Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
December 5th 2015 -Volume 6, Issue 9 22nd Kislev 5776
Turn on the Light
So there he stood in front of the Beis Din. He had been studying to become a Jew for quite a while. Since he was young he had seen the fallacies of the religion he was brought up with. God didn’t father a son with a woman and then torture him to death on a cross in order that everyone can sin and then declare they believe in the dead kid and be forgiven. He wasn’t interested in worshipping a psychopathic “Father” in heaven and he didn’t really think it made too much sense. It kind of stood in the face of what he assumed was a loving god that created the world and all of mankind whom He created. By the way Merry X-Mas to all my non-Jewish readers J. He checked out Islam as well and thought they were pretty crazy as well. I mean really? He thought the prayer 5 times a day thing was pretty nice and meaningful, but the whole kill out the infidel thing and jihad just wasn’t really the way that he thought Hashem had meant TIkkun Olam to take place. He kind of liked drinking wine as well.
The eastern religions although very “spiritual” with lots of meditation and proverbs to ponder and even the notions of love and brotherhood were also quite beautiful. But they didn’t feel real to him. Hashem didn’t mean for him to sit in an Ashram all day and the whole bow to the cow thing and funny fat guys in togas statues they worshipped seemed a bit pagan. So then he finally decided to check out Judaism. He had a plate of the rebbetzin’s chulent at the Schwartzs and he was hooked. Just joking. Although it definitely helped. He was astounded at the wealth of knowledge and the amount of questioning that was done about every nuance of what these people believed was the word of God called the Torah. He watched how every aspect of their life from the blessing they said when they got out of their bed in the morning, to the food the put in their mouth, to the laws that guided how they spoke, what they read, how they gave charity even the little scroll they kissed as they walked into any room that was hanging on the doorpost.
Once he began to see and observe their holidays he was really blown away. He had never in his life imagined or seen anything like it. There was no religion in the world that had so many details and nuances that were so minute and yet so rich with layers and layers of tradition, wisdom and meaning. Passover with its intricate laws of Matza and chametz and the Seder night with all its rituals and insights. Sukkot with its laws and details fo the construction of the Sukka, the way each person beautified it. Sure there were X-Mas lights hanging in some of them. But that even made it more glaring the difference. Because the lights were pretty much all he saw the gentiles put up here each kid had a different picture, there were pictures of rabbis and sages hanging from throughout the ages, all types of decorated verses of this Torah they couldn’t seem to stop quoting and of course pictures of the their 2000 year old long gone Temple, which in itself was amazing that they still longed for. Purim, the concept of celebrating a salvation from 2500 years ago, Simchat Torah watching the children dancing with their scrolls, their book of laws, their book of history there was clearly no other nation that had anything like it. Each Shabbat the holiness he felt, the joy and warmth of the families he met. And the kicker came on the last night of Chanuka as he spent two hours just staring into the small flickering flames, enveloping the light that shined forth in the darkness. That light penetrated his soul and he knew he wanted, needed to be a part of this special people.
So there he stood. The rabbis were a bit intimidating. The questioned his intentions. They asked him about his motivations, and then they tried as best as they could to dissuade him. “Don’t you know that we are the most hated and persecuted people in the history of mankind.” One of the Rabbis even asked him if he had a death wish, converting in these scary times, when Jews are being targeted and murdered and lambasted in the media and the world. He responded with words that came straight from his heart.
“No Rabbi,” he said “It is a life wish that I have. A life wish and a light wish. Not only a wish for me and for my soul, but for the whole world. I believe that the Jewish people were meant to bring that light of Hashem into the world that is the spirit of life that is found in his Torah in His holy word. I want to be a part of sharing that light. I want to be a part of that mission of life.”
So John not soon after became Yonatan, He joined our nation and is one of the many that live the inspired life that I believe that many of us who are raised as religious and observant Jews could only hope to one day achieve. It ain’t easy when you take it all for granted are raised with it all of your life to see the beauty that a “stranger” or a newcomer sees in our faith and life. All too often we are focused on the negatives and the failings of our “system”. The crises and shortcomings, the challenges and the struggles. We have so many frustrations and are so defensive, as we are attacked regularly by the world who just doesn’t seem to see that we are really quite peace-loving and harmless. Maybe that’s why we need to be involved in connecting with those that are joining our people, perhaps even starting with our own brothers and sisters who have never been exposed to the beauty of their own heritage. Perhaps, hopefully we can start to appreciate the incredible gift and portion that we do have as we realize that we are the light in the darkness.
