Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
June 27th 2014 -Volume 4, Issue 35-29th of Sivan 5774
One of the more frustrating stereotypical accusations made against the Jewish people is that “They all ways answer a question with a question”. Why would anyone say that? Do we always answer a question that way? And even if we did is there anything wrong with it? Oops.
Perhaps one of the reasons why we are this way is because we have a deeply ingrained nature to find the truth and to clarify it. The responsibility of being the nation chosen by God to preserve and deliver that truth to mankind has to a large degree embedded itself into our natural psyche of communication as Lukshen (noodles) to chicken soup. So we ask and ask and ask again to clarify and to achieve the ultimate understanding of all aspects of everything. Yet there is wisdom about asking questions the first part of which is to understand from whence the question comes.
There is a story about Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik who had student from the Volozhiner Yeshiva in Lithuania who had left the yeshiva and the path of an observant lifestyle. In those times in the early 1900’s it was unfortunately not uncommon. It was a very turbulent time. Judaism was under assault. There were some very precocious minds in Volozhin. Not everyone withstood the temptations of the Haskalah, of Socialism, of Communism, and the other "isms" that were prevalent in that era.
Many years later, Rav Chaim happened to be in another city and this wayward student came to see him. He said to his old Rebbi, "I have so many questions about Judaism, so many questions of faith. Will you sit down and talk to me about them?"
Rav Chaim responded, "I'll be glad to sit down and talk to you about your questions. I'll talk to you the whole night. But first you must answer one of mine: When did you first develop your questions before you smoked your first cigarette on Shabbos or after?” the student answered that the questions had developed after his Shabbos desecration. “If that is the case”, Rabbi Soloveitchik responded. “Than your questions are not really questions they are excuses and answers to rationalize your behavior. I can answer questions but for answers there are no solutions”.
Very often in the work that I do I meet many individuals with questions. People honestly searching to discover answers to difficulties, problems and issues that challenge them in the modern world. I also meet quite a few individuals that have answers that are presented in the form of questions. Most typically those questions revolve around times of tragedy and catastrophe and of why bad things happen to good people. It is very rare to find someone troubled with the philosophical issues of why good things are happening to them. It seems that it is only when things go south that many “questions” arise.
This weeks Torah portion is called Chukas which means Laws or decrees without explanation. It describes the fascinating purification process of the sprinkling of the ashes of the Red Heifer that was undergone to extricate oneself from the impurity of having come in contact with death. Although many commentators give various explanations to the symbolism and meaning of various aspects of the process, the aspect that many point to as the unexplainable or decree is, that the process is one that makes Tamei or unpure the Kohain (priest) who performs it and it makes pure the one who is being sprinkled upon. How is it possible that the same act that brings purity should come from a process that makes the Kohen impure?
“Gezeirah Hi Milfonai Omar Hashem, V’ain lecha Reshus Le’Harher Acharehea”- It is a decree from before me God says, and you should not attempt to question it.
I find it significant that it is particularly here in dealing with the issue of how one extricates oneself from the spiritual morbidity and Tumah that accompanies one who is beset with the tragedy of a death, that Hashem chooses to declare a Chok or decree that is beyond the comprehension of man. Shouldn’t this be the one area where we should have an explanation? Where the questions of how can I move beyond this tragedy, or how can a loving God ever do this to me, be answered.
The answer my friends I believe is a very powerful one. It is that our questions are not really questions they are expressions of grief. They are answers to rationalize the pain and the distance we experience upon coming in contact with tragedy. This is not a time for questions nor is it a time for answers. It is a time for the recognition of the truth that is ingrained in us from the moment we receive our first sweet breath of fresh air provided for us by our loving Father in Heaven. “It is a decree from before me”, Hashem says, that purity and connection can come out of that which feels most distant, from that which feels so lonely. It is here more than anywhere else where the process of healing is described and premised on the concept of Faith. For many other Mitzvos we are encouraged to explore, understand, question and discover answers. For the Parah Adumah the Red heifer whose process is to relieve one from the sense of death and its accompanying Tumah it is only through acceptance first that the healing can begin.
Yes, we are a people of questions. It is perhaps those questions that have kept the study of Torah and the vibrancy of its lessons so alive three thousand years after its being given. Yet what truly makes us a people is our ability and capacity to recognize when not to ask, rather to accept. We live in a world and in a country particularly (at least I do…) where there are so many terrible things that happen. Innocent children, crying families, a nation praying for the return of our boys. How? Why? What are we supposed to do? What can we do? But sometimes questions should not be our response. When we recognize that sometimes the areas that are most difficult to come to grips with, are truly only the decree from the same loving Hashem who shares with us in our pain. The process of an even greater connection will then be an imminent result. And isn’t that something we all hope to achieve? May Hashem have mercy on his children and continue to watch over us and may the merit of our faith in His salvation soon bear the fruits of our ultimate redemption.
