Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
May 5th 2017 -Volume 7 Issue 28 9th Iyar 5777
Parshat Acharey Mos / Kedoshim
I didn’t know what to tell him. There was no way I was going to officiate the wedding. I had told him from the beginning that I had three requirements the food had to be Kosher, the ceremony would follow Jewish law and that the bride would agree to go to the Mikva before the wedding. It wasn’t easy, but *Jack had managed to pull of two out of the three. His bashert, Barbara, had agreed to the Kosher and the ceremony but she didn’t seem willing to budge about the Mikva thing. He was at a loss. Two out of three wasn’t bad? Right…? Wrong.
I felt bad for Jack. He had waited and prayed a long time for his soulmate. He wasn’t a young man, or a spring chicken as he used to say. He had been married to someone non-Jewish for most of his life and as he came to appreciate the faith that he was denied and never exposed to over the last few years, he grew more and more in his yiddishkeit until ultimately when his first marriage fell apart he was relieved. He could now find his Jewish mate. And a little over a year later, at age 59, he did. Barbara was everything he was looking for almost. Pretty, smart, funny, kind generous and very Jewishy. She wasn’t Orthodox herself, but was certainly respectful and even encouraging of his desire to have a Kosher home and observe Shabbat to the best of their ability. She just wasn’t going to the Mikva.
I tried to speak to her about the beauty of the mitzva, the philosophy, the spiritual meaning. I told her that Jack would be going as well. That I go. I gave her books, I even told her that the truth is at her age it would probably be the only one time that she would ever have to go. But she wasn’t budging. Unfortunately neither was I. And poor Jack was caught in the middle. He wanted me to officiate with him I had been his closest friend, mentor and brother; my family was practically his family. But at the same time he respected my principles. It’s probably what drew him to me in the first place. That, and my wife’s chulent of course J.
The clock was ticking, the date was getting closer and Jack was praying that it would work out. Finally about a week and a half before the wedding I got a call. It was Barbara.
“I went, Rabbi, you can officiate.” I was pretty taken aback. And pretty happy but yet at the same time a little bit curious.
“Oh, when did you go” I said, “How was it? Was it meaningful? Was it as bad as you thought it would be?”
Her response hit me pretty squarely in the face and it was quite unequivocal.
“I went last week, Rabbi, that’s what you wanted, and I did it. Will you officiate now?”
Hmmm… I was getting a bit more curious and perhaps I felt I should do a little due diligence. I mean she seemed very standoffish.
“Was it the local Mikva in the town that you live?” “No” she said not offering much information.
Oh it was a different one? Yes.
“Oh OK. Well I’m sorry it wasn’t as inspiring as you thought it was and I look forward to seeing you by the wedding. I just want you to know that I’m sure Jack really appreciates that you did this for him.”
I hung up the phone and I was troubled. To be honest, I was suspicious. Something didn’t seem right. Why wasn’t she being forthcoming? What was she hiding? Did she make this all up? Something smelled fishy…dirty Mikva fishy… One moment she was so adamantly opposed and all of sudden, she tells me she went. My Rabbi spidey sense was tingling overtime.
Jack meantime had called me up all excited, so I asked him if he could just get me the name of the Mikva she went to as I “needed it for my files” “just in case there was any questions afterwards”. I figured that would hopefully flush anything out. Surprisingly he called me back a little while later with the name of the Chabad Mikva in the next town over. I was still pretty skeptical and so I placed a call to the Chabad Mikva person and explained my situation and asked them if they could indeed verify if Barbara had gone to the Mikva the previous week. I imagine that quite a bunch have people had gone since then, but she right away recalled, and told me she would never ever forget it. I was dreading her answer, assuming that my friend’s liberal anti-mikva feminist stance made a scene at the Mikva. And began to apologize. But the Mikva lady quickly cut me off.
“She definitely made a scene, I tell you. I literally had to jump into the Mikva to save her.”
