Our view of the Galile

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Suit that fits- Devarim Tisha B'Av 2012

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

July 27th  2012 -Volume 2, Issue 36 –8th of Av 5772

Parshat Devarim/Tisha’a B’av

The Suit that fits

We’ve come back home. We’ve planted, We’ve seen the blood of our youngest and finest shed as we established our new home. We’ve prospered and we’ve built. Not only cities of stature, affluence and beauty, we’ve built houses of Torah, spirituality, schools of study and holiness. Yet, we have still failed. The holy land is far from its once holy stature. The holy chosen nation is so far away from the ideal that we were meant to be. That we could be…The world is meant to look at us and see Hashem, our Father…our Creator… the God of Peace and Love… the Eternal one and instead… instead it’s just us. Us, just struggling to find our way, to pay our bills, to raise our families and to find a little spirituality, if we’re lucky, every once in a while. Israel is not what it should be and neither are we.

My 14 year old son, Yonah, went off to camp last week in the States. I spoke to him after a few days (don’t worry my wife spoke to him a few times before that J) and I asked him how it felt to be back in the U.S. of A with English speakers, Baseball games, slurpees…He was after all raised there and has only been in Israel for less then two years. His response though took me aback.
“It feels strange here Daddy” he said “I don’t know what it is. It’s like something is not right. I feel out of place and like that special Jewishy feeling I have in Eretz Yisrael is just not here. That holier feeling… I don’t know if I want to come back again next year…”
This is not a homesick child he went to camp in the states last year and for many years before. But something in his precious soul was rebelling. It was like a fish out of water. That heightened natural kedusha of Israel that the soul drinks was missing and even he was aware of it. And then something inside of me started to long as well. I longed for the Temple. I longed for a world that would inspire me. I longed for a better me, a stronger soul and for a return to the world that our Father wants for us.

This Shabbos is known as Shabbat Chazon/Vision, The Shabbos when we read the vision of the prophet Isaiah of the destruction that would befall on our people. Yet many of the great Chasidic Rebbes see in the name of this Shabbos as the Shabbos when we can possess an extra measure of vision. For it is on this Shabbos, after three weeks of increasing our mourning for the Temple and as we approach that day of Tisha’a B’Av when our Temples were destroyed and our world changed, that we can start to see more than ever how tragic our lives are… what failures we are… how much is missing in our lives and how we have acclimated to our exile… to the Shechina/Divine Presence’s exile. Like Yonah whose soul was jarred awake by being out of Eretz Yisrael, while the rest of the Jews there go about their everyday lives without a clue that something is amiss, during this time and on Tisha’a B’Av we also have the opportunity to tap into that loss that can jar our souls back to the “real” reality that we have been without for so long we can barely remember how it should be…how we could be…

The great Chasidic master, Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev explains the holiness of this Shabbos with a parable of a father who buys his young son a beautiful new suit. As children generally do his young son went out and played ball in his suit and of course it ripped and got sullied. Once again the father went out and him another suit. The second suit was a little more durable then the first suit. It was polyester, cheaper, not as fancy. Abba warned his son to be extra careful this time, but once again little Chaim’l came back with a ripped torn suit. His friends convinced him to play again and he just couldn’t resist…he forgot he was still wearing his suit. So his father decided this time to do things differently. He bought and prepared him the most beautiful suit of all. Yet he kept it in the closet. And every year he would take it out and show it to him. Letting him see what is awaiting him if he could just show that he had changed. That he was a “big boy” now. That he could take care of the suit, treat it with the respect and be the person that who when wearing that suit will inspire the world around him to also be “people of the suit”.

On Shabbos Chazon, the Shabbos of vision, Hashem shows us that suit, that holy temple, that we can be wearing. He is waiting for us, his little Chaim’l to look at our filthy ripped clothing that we have patched up with our little patches of Torah, good deeds, prayers and spots of holiness and say that we want the real deal. We want to be dressed anew. We want Eretz Yisrael the way it should be. We want our prayers to give us the ultimate connection. We need to become the people and nation that wears that glorious suits and become the children our Father is waiting each year for us to become. We can see it this Shabbos. We can climb out of the hole. We can succeed and put the failures behind us.

May the vision that we have this Shabbos transform our day of Tish’a B’Av to a day of rejoicing as Hashem hears our prayers and hands us our new garments as we rejoice in the building of our Temple and our mourning comes to an end.

