Our view of the Galile

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Answer Vaeira 2013/5774

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

December 26th 2013 -Volume 4, Issue 13 -23rd of Tevet 5774

The Answer
Her name was Suri. Not that little helpful guy trapped inside of your IPhone. Suri, Sarah Rachel to be precise. She was a good Bais Yaakov graduate, raised in a nice haymish, Chasidic-"ish" home in New York. She went to all the right schools and now she was here in Israel for the first time exploring the country with everyone's favorite tour guide J. After a week of inspiration and really connecting on so many different levels to the holy sites, the places our ancestors tread, the holy simple people and some of our great leaders and of course lots of Shwarma and Falafel, she was in love. She had come home. And then she popped the question.

"How come I never really learned about Eretz Yisrael? It's important, isn’t it? I mean we learned about the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash/Temple and praying for sacrifices to be returned, and Mashiach and wings of eagles. But how come we never really learned about living here. Moving here. How special it is… how important it is… how my neshoma for the first time really feels in the right place. Why, Rabbi? Why…?"

His name was Yankel. Now they called him Jack. I bumped into him by the Yad Vashem museum. He was a survivor. He had a number. 8634254. Raised in the Lodz ghetto, he saw his family killed as he was taken away. He spent a year of hell in the camps. His stories still give me nightmares. When they were liberated, he remained observant. He felt it was the least he could do for his parent's memory. His children? Not so much. But although he put on tefillin most days, kept a kosher home and observed the Shabbos, he had lost his faith. The world that he knew was run by God, didn't make sense any more. Why, Rabbi? Why…?

Dan was pretty much raised without any religion. Her mother was Jewish. Dad wasn't. He was Bar Mitzvah'ed, but it was more bar than Mitzvah, he told me. He started exploring his Jewish roots in his freshman year in college where he met up with a really "cool" Rabbi that gave him his first real Shabbos experience. One taste of chulent and he was hooked JJ (OK that's my commentary-but with years of experienceJ). He's been growing in his Judaism. He started learning regularly and is considering going to a yeshiva next year. But he asked me has difficulty understanding, why would God put him in this situation? Why would he let millions of His children abandon the faith of their forefathers, the ones that perhaps will never meet a cool Rabbi. Doesn't our Father in heaven want all of His children back home? Doesn't every Jewish soul have something special to contribute to the world? Why, Rabbi? Why…?

And finally, or more precisely originally, we have a man named Moshe. Moses. He was raised in the home of Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, the first persecutor of the fledgling Jewish nation, the originator of the original "Final Solution", of whose Torah portions we are reading these  weeks and whose story we retell each Passover Seder. That Moshe and that Pharaoh. Forced to flee his home when he stood up for his brothers, he is recalled from his early retirement at age 80 to go down to Egypt and to take God's nation out. Moshe is not excited about that idea. He really does not feel he is the right man for the job. He had a speech impediment. He was not learned or even raised Jewish and he certainly was not part of the suffering of the rest of the people. He was an outsider, a former aristocrat, not the Spartacus that rises up from the slave galleys to lead a revolt. But Hashem with the encouragement of a few good miracles, burning bushes, staff changing to snake tricks, leprous arms and the water/blood switch, convinces him to that He will be with him and he should start heading down to Egypt. Moshe obeys and has a nice chat with Pharaoh, as per his orders from up high, that bad things will happen if he doesn't set the people free. Quite un-surprisingly to us and to Moshe, Pharaoh is not playing ball. Not only does he refuse to "let them go" He doubles their workload, making them hunt for straw to make the bricks in addition to making the bricks. The people's backs are breaking, they have reached the lowest point. It can't get any worse. They yell at Moshe

"You have made our very scent abhorrent in the eyes of Pharaoh and his servants, placing a sword in their hands to murder us with". And Moshe seemingly has had enough as well. He turns to Hashem at the end of last week's Torah portion and says.

"Why have you done bad to this nation? Why have you sent me? From the time I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name he harmed this nation, but you did not rescue Your people." Why…? Why…?

This week's Torah portion begins with the answer. The answer, I believe not only to Moshe's question but to Suris', Yankels' and Dans' as well.  

"I am Hashem…" OK we know that already "And I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov as El Sha-dai, but through my name Hashem I did not become known to them."  OK so there's something here about the revelation of Hashems name…but I still don't get it.

"And I also established My covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their dwelling where they dwelled." So now it's becoming a little clearer. This has to do with the ancient promise to our forefathers about inheriting the land of Israel. And I do remember that Hashem had foretold to Avraham at that treaty that his descendants will go down to a foreign land and be persecuted there and they will be redeemed and get the Land with great wealth. But why do we need this whole process?

