Our view of the Galile

Friday, November 30, 2012

No Jew Will Be (or eat) Left Behind- Vayishlach 2012/5773

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

November 30th 2012 -Volume 3, Issue 8 -16th of Kislev 5773

Parshat Vayishlach

No Jew Shall Be (or Eat) Left Behind

(sorry couldn’t resist… I love my titles J)

Wednesday night was the first time in a long time that I did not dream of Crusaders. I didn’t dream about Philistines, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Umayyad or Abbasid dynasties or the Mamluks either. My second final exam (an oxymoron, I know) for my 2 year tour guiding course is over. {check out new feature below of a question of the week from my exam-to see if you could pass it} One left to go. From here on the Seleucids can return to once again being associated with potato latkas and here in Israel jelly doughnuts on Chanukah. It was a nice peaceful sleep. All of the historic empires and enemies who have sought to destroy us from time immemorial and who continued to torture me from their graves as I crammed and studied non-stop for weeks, disappeared. I dreamed of hills and valleys, of sunrises over Masada and sunsets in the Golan of peace and music once again in the streets of Jerusalem… And then my three year old kicked me in the nose as he climbed into my bed. Oh well… it was nice while it lasted. I guess I had to get up and study for my oral exam anyways…sigh.

 Yes, our people have certainly had our fair share of battles, wars and struggles for survival. Perhaps more than any nation on earth. When we recite at our Pesach Seder- She’bichol Dor Va’Dor Omdim Aleinu Li’Çhaloseinu- That in each generation they have rose up against us to destroy us- Vi’Hakadosh Baruch Hu Matzileinu Mi’Yadum- and the Holy One Blessed Be He has saved us from their hands, we know it’s true. It is one of the constants in Jewish history. As the famous joke goes- What are Jewish holidays all about? They tried to kill us… we survived… let’s eat. It makes sense. After all what better way to commemorate our survival then by eating, drinking and of course with our belly’s full and spirits raised to than turn to our Father in heaven and thank Him for never abandoning us. L’Chaim! Bi’Tayavon!

 This of course leads us to our question of the week on the Parsha on what seems to be a decidedly un-jewish eternal response to one of our most historic battles. The Torah, continuing from last week, tells us of our forefather Yaakov as he leaves Charan and his uncle Lavan, to meet his angry brother Esau who is coming with 400 men to fulfill his decades old blood-wish to kill him for “stealing” the blessings of his birthright (which of course Yaakov legitimately bought-but since when have the facts ever made a difference when it comes to our right to the holy land… some things never change). As he goes forward to meet him, the Torah tells us that he went back across the Yabok river, having forgotten some vessels there and is left alone, when he is confronted by the angel of Esau. Now it’s bad enough having to deal with your angry brother- but a wrestling match with a Divine being, where the dust of their feet, according to the medrash, kicked up to the heavens, is an entirely different story.  The conclusion of this battle, of course is the victory of Yaakov who pins the angel down and gets a blessing from- the biblical form of crying uncle, yet he is wounded. The angel had struck him in his thigh and he now had a limp. The Torah thus gives us a commandment- the second only to circumcision that is mentioned before the giving of the Torah for the Jewish people for ages. It is the prohibition to eat the Gid Ha’Nasheh- the sciatic nerve which pretty much knocks off most of the back half of the cow that we have since then traditionally not eaten. ”Therefore the children of Israel shall not eat the Gid Hanashe which is on the thigh until this very day for he (the angel) injured the thigh of Yaakov in the Gid Ha’Nasheh. No filet mignon for the Jews.

Now why would we commemorate this incredible victory- the only of its kind against a divine being- with not eating something? If I was writing this law I would probably proscribe some angel-hair pasta, some thank heaven for 7-11 Slurpees perhaps and maybe some Devil Dogs (we will miss you Drake’s cakes-so we will go to angel’s bakery of course). But Hashem doesn’t consult with me. So it is up to us to figure out what is this all about. Thankfully, our sages don’t leave us hanging and the Chizkuni- the 13th century French commentator suggests an interesting idea. The reason why we commemorate this battle with the prohibition to eat is so that the children of Israel will always remember to never leave another Jew alone. The angel’s power, this precursor of all battles that Israel will have for eternity only poses a danger to us and they can only harm us if we are on our own. Our strength and the Jewish people’s power to bring down the Divine assistance we need to overcome is only if we stand before our father as a nation united. His family. Our family. Whenever we sit down to prepare a festive meal and we slaughter an animal for a good steak, we remember Yaakov who was left behind by his sons to fight for himself. We can never “eat the whole cow” if there is even one Jew we are leaving behind. It is that message that we are meant to internalize from this 1st of our historic battles.

We have learned this lesson for the large part I hope. I received the following E-Mail this week that I share with you from a recent soldier from the recent Pillar of Cloud/defense operation and battle in Gaza.

“It's nearly 3 AM, the cease fire was announced 30 hours ago,  I've been home for 7 hours already, but I'm still restless. I cannot sleep. The thoughts and feelings fill my mind...

