Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
December 19th 2013 -Volume 4, Issue 12 -16th of Tevet 5774
Names have not been changed for the purpose…
We stood together yesterday on the mountain top. It wasn't just any mountain top. It was Masada, the mountain of Herod's palace, the mountain where the last Jews to stand up to the Romans after they destroyed our Temple; the mountain that has become a symbol of our heroic and miraculous return to our Holy land after 2000 years. It was peaceful and still up there on the mountain top. Our eyes closed, the incredible quiet of the Judean desert and the power of the moment that we were about to experience gave us a sense of transcendence. I sat around a table made of ancient stones that our forefathers had made in this little Beit Midrash 2 millennia ago, with this special group of students. We began our ceremony with Hinay Matov U'Mah Naim-Oh how good and pleasant it was as we brothers and sisters sat together
The ceremony was a "Bar/Bat Mitzvah" program that I have recently become involved with which is sponsored by the OU is for students that come to Israel for the first time on their Birthright program who have never had one before or that wanted to have a redo of their first one, Before me stood 18 young men and women from our group of 40 who had chosen to turn their ten day life changing experience in Israel into one that would continue into a lifetime commitment to Judaism, their heritage and their legacy. The ceremony as was explained wasn't a "real" Bar Mitzvah. We weren't going to be calling them up to the Torah, they wouldn't be putting on tefillin or wearing a tallit. By Jewish law they were already "Bar Mitzvah-ed" at age 13 (12 for girls), merely by coming of the age of responsibility as a Jewish man and woman. The ceremony that we had for these students, who had been deprived of a real Jewish connection for most of their lives- until these past ten days, was for them to choose a Jewish name for themselves and to speak for a few minutes of the commitment they would like to make to Judaism, as they join the ranks and four thousand year old dynasty of which they were choosing to re-connect with. It was a ceremony that made me cry.
Sean went first. He spoke about his first Bar Mitzvah in Temple. He was forced to memorize some blessings, read some ancient text that had no meaning to him and to hear a Rabbi ramble on and on about things that he knew were not true about him and his family. The day after he became an atheist. Mazel Tov…
Daphne was next. Her Mother was Jewish, her dad wasn''t. They had a tree and a Menorah. They did a Seder and Easter. It was all silly to her. Religion was just about trying to make her grandparents happy. They weren't…either side. The most painful part of her growing up, she said, was not having any real sense of identity. She knew that there was a God. But she wasn't really allowed to talk or learn about him in any way that made any sense. She was a soul without a people.
Daphne wasn't the only one that expressed that sentiment. Most of the kids that spoke all started out with stories of their upbringing, some with some religious affiliation, some with a few religious affiliations and many with none. Carl, had never met a Jew in his life, besides his grandfather. Alexis spoke about, how she was made fun of and how she eventually discarded the "Jewish label" because whenever it came up she felt she was treated differently. Michael was perhaps the most prolific when he described this incredible hole that he had a nagging that wouldn't go away. "It was as if there were these answers I knew that I had to be seeking…but I didn't even know the questions to ask…"
The tears began to swell in my eyes. I felt like I was in Yad Vashem Israel's Holocaust museum. What the Nazi's had failed to accomplish we were doing to ourselves. The Final Solution was taking place, millions of our brothers and sisters, our young, our beautiful, our most precious Jewish souls are being lost for eternity. I could hear the cries of the souls of the martyrs of Masada, who gave their lives rather than to become Roman, crying in the wind on that mountain in the Judean desert along with me.
