Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
May 23rd 2014 -Volume 4, Issue 31-23rd of Iyar 5774
(38th day of the Omer-five weeks and three days!)
A Shortened Journey
They were a couple that were truly made for one another. Brandon and Miriam, Miriam and Brandon. One looked at the two of them and was in awe of our Creator that made two people that truly completed one another in the fullest of ways. She was his "rib" that had found her way back to the body and soul that she was once separated from in the garden of Eden, and he had been restored with the bride and essence of his heart and soul that made him whole once again. It was an amazing process and reunion to watch these two souls come together. Brandon from a more secular non-orthodox upbringing studying in University of Washington and Miriam from an observant background and whose family were pillars of their Chabad shul in Seattle. I remember watching how Brandon grew in yiddishkeit and grew closer to Hashem and the traditions of his forefathers. He took to learning like a fish first thrown into water, like one of my congregants to the rebbetzins chulent after a long Shabbat sermon. They became pillars of my shul, the cute young couple that were the life of our West Seattle TLC family. My kids loved them and they were like their older siblings. They introduced us to "Settlers" on our long Shabbat afternoon board games, followed by discussions about life, Torah, the home they would build . Our shul loved them and we couldn't wait to dance at the wedding we knew was to be coming.
It wasn't a smooth process though. There were challenges they faced in dealing with many of the sensitive issues that their religious lifestyle would have on Brandon's family and how to best and with the greatest respect and appreciation balance everything. But it was truly an awesome experience to see somebody who was absolutely incredible in his soft, kind and yet firm resolve to overcome and to continue on the path that he knew he was meant to traverse. As brilliant as he was, he always inquired and wanted an outside "rabbinic" and Torah perspective on every step that he took on his journey and navigating the waters of personal growth in the ocean of Torah, relationships, family and even in his work. His humility, his commitment to always doing the right thing and his warmth and love in everything he did…with everyone he met, made him an incredible role model for me, his Rabbi who was also becoming his student. One of the happiest days of my life was when I stood under his chupa as they married. I as well as everyone there danced the night away, for it was a family simcha. They were ours, they were everyone's and we couldn't wait to watch them build a life together.
We moved soon afterwards to Israel. We started a new life, a new shul, new job…jobs…J. We lost touch, but they were never out of hearts. When we played Settlers Shabbat afternoon, when we joked about the good old days back at the TLC, when my kids said something funny, Brandon and Miriam- never mentioning one without the other would always come up. We missed them and they had left an eternal imprint on our entire family.
It was about a year ago that we first heard Brandon was sick. Cancer. The C-Word. It shouldn't happen to young healthy non-smokers. It shouldn't happen to the sweetest and finest young couple. It shouldn't happen to such an amazing person at the start of what was a beautiful perfect life. It shouldn't happen to anyone-but certainly not to him. He had been diagnosed at the start of their marriage-but it had been "treated" he was gonna be fine. And he was…until it came back. We added his name to our prayer list. We davened daily and I guess we were lulled into the fact that everything would be alright once again. Time went by and when I got a message last week asking if I had been in touch with them, I abashedly shot off an E-Mail asking when was a good time and number was to reach him at…I never got a response. After Shabbat I opened my E-Mail and read about the funeral that was to take place Sunday Morning. Tears streamed down mine and my wife's eyes. He was gone. Brandon-Refael Chaim Ben Leah had returned his soul to his Father in heaven.
When I spoke to Miriam during Shiva words came tumbling out but I don’t even know what I was saying. Regrets, shock, condolences, memories, numbness and confusion about the future just kind of all jumbled together. I couldn't imagine her without him. I needed Brandon to logically analyze us through it all and make some sense of it. To tell us, it's all from Hashem, all for the best, all part of the Divine plan for Miriam, for his friends, his co-workers, his family, his Rabbis… for us. It was one of the hardest phone calls I ever had to make. But somehow I felt His warm smile up above and his loving touch telling me that it would all be all right.
It is perhaps auspicious that Refael Chaim/ Brandon passed right before the Shabbos when we conclude the third book of the Torah Vayikra. It is a Book that discusses the ways that we would get close and answer that personal call of Hashem. The first part of the Book discussed the sacrifices that would be brought to Him; the daily ones, the ones for our lifetime events and challenges, the ones for our holidays and those that are meant to rectify and bring us close once again as we make up for mistakes in our past. The end of the Book switched gears and talked about the various commandments and details that we are meant to incorporate in our lives. The things that would make us holy, the things that we should avoid that would prevent us from achieving our lifelong spiritual goals. The conclusion of the book that we read last week ended with the fulfillment of our destiny as a nation. How all of our actions will have consequences and how our lives are on a Divine trajectory that will ultimately bring us to our national and the world's fulfillment. The Book of Vayikra out of all the Books in the Torah is perhaps the book that most exemplifies Brandon's too short life and myriad of achievements. The Torah lifestyle most spoke to him not because he saw in it an elusive book of "values", "ideas", "principles" or even a national heritage or history that he was born into or part of. Rather for him it was a pathway a day-to-day living and roadmap of how to lead and direct one's life in the way that he would most honor his Creator and achieve the maximum he was meant to accomplish.
