Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
December 25th 2015 -Volume 6, Issue 12 13th Tevet 5776
Of Grave Concern
Have you ever thought about where you wanted to be buried? I didn’t used to. I love life. Each day is a new adventure, a new blessing, a new opportunity to accomplish something, to change the world, to make an impact and to lift myself and the world to a brighter place. But yet we know that we are all on a clock. It’s ticking. From the moment we are born the march towards the grave has begun. We are a religion and a people of life, yet in death is when we achieve the only eternal life in the world of truth. When our souls are returned to our Creator and our bodies, the physical clothing of that spark of Hashem that is also very much a part of our identity is laid to rest. Our deaths are revered as well.
Judaism puts a tremendous emphasis on the significance of our burials and that final resting place. A cemetery is called a Beit HaChaim- a house of the living. King David refers to the World to Come-Olam Habah as the Eretz HaChayim- the Land of the Living. We believe in the concept of a Messianic Era when the Dead will once again rise and be united with our Souls once again in a world that is all Shabbos; a world where the clarity of Hashem’s presence in the world will be visible and acknowledged by all. As a tour guide I spend a good portion of my time with tourists that want to visit and pray by graves of many of our great sages and Rabbis that have passed over the past few thousand years, sages from the periods of the Mishna and Talmud, many of the great Rabbis and leaders that led the Jewish people in the middle ages, the kabbalists and halachists of Tzfat, the Chasidim of Tiverya and of course the caves of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Many of those graves are painted in blue in Israel. The reason being was to remind people that we do not pray to the souls of the Dead. The only one worthy of praying to is-in the words of the Rambam in his 13 principles of faith is of course Hashem. The graves of the righteous are just a source of connection and inspiration to Hashem. In the same way that the blues string we are commanded to wear on our Tzitzit, the Techelet, reminds us of the sea, the sky, the heavens and Hashem so to are the great and holy people that are buried in those sites. In their merit and our connection with them, Hashem looks favorably upon our prayers.
This is even truer when we visit the graves of our deceased relatives, our parents, grandparents and tragically for far too many here in Israel the graves of their children. Those who have given their lives for the Jewish people, those who have died or were killed because they were part of God’s chosen nation. Those who have sacrificed to bring us to where we are today. It is why there is a concept in Judaism to be buried together with one’s family. So one may go visit and the collective souls of ones predecessors will always serve as a place where one can come pray, contemplate, be inspired and appreciate the life and the long line that has brought us to where we are and the mission we are meant to carry on.
Which brings us to this week’s Parsha ironically although not coincidentally of course called Vayechi Yaakov- And Yaakov lived. If there’s one Parsha that really wants to hit the point mentioned above across with its title it is this one. For in this week’s Torah portion seems to be all about death. We are told about Yaakov’s dying days, his blessings to his grandchildren and children and his death and his funeral, as well as the death of Yosef. Yet it is called the Parsha of life. Fascinatingly enough the other parsha that mentions life in its title Chayei Sara- the life of Sarah is also all about her death and her burial in the cave of Machpela that the Torah goes at length to detail for us. The Parshiyot of life are the Parshas that talk about death and burial the most.
Yaakov, as one can guess, makes his final request to Yosef to be buried in the land of Israel. This is seemingly not a simple request for many reasons. Yosef is of course the 2nd most important person in Egypt. Jews of course have to show their loyalty and patriotism to their country. I’m sure there were many Egyptians that were not comfortable with what they viewed as a “foreigner” running their country. Imagine if for example, there were people doubting the legitimacy of the patriotism of your President. Suppose they believed he was born in a foreign country or worshiped a religion that didn’t think positively of your nation’s religion. And then he goes and buries his father in, I don’t know let’s say Kenya for example. One can imagine the outcry. Not that I would ever think this could happen in today’s world, of course J. So this wasn’t an easy request.
To make this even more complicated, Yaakov knows that Yosef’s own mother Rachel was not buried in the cave of Machpela, rather she was buried on the side of the road in Beit Lechem. Yaakov is asking that Yosef not bury him next his mother rather next to all of his other wives. Ouch! Yosef of course as expected swears to Yaakov that he will bury him there. And in fact the Torah tells us about the incredible burial that Yaakov has. 40 days to prepare him for burial 70 days of mourning and then the entire royalty of Egypt as well as most probably the leaders of the world join on the journey to Israel to bury him there. Amazing, the greatest world Empire shuts down pretty much for almost a third of a year for the burial of Yaakov. Perhaps the largest funeral in the history of the world.
