Our view of the Galile

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Shortened Journey-Bamidbar/Yom Yerushalayim 5774/2014

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
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!)
Parshat Bamidbar
 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 


"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

(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

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.

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

Rare footage of yerushalayim in 1918 in honor of yom yerushalyaim

One day in Jerusalem video tribute by Matisyahu-Great!

(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. 
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.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Rabbi Shimon and Us-Bechukosai Lag Ba'Omer

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

May 16th  2014 -Volume 4, Issue 30-16th of Iyar 5774
 (31st day of the Omer-four weeks and three days!)
Parshat Bechukotai/ Lag Ba'Omer
Rabbi Shimon and Us

What would Rav Shimon say? Five hundred thousand people converging on a small mountain top in honor of his "Hilula". The most common reason for this huge gathering which seems to have started with the great Kabbalists in the 16th century and the great Rabbi Yitzchak Luria known as the "AR'I", is that it is the day that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai the great 2nd century Mishnaic sage passed away. The annual pilgrimage to his gravesite seems to have taken on a life of its own over the past few decades though making it the 2nd most visited site in Israel for internal tourism only surpassed by the Kotel/Western Wall. For us in the north of Israel, Rav Shimon's grave is kind of like our Kotel up here. It's where people got to pray in times of need. A place where special occasions take place, three year old haircuts, Bar Mitzvot and even before people's weddings this mountain top is where they seem to flock. The truth is for centuries and almost two thousand years that we did not have real access to Jerusalem and the our holy sites there, the Jews in the North sought alternate places where they could connect to that special feeling of closeness to Hashem and where they could pour out there hearts. The tradition of coming to Meron even precedes Rabbi Shimon and Lag Ba"Omer as sources as far back as the 1000 years talk about pilgrimages to the grave site of Hillel also found on Meron on Pesach Sheni (the make-up Pesach) which is also around this time of year. So I got to wondering what would Reb Shimon have to say about all of this? What would he think of the bonfires, the Barbeques, the haircuts, the singing, dancing, rejoicing and celebrating? Do you think he would've come to this party?

It's interesting in Judaism we do not really have any holidays that revolve around an individual. St. Patrick, Valentine, Hallows and other "martyred" people is pretty much  the other teams way of celebrating and selling greeting cards. Not that we have any shortage of martyrs, though. We've got the world's record on that-as much as the world would like to not record it. No, our holidays are about connecting with Hashem, tapping into some spiritual force through the celebration of that season. So to have a day about Rabbi Shimon, the only man in the history of the Jewish people to have a day celebrated so widely in his honor there must be something special that he did. Something special that we are meant to tap into from this celebration. It would be ironic though if he wouldn't come to this party.

This year in particular I wondered what he would have to say as like all Jewish things in this country-there's a big ideological debate about when to do the Hilula celebration. Although seemingly being that it is accepted by most as the day that he died (although others say it is the day that he came out of 12 years of hiding in cave from the Romans, and others as the day that he was buried, or that the secrets of the Kabbala were revealed by him to the world- but regardless it is the 33rd of of the Omer) that it would not be able to be postponed. However the Chief Rabbinate of Israel as well as other Rabbis have said that the celebration should take place on Sunday evening and Monday instead in order to avoid much of the desecration of Shabbos that the preparations of an event of this size would entail coming if it would to be celebrated on Lag Ba'Omer which is Saturday night. For hundreds of thousands of Israelis though that are ardent traditionalists and don't take their guidance from the Chief Rabbinate-perhaps even feeling that it is a mitzvah of sorts to do the opposite of what they say- we always have Jews that are like that, the party must go on when it is meant to. You can't change Lag any more than you can change Pesach, Shavuot, or my wifes chulent recipe.  Not being one to take sides, I try to party and Barbeque on both. Hey, who am I to say no to an extra steak.  What day would Rabbi Shimon want it to be celebrated-if at all…

I'm not sure what Rabbi Shimon would say. When he and his son came out of hiding from the cave the first time our sages tell us that he couldn't fathom a world where people were occupied with anything but Torah. A holy zealous fire came anywhere they placed their eyes-think Superman laser vision style- and the world began to burn. This was until Hashem "walked in" and sent everyone back to their room for another 12 month time-out. This Rebbi Shimon I don't think would be too much into the BBQ's and running up to Meron, certainly not for yeshiva students. After 12 months though Rebbe Shimon it seemed learned his lesson. He healed anything his son, who was a little slower on the pickup, was still burning. When they saw a man carrying myrtle branches for Shabbat, rather than fry the guy for wasting time he told his son "look how dear the mitzvoth are to the children of Israel," . This Rebbe Shimon who is also quoted as saying that "All of Israel are children of a King", and who then began fixing up the roads to the city of Tiberias so that simple Jews and Kohanim/Priest could travel there without having to traverse by graves in order to give back to his holy brothers and to Hashem. This Rebbe Shimon might enjoy seeing Jews singing and dancing songs to Hashem around a bonfire. We definitely could use him to fix the roads and travel conditions over there.