But then something changed. Each one of those students stood up and chose a name for themselves. Sean became Shmuel, Daphne-Dina, Carl-Chaim Alexis-Leah and Michael Moshe. They had found themselves. Ten days of the holy land worked its magic. Like those electric charged defibrillator paddles on their Jewish souls they had been awakened. They were brought back to life. A stone's throw away from the ancient Synagogue on Masada where archeologists uncovered a parchment with the prophecy of Ezekiel that speaks of the dried bones coming back to life; the Jewish spark was reignited. Some of the girls affirmed their commitment to lighting the Shabbos candlesticks that we gave them each week (what's a bar mitzvah without presents). Some of the boys talked about coming back to study here. All of them spoke about how they have never felt so in touch with their inner soul before and how for the first time they feel that they have an appreciation and connection to what is most certainly the essence of their lives to come. There were no more atheists left in the house. No more questions that needed to be asked. Their yiddeshe neshomas were glowing and all of us sitting there were just pulled into the moment as we rose and sang and danced…Am Yisrael Chai…Od Avinu Chai.
This week we begin the 2nd book of the Torah. Whereas the Book of Bereishis that we concluded last week has been the story of the family of Israel, Shemos is the story of our nationhood. Our sojourn and exile in Egypt, our miraculous Exodus, the receiving of the Torah on Sinai, the golden calf its consequences and the building of the Tabernacle. Yet the name of the book oddly enough is Shemos-Names. As in all of the books of the Torah, the name that we call them is based on the first few words of the book. Yet as in all things that have to do with Torah there is also a deeper reason, if we scratch beneath the surface, for meaning, insight and inspiration of why certain words and titles are given to things.
Rav Gedalya Shorr, in his classic work Ohr Gedalyahu, suggests that the first time we find the concept of names is actually the first act recorded in the Torah that Man/Adam was asked to do. We are told that Hashem brought all the animals before Adam and he gave them names. What does it mean he gave them all names? "Hey you look like a giraffe, and you're a pig?" And why is it sharing this with us. The text is begging us to dig deeper into this first mission of man and Rav Schorr is glad to oblige. He explains that in Hebrew/the holy tongue, words and names are not random letters or sounds to describe each creature or object. Rather the world and everything in it was created with Hebrew letters and their combinations are what describe the essence of what that being is truly about and meant to accomplish. Example- dog in Hebrew is Kelev which is also the same letters as the word Kileiv- like a heart. A dog is much like a heart our sages tell us. It will always chase and be drawn after that which it desires be it a stick that is thrown or its own tail. Also just a dog in order to thrive and meet its fullest potential is only when it learns discipline and develops its natural state of loyalty to its master, so too does our hearts in developing that most meaningful relationship with out Creator. Names describe the essence of what a being is meant to accomplish in this world, how each created entity is meant to reflect the will and revelation of its Creator. It is man's job as the center of creation to understand and uplift each being to achieving its fulfillment. Hashem therefore took him for a "spin around the factory" to learn and understand what each being was truly about.
The Children of Israel, that nation that 2000 years later ultimately inherited the job of Adam, got our start in the cesspools and slave yards of Egypt, the one country where its leader Pharaoh is introduced as the one "who did not know Yosef". He forgot the Jewish hero who saved Egypt and who in the process attributed all that he had done to the one God in Heaven. Pharaoh declared himself a deity and the Jewish slaves, from the length of their exile and the burdens that were placed upon them forgot their tradition and heritage as well. Yet, our sages teach us, they held on to one thing. They kept their Jewish identity cards. They maintained their Jewish names, they remembered and spoke the holy tongue, and they knew that there was something different, something special about their souls. They knew there was a revelation that was meant to be revealed upon their eventual promised Exodus. That could only be revealed when they became who they were supposed to become; what they were created to become.
Shemos, the book of our Exodus and redemption, is the story of our Jewish names that were redeemed from the darkness of persecution, exile and assimilation. It begins with "These are names of the Children of Israel that went down Egypt." The end of the story will be in a few Parshiyot from now "and on the midst of the day all of the armies of Hashem left Egypt". Our names are what went down to Egypt. It was all that we had left. Like seeds being planted, that can only sprout in the darkness and in the depths. Yet from those seeds of Jewish names a nation and an army was born. Our name Yisrael will live forever. We will be as eternal as our Creator as long as we can keep that connection.
