Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
December 26th 2013 -Volume 4, Issue 13 -23rd of Tevet 5774
The AnswerHer name was Suri. Not that little helpful guy trapped inside of your IPhone. Suri, Sarah Rachel to be precise. She was a good Bais Yaakov graduate, raised in a nice haymish, Chasidic-"ish" home in New York. She went to all the right schools and now she was here in Israel for the first time exploring the country with everyone's favorite tour guide J. After a week of inspiration and really connecting on so many different levels to the holy sites, the places our ancestors tread, the holy simple people and some of our great leaders and of course lots of Shwarma and Falafel, she was in love. She had come home. And then she popped the question.
"How come I never really learned about Eretz Yisrael? It's important, isn’t it? I mean we learned about the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash/Temple and praying for sacrifices to be returned, and Mashiach and wings of eagles. But how come we never really learned about living here. Moving here. How special it is… how important it is… how my neshoma for the first time really feels in the right place. Why, Rabbi? Why…?"
His name was Yankel. Now they called him Jack. I bumped into him by the Yad Vashem museum. He was a survivor. He had a number. 8634254. Raised in the Lodz ghetto, he saw his family killed as he was taken away. He spent a year of hell in the camps. His stories still give me nightmares. When they were liberated, he remained observant. He felt it was the least he could do for his parent's memory. His children? Not so much. But although he put on tefillin most days, kept a kosher home and observed the Shabbos, he had lost his faith. The world that he knew was run by God, didn't make sense any more. Why, Rabbi? Why…?
Dan was pretty much raised without any religion. Her mother was Jewish. Dad wasn't. He was Bar Mitzvah'ed, but it was more bar than Mitzvah, he told me. He started exploring his Jewish roots in his freshman year in college where he met up with a really "cool" Rabbi that gave him his first real Shabbos experience. One taste of chulent and he was hooked JJ (OK that's my commentary-but with years of experienceJ). He's been growing in his Judaism. He started learning regularly and is considering going to a yeshiva next year. But he asked me has difficulty understanding, why would God put him in this situation? Why would he let millions of His children abandon the faith of their forefathers, the ones that perhaps will never meet a cool Rabbi. Doesn't our Father in heaven want all of His children back home? Doesn't every Jewish soul have something special to contribute to the world? Why, Rabbi? Why…?
And finally, or more precisely originally, we have a man named Moshe. Moses. He was raised in the home of Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, the first persecutor of the fledgling Jewish nation, the originator of the original "Final Solution", of whose Torah portions we are reading these weeks and whose story we retell each Passover Seder. That Moshe and that Pharaoh. Forced to flee his home when he stood up for his brothers, he is recalled from his early retirement at age 80 to go down to Egypt and to take God's nation out. Moshe is not excited about that idea. He really does not feel he is the right man for the job. He had a speech impediment. He was not learned or even raised Jewish and he certainly was not part of the suffering of the rest of the people. He was an outsider, a former aristocrat, not the Spartacus that rises up from the slave galleys to lead a revolt. But Hashem with the encouragement of a few good miracles, burning bushes, staff changing to snake tricks, leprous arms and the water/blood switch, convinces him to that He will be with him and he should start heading down to Egypt. Moshe obeys and has a nice chat with Pharaoh, as per his orders from up high, that bad things will happen if he doesn't set the people free. Quite un-surprisingly to us and to Moshe, Pharaoh is not playing ball. Not only does he refuse to "let them go" He doubles their workload, making them hunt for straw to make the bricks in addition to making the bricks. The people's backs are breaking, they have reached the lowest point. It can't get any worse. They yell at Moshe
"You have made our very scent abhorrent in the eyes of Pharaoh and his servants, placing a sword in their hands to murder us with". And Moshe seemingly has had enough as well. He turns to Hashem at the end of last week's Torah portion and says.
"Why have you done bad to this nation? Why have you sent me? From the time I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name he harmed this nation, but you did not rescue Your people." Why…? Why…?
This week's Torah portion begins with the answer. The answer, I believe not only to Moshe's question but to Suris', Yankels' and Dans' as well.
"I am Hashem…" OK we know that already "And I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov as El Sha-dai, but through my name Hashem I did not become known to them." OK so there's something here about the revelation of Hashems name…but I still don't get it.