Have a Shabbos that brings you and your family peace,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

This week’s Insights and Inspiration is dedicated in honor of my good friends and fellow tour guide Nati and Michelle Kahn of Nachalaot on the bris of their new son- Yonatan Elyashuv this past week. May their newest addition be a source of joy and Nachas to their entire family and a source of comfort and light to Klal Yisrael
Holyland Insights is now available for weekly sponsorships of the Insights & Inspiration E-mail, Our E-Mail is sent out weekly to close to 1000 subscribers. Your sponsorship is a great way to honor a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, family Simcha, yahrtzeit, friend, or any occasion while lending support to Rabbi Schwartzes efforts in furthering Jewish education and an appreciation of Eretz Yisrael. Please help us continue this weekly offering of inspiration through your generous dedication and sponsorship. To register as a sponsor or for more information, send an e-mail to this address, or call Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz at 050-597-0649 (from States it is 011-972-50-597-0649)rabbschwartz@yahoo.com

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The Kotel/ Western Wall/ Wailing Wall- It is the most visited site in Israel today. Since the destruction of the Temple this remnant of the retaining wall of the Temple mount was the place that Jews have directed their prayers according to Talmudic tradition it is where all prayers go up to heaven from. Yet it is only in the last half century when we have had access to the full wall most of it which is 7 stories underground, and to pray and cry as we touch those stones and remember the glory that was once here.

The wall itself as can be seen is a few different levels of construction the most recent being on top from before we got it back in 1967 from the mufti of Jerusalem. Lower then that is from Sir Moses Montifiore who wanted it to be shady for visitors and from there it goes into periods of the arab conquest. The wall that we see is 187 feet there is another 1600 feet that one can follow until we reach the actual mountain ground of Mt. Moriah where Avraham was commanded to bring Yitzchak as on offering to Hashem.
Until the 16th century this was unfortuantly a dumping ground for garbage for the arabs. In 1967 when Chaim Weizman came to the very small area that was in front of the Kotel there was a toilet attached to it. It was then that it was decided to clear out the houses connected to the Kosel and build the current plaza we have today.
Tisha B’Av hundreds of thousands of jews from around the world come to the kosel and pour out their hearts that we see it soon rebuilt. May it happen this year.


Watch the kotel live this tisha bav with the following link!!
WESTERN WALL KOTEL CAM- http://english.thekotel.org/cameras.asp

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Unsend- Retrieve- Matos/Ma'asei 5772

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

July 12th  2012 -Volume 2, Issue 35 –22nd of Tamuz 5772

Parshat Matos/Ma’asei

Un-Send- Retrieve
I don’t know if the guys at Google are thinking about me when they create their different applications for their E-mails. It sure feels that way sometimes. The Grammar check, the spell check, thesaurus, folders, search, are all tools I regularly use. Although as you, my faithful reader, know better than anyone how many mistakes I still manage to get in. It takes talent y’know. But that’s why they pay me the big bucks.

Recently I heard about another application that was coming out and it definitely sounded like it was made with yours truly in mind. It’s an undo sent E-Mail function. You know those E-Mails that you should have never sent. The people that asked you ridiculous questions and you couldn't help but think of a cynical response, The Letters to the Editor you had to write but should never have sent, The knee-jerk joke you forwarded and then said “Oh my gosh I didn’t mean to send it to him (or her)”, or even the weekly E-mail that was perhaps a little too insensitive or not-so-politically correct. Well now your problem is solved with the undo Email function. You can yank that E-mail right back and safely store it in a nice, cozy, should-never- have-been-sent folder, where it can live in cyber eternity as a testimony to mankind of your personal and private inner communication that needed to be said but not heard. If only God created us with that function on our mouths and words as well…

Being a Rabbi in the ancient tradition of Rabbis, more often than not learning to use your power of speech properly is one of the greatest challenges a Rabbi has to surpass at. A few wrong words to the wrong people at the wrong time have lost many a Rabbi their pulpit and more importantly the respect of their congregants or students. At the same time, being silent and turning a blind eye to matters that one is obligated to speak out about can also wreak havoc ultimately on ones community, a Rabbi’s conscience and obligation and responsibility to G-d to care for his flocks spirituality. You certainly can’t please everyone all of the time… certainly not Jewish congregants. But as one of the Rabbis of the last generation told his student in some sage advice before he took his first pulpit. A Rabbi that all of his congregants likes him, what kind of Rabbi are you? But a Rabbi that none of his congregation likes him what kind of person are you? Thank God I’m blessed with a wonderful congregation here in the Karmiel. They never hired me and so I can get away perhaps with a little more camaraderie or less political corrected-ness than at a “real” paying job. Yet still it is certainly one of the most challenging things I find in my life is to be able to say the right words to the right people at the right time and not God forbid the opposite.

