Our view of the Galile

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Flight of Light- Bo

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

"Your friend in Karmiel"

January 7th 2011 -Volume I, Issue 14–2nd  of Shvat 5771

Parshat Bo 

Flight of Light

“Kol Hakavod!” that is warm and incredible response that I have heard repeatedly from the average Israeli  I meet and who of course immediately inquires as to what I am doing here in this country. I always find it fascinating how shocked and surprised they are that an American would even consider making Aliyah. Yet this year alone Israel once again set the record for the largest Aliyah in 37 years with over 19,000 Olim; a 16 percent increase over last year. From North America alone there were 3,980 Olim that came ,(my family therefore makes up about a 17th of 1 percent of the Olim this year :)). From Russia to Latin America- Venezuela- had a 280% increase- Australia, Belgium and New Zealand, Jews are coming home. There is even data this year, of small numbers of olim who have arrived from China, Monaco, Japan, Hong Kong, Honduras, Malta, Singapore, South Korea, Kenya and Rwanda. Not sure how many of them are Jewish. But hey, when we left Egypt according to the Medrash there were between 120 and 240 thousand non-Jews that left with us as well.

Yet as celebrated as this number is there are still millions of Jews for whom Aliyah is not even a consideration. Whereas in the past it was the poverty of Israel, the impossibility of travel overseas, and the repressive governments under which the Jewish people lived in the Diaspora, today there are new factors that hold Jews from returning to the land of our forefathers. Until about 5 years ago it was the material and economic comfort that Jews in North America were basking in that made the notion of Aliyah an inconceivable dream. We were sitting in our nice houses, with our two cars, our fantastic vacations and our wonderful lifestyles without a worry in the world watching our bank accounts and 401’s grow and we were happy. Today…not so much, to put it mildly. For many however, it the question of raising their children in a culture that is foreign to them (how sad that the Jewish country is considered foreign) that prevents them from considering Aliyah. Yet once again, there are so many that are having just as many problems raising their children “Jewishly” with all the challenges and temptations that American culture brings them as well.  So what is it? Why aren’t more Jews coming home?

This week the Torah portion tells us the story of the “First” Aliyah. The Torah tells us that 600,000 men between the age of 20-60 left Egypt. If you add in infants, teenagers, seniors and women the number who left Egypt was close to 3 million. That is a lot of Jews. Yet at the same time the Medrash and the text itself alludes to the fact that this was only 20 percent of the total Jewish population. Meaning close to 12 million Jews remained and did not take the free Moshe Rabeinu- Nefesh B’Nefesh camel ride ticket out of Egypt. Even with the promise of the incredible financial grants and subsidies that the Egyptian Army had so generously lent them on their departure and the great booty they picked up on the “banks” of the Red Sea- excuse the pun:). How can it be? What were they thinking? Egypt was in ruins, what was there to stay for?

The question is truly a difficult one. One that is difficult for us to answer particularly with our always 20/20 historical hindsight. There are some commentaries such as Rav Shimon Schwab that suggest that the number is exaggerated and that the Medrash is alluding to the potential future generations of those that didn’t come out rather thena literally to the much smaller number of those that perished. Rav Yackov Kaminetzky suggests that those that did not leave was because of religious reasons. They claimed that the 400 years of exile that was foretold to Avraham was not up yet. It was too early to go. We are meant to remain in Egypt. Perhaps that was why so many stayed.Yet others suggest that it was the over-patriotism of the Jews (what had gotten them in to trouble in the first place-when the slavery first started voluntarily). The Jews saw Egypt in devastation and felt that they had to remain to rebuild it. There was another Egyptian buck to be made; they could redevelop the whole country. There are many propositions, yet in the end it is still very difficult to conceive.

Perhaps one can suggest that the answer to why they did not leave can be reflected in the plague upon which Hashem chose to punish them. Rashi quotes the Medrash that these Jews that refused to leave- and even tried to convince their brethren as well to stay- all died in the plague of Darkness. It seems strange that they all had to die during this one plague. They could have died by any of the other plagues or even in the interim years of slavery that led up to the redemption. Yet Hashem chose the plague of darkness. 

The truth is the plague of Darkness seemingly is one of the least intimidating plagues. It certainly wasn’t as painful as boils or lice, as terrifying as wild beasts, frogs, or hail and certainly not as financially devastating as locusts or pestilence. Why is this plague the final blow before the death of the first born? The answer is because the function of the plagues at this point was no longer as much to punish the Egyptians as it was to send a message to the Jews.
U’Lchol Bnei Yisrael Hayah Ohr Be’Moshvosam- and all the Jews had light in all of their dwelling places. The plague of Darkness was given to Egypt in order for the Jewish people, who had been living for the past 200 years in slavery, to finally “see the light”. Egypt is not your homeland. The time for redemption is coming. The lights are on and your “host” country is shrouded in darkness. It is interesting that the word Moshvosam also possesses the root Shoov- to return. There was light in their return. The question was, were they ready to step into it or not.
For a portion of the Jewish people that were so entrenched, they couldn’t or wouldn’t see past it.. Although it was clear as day that there was no real good reason to stay in Egypt. Their answers and excuses to remain in Exile until now were blinded by the light of the clarity of the miracles of Hashem. They turned off the bright light of redemption. And in the end they perished in their own self-created darkness.

There is no Shofar call yet today of the arrival of Moshiach (although who knows maybe by the time you receive this God willing there will have been :)). For many of those in Chutz La’Eretz- the Diaspora, perhaps you are struggling with the question of Aliyah. Whether it is right for your family, whether you can make it here (although if you’re from New York seemingly as the song goes you can make it anywhere…). It is not an easy decision. But if there is one thing that our Exodus from Egypt should teach us is that it is important for us to not live in darkness in Exile. We should truly be struggling with not why I should live in Israel but rather why shouldn’t I? How can I remain outside of our Holy country? What is keeping me? What did I say 5 years ago that was keeping me and has that changed? Are we shutting off our own lights and perishing in Exile, or do we finally have an opportunity to build a truly meaningful and holy Jewish existence in the Land that was created for exactly that purpose?

These are not easy questions. But ignoring them is certainly not the reason why we are in Exile. There is a tradition that although by the exile from Egypt not all of the Jews were redeemed. Yet after the giving of the Torah when we were “wed” to Ha’Kadosh Boruch Hu- (the Holy one Blessed be He) and an intrinsic eternal bond was created, we will all be part of the ultimate redemption. May Hashem bring us to that ultimate day soon, when not only will we all be here in Eretz Yisrael but we will once again have the Divine Presence in our holy Temple rebuilt once again as well. 
May your Shabbos be uplifting,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz



Usha-  in the southwest portion of the Galil (about a 1/2 hour from our home) there lies a destroyed bedouin village known as Husha. It matches the Talmuds account of where the Sanhedrin sat after the city of Yavneh was destroyed after the Bar Cochva revolt. A group of school children, as a school project, have begun digging there over the past few years and have uncovered some remarkable finds such as a mikva with tunnels to hide from the Romans as well as the central pillars of what could very well be the synagogue where the Sanhedrin sat. Not bad for a 6th grade school project!

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