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.


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