Our view of the Galile

Friday, November 25, 2011

Praying for the Unexpected- Toldos 5772

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"

November 25th 2011 -Volume 2, Issue 5–28th of Cheshvan 5772

Parshat Toldos


Praying for the Unexpected

Shmuli was not usually the type of person that was found in the homes of great people. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that he didn’t enjoy seeing the great holy leaders of Klal Yisrael or find being in their presence inspirational. It was just that he never wanted to trouble them with his burden… his pain. They had enough people coming to them for their prayers and their blessings. They had bigger issues to worry about. Their study of Torah was holding up the world and Shmuli didn’t want to take them away from their certainly more monumental task. So he suffered in silence…until it became too much too bear.

So there he was in the waiting room of Reb Chaim Kanievsky, a modest little apartment in Bnai Brak (or Bnai Braq as they write on the road signs in this “q” obsessed country). He joined hundreds of others that day who had all come to ask the Rabbi for his advice, who sought his prayers or who just wanted to meet this great leader who is renowned for his  piety and scholarship and his love for each Jew. When it was finally his turn and he sat down next to the Rabbi and struggled to find the right words that would somehow bring him that special blessing he was seeking. The Rabbi took his hand gently and asked him what it was that was troubling him.

Rebbe” he began. “I am already close to 40 years old and I am not sure anymore if I will ever find my soul-mate. I have dated and dated for years. I stay up at nights dreaming of having a home, a family, a wife I could sing Eishet Chayil to each Friday night. Yet after all these years and fruitless dates I have begun to give up hope. I am terrified of dying alone and never experiencing my true fulfillment together with that other part of my soul that I long to meet and be one with.” The years of pain and the hopelessness all came out in a gush of tears as Shmuli broke down sobbing. “Please, Rebbe, tell me what should I do? How can I go on? Why is Hashem doing this to me? Have I done something wrong? Is there something that I need to atone for?

Reb Chaim stroked Shmuli’s hair, and with his warm loving hand brushed away Shmuli’s tears. “There is nothing you have done wrong, my son,” Reb Chaim said.” Nothing you have to be fearful of. Hashem certainly has your perfect Bashert- your soulmate picked out for you. Do not worry you will get married.” Had Reb Chaim stopped there everything would have been fine. Yet he continued and said “Have faith Shmuli that Hashem is looking after you. You just have to wait for the right time… and your soul-mate hasn’t been born yet” and with that he ended off mysteriously…

Questions ran the gamut through Shmuli’s head. What type of blessing was this? If she hasn’t been born yet than how am I supposed to get married? Does this mean that I will have to wait until I am 60 until I get married? He walked out with more questions than he walked in with. But the Tzadik had spoken and had told him to have faith and somehow with the warm confident tone that he had assured Shmuli he felt strong enough to move forward and try to do exactly that.

This story took place a few months ago. This past week Shmuli came back to the house of Reb Chaim beaming. “I’m engaged” he announced “Mazel Tov!”  The Rebbe’s assistants were astounded and exhilarated to hear the wonderful news. “But, to who?” they asked. “My bride to be…” Shmuli continued “is a geyores- a righteous convert, who had just finished her conversion process shortly after my blessing from the Rebbe. And I’m sure you know our sages teach us that a Ger SheGiyer KiKatan HaNolad Dami- That one who undergoes a conversion is a new born child. The Rebbe was right, my bashert hadn’t been born yet. I just had to wait until the right time.”  

This week our Torah portion tells us the story of another bachelor who got married at age 40. According to our sages, our forefather Yitzchak also had to wait for his Bashert Rivkah until she was “of age” and the time was right for her to get married to him. Yet although they had finally found each other, they had another waiting period of twenty years until Rivkah became pregnant. During those long difficult years the Torah tells us that they both prayed fervently for children.

“And Yitzchak prayed opposite his wife because she was barren and Hashem responded to his prayer and Rivkah became pregnant.”

The Rebbe of Ostrov has a beautiful insight into why it was that the verse seems to say that Hashem, only responded to Yitzchak’s prayer rather than Rivkah’s. In a homiletic reading of the verse he reads the verse differently; in a way that carries a tremendous lesson for us. He writes that when it says that Yitzchak prayed to Hashem – it means he prayed for a child that would serve Hashem- for Hashem. As opposed to his wife who prayed because she was barren. Rivkah just prayed that she no longer be barren and that she should merit having children. Her prayer was that of a woman who so desperately wanted children. She didn’t even feel strong enough or even perhaps meritorious enough to ask and daven for a son who would grow to be one of our great ancestors and the father of the Jewish nation. The verse therefore tells us that Hashem responded to his prayer- not hers. He continues to therefore explain the following response that Rivkah had when she realized that she was pregnant and as the Medrash tells us that the children in her belly were “running” around. When they passed a house of God one would push one way and when she passed of a house of idolatry the other twin would jump around to get out. She then realized perhaps her prayer as well should not have been one of desperation but rather one of faith and knowledge that Hashem in his Divine plan only has her interest and what was best for her in mind. She thus responded realizing this

If so that my prayers just for me and my pain and not for the service of Hashem and would produce an idolatrous heir that would not bring the beauty and knowledge of Hashem to the world -“Lama Zeh Anochi- Why didn’t I as well pray as my husband did?” Va’teleich Ldirosh Es Hashem”- She thus goes forward to seek out Hashem, our merciful loving Father in her own prayers.

There is an old saying that there are no atheists in a foxhole. For many of us when we pray to Hashem it is precisely those prayers that fill up much of our lifetime of prayers. “Please Hashem, heal this person.. give me an easy parnassah (livelihood)… bless me with my spouse… children.. peace…comfort.” They are prayers of a foxhole. I am in a jam and I need you Hashem to take me out of it. But Hashem is not merely a Divine lifeguard waiting to pull us out of every bind we find ourselves in and every desperate-feeling circumstance. He is our Father. Our Creator. He wants a relationship with us and a prayer that shows that we trust in him and that what we are asking for is merely a better circumstance to allow us to serve Him better and get closer to Him. Foxhole prayers are for those who just want to live another day. Divine ones are those that show that we wish to develop an eternity for ourselves together with our Creator.