 I was called in from my studies to help my brigade prepare for the ground entrance to the Gaza Strip as part of operation Pillar of Defense. I spent a week in the field, since last Friday. Although we didn't go in, I returned home full of strength. I had the privilege to be out in the field and see true unity amongst Am Yisrael and an army that is not only strong militarily but strong in spirit. I met and worked with many soldiers and commanders, all with deep faith that we are doing the right thing. I saw hundreds of soldiers dance hugged in a huge circle, singing "Am Yisrael Chai" and "the nation of eternity isn't afraid of a long journey". I saw commanders draw power and faith out of this amazing scene.

 Under my command were a few reserve soldiers, all 10 years older than me and more. They were part of tens of thousands that enlisted to their units until the enlistment count stood at 120% percent. Doctors, students, fathers, high-tech engineers, meat seller, they came from all over to protect our nation and country. I met truck and mobile drivers who drove over 10 hours from north to south, back and forth, again and again, just so we can have our armed vehicles to go in. All they asked for was "Go in, do your job, and let us have some quiet finally". I met volunteers who supported us with hot soup, drinks and goodies as we waited in the field for the order that never came. I met brave residents of Southern Israel, who taught me what true courage and power is. Can you imagine living under fire for 12 years??

A month ago I returned from our honeymoon in India. I told people that within 2 months I saw true unity in Am Yisrael. There, in the Far East, and here, under  fire. My question is why can't we be so united at normal times, on daily basis? Why can't we gather around the same values we truly share, even if deep inside? Why can't we respect and treat each other as brother unless it's in the middle of nowhere, or in time of crisis? It starts with each and every one of us. Can we try being nicer to each other? Can we try harder to respect each other's views and opinions, even if they contradict our own? Can I treat every Jew as my brother, even if he wears black, or doesn't wear a Kippa\Yarmalka, if he's dark skinned or if he prays differently than I do? If he has long hair and piercings, or if he has long Peot?  Can I try understanding what bothers him, what hurts him, so I can avoid doing so? Can I truly CARE about someone who is from my nation, even if we are different and sometimes it looks like we're not so connected? The change starts with YOU, with ME, with US, in the small, daily actions and reactions. No politician can promise or do it, it is only up to us. Thank you for protecting and fighting for us worldwide all around the media, social networks and out on the streets, helping justice win and revealing evil lies. I'm proud to be part of this nation, and part of a unique and moral army. May we be blessed with these unique feelings every day, and not only in times of crisis?”

 Shabbat Shalom

 Yaakov Selavan

 Lieutenant, IDF Armored Corps

Yackov I dream together with you of that day. May Hashem help us get there soon together.

Have a smashingly amazing Shabbos,

Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz







Lido Junction- Right at the intersection of route 1 from Jerusalem and route 90 towards the Dead Sea one comes to an incredible break in the mountain range of the Judean Desert which then continues all the way up to the hills of Shomron known as Matzuk HaÉtikim. As this is the only break it was the major crossroads for generations to cross the Dead Sea into Jerusalem. Until 1967 this was of course under Jordanian control. After the war when Israel restored this part of our country to us we actually had Palestinians build the road giving employment to our newest “ Israeli” citizens. Diagonally across from the gas station one can see the ruins of a former resteraunt that used to be on the banks of the Dead Sea which has since receeded due to Israelis and Jordanians taking out water from the Jordan river which meet the Dead Sea and this uppermost portion of it. It was here the original Dead Sea Plants were started in the early 1920’s to mine the minerals and Potash from the Sea which only later moved to the Southern part of the Yam. You can also check out the incredible re-creation of the Crusader period map of all of Israel that was painted on the walls of this restaurant and make out names of ancient Israel cities. Don’t leave the intersection of course without stopping for a camel-ride from one of the Bedouin youths with their camels that are waiting to give your backside a feel of the true desert experience.



(answer below)

The tunnel well (fugarot) site is the northernmost limit of the distribution of the

 Winter thorn  (Shita malbina)(a)

(b) Doum Palm (Dekel Ha’Dom)

(c) Sodom’s Apple (tapuach Sodom)

(d) Accacia strap flower (Harnug haShittim)



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.


Answer is C- Dekel Ha’dom in the bottom of the Arava valley outside of Eilat where incidentally Rabin and King Hussein met to sign the Jordanian peace accords in 1994 with Bill Clinton the second only country to do so after Egypt.



Friday, November 23, 2012

Thoughts and Prayers- Vayeitzei 2012 57773

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

 November 23rd 2012 -Volume 3, Issue 7 –9th of Kislev 5773

Parshat Vayeitzei

Thoughts and Prayers

 We are a people of prayer. Biblically the Torah commands us to bless Hashem after we eat and according to Maimonides we are Biblically obligated to pray in our time of need. Yet, our sages and generations of Jewish tradition have established prayers and blessings for all occasions. We pray three times a day, before we eat, when we come out of the bathroom, before we fulfill most mitzvot, when we hear thunder and lightning, see the greatness of Hashem in nature the sea, mountains and even upon seeing world leaders and presidents. With the destruction of the temple, our sages understood that without the opportunity to see Hashem “in person” in the Beit Hamikdash in Jerusalem as we used to three times a year, we would have to work harder and pause at most occasions in our daily life and recognize and commune with the Almighty as we go about our daily affairs. So we pray a lot. We pray for life, for peace, for livelihood, for our children, our health, but primarily we pray for Hashem to be recognizable in our lives. Without that we are mere walking talking animals. Our ability to self-reflect and develop our soul and our relationship with our Creator is what makes us unique of His created beings.


