Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
October 31st 2014 -Volume 5, Issue 2 -7th of Cheshvan 5775
She is probably one of the most awesome women in the Jewish world today. Rebbetzin Lori Palatnik, has become a household name and revered figure and role model for many women in the Jewish world today as a women who not only lives an inspiring Jewish life but is determined to take that personal inspiration and share it with the Jewish world. For a woman in her mere early 50's who was not raised as an observant Jew, Lori has created quite a remarkable track record. Together with her husband Rabbi Yaakov, they founded Jewish outreach centers and synagogues in Toronto, Denver and Washington DC, she has authored books, has video blogs on Aish.com that has tens of thousands of viewers and has thousands of students worldwide that have re-connected to the faith and heritage of their ancestors.
Her most recent project that is truly transforming the Jewish world and that I was privileged as a tour guide to participate in this past week is called the Jewish Women's Renaissance Project (JWRP). The program was developed with the appreciation that it is women and particularly Jewish mothers that possess the power to build and transform the Jewish home. Over the past 6 years thousands of women have come to Israel on this very heavily subsidized "birthright" for women. The conditions to be eligible for the program is merely that one be non-shabbat observant, emotionally and physically healthy and 90% of the women have children under the age of 18 at home. The trip contains classes and sessions about spirituality, relationships, Torah ideas and insights into meaningful mitzvot and some of their concepts such as Shabbat, prayer, and Mikva. They also incorporate along the trip truly moving experiences meeting with soldiers, projects of chesed and meetings with inspirational individuals from all walks of Jewish life. Best of all of course is the great and fantastic tour guides J that truly feel privileged to show them and connect them to their land and heritage as we traverse Israel from top to bottom together.
Lori says "When people ask me 'how can I leave my children for 9 days?' I tell them you're not leaving your children-you're going for your children…for their future for everything that they will learn and be inspired from you for the rest of their lives."
In the Jewish educational outreach world that I was fortunate enough to be part of in my journeys across the States, in New York, Iowa, Virginia and Seattle, Lori is considered the "queen of Kiruv/outreach. Her love and passion for every Jew and her determination to provide everyone of our brothers and sisters who may have never experienced the true beauty of our rich heritage with the opportunity to do so inspired us to do more…to connect more…to live more inspired ourselves. But the truth although Lori may be the queen the Father and Mother of Jewish life and inspiration make their introduction to us right from the start in this week's Torah portion in the figures of our first Patriarch and Matriarch Avraham and Sarah.
The Torah does not tell us much of Avraham and Sarah's early lives. We are introduced to the them in their 70's this week with Hashem's commandment to them to pick up and leave their birthplace and dwelling place and parents home and go to the "land I shall show you"; The first Rennasaince project ever. What were they doing until then? The Torah doesn't tell us but it does drop a very subtle hint when it tells us that they went and they took with them their orphaned nephew Lot and all of their possession "and the souls that they made in Haran". Hmmmm…how do you make souls? Rashi, our greatest commentator who in general explains what he refers to as the simplest understanding of the text, quotes the Midrash that Avraham and Sarah had spent the past years where they dwelt bringing the people of the world under the 'wings of the Divine'. They were involved in the outreach business it seems. According to Maimonides there were 10's of thousands that left the pagan world and idolatry and joined the troops of Avraham and Sarah. What is even more fascinating is that Avraham and Sarah did all of this without any word or acknowledgement from Hashem. No prophecy, No word of God speaking to them. Without even any teachers. They discerned Hashem and brought the concept of monotheism and a caring loving God that interacts and watches over all of his Creation merely by the fact that it's obvious. The world doesn't make sense otherwise. So much beauty, wonder, good, incredible intricacies of every nuance of our existence existing and continuing to function couldn't be here and function without such a Creator. And from there it all started.
Yet the words of the Torah our deep and there is even something more significanct in the words the Torah chose in describing what Avraham and Sarah did with the their students. It doesn't say the souls they converted or the souls they inspired or even the souls that they taught, when referring to these students. The word the Torah uses is the souls that they made. One of my teachers once explained this strange term with a concept that Nachmanides elaborates when he discusses our forefathers is that what our Patriarchs and Matriarchs truly did was to create Jewish DNA. To light up those natural genes that we have that connect to God and embed them within our Jewish souls. All of the actions and stories, Nachamanides suggests, that the torah tells us about our forefathers and their experiences are really stories about us. Avraham goes down to Egypt, he is rescued and comes out, their acts of kindness, the battles, their struggles and challenges even the test and request which was not carried of having to sacrifice of our children rather than abandoning our faith. All of it was just making our souls, making our DNA.
