Our view of the Galile

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Universe's Guide for the Hitchhiker- Chukas 2012

Insights and Inspiration
from the 
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"

June 29th  2012 -Volume 2, Issue 34 –9th of Tamuz 5772

Parshat Chukas

The Universe’s Guide for the Hitchiker

It is one of my favorite parts about living in Israel. As I pull over to pick up the hitchhiker on the side of the road, I remember my good old days when I was a student here in Israel, traveling the country with a few shekels in my pocket and waiting to see where the next kind ride would take me to. In America one would have to be a little crazy to stop on the side of the road to pick someone up. We were rightfully scared by our parents and all those horror stories of “picking up the wrong people”. But here in Israel hitchhiking is a way of life. It’s an opportunity to meet someone new, perform a chesed/kindness for your fellow brother or sister and for Rabbis like me- to get a good story and possible sermon out of the deal.

So Chaim a middle-aged bearded Sephardic gentleman dressed in his suit and hat hopped in my car and asked where I was going. Rule 1 of hitchhiking- get in the car first- it’s air conditioned-after that you can figure out where you need to go and how the driver will get you close enough for your next hitch. When I told my passenger Chaim I was going to the Giv’at Shaul neighborhood of Jerusalem his face lit up.

“Wow, is Hashem good! He listens to our prayers, He is truly always there! Just a minute ago I asked him for a ride to Giv’at Shaul and sure enough you pull right up!”

Little did I know that my husbandly errand to deliver some clothes to Beitar was a Divine plan to give Chaim a lift to Giv’at Shaul. But hey, that’s the way things work here in Israel. Now I’ve been happy to get lifts before, but Chaim’s response definitely took it up another league. He immediately pulled out his trusty pocket Tehillim (Psalms) and began to sing praises to the Master Divine traffic controller who provides rides to all those who ask Him. I’m not sure exactly what psalms he said that conveyed that message but I knew that Hashem was smiling.

In this week’s Torah portion we read the story and song of the Jewish people in honor of the miraculous well that provided them with water during their 40 year sojourn in the wilderness. It is a short song but nevertheless rich with vivid and poetic imagery:

 “Thus sang Israel …Come up, O well, call out to it! The well that ministers dug, nobles hewed . . . from the wilderness a gift. And from a gift to the valley and from the valley to the heights . . . as it is seen over the surface of the Yeshimon”.

The Shemen Ha’tov, (as does Rashi) note that this song as opposed to the song at the splitting of the sea omits the name of Moshe. Whereas by the sea, the Jews were in their national infancy and still required the guidance and inspiration of Moshe to direct them to focus their songs of praise on the Almighty who had performed the great miracles of the Exodus from Egypt, 40 years later the Jewish people had arrived. The song was their own. The Abarbanel re-enforces this point and suggests that the water they had received in the past came as a result of complaints and fear. Now for the first time the Jewish people received the miracle of this well and the water it produced without any of the previous prerequisite kvetching. The well according to the Medrash went down into the caves and showed the miracles of the salvation they had achieved and water flowed in rivers throughout the camp. Unsolicited love. The unexpected gift. The hitchhike they didn’t even know was already on the way to them.

Living in Israel one has the opportunity to be more in touch with these little “small” “miracles”. It’s interesting; we do not find the Jewish people singing songs of praise for the miraculous Manna they ate that fell from the sky each morning. They do not compose a song in honor of the fantastic clouds of glory that accompanied them paved the roads, protected them and even provided incredible climate control and dry cleaning service, according to the Medrash. The song they sang was about the simplest and most basic of human needs- water, a cold drink on a hot day. Perhaps that is the most essential kind of song to sing. Chaim, my passenger taught me that it wasn’t me who was giving him a ride (although he thanked me profusely when I dropped him off) in the same way that the Jewish people noted that it was not Moshe that was performing the miracles for them. It was the well from Hashem and it was for them. We are all hitchhikers in this incredible universe Hashem manages for us. We just need to open the door, hop in and thank him as he takes us where we need to go.

Have an absolutely perfect Shabbos

Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


A man stood on the side of the road hitchhiking on a very dark night in the middle of a storm. The night was rolling and no cars passed. The storm was so strong, he could hardly see a few feet ahead of him. Suddenly he saw a car come towards him and stop.

The guy, without thinking about it, got in the car and closed the door to realize that nobody was behind the wheel. The car started slowly forward.

