Our view of the Galile

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Joy to the World- Ki Tavo 2011

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

"Your friend in Karmiel"
September 16th 2011 -Volume I, Issue 41–17th of Elul 5771
Ki Tavo  
Joy to the World

So there you are sitting in traffic on a hot sweaty Israeli summer day. You’re late for your meeting. You’re low on gas. There is absolutely nothing interesting on the radio and your kids scratched up all your CDs. It does not feel like it’s going to be a good day.

But then out of the blue you hear some very loud music coming from two cars in front of you. It’s joyous Bresslov Chasidic songs- something about their Rebbe, Rebbe Na… Nach… Nachma… Nachman Me’uman. All of a sudden, 6 chasidim jump out of the back seat and perform, what we used to call as kids, a “Chinese fire drill” (how they all fit in there in the first place is another question). Well at least half of one. See as kids what we used to do was when we would get to a red light, we would get out of our car  and run around the car and get back in the same seats much to the bewilderment of the other drivers on the road (this is what we used to call fun) . They, on the other hand, got out and started dancing like wild people, around and around and around, even enlarging the circle to incorporate other cars. A smile began to curl up on my face as I watched them in their rapture. My fingers started to drum along on the dashboard to the catchy rhythm of the rocking rabbis. Suddenly the day didn’t seem so bad anymore. It wasn’t so hot. I felt kind of happy and amused. Just another one of those “only in Israel” experiences that make all the other headaches feel like it’s worth it.

For those who have never witnessed the dancing hasidim of Israel, you have obviously not driven around too much in this country. They can be found anywhere at any time. They are the roving Simcha patrol. Their rebbe, Rebbe Nachman who passed away in the early 1800’s and is buried in Uman,  where 10’s of thousands congregate each year for the high holidays in his small little backwater Ukrainian village, had a guiding principle that the greatest of Mitzvot was to be happy. Some of his teachings included
If you don’t feel happy, pretend to be”.
“Even if you are downright depressed, put on a smile.”
“Act happy. Genuine joy will follow
Interestingly enough modern psychology gives much weight to these pearls of wisdom. But what is more important is that for his Chasidim this is their way of fixing the world. The more joy there is, the more that we can dance away our troubles and sorrow and put our faith in Hashem, the happier our Father in heaven is. And thus for them the solution to most of the world’s problems can be found in a good song, a lively dance and a warm generous welcoming smile.
The Torah portion this week alludes to the counterpart of this great mitzvah of Rebbe Nachman. As we approach Rosh Hashana and get closer to the end of the book of Devarim of Moshe’s final speech to the Jewish people we read parshat Ki Tavo and within it of the blessings and curses that the Jewish people will receive according to their observance or lack of observance of the Mitzvoth of Hashem. The Torah portion than continues and gives us a frightful picture of the horrifying punishments that unfortunately has befallen us throughout our history, when we have not been living up to our mandate.
Yet in middle of this chilling exhortation the Torah gives us what seems at first glance to be a minor ralmos innocuous reason for all of these punishments.
“Tachat Asher Lo Avadata Es Hashem Elokecha Bi’Simchah V’Tuv Levav Meirov Kol-Because you have not served Hashem your God with joy and goodness of heart when you had an abundance of all things”.
One would think that as the Torah had previously told us that these punishments will befall us for not following the commandments, that the fact that we lacked joy in the act of serving Hashem would not even be counted as significant. Yet, what the commentaries all suggest is that the lack of joy in our service of Hashem and in our yiddeshkeit is the underlying cause of all the other sins that follow. The commandments and the “Jewish Torah Lifestyle” were not given for us to be miserable, obedient followers for our own good that we will not understand and appreciate until we “get older”. As my children sometimes complain I tell them about their school or home chores. Rather they are ways of pleasantness that are meant to enhance our life and bring us that ultimate, perfect sense of inner joy and completion as we fulfill them day by day, hour by hour and act by act. And if we aren’t feeling it then we’re missing it and we must not be doing it correctly. But if we would be feeling that sense of joy every time we did a mitzvah, celebrated a Shabbat, learned a little Torah (even via email J) than we would never come to the sin that only happens from a lack of satisfaction of the abundance of good that the Torah is to us.
We read this Parsha before Rosh Hashana each year, which seemingly is one of the most solemn days of the year. We are judged on this day for the coming year and we are meant to be doing Teshuva and intense introspection during this time of the mistakes we have made and the different ways we have fallen short and disappointed ourselves and Hashem this past year. Yet it is inspiring to read of a different Rosh Hashana in our history. The prophets in the book of Nechemia tell us the story of when the Jewish people came back to Israel after our exile in Babylonia and rebuilt our Temple. The Navi (chapter 8) tells us how on that first Rosh Hashana back, Ezra and Nechemia called all the Jews together and read from the Torah along with its admonitions. The Jews upon hearing this written word after so many years, broke out in tears when they realized how far they had fallen during their 70 year exile. Nechemia then tells the Jewish people an astonishing statement
This day is holy for Hashem your God; do not mourn or weep…. 'Go and eat fatty foods, and drink sweet drinks, and send portions to those who do not have any prepared; for this day is holy to our Master; don’t be saddened; for the joy of Hashem is your strength.'
Here we have the perfect sermon, the people are inspired, they feel the spirit of teshuvah, one would think this is the time to tell them to pray or to cry out. Yet the prophet Nechemia sees something more important to do. Rejoice! It’s Yom Tov. Holiness is meant to lead to Happimess. It is time for a Breslover dance. Rosh Hashana should not be a time that is scary and depressing, rather it is a time to find the joy we have been missing in our distance from our King.