"And I also established My covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their dwelling where they dwelled." So now it's becoming a little clearer. This has to do with the ancient promise to our forefathers about inheriting the land of Israel. And I do remember that Hashem had foretold to Avraham at that treaty that his descendants will go down to a foreign land and be persecuted there and they will be redeemed and get the Land with great wealth. But why do we need this whole process?
"And I also heard the wailing of the Children of Israel in whom Egypt enslaves and I remembered my covenant" We did our share, it seems, we suffered and we cried out. We fulfilled our part of the plan, although we're still not sure why we had to. But it seems that it is up.
"Therefore, say to the children of Israel: I am Hashem and I will take you out from the burdens of Egypt, And I will rescue you from their servitude; I shall redeem you with and outstretched arm and with great judgments. I shall take you to Me as a nation and I shall be a God to you and you shall know that I am Hashem your God who takes you out from under the burdens of Egypt."
And there we have it the first four cups of wine by our Pesach Seder, the four aspects of our redemption. After being ground down to almost nothingness, when there is almost no spirit, no body and no soul left, we are to become rebuilt and rebooted. We are first removed from all of our burdens. We may not recognize God at that point. We seemingly may not even be expected to as that doesn't seem to come till later. But the process has begun.
Hashem then rescues us from our servitude. What is a slave? A slave is a number. A slave has no identity. A slave is chattel, property. It has no self, no future, no hope. That's what we were and had become. We had been erased. Hashem will rescue us from that and he will save us from our oppressors destroying and punishing them for every blow that they gave us, for every child that they killed, for all the inhumanities they levied upon us. We witnessed that salvation and with every judgment we learned that we counted for something. We are people too. We have a Redeemer.
It is then and perhaps only from that point on, once we have been freed and once we have been given a sense of dignity and special-ness for the first time in all of their lives, that Hashem takes us as His people and we forever will know that it is He who took us out. He is ours and we are His.
And then we come to the next verse, the fifth cup, the one that we have not yet drunken from, the cup of Eliyahu.
"And I will bring you to the land which I have raised my hand to give it to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov; and I shall give it to you as your heritage-I am Hashem"
It was always about the Land. It was about creating and making us a people that could inherit the land. Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov were geirim/ dwellers, strangers in the land.
(Note- the 400 year exile calculation starts with the birth of Yitzchak, who never even left the land. He was a stranger in his own land). We were receiving and earning it as an eternal inheritance. Our very souls were wiped clean of us having any inkling of inheriting, living, thriving and certainly not fulfilling our Divine mandate in any other place. Egypt, our first Exile, was the place, like so many others in our history, which we initially flourished in. Yosef-our guy, literally saved the entire country and built it up to the grandeur that this Pharaoh inherited. We were settled in Goshen. And then one day it was all wiped away. We were wiped away. We lost our homes, our freedom, our humanity, our souls and perhaps even our faith. For it was faith, that was never redeemed, never taken as God's nation and never connected with its land.
Moshe asked Hashem, why? The answer Hashem tells Moshe is because to become a nation we have to be built from the ground up. To become a people that would bring the world to its fulfillment we needed to appreciate that we would be strangers anywhere else. Our souls and our future were bound, wed, to Hashem and would than ultimately achieve their completion in the Holy Land he has promised to us. It is that knowledge and that process that has made us eternal. From that moment on Hashem has promised that our new souls and the eternality of the Jewish people is as eternal as His own is. Nations may come and go. But the Jewish people are now hardwired with souls that will last forever.
We are mandated to remember Egypt and our Exodus daily. It's not just one of those know-your-history and where-you-came-from type of exercises. Our sages tell us that each one of us has to go through their own personal exodus and redemption until we will merit the return to the land of the Divine presence united with us once again. Some of us like Dan, are at the stage where they were born with a soul, much like Moshe's that needed to find and discover and be returned and redeemed with words of inspiration. Others, like Yankel, were born as many of our ancestors in periods of time when we had to experience death, suffering and pain only to experience a physical redemption and rebuilding of their lives but not necessarily as of yet their souls. There is no judgment. Just as there was none of our forefathers who were not expected to listen to Moshe, as a result of "the shortness of spirit and the hard labor" of their Exile. They may have not reached a point where they feel that they have been taken in Hashem's loving, comforting arms. That He was there with them. But it will come and they will be born anew. But they will never disappear. There is still the fifth cup to come.