The guy looked at the road and saw a curve coming his way. Scared, he started praying, and begged for his life. He hadn't come out of shock, when just before he hit the curve, a hand appeared through the window and moved the wheel. The guy, paralyzed in terror, watched how the hand appeared every time before a curve.

The guy gathered strength, got out of the car and ran to the nearest town. Wet and in shock, he ran into a bar and asked for two shots of tequila, and started telling everybody about the horrible experience he went through.

A silence enveloped everybody when they realized the guy was crying and wasn't drunk.

About half an hour later, two guys walked into the same bar, and one said to the other, "Look Pete, that's the idiot who climbed into the car while we were pushing it."


Biriya- in the heart of the second largest forest in Israel right outside of the city of tzefat lies this small little hilltop and fortress that in the 1940’s captured the heart and soul of our soon to be fledgling nation. The yishuv of Birya mentioned as the home of various tana’aim in the Talmud and also the place where Rabbi Yosef Karo wrote his first volume of Shulcah Aruch- the code of Jewish law on Orach Chaim was abandoned in the 17th century until the jews started to return here with the assistance of Baron Rothschild and P’IKA(Palestine Jewish Colonization Association) who purchased the land in the 1890’s and was first settled unsuccessfully in the 1920’s. In 1945 with the British limiting Jewish purchase of land in Israel and emigration, the Jews fought back by occupying hilltops and establishing Jewish settlements. Birya, being one them, was occupied by 24 young men from the Palmach as a training camp for young recruits. However the British after finding an illegal arms cache expelled the Jews from the settlement. This being the first time the British had thrown Jews out of a settlement raised uproar amongst the Jews. And on the 11th of Adar a few days later (taanis Esther that year) thousands of Jews who pretended to be going to their annual pilgrimage to Tel Chai detoured to Birya and reestablished the camp. The next day after many of the groups had left. The British once again came with tanks and threw the Jews out. But the Jews would not be stopped and that Friday evening  and Shabbos  the Jews returned for the third time from Rosh Pinna and Tzefat- even getting permission to bring food  on Shabbos as the Rav of Tzefat felt that it was a dangerous area that protected the city from the arabs around them. And the British finally caved and allowed 20 men to remain and work the ground. Jews celebrated that Purim throughout the country. Until today each year Purim of Birya is celebrated as youth groups from around the country relive that great moment when it was clear that the Jews were willing to do whatever it takes to never give up the land. Today one can visit the beautiful forest see the short film of the history of Birya in the visitor center and explore the old homes of this early Yishuv.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Summer Trips Staff Stuff- Korach 2012

Insights and Inspiration
from the 
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"

June 22nd 2012 -Volume 2, Issue 33 –2nd of Tamuz 5772

Parshat Korach
Summer Trips Staff Stuff

Summer is here. It is time once again to begin planning that ancient Israelite tradition that dates back to the moment we became a nation- The family summer trip. You see historically we received the Torah on Shavuot, hung around Sinai for a little over a month and then we began to plan our first summer trip into the wilderness of Sinai on the way to Israel. Like most Summer trips this one had its hitches. The kids complain about the food, angry natives that aren’t too accommodating or interested in the Jewish tourist business and we end up wandering around as the visit turns into a forty year journey. Of course no family trip is complete without all the delightful fights-“Why does he get to see it in front?” “She started it” I’m bored- this is not what you told us it would be like” “Are we there yet?” “When can we go back home again?!” Yes, this very significant Jewish ritual reminds us time and time again of why we are grateful that our children are in school all year round and why we are the people of the book rather than the people of vacations.

This week’s Torah portion shares with us the family fight that took place on our Sinai trip. Not exactly “why does he get to sit in the front?”- But close. Korach and his group of 250 men, we are told, team up against Moshe and Aharon the leaders of the Jewish people and demand equality and new leadership. “Who are you to rule over the Jewish people” “We are all holy”.  Korach wants to sit in the front. Yet unlike Rabbi Schwartz who just turns up the music a little louder in the car hoping to drown out the fighting in the background, Moshe implores them to recant. Ultimately when they refuse, he leaves it up to God to decide, as the earth opens up and swallows them alive. Ahhh… quiet at last.

