Our view of the Galile

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Dumb Luck Good Fortune- Vayeira 2013/5774

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
October 18th 2013 -Volume 4, Issue 3 –13th of Cheshvan 5774
Parshat Vayeira

Dumb Luck / Good Fortune

 We Jews don't believe in luck. If you win the lotto tomorrow it was not because you were lucky. It was because Divine providence had ordained that you have adequately completed the portion of your life that was meant to experience the struggles and challenges of living without a few million dollars extra in your bank account, and now you're ready for the next major challenge. No more of the minor challenges like how will you pay your bills, who you should make your $18 check out to at the end of the month, how many days you can afford to have Rabbi Schwartz as your tour guide. You've been there, hopefully passed that and made all the right decisions (particularly the last J) and now it's time to move on to the bigger challenges. How many life changes do you really need to make now that you have money? How many of those previous dreams of things you wanted to do are the right way to spend your money and the wrong way. Will you change the word with your newly divinely "gifted" fortune or not. In a lucky world it doesn't make a difference. Either way it's just dumb luck. In a "God-run" world though it means you're stepping up to the next at bat. Your new game has just begun.

The same is true when it comes to bad luck. Not part of our faith system either. You got stuck in traffic and missed the big sale you were trying to get to- it was because you weren't meant to get there. That great big family picnic that was supposed to take place that got rained out-it was because in heaven it was decided that it was not supposed to happen. Lost your job, car broke down, missed the turnoff on the highway, ate some spoiled kugel- none of this was bad luck. It was just Hashem manipulating the universe in order that you should overcome these various challenges and grow from the experience of God touching you in this 'special' way. There is no such thing as luck or coincidence in a world that has a Creator that actively is involved in everything that happens.

It is funny and sad, or sadly funny… or not... how often we can pray to Hashem and as observant Jew even talk to Hashem as we make blessings all the time, yet when it comes to "the rest of the busy things that occupy our lives" we somehow seem to forget this or His whole exisitence is being controlled and directed in all the things that happen to us. All the things… We make a blessing on an apple before we eat it, but even so we attribute its flavor and texture and price to the "I know where to buy my apples"-psyche. We get annoyed regularly that things "don't work out" or people that "give us a hard time" (in some countries more so than othersL), and yet we fail to see how everything really worked out and the time that people are giving us is exactly the way Hashem divined it to happen. It was and is for us. It was and is from Him. What He decides is what's best for us.

It's that fundamental understanding that really can help us understand the stories of the past and present Torah portions that describe for us the first communications and "tests" that Hashem gave to the "first Jew", our forefather Avraham. The fun started in last week's Torah portion as we see test after test, challenge after challenge, presented to our forefather none of them yielding the expected and perhaps even personally desirous results. Avraham's Aliya to Israel is fraught with danger and calamity. His desire to raise children that know God and inspire the world seems almost never to come to fruition. He is advised to take a foreign Egyptian wife, his maidservant Hagar (OK, our sages tell us she was a princess prior to her self-accepted servitude- after all we Jews always have to marry a princessJ), which is then followed by orders by his wife, Sarah (whose name non-incidentally also means princess) to send her away. To make matters worse he must send away his precious son, Yishmael, whom our sages tell us he loved as much as Yitzchak. Talk about a man with "bad luck"…or not? Finally, to top it all off, as if he wasn't having a bad enough streak, he is told to take his son Yitzchak, who he had waited about a century or so to finally have, who was promised to be his sole inheritor and the fulfillment of all his dreams and aspiration, and bring him of as an offering on "a mountain I will show you.". Nice.

How would you react after all of these things keep happening to you? I know my wife would have me check our Mezuzot (she's very big into that- we do it every couple of months it seems). Others might be running to kabbalists for blessings, prostrating themselves on gravesites of great Rabbis. Some might even think this was Divine retribution for not voting for the right candidate in the last elections (sorry its election season here and I had to put in at least one plug). The less faithful among us though might just right it off as bad luck, as happenstance or as an excuse to reject the notion of an Almighty God who is also our loving Father in Heaven that watches over us. But not our Forefather Avraham. He continues on and on. Nothing fazes him. Because he knows that it's all good, it’s all for him and it's all from Hashem.

It is fascinating to note an interesting law that our sages derive from Avraham's actions.

"All who establish a set place for his prayers the God of Abraham will assist him as it says  'And Avraham arose early to the place where the presence of Hashem stood'. And the terminology of 'stood' is found to be a reference to prayer…"

What makes this lesson so fascinating is the prelude to this prayer of Avraham and its auspicious location. For the place where he prayed and saw the presence of Hashem that this refers to is the first and perhaps most powerful prayer of Avraham; it was the prayer to Hashem not to destroy the people of Sodom. Plea after plea, bargaining chip after bargaining chip the ten verses that describe Avraham trying to convince the Almighty to spare this wicked of all cities, seems to have failed. His prayer is rejected. Sodom will be destroyed. Thousands of people will be killed. All was for naught. If it was you or me, I think we may just want to sleep in the next morning. Take a break. Find a new shul. We tried to convince God, it didn't work. Fuggettaboutit. We went to all this effort to  put ourselves fully out there, and nada?! Sodom is burning like Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A mushroom cloud rises above the fire and brimstone (incidentally what is brimstone? anyone?) and the once glorious plains that rivaled the flourishing banks of the Nile in Egypt is now desolate; the really very Dead sea.