 "And I also heard the wailing of the Children of Israel in whom Egypt enslaves and I remembered my covenant"  We did our share, it seems, we suffered and we cried out. We fulfilled our part of the plan, although we're still not sure why we had to. But it seems that it is up.

 "Therefore, say to the children of Israel: I am Hashem and I will take you out from the burdens of Egypt, And I will rescue you from their servitude; I shall redeem you with and outstretched arm and with great judgments. I shall take you to Me as a nation and I shall be a God to you and you shall know that I am Hashem your God who takes you out from under the burdens of Egypt."  

And there we have it the first four cups of wine by our Pesach Seder, the four aspects of our redemption. After being ground down to almost nothingness, when there is almost no spirit, no body and no soul left, we are to become rebuilt and rebooted. We are first removed from all of our burdens. We may not recognize God at that point. We seemingly may not even be expected to as that doesn't seem to come till later. But the process has begun.

  Hashem then rescues us from our servitude. What is a slave? A slave is a number. A slave has no identity. A slave is chattel, property. It has no self, no future, no hope. That's what we were and had become. We had been erased. Hashem will rescue us from that and he will save us from our oppressors destroying and punishing them for every blow that they gave us, for every child that they killed, for all the inhumanities they levied upon us. We witnessed that salvation and with every judgment we learned that we counted for something. We are people too. We have a Redeemer.

 It is then and perhaps only from that point on, once we have been freed and once we have been given a sense of dignity and special-ness for the first time in all of their lives, that Hashem takes us as His people and we forever will know that it is He who took us out. He is ours and we are His.

And then we come to the next verse, the fifth cup, the one that we have not yet drunken from, the cup of Eliyahu.

"And I will bring you to the land which I have raised my hand to give it to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov; and I shall give it to you as your heritage-I am Hashem"

It was always about the Land. It was about creating and making us a people that could inherit the land. Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov were geirim/ dwellers, strangers in the land.

(Note- the 400 year exile calculation starts with the birth of Yitzchak, who never even left the land. He was a stranger in his own land). We were receiving and earning it as an eternal inheritance. Our very souls were wiped clean of us having any inkling of inheriting, living, thriving and certainly not fulfilling our Divine mandate in any other place. Egypt, our first Exile, was the place, like so many others in our history, which we initially flourished in. Yosef-our guy, literally saved the entire country and built it up to the grandeur that this Pharaoh inherited. We were settled in Goshen. And then one day it was all wiped away. We were wiped away. We lost our homes, our freedom, our humanity, our souls and perhaps even our faith. For it was faith, that was never redeemed, never taken as God's nation and never connected with its land.

Moshe asked Hashem, why? The answer Hashem tells Moshe is because to become a nation we have to be built from the ground up. To become a people that would bring the world to its fulfillment we needed to appreciate that we would be strangers anywhere else. Our souls and our future were bound, wed, to Hashem and would than ultimately achieve their completion in the Holy Land he has promised to us. It is that knowledge and that process that has made us eternal. From that moment on Hashem has promised that our new souls and the eternality of the Jewish people is as eternal as His own is. Nations may come and go. But the Jewish people are now hardwired with souls that will last forever.

We are mandated to remember Egypt and our Exodus daily. It's not just one of those know-your-history and where-you-came-from type of exercises.  Our sages tell us that each one of us has to go through their own personal exodus and redemption until we will merit the return to the land of the Divine presence united with us once again. Some of us like Dan, are at the stage where they were born with a soul, much like Moshe's that needed to find and discover and be returned and redeemed with words of inspiration. Others, like Yankel, were born as many of our ancestors in periods of time when we had to experience death, suffering and pain only to experience a physical redemption and rebuilding of their lives but not necessarily as of yet their souls. There is no judgment. Just as there was none of our forefathers who were not expected to listen to Moshe, as a result of "the shortness of spirit and the hard labor" of their Exile. They may have not reached a point where they feel that they have been taken in Hashem's loving, comforting arms. That He was there with them. But it will come and they will be born anew. But they will never disappear. There is still the fifth cup to come.

Our ancestors eventually received, and understood the answers to their question. We achieved that loving unity with Hashem when we received His Torah. It didn't last long. The ultimate eternal redemption still awaits us. In Hebrew the word for answer is Teshuva, a return. Hashem tells us the answer we are seeking is ultimately in our hands; in our teshuva, our return to him. Each Pesach we recount by our Seder how we are meant to feel that each of us has personally left Egypt. We've all gone through it together, all of us in different forms. All of us have our questions. The only thing left is our Teshuva. Hashiveynu Hashem V'nashuva-Return answer us Hashem and we will return, Chadiesh Yameinu Ki'Kedem- renew our days like those of old.