The great Rebbe of Ger, the Sefat Emes tells us that the reason that the Torah tells us that that reason for our exile and accompanying bitterness is the lack of happiness, is to teach us the way to come back home is by repairing that sin. By rejoicing in our service of Hashem and by feeling that inner peace when we celebrate our opportunities to get close to Him. It is not always easy to feel this happiness, for some it is a lifetime’s work. For others there are only certain moments when they are challenged to smile and appreciate the goodness we have in our blessed lives. But Rav Nachman’s secret is that we do not have to feel the happiness to act happy. We can always dance. We can always sing. And yes we can always smile. If we do so even at the moments when it is most difficult and if we take those times of difficulty and redeem them with joy than we will become happy. We will feel that natural bubble inside of us begin to glow with joy. And if there is one thing our Father loves-any father loves- more than anything else it’s when His children are happy and appreciate how good it is to be blessed to be part of His family. And if our Father is happy everyone is happy.

Have an exuberantly joyful Shabbat,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


Abu Ghosh/ Kiryat Yearim/ Telshe Stone-  Although I listed three places above they are all right next to each other and Biblically we are not sure of the exact location of the real Kiryat Yearim is. The biblical significance of this city as it is mentioned in the Tanach is that it is the location of the final resting place of the holy Ark of the covenant/Aron Ha’Bris that was captured by the philistines and wreaked havoc on their cities until they returned it to the Jews via leaving it on a wagon. The ark rested here for 20 years before it was finally moved to Jerusalem by King David. The city of Abu Ghosh is the arab village where many say was the place where this took place and there is even a church dedicated to its location there. In more recent history during the War of independence the village of Abu Ghosh was the only arab village that was allowed to remain on the dangerous road up to Jerusalem as they very early in the war decided to join the Jewish forces and side actually giving them keys to the British fortress there and standing against all of the other arab forces – for which they are forever ostracized. They’re also famous for their unique and special flavor chummus.
 The city of Telshe Stone right next door was founded by Rabbi Leizer Sorotzkin with the generosity of Irving Stone as a community of which the center would be the great Yeshiva Telshe that would be replanted here in Israel after the holocaust from its former glory in Europe. In more recent history Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz and his family are here in Telshe-Stone for Shabbos by the my Father-in-Law the son of Rabbi Leizer Sorotzkin! J

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