Our view of the Galile

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A Yom Kippur Song- Yom Kippur 5775 2014

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

October 2nd  2014 -Volume 4, Issue 46 -8th  of Tishrei 5775
Yom Kippur 5775
A Yom Kippur Song
They called him Yoyli. Or at least they used to, when he was still part of the "Kehilla"; the hasidic Satmar community he was raised in. But it wasn't for him. He was Joe now. Joe the agnostic, Joe the sinner, Joe the "bum". It didn't bother him that much. He had friends; it seems that there were quite a few that didn't fit in to the Satmar mold, that didn't make it in "the system". So they left. They found jobs in the city and left the life that they felt restricted them too much, that stifled them and defined who and what they must be. The beards got trimmed, the payo/sidleocks chopped off, The Yarmulka got replaced with a baseball cap and very soon nothing at all. Their observances as well seemed to have fallen of the Williamsburg bridge crossing into the city .First to go was their Teffilin and prayers, Kosher soon followed, then Shabbos and the holidays. Joe and "the boys" were "free".

The first Yom Kippur after their 'official Exodus" was coming up. "Let's celebrate" Jake (formerly yankel) suggested. "How about making a big bonfire, BBQ, party with the crew, I actually found a great new butcher "Tony's" great Italian sausages and tenderloins." Joe offered to bring the boombox (do they still call it that?), Jake was bringing the meat, Kayla and Sarah offered to make the salads and Jimmy (formerly Yirmiyahu or Yirmy) was bringing the booze. There was about 15 of them total and they were all psyched about their upcoming Yom Kippur party. It was going to be the night were they showed they had moved beyond their past baggage.

Things didn't work out the way they had planned though. They had a hard time getting the fire started. Seems that kind of got left out in their cheder education and they kind of never did the boy scout thing before. The meat didn't really taste as good as they had hoped. The booze was just fine though. It seems 'Captain' Jack was working hard to get them high that night although Jimmy did say he wouldn't mind a bit of shlivovitz or 'Alteh Zayde' (old grand dad) to top it all off. Joe decided to liven things up a bit and put on the Stereo with all the latest pop hits. But after a while the crew from Satmar realized that they really didn't know any of the songs.The disc he had bought of the greatest dance hits of the decade was about 5 year olds and sadly for them had a bunch of songs that they had failed to pick up during their year of freedom. And then the stereo died. "Oh well" Jimmy said "let's sing some songs that we do know. Hey, how bout this one?" he said with a smug smirk on his face. He then broke out sacrilegiously in the tune of the Kol Nidrei prayer of the Satmar community that they were part of. They all raised their beers and clinked them together. Finally a song that they all knew. And they began to sing…and sing… and sing..

At first their singing was a mocking. It they imitated the nuances, the choir, the funny guy in the back that always sang of key. But slowly something happened. The singing became a bit more soulful with the flickering embers. Their eyes slowly began to close and their voices began to rise with sentiment and emotion. The beers were put down and the Yom Kippur davening continued.

"BiYeshiva Shel Maalah UBiyishiva Shel Mata Anu Matirin LhitPalel Im Kol Ha'Avaryanim-In the Heavenly Court and in the Earthly court below we hereby permit to pray with all of the sinners".

"It was the most powerful Yom Kippur of my life", Joe said as he registered in Yeshivas Aish Hatorah in Jerusalem a month later. "We all went home that night somberly and quietly. We had been transported to some place incredible. For the first time I understood and appreciated how precious my soul is, how no amount of running and hiding will ever turn off that powerful heavenly magnet that resided in me. I knew I had a neshoma and I knew that no matter how far I went, I would never be complete…I would never truly be me… unless I developed it, I incorporated it, I lived up to what my soul was capable of becoming. I'm here to learn. To start fresh. To become the Jew my Father in heaven wants me to be"

This past week, Shabbat Shuva we read the Torah portion of Haazinu, or perhaps to be more accurate we read the song of Haazinu. It is the portion that is always read around Yom Kippur. Although the entire Torah is holy and important the song of Haazinu is arguably the most important part of the Torah. Maimonides in his description of the last Mitzvah in the entire Torah, which is to write a Torah scroll write that that mitzvah comes from the verse

"And now you shall write for them this song and place it in their mouths". The true mitzvah is to write down this final song of the Torah, however since we cannot write just one portion of the Torah by itself so we are obligated to write the entire Torah, But in truth it is all about the song. And what is this song? It describes the heavens and earth testifying to the eternality of our covenant with Hashem. It urges us to never forget our history, our roots. It talks about how we will violate the commandments and sin and how we will be punished and exiled. And finally it talks about our return, the vengeance with which Hashem will punish all those who have persecuted us. This is the song of the Torah, it is the song of all ages of our people that is deep within every Jew's soul.

