Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
October 9th 2015 -Volume 6, Issue 1 25th Tishrei 5776!
A Science Lesson
So there I sat by my tour oral guiding exam. It had been a long haul. Two years of classes 5 hours a week, 85 tours around the country and submitting 30-40 page reports after each one. I had already passed the three part written exam, with its 50 multiple choice questions-of really trivial information-( as readers of this weekly E-Mail who get passed the Dvar Torah and jokes to the question of the week know) and Part B and C having to on the spot write a two day itinerary for a random group, e.g. Protestants from airport to Jerusalem, Senior citizens in Golan, etc. All that remained was making it through the Oral exam. Only about 35% of our original tour guiding class had made it to this point. Of them another 15% has yet to successfully past this final hurdle to becoming a tour guide in Israel. I was nervous. It was the final stretch.
A Tribunal consisting of three members of the Ministry of Tourism sat before me, as well as a representative from the Union of Tourism agents. It is known in Israel that the Ministry of Tourism might very well have achieved the honorary title of “most arrogant government agency”. There is much competition for this title and crown here in this country and is certainly no small accomplishment. They feel, perhaps rightfully so that they hold the keys to what is certainly one of the most important industries if not the second most important (after Hi Tech) in Israel. The Tour guides are the ambassadors to the world for our country. We can form and influence the impression the world will have of our country, hopefully and it is for that reason they claim they have to be very selective of who can have the honor of being that representative. Their job was to shake and rattle me and try to get under my skin and push my buttons to see how I would respond. As well as test my knowledge and make sure that I wouldn’t make up too many things J. My job was to prepare a sample itinerary for them, speak as if I was speaking in one of my tour sites on that itinerary for about 5 minutes or so until they cut me off and then to respond to the barrage of their questions on my site, my itinerary, and then anything they wanted to ask me about Israel for the next half hour. All the while smiling of course.
The first ten minutes or so went fine. They liked my description of Tel Dan and the stories I told even letting me speak pretty much until the end. The first couple of questions also were not too bad. They got me though on what is the name of the water source in ancient Be’er Sheva. I said I thought it was a nachal but forgot the name of which one. Duhhh…. I found at after it was Nachal Be’er Sheva. But then one of them got this wicked gleam in his eyes. I could tell he was out to get me.
“What type of rock do you find in the Golan?” He asked me. “Bazelet- Basalt” I responded. “And where does it come from?” he followed with. “Volcanos” I served right back to him. He then came out with the curve ball. But I figured it was coming as soon as he started tis line of questioning. “When would you say was the last volcano in Israel….?” Ba Dam Dam. Thank you. “ A few hundred thousand years ago” I responded quite innocently. That’s what he was waiting for. This was his play.
“What do you mean a few hundred thousand years ago?! Don’t you believe that the world is only 5773 years old (this was 3 years ago). What will you tell you religious tourists? How will you explain that.!”
All eyes were on me the other ministers awaited my response. This would be my moment of truth. I smiled sweetly at my Inquisitor.
“Well, first I would tell them that I am an Orthodox Rabbi. Everything that I say is under Rabbinic Supervision. No one is going to Hell today for heresy. I guarantee. That’s first of all.” They smiled at that, except for my interrogator that is, who grumbled.
“Secondly,” I continued, “I have a question for you. How old was Adam on the day that Hashem created him. Was he a baby in diapers? Was he a toddler? A teen-ager? I imagine we would agree, that he was probably none of the above but rather he was a full formed strapping young man. I used to say late 20’s early 30’s now I think mid 40’s or so. You know, at the prime of life JJ. Meaning that we can agree that 5773 Hashem created a man that was already aged and formed. In the same way we believe that 5773 years ago Hashem created a world, and the beautiful Golan with its several hundred thousand year old volcanos and fascinating Basalt rocks.”
Home Run. And thus I became a tour guide. Don’t mess with a man who’s been doing outreach for years and who has had to field all these questions many times before.
The truth is though although I think in almost every portrayal I can think of, when one thinks about the Garden of Eden and this “perfect Man” awaking for the first time in this “perfect world, we have an image of …well I guess Paradise. After all that’s what is was wasn’t it? Lush green trees, streams flowing, birds chirping, animals grazing, roaming, bunny rabbits hopping around. Like one of those Disney imaginary worlds. A Kuna Matata. Yet if one looks in to the actual text of the Torah- which I highly recommend doing- it’s a new year, a fresh start- how about going through the text each week. If one goes through it then you see a whole different picture.
