Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
June 6th 2015 -Volume 5, Issue 30 -11th Iyar 5775
My wife is a fantastic cook. I knew that before I got married. Her Mother is as well. It runs in their blood. I was looking for someone that was a good cook. As King Solomon writes in his beautiful Psalm Eishet Chayil which we recite Friday Nights. Sheker HaChayn V’Hevel Hayofi- Grace is false and beauty is worthless… Beauty comes and goes but a good cook that’s foreverJ. OK he doesn’t actually come to the same conclusion. He writes something about a woman who fears God should be praised. And I’m all for that as well. But trust, me, He was a King and had the best chefs in the world. I’m sure if he was a simple guy like me, who can’t afford a great chef, he would have also praised a wife that is a good cook. I lucked out because I got me a wife that’s not only a good cook, but who’s full of chen, beauty and of course God fearing. It’s not for naught that Hashem watches over fools. Happy Birthday dear.
Now I wasn’t skinny before I got married, but my wife’s cooking certainly hasn’t helped me out. Although G-d bless her she tries very hard to make nutritious healthy meals. Yet I just can’t get enough of those not as healthy Shabbos leftovers it seems. My tourists ask me how with all the tours and hikes that I do each week, how I’m able to remain in that delightfully robust shape- yes a circle is a shape as well. And the answer I give them is that it is not easy, but that’s what Shabbos is for. I know somebody told me once that one doesn’t gain weight on Shabbos. They have obviously never had Shabbos by the Schwartz home. Smelling Aliza’s chulent alone can put inches on your waist. Here in Israel you have the added benefit of eating about fifty five different dips and salads with challa even before you start your fish and soup-with croutons of course. Yup a good rebbetzin’s cooking and Shabbos meals-three of them, are just not on any diet plan. I’ve seen. The upside though is that Shabbos eating is of course a Mitzva. A Mitzvah that I would like to talk about this week.
You see once we’re on the topic of eating, let’s take a week at this week’s Torah portion, particularly what seems to be a turning point for the Jewish people as they venture out on what was meant to be a short journey to the Promised Land, a few days or so, but seemed to have gotten off to the wrong start. The narrative part of our Parsha after describing the mitzva of lighting up- Behaalotcha- of the Menora by Aharon takes a turn to describing our departure from Sinai into the wilderness. We bring our first Pesach offering and the people who are impure are granted fascinatingly enough the ability to bring it a month later when they become purified. Cool! It would really stink to have to miss out on that BBQ. The truth is Rashi tells us that this was the only one that was brought their entire sojourn in the wilderness until they arrived in Israel. It continues with a description of the traveling instructions. Trumpets to call everyone clouds and pillars and Arks to follow and the formations. Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law leaves and the trip begins. And like every good trip. So does the Kvetching.
First we are told about the MisOninim- the complainers. It doesn’t tell us explicitly in the text who they are and what they are complaining about. Rashi brings two views they are either the mixed multitude of Egyptians that joined the people or on the opposite extreme they were the great people of the camp. It doesn’t seem to matter a much. A kvetch is a kvetch. And Hashem doesn’t seem to like Kvetches. It’s something we have in common, God and I JJ. In fact some of the commentaries connect this story to the next text were it describes the Asafsuf this multitude or gathering of people that were complaining about the Manna. They longed for meat. The Torah’s description is that they were Hitavu Taa’va- they desired a desire. Yes, the Manna tasted like anything you wanted. But they seemed to long for that good old Egyptian food. The fish, the pickles, onions and garlic and melons. They wanted steak. Huh? Really?! My memory is not the greatest. But as far as I remember from Pesach seder story. Egypt was not serving anything too remarkable. Think Auschwitz times a million. The Torah itself seems to express it’s shock by telling how delicious the Manna was. Ok maybe it wasn’t Mama Cleopatra’s cooking. But really. It reached an extent this desire for a desire that Jews were literally crying outside of their tents. We’re three days away from Sinai. This is not a good thing.
