Our view of the Galile

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Shemos- Making it Happen

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
  December 23rd 2010 -Volume I, Issue 12–17th of Tevet 5771

Parshat Shemos 

Making it Happen
It has always been the least favorite part of my job in my field of Jewish educational outreach work. I love teaching, I love meeting people and introducing them to the beauty of their Jewish heritage. I even used to love preparing for our events, sweeping the floors, peeling potatoes, and cleaning up afterwards. I didn’t mind cold calling people and I relished new opportunities to go where no Rabbi has ever gone before. The least favorite part of my job however was the fundraising that was always necessary to pay for everything that we did.
There are some people that enjoy it. They thrive on the challenge of inspiring a wealthy individual to invest in their projects. They love knocking down doors until they make that ultimate connection that pushes their organization to the next level. But for me- I’d rather be teaching. Yet the truth is from the beginning of the Jewish people’s existence we have always had our fundraising Rabbis that would be forced to leave the walls of their Yeshivot, Batei Midrash and organizations and hit the pavement to start bringing in the Shekels that would make it all happen.
In fact it seems that the Torah wishes this symbiotic relationship. We find that the Kohanim and Levi’im who were charged with the Jewish spirituality were supported by the tithes of the people. The Tribe of Yissachar was partners with his brother Zevulun so that he could dedicate his time to Torah study. If not for the relationship between the two both would lose out. The Kohen and Levi had to go out and see and understand the challenges that face those in the fields and the work place and the tribes had to appreciate that all that they had was a gift granted to them for a purpose. It was theirs to further the greater goals and spiritual calling of creating a holier more Godly nation.
In years of plenty this is an easy beautiful relationship. It’s easy (or at least easier) to fundraise. The rich are happy to help and those with needs and great projects feel more comfortable pushing them forward. When the going gets tough though….unfortunately it becomes a nightmare for many. There is no more fun- in the draising.
Until recently I empathized with the poor and needy during those times. Yet on a recent trip to the States to assist our local Rav Ha-Roshi in raising the funds necessary for all the many organizations he personally carries in Karmiel, I finally began to see the other side of the coin (pun intended) as well.. I spent quite a bit of time with some friends of mine that in better years were doing quite well- Thank God. I saw their beautiful houses, their nice cars their ‘perfect’ lives and heard stories about their amazing vacations, and I felt happy for them. Not jealous, because frankly I always loved my job and life and really would never of traded it. Just happy for them…
But then the door bells started ringing… and ringing… and the phone calls started coming. It was endless days and nights of watching  and listening to people walk through their doors with stories that just break your heart. I visited friends of mine in their offices and I saw lines- and I’m not exaggerating- of people waiting to “meet” and receive some financial help. I have a friend of mine who told me that he has to change his phone number every few months because of the many calls that he keeps getting that don’t even allow him to get anything done. Others have told me stories of how they have to daven in shuls far from their homes so that they are not mobbed by the “pauper-azzi”( this pun thing is getting old) or sneak out back doors or early in the morning so that they are not accosted. It’s truly mind boggling. My heart started to feel for my “rich” friends. I couldn’t even imagine living like that.
And yet they continue to give. They recognize their position and their blessing and they do the best that they can to meet the needs of their brothers. It’s just as much part of their jobs and lives as their business aspect. Mi K’Amcha Yisrael- Who is like you Nation of Israel.
This weeks Torah portions the second Book of the Torah shares with us the story of the nation Israel. Whereas the first Book of the Torah is the story of the Family of Israel. Now we become a Nation- a people born out the bitterest of moments in human history (think 210 years of Jewish Holocaust-slavery, infanticide and every imaginable type of inhuman abuse) and we are told a few stories of the fabric of the leaders and the merits of the individuals that led us to our Exodus.
The Portion begins with the story of two heroic women Shifra and Puah who were midwives that stood up to Pharaoh and saved Jewish children from death. Think about it. There were hundreds of thousand of babies being born in Egypt annually. Within a few decades a family of 70 turned into a nation of a few million. Shifrah and Puah were just a small little drop in the bucket. How many babies could they have saved? What difference in the big picture did they really make? Yet the Torah shares with us their story and tells us that these great women eventually merited the greatest homes in Israel of Jewish leadership. Two women who couldn’t sit silently while their brethren suffered.
The Torah then introduces us to Moshe and shares with a few stories of the first 80 years of his life. Stories that in the big picture of his life in the palace of Pharoah could have even been forgotten. Yet they are, what the Torah tells us, the most formative and significant incidents of his life. The Torah spends time and ink telling us how Moshe’s sister watches over him as he is sent out on the sea of reeds in a little basket and how the daughter of Pharaoh goes out of her way to save him. It tells us how although he was raised in the greatest palaces in the world, he chooses to go out to the ‘trenches’ and advocate and put his life on the line to stand up for a Jew that is being beaten.
Yet Moshe’s life and world view does not end even with Jews. When he flees to Midian he stands up for Midianite women who are being threatened- the daughters of Yisro. Incidentally, Yisro as well the Talmud us as well had previously fled Egypt so as not to be party to Pharaoh’s persecution of the Jews.  Here we have small acts, yet each one of them reflects that true sense of Jewish leadership, that I cannot sit back when the needs of the Jewish people are great. I must do whatever it takes to help them. If I am fortunate enough to be in a position to help whoever it may be, than the only reason I have this blessing is to accomplish a greater good for mankind. Moshe chooses the occupation of a shepherd and the Medrash tells us that even in his care of the sheep. Each one was precious to him and into each one he put his days and nights into caring for them.
Finally the Torah portion concludes with the story of the Jewish taskmasters who endure extra beatings for their brethren who are so broken in their slavery that they cannot produce the inhuman amount of work and bricks demanded by Pharaoh. It is these taskmasters that eventually become the Sanhedrin of the Jewish people. The leaders who will in the future be chosen to represent all of the Jewish peoples spiritual needs as they enter the land of Israel. These are the stories of the Jews in Exile that the Torah teaches us and it is these stories that lead to the upcoming story of our redemption in what is known to be the Book of Our Redemption Sefer Hageulah.
It is truly a fascinating bridge between last week and this week. The end of Bereishit and the story of our exile is one of where brothers sat by and ate as Yosef was thrown into a pit and sold into Exile. They remained silent for years as Yaakov sat in pain over his  son that he thought to was deceased. The Exile happens when we don’t care and when we’re not there for one another. The Redemption happens when Jews step up to the plate and put our own comforts aside and see the needs of our brothers and sisters and do whatever it takes to alleviate their pain and suffering.
Living in Israel today one feels the Geulah, the ultimate redemption, is around the corner. There are so many with so many needs. Perhaps, more so now than in earlier times. It’s harder for people to give. It’s easier to lock one’s self away. But at the same time, so many of us are not doing that. We are stepping up to the plate. Those with financial resources are pushing themselves further. Those that can help others, be it in helping singles find their Bashert, helping children and teens with challenges, visiting the sick, caring for the elderly and reaching out to Jews who are so far from their heritage, are doing so in numbers that are absolutely astounding. In the weeks that I was in the States I saw tens of different prayer groups that were organized of women who would get together and pray for different people with needs. Yes the Geulah is getting closer. We are all becoming leaders in this needy needy generation. May Hashem see fit to bring us all to our own new and final chapter of Redemption as a family together in our home.