Now although we all have that special soul, and we recognize that in each of our daily prayers when we connect to Hashem by beginning our conversations with Him as the children of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs, it doesn't end there. Each and every one of us are meant to ignite and "turn on the spiritual DNA for our own children and the souls throughout the world that we are meant to "make". We have parents and ancestors that have done that for us. Somewhere somehow if you are reading this E-Mail you are connected to Jewishly (at least the Jews areJ) and that is because you must have had someone who prayed and ignited those sparks in your DNA and kept those initial sparks of Avraham and Sarah dormant enough for you to realize them and then share them and pass them down yourself.
Until a few years ago if you would have asked Lori who ignited her sparks, she would have said it was her Rabbi, Rabbi Noach Weinberg O"BM who should met when she came to Aish Hatorah on a trip many years ago. However a few years back Lori, through what can only be described as Divine providence, connected with a relative that she never knew she had done some family research of their mutual great-grandmother. It seems that her great-grandparents lived in a small Polish Shtetl of Ivansk that was quite impoverished. There were no schools, places of study, or even Rabbis or teachers in the town and so the town got together and chipped in to hire a Melamed/ a children's Judaics teacher in order that the children would be able to get their basic Jewish education. After many months though it seems the money ran dry and the it reached a point where the Melamed announced to the town that unless they came up with money he would have no choice but to leave and find other employment somewhere else. Lori's great-grandmother was heartbroken and she together with the townspeople pleaded with him to stay for the sake of their children. However having no funds and no choice the melamed packed his belongings and boarded the wagon to leave.
The townsfolk came to say their final tearful good-byes to the man who had served so faithfully and given them and their children so much for so long on his meager stipend when suddenly a commotion was heard. A woman had lain down on the street in front of the wagon and refused to get up. With tears and screams Lori's great-grandmother exclaimed "If my children cannot study Hashem's holy Torah, I have no reason to live. Let me be trampled to death. Without the knowledge that my children will have our heritage, our special gift from Hashem, I cannot bear to go on.. The people were shocked and tried to prevail upon her to get up, but she refused to move. As a crowd gathered they were so inspired and taken aback that they all agreed that somehow someway they would figure out a way to come up with the funds. The melamed himself as well so moved by this woman's self-sacrifice also stepped down and announced that he would stay. The relative of Lori's told her that when he heard this story it was the start of his return to the faith of his ancestors for as his Rabbi told him "it is in the merit of that righteous woman and her sacrifice that you unlike so many of the rest of your assimilated brothers and sisters was given the opportunity to once again find your way home".
Later that evening when Lori who was so moved by this story of her great-grandmother called her father to find out if this story was in fact true, he confirmed telling her that he heard it as well when he was a child but never bothered to tell her because he didn't feel it was too important. When Lori asked if he knew any other stories that he might share, her father said that he didn't. But then rather nonchalantly he mentioned "You know, come to think of it, Lori, you were named after…her name was Leibe Rachel". The spark that almost flickered and went out had been so strongly embedded by Leibe Rachel it just took some time until it was reignited once again. We are not leaving our children….We are going and doing for our children for their future for everything that they will learn and be inspired from us for the rest of their lives…"
Have a remarkable Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
This week's E-Mail has been dedicated by my dear friends Carl and Helen Grossman of Seattle Washington upon the occasion of their 19th anniversary this past week. We miss you guys here in Israel and look forward to you visiting us. May Hashem continue to bless the two of you with many many more happy years together filled with health, joy, happiness, inspiration and nachas from your children!
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S FAVORITE QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“There are two things that are infinite, the universe and man's stupidity..... And I am not sure about the universe.” – Albert Einstein
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
(answer below at end of Email)
Q. During the 12th century the Crusaders built a system of fortifications for the purpose of laying siege to:
New feature!-last year we did Gematria which is the Remez portion of Torah this year we start Drash enjoy!
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL MIDRASH OF THE WEEK
After Avraham wins the battle of the 4 kings and rescues his nephew Lot he was concerned that he had used up his merits and Hashem responded that he had nothing to fear for because of his great faith all of his reward would be intact and he would even be granted a child. When Avraham objected that it had been forseen by astrologers in the stars that he was not destined to have children. Hashem told him to forget about the stars and the forces of the Zodiac that control the world for Avraham and his descendants are above all of that and are only controlled by direct Divine decree.
