Our view of the Galile

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Emor Lag Ba'Omer 2013- So the Jew, the priest and the blasphemer walk into the...

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
April 26th  2013 -Volume 3, Issue 28 –9th of Iyar 5773
Parshas Emor/Lag Ba'Omer
So the Jew, the priest and the blasphemer walk into the…

 Jewish holidays are strange. Non-Jews have it quite simple. On the secular holidays you either party, memorialize, laze around watch a football game, of course shop and sometimes all of the above. On their "religious" holidays it's pretty much the same thing. Maybe a fast here and there, some extra prayers, shop some more perhaps for a loved one, a child or a boss who you might want a raise from or  for an employee you may not want to give one to and hoe the present is enough, but overall it’s a fairly simple game-plan.

We Jews on the other hand have got our work cut out for us. We're blowing ram's horns, wear white robes, building temporary huts and waving citron's and branches and that's just in the month of Tishrei. After that you'll find your Jewish neighbors lighting oil or colored candles before spinning tops, reading from ancient scrolls in funny costumes, cleaning their house from crumbs of bread and then of course searching for it with a candle and burning those crumbs before 7-8 days of eating no leavened food. Is this normal, I ask you? One thing is for certain no man and certainly no woman in their right mind would ever make this stuff up. In fact there's no way that anybody would ever agree to such bizzare rituals if it was created by man…Thank God… for God. For without His ultimate wisdom we might just have had to spend our holidays shopping for presents and watching football. I'll take ram's horns, huts, citrons and colored candles any day.

The truth is it's not just the myriad of details of the holidays themselves that differentiate us from them. It's not even the frequency of our holidays. Although that in itself is pretty amazing. 8/9 days sukkot, 7/8 days Passover, 8 days Chanukah, Shavuot, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Purim not to mention 5 fast days-3 of which revolve around the destruction of the Temples and of course the more mystical holidays of Tu B'Shvat and this Saturday night and Sunday's celebration of Lag Ba'Omer. Let's not even get started on our weekly holiday of Shabbos, when we totally disconnect from all of the distractions of the world to tap into the holiness of our Creator, the beauty of our family and a nice big fat bowl of chulentJ. In fact the Talmud tells us that one of the primary anti-semitic claims against the Jews was that they were always taking off from work claiming that it was another holiday. They were right about that one though, we certainly do the holiday thing a lot and we do them in a big way. But it's not that frequency alone either.

Perhaps the greatest difference between our holidays and theirs is that we don't really see them as merely hol-I-days certainly not with an "I" in the middle and not even with the "y" in the middle. The Torah in refers to them as Mo'ed which according to the commentaries comes from the root Noad-to have knowledge or va'ad-assembly or meeting. Our holidays are an encounter with the Almighty; a time and place where we become intimate-of course in the spiritual biblical sense with our Creator. It is for that reason why there are so many intricate details in the observance and celebration of our holidays. I mean we're meeting with the Almighty and Master of the world, for gosh- I mean God's sake, of course it's gonna mean there's lots of different things that we will have to do, that we need to do to make sure that encounter has meaning. To meet with Hashem one has to pay attention to all the details, to put the effort and preparation into seeing beyond the surface and to engaging our hearts, minds and souls in every way to make sure we get the most out of that special time.

 When one has an important meeting with the president, mayor, rabbi or prospective business partner we understand you don't just pop in and see how it goes. When one meets the Queen or King all the little details and protocols are significant…although they're really not. But they definitely get you excited and engaged. When one meets their love on a first date, when one prepares to meet her parents, when one gets ready to stand under the chupah, all the nuances are special… are thought out… have meaning. And our meetings with Hashem each Shabbos, each opportunity throughout our holiday filled year shouldn't even be more so much more so?

It's interesting in this weeks' Torah portion that discusses the holidays, that it sandwiches it discussion between two seemingly random portions. In the beginning of the Torah portion it discusses the laws of the Kohanim/the priests; whose sole/soul purpose is to be the full time spiritually dedicated intermediaries between Man and God. It tells us of the laws regarding how he deals with the deaths of close relatives, his limitations on who he may marry and the laws of physical blemishes and deformities that invalidate him from service. At the conclusion of the Torah portion after the holidays, we are told of the story of the blasphemer who is put to death for cursing the Almighty. The Torah doesn't even explicitly tell us what led to his sin and outburst. The various midrashim suggest that he was upset and his perceived status because of his lineage or that he felt that the rituals of the "show-bread" didn't meet his perception of a proper ritual. So he rejects, he curses and he is put to death.  Kohein, holidays and blasphemers why are these thrown together?

