Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
June 8th 2012 -Volume 2, Issue 31 –18th of Sivan 5772
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.”
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL PLACES IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK-
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.