Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
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!
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL PLACES IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK-
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.