Our view of the Galile

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.


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