Our view of the Galile

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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In the meantime
I leave you with a


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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