Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
January 19th 2012 -Volume 2, Issue 12 –25th of Tevet 5772
"Dying for You"
..said the frog
Lion King, Charlottes Web, March of the Penguins, Mr. Ed, Lassie, it seems we humans have a fascination with animals, particularly ones that can talk or teach us lessons. As a child growing up my parents owned a dog. Brandy, our Schnauzer, never really taught us any lessons, except not to leave the door open when we went out to carpool in the morning when he escaped. Living in NY, our small apt. of course didn't afford us the opportunity to have any pets. Quite frankly, I think they were scared how the rats in the basement might feel about more company. When we moved to Iowa however, that glorious corn filled, hog infested, farming state, we became very conscious of our pet-less existence. And so caving into the pressure of neighbors, students and Shani, (a really cute 6 year old daughter... who at one point I had a hard time saying no to…- pre- ipod days) we became the proud owners of Porky, the pig. Guinea pig that is.
Porky was my kind of pet, you see. He never needed to be walked, just ran around that wheely thing a lot. He was able to be taken out and cuddled and yet at the same time was quite happy being left alone. We got Porky with the cage, and even some food, but he was a Kollel Rabbi's pig. He had no problem dining on all the leftover salads from Shabbos, and so financially he was certainly not an added expense to our limited Kollel budget. Shani loved him, my students loved the Rabbi with a pig, and everyone was happy.
Yep Porky was perfect. Until he died.
Two weeks after we got him.
From a simple cold.
Good Bye Porky.
Now how do I tell my kids? How do I tell Shani?
I knew I shouldn't have gotten this pig.
So I did what every good father would do in that situation. I knew my daughter and my students temperament. I was not up to pig- grief counseling. They left that out of my Rabbinic training course. So instead I ran to the pet store and bought another pig that looked like Porky and put him in the cage. And prayed they wouldn't notice. The prayers didn't work (that's what happens when you pray for pigs). So I sat down and had that dreadful conversation about animals dying that incidentally did not include pig heaven. In fact it included some other animals dying; the animals of this weeks Torah portion.
You knew I was going to get here. So here we are. This weeks Torah portion tells us about some other animals. There are snakes, crocodiles, lice and wild beasts. Yet I'm sure everyone's favorite animals of the story, are those green, little, amphibian croakers, the jumping frogs. The idea of a world power being brought to its knees by these hopping little menaces is as humorous as it is frightening. Yet the Talmud tells that these brave little frogs imparted a lesson to mankind. In their heroic act they merited to become a symbol for perhaps the 2nd greatest act a divinely created being can accomplish.
The verse tells us of Hashem's command for Moshe to relate to Pharaoh.
Send out my people so they may serve me. But if you refuse.. I will strike your borders with frogs... and they shall ascend and come to your palace and your bedroom and your bed and your house of your servants. And into your ovens and your kneading bowls and into you and your people and all your servants the frogs shall ascend.
In the aftermath of the story we are told when Pharaoh finally caves in
And Hashem did as Moshe requested (to remove the frogs) And the frogs died from the houses the courtyards and the fields.
Our sages note that the Torah in detailing the places the frogs died rather than just saying they died, is teaching us that there is one place the frogs didn't die from. Conspicuously missing if you’ve noticed is the frogs that jumped into the ovens. The Talmud suggests that because of their act of dedication and their willingness to give up their frog lives for the fulfillment of God's commandment they were miraculously rewarded with life.
Even more fascinating the Talmud tells us that later on in Jewish history, at the time of the destruction of the Temple, the evil king Nebuchadnezzar threatened three young prophets Chanania, Mishael and Azarya with being thrown into a fiery furnace or bowing down to an image (perhaps not even real idolatry according to some commentaries), and they remembered the lesson of the frogs. They allowed themselves to be thrown in rather than fleeing. They realized that although God didn't specify which frogs should go into the ovens and which should go into the Boston cream pie, the Egyptian spas or falafel shops. There were a few frogs that realized that someone had to jump into the ovens in order to show that Hashem's commandment would be fulfilled. In their act of Frog martyrdom they showed that ultimately their life’s role would reach its fulfillment in serving the will of God.
