Our view of the Galile

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Bernie, Baruch, Shimon and Levi-Vayishlach 2014/5775

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

December 5th 2014 -Volume 5, Issue 7 -13th  of Kislev 5775
Parshat Vayishlach
Bernie, Baruch, Shimon and Levi
Those of you out there my age or older might remember Bernie. It was 30 years ago this Chanukah when Bernie, a nice young Jewish boy (his mother was Jewish although she converted and became a Lutheran when she married his father), took a ride on the crime-ridden subways of New York of the 80's. Having been accosted by three black teens before (that's what they were called back then), of which two of them escaped and the third which he helped catch ended up getting a slap on the wrist and spending less time in the police station than Bernie did, he decided to get himself a gun. So there he was on the subway when whadaya know four young teens accost him and ask him for money in that friendly New-York-subway-at-night type of way as they were armed with 
screwdrivers. Who knows what else they could have been carrying.

Bernie, who was a pretty geeky-looking guy, glasses and all and funny haircut, decided enough was enough. He yanked out his gun and pow- pow- pow- pow, four scary black guys on the ground, not so threatening anymore. Bernie, after checking to make sure no one else was harmed on the train fled the scene and eventually turned himself in. He was acquitted on charges of assault and attempted murder by a mostly white jury, of which six had admitted to being victims of crime in New York; it seems that it was difficult to find jury members that weren't. He did serve some time for illegally carrying an illegal weapon, about 8 months or so. And in the 90's he lost a civil suit to the number of 43 million dollars (the African American, by then adult, who was paralyzed by the shots had gotten himself some good Jewish legal representation). But after declaring bankruptcy, still hasn't paid a nickle.

 The other three teens were all arrested subsequently for other crimes. Canty was arrested multiple times for assault, robbery and resisting arrest as well as spending time in drug rehab although he never did time. Allen was arrested twice for robbery and after serving three years was released in 1995. And best of all, Ramseur was arrested for the "assault" of a pregnant 18 year old girl, for which he served 25 years in jail. He was released in 2010, although fascinatingly enough, he was found dead in a hotel room of an overdose the following year 27 years to the day after the subway assault. Hashem works in wonderful mysterious ways.

Bernie Goetz the quiet nerdy engineer, who now incidentally runs a squirrel rescue in the city and advocates for legalization of marijuana, was the headline king of that year in New York; The Subway vigilante. Many attribute that he was the beginning of the tide changing in New York and the eventual Giuliani era that cleaned up the city. For us yeshiva students back there who had gotten beaten up and mugged a few times he was our hero. The man that would do what the cops wouldn't or couldn't. protect our city.

I'm not a yeshiva student anymore. But I think of Bernie more and more since moving here to Israel. Not that I'm thinking of taking justice into my own hands or anything…don't worry. I've been to hundreds of shooting ranges here with tourists and have yet to even pick up a gun. But the truth is after all of the terror attacks going on here from these animals on the street, I wouldn't mind having Bernie sitting next to me on the light rail in Jerusalem, or shopping next to me in the supermarket, or in shul davening next to me…I didn't think I would ever have to say that last one…

 I also think about Baruch Goldstien, the Jewish 'vigilante' who massacred 29 Arabs on Purim in Chevron in 1994 while they were in middle of their prayers. I remember the horror of most Jews at what was perhaps one of the only times in our recent history where a Jew took matters into his own hands. Yes, they said he perhaps went a bit mad after being an emergency medical doctor that daily had to face the constant stream of terror victims that he personally treated. But Jews don't do that type of thing. We don't take lives of innocent people or even people that may be guilty by association. Gosh we don't even take the lives of terrorists that have Jewish blood on their hands. I don't remember one Rabbi, that was worth anything at the time that didn't condemn the act. It's just not the way we were raised. But yet, maybe, just maybe if there were a few vigilantes amongst us our enemies might think twice about stabbing or running over innocent people or shooting missiles at our schools, hospitals and shuls. Maybe if more people carried weapons and would shoot to kill anyone that pulled a knife, threw a stone at their car, or even threatened their safety, maybe then our enemies would think twice before carrying out their horrific attacks. On the other hand we are surrounded all over the place by soldiers and police carrying guns and it still keeps coming. What's the right thing to do? The Jewish thing to do?  

I spoke this past week with a soldier who is part of a counter-terrorism unit who told me that he remembers the day that when an Israeli soldier got on the bus an Arab would get up and give him his seat. He remembers that when a group of Jews were walking down the block the Arabs would cross the street when they saw them coming. He felt safe then. I don't want this to be a country where either Jew or Arab has to feel fear or cross streets because of intimidation. I don't think any Jew really does. But I think most would rather that vision of Israel than of us having to cross the streets and be frightened to go shopping, to shul, on a train or to visit some of our holiest sites. It has always amazed me that the one place in Israel where there is no freedom of religion to pray is on the Temple Mount. Not that I feel we should go there, many Rabbis feel it is better not to as we are in a state of impurity. But it is illegal for a Jew to pray there. He can visit but God forbid should he talk to God there… A law against Jewish prayer to the one true God in the Jewish state of Israel…you tell me is something wrong with that picture. Would a vigilante change that? Would a few vigilante acts only seek to incite more? Is vigilantism Jewish? Looking in the Torah portion for answers certainly is so let's start with this week's portion.

