Insights and Inspiration
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
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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!
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S FAVORITE QUOTES OF THE WEEK
"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
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
(answer below at end of Email)
Q. A luxurious latrine from the Byzantine Period was found at:
1. The City of David (Ir David)
3. Bet She’an
4. The Hisham Palace (Khirbet al-Mafjar)
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL GEMATRIA OF THE WEEK
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
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL PLACES IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK
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.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK
The classic who's on first with Abbot and Costello
and the sequel
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S FIRST TIME JOKE OF THE WEEK
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!