Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
May 1st 2015 -Volume 5, Issue 25 -12th Iyar 5775
Questions I have been asked this Sefirat Ha’Omer period. “Am I allowed to listen to music if it keeps me awake while I’m driving?” Answer- get yourself a coffee and stop driving and rest up. Certainly don’t listen to any Torah Shiurim that may put you to sleep. “I’m just learning how to play Guitar, am I allowed to continue to learn during Sefira? I’ve heard you, my friend, that’s not music. However if you were actually playing music there are many authorities that suggest it is better to be stringent although there are those that are lenient as well. “I listened to music during Chol Hamoed Pesach, can I still keep the first Sefira?” There are a few customs as to what days of Sefira must be kept. One is permitted to switch from year to year. Although it is kind of confusing and preferable to keep the same thing. But you can’t just switch in the middle of the rodeo. If you maed a mistake and listened it’s fine to continue. If you didn’t mean to start it then you can’t count it as having started it. But don’t you think you should know about it if you are in mourning. Hellaa-ohhh as my children would say.
And then of course you have the other important Sefira Questions. “In the States I had to shave to go to work during Sefira and my Rabbi told me it was fine. I moved to Israel and hoped I wouldn’t have to but my boss has recently told me he wants me to shave. What should I do?” Answer- move back to the States and ask your Rabbi there. Just Joking. Don’t you work in a Falafel Store? The same law that applies in the States applies here as well. But in Israel the custom is to make a bigger fight out of it. Because it’s fun to fight. “Am I allowed to cut excess nostril hair or ear hair that is bothering me??” Eeewwww. Yes, Bye. Note to self don’t answer phone during dinner. May be that’s why some Rabbis have set times to answer calls. “Can I buy new clothing during Sefira? How about second hand quality “gently used” clothing from America at great prices from your wife?” Do I even have to answer that? And so it goes, question after question. People who forgot the Sefira count or more likely are not sure if they forgot. People with weddings, radio shows with music. Acapella questions. For a period of time whose’ customs about music and shaving are relatively new in the annals of Jewish history at most 1000 years or so. Sefirat Ha’Omer the period of time when we commemorate the passing of the students of Rabbi Akiva certainly keeps a Rabbi busy.
Questions I have not been asked during this Sefirat Ha’Omer period. I noticed my neighbors kids walking around with clothing that does not seem so nice. I want to help him out. Is it better if I jusrt drop off a check or should I mention that I have credit in some stores that they can use? I have a teacher who has made some anti-religious comments to me many of them were very insulting. It is obvious that she really has no exposure to what a true religious lifestyle is like. Do you think it is alright to invite her for a Shabbat meal even if she might drive there or is better that I just continue to treat her with respect and maybe just go out for coffee with her? We are having elections and there are so many parties that have different views that I have and some are even against the Torah and a Jewish lifestyle. Many of my friends favorite pastime is sit around and plan how we will get more votes than the other parties. Many times it leads to LAshon Harah, gossip and speaking negatively about other people. Is it wrong of me to miss these meetings and not help support the parties that really could use my efforts on their behalf? I haven’t even been asked if it is wrong to play Acapella music loudly of someone learning to play a guitar in your car if you are tired while shaving your nose hair during chol hamoed if it bothers the person in the back seat? It seems that these questions are not on peoples minds at all during sefira. We’re too busy focusing on the music, the shaving, and even the counting to pay any attention to what we are mourning. What it’s all about. Why are we here and what could we do about it. What would Rabbi Akiva say?
This week’s Torah portion which discusses the mitzvah of the counting of Omer, doesn’t mention any of the customs that we have today during this period. That makes sense as it seems the customs which originated way later after the passing of the students of Rabbi Akiva which according to many of the early commentaries happened during the period of time of the battles of the revolt against the Romans of Bar Kochva post-Temple. The Talmud says that the reason for their death is because they did not treat each other with the due respect. 24,000 students perished and all in this period of time between Pesach and Shavuot. Some of the customs of getting married music and shaving seem to have evolved during the periods of the Crusades which also took place during this Sefira period. This is a time our sages described to focus on the build-up from our Exodus from Egypt to the receiving of the Torah. Yet it is a time as well to focus on how we treat one another.
