Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
November 18th 2011 -Volume 2, Issue 4–6th of 21st Cheshvan 5772
Parshat Chayei Sarah
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.
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL PLACES IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK-
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!!!