Nachmanides, the great 13th century sage the Ramban write that this song is the ultimate promise to our nation that we have never been abandoned. Even more fascinating, he writes that the song does not even suggest that Teshuva/ repentance is not even a prerequisite for this eternal promise. We are always His children, we will certainly return. This is the music of our soul, it is this more anything else that the Torah wanted us to have written down
We approach what will hopefully be the last Yom Kippur before we see the end of this song fulfilled. We have seen and sung our songs of hope, our songs of rebellion, our songs of exile and our songs of return. Yet our souls are still longing for that ultimate song of redemption; the cleansing song of forgiveness, of healing of consolation and of the final return of our Abba to us, to Yerushalayim with our/His Temple and home rebuilt. The words of the Torah many of us have forgotten and have not fully upheld, but that one song that is so deeply embedded in each of us is just waiting to burst forth.

As I do every year, I would like to ask forgiveness from any and all of you who I may have offended or slighted this past year. It was certainly never my intent to cause pain or hurt to anyone. I would also like to express my appreciation to all those who have communicated and given me feedback over the year and particularly those who have generously contributed to our Synagogue and programs. Your words and donations mean a tremendous amount to me and inspire me to continue to share my inspiration, musings and jokes J with you. Thank you for being my hearing board. It is my hope that you will all be blessed and sealed with a year that is full of joy, happiness, health,
Parnassa livelihood and maybe even Aliyah for those that are still not fortunate enough to live here yet. And I hope that you can find it in your hearts to have myself and my family in your prayers as well as all of those that we know that so desperately need salvation and miracles from Hashem be it in finding their Basher/Soulmate, be it in having children, or overcoming struggles in matters of health, finding a job or making ends meet, or those that are undergoing challenges from with their children, parents, or other struggles. As well please have in mind our country and our soldiers that we should have a year of peace, with no more losses, no more tragedies and a year that will finally bring the redemption. If we are all praying for one another, than our Father in heaven will look down upon us His family and seal us all for a Gut G'Bentch'd year.

Shana Tova and Gmar Chatima Tovah

Warmly, your friend in Karmiel

Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

"When you come to Shamayim we may have answers as to why we sinned, we were weak, the challenges were to hard, we couldn’t overcome our inclination…our main judgement will be though on why we did not do Teshuva…why we didn't just say we were sorry and return to our Father who is waiting for us"-Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman

"99% of Teshuva is not focused on the past, rather it is focused on the future." The Rebbe from Slonim

(answer below at end of Email)
 Q. Zodiac wheel decorations were found at:
a.       Migdal and Sephoris (Tsipori)
b.      Bet Alfa and Bet She’arim
c.       Hamat Tiberias and Bet Alfa
d.      En Gedi and Um-al-Qantir
 Perhaps one of the most moving prayers of Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur davening is Nesana Tokef which describes the Day of judgment and the awe and trepidation up in heaven. The prayer concludes with the statement Teshuva Tefila and Tzedaka Mavirin Es Ro'ah Ha'Gezeira- that Repentance, Prayer and Charity remove the harsh decree. On top of those three words in little letters it says three words Tzom (fast), Kol (voice), and Mamon (money). Those three words each have a gematria of 136. In the added psalm we recite each day since the beginning of the month of Elul has the sentence that B'zot An Botayach-in times of trouble in this I have faith. B'Zot- in this in gematria is 408 the sum 136+136+136 those three tips that remove the decree. In addition my Rebbe noted to me that although charity may be difficult and teshuva may feel challenging Prayer/Kol serve in place of the other two as it says in song of songs Ki Koleich Areiv because your voice can is pleasant  also can be translated as  your voice serves as an Areiv a guarantor. The word Areiv is Gematria 272 which is the gematria of 136+136 the gematria of Tzom And Mamon that prayer can serve as guarantor for the other two.


