Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
March 23rd 2012 -Volume 2, Issue 20 –29th of Adar 5772
Parshas Va’Yikra/ Ha’Chodesh
“How could I say to Him: Blessed be Thou, Almighty, Master of the Universe, who chose us among all nations to be tortured day and night, to watch as our fathers, our mothers, our brothers end up in furnaces? Praised be Thy Holy Name, for having chosen us to be slaughtered on Thine altar?”- Elie Wiesel Night
“Why do you pray?" he asked me, after a moment.
Why did I pray? A strange question. Why did I live? Why did I breathe?
"I don't know why," I said, even more disturbed and ill at ease. "I don't know why."
After that day I saw him often. He explained to me with great insistence that every question possessed a power that did not lie in the answer. "Man raises himself toward God by the questions he asks Him," he was fond of repeating. "That is the true dialogue. Man questions God and God answers. But we don't understand His answers. We can't understand them. Because they come from the depths of the soul, and they stay there until death. You will find the true answers, Eliezer, only within yourself!"
"And why do you pray, Moshe?" I asked him. "I pray to the God within me that He will give me the strength to ask Him the right questions.” Elie Wiesel, Night
“And I, the former mystic, was thinking: Yes, man is stronger, greater than God. When Adam and Eve deceived You, You chased them from paradise. When You were displeased by Noah’s generation, You brought down the Flood. When Sodom lost Your favour, You caused the heavens to rain down fire and damnation. But look at these men whom You have betrayed, allowing them to be tortured, slaughtered, gassed, and burned, what do they do? They pray before You! They praise Your name!” Elie Wiesel, Night
I have been reading as you can see. The truth is Elie Wiesel’s book are some of the most leafed through copies of books that I have. As you know I am not a morbid person at all and am certainly not someone that is death or holocaust obsessed. I don’t even like to take tours or groups to Yad VaShem when they visit in Israel- even on fast days. Yet somehow as a Rabbi when I am confronted with people that are going through times of challenge or tragedy, there are not many books that I find to be more of an inspiration and a reality check then the heartfelt words that pour from the pages of his books.
As a grandchild of Holocaust survivors, who didn’t talk about it much, I always wondered what it could’ve been like. I watched my grandparents who were devout religious Jews, live with a strong faith in Hashem; despite each of them having suffered the loss of their families and the world and humanity that they once knew. At the same time I spoke with many individuals throughout my years that used the Holocaust as a proof that it was impossible that there was a God. As Primo Levi a contemporary of Elie’s and an author (who was raised secular before the war) wrote
“Either God is God and therefore all-powerful and hence guilty of letting the murderers do as they pleased, or His power is limited, in which case he is not God”. Yet Elie seems to be unable to fathom a world without God. He struggles with Him. He questions and he screams and yet he somehow knows and understands that Hashem is there. Hashem hears. He sees. He listens and cares. Why the holocaust happened? He has no answers. But unlike Primo the one thing the Nazis could never take from him was his faith that there is a God in heaven.
This week we begin the third and center book of the Torah. We have the birth and creation of the world through the formation of the Jewish Nation in the first two Books. And we have the progression of the Jewish people towards the Land of Israel and the reiteration of the many commandments that we are obligated to observe in the last two Books. The book of Leviticus/Vayikra contains all of the commandments that relate to the service and sacrifices in the Tabernacle and the eventual Temples. For many this is unfortunately the “boring” part of the Torah. For others particularly animal rights activists (or people that hate to see a good steak go to waste without anyone enjoying it) they find the concept of animal sacrifice offensive, outdated or even pagan. Yet observant Jews each day pray for a return to that day when we will once again bring sacrifices to Hashem. Each Jewish holiday we pray for a return to Temple where we might offer the holiday sacrifices. And at times of joy and times of sorrow and tragedy we remember and recall the glory days of when the Temple where we offered those sacrifices once stood.