Chapter 2-“These are the products of the heaven and earth when they were created on the day that Hashem made the earth and heaven- Now any tree of the field was not yet on Earth nor any herb of the field had yet sprouted, for G-D had not sent rain upon the earth and there was no man to work the soil.”
The Torah than continues with the description of the Creation of Man and placing him into the Garden and then it tells us “And Hashem caused to grow from the ground every tree…”
If you follow the verses as do our sages and as Rashi notes as well. Adam was not born into that imaginary world. Adam was born and placed in a world that was not so perfect. It was in fact desolate. Probably looked a bit like Mars or a world after a nuclear bomb. Nothing was growing. “for there was no man to work the ground”. Now if you ask me this seems a bit strange. Wouldn’t it have been nice to be born in Paradise? I know Israeli restaurants that have a policy that they never have food ready before you order things. It needs to come fresh hot out of the oven. It can be the busiest season and the peak of the lunch hour but they will not make a pizza or even French fries until you get order it. I don’t get it. But here this is Hashem. He knows that He will be creating a Man in a few minutes. Why not give him the perfect world?
Rashi quotes our sages and says
“And why had He not yet sent rain? Because there was no man to “work the earth” and there was none to who could recognize the goodness of rains. And when Man came and realized that there was a necessity for them for the world, he prayed for them and and they came down and the trees and vegetation sprouted.”
Cool. Imagine that. Born into a world of desolation. Adam awakens. Being the bright young man that he is he realizes that this is not the way it is supposed to be. The world is not perfect. The world needs Tikun. The world needs Prayer. Hashem put me here for a purpose. To work the earth. But not necessarily to start digging and find some underground aquifers or invent drip irrigations to “make the desert flourish. Rather just to open up my lips and ask Hashem for the rain. For the blessing, for my salvation. The world was waiting for me to connect with my Creator. To raise it up to the heavens with my prayers and to bring heaven down to earth. These are the products of heaven and earth on the day that Hashem made them. He made a world that was waiting for man to be the bridge and bring it to its fulfillment.
I have tremendous respect for science. The Torah tell us that we are meant to delve into the secrets of the world and understand through them Hashem’s ways. Through our understanding of the universe, Hashem has directed us into uncovering incredible things, cures for diseases, technology, space travel, and all types of improvements to make life better for the world’s inhabitants. It’s why we were put here. Yet the prerequisite to all of it is to recognize that it all starts with Prayer. It all starts with our initial connection to Hashem. It has to start that way because there is a purpose to all of that Creation and that is not just to improve the world but to bring it closer to its Creator. To connect it to heaven. If it doesn’t start with prayer it will never end where it is meant to. It will stay down here on earth.
There is another idea as well that is so important and fundamental to us in this first lesson of Adam particularly in these trying times. Adam prayed and it rained. Prayer works. Hashem is listening. He may put us in a world that looks desolate and bare, that looks war-struck, god-less and empty. But life is right beneath the surface. It’s all ready to sprout forward. We just need to turn our eyes and hearts up to heaven. We know this. We’ve known this for 2000 years. We know this through out all the tragedies and suffering. It was the first science lesson we got. We, the Jewish people are meant to be the tour guides of the world in the Paradise that we are meant to create here. We were chosen to be the people to teach this lesson to the world. Our prayers are what is needed now for the salvation to sprout forward. May Hashem answer those prayers soon and bring an end to all the suffering and death with the redemption we are waiting for.
Have a magnificent Shabbos and a Chodesh Tov
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S VIDEO OF THEWEEK
https://youtu.be/KHinSH8W9jc –This year is the year of Hakhel check out this really adorable video and play.
https://youtu.be/Y18lS_ATRYQ – interesting short interview with State Department on why the US can bomb a hospital and kill innocent civilians and Israel cannot
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!!
“Hob nit kain moirch ven du host nit kain ander braireh..”- Don’t be scared when you have no other choice
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S JEWISH PERSONALITY AND HIS QUOTES IN HONOR OF THE YARTZEIT OF THE WEEK
Another new feature of the week. Decided to feature not just a quote but a important Jewish personality whose yartzeit falls out each week
.“Love turns one person into two and two people into one.” Don Yitzchak Abarbanel
Yartzeit-29th of Tishrei this Monday
Don Isaac Abarabanel (1437-1508)- Don Isaac Abravanel was one of the greatest Jewish statesmen who played an important part in European history. At the same time he was not merely a loyal and strictly religious Jew, but a great scholar, Bible commentator and philosopher. He was the last of the long line of great Jewish leaders and heroes of the Spanish Golden Age.