I get hit in the head by a candy. My newly found brothers and sisters shout out Mazel Tov and pelt the Bar/Bat Mitzvah boys and girls and a circle forms as we begin to dance. Our feet are not touching the ground. Am Yisrael Chai…Od Avinu Chai…Siman Tov U'Mazal Tov… I feel like I have been witness to a new redemption. I look at Alexis/Leah clutching her candlesticks and Michael/Moshe sporting his new Kippa. Abba we have not forgotten you. Your children have remembered their names. Remember us. Bring all of us back. Help us live up to our names. Help us sanctify Yours.
Have an absolutely spectacular Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"Hashem created Earth by taking snow from underneath His throne. " – Pirkei D’R’Eliezer 3
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL GEMATRIA OF THE WEEK (new cool addition)
SHELEG/SNOW =333 BECHOR/FIRST BORN=222 ponder the significance
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S FUNNY SNOW ANECDOTE OF THE WEEK
During the recent snowstorm the 5th grade Rabbi got a call from the Principal of the yeshiva where he teaches telling not to come to work, because only 6 kids showed up due to the snow. He said he's coming, because at home he has 15. JJ
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
(answer below at end of Email)
(This was the final question of my written exam..I miraculously got an 88J Mazel Tov next week we'll go through some older exams!)
The "Gospel trail and the J-sus trial are located:
a) Between Jerusalem and Kasr Al Yahud
b) In the lower Galilee
c) Between En Kerem and Jerusalem
d) Between Capernaum (Kfar Nachum) and the Banias
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S SAD JOKE OF THE WEEKA priest, a minister, and a rabbi used to meet periodically in a local restaurant to discuss issues of common interest. One day, the priest came to the meeting very preoccupied, and shared with his colleagues the following problem: “You know,” he said, “I have squirrels all over my church. We did everything to get rid of them. We called the exterminator got a cat . . . nothing helped. They keep coming back.”
The ministered interrupted and said, “We, too, have a squirrel problem. I also called the exterminator and he put bait everywhere, but nothing is helping.”
The rabbi, quite tranquil at this point, interrupted the minister and said, “I, too, had a squirrel problem in the synagogue. Do you know what I did? I bar mitzvahed them all, and they never came back!”
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S FAVORITE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK
In honor of the snow blizzard in Israel funny pranks you should never pull J
The freaky snowman…
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL PLACES IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK-
PapaGaios-Jerusalem- I don't usually do restaurant reviews. But you're not just coming here to see ancient, inspiring and holy places. You deserve to taste Israel as well and PapaGaios in the Talpiot neighborhood is more than just a restaurant it is definitely a cool place for us meat-loving kosher carnivores to visit in Jerusalem. Possibly one of the best restaraunts in Israel and maybe the world (after Shallots in Skokie J-shout out to u) One can and should order the all you can eat meat menu for 195 shek and be treated to a selection of cuts of London Broil, Entrecote, pargit (baby chicken), broiled liver, chicken, teriyaki and grill, burger, and on and on and on… Each table has this little green and red turny thing on it and as long as you leave it on green they keep coming and coming. Don't eat lunch that day and make it worth your while J. Their desserts are also pretty amazing if you still have room and their bar is truly inspiring. For those that are really looking for a great place to get some delicious warm blooded animals on a plate and to get an amazing all you can eat kosher menu like you can't get anywhere else in the world, PapaGaios gets my thumbs up.
RABBI SCHWARTZ' S EXAM ANSWER OF THE WEEK
Answer is B: I'm not a big J- fan. And all the Christianity stuff was one of the annoying parts of my studies for this course. I didn't come to this country our holyland to learn really delve intensely into other religions as interesting as it may be. Certainly not to memorize all the places where he walked talked, preached and where his students (years later when the gospels were written) attributed miracles to him. But I knew this one and actually all of the choices as well. The Nazareth lower galilee is where the trail is. The Kasr Al Yahud was where he was baptized (they took that from Eliyahu Hanavi), Ein Kerem was where John was born, Kfar Nachum the Jewish city they threw him out of and the Banias where he announced his Messianic delusions to Peter (who interestingly enough according to some Jewish sources did Teshuva and composed the Nishmat prayer we recite).