This past week most of our nation fulfilled our biblical obligation to pray. With missiles falling over our Holy-land (two of them right over my head, as I was touring the South with my cousin-before the “official” war broke out) the heavens were deluged with prayers from all over the world for the well-being of our people, the safety of our soldiers and the end of the reign of terror unleashed by animals who do not see the Divine spark in the faces of the women and children of their own citizens that they use as human shields, let alone on the cities, schools and hospitals of our holy nation that they target and are trying to annihilate. So we prayed. Heaven heard. The missiles have stopped. Four families have lost their loved ones here in Israel, many have been wounded and emotionally scarred for lives as their homes have been devastated and their families and children must once again go back to what is still a border with an enemy that wishes nothing more but to destroy them. But it is their home. It is our home. Our only home. Yet it is a home that we only merit and maintain with our prayers.


This week’s Torah portion shares with us the story of our forefather Yackov; Yackov, being the first Jew to have to flee our country because of the threat of a murderous brother who swore to kill him. As he leaves the Holyland the Torah tells us Vaifgah Ba’Makom-and he encountered the place and he rested there. As he rests he dreams the famous dream of the heavenly angels of Israel who had escorted him going back up to heaven and the angels of Chutz L’Aretz- the Diaspora joining him. It is there that Hashem appears to him promises him of the eternity of his descendants and of their heritage of the land of Israel and assures him he will be protected in his sojourn. Our sages tell us that the strange introduction to this dream of Yackov “encountering the place” is in fact a hint to the evening prayer of Ma’ariv that he established then as the sun miraculously set early so he would have that prophecy (thus explaining the terminology of encountering as if it was unexpected). The Talmud tells us that the evening prayer of Yackov is unique in that the morning and afternoon prayers established by Avraham and Yitzchak respectively are obligatory in nature as opposed to Yackov’s which seemingly from the nature of the Torahs describing the spontaneous nature in his encounter at night is a reshus-non-obligatory (although since its acceptance by the Jewish people our tradition has accepted as a obligatory as well). What is the difference between these prayers? Why would some be obligatory and Yackovs evening prayer be left up to our own decision or inspiration to pray?


The answer, I believe, lies in the nature of our peoples need to respond to Hashem. Avraham who dedicated the morning prayer sees Hashem in the morning. He sees Hashem in his kindness in the glory of the universe and the beauty of the magnificent world He has made that he easily recognizes can only come from the Divine intelligence that wishes to bestow goodness on the world. As human beings in Hashem’s image it is obligatory upon us to see the world and Hashem’s kindness and to appreciate the beauty found in the world each day as we arise. It’s a God-filled world and if we fail to see it than we miss out on the function of our existence. Yitzchak’s afternoon prayer as well takes that level of challenge up even another notch. He prays in the field in the middle of the day. As we work and toil and can fall prey to the danger of thinking that all that we are doing is the product of our own hands rather than the blessing of the ever-watchful eye and hand of Hashem, we need to pause and recognize Hashem as well. How scary it is to think that the responsibilities we have to provide for our families to, to raise our children, to succeed in this challenging world would fall solely on our shoulders. Hashem mandates us to turn to Him as well during the day with our Mincha prayer to let us know that He is there with us giving us strength to “hold that plow” and bring the rain that we need to acieve his blessing.


We then come to the evening; the prayer of Yackov. The evening that sometimes suddenly falls upon us, when the darkness and the missles sometimes hide the hand of Hashem. We hear of tragedies, deaths, hurricanes that sweep away people’s homes and possessions, missiles that fall on the Holyland and enemies that have sworn to open up the “the gates of hell” on our people. We see these things and get so caught up in the fear and panic and sorrow, and as Yackov who himself is fleeing, with just the shirt on his back, from his brother who is trying to kill him to his uncle who wants nothing more to enslave and take advantage of him we pronounce- “Hashem is in this place- and I did not know it”. It is here where Hashem who is not clear leaves it up to us to choose to find Him. In the time of darkness and night, at the time that we generally slumber and when we are exhausted from all we have gone through, it is than that we exert that Divine spark that is deep inside of us and that has been strengthened and re-enforced by the conviction of our morning and afternoon periods of Divine commune where we have seen his glory and how He has taken care of us. During the night we don’t daven to Hashem because we are commanded to, rather it is because Hashem gives us times when we must find the opportunity to connect and get close to him by chance on our own. The times that he is most hidden is the times that we can call up those resources and say that we see you the most. We need you the most. We know you are there. You are the Makom- the place (which non- incidentally is term for Hashem we use for a mourner) when I thought there was no other place to turn.

I was touched by the so many that when the war began sent the E-Mails, the tweets, the posts and the what has now become standard clichéd response to someone who is undergoing a scary time or tragedy- “You are in our thoughts and prayers”. World leaders make those statements and for some reason I don’t feel that they are actually turning to Hashem and praying for us. But our people and friends are different. I know that when you sent those E-mails and wishes tht you as well turned to Hashem for a moment or two as well and asked him to watch over us. You had an “encounter with God” and it came from the deepest part of your heart. That prayer, those expressions of our souls is what can bring peace to the world. If we can bring down and uncover Hashem in the darkeness for the past days of war we can bring Him back home for eternity. Our Parsha concludes with the angels that Yackov saw, coming back to greet him as he returned to the Holy Land after his 22 year exile complete in faith and whole with the twelve tribes accompanying him. May our long exile as well finally conclude and may we once again be joined not just in prayer in times of tragedy and war, but instead in song and dance as we return home for the final time.