Isaac was born into a wealthy and learned family in Portugal. His father Judahwas state treasurer of Portugal, and a great favorite of Alfonso V, king of Portugal. Isaac received a thorough Jewish education, and took a keen interest in languages and philosophy. Later he succeeded his father in the service of the king.
In his greatness, Isaac never forgot his humble brethren. He used his vast wealth to support the needy. Thus, when Alfonso captured the town of Arzilla in Morocco, and there were two hundred and fifty Jews among the prisoners, Isaac Abravanel appointed twelve representatives to gather funds to redeem them, and he himself was the greatest donor. When they were redeemed, he supported them from his own means for about two years, until they learnt the language and could earn their own livelihood. Abravanel also used his great influence to better the position of his brethren in other lands.
Abravanel quietly obtained a position with a Jewish banking firm, and was glad to have time to pursue his studies and literary work. He continued his commentaries on the Bible which he had been forced to interrupt because of the pressure of state affairs. He wrote his commentaries on Joshua, Judges and Samuel, but when he began his commentaries on the book of Kings, the king of Spain summoned him to take over the state treasury. Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain knew that they could find no greater financial genius, and in the very same year when the notorious Torquemada became head of the Inquisition in Spain, Abarvanel officially became treasurer to the king and queen (two years before the expulsion of the Jews from Spain).
When that terrible decree of the expulsion of all Jews from Spain except those who would give up their faith, became known, Abravanel tried hard to avert the catastrophe. He begged of the king and queen to reconsider their cruel decree, and he offered a huge sum to the king's treasury. The king and queen turned considered his offer until Torqumeada the chief inquisitor came in and through his crucifix on the floor. Asking if they would abandon their “savior” once again like Judas for money. After which they quickly issued the decree of expulsion.
On the 9th of Av, 5252 (July 30, 1492), Abravanel and his family were on the march with the rest of their co-religionists. He describes the scene in the introduction to his works on the books of the prophets. The unfortunate refugees finally reached Naples in Italy. When Ferdinand learned that the Jews found a haven in Naples, he requested the king of Naples (also called Ferdinand) that he should not permit the refugees to. remain in his land. The young king of Naples, however, ignored the protest and demands of the cruel rulers of Spain. Moreover, he invited Abravanel to the royal house and appointed him as his adviser. Abravanel served both him and his son Alfonso II who succeeded to the throne in 1494. Unfortunately Naples was captured by King Charles of France in the following year, and King Alfonso II fled to Sicily. Abravanel accompanied his Majesty in exile, and continued to serve him with a fatherly devotion, until the exiled king died. Then Abravanel left for the island of Corfu in the Mediterranean.
Having lost all his wealth to the French conquerors, Abravanel suffered poverty and hardship. He moved to Monopoli, a town in the Kingdom of Naples, finally settling in Venice. Here it was not long before the rulers of Venice invited him to the council of state, and Abravanel became one of the leading statesmen of that Venetian Republic. Here in Venice Abravanel died in the year 5269, at the age of 71, deeply mourned by the Jewish and non-Jewish citizens of Venice. The leading rulers of Venice attended his funeral, and he was laid to rest in Padua.
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
“Altalena” is connected with
A. Detention camp is Cyprus
B. Illegal refugee boat that was sent away by the British
C. A book written by Theodore Herzl
D. Smuggling in of weapons by the Irgun (Etzel)
(Each year we’ve focused on a different aspect of torah two years ago we did the gematria/remez of the week, the past year midrash. This year i decided to focus on the simple pshat/understanding-which of course is best understood with rashi who defines his classic commentary as “only coming to explain the simple understanding.-pshuto shel mikra- so this year, i hope to bring you each week a fascinating ….
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL RASHI OF THE WEEK
First Rashi of the Torah interesting enough doesn’t seem like a simple understanding of the Pshat. RAshi quotes a Midrash.
Rabbi Yitzchak says the Torah did not need to start seemingly from the commandment of the New Month (in the book of Shemos/Exodus) the first mitzva (before the phascal lamb) the Jewish people were commanded with and why did it start from “The beginning” ? Rashi explains that this is to be able to have a response in the nations of the world accuse of stealing/occupying their land. We can tell them that the entire world belongs to Hashem and he gave it to them and then took it from them and gave it to us.
