Our view of the Galile

Friday, November 25, 2016

Life and Death...While Singing in the Rain- Chayei Sarah 2016 / 5777

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

November 25th 2016 -Volume 7 Issue 5 24th Cheshvan 5777
Parshat Chayei Sarah
Life and Death while singing in the Rain

We need rain. Not that we have a water shortage in Israel and we’re starving or something like that. We have Diet Coke for that. Even for agriculture, which for those from the big city who may not be aware is where your fruits and vegetables come from although you get them in the supermarket, we are pretty good with that as well. The reason is because Israel is one of the leading countries in the world in alternative water resources. Every time you flush the toilet in this country that water gets sent to a purification plant where it is cleaned out (the gook is eaten out by little parasites…mmmm) and turned into quality level drinking water. Don’t get nervous. We just used that for watering our fields. But in addition to that Israel thanks to our desalinization plants here we are able to take water from the Mediterranean and turn that into drinking water as well. In fact they are even talking about Israel very soon becoming an exporter of clean water to the Middle East. Not bad for our tiny little country.
The reason why we need water is because of Tour guides like me. You see I spend half of my summer rafting down the Jordan River with my clients. The past few years it has been really pathetically bumpy. Lots of rocks. No water. I lost about three inches of my backside. Not that anyone noticed….I was in Tel Dan the other day one of the most lush places in the North and it was pretty dry. The Kinneret has receded, Forget about the Dead Sea and all the sinkholes that have formed along the shoreline. It’s sad. We really need rain. I told my children this morning that perhaps all these fires that are taking place in Israel are to wake us up to daven for rain. Hashem is waiting for our prayers that haven’t been coming enough. Once we’re davening for rain already perhaps we can ask that he wash away our enemies as well. But we need to start davening more and more.
I remember years ago when there was a drought in Israel, they called for a mass prayer session at the Kotel. I remember coming there and I saw a few old men coming with their umbrellas. I smiled and commented to one of them how he must really have confidence that his prayers would be answered quickly. He responded to me that if I didn’t believe that the prayers would work what was really the point in the first place. Hmmmm… Sure enough not soon after we started the skies broke out in clouds and it started to rain. It was awesome. He popped open his umbrella and asked me if I wanted to come under for some shelter. I was quite happy singin’ in the rain though. It was the soft wet caress of my Creator dripping down my face. I wanted it to last forever.
There is probably not too many things like weather that people attribute to randomness. It is certainly something that we probably feel least likely that is in our control. Yet perhaps the first lesson of Man in the garden of Eden was that he was born in a barren world without anything growing in it as Rashi notes on the verse Bereishit (2:5)
For Hashem had no tbrought rain to the earth And there was no man to ‘work’ the ground
That Hashem waited for man to be created and pray for rain until he sent down the storms. The weather is in our hands; in our mouths and prayers. It’s why we were put here. That’s what it means to work the ground. The work of our hearts-prayer will make the ground flourish.
This week’s Torah portion Chayei Sarah deals with two stories that are almost opposite of each other. We have the death of Sarah, our Matriarch. And we have the story of the Eliezer, the first and quintessential Shadchan/ matchmaker finding a spouse for Yitzchak. Death and Marriage. The end of an era the beginning and continuation of the next. Perhaps there is no area where we recognize that we have no control over like death. When the Angel of Death comes calling your time is up. We never know when or how it will come. But we know that it is truly in the hands of Hashem. On the other hand marriage, the choosing of the spouse that we will spend the rest of of our lives with seems to be up to us. Sure Hashem sends our bashert our way. And we all know that it is decreed 40 days before we are born who we will marry. But c’mon, ultimately it is us that dates and finds, seeks out, courts, woos, proposes and ‘closes the deal’. It’s our looks, our brains, our personalities, our sense of humor, our integrity, our generosity that ‘sells the other person’. Hashem perhaps just hooked us up. But the match is in our hand.
Interestingly enough our Parsha tells us the opposite. It’s not merely irony that the parsha that talks about the death of not only Sarah, but Avraham and even Yishmael as well, at the conclusion of the portion is called Chayei Sarah- the life of Sarah. It’s not the first time either. The other portion in the Torah at the end of the book of Bereshis that is called Vayechi- and He lived also talks about not only the death and burial of Yaakov, but Yosef as well and according to our sages even Esau (who lost his head a bit at his father’s funeral). The parshiyot of life are the parshas that talk about death.
The reason our sages suggest is because by the righteous even in their death they are considered alive. They live on. They lived full years and they lived each day to the fullest. Their death wasn’t a death as much as it was an expiration. In fact Rashi notes most fascinatingly by Yishmael’s death.
Bereshit (25:8) And he expired and he died- Expiration is a term that is used only by the righteous