May your Shabbos be uplifting,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
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"Israel where you can experience Judaism in its natural habitat"

Any one know what else happened there (before the chrisitans stole our ritual immersion area)?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Shabbat Blessings-Vayechi

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
  December 17th 2010 -Volume I, Issue 11–10th of Tevet 5771
 Shabbos Blessings

I love Shabbos. I don't believe that I could even envision my life without that special day of the week. It's not merely the fact that I get to finally turn of my cell phone, my car, my running and weekly hassle. In fact I’ve probably worked harder on Shabbos than I have during the week. Torah reading, speeches, leading services providing inspiration and insights to my shul, were all part of the job of being a Rabbi  back in Seattle and Boruch Hashem here in Eretz Yisrael once again I have been blessed to start up again. (Come on over and visit our Young Israel of KarmielJ!). My love for Shabbos is also not as much predicated on the satiation of my delicious Rebbetzin's chulent or my homemade hand grated potato Kugel obsession, although, I probably couldn't imagine my life without those as well. To me Shabbos is most about that special time when once a week I can join together with my family, friends and community and bond and delight in one another. And perhaps most significantly it is the time that I truly feel that I can connect most with my Creator. It is our special day together.

One of the most special highlights for me on Shabbos is on Friday night as I sit down to my meal. After welcoming the holy angels, that our tradition tells us come to offer a blessing each week, I recite the Aishes Chayil- Women of Valor song composed by King Solomon, as an expression of the gratitude I have for my wonderful wife for being my partner in all I do. I then call my children together one by one and I offer them my weekly Shabbat blessing. The blessing I offer them is the same blessing that The Kohanim-the priest would give to the Jewish people in the Temple.
May Hashem bless you and guard you. May He enlighten your face towards Him and give you grace. May He lift your face up to Him and may He grant you peace."

This is a beautiful heartfelt moment and prayer that I cherish. It was something I always cherished when I would receive it from my own father (and still get whenever I'm lucky enough to be in Detroit, along with my own children who also receive Zaidy's blessing) and I hope and pray that their children will do so as well. Interestingly enough though, there is one more part of this weekly Friday night blessing that doesn't seem to have such a moving significance and and is in fact quite perplexing. I refer to the introduction that I utilize before the blessing my son, one that draws its source from this weeks Torah portion.

As we conclude the  1st Book of the Torah the Book of- Bereishis we have come to the end of the Era of our Patriarchs and Yaakov is preparing his final blessings for his children. As he does so he also calls the children of his son Yosef, Menashe and Ephraim together and blesses them as well and bestows upon them the status to be considered as two of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Torah then quotes Yackov millennia ago reciting the words that I use as well for my weekly blessing.

And He blessed them saying By you- Becha- should Israel bless their children saying "May God place you like Ephraim and Menashe." And he placed Ephraim before Menashe
Following that directive of Yackov I bless my children and echo those same words, asking Hashem to bless my sons as Ephraim and Menashe.

The commentary's all struggle with the question of the significance of those two children in that all Jewish fathers since that time have been blessing their children with their names and that aspiration. I'd like to share with you two meaningful ideas that I believe shed light on this.

One beautiful approach suggested by the Ethical masters of the Novardok schools of Mussar in the early 19th century is that these two brothers are seemingly the first pair in the Torah that we are introduced to that don't show any sign of jealousy for one another's preferred role and status. Cain and Abel, Yitzchok and Yishmael, Yackov and Esau, and even the twelve tribes and Yosef all seem to struggle with their stature and status in their family. Here for the first time though we find these two brothers and what do you know they get along. The Medrash tells us that Ephraim was the more scholarly of the two (And I'm not saying that just because like his nameJ) yet he does not feel jealous of his older brother’s Bechor –first born status. Even more revealing and explicit we see that Yackov goes out of his way to lay his right hand on this younger brother placing him first and yet there is no outburst from Menashe that imaginably we would expect to hear of. “Hey that's not fair! I'm the older one." They are in fact united.