Perhaps what the Torah is telling at the heart of this book of Vayikra- the one that is about our relationship with Hashem is how we are meant in the real world to relate to the Divine. On one hand we have the Kohein, who encounters Hashem and is someone who sees the spiritual maladies in the people, who is meant to lift up the nation whose life is dedicated to the lord's work. Yet at times he as well will have challenges, blemishes, tragedies, limitations on who he marry. Yet rather than complaining and rejecting he sees that these are also encounters with Hashem. They are also from his loving Father. They are knowing they divine. One just has to be able to see beyond the "occurrence" and change it into an encounter a love meeting with Hashem. The Torah than tells us simple Jews that we will also have our opportunities to meet with Hashem. We have each Shabbos, our holidays our times to scratch behind the surface of our day-to-day lives and go a little deeper and out of the box. We get dressed nicely, we build huts, we hear the shofar, we eat matzah... we get in the God mode. And we become attached to Hashem.

Finally the Torah tragically concludes with the blasphemer. The one who doesn't go a little deeper. The one who looked at his status and fate and rather than see it as an encounter and a challenge by his loving Father, sees it as an act of fate that couldn't possibly be a holy special role. Or alternatively he saw the show-bread and only saw the outside the panim and didn't see the warm internal heat, the p'nim of the beauty of our rituals. He rejects it and in doing so he cuts himself off. He crossed the line, he crossed out Hashem. The people who witnessed and heard this are told that they must learn that this was also an encounter with God and they in turn carry out the penalty rejecting the god-less life.

This Saturday night we celebrate the holiday of Lag Ba'Omer. One of the reasons we celebrate we are told is because it was on this day that the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva stopped dying. The Pri Chadash asks the obvious question. Why is this a reason to celebrate? The reason they stopped dying is because they were all dead. Rabbi Akiva who had spent 24 years of his life building this army of Torah scholarship, piety and greatness had just lost all of his students. His whole life was down the tubes. The Jewish naition's entire spiritual future has been decimated. What makes this into a holiday? He answers, that it was on this day that Rabbi Akiva took his five remaining students and resolved to begin again. He came out of the ashes and he re-lit the flame. The fire of Torah was started anew. How was he able to do this? Because Rabbi Akiva saw and knew that what he had experienced had come from Hashem. It was an encounter. It was a Mo'ed. It was an unfathomable for any mere human type experience with God but at the same time Rabbi Akiva knew that there was no one else who could have made it happen. He was able to scratch beneath and he knew that from those ashes the fire and warmth of Hashem will ultimately shine through once again. "Fortunate are you Israel-before whom you are purified and who purifies you- Avinu She'BaShamyim-our loving Father in heaven.

So as you light your bonfires and stare into your flames this Lag Ba'Omer think about how special we are, how different we are, how fortunate we are. And may the light of those fires and the rejoicing that we do give us hope, faith and strength as we get closer and closer to our ultimate meeting in our home.

 Have spectacular Shabbos and blazin' Lag Ba'Omer

Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz



Top Ten Signs Your Rabbi has probably lost count of the Omer

10. Claims "It's too early to count." It's 10pm.

9. Wishes the entire congregation a "Happy Lag Baomer!" on day 23

8. When you ask him "what night did we count last night?" He asks you for multiple choice

7. Keeps wondering when Tishah B'Av will be so he can shave already

6. You're pretty sure you just heard him count the 84th day of the omer

5. You just realized, he's counting down

4. Apparently Day 13 now has "9 weeks and 3 days" to it

3. First time in the history of man: rabbi actually passes an honor off to cantor/Chazan

2. As he's reciting the blessing, you notice his son in the back of the synagogue who is trying desperately to sign 17 with his hands

1. Proudly recites blessing and day off of his handy dandy Omer-Count calendar, dated 2006




"All of Israel are children of royalty."- Reb Shimon Bar Yochai (Talmud bava metzia 113)









 (answer below)

Muqarnas and Ablaq refer to?