The Midrash then shares a story of how Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai and Rabbi Yannai were listening to two astrologers who pointed at a group of workers and foretold that two particular ones destiny as told in the stars was to be bitten by a poisonous snake and die that very die. When they came back alive, like every good Rabbi would do, the two sages went back to the astrologers and said "Didn't you predict their demise was foretold in the stars" The astrologers then asked the men if they did something special that particular day. When they responded that the recited the Shema and morning prayers as they did daily before going to work. The astrologers responded
"Ahh you are Jews, the predictions of astrologers do not apply to you people"
"Ahh you are Jews, the predictions of astrologers do not apply to you people"
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL THINGS TO DO IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK
(New year figure we'll offer a new feature-Let me know what you think)
Hiking – Sure there are lots of places around the world to hike but Israel is the only country where you get a mitzvah for hiking. As many of our sages suggest that anyone who walks four cubits in the land of Israel is fulfilling the commandment of settling the land. Why? Because when we walk around we are showing that it is ours, Hashem gave it to us. We are not leaving it abandoned and we are appreciating this beautiful gift. In addition Its pretty cool when you hike in this country that you are literally walking in the footsteps of our ancestors who lived here and explored the land just as we are doing today for thousands of years. That's pretty awesome as well! There are really fantastic hikes in Israel that are there for everyone; water hikes, desert hikes, mountains valleys hidden springs, challenging extreme ones and easy stuff for the whole family. Two very popular extreme Israeli hikes are the sea to sea hike width-wise across the country from the Mediterranean to the Kineret/sea of Galile, although I have seen quite a few American Yeshiva guys doing this over the summer break and vacation this is a pretty fun 2-3 day hike. The other more typical Israel one is a few weeks or more and that is the top to bottom Shvil Yisrael/Israel trail that starts up at Tel Dan in the North and ends by Eilat which is not a straight shot but stops along the way across many historical sites. The trails in Israel are usually fairly well taken care of and marked with colored paint markings on rocks along the way and are all of lots of fun. Just remember take water and drink and make sure people know where you are when your exploring Hashems favorite country…your country.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK
Check out the Lori Palatnik's JWRP tour!
And guys don't feel bad theres a new JWRP program for men as well it's called Momentum here's the preview
and lots of personal moving testimonials..
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S JOKE OF THE WEEK
Two brothers are terrible trouble makers. They are always breaking things, stealing things, lying, and making all kinds of general trouble. The parents have tried everything to get the boys to change, to no avail. Finally, out of options, they ask the Rabbi if he can help. He says he will talk to the boys, but only one at a time. The parents drop off the youngest and go home, promising to return to get him soon. The boy sits in a chair across from the pastor's desk and they just look at each other.
Finally, the Rabbi says, "Where is God?"
The boy just sits there and doesn't answer.
The Rabbi begins to look stern and loudly says, "Where is God?"
The Rabbi is starting to get angry at the boy's refusal to converse and practically shouts "Where is God?"
To the Rabbi's surprise, the little boy jumps up out of his chair and runs out of the office.
The boy leaves the synagogue and runs all the way home, up the stairs and into his brother's room. He shuts the door and pants, "We're in BIG TROUBLE. God's missing and they think we did it"
Answer is C: Hate to say this but this one stumped me. Frankly I hate the Crusaders. Really lousy jew murdering people. So I kind of zoned out by the nitty gritty details of their battles and sieges and the to be fully honest here shhhh…I hav never toured Ashkelon which is the correct answer here. But there is a bit of process of deduction that would have been possible here. Jerusalem is not correct because the Crusaders conquered it in 1099-not the 12th century. Akko was the Crusader capital during the later Crusades and the Crusaders built the city and its immense fortifications but not to make siege rather to protect themselves from attacks. Gaza was conquered by the Crusaders and built up-(not that I've toured there either) but Ashkelon was held by the arabs for quite a while and they would launch attacks on the Crusaders from there so the Crusaders built fortifications to keep their on them and eventually seized and conquered them. I'm wondering though if this question is a mistaken Hebrew and English translation because the Hebrew question was that the Crusaders built fortifications in order לכתר or in English L'Kater which of the following cities and as far as I know L'kater would mean to crown the city not siege it but who knows? Any Hebrew speaking tour guides know if this question was right or wrong on the exam?