Have a wonderful Shabbos,

Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

PS- I sure could use your thoughts and prayers this wek as I take my final exams upon the completion of my two year tour guide program from the Tourism ministry. J


(can you imagine American kids having to sing songs like this)




Yokne’am- The city of Yoken’am across from the south part of the carmel mountain range is one that is becoming a high tech capital in the north of Israel, yet the archeological tel dates back to the early Egyptian period and the conquest of Joshuah and the Jewish settlement.. On the archeological site one can see the remains of a crusader church as well as graves from the Persian period and jewish settelements period where remains of the douuble wall around the city were uncovered. The new city which has a population of 25,000 is and founded after 1948 on the arab village that was  once there has one of the larges graduation rates in the country and was originally the first school not affiliated with any stream of Israel’s religious demographics bringn together religious and non religious kids in the same school. My favorite place in Yokn’eam is the Morad winery across the tel where you can meet this amazing couple who had a dream to make wine out of everything but grapes including passion fruit, apple,s plum, celery, pepper you name it. Their liquors are delicious and kosher and you can watch a brief movie of their story and sample some delicious wines.


10. Your grandmother asks for the gravy by requesting "the turkey schmaltz"

9. "The turkey is served!" line is followed by someone cracking open an expired Empire deli pack

8. Leftover vegetable kugel is suddenly titled "stuffing"

7. Your neighbor comes over to borrow your hat and jacket for his Pilgrim outfit

6. Someone accidentally starts singing shalom aleichem

5. Dinner is delayed while family clears off the table of Macy's coupons

4. Meal cancelled due to prohibition on using Indian customs and the fact that your mom is busy cooking for shabbos

3. Homemade pies are from Supersol

2. Someone shares a really bad gematria dvar torah connecting Pocahontas and Hashem

1. It's Friday night.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Broken Glasses/ Holy Eyesight- Toldos 5773/2012

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
 November 15th 2012 -Volume 3, Issue 6 –1st of Kislev 5773

Parshat Toldos

Broken Glasses-Holy Eyesight

 He got new glasses the other week. He lost the lens the first day. Yes, he's definitely my son. My mother's curse/blessing has come true. I have been blessed with a child that assuredly will give as much nachas (pride and joy all mixed together, but really just an untranslatable Yiddish word) and frustration as I did to my parents.

I couldn't even really get angry. I knew it would happen. I remember being in those little shoes myself. D.O.C.-Detroit Optical Center (my least favorite glasses store growing up in Detroit) , canceled their warranty policy because of me, or at least because of my numerous bi- weekly and once even bi-daily visits. So instead I shlepped with my little tatteleh back to the glasses store, picked up another pair with a big sigh, and resignedly asked them if they made any that could be stapled to the head or were made of unbreakable steel (yes I know what is coming next after they get lost…) I then looked at my sons somber guilty face, and passed the traditional blessing down to my son. With a strong sense that there were generations of Schwartzes up above smiling down upon me as I create another link in our broken- glasses- nachas filled heritage I said. "May Hashem one day give you a son just like you!"

This week’s Torah portion, as always non-coincidentally, shares with us a story of blessings and curses as well. It all begins it seems with our forefather Yitzchok who it seems was in need of glasses himself. The Torah tells us that as he aged his eyes became weak and he could no longer see. Yet the Zohar tells us a slightly different story. We are told that source of Yitzchak’s failing eye sight was not just a symptom of his age. Nor was it because he read too many books under his cover late at night either, or for not eating his carrots, Mom! Rather it was a result of when he was bound on the altar by his father Abraham (at age 37 incidentally) and the gates of heaven opened in mercy as he witnessed a Divine Revelation, and the tears of the angels at this heartbreaking act of sacrifice and dedication, as father stood over his son to offer him up to God as commanded, pierced his eyes and they began to fail.

The great Chasidic master of Radomsk, the Tifferes Shlomo, suggests a very powerful idea behind Yitzchak’s blindness. He asks can it be that a Divine revelation or the tears of angels would have such a debilitating effect that would blind someone. And why would God not cure or heal Yitzchak from such an affliction? Rather he explains that the weakening of the eyes of Yitzchak were not a physical symptom in as much as they were a spiritual elevation.

What are the tears of the angels? The tears of the angels are the incredible power of having mercy in the face of what seems to be the harsh judgment of Hashem. It is the capacity to recognize and even hope beyond hope that there will be goodness and salvation in what seems to be a desperate situation. Yitzchak is saved from the moment of death yet those tears penetrated his eyes and his capacity to see. There would be an Eisav, a murderer, a liar, an idolater; an individual who's only aspiration in life is to get another bowl of red red stew (chulent??). Yitzchak, however can only see the good, only the potential for mercy. Yitzchak, who kabbalistically represents judgment –Din- could no longer see the wickedness even when judgment and inspiration were meant to be utilized. For his eyes had been elevated to appoint of Godly mercy and holiness by which un-rectifiable evil in another could not be seen. But his eyes were weak at that moment. Yackov deserved the blessing. It is his descendants that were chosen to be nation of God that would require the blessings to fulfill their Divine mandate. One can hope and one should pray for the rectification of the evil murderous ways and blood lust of our enemies but that weakened eye of mercy can never come at the cost of depriving Yackov of his heritage. It can’t blind us of the threats to our existence.