(a) Mamluk architecture

(b) Abassid architecture                                                                                           

(c) Types of stone carving

(d) Mosque elements



Tzomet Somech- Not necessarily a place to visit, but an intersection that I pass all the time on my north. This crossroads of highway 70 & 79, the 70 being the ancient Wadi Milich (the salt valley which was transported along this road in ancient times) that crosses around the carmel and up north and the 79 which goes from nazareth to Shefra'am, was the site of the ancient story in the Talmud of the semicha/ordination of the 5 students of Rabbi Yehudah Ben Bava who was martyred by the Romans. The Talmud tells us that because the Romans had prohibited the study of Torah and its proliferation, Rabbi Yehudah went outside of the two major cities, Usha and Shefram, between two mountains in the valley and gave the ordination to  his 5 prime students who than went on to teach Torah. The Romans caught them and as he shielded them with his body as they fled until he was pierced 300 times. One of the students he gave semicha to was none other than Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai!

Answer is A- Muqarnas are those beehive shapes stalaglites type designs you'll find in many muslim buildings, ablaq are the two toned stone designs that many of their buildings are built out of either white and red or balck alternating stones. The mamluqs who were warrior slaves of the Egyptians who rebelled against them conquered Israel in the 13th century and threw out the Crusaders for good ruling the country for almost three hundred years until the 16th century Turks got rid of them. They are the ones that built up much of the Jerusalem old city that we see today particularly the muslim quarter where one can see all this wonderful architechture…if you really want to. Frankly I recommend sticking with the Jewish sites-but that's just me J

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Religious Choice-Acharie Mos Kedoshim 5773/2013