Seemingly for a commentary like Rashi that suggests his entire commentary is only for the simple understanding his start with a Midrash seems like a deviation.
The Be’er Mayim Chayim relates that Rashi wanted to give honor to his father, whose name was Yitzchak (Rashi- is an acronym of Reb Shlomo Ben Yitzchak”) and he therefore began with this Midrash of a question his father had asked him. The Maharal in Gur Aryeh suggests an even deeper concept that Rashi in his first commentary is coming to explain the simple understanding of what this Book called Torah- which seemingly means instructions is all about. Ostensibly it should just list and begin with commandments. Therefore Rashi feels the need to explain that the narratives of the Book of Bereishis are there to let us understand that the majority of mitzvos are meant to be fulfilled in Eretz Yisrael. It’s not merely a book of commandments and life instructions, it is a Divine mandate to conquer the land, dwell in it and fulfill the mitzvos here. Therefore Rashi explains it is necessary to start from “The Beginning” in order to understand Hashem created the world for this purpose to give us the land and fulfill his commandments
Additionally, it would seem that our job is to tell that to the “nations of the world”. Next Bibi UN speech. Hashem created the world and took the land from you and gave it to us”- I can hear it right now. Can’t you?
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL HISTORICAL EVENT THAT HAPPENED ON THIS DATE IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK-
Two years ago we did cool places in Israel, last year we did cool things to do in Israel, this year we will try to cover cool things that happened on this date in Israel.
Escape from Atlit – This Shabbos marks 60 years for the Palmach breakout of the “illegal refugees from the detention camp the British had set up in pre-State of Israel Palestine. The background and incredible story of the breakout is as follows. Following the various arab pogroms against the Jews in the late 20’s and early 30’s the British response was to limit Jewish immigration to Palestine. After World War II thousands of immigrants began to smuggle into Israel in operations led by the Hagana- the predecessor to the IDF. The British captured and detained many of these Holocaust survivors and kept them in a camp on the northern Coast of Israel, from where many of them were sent back to Cyprus and other countries. On October 9th 1945 (Jewish date of 2nd of Cheshvan) a group of Palmach units that had smuggled into the camp disguised as Hebrew teachers led by Nachum Sarig and Yitzchak Rabin. Overpowered the guards on the watchtowers and smuggled 208 refugees out and up to the Carmel Mountain range to Beit Oren. Unfortunatly the refugees had many children and suitcases with their memorabilia from Europe that slowed them down and that they would not agree to part with. As the sun rose the British converged upon them. All seemed lost until…. They were greeted by thousands of members of the various Jewish settlements who quickly exchanged clothing with them and mingled up amongst them so that the British could not identify who was who. Eventually after 2 hours the British gave up and the refugees were able to remain in Israel.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S OVERHEARD IN ISRAEL MORBID TERRORIST JOKES OF THE WEEK
“I heard that tomato prices went down this week. But the prices for knives went up…whatever you do , you can’t make a salad in this country…”
After receiving terrorist updates every five minutes on my whatsapp group –someone posted- I think we should add Bibi to the group so that he knows what’s going on in the country.
4 terrorists in a car and it falls of a cliff, why is this sad? Because there was room for one more.
What is one terrorist in the sea? Pollution What is all the terrorists in the sea? Solution
Answer is D-This is a pretty easy question I thought as the story of the Alatalena is one of the most tragic in out early States history. The story is about the forming of the Israeli Army from the forces of the Irgun and the Hagana led respectively by Menachem Begin and Ben Gurion. Ben Gurion being the accepted world leader of the fledgeling Zionist State to be felt strongly that there could only be one army and on leader and that the more radical Irgun had to get on board and join the Hagana. Begin agreed fundamentally however as there were separate fighting units and years of strong ideological and operational differences he wanted “his guys” who were fighting ont heir own to be able to have their own weapons. As these discussions were going on a cargo ship called Altalena that had been smuggling in our arms for Begin was stopped by BG. At the Kfar Vitkin coast, they were ordered to disembark and hand over the weapons by BG under threat that if they did not do so in 10 minutes he would give the order to open fire. Begin refused and sure enough the order was given. Many of the soldiers refused to shoot their fellow Jews. Yitzchak Rabin led the forces that did.and at the end 19 soldiers died. 16 from the Irgun. This pretty much brought to an end their fighting and the Irgun joined the Hagana, forming the IDF today.