Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
April 26th 2013 -Volume 3, Issue 28 –9th of Iyar 5773
Parshas Emor/Lag Ba'Omer
So the Jew, the priest and the blasphemer walk into the…
Jewish holidays are strange. Non-Jews have it quite simple. On the secular holidays you either party, memorialize, laze around watch a football game, of course shop and sometimes all of the above. On their "religious" holidays it's pretty much the same thing. Maybe a fast here and there, some extra prayers, shop some more perhaps for a loved one, a child or a boss who you might want a raise from or for an employee you may not want to give one to and hoe the present is enough, but overall it’s a fairly simple game-plan.
We Jews on the other hand have got our work cut out for us. We're blowing ram's horns, wear white robes, building temporary huts and waving citron's and branches and that's just in the month of Tishrei. After that you'll find your Jewish neighbors lighting oil or colored candles before spinning tops, reading from ancient scrolls in funny costumes, cleaning their house from crumbs of bread and then of course searching for it with a candle and burning those crumbs before 7-8 days of eating no leavened food. Is this normal, I ask you? One thing is for certain no man and certainly no woman in their right mind would ever make this stuff up. In fact there's no way that anybody would ever agree to such bizzare rituals if it was created by man…Thank God… for God. For without His ultimate wisdom we might just have had to spend our holidays shopping for presents and watching football. I'll take ram's horns, huts, citrons and colored candles any day.
The truth is it's not just the myriad of details of the holidays themselves that differentiate us from them. It's not even the frequency of our holidays. Although that in itself is pretty amazing. 8/9 days sukkot, 7/8 days Passover, 8 days Chanukah, Shavuot, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Purim not to mention 5 fast days-3 of which revolve around the destruction of the Temples and of course the more mystical holidays of Tu B'Shvat and this Saturday night and Sunday's celebration of Lag Ba'Omer. Let's not even get started on our weekly holiday of Shabbos, when we totally disconnect from all of the distractions of the world to tap into the holiness of our Creator, the beauty of our family and a nice big fat bowl of chulentJ. In fact the Talmud tells us that one of the primary anti-semitic claims against the Jews was that they were always taking off from work claiming that it was another holiday. They were right about that one though, we certainly do the holiday thing a lot and we do them in a big way. But it's not that frequency alone either.
Perhaps the greatest difference between our holidays and theirs is that we don't really see them as merely hol-I-days certainly not with an "I" in the middle and not even with the "y" in the middle. The Torah in refers to them as Mo'ed which according to the commentaries comes from the root Noad-to have knowledge or va'ad-assembly or meeting. Our holidays are an encounter with the Almighty; a time and place where we become intimate-of course in the spiritual biblical sense with our Creator. It is for that reason why there are so many intricate details in the observance and celebration of our holidays. I mean we're meeting with the Almighty and Master of the world, for gosh- I mean God's sake, of course it's gonna mean there's lots of different things that we will have to do, that we need to do to make sure that encounter has meaning. To meet with Hashem one has to pay attention to all the details, to put the effort and preparation into seeing beyond the surface and to engaging our hearts, minds and souls in every way to make sure we get the most out of that special time.
When one has an important meeting with the president, mayor, rabbi or prospective business partner we understand you don't just pop in and see how it goes. When one meets the Queen or King all the little details and protocols are significant…although they're really not. But they definitely get you excited and engaged. When one meets their love on a first date, when one prepares to meet her parents, when one gets ready to stand under the chupah, all the nuances are special… are thought out… have meaning. And our meetings with Hashem each Shabbos, each opportunity throughout our holiday filled year shouldn't even be more so much more so?
It's interesting in this weeks' Torah portion that discusses the holidays, that it sandwiches it discussion between two seemingly random portions. In the beginning of the Torah portion it discusses the laws of the Kohanim/the priests; whose sole/soul purpose is to be the full time spiritually dedicated intermediaries between Man and God. It tells us of the laws regarding how he deals with the deaths of close relatives, his limitations on who he may marry and the laws of physical blemishes and deformities that invalidate him from service. At the conclusion of the Torah portion after the holidays, we are told of the story of the blasphemer who is put to death for cursing the Almighty. The Torah doesn't even explicitly tell us what led to his sin and outburst. The various midrashim suggest that he was upset and his perceived status because of his lineage or that he felt that the rituals of the "show-bread" didn't meet his perception of a proper ritual. So he rejects, he curses and he is put to death. Kohein, holidays and blasphemers why are these thrown together?
Perhaps what the Torah is telling at the heart of this book of Vayikra- the one that is about our relationship with Hashem is how we are meant in the real world to relate to the Divine. On one hand we have the Kohein, who encounters Hashem and is someone who sees the spiritual maladies in the people, who is meant to lift up the nation whose life is dedicated to the lord's work. Yet at times he as well will have challenges, blemishes, tragedies, limitations on who he marry. Yet rather than complaining and rejecting he sees that these are also encounters with Hashem. They are also from his loving Father. They are knowing they divine. One just has to be able to see beyond the "occurrence" and change it into an encounter a love meeting with Hashem. The Torah than tells us simple Jews that we will also have our opportunities to meet with Hashem. We have each Shabbos, our holidays our times to scratch behind the surface of our day-to-day lives and go a little deeper and out of the box. We get dressed nicely, we build huts, we hear the shofar, we eat matzah... we get in the God mode. And we become attached to Hashem.
