Our view of the Galile

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Righteous, man!-Noach 5775/2014

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

October 24th  2014 -Volume 5, Issue 1 -30th  of Tishrei 5775
Parshat Noach
Righteous, man!
It was a random call. I was building my Sukkah, getting ready for the chag in the few spare moments I had in between my tours, but hey you gotta answer the phone because ya never know. "Hi", the sweet voice on the line said. "I was referred to you as someone who does tours around Israel." I like calls that start off that way J. "Sure" I said "what can I help you with?"
"Well I'm here with some friends of mine and we were wondering, if you take people to tzadikim", 
she asked.

"All the time", I said. Now I had already began to develop a client profile in my mind. These were probably a few girls or young women obviously Orthodox yeshiva oriented. Probably have been back in the States after their "year" in seminary who probably have not yet found their bashert/soulmate yet, and most likely have saved up some money to come to Israel and visit some of the graves of some of our holy righteous people/tzadikim where they could pray in a meaningful way for their hearts desires. I've done those kind of tours. Many have even found their bashert. (Funny aside anecdote; Once on one of these types of trips the girl in the car afterwards starts having a conversation with her mother back in the States about her future Mother-in-Law. Man! I thought and told her, I know these prayers work but that was pretty fast. She explained through peals of laughter that she was actually engaged before the trip already and was just coming to pray for her upcoming wedding…But yes she had gotten engaged not long after praying here in Israel.)
Anyways although I had read these clients right, it became very clear a few minutes into the conversation as she began giving me the names of the places and people she wanted visit that I had had a misunderstanding. Because as far as I knew all the tzadikim that they had mentioned were actually all still alive and well.

"Oh" I said "you mean you want to visit live tzadikim. I didn't understand", I apologized. "I'm sorry I don't do those types of tours." Now don't get me wrong. I have the greatest respect and awe for many of the great righteous people that I truly believe it is in whose merit, Torah study, kind deeds, and prayers that Hasem sustains the world and continues to shine favor and mercy on us. I also have tremendous faith that their blessings and prayers on our behalf do have the power to bring mercy and beneficence down from heaven. I just don't do those types of tours. Personally, it's because I respect them so much and the value of their Torah that I don't want to trouble them with photo ops with young bar mitzvah boys and tourists all the time. In addition I hate waiting on long lines particularly on hot sweaty days in small waiting rooms. I do however know some great tour guides that specialize in this type of tour. They are great in jumping over poor widows, orphans, homeless and sickly people that are looking blessing, comfort and salvation and sneaking their well- paying tourists into the "backdoor" so that they can get their quicky bracha and traditional picture without having to wait. It's just not my thing. Now dead Tzadikim are something else. I'm fine with that . I just don't really do the live ones.

So we cleared up the misunderstanding. I think she kind of felt the way I do by the time we finished our conversation. She decided to opt for the dead tzadikim tour. Truth is, I was booked anyways but I happily gave her instructions on how and where to go and of course concluded our conversation with my personal blessing and best wishes to her and her friends. As far as I know she's not engaged yet. But if she does get engaged soon, you're all free to E-Mail me for a blessing as well J.

This week's Torah portion begins with the well-known story of the first Tzadik of the world.And Noach was and Ish Tzadik- a righteous man, Tamim Haya B'dorosuv- He was complete/perfect in his generation. Like all good tzadikim,( particularly Jewish ones-although Noach was actually pre-Jews and Jewish), right away your commentaries and sages start to note and question and critique. Maybe he was only righteous in his generation where there pretty much wasn't any competition because pretty much everyone was pretty bad. But had he lived in a better generation like Abraham's then as the guys in the back of the shul would say "Ehh"  he wouldn’t be anything special. As the saying goes you can't please everyone all the time. But the truth of the matter is as many of the commentaries note this is the first time in the first 1500 years of the history of the world and in the Torah that someone is called a Tzadik. And as the great Gaon of Vilna notes if you truly want to understand a Hebrew word and concept one needs to go back to the beginning when it is first mentioned. So what is a Tzadik? How would you define someone who is righteous?

It's interesting that the word Tzadik is the same root as two other words that are seemingly opposite concepts. The first is Tzedaka which generally we translate as charity. The second word is Tzedek which is translated as justice. It would seem that these two concepts are polar opposites. Justice is when I get something I deserve and charity is something I either give or receive when it is undeserved. The truth though our sages tell us is that the two concepts are really the same. For in truth why does one person have and another not? Is it fair? He should have the big fancy house and car and I should be driving my jalopy and another living in squalor. The answer is that all that we have is undeserved. We have done nothing to receive or earn our lives, our health and our wealth. It is all from above. It is all from the our Father in heaven. Our job in this world is to recognize that since we are the recipients of His kindness we are meant to share and give that light and love with others that do not have it. This is justice. This is charity. This is what being a Tzadik truly means. One who can share and teach a world that our lives are truly blessings and that we are here to become God-like by in turn becoming givers to the world in connecting them with that basic principle of life. It is fascinating that we find many places where Hashem as well is referred to as a Tzadik; for He is the source of all righteous-ness. Being a Tzadik means connecting to that which is right. Righteous, man!