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
April 19th 2013 -Volume 3, Issue 27 -9th of Iyar 5773
Parshas Acharei Mos/ Kedoshim
Religious Choice
In the Bah'ai religion if the parents are Ba'hai it doesn't mean that the children are. They believe in "individual choice" and as long as the kids are moral and ethical it's fine. If the children choose to be Ba'hai they then go around for a few years and plant gardens and then gradually observe their laws. Interestingly enough according to a study I saw Bah'ai are the 2nd fastest growing religion (based on percentage of growth) in the world. Chareidi/ultra Orthodox being the fastest J. Take that Islam...
In the Druze religion all children born Druze are Druze. There are a limited amount of Druze souls and you can't convert to become Druze, you've got to be born one to be one, just in case any of you have ever considered it. Yet each Druze has a choice if they want to be religious or not. Those that choose not to be religious are not allowed to learn about the faith or participate in anything religious, and are still considered fine Druz'im. About 85%-90% choose not to be religious. The rest are nice loyal citizens to the country that they live in. The Syrians to Syria and the Israelis to Israel (the Golan is still kind of one the fence).
In Christianity and Islam on the other hand if you don't believe...it's bad. You will go down down down... Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. It doesn't make a difference if you were born into it or not. You need to believe in their faiths or you're in trouble. And in the generosity of their hearts Christians and Muslims throughout history (thankfully not too often at the same time) have tried to help prevent us "non-believers" from suffering that eternal damnation by trying to show us "the light". Sometimes that light came from the glare of the sword, the flames of pyres that they burned us on and sometimes by bombs and the blinding bullets and explosions from their various religions of love. Somehow though, we managed to stay in our own not always so comfortable version of the truth. Cause frankly they weren't too persuasive.
Now how about Judaism? How does our religion work? Frankly, the truth is we're really not a religion. In fact we don't even really believe in the concept of a religion. See religion is a belief system. We Jews don't believe. We know. I don't believe in who my parents are. I know who they are. Religion is an institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices (Merrimam's definition). We don't have attitudes, beliefs or practices. We have what God told us to do on Sinai in order to actualize the essence of our existence and what not to do. When I'm married and my wife tells me to do a bunch of things-I don't have any institutionalized attitude, belief or practice. I do what she says because she told me too...and she's usually right...even when she's not...When Mama's happy everyone's happy. And my children know the same is true when I tell them to do something. It's for their own good. It's how they will get the most out of life. It's not a religion. Neither is Judaism.
Now that we got that down pat, let's take a peek at this week's 2nd Torah portion and perhaps we can begin to understood the role of Judaism in the world. Parshat Kedoshim, Rashi tell us was read in the presence of all of the Jewish people Rabbi's, lay leaders and even the guys that talk in the back of the shul during the speech. The great assembly was done because it contains the majority of the principles of the Torah...so pay attention this week. It begins with the famous words and directive- Kedoshim Tiyheyu- Be holy Why? You ask. Ki Kadosh Ani- Because I am holy, Hashem your God. The verse tells perhaps one of the most amazing ideas of life. Our fulfillment and greatest self-actualization will be to become holy-but not just simple fast a few days and give a lot of charity and pray a lot holy- but like God, the Creator and Master of the world holy. And even more fascinating that this mandate was given to the entire Jewish people. There is no elite. There is no religious by choice. If we were created by the spirit of life, and possess that godly soul (generally you can tell, if you take your pulse), than we are meant to be holy.
How do we do that? The Torah than continues and gives us the entire game-plan. From laws that relate to recognizing the significance of our relationship with our other Creators...our parents, to avoiding all the false belief systems that are not based on truth, laws that relate to how we take lifecycle events and uplift by getting close to Hashem and pretty much focusing on bringing everything in this world that we experience and seeing and connecting it to Hashem. We are living in this world in a very real way. We are interacting with friends, co-workers, with restaurants, crops, courts and marriage and children. Yet in every single area we have things that we do and don't do to remind us that we are here connect it all to above. To make it holy. To make ourselves holy.
So if you're Jewish, the Torah tells us, Hashem took you out of Egypt-remember that Pesach Seder not long ago-to be holy. If you're Jewish than your children are holy and have that same obligation to them-selves and to their Creator to fulfill all of the eternal commandments that they can, to actualize that holiness. It's not a choice thing "I want to be religious or not". It's, "Do I want to become the most I can become or not? Do I want to become what I was meant to become or not?" . Sure, you can choose not to. But frankly, in Judaism that's not called not being religious. It's called giving up on life.
Now what about the non-Jews? Don't they have a pulse? Isn't there a soul in them as well? Why can they eat milk and meat together, get tattoos, speak Lashon Harah and all of those other 613 commandments that will bring us to holiness? Because just as we are different than the Druze and Bah'ai whose religions are by choice, we are different than Islam and Christianity that believe in the universality of their religions. We don't believe that one has to be Jewish to be holy. Non-Jew's path to holiness is by leading the moral ethical lives that are guided by the basic concepts of morality and belief in Hashem-and of course not of the stuff that was made up in the past 200 or 2000 years or so. They also will be holy and as the prophet zecharia (2:15) says-"The nations will accompany you to Hashem on that day and they will be a nation to me".
It is for that reason Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch suggests that the Torah tells us Hashem uses a terminology of Va'Avdil Eschem Min Ha'amim-separating us from the nations-as one who chooses out the better in order to than further choose and categorize the rest and put in its proper place. Rather than saying Va'Avdil Ha'Amim Mimchem which would be discarding the not worthy and bad and leaving only us. We were separated to serve as the priests of Hashem- to live a life of holiness that reflects the truth of our world. Not to be good practicing or "religious" Jews. But Jews that know that Hashem has told us that we are to make the world a holy place and that the way to do that is really very simple...do what he told us to do and don't do what he told us not to do. Become the best we were meant to become. And the world in seeing that perfect holy incredible god-like life will obviously be impressed enough to connect to Hashem as well.
Whewww... thus ends our discussion about Judaism. We are getting closer to Shavuos; the day when we got the Torah. When we became who we would always be able to become....and I needed to get more inspired about that. It's also the start of the tourist season in Israel and I spent way too much time studying about for my course and now even when I guide, explaining about Bah'ai, Druze, Muslim and Christianity and their "religions" and I had to get that out of my system. I don't like the word religion. But I love the holiness that the reality of a God-filled world inspired by the life of Torah that we can all achieve and transform humanity with. May we all continue to grow as we count up those days of Omer until Shavuos, and delight in the knowledge that it within us to truly be that Holy Nation our Father is waiting for.
Have a wholly holy Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
Thank You to all those volunteers who helped bring Yom ha'atzamaut bbbq to soldiers in the golan and to all our donors from all over the world who wanted to share the holiday with our young men...our soldiers were touched and we were moved and privleged to be your shlichim/messengers and volunteers.
click on the link below to see the great press release of our event
Kever Shmuel on yahrtzeit
"People are accustomed to look at the heavens and to wonder what happens there. It would be better if they would look within themselves, to see what happens there."- Reb Menachem Mendel of Kotzk