 Have a blissful Shabbos,

Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

 This end-of-the-secular year weekly Insights and Inspirations E-Mail is dedicated to all of you who have generously sponsored and contributed to our inspirational E-mail which helps to support our projects and Synagogue here in the Holy Land. Thank you so much and may all the merits of your dedication and the Torah that is studied, the inspiration that is shared and even the smiles that are occasionally shining from our weekly Torah thoughts and inspiration serve as a source of blessing and reward for your families and loved ones.



 "New Year's is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls and humbug resolutions"-Mark Twain

 "May all your troubles last as long as your New Year's resolutions!"-Joey Adams


The first two letters of this weeks Parsha Vaeira is Vov and Alef=7  corresponding to the 7 plagues that are in the portion. Next week Bo is Beis and Alef which = 3 for the last three plagues.


 During the recent snowstorm the 5th   Grade Rabbi got a call from the Principal of the yeshiva where he teaches telling not to come to work,  because only 6 kids showed up due to the snow. He said he's coming, because at home he has 15. JJ



(answer below at end of Email)

(This was our midterm exam but basically questions that were takem from former years exams)

Alexander Zaid was:

a)  From the 2nd Aliyah and one of the founders of Bar Giora and HaShomer

b)  A trailblazing engineer and one of the developers of the field of engineering in Israel

c)  the "redeemer of lands" in the Galile

d)  One of the leaders of the 1st Aliyah in settling the south of Israel



 Now there are more overweight people in America than average-weight people. So overweight people are now average… which means, you have met your New Year's resolution.


God, grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into the ones that I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.


I thought this was pretty cute!

New Years resolutions by cats



 Mt. HermonAfter last weeks snow storm this is definitely the time to go visit Israel's tallest mountain and perhaps many Israeli's favorite get away. Interestingly enough we only have about 10 percent of the mountain. The majority of it is in Syria, but because of its slanted shape towards Israel we get all of the water that flows down which eventually leads in to the Jordan river and Kinneret. The Hermon which we originally "liberated" in the  6 day war was lost and recaptured again in the Yom Kippur war after many challenging battles. Today the glorious mountain top is Israels premier ski resort and a lot of fun to go with your kids sledding and playing in the snow as you can take a cable car up to the top. In the summer there are free rides to see the beautiful flowers and hike along the many trails and streams. But now it is just gloriously snow-capped and white. Our little piece of Switzerland



Answer is A: Zaid was a pretty interesting guy. He was a Russian immigrant who came to Israel and was one of the founders of the original cowboy Bar Giora and Shomer boys. They're objective was to try to get the jews living in Israel to use Jewish labor and protection which they offered. (many times causing damage on the non-jewish helps watch-so they land owners would only use them. These guys would dress like arabs but they learned how to shoot and were the precursors to the eventual army. Zaid is also famous for discovering Beit Shearim the ancient Jewish burial ground during the 3rd century and on including the grave of Rebbe Yehudah HaNasi the editor of the Mishna. There's a big statue of him on a horse there.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Names have not been changed for the purpose…- Shemos 2013/5774

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

December 19th 2013 -Volume 4, Issue 12 -16th of Tevet 5774
Names have not been changed for the purpose

We stood together yesterday on the mountain top. It wasn't just any mountain top. It was Masada, the mountain of Herod's palace, the mountain where the last Jews to stand up to the Romans after they destroyed our Temple; the mountain that has become a symbol of our heroic and miraculous return to our Holy land after 2000 years. It was peaceful and still up there on the mountain top. Our eyes closed, the incredible quiet of the Judean desert and the power of the moment that we were about to experience gave us a sense of transcendence. I sat around a table made of ancient stones that our forefathers had made in this little Beit Midrash 2 millennia ago, with this special group of students. We began our ceremony with Hinay Matov U'Mah Naim-Oh how good and pleasant it was as we brothers and sisters sat together

The ceremony was a "Bar/Bat Mitzvah" program that I have recently become involved with which is sponsored by the OU is for students that come to Israel for the first time on their Birthright program who have never had one before or that wanted to have a redo of their first one, Before me stood 18 young men and women from our group of 40 who had chosen to turn their ten day life changing experience in Israel into one that would continue into a lifetime commitment to Judaism, their heritage and their legacy. The ceremony as was explained wasn't a "real" Bar Mitzvah. We weren't going to be calling them up to the Torah, they wouldn't be putting on tefillin or wearing a tallit. By Jewish law they were already "Bar Mitzvah-ed" at age 13 (12 for girls), merely by coming of the age of responsibility as a Jewish man and woman. The ceremony that we had for these students, who had been deprived of a real Jewish connection for most of their lives- until these past ten days, was for them to choose a Jewish name for themselves and to speak for a few minutes of the commitment they would like to make to Judaism, as they join the ranks and four thousand year old dynasty of which they were choosing to re-connect with. It was a ceremony that made me cry.