It’s a fascinating term expiration. Your time is up. Everyone has a date on them. Not everyone makes it to that date. If you leave the milk out of the fridge or the meat out of the freezer, guess what? It’s not gonna make it to that date. Which is why the stores won’t take those products back once you buy them. Trust me I’ve tried. Whether we spoil early or not is dependent entirely upon us. The righteous the Torah tells their death is on the expiration date. It’s in our hands. Even more fascinatingly it tells us this by Yishamel. A kid who certainly did not have a great life, who certainly could have blamed his lousy lot in life to all types of challenges. His grandfather was Pharoah, Hagars’ father. Not a nice person. He was chucked out of his house by his ‘step-mom” who couldn’t seem to control him and cared more about Yitzchak his younger half-brother who he knew would supersede him and become the heir of his father. His own father, Avraham, sends him away. His mother turns her eyes away and leaves him dying of thirst so that “she doesn’t see the death of the child”. Yet he picks himself up and says he will not blame his life on his “circumstances” his troubled childhood, his parents, his environment. He will live his life. He will make it to his expiration date. His life will be full. His death will be in his hands. It will come when his time is up and not a day sooner.
When we turn to the marriage of Yitzchak in the Parsha we see almost the opposite. Taking place. Eliezer who is sent find a match for Yitzhcak has a monumental task before. He is the guy that is supposed to find the next matriarch of the Jewish people. The entire future of the world on him making the right choice. Finding the right bashert. Making sure she can balance the gevura/fortitude of Yitzchak who was offered up as the purest sacrifice to Hashem. She would have to fill Sarah’s sandals; her tent, her light, her cloud of glory. Imagine finding being charged with finding the perfect mate for the Gadol HaDor- the leader of the Jewish people. Talk about pressure.
Yet what does Eliezer do? He turns to Hashem and doesn’t ask for Hashem to give him the wisdom, the power to discern, the insight necessary to find this special spouse. He tells Hashem
Bereshis (24:12) “Hashem the God of my master of Avraham Hakreh Na Elai- arrange (or literally appear) for me today and do kindness with my master Avraham
He then sets the incredible and incomprehensible task. Let the right girl be the one who comes over to me and offers to feed not only me but all of my camels. “That will be the one that I will know that You have performed kindness for my master”
Really?!!! Is that someone you would expect to be the responsible shadchan for your daughter? What about the family, her personality, her age?! Besides the fact that its an impossible task I mean my wife used to feed 30-40 hungry West Seattle TLC’ers each Shabbos and that was certainly not easy. But camels? Shlepping out water? Who in their right mind would expect would do that particularly when there is a very capable servant that seems to be able to do it himself? How can you even ask Hashem to do that? Arrange for me?! Talk about abdicating your very important role. Avraham trusted you. He made you take an oath in the most physical of ways. How does Eliezer just turn it over to Hashem like that?
The word hakreh is perhaps the key word here. mikreh is happenstance. It’s something totally out of my control. I remember once that I was trying to hail a taxi once here in Israel and he was busy arguing with someone until he came over. When I asked him “Ma Karah- what happened?” He told me- as only an Israeli cab driver could karah is the same letters as Rak Ha(shem). There is no happen it is all Hashem. Eliezer, the faithful servant of Avraham and the first shadchan, asked Hashem to entirely remove his own knowledge, his own intuition, and his own assessment from the game. It should only be Hashem that makes this happen. The truth is on paper this shidduch probably would never go. Think about it. Her father is a cheap abusive guy that sends his daughters out to shlep water in a pretty dangerous neighborhood. Her brother Lavan is a renowned sheister, con man and criminal. According to our sages she was only three years old at the time and Yitzchak was no spring chicken. Eliezer understood that when it comes to marriage, more often than not the more we leave it in Hashem’s hand the better off we are. There are somethings we should leave to God and some things we need to do on our own.
The land of Israel is the place where those two ideas truly become the essence of life. It’s a country where we are meant to work, we are meant to plant and to build. We are surrounded with enemies who try to destroy us, kill us, burn our fields and prevent our light from shining out to the world and we are meant to pick up weapons, fight and defend our land. Yet nothing ever grows, nothing ever comes to fruition in the sensible logical and natural way. We have desert land that for centuries was cursed and yet we came here and poof it started flourishing. We have armies, soldiers and tanks yet not one battle would ever have made sense to be won without the clear miracles that took place. They don’t even bother teaching the wars of Israel in military school because there’s no logic or rational explanation to how we’re still around. We live, we work, we fight, but at the same time we turn our eyes to Hashem and say we can’t do anything. Hakreh Na Elai. Make it rain. Shower us with Your beneficence. Make it all come from you.
I told my shul that after the last election in the States I believe that even nusach ashkenaz should start to add the words in the Kaddish prayer that Nusach Sfard says of  V’Yatzmach Purkanei V’Kareiv Mishishichei- and you shall sprout His redemption and hasten Mashiach. There is no rational explanation into how fast the world is moving in His hands. How little we, the media, the popular votes have a say in the path Hashem wants us to be lead on. All He wants from us it to turn our eyes, our prayers and our hearts to Him. To ask for it. To finally bring that day. It’s in our hands. We just need to open up our umbrellas. We need to come home.