Har Azazel - the fun part of the trip to see the famous and significant site which was the peak ( excuse the pun) of the Temple service on Yom Kippur during the first and second Temples, is that the only way to get there is by jeep- or a very long difficult hike through the Judean desert. The Torah tells us how each Yom Kippur the High priest would take two identical goats and through a certainly deeply mysterious process would perform a lottery declaring one goat as being sacrificed to God and one to go to "Azazel" (which our sages teach us is the angel of our evil twin brother- the "other" brother and twin of Jacob and child of Rivkah and Yitzchak above). The Azazel goat would then be taken for a thirteen KM hike (in biblical measurements) by a priest (who would not live out the year) to the highest mountain peak in the Judean Desert passing along the way 10 booths that were set up to escort him to the peak offering him food and drink should he need although it was Yom Kippur (he never did). Upon arriving there a string was tied to his horns and the goat would be thrown off the mountain top to its death along with all the sins of Israel.
P.E.T.A (people for the ethical treatment of animals would not approve of this ritual- but they don't like me eating steak drinking milk eggs or cheese either). The Talmud records for us that when the Jewish people achieved atonement-meaning that this service included remorse for their sins and a dedication to repair their ways, there was a red string that would turn white in the Temple letting them know that they had been forgiven. For the first forty years of the Temple it always turned white after that it was touch and go...
When we returned after 2000 years to Israel and recaptured the Judean desert in 1967, archeologists wanted to verify that this was indeed the place although this is the highest peak in the Desert and the proscribed distance. They built a model goat identical in weight and build to a real goat (built according to PETA standards) and pushed it off hoping to see where it landed and to find ancient goat bones.
Sure enough they found bones and were very excited until.... They saw some Bedouins come later that night and make a barbeque there in the desert and realized they had come upon a modern barbeque spot rather than an ancient Temple ritual location. Yet most agree that although there is no way to find 2000 year old goat bones this is indeed the location of that ancient ritual. We will just have to wait for the rebuilding of our Temple with the coming of Mashiach to confirm it.

I  Don't know what to make of these clips below besides hopeful that maybe Mashiach is coming pretty cool though strange shofar sounds heard around the world. Even more interesting is the Talmud quoted in the 2nd clip that predicts this happening in the shemitta year before mashiach comes

someone told me that this is here in Karmiel pretty wild..

Reb Shlomo Carlebach Kol Nidrei

A middle aged Jewish woman goes in search of a famous guru. She takes a plane to India and then a boat up a river, and then hikes into the mountains with local guides. All in all it takes her months of hardship to track down this guru. When she finds him he is in the middle of some kind of ritual which lasts for days and the guru's followers won't let her see him. Finally the guru is ready to receive visitors and calls for the woman to be admitted. She stands before the famous guru. "Harvey," she says. "It's time to come home!".'
An old rabbi was having a discussion with a young agnostic. The younger man told the rabbi, "According to Nietzsche, God is dead. "The rabbi thought for a moment, then replied, "According to God, Nietzsche is dead."

Answer is C:  There are many Synagogues found in Israel from the period of the Mishna and Talmud (2nd-6th century) and perhaps one of the most interesting things that we find in those ancient shuls are the central mosaic motifs on the floor that are the Zodiac astrological wheels in some of the synagogues we even find besides pictures of the various astrological signs a central image of the mythological Greek goddess "Helios" with her long blonde hair and chariot of horses leading schlepping the sun. Not an image you would expect to find in a shul today. Some have suggested that the signs of the Zodiac or as our sages referred to them as "mazalot" was showing that the world is controlled by these signs but we the Jewish nation are above Mazal and our controlled only by the direct Divine. Regardless as far as the question above Tzippori has the Zodiac as well as Beit Alfa and Hamat Gader and I think Um al Quaniter in the Golan as well but I don't remember. Ein Gedi is unique in that it has a list of the signs but no picture. So C is the only correct answer with both choices.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Up Close and Personal- Nitzavim/Vayeilech 2014 5744

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

September 19th  2014 -Volume 4, Issue 45 -24th  of Elul 5774
Parshat Nitzavim/VaYeilech
Up Close and Personal

I almost missed it. The road between Tzefat and Meron is quite curvy and as I was coming across the 
bend by the Birya forest, out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw something that looked strange. I stepped on my brakes hurriedly, very carefully made a U-Turn and sure enough my eyes did not deceive me. There they were. What they were doing there… I wasn’t sure. But this is the mystical mountains of Israel and I knew that there most certainly was going to be a good story or at least a worthwhile E-Mail that as your “man on the ground” I was obligated to investigate.