(answer below)
A church, a fortress, and a camping area for pilgrims carved into the rock dating to the Crusader Period can be found at?
(a) Latrun
(b) Nebi Samuel
(c) Tzova
(d) Kastel
Nebi Samuel- Overlooking Yerushalayim in nachalas Binyamin is the legendary burial site of Shmuel. Perhaps the most famous Navi and the one who heralded in the period of the Kings Shmuel was adopted as holy by Islam and Christianity as well. Which is why it's one of the few places where one can find a shul, mosque and church all from different periods at the same place. Fantastic archeological finds here have uncovered vessels and seals from the first beis hamikdash period when there seems to have been a yishuv here. It is currently under the auspices of Waqf (although we conquered it in 1948 after bitter battles. Although many archeologists and biblical scholars (not neccesarily heretical ones either) debate whether this is the actual site of Ramah where the verses say he was buried, we have testimony of travelers that go back to the 11th century that mention this site as a place where jews would come to . Each year on the 28th of Iyar (this month) similar to the Rashbi in Meron on Lag Ba'Omer 10's of thousands of Jews come here and light fires on his yahrtzeit (some even suggesting that the custom really started here).
Answer is B- All of these are Crusader fortresses on the Judean hills and were thus essential strategic points in the battles into Jerusalem. Yet Nebi Samuel was the one that had the camping ground for pilgrims cut in the rock as this was the path and stop point for pilgrims when they would come to Jerusalem during that period.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Magic Eye- Tazria Metzora 2013

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
April 11th  2013 -Volume 3, Issue 26 –1st of Iyar 5773
Parshas Tazria/Metzora
 Magic Eye

 Have you ever seen one of those books? You know the ones where you have to stare at them for minutes on end until something suddenly appears out of the blurry shapes in front of you. NO, I'm not talking about your prayer book at the end of Yom Kippur services or your Chumash at the end of Shabbat morning services when you can start to make out little pieces of Kugel and chulent beans starting to grow and appear out from out of the words. I mean one of those Magic Eye books. You know what I mean. Someone got me one of them a few years back and I pick it up from time to time and just stare and try to understand how those images that are not there one second before appear and then the next they're gone again. It's too cool how the mind's eye works. It's impressive.

 Now I believe the next step in development is to find something, like that concept, that we can put on our politicians and some of our world leaders faces that allows their real image to come out before they're elected. Or for that matter, how about having the ability to do that with anyone else, a business associate, a future partner, a wife, a friend and a teacher? Wouldn't you love to have a magic eye to see what was really there before you knew them or entered into any relationship with them

 The Gerrer Rebbe –Reb Yitzchok Meir Alter, in the early19th century suggests in this week's Torah portion that we all have that magic eye. This week's Torah portion shares with us an absolutely delightful description of the various spiritual skin diseases and afflictions known as Tzara'as that come upon a person for various sins that the Talmud elaborates upon. The process of healing and forgiveness entails a mandated period of seclusion outside the camp of Israel, sacrifices, haircuts and Mikvah- ritual immersions. The blemish itself though has to be diagnosed by the Kohen before he is considered a Metzorah. The Rebbe notes that the word repeatedly used for this affliction or blemish is NEGA in Hebrew (Nun, Gimmel, Ayin). That same word he points out has the exact same letters as another word in Hebrew-ONEG (Ayin, Nun, Gimmel) which means pleasure, enjoyment festive feast, Friday night at the Young Israel of Karmiel/Shabbos chulent with the Schwartzes J! What is the difference between these two words he asked?  The difference is where you place the AYIN. Where you put the Eye (Ayin besides being a letter also means eye). If it is at the beginning it is an Oneg a pleasure and a joy, if however it is only at the end, the here and now, than all we will see is a blemish.

I believe his idea has relevance in many areas. When we look at our fellow man and see something negative something repulsive, where is our eye? Are we just looking at what is here or perhaps we should try to understand where he's been and what he's done before as well. Maybe, just maybe, what we might first perceive as a blemish, our magic eye might be able to see it as  beauty. When things happen to us in life that seem like blemishes, like pains, like wounds and like afflictions, maybe our Magic eye can look back at the beginning to see from Who they are coming. From our loving Father who is only looking out for our best interests and giving us perhaps even lovingly the right things we need in order to grow. It could be a joy and an incredible act if only we can stare hard enough at and see it.

 And perhaps most importantly, how about when we look at ourselves? When we see our own flaws… our own faults… our own blemishes. When we become despondent and believe that they are Negaim-flaws that can never be healed or transformed. Perhaps we are missing something there as well. Hashem doesn't create bad things or blemished people. A great Chasidic Rebbe once said, Hashem creates diamonds that just needs to be polished, potential that just needs to be achieved and ONEG's that just need to be experienced. We just need to learn how to use our Divinely gifted magic Eye to see beyond what is on the surface in life. If we do than ultimately we will experience the incredible sense of seeing the beauty of what is assuredly always there.