Why is the return to the service of the Temple so fundamental in Jewish thought and prayer. What makes this the centerpiece of the entire Torah to the extent that our sages in times of old would begin learning with young children the Book of Vayikra as their introduction to Judaism? The answer, I believe is that our sacrifices are statements and a recognition of my personal connection to Hashem. My internal struggle with right and wrong, with times of tragedy and times of thanksgiving would all be brought to the “palace” of Hashem. A simple trite prayer to ask for help or forgiveness would not suffice. We were in a real relationship with Hashem and we would stand before the Kohen/Priest and watch as an animal was slaughtered, its blood sprinkled and portions of it would be eaten, shared or burned depending on the offering. Our actions and the things that happened to us were never “just the way things are”. The slaughter and the sacrifice attested in an unbelievable way to the significance of our relationship with Hashem. The awe of living in such a world was immense. Hashem could never just be ignored or even worse relegated to the “spiritual” moments of our lives. Jews lived with a sense that their lives were significant to the degree that if they messed up, forgot Hashem and sinned they would have to bring that sacrifice and go through the process of re-connecting. If they failed to do a mitzvah, if they were saved from a dangerous situation, if they had a joyous occasion, the birth of a child, first crops, you name the event there is a connection to Hashem that would always be more than just words or blessings but something concrete that would leave an impact and memory as one came to the Temple to connect to Hashem. That is truly the centerpiece of the Torah.
This past week many of us were shaken out of our world by the horrific murder in Toulous France. Others have shared with me the tragedy of the passing of their Rosh Yeshiva Rav Sheinberg this past week. Other individuals I know have been going through their own challenges with sickness, livelihood and other challenges. It is so sad. So heart wrenching. So difficult “Where is God?” The answer is He is waiting for our korbanos, our sacrifices. He is waiting for us to want Him in a real way. He wants so much for us to wish for the day when we will have Him in our life in all that we do. Where we appreciate that our lives and everything that we have and undergo and are meant to accomplish is all to get close to Him. Sadder than all the tragedies is when we live in a world bereft of that perfect existence that is not more than a few heartfelt prayers away.
We are leaving the month of Adar this Shabbat. It was the joyous month when we celebrated seeing Hashem’s miraculous hand that saved us from the Holocaust of Haman that was meant to be. We see Hashem from the hiddeness. This month we enter the Nissan the first Jewish month. It is the month of the revealed salvation of Hashem. It is the time when we brought our first national sacrifice and renounced the godless life of Egypt and threw our lot with the Almighty becoming the Nation chosen to bring that revelation and the beauty and glory of a God-filled life to the world. Our sages tell us that just as we were first redeemed in Nissan so to the ultimate redemption come in Nissan. May we merit that this coming month Hashem brings us that final redemption.
Have a perfect Shabbos and a blessed new month of Nissan (not the car),
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL PLACES IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK-
CROCO LOCO- Yes, we have it all in Israel, even crocodile farms. Now what do crocodiles have to do with Israel you ask? Well in ancient times we have testimonies of crocodiles living in Israel. Particularly as we come to the holiday of Passover and we read the story of Pharoh and Moshe throwing the staff to the floor where it turns into a tannin- which is a crocodile (not a snake as many mistranslate it) Croco loco might be a great place to visit this Chol Hamoed to bring the story home to your children. Established in 2006 this crocodile farm raises crocodiles in order to repopulate the species and control the poaching that threatened them for their very expensive skin (up to 30 thousand dollars for some nice ones). The tour of this really cool farm will share with you many of the cool facts about crocodiles, their different layers of teeth that constantly re-grow, their miraculous skin that absorbs the heat and helps them cool off, their eating habits (once every few days-as they digest it all leaving just clear white excretions with almost no waste..) and your children or you can even be pet the baby crocs. Located in the beautiful south of Israel in the Arava and not too far from the Dead Sea Croco-Loco is agreat place for fascinating exploration of one of Hashems most incredible species.
RABBI SCHWARTZ FAVORITE QUOTE OF THE WEEK
The Holocaust was an obscene period in our nation's history. I mean in this century's history. But we all lived in this century. I didn't live in this century.
(can you believe this man was our vice-president?)