Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
September 29th 2016 -Volume 6, Issue 53 26th Elul 5776
Parshat Nitzavim/ Rosh Hashanah 5777
Of Shofars Big and Small
It was Changi, Singapore. It was the first time Boaz was there and he was diligently engrossed in the tour book he picked up that gave him the important things he would need to know about the city and country he was visiting. He read about the foods to stay away from, the traditional ways to greet people, tip amounts to give to waiters. You know, the important things. He skipped over the various temples and religious sites that he knew he wasn’t interested in visiting. He had left that behind in Israel. He didn’t come here to do religion or God, certainly not gods. He reached the pages that were talking about the specific laws they had in Singapore and was fascinated by the punishments of caning and flogging that seemed to be quite common over there. As he was reading he noted that the Asian-looking man next to him was peeking over his shoulder and looking at what he was reading. After a few minutes the man turned and asked him a question in a somewhat imperfect English.
“Are you interested in sins?”
Now Boaz was certainly not the most religious of people and yet this was like something out of the movies. He looked around to see if there were any hidden cameras anywhere. When he didn’t see any he asked the man to clarify. “Sins?!?” Boaz asked perplexedly.
“Well I noticed that you were reading about punishments over here. Generally someone who is reading about penalties usually has some types of crimes he is thinking about.” Boaz closed his book very quickly and quite nervously and explained that he had no sins or crimes he was just fascinated by the ‘unique’ penal system in this wonderful country. The man seemed to accept that and they went back to sitting and avoiding each other’s gazes. At least Boaz was avoiding his gaze. He thought to himself how he had thought Israelis were nosy and like to strike up conversations with strangers, but this seemed a bit out of the bounds for even a sabra like himself. But the next question the man asked him threw him for an even greater loop.
“Do you mind if I ask you another question?”
Uhhh… Sure. Boaz answered, although he definitely was not sure.
“In your culture, and although I don’t know what it is, I have my suspicions…”
Now Boaz was really getting nervous.
“What is the smallest sin that a person can do?”
The smallest sin?!
Yes the smallest sin.
All of Boaz’s life he had been focused on the big sins, the lies he told, the laws he had broken, the religion that he wasn’t always most faithful or observant of. The smallest sin?
“See here in Singapore we focus on the little sins, the smallest crime. That’s what we try to figure out.
Come think with me let’s see if you can come up with the smallest sin.”
Boaz thought and thought but all he could think of was the big ones. The man figured he’d give him a bit of a hint. He pretended to start chewing up and down quite vigorously with his jaws. Boaz stared and then the man made a motion of taking an imaginary something out of his mouth and throwing it on the floor. A light bulb went off in Boaz’s head; a shining Big Red, Juicy Fruit, Hubba-Bubba lightbulb.
“Chewing gum in public and throwing it on the floor!” He exclaimed like he had just won the million dollar prize on Jewprady. I mean Jeopardy.
That’s right his Singaporean friend told him. That’s a small sin that we treat very seriously here. He made a caning motion with his hand. Now you’ve got the idea. Now tell me are you Jewish?
Boaz decided to just go with the flow on this one. This was getting far too interesting. So he just nodded.
“Ahh well if you are Jewish it is easy to find small sins. For example those bad Germans what do you call them nahzee’s that killed most of your people. With that terrible big sinner Ardorf Heelter. I’m sure that there were many Jews that lied to him, to his soldiers, to save themselves. To save their wives, to save their children. That’s a very small sin. Isn’t it?”
He smiled very proud of himself. Boaz being a grandchild of survivors didn’t find it as amusing. He also didn’t feel that it was necessary to tell him that lying to save a life is not necessarily a sin in Jewish law. This conversation was just getting more and more bizarre… and interesting.
So now the man told Boaz that he found two small sins. He promised him that if he was able to name one more sin then he would show him and share with him something very special. Something that was dear to his heart and something that had to do with the Jewish people.
Now Boaz was really curious. So he thought and he thought and finally he remembered an incident a few days before that somehow stuck in his mind. He was walking through a park and there was a city gardener that was forming circles of rocks around the trees. The gardener who was an older gentleman was not doing such a great job, although he seemed to be working pretty hard. When the gardener stepped away to take a break over by the tree for a drink, Boaz made his way over to that circle of rocks and straightened out a few of the out of place rocks. He tried to be discreet, but the gardener glanced at him and there was that moment when their eyes met. He saw that he had a hurt look in his eyes. Like who is this guy that thinks he can do a better job than me? Boaz smiled meekly and just pooh-poohed with his hand and mumbled something about how he really thought it looked nice, but he knew that he had hurt the man’s feelings.
It was a small sin. He had totally forgotten about it. But now here in the train it had come back to him.
His friend on the train seemed quite pleased with this sin. He turned to him and told him that he had always been fascinated by the Jewish people. He read a lot about the Holocaust and he was particularly interested in their concept of a day of judgement each year. In Singapore he said most people did not believe in a judgement day and neither did he, but he liked the concept a lot. He particularly was fascinated by the concept of the shofar blast. And he started to collect them. The problem he had was as he put it “Your shofars are too big”. The ram is a big animal and its horns are too big. So he began to breed smaller animals. He pulled out his smartphone and started to show Boaz his ‘Bonzai rams” and shofars that he was breeding.