Not so fast, the Torah, tells us though. Once again the people claim and complain accusing Moshe of being the one responsible for the death of poor Korach. Hashem by this time pretty fed up with this trip wants to terminate the whole thing now. This is not working. A familiar story that I’m sure many can relate to on these family trips. Which is why it’s always good to do them with both parents, so that when one has had enough the other can calm them down and make sure that the trip will continue until its very bitter end. In our family, my wife and I generally alternate that role. The trip must go on. In the Torah’s story Moshe and Aharon calm down Hashem (14,700 deaths by plague later) and the trip continues.

And now we come to the beautiful part of the story. For once and for all Hashem decides to show the nation, who seemingly with all that has taken place still needs convincing- although they are by now probably sitting very quietly in the backseat J, what this is really all about. He commands the head of each tribe to bring a staff and to place it in the Tabernacle and the one whose staff flourishes the next morning will know that they are chosen by Hashem to serve as the Priest for the Jewish people. The next morning as they arise, “Walla”(as we say in Israel), Aharon’s staff sprouts flowers, buds and almonds and the deal is closed. The Jewish people recognizing their mistake (finally!!), fear retribution once again. Yet Hashem reassures them that Aharon and his children are forever charged with protecting the sanctity of the Tabernacle and that the Jewish people will be protected in their merit as long as they continue to respect their authority.

The Rav of Brisk notes that it is fascinating that the Torah points out that at the end of the story each member of the tribe took home their staffs. It would seem that this was definitely not something that we would want to remember. The trip that went really sour, thousands dead, all the fighting and the final blow that no one besides Aharon can lead; their bad lottery tickets that didn’t win the prize-so to speak. Yet he notes that it was this that they took home with them, because they wanted to remember the incident. They needed to remember it, because to a certain extent it was a sign of their desire for greatness to be close and serve Hashem as priests. To a larger extent it was also a sign that Hashem ultimately did not throw them out of the car-although they certainly deserved it, rather He took the time to show and explain to them that Aharon was meant to flourish and lead while their staffs were meant to continue to journey and grow.

Rabbi Yisrael Reisman suggests that in these stories lies an incredible insight into the proper way to guide our children. Maimonides notes that the Jewish people never believed or were inspired or convinced by the miracles that were performed for them and certainly not by the punishments. Sometimes what it takes to convince the Jewish people is the beautiful wonder of Hashem. The flowers, blossoms and almonds and the time to invite them into the Tabernacle to bring their staffs and their desires for greatness, had a much more impactful conclusion then the deaths plague, fire and splitting of the earth. This method worked so well that the nation even took those staffs home with them, feeling and seeing the value and specialness of the lesson.

As the summer begins, our trips begin. Our children and our families will have souvenirs and memories of these special moments that we will share together. I always found amusing and ironic that the Schwartz family souvenir of choice of the many places we went was always a shot class-perhaps because we all needed a stiff drink remembering all of the adventures that we endured on these trips together. Yet with the right frame of mind our trips can be ones that will bring our families closer, that will be learning and growing opportunities and will most important of all give us an appreciation of the staffs that each of us hold and carry as we continue to march forward in the service of Hashem. We just need to focus ourselves on the flowers and the blossoms and the miracles of the potential we all have.

Have a totally awesome Shabbos

Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz



“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money. ~Susan Heller


TEL DAN- Located at the lush northern part of the Galile the border of what was once Syria the Tel Dan Archeological site is officially Rabbi Schwartzes favorite spot in Israel. Although with the history of the place it was not necessarily the holiest of places for our nation. The story of Tel Dan begins with the story of the tribe of Dan that was not successful inheriting their portion in Israel on the coast who come up here (after a brief stop to steal the idol of Micha) and conquer the ancient city of Laish making it their own. They are drawn hereby the beauty, water and serenity that until today you can experience as you wander through the flora, Gan Eden streams and ancient walls and city of the biblical tribe. Here also one can see that ancient temple and altar where the Temple of Yeravam and his descendants the kings of the divided kingdom of Israel lived throughout the period of the first Temple. Most exciting as well in the Tel Dan site is the discovery of the Gate to the Canaani city from the times of Avraham- who the Torah tells us chased the kings who captured his nephew Lot to here ( the oldest archway ever found in Israel). In the distance one can see the Moutain named after the Bris Bein HaBesarim which took place afterwards and the fortress of “Nimrod” across the hill. Delightful all year round cold water pools and springs to dip in, Jewish history and even modern history as the in 1964 this was the site of the battle over water with the Syrians. Tel Dan has it all and its right here in the North close to me!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Time Travel- Parshas Shelac 2012

Insights and Inspiration
from the 
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"

June 15th   2012 -Volume 2, Issue 32 –26th of Sivan 5772

Parshat Shelach
Time Travel

I hit Enter and I wait… and wait… and tap on some keys…I’m still waiting. It’s not downloading. Why is this taking so long? Maybe if I pull out the plug and start all over again it will work faster. I reach for the plug and all of a sudden it finally goes. Nothing like a little fear tactic of disconnecting your computer from its electrical life force to kick it into shape. Kind of like technological water-boarding, I guess. Now if only I could figure out what to do with the long waits in the post office or the motor vehicle department. But for some reason I don’t think any amount of plug pulling will speed up those lines.

