Our view of the Galile

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Not So Happily Ever After- Vayigash 2013/5774

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

December 5th 2013 -Volume 4, Issue 10 -2nd of Tevet 5774
 Parshat Vayigash

Not so Happily Ever After

The old man stood before the Chevra Kadisha (Jewish burial society) in Jerusalem with a cigar box in his hand. "You need to bury this" he said in his broken Yiddish Russian accent. The head of the society looked at the man quite strangely and informed him that they were not in the habit of burying cigar boxes and they would need a bit more of an explanation before they would consider his request. He explained to them that he had brought this box with him from Russia, when he was released from prison in Siberia after serving his 10 year sentence. The box was from another one of the prisoners that was there with him. She had given him the box and implored him to take it with him and bury it in Eretz Yisrael, on the Mount of Olives, Har Hazeitim. Having just arrived in Israel after many years of awaiting his freedom in which he watched over this precious box, the Russian gentleman came straight to the Chevra Kadisha to fulfill her request.

The woman, he explained, was a doctor in the Soviet Union. She, like so many of her brothers and sisters raised in Communist Russia, were raised without any Jewish education or connection to their heritage, our faith, and our people. Yet her Jewish soul, her yiddeshe neshoma yearned and would not be still. As she began to explore her faith and learn about her people and her land she started to practice her religion in the simplest ways that she knew. She was eventually arrested by the KGB for her "crimes" against the motherland and was sentenced to a life sentence in Siberia. There in the bitter cold of Siberia she continued to learn and study and her connection to Israel and the faith of her ancestors grew daily. When she had heard that this prisoner was being released she begged him before he left to wait a few minutes for her to return as she wanted to give him something… something that more than anything else she had needed to make it to Eretz Yisrael.

When she returned a few minutes later, she gave him this box. When he asked her what it was, this is what she said.

"I know that I will never make it to Israel. I have been sentenced to spend the rest of my years here in this godforsaken land. When I die the soldiers here will probably just dump my body in a mass grave or in a cemetery with gentiles. Yet I need to know that at least part of me has merited to rest and be buried in the Holy Land, the land of our fathers… that there is a part of me that will await me when I eventually will come back to the holy land that will rest amongst our people. In this box is my index finger, I just cut it off. At least this small piece of me should be buried there, in the land where our people belong."

The Chevra Kadisha were speechless as they opened up the small box. In it lay the index finger of the woman who lived, dreamed and died with only one thought; her love for Eretz Yisrael, the place of her people. Rav Shalom Shwadron, recalls how the next day he gathered with the Chevra Kadisha as they put together a minyan to recite Kaddish as they went off to bury the only remains of what was certainly a very holy woman.

I thought of this story this week as I sat by menorah watching those last wicks burn out. Chanukah is ending, the winter is here and yet those little flames are meant to burn in our hearts and souls as we move forward in our exile and wait for the day when not only will we all be able to come to Israel, but we will be here together…the way we were meant to be. It is perhaps one of the greatest tragedies of Jewish history, that whenever we were able to come and return to our land for a large part we didn't miss it so much. We were fine in Babylonia, Persia, Europe…America (?). It took the nations of the world to suppress, persecute and ultimately try to destroy us for us to realize what we were missing; how we were incomplete. It's not a new tragedy. It in fact starts in this week's Torah portion.

The Parsha this week which finally brings to a conclusion the great reunion between Yosef and his brothers. "I am Yosef, is my father still alive?" The tears flow, amends are made. Yaakov, our forefather who for 22 years has not stopped mourning his precious son, comes down to Egypt as well. He will bless his son and his grandsons. The family is together and they begin to flourish. The Parsha concludes with Egypt going through its stages of famine that were predicted years before by Yosef when he interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh. They sell their cattle, their homes and finally themselves as slaves to the King of Egypt in order to receive food to survive. The Jewish people though, Yaakov and his family the Parsha concludes-
And Yisrael settled in the land of Egypt in Goshen; they acquired property there and they were fruitful and multiplied greatly.
Sounds nice? Happily ever after…? The perfect ending. After years of fighting, tribulations, battles with enemies from within and without, they could finally settle and prosper. Egypt may not be doing so good, but the Jewish people? Thank God. Baruch Hashem, prospering and multiplying. At least that's the way I always read and understood it, until I saw the Klei Yakar that great 16th century sage Rabbi Ephraim of Lunchitz. He had somewhat a different take on this final verse in our Parsha.

"This entire verse is written as a condemnation of the children of Israel. For Hashem had decreed that they would be strangers/foreigners and they chose to become citizens and settlers instead of mere sojourners… The Torah finds guilt with them for this settlement, as they chose to achieve acquisitions in this land that was not theirs. As our sages tell us their original intent was merely to reside temporarily in their land but now they reversed themselves and they became so entrenched in Egypt that they did not ever want to leave. It reached a point until Hashem had no choice but to take them out
 with a powerful hand and those that did not leave ultimately perished in the three days of the plague of darkness."