It is not easy to have faith and pray to Hashem with the knowledge that all He does and has planned for us is for the good, when things seem so bleak and hopeless. Yet we have the prayers of our Forefathers in our genes. The essence of our souls knows that truth, and that should inspire us. Sometimes it takes the reassurance of a Tzadik like Reb Chaim that “all will be well- our Bashert, hasn’t been born yet”. Sometimes we can even merit to see in our own lives the various times Hashem has given us something which at first we thought was not what we needed and ultimately we saw the incredible benevolence of Hashem  having not “heeded” our original request. Yet as challenging as it may seem, ultimately if we can achieve that level of prayer one thing that is certain is that our relationship with Hashem is bound to more meaningful. For why would you settle for a lifeguard, when you can have the warm eternal embrace of a loving Father instead? May Hashem answer all of our prayers as He best sees fit.

May your prayers this Shabbos be uplifitng,

Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz



Har Azazel – the fun part of the trip to see the famous and significant site which was the peak ( excuse the pun) of the Temple service on Yom Kippur during the first and second Temples, is that the only way to get there is by jeep- or a very long difficult hike through the Judean desert. The Torah tells us how each Yom Kippur the High priest would take two identical goats and through a certainly deeply mysterious process would perform a lottery declaring one goat as being sacrificed to God and one to go to “Azazel” (which our sages teach us is the angel of our evil twin brother- the “other” brother and twin of Jacob and child of Rivkah and Yitzchak above). The Azazel goat would then be taken for a thirteen KM hike (in biblical measurements) by a priest (who would not live out the year) to the highest mountain peak in the Judean Desert passing along the way 10 booths that were set up to escort him to the peak offering him food and drink should he need although it was Yom Kippur (he never did). Upon arriving there a string was tied to his horns and the goat would be thrown off the mountain top to its death along with all the sins of Israel.

P.E.T.A (people for the ethical treatment of animals would not approve of this ritual- but they don’t like me eating steak drinking milk eggs or cheese either). The Talmud records for us that when the Jewish people achieved atonement-meaning that this service included remorse for their sins and a dedication to repair their ways, there was a red string that would turn white in the Temple letting them know that they had been forgiven. For the first forty years of the Temple it always turned white after that it was touch and go…

When we returned after 2000 years to Israel and recaptured the Judean desert in 1967, archeologists wanted to verify that this was indeed the place although this is the highest peak in the Desert and the proscribed distance. They built a model goat identical in weight and build to a real goat (built according to PETA standards) and pushed it off hoping to see where it landed and to find ancient goat bones.

Sure enough they found bones and were very excited until…. They saw some Bedouins come later that night and make a barbeque there in the desert and realized they had come upon a modern barbeque spot rather than an ancient Temple ritual location. Yet most agree that although there is no way to find 2000 year old goat bones this is indeed the location of that ancient ritual. We will just have to wait for the rebuilding of our Temple with the coming of Mashiach to confirm it.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

My Tzadikim- Chayei Sarah 5772

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"

November 18th 2011 -Volume 2, Issue 4–6th of 21st Cheshvan 5772

Parshat Chayei Sarah


My Tzadikim

It was a rough few weeks for the West Seattle TLC. First we lost one of our founding pillars Bob Ross* .This past week another one of our dear friends and founders Bob “Dov Ber ben Sender” Lubin passed away**. Both of them were fairly young (early 60’s), both were on their third lives (medically speaking the doctors said they each should have been dead twice before-which is one of the reasons I try to stay away from doctors J) both were raised without a religious upbringing and both went through an incredible journey of faith to return and reclaim that heritage and their yiddeshe neshomas- their holy Jewish souls.

The past few weeks the Jewish people as a nation lost some of its great leaders. Although I had never had the privilege of meeting Rabbi Noson Tzvi Finkel, the Rosh Yeshiva of the largest yeshiva in Israel known as the Mirrer Yeshiva with over 6000 students where many of my friends studied, I had admired him from afar. His story of greatness, having grown up as a ‘typical American day school’ student who went off to become one of the most inspiring leaders in Israel, who knew the names of the majority of his students and personally interviewed each one, who struggled with Parkinson’s disease and refused medication that might threaten his faculties and his ability to teach Torah, and who despite his health and age and responsibilities to his Yeshiva where he would have loved to just sit and teach was continuously traveling around the world to raise the 13 million dollar annual budget so his students could study in peace***..

 A few weeks ago as well one of the greatest women in the Jewish world Rebbetzin Bat Sheva Kanievsky, the wife of one of our great leaders Reb Chaim Kanievsky-the ultimate Jewish power couple” who would literally greet hundreds of visitors daily that would come visit their small ‘hole in the wall”  apartment in Bnai Brak****. She would spend time talking to those who were suffering from illnesses who she would pray for daily, singles looking for their bashert, the poor, the needy  and those that just wanted to be in her presence. For many she was the mother of Klal Yisrael, but for each person that would walk through her door with the weight of the world on their shoulders they walked out feeling that they had been comforted by their own mother… their own bubby.

Yes it has been a rough few weeks. This week’s Parsha as well shares with us the death of the Tzadikim- the most righteous of the first generations of our ancestors. The portion of Chayei Sarah begins with the passing of the first of our matriarchs; Sarah. The Torah lists the years of her life and tells us she was righteous in all of them. The great mother who comforted so many and who when she miraculously became pregnant all who were barren also became pregnant in here merit was gone. The anguish of the world at the passing of the first great woman in the post flood world was immense. Later on the Parsha tells us of the passing of the great Abraham; the man who brought monotheism to the world, the great Patriarch and Rabbi who taught the world brought them close to God and even prayed on behalf of the wicked city of Sodom. Avraham was no longer here and with him the pillar of chesed/ kindness would never reach that same level. One can imagine the grief that had struck his students and all those that looked to him provide them with their inspiration upon his death.