A lesson I saw this week in our weekly portion subtly brings that lesson to life in of course the Torah’s usually subtle way. But if you are a Rabbi for as long as Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin (my father-in-laws grandfather) was, and as gifted an orator as he, then it jumps right out at you. The Parsha tells us about the reaction of the first of all Jewish Rabbis and the role model for us all; Moshe Rabeinu-Our Rabbi and leader for 40 years in the wilderness. The Jewish Peoples last battle before entering the Land of Israel, and Moshe’s last commandment and mission from God before he was meant to die, is to wage war and take vengeance on Midian. Midian was the nation that sent their daughters out to seduce the Jewish people in last weeks Torah portion (see the E-mail that was never sentJ) and only through the intervention of Pinchas was the wrath of Hashem in the form of a plague that killed 24,000 Jews halted. So the Jews are meant to wage war against Midian, and they smite them in a mighty battle that kills 5 different Midianite kings and their armies (with nary a loss on the Jewish side). But they make one big mistake. As they come back into the camp, Moshe looks out at this victorious army and what does he see? None other than the women of the Midian, which the Jews had brought back with them as prisoners. Uh Oh… bad idea…don’t you get it guys??! This is the whole reason why we went to war in the first place, to get rid of the problem of you hanging out with their women. Not good. One can imagine Moshe’s inner E-mail he was composing. Actually all we can do is imagine it, for as Rav Sorotzkin points out Moshe never sent it.

The Torah tells us what happened and one subtle phrase gives an enlightening and inspiring change in how to read the story.
And Moshe was angry with the commanders of the army the officers….And Moshe said to them “Did you let every female live? Behold- it was they who caused the children of Israel .. to commit a betrayal against Hashem.”

Until this year I read this verse in what they call in cyber-speak “CAPS”. DID YOU LET EVERY FEMALE LIVE?!!?. But Rav Sorotzkin points out that this is not the case. The Torah goes out of its way to say “Moshe was angry” and then it repeats the phrase by pausing and saying “And Moshe said to them”, rather than saying the more concise and grammatically correct phrase “And Moshe was angry and said to them.”. This is to teach us that Moshe didn’t respond in CAPS. He paused. He put the five second Google retrieve inner E-Mail button into play. He kept his emotions and anger in check and responded in a calm voice to them. In a way that they could hear, without the inner angst. In a way that every Rabbi and individual should aspire to achieve.

We are entering the month of Av as our mourning builds leading up to Tisha B’Av the day of the destruction of our Temples and we focus on the Divine causes that led to their being taken away from us. One of the reasons are sages tell us was because some of the Rabbis of that time didn’t rebuke properly (Google the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza if you’re interested). Another reason given is because some Rabbis were too harsh and stringent with the law and rebuke. Each of us is meant to serve as role models to others. We all have values we know are important and we all know someone who could use some inspiration and guidance to be shown the proper track of personal spiritual growth. We are a nation of Leaders and Rabbis to the world (like it or not) and we have to deal with that role responsibly. Let us learn from Moshe how to fulfill that role. Never answer or rebuke from a point of anger and take a deep breath and remember the Google 5 second rule. But then contemplate, pray and respond, when and if it is appropriate. We are all responsible for one another and we can’t be silent when words must be spoken. Hopefully if we feel and act that way to one another we will merit to having that house of Peace once again restored.

