Our view of the Galile

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Jewish Guilt- Parshat Vayeitzei 5772

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

December 2nd 2011 -Volume 2, Issue 6–6th of Kislev 5772

Parshas Vayitzei

Jewish Guilt

"What do you mean you’re not finishing up your supper?? Don't you know that there are starving people in Ethiopia ...that would give anything to have a little something to eat??"

Thus I was introduced to our wonderful national attribute... good old Jewish guilt. (Incidentally it also was the beginning of my weight struggle.. a little back at you Mom .) Yes we are certainly a people that are nursed on healthy sense of guilt. Perhaps it is what makes us so focused on creating a better society... one where we won't have to feel so guilty about all the worlds’ problems. It has always been fascinating to me the extent to which our people are at the forefront of almost every cause that the world has. World peace, civil rights, hunger in Africa (we just want to be able to leave over some supper one day y'know), Environment, education there is nary cause out there that you won’t find Jews  in the forefront of the battlefield to improve and enhance and to... stop feeling guilty?

Now in case this e-mail is making you feel guilty about feeling too guilty-yes we do that too, I will do my small share as a Rabbi to ease your pain and help you realize that there is absolutely nothing that you are able to do about that sinking sense you get regularly or those strains of conscience that keep you up at night. The fact it is to a certain degree they are our birthright and our namesake going all the way back to the beginning. to the defining essence of our people when our Matriarch Leah first named our first ancestor. This is who we are.

In this week’s Parsha we read of the birth of the twelve tribes to Yaacov and his wives. None of the births were natural and they all came after much prayer and tears. A lesson in of itself. Leah, who was certainly not the favored of Yackov’s four wives, spent years crying and praying that she should merit to be married to Yaacov, rather than his older brother the brutal hunter Esav. Finally as she merits her marriage with him and begins to bring forth the future Jewish people names each of them with the power and thoughts of her emotions and prayers. Reuven -God has seen my affliction- Shimon- God has heard my grief. Levi - I have been able to accompany my husband.

When she reaches Son number four however, Yehudah-Judah, she announces

"This time I will praise Hashem"

Rashi as well as the other commentators note that what was different this time was that now she has received more than her portion… more than she felt she deserved. Being that through prophesy all had known that there would be 12 tribes and that Yackov had four wives, by having merited to produce a fourth she recognized that her blessing was one that was more than the others would have. Her share felt now extra blessed than others and in turn she had to do something back. She had to give back to Hashem, with praise, that sense of appreciation for an undeserved blessing.

Rabbi Dr.Abraham Twerski points out that in Hebrew there are three words that all have the same root. To praise- Hodaah- To thank-Todah- To confess- Viduy. He also notes that in his 40 years of professional practice he has come to understand that those three words are the three most important words to learn when building a happy and fulfilled relationship. "I am sorry" I appreciate you" and " I admire you". The connecting link in all three of these things is that there is an incredible capacity within us human beings to live our lives, our marriages, our gifts and our blessings with an oblivious sense of their source coming from outside of ourselves. We live, we happen and we take for granted. If we fail someone, particularly someone we love, particularly Hashem, we would rather just move on. It is hard to face our mistakes and to meaningfully say we're sorry. If someone does us a kindness it is not natural to focus and praise and express our appreciation. Perhaps we are scared of the imbalance it might cause us in our relationship. Perhaps it might make us feel unworthy or guilty.

Yet, Rabbi Twerski notes, in fact the opposite actually occurs . The more one can express their admission, be it thanks, apology or praise and admiration, the greater and closer the relationship becomes. The more we are able to perform Hodaah, to channel our feelings of undeserved-ness into a reciprocal giving back to the source of our blessing the better and ultimately the more deserving we become and experience in the relationships we will have.

We are a people that are called Jews. Although we decend from all of the twelve tribes the name of the tribe of Yehudah-Judah has become our title; the little sticker nametag on our shirt.

Recently while visiting one of the many museums here in Israel I watched film footage of our people with that sticker on our shirt. Except that it wasn't a white sticker  in a little plastic case nametag safty-pinned on. It was yellow and it was in the shape of a star and  it said JUDEN-Jew. In Hitler's Mein Kampf he writes "The Jews have an inflicted two wounds upon society circumcision on their bodies and a conscience on their soul". That is our yellow star. That is our essence. To bring a sense of appreciation and yes even a feeling of undeserved-ness to the world of the incredible blessings and responsibilities that come with them for all mankind.

We are Yehudim and yes we may suffer from a little guilt. But as my mother would say a little guilt can go a long way;  especially if it is the way to Hashem our loving and most important relationship and the way to our home. So do a little guilt, say your sorry, say thank you, express your admiration for all the love and blessings you have. Mean it. And you’ll have a better Shabbos. I promise.

Have a happy earliest Shabbos of the year J,

Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


Hammat Tiverya – These ancient hot springs which still flow today right across from the Kinneret we are told by our sages found their source goes back to the times of the flood when the water came up from the depths of the earth. Arab sources bring a legend that King Shlomo (or Suleiman as they call him) sent demons underground to heat up the waters and then he made them deaf so that they wouldn’t know of shlomo’s death so they would continue to heat the waters and not rebel later. The Talmud and Josephus all quote sources that this was a central healing place for much of the Roman and Jewish world. In fact the Talmud states that the reason Hashem didn’t create hot springs in Jerusalem was because He didn’t want people coming to Jerusalem and saying “if we had only come for the hot springs (rather then to see the Temple) it would have be enough.

Also located at the natural parks of Hammat Tiverya are the excavations of ancient 4th-6th century synagogues that functioned during those periods. Having undergone repeated earthquakes (being at the edge of the Syrian/african tectonic plates divide) they as well as much of the Galile faced devastating destruction almost every 1 or two centuries. Each synagogue was built on top of the remains of the previous one and one can see incredible mosaic floors that remain with the fascinating astrological circles and even pictures of Helios the ancient sun god a common motif back then but not something you would expect to find in any traditional synagogue today.

You can also pop in to see the ancient Turkish baths and msuem there. However to really get a feel of the healing powers pop across the street to the modern day baths in the Tiberias hot springs and soak your worries away.

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