I'm not sure what Rebbe Shimon would say. But this week's Torah portion certainly has something to say about the significance of our responsibility for one another. Parshat Bechukotai, the last portion in the book of Vayikra primarily occupies itself with telling us the various blessings and curses that would fall upon the Jewish people upon their entry to the land of Israel, depending upon their behavior. If we follow the mitzvoth we are promised rain, great crops and lots of fruits. Hooray! The verse than tells us the ultimate blessing. "And I shall give to the peace in the land". Rashi notes that this is the greatest blessing of all. The only problem though is that right after that it continues with the blessings describing battles in which are enemies will run from us; five chasing hundred and a hundred chasing ten thousand. Ten thousand people, even though they are on the run, doesn’t necessarily sound like peace in the land even though this is the Middle East. The Ibn Ezra and Nachmanides take a different approach though. "And I shall give peace in the land… between yourselves"-says the Ibn Ezra. "So that there shall be peace between and one brother shall not wage war with another" says the Ramban. Hashem's promise is that there shall be peace amongst us first only then will we be able to do battle and chase away our enemies in such a miraculous way.

In a much stronger way as well the Torah in the portion of the curses for not following the mitzvoth tells us- "And they will stumble, each man over his brother as if from before a sword, but there is no pursuer". There it is Rashi that brings a Medrash, that this verse is not merely talking about confusion in battle. Rather the verse is telling us "that each man will stumble over the sins of another, because all of Israel are guarantors for one another."  Each Jew is responsible for our fellow Jew. His sins, his mistakes are not things that should divide us and tear us apart. Fire shooting eyes at those that are not there yet, will just get us sent back to the caves of persecution. We can't ignore them and live and let live either. We must find a way to reach out and get close and come together. We must appreciate that each Jew has that spark that feels the mitzvoth are dear to him or her. If we are together and we are at peace with one another, and even more than that, we appreciate the fact that we are truly responsible for one another, than we can merit the land. Without it, we will never make it…we are sent to exile.

One of the other reasons and perhaps the most ancient source for the celebration of Lag Ba'Omer we are told is that during the period of Omer the students of Rabbi Akiva died.24,000 of them. On Lag Ba'Omer though, the dying stopped. The Talmud tells us the reason they died and were punished so harshly is because they did not treat one another with respect. Rabbi Shimon was one of the five surviving students from whom Rabbi Akiva once again rebuilt the Torah and restored the glory once again to this world. It is perhaps for that reason that when he came out once again from his exile he sought ways to bring Jews together again. It was therefore why he was the revealer of the hidden secrets of the Torah and the Kabbalah that seek to see deeper beyond the basic laws and observances but to get to the heart of the Torah, the soul that connects us. The unity of Hashem, his people and the land.

I'm sure Rabbi Shimon would be pained, that there are Jews that are violating the Shabbos for his Hilula. Perhaps even more painful to him would be the fact that there are Jews that are not pained by this. That haven't reached out or inspired so many out there with the beauty, joy, inspiration and celebration that Judaism could be. At the same time the Ari tells us that Rabbi Shimon rejoices in all the Jews that come to his grave and he blesses them before our Heavenly father. To see Ashkenazi, Sefardi, Hasidic, Lithuanian, Yemenite, Zionist, Ethiopian from all levels of observances and backgrounds coming together, here in Eretz Yisrael and rejoicing and providing food for one another for someone who loves Jews, loves unity understands that we are all connected, there can be no greater joy. When we celebrate Lag Ba'omer we pause our period of mourning and recall the divisions amongst us that let to our destruction and we reunite once again. Rabbi Shimon is the individual that was at the worst of times and who turned the world back once again on the path to our return. May we all celebrate that day together, not just in meron and not on two separate divided days but as one nation, under God, indivisible with holiness for all.
Have a magnificient Shabbos and a fantabulous Lag Ba'Omer,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz 
This week's Holyland Insights and Inspiration is dedicated in honor of the sweet sixteen birthday of my son Yonah. We are so proud of your learning, your incredible Aliyah and what a super super adult and ben Torah you are growing to be…May Hashem continue to bless you and may Mommy and I continue to see only joy and nachas from you!