I know I really shouldn’t be that impatient. It is amazing that with a click of a button on our computer we are sending messages all the way up to outer space and back and it seems kind of silly to be upset if it takes an extra nano-second or so. But having lived in that great city that never sleeps, New York , for many years, you somehow develop a lack of tolerance for anything that you can’t beep with your horn and get an instant response. Yet I don’t think New Yorkers are the only ones who have this experience. I think for most of us at different times the clock just seems to be ticking verrrrryyy sssslllooowwwlyy… As a Rabbi friend of mine once said –I don’t mind if people look at their watches during my sermons. It’s when they hold it up to their ears to see if it’s still ticking and checking the batteries that I begin to get nervous.

This weeks Torah portion teaches an important lesson about the passage of time in one of the more tragic stories in the Torah. For those of you who have been keeping up with our journey you will know that the Jewish people have left Mt. Sinai and are marching off preparing to go to the Land of Israel . In order to find out what the challenges that lie ahead are, they send out spies to check out the land. Unfortunately these spies come back with a very scary report about giants and wars, how it’s a land that will eat up its inhabitants and then they show them these huge fruits to demonstrate the scariness of the land. The nation becomes terrified, they weep, they mourn, they long to return to Egypt and they lose faith in God. They have accepted the Lashon Hara-the Evil talk of the Holy Land , and they have forgotten that their God in heaven promised them this land as their birthright. Hashem, once again disappointed by his nation and their lack of faith issues the consequences. For saying Lashon Harah  the spies will die immediately. (According to Rashi who quotes the Medrash their tongues stretched out until their bellies and worms crawled in- just in case you needed a visualJ). The rest of the people from age 20-60 would die in the wilderness, never to enter Eretz Yisrael. And their children the Torah tells us
I shall bring them; they shall know the land that you have despised… They shall roam for forty years and bear your guilt until the last of your carcasses in the wilderness. Like the number of days that you spied out the land, forty days, a day for a year… Forty years.. and you shall comprehend straying from me.

Wow! I’m sure your saying. This seems like a very harsh punishment. The truth of the matter is there is something very perplexing about this punishment. First of all why are they punished at the rate of 1 year to 1 day? Seemingly in heavenly punishments we have a concept of the punishment fitting the crime Mida K’neged Mida- Quid pro Quo (for all you latin speakers). Why would they have to pay such a steep price and exchange rate? Also it seems that the children under 20 are not culpable for the sin, as they were not included in the decree of death, so why would they have to suffer and wander for forty years? Seemingly only the sinners above 60 should have died and not entered the land of Israel (an appropriate punishment for their lack of faith and desire to fulfill the Divine mandate to live there). What point was there in them wandering?

The answer, I believe, has to do with our perception of time. We all know the old adage “Time flies when you're having fun”. The Torah even tells us that when Jacob was working for his wife Rachel for seven years it was as if it was only a few days. When you are engaged in something meaningful the hours feel like minutes and the months like days and the years like weeks. It flies by. On the other hand when you’re doing something you dread, sitting in a class you don’t want to be in, waiting in the dentists office, or just waiting for your computer to log on then it seems like hours. Each day that those spies were in the Land of Israel should have flown by; marveling in the wonder, beauty and holiness of this God Promised Land. But it didn’t it felt like a year. When they conveyed that message back to the people they cried and mourned and transmitted that message. Israel is horrible, each day there is as painful as a year. Children who witnessed this needed to learn a different message. They had been traumatized- they “bore that guilt of their parents”. It would take forty years of hearing their parents long to step foot in the Land of Israel to change the impact of that 40 day tragic trek through the land of Israel.

