Our view of the Galile

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Other Peoples Problems- Vaeira

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

"Your friend in Karmiel"

  December 29th 2010 -Volume I, Issue 12–22nd of Tevet 5771
Parshat VaEira

Other People's Problems

There are all types of people in life, as I've come to learn. As a Rabbi and a Jew whose job and faith is dependent on the fulfillment and expression of the mitzvah of loving every Jew, one certainly gets many opportunities to deal, interact and yes even to learn to love many people who you might never have ordinarily been particularly interested in having anything to do with. It also sometimes seems that Hashem with His ultimate desire for His children's personal growth will send you just the right people in your life who will more than anything else challenge your personal accustomed-to outlook, and assist you in expanding whatever your pre-conceived lovingness capacity may have been.

More often then not, if you're happily married and a parent like me, than those wonderful challenges will come in the process of building your beautiful relationships. Yet as a Rabbi you get to meet all those personalities, which to be kind, might ordinarily grate against your nerves. I've always prided myself on my "chilled" easy going, nature yet there are always those character traits that seem to expand my capacity to grow in loving-ness.
There's the kvetchers ("Oy there's not enough Kugel and it gives me such heartburn").
The self-centered me-only oriented ("Why can't I have triples of latkas before anyone else got 1st ").
The wafflers (“I dunno maybe I'll come this week and bring kishka maybe I won't").
The know it alls ("I'm telling you this is the way you should make the chulent, trust me I know").
The worriers ("Are you sure it's safe to feed Tully shmaltz herring yet at only 10 months old?"…Just
And of course the paranoid neurotic and self-blaming (all those of you who thought I was referring to you above… No I wasn't talking about
you). Not a bad list for a chilled out, easy going guy, Huh?

The secret though, I've learned in my pursuit of Middos development is to keep in mind the famous Baal Shem Tov (and Shlomo Carlebach) dictum. The flaws that we see in others are generally flaws and traits that we ourselves possess and need to work on. The more we can work on accepting and loving others the greater potential we will have to  succeed in overcoming the challenges we face in those same areas of personal development, which we may not even be aware need our attention.

This Week's Torah portion is perhaps God's greatest example to the Jewish people of the most significant aspect of their own personal growth, as seen through the perspective of another's behavior. The individual I refer to, the primary exhibit A of annoying, stifling and rather self destructive, personal behavior was no lesser of a figure then Pharaoh the King of Egypt. The overwhelming character flaw (putting aside his God-like delusions and his proclivity to bathe in Jewish children's blood) was the almost incredible degree of stubbornness and "heart hardening" that seemingly no human being could ever fathom to possess. Yet time after time, plague after plague, horror after horror, Pharaoh persists in his tracks and pathway to self-destruction despite the blood, frog, lice, beasts, pestilence, boils and hail-filled evidence that he is fighting a lost cause.

How could anyone be so self-delusional? How could anyone be so stubborn? Rav Ehrentrau suggests, as seen in all of the plagues, that Pharaoh always looked for an angle. After the plague of frogs, the Torah tells us that Pharaoh saw that there was relief…and then he hardened his heart. After the plague of pestilence he saw that there were Jewish animals that survived, that he might be able to survive from,… so he hardened his heart. And finally at the conclusion of this parsha when he sees that there is still some wheat and barley that has not been struck by the plague fo firey hail he once again he hardens his heart. There is always an angle or way out in his mind and therefore I do not have to change. Therefore I can persist in my false sense of superiority and right-ness. As long as it hasn't yet hit rock-bottom, he can continue delude himself that he will come out on top.

The lesson of Pharaoh though is not merely a history lesson. It was a lesson for the Jewish people; the people who, time and time again, are referred to by God and the Torah as a stiff-necked people. A stubborn folk we are. A nation, who to our credit, refuses to be put down or disappear from the annals of history or from its legacy. Yet much to our chagrin,  we are also a nation who more often than not, persists in refraining from picking itself up from our spiritual lows and the self-destructive behavior that often tears us apart and distances us from our Divine mandate. It was for us that the lesson of Pharaoh was presented. It was for us to recognize and see first-hand the consequences of stubborn persistence to our negative ways. We were meant to recognize that we don't have to wait until it hits rock-bottom to make the changes we know we should be making. To go to the places that we will grow. To become the people and nation we have the ability to become.

It's always easy to look at others and find fault. But generally we never help ourselves in that process. If only we could all turn that mirror back to ourselves. If we could only take the judgement we sometimes place on another's flaws and reflect it back to our own areas that need change. Then and only then, will we have the ability as our ancestors did 3500 years to truly declare ourselves as a Free Nation of God.




A small Yishuv that overlooks the city of Yericho at the meeting point between the Dead Sea and the Jordan River ( a city that Jews do not have easy access to- not that anyone is protesting on our behalf). High on the mountain overlooking the city it is the first view that the Jews had of Israel from across the Jordan. Yericho itself has the distinction of being the city where Herod built his palace and eventually died- fun tidbit- when he died he ordered all the prisoners should be killed so that their families won't celebrate his death- nice guy- his good queen however did not obey that order.

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