The Rabbis point out that the blessing itself even alludes to that suggested  intent in the Torah’s usual subtle, yet grammatical way. The word which Yackov and the Torah utilizes to describe the blessing for all time is Becha Yevoreich Yisrael -In You-singular form-rather then the Bachem plural form- Should Israel bless their children. They were not jealous of one another, because they saw themselves as one. Just as one hand is not jealous of the other hand that may have the ring upon it. So too these brothers saw themselves as united in their mission and love of one another. It is that idea and wish that we bless and pass over to our children, that they should feel that same sense of love and utilize it to overcome any feelings of jealousy of one another.

The second idea, which perhaps draws itself in the merit of their feeling of love and unity, is that these two brothers merited to become much greater then what their potential would ever have been able to been. Centuries before these brothers were born there was a prophecy and vision that there would only be twelve tribes. It was a closed game. There was no room for anyone else to get on the court and to ever aspire to join those ranks. 12 was always seen as the magic number. Yet here we have these two brothers that were able to go beyond what was ever humanly foreseeable and achieve the lofty and eternal status of becoming a portion and tribe by which all of the Jewish people would be descended and would create its future from.

It is that blessing as well that I pass over to my children each Friday night. That they too one day will merit going beyond their foreseeable potential, becoming an everlasting eternal source that will light the world and have great merit.

So as we get closer to Shabbos I look forward again to this weekly blessing. It is on Shabbos perhaps the most when we have the freedom and ability to move beyond our own preconceived spiritual potential. It is the time when we can also put behind ourselves our competitive edge in our race to succeed in life and appreciate and even love the accomplishments of others. There are no greater blessings then those which we give our children and receive from our parents and forefathers than the ones we receive on this day. Come lets’ experience them together.

Shabbat Shalom U'Mevorach,


click on the hebrew link to see pictures.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Vayigash 2010- Bar Mitzvah Speech-less

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
“Your friend in Karmiel”
December 10th 2010 -Volume I, Issue 10– 2nd of Tevet 5771

Parshat VaYigash

Bar Mitzvah Speech-less

I have always loved Parshat VaYigash. As Bar Mitzvah Parshiyot go, it was a very exciting one to have had for my Bar Mitzvah. The story of Yosef’s reuniting with his father and his brothers after so many years told me the story and significance of family. Hashem’s promise to be with Yackov and the Jewish people as they made their way down to Egypt sent me a message that Hashem is always with us. There is Yosef’s leadership role in taking responsibility for Egypt, which was a perfect lesson in a Jew’s responsibility to see beyond himself and his community by living up to our mandate to be a light to the world. Yes, it was a Parsha that had the potential to give me the perfect Bar Mitzvah speech. Yet, it was the speech that was never said. I had spent months working on it. The day came and when my turn to speak came up by the Bar Mitzvah party the speech was never said, for my uncles and friends sang every time I opened my mouth to speak. It is in fact a hallowed Jewish tradition that was developed so as not to embarrass the boy who can’t speak I was told, after they were done singing. So there you have it my perfect speech on the perfect Parsha was never said.

It has been quite a while since that memorable day. I’ve had plenty of time make up for that Drasha. I’ve found mediums by which I can share my own inspiration, whether in classes I’ve given, Drashot I’ve shared, weekly Emails and most recently through my Holyland Blog. Yet, that drasha I never gave still sits in my heart. It was my first opportunity to prove myself as an adult and to deliver a message that could inspire others and perhaps even touch them. Instead I joined the singing (even after they quieted down…when my grandmother of Blessed memory threatened them with a shpritz seltzer bottle- a sight I will never forget) and learned that not every time that you want to speak you should. Sometimes and perhaps most times its better to sit back and listen than to push forward and say what you feel needs to be said.

I though of that moment and lesson fondly this week as I attended another Bar Mitzvah this week here in Karmiel when a young boy also had his drasha interrupted by the traditional singing. I was impressed by his perseverance as he repeatedly just plowed through his speech above all the singing. He finished his Drasha and sat back down, proud of the fact that he had said his speech, although I don’t believe anyone heard it. I complimented him on his speech afterwards and I shared with him the Bar Mitzvah Drasha lesson I had learned from my Rebbe when I first became a Rabbi. He told me that sometimes the speech that you don’t say can have even more meaning than the one that you do say. I know it sounds kind of cliché and it was certainly not the lesson I or he were looking to hear that night. But in truth it is probably one of the most important I had ever gotten.

Wonderfully enough this weeks Torah portion begins with a speech as well. It is the longest speech of any of our forefathers. For 17 verses the Torah shares with us Yehudah’s pleading before Yosef to allow him to take the place of his brother Binyamin. Yehudah recounts in this speech the entire story of the saga of Yosef’s “disappearance”. He vividly describes Yaakov’s affection for Yosef and Binyamin, how taking this youngest son would endanger Yaakov’s life.  Finally Yehudah tells Yosef who was posing as the monarch of Egypt, about the personal responsibility he took upon himself to return Binyamin home. For those of us that have been attending Shul the past few weeks and paying attention to Torah reading we know all this already. It’s a speech  we’ve heard before. To Yosef it certainly was a speech that he didn’t need to hear. He was on the verge of revealing himself and really never had any intention of holding Binyamin in the first place. Yet he listens anyways. He lets Yehudah say his piece and then he renders him and all the brothers speechless.with five Hebrew words

“Ani Yosef Ha’Od Avi Chai- I am Yosef- Is my father still alive.”
 Vlo Yochlu Echov Lanos Oso ki Nivhalu MiPonuv- And the brothers couldn’t answer him for they were stunned before him.

Here you have the longest, most important speech that Yehudah probably spent much time preparing. Weighing each word for impact and figuring out how to muster mercy before Yosef. How to show him his humility, but at the same time his determination. Yet all of it was for naught. It was a speech that didn’t have to be said. It was a speech that in retrospect he probably felt foolish having said. Who was he Yehudah to talk about his fathers love for Yosef? Where was he years before when Yosef was sold? What can he say now?