Have a Shabbos that brings you and your family peace,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


Har Hamenuchos- O.K. a cemetery is not necessarily a cool place but it is the three weeks so give me a break. Actually the Har Hamenuchos cemetery the largest active cemetery in Israel today, (although Har Hazeisim is larger in size but not as active), is certainly a place where many can go and experience  and learn about the many great and even controversial figures that are buried there. Established in 1951 while the Jordanians had control of the old city of Jerusalem and Mt. of Olives cemetery was not a friendly place for live Jewish people to go to The cemetery became the central cemetery for Jews in Jerusalem and even from around the world to be buried in.
Many of israel’s early zionst figures are buried there including the 2nd president of Israel Yitzchak Ben Tzvi, the composer of Hatikva, Naftali Hertz Imber and the mayor of Jerusalem Gershon Agron. Some of the leaders of the early enlightenment movement Martin Buber and Peretz Smolentzkin are buried there as well. Rabbi Meir Kahane- the right wing leader of the Kach movement as well as the great spiritual singer Rabbo Shlomo Carlbach are also “resting” there
But certainly what attracts the most people to Har Hamenuchos cemetery are the great religious spiritual leaders that are buried there where jews from around the world come to pray by their gravesides imploring Hashem in the merit of the righteous to grant their requests for life, children, health, marriage and peace.
The earliest grave is that of the Chida the great 18th century Kabbalist and Halachist for the Sefardic community who although born in Jerusalem died in Italy where he served as Rabbi but was moved here in 1960. In addition to many of the Rabbis of Israel that are buried here Rav Moshe Shapiro the Rav of Lublin and founder of The Daf Yomi movement (see below for information on the culmination every 7 ½ years of the page a day study of Talmud in a few weeks) who died in lodz before the holocaust and although the Nazis destroyed the cemetery there, his grave was left intact and was reinterred here as well.
Rav Moshe Feinstien- the great American Halachist, Reb Shlomo Zalman Aurabach, the Rebbe of Belz, and most recently and tragically Reb Noson Tzvi Finkel head of the the Mirrer Yeshiva and this past week Rabbi Yosef Sholom Elyashuv the leader of the Hareidi Jewry in Israel. Rav Elayshuvs funeral which according to most estimates had over 300,000 attendees was the largest funeral to take place at Har Hamenuchos. Not a cool place but a place where one can literally see the spectrum of Klal Yisrael as they rest together awaiting the ultimate resurrection.

Reb Elyashuv tribute in English- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OB9oBu8jVNo  

Reb Elyashuv tribute in Hebrew- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpjB2oCJArM

Reb Elyashuv tribute Chief Rabbi of Israel- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJXsTRUPQ0c

Reb Elyahivs funeral- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYfpDnTgZWo

Thursday, July 12, 2012

In Between Protests- Pinchas 2012

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

July 12th  2012 -Volume 2, Issue 35 -22nd of Tamuz 5772

Parshat Pinchas

In Between Protests

The cause was just. The crowds began to gather. It was time for the people to speak up and be heard. This was another blow to the democracy and freedom that their forefathers had given their lives for. Who does the government think they are? Have they forgotten that they were placed in office to represent the people? If we don't stand up know who knows what can be next? Chopped liver? Kishka? Dare I even think about Chulent? And with those highly motivated principles the Million Big Gulp March against Mayor Bloomberg's NY state Soda-ban on sales of 16oz or larger sodas in eating establishments began.

Queens city councilman and currently running for congress (god help us) Dan Halloran flanked by two aides dressed up like 157 oz Big Gulps declared that the ban challenged "the principles on which our country (your country) was founded". David Krakauer, a 16-year-old New York native who lives in Israel, said there's no such soda ban in Israel (my country:) ). "Every person has the right to decide how much soda he can drink - not the government". Now although David might be correct when it comes to Soda bans in this blessed country of ours, we still can't get a decent slurpee here. Perhaps even more frustrating, for some reason Israelis seem to feel that an extra large coffee is not larger then a small 4 oz cup (1/3 of which is full of bootz (mud/ coffee remains). A regular size here is like a shot glass! Now that is really something to protest about. But here in Israel we are a peaceful accepting country- that are averse to protests...umm...maybe not so much...OK we are the kings of protests and counter-protests and counter the counter-protests. So why can't I have my Thank heaven for 7-11 large coffee that I can nurse for an hour or two?

The many protests here make it easy to be a newsman in Israel. Since I have been here I don't believe a week has gone by that there is not another protest or rally. Chariedim in the army, Settlements in the Shomron, Pro-peace, the rights for homeless people to live in expensive houses in Tel Aviv, Ethiopians equal rights, alternate marriage, secular marriage, grave digging, internet usage, illegal immigrant rights, pro-Sabbath anti-Sabbath and all of this was just in the past month or two. News papers here never have a slow day. We are an opinionated people that do not like to keep our opinions to ourselves or even to our few hundred closest friends. We feel the need to tell the world about our issues and everything becomes a crisis. Welcome to God's chosen nation.

