Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
December 16th 2011 -Volume 2, Issue 7–6th of Kislev 5772
There is a story I once heard from Rabbi Berel Wein about one of his older congregants, a simple older woman, who not having been raised with much Torah education would approach him after shul each week with questions and issues about the various biblical stories from the weekly Torah portion that would trouble her. When Parshat Vayeishev came, he recalls she came to him in tears and full of indignation for poor Yosef- Joseph.
"How could they do this to him?" she cried. "Such a poor young man, and his own brothers try to kill him, and then they sell him" How could this happen!?
Rabbi Wein did his best to console the woman, yet he feared that somehow he would never be able to explain to her properly one of the more difficult Torah narratives. As the year went on and her questions persisted Rabbi Wein dreaded the upcoming anniversary of the Vayeishev Yosef story. Much to his surprise though, after services the much awaited outburst never came. When he approached her and asked what she thought of the story this year and why she had not responded again. She replied
"Listen Rabbi, once I can feel sorry for him, but if he was dumb enough to go back again this year to his brothers, than it's his fault – Tze Koomt Em- he deserves it"
Simple old women stories aside though, this weeks Parsha certainly contains in it some of the most troubling stories of our forefathers. Every year when I read this Parsha it always strikes me how contrary to other ancient "histories" of all other cultures that tend to at best whitewash their laundry, but more often than not even fabricate legends heroics and even god-like figureheads of their founders. Judaism and the Torah with its dedication to truth and moral lessons paint a very disturbing and critical image of our ancestors from whose fabric our nation is sewn.
We read in this week's portion about Yackov and his favoritism for his son Yosef over his other children. We read about Yosef's dreams of leadership that he exacerbates his brothers with. We read about their jealousy, their scheming, and their deception to their father. The Torah even goes out of its way to tell us even the most scandalous stories about Yehudah and his relationship with his Daughter-in- law who poses as a harlot and Yosef's almost-seduction by his Egyptian bosses wife ( have I tempted you enough to come to shul this Shabbos yet?J). No, it does not look good for the Jewish people.
Yet it is in this Parsha also that beneath the scenes of all the chaos that is going on the seeds of redemption are being planted. From Yosef going down to Egypt the road is being paved for the Jewish peoples sojourn and survival in exile in the upcoming famine. As he is falsely thrown into jail for having committed a sin with his seductress he is merely being prepared for the time when he will be able to be given the opportunity to be released and become the vice premier to Pharoh. Even slightly more hidden in the parsha though, is that from the seemingly illicit relationship of Yehudah and Tamar the eventual seeds of Moshiach and King David comes forth and are born. In the darkness there is light and it is precisely in the worst of times when redemption can most be found.
This parsha is always read Chanukah time. It is an interesting holiday Chanukah. In the large picture of history one would think that it would almost be irrelevant. To get a picture of the times, the much fragmented Jewish people to a large part had assimilated into the beauty and immorality of Greek culture. The Greeks were not interested in destroying the Jewish people or even the Jewish religion. They just wanted it Greekified. Have your temple- but also worship our gods. Bring your sacrifices- but also slaughter pigs. Light your menorah- just use defiled oil… and just place it next to your Chanukah bush..(oops). And the Jews to a large degree did. The situation seemed hopeless. One can almost hear the sages of the time raising their voices in prayer Mimaakim Karsicha Hashem- From the depths I have called out to you Hashem. Will we ever be able to rebuild? Can a small group of Kohanim- temple priests dedicated to a life of service in the Temple ever win against the largest world power and army? Can we ever be whole again? And it is then that we were granted our miracle.
It is perhaps very revealing, that the Holiday of Chanukah really does not put its focus as much on the miraculous victory of our small nation against the mighty world empire of Greece , as it does around the miracle of the oil; the miracle of the light that would not be extinguished, the flame of the Menorah. In fact within 50 years after the Chanukah victory, the new empire on the block, Rome had already begun to make it's inroads into Israel and influencing and assimilating the children of the Maccabees. Not much further down the road they would eventually pillage and destroy that temple, for which the Chasmonaim gave their lifeblood to rededicate, and it would not be rebuilt again even until our day. Yet Chanukah is still celebrated. Celebrated because in the darkness we were able to glimmer at the light. We were able to see the miraculous hand of Hashem in a situation that seemed hopeless.