But he says it. And it is recorded to teach us a lesson; a Bar Mitzvah lesson about speeches and about life  The Talmud tells us Reb Elazar Ben Azariah says

“Woe upon us before the Day of Judgment Woe upon for that moment of rebuke. For  Yosef said just five words to his brothers and they were speechless. What will we say when we stand before the Almighty on that great day”

 It is remarkable how deep the insights of our sages are. We read a story in the Torah and to us it feels like a somewhat repetitive narrative of the reuniting of this family. Rav Elazar however hears in this story a powerful question and insight into the life we live and the speeches we give.

Our lives, to a large degree, are really one big speech to the Almighty. How we treat one another, the choices that we make and the words that we say and use are all the words and polemic of which we will one day have to justify ourselves. There are things that like the speech of Yehudah may have seemed at the moment the right thing but in the end were just hollow words. There are others small acts, like the few words of Yosef, which will ring eternally for us. Sometimes it is important for us to have gotten up and have made a meaningful statement or even more importantly an action that will inspire and resonate. At other times it is perhaps better that we take a seat and let Hashem take charge and just join the singing and hope that all will turn out all right.

It is the speech of our lives. The ability to gauge and learn with humility how to write and develop that speech is what we are here to do. But of one thing we can be assured. Our loving Father in Heaven is listening intently; he wants to hear the end. He is standing right above us and rooting for us to accomplish all we can. We are His Bar Mitzvah children.

Have a tremendously special Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

This weeks E-Mail is sponsored by my Parents Abe and Esther Schwartz of Detroit Michigan in honor of the anniversary of mine and my younger brother Dr. Gedaliah Schwartzes Bar Mitzvah and our Birthdays!
It is also dedicated in honor of the founding of our new Kehilla and Minyan
Which will be having its opening Shabbat this weekend.

I would personally like to express my appreciation to Rabbi Pesach Lerner of the National Council of Young Israel in America and Rabbi Daniel “Mush”Meyer and Ceec Harrishburg of the International Young Israel Movement for their support and encouragement to undertake founding our Shul.

As well I would like to express my appreciation to Rabbi Avraham Tzvi Margalit the chief Rabbi of Karmiel who has generously allowed us to use one of the local Batei Medrash to launch our Kehilla and for welcoming us and the many American Olim that have joined us recently here in Karmiel.

To help support our Shul, sponsor Kiddush or the weekly Email or to find our more about Karmiel and our Young Israels upcoming programs please feel free to contact me at
and keep reading our weekly updates.

Thank you to all those who Emailed facebooked and called to find out if we were alright when the fire struck last week. Thank God we were out of range but it was truly devastating to hear and reas about the tremendous tragedies and casualties for the families who lost their parents and children ( a neighbor a few blocks away from us lost a son)  and those whos homes and lives are devastated. Please contribute through the Young Israel to help the families who’s lives have been affected by the horrible fire in the Carmel. May Hashem bless you with Peace in the merit of your support.

To support the fforts please click here

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Chanuki-Yearnings Mikeitz 2010

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
“Your friend in Karmiel”
December 2nd 2010 -Volume I, Issue 9– 25th of Kislev 5771

Parshat Miketz/Chanukah


I’ve always thought it to be a strange holiday. I would probably say it is also the most misunderstood and misrepresented one  as well. In America, Chanukah has served Jews as being the Jewish response to the other team’s mid-winter holiday. “A festival of Lights-Instead of one day of presents we have eight crazy nights” to quote an unfortunately ignorant put-on-your-yamaka-its- time-for-Hanukah assimilated American Jew. They light their tree, we light our Menorah, They drink eggnog, and we eat latkas and doughnuts. They’ve got reindeers, sleighs and chubby guys in red suits sliding down chimneys and we have dreidels, Chocalate Gelt, Greeks and Maccabees. Not a great response and frankly I wouldn’t mind a little eggnog.

Here in Israel, there is no other team to compete with. Yet it is still a confusing holiday to figure out. For most Israelis, tragically, Maccabee has a greater association with basketball or with healthcare than it does with Chanukah. (It is the name of the Basketball league and also the large health care provider). For many Israelis it is a holiday that celebrates Jewish military prowess and the guts it took for us to stand up to the world power of that time. Although clearly that was never the intent of the establishment of the holiday and in truth Jews historically have never celebrated military victories, viewing them as necessary evils to maintain our survival and miracles of God, rather than expressions of Jewish might.

I have also read articles written by secular Israelis how Chanukah is a celebration of the victory against religious coercion. Again, a very strange conclusion to come to, being that the Greeks/Hellenistic Jews were really quite pluralistic; they were open to all religions and cultures. The battle of the Maccabees, quite the opposite, was for the right to have an exclusive religious Jewish practice in Israel and the Temple. Not something necessarily the average secularist would seem to find cause to celebrate.

 And perhaps best of all The Coalition of the Environment and Jewish Life’s “Light Among Nations” projects sees in the miracle of Chanukah and its energy efficient oil that lasts eight days, an opportunity to replace each of your light bulbs with a more energy efficient one. You may even win the Green Menorah award. I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

At the other extreme you have the Yeshiva/Chareidi World that sees in Chanukah (and in general all Jewish holidays to a certain degree) a celebration of the power and dedication to Torah and the service of Hashem which brings miracles to rescue the Jewish people. The Menorah of course symbolizes Torah and Light. And the pure oil, a symbol of the uncontaminated-by-foreign-culture holy foundation which the Temple and Jewish service must be dedicated with. It is a message I was raised on in my Yeshiva upbringing and it somewhat works for me. Yet this year here in Eretz Yisrael, for the first time as a resident and Oleh, I feel I must find something different. Something new…yet something old. An idea from those days- for this time.