But most fascinating to me is the passing of the final Tzadik that concludes this week’s  portion. I speak of course of none other than the son of Avraham, Father of our friendly cousins the Arabs… Yishmael. Wait.., you say. Yishmael… A Tzadik? Isn’t he the one that Sarah had Avraham throw out of the house because he was involved in idolatry? Adultery? Murder? Who the medrash even tells us tried to “play’ kill Yitzchak? Are you talking about the same person as the one upon whom the angel told Hagar will grow to be a wild beast and in the face of all his brothers?

Yes… I am talking about Yishmael. For in describing the death of Yishmael the Torah uses a terminology of Va’yigva Yishamel and Yishamel expired and Rashi notes that the term expired is one that is only used for the righteous…like his father Avraham.  Even more than that, the Torah tells us that at Avraham’s funeral it lists the pall bearers as being Yitzchak and Yishamel. Once again Rashi points out that we see from here that Yishmael did Teshuvah-repentance as can be seen by the fact that he let Yitzchak his younger brother, yet the true heir of his father’s legacy, go before him. That humility and recognition of Hashem’s commandment that the Chosen nation would come from his brother’s legacy, rather than his own was obviously as a result of the now Tzadik Yishmael’s return to the roots of his Father. In fact the Torah even lists the generations of Yishmael at the end of the Parsha in the same way that it follows with the generations of Yitzchak. All these are signs of the incredible return to his roots at the end of his life. (If you do the math it actually is close to the last third of his 137 year old life.)

How does someone like that return? What of all the people he killed? The sins of his past? What could bring someone like that back? Seemingly the Torah felt prudent to mention it by the passing of his father Avraham. Perhaps it is in his relationship with Avraham that the answer lays.

It is fascinating to study the relationship between Avraham and Yishamel. Yishmael the son of Hagar the Egyptian woman he married against his better judgment at the urging of Sarah, was clearly a trouble child. Yet, when Hashem promises Avraham a new son Yitzchak, Avraham states “it would be enough if Yishamel should live before you”. Later on after Yitzchak was being threatened by Yishmael and his antics and is becoming a serious source of marital strife between Avraham and Sarah. Once again Avraham stands up for Yishmael and it is only when Hashem intervenes that he sends him away. Even more fascinating at that most pivotal moment of the command to Avraham to bind Yitzchak Hashem tells Avraham”take your son- whereas Avraham says I have two sons. “The special (or unique) son"-“they are both special” The one  that you love- Avraham responded unequivocally-  I love them both. Finally Hashem tells him it is Yitzchak. Clearly and unbelievably in Avraham’s eyes the great Yitzchak who he was explicitly told would be his true progeny was just as special unique and loved as the murdering, adulterous and idolatrous, Yishmael.

Perhaps the most incredible moment in fact comes at the moment of Avrahams death, when the Torah tells us that Avraham dies without giving his final blessing to Yitzchak. Rather the verse tells us Hashem blessed Yitzchak because Avraham on his deathbed did not want Yishmael to feel bad or be jealous of his brother. For those that have learned the Torah once or twice we know that deathbed blessings particularly those of our forefathers are powerful things. Yet out of a love for Yishmael, even that Avraham would not do.

Why did Yishmael do Teshuva, you still ask? Because he knew that regardless of what he had done his father still had hope for him. His father believed he could do Good. It is for that reason that it is by Avraham’s funeral when the Torah tells us that Yishmael was a full Baal Teshuva- he lived the rest of his days in holiness and righteousness. For it was at that moment when he most realized how powerful his father’s love for him truly was and when he was able to appreciate that he did not have to become greater than Yitzchak to fulfill his purpose.

A Tzadik in Jerusalem who started off in Chicago has passed. A Rebbetzin born of an illustrious family in Bnai Brak, yet who dedicated her life to sharing the love of Hashem with so many desperate people has passed. And my two dear dear friends and inspirations who in the last years of their lives knew above all else that their Father in Heaven was always listening and rooting for them to grow and become greater are now gone from this world as well. It has been a rough few weeks…But we remain here remembering these great people and we must remember their message. We must lead lives that inspire others and we must always continue to tap into that love and knowledge that they together with Hashem are looking down upon us and rooting for us to come home…to get closer… and to be the children He wants us to be.

May Hashem comfort us all and bring us soon to that day when we will be reunited again

Have a warm loving Shabbos,

Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

*For those that missed my E-Mail last week you can read my eulogy of Bob Ross by clicking on this link http://holylandinsights.blogspot.com/2011/11/holy-shlepper-bob-ross-9th-cheshvan.html

** Bob Lubin’s eulogy can be read at this link for those who were not able to make it to the funeral http://holylandinsights.blogspot.com/2011/11/man-who-would-hate-his-funeral-bob.html

***Seattlites might appreciate this article of Rabbi Finkels meeting with and described by Howard Schultz CEO of Starbucks http://www.aish.com/ci/be/48880957.html

**** A very insipiring personal perspective of Rebbetzin Kanievsky (http://www.yated.com/content.asp?categoryid=7&contentid=486 )

In memory of Yerchmiel Nachum ben Yitzchak  “Bob/Robert Ross the Young Israel of Karmiel has formed the and our friend Dov Ber ben Sender/ Bob Lubin  the Bob Ross memorial fund dedicated to perpetuating their legacy of warmth and love to each Jew and to sharing their message of a Father in Heaven that loves all of us with our  entire family of Jews and particularly those in Israel the country of our ancestors. To contribute to the fund, those providing a lasting merit to our Bobs and assisting us in creating a lasting memory please go to the Holyland insights Blogspots and click on the paypal link to make your contribution.