It is a unique holiday. Whereas all the other holidays fall out in the middle of the month Chanukah is at the end, when the moon is the smallest, when it is the darkest. On all other holidays the mitzvah rituals, matzah eating, Sukkah sitting, Megillah reading, take place during the day and the night. On Chanukah when the nights are the longest and the darkest we only light our Menorahs in the evening at night. And what is our mitzvah? To take a small wick and oil (or candle) and to light a small flame and to remember and focus on the incredible light and flame that still burns within us.
The kabbalah notes how the word for oil- Shemen has within it the same root as the word for soul Neshomah.
"Ner Hashem Nishmas Adam- The candle of Hashem is the soul of man"
King Solomon wrote. There is a spark within each of us, the Zohar tells us, that is always connected, that can never become sullied and defiled, that can always be redeemed and shine forth. That is our Shemen, that is our lovingly entrusted Neshomah; our soul. And just as oil no matter how diluted you may try to make it will always eventually rise to the top. So too our inner flame no matter how dark and lonely, and no matter how distant we may have wandered, will always be able to come forth and shine through.
So as we gaze, like our ancestors before us have for millennia, into the soft welcoming flame of our menorahs. Let us pray and hope that Hashem helps us find and light that spark of holiness and redemption within us. That He once again picks us up from the depths and the darkness. May he give us the joy and health that we long for and the Divine love that we so sorely miss. As he did for our Yosef and our forefathers so long ago in Egypt , as he did for the Maccabees in Israel and as he still does for us in our time. May it be his will as we say in our blessing on our menorah that we truly are able to feel the SheOsah Nisim L'Avoseinu Ba'Yamim Haheim Ba'Zman Hazeh- that He performs miracles for our forefather in those days in this time.
Good Shabbos and a Bright and light filled Chanukah,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL PLACES IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK-
UNDER THE “ROVA” IN JERUSALEM – up on top of the jewish quarter of the old city of jerusalem one sees youth playing, tourists from all over the world, pizzas shwarmas and even holy bagels being sold out of every crack in the wall… truly a prophesy of the once destroyed city restored has been fulfilled at least in part as we still await our temple. Yet to truly appreciate the restoration one has to travel back 200 thousand years and a few meters below ground in the wohl archeological museum and to “the burnt house museum” to truly appreciate what this city endured during its destruction. From 1948 until 1967 the jewish rova was under jordanian control and they destroyed the homes on top. In 1967 when we returned to our ancient city the unique opportunity to explore for the first time since the destruction of the temple as they excavated before rebuilding the now new and imporved rova arose. And amazing finds were found. 6 homes that belonged to the elite of the kohanim who lived in the upper city were uncovered with gorgeous mosaic floors, ballrooms elaborate bathrooms and of course mikvaot to purify themselves. There were coins that were minted during the jewish revolt with the date “ to the year of the redemption of jerusalem and even- in honor of chanuakah a hand drawing – the oldest of its kind – of the menorah that was in the temple giving us a idea of what it looked like with vessels that go back to the period of the chashmonaim. All this and more can be seen in the wohl museum.
In the burnt house one can actually go to the home of kitros upon who the talmud says
"...woe is me because of the house of kathros, woe is me because of their pens. ... For they are the high priests, and their sons are treasurers, and their sons-in law are trustees, and their servants beat the people with staves".
Archeologists believe this is house because a weight was found that states his name on it there. Nice to find a proof of the name of someone the talmud says lived there. There is a very moving short film of the story of the destruction and the civil war between the rebels that led to the destruction. In the home one sees the burnt walls from its destruction a month after the temple was destroyed and pictures of the skeleton of a human female arm right next to a spear head. Was she killed with it was she reaching for it… we will never know…. Regardless it is impossible to not appreciate the incredible miracle of our return home 2000 years later once again. May the final and complete redemption come again soon…