This week we begin the Book of Bamidbar; a book that we will have to read this year without Brandon. Unlike Vayikra, Bamidbar is not a book with many commandments in it and not a book with many stories of great figures, heroism or salvation. It is a book that is primarily occupied with the challenges and failures of our people on the path to the land of Israel. It is a book of the repeated counting of our nation before and after each tragedy, each failure and each subsequent consequence. It is also the Book that we read each year from before the holiday of the receiving of the Torah on through the summer months with the culmination coming as we enter the period of mourning for our Temple. It is the book we conclude before beginning the High holiday season and the New year.
Each book of the Torah corresponds to a different part of our development. The first book of Bereishis/Genesis is our DNA our family our roots. Shemot is the story of our family becoming a nation with a divine mandate. We are "wed" with God we become his beloved people and even after we sin, we achieve atonement and we are instructed on how "our home"" the tabernacle will be built. Vayikra, the third book is how we are meant to take that special relationship and marriage and become role models and symbols to the rest of the world. The world's Divine actualization will come when they view us as a nation to aspire to becoming, as ambassadors of the Almighty. Our connection to God is meant to be seen in the way we live our day-to-day, how we conduct our business, our families and our lives with heavenly ordained ethics, values. And perhaps most importantly how we build the land of Israel and raise it to the ultimate heights creating a home for our Father on earth that will shine out and bring glory to mankind as they emulate us. Which then brings us to Bamidbar.
Bamidbar is the story of our successes and failures in life as we struggle with integrating and realizing those goals and our mandate. We are "out there" in the Midbar…the wild. On one hand it is a place that is barren of all growth, certainly none of the dramatic changes that we have seen until now. It is a place that is full of bumps, full of scary things. As well as full of doubts and even of longings and desires to return to the simpler easier times. Yet at the same time it is a place where each day we were sustained by "the bread of faith" -the Manna, and where each day the water that we drank came to us miraculously. It is an intense dichotomy. In the Midbar there are times that we wrongfully challenge our leadership .When we express doubt of whether they are indeed representatives of God and whether we should follow their guidance. There are times when we fall into sins of temptation, desire and assimilation. We will read stories of our infighting, our sins of gossip, lashon harah and even idolatry and blasphemy. There are stories of enemies that will try to attack and destroy us and our attempts at peace as well. And we will repeatedly encounter times when we even question our own right and desire to come to our destined Holy land The story of the Midbar is not a story of our 40 year journey. It is the story of our 3000 year history; of still trying to make it El HaMenucha and El HaNachala- to our resting place and to our heritage homeland. It is sadly where we are still stuck until today.
The last book of the Torah, Devarim, are the words of Moshe, our leader that never made it here. Who is still waiting to come and to return with us in the final redemption. It is our final pep talk from the individual that was prophetically able to see our destiny but never to experience and actualize it. In the book of Devarim Moshe tell us the final and most essential words that we are mandated to recite twice daily. The only words and prayer that we have a biblical obligation to recite and perhaps the most familiar words to every Jew. "Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad- Hear Israel Hashem is our Lord Hashem is one." Jews have recited these words in the worst of times and we have recited them in our most exalted times. The words communicate to us that our entire existence revolves around that one Divine mandate. It is all from Hashem. It is all about bringing the knowledge of Him to the world. It is the essence of who we are and what we are here to accomplish and it is how we will ultimately achieve our life's goals and purpose. Hashem is one. He is the center of our existence and His love and His faith in us is what has sustained us and what will bring us to our destiny.
Miriam shared with me that on the last day of Brandons life a friend visited him and Brandon asked him to recite the prayers one says as one approaches the end of one's life on this world and before his entrance into the next. It is what Halacha/Jewish law mandates, although many people don't have the right state of mind to think about it. But Refael Chaim/Brandon was always in the right state of mind. As Refael Chaim recited the prayers, the confessions, the psalms and his final thoughts he recited the Shema prayer. He passed from this world after closing his eyes and reciting the final words Hashem Echad. His journey was complete. We are left bereft of him. His friends, his family, his Rabbis and his students are left with those words Hashem Echad as we once again have to traverse the book of Bamidbar, hoping and striving to make it the last time that we read it while still waiting for our redemption. May Hashem who consoles all of us who mourn Zion and the Temple and await that final day also console Miriam and all of us with the coming of Mashiach and the great day we are all waiting for.