Thank you and may all those who knew and loved Bob be comforted with the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem and be inspired in partnering to continue his “life’s  special mission.


The pilgrimage path- Derech Olei Regel – at the foothills of the city of David around the corner from the pool of Silwan, from where water would be brought up to the Temple on the Sukkot holiday for the most festive celebration of the year- the Simchat Beit Ha’shoeiva  when water rather than the usual wine would be poured on the Altar, was discovered a huge street and staircase that would go from the lower city of David and all the way up to the walls of the Temple Mount where the entire Jewish people would make their three times a year annual pilgrimage to the temple. This path which dates back to the Hashmonaim period of the second temple was later “Herod-ified”  and made into an elaborate boardwalk around the pool that one passes on the way up which served as the largest mikva in the world for those who needed to be purified before coming to the temple.

In 2007 it was discovered by accident that in the sewer canals that were built underneath this road (primarily for rain water to flow out) full earthenware eating vessels and  tens of coins that state upon them year one, two three and four of the “freedom of Jerusalem”. This of course place them at the time of the Jewish revolt at the destruction of the Temple. After examining the book of Josephus the historian of the time he states that after the Temple was destroyed the surviving rebels hid under the street and they were hunted out and killed by the Romans. The greatest amongst them Shimon Ben Giora was executed in Rome.

As of two months ago an incredible sound and light show in these tunnels that give you a true sense of what it meant to be a Jew at this times and the struggle for survival was added. It concludes with the inspirational message of maintaining hope with the return of our people to our ancient roots. An incredibly inspirational and new added addition to the many cool sites in Israel!!!


The man who would hate his funeral Bob Lubin OB"M 5772

Dear friends, family, loved ones and all those who have gathered here today to pay our last respects to our dearly beloved and too soon departed Dov Ber Rafael Ben Sender… Bob Lubin.
I write here this evening in Israel-a place that Bob loved and cared about so much and who’s greatest wish was to return here- and I write in tears and grief. Can it be that my friend..my confidant…my brother…my inspiration is gone? Was it only 8 years ago that you first came in to my and my families lives? It seems like decades ago when we first arrived in Seattle and had a little BBQ in the backyard of Ivy and Jamie Nugent on our “pilot trip” to Seattle from Virginia and you came over to us and in your typical joking and warm welcoming way “warned us” of the challenge that lay before us.

“The Jews here are far gone, rabbi” A bunch of liberals and democrats that value politics over religion…” But you know? Maybe that’s why we need a good Rabbi.” That’s why we need a real shul” You’ve got a rough road ahead” But I”ll tell you what. I will be here to help you…. I’ll be here whenever you need me…”

And thus the West Seattle TLC began. He was the first. Our first Minyan Friday night after spending an entire week calling around the West Seattle federation list and Rabbi Toban’s list of names to get people ended up with just us Bob and a non-Jew joining us.

“Well there’s only one way to go from here” he told his clearly disappointed Rabbi. And move forward we did…

The TLC became his home away from home. Or more correctly his home in addition to his home. There wasn’t a class or program that I gave or that we ran that Bob wasn’t in the forefront of;  coming early, setting up and of course taking pictures and more pictures and more pictures for posterity. In our TLC he found his Neshoma-his Jewish soul that he felt he was deprived of the first half of his life. And it was that Yiddeshe Neshoma that once ignited couldn’t be put out… That Neshoma, that never failed to bring light to a room that he was part of. That shined every Shabbos when he lit candles.. when he shared in our Torah sessions…when he enveloped us with his warm smile and always comforting embrace…It is that neshoma that I cry and mourn for…A neshoma that I was blessed to know, teach and learn from…
One thing I can share with you about Bob-our Dov Ber… is that he would not have liked his funeral and his eulogies. One of his favorite jokes was -what does a Jew wish for them to say about him by his funeral?... “Look! He’s still moving… He’s alive!”. Unlike others who live their Judaism out of fear of the consequences of the World to come, or out of Jewish guilt-either from their parents…the weight of their ancestors legacy or their Rabbi-who really wants a Minyan… Bob’s Judaism was out of a deep appreciation of the greatness of Hashem and the incredible beauty and inspiration that can be found in our Torah and heritage. When Bob came to Daven one could see on his face (and I usually had plenty of time to because he prayed longer than I did…) that he was truly having a personal intimate encounter with his Creator. When we traveled to Israel together tears rolled down his face at almost every stop we took along the way. His Neshoma- his special holiness sensitive Neshoma- was touched and moved and it remained with him… and it will remain with me.
Yes, Bob would hate his funeral… because he loved so much to be alive…Another mitzvah another class…another joke… another day with his friends…with his wife…with his children and grandchildren… with my children… with me.

Bob would also hate his funeral because he did not like to be the center of attention. He certainly was not someone that would want people to get up, praise and talk about and recall their memories of him… He was one of the most humble individuals I knew. “Salt of the Earth”, “One of the boys”, the guy in the background taking the pictures or in the kitchen or behind the grill roasting, cooking, setting up or cleaning up…The person you could always count on to be there for you in your time of need and at the same time the guy who would somehow disappear right afterwards not waiting to be thanked and not wanting to be in the way or a burden to someone else. “ Where did Bob go?... I wanted to thank him”… was a frequent refrain in our house.