This week's portion shares with us the horrific story of Dina, which the Torah goes out of its way to describe as the daughter of Leah that was born to Yaakov who was kidnapped and assaulted by Shechem, who the Torah goes out of its way to tell us was the son of Chamor the Hivite the prince of the land. Clearly the Torah wants us to know that this was not just a mere reckless teenager abusing some poor peasant girl but an affront of the highest level to the core of the Jewish people. What would your response be? What would the Israeli armies be? Should we be proportionate? Would we ask the UN to intercede? Should we negotiate some type of settlement? Sadly this is not just an ancient question but one that has plagued and challenged us through all our history. The Torah however shares with us the two approaches. The one of Yaakov which seems to be the more rational and level-headed one, which initially the Torah tells us begins with his silence and after with his meeting with the perpetrators to come to some resolution. The second approach is the outrage as expressed by the children of Yaakov, who the Torah repeatedly describes as being the children of Yaakov but as well the brothers of Dina. Their outrage leads to the shrewd military response when after the meeting, which seemingly Yaakov was in attendance; a "peaceful resolution" was achieved. The agreement was that the city of Shechem would circumcise themselves and begin to engage in meaningful commerce and perhaps even restitution that would from here on guarantee peaceful relations between the two nations. Shimon and Levi using the post-circumcision weakness, sneak into the city and pretty much "Rambo" the entire place killing 
all the males and taking all women and children captive. Bada Boom bada bing.

Who was right? Were negotiations the right way to go or vigilantism? The Torah doesn't tell us. It shares with us the post massacre conversation that seems to define the viewpoints of both sides. Yaakov is upset and "condemns" this act of violence on practical terms. The world will hate us and will avenge against us and we are a small people and family. According to Nachmanides and other commentaries Yaakov sincerely felt that it was possible to come to some resolution and perhaps even to draw these "animals" into some form of civilized life perhaps even the fact that they were willing to circumcise themselves was proof of their commitment and possible outreach potential.
 Shimon and Levi who seem to have the final word in the Torah respond unequivocally to Yaakov though with four piercing words "shall our sister become a harlot?" This glaring condemnation can be understood many ways. According to Maimonides they felt that the entire city was culpable for the death penalty for not taking their biblically mandated stand to establish a court system that prosecutes such evils. According to Nachmanides they city was a wicked city deserving of death however the brothers acted out of a vengeful act and it was not their place to do so. Perhaps as some suggest and Yaakov implies it wasn't the time or the political climate to do this act. Yet the words of the brothers still resonate. Is our sister's honor meant to be put up on the table of political corrected-ness as a harlot being 'sold' to make the world happy? As the ancient Midrashic translator Yonatan Ben Uziel puts it best.

"Shall generations to come of Jews read each year in their synagogues that gentiles took our daughter and defiled her? Isn't it better for them to read how gentiles and idolaters were killed for the honor of the daughter of Yaakov"

The Torah doesn't tell us who was right in this argument. On his deathbed though Yaakov curses the wrath of Shimon and Levi and he takes measures that somehow reflect what even he feels to be the proper path which is that these two tribes should be split up amongst the Jewish people not having one large portion of land. The tribe of Levi would be the wandering spiritual priests of the Jewish people and the tribe of Shimon would be teachers and scribes. In the words of the Netziv of Volozhin in the early 19th century, throughout our history we require zealots and vigilantes like this, however very few of them and certainly not all in one place.

 It's interesting that the tribe of Shimon later on had a child, Zimri, who later on in Bamidbar is killed by Pinchas a descendant of Levi, for taking a non-Jewish woman  (who is refered to as their "sister") in front of 'his brothers". Perhaps the zealousness of Shimon came back to haunt the family. Levi, on the other hand's zealousness is praised later on as the tribe that stands up for Hashem after the Golden Calf debacle and kills their own siblings for desecrating Hashem's name. In fact as we approach the holiday of Chanukah, the entire story is truly a story about how vigilantes called the Hashmonaim or Maccabees stood and did battle not only against the Greeks but against their own brothers who had become Hellenized and pacifiers of the Greeks.; certainly going against world opinion and political corrected-ness at that time. After all, so they want to worship idols on the temple mount, why make a fuss? Ironically, or perhaps sardonically enough, though the children of those same zealots from the tribe of Levi eventually themselves became Hellenists again very shortly afterwards and even invited in the UN of the time, Rome to settle their differences eventually leading to the destruction of the Temple. Hmmm…

This is supposed to be an E-Mail with insights and inspiration. Yet I am feeling somewhat uninspired. It seems hopeless. It's an old Jewish battle and argument and neither way seems to end with any light or direction. But perhaps that is the way we are meant to feel. The next portion in the Torah immediately after the story of Shechem is the command and revelation that Yaakov receives from Hashem to return to Beit El, to build that altar that he had promised to build so long ago. To begin the process of the return of the Jewish people to our worship, to our home, to build the house of Hashem that will serve as a light to all of the nations. Maybe that's the answer. Maybe that's the solution. It is certainly the only thing we can hope for.  