Sean went first. He spoke about his first Bar Mitzvah in Temple. He was forced to memorize some blessings, read some ancient text that had no meaning to him and to hear a Rabbi ramble on and on about things that he knew were not true about him and his family. The day after he became an atheist. Mazel Tov…

Daphne was next. Her Mother was Jewish, her dad wasn''t. They had a tree and a Menorah. They did a Seder and Easter. It was all silly to her. Religion was just about trying to make her grandparents happy. They weren't…either side. The most painful part of her growing up, she said, was not having any real sense of identity. She knew that there was a God. But she wasn't really allowed to talk or learn about him in any way that made any sense. She was a soul without a people.

Daphne wasn't the only one that expressed that sentiment. Most of the kids that spoke all started out with stories of their upbringing, some with some religious affiliation, some with a few religious affiliations and many with none. Carl, had never met a Jew in his life, besides his grandfather. Alexis spoke about, how she was made fun of and how she eventually discarded the "Jewish label" because whenever it came up she felt she was treated differently. Michael was perhaps the most prolific when he described this incredible hole that he had a nagging that wouldn't go away. "It was as if there were these answers I knew that I had to be seeking…but I didn't even know the questions to ask…"

The tears began to swell in my eyes. I felt like I was in Yad Vashem Israel's Holocaust museum. What the Nazi's had failed to accomplish we were doing to ourselves. The Final Solution was taking place, millions of our brothers and sisters, our young, our beautiful, our most precious Jewish souls are being lost for eternity. I could hear the cries of the souls of the martyrs of Masada, who gave their lives rather than to become Roman, crying in the wind on that mountain in the Judean desert along with me.  

But then something changed. Each one of those students stood up and chose a name for themselves. Sean became Shmuel, Daphne-Dina, Carl-Chaim Alexis-Leah and Michael Moshe. They had found themselves. Ten days of the holy land worked its magic. Like those electric charged defibrillator paddles on their Jewish souls they had been awakened. They were brought back to life. A stone's throw away from the ancient Synagogue on Masada where archeologists uncovered a parchment with the prophecy of Ezekiel that speaks of the dried bones coming back to life; the Jewish spark was reignited. Some of the girls affirmed their commitment to lighting the Shabbos candlesticks that we gave them each week (what's a bar mitzvah without presents). Some of the boys talked about coming back to study here. All of them spoke about how they have never felt so in touch with their inner soul before and how for the first time they feel that they have an appreciation and connection to what is most certainly the essence of their lives to come. There were no more atheists left in the house. No more questions that needed to be asked. Their yiddeshe neshomas were glowing and all of us sitting there were just pulled into the moment as we rose and sang and danced…Am Yisrael Chai…Od Avinu Chai.

This week we begin the 2nd book of the Torah. Whereas the Book of Bereishis that we concluded last week has been the story of the family of Israel, Shemos is the story of our nationhood. Our sojourn and exile in Egypt, our miraculous Exodus, the receiving of the Torah on Sinai, the golden calf its consequences and the building of the Tabernacle. Yet the name of the book oddly enough is Shemos-Names. As in all of the books of the Torah, the name that we call them is based on the first few words of the book. Yet as in all things that have to do with Torah there is also a deeper reason, if we scratch beneath the surface, for meaning, insight and inspiration of why certain words and titles are given to things.

Rav Gedalya Shorr, in his classic work Ohr Gedalyahu, suggests that the first time we find the concept of names is actually the first act recorded in the Torah that Man/Adam was asked to do. We are told that Hashem brought all the animals before Adam and he gave them names. What does it mean he gave them all names? "Hey you look like a giraffe, and you're a pig?" And why is it sharing this with us. The text is begging us to dig  deeper into this first mission of man and  Rav Schorr is glad to oblige. He explains that in Hebrew/the holy tongue, words and names are not random letters or sounds to describe each creature or object. Rather the world and everything in it was created with Hebrew letters and their combinations are what describe the essence of what that being is truly about and meant to accomplish. Example- dog in Hebrew is Kelev which is also the same letters as the word Kileiv- like a heart. A dog is much like a heart our sages tell us. It will always chase and be drawn after that which it desires be it a stick that is thrown or its own tail. Also just a dog in order to thrive and meet its fullest potential is only when it learns discipline and develops its natural state of loyalty to its master, so too does our hearts in developing that most meaningful relationship with out Creator. Names describe the essence of what a being is meant to accomplish in this world, how each created entity is meant to reflect the will and revelation of its Creator. It is man's job as the center of creation to understand and uplift each being to achieving its fulfillment. Hashem therefore took him for a "spin around the factory" to learn and understand what each being was truly about.

