as much on our action rather on our sincere, realistic and meaningful decisions to accomplish. All it takes is for us to resolve to be better and make our best efforts to make amends of the ways of our past and it is as if we have actually done so. We are renewed. We are fixed. We are considered as if we have changed; For Hashem considers the act of the righteous as if they have done them. The caveat is merely that we actually have to mean it, believe it and understand that it is our nature to be close to Him. All of our mistakes are against our nature. They are, because we don’t believe that we have it in our power to achieve the greatest of heights that we know Hashem has created us to achieve.  As we enter this last week of the year it is our chance to end off the year with this life changing perspective. Hashem doesn’t expect us to become entirely different over night. He just wants us to know that it is in our nature to become great and the failures that we experienced in the past are not necessarily all our fault and certainly do not change our inherent potential to become His special children. To make our Father proud.

Have a magnificent Shabbos
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

For all of my beloved readers that would also like to join in this merit before the High Holidays and would like to help us support our programs and projects please click on the following link for our High Holiday Young Israel campaign. Contributions can be made in memory of a loved one, and in honor of  Simcha or a mere appreciation for your weekly E-Mail J) by clicking on our special High Holiday link on our blog below

Thanks so much for your support!



Israel Supreme Court- As we approach the day of judgement it might be worthwhile to take a short visit of the truly inspiring building of the Israel Supreme court. Located right near the Knesset in Jerusalem the building stands out with all kinds of architectural symbolism of the Jewish perspective of Justice. The building which was opened in 1992 on the hundred birthday of James Rothchild (donated by the Rothchild foundation) has no regular entrance way rather it is designed like a street thouroughfare in order to give a sense that the court is not for the elite but for all who wish to be heard. In fact as opposed to United States Supreme Court which hears less then a hundred cases a year that they handpick in Israel the Supreme Court hears over 10,000 cases and serves as the court of appeals as well with 15 judges total and generally three justices presiding over a case.
The building has one main wall that is designed like the Kotel that flows through the building connecting it’s relationship to the Sanhedrin that once sat on the Temple mount. There is a pyramid dome in the center hall that can also be seen to symbolize the mountain of Sinai which hashem held over the Jewish people when we received the Torah .The building itself is full of geometric designs of circles  (Ma’agalei Tzedek/ circles of justice) and straight lines and squares (Chukim Yesharim/ Laws that are straight). The court is open for anyone to visit and one can see the museum there as well that discusses many of the courts famous (and infamous decisions).



Moishe was heading out of the Synagogue one day, and as always Rabbi
Mendel was standing at the door, shaking hands as the congregation departed.
The rabbi grabbed Moishe by the hand, pulled him aside and whispered
these words at him: "You need to join the Army of God!"
Moishe replied: "I am already in the Army of God, Rabbi."
The rabbi questioned:

"How come I don't see you except for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?"
Moishe whispered back: " I'm in the secret service........."