This week, the week before Chanuka we read the story of Yosef. There is perhaps no figure greater that can serve us as a role model for our lives in this area. As a child he loses his mother, who dies in childbirth with his brother. He cleaves and clings to his father who showers him with love, yet that special love becomes the source of jealousy and fighting with his brothers. He dreams of a united Jewish people. He dreams of his rightful role as the firstborn of his father’s true bashert wife Rachel leading that holy nation and serving as their connector who would provide for them as they established themselves as the light of the world. But that does not happen. He is rejected by them, kidnapped, almost murdered and sold down to a foreign nation. His father, whom he loved had sent him on this mission, to see how “the peace of the brothers is doing…and the peace of the sheep” they were meant be shepherding. Our sages say that the sheep is a euphemism for the future of the Jewish people, as King David in Psalms says the “Roeh Yisrael Haazina, Noheg Katzon Yosef- The Shepherd of Israel (Hashem) listen, lead like Yosef your sheep.”. Would Yosef be able to fulfill this mission? Would the sheep of Israel be able to unite to see the light that only shines when we are all able to see that light in one another and bring the candles that are our souls to shine. And he fails. They fail. We fail.
He is sold down a slave, this pretty boy of Yaakov to a country that certainly is dangerous for a kid with those looks. And he still seems to find the light. He lifts up the home of Potiphar the executioner of Pharaoh, and manages to even strengthen his faith and those around him with the word of Hashem, that was visible “in all that he did”. And yet once again, he is shot down. The dream is shattered. Once again he is terrorized and becomes the victim of libel, lies, innuendo and scorn. He is thrown from his place of prominence, from the place where he was influencing and transforming the most wicked of places and sent to the dark prisons and dungeons of Egypt. And yet he does not lose faith. He doesn’t stop shining bright. His mission will go on. The greater the darkness, the greater potential for life. Even there he brings light and interprets dreams for the prisoner. Even there he shares his dreams with the world that one day he will be free. One day he will be reunited. One day the light of the 12 tribes will come together and shine forth to the world. It must be that way. It is what we are here for. There is no darkness that can ever extinguish that holy light. It is only we that need to believe that and reveal it.
This week begins the holiday of Chanuka; the holiday of lights. Each day of the holiday we add in our daily morning prayers the Hallel Psalms of King David. As opposed to other faiths and perhaps even against common thought the songs of praise that we sing- and despite many who are trying to rush out to work in the morning I encourage and certainly in our shul demand that they be sung- are not just psalms of victory or success that we have won or overcome rather they are Psalms that talk about how helpless and needy we are. “Raise us up from the dust, from the garbage heaps He raises the impoverished…The pains of death encircled me, the confines of the grave have found me troubles and sorrow I would find The I would invoke the name of Hashem “Please Hshem save my soul”..” From the depths we call out to Hashem” And yet we sing these words. We praise Hashem. The light is shining out from the darkness. This is our mission. Halilu Es Hashem Kol Goyim Shabichuhu Kol HaUmim- The day will come when not just John but the entire world will sing praises to Hashem, the one true God that we will reveal. Ki Gavar Aleinu Chasdo- Because his kindness overwhelms us, despite that darkness, we have the beauty and light of the Torah that is eternal. Haliluya. May His name be praised.
May the light of Chanuka penetrate the entire world and may we see that day soon.
Have a radiant Shabbos and lichtige light filled Chanuka ,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S VIDEO OF THEWEEK
https://youtu.be/XUFNTu4Mrms – ONCE AGAIN IN CASE YOU MISSED IT LAST WEEK-Our Hachnasat Sefer Torah Dedication in Young Israel of Karmiel produce by Yonah Schwartz!!!