 Have a most spectacular Shabbos,

Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz



 some amazing and moving Footage




Rabbi Schwartzes Inspiring web link of the week

The letter of Gadi Ezra who was killed in 2002 to his fiancee






 (answer below)

 With which Crusade was Richard the Lion Hearted associated?

(a) The First Crusade

(b) The Second                                                                                                               

(c) The Third

(d) The Fourth



Yechiam-When is a Crusader Fortress not really a Crusader Fortress? When it was built in the 18th century by Druze ruler of the Galile Dahr-El Ohmar, that's when The fortress at Yechiam is a great example of a Crusader fortress although it was built about 5 centuries after the Teutonic German knights were there in the 13th century. Yet Dahr the great builder of Akko, Tiverya and much of Galile saw this mountain top fortress as a great lookout point to protect his capital city of Akko. The earlier Crusader (and possibly even earlier Hasmonean) fortress was destroyed by The Mamluki general Baibars who pretty much wiped out most Crusader cities. The fortress is a great place to get a feel for the Crusader lifestyle and once can also see a film there about the heroism and tragedy of the Yehiam caravans in the independence war that was attacked and massacred by the arabs as well the story of the namesake of the kibbutz Yechiam Veitz who was killed in the "night of the bridges" attack on the British. Nearby a great hike in nachal Yechiam is also a great and beautiful water hike in the hills of the upper western Galile.



"Tel-Aviv airport is still the only airport in the world where each passenger is met by ten relatives." ~ George Mikes


Answer is C- I got this one wrong on the exam… but not because I didn't know the answer. I was just not sure what they wanted and I guessed wrong. What do I mean? It's like this… Richard did come on the third Crusade however it was really the more important one as the Second Crusade was more about reconquering Edessa and Damascus and really wasn't about retaking Israel from the Arabs, as Jerusalem was still in Crusader hands. The Thrid Crusade "which was really the second Crusade" to conquer Israel back from the arabs was the definitely the more significant one with the peace between Salaadin and Richard leading to the establishment of the 2nd Crusader Kingdom in Acre (Akko). So I thought they wanted the answer as the 2nd one in Israel but they wanted the more correct 3rd one…that’s what happens when you think too much.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Pig Tails- Shemini 2013

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
April 4th  2013 -Volume 3, Issue 25 –24th of Nissan 5773

Parshas Shemini

Pig Tales

J.C. Wallis had been having a long tiring day. Things had been non-stop in the office; never-ending phone calls, deals, travel and orders were wearing him out. It was time to head home to his nice home in Ranaana where his wife and three children were waiting for him. Climbing on his shiny new Harley as he left the Airplane factory  in Ramat Gan that he founded, he got a call from his wife that she was not going to have time to make supper, perhaps he could make a quick stop and pick up something on the way home. Traffic being what it was by all his usual Tel Aviv haunts, J.C. remembered someone telling him about this great little take-out place outside of Kfar Saba that was becoming renowned for its excellent cuts of Basar Lavan literally translated as white meat, but to those in Israel in the know the term is a euphemism for that delectable forbidden feast- the oink oink, split hooved but non cud-chewing cute little porky type. Standing on line waiting for his pork-in-a pita shwarma orders (maybe with a little ham-mas on that please? Oyyy), JC had the epiphany of his life. Things haven't been the same since.


Reb Shraga Feivel Winkler was having one of the easier days of the past few months. That was not a small thing in the Nazi labor camp called Dachau. Having been ripped away from his family when the Nazis entered his Hungarian city of Debrecezen, this simple god-fearing cheder teacher was tortured, starved and enslaved until arriving at Dachau his final stop before the end of the war. Throughout it all he served as an inspiration and source of strength to all his fellow prisoners. But the past week it had gotten easier. The US troops were getting closer, the Nazis fearing their arrival had already let up on the slave labor and were starting to flee. The ones that remained were being slightly more benevolent trying to ingratiate themselves and perhaps avoid the full weight of the justice and retribution that they were sure was coming (although until Mashiach comes will never fully be levied against them).