Fruitful? Multiply? Prosper? Become citizens? Egyptian Jews? German Jews? Babylonian Jews? American Jews? A Jew in any other country that feels that it is his home, his citizenship an acceptable part of his identity or that he is anything more than a stranger in a strange land is a tragedy. It is a condemnation. It is our exile. It is us looking for a respite from thousands of years of wandering and wishing, as did our forefathers, to live a little bit in tranquility. To fit in and not stand out. To feel like we have a home, even if it's just a home away from home.

But we shouldn't. Hashem won't let us. It's not part of our mandate to settle anywhere else. We may be meant to wander. There may be sparks of holiness that we have to uplift. But we always have to know that to be buried in a foreign country and even more so to live in that foreign country, is unnatural for our souls. There is that menorah that is burning in each of us that will never be fully lit anywhere else. The menorah is there to remind us that we are still in Exile. The temple is not built. Mashiach is not yet here. The big trees, the "happy holiday " signs and even the menorahs being lit in the Kremlin, Buckingham palace and dare I say the White House do not make them our home. We don't have any obligation (nor is there any halachic reason) to cut off ones finger and bury it in Israel. But our souls should feel that it is where we belong. Everywhere else is just another Greece.

So I watch my last candles burn out and I think of the long winter ahead of us. I thank Hashem that I have merited to light my Menora, my oil, my candles and my children here in Eretz Yisrael. But I realize, as all those who have the privilege to live in Eretz Yisrael do on a regular basis, that we are still not completely home. Our Temple is still in ruins. Our leadership is not yet holy. The light of Hashem that once shone forth to the entire world has yet to be once again ignited. We still await that final redemption. May next year at this time we be once again standing in our holy temple as the light of the Bais Hamikdash once again lights up the world.
Have an amazingly transcendent Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


(answer below at end of Email)
In which area is Tel Lachish located?
a)      The Judean Lowlands (shefelat Yehudah)
b)  The Ayalon Valley
c)  The Coastal Plain
d)  The Elah valley

(In honor of our first week of rain-very cool- worth the click…!)


Tel Lachish- If one wants to get a real taste of Jewish history and the archeology Tel Lachish is really the perfect place. The magnificent archeological tel and city contain remains of Yehoshua's original conquest of the city and the burnt remains of the walls he burnt down. One can also see ruins and archeological finds of the former palace of Rechavam the son of King Solomon who built up the city when the kingdom divided. The majority of what one sees though is the great city that was fortified by Chizkiyahu against Sancheirev the king of Assyria who exiled the northern kingdom and who built the rampart up to the city in order to breach it's massive walls. Even more amazing is that in archeological digs in Ninveh in Iraq of Sancheirev's battle the city and the battle are depicted perfectly over three thousand years later. Finally by the gates of the city (the largest in the country to be uncovered) was found the famous ostracons and letters that were written that describe the fall of Azeka as the Babylonians come to destroy this last city before their eventual capture of Jerusalem and the destruction of our Temple. Truly a walk through the entire history of our people in our country from our entry to the land until our first Exile.
 "We did not take a foreign land, we did not take foreigners’ property. We took our birthright which was in the hands of our enemies who occupied our land without a trial, and now in this time, we have recovered the land of the legacy of our forefathers."  -Shimon the Maccabee 2160 years ago.


(In honor of all those coming here the past few weeks for winter break)

10. "Sir, are these Hebrew leather strap-ons yours?"

9. "So all these Tin-foil balls have leftovers in them?"

8. "What part of 'single man carrying a hatbox' isn't suspicious?"

7. "With a box like that,that must be one nice lemon."

6. "So let me get this straight. Your mother's friend's sister-in-law's daughter packed this bag and needs you to give it to her brother whom you've never met?"

5. "Sorry, you say this entire duffle bag full of smoked meats, canned foods, pots, pans, crock pot is for one weekend?"

4. "Please take off your jacket. Your other jacket. Your hat. Your other hat."

3. "So tell Chanie Mazel Tov..." --- "Ms, you cannot be on the phone while going through the metal detector."

2. "Uh, you forgot your 7th  kid!"

1. "I'm sorry were going to have to scan the Styrofoam head in your bag again."

Answer is A: The Shefela, the Judean lowlands which are the foothills that are between the coastal plain and the hills of Chevron. This is a tricky question because both the Ayalon and the Elah valley (right outside of Beit Shemesh) are part of the Shefela as well, and are not far from Lachish. However Lachish,  which is the site of the great battle of Sancheirev who exiled the 10 northern tribes and eventually the Babylonians before conquering Jerusalem, is in fact in the  valley of Lachish and thus A the shefela is the only correct answer

No comments:

Post a Comment