Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
December 23rd 2011 -Volume 2, Issue 8–27th of Kislev 5772
Parshat Mikeitz/ Chanukah
What would you do?
Imagine being in prison; an ancient Egyptian pre-geneva conference prisoner rights prison facing what is certain to be a life sentence. After 10 years there was a glimmer of hope. You’ve befriended one of the Pharaoh’s vassals and he had assured you that he would advocate on your behalf. Yet here you are 2 years later and zip…nada… same old Egyptian prison grind. Bakers who can’t keep pebbles out of his bread, That Egyptian teenager who wrote graffiti all over the pyramid walls (said it was hieroglyphics) in cell 3 the cranky midianite camel thief in cell 4. How long will I be here?
And than your moment arrives. It seems that there is an opening in the dream interpreting department of the pharaoh. The last few guys seemed to have ended up in dreamland themselves after some interpretations they gave just weren’t cutting it with the megalomaniac king. This could finally be it. Only problem is, it seems that this Pharaoh has somewhat of a god complex in the center of this idol-belt part of the ancient world. And you believe in this “insane” notion of a one God world who happens to abhor idols and men that think they are gods. What do you do? Do you take off your yarmulke and put your religious beliefs on the side to get out of the hell that you have been suffering through and leave your faith out of the workplace? Or do you utilize this momentous-once in a life time opportunity to espouse your religious beliefs in a public way before the king and all his loyal servants and priests (who happen to make a very good living out of the false god mindset of their ancient society) perhaps in the process showing them the error of their ways and the beauty of your faith?
Scenario II: You are a young child living in an intolerant Greek society. Intolerant is really just being polite, actually they kind of kill you if you don’t worship their gods or if you openly practice your Judaism. So now this young boy is standing in front of the “Caesar” after having watched his 6 older siblings being carted off to be killed for violating those two cardinal crimes. Caesar, being in a bit of a jam after being defied in front of his whole entourage, offers the lad a way out. “I’ll drop my ring on the floor and you bend down to pick it up- that way you won’t technically be bowing down and I’ll save face”; An easy and seemingly quite benevolent solution from a life threatening situation. Do you say to yourself “he who bows down today will live to pray another day”? Or do you take advantage of this tremendous teaching opportunity to point out to the king how silly he is to assume that I, a child, would be more concerned about his honor as a flesh and blood being and a mere mortal king and not worry about the honor and desecration of the name of the King of all Kings, our Father in Heaven?
Scenario III You live in the quaint Judean village of Mod’in and you have been called to the city square by the newest Greek general in town for a special occasion. An altar is being built and dedicated in the center of town and a sacrifice is being made. You’re not too happy about this invitation. In general you try to avoid these things and truthfully you had other plans this morning, you were going to pick some olives, stamp on some grapes to make some wine for the upcoming Purim holiday or even suffer through another annoying day sitting through that donkey traffic at the local shuk. Anything but another Greek festival. But you know the price for not coming, and frankly you prefer your head on the top side of your head… so you go. Yet this time things go a little differently than usua,l for as the General stands there he orders the local Jewish priest to sacrifice a pig on the altar. Now that’s a big no no, as we all know, but what can you do? They are in power now. Jews don’t fight and particularly not against the largest and strongest army on the planet earth. Listen, if I suffer through this a little bit and pretend to be happy with them, the truth is the Greeks are really not bad. I mean check out the beautiful streets and markets they have brought to the area. They really cleaned up these slums those barbarian Persians and Babylonians left this country in. The music, the architecture, the literature, the science, the arts. So they have this minor pig- killing- in- front- their- idols fetish. Nobody gets hurt (besides porky), they have fun, we have fun and we all go home happy.
As these thoughts pass through your head you are shaken out of your reverie by this seemingly crazy fanatic Rabbi who pushes his way to the front grabs a sword and kills the priest in front of everyone. This is not going to be good, you think as tens of soldiers from all sides converge on the middle. I should have called in sick, you think. But then the Rabbi jumps up and announces the start of a revolt.”Who is for Hashem the one true God join with me!” he calls out. “lets run to the caves grab some sticks and begin a guerilla war against the entire Greek empire. Join me on a war that will restore the sanctity of the Temple so that we can once again offer our daily sacrifices and prayer and get rid of these goyim for once and for all.” This does not seem like a good idea. You don’t particularly like caves. You really were never too inspired by the Temple and the whole cow sacrifice thing in the first place. In fact you can’t really remember the last time you made the pilgrimage up there. It’s been a mess these last few years and quite frankly you hated the shlep and were getting kind of used to Pessach and Sukkot at home together with the family in your nice latest greek mosaic furnished living room. Yet something inside of you is saying, maybe the Rabbi is right. Maybe I should stand up. Maybe life was meant to be something more. Maybe if I join the battle, that voice inside of me that has been waking me up in the middle of the night reminding me of my roots will finally be stilled… Be fulfilled.
