Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
January 17th 2013 -Volume 3, Issue 15 –6th of Shevat 5773
Donkeys, Dogs, and Rabbis (not rabies)
You don't want to start up with Rabbis, certainly not in a religious debate. Our sages tell us that the words of our sages can be like fire. You don't mess with fire. It can burn. So when you see two sages arguing or dueling it's best to just sit down and watch the show. There are lessons to be learned so just soak it in and live and learn.
It was in the early days of the British mandate pre-state of Israel. The battle between the old yishuv simple, holy traditional jews who had lived in the old city of Jerusalem for generations versus the new "modern" secular Zionists that had come to Palestine to build a new country, a new Jew and a new nation. At the helm of the Zionist party was no less of a figure than the Rav of Yaffo, Rav Avraham Ha'Kohein Kook who was known for his love of every Jew regardless of observance level as well as his broad knowledge of Jewish law and philosophy and who saw in the new movement the "beginning of the redemption". On the other side was Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld- the "guardian of Jerusalem" also a man renowned for his love of his fellow Jew but also one who carried the burden of maintaining the sanctity of Jerusalem and preserving the holiness of the city and the yishuv from the forces that sought to transform its 3000 year special nature. The unplanned showdown of these two holy leaders took place by a once in lifetime mitzvah meal that a simple Jew was having to fulfill the commandment of this week's Torah portion of Peter Chamor; the redemption of the first born donkey.
In this most fascinating and mysterious mitzvah the donkey, the only un-kosher animal requiring redemption, has to be redeemed by giving a sheep to the Kohein. If for some odd reason one does not wish to redeem his donkey, the law than states that he must decapitate the donkey as it is prohibited to be used. Rav Kook, being a Kohein was given the honor of receiving the redemption, while Rav Sonnenfeld as the local Rav in Jerusalem was the officiating Rabbi. The fun was about to begin.
Rav Kook, who eventually went on to become the first chief Rabbi of Palestine, always the orator got up to speak at the meal and to explain what he saw as the lesson of this mitzvah. The donkey, he explained, is a symbol of lowliness and degradation (and continues to be so even today in many cultures). It is impure, non-kosher and the word in Hebrew -Chamor is also the term for physicality and the baseness of man. Yet our sages tell us that it merited to achieve holiness in this particular mitzvah, because it assisted the Jewish people in their redemption, as the text tells us that the Jews used donkeys to carry out the booty of Egypt. If that is the case, Rav Kook suggested, we can than derive that whoever assists the Jewish people in their return from Exile to Eretz Yisrael, regardless of their observance and their connection to tradition can also achieve holiness by merely assisting and facilitating the redemption…I'm sure you, as well as everyone there gets his point. Round 1-Zionists 1 point.
Rav Yosef Chaim then got up with the disclaimer that he had not planned to speak. However, he said, since the Rav from Yaffo only started his lecture and did not conclude the lesson; he felt that it behooved him to conclude it for him. Uh Oh… Rav Yosef Chaim then continued and said
"Yes, it is true that even a simple, base and impure donkey has the potential to achieve holiness. Yet the halacha than continues that if it is not redeemed for a sheep-ergo it remains a donkey, it does not upgrade itself after or during that encounter with holiness but chooses to remain that same old impure donkey- than its holiness is removed; the connection to holiness, the neck that could have uplifted it from its status is disconnected forever and all that is left is one dead donkey."
And the Rabbi hits it out of the park. Game over.
It is interesting to note that this battle between secular and religious Jews has been going on in our opinionated people's spotted history for eternity. No less a figure than the great Rabbi Akiva before become the knowledgeable and great leader who's mantra was loving your neighbor as yourself described his hatred of Rabbi in vociferous terms.
"If I saw a scholar I was filled with such hatred I wished I could bite him like a donkey. His students said "Rebbe, at least say that you would bite like a dog" He responded and said thast a donkey bites and breaks bones whereas a dog doesn't."
It's interesting that these two animals that Rabbi Akiva differentiates between, the dog and the donkey, are both mentioned as helping the redemption. The dog, the Torah tells us remained quiet and did not bark as the final plague takes place. This act gave credit that it was Hashem alone that redeemed the Jewish people and killed the first born of the Egyptians and not the Angel of Death (which seemingly they would sense and naturally bark for). In addition they were quiet as the Jews entered the Egyptians homes and took the booty that the Egyptians had promised them upon leaving as opposed to their natural instinct to bark and prevent intruders. So both the donkey and the dog assisted the redemption. The donkey however was rewarded with his opportunity for greatness and the chance to achieve and transform itself into the holiness of the first born. The dog, our sages tell us, merited was to keep the flesh of the non-kosher meat from an animal that died would be discarded and given to a dog. What is the difference? Why does the donkey achieve the potential for greatness whereas the dog just a good steak?