Finally the Torah tragically concludes with the blasphemer. The one who doesn't go a little deeper. The one who looked at his status and fate and rather than see it as an encounter and a challenge by his loving Father, sees it as an act of fate that couldn't possibly be a holy special role. Or alternatively he saw the show-bread and only saw the outside the panim and didn't see the warm internal heat, the p'nim of the beauty of our rituals. He rejects it and in doing so he cuts himself off. He crossed the line, he crossed out Hashem. The people who witnessed and heard this are told that they must learn that this was also an encounter with God and they in turn carry out the penalty rejecting the god-less life.
This Saturday night we celebrate the holiday of Lag Ba'Omer. One of the reasons we celebrate we are told is because it was on this day that the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva stopped dying. The Pri Chadash asks the obvious question. Why is this a reason to celebrate? The reason they stopped dying is because they were all dead. Rabbi Akiva who had spent 24 years of his life building this army of Torah scholarship, piety and greatness had just lost all of his students. His whole life was down the tubes. The Jewish naition's entire spiritual future has been decimated. What makes this into a holiday? He answers, that it was on this day that Rabbi Akiva took his five remaining students and resolved to begin again. He came out of the ashes and he re-lit the flame. The fire of Torah was started anew. How was he able to do this? Because Rabbi Akiva saw and knew that what he had experienced had come from Hashem. It was an encounter. It was a Mo'ed. It was an unfathomable for any mere human type experience with God but at the same time Rabbi Akiva knew that there was no one else who could have made it happen. He was able to scratch beneath and he knew that from those ashes the fire and warmth of Hashem will ultimately shine through once again. "Fortunate are you Israel-before whom you are purified and who purifies you- Avinu She'BaShamyim-our loving Father in heaven.
So as you light your bonfires and stare into your flames this Lag Ba'Omer think about how special we are, how different we are, how fortunate we are. And may the light of those fires and the rejoicing that we do give us hope, faith and strength as we get closer and closer to our ultimate meeting in our home.
Have spectacular Shabbos and blazin' Lag Ba'Omer
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ FUNNY TOP TEN LIST OF THE WEEK
Top Ten Signs Your Rabbi has probably lost count of the Omer
10. Claims "It's too early to count." It's 10pm.
9. Wishes the entire congregation a "Happy Lag Baomer!" on day 23
8. When you ask him "what night did we count last night?" He asks you for multiple choice
7. Keeps wondering when Tishah B'Av will be so he can shave already
6. You're pretty sure you just heard him count the 84th day of the omer
5. You just realized, he's counting down
4. Apparently Day 13 now has "9 weeks and 3 days" to it
3. First time in the history of man: rabbi actually passes an honor off to cantor/Chazan
2. As he's reciting the blessing, you notice his son in the back of the synagogue who is trying desperately to sign 17 with his hands
1. Proudly recites blessing and day off of his handy dandy Omer-Count calendar, dated 2006
RABBI SCHWARTZES QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"All of Israel are children of royalty."- Reb Shimon Bar Yochai (Talmud bava metzia 113)
RABBI SCHWARTZ MERON YOUTUBE LINK OF THE WEEK
RABBI SCHWARTZES TOUR GUIDE COURSE QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Muqarnas and Ablaq refer to?
(a) Mamluk architecture
(b) Abassid architecture
(c) Types of stone carving
(d) Mosque elements
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL PLACES IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK-
Tzomet Somech- Not necessarily a place to visit, but an intersection that I pass all the time on my north. This crossroads of highway 70 & 79, the 70 being the ancient Wadi Milich (the salt valley which was transported along this road in ancient times) that crosses around the carmel and up north and the 79 which goes from nazareth to Shefra'am, was the site of the ancient story in the Talmud of the semicha/ordination of the 5 students of Rabbi Yehudah Ben Bava who was martyred by the Romans. The Talmud tells us that because the Romans had prohibited the study of Torah and its proliferation, Rabbi Yehudah went outside of the two major cities, Usha and Shefram, between two mountains in the valley and gave the ordination to his 5 prime students who than went on to teach Torah. The Romans caught them and as he shielded them with his body as they fled until he was pierced 300 times. One of the students he gave semicha to was none other than Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai!
Answer is A- Muqarnas are those beehive shapes stalaglites type designs you'll find in many muslim buildings, ablaq are the two toned stone designs that many of their buildings are built out of either white and red or balck alternating stones. The mamluqs who were warrior slaves of the Egyptians who rebelled against them conquered Israel in the 13th century and threw out the Crusaders for good ruling the country for almost three hundred years until the 16th century Turks got rid of them. They are the ones that built up much of the Jerusalem old city that we see today particularly the muslim quarter where one can see all this wonderful architechture…if you really want to. Frankly I recommend sticking with the Jewish sites-but that's just me J