Have a Shabbos that is full of joy and a Chodesh that brings us only rejoicing
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S ROSH CHODESH QUOTES OF THE WEEK
May it be Your will, HaShem, my God and the God of my forefathers, to fill the flaw of the moon that there be no diminution in it. May the light of the moon be like the light of the sun and like the light of the seven days of creation, as it was before it was diminished, as it is said: ‘The two great luminaries.’ And may there be fulfilled upon us the verse that is written: They shall seek HaShem, their God, and David, their king. Amen-Kiddush Levana- the prayer for the sanctification of the new moon.
The Rosh Chodesh sin offering is brought as an atonement to for Hashem for minimizing the moon as it says a he goat sin offering for Hashem- Rabbi Shimon Ben Lakish- 4th century Talmudic sage (ponder that amazing statement…)
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
(answer below at end of Email)
The Chalcholite area of Ein Gedi has
a) a closed building surrounding a spring that served as a temple to their water god
b) a small fortress that served as a factory to produce their spices
c) an area that has two rooms and an open courtyard and a circular structure in the middle
d) a building where copper ritual prayer paraphernalia were found
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK
Words of strength and faith from Rachel Frenkel mother of one of the boys
Return again by Reb Shlomo Carlebach in prayer of our three sons return
Bring back our boys song beautiful and heartwrenching
Please keep in mind in your prayers, in whatever charity or good deeds you do or whatever Torah you learn the names of our three sons
1. Yaakov Naftali ben Rachel Devorah
2. Gilad Michael ben Bat Galim
3. Eyal ben Iris Teshurah
as well as all our brave soliders who are out there in the trenches looking for them. May Hashem see them returned quickly to us.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL GEMATRIA OF THE WEEK
The Portion begins with the word Zos Chukat HaTorah these are the laws of the Torah. It then continues with the mitzah of the Red Heifer. The Kotzker Rebbe notes that the Gematria of the word Zos- This is 408. Interestingly enough in the month before Rosh Hashana when we recite the Psalm of L'David Hashem Ori we also say B'Zos Ani Botay'ach- In this I believe? He suggests that the this is what three things Tzom/fast= 136 Kol/voice= 136 and Mamon/money=136 those three words are found in many machzors above the list of three things that can alter ones heavenly decree that may not have been so good Teshuva/repentance, Tefila/prayer and Tzedaka/charity 3x 136=408 or Zos. Similarly King David says that those are the three things he has faith in and our parsha as ell beings that the 408 of Zos or these three things which fulfill the commandments between man and God and his fellow man as well as between man and himself (which is the reflective nature of prayer).
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL PLACES IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK
Madrasa/Beit Tzaida- If you like water and have little kids this is the place to come. One of the most beautiful national parks in Israel this which is a continuation of Nachal Daliyot that flows from Gamla down to the East side of the Kinneret, is a great and easy 45 minute to an hour hike all through knee high water. The park does have an entrance fee however along with it comes changing rooms, bathrooms and theres evena kiosk where you can buy ice cream afterwards. Madrassa is part of a larger park which is called beit Tzaida which is the largest fresh water park in Israel (7000 dunams), which was an ancient canaani and Israel city through the periods of the 2nd Temple and the Jewish revolt. But it’s a great place to really see the beautiful nature this country has to offer and its lots of fun!
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S JEWISH JOKES OF THE WEEK
Two five year-olds are playing in a sandbox. One is Jewish, the other is Catholic. The Catholic boy says to the Jewish boy, "Our priest knows more than your rabbi!" To which the Jewish boy replies, "Of course he does, you tell him everything."
Once there was a maggid, an itinerant preacher, who traveled from town to town in a horse drawn cart with no companion other than his faithful driver. This maggid was very wise and learned and would always end his sermon by fielding questions. People would ask him questions involving obscure and profound talmudic reasoning, but no matter how difficult the question, the maggid's agile mind always produced a learned answer equal to the question. One day the maggid's driver said to him, "I have traveled with you for many years, heard you preach and heard you field every imaginable question, and though I haven't your learning or wisdom, I think that I could deliver a sermon and field the questions as well as you. It has long been my dream to stand up there and preach like you. The next town we are going to is one we've never been to before. If we traded clothes, no one would no that I wasn't the preacher and you the driver. Just this once, let me try."The maggid agreed and when the driver preached he did indeed preach an excellent sermon. When it came time for the questions the driver found himself fielding every kind of question. That is, until a young boy asked a question that he had never heard before. It was such a profound and complicated question that the driver had no idea how to even begin to answer."Well," said the driver turned maggid, "I can't believe anyone would ask such a question. That question is so simple that even my driver can answer it." "Driver!" he yelled out. "You heard the question. Now come up here and answer it!"
Answer is C: I Love Ein Gedi. It’s the perfect place to tour easy hike, gazelles, cute hedgehogs running around and even some king David Tanach and of course the waterfalls. The Chalocholite temple though is the part of Ein Gedi though no real tourists ever go to. It’s a few hour hike that is not fun all the way to the top to see the thousands of year old group of rocks in a circle which was some type of temple a long time ago with two rooms a nd a courtyard. Hooray! Stick to the bottom its a lot more fun…