Yet this year I noticed something fascinating about Yaakov’s request to Yosef. When Yaakov brings up the burial of Rachel in Bethlehem, I had always assumed as I had written above that it was part of his explanation in order to explain or clarify to Yosef why he should not hold it against him in regards to his own burial request. After all it is only a few verses after that. Yet the Torah is clear that this is not connected to his request. It is mentioned in a totally different context. Acharie HaDevarim HaEila- After this request, when Yackov was getting close to dying. The mention of the burial of Rachel is mentioned in the blessings of Yosef’s children Ephraim and Menashe. Its mention it seems really doesn’t even have any context. It’s just kind of thrown in. Yaakov tells Yosef that his two children will receive the blessing and be counted among the tribes of Israel. They will be like Reuven and Shimon, they will receive equal portions in the land like one of the tribes. And then it mentions that he didn’t bury Rachel in Machpela, rather on the road. Rashi explains that Yaakov felt that Yosef had “in his heart against him” for not burying her with the rest of the forefathers and he explained that this was done through the word of Hashem. In the future when the Jewish people will be exiled, they will pass by her grave and she will daven to Hashem that they will be returned to the land. Hashem answers her that there is reward for her actions and her descendants, her children will return once again to their borders. This seems like a fine explanation, yet it seems to be misplaced. This would fit well in Yaakovs request to Yosef to be buried in Egypt, not in the blessings of Ephraim and Menashe. There is something else going on; a message that Yaakov is trying to pass on to Yosef.
The truth is, I don’t believe that Yaakov ever felt that he had to be worried about Yosef carrying out his last request and burying him Israel. Yosef, more than any sone loved his father and would undoubtably carry out his request, despite the fact that Rachel was not buried there. Yosef, more than anyone else in the world would never hold a grudge. This is a man, remember, whose brothers tried to kill him and at whose hands he suffered for years and because of whom he was separated from this father for decades, but he never held a grudge. In fact quite the opposite he fed and took care of them and gave them everything. Yosef would never hold it against Yaakov. Yaakov never even felt the need to address the burial of Rachel when he told him of his desire to be buried in Israel. The conversation about Rachel’s burial for Yosef was for a different reason entirely. It was to let Yosef know what his legacy is all about. What he must pass down to his children. The type of person his mother truly was.
Yaakov thought, as Rashi states that Yosef might have in his heart that it was Yaakovs choice not to bury her there. After-all where else would Rachel want to be buried. Hebron, the burial place of all of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs, the burial place of Adam and Eve, the holiest point of connection to Hashem and of inspiration, besides the Temple Hashems resting place in Jerusalem. Certainly Rachel would want to be buried there. Yet Yaakov explains to Yosef. You don’t and didn’t really understand your mother. Rachel, was the Matriarch that would give up everything for her children. Rachel was the one who gave the signs to her sister Leah so that she could marry her own beloved Yaakov, because she understood that the 12 tribes would only come out of Leah and the other wives. Yaakov must marry Esau’s wife and take over his role, as he took over his blessing. She sacrificed her own love for the children of Israel. It is for that reason she is called Mama Rachel- the mother of all of the tribes although she is only the actual physical mother of two of the tribes. Rachel, if she would have been asked, would have only one request when she died. Where and how can I still accomplish for my children? That was your mother Yosef. That is why you are her son. You are so much like her. You are also separated from your brothers. You were also not with them in the land of Israel. Your children Ephraim and Menashe, born here in Egypt, far away from the holy land their entire lives, are like the tribes of Israel, because despite their place of birth and their lack of connection have been raised with the genes of your mother Rachel. The genes that despite even the spiritual sacrifice of being separated from the ultimate place of their holiness will be just as significant and essential as Reuven and Shimon. It is in her merit that the children will return to Israel and be home.