https://youtu.be/H8bfyzuBNX0 – Boystown Chanuka
https://youtu.be/XUFNTu4Mrms –Samuri Jew and the eighth day
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S FAVORITE YIDDISH PROVERB OF THE WEEK
“Besser gornisht tsu machen aider tsu machen gornisht.”- Better to do nothing than to make something into nothing.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S JEWISH PERSONALITY AND HIS QUOTES IN HONOR OF THE YARTZEIT OF THE WEEK
.“ If we wish that the name Israel be not extinguished, then we are in duty bound to create something which may serve as a center for our entire people, like the heart in an organism, from which the blood will stream into all the arteries of the national body and fill it with life”
“The Hebrew language will go from the synagogue to the house of study, and from the house of study to the school, and from the school it will come into the home and... become a living language.”- Eliezer Ben Yehuda
Eliezer Ben Yehuda (1858-1922)- One of the most controversial persons of his time but certainly arguably one of the most influential people in the development of the modern State of Israel, Eliezer Ben Yehuda was the founder or rehabilitator of the modern Hebrew Language. Born to a religious family near Vilna, Eliezer Perlman as he was born attended Chedre and even went off to Yeshiva. There he became attracted to the enlightenment/Haskala movement that was sweeping the Jewish world which advocated a secular cultural type of religion rather then a Torah observant one. He also got became very connected to the idea of the Zionist movement and he eventually moved to Israel in 1881 with his wife to live in the old city of Jerusalem. There he pretended to be religious, his wife even covering her hair in order to best influence the the old Yishuv Jerusalem community. He began writing for Newspapers and he began his platforms for the rebirth of the language of Hebrew as the national language of the Jewish people. He wrote and developed a dictionary and developed a personal relationship with Rav Kook who he would constantly confer with in order to find the proper translations of many words that were in the Torah and Talmud that he could adapt to his new/old language. As he became more brazen in his writings decrying the observance of the Shemitta year and claiming to be the new Yehuda Maccabi who is fighting against the “greeks” and their culture and restoring Hebrew to its former glory. The Rabbis of the old Yishuv excommunicated him and he was eventually even put in prison by the Ottaman Turks for suspicion of rebellion. He also upset many of the Zionists when he supported the idea of establishing a Jewish State in Uganda. Much of the opposition as well was to many of the words that he used or adapted. For example Chashmal which he translated as electricity is a term that refers to the holy fiery angels. The rabbi felt that he was desecrating the language in using holy terms in such a mundane way.
One of the great battles that he fought as well was that the establishment of schools and the Technion university that was deciding whether to teach in German. He pushed and eventually won the battle that it should be taught in Hebrew.
In his personal life his wife died a few years after he came here and he married he younger sister many years her junior. He lost three children as well to diphtheria. His oldest sone Ben Zion became the first Jewish child to speak Hebrew as Ben Yehuda demanded that it should be the only language spoken in his home. Slowly his influence extended to schools where he demanded that people only speak and teach in Hebrew without any translations.
When he died his funeral was attended by over 30,000 people, however many in the religious world shunned his grave and refused to offere him a proper Jewish burial. Ironically enough for many years his grave on Mount of Olives used to be desecrated by religious radical anit-zionist children of Jerusalem. Usually with all types of form of graffiti. The irony of course is that the graffiti more often than not was in the Hebrew that he developed and brought to life. Today of course Hebrew is the main language of this country accepted overwhelmingly by most of the religious and even ultr-orthodox world as well. As Yeshivos of the most Chariedi nature teach in Hebrew. For many secular Israelis as well, the ability to speak and understand Hebrew puts them miles ahead in terms of their connection to Judaism and even Torah and prayer, then their American secular counterparts. Was it a good thing? Wasn’t it? Far be it for me to comment. But certainly I hope that the merit that he had for developing this language, one of the most greatest modern miracles of our times should serve as an atonement for him in heaven.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
answer below at end of Email
The meaning of the word “MiDiohraita” is
A. From the Mishna
B. From the Talmud
C. From the Torah
D. From Dawn
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL RASHI OF THE WEEK
One of the amazing things that a study of Rashi who comes to explain the simple Pshat of the verse is that many times we might things that the verse is simple enough and a look at Rashi tells us a powerful lesson that shows how far off we are and how we are missing the boat and wahte a powerful lesson there can be in seeing that.
This week when the brothers are conspiring to kill Yosef is a classic example. The verse says
“Behold the dreamer is coming, So now, come let us kill him, and we will throw him into one of the pits and we will say ‘ A wild beast devoured him’ and we shall see what will become of his dreams”
Now the simple understanding of the verse is that the brothers are plotting to kill him and when they say at the end of the verse that “we will see what will become of his dreams” they are being sarcastic or cynical. Because obviously once he is dead there won’t be any fulfillment of those dreams. So they couldn’t be seriously saying that they would then see if his dreams will be fulfilled.
However Rashi shows us that we are missing the boat.
Amar Rabbi Yitzchak-so says Rabbi Yitzchak (interesting that the sage that says this name is Yitzchak which means laughter or mocking-It’s also the same sage that Rashi begins his commentary on the Torah with also stating that the Torah began with the story of creation in order that the nations should not mock or challenge us) This verse says Expound upon me- study the Midrash- The Holy Spirit Ruach HaKodesh is the one that made that statement- the brothers said ‘Let us kill him ‘ and the verse continues and says “And we shall see what will become of his dreams’ We shall see whose words will be fulfilled Mine (Hashem’s/The Holy Spirit) or yours.