It seems that Barbara is a severe aquaphobic. She has fear of water and drowning. She never ever submerges herself in water and never goes swimming. She has suffered from this all her life. This was her first time ever going under water. When she went in she started to gasp and stopped breathing and she froze up and literally had to be pulled out. Barbara wasn’t a liberal, anti-mikva activist or feminist. She was a hero. She had done something that in my life I couldn’t imagine ever having the strength to do. I was in awe of her. I couldn’t even apologize for ever doubting her. I was finally sure that my jack had found his true bashert. This was a woman, who just as he had, overcome an incredible challenge to create and have a Jewish home. If you ask me it was the holiest wedding I ever think I officiated.
This week’s Torah shares with us one of the most important mitzvos of the Torah. it is the mitzva that the great Rabbi Akiva proclaimed is the great principle. It is the golden rule. Love your friend as yourself. The introduction to that mitzva though is however even more interesting in my mind. It begins with what seems to be laws regarding judges.
Vayikra (19:15) You shall not do wrong in justice; you shall not favor a destitute man and shall not honor a great man; with righteousness shall you judge your fellow.
Rashi certainly seems to understand and explain the first parts of this verse as being specific to a judge not showing any favoritism. However when it comes to the last part of the verse where the Torah explicitly says that you should judge your fellow righteously. Rashi paraphrases the Mishna in Avot that one should judge their friend meritoriously. In plain English- we would say to give the benefit of the doubt. But in fact that’s really an incorrect translation, as I’ll explain. But before I do so, recognize that this verse segue into the rest of the basic laws that apply to everyone, that culminate in loving your friend as yourself. The laws that follow this law are not be a gossipmonger, don’t stand by idly while your friends in danger. Don’t hate your brother in your heart, reprove him, don’t take revenge or bear a grudge. And finally the famous golden rule of loving him like yourself. The law of judging with righteousness seems to be applicable to everyone.
Perhaps the most important value into today’s politically-correct society is to be non-judgmental. Vivre et laisser vivre- Live and let live. There is probably not concept more foreign to a Torah outlook than that. The concept of what he does is his business, or who am I to judge another person, as well is an abdication of a fundamental Jewish responsibility. A responsibility I have for my friend, my neighbor, my community, the world and most importantly to Hashem. We were not placed on this world to “mind our own business”. We’re here because Hashem wants us to elevate the entire world. It’s why this parsha, as the Torah introduces and Rashi poignantly notes was recited before the “entire congregation of Israel”. By Hakhel-when we would all be gathered together.
The Torah is telling us that we are obligated to be judges. Constantly. Always. We are judging people, judging situation. The Torah does not tell us not to judge. It doesn’t even tell us to give the benefit of the doubt. It tells us to judge our fellow man favorably. Find and conclude his innocence and even his righteousness in whatever situation, despite how terrible and bad it may seem. Find a way to judge him righteously. Don’t leave any room for doubt. Find him or her a tzadik. That’s pretty awesome. Don’t believe me? Check out the way Maimonides explains this mitzva
Sefer Hamitzos (mitzva 177) A man is obligated to judge his friend to the side of merit and he should not explain his actions only in a way that is good and kind.
What makes this even more astonishing is that the failure to do this is considered, as it says in the beginning of the verse, a travesty of justice. Justice demands that you find and explain it for good. That is the introduction to the most important mitzva. If one has that outlook of his friend he certainly won’t bear gossip. He will not hate him, he will draw him closer through reproof and ultimately he will love him like himself. It’s the only way to get to that path.
You know why? Because the reason we love ourselves starts off at the same point. We all think we are good…maybe deep down. Although we each know more than anyone else our own failings, our sins, our thoughts, our actions that are maybe not as “ay ay ay”- as my savta would say- as we might want to project we are to everyone else. We find excuses, we justify, we even interpret them as good things. We judge ourselves righteously. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s naturally human. The Torah however says take that trait and use it for your friend. Judge him. See in him the righteousness that you find in yourself. It’s real. Hashem truly sees it in each of us. It’s why the conclusion of the mitzva of are in fact those two words. Ani Hashem- I am Hashem. I am the one who created him and you, who is counting on you to lift the world. Whose spark which can never be tainted is in each person and is the source of all holiness that no human act can ever desecrate.
