Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
December 13th 2013 -Volume 4, Issue 11 -10th of Tevet 5774
Vayechi/ 10th of Tevet
The Blessing of Children
She was a new nurse in the maternity ward in Israel, not aware of the miraculous births that take place here. As she entered the first room she saw a new mother with 4 newborn babies lying next to her in their hospital bassinets. “Wow” she said “Are all of these yours?” “Yes” said the new mother. “I just had quadruplets last night, but actually…” she said “that’s quite common. You see, I come from the city of Kiryat Arba (the Israeli community translated as “village of four) and a lot of my friends have four children.”
“Pretty amazing” the nurse thought as she went to the next room. Much to her surprise the next patient was lying down with 7 little infants around her. “Are these all yours?” she again asked in shock. “Certainly” the proud mom exclaimed, “I’m from Be’er Sheva (the well of seven) and many of us have septuplets”. The next room had a mother from the city of Kiryat Shmona (the city of eight) and sure enough 8 adorable little babies were pleasantly cooing around the mother’s bed. When the nurse came to the next room though, she immediately turned around and started running out of the hospital. On her way out the doctors asked her where she was going. With a sign of total resignation the poor lady said “I quit! There’s no way I am going in the next room”. “Why? What’s the matter?” the doctor said. “Don’t you know,” the exasperated and clearly overwhelmed nurse responded. “The lady in the last room is from Meah Shearim (the city of 100 measures)!!!” JJ
Jokes aside, (although I thought this was a pretty funny one), we have lots of babies here in Israel…especially in Meah Shearim. The Satmar Rebbe was once quoted as saying “Ahhhh don’t you love the little Yerushalmi children, when they’re young they’re so cute, you could just eat them up… when they get older though, you sometimes wish you had…”. I don’t know if it’s only Yeurshalmi children. The kids here are different then the ones in the States. I don’t see a lot of computer games or sitting in front of TV sets, nor are there a lot of tennis lessons or even little leagues. The kids that I see here like cats… running around in the streets. They like hiking through the woods, jumping down waterfalls, playing jump-rope, hop-scotch, marbles, nuts, and one of the new fads in the religious circles are trading Rebbe cards and mitzvah stickers. There’s such an incredible innocence and perhaps even a more natural sense of discovery and fulfillment that children in Israel have. It’s not the newest toy or gadget that will make them happy. It’s reveling in the beauty and history of our country and people and the thrill of discovery that makes their childhood so special. It is truly a country that was made for kids. And kid that I am, a country for me…
This week’s Torah portion, the last of the book of Bereishis ends with the story and blessing of Jewish children. Truth is most of the book and stories revolved around the families and challenges that led to the formation people of Israel. Adam and Eve and their two children-fighting over who would inherit the world (medrash). Noach and his three children, and once again one of them Cham, also concerned about his legacy if his father should have more children gets thrust and cursed out of the family. Isaac and Yishmael, Jacob and Esau, Yosef and his brothers- all seemingly dysfunctional families of children who seemingly can’t get along, who fight over their rightful roles, and who many of us might have said thank god that’s not our family… it is. They were and are our roots and the Sefer Bereishis that we read each year doesn’t give us much chance to hide from it. The good news though is that the story of Bereishis doesn’t end there. It concludes this week with the story of two more brothers, and the story of their blessing. Perhaps the perfect answer, message and legacy to the millennia old story of the family that was very soon to become the nation of Israel. Perhaps the reason how we were finally able to become a nation.
And he (Yaackov) blessed them on that day saying “Bicha Yivareich Yisrael-So shall Israel bless saying-‘May Hashem place you like Ephraim and Menashe’ and he placed Ephraim before Menashe.” The Torah shares us the strange story of Yaakov’s blessing of these two children of Yosef; the first Jewish Zayde grandchild relationship we are told about. We are told that Yaakov switches his hands placing his right hand on the younger brother and the left on the older brother. This is in opposition to Yosef, who feels the older brother should get the more important right hand blessing. Yosef, having had the benefit of experience, having suffered from the years of knowing that bad things happen in this family when younger brothers are placed first. Yet Yaakov persists claiming ultimately Ephraim will be greater, so he deserves the right hand blessing. It is a strange story. One that is difficult to understand. But stranger still is the blessing itself. What type of blessing is this? Is it a blessing that all Jews will be blessed using their names and stature? And why does the Torah need to repeat once again and tell us that he placed Ephraim before Menashe, don’t we know that already? It is interesting and perhaps revealing that the Torah uses the same root word. “May Hashem place you… and he placed Ephraim before Menashe”
The 13th century scholar Rabbeinu Bachaya says a fascinating insight into this blessing. He suggests that the placement of Ephraim before Menashe, his older brother was not to give him greater honor, rather the opposite. He placed him before him in order to humble him; as one who should honor the one he is standing before to show subservience and respect towards him. Yaakov was teaching Ephraim, that although he may be greater and more scholarly and have descendants who become leaders spiritually and physically (Joshua being a descendant of Ephraim). He should never let it get to his head. He should always remember to give honor and respect to his brother who is older. Although Menashe and his desendants may not be the movers, shakers leaders and rabbis that Ephraim may be, yet each of them have their own role. One is not greater than the other and their blessing is and will be that all of the Jewish people will long for the placement and legacy that these two brothers will have. Each fulfilling their own God given destiny, yet each cherished in their understanding that no Jew is more loved than another before our Father as the job and life mandate of each of them are equally important in the eyes of Hashem.
