Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
December 13th 2012 -Volume 3, Issue 10 -29th of Kislev 5773
Hard questions Light answers
I've pondered this since I've moved here. I know it sounds like an arrogant, gung-ho Oleh type of question. But it bothers me sometimes, so why not put it on paper-at least an electronic one. So I take a deep breath-for fear of upsetting you. But you've stuck with me until now, you probably know requests to unsubscribe don't work… and it's Chanukah a time for some introspection on your surroundings; a little light penetrating some darkness of Exile. So bear with me as I put it out there. What would it take for American Jews to move to Israel? Phewww… I said it. Are you still with me?
I'll admit this question really didn't bother me until I moved here. Like many, I imagine, I was comfortable with America, with English, with the culture. Israel seemed third world, different-not for me or my family. It was a nice place to visit, to bring people to and to pray for three times a day and whenever I ate (which is quite oftenJ). I mourned for the Temple on Tisha B'Av, sang L'Shana Ha'Ba after my Pesach Seder and sincerely beseeched Hashem for His and our return each Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. At least it felt sincere. But was I really ready to move; to "give it all up"? Yet upon arriving here, settling in, integrating myself and my children, thank God beginning to make some parnassah, I really went through a change that led to the question that began to trouble me for the first time.
Why aren't more coming? I imagine that if 75 or 80 years ago there was State of Israel that was offering free-aliyah flights, a financial absorption package (Sal Klita), one could live in relative safety (hey, it's not safe anywhere-in some places its crime, crazy drivers, and hurricanes), apartments with running water, financial opportunities, affordable healthcare and dramatic tuition reductions all that we have here today, than it is fair to assume that there wouldn’t have been a Jew left in Europe. Every great Rabbi and Community leader would have come in a heartbeat. The many that didn't was because they couldn't. There was nothing here besides, death, poverty and persecution. And even so, many sacrificed to come. Many died just to breathe the air and kiss the holy earth. So why aren't we coming today?
I don't believe that fear is a reason for us to have to come home. Not fear of hurricanes, governments or even religious persecution. Although it is interesting that unfortunately all the mass Aliyot from USSR, Iran, Morocco, Yemen and even post Holocaust Europe were to a large degree motivated by us being made uncomfortable or worse in our host-country. It's kind of sad that we have to be thrown out of everywhere else before we decide to come home. Nor do I believe that finances are a reason to come (although I do find it ironic if not miraculous that probably for the first time in our history, people are coming to Israel FOR financial opportunities because they feel crushed under the recession in the States and the burden of tuition, mortgage, health care…); however even with that Jews still don't seem to be coming en mass. I have heard from many people-even observant jews- that they are concerned about the ability to make it here and to raise their children. Is it really much easier over there? They are nervous about education-as if one doesn’t have to be nervous in the States. A Jewish parent is hardwired to always be concerned about their children's education. Can it be that much harder in a country filled by Jews, where Torah was meant to be learned and lived? They are nervous about the aggressive Israeli attitude- c'mon you live in New York… Learning a new language- really, you're not going to come home because you don't want to learn Hebrew?! Army service? Do you mean to tell me that if there was a voluntary draft in Israel like there is in the States that you would be on the next plane? Really? Your house and comforts and shopping… Your house and comforts and shopping…OK… At least you're honest. But is that what you are praying three times a day for? That 5 bedroom house with a white picket fence and instant hot water? to move with Wal-mart together with you? With us?
Now some have said that they are concerned about the religious situation in Israel, ironically enough. It's a secular government. So many different streams with so many strong opinions and everyone tries to put you in a box without accepting one another. But that is precisely the point. Imagine a mass Aliyah of 200,000 to 300,000 American Jews to Israel. If every Rosh Yeshivah, Rav, community leader got up and said that it was time to come home. They were closing up shop in America synagogues, businesses, schools and kosher restaurants. Imagine what type of impact that would have on Israel; on its government, its workforce, its perspective and outlook that a western view would be able to change. Americans could bring a new perspective to concepts of security, diversity, Jewish outreach, community, business and government transparency, ethics and service. We could open schools with the thousands of you moving here that reflect your values. We could bring them all here. We could change the country by bringing the best things that we have learned from there back home, where we were meant to be. So how can we make it happen? What will it take?