The last few years of Bob’s life were beset with challenges. Economic challenges, problems with his health and personal struggles. Most people, I’m sure, wouldn’t know this, because Bob was the last person to talk about himself. It was other people’s lives that he cared about. When tragedies hit our community Bob was the first to shed tears and share the pain of another. When we celebrated the so many milestones of our TLC family they were his Simcha. Yet when it came to his own  milestones and simchas, particularly those of his family who he loved and cared for so much, he became private. He didn’t want to brag or mix his personal “outside of shul” life into the world of his Jewish family at the TLC as much as we wanted to share it with him. And that was perhaps his greatest challenge of all. It is almost unimaginable to be able to lead and maintain that incredible balance of worlds that Bob excelled in creating.
On the one hand, he knew his neshoma and his heritage which were so important to who he truly knew he was and wanted to be, drove him to lead an incredibly religious and inspired life that never stopped burning. The number of Jewish organizations he was involved with is incredible The kollel, the TLC, Chabad, the Jewish prisoner services not to mention the many national organizations.  Yet, unlike many who have grown in their Jewish observance and reclaimed their 3000 year heritage of which he was so sadly deprived as a child growing up in the secular assimilated post holocaust era, Bob did not feel the need to impose his beliefs and life changes on his family that he loved and cared for although they were not of his faith. He understood that his wife and his children and much of the large world in which he was raised and which he raised his family in did not have that same yiddeshe neshome and drive. What they had however was his love… his affection… his fatherly advice… guidance… encouragement and his warm husbandly dedication. His religious choices and path were for him and him alone. If they were good, caring responsible and the respectable people he and Sue had raised them to be that was all that he wanted. And regardless they knew they would always have his love.
For lesser people that pull and struggle and challenge that Hashem in his Ultimate wisdom-saw fit to put him into, would’ve turned away and rejected a life of Torah and mitzvoth. A smaller tzadik may have felt it would be impossible to continue to grow and learn…if I can’t do it all the way-it’s just not worth it. But not Bob-there was nothing that would make him reject the truth and beauty of the heritage he had discovered. He understood what many of us take a lifetime to understand. That Judaism is not and has never been an “all or nothing” religion or way of life. Each Mitzvah he could do… Each Shabbat he could celebrate and give thanks to his creator. Each chance he had to put on his teffilin…to talk to his loving Father in heaven was meaningful and was Eternal.

 Bob knew he wasn’t perfect. He also knew that the chances of him living a fully observant lifestyle- as much as he may have wished in another world and another time he could have been born into that that background and upbringing- was not something he would likely achieve. Yet what Bob also knew and lived for was to become the most perfect person he could. More than anyone he felt and knew that Hashem was his Father who loved and wanted what every Father wants- for their children to become the best that they could become. And it was that which he strived for. To be a better Father… a better husband…a better friend… a better Jew and the best son he could be to his Father in heaven.

It is hard to imagine a world without Bob. His jokes and his laughs will always echo in my ears. His caring for my family, my children, our shul …our community and the entire Jewish people will forever be an inspiration. The pictures that he took for us of our years in Seattle are part of my families history and the journey of so many who felt privileged to have him in our lives. We sat down this evening and looked at those pictures and my children couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. Our Bob is gone. Our friend. Who will replace you…? Who will comfort us…?

You were granted another life and we were sure you would fight and be strong enough to once again pull another miracle out of your hat. Your bright red hat…but there are no more miracles left. You accomplished what you were sent here to accomplish and we must move forward as you would want us to. Never giving up. Always moving forward. Always with a smile and a firm belief that what lies ahead of us will be better... Has to be better…

That is the legacy that you leave us and it is with that which you will always be remembered.

May Hashem who always watched over you and who you were so close with, comfort all of us and may your presence in Shamayim together with our friend Yerachmiel/Bob Ross hasten that day when we will very soon once again be reunited in yerushalayim may it soon be rebuilt.

With love and with sadness,

Your friend Rabbi Schwartz 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Holy Shlepper- Bob Ross 9th cheshvan 5772