I had another memory when we picked up my son's new glasses and that was the blessing my father would give me when I would come home and put them on for the first time. He would say in Yiddish to me in what perhaps was also an ancient Schwartz tradition of glasses-wearing sons.

 "Du zolst nor zein gutteh zachin-You should only see good things with them."

 We all have a tremendous gift of eyesight (glasses, contact wearers and lasik patients included). Yet, unfortunately we live in world where there are so many things that perhaps we shouldn't see. Images, Movies, Magazines and the list goes on, of things that have become acceptable in our "advanced" civilization and culture that perhaps wouldn't hurt us if our eyes could do without. There is also so much negativity that we can have a tendency to find in other people. Rather than looking and appreciating the good in others, we turn a critical (if not a hypocritical) eye to them and assume the worst. It is in this world and with these challenges that we need that blessing of our fathers for holy eyes even more than ever. It is in this world that the glasses of Yitzchak and of Divine mercy and goodness would serve us well as we look at our fellow man. May Hashem bless all of us that we only see gutte zachin both from ourselves, our children and in one another.

Have a Shabbos that brings rest, peace and protection to our entire nation,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz



Yad Mordechai- Just a few kilometers from Gaza sout of Ashkelon this small Kibbutz has withstood the dangers and times of being close to the worst of Israels enemies. Founded in 1943 by a group of kibbutznikim from Netanya, the kibbutz was named after Mordechai Anielewicz the leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising who died while fighting the Nazi’s. There is a an incredible statue of him holding a grenade that was sculpted by Natan Rappaport right next to the Kibbutz’s shrapnel torn, bullet ridden,  water tower that became the symbol of their perserverance as the Egyptians tried many times to destroy it during the independence war. One can visit the Kibbutz’s powerful Holocaust museum that is unique in its linking the story of the Warsaw Ghettto uprising to the history of the establishment of Israel and the particular story of life in the South and Yad Mordechai. The museum has been recently updated with laser yellow stars that remain upon you as you tour the museum, the largest scale model of the Ghetto in the world, a film of the story of the uprising and a light sound experience in a reconstructed cattle car. One can visit as well the reconstructed battle ground of the kibbutz, as well as the monument  to the “gingi” who evacuated the children 7 and under at the site where they parted from their parents who remained to protect the kibbutz and Israel’s border (somethings sadly never change).

On the fun side the kibuutz has a wonderful bee and honey factory, cow where you can watch the cows milk and the museum of life in a kibbutz with activities for children.



“Unbelievable: In Haifa they’re eating hummus while missiles are falling in Tel Aviv” -Dan Cooper making fun of how in the past tel avivnikim were out of touch with what has been going on in the rest of the country