One last interesting idea about a Tzadik that I understood on one of my many tours down to the Dead Sea area, where not too many Tzadikim live, not too many people either. But there are a lot of Palm trees there. And it is a fascinating thing about plam trees. You see unlike other trees, palm trees grow in the worst possible conditions such as the Dead Sea, where there are tons of them. Palm trees grow with barely any water or rainfall. They can withstand extreme heat, terrible soil and in fact I was told that the saltier and worse the sand they grow in is the sweeter the dates are. King David in his psalm about the day of Shabbos writes that a Tzadik flourishes like a date palm. The Tzadik is someone who can grow in the worst conditions. The two biblical figures that are referred to as Tzadikim are Noach and Joseph. Noach lived in the absolute worst place and time. A world filled with licentiousness, thievery, corruption and just plain evil. It is there that he became a Tzadik. Similarly Joseph who grew up far away from the yeshivas and religious community of his brother and father, but rather in the home of Pharaoh in Egypt of all places, what our sages refer to as the source of all Tumah/impurity and idolatry. There he becomes Yosef Ha'Tzadik. A tzadik doesn't neccesarily have to grow and flourish only in Bnai Brak, Lakewood Boro Park or Jerusalem. A Tzadik is someone who can flourish like a Tamar/ a date palm in the places where he can most impact the world and continue to grow, thrive and inspire.

This Shabbos Jews around the world have chosen to dedicate to sharing perhaps our most special gift from Hashem; the gift of Shabbos. Shabbos, the day that we recite this Psalm of King David, we recognize that V'Ameich Kulam Tzadikim- Hashem's nation are all truly righteous. Tens of thousands of Jews across the world will turn off their phones, their computers their "social" media and celebrate Shabbos as a day when we refrain from all acts of creative activity in order to bask in a world that has a Creator. Many Jews and organizations that observe a traditional Shabbos regularly will be sharing this Shabbos with many of our brothers and sisters who have yet to appreciate the beauty of this special day. It is a weekend that we can all become Tzadikim. But it was never meant to be "just one Shabbos". It was meant to be a world full of Shabbos. Shabbos is the day which we are told brings all the blessing to the world. You may not have a Tzadik that lives next to you or a tour guide that can take you to, one either dead or alive, but we all have Shabbos with which to receive that ultimate blessing from our Father who is the source of it all. May this Shabbos be the beginning of many more blessed ones to come.
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

"The Pure Tzadkim do not decry wickedness rather they increase righteousness, they do not decry heresy rather they increase faith, they do not decry ignorance rather they increase wisdom  ." Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohein Kook

(answer below at end of Email)
 Q.  During which period were ossuaries (gluskemaot) used for burial in the Land of Israel?
a.       First and Second Temple
b.      Chalcolithic and Second Temple
c.       Bronze and Hellenistic
d.      Second Temple and Crusader
 New feature!-last year we did Gematria which is the Remez portion of Torah this year we start Drash enjoy!
 When Hashem commanded Noach "two of each you shall bring in the ark" all creatures came in pairs.
Sheker/Falsehood also wanted to come in. Noach said to him "You can't come in without mate"
As he was searching for a mate he met Tragedy
"From where are you coming from?" asked Tragedy
"I come from Noach's ark I wanted to enter but was refused because I have no mate. Do you want to be my mate?"
"Gladly," replied Tragedy "but what do I get in return?"
"Whatever I aquire you may take"
"A deal" said Tragedy
So Sheker/falsehood and Tragedy entered the ark together in an eternal partnership that whatever Falsehood acquires Tragedy takes it away.
Yalkut Shimoni

(New year figure we'll offer a new feature-Let me know what you think)

Visiting graves of Tzadikim – Yes there is a whole tourist market for this. Jewish tradition tells us that dating back to the time of the first Jewish visitors/tourist to this country our ancestors  Joshua and Caleb who spied out the land before we moved here stopped off in Hebron to pray by the graves of our forefathers. And Jews have been coming since. However just to clarify this fascinating practice many of our sages explain that we as Jews (as opposed to other religions) believe that we only pray to Hashem, not his "son" or prophets or cows and not even to his righteous tzadikim. We have a direct line and we do not require any intermediaries. Rather graves of the righteous are a place to go to pray to Hashem because being within the proximity of  the tzadik who is buried there is meant to inspire our prayers and in the merit of us connecting with that tzadik who served Hashem our power of prayer becomes strengthened. In addition we can beseech the soul of the Tzadik to implore before Hashem for his children in addition to our own prayers. Throughout Israel there are many graves of many of our greatest sages, as well as our Patriarchs, Matriarchs and many of our biblical figures many of the traditions of their burial places go back hundreds and in some cases over a thousand years. Many of the graves are painted blue and I am told that the reason for this is to remind us as the blue string on our tzitzit fringes do to adjust our eyes and hearts to heaven as the tzadik who guides us did rather than to mistakenly pray to the tzadik. Spending a whole day visiting graves is not for everyone, but a trip to Israel should certainly include a trip to some of these holy places as well.

The official Shabbat project and how it looked last year in South Africa where it first started!
An interesting and cute take on what can happen this Shabbos…

Hey Even Paula Abdul is into it

TOP NINE Noach Facebook Updates
9. "I can't believe my wife, she only packed one bottle of Fabreeze???"
8.  "Note to self: never put unicorns in the same cage as lions"
7.  "Looking for a shidduch for my son Ham, tough kid to setup with a name like that"
6.  Noah was tagged in the album "Animal House"
5.  "Lions, Tigers and Bears, Oy Veh!"
4.  Shuffleboard upper deck, who's in?
3.  Noah likes rainbows
2.  "New Expression: 'Save it for a Sunny Day'"
1.  "Anyone find Earth on Google Earth?"


Answer is B:  This was a pretty tricky question as the copper (chalcolite) period and the second temple are ae a few thousand years apart. But yet it is during those periods where we find people doing a two part burial. First in the ground and a cave and then after a year the bones would be gathered and placed in a box made of clay or stone or whatever and put in a family plot plot. The gemara talks about this and discusses whether it is a happy occasion or mourning. There are some that suggest as well that this is one of the sources for the recitation of Kaddish for a year or the placing of a tombstone at that point as tradition has it that after a year the soul is elevated and has finished its atonement.

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..