Hours remained before liberation and the prisoners were called into the camp square. The Kommandant got up before the group of breathing skeletons that stood before him and told them that the end was near and that they would be allowed to leave alive. But then he got an evil look in his eyes, as he threw his last dig at them. Two guards brought out a big pot of pork and as they laughed and mocked the Jews. They called Reb Shraga Feivel to the middle of the circle. The Kommandant told him that in order for him to "merit" his freedom and life he would have to eat the forbidden chazer" that he had avoided eating all his life, even in these camps of death with great sacrifice surviving on rotten vegetables and water. For Reb Shraga it wasn't a question. The pork would never cross his lips. The Nazi pulled out his pistol and barked at him one last time "If you eat this you will live… if not you will die here like a dog".  Reb Shraga Feivel looked pitifully at this Nazi and proudly stood up straight and nodded his head in refusal. He died that night…but not like a dog…like a saint and a martyr who's memory lived forever.


JC stood there in that hot sweltering line and the smell of that cooking pork somehow stirred that eternal soul of his grandfather and of his memory. "What am I doing here?" JC asked himself as he recalled the story his father (who had raised him non-religious) had told him as a child. Either he was crazy, living here in the holy land surrounded by Jews, freedom and kosher and ordering trayf or his grandfather who had given up his life hours before liberation to not eat it was? Why would he give up his life for this? Why had Jews throughout the generations sacrificed themselves and their children, luxuries, pleasures, societal benefits for? Were they all crazy or maybe I am? One thing JC knew was that he was not going to put that pig in his mouth until he found out that answer.


This week's Torah Portion contains in it the prohibition of eating non-kosher animals. Pig being the most familiar perhaps of all of them and being the one that although has split hooves does not chew its cud, is known to be the "trayf-est" of them all.

 Interestingly enough the Medrash in various places seems to see in the chazir/pig ultimate redemption and perhaps even a promise of some eternal pork chops for God's holy nation


"Why is it called Chazir (the Hebrew word for pig)- because in the future Hashem will return (machzir) it to his people"


In another Medrash  it says similarly (after comparing the other three species listed camel, rabbit and hyrax to the three exiles Babylonia, Persia and Greece) it says Rome is compared to the pig as it will have no other exile following it (symbolized by the non-chewing cud status as opposed to the other ones which have another exile following them- like food that keeps coming up). Why is it called Chazir- because eventually Hashem will return the crown to his people (when he will judge Esav/Rome).


And finally one last Medrash- "Our Sages taught that there will come a day when Hashem will make a proclamation "All who have not tasted pig come get your reward… why is it called Chazir for eventually it will return greatness and kingship to her owners."


What is it about this pig that on one hand seems to be the most vilified of non-kosher animals but at the end it seems to have some type of redemption. The previous Rebbe of Lubavitch suggests a very deep thought. He notes that all animals were created to be elevated in the service of Hashem. The non-kosher ones are elevated by us avoiding them, thus declaring our obedience to Hashem.Tthe non-split hooves are signs that the external nature of these animals is bereft of godliness. The chewing of its cud is that its internal nature is pure. The pig being the only animal that’s has the external "holiness" shows its hooves off and pretends to be kosher. But deep inside, at its heart and essence it is trayf...impure… not kosher. When we avoid all the other animals we just merely have to see from the outside they are non-kosher. The pig requires deeper internal reflection. Why not? It looks fine… It smells good… (baked at leastJ). For the nation of God though the mere externalities are not enough. For a nation that Hashem will "return the crown, greatness and the land to" we have to make sure our essence is pure as well. The Chazir causes that reflection ultimately when we merit that final redemption and we have returned it will have reached its final elevation.


JC fled that restaurant that day and jumped on his Harley and headed home. He took his wife and children and decided to attend a local seminar on Judaism; to find answers… to understand…but definitely not to return. He left that weekend however a changed man. He saw Jews discussing obscure thousand year old texts that discussed minutiae of the law and tradition and understood that it had to be true. Jews have never accepted things on faith and the thousands of years of discussion, questions, arguments convinced him that the Torah was vibrant, real and from God. He spent his first real Shabbos watching Jews eat, sing, eat, sing some more, bond with their families, eat and sing some more and connect with Divine in the process. He understood what his grandfather had sacrificed for. He knew that he could never go back. Hu Chazar- He had finally returned. The pig that his grandfather did not eat returned him to his Father.