Rabbi Akiva was perhaps the paradigm of someone who understood that these two things are not separate. They are one and the same. The same Rabbi Akiva who felt that the great rule of the Torah was that one should love their neighbor as themselves, also was murdered while reciting the Shema. Because it was the time to say Shema, not because those are great last words to have. His love and his dedication for Torah was such that he first started learning at age 40 going to kindergarden with his little child to learn how to read Hebrew and ultimately learning his wife (with her permission and even blessing) to go study for 24 years non-stop. He once described life without Torah as a fish trying to live outside of the water. He understood the significance of both worlds. Man and his fellow and man and his Creator. He understood that Torah study was meant to refine a person in the way that he treats his fellow man. He understood that ones love of his fellow man could only be ultimately be fulfilled in its fullest if he was able to bring the light of Torah from within himself to them as well.
Two fascinating stories in the Talmud of Rabbi Akiva’s students and how they failed to appreciate his message. One describes a student that answered a difficult question of his Rabbi and was beaming with joy that he stumped his Rabbi. Rabbi Akiva expressed his shock “Yehuda, your face is flushed because you have responded to the old man". You have bested your rabbi, but not in a positive sense. Your response was in the nature of an attack. Why are you so happy – look how you discomfited your teacher. "I will be surprised if you live a long life”. The Talmud concludes with the epilogue. ‘Rabbi Yehuda said in the name of Rabbi Ilai, that incident occurred on the eve of Passover. 'On Atzeret (Shavuot) I inquired after Yehuda ben Nehemia and I was told he had died.". The time of year,it seems, this time of year seems to be a significant part of the story.
Another story as well mentioned by the Talmud is how once one of Rabbi Akiva's students became ill. None of the other students visited him, but Rabbi Akiva personally went to see him and swept and cleaned his room. This literally revived the student, who said, `Rabbi, you've brought me back to life!' As soon as Rabbi Akiva left, he taught: `If a person does not visit the sick, it is as if he shed blood!' Again the Talmud notes. No one seemed to visit him. The students were probably busy learning Torah. Maybe they excused themselves and said that student as well would have preferred they study Torah in his merit rather than waste precious Torah time by schlepping out to the hospital. I’m sure they even handed out little papers with the students name and his mother’s name so they could study in his merit. But in the end they were wrong. 24,000 of them and no one visited. No one swept and cleaned. No one treated him with honor and respect. Except the Rosh Yeshiva himself; Rabbi Akiva. So they died. They weren’t worthy of passing on the Torah to the next generation. They saw Torah as an ends within itself and not as something that would enhance their respect of one another. They died in the period between Pesach and Shavuot because they weren’t counting up to the receiving of Hashem’s Torah rather it was their own Torah they were concerned with the Torah that they could smile and take pride and gloat over. Not a Torah that would bring light and the beauty of Hashem to the world. Not one that would bring honor to his people. To each and everyone of His children.
So as we count our days to the receiving of the Torah we want to remember what is important. We don’t shave, we don’t celebrate. We don’t distract ourselves with music and festivities. We recognize something is wrong. Something is missing. Our Torah’s light is not yet shining fully to the world because I perhaps am preventing it from shining. My pettiness, my self-aggrandizement and perhaps the wrong questions I am focusing on is giving me the wrong answer still to our problems. Counting the Omer is a beautiful mitzvah. Because it causes us to focus on how precious each day is. You miss one, you can’t count with a blessing anymore. (Although you should certainly continue to count without a blessing). Each day that we don’t grow takes away from the entirety of our count to the Torah. Kind of like how each Jew counts as well. If we’re missing one. We are missing a world. We are missing our complete blessing. We have another few weeks left to count. To ask the right questions. To become the right answers. And then we will reach that day of Shavuot when we stood as one nation, under God, indivisible for holiness and honor for all.
Have a beautiful Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S VIDEOS OF THE WEEK
Great cartoon about Rabbi Akiva and Lag Ba’Omer
Acapella on Israeli TV by Kippalive
American style Akapella Shiru Lamelech
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S FAVORITE YIDDISH PROVERB OF THE WEEK
While in the states I picked up a great book with yiidsh quotes and wisdom and I have always wanted to teach my kids Yiddish so here we go each week another great proverb in yiddish maybe you guys will learn it too!!