Perhaps one can suggest that the Jewish people themselves learned that lesson in next week’s portion. They put their lives at risk, tying to their beds, sacrificing, door- post blood-placing, and roasting the Paschal lamb which was the God of the Egyptians. This incredible act of Mesirut Nefesh/ the risking or sacrificing of life in order to prove and to make a statement that there are some things in life that are worth dying for, ultimately earned the Jewish people as it did Chananiah and Mishael And Azarya and even our little hoppy friends added and extended life. As well as a permanent share as the role models for which we aspire to become.
I have always noted how our culture, TV, Novels, Hollywood always present these moving and touching depictions of true love. We watch or read stories of how one is willing to give up their life for love; for a pretty young maiden. Perhaps, even one you sort of just know for a few minutes, but who magically you have found to be your soul mate. All those soppy radio love songs about dying for you. Many of us get influenced by them at least until we get married and the "real world" might set in. Fascinatingly enough though that same shlub that said he would die for her, five months later kvetches about taking out the garbage or picking up his socks. But it still certainly remains an ideal to strive for in our culture. To feel as if you would be willing to die for someone you love; to give it all up.
Yet at the same time I believe our same culture looks with pity, horror and aghast-ness at people that willingly sacrifice or give up something for a Divine cause or for a spiritual love. Do not get me wrong I am not a proponent of becoming a death martyrdom focused culture. There's billions of others out there- thank you very much- that are doing a bad enough job of that. Judaism is a religion and culture of life. In fact one of the primary Mitzvoth we have is to live, even at the expense of violating most commandments. Yet at the same time there has to be recognition that the life that we do have, ultimately has a purpose. To serve, relate and accomplish our special and unique role which will sanctify God and His Creation. We recite each day the Shema our declaration of love, the love of God for us- the love of us for God. In reciting the Shema the Kabbalists say one should have in mind that the love is so strong that we would even give up our lives
Bchol Livovicha, Bchol Nafshiecha, Bichol Meodecha- With all your heart with all your life with all your possessions.
True love, nay true life, is about the recognition that every moment I have can be meaningful if I have a connection to the Divine. It is perhaps those moments when one feels most alive. Unfortunately most of us don't live our lives with that sense. The frogs did. King David in his work Perek Shirah, which describes the songs of all creatures to their Creator, writes that the song of the frog is the phrase that accompanies the Shema. The phrase of the sanctification of Gods name and of a life fulfilled. It is the love song of the Frog.
Boruch Shem Kvod Malchuso Lolam Vaed- Blessed is the glory of His kingdom forever and ever
As Jews it is our mandate to ask ourselves if we can live as Jews- the 1st greatest act we can accomplish- not only if we will die as Jews. If we have lived and sanctified Hashem with our lives, Than when we pass on our lives will have had meaning. We will eternally live on as our ancestors do, as the frogs did. If however we choose to go for the cream pie or just run around on guinea pig wheels all day, without aspirations of growth and meaning like your typical guinea pigs, neither our lives or death will experience the love and closeness that our souls thirst for and which we all hope to achieve. May each of us live each sacred moment of our lives with frog like aspirations and songs leading a purposeful life to its absolute fullest.
Have a super Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL PLACES IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK-
Keren Carmel/ Mukraka – I don’t generally describe churches (or mosques for that matter) as cool places in Israel, but when it comes to Mukrakah on the top of the Carmel I have to make an exception because it is truly one of the most glorious views in Israel (and you don’t’ have to go in the church just on the roof). Located on the highest point of the South Eastern side of the Carmel mountain range in the North of Israel on the top of the Carmelite Church called Mukraka one can see the entire Jezreel Valley the incedible mountains of the lower Galile Mt. Tabor and Nazareth, one can even make out the hermon in the background on the other side one can see the Mediteranean Sea and the Hills of Menashe. Truly spectacular! But what makes this site even cooler is that it was very likely here where the famous story of Eliyahu the prophet and the prophets of Baal took place. Eliyahu told his lad to go up to see the clouds over the sea and after the great Sacrifice showdown-in which the 450 prophets unsuccessfully tried to get Baal to send down a fire and eat the sacrifice and Eliyahu after pouring water three times over the sacrifice asked Hashem to answer him and a fire from heaven devoured everything- and it was here that Eliyahu went down to the Kishon river to kill them all- which you can see right under this lookout. The Carmelite monks built a church here (as Eliyahu is their patron saint) on ancient byzantine church ruins and there is a huge statue dedicated to Eliyahu on the top. Really a very cool place!