Have a heavenly rainy Shabbos!
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

https://soundcloud.com/ephraim-schwartz/avinu-malkeinu   Avinu Malkeinu I composed in memory of Aryeh Kupinsky H”YD and all of our martyrs that gevet their lives in sanctification of Hashem’s name. May Hashem avenge their blood.

https://soundcloud.com/jroot-radio/yosef-bornstein-nov-17   – A Radio interview I gave last week on Jroot radio with Rabbi Yosef Bronstien- Contest of the week for all those who listen to it. How many times do I say the words “y’know” It’s painful to listen to me…But it was 2:00 AM

https://youtu.be/DR8W_O_TRAk   Jimmy Kimmel Politically correct Thanksgiving Pageant Hilarious and sad

https://youtu.be/BVEc-bV9Dxk   – In honor of Shabbos Chevron this week watch and connect to our holy city.

“A nar vahkst on regn”  A fool grows without rain.
Ponder and discuss…

answer below at end of Email
Q. Sycamore trees can be seen primarily in:
A. The Lowlands (shephela) and Coastal Plain
B. Upper Galilee
C. Arava
D. Golan

It never ceases to amaze me how much I would miss in reading the text without Rashi’s accompanying commentary that makes me stop and read the verse once again and figure out the point he is addressing. In this week’s Torah portion in the great and lengthy negotiation between Avraham and Efron in the purchase of the Machpela Cave, Efron makes the statement to Avraham
Berseshit (23:15) My master, hear me! The Land is worth 400 silver shekalim; between me and you- what is it? And bury your dead.
That amount is an exorbitant amount (note that in Leviticus 27:16 a bit kur which is about 75,00 square feet is 50 sheks meaning 400 shekel should have gotten him 600,000 square feet!). So when Efron says between me and you how would you interpret it? If you asked me, I would probably suggest he meant between two wealthy people like ourselves. Avraham was wealthy and despite the big price tag Efron was trying to show him that for Avraham and Efron this is small penny change. Yet Rashi goes a different route.
Between me and you- Between two friends such as we, is it significant at all, rather forget the price and bury your dead.
Why does Rashi seem to go to a far-fetched explanation that Efron was referring to their supposed friendship rather than what seems to be the simpler explanation that he was talking about their affluent status? Rabbi Shaul of Amsterdam the Binyan Ariel- who reads Rashi better than I do explains, that generally when I want to refer to someone’s exalted or greater status you mention the other person first. In fact the Talmud describes that when Rebbi would write to Marc Antony he would write to the King Antony from the prince Yehuda. So here Efron should have said between “you and me” rather than “me and you”. Which sounds like something my grammar teacher would have taught me “something about “you and I”. But I forgot. Or never really paid attention. When does one put themselves first, as Efron did? When one is describing one’s love for the other. I love you. We are friends. I feel close to you and then you feel close to me. So Rashi notes this small discrepancy in Efron’s words, placing himself first “between me and you” and he therefore comments that this must mean he was referring to their affection, rather than their status. Isn’t it amazing how each nuance can be filled with such meaning and interpretation?

Rabbi Shaul Lowenstam of Amsterdam- The Binyan Ariel- (1717-1790), One of the great leaders in the 18th century of Amsterdam, Rabbi Shaul Levenstam was a scion of an established rabbinical family. He was descended from Rabbi Shaul Wohl (who was crowned King of Poland for one night, according to legend). He was a grandson of Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel from Krakow, who is known as the Rebbe Heshel. His father Rabbi Aryeh Leib served as a rabbi in the city of Risha in Poland and in Amsterdam. His mother was the daughter of Rabbi Tzvi Ashkenazi, the "Chacham Tzvi." Rabbi Shaul was a rabbi in Amsterdam in a very stormy period of sharp disputes among the wise men of the generation. These disagreements disrupted the status of the rabbinate and led in the following generation to the increased strength of the Haskala movement, the forerunner of the Reform movement and religious change. Rabbi Shaul preferred to stay involved in matters related to his own community and to refrain from taking part in the disputes.The Chida writes in his work  "Shem Gedolim" with respect to Rabbi Shaul, "I was privileged to meet the face of the Shechina, and I was able to enjoy his Torah, his modestly, and his perfection."

Rabbi Shaul's modesty can be seen in his book "Binyan Ariel" (Amsterdam, 5538), which is named after his father Rabbi Aryeh. Rabbi Shaul notes that he did not want to print a book of halacha in order to avoid having people depend on his halachic rulings. The first part of the book presents explanations about the Torah and the five Megillot in a straightforward way that can be understood by everybody. The second part contains insights into the Talmud as a way of helping his students to sharpen their minds. Rabbi Shaul served as rabbi in Amsterdam for thirty-five years. He passed away on the seventh of Tammuz 5550 (1790). After his death, his son Rabbi Yaacov Moshe took his place.