I know some times it might seem unlikely. It might seem like too big of a stretch to find or see that spark. To see an act that seems so wrong actually be one of totally righteousness. So think of Barbara, think of how you think about yourself, think about how Hashem really feels about you. And then become the judge Hashem wants each of us to be.
Have a holy holy Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S FAVORITE YIDDISH PROVERB OF THE WEEK
“Libeh iz vi puter, s’iz gut mit broit..”- Love is like butter; it’s good with bread
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL VIDEOS OF THE WEEK
https://youtu.be/inYK68uGcCE - Best Day Ba Yachad Acapella Kippalive
https://youtu.be/lFdI7l0ucXg – My speech at the Karmiel Yom Ha’aAtzmaut this past week in Hebrew- sort of J
https://youtu.be/MYmwU-9BjIQ –Rabbi Shalom Gold one of the most passionate individuals I’ve ever had the honor of knowing on Israels 69 years.
https://youtu.be/7l498XL3ChU - Let it grow- The sefira beard song- definitely does not count as music OYJ
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
answer below at end of Email
Q The Eleventh (yod alef) of Adar is:
a. The date of Moses’ death
b. The date marking the events of Tel-Hai
c. General Kaddish
d. Holocaust Martyr’s and Heroes’ Remembrance Day
a. The date of Moses’ death
b. The date marking the events of Tel-Hai
c. General Kaddish
d. Holocaust Martyr’s and Heroes’ Remembrance Day
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S ILLUMINATING RASHI OF THE WEEK
Rashi many times will only quote a part of a midrash that he feels is necessary to understand the pshat or simple understanding of something that is begging for explanation from the verse. If one has the time it is certainly worthwhile to look up the midrash itself, particularly if it is on a concept that seems to be a world-view global statement that Rashi seems to be highlighting. Sometimes you may find amazing nuances and insights.
At the end of Parshat Acharey Mot where the Torah teaches us all of the laws of the forbidden and incestuous relations that we are mandated to avoid, the Torah introduces these laws with this statement
Vayikra (18:3) Like the practice of the land of Egypt and the land in which you dwelled do not do; and the practices of the land of Canaan in which I will bring you do not do.
Seemingly the verse did not have to tell us that we dwelled in Egypt or that we will br brought to the land of Canaan. The verse could have simply said Do not do like the practices of the land of Egypt and Canaan.
Rashi notes this and therefore quotes the Midrash Torat Kohanim
This tells us that the practices of the land of Egypt and Canaan are the most degenerate of all nations. And the place that the Israel dwelled is the most degenerate of all.
So Rashi is therefore explaining that the reason why the Torah notes the Jewish peoples dwelling is because that was the worst of the worst. And those are the things that we should avoid.
That explains the pshat but the question that remains, which Rashi is not addressing is why? Why where the Jews are is it the worst and lowest of the low. The Shem MiShmuel (who we mentioned last week-for those that didn’t read the bio below last week- you can read it now) notes that the Midrash in facts explains.
And how do we know that the dwelling of the Jewish people caused them to engage in all of these practices? The Torah says-“which you dwelled”
Fascinating, isn’t it? The Midrash is saying that because we dwelled there, that’s why they became who they became. The Shem MiShmuel explains this concept with an incredible idea. He suggests that when a wicked person lives near a tzadik, the righteous person will naturally try to bring him close, to try to get him to be better. If he is not successful than what happens is that the rasha will go to the opposite extreme. He will go to all lengths to prove that he is not connected at all to the tzadik. He will become the worst of the worst. That is why the Midrash notes that the Torah is telling us that these most degenerate acts carried out by the nations happened only because the Jews dwelled there. It was their response to the Jews attempts to elevate the land. It’s a very interesting perspective to have when we think about the power our dwelling in a neighborhood can have for good and for bad.
