Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
January 31st 2013 -Volume 3, Issue 17 –20th of Shevat 5773
There’s an old joke Americans have about asking an Israeli directions. It ends off with the Israeli answering something like
“Tamshich Yashar Yashar Vi’Sham Tisha’al”.
Which means-“continue going straight and then further straight and then ask somebody else”.
I never really got the humor in that joke because if you’re lucky, in fact that is the average Israeli response to your unfortunate query. I scratch my head puzzled each time I ask directions and hear that response. Yet sure enough as I continue to keep on asking people, what do you know? Eventually I arrive at my destination.
The reason I qualify my statement with “if you’re lucky” is because I remember when I first moved here I tried taking a different tactic and it didn’t work. The first time after I was here for a few months and I was pretty confident I could handle this on my own. I had called up Egged, the bus company and they told me the number of the buses I have to take to get to my destination in Ramat Shlomo. They told me where to switch buses and it sounded simple. Hop on one bus to Rechov Bar Ilan and switch buses over there to get to Ramat Shlomo. So I get on the bus, happy that I have no need to ask any Israelis for directions. I get off on my stop at Bar Ilan, another bus pulls up at the same time it says Ramat Shlomo on it, I get on and I am proud of myself. And then we start moving. Funny, I thought, after 15-20 minutes or so. This ride seems longer than what I had thought it would be. I took out my pocket GPS on my phone and it seemed even stranger. Why was this bus heading in such a strange direction? It looks like we are going to the other end of town. Hmmm… All of a sudden the bus driver announces “Last Stop Har Nof." Uh Oh. How did this happen?
I approached the driver and asked him where Ramat Shlomo was. He looked at me quite strangely and said it’s the bus going the other way. I’m on the wrong end of the line. When I pointed out to him that the sign on the front of his bus clearly says Ramat Shlomo. He responded- without apology of course- “Lama Lo Sha’alta” Why didn’t you ask”- It was my fault of course I should have asked. Silly Oleh Chadash (New immigrant).
Later on that week I had to take a train. This time having learned from experience I decided to ask. So I turn to the nice soldier standing next to me and I asked him if this is the right train to Tel Aviv. He responded quite confidently that it was and he is going there himself all I have to do is follow him and we’ll get on together. Feeling better about myself, I got on the train. Sure enough 20 minutes into what should have been a 2 hour train ride. I hear once again “Last Stop- Nahariyia” Uh Oh, wrong way again. I look at my soldier friend who supposedly knew the way. He looked back at me.
“Hayinu Tzrichim Li’Shol Kodem She’Olinu-We should‘ve asked before we got on” he tells me nonchalantly. Thanks Buddy. You’re a real help. Now you see why I decided to become a tour guide (last exam in week and a halfJ). Somebody’s got to know where to go in this country.
This week the Torah portion in its unique subtle way, shares with us a lesson that puts the asking of questions and directions in a different light. After all the great narratives of our miraculous Exodus from Egypt that we have had over the past few weeks, the pivotal moment that this was all leading up to has arrived. The Jewish people are now at Sinai. Yet before the Torah tells us the story of the giving of the Torah and the Ten Commandments, we are interrupted with a story of Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law a Midianite priest who comes to visit. It seems, the Torah tells us, he has heard of all the great things that had happened and he wanted to check them out. Moshe fills him in on the details of the great miracles, which ostensibly he had heard already. And he then leaves. So why come for in the first place? (Never a good question to ask your father-In-law incidentally J)
In addition, before he leaves he notes that Moshe is sitting and answering the people’s questions day and night and he offers advice to appoint other subsidiary responders to alleviate the burden from his son-in law. Moshe acquiesces to this seemingly simple idea and implements it. A wonderful piece of Jewish history and Torah, but it begs the question. Why do we have to hear about this right now before the climax of our exciting Egypt to Sinai story? What makes this even stranger is that many commentaries note that this story actually takes place after the giving of the Torah. Yet the Torah interjects it here for a reason. Why?