Our ancestors eventually received, and understood the answers to their question. We achieved that loving unity with Hashem when we received His Torah. It didn't last long. The ultimate eternal redemption still awaits us. In Hebrew the word for answer is Teshuva, a return. Hashem tells us the answer we are seeking is ultimately in our hands; in our teshuva, our return to him. Each Pesach we recount by our Seder how we are meant to feel that each of us has personally left Egypt. We've all gone through it together, all of us in different forms. All of us have our questions. The only thing left is our Teshuva. Hashiveynu Hashem V'nashuva-Return answer us Hashem and we will return, Chadiesh Yameinu Ki'Kedem- renew our days like those of old.
Have a blissful Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
This end-of-the-secular year weekly Insights and Inspirations E-Mail is dedicated to all of you who have generously sponsored and contributed to our inspirational E-mail which helps to support our projects and Synagogue here in the Holy Land. Thank you so much and may all the merits of your dedication and the Torah that is studied, the inspiration that is shared and even the smiles that are occasionally shining from our weekly Torah thoughts and inspiration serve as a source of blessing and reward for your families and loved ones.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S NEW YEARS QUOTES OF THE WEEK
"New Year's is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls and humbug resolutions"-Mark Twain
"May all your troubles last as long as your New Year's resolutions!"-Joey Adams
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL GEMATRIA OF THE WEEK
The first two letters of this weeks Parsha Vaeira is Vov and Alef=7 corresponding to the 7 plagues that are in the portion. Next week Bo is Beis and Alef which = 3 for the last three plagues.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S FUNNY SNOW ANECDOTE OF THE WEEK
During the recent snowstorm the 5th Grade Rabbi got a call from the Principal of the yeshiva where he teaches telling not to come to work, because only 6 kids showed up due to the snow. He said he's coming, because at home he has 15. JJ
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
(answer below at end of Email)
(This was our midterm exam but basically questions that were takem from former years exams)
Alexander Zaid was:
a) From the 2nd Aliyah and one of the founders of Bar Giora and HaShomer
b) A trailblazing engineer and one of the developers of the field of engineering in Israel
c) the "redeemer of lands" in the Galile
d) One of the leaders of the 1st Aliyah in settling the south of Israel
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS JOKE OF THE WEEK
Now there are more overweight people in America than average-weight people. So overweight people are now average… which means, you have met your New Year's resolution.
AND A SHORT PRAYER FOR THE NEW YEAR
God, grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into the ones that I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S FAVORITE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK
I thought this was pretty cute!
New Years resolutions by cats
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL PLACES IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK-
Mt. Hermon- After last weeks snow storm this is definitely the time to go visit Israel's tallest mountain and perhaps many Israeli's favorite get away. Interestingly enough we only have about 10 percent of the mountain. The majority of it is in Syria, but because of its slanted shape towards Israel we get all of the water that flows down which eventually leads in to the Jordan river and Kinneret. The Hermon which we originally "liberated" in the 6 day war was lost and recaptured again in the Yom Kippur war after many challenging battles. Today the glorious mountain top is Israels premier ski resort and a lot of fun to go with your kids sledding and playing in the snow as you can take a cable car up to the top. In the summer there are free rides to see the beautiful flowers and hike along the many trails and streams. But now it is just gloriously snow-capped and white. Our little piece of Switzerland
RABBI SCHWARTZ' S EXAM ANSWER OF THE WEEK
Answer is A: Zaid was a pretty interesting guy. He was a Russian immigrant who came to Israel and was one of the founders of the original cowboy Bar Giora and Shomer boys. They're objective was to try to get the jews living in Israel to use Jewish labor and protection which they offered. (many times causing damage on the non-jewish helps watch-so they land owners would only use them. These guys would dress like arabs but they learned how to shoot and were the precursors to the eventual army. Zaid is also famous for discovering Beit Shearim the ancient Jewish burial ground during the 3rd century and on including the grave of Rebbe Yehudah HaNasi the editor of the Mishna. There's a big statue of him on a horse there.