Rabbi Shmuel Bornstain –Shem MiShmuel (1855-1926) – Reb Shmuel Bornsztain or the Shem Mishmuel as he was known by his monumental work, was the second Rebbe of the Sochatchov Hasidic dynasty. His work Shem Mishmuel is a nine-volume work of Torah and Hasidic thought. He was a leading Hasidic thinker in early 20th-century Europe and a Rebbe to thousands of Hasidim in the Polish cities of Sochatchov and Łódź. Reb Shmuel was the only son of Rabbi Avrohom Bornsztain, author of Avnei Nezer and the first Sochatchover Rebbe. Through his father's line, he was a descendent of the Rema and the Shach. His mother, Sara Tzina Morgenstern, was the daughter of the Kotzker Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern. Shmuel was born in the home of his maternal grandfather, the Kotzker Rebbe, in Kotzk during the time that his father was being supported by his father-in-law, as was the custom in those days. He spent his childhood in the towns of Parczew and Krośniewice, where his father held positions as Rav. His Father was his primary Torah teacher throughout his childhood, and a close and long-lasting bond developed between the two. Even later in life, as the father of a large family, Shmuel regarded himself as his father's talmid (student) and learned with him every day. In his writings, Shmuel synthesized the values and insights of Kotzker Hasidut—as taught by his grandfather, the Kotzker Rebbe—and Peshischa Hasidut, synthesizing them into the unique style that became Sochatchover Hasidut. He was crowned second Sochatchover Rebbe following the death of his father in 1910 and was accepted by all the elder Hasidim of his father's court.
At the outbreak of World War I, he was visiting a spa in Germany and was arrested as a Russian citizen. Only after much effort did he succeed in returning to Poland with other Rebbes who had been similarly detained. Due to persecution of Jews by the Tsarist government, he could not return to Sochaczew, but resettled in Łódź with his family. Here he acted as a guide and advisor to his own Hasidim as well as Hasidim of other dynasties and non-Hasidim seeking encouragement and support. In 1919, Bornsztain chose to leave the tumult of the big city, which was taking its toll on his health as well as his ability to concentrate on his holy work, and relocated to Zgierz, a small town near Łódź . Here he established his yeshiva and led his Hasidic court. His health worsened in 1926 and, upon the advice of his doctors, he moved to Otwock, a resort near Warsaw. There he died at the age of 70 on 8 January. He was brought to burial in the same ohel (covered grave) as his father, the Avnei Nezer, in Sochaczew
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TYPES OF JEWS IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK
Grave/ Kevarim people – I always like to point out to my tourists the difference between Israelis and Americans. I believe that if one went over to the average non-orthodox Jew in the States and told them that you were going to take them on a trip to visits some rabbi’s graves they would think you’re crazy. Here in Israel though one can see the most secular Israeli, that may not even observe Shabbat or follow the kosher laws strictly yet almost everyone has gone on some pilgrimage to one of the hundredsof graves of great Rabbis or to our Patriarchs and Matriarchs from throughout the millennia that we have been here. The truth is the first “tourists” to Israel the spies that Moshe sent out to the land our sages teach us stopped off at the cave of our ancestors in Hebron. So it’s a pretty ancient tradition. Today anyone that goes to visit any of the graves will see in many of them barbeques, family dinners, memorial ceremony and even chalakas- three year old boys getting their first haircuts. Grooms and Brides come before their weddings, many parents who have children serving in the army come regularly to these holy sites to be inspired by the ones that are buried there and to beseech Hashem for mercy. That last point is an important one, because in Judaism we don’t pray to dead people. That’s the other team. We only daven to Hashem, but the merit and inspiration of the holy people that are there inspires our prayers.