The children of Yosef, the Mashiach that will come from Yosef, the predecessor that will come before Mashiach from the house of David and the tribe of Yehuda will come from her. Ephraim, will come before Menashe. Yehoshua, from the tribe of Ephraim will bring the Jews into the land of Israel. Menashe’s tribe will be divided when you come into the land of Israel and half of his tribe will be on the other side of the Jordan to make sure that Reuven and Gad the two tribes that chose to stay there will always still be connected to the land of Israel. That is who your mother was Yosef. Even in her burial and death, she continues to live she continues to work, pray and pass one her legacy for her children. That is her only and ‘grave’est concern.
There have been so many that have died and been killed in the past few months. Rachel is certainly crying for her children. The Jewish people are returning to their land as prophesized. Yet there are so many graves along the way. There are the graves we have left in Europe, Russia in Spain, in Babylonia so many graves. Yet the descendants of Rachel have never lost their sight of our ultimate goal. Her tears, still cry for her children. Our ancestor’s tears are joined with hers, so that we may never lose that dream of returning and rebuilding. It is because of them that we will make it to that day. It’s never easy to think about where we want to be buried. Yet it is even more significant for us to be thinking about where we want to be living. How we need to be living. The portion of death is the portion of life. For ultimately when we think about the significance of that death and our burial, we understand how important and how many before of us have lived for us to continue living and for us to be part of that glorious day when the entire world we live that eternal life. And death will be swallowed up for eternity. May we see it soon.
Have an invigorated Shabbos Chazak Chazak V’NitChazek,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S VIDEO OF THEWEEK
http://www.israelvideonetwork.com/bibi-netanyahus-off-script-remarks-are-inspiring-people-everywhere/ – Awesom unscripted Bibi speech to Brithrighters..
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEGnrrX2RMs – Mama Rachel
https://youtu.be/1vgE9wdP_qU –A Yiddeshe Mama Avraham Fried
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S FAVORITE YIDDISH PROVERB OF THE WEEK
“Vos mir Vart, Mer Gna’art.”- That which one waits (or hesitates), one fools himself.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S JEWISH PERSONALITY AND HIS QUOTES IN HONOR OF THE YARTZEIT OF THE WEEK
.“There’s two ways to hit a target. The first is to shoot and try to hit it in the center. The second is to shoot and then draw the circle and target around your shot. My parables utilize the second method.”
“A rich man more readily gives money to a blind or lame person but finds it difficult to support Talmu Scholars, for he feels there is a chance that one day he might god forbid become blind or crippled but he never fears that he will turn into a scholar.”- Rabbi Yaakov Krantz- the Dubna Maggid
Yartzeit this Tuesday the 17th of Tevet
Rabbi Yaakov Krantz- The Dubna Maggid (1740-1804) – There have always been Rabbis that have seen their purpose to travel from city to city and admonish and inspire the people, with their words of Torah. These people are called Maggid’s. Perhaps one of the greatest of all of Maggidim was the Maggid of Dubna. Born not far from the city of Vilna, young Yaakov a gifted Talmud student got married at the age of 18 as proscribed by the Talmud and moved to the city of Mezritch where he lived at his father-in-laws so he could continue his studies. As he grew older, he began to give weekly talks on the Torah portion and he began to draw crowds. When his father-in-law lost his money and he had no choice but to support his family, the city of Mezrtich offered to pay him for his weekly sermons which he refused to take money for. He then wandered from city until arriving in the city of Dubna where he remained for 18 years where he would receive a minimal weekly stipend and lodging for with to study.
What made the Maggid’s sermons so unique and sought after was his tremendous ability to speak in simple parables and story that would touch people on the most simple of levels. At the same time as opposed to many other of the Maggidim who were of the fire and brimstone type that would work with tactics of fear of punishment, the Magid built up an appreciation of the wisdom of the Torah and the beauty of its values. Although many of his sermons were for the regular Yankels the greatest of scholars including the Gaon of Vilna saw in his parables and his sermons words of incredible heart-piercing truth and depth. The story is told that the Gaon of Vilna asked him to rebuke him, after he had undergone a sickness and was unable to study. The Magid of Dubna told him “who am I to lecture you the great leader of the Jewish people, the only thing I can say is that it is no “Kuntz” (trick) to be the Gaon of Vilna if you lock yourself in a room all day.” Perhaps the Gaon should mingle with the people and then see if he can maintain that same piety.” The Gaon’s response was “I am not a Kuntz Macher- a trickster.”