So I got out of my car and slowly and quietly made my way over to this strange sight on the side of the road. They were a very mixed crowd of about 20 women. There were older and younger women. Some were obviously very religious with head coverings and wigs. Others were younger with rings and piercings dressed more “street –like”. Some seemed were more put together women and some who seemed like they could use a hand-out. Yet the diversity of the women was not what caught my eye, rather it what each of them was doing that seemed very bizarre. For each one of them was standing next to their own tree, with their eyes closed in some type of meditation and hugging the tree for dear life. Now I come from Seattle and New York and have certainly seen quite a few strange people and things in my life. But the range and the diversity of these women coupled with what seemed like either some biblical styled tree worship or some type of science fiction mind morphing alien abduction definitely took the cake.

I approached one of them and asked what was going on and was shhhh’ed away back to my corner. All of a sudden a woman who seemed to be leading this group shouted out some type of command that unfortunately I did not understand and could not make out. But within a second I was shaken to my core when each woman let out a deep guttural scream, almost tarzan-like on the tops of their lungs for a full 30 second or so.

AAAAAAiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!!!!!!!!!!! OYYYYYYYYYYYY!

It was suddenly very quiet again. Each woman went back to her silent intense tree-hugging meditation and then once again three minutes later with even more intensity.


This continued one more time and then they all smiled at each other hugged and embraced and made their way back to their bus that was parked there.

I couldn’t restrain myself anymore. I walked over to the “leader” and asked her what this was all about.  Was this some environmentalist thing, some far out eastern religion, or maybe some type of candid camera thing that my reaction was being filmed for? She smiled at me and explained.

Actually”- she said “this is a very Jewish thing. You see these women have all suffered some type of tragedy. Some have lost their children, others are from abusive relationships and others have sunk to the bottom and are in so much pain they could barely pick themselves up. We are a support group for these women and we have found that one of the most effective means of helping them is by utilizing the great wisdom and insight of Rebbe Nachman of Breslav”.

Rebbe Nachman advises that when one is so overcome and overwhelmed and feels that he or she has nowhere to turn; they should go out to the forest, a place of quiet, solitude…of holiness. There in the forest one should feel the life force that flows from the heavens, the earth and the trees. One should contemplate how each leaf and each branch rises up and is cared for and loved by the Master of this Divine universe. And then one should pour out all of their pain and woe to our Father who has never left our side and who sits and joins us in our sorrow or loss and our hurt. That knowledge and personal connection is the essence of their relief. Hashem is not just a concept and ideology or a global manipulator. He is a personal God who is there to hold our hand and bring us up and closer to His presence.

The great 18th century Chasidic Rebbe, Reb Yackov Yitzchak of Peshischa, known as the Yid Ha’Kadosh in this week’s Torah portion shares with us this very powerful idea. We learn hownn Moshe in his final speech to the Jewish people warns them to heed our special covenant that is being made with each individual.

“ Your leaders, tribes, elders, officers, each man, infant, woman,  convert in your camp from the wood chopper to the water carrier… those who are standing here today and those that are not here with us today…”
Perhaps there is amongst you a man, woman, tribe, family or tribe whose heart is turned away from Hashem our God… “Pen Yeish Bachemperhaps there is within you a root that bears poison and bitterness…”

The Yid Hakodosh reads the verse, that the root that bears the poison and the bitterness is actually the “perhaps” itself. Pen -Yaish Bachem- There is doubt within you. That is what the source of your pain is. That is the root which will fester and grow and it, and it is from there that all sadness, sorrow and sin result.

I walked away from the bus somberly. It was not them who were taken over by aliens rather it was me. Alien thoughts, foreign reliance’s, a forgetfulness of the essence of who I truly am and the world I truly exist in, but fail to see and appreciate. But most of all the powerful love and caring that my Father has for me.

This week each of us will stand by ourselves before Hashem. “Like a sheep passing underneath the rod- Hashem counts and brings us close to Him as he decrees the upcoming year’s outcome for us. Our prayers for the New Year should not only be for ourselves, but for all of Klal Yisrael, for Eretz Yisrael, for Jews that are in pain and for all those that need relief, comfort, redemption and salvation. But our prayers should not be like those of the past. They should not just be read as an organized book of prayers and rituals. Rather they should be conversations of the most personal and deepest nature to our Father who is yearning for us to be close to Him. Who stands with His pen poised to give us all that we need and could possibly hope for if we only were able to really deeply tell Him how badly we want it, how much we need it. How real He is us to us and how much we need this year to be better and different…closer…home…peace…returned.