The Children of Israel, that nation that 2000 years later ultimately inherited the job of Adam, got our start in the cesspools and slave yards of Egypt, the one country where its leader Pharaoh is introduced as the one "who did not know Yosef". He forgot the Jewish hero who saved Egypt and who in the process attributed all that he had done to the one God in Heaven. Pharaoh declared himself a deity and the Jewish slaves, from the length of their exile and the burdens that were placed upon them forgot their tradition and heritage as well. Yet, our sages teach us, they held on to one thing. They kept their Jewish identity cards. They maintained their Jewish names, they remembered and spoke the holy tongue, and they knew that there was something different, something special about their souls. They knew there was a revelation that was meant to be revealed upon their eventual promised Exodus. That could only be revealed when they became who they were supposed to become; what they were created to become.

 Shemos, the book of our Exodus and redemption, is the story of our Jewish names that were redeemed from the darkness of persecution, exile and assimilation. It begins with "These are names of the Children of Israel that went down Egypt." The end of the story will be in a few Parshiyot from now "and on the midst of the day all of the armies of Hashem left Egypt". Our names are what went down to Egypt. It was all that we had left. Like seeds being planted, that can only sprout in the darkness and in the depths. Yet from those seeds of Jewish names a nation and an army was born. Our name Yisrael will live forever. We will be as eternal as our Creator as long as we can keep that connection.

I get hit in the head by a candy. My newly found brothers and sisters shout out Mazel Tov and pelt the Bar/Bat Mitzvah boys and girls and a circle forms as we begin to dance. Our feet are not touching the ground. Am Yisrael Chai…Od Avinu Chai…Siman Tov U'Mazal Tov… I feel like I have been witness to a new redemption. I look at Alexis/Leah clutching her candlesticks and Michael/Moshe sporting his new Kippa. Abba we have not forgotten you. Your children have remembered their names. Remember us. Bring all of us back. Help us live up to our names. Help us sanctify Yours.

Have an absolutely spectacular Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

 "Hashem created Earth by taking snow from underneath His throne. "  Pirkei D’R’Eliezer 3


SHELEG/SNOW =333 BECHOR/FIRST BORN=222 ponder the significance

 During the recent snowstorm the 5th grade Rabbi got a call from the Principal of the yeshiva where he teaches telling not to come to work,  because only 6 kids showed up due to the snow. He said he's coming, because at home he has 15. JJ

(answer below at end of Email)
(This was the final question of my written exam..I miraculously got an 88J Mazel Tov next week we'll go through some older exams!)
The "Gospel trail and the J-sus trial are located:
a)    Between Jerusalem and Kasr Al Yahud
b)  In the lower Galilee
c)  Between En Kerem and Jerusalem
d)  Between Capernaum (Kfar Nachum) and the Banias

A priest, a minister, and a rabbi used to meet periodically in a local restaurant to discuss issues of common interest.  One day, the priest came to the meeting very preoccupied, and shared with his colleagues the following problem: “You know,” he said, “I have squirrels all over my church.  We did everything to get rid of them.  We called the exterminator got a cat . . . nothing helped.  They keep coming back.”
The ministered interrupted and said, “We, too, have a squirrel problem.  I also called the exterminator and he put bait everywhere, but nothing is helping.”
The rabbi, quite tranquil at this point, interrupted the minister and said, “I, too, had a squirrel problem in the synagogue. Do you know what I did?  I bar mitzvahed them all, and they never came back!”

In honor of the snow blizzard in Israel funny pranks you should never pull J
Fake paths…