What makes this story and the previous complaining story so fascinating is Hashem’s response to it. We are told that he sends out a fire and burns up some of the trouble makers. As if to say-you asked for a BBQ- here you got one. And then Moshe himself turns to Hashem and pleads to stop the flames and then is ready to turn in his staff and quit unless Hashem provides meat for the people. Again very very strange. Rule one of dealing with kvetchy people is not to give them what they want. It reinforces their behavior. I’m not saying that you should necessarily fry them. Hashem said that. But don’t go asking for meat for them. Even stranger when Hashem tells Moshe essentially “If that’s what they want-I’ll give them meat in a Divinely passive aggressive like way- until it comes out of their noses for a full month. Moshe pulls out his calculator and starts figuring out if this is really possible. Until Hashem assures him he’s good for his word.
This has to be one of the strangest narratives in the Torah.
Strange gets stranger, when this entire story continues and is seemingly interrupted with Hashem coming down in a cloud of glory and telling Moshe to gather in 70 elders and to they all start to prophesize in the Mishkan and two guys even start prophesizing in the camp. When Yehoshua/Joshua starts getting nervous about this Moshe reassures him that all of the Jewish people could become prophets and it’s a good thing. The screen than flashes back to the camp where people are running around gathering 10 donkey loads of quail that seems to be dropping all over the camp until the party ends after a month with a great plague and blow to the people. In the Torah’s words once again. While the meat was still between their teeth. What a way to go…The story concludes with the naming of the place Kivrot HaTaava- The graves of Desire Because they buried there the nation that had desired. And thus the story concludes.
The 16th century sage of Tzfat, Rabbi Moshe Alshich, in his great work gives some beautiful insights into these puzzling narratives. He suggests that the leaving of Sinai and the intensity of the Spiritual revelation and their existence there, left some of the people overwhelmed. Man is made of meat and is thereby attracted to meat. We like flesh and we like flaysh. Yet we also have a soul, a nefesh that is Divine that is meant to uplift us from our earthly physical meaty pursuits. It started he suggests with the kvetch. It didn’t make a difference what it was. It was the lack of realization of how uplifting our connection with Hashem and our spirituality can be. But once you start kvetching you have distanced yourself from the essence of who we are. We lose our soul and we allow our body to rule us. The punishment of the MisOninim was that a fire came out. The fire of Hashem that was meant to uplift them turned them into ash. Burnt meat without a soul interestingly enough, he notes the place was called the burnt place because of the fire that burnt within them. A message was sent they each have as spark that can be fanned from the inside through holiness.
The next narrative as well he suggests has that same point. The people are asking for desire. Spirituality uplifts it fulfills. It completes a person. They were so used to Egypt. They had memories of the fish and smell of meat that was there and the desire their bodily urges had for it. They were slaves and they were like animals and no matter what garbage the Egyptians would feed them, they experienced it like a ten course meal. For they were meat eating meat. The Midrash suggests that Moshe saw the people crying by their tents about the illicit relations that they were missing out on. Relationships without the spark of God. Relations that are purely physically driven.
Moshe recognizes that this is not about meat per say as much as it is about a rebooting of that Divine spark. The commentaries note that the Jews had quail falling each day before this story as it says in Shemos. They had plenty of sheep and cattle that they took with them from Egypt. We didn’t leave until we took all of our Shwarmas with us for the road. This was about this natural human drive and connection to his earthly animal side. Remember we were created on the same day of Creation as them. And our need to gather more and more in endless pursuit of desire that can satiate an animal without a Divine soul but can never fulfill and satisfy one created with the image and spirit of Hashem within him. So he tells Hashem that unless he changes things up he can’t lead. Moshe, the man and servant of God, can’t relate to this physical human drive anymore. It’s not his baby. He is sooooo soul whose physical has been so elevated after having gone up to heaven. The meat crisis is meaningless. Give them their meat and they will see and learn that it is not the meat. It’s the kvetch.