Have a fantastic last Shabbos of the year,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

" If you believe that you can damage, then believe that you can fix.."
“If you won't be better tomorrow than you were today, then what do you need tomorrow for?”
" It is good to make a habit out of looking at the sky."
Rebbe Nachman of Breslav

(answer below at end of Email)
 Q. The fortress Herod built on the northwestern part of the Temple Mount was named for:
1.        Marcus Agrippa
2.        Augustus
3.        Sebastus
4.        Marcus Antonius
 A nice reminder this week we begin, as every year in the Ashkenazic community, to recite Selichot the extra supplications  to get us in the mode and increase our teshuva before Rosh Hashana, The gematria of the words that start off this weeks parsh "atem nitzavim hayom"- and you shall stand up today is the same as "La'amod La'Selichos-to arise for selichot! Hows that for a nice reminder..


Biriya- in the heart of the second largest forest in Israel right outside of the city of tzefat lies this small little hilltop and fortress that in the 1940's captured the heart and soul of our soon to be fledgling nation. The yishuv of Birya mentioned as the home of various tana'aim in the Talmud and also the place where Rabbi Yosef Karo wrote his first volume of Shulcah Aruch- the code of Jewish law on Orach Chaim was abandoned in the 17th century until the jews started to return here with the assistance of Baron Rothschild and P'IKA(Palestine Jewish Colonization Association) who purchased the land in the 1890's and was first settled unsuccessfully in the 1920's.
In 1945 with the British limiting Jewish purchase of land in Israel and emigration, the Jews fought back by occupying hilltops and establishing Jewish settlements. Birya, being one them, was occupied by 24 young men from the Palmach as a training camp for young recruits. However the British after finding an illegal arms cache expelled the Jews from the settlement. This being the first time the British had thrown Jews out of a settlement raised uproar amongst the Jews. And on the 11th of Adar a few days later (taanis Esther that year) thousands of Jews who pretended to be going to their annual pilgrimage to Tel Chai detoured to Birya and reestablished the camp. The next day after many of the groups had left. The British once again came with tanks and threw the Jews out. But the Jews would not be stopped and that Friday evening and Shabbos the Jews returned for the third time from Rosh Pinna and Tzefat- even getting permission to bring food on Shabbos as the Rav of Tzefat felt that it was a dangerous area that protected the city from the arabs around them. And the British finally caved and allowed 20 men to remain and work the ground. Jews celebrated that Purim throughout the country and until today each year Purim of Birya is celebrated as youth groups from around the country relive that great moment when it was clear that the Jews were willing to do whatever it takes to never give up the land. Today one can visit the beautiful forest see the short film of the history of Birya in the visitor center and explore the old homes of this early Yishuv
Whistling Rosh Hashana
A Cute Rosh Hashana reminder video
beautiful Rosh Hashana song
Problem at The Shul (Synagogue)
Rick wanted to get into the Shul [synagogue] In Gants Hill, London on Rosh Hashanah, but without a ticket they don't let you in.
Rick pleads, 'Look, I just want to give a message to Morris in there.'
The man at the door says, 'Sorry sir, you've got to have a ticket.'
Rick replies, 'Just let me in for one minute, then I'll be right out.'
'Alright,' says the man at the door, 'but I better not catch you praying.'
Holiday Visit
Just before Rosh Hashanah, Becky moved and her grandson called to get directions to visit her in her new apartment.
“When you get to East 33rd Street and park, come to the entrance door at 970. I’m in apartment number 32 on the 8th floor. At the lobby door, you’ll see a big panel of buttons. With your elbow, push button 32. I will buzz you in. Come inside; the elevator is on the right. Get in, and with your elbow hit 8. When you get out, go to the left. With your elbow, hit my doorbell.”
“Grandma, that sounds easy, but why am I hitting all these buttons with my elbow?”
“You’re coming empty-handed?”