As I went to buy oil to light with, I asked the person in the store if he had any Shemen Zayit for my menorah. He gave me a strange cutesy Israeli look when I asked him that question though-although he clearly knew what I was referring to- and corrected me in that perfect Israeli way.
“Ein Lanu La’Menorah- Lazeh atah tzarich Koehin Babeit Hamikdash. Yesh Lanu Rak L’Chanukiya.” We don’t have any oil for the Menorah… for that you will have to see a Koehin at the Holy Temple. We only sell oil for a Chanukiyah.”
What the curly locked gentleman was pointing out to me- besides of course that he was smarter than me and more fluent in common Hebrew terminologies- no duh…- was that the term Menorah is really a reference to the seven branched candelabra that was specifically used in the Beit Hamikdash. Chanukiyah- our eight branched “menorah” (9 counting the Shamash) is not the same thing. In fact the Talmud teaches us that it is prohibited to create a Menorah, or any Temple vessel for that matter, as they may not be used outside of the Temple and its service. In fact our 8 branched Chanukiyah is really only a more modern innovation. Halacha only mandates lighting the oil or a candle. It can be done on soda cans, bullet casings, or even on top of ice cream sundaes. In earlier times a Chanukiah was not even used.

As I went to light my Menorah that evening (I can’t get into the habit of calling it that yet). It struck me for the first time… I wasn’t lighting the same thing as the Temple. My Menorah was a cheap spiritual imitation of the original. Here I stand in Israel not too far from the original temple, yet I’m still not there yet. I began to long for the “real” light. I think I began to finally understand what Chanukah was supposed to inspire us to feel.

This weeks Torah portion, and the Torah portions that always surround the Holiday of Chanukah contain the story of Yosef in Egypt. It is perhaps one of the most powerful and memorable stories in the Torah. Brothers’ fight, Yosef gets sold down to Egypt, the first Jew to really be entirely engulfed in a foreign society. Yosef, as the Jews in the times of the Maccabees, as Jews in almost every era of our history was faced with the greatest challenge that has threatened our people. The threat of assimilation. The forgetting of where we came from. Of our fathers home. Of what it used to be like and how we were meant to be.

Of all our forefathers Yosef is the one who cries the most. He cries when he first sees his brothers. He cries when he they don’t recognize him. He cries as he interviews Binyamin and when he is reunited with his father. The Medrash says that just as Yosef appeased his brothers through tears, so too, will God redeem the Jewish nation through tears. What are the tears of Yosef? The tears of Yosef are those that recognize how long it’s been since I’ve been home. The tears of Yosef are the tears that question if we have become too Egyptian to even be recognizable to our own people…. to our family… to our Father. Have we become so happy with our 8 branch Chanukiyot that we have forgotten that there is a 7 branch Menorah that we are still meant to be yearning to light?

I look into the lights of my candles and I think about those days; the battles that were fought not far from my house, to insure that we didn’t become “strangers” in our own land. I think of all my confusing Chanukahs of past and how it seems so clear over here that we’re almost back again. I imagine the joy and rejoicing of what that small group of Maccabees who were brave enough to turn away from doing what everyone else was and who looked inward and backward to where the Jewish people needed to be and took that leap, when they finally saw those candles lit once again. And then I sing my Maoz Tzur- the song that concludes and has more meaning and clarity than ever.
Bare Your holy arm
and hasten the End for salvation -
Avenge the vengeance of Your servants' blood
from the wicked nation.
For the triumph is too long delayed for us,
and there is no end to days of evil,
Repel Edom in the nethermost shadow
and establish for us the seven shepherds.

Hakeim Lonu Roeh Shivah- Return us to that Menorah that has only 7 which symbolizes all of our forefathers. Chanukah need not be confusing. We are told that the light of our Menorahs are the same light that was in the Mikdash, the Temple. Gaze into it. Long for it. Celebrate it’s return and pray to see it once again soon. It’s simple enough. May we celebrate it  together soon.

Have a inspiring Chanukah and Shabbos that brings the holy light into your homes.,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

In the meantime
I leave you with a

Best part of Chanukah

The Maccabeats?

MAttisyahu Miracle

NBA stars Hanukah messages


ISRAEL 6 day war Hanukah?

I Wish I were a Candle

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Vayeishev- The Life of a Hero

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

November 25th  2010 -Volume I, Issue 8– 18th of Kislev 5771

Parshat VaYeshev

The Life of a Hero

There are battles and there are heroes. On my many pre-Aliyah trips to Israel we met many of them. Soldiers who had stared in the face of death all too often, immigrants who held true to their faith despite persecution and Holocaust survivors who journeyed to hell and back determined to rebuild all that the Nazis meant to destroy. Yet it was my visit to Chevron that gave me insight into the nature of the hero and the motivations that drive him.

I'll admit I was slightly prejudiced before we came. After all what type of person would raise their children under the constant fear of a Palestinian snipers bullet. Can there be any cause that justifies living under such circumstances? Reckless, militant idealists I thought. Yet upon meeting the soft spoken Simcha Hochbaum (who I recently spent Shabbos with together in New York of all places) my stereotypical media influenced picture rapidly began to crumble.

As Simcha showed us around the city it didn't feel like he was showing us his battleground. Rather what we saw was the incredible inspiration he felt from living in the same city his forefathers had millennia ago. As one who would show a visitor to Seattle its glorious Space needle and Mountain views, Simcha pointed out where King David’s palace was and the cave where our forefathers were buried. He spoke about the beauty of his life, his ability to study Torah and pray at holy sites in his backyard.
"But the danger!" my mind kept saying. "Is this really a life for you? For your family?" I finally asked.
Simcha’s response was one that still lingers in my mind and nibbles at the perceived reality that I have been living.