Hashem’s “Holy Shlepper” Yerachmiel Nachum “Bob” Ross

I have known Bob for what I and he might consider most of his “life”. It was with my family that Bob first celebrated what he called his first “real Shabbos” I was at his “Bar Mitzva” at age 54, I was with him when he layed his first pair of Teffilin-Phylacteries, I joined him on his first trip to Israel and held his hand as he cried on the ancient stones of the Western Wall and as we traversed the land together. I was at his bedside with his first “almost death” and miraculous survival. I was with him as he inspired his older brother Bruce to put on his first teffilin. Not much  later in one of the most pivotal moments in Bobs life  he traveled to his grandfathers grave in St. Louis together with Bruce to be the first one in over 85 years to recite Kaddish for his grandfather on his Yarhtzeit. The trip which miraculously yet tragically ended with Bruces sudden passing-meriting and affording him a Jewish burial of which he otherwise would have never had. Our weekday Minyan In West Seattle began with Bob sitting Shiva for his brother in our home. Bob’s resolve to dedicate the Ross-Pechersky Sefer Torah in his brother and grandfather’s memory followed a and was  incredible financial undertaking that not too many “shleppers” whose meager salary from the Best Western Hotel would ever even consider undertaking. Yet for Bob it was his legacy and his families legacy he was restoring and there is no price tag that would ever convey the true value of his gift. As we danced under the Chuppa with Bob holding that Sefer Torah so close to his heart  as we brought it to its new home, I will never forget the tears that rolled freely down all of our faces in the presence of  his shining countenance reflecting an aura of someone who had truly come home.
When Bob’s daughter gave birth to his first grandson we were blessed to have him share his simcha with our shul. And when he finally met his Bashert. Roberta. Whom he described to me as the soul-mate he had been seeking all his life it was I who was privileged to officiate, dance and celebrate with my holiest of Shleppers. After his tragic accident when we thought we had lost Bob once again and all Doctors and prognosis seemed hopeless. Our Holy Shlepper, Bob once again pulled through. For two more years and one day according to the Jewish calendar from his accident and two years and a month from his wedding anniversary, 5 years and a month from his brothers passing and his Torah dedication we had our Yerachmiel still with us….
We thought it would be longer… We thought that you still had more time in your holy Shlepper satchel… We needed to see you fully recovered… We wanted you to come visit us with your Bashert in Israel, the land of our forefathers, the place where your soul was ignited and where all holy shleppers need to be. There were so many plans you had for your newest life together. So much you still wanted to give back to your wife who didn’t leave your side for the past years… So much love you wanted to share with your children, your grandchildren, your friends, your colleagues, the world… and even with me your simple Rabbi who was privileged to know you…love you… and have you as part of my family for too short a time. I feel I know you for your whole life… but that life of yours and those accomplishments and souls you touched were all in less than 10 years…. A ten year lifetime with accomplishments, miracles and inspiration that most people cannot hope to have in a 100 year lifetime. Yet yours was still too short…It felt like it was just beginning.
What is a shlepper? What made Yerachmiel the holiest one I knew? A shlepper in Yiddish is someone who shleps-obviously… a mover, a baggage boy, perhaps one of the simplest jobs around. Bob, who worked as a concierge for the Best Western Hotel schlepping luggage and bringing its guests to and back from the airport, was not the type of person you would have expected to take on such a career. After all he was college educated, an excellent speaker and educator and was one of the most knowledgeable and engaged people I knew. In fact in his previous life had been involved in public office and even part of a lucrative business yet when he realized that there were things that were going on that were somewhat ethically questionable he left it all behind in order to engage in a simpler, yet certainly less lucrative and more strenuous career. Yet, as he told me once, his body may ache more but the weight on his soul and conscience is much lighter. And after all isn’t that what really counts?
But why a shlepper? Sometimes in life we find our career. Other times it finds us. Bob had an innate talent and gift to connect with strangers. To not only ease their weight and welcome them into a delightful hotel where they could enjoy their pleasurable vacations, but to make them smile and make them feel warm and welcomed. This past week and the coming week we read in the Torah portion about the role model that Bob lived up  to and emulated. Another shlepper; none other than the Father of the Jewish people- our forefather Abraham. Abraham the Torah tells us also was a shlepper. He had a way station for travelers whom he would wait for greet, feed. The ultimate concierge. The Torah portion this week even tells us how he waited outside his tent after his extremely painful and difficult circumcision surgery at the age of 99 trying to find guests to greet. To his delight he found three arab wanderers (who turned out to be angels sent by God to fulfill Abrahams need to welcome guests) who he runs after and prepares for them.
 I remember Bob after his surgeries and heart attack similarly always being concerned that those who came to visit him were seated made comfortable and greeted with a smile and with a question first always about how his visitors well being and families were doing. His doctors and nurses and even cleaning staff and fellow patients were amazed how someone who suffered so much and was barely just recovering was able to place his first thoughts about them to the extent that they were the ones who felt cared for by him.
That is how our Yerachmiel became a Shlepper. Perhaps even the prince of shleppers. But how does one become a holy shlepper… Once again we turn to the Torah that Bob treasured so much. And to our forefather Avraham. Avraham we are told did not just satisfy his drive and desire to do kindness with others by merely schlepping, clothing and caring for the so many guests that he came in contact with. Avraham had found, on his own,  a truth about the world. Rather than the idols and false gods that the entire civilized world at that time was worshipping, Avraham took a look at the world and realized that there was something greater that must have brought this world in to existence. That cared for it. That planned it. And that was in control of all that we see and experience. In the words of the medrash the tower has a builder and the builder and master cares for His creation. Avraham became the father of our people because unlike others who may have recognized that truth and went to bed and woke back up the next morning and chose to live in their illusionary “real world” He chose to share that truth with the rest of the world. For someone who is dedicated to a world of kindness is there a greater kindness then telling someone he or she has a Father who cares about them? That they were created with a purpose? That their life was meant to have eternal meaning? Avraham that first holy shlepper, not only schlepped peoples luggage he schlepped their souls. He brought mankind home  to their Father. He breathed that spirit of life once again in their souls.
And that, my friends was what our Yerachmiel did as well. He like our forefather Abraham was raised in an environment whose values were not focused on the spiritual or even with the values of the significance of Jewish continuity. The old world had been destroyed by the Holocaust and the new world had no room of the Judaism of old. The idols of his youth in the 60’s and the ever changing values and solutions in the years up to his new life were embraced by the world as the answer to all of  “history’s problem”. But Yerachmiel/Robert much like Abraham was a man of truth. He was not only able to see past contemporary societies mistakes, but was able to make changes and start to live a life based on the principals of our over 3000 year old heritage. Whether it was making the Sabbath the focal point of his week, praying daily and developing his personal and beautiful relationship with Hashem and doing his utmost to overcome the challenges that seemed never to stop coming his way, Bob recreated himself and with that of course the world that he encountered.
I cannot count the number of people that our holy soul shlepper brought into our shul. There was no one that was Jewish that encountered Bob that was not “fair play”.
 “What you’re Jewish? You’re a member of the Tribe?.. What are you doing for Shabbat this weekend?  I’ve got a great Rabbi that I think you would love to meet… and his wife is a great cook too… Do you have plans tonight? There’s a great Torah class I think you should come to. Sure I’ll even give you a ride…”
It was an almost weekly ritual my erev Shabbos phonecall with Bob.
“Hi Rabbi, Have I got a Jew for you…But don’t worry tell the Rebbetzin that I’m bringing over some extra food for dinner. Although I’m sure she’ll have enough.. You always do.”
And thus the West Seattle Torah learning Center or as we fondly called it “the TLC” was built. person by person… Jew by Jew… soul by soul mostly by our expert holy soul shlepper Yerachmiel Nachum/ Bob Ross. By our last year in Seattle before Bob and I left there were regularly 20-30 people each Shabbat joining us for meals. Jews who had chosen to reconnect to their heritage because they felt Bob’s true love for them and his sincere caring to share with them all that had meant so much to him. They wanted to get close to him and they wanted to taste and be part of that inspiration that made him who he was.
Bob, sadly did not leave any biological children. He however did leave many many orphans and mourners. He leaves his adopted family Desiree and Nona from his first early life in Seattle who he loved and cared for and took pride and joy in and the grandchildren they bore him and that he prayed for each day.
He leaves the angel of his life. Roberta. Who just as Abraham merited to have angels come take care and be there for him. Robert, who in his unassuming self deprecating way could never understand how he merited to be blessed to meet and marry. I call Roberta an angel and I do not exaggerate even a slight bit… As Bob gave life to so many, she in turn gave him his life these past few years. Her love, dedication and sacrifice for him is incomprehensible to most of us. Endless nights at the hospital, the doctors, the rehabilitation center and at home, she never left his side. Yet for all those who know and love her and Bob. There is no doubt that they were made for each other and the love that they shared for too short a time is something that not only will give her comfort but will forever serve as an inspiration to what true selfless love is all about. Roberta’s family became Bob’s family and the love that he shared and gave to them was so beautiful and yet once again too too short lived.
Yet Yerachmiel our holy prince of a shlepper also leaves behind as well all those in Seattle who feel orphaned without him. As the Torah tells us when Avraham left his home to go to Israel he took the souls that he made in Charan with him. Bob as well as he comes to the heavenly gates  with the souls he made and restored to our Father. There he is assuredly being welcomed by our forefather Abraham and Bob’s grandfather Nachum who he is named after, as well as the generations of ancestors that he reconnected with in this life in his restored his family line which will live forever in the Torah Scroll he dedicated . The Torah he shared will always live on. The Shabbatot that he sacrificed his livelihood so many times for will forever be an inspiration to those that shared them with him. And the individuals who he drew closer to our heritage with- the beauty of our holidays, the joy of traditions and the everlasting truth that we have one God in heaven who looks after and cares for us, will always live true to his legacy that in our fragile limited existences on this glorious planet Hashem created for us we are charged to make the world a better place.. a more loving place…a holy abode…
And then there is me. His simple Rabbi who feels he has lost his father, his brother, his friend, his partner and his greatest inspiration with the passing of Yerachmiel. To my children and wife he was our family and zaydie when everyone else lived so far away. Each Shabbos he would have a different treat, Our Purims were filled with his fun and costumes. Our shuls in Seattle (of which he was a pillar in all three transitions) were forever filled with his singing Friday nights during services, his insights into the Torah portion and his smile and good word to everyone. Our Shabbos meals in Israel still miss the heated discussions about everything from politics, sports and generally Judaism and Torah of which he was always the center. There is a hole in my heart and my soul without Bob, one that I need him so badly to fill in the way only he could. In my times of challenge he was always there for me as he was for so many. And now as we enter a new world without him. I know he is looking down upon us and will be praying to the Almighty once again to finally bring peace solace and comfort to the so many who are in pain and mourning from his departing.
I would like to conclude with an E-Mail I received from Bob after our first High Holidays together as we began our shared adventure of his new journey in life. It is from the holy Bob that not all were lucky enough to see.  It is a letter written to me but in truth I feel it reflects the deepest yearning of Yerachmiel Nachums soul.
My Beloved Rabbi,