Answer is D:  Antonia was the name of the fortress built by Herod on the ruins of pevious Hashmonean fortress. It was from this fortress that the Titus and the Romans captured the Temple mount and destroyed the Bais Hamikdash. In the words of Josephus who described Jerusalem in the period of its destruction "the Temple overlooks and controls the city and the Anontia overlooks and controls the Temple He who controls it controls all three". Yes the Marc Antony is the same of the Julius Caesar and Cleopatra who was buddies with Herod and as they studied together in Rome (Herod was sent there by his father to learn in "yeshiva" gymnasium.) Its good to have buddies in Rome I guess..

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Who's on first? - Ki Tavo 2014/5774

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

September 11th  2014 -Volume 4, Issue 44 -16th  of Elul 5774
Parshat Ki Tavo
Who's on First?
Ahhh... there's nothing like firsts. For a tour guide like me that loves sharing the beauty and inspiration that our Holy Land possesses there is nothing more exciting than "First Timers". The awe and wonder that they have for every little step, every hill, stream, every nook and crannie that our forefathers certainly tread upon, every ancient building or stone that connects them to our ancestors, each story and each lesson are all a whole new world that opens up new vistas in their souls. And I get to be part of it. No there's nothing like first timers. Their tips are usually better as wellJ.

The truth is it's not just visitors to Israel. All firsts seem to hold a special place in a person's heart. Out first day in school, our first baseball game, our first love, (although for some those are sadly one and the same) our first born child, our first time in a new place, the first time cracking a new book, a new phone-actually scratch the last one I've been sitting for two hours trying to figure out how to work this new gadget my bro sent me. There's something magical about the first time. The newness and as of yet untapped potential, the excitement and anticipation are probably all part of the first time experience and why it is so meaningful and unforgettable. The question is what happens afterwards. Is it all downhill from there?

Now I have to give full disclosure here. I am a first born, as is my wife and of course we therefore had the first born child on both sides of the family and even the first born son after her. So I do have a bit of a prejudice for firsts. But if one would take biblical look at the whole first born thing. It doesn't seem to be that they faired very well. We are told that the first born sons who were meant to work in the Temple were replaced by the Kohanim from the tribe of Levi (The third born tribe!) Esau was the first born of Yitzchak and he lost it all to Yaakov who we come from. Yishmael the first born of Yitzchak as well didn’t make it to the final cut when it came to inheriting the land-I wish someone would tell them that already...L. And if we go back to the beginning of time we are introduced to the first born son in the entire world Cain. Yep he also became the first murderer-fratricide no less and since then it seems like it's all been downhill.

What makes me think of firsts and firstborns this week, besides that fact that my firstborn just started here first week in Seminary? This week's Torah portion of course, which spends an inordinate amount of time describing the mitzvah ofBikkurim the first fruits that are brought to Jerusalem by Jews from all over the country in the times of the Temple. This mitzvah which began Shavuot time would go all the way until Sukkot and for some crops even until Chanukah. Meaning tourism would be booming in the holy city. The Mishna describes the almost daily scene of Jews gathering sleeping in the city streets and then announcing their journey down to the holy city as they would gather more and more people along the way. When they would come to Jerusalem they would be greeted as they carried their wagons and golden decorated baskets with birds hanging down chirping from the sides up to the Temple Mount. They would approach the Kohen/priest there and offer their fruits and would recite an entire text that for those who read this weeks Torah portion should sound very familiar. The text that is read, is what we recite by our Pesach Seder that describes our journey that started with our "Saba" Lavan who tried to kill our grandfather Yaakov (his son-in-law; and thus starts another vicious Jewish cycle) all the way down to the persecution we suffered in Egypt and our ultimate Exodus and redemption. Yup Pesach story Haggada comes from here, the Mitzvah of the first fruits.

Now although this is a mitzvah of 'firsts' it is interesting that it is also one of the last mitzvahs in the Torah. The mitzvahs that follow include writing a Torah and gathering the Jewish people for the Hakhel ceremony where the Torah  is read for everyone. So one can say, that this is the last ritual mitzvah for the average Jew and it seems to be somewhat out of place here, during this last speech of Moshe. Not only is it the last speech but it is in fact, the Torah tells us said on his last day of life. Hayom Hazeh- this day you became a nation, this day you were commanded to fulfill all of the mitzvos, this day Moshe commanded the elders and the people. This day seems to be the repeated motif of this Parsha although seemingly we were commanded about 40 years prior to this on Sinai. The mitzvah of Bikurim itself seems to be talking in the first person as if the person himself experienced all of Jewish history that he relates, although the truth is in the times of the Temple he was probably a millennia away from those things. It is for this reason though that this text is selected for the Pesach Haggada as opposed to the actual narratives themselves in the book of Shemos/Exodus because here it me living the story. The Arami tried to kill my father, we went down to Egypt, they were wicked to us, they placed on us hard work, we cried out to Hashem...and Hashem heard us and He took us out and he brought us to this land flowing with milk and honey. I, me , us we seem to have gone through a time warp with this mitzvah. Which in truth is what are meant to feel on Passover, but yet I believe it goes even deeper if we examine this last, first, mitzvah.

