Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
May 22nd 2015 -Volume 5, Issue 28 -4th Iyar 5775
“It sounds romantic” the Rabbi said to me. It wasn’t the first word that came to my mind, as I had been describing to him my vision of opening a new Torah center here in Israel. One that would bring together all Jews, from all backgrounds and orientations. One that would assist new Olim immigrants to the land of Israel and help them and their families integrate into Israeli society. One that would shine out to the rest of the country how we can as a people live in harmony and build a home that our Father in heaven would be proud of here in the holy land. One that would inspire all those that still linger in the diaspora to leave their comfortable yet-so not spiritual, so not divinely natural nor so not right homes and move to the land that we were always meant to live and develop. A small house of the Lord, which would inspire the heavens to already bring the ultimate home back again. No Romantic wasn’t the word I would have used.
But he was right. It was romantic. Obviously not in the roses, wine and hotel lounge kind of way or of the cheesy hallmark card type either. Both of which you gasp at the price you’re paying for something you know is five times of what it should cost. But you shrug your head and still that voice in your head, convinced that it is ultimately worth it (and it usually is). No this was different. This was real romance. It was that ephemeral feeling and tug in your heart that you get when the sky is blue and the world seems like it could be perfect The type of love makes you feel that you will forever remain with that silly grin on your face as absolutely nothing could ever shatter that love, no matter how wild and crazy it seems.
It’s the word that has been lingering in my mind the past two weeks. Like a quiet whisper, a cell-phone on consistent vibrate ‘romantic…romantic…romantic…’ I even bought my wife flowers but it doesn’t still. I pass glorious mountains and valleys and hear them singing...romantic...I turn on the radio and hear the national anthem…I think of Mashaich … romantic… I open up a text to study and prepare my Dvar Torah or class…and I feel that tug… that longing…can they hear and see it too? Can we really do this? The world seems possible. All it takes is a little money and a lot of love.
The truth is, in Hebrew there is no real word for Romance. Romantica- was the best that those imaginative authors of the modern Hebrew language could come up with. Because in true Hebrew-Lashon HaKodesh- the holy tongue, only words that have a true basis and essence in the spiritual have translation. Not fantastical notions of the imaginary. So there is love- Ahava (its roots in the word to give) and even Cholat Ahavah which is lovesickness; that longing to give and to be part of something greater. But that indefinable and elusive romance is just not a holy word. Biblical romance is for a higher purpose; it is a game plan in reality to achieve the attainable.
Yet, this is the season that brings out that feeling. The spring is coming to an end. The birds are chirping the flowers growing. Creation has started anew and we are part of it. We even feel that we can be the center of it. It is in this season each year that we celebrate and commemorate the holiday of Shavuot- the day when we graduated from being just a former and recently freed slave nation to becoming the ‘Priests to the world of God; his Chosen people. Being free and the exciting story of the miraculous Exodus, captures the imagination and is the thing of movies. Romantic’a. But the realization of our mandate, the acceptance of an entire people of the commandments of our Creator, that my friends is true love.
The fourth book of the Torah that we begin this week, almost always before Shavuot, is called Bamidbar-In the Wilderness. It begins with Hashem speaking to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai where we received the Torah and experienced en masse His Revelation. The Midrash asks why was the Torah given in the Wilderness? Couldn’t God have found a nice air conditioned Heavenly Palace from which to call his Press conference? The Midrash responds, that it is to teach us that the Torah is compared to the desert that is open and accessible to all humankind. The Torah as well, as it says (Isaiah 55:1): Let everyone who is thirsty, come for water- is free and open for all those who wish to drink of its wisdom. The wilderness is a place that is quiet, empty, and barren is perhaps a Romatic’a type of place for some. Being one with nature- as they say in Seattle quite often. Romantic’a. But a Torah that is each of our heritages, one which you do not have to be a great scholar, a wealthy person or even one with any background in learning to partake in? That is a gift of true love. We have a Book that has the answers to all our questions, that gives us strength, inspiration and guidance for every aspect of our lives. It’s ours. The world is possible with it.