The Maggid never published his works or his lectures. They were published posthumously with the permission and guidance of his son. They are to a large degree the basic texts for any Rabbi in training and for anyone learning the Torah that is looking for inspiration that would speak to them. There have been many that have followed in his footspteps, but the Maggid of Duban stands out for centuries and the teacher and role model for all those who see their role as one to inspire others. May his memory be blessed.
.RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
answer below at end of Email
“Kibla” is a
A. A Prayer niche
B. The wall that faces Mecca in a Mosque
C. The sermon pulpit in the Koran
D. The name of the 17th Sura in the Koran
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL RASHI OF THE WEEK
There are many times that Rashi would be what seems like more than one explanation in the Pshat- The simple understanding of the text. However unless Rashi tells you that he is offering alternate interpretations than what may seem like unrelated explanations in fact are one Pshat that is all connected. In this weeks Torah portion there is a great example of that.
The Torah portion tells us that Yaakov asks Yosef to bury him in Israel, yet he adds a request “and you shall do with me kindness and truth please do not bury me in Egypt” Rashi on that verse explains
“Please do not bury me in Egypt-its earth will eventually be turned to lice (in the plagues of Egypt), and the dead of those buried out of Israel will suffer upon Resurrection the pain of rolling through the tunnels- (to come to life again in the Messianic era in Israel), and in order that Egypt will not make me into a deity that they worship.”
Seemingly three disparate reasons not to be buried in Egypt. Yet the Klei Yakar- one of my favorite commentaries Rabbi Ephraim Lunschitz- notes that in fact that all of the three interpertations are one. He notes that we have a tradition that the righteous will not suffer decay in the grave. Even we have many cases of great sages- including the Gaon of Vilna mentioned above, whose graves were dug up and yet they were in the same condition as the day that they were buried. So Yaakov certainly was not nervous of the lice that would plague Egypt would touch his body. He was nervous though that the Egyptians would notice that his grave was untouched and would therefore turn him into a deity upon witnessing this miracle. These two reasons are why Yaakov explicitly did not want to be buried specifically in Egypt. However he could technically be buried in any other country. It is for this reason why Rashi states that Yaakov specifically to be buried in Israel as well as he did not want to suffer through the pain of rolling. All of this Rashi sees in the simple understanding of the verse as Yaakov does not merely ask to be buried in Israel he asks not to be buried in Egypt. It must be for the reason-not reasons- that Rashi tells us. Egypt would be turned to lice, His grave would not be touched Egypt would make him into a deity and thus he should be taken to Israel in order so as not to suffer the rolling. Incredible. One simple Rashi. But as we see weekly each word has so many layers of depth.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL HISTORICAL EVENT THAT HAPPENED ON THIS DATE IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK-
Extra Purims! – Chanuka is over and although we have an extra month of Adar this year until the holiday of Purim, it’s time to get in the mood. This week there are two mini Purims. Purim that were established by communities that experienced a miracle of salvation and established them as day of holiday and feasting to commemorate the date. On the 14th of Tevet is the Purim of Chevron. The story that took place there is as follows
There was a despotic governor who hated Jews ruled over the city. He constantly sought ways to persecute his Jewish subjects and extort money from them.
One winter day, the governor summoned the leaders of the Jewish community and demanded a tax of one hundred thousand gold shekels the sum to be brought to him by the end of the month, declaring that if the money is not produced within thirty days they would all be killed.
The leaders returned to report the outcome of this meeting to the community. Since the demand was outrageously impossible, for they were all poor, the Jews turned to prayer and fasting. Every day they would congregate in their synagogue where they wept and prayed to Hashem. The days crawled by and the deadline approached. But, the Jews were far from the required sum. They had not even collected close to half of it. They knew that only a miracle could help them. On the day before the time was to elapse, the leaders decided to petition the Patriarchs buried in the Ma'arat HaMachpela Burial Cave in their city to beseech the Heavens on their behalf. They would do this by means of a note. They realized this was their last and only hope.
In those days, Jews were forbidden to enter the Tomb. So they decided to bribe the watchman at the gate. For a big sum of money, he agreed to insert their note through the grating of the tomb.
That night the governor was unable to sleep. All his thoughts were on the huge sum which he would receive the following day.