May this Shabbos bring peace and solace to all of us,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL JERUSALEM QUOTES OF THE WEEK
"Ten measures of beauty descended to the world, nine were taken by Jerusalem."
-Talmud: Kiddushin 49
"Whoever did not see Jerusalem in its days of glory, never saw a beautiful city in their life."
-Talmud: Succah 51b
"The view of Jerusalem is the history of the world; it is more, it is the history of earth and of heaven." -Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield and British Prime Minister
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
(answer below at end of Email)
Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai was
a) from the generation of Rabbi Akiva one of his antagonists
b) active after the destruction of the Temple in the re-establishment of Judaism
c) The head of the Sanhedrin during the period of Yonatan the Chashmonean king
d) established the Mishna in Tzippori
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL GEMATRIA OF THE WEEK
It is quoted in the name of the great Gaon of Vilna Gra’s name that “Yerushalayim shel ma’ala,-The heavenly city of Jerusalem above" and “Knesset Yisrael-the congregation of Israel” and “sefirat ha’omer-the counting of the Omer” all have the same gematria (1071). It is interesting that Yom Yerushalayim falls out during the Omer and right before we arrive at Shavuot when we became that holy congregation. The Prophet Jeremiah says as he speaks words of consolation: “Go and call out in the ears of Yerushalayim: ‘So says Hashem: I have recalled the kindness of your youth, the love of your time of marriage, when you went out to the desert (the Midbar), to a land not sewn’ ” (Yirmiya 2:2). May we merit soon this year to see the fulfillment of that prophecy.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL PLACES IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK
Jerusalem/Lion's Gate- 1967on the 7th of June or more appropriately the 28th of Iyar (this Wednesday) it was through these North Eastern Gates that the paratroopers entered the old city to restore the Temple Mount and kotel to our nation. The gates were built by Suliman (who modestly called himself the Magnificent) in 1517. According to legend he dreamed that he was being attacked by lions as a punishment for not fortifying Jerusalem properly and he installed the stones that were remnants of Beibars the Maluk ruler in the 13th century that had the lions engraved upon them (his symbol). Truth is if you look carefully the symbol is really a Cheetah, But we won't pay much attention to the small details. The lion is the symbol of the tribe of Judah and therefore Jerusalem being the capital calls it a lion… so it’s a lion. Someone once told me that it is the reason why there are so many cats in Jerusalem. Cats are baby lions… The tribe of Judah has begun to return J we just have to grow the cats into the lions we were meant to beJJ
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL ACAPELLA YOUTUBE CLIPs OF THE WEEK
Rare footage of yerushalayim in 1918 in honor of yom yerushalyaim
One day in Jerusalem video tribute by Matisyahu-Great!
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S JOKES OF THE WEEK
(In honor of our special papal visitor and yom yerushalayim J
One day an old couple decided to go to Jerusalem for vacation. A few days after they arrived, the old wife died. The man who worked at the local funeral home told him that he could pay $150 to have her buried here in Jerusalem, or pay $4,000 to have her body be shipped back to the States and have her buried there. The old man thought about it for a while, and said that he would rather pay $4,000 to have her body shipped over than to pay $150 to get her buried in Israel. The man who worked at the funeral home asked him why he wanted to pay $4,000 instead of $150. The old man replied " 2,014 years ago they say a man died and was buried here. Three days later they say he was resurrected. I can't take the chance."
Q: What do you call someone from Israel that has to sneeze? A: A Jew
Q: How can you tell if someone is half Catholic and half Jewish? A: When he goes to confession, he takes a lawyer with him.
RABBI SCHWARTZ' S EXAM ANSWER OF THE WEEK
Answer is B: This is certainly a trick question particularly for someone without a Talmud or yeshiva background. Thankfully, that's not me. Each answer has a partial truth to it and is tricky. He did live in the period of Rabbi Akiva-but was not an antagonist, He was the head of Sanhedrin but after Yonatan Chashmonai, and he did live in Tzippori-but did not write the Mishna. The only true answer is B in the famous story of him escaping from Jerusalem and meeting with Hadrian and getting him to spare the city of Yavneh and its scholars. Jerusalem eventually fell and it took us almost 2000 years to return, but the only reason why we were still around to return is because of the Torah and our traditions that Rabbi Yochanan manages to salvage and build once again from.