So we turn as we always do to this week's Parsha the story of the first Jew to enter our first Exile. Yosef is the symbol in the Torah of the Jew that experienced the worst of our exile and the best of our exile. He was, like so many of our ancestors throughout the generations, sold into slavery, thrown into prison falsely accused yet even throughout it all he maintains his identity and seems to be able to persevere. In this week's portion we experience the other Jewish experience of Exile; Yosef's rise to success. Government appreciation and position, wealth, leadership, a palace, an entourage and what seems from the outside as almost complete assimilation. His children are even named; the Torah goes out of its way to tell us, commemorating his fruitful-ness in Egypt and his having been forgotten from his father's home. Yet we know that a day does not go by that Yosef does not mourn and wish to be back in Israel. In fact his descendants later on Menashe and Ephraim give his tribe the largest portion in Israel, his granddaughters (the daughters of tzelafchad) become the symbol of Jewish women whose love for the land merited them the Divine inheritance rejoinder for female ownership of the land, and in fact his dying wish that was that his bones be brought to Israel for burial 200 years after his death. Yosef experienced the best and worst of Jewish exile. Yet he returns only once to bury his father and then tragically spends the rest of his life in Egypt.
One of the most difficult questions the commentaries struggle with is why didn't Yosef contact home. Why didn't he return or even try to go back. Some suggest he was waiting for the fulfillment of his dreams. Others say perhaps he was unable to for fear of Pharaoh or the oath of the brothers not to reveal to Yaakov that also bound him. There are some that even suggest that Yosef was himself not sure if Yaakov was part of the conspiracy- having sent him down. One of the more interesting suggestions I saw was that Yosef saw his role in Egypt as having to fulfill his father's mandate when he first sent him down to Shechem- "Li'ros Bshlom Acheichach- to see if there is peace amongst your brothers". Until his mission was fulfilled when he orchestrated the brothers standing up for Benjamin the child of Rachel his mother he could not positively go back and report on his mission. Yet, all of the commentaries struggle with the question. To them it was obvious that if Yosef could've gone back he would've. The comfort of Egypt, the challenge of his Egyptian children to acclimate to the "Israeli" lifestyle and culture and even the knowledge that life in Israel would be rife with struggles and challenges are not reasons for someone like Yosef who knew that his place and the place of his descendants was in Hashem's chosen country. The biggest tragedy of his life was that he was never able to really come home.
There are no bigger supporters of Jews in Eretz Yisrael like the American community. Government lobbying- AIPAC, Agudah and the Jewish Zionist organizations, as well as all the financial support and charity and most significantly the prayers that are consistently offered on our behalf. Yet ultimately it is Hashem that is watching over our tiny nation surrounded by wolves who seek to destroy us. I am not writing as a Zionist nor am I speaking about the State of Israel even- not to take anything away from it. Nor am I speaking from purely religious and spiritual reasons although I believe all agree that living in Eretz Yisrael is a fulfillment of the mitzvah of settling the land (the debate is only if one is obligated to or not before Moshiach comes). I also believe that is indisputable that throughout our generations if there was ever a chance and opportunity to come back as it is today that all of the great leaders would have done so. The Gaon of Vilna in the 1700's tried but was unsuccessful, great Chasidic Rebbes dreamed of opportunities to be here, to come here…to live here. The greatest leaders like the Ramban, the Shelah, Reb Yosef Karo and the early yishuv all suffered and gave blood, sweat, tears and lived in abject poverty and danger but never felt any less blessed than when they were fortunate enough to live in the promised holy land. I speak of the emotional sense and connection we have and that can only be experienced here. The land that was made specifically for us to connect to Hashem and to fulfill our role on this world. We can never fulfill our job and become the nation we were meant to be in America. There is so much that can change and that will happen when you come.
