Our view of the Galile

Friday, January 17, 2014

Us and Them- Yisro Tu Bshvat 2014/5774

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

January 16th  2014 -Volume 4, Issue 15 -15th of Shevat 5774
 Us and Them
'The Arabs are bad, Daddy, right?" my six year old Elka turns to me at one dinner recently and asks."Uhhhh…no…Elka'la there are some bad Arabs, but there are also some good ones." Continuing to take a bite of my supper and hope that this conversation is over. But this is Elka, the conversation is just beginning. "But they are Goyim (gentiles), Daddy. Aren't Goyim bad? Aren’t the Goyim, Reshaim (wicked)?" I almost choke. And to think this is the daughter of a former outreach professional…oyyy see what a few years out of Seattle, Iowa and Virginia can do to you. Oh well..there goes the simple how was your day in Gan, what pictures did you draw of the sunshine, conversation. Welcome to Israel.
"Why do you think that the Goyim are bad?" I asked already trying to imagine the conversation I would have with her obviously racist and prejudiced Morah. Little did I know that it had nothing to do with her. "Well the goyim are always trying to kill us and Hashem comes to save us. So aren't they bad?" Well I guess if you put it that away. Hmmmm… Where do I want to go with this conversation. "Can you pass the ketchup, sweetheart, you haven’t finished your French fries yet". Now if this was one of my other kids I might be able to move forward. But if Elka is not eating her French fries, this is not a conversation that is going way. Remember, she's Daddy's girl. She passes the ketchup and continues. "I thought only the Jewish people are good and the Goyim and Arabs are bad. Only we have Hashem. So doesn't that mean that only we are good…?" I stop eating my French fries. Supper is now over. Elka, come sit on my lap and let's write a weekly E-Mail together. Let's talk a bit about Jews and Goyim. About us and them. Let's talk about Hashem.
Well Elka certainly picked a good week to have the conversation about the "bro's and heebs" (sorry I know that's cheesy but I couldn't think of a better one). This week's Parsha, the Torah portion that talks about us becoming that chosen nation (that everyone does NOT always want to kill) fascinatingly enough is named after a non-Jew; Yisro/Jethro the Midianite priest of idolatry and father-in-law of Moshe who comes for a visit. Even more interesting is that according to many of our sages the story of Yisro's visit which introduces this week's portion actually takes place after the giving of the Torah. Yet the Torah, which never feels the need to be bound by a historic timeline accounting of events, tells us the story of Yisro's visit before it tells us about the great revelation and the giving of the Ten Commandments and Torah on Sinai.
 One would think that such an important Torah portion should be named after a Jew. Moshe, perhaps? Maybe even call it Parshat Vayishma-and he heard", the first word of the portion, as it does so in other places. That way it would also connect to the Jewish people's famous declaration of Naaseh Vinishma- we will observe and we will hear upon the receiving of the Torah. Why call it after a Goy? Why bring the whole story here, right now at this great flow of "Jewish" stories. Egypt, splitting of the sea, water miracles, manna and even the miraculous battle of Amalek. Wouldn't it have fit in nicely together to just move right to the story of the giving of the Torah. What's the goy doing in the synagogue? Right here? Right now?!
The answer, writes the great Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar (1696-1743) known as the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh (who incidentally suffered persecutions in his home country of Morocco and according to some accounts was even thrown in a lion's den!), is precisely to teach us that contrary to what some uneducated people might assume Goyim are not bad. Not only that but  we're not necessarily better or smarter than them. In fact the entire story of Yisro which is the introduction to us becoming the Jewish nation is to let us know that there are great people amongst the gentiles that will and can teach us many important things. The entire Jewish judicial system in fact is built on the model that Yisro established. We weren't chosen because of our brains, our genes, our good looks or our cooking skills. It was a kindness of Hashem and we have to appreciate that we have no inherent superiority over them. The Ibn Ezra (1092-1167) who also suffered persecutions and exiles at the hands of the Christians and muslims writes "the reason it tells us the story of Yisro after the story of Amalek (although it is out of context) is that once the Torah has recounted  to us the evil perpetrated against us by Amalek correspondingly it tells us the goodness, and kindness of the wise advise that Yisro has when he lit up our eyes." They're not all bad. Know this when you go to get the Torah. Know this before you become the chosen nation.
Recently a student asked me, what does it mean to be Jewish. Are we a religion? If I'm not religious does that mean I'm not Jewish? Are we a race? I hope not. I've always been bad at races. A culture? Chicken soup? Gefilte fish? You knew it was coming… chulent? Are we just a family or descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Maybe just Jacob? But than what about converts? They're not descendants. What is a Jew? My response- Please pass the ketchup. J
The answer to her and I believe to Elka though  as well is that being Jewish means that we all had one shared experience together on a mountain 3326 years ago in which Hashem revealed Himself to us. Not just our ancestors-but each and every Jewish soul was there- the converts too. If you were there you're part of the Jewish people. That meeting on the Mountain was perhaps the most important event in the history of a God-run, created and purposeful world. The function of that meeting and revelation was to bring His light, His kindness and His goodness to all of mankind. We all have one Father in heaven; Jews, Arabs, Christians, Atheists, Americans, Chinese, Timbuktuans, whites, blacks, greens, men, women and children. A father loves all his children, our Creator all His creations. There is no discrimination. We're all His. We were chosen to be the bearers of that message. We were chosen our sages tell us because the rest of the world didn't want to hear it. We were chosen to lead a life that was different than the rest of the world. A life that shows how meaningful it is to be connected to our Creator, our Father. A life that has Shabbos, a life that is dedicated to uplifting the world by the study of God's words, the Torah. A life where we avoid, by adhering  to Hashem's commands, the things that distance us from Him and that connect us too much to our physicality. Every breath we take and decision we make. Where we eat, how we live, what we celebrate and don't becomes a Divine decision, a commandment, a mitzvah. When we lead that life the way we are meant too, than the whole world is meant to be inspired. The good of all of us will be finally revealed.
There are Arabs that do bad things. There are also Arabs that have done and do good things. There are and have always been those that want to destroy and kill us, Romans, Greeks, Christians and even Americans. They're bad. Killing is bad. There are Jews as well, sadly enough, that do bad things. As a Rabbi of mine once put it, they don't have a monopoly on Hell and we don't have one on heaven. There are plenty of both of us in both places. What makes us good or bad is ultimately how much we are doing to bring the world closer to the ultimate good. Perhaps the greatest evil we can perpetrate on mankind is to disconnect us from our Creator and loving Father and as well to distance ourselves from our role to bring mankind closer to Him.
After millennia of suffering persecution, exile, anti-semitism and genocide attempts it is only natural for us to view the world with an "Us versus Them" mentality and mindset. But strangely enough and perhaps even miraculously enough after every period in our history that we were persecuted, we never shut ourselves down and closeted ourselves away. Quite the opposite, the miracle of the Jewish people is that not even a half century after the holocaust we rose from the ashes to once again shine out to the world, to share our knowledge, to become part and parcel of society and even its leaders. It all goes back to that moment on Sinai, when we experienced that great moment, when we became hardwired to change the world. Today we celebrate the holiday of Tu B'Shvat, the New Year of the trees. Mankind is compared to a tree in that it is in the quiet winter when the real growth begins to sprout and flourish. May Hashem bless us this New Year that we the Jewish people provide for the world that conduit that connects us all to our roots and source of growth and goodness. And May we see a flourishing very soon of that ultimate Redemption.
Have a fruitfully good Shabbos and a Happy Tu B'Shvat,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