In our weekly Torah reading we have arrived at the end of the story of the Jewish people in the wilderness. The beginning of the book of Bamidbar fast forwarded two parshiyot ago to the last few months of their forty year journey as the Torah repeatedly tells us that they are camped in
"Arvot Moav Al Yarden Yericho-on the plains of Moav by the Jordan river across from Jericho." It is here when the Jewish people complain about the water after the death of Miriam and Moshe and Aharon are told that they cannot come into Israel because of their sin of hitting the rock. It is here when a snake plague strikes the Jewish people after complaining about the Manna, and it is here that the conclusion of last week's Parsha told us that the Jewish people began to sin with the daughters of Moav and the worship of their idolatry. In the wake of that last act of rebellion 24 thousand Jews die in a plague that was only stopped by Pinchas who spears the leader of the rebellion in front of Moshe and all of the nation.What is going on? Why all the unrest after all of the years in the wilderness, right at the brink of their long awaited return to their promised land?

It is interesting to note that this week's Torah portion, which also contains in it the counting of the people "B'ArVot Moav Al Yarden Yereicho", tells us about the command to Moshe to go up to the mountain of "Avarim" as he will not merit to go to the land of Israel. The word Avarim is very similar to the word of ArvotErev is evening a point between day and night or mixture, Arvot-plains are a place that is in between the mountains and the sea, and Avarim means transition- avar- to pass from place to place. The Jewish people are now standing at a moment of transition. One leg and one ideology of theirs is still in Moav, while the other is on the Jordan towards Yericho and the Holyland. Rav Kook notes that it is at the moments of transition in life that one is faced with lifes greatest challenges, the challenge to leave behind the comfortable and accustomed to world of the past and step forward into a different stage with a greater opportunity for growth and greatness.

For the past forty years in the wilderness the Jews, as they have  historically have done, have acclimated and even prospered in their different environment, both in a religious and material way. Yet, the time was close when they had to move forward, into a new world. The challenges of creating a state, that island of God in the sea of paganism and idolatry around them terrified them. The idea that they would have to leave Moav and Egypt behind and leave the comfortable spirituality of Moshe Aharon and the miracles of the desert of the clouds of glory, Manna and well of Miriam was the struggle they faced on the banks of Yericho. It all came to a forefront these last few months. And it brought out the worst of them.

Rav Kook notes that similar challenges were taking place in his own time. He viewed the return to Israel in the early1900's as the final transition of our people home. Much of the fighting, the differing ideologies, the determination to build but at the same time to bring over ideals foreign to our holyland were the same struggles that happened the first time we came here over 3000 years ago. In his times the question was will Socialist Russia, European culture and Secular even anti-religious creeds be the seeds that are planted in the new Jewish state. In our days it is Capitalism, anything-goes media driven hedonism and even Big Gulps that many don't feel they can do without or leave behind on the "banks of Moav".

We are in the three week mourning period from  the 17th of Tamuz, when the walls of Jerusalem were breached, until the 9th of Av, when both Temples were destroyed,  that is also known and referred to as a time of possible transition. In the words of our sages the period is called Bein Hametzarim- based on the verse in Lamentations Kol Rodfeha Hihiguha Bein Hametzarim - all her pursuers overtook her between the narrow straits. Why does this verse become the name of this period of time? Perhaps because it defines the challenge of the failure of the transition. We were stuck in the narrow middle. We couldn't move forward. The idolatry and the foreign ideals that we brought with us into the Holyland led to our destruction. Our inability to join together as a nation dedicated to one ideal of the service  and glory of the Almighty, who has waited for so long for us to build His home...our home... is what is keeping us here.. The protests, confusion, self interests and the eternal inability for us to see the big picture of what could lie behind that next door if we allowed ourselves to open it is still haunting us as we are locked in these self-inflicted straits. Egypt, Moav, Babylonia, Greece, Spain, Europe, Russia and even the United States and Canada are not where were supposed to be. We're stuck between the straits and the our pursuers both physically and spiritually are still overtaking us. The final transition is still taking place and the fighting and protests are evidence that we know that we are close. May we soon merit to see that great day when we merit to finally and eternally cross over all the narrow borders that are holding us back.