Thursday, November 8, 2012

“Freiying” My Patience- Parshat Chayei Sarah 5773/2013

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
November 9th  2012 -Volume 3, Issue 3 –24th of Cheshvan 5773
Parshat Chayei Sara
“Freiying” My Patience
I used to be a very “chilled” guy. I remember when I was dating my wife and after a few dates she asked me if anything bothers me, as I am seemed so relaxed and easy-going. Which in truth I was. In the heavenly yeshiva world, I was my own boss, to do what I wanted when I wanted. Sure there were rules in Yeshiva, but I was the one who decided to be there and follow them (when I did J). So I thought before I answered my then hopefully bride-to- be, and I answered her with what I think was a pretty deep insight that not I even I appreciated at the time. What I told her was that I thought that the only thing that really got on my nerves was when I saw someone making a really bad mistake, just heading down the wrong path, and if they would only listen to me than everything would be fine. Yet, no matter how much I tried they just won’t listen…That upsets me. Now to my mind that sounded like a pretty caring and sensitive answer. After all I care deeply about people and I really hate to see them get in trouble or make mistakes. Seemingly, my wife bought it too because just a few months later we were standing under a chupah in Lakewood New Jersey. Little did she or I know at the time how often this seemingly until then once-in-a-while issue would surface and foster itself to the frustration of the both of us.
 See in Yeshiva there are not too many major mistakes that I would really care about. But all of a sudden everything was happening differently. The laundry was not right, dinner was milchigs, and we were no longer on time for weddings and functions. Then came the children.Boy did they make mistakes and were heading in directions, doing things differently and of course all wrong from how I expected them to be done. My way being of course was the right easier and of course more logical way. Before I knew it, this once cool, calm, collected, rational and of course chilled husband was (and is still) struggling with this major issue in his personality. Feelings of anger, bursts of temper,  and  continuous frustration which of course made me critical and not fun to be around. Why isn’t everyone just listening to me? Because I’m yelling of course! What happened to the chilled yeshiva guy ? I remember talking to one of my Rabbi’s earlier in my marriage and sharing with him this different person that I felt I was becoming after a frustrating day. He than shared with some ancient words of wisdom that truly has the power to be transformative-
Aha, now I know you married the right person! Life is about growing and developing yourself. If you’re feeling challenged and your skin feels likes it’s crawling on you than you know that those comfortable single “bochur’she” layers are being rubbed off and now you can really start to work on developing your soul. Ezer-Knegdo the Torah teaches us she is your helper working opposite you.”
18 years and five children later I’m still working on it, and she’s still helping and the kids even more so in teaching me perhaps that being right is not always right. My job is to learn how to swallow accept and perhaps inspire by my own behavior and actions rather than “motivating” by commanding, directing or orchestrating the rest of the worlds Rabbi Schwartz view of perfection.
 Now if being married and having children are the relationships for me to work on this, I am living in the country most suitable to work on it as well. Here in Israel we live in a country  where more than anywhere where else in the world where so many people are doing things so wrong, so backwards, so illogically that someone who is not as aware as my years of marriage and parenting have trained me to be would just throw up their hands and yell. And they do. Constantly.  Why do banks charge an arm and a leg to deposit money or withdraw my money?” Why do government offices only open two or three days a week and even than close in the afternoon for a few hours? Why can’t supermarkets help you bag your groceries? Why do many businesses that you frequent here make you feel like they’re doing you the biggest favor by selling to you? Why would a post-office leave me a note in my mailbox, yesterday, telling me that I have mail and after waiting a half hour in line (because for some reason everything comes registered in this country and of course has to be picked up in the post office) than tell me that it has not yet arrived and I should come back tomorrow? Aarrrghhhh…Yet, I smile and bear it. It’s Israel. I love it. I feel blessed that I am lucky enough to live here. Unlike my close relative-you know who you are- that told me that he would move to Israel tomorrow if not for the fact that he would have to deal with Israelis, I feel that there is no better place to work on oneself and to develop oneself than in our special country. Remember if your skin feels like it’s crawling than it just means that the “comfortable layers” are being rubbed off to develop your soul.
 Now this Israel business mentality is not a new one. Take for example this week’s Torah portion. Our parsha begins with what the great 12th century commentary Rabbeinu Yonah of Girondi describes as the final of the ten tests that our forefather Avraham had to undergo; purchasing a burial place for his wife of close to a century, Sarah Immeinu. Now as opposed to other commentaries that see last week’s test of the binding of his son Yitzchak on an altar and almost bringing him up as a sacrifice to God as being the final one, Rabbeinu Yonah suggests that this test is even more challenging being the culmination of all of his tests. This is would seem to be a pretty deep idea. After-all can there be anything more challenging to the man who has been preaching kindness and a loving God , who has waited until the age of 100 to have this promised child after years of prayer, to have to kill this child in what would seem like the common practice of idolatry. How would he face his son…his wife… his students…the world? How would he be able to get up and pray the next morning to God? How could a shopping trip to the fields of the cave of Machpela in Hebron afterwards even compare to this challenge? Yes, its true Efron the owner of the cave gave him a hard time. O.K. so he ripped him off and charged him 8X the going price. But still it’s not like having to shecht your son?
The answer Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler the great 20th  century Jewish ethicist and thinker suggests is that it is not necessarily the big challenges that develop and make our soul complete, as much as the small nitty gritty frustrating day-to day dealings that have the ability to truly push us to the great heights. Many people can “rise to the occasion” when called upon to do an act of great sacrifice and heroism. Much fewer can smile when someone is rude or brazenly taking advantage of you. Avraham, was able to pass the Akeida test without any problem. Hashem commanded him to do something, and as incomprehensible of an act and sacrifice it might entail, at the end of the day it’s what Hashem told him to do. Efron on the other hand was this slimy Israeli business man (Hittite to be precise) pretending like he was doing Avraham the greatest favor in the world. Avraham who was in his most vulnerable place after the loss of his wife seeking the most simple basic need, a small little cave to bury her in. Can you fathom being able to hold it together at this point. There’s no command from God. There’s just me and him and Avraham is clearly right and being taken advantage of. This is the final test. Can you be a hero even here? Can you hold it together and behave with dignity and even respect for the loathsome situation and the way you are being treated. Avraham passed. The tests were over. I guess he proved he really has what it takes to inherit the land that will always challenge you in this way.  And we his descendants have the privilege to undergo that same challenge daily here and become the hero that he modeled for us to become.
 Why is it so difficult for us? Perhaps it’s because we feel threatened. The word in Israel is Freiyer or sucker. Nobody ones to be one and no one wants to be treated like one. Its’ perhaps the worst thing you can call your fellow Israeli. But the truth is by overcoming this challenge the Torah is telling us we become the opposite of that. We become the children of Avraham who have faith in Hashem and all that he makes us undergo-even if it comes at the hands of the Efrons at the local Makolet or government offices. Especially if it is coming from our spouse and our children. Things don’t have to work the way we want them to. The only thing that has to work is our ability to compose ourselves and to develop our patience, understanding and our acceptance. We’re in the right place we just have to become the right people.
Have relaxing peaceful Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz

Tel Chatzor- This largest archeological site in Northern Israel covering over 840 dunams with both an upper and lower city is an incredible place where one can feel the stories of tanach first hand. The city of Chatzor is mentioned as a Canaani city that attacked the Jews in the wilderness and was eventually conquered and burned to the ground by Yehoshua when he conquered the land the only city that this was done to. Ashes from a great fire can be seen on the burned rock of the beautiful palace remains from that period and the later periods. Seemingly the city rebuilt itself as a Canani capital as in the book of judges Yavin the king sends out his mighty general Sisera to battle against the Jews by Mt. Tabor from here. The prophetess Devorah and her general Barak (see it’s a jewish name J) miraculously were able to defeat him. In the upper city excavations today one can see the unique 6 chambered gate that is identical to the ones found in Megiddo and Gezer all three being cities that king Solomon built to fortify his kingdom and collect taxes on this important crossroads from Damascus to the coast. One can also see the incredible water system that was dug perhaps by king Ahav that is 40 meters deep actually hitting underground aquafiers to supply the city with. An Ancient Israelite period classic four room houses and tower, as well as an oil press have been found. The lower city which has just barely been excavated has revealed a temple from the canani period as well as idols from that time. The city was conquered in the 8th century BC by the invasion of Tilgeth Ilessar form Assyria with the exile of the ten tribes.






Max, a Vaadnik (union head) is addressing a union meeting at a certain unnamed Israeli government-owned company.
"Comrades - Haverim. We have agreed on a new deal with the management. We will no longer work five days a week."
goes the crowd.

"We will finish work at 3 PM, not 4 PM."
goes the crowd, again.

"We will start work at 9 AM, not 7 AM."
"We have a 150% pay rise."
"We will only work on Wednesdays."
Silence...then a voice from the back asks, "Every Wednesday?"