On Chanukah as we light our menorah, that light in the darkness of Exile, we have to appreciate that Galus/Exile is dark. We should look at those little lights and they should ignite a spark in our soul as we remember the re-dedication of the Temple in the times of the Chashmonaim. If you don't get that message, than sing the Maoz Tzur song that recalls all of our exiles. Egypt, Babylonia, Persia, the Greeks all those that prevented us from coming home and establishing Eretz Yisrael the way Hashem wants it so he may eventually (very soon) send Mashiach to rebuild the Temple. Ask yourself who is stopping you from coming now. Is it the darkness? Can the light in your soul shine out to the world from where it can best be seen and express itself. Rav Kook in one of his more controversial statements suggested that the establishment of the State of Israel was part of the redemption of Mashiach Ben Yosef meant to create the physical base for the Jewish peoples return just as Yosef did for his brothers in Egypt- perhaps even a Tikun on that. (seeing Theodore Herzl- a secular assimilated Jew as the possible personification of that figure-thus the controversy) But regardless of what you ascribe to that concept. The redemption of the Ben Yosef Mashiach is one of a fulfillment of that ancient longing, the years that Yosef was unable to come because of extraneous forces imprisonment and a lack of unity of the brothers. Chanuka is when we are meant to be inspired by that return…to re-light our inner menorahs and perhaps ask ourselves the difficult questions. What would it take? Why am I not? Can I make it work? Can I really make a difference? The Chashmonaim faced even greater odds and they said yes. Can you be a Macabee? Or will you just unsubscribe…May the light of Chanuka shine into our hearts and may Hashem continue to help his children to have the strength, inspiration and wherewithal to finally come home.
With the greatest of love,
Have an illuminating Shabbos
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZES COOL CHANUKAH VIDEOS OF THE WEEK –
Technion robot light- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=We-KRSy64r4
Matisyahu- Reggae- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9TxoDx_U84U
My kids favorite- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfnZ3eiXxMk
RABBI SCHWARTZES TOUR GUIDE COURSE QUESTION OF THE WEEK
At which of the following sites can a griffon/vulture reintroduction station be observed?
The Jerusalem Bird observatory(a)
(b) Kfar Ruppin
(c) Ramat HaNadiv
(d) The international Center for the Study of Bird Migration at Latrun
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL PLACES IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK-
Old Cemetery in Tiverya/ Tiberias- in the times of the Mishna the city was known to be full of graves to the degree that no one felt comfortable living there because of the Tuma/impurity. The Talmud tells us that Rabbi shimon Bar Yochai in appreciation for the healing he received at the hot springs of Tiverya purified the city by identifying the graves. The city was developed and built within the ottoman walls and outside of those walls was the Jewish cemetery ( now right next to the main thoroughfare of the city). In this cemetery one can truly experience and visit the graves of some of the most righteous of our people who sacrificed and came to Israel to live in the Holy land. There are the graves of the great Chasidic Rebbes students of the Baal Shem Tov who moved here in the late 1700's - Reb Nochum Horodnoka (grandfather of Rebbe nachman of Breslav who visited here), Reb Meir Permishlan, Reb Shimshom of Sheptikov, Reb Menachem Mendle form Vitebsk, Reb Avrahm Kalisk, and the grave of Reb Avraham Yehoshuah Heshel of Apt known as the Oheiv Yisrael which legend has that his grave originally in Mezibzh was miraculously transported here. In addition one can visit the grave of the Mitnagdim- students of the Gaon of Vilna most outstanding being Reb Yisrael Mi'Shklov author of the peat Ha'Shulchan on the agricultural laws of Israel who died while bathing in the springs of Tiverya. Sefardim also have who to visit here as the grave of Reb Chaim Abulafia who was brought to Tiverya by the Bedouin leader under the Turks in the mid 1700's to rebuild the Jewish community of Tiverya. It was he who started the Pushka concept and the rebuilding of the grave of Reb Meir Baal Hanes paving the way for all those from the students of the Gaon and the Besht to come back to Israel. There are also the graves of Rabbi Avraham Abu Chatzeira he great kabbalist who served as Rabbi of the city. Of course as well one can see the monument for the more modern days heroes those that perished in the pogroms in Tiverya in the 1930's and some who's ashes were brought here from the concentration camps in Europe. One does not need to go to Russia, Europe or Spain to visit the graves of the great leaders of Sefardic, Ashkenazic and Chasidic world, Here in Tiverya is the place where stories and sacrifices of these great leader can most be felt.
RABBI SCHWARTZES QUOTE OF THE WEEK
It is more difficult to take the Exile out of the Jew than the Jew out of the Exile ~ Reb Simcha Bunim of Peshische
Answer is C-Ramat HaNadiv right outside of Zichron Yackov and also the burial ground of the great Baron Rothchild who was brought here to be buried in great pomp and service in the beautiful gardens there. The vulture is in fact according to many the Nesher described in the Torah that many translate as the eagle. It has incredible wing span rises above all other birds and carries it offspring without fear of other creatures-unlike the eagle. But the wings of eagles sounds a little more romantic. Maybe it came from the bald eagle bringing all the Americans home J.