The answer, one may suggest, is that the Torah is telling us that the prelude to our receiving the Torah is knowing that we have to ask. We have to seek out. We need to find direction. And we should know that there is a process to receiving those answers. Yisro heard about Hashem and the great miracles of the Jewish people and he didn’t just jump on the train and move on with his life. He came to ask questions from Moshe. How should this affect me? What should I do with this knowledge? What is meant for me? The Medrash tells us that Yisro’s answer was to go back to his people and teach them the ways of Hashem. The Torah then tells us that not only Yisro, but all of the Jewish people came to Moshe to ask questions. From morning to night. We are a people that were seeking. We are a people that want and need answers. We want directions and it is in that merit that we received the Torah.
As in everything here in Israel, there is always life lesson that can be learned. Yashar Yashar ViSham Tisha’al- keep going straight and then ask. There are so many areas in life that we get on the wrong buses and thing we are heading the right way. Here in Israel, you sometimes learn the hard way that it pays to ask. And then to ask again. To keep checking if the things that we do and the decisions that we are making are leading us to the places that we eventually want to get to. As true as this certainly is to get around the city, it is even more so to make it through our journey of life. It is important to have the right people to consult with. Not just any solider you meet at the train station or friend that doesn’t have the life experience of navigating the challenges that life presents; but true leaders and wise individuals who have an insight and are objective. If our prelude to the Torah was that we would have questions and there will be responders, than how much more so is that true today when the challenges we face in our lives, our marriages, our jobs, our families and most importantly our spiritual goals require us to pursue the guidance we need. There’s no need to try to figure it out on your own. We just have to stop and ask before we get on the next train.
Have an absolutely marvelous Shabbos
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZES TOUR GUIDE COURSE QUESTION OF THE WEEK
With which of the following periods is the Meshe Stele associated with?
(a) The Patriarchs
(b) The Israelite Period
(c) The Monarchy
(d) The return to Zion (Shivat Tziyon)
Citadel/ ShemV'Ever-Tzefat – On the top of the mountain of Tzefat the Talmud tells us in the times of the Mikdash each Rosh Chodesh there would be a fire lit here to let that would let all the inhabitants of the area know that the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem had accepted testimony of the new month. Word would get out by a series of bonfires from Jerusalem ( Har Ha'Mishcha, Sartaba, Kochav Ha'Yarden(Groufina), Har Tavor, Tzefat, and Gush Chalav). In the times of the Crusaders they built a small fortress on this hill to overlook the their farms in the area. After Salaadin came and destroyed the fortress and surrounding moat by setting it on fire. The Crusaders came back again in the 12th century and rebuilt it even greater making it one of two remaining Crusader fortress he left untouched. Saladin eventually came back and sieged the fortress and allowed he Crusaders to leave, but in the 13th century they came back making the largest fortress in the Mideast with 3 concentricwalls 28 meters high ( the largest reaching to Rechov Jerusalem today) with moats around. When the mamaluks and Beibers came in the 1266 they laid siege as well and offered the Crusaders to surrender but tunlike Salaadin reneged on his deal and murdered them. They built a 60 meter tower with a huge water resivour underneath as well. Eventually most of it was destroyed by earthquakes. The British used it as military post and handed it over to the arabs in 1948 and they used it to throw down explosives on the jews. Eventually we got it back and today it is a lovely park. Right near the bottom is a cave that the Crusaders mistakenly attribuited to Shem and Ever where Jacob the children of Noach where Yacko studied upon running from his brother Esav, based on a misunderstanding that Tzefat was connected to the city of Beit-El. Yet for generations Jews muslims and Christians come to this cave and describe the spring tha flows as coming from the tears of Yaackov. But we know better!******************************
RABBI SCHWARTZ QUOTE OF THE WEEK
'We are not retreating - we are advancing in another direction."--Douglas MacArthur
Answer is C- (skipped this one on my exam, can't keep track of all the different archeological finds) The Meshe Stele was found in Jordan in 1838 and its story of the Moabite kings Meshe's battle with the Jewish kings of the house of Omri is significant because besides the external corroboration of one of the stories and figures mentioned in Tanach, its mention of Hashem's name and possibly even a mention of the David's house from the 9th century makes it one of the earliest found today. The Meshe Stele can be seen in Louvre in Paris today.