From a historical perspective the holiday of Chanukah is not one that I think any of us would dedicate a holiday to. Yes, the old man and his sons led by Yehudah Maccabee did indeed make their way to the Temple in some miraculous victories and they lit a rather pathetic wooden menorah they constructed with some oil that miraculously lasted for eight days. Yet the Greeks were still in control of the Temple mount and still shooting at them from the Temple mount. It wasn’t until after the first 4 sons died in battle and the last son Shimon was left did they final conquer the Temple mount. However his son Yochanan eventually became a Greek once again, and his son Alexander eventually wiped out the Rabbinic leadership and within a few generations the Chasmonean family invited in Rome and the Temple was eventually destroyed. That small light and window in the dark period is not necessarily something to make a holiday for. It would be like making a holiday for a small victory that the Warsaw Ghetto had before their eventual destruction. So what indeed is the holiday about?
The answer, our sages tell us, is that the Jewish holiday is not focused on the battles rather it is all about the lighting of the Menora; The Jews lighting that eternal spark that gave them and us the strength and the fortitude to stand up for our eternal values regardless of the cost, the danger, and the ridicule of those that do not appreciate the special-ness of our Torah. Rav Shabsi Yudelevitch tells a story of how once he was waiting on a hot Tel Aviv day at the central bus station waiting for a bus to Jerusalem to come along with 10’s of other people. When the bus arrived a large burly un-gentleman pushed his way through the crowd to the front of the line. As the crowd who were obviously outraged by his chutzpa (even by Israeli standards) confronted him, he turned to them with arrogance and said
“Do you not know who I am?. Do you not see the hat on my head with its symbols and the badge on my chest and on my shoulders? Don’t you see that I am from the Machleket Ha’Sanitorium(the Sanitorium Department)”
For a minute they were all taken aback- not recognizing what the Sanitorium department was. Until someone looked at the badge a little closer and realized that the obviously deluded person was in fact a garbage collector for the Israeli sanitation department. Yet he wore his badge with pride. He had medals. He had a hat and a uniform and he felt he was the king of the world.
Reb Shabsi then turns to his crowd and asks and what than should we feel? The king of all Kings has chosen us to be His nation, His representatives on earth should we not wear His badge with pride. Is there anything that should ever make us feel ashamed of our connection and special relationship with Him. Yosef in the heart of Egypt, The youngest son of Channa and our ancestors the Maccabees lit that that flame and had the strength to respond the way they did because they were proud of their beliefs. Why should they ever want to hide it? How could they. Just as a loving Jewish bubby can’t help herself but to pull out her pictures of her children and grandchildren, or a young groom or bride cannot stop to sing the praises of their fiancée or a new father or mother who will go on and on about their anecdotes of their babies first crawl,first diaper and first drool, should we feel any less when we have such a special history such an incredible heritage and legacy that we have been chosen and blessed with?
The holiday of Chanukah is celebrated by lighting that age old flame and remembering the courage and pride of our ancestors and then with the singing of songs of praise of how lucky we are. We light those candles in a place that our children, family and those out in the streets can see. So that the world will know that we have nothing to be embarrassed of and we take pride in our special-ness. May we very soon merit to shine the eternal flame of our people with pride once again in the Temple rebuilt soon in our days.
Good Shabbos and a Bright and light filled Chanukah,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZES FAVORITE CHANUKAH PICTURE OF THE YEAR J
RABBI SCHWARTZES FAVORITE CHANUKAH FUNNY VIDEO OF THE YEAR
(funny but sad of those who don’t necessarily appreciate the pride of Chanuka)
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL PLACES IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK-
THE SOUTHERN TEMPLE MOUNT WALL – Not being able to go up to the Temple wall due to our state of impurity and lack of knowledge of exactly what the permitted areas for the Tamei to walk and not walk we can still today however get an appreciation of the Temple and the period by viewing some of the excavations from the Southern wall. Underneath Robinsons Arch we can see the old city street where there were stores and mikvaot to buy animals for sacrifices and purify oneself before you go up to the mount. The arch itself was not the entrance for the regular people rather it was for the palace that Herod had built for all the non Jewish dignitaries to view the Temple, it was actually built near the foundations of the Greek Chakra where the Greeks had built a fortress and temple for idolatry and during the Chanukah story when the Maccabees restored the service was still active and in fact a firing point against them.
On the SouthWest corner of this wall there was found a rock that had fallen from the Temple mount when it was destroyed by the Romans that stated that this is the stand of the Shofar blower, where as the Talmud tells us each Friday the Shofar would be blown to call people from the fields for Shabbat. Further along the gate one can see the remains of the various former Arab Palaces that were built here and finally one can see the Hulda double gate where the pilgrims would actually go up to the temple. One gate to enter and one gate to exit exceot for mouners who would walk in the wrong door so that all who would see them would comfort and console them on their loss. May we soon merit to see the Temple in its former glory restored once again.