Our view of the Galile

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Wow Moments-Balak 2013

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"


June 20th 2013 -Volume 3, Issue 34–12th of Tamuz 5773

Parshas Balak

Wow Moments


Perhaps my most favorite part of being a tour guide is what I call the "Wow Moment". It is that few minutes when you take your tourists to a place and they are kind of scratching their head, and you know they are asking themselves "Why did he shlep us all the way over here?" I mean it's pretty and all that jazz and perhaps even historical, but was it really worth the extra drive..? Climb…? Hike...? And then you turn the corner and are overlooking a glorious view, or you pull out your Tanach and describe for them that where they are standing is where this story took place, or you ask them to close their eyes and envision something special and meaningful and all of a sudden a change comes over their faces. "Wow!!" "Awesome" "That's incredible" "Amazing". Those are the moments we live for. Our mission has been accomplished. The hike and trek to get out here was worth it. It is a moment you know they will carry with them back to the States. You may even get a tip. Truth is you don't even need one (don't quote me on this- we always like oneJ). The look on their faces is more than enough.

In many ways being an outreach Rabbi was very much the same thing. Watching new students eyes and faces transform before you as you shared with them their first Torah insight, their first real connection to their heritage, their first taste of Shabbos...of chulent JJ, there's nothing better than that. You can actually see how you have opened with a key the hidden treasure that is their soul and it blossoms right before your very eyes. It is a "Wow Moment" of the holiest kind. It is those that I treasure for a lifetime and I thank Hashem for giving me the privilege to be part of and to witness.

We have all read stories, heard inspirational ideas and have had people tell us about incredible visits that they have had to all types of fabulous places. Yet, none of the above has the same impact as the power of sight. Seeing something that is moving connects ones soul with what one sees in the deepest of ways. The images embeds into ones soul and can connect to ones memory in the deepest of ways. It is perhaps for that reason that the Torah warns us V'Lo Sasuru Acharie Li'Vavchem V'acharei Einechem- don't "tour/stray" with your heart and your eyes. The heart is open and looking to connect, the eyes are the receptacles that transplant their images on the soul of a man. One of our great sages once said that he felt this was the most challenging of all mitzvos; Our natural desire is to "tour" with our eyes, to explore the world, to "check it out". Yet as Rashi teaches us seeing can lead directly to the heart coveting, to rest of the body engaging in activity that ultimately will bring man to the depths. The eyes are the windows to our souls for better and for worse.

This week's Torah portion introduces us to what our sages considered to be the "Rebbe" of the bad eye. The Mishna in Avot urges us to be from the Students of Avraham whose traits consist of having a "good eye", as opposed to the students of  Bil'am of the eye that sought out bad. The Parsha seems to be full of Bil'am, who is employed by Balak the king of Moav, touring around to see the Jewish nation so that he may place that eye upon them and curse them. This is despite the Almighty's explicit repeated command not to attempt to do so. This is despite the incredible Divine irony of Bil'ams donkey being able to see the angel that threatens to destroy him with a sword which Bil'am can't see initially. Even when Bil'am comes to different positions and outlooks points on the Jewish people and breaks out in blessing rather than the curses he had hoped to unleash upon our nation, he persists on trying to find a better spot, another sacrifice another opportunity to use his eyes as a tool to wreak destruction upon our people.

If one follows the verses though the third time around Bil'am seemingly finally gets it.

And when Balaam saw that it pleased HaShem to bless Israel, he went not, as at the other times, to meet with enchantments, but he set his face toward the wilderness. And Balaam lifted up his eyes, and he saw Israel dwelling tribe by tribe; and the spirit of G-d came upon him.

And he took up his parable, and said:

"The saying of Balaam the son of Beor, and the saying of the man whose eye is opened; The saying of him who hears the words of G-d, who sees the vision of the Almighty, fallen down, yet with opened eyes:

 How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, thy dwellings, O Israel!

The ultimate "Wow moment" took place for Bil'am. For the first time he states his eyes had been opened. He saw the Jewish people as they really were. Not this fearsome tribe that Balak and the world media were presenting him with. They were a nation whose tents were holy. The Medrash brought by Rashi suggests that Bil'am saw that the Jewish tents were set up with the openings not facing one another "So that one would not see into his neighbors tent". Unlike many of us who prefer tinted windows on our cars so that no one else can see into our car. (As our children fight with one another, or as we yell at them for fighting, or so that we can hide our latest purchases from prying eyes-which is generally what our children our fighting about). The Medrash's terminology is that they were structured such so that we would not look into another person's tent rather than the vice-vers- others checkin' us out.. What's his is his, no one wanted to covet, begrudge or give a "bad eye" to his neighbor. Each Jew would, as my mother used to scold us (and to fulfill her prophesy I do to my own children as well), "keep their eyes on their own plate". We knew that our eyes were the windows to our souls and we wanted our windows to be faced inwards rather than upon another.