Most of the graves and their locations really only date back to the 16th century and the Ari”Zl who identified them, although we have traditions about various locations and areas where they were buried from over a thousand years and in some cases more. There are different Rabbis that each have their own special segulas-specific things and prayers that are more fortuitous or auspicious (they both sound like nice big words that fit J) by their particular grave. Certainly on the various yartzeits it is customary to go to a particular tzadik’s grave. You can usually see buses advertised for these trips plastered on the walls of Chariedi neighborhoods. Yet I believe that sefardim are definitely in strong competition to be the ones that go the most frequently. Next week on Lag Ba’Omer is certainly the biggest turnout in Meron by the grave of the Rashbi- Reb Shimon Bar Yochai, as it draws close to a half million people and is the 2nd most visited site in Israel after the Western Wall. As I told somebody last week. In the States you come to eat and to shop. In Israel we come to pray. Visiting graves and the grave people that are there-many of them even seeing it as a full time occupation-studying Torah and saying psalms for others, is certainly part of our incredible holy society.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TERRIBLE ISRAEL JOKES OF THE WEEK
My mother is a typical Jewish mother. Once she was on jury duty.
They sent her home. She insisted SHE was guilty.
Two bees buzz around what's left of a rose bush. "How was your summer?" asks bee number one. "Not too good," sez bee two. "Lotta rain, lotta cold. Not enough flowers, not enough pollen."
The first bee has an idea. "Hey, why don't you go down the corner and hang a left? There's a bar mitzvah going on. Plenty of flowers and fruit." Bee two buzzes, "Thanks!" and takes off.
An hour later, the bees bump into each other again. "How was the bar mitzvah?" asks the info-bee. "Great!" sez buddy-bee.
The first bee peers at his pal and wonders, "What's that on your head?"
"A yarmulke," is the answer. "I didn't want them to think I was a wasp."
A young boy had just gotten his driving permit. He asked his father, who was a rabbi, if they could
discuss his use of the family car. His father took him into his study and said, "I'll make a deal with you.
You bring your grades up, study your Talmud a little, get your hair cut and then we'll talk about it."
After about a month, the boy came back and again asked his father if they could discuss his use of
the car. They again went into the father's study where the father said- "Son, I've been very proud of you. You have brought your grades up, you've studied the Talmud diligently, but you didn't get your hair cut."
The young man waited a moment and then replied,
"You know Dad, I've been thinking about that. You know Samson had long hair, Moses had
long hair, Noah had long hair, and even King David had long hair."
The rabbi said, "Yes, and everywhere they went, they walked.
A Bubby was giving directions to her grown grandson who was coming to visit with his wife:
"You come to the front door of the apartment complex. I am in apartment 14T. There is a big panel at the door. With your elbow push button 14T. I will buzz you in. Come inside, the elevator is on the right. Get in, and with your elbow hit 14. When you get out I am on the left. With your elbow, hit my doorbell".
"Bubby, that sounds easy, but why am I hitting all these buttons with my elbow"?
"You're coming empty handed?"
Answer is C – Moshe’s Yartzeit is the 7th of Adar. Right month wrong day. The Yom HaKadish Haklali the day establishd by the chief Rabbinate in 1951 as the day to say Kaddish for everyone who perished in the Holocaust and the day when they died or were murdered is not known. They established it on the 10th of Tevet. Two years later the Knesset decided to establish the day on the 27th of Nisan. The Rabbanut was not so happy about this, because Nisan is a festive month, known as the month of redemption and we don’t recite the tachanun prayer for the entire month. So many of religious world still commemorate the Kaddish on the 10th of Tevet which is a fast day anyways. The correct answer though is of course the battle of Tel Chai of 1920. What the Zionists refer to as the first Zionist battle. 8 settlers died in the battle including Yosef Trumpledor (not to be confused with that guy from Harry Potter). Every year there is a memorial ceremony for the “Heroes of Tel Chai” by the golden roarin lion monument there. And the Bnai Akiva youth hike from there to Biriya to commemorate the fall and rise of Biriya under the British which took place on the 11th of Adar. And there you have it.