“It depends what you call life, my friend. We don't live here to fight or to die or even to make a point. We live here because if we wouldn't, 400,000 Jews who came to visit this year and pray at the graves of Avraham and Sarah would no longer be able to come (just look at the tomb of Yosef in Shechem).”
The Jewish people long ago learned that life is not about doing what is easiest or even what is most comfortable and secure. Life is about working and struggling to make the world a better place for others.”

This weeks Parsha in fact is the source of Simcha's life perspective, a perspective in fact that was learned by our forefather Yackov in the same city of Chevron I visited.

The portion begins
"And Yackov settled in the land his fathers had sojourned in the land of Canaan "
The Torah than goes on to describe the entire Yosef and his brothers debacle where Yackov’s favorite child was kidnapped and he was assumed by his father to have been killed. Rashi, quoting the Medrash noting the opening introduction to the story, sees a cause and effect.
"Jacob desired to settle in serenity and Hashem immediately brought upon him the tragedy of Yosef. It is not enough for the righteous that they have the world to come; they want to reside in serenity in this world as well!!”

The Rashi always troubled me. Is it such a bad thing to want to retire in peace? Remember this Yackov was not somebody who had an easy life. From a young age he was on the run from his murderous brother, constantly cheated by his trickster of a father in law, His daughter Dinah was kidnapped and his loving wife Rachel had recently had an untimely death. Is it a little too much to ask for a few years of peace and quiet?

Rav Dovid Povarski the Ponevezher Rosh yeshiva explains that our question comes from a flawed appreciation of what is the true essence of life and particularly the life of a Tzadik a righteous person. King Solomon tells us man was created to labor. Life is not about sitting back on a beach and enjoying a nice margarita (or latke). Nor is it about working hard to reach the point in time when I can have a comfortable retirement. Rather life is about a continuous process of struggle and growth. If one looks back upon their life their most powerful memories are those of challenges and hurdles they have overcome. For it is at those moments, when one has decidedly exercised their Divine nature of free will, to persevere and move forward in the face of adversity, that he has experienced the pinnacle of what life is. An animal can retire. A human must always grow further in his role as the partner of Hashem in Creation.

It is for that reason that Yackov had to suffer the misfortune of Yosef. Not as a punishment but rather as another opportunity to grow in his faith and establish within his children this lesson of life. It is this spiritual energy that still flows in the city of Chevron that gives his descendants today the courage and life force to preserve our holy cities for the benefit of those that still come to learn from them and to be inspired. We may not all have what it takes to live in Chevron, but we can all take our own times of challenge and struggle and put them into the context of Chevron, into the context of our father Yackov’s and lift ourselves up through it. We’re a nation of heroes. Chanukah is almost here when we recall our heroes of old. Think about their challenges. What they stood for. How they rose to their challenges. We can tap into that.. There are still heroes today. We can be one too.

Have a marvelous Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


And the original for those few left on the planet who haven’t see in it yet.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Vayishlach -Changing Names

Parshat Vayishlach

Changing Names

So there I was, in a small shul in Yerushalayim one Shabbos morning relaxing and even slightly dozing off. Just enjoying the much missed pleasure of not having to prepare or worry about reading Torah for my shul. Not having to worry about preparing incredibly inspirational insights each Aliyah as I used to do each week for my former TLC Shabbos morning davening. Ahhhh, it's good for a Rabbi not to have to be a Rabbi every once in a while. It's good to be able to just sit back in the back of the Shul and space out and doze like those old days, before God in His ultimate sense of humor decided that I should be blessed with a job that would never allow me that delicious guilty luxury again .When suddenly I was shaken out of my wonderful reverie by the Gabbai (sexton.. don't now if that word is any better? the guy in the shul who calls people up to the Torah) ) calling up to the Torah what most certainly  one of the strangest names I believe I have ever heard. I knew Hashem was just not going to let me rest. Oh Well.

Yaamod” he boomed, Hachatan Avraham Nimrod ben Avner Shlishi
Please Rise to the Torah The Groom Abraham Nimrod son of  Avner for the third Aliya”. As I turned to look at this groom with the strange name I saw a tall lanky scraggly bearded young man. Certainly he did not look very Nimrod-like( Nimrod being the name of the biblically fierce and ruthless king who had thrown Avraham into the fiery furnace for daring to express his belief in one God …y’know that all old church and state thing.).After every one clapped and sang mazel tov to the young groom I approached him and asked him how he had such a strange name. I was aware that there were many secular Jews in Israel who named their children Nimrod. I had even seen a responsa as to the permissibility of a Mohel ( ritual cirumciser) being a party to giving the child that name. Yet this was the first Avraham Nimrod I had ever met.
His response to me in a soft unassuming voice was that his name was partially from his mother and partially from himself, though entirely from Hashem. When I asked him what he meant, he explained. He had been raised in a non- religious home. Yet over the past few years he had recognized the incredible beauty and authenticity of his Jewish heritage that he had been missing all his life. As he pursued his journey in Judaism, drawing closer and closer to the ways of his ancestors, he said that a few strange things began to happen to him.

He will always remember, he remarked, how he was walking down the street and he was approached by a man who asked him if he was Avraham. When he responded that he wasn’t the man apologized and walked away. The next day thoughonce again as he was on the bus a lady approached him and told him that he reminded her of her nephew Avraham. When he got back to his apartment later that evening his roommate also out of the blue just said “You know Nimrod, you look more like an Avi lately I think I’ll start calling you Avi”.