The freaky snowman…


PapaGaios-Jerusalem- I don't usually do restaurant reviews. But you're not just coming here to see ancient, inspiring and holy places. You deserve to taste Israel as well and  PapaGaios in the Talpiot neighborhood is more than just a restaurant it is definitely a cool place for us meat-loving kosher carnivores to visit in Jerusalem. Possibly one of the best restaraunts in Israel and maybe the world (after Shallots in Skokie J-shout out to u) One can and should order the all you can eat meat menu for 195 shek and be treated to a selection of cuts of London Broil, Entrecote, pargit (baby chicken), broiled liver, chicken, teriyaki and grill, burger, and on and on and on… Each table has this little green and red turny thing on it and as long as you leave it on green they keep coming and coming. Don't eat lunch that day and make it worth your while J. Their desserts are also pretty amazing if you still have room and their bar is truly inspiring. For those that are really looking for a great place to get some delicious warm blooded animals on a plate and to get an amazing all you can eat kosher menu like you can't get anywhere else in the world, PapaGaios gets my thumbs up.
Answer is B: I'm not a big J- fan. And all the Christianity stuff was one of the annoying parts of my studies for this course. I didn't come to this country our holyland to learn really delve intensely into other religions as interesting as it may be. Certainly not to memorize all the places where he walked talked, preached and where his students (years later when the gospels were written) attributed miracles to him. But I knew this one and actually all of the choices as  well. The Nazareth lower galilee is where the trail is. The Kasr Al Yahud was where he was baptized (they took that from Eliyahu Hanavi), Ein Kerem was where John was born, Kfar Nachum the Jewish city they threw him out of and the Banias where he announced his Messianic delusions to Peter (who interestingly enough according to some Jewish sources did Teshuva and composed the Nishmat prayer we recite).

The Blessing of Children- Vayechi 2013/5774

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

December 13th 2013 -Volume 4, Issue 11 -10th of Tevet 5774

Vayechi/ 10th of Tevet
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 their 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 formation 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 old story of the family that was very soon to become the nation of Israel. Perhaps the reason 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; the first Jewish Zayde grandchild relationship we are told about. We are told that Yaakov switches his hands placing his right hand on the younger brother and the left on the older brother. This is in opposition to Yosef, who feels the older brother should get the more important right hand blessing. Yosef, having had the benefit of experience, having suffered 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 blessed using their names and stature? And why does the Torah need to repeat once again and 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; as one who should honor the one he is standing before to show subservience and respect towards him. 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. One is not 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 have. Each fulfilling their own God given destiny, yet each cherished in their understanding that no Jew is more loved than another before our Father as the job and life mandate of each of them are equally important in the eyes of Hashem.

Today we observe 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. When we mourn, it 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 mourn as I read the newspaper 2000 years after the Temple had been destroyed and see that nothing has really changed. I mourn when I read about “religious Jews” who scream and protest about their fellow Jews that they did not feel were behaving as religiously as they do. I mourn when I read in the media about how terrible religious jews are who don’t serve in the army and who are parasites of society and who should be expelled from the country at best. I mourn when I read about left wing jews decrying “settlers” who have no place in our country and endanger our lives by living where they do-in “arab land occupied by Israel” and their “price tag” response to being thrown out of their unjustly occupied homes. And I mourn 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.
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


(answer below at end of Email)
Itzchak Sadeh was commander of the:
a)      Altalena
b)  Shomer Organization
c)  Palmach
d)  Haganah

In 1950 the Chief Rabbinate declared the 10th of Tevet as the day of yahrtzeit for all the Jewish martyrs who have no known burial place or day of death in their memory
The last Seder in the Warsaw Ghetto


Yad Vashem-Jerusalem- Perhaps Jerusalem and the Jewish people most somber place the Holocaust museum is a place it is impossible to come out of unchanged and uninspired. A walk through the museum as one follows the story of the holocaust from the pre-war days with video testimonials of survivors is unreal. After the museum one can should visit the halls dedicated to those who perished in the camps, the ghetto fighters memorial with its world famous sculpture by Natan Rappaport as well as the room dedicated for the Jewish children who were murdered by the Nazi and their collaborators May their blood be avenged. For children and family of those that perished the archives in Yad Vashem are certainly the most elaborate allowing you to search and document so that we should always remember and never forget as we mourn and build anew.
 "So said Hashem the lord of multitudes the fast of the 4th (17th of tamuz), the fast of the 5th (9th of Av) the fast of the 7th (Tzom Gedalia) and the fast of the 10th month ( the tenth of Tevet) will turn and become for the house Judah  days of rejoicing, happiness, holidays and they wil love truth and peace " The prophet Zecharia



Answer is C: This is just an extremely not fair question. As he was a commander in the Haganah as well as one of the founders of the Palmach (the strike brigade) where he also served as a commander. I wrote D and seemingly I got it wrong. Still not sure why. But you cant argue with the ministry of tourism I guess… incidentally Sadeh was also one of the founders of HaChalutz with Jabotinsky which led to the founding of the Israel private guard Hashomer. Yitzchak Rabin (same first name) was the Palmach commander who fired upon Menachem Begins Irgun boat called the Altalena and killed 14 Jewish soldiers.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Not So Happily Ever After- Vayigash 2013/5774

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

December 5th 2013 -Volume 4, Issue 10 -2nd of Tevet 5774
 Parshat Vayigash

Not so Happily Ever After

The old man stood before the Chevra Kadisha (Jewish burial society) in Jerusalem with a cigar box in his hand. "You need to bury this" he said in his broken Yiddish Russian accent. The head of the society looked at the man quite strangely and informed him that they were not in the habit of burying cigar boxes and they would need a bit more of an explanation before they would consider his request. He explained to them that he had brought this box with him from Russia, when he was released from prison in Siberia after serving his 10 year sentence. The box was from another one of the prisoners that was there with him. She had given him the box and implored him to take it with him and bury it in Eretz Yisrael, on the Mount of Olives, Har Hazeitim. Having just arrived in Israel after many years of awaiting his freedom in which he watched over this precious box, the Russian gentleman came straight to the Chevra Kadisha to fulfill her request.