But not Avraham. He rises early once again, just like the day before, just like the day later on when he will be commanded to bring up his beloved son upon an altar, and he prays. He prays in the same spot. He prays with the same enthusiasm and fervor as if His prayers were answered and accepted. Because Avraham, unlike us, really really gets it. There is no luck, there is no bad God who ignores our prayers. Hashem has His plans and they are what is best for us and for the world. It's why it's so essential and incredible to have the fortitude to pray in the exact same place. The circumstances might seem bad or good but true prayer, true believing, a true descendant and student of Avrahams knows that the prayer did accomplish. It raised me up to my challenge. I did what I was meant to do, and everything else is just the incredible gracious and certainly Divinely ordained plan of Hashem. When we look out at that Dead Sea we may see destruction. When Avraham looked out and davened he saw the will of Hashem fulfilled and there is nothing better and more incredible than that.

I'll tell you another little secret. When Hashem looked out there He sees something else as well. He sees the prayer of Avraham. Lot, Avraham's nephew, is saved. 'and Hashem remembered Avraham and He sends out Lot'. This old man Lot who gets drunk afterwards and is seduced by his daughters (who assume they are the only ones left in the world-talk about a shidduch crisis..), eventually becomes the grandfather of Moav…who becomes the grandfather of Ruth…who becomes the grandmother of King David…who will be the grandfather of the Mashiach who will eventually redeem us all. How's that for a good prayer? Aren't you glad Avraham got up early the next morning?

The life and times of this first Jew and the challenges that he overcame paved the way for all of us his descendants for all times. There is no word in Hebrew for luck. Jews have Mazel which is  badly translated as fortune more accurately though it means a pouring down or trickling from above. When we wish someone Mazel Tov we are wishing them that they should experience that special connection that our forefather always felt and knew that comes only from above. The most unlucky person in the world is the one who only has luck to rely upon. As a nation that can always rely on Hashem, though we certainly are the most fortunate.

Have a perfect Shabbos,

Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


"The Zohar says, when someone is speaking, we only hear 10% of what they are saying...but now we come to the sadder thing,..we only express 10% of what we want to say."-Reb Shlomo Carlebach O"BM

"Sweetest friends, believe me… people who don’t believe in G-d don’t have joy. They have fun. But... More > joy? No. "- Reb Shlomo Carlebach O"BM


(answer below at end of Email)

In which region is Mt. Tzefachot located

a)      The Negev Highlands (Har Ha'Negev)

b)      The Central Arava Valley

c)      The Uvda Valley

d)     The Eilat Mountains (near the city)


A Jew walks into the bakery and orders a bagel. The man behind the counter says:

 "A bagel? That's 20 dollars."

"20 dollars?! Are you mad!?" "Well, its 1 dollar for the bagel, and 19 dollars for Israel."

"Fine. Money for Israel?How can I say no?"
The next day the same guy comes in to the bakery, and orders a challah. The
man behind the counter says:

 "Challah? That's 40 dollars."

"Are you insane?!"

"Sir, its 5 dollars for the challah and 35 dollars for Israel."
The man shrugs his shoulders but he pays the money. The third day, he comes in and orders a cheesecake.

 "Cheesecake? 70 dollars"

"What?! This is absolutely crazy."

"Sir, 10 dollars for the cheesecake, and 60 dollars for Israel"

 At this point he had had enough.
"You are completely mad! This is absolutely absurd and unethical."
"Sorry sir, I am just following the rules." "

"I demand to speak to the owner of the store!"
So the clerk goes to the door and calls out:

"Hey Israel! Someone wants to talk to you!"

Mevo Modi'im-  This Yishuv most famous and connected to its founder Reb Shlomo Carlebach is the place to be this weekend Reb Shlomo's- perhaps the greatest Jewish singer of the last century, 19th Yartzeit. Although Reb Shlomo lived in the States or as he used to say on airplanes flying around the world to inspire Jews with his songs and his love and warmth for Jews from all walks of life, he would spend a few weeks a year at this moshav where many of his followers took up residence and would have hundreds that would join him for Shabbat with endless singing, Torah and the incredible camaraderie that only true Carlebach groupies could appreciate. Each year on Sukkot there is a great music festival that takes place on this Moshav where all the Carlebach prodigals come to uphold his light and legacy and this Shabbat as well will see many Carlebach fans that will come to remember and once again feel the special spirit of our "holiest brother"


(In honor of Reb Shlomo Carlebachs' Yartzeit two great old videos..amazing)

 A classic real oldie…


 a great story


and for the Hebrew speakers really pretty cool a true golden oldie..



Answer is D: Har Tzefachot is a great hike right outside of Eilat (can go up from Holiday in parking lot) and have one of the most awesome views in Israel and one of the only ones where ones where you can see four countries- Israel, Taba, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Akaba, Jordan. The other choices are all beautiful hikes down south, but Tzefachot named after the schist metamorphic rock wikipedia claims its not made of… rather it's made up of Gneiss rock…I don't really know the difference. If you want to know get a different tour guide.

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