Hashem ones up Moshe though by the gathering of the 70 elders and officers. These elders and officers were in Egypt with the people. They put their backs on the line for the nation and took blows for them. They can share that holiness of yours and show them how the same spark rests in all of them. The spark of Moshe. The spark of Hashem. Even in the camp the two people begin to ignite in prophecy. Moshe is ecstatic, the nation of the prophets is born. Sure there are some who still go out and gather their meat. The Midrash suggests that the plague that struck hit each person who partook according to the level that they had sunk. The distance they had fallen. It hit those that couldn’t reboot the spark over the 30 days. The place was named The Grave of Desire because that desire that they sought was buried there. The Jewish nation reignited our soul. It’s not that we didn’t want meat anymore. But we understood that the meat was meant to raise us closer to Hashem.
He concludes his idea with Shabbos chulent. OK, he doesn’t really say the word chulent. But he does note that the 70 elders correspond to our 70 holy days. 52 shabbosos, 8 Days Sukkot, 7 days Pesach, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Shavuot. Each of these days are the times that the heavens open up and the spirit of Hashem comes down to us and reignites us from our daily physical lives. We leave the animal of the week and become the soul of Shabbos and Chagim. We have a mitzva to eat meat on these days (except Yom Kippur of course- but Erev Yom Kippur makes up for it). Because on these days the meat is eaten in honor of our elevated state. In honor of Creator and our purpose. In celebration of what we have become and what we can achieve. On Shabbos the biggest mitzvah is Oneg- enjoyment, pleasure. No kvetching allowed. Which is why it’s important to have a wife that can make a good chulent J. Because with a good chulent we can make the world a better place.
Have a delicious Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S VIDEOS OF THE WEEK
In honor of Unity Day and the Gilad, Ayal and Naftali’s Yartzeit-the three martyrs that were murdered last year I give you a beautiful video made by boys in his Yeshiva
This is the song that I composed after the attack “Yizkaraym” the first part was after they were killed I felt it was too down and so around Rosh Hashana I composed the 2nd part which is more upbeat and filled with hope.
On a lighter note The late Late show James Corde visits a Kosher Butcherin Chicago-Good Shabos!
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!!
“Geshmak iz der fish oif yenems tish.”- Tasty is the fish from someone else’s table.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S FAVORITE QUOTES OF THE WEEK
“If God had not intended us to eat animals why did he make them out of meat?”.
~ John Cleese
~ John Cleese
“Vegetables are interesting but lack a sense of purpose when unaccompanied by a good cut of meat.”- Fran Lebowitz
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
Three rivers that form the largest watershed/drainage basin in Israel are?
A. Kziv, Betzet, Na’aman
B. Ayalon, Tzin, Kishon
C. Jordan, Yarmouk, Yarkon
D. Arava, Paran, Basor
.RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL MIDRASH OF THE WEEK
You know that question we ask by the Seder “Who knows 5?” well according to the Midrash this week the answer is not the 5 Book of the Torah, because the Midrash suggests that there are in fact 7 Books of the Torah. Which would be a better answer to “Who knows 7?” than the days of the Week. This week we in fact read from three of those books. We conclude the first Book of Bamidbar which goes up to the upside down letter “Nun” and then we read the verses that are familiar to everyone which is generally sung in fun synagogues like ours of Vayehi Binsoa Aron when when the Ark traveled Moshe would say Kuma Hashem-Rise up up Hashem and our enemies should flee from before us. And which includes with the verses of when the Ark would rest Moshe would invite Hashem to return to dwell amongst the 10’s of thousands of Israel. We than encounter another upside down “Nun”. And begin the next Book of the Torah until the conclusion of Bamidbar. To prove that this is its own Book the midrash notes that just as the first Pasuk of the Torah contains seven words the first Pasuk here does as well. Additionaly the Torah concludes with 12 words in its last verse and with the word Yisrael as does the end of this “Book” Even more mystically Rabbeinu Bachaya notes that this portion has the secret and essense of the entire world containing the idea that Hashem’s presence will go out to the world and the Jewish people will be the source of that blessing. He notes that the letter Alef appears 7 times which corresponds to what Kabbala tells us will be 7 thousand years of the plan of Creation. As Alef is the Hebrew word for 1000. The first 6000 until the world will reach its fulfillment and the 7 thousand Shabbos when it will be destroyed and rebuilt. Just as in the first verse of the Torah has 6 Alefs and then is followed by the verse and the land was empty and bare. Pretty cool. Huh?