And then Rashi explains. “It is impossible that the brothers made the last statement literally for they already said that they would kill him so then once he is killed his dreams would of course be nullified”.
What we see from Rashi that the possibility that the brothers were talking sarcastic or cynically isn’t even a possible interpretation of the verse let alone the simple Pshat. His only question is if they meant it literally or not. But cynical? Sarcastic? Mocking? That’s not even on the table. That can’t be what happened. These are his brothers. These are the holy tribes of Israel who despite the fact that they are sentencing their own brother to death and carrying out the judgement acted out of what they felt was the proper Divine mandate- for whatever reason. But they would never mock or be sarcastic. They might be literal, but Rashi says that doesn’t work. But sarcastic? Never!
Did you read the verse that way? No maybe it’s because we’re a little bit too entrenched in our skeptical sarcastic cynical world. That’s why we need Rashi for. To shed some light in the darkness of our lives and our perspective.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL HISTORICAL EVENT THAT HAPPENED ON THIS DATE IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK-
Carmel Mountain Fire –It was a few months after we had moved to Karmiel. Our first Chanuka in Israel In December of 2010 when we watched in horror as the flames engulfed the glorious mountain of Mount Carmel. Not very soon after my phone started ringing with nervous friends and relatives asking if we were alright. I assured them we were find as Karmiel is not Mt. Carmel which is about a forty five minute ride from our home. But it was nice to know that so many people cared about us.
The fire, the largest and most devastating to ever hit this country destroyed close to 10,000 acres of forest and over 4 million trees were destroyed! Tragically 44 people were killed in the fire as there was a bus of Police officers that were on their way to evacuate the prison there on the mountain that got caught in the flames as a burning tree blocked their route. Over 17,000 people were evacuated until the flames could be put out which took quite a few days, as Israel did not even have any water planes. Our “good friend” then Turkey actually sent planes to help us back then as well as many other countries lent their support.
The fire had been started it seemed by two Druze teenagers who had made a BBq and did not fully put it out. There were many miracles that took place there were homes that had mezuzos in the neighboring Yishuv that were not touched while others that did not were destroyed. Synagogues in Beit Oren and Yemin Oren were like the only structures that were almost untouched while the rest of the Yishuv was destroyed as well.
One of the reasons behind the extent of the fire was the fact that the majority of the trees were pine trees planted by the JNF-you know the ones you got for your Bar or Bat Mitzva- that are extremely flammable and really not indigenous or really good for Israels terrain or climate. Recently the JNF has…shhhhh…been de-foresting these trees. But I don’t think that they’re giving out any refunds.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S JEWISH THANSGIVING JOKES OF THE WEEK
TOP TEN CHANUKA PET PEEVES
10. Spelling Chanukah (Hannukah?)
9. People saying we get 8 days of gifts
8. Sufganiot jelly shootage & powder mustache on each bite
7. No Halachic excuse to take off all 8 days from work
6. Donuts, Latkes, Gelt kinda screws up your Atkins diet
5. Gushing blood from cracking open those 'safe' oil-flasks
4. Fluorescent Wax stains
3. Having to sit a full 1/2 hour with your candles/parents
2. By the time you fill up your Menorah with 8 candles, you're already over the whole Chanukah thing
1. Can't seem to find any difference between Hellenism and your life
Thought you might want to consider getting on board early....
A German engineer just started his own business in Afghanistan. He's making land mines that look like prayer mats. It's doing well.
HE SAYS PROPHETS ARE GOING THROUGH THE ROOF.
Answer is C- This was easy for a Rabbi J. Truth is I’m betting even my 12..or is she 13 year old Rivka knows this one (Note to self-I really should spend more time at home). The word D’Oraisa or Dohraita with an Israeli sefardic pronounciation is from the root word Ohr-light. That’s why they threw in the choice D which is dawn. But all the other answers obviously refer to a holy Jewish book. The Mishna being the work of the oral tradition compiled by Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi in the early 3rd century (his Yartzeit was this past week). The Talmud in the 6th century were the extapolations and discussions and stories of the sages of that oral tradition over the next 3 centuries, that’s almos like a tape recording or transcription of the laws and discussions that went on during those periods. DiOhraisa is the word that they used to discuss the written Torah that was given by Hashem and written down by Moshe. What an amazing word. Light. The Torah is truly that book of light and isn’t it cool that that was the question that came out this week!