There is a powerful in message for us in this story. None of us can control how much time we have here on this world. We only know that it is limited and the clock is ticking from the moment we are born. What we do have control over is how we will experience that passage of time. Will we be engaged in meaningful, inspirational activities that gives us an appreciation of every precious moment that we have- so much, that we don’t even realize that its passing by. Or are we going to be staring at our watches counting the minutes as they schlep on our march to the grave. The summer months are here and as a parent of children I know that there will be moments that I am spending our quality vacation time and it will be amazing and go so quickly but will be captured for eternity. Then there will be those days that my children will inevitably say “what do we do today Dad??? I’m so bored”. Children know that each day of summer vacation is precious and shouldn’t be wasted. The truly righteous and accomplished understand that we should approach every day of our lives with that same perspective. So maximize those moments when your sitting in front of a computer, or waiting on line. Say a prayer, learn a little bit. Maximize your time with something meaningful and watch how it just flies by.

Have a inspirationally long Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


Lipa- Hang Up The Phone J)


Mitzpeh Revivim- The year was 1945 the vision of a Jewish state was already starting to be actualized and three dreamers came out to the Negev to expand the borders of Israel in the South. Revivim was one of 11 points in the Negev that were established before the State of Israel as “agricultural scientific expeditions” as it was illegal to open new settlements under the British mandate. The small group lived in old byzantine caves without water and electricity with the sole purpose of creating “facts on the ground” that when the state of Israel would be established the negev would be ours providing an important and strategic border with Egypt. Today one can visit Revivim have a tour with actors dressed in the time period (English and Hebrew) as well as see the planes that fought in the independence war, see the incredible water irrigation tunnels that were made and hear the story and feel the inspiration of the those early settlers who gave their lives to build us this land.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Shake em' Up- Beha'aloshcha 2012

Insights and Inspiration
from the 
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"

June 8th   2012 -Volume 2, Issue 31 –18th of Sivan 5772

Parshat Behaloscha
Shake ‘em Up

Many people give much thought to the legacy that they will leave over after they die. We buy life insurance so that our family will be provided for. We work hard and put away money so that our retirement years will go easier. For most of us the idea of leaving this world penniless would be a great tragedy. Yes, we all know that we can’t take it with us. But over a lifetime of accumulating, working and building it’s not easy to leave it behind; to leave with nothing to testify we were here.

But that’s us. Not so Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, one of the great Jewish spiritual leaders and thinkers of just two generations ago. Last week I was reading a biography of his life. Being the impatient reader that I am, after reading the first few pages I flipped to the ending.-Spoiler Alert-He dies. L. But in describing his last few weeks before his death, his family said that the one thing that he was absorbed with was the opposite of what we might think. He was giving everything he had away. He had told his family that it was his desire that he would have to borrow the pen that he would need to write his last will and testament. For it was his wish to leave this world without any possessions whatsoever. To be as empty handed as the day he came in, that was his dream.
His reasoning, he told those that were close to him, was because he felt (based on some Talmudic sources…that I won’t complicate you with) that even after one departs from this world, whatever material possessions he owns and is connected to, still binds the neshoma/soul to this physical world in some way. It’s hard to let go. He didn’t want to have anything that would make it hard for him to get to where he knew his soul was longing to connect to. It was time to go ‘home’ and leave everything behind.

I’ve thought a lot about that story this past week as I recall the process our family went through two years ago when we were packing and mostly getting rid of our stuff preparing for our move back ‘home’ to Israel. Should we take this? Do we need that? Will be able to get it there? If we can, will we be able to afford it? Will it work as well? What will fit? We were purging and it felt good. It felt right. I’m no Rabbi Dessler, but his mindset and that story gave me much needed inspiration. I  remember staring at my extra mouse pad that I was thinking of taking and thinking about his pen. We don’t need it. We can’t take it with us. Let’s leave it behind.

I recently started to study the Book of Ezra. It’s a mind numbing beginning. The King of the World- Empire of the time-Cyrus the Great- just 50 years after the destruction of the temple has ordered it to be rebuilt. He encourages and will support the effort for all the Jews to return home. To have it all back. A dream come true? We would think so. But they didn’t come. In perhaps the greatest failure in the history of our people only 42,000 of the millions of Exiles returned. They couldn’t leave. After only 50 years they were too Babylonian. Even great sages and leaders remained behind. The Torah was greater in Bavel, the scholarship, the service of God. But the Talmud states in retrospect that it was a mistake.