"Peace in Israel will come when an Arab mother will love her child more than she hates a Jewish one"-Golda Meir
"Mashiach will come when a Jew loves all of Hashem's Jewish children more than he hates them for their differences from him."-Rabbi Schwartz

(answer below at end of Email)
What is the most common type of rock that is found in western Sharon area
a) Limestone
b)  Sandstone
c)  Granite
d)  Dolomite

It is pointed out that the 33rd day of the Omer-Count comes after 32 days, which is the gematria of "leiv," or "heart." After Lag B'Omer, there are 16 days left to count, the 17th day being Shavuos itself, when Torah was given. The number 17 is the gematria of the word "tov," or "good," and when combined with the word "heart," they become, "good heart." This is the objective of the Omer period. Until know we have worked on developing and formulating that Jewish heart of ours. Lag begins the final process of making it Tov;bringing out the goodness in ourselves and to one another.

The upper Galilean hills- I have only traversed this lush and beautiful part of our country via jeep ride. But the mountains surrounding Meron, Gush Chalav, Kerem Ben Zimra are just full of amazing beautiful springs, hills and hideaways. In these mountains one can see (with the right tour guideJ) some ancient ruins of the 18 synagouges that Rabbi Shimon built in this area of where they were hiding. As well as the place where he gathered his students and wrote the Idra Rabba a kabbalistic work. In the summer its particularly cool over here to see thousands of Bnai Akiva students from around the country as they spend their summer vacations on hikes in these big campgrounds that hold hundreds of students at one time as they bonfire, sing and celebrate Israel together.



Answer is C:  Geology was not my favorite topic in my course. Rocks are pretty much rocks to me. But it actually became quite interesting as we learned about sedimentary rocks and the way it froms and the things that you can tell by the various rocks that make up the fascinating geology of Israel that has been formed by flooding, volcanos, earthquakes, and land shifts. The Sharon which is the Central coastal region of Israel from Mt. Carmel down to Tel Aviv is noted for its sandstone. Once it used to be a jungle in this barren sandy plains that is full of sand dunes and swamps from the streams that flow into it. But in the 1800's the Turks chopped down the forests for wood for the train tracks they were building.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Back to the (near) Future- Behar 2014/5774

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

May 8th  2014 -Volume 4, Issue 29-8th of Iyar 5774
 (24th day of the Omer-three week and three days!)
Parshat Behar
Back to the (near) Future
The year is 2014 or 5775 from the Creation of the world. You as well as all of the Jewish people are living in Israel. Mashiach has arrived. You sold your diamond business, your neighbor gave up his accounting practice and pretty much everyone you know had to find some new trade to get into, except of course that falafel guy down the block. We were back home again, and now it was time to find a job.

You had thought about being a tour guide, particularly because there was a huge influx of tourists from around the world who wanted to see the new Messianic kingdom and Temple. But you heard that there was this guy out of Karmiel, that pretty much had cornered the market on tourism J. So, being an entrepreneur most of your life you checked out the market and realized that the two major upcoming industries were cattle raising and agriculture. See, lots of people had a lot of sacrifices that they had to bring for all of those years in exile; sin offerings, peace offerings, thanksgiving offerings and the like. Being that you really can't stand the smell of cows and you've always had this funny nightmare about sheep attacking you (perhaps too many years of counting them before you went to sleep), you decided that you were going to be a farmer. You always liked gardening and being from the biblical portion and tribe of Issachar, the Jezre'el valley where you received your allotted land was just perfect to start your wheat field. Things were good.  This year in fact you received a bumper double crop. Your wife couldn't be happier. You might even be able to add on the extra room of the kitchen that she had been hoping for. And then you went to class last night and everything changed.

You like your Rabbi. He's a good guy and very knowledgeable. Tribe of Yisachar people kind of pride ourselves on our Torah scholars. But last night the Rabbbi announced that this coming year, our business was to be shut down. No planting, plowing, or reaping. In fact he said we pretty much had to open up our gates and let whoever wants to come in and take whatever they wanted. Something about this year being the Shemitta year. Now don't get me wrong, I love these Yissachar Kollel Rabbis as much as the next. I always support them, have contributed whenever asked and have been meticulous about my annual tithes. But a full year free-for-all with everyone and their 10 kids trampling through my beautiful, hard worked fields and cleaning me out is getting a bit carried away, don't you think? If that wasn't enough, the next thing he said really through me for a doozy. All those loans that I had so generously made over the past few years to various individuals were all to be called off…nada…gornisht…bupkas. It kind of feels like one of those old Ponzi schemes back in the States. The Rabbi informed us that, sure in the period of Exile or even the second temple the great Hillel was able to work out some type of Prozbol loophole where the debts were handed over to the courts and were collected afterwards. But that was because back then not all of the Jewish people lived in Israel and the nature of the prohibition was only Rabbinical. But today Baruch Hashem- he said with a big grin- we are blessed to have all of the Jews living here, just as the Torah predicted and Hashem wanted it to be. Therefore no more Prozbol…no more debts... no more money…no more crops…no more extra room off the kitchen. Maybe we can send a few Jews back to America… Russia… Ethiopia… India… My wife is not going to be a happy camper. "I told you that you should just have gotten over your meshigas and gone into the sheep business"- I can just hear her already. 