Taxi Drivers - whenever they do polls in America they want to know what the “man on the street” has to say. The simple guy, the regular joe shmoe. In Israel that person is the nahag monit- the taxi driver. And for those that have been in a taxi here in Israel, you know they have plenty to say. There are over 40,000 licensed taxi drivers in Israel and it is estimated that over 600,000 people use their services daily. Taxi drivers in Israel are a great resource of information and truly are part and parcel of the real Israeli experience. They are more than happy to share with you their opinion about anything; politics, tourists spots, why you should move to Israel or not and who they hate and love. There are certainly some that are notorious for “taking you for a ride” not just literally, which is why it’s always fun to negotiate an off the meter price beforehand. A game that these drivers generally like to engage in, although part of the negotiating technique is that they pretend that they don’t. The taxi drivers in Israel run the gamut from secular to religious and in fact it is not unusual at all to get into a cab and hear the driver listening to a Torah class or Tehillim/Psalms. I remember having a cab driver share with me a Torah thought on the parsha and another one that was praying as he was picking me up. Many of them when they encounter a Tourist will offer their services to take them on tours around the country, or even to be your personal chauffer while you are here. That’s a really good gig for them and I remember as a kid when we would come to Israel my parents would often have one of these guys do that for us. It’s really a way to see the country from an ordinary real Israeli standpoint. Today with smartphones and apps like Gett Taxi one can actually just order a cab from anywhere and even see the picture of the driver and rate him afterwards. These guys like their ratings and you usually get better service when you call them this way. They even have a Mehadrin app, where you can get a shomer shabbat driver, thus insuring that your driver is Jewish. There are quite a few jokes about Israeli Taxi drivers and the driving experience here in Israel. For those that want to experience Israel you gotta take a taxi at least once.

Abe was visiting Israel for the first time. As soon as his plane landed, he got a taxi to take him to his hotel. The taxi driver was very friendly and told Abe all kinds of useful information.
Then Abe asks the driver, "Say, is Israel a healthy place?"
"Oh, yes, it really is," the driver answered, "When I first came here, I couldn't say even one simple word, I had hardly any hair on my head, I didn't have the energy to walk across a small room and I even had to be helped out of bed every day."
"That's a remarkable story, truly amazing," Abe said, "so how long have you been here in Israel?"
"I was born here."

Maurice and Isaac found themselves sitting next to each other in a New York bar. After a while, Maurice looks at Isaac and says, "I can't help but think, from listening to you, that you're from Israel."
Isaac responds proudly, "I am!"
Maurice says, "So am I! And where might you be from?"
Isaac answers, "I'm from Jerusalem."
Maurice responds, "So am I! And where did you live?"
Isaac says, "A lovely little area two miles east of King David's Hotel. Not too far from the old city"
Maurice says, "Unbelievable! What school did you attend?"
Isaac answers, "Well, I attended Yeshiva University."
Maurice gets really excited, and says, "And so did I. Tell me, what year did you graduate?"
Isaac answers, "I graduated in 1984."
Maurice exclaims, "Amazing! This is Berschert. Hashem wanted us to meet! I can hardly believe our good luck at winding up in the same bar tonight. Can you believe it, I graduated from Yeshiva University in 1984 also."
About this time, Moishe enters the bar, sits down, and orders a beer. The bartender walks over to him shaking his head & mutters, "It's going to be a long night tonight, the Goldberg twins are drunk again."

Israeli Personal ads
Yeshiva bochur, Torah scholar, long beard, payos. Seeks same in woman.
Worried about in-law meddling? I'm an orphan! Write.
Are you the girl I spoke with at the kiddush after shul last week? You excused yourself to get more horseradish for your gefilte fish, but you never returned. How can I contact you again? (I was the one with the cholent stain on my tie).
Jewish businessman, 49, manufactures Sabbath candles, Chanukah candles, havdallah candles, Yahrzeit candles. Seeks non-smoker.
I am a sensitive Jewish prince whom you can open your heart to. Share your innermost thoughts and deepest secrets. Confide in me. I’ll understand your insecurities. No fatties, please.
Jewish male, 34, very successful, smart, independent, self-made. Looking for girl whose father will hire me.
Orthodox woman with get, seeks man who got get, or can get get. Get it? I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours.
Divorced Jewish man, seeks partner to attend shul with, light Shabbos candles, celebrate holidays, build Sukkah together, attend brisses, bar mitzvahs. Religion not important.
Couch potato latke, in search of the right apple sauce. Let's try it for eight days. Who knows?
Female graduate student, studying kaballah, Zohar, exorcism of dybbuks, seeks mensch. No weirdos, please.
Israeli professor, 41, with 18 years of teaching in my behind.  Looking for American-born woman who speaks English very good. 
Israeli lady age 28. Serves behind the falafel counter in Moshe’s Deli. Looking for nice Jewish guy with a good sense of humus.

The Matchmaker asked the best bachur in Lakewood” what he was looking for in a girl. After some thought, the young man replied
“ I was driving down the Garden State Parkway last week when I noticed what seemed to be a Heimishe woman trying to change a flat tire. I felt bad that she was obviously by herself and made a u-turn, figuring I would check it out for sure by driving by slowly this time. Sure enough she was from Lakewood and so I stopped and helped her change her tire. After I was done and about to drop the spare in her trunk, she put her finger to her lips and whispered,
“Please don’t slam, the trunk. I don’t want to wake my husband- he’s sleeping in the back seat…”
The bochur smiled at the Shadchan and said “That’s what I’m looking for in a girl!!”

