Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
November 2nd 2012 -Volume 3, Issue 3 –14th of Cheshvan 5773
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
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL PLACES IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK-
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.
RABBI SCHWARTZES RABBI SHLOMO CARLEBACH ON HIS 18TH YARTZEIT VIDEO OF THE WEEK
Mosheleh gut Shabbos
The holy tailor
RABBI SCHWARTZES POLITICALAND HURRICANE SANDY JOKES OF THE WEEK
"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.