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL THINGS TO DO IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK
Shoot Guns –Personally I have yet to shoot a gun. Although I’ve been at ranges here too many times to count with my tourists. Most kids and many adults feel this is one of the coolest things they can do on their trip here. See in America not too many people would consider going to a shooting range certainly not with their younger children or even teen age daughters. Yet being surrounded by soldiers all week along wherever you go in this country gives people some inspiration. Even those that have gone to ranges in the States certainly don’t think about shooting M16’s or Uzi’s. Yet here in the wonderful State of Israel, you can! And your kids can do. Interestingly enough Israeli citizens need a license to do this, but tourists just need a passport. (If you left yours in the hotel-I’m quite adept at looking at your face and Kabbalisticaly intuiting your passport number-just one of those skills I picked up J). There are some places that you can shoot target practice others, that have full blown counter-terrorism training programs and others where you just play paintball. Either way its definitely cool and you get to take your target home with you and show your friends back in the States. And that of course is most important of all to us tour guides that like referrals. Why haven’t I shot yet? I have nothing against it-I just remember how King David couldn’t build them Temple because he was a man of war who defended and saved the Jewish people in our Battles. And I kind of want to build the Temple. But I have been playing with the idea, specially if it ever gets dangerous in this country-maybe even as dangerous as New York, Chicago or Detroit. Yeah for you guys heading back to the dangerous places shooting a gun is a good skill to have.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S LANGUAGE JOKES OF THE WEEK
Q: What do you call a cow with a twitch?
A: Beef jerky.
Q: What do you call a cow with no front legs?
Q: What do you call a cow with no front legs?
A: Lean Beef
Q: What do you call a cow with no legs at all?
A: Ground beef
Q: What do you call a cow that has 2 legs?
A: Side of beef
Q: What do you call a cow that has 1 leg?
Q: Where do cows go for lunch?
A: The calf-eteria.
This was a real blog conversation I found while doing extensive research on Beef Jokes and I quote
This was a real blog conversation I found while doing extensive research on Beef Jokes and I quote
“I’d make a meat pun, but I ‘d probably butcher it..”
“At least it wasn’t a sausage joke. Those are the werst”
“Wurst spelling ever”
“Stop being such a weenie. Anyone could have made that mis-steak”
“Don’t be so apologetic you brat”
“I’m following this thread to stay-abreast of these puns”
“Good, I’ll be your wing-man”
“Great that way I won’t be a loin”
“He won’t support him, he’s full of bologna”
“That’s pretty cleaver”
“I’m bacon you to stop this thread already”
“C’mon, we’re just hamming around you”
“let’s try to keep this Kosher shall we?”
And on and on and on… oy what I won’t endure for you guys!
Answer is D: This is a rough question. First what is a watershed/drainage basin. No it is not what our bathroom in shul looked like this past week although we did have a flood. It is basically where all the surface waters join join together into a lower elevation point. Now that you know this, the next thing you need to know is where all these rivers are or where the largest drainage basin is. The rivers kziv and betzet are familiar to me in the north west Galile.Naaman I never heard of but its actually not far from house in the lower galilee. Ayalon is near Beit Shemesh, Kishon is near Mt. Carmel and Tzin is in the Negev. Those are not close to one another so I imagine they can’t form the same water basin. Similarly Yarmouk and Jordan are together by the Jordan river but Yarkon near Tel Aviv isn’t so that rules out that one. But if you knew the geology of Israel than you would know of course that the Arava under The Dead Sea that gathers all the water from the Negev is the largest valley in Israel and the three rivers that flow there are Paran and Arava and the largest being the Basor. Which I didn’t know and would never have guessed. This was a hard question. That I got wrong. Thank God most Tourists don’t care about this information. Although it’s cool to share if you’re out there driving hours down to Eilat without much else to talk about…