The year is 5825 from creation (no one knows what 2064 anymore). Over fifty years ago your grandfather moved to Israel with the coming of Mashiach. This past year was the shemitta year and it was an amazing year. As in the years past the crops that you had from the 6th year carried over and lasted for the whole year. It was exciting to experience that incredible miracle. It was fantastic in the beginning of the summer to read Parshat Behar/Bechukosai and hear about that promise and guarantee Hashem makes and watch it actually occur. The Sabbatical year is perhaps the most essential one of your family's life. It was nice being able to tell all those people that owed you money and were not able to pay you back not to worry about. Their slates were cleared. Hashem was in control and you had no doubt that you wouldn't lose out and would probably see some miraculous return. You were able to take off from work, pray at a later minyan in the morning (you really never got used to that getting up at sunrise work ethic that your grandfather had established) attend classes, visit Jerusalem more often with the kids, enjoy some fantastic tours around the country from this really special tour guide in Karmiel and just luxuriate in that extra time growing spiritually…in that extra room off the kitchen.

You felt kind of bad for your buddy in the sheep industry who worked all year and could never enjoy the beauty of the Shemitta year. For you it was like trying to imagine a week without Shabbos. You could never do it. You had heard that there were people in the "old days" that would work 7 days a week and you could never understand it. I mean like...why? It was obvious that Hashem provided for everything and all that you would have was decreed on Rosh Hashana each year. I mean, here you were taking off a whole year and were doing even better than ever. Why would people miss out on the beauty of Shabbos? How could they really ever focus on God and their family if they were working all week long. You barely can imagine how life life would be without this year off. This year for yourself…your family…for Hashem.

This coming year 5826 was even more exciting for your family. It was the 50th year, the Yovel jubilee. The first one since the times of the 1st Temple, when all Jews lived in Israel. This year would be able to give back all those lands that your family had purchased over the past decades to the original owners. You might even get back a few yourself. It was going to be another year off and you were looking forward to seeing the great miracles from your crops and sharing them once again with all who wanted. Maybe you would final fulfill that lifelong dream of finishing that semicha/rabbinic ordination you were thinking of doing years ago. The highlight of course was Sukkot when millions of Jews, men, women, children and even infants would all converge on the holy city to hear the king read from the Torah in the Temple court. Although we did this every Sabbatical year, this year was bound to be even more spectacular. You're getting shivers down your spine, just thinking about this amazing gathering, the festivities and just being together with the entire Jewish people as a whole, just like we were by Sinai so many millennia ago.

Somebody told me on the way to shul today that the word Yovel/Jubilee comes from the word Hovala- to transport. Each Jubilee year we fulfill what the verse tells us- "It is a Yovel, and it shall be so unto you. You shall return each man to his ancestral heritage, and you shall return each man to his family." If on the Shemitta year we remove ourselves from any sense of ownership of the land of Israel, recognizing that it is all from Hashem. During Yovel we are transported back to that experience of Sinai. In the times of our ancestors all slaves would also be freed in the Yovel year. It is a time when we truly experience our freedom in its entirety. You think about all those poor generations before you, that were slaves in Egypt, slaves to the Babylonians and Romans, and most significantly and tragically slaves to their jobs, their silly and mundane pursuits and slaves to the various pre-occupations, temptations and distractions of those last societies of our Exile in the USA, Europe and even in the pre-Messianic State of Israel. You can't imagine how people lived in those days. How much they must have longed to be where you are today. What they would have given to finally be free. You raise your eyes up to Hashem, who you are so familiar and close to, and you thank your Father in heaven. It is so good to be home…

Have a precious Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz 


" And you should sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land …”"
-The Liberty Bell (and this weeks Torah portion J-so much for separation from State)

(answer below at end of Email)
The New Testament account (or fableJ -comment my own) "healing of Tabitha" by Peter took place -
a) Emmaus
b)  Yaffo/Jaffa
c)  Casarea
d)  Jerusalem

