Our view of the Galile

Friday, January 27, 2012

Obsessing- Bo 5772

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
January 19th  2012 -Volume 2, Issue 13 –3rd  of Shevat 5772

Parshat Bo

 A question I was sent this week. (I love this Ask the Rabbi website.)
Dear Rabbi,

Why does the Jewish religion seem to obsess over insignificant details? How much Matzah do we have to eat, which spoon did I use for milk and which for meat, what is the right way to tie my shoelaces? It seems to me that this misses the bigger picture by focusing on minutiae. Is this nitpicking what Jews call spirituality?

(I actually already sent you this question over a week ago and didn't receive a reply. Could it be that you have finally been asked a question that you can't answer?!)

Have you ever been approached by some Rob out there. Perhaps well meaning. Perhaps looking to antagonize. Perhaps sincerely seeking an answer that might impact his life, as he looks to find meaning in an otherwise challenged pursuit of spirituality; of an understanding of the secret that Torah Judaism holds in its dearness to its adherents. Are you a Rob?

 I believe there is a little Rob in each of us. Regardless of our religious observance level, regardless of our spiritual upbringing, there is a part of us that seems to feel that the little details and things that we do( or don't) are irrelevant in the big picture. "As long as I basically do what I'm supposed to" or" As long as I'm a 'good' person (good being defined by a general sense of just a little bit better or worse that where I'm at …usually)" than the small little stuff don't really matter. Or as one 'Rob' once said to me. "Rabbi, when they start calling me up on that in the heavenly court I'll know the worst is over".

 This week’s Torah portion we read about the fall of Pharaoh the King of Egypt who has certainly had better years pre- Moshe and Aharon and their monthly tidings of the plagues that were being wrought upon him and his people. It is interesting to note however in Pharaohs reaction to each of the plagues there is what seems to be an extreme fixation on the precision and details by which they are carried out. This reaches its peak by the final plague where Moshe changes the command of God in his warning to Pharaoh of the final plague

And Moshe said "So said God 'At about midnight' I shall go out in the midst of Egypt .. every firstborn shall die.

Rashi points out that God the knower of all times in fact never said 'around midnight'. That was Moshe's change. Because Moshe knew that Pharaoh's timekeepers were not so accurate and if they would miscalculate the time they would later declare Moshe a charlatan for giving the wrong time.

 Can you imagine this? Here Moshe, who predicts each and every plague and miracle, who warns about a mass death of first borns at midnight throughout the entire land, of every Egyptian man, women, slave, and animal. Yet this Moshe would be called a charlatan because it happened at 12:01 instead of 12:00 !?! Why would he think that Pharaoh would do this?

The truth however is, Rabbi Dovid Fohrman suggests, that throughout all the plagues Pharaoh is looking at the details rather than the larger devastation taking place. By the plague of frogs he wants to see if it will stop the following day rather than immediately, by the pestilence he wants to see if any of the Jewish animals were killed rather than deal and assess the damage to his own animals. It is for this reason Moshe understands that in the plague of the first born there should be no room left for denial for the details-obsessed king.

But why was Pharaoh obsessed? Why did the details matter to him? The answer my friends, I believe is because Pharaoh understood what Rob and we don't. That if there is a God that is really running the world than everything counts. Random meaningless acts without precision are the makeup of a God-less world. The view that Moshe and the Jewish people were representing and bringing to the world, was that there was no such thing as too small a detail; that every act that is performed by God and therefore by man has the capacity and ability to transform and elevate or destroy a world. Pharaoh was trying to prove that it wasn't so. Hashem taught all of us through him that it is in fact the details themselves that will lead to the redemption.

 Perhaps that is why the holiday of Passover which commemorates our exodus is the most detail oriented obsessive holiday on the Jewish calendar. The scrubbing and cleaning of the chametz/leaven free house, the overly zealous and punctilious baking of the 18 minute heavily guarded Matzah, the checking of the marror, in the old days the preparing and eating of the phascal lamb, all of these details are our testimony that we appreciate and understand that every action can and should have meaning. Just as each loving act of our Father in heaven is not random but is in fact absolutely divinely sent for the benefits of our lives. So to our actions fill the world with significance and spirituality no matter how small they may seem.

How can this be you ask? For that I turn you back to the answer to Rob

Dear Rob,

I never claimed to have all the answers. There are many questions that are beyond me. But it happens to be that I did answer your question, and you did get the answer. I sent a reply immediately. The fact that you didn't receive it is itself the answer to your question.

You see, I sent you a reply, but I wrote your email address leaving out the "dot" before the "com". I figured that you should still receive the email, because after all, it is only one little dot missing. I mean come on, it's not as if I wrote the wrong name or something drastic like that! Would anyone be so nitpicky as to differentiate between "yahoocom" and "yahoo.com"? Isn't it a bit ridiculous that you didn't get my email just because of a little dot?

No, it's not ridiculous. Because the dot is not just a dot. It represents something. That dot has meaning far beyond the pixels on the screen that form it. To me it may seem insignificant, but that is simply due to my ignorance of the ways of the web. All
I know is that with the dot, the message gets to the right destination; without it, the message is lost to oblivion. Jewish practices have infinite depth. Each nuance
and detail contains a world of symbolism. And every dot counts. When they are performed with precision, a spiritual vibration is emailed throughout the universe, all the way to G-d's inbox.

If you want to understand the symbolism of the dot, study I.T.

If you want to understand the symbolism of Judaism, study it.

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


Chatzor Ha’Glilit Located on what is known the Etzba (finger) of the Galile the pan handle that stretches up. The beautiful city is most well known for the great Tzadikim  that are buried there. The most famous is the Sage from the 2nd temple era known as Choni Ha’Ma’agel- Choni the circle maker. Although there are no halachot quoted from the great Choni there are stories about him in the Talmud as being this righteous sage who when there was a shortage of rain Israel he drew a circle around himself and demanded that God bring rain or he wouldn’t leave. First it drizzeled but that wasn’t good enough for him, then it came too hard-also not good, until he prayed and said Hashem too much punishment in lack of rain they can’t handle and too much blessing also not please give them rain that is easy and simple that is enough for them and not more. And sure enough.. it stopped. The great sage of the time Shimon Ben Shetach responded that we would put Honi in excommunication for having such chutzpah demanding from God in such a way, but what can we do, he is like a dear child before Hashem and he gets answered as such.

The Talmud tells us other legends of Choni as the original Rip Van Winkle who after questioning the wisdom of one who was planting a carob tree which wouldn’t grow for many years-fell asleep for 70 years and awoke to see the tree and the grandchildren of that individual enjoying it. The Talmud states the famous quote- I came in the world that had carobs I will leave a world with them as well” Because of these stories Choni, who incidentally his yartzeit (anniversary of death) tradition tells us is on the 5th of Iyar- Israeli independence day became the ecological environmental pilgrimage when ever there is a lack of rain in israel. During the wars of Israel when missles flew into Israel from Lebanon the inhabitants of Hatzor attribuite their protective status- as mislles hit around their city-but not in it- to the merit of Choni .

In addition to the grave of Choni is that of his grandsons Abba Chilkiya and Chanan Hanichbeh - who the Talmud tells us also followed in his path of performing miracles for rain. In fact the Talmud tells us the story of how the sages came for him to pray as well however he ignored them (being a hired worker) and unable to interrupt and upon arriving home went up to pray with his wife and the rain fell on her side rather than his which he explained that her acts of charity of giving prepared food to the poor rather than money that he gave was greater than his.

For one that seeks miraculous places for salvations Hatzor Ha’Glilit is truly a special place.

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