“A chaver iz nit dafke der vos visht dir op di trern nor der vos brengt dikh bekhlal nit tsi trern..”
A friend is not someone who wipes your tears; he’s someone who doesn’t make you cry
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S FAVORITE QUOTES OF THE WEEK
“Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.”-Malcolm X
“Laziness is the mother of all habits but ultimately she is the mother and we should respect her”- Anonymous
“Ben (the son of) Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from all people, Who is strong? He who conquers his evil inclination, Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his lot. Who is honored? He who honors others.”– Ethics of our Fathers Pirkey Avot
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
(answer below at end of Email)
At which of the following sites is there an observatory for migrating birds?
A. Ma’aleh Shaharut
B. Near Eilat
C. Timna Park
D. Ne’ot Smadar
.RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL MIDRASH OF THE WEEK
At the conclusion of this weeks Torah Portion it shares with us the story of the Blasphemer and Moshe who orders his detention until he clarifies his punishment with Hashem. Incidentally the death stoning. The Midrash notes this is one of four times in the Torah that Moshe did not know the law until he consulted with Hashem. The other three being the law of the gatherer of sticks on Shabbos in violation of the law (stoning for him as well), The case of the Jews who were impure and couls not bring the Pesach offering in it’s time-Hashem commanded them to bring it a month later (this Sunday the 15th of Iyar). And finally the inheritance of the daughters of Tzlefchad who died in regards to their inheritance in the land of Israel (they do inherit!). The midrash Yerushalmi notes that the first two cases that were a question of the death penalty Moshe locked them up and delayed the judgement demonstrating that Jewish courts should be circumspect in regards to matter of life and death. In the last two cases he immediately finalized the judgement in order to teach that matters regarding money and personal matters should not be postpones. In all the cases Moshe announced publicly that he did not know how to proceed, in order to reach the judges of all the coming generations that even the greatest of all teachers could profess ignorance, so they certainly should feel comfortable doing so.
It’s good to have leaders that don’t seem to profess to know everything.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL THINGS TO DO IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK
Camping out – In America I was used to my KOA and Yogi Bear campgrounds. Nice set up, water electricity and quiet time. Israel not so much. Here if I had to estimate at least half the country has done some camping out. People bring their tents and bags and pretty much feel free to plop them down wherever they like. A night on the beach, in the woods, and mountains and in the negev and wilderness. Here camping is not just exploring the country on the cheap but its actually experiencing Israel in the same way our ancestors did. It’s pretty cool that people just make their campfires and spend the night wherever they want. You can almost hear the echoes of our grandparents that once lived here in the sparks of the flames. One can look up at the stars at night and think about Gods promise to Abraham. Camping in Israel is the real deal!
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S OMER JOKE OF THE WEEK
Top Ten Signs Your Rabbi has probably lost count of the Omer
10. Claims "It's too early to count." It's 10pm.
9. Wishes the entire congregation a "Happy Lag Baomer!" on day 23
8. When you ask him "what night did we count last night?" He asks you for multiple choice
7. Keeps wondering when Tishah B'Av will be so he can shave already
6. You're pretty sure you just heard him count the 84th day of the omer
5. You just realized, he's counting down
4. Apparently Day 13 now has "9 weeks and 3 days" to it
3. First time in the history of man: rabbi actually passes an honor off to cantor/Chazan
2. As he's reciting the blessing, you notice his son in the back of the synagogue who is trying desperately to sign 17 with his hands
1. Proudly recites blessing and day off of his handy dandy Omer-Count calendar, dated 2006
Answer is B: All of the sites listed above are Deep down south sites. Maaleh Shacharut is a nice hike and even more fun jeep ride of some beautiful overlooks. Timna Park about 35 miles north of Eilat is the worlds oldest copper mines and all types of cool rock formations. Neot Smadar is kind of a funky hippieish kibbutz in the Arava with a lot of artists and eco conscious people. The birds though are of course in Eilat. They know where to party.