Have a beautifulShabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

This week's Insights and Inspiration is dedicated in honor of the engagement of my Brother-in-law Chanochi Sorotzkin to Shulamit Deutch from Har Nof. Mazel Tov to my inlaws Rabbi Yosef and Chana Sorotzkin and to the Deutch family. May the young couple merit to build a Bayis Ne'aman Bi'Ysrael.

Please have the baby Ha'Tinok ben Aviva Michaela in your prayers for a refuah Shlaima/ a complete healing.



The house of Rav Kook/ Beis Dovid- In a small little neighborhood- if one would even call it that on the north side of Yaffo street next to Nachalat Shiva in Jerusalem lies the 4th Jewish settlement outside of the old city walls of Jerusalem since 1873. Named after Dovid Reiss the founder of the neighborhood which consisted of a walled gate with two story homes that surrounded and open courtyard, the Beis Dovid neighborhood became the center of most major issues and decisions that took place in the early formation days of the State of Israel in the 1920's because of its most prestigious resident Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha'Kohein Kook. Rav Kook who was a student of the great Volozhin Yeshiva and the son-in-law of the Rav of Ponovizh Rav Dovid Rabinowitz Teumim (AKA A"Deres) was given smich at age 20 from the Aruch Ha'Shulchan. He moved to Eretz Yisrael to become the Rav of Yaffo and then after WWI he was appointed Rav of Jerusalem where established the chief Rabbinate becoming the first Chief Rabbi of Israel (Palestine-back then).
Rav Kook was known as the Rabbi for everyone new immigrants, poverty stricken families from the old Yishuv, as well as secular Zionist and socialists all found an open door (that was built specifically outside of the walled gate so that he would always be reachable. He was known for his love of every Jew regardless of their religious observance and he saw and developed the ideology that the replanting and settling of Israel was the mitzvah that was a fulfillment of the ultimate redemption. Each year on Simchat Torah there are thousands that dance from the house of Rav Kook for 2nd Hakafot with Torah Scrolls. Today one can visit his home and see his modest dwelling in the museum that is there. The letters in his study, pictures with great Rabbis and early Zionist leader together with the fascinating movie of his life will give you a true sense of this most special and pivotal figure in early Eretz Yisrael history.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Happiness is... Balak 2012

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

July 6th  2012 -Volume 2, Issue 35 –15h of Tamuz 5772

Parshat Balak

Happiness is…

I’m an Israeli now. July 4th was a fun BBQ excuse holiday which is always a good thing, but this year I didn’t even notice that it passed; maybe because I’m still looking for some good meat to grill in this country. Yet I remember the day when we would talk get together and discuss the difference between the American dream and its rights as opposed to those of Israel and the Jewish State.  One of the primary differences I always noted was this concept of the pursuit of happiness. In Israel we were and are looking to survive and to be able to make a difference and society that was impactful and hopefully Divine,  (the problem is that every Jew has a different opinion of what that means- some even two). But happiness was never our pursuit. Fulfillment, accomplishment, spirituality, Divine connection and most of all peace are what we pray for and what move us.  Happines? That’s an American pursuit, and one that certainly interesting to explore. What is this pursuit and why aren’t we searching for it over here?

As all good searches must begin I started my search at the easiest location; Google- of course. Which then sent me to Wikipedia. They then informed me that 50% of ones happiness quotient is related to ones genes. Hmmm… I think it’s a little too late to work on that. My next hit brought me to that classic work of wisdom and art the famed "you’re a good man Charlie Brown" and the happiness song. Here I found out that "happiness is finding a pencil and pizza with sausage and five different crayons and tying your shoe". Well the pizza thing wasn’t too Kosher (tofu sausages certainly don’t make me too happy) I don't use pencils and not great with crayons or shoes). It was pretty much downhill from there. Deepak Chopra- "Happiness is a continuation of happenings which are not resisted" ,(Huh?). Albert Schweitzer -" Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory". And the always insightful George Burns- "Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city". And last and perhaps least the profound and insightful Don Marquis "Happiness is the interval between periods of unhappiness". Feeling joyous yet?’