“See how small they are? They’re just right for small sins.”
Boaz was dumbfounded. Flabbergasted. Blown away-excuse the pun.
The man gathered up his things and before getting off the train he reached into his handbag and handed Boaz the smallest Shofar he had ever seen. It was the size of one of those small party-tooter whistles. Here this is for you. My Jewish friend, he said smiling. Proud. For all your small sins. And then he stepped off the train to the platform and he was gone.
Boaz put the shofar to his mouth and a little squeak came out. A toot. And then it fluttered and pieces started to flutter off of it and it crumbled. It fell in his lap right next to his little tour book. All he had left was the little mouthpiece. He put it in his pocket right next to his ticket back home. Isn’t that where the shofar is supposed to bring you to, he thought…Back home.
Somewhere in the distant recesses of my mind I hear Shlomo Carlebach strumming on his guitar “Eliyahu Ha’Navi… Eliyahu HaTishbi… Eliyahu HaGiladi…”
When I read this story it made me think of another story or actually another drasha, perhaps one of the most famous and prophetic ones given by the first chief Rabbi of Palestine Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohe*/n Kook. The year was 1934. It was before the Holocaust. Before the 6 million. It was a time when Europe was still the Jewish center of the world and Eretz Yisrael had less than a half a million Jews. The British has authorized the rebuilding of the Churva Shul in the old city of Jerusalem and this was the speech that Rav Kook z”tzl gave on the first day of Rosh Hashana that year
“We say in our prayers, “Sound the shofar gadol- the big or great shofar- for our freedom, and raise the banner to bring our exiles together.” What is the significance of this ‘great shofar’?
There are three types of shofars that may be blown on Rosh Hashanah. Preferably, one should blow a ram’s horn. If this is impossible, one may use a shofar made from the horn of any kosher animal other than a cow.But if neither of these types is available, we may blow the horn of an animal which is ritually unclean or of a chaya -wild animal or even one that was used for idolatry, however this shofar is blown without reciting a blessing. For it is considered a curse.
These three shofars of Rosh Hashanah correspond to three ‘Shofars of Redemption,’ three Divine calls summoning the Jewish people to be redeemed and to redeem their land; the big, the average or medium and the small.
The preferred Shofar of Redemption is the Divine call that awakens and inspires the people with holy motivations, through faith in God and the unique mission of the people of Israel. This elevated spiritual awakening corresponds to the ram’s horn, a horn that recalls Abraham’s supreme love of God and dedication in Akeidat Yitzchak, the Binding of Isaac. It is the shofar of faith, it is the shofar that wishes Hashem’s kingdom to be restored to his holy land. It was the call of this shofar, with its holy vision of heavenly Jerusalem united with earthly Jerusalem that inspired Nachmanides, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevy, Rabbi Ovadia of Bartenura, the students of the Vilna Gaon, and the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov to ascend to Eretz Yisrael. It is for this ‘great shofar,’ an awakening of spiritual greatness and idealism that we fervently pray.
There exists a second Shofar of Redemption, a less optimal form of awakening. This shofar calls out to the Jewish people to return to their homeland, to the land where our ancestors, our prophets and our kings, once lived. It beckons us to live as a free people, to raise our families in a Jewish country and a Jewish culture. It’s not a call for religion or faith, merely a return to our ancestral and Jewish homeland. This is a kosher shofar, albeit not a great shofar like the first type of awakening. We still recite a brachah over this shofar, for it also corresponds to a ‘kosher’ return of the Jewish people to their homeland. To the place where Hashem desires us to live and shine his light to the world from.
There is, however, a third type of shofar. (At this point Rav Kook burst out in tears.) The least desirable shofar comes from the horn of an unclean animal. This shofar corresponds to the wake-up call that comes from the persecutions of anti-Semitic nations, warning the Jews to escape while they still can and flee to their own land. Enemies, the wild animals, the idolators force the Jewish people to be redeemed, blasting the trumpets of war, bombarding them with deafening threats of harassment and torment, giving them no respite in the Diaspora.
The shofar of an impure animal becomes the shofar of Mashiach. The one who did not listen to the sound of the first shofar and the ones whose ears are closed up and do not want to listen to the sound of the second ordinary shofar will listen to the sound of the impure, invalid shofar. They will listen against their will. Over this shofar, however, no blessing is recited. “One does not recite a blessing over a cup of affliction” (Berachot 51b). This is the smallest shofar; the Shofar that the nations blow for us.