Answer is A – Are you sick of tree botany questions yet? I am. The sycamore tree or eitz shikma in Hebrew is a fairly tall- it grows up to 60 feet tall and these heart shape leaves. They can be found mostly in the shefela and caostla area. In fact they are the symbol of the city of Cholon. In Tel Aviv you can generally find them like smack in the middle of a street or a major thoroughfare as they have been a major source of conflict as the old-timers and the tree-lovers protest every time they want to knock em down as they have much nostalgic value for those who remember Tel Aviv before it became the major metropolis it is today when these trees were all over there. There are even quite a few songs written about these trees. There are usually not more than 3 or four questions about botany so I think hopefully we are done with them for this exam.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Shul Shopping- Vayeira 2016/5776

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

November 18th 2016 -Volume 7 Issue 4 18th Cheshvan 5777
Parshat Vayeira
Shul Shopping

I loved shul as a kid growing up. It was a special treat to walk with my father each week the 15 minutes or so to get there even in the worst Michigan weather. But he kept me entertained with stories the whole way. Stories about Bugs Bunny and Jewish super heroes that liked chulent of course and their wacky adventures. When we got to shul the first stop was of course to the candy men. No that is not a typo. We had Mr. Carmen who had lollipops. Rabbi Rockov was his competition with other types of candies. Mr Manela generally had some gum. It was like trick or treat each Shabbos. I would then head off to the back of the shul where my buddies and I would engage in our important shul activities. See, we would collect bottle caps from the Atlas Soda bottles they would serve by Kiddush in Shul and play some table bottle cap football or hockey with them. Usually around Torah reading time we would head out and peek through the window of the side room where the ‘adults’ would congregate. Not the ones in shul davening or listening to the Torah reading, I mean. No, we would be checking out the ones in the Kiddush club. The sweet smell of Sol’s homemade herring, the crackle of the kichel being broken, the sound of the clinking of plastic shot glasses and l’chaim could be heard from the doorway and when some men came out we could certainly detect the faint smell of schnapps wafting out as well, as they would shoo us away.
Every once in a while there would be a Kiddush in a shul. A bar mitzva, an aufruf or some other special occasion. Those were the really exciting weeks. The whole shul smelled of chulent and we would be sitting like hungry kittens in Israel outside my garbage; licking our lips and waiting impatiently, our places all reserved already, for the bounty to begin. Yeah, I loved shul. I evened davened sometimes as well.
But times changed in our congregation. The old Rabbi left, the new one came in and he did not like Kiddush club. He did not like kids running in and out and hitting up the old people for candy repeatedly. See, some of them were getting senile and they would never remember if they had given us already or not J. We did nothing to jog their memory of the candy we had received not just a half hour before. But the new Rabbi didn’t like that. He didn’t like people talking in shul. ‘Shul was a place to daven’ he would say as he stopped the Torah reading in middle. ‘not to shmooze’. It was a revolutionary idea for me. There were many quote- un-quote ‘adults’ that certainly had a different opinion. I agreed with them. But they eventually left. My father was a traditionalist and a loyalist. And so we stayed. And davened. I still would sneak candy though.
As I got older I went to yeshiva. There is was pretty much the opposite experience. Davening was something very serious. It was something we had to come on time to. If not we would get fined. 50 cents after barchu and a dollar after Shmona Esrei. They taught us that davening was avoda. It was work. The labor of the heart. I got myself a Metsuda linear siddur so that I could actually start to learn what the words I had been saying for years actually meant. Eventually I upgraded to an Artscroll which had all types of interesting explanations I could distract myself with as I expanded my appreciation and nuances of the ancient words of our sages who had composed and recited these prayers for millennia. Yet it was still pretty much an intellectual exercise. Something we did besides learn Torah and Talmud all day. There were times when my heart was engaged. When I felt something ‘spiritual’-whatever that meant or means- stir within me. Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur when we knew we had really better make our prayers count- or we might just die. By fire, water, sword or pestilence- take your choice. On Friday nights when we would have a bit of singing during Kabalat Shabbos. Not too much. Let’s not get carried away. And of course don’t dance because that would be a prohibition according to many halachic opinions. But they were nice tunes. And there were at least 6 or 7 alternate ones they would use. Sometimes even the latest hits. So there were times. But mostly I longed for the Kiddush club.
After getting married I moved to New York. Where I lived in Flatbush we literally had a smorgasbord of shuls all within a 4 block radius of my house. I think I once counted about 15 of them. There was the Young Israel on the corner, where I would sometimes accompany my grandfather. It was pretty institutionalized. Same songs each week, quick dvar torah, a kids sings yigdal or adon olam at the end and you were out. Slam Bam Shabbat Shalom Maam. I didn’t go much for the institutional thing though. There was Katz’s shtiebel on the corner. Latest shacharis in town, torah reading was pretty quick although a good portion of it was probably read out of a chumash as the layner tried to learn it on the go. But there was always the Rebbetzin’s chulent Kiddush afterwards. The Rebbe had passed away though years before and I kind of missed a nice dvar torah. I then tried out Lefkowitz’s it was a bit of a walk, but he really had an amazing drasha each week that incorporated the parsha, some halacha and inspiration. No chulent though. My last shot though was at Shmiddmans which was kind of a blend between the three.  A late shacharis, a little chasidish, a little drasha and a Kiddush with a once in a while chulent but usually at least some kugel and herring. I felt like the Goldi-lox of shuls.
Ultimately we escaped Brooklyn. I experienced some more shuls. A quasi orthodox one in Des Moines; no mechitza between men and women and microphone on Shabbos- we made our own minyan there. Norfolk Virginia had an amazing shul with great singing, fantastic drashos and a herring social Kiddush each week. It probably became one of my models when I ultimately opened up my own outreach shul in West Seattle. Being that most of my congregation there couldn’t read Hebrew-my first week there was me an eleven year old boy and a curious gentile- and I wanted to make it inspiring. I would intersperse the service with explanation stories and insights. We had lots of singing. Different tunes each week. And of course it’s when the Rebbetzin’s chulent first made its public debut. Our shul grew. We would have people that came from the orthodox neighborhood that would come check it out and shared with us afterwards that for many of them it was the first time they experienced a shul that inspired them. A place where the davening came to life. It was truly a communication with the almighty. The stories and insights made the words they had been saying by rote for years, a personal and meaningful expression of their inner thoughts and emotions to Hashem. I suspected they were just saying that because they liked the Rebbetzin’s chulent, but I certainly knew that it did that for me.