Today Rabbi Yosef Chaim Wallis (who I had the honor of spending this past Pesach with) stills rides his Harley, now however he has a Kippa on his head. His moment of inspiration in that pork shop in Kfar Saba led him to found the world famous Arachim seminars that share the beauty and inspiration of Judaism with thousands of Jews in Israel annually and in the past years has expanded its programs to10's of thousands of Jews worldwide. There are some people who might have seen him in his gang youth days in the bronx, or when he was serving as a US Marine during the Vietnam War, or as a secular Israeli soldier in the Yom Kippur war, or as the entrepreneur successful businessman in Los Angeles or as the airplane tycoon in Tel Aviv (as you can see we spent quite some time schmoozing over the chag), and said "Him? become religious? Observant? A rabbi? That will never happen…maybe when pigs fly…" But than they would just be judging externalities. They would be missing that pure essence that is in each of us. They would be judging a chazir by its hooves and forgetting that no one is beyond redemption.  Perhaps thousands of years ago our sages foresaw the chazir Teshuva that Rabbi Wallis founded. Perhaps it is that pig of his grandfather that they were referring to as the pig that will restore the greatness of our nation to our owner. May that final prophecy of the exile symbolized by that pig that we do not eat and the nations that we will never assimilate with very soon be over as we return to our home, our people and our land redeemed.

 Have a chametz-filled delicious kosher Shabbos J,

Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


This week's Insights and Inspiration is dedicated in appreciation of all those who helped keep the minyan going over Pesach as Rabbi Schwartz family was away. Yasher koach to our Baalei Tefillot, Baalei Koreh and Gabbaim.
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Sample Arachim English Lecture
(Rabbi Yehudah Silver)
 (answer below)
Which of the following is an Umayaad site on the shores of of lake Kinneret
(a) Ubeidiya
(b) Khirbet Al Minya (hurvat minim)                                                              
(c) Khan Jubb Yusuf
(d) Khan Al Tujaar
Kursi- Located on the Eastern side of the Kinneret this ancient Byzantine city ruins (the largest in Israel) is not a particurly Jewish site although it is quite beautiful. The city of kursi which is mentioned as a pagan city in the Talmud and most probably has its name from the biblical area known as the Girgashi located here, was known to be a place where pigs were raised in Israel conveniently located not far from the Roman city of Hippos nearby who they would supply. The teacher of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, the great editor of the Mishna, was named Rabbi Yaakov Bar Kursi and came from here. It is here where the new testament attributes some miracle to their leader about chasing out some demons into pigs that went and drowned themselves in the nearby kinneret. It is because of those stories that the byzantines built these elaborate churches with mosaics in the area. One can visit the site and make the blessing on witnessing sites of idolatry that have been destroyed and rejoice in the fact that the Romans and their pigs that eternal world empire is long gone and the Jews have returned once again to our holy land.
What did the exasperated pig say? Oink vey!
Two pigs were talking and one said to the other,"Wouldn't this be a great world if everyone was kosher?"
One day this nasty old wolf came up to the straw pigs house and said, "I'm gonna huff and puff and blow your house down." And he did!!!!
So the straw pig went running over to the stick pig's house and said, "Please let me in, the wolf just blew down my house." So the stick pig let the straw pig in.
Just then the wolf showed up and said, "I'm gonna huff and puff and blow your house down." And he did!!!
So the straw pig and the stick pig went running over to the brick pig's house and said, "Let us in, let us in, the big bad wolf just blew our houses down." So the brick pig let them in just as the wolf showed up.
The wolf said, "I'm gonna huff and puff and blow your house down." The straw pig and the stick were so scared! But the brick pig picked up the phone and made a call.
A few minutes passed and a big, black stretch limo pulls up. Out stepped two massive pigs in pinstriped suits and fedora hats.
These pigs come over to the wolf, grab him by the neck and beat him up as another one of them pulled out a gun, stuck it in his mouth and fired killing the wolf, then they got back into their limo and drove off.
The straw pig and stick pig were amazed!!! "Whowere those guys?" they asked.
"Those were my cousins from Brooklyn....The Guinea Pigs."
Answer is I have no idea (and don't care)- And I'm not even going to bother googling this answer for you. Ancient Arab dynasties are not my forte' and their locations are even less interesting to me… If  you are actually interested in the answer to this question than please unsubscribe from my E-Mail list and find a different tour guide-maybe Ahmed- to guide you. Thank God your allowed to skip 5 questions on the exam and this was the first one I skipped…I only included this to show you how insane this exam really is L