But perhaps the most Romanticized story that we read in this season and that captures the true deeply felt love Shavuot is meant to for us realize, is the story of Ruth that we read on the holiday. The Midrashic version-which merely reflects and elaborates upon the text- of this heroic Moabite convert, who became the scion of the Davidic and eventually Messianic line, was that she was a young maiden who had intermarried into a prestigious family under a questionable conversion status. Romantic’a. Perhaps her husband felt that love would conquer all. It didn’t. As it seems he was certainly insincere and died in punishment for his sin. Yet, rather than taking the easy route out, she stayed. She ends up becoming a beggar and gleans in the fields of her husband’s relative who was a leader of the Jews and a very old man. As is the custom she was meant to marry her husband’s relative out of loyalty to maintaining his line. Not Romantic. Boaz (the older wealthier relative and Rabbi), informed her that if the first relative doesn’t marry her then he will. Again not exactly Romantic. She agrees. Boaz asks the man. Man says no. Boaz marries her and according to the Midrash she conceives that night and Boaz dies. Again not necessarily little cupids flying around with arrows and certainly not the version you can expect to come out on the Big Screen anytime soon. But it is in fact our symbol and story of love.
I’m sure Hollywood’s version would have had two gorgeous young looking people attracted to one another in some magical way. They are torn apart by a wedding gone sour and yet reunited on the beautiful wheat fields as they run- in slow motion- to one another and embrace in fulfillment and longing as they walk off in the sunset together forever. But did either of them ever sacrifice for one another? Is it about fulfilling their own dreams and desires? Than it’s not real. It’s not love.
Shavout we tap into the real love. We read a story like Rus and we see the big picture. We see and are inspired of how a former princess can leave her entire life behind and refuse to return, even after being offered the opportunity repeatedly, because she chose to live a life of truth… of true love dedicated to all her Father in Heaven has in store for her. Even if it means begging, even if it means entering into a marriage that was solely for the purpose of producing an heir to her husband’s line. It was true love and a higher calling, not Romance. Not Romantic’a; rather the kind of love that all of us deep in our souls have the potential to achieve. It is romantic to be in romance, but romance alone doesn’t bring us the fulfillment we seek. We need to actualize that, we need to make it real.
This Shavuot we can tap into that. Feel that love in the air. Stay up all night, go to classes, push slumber from your eyes to learn just one more word of Torah. And celebrate how lucky we are, a nation that is lovesick to connect with our Father and Him to us. It sounds Romantic, your soul is whispering its call, now let’s make let’s make it real.
Have a Romantic Shabbos and Glorious Shavuot
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S VIDEOS OF THE WEEK
Shavuot song stay up all night starring my good friend and fellow guide Moishe Hamburg!
The Matzah Shemita miracle plot that foiled Hamas pretty cool!
Am Echad starring Ari Goldwag-in honor of us standing as one by the mountain 3300 years ago
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!!
“Libeh iz vi puter, s’iz gut mit broit.”- Love is like butter, It’s good with bread.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S FAVORITE QUOTES OF THE WEEK
“My life is a like a big romantic comedy, Except there’s no Romance and it’s just me laughing at my own jokes. – anonymous
“Stalking is when two people are going on a nice romantic walk together but only one of them knows about it.” Anonymous
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
(New exam this week these questions are from the most recent tour guide exam-let’s see how I do)
answer below at end of Email
Photosynthesis is the process of?
A. The transformation of light energy to chemical energy in plants
B. The transformation of light energy to chemical energy in animals
C. The production of electricity from solar power
D. The physics of purification of water
.RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL MIDRASH OF THE WEEK
The book of Bamidbar begins “And Hashem spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Mishkan on the first day of the second month (Iyar) in the second year after they came out of the Land of Egypt”.The Midrash notes why the Torah goes out of its way to describe the date and location here as it does not do so anywhere else.
It answers with a parable of a wealthy man who was known to own much real estate and investments who was however unable to find contentment in his personal life. He had just divorced his second wife the daughter of a magnate who had embittered his days with constant bickering. His first wife he had divorced because she was unfaithful to him. He refused to discuss these marriages with the press and when questioned about his previous marriages and divorces he refused to disclose any details, documents and dates as to when these occurred. After many years his friends suggested a match for him that was unusual for a man of his stature. The girl was from an impoverished home yet he was assured that she had a refined character and was of noble stock. After he had researched her and found that all that had said about her was true he exclaimed “This time I have found the right wife! I will now publicly announce the day of here wedding and give her a marriage contract.”
After creating mankind Hashem became so to speak disappointed with one generation after another. The generation of the flood and the dispersion rebled against him The Torha therefore glosses over the rise and fall of these generations without any specific details or dates. Of their appearance and exit from the stage of history. Regarding the Jewish people though Hashem said “ They are different! They are from the children of Abraham Yitzchak and Yaakov. I know that these people will always be loyal to me.