Many of our great sages see in the verses that discuss the Shemitta and particularly the Yovel 50th  Jubilee year as being hints and the secret of our redemption and return to Israel as it is quite explicit that the exile is as a result of the non observance of these mitzvos. One of the more interesting Gematriot I saw is that the verse
"יובל הוא שנת החמשים שנה תהיה לכם   ‘It is Yovel, the fiftieth year it should be for you
Is the same Gematria as the prophecy of Yirmiyahu/Jeremiah who our Haftorah tells us was imprisoned in the pit in the kings palace before the exile and who Hashem gave the ultimate consolation prophecies to that says that once again it will be heard in Yehuda and in the streets of Yerushalayim
קול ששון וקול שמחה קול חתן וקול כלה-"The sound of Rejoicing and and the happiness the sound of a groom and a bride" Both their gematriot equaling 2078. Just as Adam and Eve were once one and were separated and come together in marriage again. So do is Yove lwhen each man returns to his home a reunion like marriage. May we see the ultimate reunion and redemption and return of the Shechina to our holy places.

Har Bental-high up in the Golan, at 1700 meters above sea level, Mt Bental stands out as a beautiful and historic place in Israel. It has incredible overlooks of Syria, the Golan and the Hermon and what has been called the "Valley of Tears-Emek Habacha" underneath it. The valley is called that after a fierce battle in the Yom Kippur war when we were outnumbered by attacking Syrians 10 to 1. Yet heroically our soldiers stood their ground fighting blindly in the night, jumping from burning tank to burning tank, in what can only be referred to as a miraculous battle until we regained this highly strategic site.
The mountain is called Bental which is translated as the son of dew because it is smaller than its counterpart in the called Avital- father of dew. "dew" to the 60 mm of dew that falls a year there. There is another volcanic mountain as well nearby called Ortal the light of dew, which is kind of nice until you think about the father, the son and the.."Light?" hmmm who named these things anyways? There is a nice cafe at the top of the mountain humorously called Coffee Anan after the former UN general (anan in Hebrew meaning clouds as well-it's an Israeli play on words). There are all types of bunkers and lookouts over here that you (or your kids) can walk through as you get a feel for what the experience must have been. All in all a classic Golan heights site.

During Sefira the custom is not to listen to any instrumental music thus the development of cool acapella genre of jewish music here's a few cool clips…

Shemitta in Israel coming up check out the prep…
 A New Maccabeats from my friend Rabbi Klatzko Boi Kalla

Most people don't know that back in 1912, Hellman's mayonnaise was manufactured in England. In fact, the "Titanic" was carrying 12,000 jars of the condiment scheduled for delivery in Vera Cruz, Mexico, which was to be the next port of call for the great ship after New York City. The Mexican people were eagerly awaiting delivery and were disconsolate at the loss, so much so that they declared a national day of mourning which they still observe today.

It is known, of course, as...Sinko de Mayo.
Answer is A:  Yeah as readers of my weekly Email know I'm not a big fan of Christianity and its stories-although I know plenty of nice Christians-don't get me wrong. But in our course we had to learn all of the great stories in the new testament and of course every place that all the "miracles" took place. Not surprisingly most of the stories in their Bible and almost all of their "miracles are pretty much replicas of what our prophets and tanach stories already have. They pretty much copied them. Anyways Peter was one of the J-Mans students who fascinatingly enough I have heard according to some interesting reliable Jewish sources (although controversia See Machzor vitry student of rashi and kol bo as well as WikipediaJ) that he actually repented and in fact was the author of the Nishmas prayer we recite each Shabbos. Anyways again-see how much I try to digress on questions like this- he healed this sick woman in…Yaffo. Actually the story is he raised her from the dead-like Eliyahu and Elisha both did-except they really did it. Yaffo is a big Peter city incidentally big church there dedicated to him as well. Aren’t you glad you know that now?


Thursday, May 1, 2014

This Land is His Land-ThisLland is my Land-Emor 2014/5774

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

May 2nd  2014 -Volume 4, Issue 28-2nd of Iyar 5774
 (17th day of the Omer-one week and two days!)
Parshat Emor
This Land is His Land-This land is my land

Ahmed had been there since the beginning. He remembered the 6 Day war and the Egyptians leaving the area and the Jews slowly beginning to develop the sand dunes in Gaza, a place they called Katif. All of Ahmad's friends laughed at these silly Jews who thought that they would actually grow anything in these wretched sand dunes that had never produced anything jelly fish and sun burns, but Ahmed held his tongue. It's not a good idea to laugh at or underestimate these Jewish infidels. Somehow or another they beat us in the last two fights wars, despite what Al-Jazeera might say. Better to watch and wait and see. Who knows? Maybe they know something about this land that we don't.