When we moved to Eretz Yisrael I began a shul in our community as well. It was a different crowd. Most of them were hareidi Kollel guys. I couldn’t intersperse the prayers with insights and stories any longer. But I got to keep my songs, my drasha and most importantly my Kiddush.  I love my shul. I love the people that come regularly, the ones that pop in once in a while. And I love that it offers a place where everyone feels comfortable and feels that they can get something from it. They can be themselves. They can find themselves. They can find Hashem in themselves.
 In Israel perhaps one of the great tragedies is that many people view their shuls as just a place to daven. We have to pray three times a day. I need a place to do it. The Shul works. It has to meet my needs. If it doesn’t we’ll find a new one. Or I‘ll do shacharis here, mincha here, shabbos evening here and High Holidays wherever. On the one hand it’s nice to have such a variety. It also probably saves you money because sadly many people feel that they don’t need to contribute as they are only davening there for one prayer here and there. On the other hand the shul doesn’t become your community. A person doesn’t feel he has a place. Even worse perhaps that he doesn’t need a place. I told someone once how imagine if your work office they switched your cubicle or office to another place three times a day and a few times a week. It would be hard to connect, to work, to have that sense of belonging that I think is essential to producing a meaningful work product. Why do we treat our shuls any different? Our prayers, our conversations with God?
This week’s Torah portion has continues to tell us the story of our forefather Avraham, the man who our sages tell us established the concept of a regular morning prayer to Hashem. The Torah tell us about one of the most essential lessons Avraham taught us about praying. It was right after the Avraham’s seemingly failed prayer and advocacy on behalf of the cities of Sodom that Hashem had said he would destroy. The verse says Bereshit (19:27)
And Avraham arose early in the morning to the place where he had stood before Hashem
Our sages derive from this verse in the tractate Brachot (6B)
R. Chelbo, in the name of R. Huna, says:  Whosoever has a fixed place for his prayer has the God of Avraham as his helper. And when he dies, people will say of him: Where is the pious man, where is the humble man? One of the disciples of our father Avraham!
How do we know that our father Avraham had a fixed place [for his prayer]?
For it is written:  And Avraham got up early in the morning to the place where he had stood.’
And 'standing' means nothing else but prayer.
Wow! Who would’ve thought that just having a set place to daven would make a person a righteous person, a humble person? It seems to be kind of a jump? It doesn’t even say that you have to pay synagogue dues. What is so important about having a set place to daven? Isn’t Hashem everywhere? And why would that make someone a humble or righteous person?
On the last question Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank is quoted as having said rather ruefully. That someone that stays in the same shul forever and doesn’t get into a fight with the Gabbai, the Rabbi, the president or the guy that prays (or talks J) next to him, and doesn’t leave and go to another shul must be either a very righteous and forgiving person or someone extremely humble. Ouch! I think we can all relate to that one.
However other commentaries suggest perhaps something a bit more meaningful. It is interesting, the Shemen Hatov notes, that it is precisely here that the Torah chooses to teach this lesson about Avraham. For it is here the day after seemingly his all night prayer and beseeching before Hashem seems to have not worked. He wakes up the next morning and the city is burning. A mushroom cloud rises over the horizon. Sodom is gone. His prayers didn’t work. Some of us might say- fuggedaboutit. The rest of us are not from New York and would pronounce that like three different words but with the same meaning. Does it really pay? Maybe I need to find a new shul. Maybe this whole prayer thing is meaningless. What’s really the point, if Hashem doesn’t answer my prayers anyways?
But not Avraham. He understood that prayers aren’t about necessarily getting what we want. They’re also not about giving Hashem any extra praise, or trying to ask for things and recognizing that he is our Father and the giver of all that we have. Neither is it even merely about taking time out and expressing our gratitude to Him. The word prayer in Hebrew tefila comes from the word to judge pelilim. Prayer is a time for one to self-examine oneself before his Creator. What am I here for? You put me in this world. You want a relationship with me. You have empowered me, given me gifts, talents, blessings. I have a neshoma; a piece of the divine in me. In fact the word to daven in Yiddish, someone one told me comes from that same Latin root word of divine. Davening is about revealing that inner spark. Recharging it. Recalibrating it. Restoring it factory settings. To do that properly one needs to be in the same place. It’s not the place that needs to change. It’s me. Me in the same place, but a different, better me. I have the same job, challenges, life and opportunities. I’m not running anywhere from them. I’m not blaming them on my location, my circumstances. I may not have been successful yesterday. But today I’ve been given a new chance and opportunity. Today. Here. This morning, this afternoon, and this evening.
The Ari’Zl gives a beautiful parable how prayer is like a warrior that is trying to breach the wall of a city. He takes a fiery arrow and shoots it at the wall, and nothing happens. If he then goes and tries shooting it in another place and another and another, nothing may ever happen. If however he keeps shooting at the same spot again and again. Eventually that wall will come a’ tumbling down. The Ari then says that when the Temple was up we had that direct contact with Hashem. A straight line up. We knew what we were here for. There was one place where we could connect with him and get that awakening and reflection that we needed to do. Since it has been destroyed though it is as if there is an ‘iron wall’ between us and heaven. Between us and our Father. The Shulchan Aruch- code of Jewish law suggests that’s why we need a permanent place for it. For our prayers are like the sacrifices that were once brought. They need that permanence, that one place where we can keep bringing them. It’s how we can connect. You can and perhaps should shop around for clothing. For food. For plumbers, doctors, even Rabbis and tour guides. All of them might need to be upgraded, replaced. Some daily, some seasonally, some as you grow older and wiser. Sometimes you want different varieties for different moods. Different tastes. Different problems. But there’s no need to shop for shuls. You’ve just got to find the one that makes you feel like you have your place. One place that will be your home. That will be your gateway to heaven. That’s the door that Hashem will always be standing on the other side waiting to hear you from. He’s there. Are you?