Thursday, November 1, 2012

Vote for... Vayeira 2012/5773

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
November 2nd  2012 -Volume 3, Issue 3 –14th of Cheshvan 5773
Parshat Vayeira
Vote for…
I hate politics. I like politics. I hate liking politics. I like hating liking politics...For those of you living in a cave you may have not noticed Election season is at its peak. In Israel I can tell you that even in caves that I have visited there will be political graffiti on the wall. “The nation is with Bibi” “Kahana Chai!” “There is a future with Atid” “Gimmel, the party of the Rabbis”. I first got interested in politics when my parents used to force us to watch the evening news at dinner each evening and I realized that the more I engaged them in a conversation about politics and world events the less chance they would remember to ask me about the test I took in class or the homework I never completed. Later on my interest grew and developed as I started working on college campus and realized that I had a choice to make- it was either going to be connecting with my college students, who assumed I was this closeted Orthodox Rabbi, over college football conversation or politics. Frankly, the thought of having to talk about 7 foot tall angry madmen killing themselves over a ball as they ran around a field jumping all over one another made me want to lay down flat on that field. So instead once again I pursued and engaged in many deep and earthshattering political discussions. So I guess you can see like every good politician I got into politics for my own self-interests. No homework. No football. If only our politicians would be so honest.
The truth is I hate politics. I am cynical by nature, especially when it comes to politics and I get annoyed hearing the lies the bad-mouthing, and the innocent and naïve passion that many people talk about a particular party or candidate with. As if voting for this person or party will dramatically alter the universe bringing either world peace, love and harmony and social security benefits, while the other will bring World War III, the collapse of the financial world as we know it and extend the ban on fountain soda soft drinks to the entire planet. I found it ironic that in this season when everyones candidate is promising the world, that Hashem sent this devastating hurricane to remind us how little control we really have.
At the same time I enjoy the fact that people are actually engaged in conversation that has to do with the well being of the world. Election time is when we try to figure out how we can improve tomorrow. It’s a time when we can examine where we are and what we have succeeded and failed in accomplishing. Years of Yeshiva and Talmudic training has taught me the significance of the “conversation” and brainstorming that comes when two opposing views are forced to match up against one another. Politics has the ability to do that and I enjoy the discussions that challenge my pre-conceived notions and perhaps give me an appreciation of a new way of thinking.
Sadly though politics, promises and ideas rarely lead up to the utopia that they promise. The great politicians change (or reveal their true colors) once they get into office and the same old realities of a world that is moving on its own pace, in its own direction, in my opinion down...down...down still lacks the leadership that can bring it all together. So I hate liking it because of that disappointment. Yet, at the end of the day it turns me once again to that source of true direction-up above in my prayers- each day.
“Return our judges (leaders) as it once was and those that guide us as it was in the beginning and remove from us the grief and misery. And rule over us You alone with kindness, mercy and justice”.
And once again I appreciate that Hashem gives us this election day once again so that we may like hating liking it and long for His true leadership.
Yet, it is election time and in honor of that I will share with you two fascinating insights from this week’s Torah portion, that address an incredible question I heard this year about two people who have a political agenda. One fails. One succeeds. Who would you vote for?
The Torah tells us this week about Hashem’s most major global decision since the Tower of Babel and the flood. He decides to declare his war on evil, particularly the anti-chesed, licentious city if Sodom and it’s 4 boroughs Amora, Adma, Tzvoim and Tzoar (not that there’s anything wrong with living in a city with 5 boroughsL). Avraham, being the religious spiritual leader of the not-so-free world is brought in on the discussion to overturn these cities and he begins his political wrangling with Hashem. Maybe there are 50 righteous people? 45? It won’t play good in the press if you kill innocent and wicked together. Collateral damage is political deicide. Maybe 30? How’s about 20? 10? Avraham, realizes that this conversation was pretty much not going anywhere and Hashem had pretty much set his mind up and if there were no righteous it really was a lost cause so he goes on home. The divine plan is then set in motion.
But then salvation comes from a seemingly unlikely figure; none other than our good friend Lot. Yes, Lot, who left Avraham to seek out his fortune in this wicked of all cities. Lot, who was willing to let the mob take and defile his daughters rather than lose his reputation. (Lot,who is incidentally revered in Christian and Muslim tradition- you can understand why there might be theological problems with these faiths.). Yes, Lot upon fleeing the city turns to Hashem and asks him to save the city of Tzoar
“I’m sacred to run to the mountain- this city is close, it’s smaller, save it so I may live
A very heartfelt plea don’t you think? But what do we know? Sure enough Hashem responds
“I have found favour for this thing as well for you. I will not turn over the city as you said.”
Pretty amazing! Avraham, the beloved of Hashem, father of many nations for whom it says Hashem created the entire world in his merit as he ended 2000 years of spiritual darkness can’t save the city. But Lot almost on an aside conversation as he barely gets away by the skin of his own teeth and as the Torah tells us only in the merit of Avraham is able to pull the salvation of this city out of his hat. As we say in Yeshiva... What’s Pshat?
The answer Rabbi Noach Weinberg says can be understood in two ways. One, Avraham was looking for Tzadikim. Lot on the other hand didn’t even bother trying to find Tzadikim he said it’s Mitz’ar- meaning smaller or younger- meaning it’s sins aren’t as bad; they’re not as wicked. That is the merit that worked. Reb Noach takes from that message that perhaps sometimes it behooves us to not always look at the world as who is righteous or not. Hashem judges at times and will give merit to the -"at least they’re not as bad as the other guys" group as well. It’s a view to keep in mind when we approach our political debates in not over-exaggerating the rhetoric about the terrible opposing candidates maybe. No one is a Nazi or a murdering terrorist. Defining the level of evil and perhaps even finding some untapped potential for righteousness in that might be significant as well. On a more religious level as well the message is that no one should ever feel that someone is beyond saving or reaching out to. If Tzoar could be saved without any righteous people than there is certainly no Jew out there that we should feel is beyond us trying to connect with and sharing our special heritage with.
The other lesson that he suggests is that we may approach the difference between Avraham and Lot in that for Avraham it was a matter of global concern. As the Father of the nations and the person responsible for bringing the knowledge of Hashem and his ways to the world, the city of Tzoar had to make sense to fit into that plan. Frankly they fell very short. And as much as he personally might have wanted to save them, perhaps he foresaw that without the righteous people in the city to help them and guide them they would just get themselves in more trouble. Lot on the other hand was the ultimate politician. He wanted to save Tzo’ar for one reason. He needed to a place to live and he was scared for his life; Your typical self-interest one issue voter. When you have your life on the line and turn to Hashem with the most heartfelt prayer ever- “Help me- save this city I have nowhere else to turn” than even when the scales of justice are entirely turned against you. Even when the decree has been finalized. The power of that one heartfelt prayer to our Father in heaven can change it all. Lot felt his life was invested and connected to the fate of Tzo’ar and his prayer was able to accomplish where Avraham’s was not.
Was it a good thing to save Tzo’ar this wicked city? Was Lot right? Discuss. It’s your Shabbos table homework. Would you vote for Avraham or Lot? Well, if you live a place like those five boroughs that might make a difference. But most importantly how deeply do we feel about the issues that we are talking and debating about in regards to our candidates. Are we wasting our time? If we truly feel that issues such as Israel, the economy, Torah, health care, justice, peace, security and most of all Hashem’s presence on this world are important, than beyond sticking a ballot in a box are we prepared to do something to make this world a better place? The lesson from Lot is that we can change the world if we feel that are lives are dependent on it. We have so much to offer and so much needs to be done. Instead of “passing the buck” to another unworthy politician, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan- “The buck stops here”; by each and every one of us. I vote for you.
Have elect-rifying Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
Mearat Tzidkiyahu- Right outside the Damascus gate- Sha’ar Shechem is a cave that his been known for generations as the cave of Tzidkiyahu the last king of Israel. The Medrash tells us that Tzidkiyahu fled Jerusalem before the Baylonian army by the destruction of the Temple in an underground tunnel that led out to Jericho. And legend has it that this was that tunnel. The tunnel which contains the precious meleke stone used in the building of the Temple by Herod and the later walls of Jerusalem by Suleiman were all quarried from here. The freemasons believe that King Solomon’s temple as well was quarried from this 750 foot long cave that is on average about 50 feet tall. In fact they hold their annual induction ceremony here. The cave was discovered by the archeologist James Barclay who was walking his dog near here in 1854 under the Ottaman rule till the dog ran away into the cave through a little crack that had been covered up, being the first living being there in over 400 years- a true Bark-eologist (sorry I couldn’t resist). Today one can visit this cave. It’s nice and cool in the summer and great for kids or those who love to see something different in the holy city.
Mosheleh gut Shabbos
"Everyone in the Hurricane's path should immediately make their way to their second or third home." I'm Mitt Romney and I approve this message.

 What’s the difference between Barack Obama and God? God doesn’t think he is Barack Obama.

Hurricane Sandy because God was also sick of Political ads.