Ahmed was right not to laugh. Within a decade Gush Katif was producing 320 thousand tons of agricultural products annually and over a half billion shekels annually in sales. 65% of Israel's organic products and 90% of its revolutionary bug-free vegetables were the pride and joy that testified to the miracle and blessing experienced by the brave settlers who built a glorious empire in those once desolate sand dunes. The Arab population also flourished along with the settlers success. Thousands of Palestinian employees like Ahmed worked the greenhouses together with their generous and kind Jewish owners and they as well saw success in their endeavors. But then the terror started. The missiles began to fly.  Cars, house, once peaceful neighborhoods and even school buses filled with children became fair game for the bloodthirsty animals that only sought death and destruction. The first and second intifadas reigned hell upon the residents of Gush Katif, yet still their resolve only became stronger. They would remain, they would persevere. They knew that their return after centuries to the former stomping grounds of Samson, King David and over 2000 years of Jewish life that once flourished in this area was a Divine mission. And there was no backing down from something like that.

But we did. In perhaps the blackest moment of our 60 year history on the tenth of Av, the day when the Temple burned down, the once proud Jewish army expelled 15,000 Jews from their homes. Their one proud shuls were destroyed and desecrated their fields and greenhouses were handed over to uor enemies. Ahmed, was never one of the fanatic ones, but he was also not one to miss an opportunity. He knew these fields. He knew the technology and methodology the Jews had used to build and grow their agricultural kingdom. He took over the farms of his former owners and he started to dream about the fortunes that would soon be his. "Oh the pitas and hummus he would eat, the camels he would buy, the wives he would marry (sorry I couldn't resist J)…" . But something happened. It didn't work. The sand went back to being sand. Jelly fish, sunburns and all. Nothing grew. The party was over. Ahmed called his former employees, now living in some makeshift  caravan somewhere that nobody really seems to care about, and asked him if he could give him some tips. What were they doing wrong? They hadn't changed a thing. My friend Yossi of Gush Katif told them. The land is our beloved, our harp, our betrothed and bequeathed it will only play, sing and respond to that special caress that our Jewish souls can bring it. I'm sorry Ahmed.  But like the Israel Post Office, most Israel Bureaucrats and politicians and the guy that is supposed to finish fixing my shower he installed a year and half ago the land is on strike, not working and pretty much not interested in you. It's never good to underestimate the Jews and our special country.

This week the Torah portion is one of the most read ones as the bulk of it concerns itself with the Jewish holidays and the sacrifices that are brought. Perhaps most fascinating is the description of the period of time that we are currently between Pesach and Shavuot that we call the Omer period. What makes it so fascinating is that the way we relate to this time on our calendar as a time of mourning for the students of Rabbi Akiva and the various tragedies that took place in this time frame during the Crusades and the Chimlininsky Pogroms, in the times when we had the Temple it was entirely different. It was a period of celebration. Maimonides describes the awesome scene that would take place the 2nd Day Pesach which would be celebrated even if it fell out on Shabbos. The various Jewish communities would go out to the field with three large sickles and in an elaborate ceremony they would wait until it was clearly evening (remember this was perhaps the only ceremony to ever be held even on Shabbos during the night-a real Kabbalat Shabbat) and then they would declare that it was 1) night 2) a sickle and 3) that it was permissible to chop. The barley would be chopped taken to the Temple, gorund made in to flour and baked and waved around the altar and voila we could finally all go home and have our Kosher for Pesach matzah ball soup (the customs of g'brokst were not in the Temple as evident from this sacrifice which would be mixed with oils and liquids) What a Pesach party! With this cutting of the Omer all the new grain that would be chopped would then be permitted to be eaten. The Omer period and the counting that took place after was  celebration of being able to buy the new wheat. Oh yeah and a count up to the receiving of the Torah as well. But the Torah strangely seems to leave that second fact out.

Shavuot is in fact seemingly the most important holiday and yet once again the Torah seems to focus on the field… the land. It is noted as the day when the two loaves of bread would be brought in the temple nice warm Challah that would be waved as well from the new crops. It's what makes the day holy. Not what we might think and what we have focused on from all years from kindergarten and up about the revelation of Hashem to us as a nation, the exuberant Naaseh v'Nishma-we will do and we will listen" response that we unanimously gave, or even the perhaps the once in our long history when we all stood together "as one man with one heart". The holiday is about the culmination of the mysterious Omer count- the process of us being able to farm and cut our barley, wheat and grains of the new agricultural year and ultimately bring some freshly baked challah to the Temple.