 Bil'am saw that and he said "Wow!"- Ma Tovu-how wondrous and goodly are your tents. His blinded eye that always saw the negative, whose heart could never seem to connect to anything but the curse that he saw was opened. With a little practice and warming up of Hashem putting the right words in his mouth a few times and with that incredible paradigm shifting moment he was able to find the blessing within himself albeit for a minute for the nation that was just moments before his mortal enemy.

It is interesting to note that it is that blessing that Bil'am said at that moment that become the custom of the Jewish people to say as they arrive in shul each morning. Think for a second how bizzare that must be. We have no shortage of poets, lyricists and beautiful texts that we could start off our morning with. Yet from all of that, we chose Bil'am's personal blessing. Bil'am who after that one moment, returned again to his diabolical plot and in fact ended up advising Balak to have the Moabite daughters seduce the Jewish people. This in turn brought down the wrath of God and 24,000 Jews were killed in the ensuing plague-more than any battle, plague or Divine punishment that happened in the 40 years in the wilderness.  Yet is it is Bil'ams prayer that becomes the text of choice to start off our morning. Why?

The answer is because there is no more powerful way to start off our morning, our day, our lives, than with that sense of Wow! How special is our tents, our places of worship, our fellow Jews and our nation. If even Bil'am that archenemy of our people who intended to destroy us, yet when he actually beheld us was so overcome with the beauty and specialness of our nation, than how much more so should our wow be when we see our fellow Jews each morning, when we take our first breath and steps in Hashem's glorious world. We start our morning with that Wow because it is meant to engage our good eye to give us the vision we need to activate our hearts and love for life, for our brothers and sisters and for Hashem our Father in heaven.

This week we begin the three week period of mourning for the destruction our Temple. Our sages tell us that when the temple was destroyed the Divine presence had already departed from it. It was sticks and stones that the Babylonians and Romans destroyed. What caused the divine presence to depart? It was because we had let it go. We were no longer awed by the Temple and the almost unfathomable-to-us-today notion that Hashem had a house that He resided in where we would be able to come and "see" his countenance and glory. It was a nice building of which we had many. Jews also lost their awe and wow of one another. We were a nation divided that coveted, begrudged and even hated, fought and eventually even killed one another. Our good eye was closed and Bil'am's evil eye was rampant. So Hashem took it away. The building destroyed, the fires burnt, our blood flowed. And we, finally, with tears in our eyes, said sadly,"…Wow… what have we lost…what have we done…when can we come back...?

As we contemplate over the next few weeks let us think about that wow that we lost and start to focus on the wows that will bring us back. If we could only see the good in one another, the beauty of our Torah, the joy of our mitzvos, than Hashem will surely return us to our home as He comes back to dwell amongst us. May we very soon share in that biggest "wow  moment" of all.

Have an amazing Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz  



- There’s that old joke: “Why do you go to shul? Harry goes to shul to talk to G-d; I go to shul to talk to Harry.” - Sue Ellen Dodell







 (answer below)

The Haifa Central Station "Hashmona" commemorates?

(a) the defenders of Tel Hai

(b) The people killed in the "Night of the Bridges"                                

(c) Haifa residents killed in first Lebanon War

(d) Train workers killed in 2nd Lebanon War


Ramban synagogue-Jerusalem-In the year 1267 the Ramban/Nachmanides came to Israel. He lived in Akko at first and than came to Jerusalem which was in ruins following the Tatar and arab attacks on the city.He describes the city as having 200 residents most non Jews and being that the city was destroyed anyone was free to take a building and create a shul. Sadly he did not have a minyan and had to pay two dyers to join him each weekend for Shabbos. In the 1400's the Bartenura visited and described the shul with its water cistern underneath it and its arch shaped pillars. He also mentions that there was a house next door which one can see to day which is the remains of a mosque that was donated out of resentment by a Jewish women whose son became a muslim out of spite. From the 1500's the turks prohibited Jews to pray there and it wasn't until 1967 (700 years exactly from when the Ramban first came) that it was re-captured and returned to Jewish hands. Most archeologists today feel that it is unlikely that the Ramban shul is the same as the Ramban describes that he lived by Mt. Zion nearby which was where the Jewish community lived. It is more likely that in the 1400's when the Jewish community moved to the modern day Rova (after a dispute with the Christians over the rights to mt zion and kever david) that the congregation of the Ramaban moved the shul here. Interestingly enough Rav Nebenzahl the first rav of the old city established that the nusach of the shul should be open to whoever the baal tefila is and so it is until today.

  Answer is D- The Haifa train station named after the 8 workers that were killed by a katyusha missile that hit near the station at a depot and killed 8 workers in the 2nd Lebanon war in 2006.  A tricky question as kiryat Shmona is named after the 8 killed in Tel Chai and there were 14 people killed in the night of the bridges attack in independence war (the monument is by Achziv) and the first and 2nd Lebanon war can always get confusing. Israelis thought this one was easy as it was only named this 6 years ago most of them remember. But for a recent oleh like myself…I got it right J

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