Israel is like the date palm, of which none is wasted; its dates are for eating, its lulavim are for blessing; its fronds are for thatching; its fibers are for ropes; its webbing for sieves; its thick trunks for building - so it is with Israel, which contains no waste. ~Bereshit Rabbah 41
This is the Day to Give Thanks for All Types of Fruit of the Tree! =
Zeh Yom Lehodos Al Kol Minei Pri Haetz =
12 + 56 + 451 + 100 + 50 + 110 + 290 + 165 = 1234
The 15th Day of the Month of Shvat =
chamisha asar shvat =
353 + 570 + 311 = 1234

(answer below at end of Email)
The "runners path" at Masada purpose was:
a)  To provide as a water system for Masada
b)  To be an alternate route to reach the top of the mountain
c)  To serve the Sikarim on their way to Ein Gedi
d)  To connect the Roman camps as they laid siege on Masada

Q: What did the tree wear to the pool party?
A: Swimming trunks!

Q: What did the beaver say to the tree?
A: It's been nice gnawing you!

Q: Why did the leaf go to the doctor?
A: It was feeling green!

Q: What is a tree's least favorite month?
A: Sep-timber!

Q: What kind of tree can fit into your hand?
A: A palm tree!

Q: How do trees get on the internet?
A: They log in.

Q: What did the little tree say to the big tree?
A: Leaf me alone!

Q: What did the tree do when the bank closed?
A: It started a new branch 

From our friends at Zo Artzeinu planting trees after the recent snowstorm
Rabbi Lazer Brody on the teachings of a Sabra plant


Shvil HaPardes/ the Orchard path-Savyon- Smack in the middle of the country in Savyon is a great place to go celebrate Tu BShvat and the wonderful fruits of Israel. This UPick Citrus farm is more thatn just a pick your oranges orchard. They have all types of activities that teaches the family about animals and wildlife in the area, the separation of sugars from the fruits and of course delicious freshly squeezed juices. The winter months are the season for citrus fruits and the Shvil is a great place to taste the best of Israel.

Answer is D: Masada, great site. Israels first UNESCO recognized site and the place where I do many of our Birthright Bar/Bat Mitzvot. It's pretty meaningful there as the Romans tried to wipe us out and we're back and these students are re-attaching themselves to our heritage and legacy. But I digress. The path for the water is up by the cable car. There is no alternate way up as far as I know although there are some that now suggest the siege ramp was in fact not siege ramp but an alternate path (unlike Josephus's story). The Sikarim were Jewish gangster/ rebles that in fact slaughtered the Jews of the Ein Gedi who were making peace with the Romans but they had no particular path to get there. The correct answer of course is D as the runner path connects all the camps and it would be the way they communicated and intimidated the Jews above that were surrounded.


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