Once again we turn to the writings of Rav Kook (they deserve a rebuttal) who suggests that the dogs just remained silent; they broke their natural tendency and held themselves back from barking. Their participation was passive. The donkeys on the other hand were active. They schlepped and carried much more than they could in order to assist the redemption. They pushed themselves for greatness and they thus merited the chance to achieve the ultimate greatness; a chance to be holy.
Rabbi Akiva's hatred for the scholars was not one of a dog that just bites and scares off the competition. Rabbi Akiva hated the scholars because he saw in them the ability for an uneducated person, impure person like himself to achieve greatness like a donkey. He wanted his piece of flesh. He wanted to break bones. (Also interesting that the word he uses is Etzem which is the same word used to describe the moment of redemption- B'Etzem Hayom- in the middle, essence or core of the day we left Egypt. It's also interesting to note that the sheep that we ate for the Paschal lamb we were prohibited from breaking an Etzem-bone. The sheep doesn’t have to break bones- the donkey breaks bones to achieve-ponder… drink a l'chaim… it will make sense J). But Rabbi Akiva didn't bite. He studied. He raised himself he took his donkey and made it into a sheep. The Sheep. The one that led a nation in the service of the Almighty ,our shepherd. Ro'einu. He taught his students to love their Re'eacha- their friends and in doing so their Divine shepherd.
We are told that when Moshiach comes he can come on a cloud or if we do not merit he will arrive on a donkey. Their description of that generation that doesn't merit achieving the clouds is that "the face of the generation will be like the face of a dog". Our redemption is a foregone conclusion. The question is only how will we look, how will we merit it. Will we be like dogs that sit back passively, not barking, but also not elevating ourselves to merit the clouds and participate in the redemption in the merit of our deeds. Are we satisfying ourselves with the steaks thrown our way? If so than the donkey who lifted himself up to carry Moshiach will redeem us, to remind and teach us the greatness we can achieve. Or will we merit it by transforming ourselves into that pure sheep; ridding ourselves of the idolatry and impurities that plague us and threaten our nation, as our ancestors did when they merited the miracles of our original Exodus. We can achieve the clouds. The redemption is just a ride away. We just have to choose that mode of transport. Let's all fly together.
Have an amazing Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ FUNNY "DOG OF REDEMPTION" VIDEO OF THE WEEK
(its great what you can find on youtubeJ)
RABBI SCHWARTZES TOUR GUIDE COURSE QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Which of the following has recently been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO?
(a) Nahal Me'arot
(c) Beit She'an
(d) The church of Annunnciation
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL PLACES IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK-
Beit She'an – Located south of the Kinneret in the Jordan valley the ancient city of Beit Shean consists of the older upper and Roman/byzantine lower city. The upper city/Tel sates back to the pre Israel Egyptian era. Which is kind of cool as one can see the idolatrous temples of ancient Egypt (even a dog fighting with a lion-see this week's Torah portion how the dogs which the Egyptians thought would protect them from plague didn't bark by the final plague). This upper Tel is also the site where Tanach tells us King Saul and his Yonasans heads were hung on the gates of the city by the philistines after they died in battle in by Gilboa (not far from here). It was eventually destroyed by King David built up as an administrative center by Shlomo and destroyed by Tigleth Pilasar and the Assyrians. The lower city was built up by the Hellenists and eventually the greeks and was one of the Decapolis-10 cities that made a truce in the Roman Empire (the only one in Israel) and became known as Schitopolis. In the city one can see a classic Roman bathouse, temples, theater, monumental building and fountains, "pleasure area", shops and most fun for the kids… an ancient public bathroom. The was destroyed by and earthquake and went downhill from there in the subsequent arab and mamluk periods
RABBI SCHWARTZ QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Rabbi Zeira says-If the earlier generations were like angels than we are like people and if the previous generations were like people then we are like donkey- and not even like the donkey of rav Chanina ben Dosa (that upon being stolen refused to eat grains that were not tithed)- Avos d'Rebbe Noson
Answer is A- Nahal Me'arot located in the Carmel Mt. range was recognized as a UNESCO recognized world site for its archeological evidence of early man and his development from the Neanderthal man through different stages. In the four caves Gedi, Tanur, Gamal and Nachal. The earliest burial grounds known to man have been found as well as the earliest northern most homo-sapien skeletons. The transition in tools from a hunting to an agrarian society can also be seen here. Nahal Me'arot joins Masada, Tel Aviv, Biblical tells (Be'er Sheva, Hatzor and Megiddo) and the spice trail cities (Mamshit, Obdat, Chalutza and Shivta) and Akko as the UNESCO recognized cities in Israel