Have an absolutely amazing Shabbos!
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

This week’s Insights and Inspiration is sponsored by my dear friend Minnette Almoslino of Seattle Washington. Minnette is truly one of the most amazing people I know. I don’t’ know to many people that at her “young age” has such incredible energy, such a love of Torah, of classes, of Hashem and her fellow Jew. A true disciple of Sarah Immeinu. Minnette will always be an incredible role model for me. May Hashem bless her with many more healthy energetic years until 120!
Thank you for your sponsorship and even more so for your readership and comments and feedbacks each week!
Thank You!



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_ox4vLGH4U  in honor of his yartzeit Reb Shlomo Carlebach on Vayeira and song

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlsXS4DPZpw   – My best songs are on Shabbos Carlebach interview

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbw9eHe9i-Q  Happy first birthday to our Sefer Torah last years hachnasat Sefer Torah in Karmiel

https://youtu.be/rTwLdj44G5s  – Hundreds gather at Shlomo Carlebach grave for his yartzeit singing for hours…

“Ven ale mentshn zoln tsien af eyn zayt, volt zikh di velt ibergekert.” If everyone pulled in one direction, the world would tip over.

answer below at end of Email
Q.   An oak that is not indigenous (native) to Israel:
A. Cork oak
B. Boissier oak
C. Mount Thabor’s oak
D. Palestine oak
One small word in a Rashi. Just one word and a whole world can open up if you just take the time to examine it. We all have the famous image of Avraham Avinu sitting outside his tent right after his circumcision distraught, but not over the painful procedure he underwent at his well advanced age. Rather it was over the fact that he could not find any guests that he could offer his famous hospitality to.
Rashi notes on the verse in the beginning of the Parsha
Bereshis (18:1) And he was sitting at the entrance of his tent- To see if there was anyone that was passing or returning that he would be able to invite them to his house.
Did you catch the extra word here? The Pardes Yosef does. He asks why Rashi needs to say ‘passing or returning’. We would be able to get the same message had he just said anyone passing. He answers with an important lesson. There were certainly people that passed by Avraham’s house that he invited in. Heck, anyone that passed by got a meal by him. But perhaps, Avraham was nervous, there were some that had already come to him on their way going, but did not want to be a burden again on the way back. So they would try to avoid him. They were embarrassed. So Avraham was not merely on the lookout for guests. His intense caring and sensitivity for individuals was as well for people that might feel a bit more intimidated by coming. He wanted the repeat customers. As my mother taught me if you say thank you and compliment the meal after you have eaten, that doesn’t prove anything. You’re just being polite. The sign of a good guest is one who comes back for doubles J. I guess she, and therefore I in turn as well who tell that to my guests, learned that from Avraham Avinu. Isn’t it amazing what you can learn from just one word in Rashi.