No words can express my very first High Holy Holidays ( all 12 hours of soulful prayer) under the WSTLC tent. This last year was a test of my spirit and survival as a Jew. First, the Israel trip which connected me to the land of my forefathers, the marriage of both my daughters, the birth of my grandson Brock, the upcoming birth of my granddaughter Ayala, a heart attack in September 2005 and an emotional and exhausting divorce after 20 years of marriage.. On September 4th I discovered my grandfather's resting place in St. Louis after 89
years. Nachem Pechersky passed away on Sept. 25, 1917 and I, and my brother Bruce, will be the first to daven for his eternal soul.
I ask myself would my grandfather be proud of his Jewish grandson? There have been few mitzvahs that I have held in very high esteem yet I recognize that I have returned and that the gates of repentance and hope are slightly open. Today I felt that I, the grandson of Nachem Pechersky, held the keys for generations of Jews seeking to return to "Our Father, Our King." For nearly 60 years I have squandered my heritage and my self-worth and now I stand at the crossroads. During the ten days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur I couldn't stop sobbing for my grandfather who I never met. Somehow he was calling for me, pulling me, begging me to be the grandson he has prayed for to Hashem. With the family lineage nearly extinct Nachem waits for me, alone, in St. Louis for kaddish and a glorious 'world to come'. This experience has touched my soul that I can only describe from the second blessing of  the Shemoneh Esrei: /Who Is Like You, O Master of Mighty Deeds and Who Is Comparable to You, O King Who Causes Death //and Restores Life and Makes Salvation Sprout!/

Nachem...you have not been abandoned! Hashem will restore Life and Make Salvation Sprout. I will return to you as I have returned to my family at Sinai. We will be together as we share the eternity of Torah.

Robert Nachem Ross.
Yerachmiel, have you come home and made your Zaydie Nachum proud. We look forward to that time that you quoted from your daily prayer. When we will all be united once again.
With love from your humbled rabbi,
Ephraim Schwartz

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Magic Kingdom-Lech Lecha 5772

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
November 4th 2011 -Volume 2, Issue 2–6th of Cheshvan 5772
Parshat Lech Lecha
The Magic Kingdom