This week’s Torah portion carries within it one of the most bizarre Jewish rituals-and we have quite a few. Yet the Slonimer Rebbe gives an incredible insight that challenges us to rise and to move beyond this great challenge, and he shares the pathway by which to grow in precisely this area. The Parsha tells us about the dedication of the tribe of Levi as the servants of the Temple and the intermediaries between the Jewish people and God. Aharon, the High Priest, is commanded to purify each one of them-not strange- accept their sacrifice – still pretty standard…and then shave all their bodily hair off-strange… and then to pick each one up and perform the waving offering upon them-huh?. What is the waving offering? Remember Sukkot time, how we took that Lulav and Etrog bundle and shook them up and down and all around? O.K. now replace Lulav and Etrog and insert 250 lb Levi… 22,000 of them. …one by one.-walla- wave offering.

What is the meaning of this strange and exhausting offering? The Slonimer Rebbe explains that this was the process of the Levis letting go. To be a Levi meant that you were entirely uplifted. You would be free to be thrust to the right and the left and up and down and nothing was holding you to the ground. You could soar and not be afraid or attached. It must have felt great. It’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Yet, the Rebbe continues, it is not just the tribe of Levi. Each one of us can do it. Should do it. We can’t do it all the time. We weren’t meant to live that life. Certainly, Aliyah isn’t for all of us at this point in our lives as well. But there is a time when we can all experience it. When we can work on that feeling. That time he suggests is Shabbos. Each Friday evening as we sing Kabbalat Shabbat and welcome in the Shabbos Queen we sing Lecho Dodi-

Hisnari Mefar KMoomi- Rise up from the dust-
Livshi Bigdei Tifartech Ami- Clothe yourself in the splendorous garments of my nation
Hisoriri Hisoriri Ki Va Orech Koomi Ori – Awaken Awaken for the time to awaken has come
Oori Oori Shir Dabeiri- Awaken Awaken and sing the song of the glory of Hashem revealed.

Can you leave this world behind and just relish in the otherworldly splendor of the Divine? You can. Shabbos is that workout place to soar. It’s the time when we put away all our connection to the worries, the business, the constant accumulation of our things and we let ourselves be uplifted. Rabbi Dessler was able to do what he did and gain the perspective that he had because he lived a lifetime of Shabbatot. He knew how incredible it felt to be able to taste a life disconnected from the illusory material down here and attached to the Eternal spiritual reality up here. He left this world for one that is referred to as Kulo Shabbos- All Shabbos. All the time. And he didn’t want anything to spoil that great day.

We’re not all Rabbi Dessler Jews. I certainly don’t think any of us are even as great as our ancestors, who for whatever high spiritual reasons couldn’t make Aliyah at the time of Ezra. But we can at least be Shabbos Jews. Our Neshomos are just waiting for us to give them that weekly shake up. That special dose of holiness. Let’s give them a lift for one day a week let’s think about giving our souls their Aliya. Lets all experience how wonderful it is to be home.
Have a Great Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


“Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them you're a mile away and you have their shoes.”


Synagogue of Nitai Ha’arbeli- Actually the incredible synagogue remains that one will find on the foothills of the Arbel mountain overlooking the kinneret are from the 4th or 5th century after the period of Nitai Ha’Arbeli yet for close to a thousand years Jews would come to this area and this synagogue and remember the greatness of this great scholar who dwelled here.
Nita’H’Arbeli the Zug or Masoretic partner in the transmission of the oral torah of Reb Yehoshua ben Perachia lived in the period of the Chasmonaim- is quoted in Avot as the author of the statement Distance yourself from a bad neighbor and don’t be friends with a wicked person and never give up hope from tribulations.
The Arbel was a mountain that became a source of hope for the Jewish people it was occupied in the times of the Chasmonaim, during the period of Herod there were great revolts where people hid up in its caves (which he slaughtered capturing them with manmade cranes sending up soldiers). We are told of great heroism that took place during that era.
The synagogue is unique in that it has its entrance from the east rather then the North or south and its glorious entrance gate that still remains was made out of one huge solid rock. The synagougue had two floors making it almost 40 to 50 feet high. This was a community project. Right outside of the shul there was a box that was excavated that served as a charity box for those who would come to pray and those that would need would take from there.
The Talmud tells us that our sages believed that the redemption would first start in the North.
“ As Rab Chiya and Rabbi shimon ben chalafta walked and saw the morning sun over Arbel who’s light was shining they commented- so is the redemption of Israel bit by bit it comes out and grows brighter along the way”
May we see that day soon.