Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
May 4th 2012 -Volume 2, Issue 26 –12th of Iyar 5772
27th Day of Omer
Parshat Emor/ Lag Ba’Omer
Rabbis with Guns
It was about two years ago and my first time giving a speech in Hebrew. My new friend Rav Yedidya Atlas, the IDF Major of the ground forces and my liaison to the Israeli Army Rabbinate, tried to quell my nervousness with what he thought was a reassuring statement. He told me that the added benefit of being a Rabbi in the Israeli army over being a regular congregational Rabbi is the fact that you get to carry a gun. Not bad, a captive audience. The only thing he cautioned me is that the downside is that your ‘congregation’- the soldiers, carry guns too… So don’t speak too long, he warned.
So there I stood before a roomful of IDF Rabbanim Tzvaim-Rabbis of the Israeli Army, tasked with my first mission of sharing with them some inspiration. I felt totally overwhelmed. These were modern day heroes. Each had themselves served in the army before they chosen to further dedicate their lives caring for the Neshama- the Souls of its armed services. Can there be a greater task than to raise the holiness of those that place their lives on the line each day for the protection and preservation of the Jewish people in Israel ? Friends of mine in America had told me that my outreach work in areas out of mainstream Jewish communities was ‘out in the trenches’. But these guys truly were on the front, of perhaps what is one of the most significant lines of which the Jewish people stand upon.
So what did I say? How did move them? What words could I have use? I would tell you but… it was in Hebrew so you wouldn’t understandJ. Needless to say, thank God, it went well, I thought. Instead I will share with you the idea that I didn’t have time to share with them. (Remember they did have guns.) Yet, I believe it speaks to all of us and it touches upon our season.
This weeks Torah portion begins with the commandments regarding our more biblical Rabbanim Tzvaim-the Kohanim; the priests of Israel . In times of war it was the Kohen’s job to inspire our warriors and to provide their spiritual needs. The Parsha tells us that the Kohein had specific laws of Kedusha/ Holiness. He was forbidden to come in contact with things that would make him un-pure, he was limited in who he was permitted to marry. Even more than that the Talmud derives from the verse Vi’Kidashto- And You shall make him holy- that the Jewish people themselves were authorized to force him to maintain his high spiritual state. Fascinatingly enough from that same verse, we also derive the specific commandment to honor the Kohen. We give him the first portion by the meal, we honor him with the first Aliya to the Torah and in many areas he is given preferential treatment. He gets the spiritual ‘Platinum Card’.
What is the reason for this special treatment? So the verse continues and tells us
Es Lechem Elokecha Hu Makriv, Kodesh Yihyeh Lach, Ani Hashem MiKadishchem- For he offers the ‘bread’ of Hashem, He shall be holy for you I am Hashem who makes you holy.
The Torah Temima notes that the obligation to honor the Kohein comes from the end of the verse; he should be Holy to us. We are obligated to honor the Kohen so that we can develop an appreciation of the nature and glory that comes with a fulfilled spiritual existence. We can’t fight and win the battles and challenges that face us on the battlefield, in our homes and our personal lives, without tapping into our inner holy essence. The Kohein, our Rabbis and the Torah offer for us and to us the bread of Hashem. We need to feel it and deeply sense how powerful and incredible it is. If we do, than as the verse concludes, we can appreciate that Hashem Himself has given each and everyone of us that same Kedusha; that same beautiful piece of Him that resides in each of us.
This Wednesday night and Thursdaywe celebrate that more mystical holiday of Lag Ba’Omer. Here in Israel, I look our my window each afternoon and I see children shlepping wood, logs, beds, closets and setting up pyres for the bonfires that will take place. The holiday celebrates the break from the deaths of the students of Rabbi Akiva who died from a plague during this period of the Omer count. It also commemorates the passing of the great sage of the Mishna Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, whom the secrets of the Kabbalah and the Zohar are attributed to. The bonfires are meant to be a great big Yartzeit memorial candle for him and his legacy. What is the legacy of the Rabbi Shimon and his teachings? It is that there is a hidden spiritual world. The universe is much more than what our eyes and ears perceive. We have a neshoma that is reaching, like the flames of those bonfires, to connect our worlds. To harmonize them. To make us whole. To make us holier.
We are all soldiers and we are all priests. We have missions to accomplish, goals to achieve and enemies that we each face. But we also have a secret weapon. It is burning inside of us aching to be released. Let’s light that fire together. Let’s shine our flame.
Have a Great Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
This week’s insights is dedicated to the modern day Kohanim who dedicate their lives to bring the light of Torah and the beauty of Yiddeshkeit to our brave soldiers in the Israel Defense Force And to the wonderful families who joined us to bring them Yom Ha’Atzmaut BBQ..
Check out the link below for pictures and articles
RABBI SCHWARTZ FAVORITE QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“EXPERIENCE:-The name men give to their Mistakes.”
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL PLACES IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK-
Nachal Ein Bokek- Right across the street and under the bridge from the hotel area on the south side of the Yam Hamelach-Dead Sea is a wonderful hike through the beautiful Judean Dessert. With running water and small sliding waterfalls from the natural springs shaded by the beautiful Eshel/ Tamarisk trees Nachal Bokek is a great place to bring your entire family to hike at the lowest place on planet earth. One can also see the ruins of the ancient Byzantine fort that was once here that protected the crossroads of the border to Moav and Edom. There is the option to hike up past the falls to get a glorious view fo the entire Dead Sea hotels and mountains. It is not a 5 minute hike though J and make sure to bring water and hiking shoes for that part of the hike.