Therefore just a Ketuba, a marriage document specifies the date and place of the wedding so to the book of Bamidbar which describes the second year when all of the Jewish people are commanded to take their banners and flags and their places around the home of Hashem our Tabernacle
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL THINGS TO DO IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK
Observing the pilgrimage holidays – Three time a year we are mandated to go up to Jerusalem and see the presence of Hashem on the mountain he has chosen for His home. In the times of the Temple, the Mishna describes Jews from across the country sleeping in the city streets on their journey up in order to inspire everyone else to come with them. The dignitaries and shopkeepers of Jerusalem would come out to greet everyone and the entire nation would gather in Jerusalem where miraculously everyone found a place to stay, to eat, to pray. Today we do not have the Temple yet many come from around the world to celebrate Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot in the Holy land and in Jerusalem. By each of these holidays there is a priestly blessing by the Kotel that thousands participate in, reminiscent of those ancient times. I always try to make it for the holiday of Shavuot as this was the first holiday 48 years ago just a week after the 6 Day war that Jews were able to once again return to the Kotel in our hands. Who knows maybe this year in the few hours remaining Mashiach will come and we will be able to be up on top on the Temple rebuilt.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S SHAVUOT JOKES OF THE WEEK
Abe and Sadie made a rare appearance in synagogue. It’s probably true to say that they are not the most religious of Jews. In fact, they only go to shul two or three times every year—and this Shavuot happened to be one of those days. At the end of the service, Abe shook Rabbi Rosen’s hand.
"Sadie and I both thoroughly enjoyed your service today, Rabbi, especially your sermon on keeping the commandments."
Rabbi Rosen replied, "It’s nice of you to say so, Abe; so why don’t you and Sadie come here more often?"
"It’s difficult," he replied, "but at least we keep the Ten Commandments."
"That's really good to hear," said Rabbi Rosen.
"Yes," said Abe proudly, "Sadie keeps 6 of them and I keep the other 4."
With Shavuot arriving soon, the Hebrew school teacher was discussing the Ten Commandments with her five and six year olds. After explaining the fifth commandment, '"Honor thy father and thy mother," she asked, "Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?'
Without missing a beat, one little boy answered, "Thou shall not kill."
The Morgensterns, a Jewish couple who lived in England, won 20 million pounds in the National Lottery and resolved to live luxuriously on the proceeds. They bought a mansion in Southall and surrounded themselves with all the material wealth imaginable. They even decided to engage a butler.
After a thorough search, they found the perfect butler—very proper and very British. Soon after they engaged him, they told him that the following day was a holiday where the custom was to eat a dairy meal, and that they had invited the Cohens to join them for a dairy luncheon. They asked him to set the dining room for four. The following morning the couple left the house to go to Shavuot services. When they returned home, they found the table set for eight. They asked the butler why he had set for eight when they had specifically instructed him to set for four.
Replied the butler, "Sir and Madam, the Cohens rang soon after you left and asked that I inform you that they would be bringing the Blintzes and the Knishes."
And of course the classic…
There is a well known Midrash about how God offered the Law to a number of nations, which all refused it, before He offered it to the Jews. What isn't known very well is the inside story.
God first went to the Egyptians and asked them if they would like a commandment.
"What's a commandment?" they asked.
"Well, one of them goes, 'Thou shalt not commit adultery,'" replied God.
The Egyptians thought about it and then said, "No way, that would ruin our weekends."
So then God went to the Assyrians and asked them if they would like a commandment.
They also asked, "What's a commandment?"
"Well," said God, "one says, 'Thou shalt not steal.'"
The Assyrians immediately replied, "No way. That would ruin our economy."
So finally God went to the Jews and asked them if they wanted a commandment.
They asked, "How much?"
God said, "They're free."
The Jews said, "Great! We'll take ten.
Answer is A: Come on, even my 7th grader knows this. It’s botany 101. Although I admit that Botany was my least favorite course in our tour guiding program. As my tourists know, one of the questions that I dislike the most after- what are we doing next, or are we there yet, is what type of plant/tree is that? I did not grow up on a farm, fruits and vegetables come from the supermarket. Inevitably I used to tell people that whatever tree they asked me what it was is an avocado tree. “Really, wow cool!”. Was the gratifying response. Until once someone asked me why there was oranges growing on the avocado tree. “Well, that’s the genius of Israel! We can make anything happen hereJ”. I’ve gotten a bit better though. I can now tell you what palm trees and olive trees look like and even mangos. Everything else is still pretty much an avocado though…