Our view of the Galile

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Blessing of Children-Vayechi 5772

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
January 6th  2012 -Volume 2, Issue 10 –11th of Tevet 5772

The Blessing of Children

She was a new nurse in the maternity ward in Israel, not aware of the miraculous births that take place here. As she entered the first room she saw a new mother with 4 newborn babies lying next to her in their hospital bassinets. “Wow” she said “are all of these yours?” “Yes” said the new mother. “I just had quadruplets last night, but actually…” she said “that’s quite common.  You see, I come from the city of Kiryat Arba (the Israeli community translated as “village of four) and a lot of my friends have four children.”

Pretty amazing” the nurse thought as she went to the next room. Much to her surprise the next patient was lying down with 7 little infants around her. “Are these all yours?” she again asked in shock. “Certainly” the proud mom exclaimed, “I’m from Be’er Sheva (the well of seven) and many of us have septuplets”. The next room had a mother from the city of Kiryat Shmona (the city of eight) and sure enough 8 adorable little babies were pleasantly cooing around the mother’s bed. When the nurse came to the next room though, she immediately turned around and started running out of the hospital. On her way out the doctors asked her where she was going. With a sign of total resignation the poor lady said “I quit! There’s no way I am going in the next room”. “Why? What’s the matter?” the doctor said. “Don’t you know,” the exasperated and clearly overwhelmed nurse responded. “The lady in the last room is from Meah Shearim (the city of 100 measures)!!!” JJ

Jokes aside, (although I thought this was a pretty funny one), we have lots of babies here in Israel…especially in Meah Shearim. The Satmar Rebbe was once quoted as saying “Ahhhh don’t you love the little Yerushalmi children, when they’re young they’re so cute, you could just eat them up… when they get older though, you sometimes wish you had…”. I don’t know if it’s only Yeurshalmi children. The kids here are different then the ones in the States. I don’t see a lot of computer games or sitting in front of TV sets, nor are there a lot of tennis lessons or even little leagues. The kids that I see here like cats… running around in the streets. They like hiking through the woods, jumping down waterfalls, playing jump-rope, hop-scotch, marbles, nuts, and one of the new fads in the religious circles are trading Rebbe cards and mitzvah stickers. There’s such an incredible innocence and perhaps even a more natural sense of discovery and fulfillment that children in Israel have. It’s not the newest toy or gadget that will make them happy. It’s reveling in the beauty and history of our country and people and the thrill of discovery that makes there childhood so special. It is truly a country that was made for kids. And kid that I am, a country for me…

This week’s Torah portion the last of the book of Bereishis ends with the story and blessing of Jewish children. Truth is most of the book and stories revolved around the families and challenges that led to the people of Israel. Adam and Eve and their two children-fighting over who would inherit the world (medrash). Noach and his three children and once again one of them Cham, also concerned about his legacy if his father should have more children, gets thrust and cursed out of the family. Isaac and Yishmael, Jacob and Esau, Yosef and his brothers- all seemingly dysfunctional families of children who seemingly can’t get along, who fight over their rightful roles, and who many of us might have said thank god that’s not our family… it is. They were and are our roots and the Sefer Bereishis that we read each year doesn’t give us much chance to hide from it. The good news though is that the story of Bereishis doesn’t end there. It concludes this week with the story of two more brothers, and the story of their blessing. Perhaps the perfect answer, message and legacy to the millennia story of the family that was very soon to become the nation of Israel. Perhaps the reason of how we were finally able to become a nation.

 And he (Yaackov) blessed them on that day sayingBicha Yivareich Yisrael-So shall Israel bless saying-‘May Hashem place you like Ephraim and Menashe’ and he placed Ephraim before Menashe.” The Torah shares us the strange story of Yaakov’s blessing of these two children of Yosef. We are told that Yaakov switches his hands placing his right hand on the younger brother and the left on the older brother in opposition to Yosef who feels the older brother should get the more important right hand blessing. Yosef perhaps suffering from the years of knowing that bad things happen in this family when younger brothers are placed first. Yet Yaakov persists claiming ultimately Ephraim will be greater so he deserves the right hand blessing. It is a strange story. One that is difficult to understand. But stranger still is the blessing itself. What type of blessing is this? Is it a blessing that all Jews will be blessing using your names and stature? And why does the Torah need to tell us that he placed Ephraim before Menashe, don’t we know that already? It is interesting and perhaps revealing that the Torah uses the same root word. “May Hashem place you… and he placed Ephraim before Menashe”