It was a sad statistic. One that I’m still not sure is true. But one that certainly is reflective of the sad state of affairs of our people. Twice as many American Jews have been to Disney World than have been to Israel.  Yet considering that in circles that are not Orthodox (which make up a very large chunk of the 35 percent who have visited) and those who have visited on free Birthright trips only about 18 percent of Americans have ever gone. Even more depressing though, was that according to this study that I had heard, the majority of those whom did not come to Israel if offered a trip to Israel or to Disneyland they would take the latter. Now don’t get me wrong. I like Mickey Mouse as much as the next guy (or at least Donald Duck). I have even heard there is the possibility of getting Kosher food ordered in some of the restaurants in Disney.  But have we fallen so far from the days when even the mention of the word of Jerusalem would elicit tears of longing from even the simplest of our ancestors that we would trade it for a fleeting fantasy world?
Yet in some ways I can understand those who don’t come. It’s a long shlep, the media sounds scary, it’s a different culture. It’s not like they don’t support Israel. In fact Jewish contributions to Israel are up significantly over the past years. No less than 55 “Major Jewish Organizations” in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the umbrella body for agencies, include Israel as a fundamental part of their portfolio. This doesn’t count the thousands of synagogues and even more schools that work to strengthen the ties of American Jews to Israel. There is also a significant amount of umbrella funds and foundations that provide much of the budgets of the over 18,000 non-profits in Israel. Beyond their financial contributions, American Jews are most active in advocating and lobbying in support of Israel. They just don’t see a point in coming here.
Ironically enough the State of Israel which is aware of the tremendous challenge of drawing more Jews to visit Israel has came up with the perfect solution. Two words…Disney Israel.  Although it is still in the development stages but the Mayor of Haifa is excited at the prospect of becoming a major world tourist site.  Just please don’t call him Mickey Moishe.
This week’s Parsha begins the story of the first of our ancestors to ever step foot in the Land. Avraham (or Avram as he was known at that time) left it all behind and at the word of God made the big hike up to what was soon to be the Holy Land. The Parsha tells us the story of this first Oleh in great deal. He traverses the land from North to South, he suffers from times of hunger and flees to Egypt who weren’t particularly receptive (some things never change) He comes back and deals with local warring forces that kidnap his family members (see previous parenthesis).  Seemingly as much land as there is, there is still fighting between his shepherds and his nephew Lot’s sheperds over the grazing land they have chosen-read limited real Estate issues- and the discussion of pitching tents in various other places begins-(and you were wondering when that tent city thing really started J) . Problems having kids, problems with his wife, and then his other wife… Yet through it all there is one constant. Hashem continuously promises him this is the land I have promised to you and your children. More than anything else Hashem has in his repository goodies and rewards for those that follow him dutifully Eretz Yisrael is the grand prize. The gift that makes it all worth it.
So what is it that is so special about this land? One would think that if Avraham had to undergo all of these trials and tribulations that the Torah would at least once tell us what Hashem had told Avraham was so important about the land that he was inheriting. Yet unlike later when the Jewish people had to be told about the wondrous crops, the milk and honey and bountiful rivers and the Divine protection that Israel will always possess, to be convinced to make Aliyah, to Avraham Hashem just repeats multiple times in this Parsha “this is the land that will be for you and your descendants… from there I will make you great… from there nations will be blessed through you and from there I will be your God.”  No economic benefit, no lush mountains and gorgeous scenery, no easy peaceful life and no Disney. The only thing special about Israel that Avraham needed to be told was that it was the land Hashem had chosen for him and it was the perfect and only place where he and his descendants were going to fulfill their national mandate of bringing blessing and God to the world. It was the only thing required in Hashem’s tourist brochure to Avraham, and the rest is our history.
It saddens me when I see so many Christian tourists in Israel from literally all over the world. In fact last week National Geographic of Russia voted Israel as the number two tourist location in the world (after Italy, ahead of Paris, Switzerland and yes even the great U.S. of A.). Not that I don’t appreciate their tremendous boost to our economy (especially the tour guiding one which I have entered J). Rather it is because when you ask them why they come to Israel, the answer is always the same. “It is God’s country, it’s the place of the Bible, it is the most important place on Earth”. How sad is it that they get it…but so many of us, the people who it was promised to don’t?  Why should it take free trips, pictures of beaches in Eilat, cafes in Tel Aviv, art, culture middle eastern shuk experiences and even Jewish history to get the descendants of Abraham to even consider popping in to say hi, or dare I even say to take the leap of even considering moving to the place Hashem designed just for us…and for Him. It’s sad that we have forgotten what is really special about Eretz Yisrael because what it really means is that we have forgotten what is so special about us. Avraham knew his life was a mission from Hashem and he therefore wanted to live in the best place to fulfill that mission; to serve God in the ultimate way and to inspire the world with the beauty of our Creator. Today even many of us who are privileged to live in Israel sometimes forget what it is we are here for and the specialness and the responsibility that comes with that turf.
May we soon merit that Moshiach rather than Mouse-shiach soon bring us all back to that ultimate home with so that we can finally see the fulfillment of that ancient eternal promise when we can merit to bring out the greatness within each of us in the perfect home of Hashem.
Have an amazing Shabbos!
Beit Shearim – A truly amazing and important site to see in Israel unlike anything you have ever seen before. The city named after the plentiful crops or blessing it possessed (similar to the name Meah Shearim meaning 100 times- not gates as is often mistranslated) was the home of the Sanhedrin after the destruction of the Temple for many years. What made it most important though was it’s Jewish celebrity Rav Yehudah Ha’Nasi the prince of Israel who for the first time in jewish history wrote the Oral Sinaitc tradition and commandments down in the form the mishna.
When he died in the nearby city of Tzipori he was brought here for burial which led to the start of Beit Shearim’s industry of the chief international burial place for the Jewish nation from around the world. Being that Jeruslem was out of Jewish control for hundreds of years Jews who wished to be buried in Israel came (or more accurately were brought to Beit Shearim. Today we have uncovered 100’s of Burial caves with incredible mauseluoms and wildly extravagant Sacrophags-stone coffins in the caves of Beit Shearim. All of course except one- reb Yehudah HaNasi has a simple grave with the names of his children engraved on the wall nearby. After all he is the sage who was quoted as saying” Righteous people do not require fancy gravestones- for their words are their remembrance. Also in Beit Shearim one can visit the site of the Sanhedrin. A truly fascinating visit to an important part of our Jewish story.