Rav Kook the first chief Rabbi of "Palestine" in the 1920's in an incredible essay suggests that these ideas are perhaps most revealing of one of the most powerful principles of Judaism. The Torah, the commandments, the holiness and the Divine spirit are not neccesarily only to be found in the Temple, the study halls or even in the houses of prayer. Our connection to Hashem and our mandate on this world is to raise up the holiness from the fields and farmlands as well. Hashem didn't just give us Eretz Yisrael as a convenient pretty place to live (I know a great tour guide if you don't believe me J), or as a place of refuge where we could live and worship in peace without anyone trying to kill us. Eretz Yisrael is given to us so that we may show the world that Hashem runs every aspect of Creation. He can be found in the field while we sweat and plant, harvest and reap, He's found during the week as much as He's found on Shabbos. Our holiest job is building, not a temple or study hall for Hashem, but rather a work place that sings out to the world the sanctity of our Creator and our people, acres and acres of fields where people, stop to pray, dedicate the corners and the droppings to the poor and bring their first fruits and grains to the Almighty. We are meant to build a mini-world in this Holy God gifted land that will shine out to the rest of the planet. Where all will learn and know that the Almighty fills the world. And they will see that we are only here and able to partake in all of His blessing when we sanctify our day-today lives by showing that our simplest ability to even eat that most basic staple of life-a good pita-only comes after we first sanctify that first barley crop to Him. It's why we wave it in all directions of the universe. It’s why we even do this on Shabbos. For just as Shabbos is that ultimate sign of Hashem having created the world. This is the sign of His continuous running of it.

Every day that I am here in Israel, I am privileged to feel that special blessing and connection. It's no wonder why the land doesn’t work for the other nations that have tried for millennia to grow something here and failed. The land only produces holy fruit and it only produces for holy farmers. This week the country celebrates perhaps one of the most misnamed holidays on the calendar. The 5th of Iyar 1948 when Israel declared its Independence was truly a miraculous day. We had come home. Hashem had brought us back. The land would start producing. We now for the first time had the opportunity to become fully dependent on Hashem. In Galus sadly enough we more often than not felt independent of Him. How scary that exile feeling and hiddenness of Hashem's hand it was…it still is. But once we have been blessed to return, we need to bring that Omer offering. We need to tell the world that it is all His. How incredible and cool it would be to have an Israeli Dependence day- the day that we tell the world that even the bread on my table and the barley I feed to my cow it is all holy and it is all from Him.

Don't get me wrong. I love a party and certainly believe that it is amazing that the Jewish people celebrate and rejoice in the fact that we are back home, even those that have not yet made the move. Those that recite the Hallel on the day as well, certainly note how all of the prayers and psalms of Hallel are about how Hashem should save us and how nothing is possible without Him. But it is perhaps appropriate as well that this day falls out during the Omer period. For there is no better time to realize that we are still not there yet. We still must count until that final day when even Ahmed will sing this land is our land, for it is Hashem's land.

Have an spectacular Shabbos, a meaningful Yom Hazikaron and an awesome BBQ this Yom Ha'atzamut.
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz 


"I had faith in Israel before it was established … I believe it has a glorious future before it – not just another sovereign nation, but as an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization"
-Harry S Truman former president of the United States (I couldn't agree moreJ)

(answer below at end of Email)
Dolmens are -
a) Burial monuments from 2300 BC
b)  A Temple from the 18th century
c)  A Karstic geological phenomena a valley without outlet
d)  A unique Roman architectural specific to the Roman era

(I can't vouch for the veracity of this one from blogger yeranen Yaakov but its still pretty cool and who knows?)
In Parshat Emor, it talks about Sefirat Ha'omer-
וּסְפַרְתֶּם לָכֶם, מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת, מִיּוֹם הֲבִיאֲכֶם, אֶת-עֹמֶר הַתְּנוּפָה: שֶׁבַע שַׁבָּתוֹת, תְּמִימֹת תִּהְיֶינָה עַד מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת הַשְּׁבִיעִת, תִּסְפְּרוּ חֲמִשִּׁים יוֹם; וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם מִנְחָה חֲדָשָׁה, לַיהוָה
"And you shall count for yourselves the day after Shabbos (Pesach) from the day of your bringing the waving of the Omer measurement (of barley); 7 weeks, complete from the day after the 7th week 50 days. And you shall bring a new offering for Hashem."