We are commanded to take the Raishis Pri Adama- which is translated as the first of all fruits yet the word raishis really means as those of know the beginning of all fruits, like the first word in the Torah. Bereishis- in the beginning, in fact the Medrash notes that the entire Torah is called Raishis- the beginning and the Jewish people are also referred to as Reishis- the beginning and of course we have this mitzvah as well which is about the beginning. So let's start at the beginning- it’s a very good place to start, I'm told.

The truth of the matter is we really can't start from the beginning, because there really is no beginning. Hashem was always here. It's one of the benefits of He has of being infinite and beyond space. He's always been here and will always be as well. So there goes the beginning. We can start however with the letter B. or Beit Bereshis. After Hashem always existed he started creating the world. But our finite minds can't grasp the infinite and pre-creation existence. We think in the here and the now. We understand the world based on what we see and we perceive. In what Jewish philosophers call the world of Yeish the world of existence as opposed to the world of Ayn- the world of the infinite.

It kind of stinks to live in a world of the finite. Things die, moments of joy are precisely that- moments. We get old, the past is gone and the present is fleeting. Even the firsts quickly fall to the wayside. Yet Hashem never created us to live merely in finite world. He created us with a soul that strives toward the heavens. In the same way that gravity is there to pull us down physically, the soul is there to pull us up; to long and to really connect with the infinite, with the Ayn with our Eternal Creator. The more we tap into that spiritual world the more we become timeless, we become eternal. We become the same person that left Egypt as our ancestor, the same one that received the Torah on Sinai and the same Jew that came to this holy land for the first time. Today! For when we are connected to that first and we recognize that the first is only a continuation and a connection to the eternal than we have truly gone back to the beginning. Back to the eternality of our souls and our infinite existence.

This is the lesson of the farmers of Bikurim and the last mitzvah that Moshe teaches us that connects each one of us right back to our beginning. Each farmer who had worked and plowed, planted, and reaped pauses after all of that labor and says none of this is really my creation. There is nothing more dangerous for a farmer after all that work than to say say that it is all my hard work. Its all mine.It stops and ends here. To live in the world of Yeish and build a country of Yeishand to miss out on the infinite the eternal. our farmer rather turns his head upwards and taps into that raishis and recognizes all of this is from above. My firsts are merely my connection to my Father above, to my ancestors before me and to my Divine mandate on this world. It is this mitzvah more than any that the Torah tells us will fill you with the greatest joy. It is the first that lasts forever. Because it is the first that goes back to the start. On a deep spiritual level perhaps that is what is so magical about the first time of anything.  It brings us as close as we can get to eternal and the sense of beginning of where it all begins and He who is beyond all that is.

It is no coincidence that we read this Parsha right before the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana. Interestingly in Hebrew the new year is not called the Shana Chadasha which would be the literal translation. Rather it is called the Rosh the head of the year. The Rosh or head is also from the same root as Reishis. It is the beginning. The place of thought of the human mind the place that connects us and allows us to discern our spiritual exisitence. Similarly the Head of the year is not the time where we start a new year rather it is a time when we can begin again repeating our cycle of spiritual growth. In fact the word Shana actually mean repetition. There is no year, there is no beginning. On Rosh Hashana we move beyond time. We have the ability to not only erase the past but to change it into a different reality through the process of teshuva, returning...returning to the beginning. May each of us merit to see a year that brings us back once again to that glorious beginning that we have been longing for.
Have a Spectacular Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