Today we observe the fast of the tenth of Tevet; the date when the siege, a year and half before the destruction on the city of Jerusalem began. When we mourn, it not as much on the destruction of the Temple, but for what our sages tells us what the root cause of its destruction and why we have not yet merited for it being rebuilt. The sages put a word on the cause- Sinat Chinam- baseless hatred. I mourn as I read the newspaper 2000 years after the Temple had been destroyed and see that nothing has really changed. I mourn when I read about “religious Jews” who scream and protest about their fellow Jews that they did not feel were behaving as religiously as they do. I mourn when I read in the media about how terrible religious jews are who don’t serve in the army and who are parasites of society and who should be expelled from the country at best. I mourn when I read about left wing jews decrying “settlers” who have no place in our country and endanger our lives by living where they do-in “arab land occupied by Israel” and their “price tag” response to being thrown out of their unjustly occupied homes. And I mourn as I read those same settlers calling the left wingers anti-zionist, anti Jewish, traitors and proletariat elite that have lost their way. Not a day goes by that our army- the first Jewish army since the times of Bar Kochva thousands of years ago, has internal debates whether it is worthwhile to accommodate religious beliefs, should soldiers be forced to listen to women singing, should women soldiers be discriminated against and be made to feel less than or as mere objects of male frailty and at what point are we a Jewish army and at what point are we a melting pot of modernity like every one else. What has happened to the children of Hashem? Where are those cute adorable children that Hashem through his prophet had said
“Ha’Ben Yakir Li Ephraim, Ki yeled Shaa’shuim- my dearest son Ephraim the child of my delights, whenever I speak of him I remember him more and more…
Why can we not appreciate the fact that Hashem loves each of us, created each of us with a different challenge and different role? Some were raised religious, some without. Some who’s role is to learn Torah, some to serve in the army; some to reach Hashem on one path and others though a different. Why can’t we respect and love one another and why must we always judge? Ephraim and Menashe lived up to their blessing and each of us who bless our children at that most loving moment during the week or during their children’s lives must pass on that message to them. We are special, you my dear children are special…but you are never better. You should never judge and you must always appreciate your brother and sisters as different as they are. They are special too. And their father, our Father loves all of them just as much as you.
May Hashem bless all of his children with the realization of the specialness of one another.
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
(answer below at end of Email)
Itzchak Sadeh was commander of the:
b) Shomer Organization
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S FAVORITE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK
In 1950 the Chief Rabbinate declared the 10th of Tevet as the day of yahrtzeit for all the Jewish martyrs who have no known burial place or day of death in their memory
The last Seder in the Warsaw Ghetto
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL PLACES IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK-
Yad Vashem-Jerusalem- Perhaps Jerusalem and the Jewish people most somber place the Holocaust museum is a place it is impossible to come out of unchanged and uninspired. A walk through the museum as one follows the story of the holocaust from the pre-war days with video testimonials of survivors is unreal. After the museum one can should visit the halls dedicated to those who perished in the camps, the ghetto fighters memorial with its world famous sculpture by Natan Rappaport as well as the room dedicated for the Jewish children who were murdered by the Nazi and their collaborators May their blood be avenged. For children and family of those that perished the archives in Yad Vashem are certainly the most elaborate allowing you to search and document so that we should always remember and never forget as we mourn and build anew.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"So said Hashem the lord of multitudes the fast of the 4th (17th of tamuz), the fast of the 5th (9th of Av) the fast of the 7th (Tzom Gedalia) and the fast of the 10th month ( the tenth of Tevet) will turn and become for the house Judah days of rejoicing, happiness, holidays and they wil love truth and peace " –The prophet Zecharia
RABBI SCHWARTZ' S EXAM ANSWER OF THE WEEK
Answer is C: This is just an extremely not fair question. As he was a commander in the Haganah as well as one of the founders of the Palmach (the strike brigade) where he also served as a commander. I wrote D and seemingly I got it wrong. Still not sure why. But you cant argue with the ministry of tourism I guess… incidentally Sadeh was also one of the founders of HaChalutz with Jabotinsky which led to the founding of the Israel private guard Hashomer. Yitzchak Rabin (same first name) was the Palmach commander who fired upon Menachem Begins Irgun boat called the Altalena and killed 14 Jewish soldiers.