The woman, he explained, was a doctor in the Soviet Union. She, like so many of her brothers and sisters raised in Communist Russia, were raised without any Jewish education or connection to their heritage, our faith, and our people. Yet her Jewish soul, her yiddeshe neshoma yearned and would not be still. As she began to explore her faith and learn about her people and her land she started to practice her religion in the simplest ways that she knew. She was eventually arrested by the KGB for her "crimes" against the motherland and was sentenced to a life sentence in Siberia. There in the bitter cold of Siberia she continued to learn and study and her connection to Israel and the faith of her ancestors grew daily. When she had heard that this prisoner was being released she begged him before he left to wait a few minutes for her to return as she wanted to give him something… something that more than anything else she had needed to make it to Eretz Yisrael.

When she returned a few minutes later, she gave him this box. When he asked her what it was, this is what she said.

"I know that I will never make it to Israel. I have been sentenced to spend the rest of my years here in this godforsaken land. When I die the soldiers here will probably just dump my body in a mass grave or in a cemetery with gentiles. Yet I need to know that at least part of me has merited to rest and be buried in the Holy Land, the land of our fathers… that there is a part of me that will await me when I eventually will come back to the holy land that will rest amongst our people. In this box is my index finger, I just cut it off. At least this small piece of me should be buried there, in the land where our people belong."

The Chevra Kadisha were speechless as they opened up the small box. In it lay the index finger of the woman who lived, dreamed and died with only one thought; her love for Eretz Yisrael, the place of her people. Rav Shalom Shwadron, recalls how the next day he gathered with the Chevra Kadisha as they put together a minyan to recite Kaddish as they went off to bury the only remains of what was certainly a very holy woman.

I thought of this story this week as I sat by menorah watching those last wicks burn out. Chanukah is ending, the winter is here and yet those little flames are meant to burn in our hearts and souls as we move forward in our exile and wait for the day when not only will we all be able to come to Israel, but we will be here together…the way we were meant to be. It is perhaps one of the greatest tragedies of Jewish history, that whenever we were able to come and return to our land for a large part we didn't miss it so much. We were fine in Babylonia, Persia, Europe…America (?). It took the nations of the world to suppress, persecute and ultimately try to destroy us for us to realize what we were missing; how we were incomplete. It's not a new tragedy. It in fact starts in this week's Torah portion.

The Parsha this week which finally brings to a conclusion the great reunion between Yosef and his brothers. "I am Yosef, is my father still alive?" The tears flow, amends are made. Yaakov, our forefather who for 22 years has not stopped mourning his precious son, comes down to Egypt as well. He will bless his son and his grandsons. The family is together and they begin to flourish. The Parsha concludes with Egypt going through its stages of famine that were predicted years before by Yosef when he interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh. They sell their cattle, their homes and finally themselves as slaves to the King of Egypt in order to receive food to survive. The Jewish people though, Yaakov and his family the Parsha concludes-
And Yisrael settled in the land of Egypt in Goshen; they acquired property there and they were fruitful and multiplied greatly.
Sounds nice? Happily ever after…? The perfect ending. After years of fighting, tribulations, battles with enemies from within and without, they could finally settle and prosper. Egypt may not be doing so good, but the Jewish people? Thank God. Baruch Hashem, prospering and multiplying. At least that's the way I always read and understood it, until I saw the Klei Yakar that great 16th century sage Rabbi Ephraim of Lunchitz. He had somewhat a different take on this final verse in our Parsha.

"This entire verse is written as a condemnation of the children of Israel. For Hashem had decreed that they would be strangers/foreigners and they chose to become citizens and settlers instead of mere sojourners… The Torah finds guilt with them for this settlement, as they chose to achieve acquisitions in this land that was not theirs. As our sages tell us their original intent was merely to reside temporarily in their land but now they reversed themselves and they became so entrenched in Egypt that they did not ever want to leave. It reached a point until Hashem had no choice but to take them out
 with a powerful hand and those that did not leave ultimately perished in the three days of the plague of darkness."

