Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
“Your friend in Karmiel”
December 10th 2010 -Volume I, Issue 10– 2nd of Tevet 5771
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
THE YOUNG ISRAEL OF KARMIEL
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.
RABBI SCHWARTZ SIGNIFICANT CAUSE AND MOVING VIDEO LINK OF THE WEEK
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.
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