Rabbi Yosef Patchinovski- The Pardes Yosef - (1875-1942), This incredible Polish scholar who was a Gerrer Chasid and is known for his scholarly work on Rashi and the Torah never served as a Rabbi, a Rosh Yeshiva or even teacher. He was in fact a simple wood salesman. Quite a succssefful one at that. Yet if you asked him he would tell you that was just the way he supported his family. Hes love and passion was his Torah study. By his own testimony “anyone that came to my house or my shop always saw that I never rested or was still. Rather all my days I was enraptured in Torah. All the days include the nights he said- for during the nights as well my heart did not rest, rather ‘the morning would come and it was Leah’ it was wonderful and much toil.”
A descendant of the famed Nesivot Hamishpat. Rav Yosef lived in Lodz Poland during the war years. His family was all killed in the Holocaust. He himself was only able to print the first three volumes of the Torah work that he had written. The rest being lost. He is buried in the cemetery in Lodz. He passed away 4 days after his wife at the age of 67. May his memory be blessed.


Kibbutznik (over 100,000)- They were the image of the young Zionist state of Israel. The shorts, the kova tembel and the orange picking sabra look personified the ‘new jew’ the one that would make the desolate land flourish once again. The socialist communal living model which began in 1920’s with the establishment of Degania with 12 members, reached 65,000 by the 1950’s and had almost 8% of the population living on kibbutzim. The movement peaked in the late 80’s with about 130,000 members. It has gone down since then. Kibbutz life was the classic utopian model of socialized living. Everyone is equal, all money is communal, jobs are alternated so that everyone shares in the labor equally. Kibbutznikim would eat together, live in communal housing any change or decoration or personalization would have to be decided by committee. Children of Kibbutznikim initially were all kept at children’s home. They were after-all products of the Kibbutz and they did not refer to their ‘birthers’ as parents. With the advent of a globalized economy which hurt them economically, as well as with the exposure and advancement of the amenities and lifestyles of those that lived and worked in the private sector the Kibbutz movement has gone down. As well the ideological imperative of planting and flourishing the land has gone down in much of the secular post-zionist world as many of them view the ‘occupation’ at the more right-wing ideology as morally distasteful. Interestingly although the Kibbutz movement initially was a very strong secular almost anti-religious movement, today there are more and more of them that are more welcoming to religion with a tremendous return to Torah Judaism and observance. Many are building shuls and Mikva and host Torah classes regularly- thanks to the Ayelet Hashachar movement that reaches out to them. There are close to 270 Kibbutzim in Israel today-16 of them are in fact religious ones. Most of them are located in the North and South of Israel. Many Kibbutzim have left agriculture and entered into new sources of income. Kibbutz Sasa generated 850 million dollars in its military plastics industry and Kibbutz Ketura becoming one of the world leaders in solar power technology.

A Texas rancher visits a kibbutz farm in Israel. After he is shown all the agricultural advances, he tells the Sabra: "I'm real impressed with your farm here, but where I come from, I can drive all day and not reach the other end of my ranch." The Sabra replies: "I know how you feel. I once had a car like that too!"

Yankel the Kibbtznik’s mother moved to the city. She was not too successful there and she had a hard time getting used to city life. He would visit here occasionally and when he would she would send him out to the bus station to go shopping for her. Not ever having done the whole city bus thing when the driver asked him for his money he said he didn’t’ have any. Instead he offered him a dozen eggs. To barter as is the custom n the socialist community he was from. The driver agreed and he got his ride. The next time as well he brought him the eggs. The third time he came however with a chicken in tow. When the driver asked him what this was for. Yankel told him it was his monthly pass…

 Sol Rosenberg’s wife Esther was complaining to all of their friends at shul that she didn’t like it that Sol would attend the men’s only “Kiddush club” on Shabbat mornings.
So one day Sol decided to invite Esther to the Kiddush club with him.
"What'll you have?" he asked.
"Oh, I don't know. The same as you I suppose," she replied.
So Sol poured some single malt scotch for himself and Esther and he downed his drink quickly. Esther watched in amazement, and then took a sip from her glass. She immediately spat it out. "Yuck, that's TERRIBLE!" she spluttered. "How you can drink this stuff!"
"Well, there you go," said Sol. "And you think I'm down here enjoying myself Shabbat morning!"

David Goldberg had never celebrated Shabbat before but he was invited by his observant friend Moishe to shul for the Shabbos Project. Moishe took him to the “Kiddush Club” where they proceeded to have a number of l’chaims – scotch, bourbon, wine – you name it.
Moishe was trying to explain to David some of the many laws relating to Shabbat when David said, “I’ll admit – I don’t fully understand all of the laws of Shabbat yet, but there’s one law that makes perfect sense.”
“What’s that,” asked Moishe.
“No driving on Shabbos!


Answer is D – Botany not my strong point. But the Oak trees are the most common in Israel. The Palestine Oak or Alon hamatzui is the most common tree in Israel. The Tabor Oak is all over the lower Galilee. The first two were a challenge to narrow down. But the Hebrew translation helped me out. As the Bossier or whatever is called the alon tola which is a worm and in fact the tola’at shani dye that was used in the Mishkan comes from the worm that hangs out in the tree. Which leaves the cork tree as the correct answer which I should have known as well with all my visits to wineries where they have told me that the corks are imported. But I was perhaps too busy focusing on the wine.