While thinking about all those strange occurrences, he attended a class by his Rabbi in the local Beit Midrash. Interestingly enough it was a class on name. The Rabbi began to explain that in Jewish mystical thought it is said that all the people in Israel that are named Nimrod are really meant to be Abrahams. There are what he referred to, as the revealed names of people- Shem Haniglah, and the hidden names the Shem Hanistar; the latent essence of the person . All Nimrods, he suggested are the revealed name of the hidden, as of yet unrevealed, Avrahams that  have yet to come forth. It was at that moment that our young groom form Yerushalyaim resolved to become the Avraham that he was now.
“But why did you then keep the Nimrod name?” I asked. “Why not just become Avraham?” His incredibly inspiring response was that Nimrod the rebel is also still very much a part of him. Yet now he has taken that power and essence and directed it to rebel against ignorance and those things that would bring him further away from the most precious relationship he has; the one with his loving Father in heaven. He wasn't running away from his past; rather he was building upon it. He was making it holy.
This weeks Torah portion tells us of someone else that has a name change. We are told of the battle of our forefather Yaakov with the strange man/angel of Esau, in which Yaakov comes out victorious. The aftermath of that battle finds Yaakov asking the losing angel for a blessing. The angel though rather than bless Yaakov instead declares that Yaakov’s name is to be changed.

“Lo Yaakov Ye’Omer Od Shimcha Ki Im Yisroel Ki Sarisah Im Elohim Va’Anashim Va’Toochal- Your name Yaakov will no longer be said rather Yisrael for you have battled with Elohim-god and with man and were capable”.

The Talmud tells us that although there were previously other individuals, Avraham or Sarah, which had name changes that reflected their achieving a higher and more encompassing level. Yaakov though is different. Unlike the others, he is still referred to by his original name. Avram is never called that again. It is always Avraham. Sarai is forever Sarah.Yisrael and Yackov though are continuously used interchangeably. Perhaps as the commentaries point out this is because Yaakov’s transformation was one not of just leaving his previous essence and name. Rather it was the incorporation and uplifting of that potentially negative trait of Ekev – coming from the heel which he utilized to trick to receive the birthright and to confront head-on the challenges and battles that lay before him. He had maintained his Yaakov, yet he had also now revealed the latent Yisrael that has the power to battle and uplift it to Hashem; the power to become holy.

We all have strengths and weaknesses. Some of us are naturally kind and generous, others are meticulous and put together. Some of us a strong propensity to learn and grow for others however their strengths lay in their resolve to do the right things. Yet with all of our strengths come challenges. Are we kind at the expense of disconnecting from our family? Are we too caught up with order that we do not allow ourselves to enjoy the simpler things? Does our connection and resolve to do what we believe is right prevent us from stepping back and examining things from another’s perspective?
There is a little Nimrod in all of us. Yet we are the descendants of a Yackov that became a Yisrael. We possess that blessing that was given to our forefather so long ago, to always be able to take our Yackov and turn him into a Yisrael. Not by denying the Yackov, for as Avraham Nimrod said both of our essences come from Hashem. Yet it is certainly not by giving in to our negative selves as well. Rather it is only by confronting our challenges, learning and working on uplifting our power and energy to the highest most spiritual level can we then become the true chosen people- the Bnei Yisrael the Children of Israel. Perhaps than we may become as holy as those simple Chatanim -grooms that you some times bump into in the back of the shul on Shabbos in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


The Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (known as the Ari HaKadosh) writes,-
"When a person is born and his father and mother give him his name...the Holy One puts into their mouth the particular name required for that soul."
If Jesus was a Jew, how come he has a Mexican first name?
Billy Connolly

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Parshat Toldos- Exchange Rate

Insights and Inspiration
 from the
 Holy Land

From Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
 “Your friend in Karmiel”
November 5th  2010 -Volume I, Issue 6– 28th of Cheshvan 5771

Parshat Toldot

Exchange Rate

One of the most confusing adjustments for Americans who have made Aliyah, is the whole conversion thing that we have to start learning how to do when we get here. No, I don’t mean the Who is a Jew and who has the right to decide and make someone a Jew to debate. I’ll leave that to greater Rabbis than myself to figure out. Nor do I mean the 110-220 voltage on all your appliances that every Oleh goes through leaving a few precious burnt out electronics in its wake. (For us it was a video monitor player L… seems Hashem didn’t want our kids to watch Uncle Moishy anymore.. and I’m not complaining.) Rather, I refer to that impossible for me to get straight Feet/Meters, Gallons/Liters, forget about Celsius/ Fahrenheit calculations that we who were raised in the obstinate world of the U.S. I’ll-be –darned- if -I –do- things –the- rest-of-the-world does- A., and are too old to remember our grade school lessons of how to convert these measurements, fumble around with daily. And although most Israelis are quite helpful in regards to speaking English, they are not really any help when you ask them how many miles per gallon a car get ( a difficult enough cheshbon) or how many feet something is. For a guy like me who doesn’t even like to ask directions. I haven’t even bothered to give those conversations a try. So instead, I either don’t buy stuff or just pay anyways and hope I got it right.

Yet the calculation that I can’t seem to avoid, no matter how much I would like to, is the Dollar/Shekel exchange rate. As much as I am happy to be an Israeli,  I just can’t seem to think in Shekels. In America I know a box of cereal is $2.00, Milk 1. 79 a gallon, gas 2.85.Here though, its 20 shekel for cereal, gas is like 6.50 shekel a liter (which is a double calculation) and fruits and veggies are 8-12 shekel a kilo and I have no idea what any of these are costing me… Simple shopping trips break me out in cold sweat. I feel like I’m back in 5th grade math class and I’m failing. I know eventually I will begin to start thinking in Shekels rather than dollars, but it is excruciatingly frustrating (and expensive) to keep having to go to the cash register in the supermarket without any clue of what the stuff in my wagon is going to cost me.

