Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
January 13th 2012 -Volume 2, Issue 11 –18th of Tevet 5772
The Worst Jew
Close your eyes for a moment. Now I want you to picture for me what the worst Jew in the world looks like. Are your eyes closed? Then how are you reading this…? J Anyways, so how do you picture this person? Is he or she a raving anti-Israel pro Palestinian liberal? Or maybe one of those nut job Child spitting or stone throwing “Hareidi” jews in Jerusalem. Or maybe perhaps some ponzi scheming yuppie? Could it be the neo-nazi self hating Jews, the close minded misogynist orthodox, the assimilating pro-choice feminist, the alternate lifestyle reform female reconstructionist, or the racist bigoted loudmouth Jewish republican? Is it the Jew that married out? Converted out? Both?
One thing that I can guarantee you about the image of the worst Jew that is in your mind now (with your eyes closed of course), is that he or she does not look anything like you…(and hopefully not like me). It’s funny how we are pretty sure of that. The other thing I can tell you about the image in your mind is that whatever image or whoever you have conjured up is almost positively not a correct depiction. Not even close, in fact it may even be quite the opposite.
This week we begin the story of the birth of the Nation of Israel in Sefer Shemot. Our story begins with a family that has developed into a nation that is enslaved by Egypt, until as we shall see in the next few Parshas, we are miraculously saved by Hashem. You know this already. You read the book, saw the movie, heard it from your parents and grandparent or at Sunday School, or read it once in an E-Mail from some Rabbi. You may also remember that this slavery was in fact foretold to our Forefather Avraham in the famous Bris Bein Habesarim (covenant between the pieces) prophecy how his descendants would be slaves for four hundred years and then they will be redeemed. The problem is though that when you do the math we find that the Jews were only enslaved for 210 years. 190 years short of the promise. Our sages tell us the reason for our early release was because Hashem in his kindness realizing that the Jewish people had sunk to the lowest level of impurity (-49), and had they stayed any longer they would have reached the point of no return; the 50th level of Tuma’ah impurity. In fact we are even told that when it came time to split the red sea the angels in heaven objected to the miracle claiming “these are idolators like the Egyptians why should the Jews be saved”. So there you have it these are the Jew at the lowest of the low. The worst Jews ever.
Now how did these Jews look? Here comes the interesting part. Our sages derive from the verse that tells us that the Jews were distinguished- mitzuyanim -in Egypt, that although they were idolatrous, they however maintained their Jewish identity’s. In the words of our sages “
“They did not change their names, their clothes, and their language (to the Egyptian mode)”
If we had to put a modern day twist to that image of the worst Jew ever (as no Jew has ever since reached a point of the 49th level of impurity) it would be someone with a long beard, a long black “old country” coat and fur hat with a name like “Yankel Shmiel”. Even stranger than that image of the worst Jew ever, would be the next Medrash that tells us that these worst Jews never engaged in licentious relationships- which was the norm and quite accepted in Egypt at the time. Even more strained is the next midrasha that tells us that we were redeemed for the incredible chesed/ kindness that they did for one another. We even have the stories in the Torah of some Jews taking the blows for others. Yet once again these are the images the Torah tells us of the worst Jews of all time. Somebody that was kind, virtuous in their marriage relationships, dressed pious and modestly with a strong Jewish identity. Huhhh? How can it be?
The truth is it’s a difficult question that I don’t really have a good answer to. How do we reconcile the words of our sages in regards to these worst Jews with their other description that is not too dissimilar from what we ourselves might describe ourselves as being or even aspiring to becoming; pious, traditional, strongly identified, charitable and kind? It’s hard to explain and understand perhaps because we can’t fully grasp the sin of idolatry or the expectations of the level these early Jews were meant to be on that they had fallen so far from. Yet there are still two very important messages that I believe our sages are trying to convey to us in these varying messages. Two lessons that would serve us well as we try to grow in our spiritual lives.
The first lesson is that the Jew that you and I might think is the worst Jew; the one that we feel is the most despicable and or reprehensible is not the worst Jew ever. We came from worse. And whatever actions, ideas, causes, statements and more often mistakes and misguided sense of Judaism that we may perceive in someone else, will never put them on a lower level from where we all started out from. Nobody today is even close to the 49th level of Tum’ah/ impurity and as a nation that came from such truly humble idolatrous beginnings we should never paint another as the worst.
The second and even more powerful lesson is that even the worst Jew ever- and close your eyes again and picture that person- is loved and saved by Hashem. The story that we read and the story of our people is a story of one of the most un-deserving nations-based on our own merits- in the history of our people that were picked up literally by Hashem, our loving Father, and taken out with miracles out of His never-ending unconditional love for us. Yes, that worst Jew in your mind is also a child of God’s. He (or she-although I bet most of you are thinking of a he) also has a Father in heaven that wants nothing more than to bring that poor misguided mistaken lost child home. When we as children of His Chosen people bicker, put each other down berate, isolate and alienate another one of His children… there is nothing more painful. And when we embrace, bring close, hold dear and restore one another, the good the bad and the sometimes ugly, we bring the Shechina the heavenly presence back among our family.
It’s so easy sometimes to try to place ourselves above others by comparing and contrasting with others that we know. “I’m not as bad as them” I’m a better Jew because I do this and that and don’t do…” But our relationship with Hashem is not a scorecard. It’s about how close we can get to Him and how close we can bring others to His light. There are enough other people out there that have labeled us and judged us, we need not do it to one another. We should rather try to see the spark and love that Hashem sees in each of his children no matter how far they have fallen and gone. We will then fulfill our destiny having risen from the worst nation to ultimately the best.
Have the Best Shabbos ever,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
This weeks Insights and Inspiration is dedicated by my good and dear friends Bud and Cindy Flowers of Puyallup Washington in appreciation of Rabbi Schwartz and the entire Schwartz family for all you have done for us and all the inspiration you continue to give. We miss you tremendously and we wish you continued success in your great holy work in the Holy Land.
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL PLACES IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK-
El Rom/ Emek Ha’Bacha – In English this valley on the border of Syria in the Golan Heights is known as the valley of tears above the valley stands a monument and two tanks to memorialize the heroism of the soldiers that perished in the yom Kippur war the 87th division- in Hebrew the number is Oz (meaning brazen strength) of the Barak Brigade. Faced with a surprise attack on Yom kippur of 1973 the valley of tears was seen as the stronghold to prevent the syrains from coming in and taking over the entire region. The Israelis-40 tanks in terrible condition- the Syrians- over 600 tanks with infrared night vision and heavy reinforcements. As the Israelis scrambled among the Syrian tanks and as the soldiers clamored for help the Syrians came with newer refreshed soldiers. The jews however held on jumping from burning tank to tank. Cleaning out the blood and dead and coming straight from the medics back into the field with knowledge if they did not hold out the Golan was lost. And miracles fo Miracles. They won, We won. Hashem Won. Today before visiting the Valley one can go to the Kibbutz acroos the road called EL Rom that has a film with life footage and interviews of the battle with soldiers who faought in it before visiting the valley and truly appreciate the intensity of the battle and the heroes that died for our country.