Fruitful? Multiply? Prosper? Become citizens? Egyptian Jews? German Jews? Babylonian Jews? American Jews? A Jew in any other country that feels that it is his home, his citizenship an acceptable part of his identity or that he is anything more than a stranger in a strange land is a tragedy. It is a condemnation. It is our exile. It is us looking for a respite from thousands of years of wandering and wishing, as did our forefathers, to live a little bit in tranquility. To fit in and not stand out. To feel like we have a home, even if it's just a home away from home.

But we shouldn't. Hashem won't let us. It's not part of our mandate to settle anywhere else. We may be meant to wander. There may be sparks of holiness that we have to uplift. But we always have to know that to be buried in a foreign country and even more so to live in that foreign country, is unnatural for our souls. There is that menorah that is burning in each of us that will never be fully lit anywhere else. The menorah is there to remind us that we are still in Exile. The temple is not built. Mashiach is not yet here. The big trees, the "happy holiday " signs and even the menorahs being lit in the Kremlin, Buckingham palace and dare I say the White House do not make them our home. We don't have any obligation (nor is there any halachic reason) to cut off ones finger and bury it in Israel. But our souls should feel that it is where we belong. Everywhere else is just another Greece.

So I watch my last candles burn out and I think of the long winter ahead of us. I thank Hashem that I have merited to light my Menora, my oil, my candles and my children here in Eretz Yisrael. But I realize, as all those who have the privilege to live in Eretz Yisrael do on a regular basis, that we are still not completely home. Our Temple is still in ruins. Our leadership is not yet holy. The light of Hashem that once shone forth to the entire world has yet to be once again ignited. We still await that final redemption. May next year at this time we be once again standing in our holy temple as the light of the Bais Hamikdash once again lights up the world.
Have an amazingly transcendent Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


(answer below at end of Email)
In which area is Tel Lachish located?
a)      The Judean Lowlands (shefelat Yehudah)
b)  The Ayalon Valley
c)  The Coastal Plain
d)  The Elah valley

(In honor of our first week of rain-very cool- worth the click…!)


Tel Lachish- If one wants to get a real taste of Jewish history and the archeology Tel Lachish is really the perfect place. The magnificent archeological tel and city contain remains of Yehoshua's original conquest of the city and the burnt remains of the walls he burnt down. One can also see ruins and archeological finds of the former palace of Rechavam the son of King Solomon who built up the city when the kingdom divided. The majority of what one sees though is the great city that was fortified by Chizkiyahu against Sancheirev the king of Assyria who exiled the northern kingdom and who built the rampart up to the city in order to breach it's massive walls. Even more amazing is that in archeological digs in Ninveh in Iraq of Sancheirev's battle the city and the battle are depicted perfectly over three thousand years later. Finally by the gates of the city (the largest in the country to be uncovered) was found the famous ostracons and letters that were written that describe the fall of Azeka as the Babylonians come to destroy this last city before their eventual capture of Jerusalem and the destruction of our Temple. Truly a walk through the entire history of our people in our country from our entry to the land until our first Exile.
 "We did not take a foreign land, we did not take foreigners’ property. We took our birthright which was in the hands of our enemies who occupied our land without a trial, and now in this time, we have recovered the land of the legacy of our forefathers."  -Shimon the Maccabee 2160 years ago.


(In honor of all those coming here the past few weeks for winter break)

10. "Sir, are these Hebrew leather strap-ons yours?"

9. "So all these Tin-foil balls have leftovers in them?"

8. "What part of 'single man carrying a hatbox' isn't suspicious?"

7. "With a box like that,that must be one nice lemon."

6. "So let me get this straight. Your mother's friend's sister-in-law's daughter packed this bag and needs you to give it to her brother whom you've never met?"

5. "Sorry, you say this entire duffle bag full of smoked meats, canned foods, pots, pans, crock pot is for one weekend?"

4. "Please take off your jacket. Your other jacket. Your hat. Your other hat."

3. "So tell Chanie Mazel Tov..." --- "Ms, you cannot be on the phone while going through the metal detector."

2. "Uh, you forgot your 7th  kid!"

1. "I'm sorry were going to have to scan the Styrofoam head in your bag again."

Answer is A: The Shefela, the Judean lowlands which are the foothills that are between the coastal plain and the hills of Chevron. This is a tricky question because both the Ayalon and the Elah valley (right outside of Beit Shemesh) are part of the Shefela as well, and are not far from Lachish. However Lachish,  which is the site of the great battle of Sancheirev who exiled the 10 northern tribes and eventually the Babylonians before conquering Jerusalem, is in fact in the  valley of Lachish and thus A the shefela is the only correct answer