Suddenly, three figures appeared before him. Three old men with flowing white beards and glowing faces. "If your life is dear to you," they warned him, "give us at once the very sum that you are demanding from the Jewish community."
He scrambled out of bed and opened up his vault. His trembling fingers counted out one hundred thousand gold shekels. He placed this in a large metal chest and thrust it at the men, begging them not to harm him. As soon as they had the money, they disappeared. And the governor, suddenly relieved of his terrible fear, fell asleep at once and promptly forgot all about the money, dismissing the episode as a dream.
The next morning he sent his soldiers to the Jewish community. A unit of armed men, their swords already unsheathed, descended upon the synagogue where they found everyone huddled together. They demanded the money.
Shivering and terror-stricken, the people stood helplessly by. Then, one man noticed a chest in a corner of the large synagogue. Unable to speak from sheer fright, he pointed to it with his finger. The soldiers approached the chest and opened it. They found a treasure of golden coins. Counting them, they discovered that it contained the required sum of one hundred thousand gold coins. They gathered it up and left, their heavy boots thundering in the silence of the large stone building.
The Jews heaved a sigh of relief. A miracle had indeed taken place.
When the chest was placed before the governor, he recognized it as his own and recalled the episode of the previous night. It was his turn to tremble with fear and awe. He summoned the heads of the Jewish community and told them what had happened.
"I am convinced," he said, "that those three visitors were none other than your three Patriarchs -- Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They must have heard your prayers and come to help you, their descendants. Please, forgive me for having made such an unfair demand. I promise to treat you decently and fairly from now on. As for the money, take it; I don't want it." He was afraid to touch the money or the chest, lest a curse fall on him.
The Jews of Chevron celebrated the great miracle and established that day, the fourteenth of Tevet as a festival, calling it "Purim Chevron"
In addition on the 16th of Tevet is the holiday celebrated by Jews from Bagdad as Purim Bagdad. The year was 1639 and he Turkish leader Sultan Morad IV conquered the city of Baghdad for the second time from the Persians with the help of the Jews.. In general, when the Ottomans ruled the city, life for its Jewish residents improved. When the Persian Shiites ruled the city the situation was very difficult to say the least.
So you can start your Purim early this year by visiting Chevron or if you are from Bagdad
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S CEMETERY JOKES OF THE WEEK
Merv Griffin- 1925-2007- “I will not be back after these messages”
Rodney Dangerfield- “There goes the neighborhood”
Odell Dill Douglas 1926-2003- “I told you I was sick”
Joel H Cheskin July 1942- Feb 2014 “At last a hole in one” (sadly this grave has Hebrew writing on it)
Here lies George Johnson hanged by mistake in 1882. He was right and we was wrong, but we string him up and now he’s gone.
Here lies John Higgs a famous man for killing pigs. For killing pigs was his delight morning afternoon and night.
Here lies my dear wife Brunjilda Jalamonte 1972-1997 Lord please welcome her with the same joy I sent her to you
Here lies the famous acrobat Benjamin hoops whose famous last words were oh Darn whoops.
“Died from not forwarding that text message to 10 people”
“Here lies my husband Tom… Now I know where he is at night”
Here lies Byron Vickers Died October 10th 1887, 2nd fasted draw in New Austin
Na na na na, na na nan a, hey he-ey Good Bye
I’ve finally quit the habit for good
Here Lies the body of Nathan Blake- stepped on the gas instead of the brake
Here Lies Frank whose life was full, until he tried to milk a bull
Here lies the grave of Dentist De Mille in the largest cavity he’ll ever fill
Here lies good old Fred a great big rock fell on his head.
And my personal favorite…
“Here lies an atheist, all dressed up and nowhere to go.
Answer is B- As much as I am not a fan of Christianity- nothing personal really against my Christian friends and readers, but you know I always say it like it is, Islam is even less fascinating to me. So I’m gonna run through this quickly. Muslims pray to Mecca there is a niche in the wall called the Michbar that directs them toward the Kibla which means the direction of Mecca. The place where they have the Drashos from is called the Michbar and the 17th Sura of the Koran is the fable of the night journey of Mohammed to heaven from the “corner Mosque” which a few centuries later they made up was Jerusalem although it’s not mentioned in the Koran explicitly Al Aktza being corner. On that journey is where he got the command for their prayer to Mecca. And there you have it.