Which, as is usually the case brings me to the place that is generally the only real place where I have usually found meaningful and satisfactory answers to the most pressing questions of life; our holy Torah. It’s a good thing, I guess, that Hashem gave us this book of wisdom and life or who knows what we would look like. This week’s Torah portion gives us a perspective of an individual who was certainly one of the least happy people in the world. We are told the story of Bilaam the prophet who was courted and enlisted to utilize his supernatural spiritual powers to curse the people of Israel. The lessons of Bilaam are lessons in un-happiness. Or what happens to someone who is too caught up in the pursuit of the elusive rather than the acceptance and the experience of what he has.

The Mishnah in Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) contrasts for us the difference between Abraham and Bilaam and their disciples The students of Abraham possess three primary character traits a good eye, a humble spirit, and a sense of contentedness while Bilaam's students possess the opposite, an evil eye, arrogance and greed. The Talmud tells us that Bilaam was the equivalent of Moshe our greatest leader in his capacity to achieve prophecy and lead the gentile world. Instead, his self absorption- that eye of his that could only see his own universe rather than reflect out to the rest of the world and serve their needs and elevate them brought him down. He had the power to bless humanity but instead he chose to curse. While Abraham looked at the world and felt humbled by the Almighty and his Creation, Bilaam's arrogance and his pursuit for honor drove him to attempt to defy Hashem's directive. In the end the Torah tells us he was mocked when his own donkey spoke and in his obsessive blinded pursuit of the happiness that can never be achieved, he became the symbol of an individual who ultimately couldn't even get respect and control upon that which his own backside would ride.

When one examines our Jewish leaders and heroes in the Torah and throughout our history, there are two things that one can find that are fairly consistent. The first is that none of them ever were ever engaged in a pursuit of happiness. Rather as King David in Psalms tells us our role is it is to be Bakeish Sholom V'Rodfehu- search out peace and pursue it. The righteous look out at the world and ask themselves not how can I become happy? Rather how can I make the world happier, kinder, more peaceful, and more holy. The focus on building a world of love and peace is the pursuit that is our unalienable Divine mandate; it is for that which we are created.

The second characteristic that can be found by those who merited to have had the privilege to encounter and to develop a relationship with our holy masters is that they all were filled with an incredible sense of happiness and inner peace. In the worst of times and through the greatest of struggles, from our forefathers and to our great leaders today somehow there is somehow a reservoir of happiness that fills them that allows them to shine it out and bring light and joy to the world. Their secret and the Torah's lesson? It is not the pursuit of one’s own happiness that will bring them joy or fulfillment. Rather it the pursuit of others happiness, the happiness between man and his fellow, between man and his Creator, and between our Loving Father and his children that will ultimately result in true inner happiness.

We live today in a society that has more and better "stuff" then ever before in the history of mankind. Yet we also live in a generation that suffers from more depression and a true lack of inner peace, joy and satisfaction than ever before. The early settlers of Israel came with different ideals. Perhaps if we would all take a step three thousand years before the founding fathers of the United States set out their mandate for the foundation of their society in the Declaration of Independence. And we looked back to our own heritage and our Forefathers and Jewish heroes as our beacons; we would be closer to achieving that happiness we seek. Our ancestors saw themselves and happiness not in their Independence and in their opportunities to further their own personal goals and lives, rather it was in their dependence on the Almighty for all the goodness that they had and the furtherance of his love and the worlds happiness and relationship with Him and with each other that was their life work and ultimate fulfillment. May we merit soon to see the true fulfillment of those dreams.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


Old Yishuv Museum/ Old City Jerusalem- There is so much to see in Jerusalem particularly in the Old City but this modest but fascinating museum is truly and experience for the whole family that will inspire and even entertain its guests of all ages. The old city yishuv in Jerusalem dates back to the 16th century with the arrival of Rabbi Yehudah Ha’chasid. Jews certainly lived there before but the most recent yishuv dates to that era of the ottoman turks. As one walks through the various displays of life back then, one can get a true appreciation of the struggles they had to survive until it was handed over to Jordan in the 1948 independence war and the destruction of the Rova. There are stories of midwives, brides, their living conditions, all types of activities and games children used to play (pre-i-phones and game-stations). One can also visit the ancient shul built over the home of the AriZ’l the “father” of modern Kabbalah study and practice who lived there until he moved to Egypt and then Tzefat where he is buried. As we work on appreciating the love and sacrifice Jews have had for Jerusalem there is no greater place then the Yishuv Musuem to get a feel for the commitment we have had to our holiest city. May we soon merit to see it fully restored.