Which of course brings us to this weeks Torah portion J. This week the Torah shares with us the sad (for him-happy for us) story of someone else who sold something without knowing its value. The Torah tells us the famous story of the older twin brother Eisav who came back hungry and thirsty from a long hard day out in the fields. Arriving home he smells some red red bean stuff cooking on the stove and begs his brother Yaakov to pour some down his throat. Yaakov, ever the good Jewish business man, saw an opportunity that could not be missed. He offered Eisav that bowl of chulent for the small price of his birthright. Eisav- seemingly the more sympathetic figure over here- probably threw up his hands, as I have when I just want to get something quick and can’t be bothered to haggle over the price or figure out its value, and told him to just take it. Yet the verse tells us that he did something worse. He scorned the birthright. He said “What do I need it for?” And in that statement he forfeited his right to it.

Now for many of us when we first come upon this story, it seems kind of not nice. Poor hungry Eisav gets tricked out of his birthright by his shrewd brother Yaakov. Haven’t we been taught to feed a hungry person? Why would Yackov prey on his brother’s moment of need and lack of appreciation of the birthright to get it from him? Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz asks an even stronger question. In truth why is the sale of the birthright even a valid sale? A good Jewish attorney could certainly argue that it was under duress, or perhaps that Eisav didn’t know the value of what he was offering. (Too bad Eisav lived before Jewish lawyers).Is this even a legally binding sale in such a situation?

He answers with an insightful and powerful lesson. He suggests that the true value of ones birthright is whatever you deem it to be worth.  Yackov knew his older brother was someone who valued the here and now. He didn’t think for tomorrow. When Eisav came home that evening and demanded his grub. Yackov tried to assess and motivate Eisav to take stock of his life. “Will you sell me your birthright Eisav?” You’re a Firstborn. It is a responsibility; a privilege. Are you willing to trade a life of meaning, of carrying on the legacy of our forefathers and being the progenitor of the exalted Nation that will bring Hashem to this world for a bowl of soup?” Yackov wasn’t trying to trick Eisav. Very much the opposite, he was trying to get him to get him to recognize what he had in what is sometimes the only way we realize it; by standing on the threshold of almost losing it.

It was a question that should have woken Eisav up. But it didn’t. Eisav was dealing in a world of Shekels rather than dollars. His currency was soup and what make me feel good today. The ephemeral, the spiritual the big picture and reality of what we are meant to accomplish in this world were all measurements and calculations of a different plane of existence. And Eisav didn’t want any part of it. Not only did he trade the birthright but he rejected its value. He was satisified living in his world and wanted nothing to do with the Birthright one. That being the case, Rav Chaim suggests, than that it is all it was truly worth. A birthright in the hand of Eisav without any eternal value is not more thatn a bowl of soup.

There is a story that is told that an individual once came to the Chafetz Chaim and asked him why everything was so difficult and why he had so many challenges. Couldn’t Hashem just give him reward for one or two of the mitzvoth and good deeds that he had done in his life and alleviate some of his tzoris. Perhaps he might be able to cash in a
Shabbos observance here and there for an easier livelihood, a little visiting the sick for some better health or maybe even some Torah study he had done for a more relaxed and  less stressful existence, The Chafetz Chaim took his hand so gently and told him with a parable how his question was so very far off base. Imagine a person came to a supermarket and asked to purchase a stick of gum for 10,000 dollars. Do you think that the owner of the store would actually ever give him the gum? He would laugh at him. You’re paying with the wrong currency. Do you not appreciate how much 10,0000 dollars is and how little a stick of gum is in exchange for that. What are your exchange rates? He couldn’t purchase it if he tried. Each store he would wander in would suspect that it was counterfeit monopoly money (which incidentally is what shekels look and feel like sometimes) and laugh him right out. You have to know the value of things before you enter the store and even more importantly you have to know how much what your carrying in your pocket is worth before you offer to spend it.

In a similar vein, said the the Chafetz Chaim, is mitzvot. Will you trade the eternal conncetion with the Almighty for a little better house or a little more in your bank account?  Do you have any idea of how valuable each moment you learn is ? Each mitzvah you do? Will you trade them for a bowl of soup? If so than what are your mitzvoth really worth.

In each of our daily lives we all make decisions about where and what we are pursuing and exchanging our most precious gift of time with. Do we waste it and idle it away or perhaps we try to maximize it and pursue our birthright. When we have a chance to deal in things of real value; helping out another, visiting someone who needs a smile, picking up a Torah book or joining a class. Are we trading away those opportunities for soup, for shekels and kilos? Or do we know what the exchange rate is that we should really be pursuing. Hashem has given us the most precious currency around, our Torah and our mitzvoth. Let us make sure to never allow ourselves to get gypped at that final cash register. It’s time to start learning the real rates.

 Have a Super Shabbos that is truly utilized to the max,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
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Visited the kotel yesterday with my son Yonah  when we were greetd by hundreds of Ethipoian jews dancing and singling like crazy. Seems that it was an Ethoipian Jewish holiday that they claim dates back to the time of Nechemia call SIGID. Here’s a little clip of my Youtube post followed by a description of the holiday.
A BBC video on Ethiopian holiday

Mattisyahu  on SIGID festival
 and one more live view..

and in honor of the Holiday I share with you the thoughts of a prominent Black (although not Ethipoian) leader.
This was written by a black gentleman in Texas  ..
When U Black, U Black 
When I was born, I was BLACK ,
When I grew up, I was 
When I went in the sun, I 
stayed BLACK
When I got cold, I was 
When I was scared, I was 
When I was sick, I was 

And when I die, I'll still be 
 NOW, You 'white' folks....
When you're born, you're PINK,
When you grow-up, you're 
When you go in the sun, you get 
When you're cold, you turn 
When you're scared, you're 
When you get sick, you're 

When you bruise, you turn 
And when you die, you look 
So who y'all be callin'


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