Have an absolutely magnificient Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


Hate those people that block the crosswalk…?

my old stomping ground of west seattle cool!

and of course the best line ever…dirty harry

(Let's see who can name where they're from..i just pulled them off the internet of course JJ)
1)      When your life flashes before your eyes as you die, see if you can spot the bad decision that led you to me."
2)      "Fortunately for you I never kill anyone who doesn't request it.  Unfortunately for you I'm going to strike you with this hammer until you do."
3)      "What did you have for breakfast this morning?" *pause for reply*  "Not much of a last meal."
4)      "My friends here have a wager on whether your body will fall forwards or backwards when you die." *draws a long blade* "I've got a large bet on 'both'."
5)      "Maybe in your next life you will be luckier"
6)      "Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while you shouldn’t have messed with? That’s me"
7)      "Forgiveness is between them and God. It’s my job to arrange the meeting"
8)      "Sounds like you’ve had a hard life. Good thing it’s over." 
9)      "Say hello to my little friend (As he pulls out a M-16)"
And last but not least the classic

"I know what you’re thinking. “Did he fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself a question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya punk? "— Dirty Harry
(answer below at end of Email)
 Q.  Which of the following is related to the Monument of the Fourteen (yad leyad)?
A. The Yehi’am Convoy
B. The Helicopter Disaster
C. The Night of the Bridges
D. The Mountain Brigade
This week we are told about the passing of Rachel and her burial on the side of the road by Beit Lechem. In his explanation to his son Yosef the Midrash tells us that Yaakov explained that in the future when the Jews will be exiled by the Babylonian King Nevuchadnezzar they will pass by Rachel's tomb and she will entreat Hashem for mercy for her children and Hashem will answer her prayer.
The following is Rachel's prayer as brought in the Medrash
"Master of the Universe, it is well-known to you that Your servant Yaakov loved me and served my father seven years on my behalf. At the end of the seven years, when the time of the marriage arrived, my father decided to give him my sister instead of me. I knew it but found myself in a very difficult situation. I sent my future husband a message revealing to him certain signs by which he would be able to distinguish between me and my sister. My father's plan would then have failed. But later I changed my mind because I had pity on my sister who would be exposed to public shame. When my sister was dressed for the wedding I revealed to her the secret signs which I had sent to Yaakov , and even hid myself in the couples room and answered Yaakov's questions  so that he would not discover the deceit by her voice.
I am only human. Nevertheless, I was not jealous of her and did not expose her to disgrace. You are the Eternal Living God; why should You be jealous of meaningless idols and allow Your sons as a result to be exiled, slain by the sword, and abused by the enemy?"
Rachel's prayer evoked Hashem's mercy and He answered her (Jeremiah 31:15-16) "Keep your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your good deeds shall be rewarded, says Hashem, shall return again from the land of their enemy!"
Can't argue with a Jewish mother…

Taste some delicious wine – San Fernando valley or the French hillsides have nothing on our country. Israel is packed with award winning wineries all over the country. In fact I've seen so many wine awards in the various wineries that I have visited that I have kind of lost faith in the meaning of the award. I almost believe it is like the best ______in camp award that they come up with something to give every camper at the end of the summer. But the truth is these are all internationally acclaimed awards. The Golan, The Upper and lower Galile, the Jerusalem and Hebron hills, the Carmel mountain range anywhere you can think of there is a winery worth visiting and tasting. Many of them have fees for full tours of their winery  which includes tastings but many of  the smaller boutiquey ones will be happy to have you visit them and have you taste some of their wines. Anywhere else you drink wine you can enjoy it but it is only on Israeli made wine that you make a special after blessing that thanks Hashem for the land of Israel and its fruit of the vine! L'Chaim!

"My therapist says I have a preoccupation with vengeance. We'll see about that."
" The Secretary of State is giving the president his daily briefing. He concludes by saying, "Yesterday 3 Brazilian soldiers were killed." "OH NO!" the
President exclaims. "That's terrible!" His staff sits stunned at this display of emotion, nervously watching as the President sits, head in hands. Finally, the President looks up and asks, "How many is a Brazilian?" 


Answer is C:  There are no shortages of monuments in Israel sadly enough for all of our fallen soldiers and tragedies that took place over the 66 years of our countries nationhood. The fallen 14 soldier's monument is located here in the North by Nachal Achziv and it relates to the "night of the Bridges" in June of 1946 when in response to the British White Papers that limited Jewish immigration to the Holy Land all three Jewish military forces, The Hagana, Irgun and Lehi, coordinated attacks on British bridges that entered Israel from Jordan, Lebanon Syria And Gaza 11 in total and blew them up, sending the message that if we can't come into Israel neither will you be able to. In all the places it went off without a hitch except for here where they were detected and came under fire 13 soldiers were killed when the bomb went off early and were incinerated the 14th Yechiam Weiss (for whom the village of Yechiam nearby is named after and thus the trick in the question) was killed in the bullet fire. Their remains were all brought here although unidentified and were buried in one large Kever Achim "brother's grave.

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