Perhaps, it's telling us the following as a Remez/ hint to our redemption.
וּסְפַרְתֶּם לָכֶם, מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת-And you should count from the day after the original Shabbat of Creation  

מִיּוֹם הֲבִיאֲכֶם, אֶת-עֹמֶר הַתְּנוּפָה- From the day you collectively - as souls within Adam (the first Man) - brought the sacrifice that Adam Harishon brought on the first Sunday after he was created (as per the Rif on Ein Yaakov on Avoda Zara 8a)

שֶׁבַע שַׁבָּתוֹת, תְּמִימֹת תִּהְיֶינָהThe Gematria of  the next verseof 7 complete weeks is 2580 -
In Gemtaria if we multiply this number by two (based on the concept that  have a mitzvah to read each verse twice-Shnayim Mikra) we get 5700
The next word Ahd-until  would be another 74 years to give us 5774 (this year!!)

מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת הַשְּׁבִיעִת, תִּסְפְּרוּ חֲמִשִּׁים יוֹם- עַד-From the day after the 7 week (from Pesach) count 50 days

וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם מִנְחָה חֲדָשָׁה, לַיהוָה
We will again all bring a new Korban Minha to Hashem then with Israel God willing redeemed…

Rujm-El Hiri, Golan Heights- This is definitely a cool place in Israel, although it is best appreciated from an airborne view of the site. Israel's "Stonehenge", is this ancient prehistoric monument of concentric circles (4 of them) the tallest outer circle being 8 foot tall and about 520 feet in diameter. In the middle is a 15ft high dolmen but what the structure with about 42,000 baslat stones that scientists estimate could’ve taken close to 100 years to build is a mystery. Is it a burial monument? A solar calendar? An astronomical lookout? A landing site for aliens (sci-fi geeks come out there every year during the solstice)?. Jewish tradition is of course that this area biblically known as Bashan was the home of giants. The most famous being Og of course who was killed by Moshe. In fact in Hebrew the site is known as the Galgal Refaim-the wheel of giants. Was Og buried here? Perhaps Goliath some suggest. Guess we'll never know…

During Sefira the custom is not to listen to any instrumental music thus the development of cool acapella genre of jewish music here's a few cool clips…

Armon-Ya- Tzemach tzedek song

 Maccabeats Dror Yikra- my kids love this one (can you do the table cup thing?)

The Sunday school lesson had just finished and the rabbi asked if the children had any questions. Little David quickly raised his hand.
"Yes, David? What question would you like to ask me?"
"I have four questions to ask you, Rabbi. Is it true that after the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea, they then received the Ten Commandments?"
"Yes, David."
"And the children of Israel also defeated the Philistines?"
"Yes, David, that's also true."
"And the children of Israel also fought the Romans and fought the Egyptians and built the Temple?"
"Again you are correct, David."
"So my last question is, Rabbi, what were the grown-ups doing all this time?"

As you may know, in a slalom race the skier must pass through about 20 "gates" in as little time as possible. Well, it happened that Israel had the fastest slalom-skier in the world, and the country had great expectations for an Olympic gold medal.
The day of the final came, and the crowd waited in anticipation. The French champion sped down the course in 38 seconds. The Swiss was clocked at 38.7 seconds, the German at 37.8 seconds, and the Italian at 38.1 seconds. Then came the turn of the Israeli. The crowd waited, and waited...SIX MINUTES!
"What happened to you?" screamed his trainer when the Israeli finally arrived. Replied the exhausted Israeli: "Which of those guys fixed a mezuzah to each gate
Benny from Haifa passed away and was sent ‘below’. He was amazed, however, to discover lush vegetation, running streams, waterfalls and beautiful lakes everywhere. Everyone seemed happy.
“You look surprised,” said a resident.
“Yes, I am,” replied Benny, “I expected hell to be very dry and exceedingly hot. Like a desert. But all I can see are trees full of all kinds of fruit, beautiful flowers, lots of vegetables, lush grass and water everywhere. This is not hell”
“Well,” said the resident, “it used to be like you thought, but then the Israelis started to arrive and they irrigated the heck out of the place!”

Answer is A:  One of the more interesting things in Israel are the pre-Jewish historic sites. Some of the worlds oldest evidence and finds of "pre-historic" stone age (think Flintstones") are found all over Israel but particularly in the North and the Golan area. Dolmens are found in the Golan heights and were ancient burial tombs. A hike near Gamla in Israel one can see many of them over there. They are found all over the world however interestingly enough the majority of them are found in Korea. But like everything in the world Israel doesn't get left out of anything interesting.