The 13th century scholar Rabbeinu Bachaya says a fascinating insight into this blessing. He suggests that the placement of Ephraim before Menashe, his older brother was not to give him greater honor, rather the opposite. He placed him before him in order to humble him before him as one who should honor he who he is standing before and be subservient and respectful towards. Yaakov was teaching Ephraim, that although he may be greater and more scholarly and have descendants who become leaders spiritually and physically (Joshua being a descendant of Ephraim). He should never let it get to his head. He should always remember to give honor and respect to his brother who is older. Although Menashe and his desendants may not be the movers, shakers leaders and rabbis that Ephraim may be, yet each of them have their own role, none is greater than the other and their blessing is and will be that all of the Jewish people will long for the placement and legacy that these two brothers will leave. Each fulfilling their own God given destiny, yet each cherished in their understanding that no Jew is more loved than another before our Father and the job and life mandate of each of them are equally important in the eyes of Hashem.

This past week we observed the fast of the tenth of Tevet; the date when the siege, a year and half before the destruction on the city of Jerusalem began. This year when the fast came I mourned. I mourned not as much on the destruction of the Temple but for what our sages tells us what the root cause of its destruction and why we have not yet merited for it being rebuilt. The sages put a word on the cause- Sinat Chinam- baseless hatred. I mourned as I read the newspaper 2000 years after the Temple had been destroyed and saw that nothing has really changed. I mourned when I read about “religious Jews” who were screaming protesting and worse women and children that they did not feel were behaving as religiously as they did. I mourned when I read in the media about how terrible religious jews are who don’t serve in the army who are parasites of society and who should be expelled from the country at best. I mourned when I read about left wing jews decried “settlers” who have no place in our country and endanger our lives by living where they do-in “arab land occupied by Israel” and there “price tag” response to being thrown out of their unjustly occupied homes. And I mourned as I read those same settlers calling the left wingers anti-zionist, anti jewish, traitors and proletariat elite that have lost their way. Not a day goes by that our army- the first Jewish army since the times of Bar Kochva thousands of years ago, has internal debates whether it is worthwhile to accommodate religious beliefs, should soldiers be forced to listen to women singing, should women soldiers be discriminated against and be made to feel less than or as mere objects of male frailty and at what point are we a Jewish army and at what point are we a melting pot of modernity like every one else. What has happened to the children of Hashem? Where are those cute adorable children that Hashem through his prophet had said

Ha’Ben Yakir Li Ephraim, Ki yeled Shaa’shuim- my dearest son Ephraim the child of my delights, whenever I speak of him I remember him more and more

Why can we not appreciate the fact that Hashem loves each of us created each of us with a different challenge and different role. Some were raised religious, some without. Some who’s role is to learn Torah, some to serve in the army; Some to reach Hashem on one path and others though a different. Why can’t we respect and love one another and why must we always judge? Ephraim and Menashe lived up to their blessing and each of us who bless our children at that most loving moment during the week or during their children’s lives must pass on that message to them. We are special, you my dear children are special…but you are never better. You should never judge and you must always appreciate your brother and sisters as different as they are. They are special too. And their father, our Father loves all of them just as much as you.

May Hashem bless all of his children with the realization of the specialness of one another.

Have a special Shabbos that brings blessing to all,

Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

Tel Be’er Sheva – located in the south of Israel the ancient city of Be’er Sheva the home of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob can still be seen today. At least that is what tour guides might tell you. The truth is we do not have any archeological finds like a door sign that says Abraham lived here. Although there is a beautiful Eshel/tamarisk tree that grows when one comes to visit this Unesco recognized World Heritage site, which the Torah tells us what Abraham planted under which he greeted and welcomed guests (and angels). We also have an incredibly elaborate well that reminds us and gives an appreciation of the wells that were dug in the area which both Avraham and Yitzchak fought with the Avimelech the philistine king over. But probably not from their times as well.

There are however great historical ruins from the period of the kings of Israel that have been found in the incredibly well preserved 10th century BC city from the periods of the kings of Israel. It is from here where one can see the elaborate 4 room houses of the period and even more fascinating the 4 cornered altar that was dedicated to idolatry that was de-constructed and buried side by side- as the prophets tell us by the king Chizkiyahu and Yoshiyahu as they tried to create a return to Jewish ways away from idolatry. One can also see one of the most beautiful ancient water pits and tunnels that is just amazing as it led down to the stream of the Hebron river that flows on the bottom of the tel. In these colder rainy moths a trip down history lane to the warm climate not too far from the center of the country is a great trip for the whole family.


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