As we approach the High Holidays I would like to take this opportunity to offer to all of you my faithful readers who enjoy our weekly insights and would like to show your appreciation at the end of the year as well as perhaps fulfill some of your last minute Ma'aser tithing obligations to share with you the chance to contribute to our Holyland Insights Blog. All contributions go to helping us with the expenses and programs of our synagogue the Young Israel of Karmiel that brings together Jews from across the spectrum from Chariedi, Daati Leumi, Ashkenaz, Sefard, Anglos and Israelis and even some of our secular neighbors. (that makes about 8 people..just jokingJ). We certainly can use your help and assistance and your contribution will mean a lot to assisting us in continuing and expanding our programs.
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Or for a US tax deductible receipt checks can made out to
American Friends of IYIM (International Young Israel Movement) and mailed to me
Rabbi Schwartz
10 Eshel, Karmiel, Israel 21681

For those of our readers that are member or attendees of our shul please feel free to contact me and drop off your contribution as well. We have very few members that pay us monthly dues as our synagogue is open to all. Yet each person that davens with us is part of our Karmiel family and could certainly feel comfortable contributing on either a monthly or an upfront annual basis for the year as well.
Todah and Shana Tova!
"The first time I see a jogger smiling I'll consider it."

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is God's gift, that's why we call it the present.

"I'm Jewish. I don't excercise. If God had wanted me to bend over, he would have put diamonds on the floor."-Joan Rivers OBM

(answer below at end of Email)
 Q. A luxurious latrine from the Byzantine Period was found at:
1.      The City of David (Ir David)
2.      Akko
3.      Bet She’an
4.      The Hisham Palace (Khirbet al-Mafjar)
The laws of Bikkurim the first fruits we are meant to bring to Jerusalem are not clear as to how much to bring our sages tell us that it is 1/60th of ones new fruits. The Baal Haturim suggests that a hint can be found when it says that one should put their fruits Ba'teneh in a basket. The gematria of the word basket is 60. In addition the letter Samach which equals 60 is not found in the entire portion that discusses the Bikkurim. How's about dem apples?? JJ


Beit She'an- Located south of the Kinneret in the Jordan valley the ancient city of Beit Shean consists of the older upper and Roman/byzantine lower city. The upper city/Tel sates back to the pre Israel Egyptian era. Which is kind of cool as one can see the idolatrous temples of ancient Egypt (even a dog fighting with a lion-see this week's Torah portion how the dogs which the Egyptians thought would protect them from plague didn't bark by the final plague). This upper Tel is also the site where Tanach tells us King Saul and his Yonasans heads were hung on the gates of the city by the philistines after they died in battle in by Gilboa (not far from here). It was eventually destroyed by King David built up as an administrative center by Shlomo and destroyed by Tigleth Pilasar and the Assyrians. The lower city was built up by the Hellenists and eventually the Greeks and was one of the Decapolis-10 cities that made a truce in the Roman Empire (the only one in Israel) and became known as Schitopolis. In the city one can see a classic Roman bathouse, temples, theater, monumental building and fountains, "pleasure area", shops and most fun for the kids... an ancient public bathroom. The was destroyed by and earthquake and went downhill from there in the subsequent arab and mamluk periods. Interestingly enough the city is mentioned as one of those that were exempt from Shvi's because the residents were very poor and it was not resettled during the 2nd Temple period. Today however it has the status of the rest of Israel.

The classic who's on first with Abbot and Costello
and the sequel

A man calls his wife as she is driving the first time on the highway and tells her
"Be careful, honey, I just heard on the radio that there is someone driving the wrong way on the highway"
"Somebody?!" she says "there are about a hundred people driving the wrong way here!"
One day, shortly after the birth of their new baby, the mother had to go out to do some errands, so the proud First time father stayed home to watch his wonderful new son.
Soon after the mother left, the baby started to cry. The father did everything he could think of, but the baby just wouldn't stop crying. Finally, the dad got so worried he decided to take the infant to the doctor.
After the doctor listened to all the father had done to get the baby to stop crying, the doctor began to examine the baby's ears, chest and then down to the diaper area. When he opened the diaper, he found it was indeed full.
"Here's the problem," the doctor explained. "He just needs to be changed."
The perplexed father remarked, "But the diaper package specifically says it's good for up to 10 pounds!"


Answer is C:  Beit She'an is the correct answer although it is a tricky question. The city of Dovid does have an ancient "toilet" but that is from the first temple period. Akko doesn't have one that I know of although there is a Talmud that talks about the bathouse of Akko (and how Rabbi Gamliel would go there with the statue of Aphrodite there claiming that he was there first!) the last place I've never even heard of but it sounded Arabic and in fact it is near Jericho which is why I never heard of it and the latrine there is from the Arabic periods. Beit Shean though is certainly the most popular and famous!