We pray that the Holy One does not force us to listen to the invalid and impure shofar. We also do not long for the ordinary, medium sized-almost secular- shofar.We pray, “Sound the great shofar for our freedom”, a shofar which comes from the very depths of the sanctity of the Jewish soul, from our Holy of Holies. We all await that great day of which it is written: ‘It shall come to pass on that day that a great shofar will be sounded, and those who are lost in the land of Assyria, and the oppressed in the land of Egypt will come and worship God at the holy mountain in Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 27:13)”
I titled this essay “Of Shofars Large and Small”- in case you missed my brilliant title. A lot of work goes into them each week, incidentally, but I understand that you don’t’ have two hours to read the entire E-Mail each week before you jump to the bottom read the jokes and delete. But anyways. I thought of this when I heard Boaz’s story. The story of the smallest shofar that he heard from the gentile in Singapore. The one for the small sins. And I thought of Rav Kook and his prophecy just a few years before the entire Europe heard even more deafeningly the shofar that our enemies blew for us. ‘It’s time to come home’ is the only note that a shofar can play. ‘It’s time to return to Hashem’ is the call that the shofar beckons us to heed. In our parsha this week the Torah tells us prophetically Devarim (29-21-24)
“And the last generation, you children who will arise from after you will say, And the gentile that will come from a distant land and will the blows of this land and its maladies that Hashem has stricken it with…
And all the gentiles shall say why has Hashem done so to this land what is this great wrath? And they shall say because they have left the covenant of Hashem the God of their fathers…”
Is Singapore that distant land? Is Germany? Europe? Should I even say it… Will it be America? How could the Torah have known that there would one be a medium called the United Nations, The World Wide Web, a global media? A world which would one day even have the ability to blow daily its hot air with what becomes a holy cry for our people to return, return, return…
This year as we close our eyes and hear that shofar blow of that ram’s horn, the big shofar, the great one, the only shofar blast that really can unveil our deepest and perhaps most buried and yet most spiritual longing. Let us confess our smallest sins and our biggest sins. Let us awaken and realize that the redemption is just one short blast away. It is up to us. We’ve had enough of other people blowing for us. May the next shofar be the one that Eliyahu Hanavi –the Israeli version-blows, the biggest and greatest blasts, and may it be written and sealed for this year.
Have an uplifting Shabat and may we be inscribed and sealed for a happy, healthy and holy sweet New Year,
Shana Tova UMetuka,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL VIDEO CLIPS OF THE WEEK
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__7b9O8k1tw – In memory of Shimon Peres a funny parody he did when he left the job of being president of Israel
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIurPUWOkss – Shana Tova from my heroes!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3tNKmzTZDw – cool! Shana Tova Min Hashamayim- from the heavens!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LC6YeLy61V4 – Shlomo Carlebach L’Shana Tova and the Chozeh of Lublin
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S FAVORITE YIDDISH PROVERB OF THE WEEK
“A nayer meylekh mit naye gzeyres, a nay yor mit naye aveyres.” - A new king with new decrees, a new year with new misdeeds.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S JEWISH PERSONALITY AND HIS QUOTES IN HONOR OF THE YARTZEIT OF THE WEEK
“Now we pray every day: ’Vtehchezena eineinu b’shuvcha l’Tzion Let our eyes behold Your return to Zion in mercy’ and if we believe our own words, then upon whom will the Divine Presence become manifest? Upon the trees and the rocks? Therefore, as the first step to the beginning of redemption of our souls we must return to the Land twenty-two thousand (Jews), to cause the Divine Presence to descend upon them. This most certainly will be followed by Hashem showing us and all of Israel beneficial signs..”
“Now however because of our sins we are separated one from another, for each and every country has a language and customs of its own and this factor hinders the ingathering (of the exiles) and delays the redemption. I myself have remained in sorrow over this, as it was not right that our fathers abandoned and forgot the Holy Tongue when our nation was divided among seventy nations and our language among seventy different languages in all parts of the world. When G-D accomplishes all His wondrous deeds for us and gathers us from the four corners of the earth into our Land we will not be able to converse with one another and the ingathering will fail….Therefore we should not abandon hope but rather in steadfastness and strength attempt to achieve the revival of our language and make it our essence so that the Holy One Blessed Be He will pour His spirit upon the teachers and the students; upon the sons and upon the daughters”
“This new redemption will - alas, because of our sins - be different: our land is waste and desolate, and we shall have to build houses, dig wells, and plant vines and olive trees.”
“All of the final dates for redemption have finished and the only thing that is lacking is Teshuva-our sages teach us. Teshuva in this statement means returning to the Land.”
“The salvation of Israel lies in addressing to the kings of the earth a general request for the welfare of our nation and our holy cities, and for our return in repentance to the house of our mother... our salvation will come rapidly from the kings of the earth”
Rav Yehuda Ben Shlomo Alkali (1798 - 1878) This Thursday, the 4th of Tishrei- Many consider the father of modern Zionism Theodore Herzl. But perhaps the ideas that he brought to fruition had their roots in the life and teachings of the shul where his grandfather blew shofar each year, and the sefarim/holy books that Herzl’s father published. The teachings of the great Rabbi of Sarjevo who planted the seeds and began the work of convincing the Jewish people that the ultimate return to our holy land would come with our already beginning to move and by the Jewish people en-masse supporting this movement and getting the agreement politically from the world.
Yehuda Solomon Alkalai was born in Sarajevo (Bosnia) in 1798. He spent his boyhood in Jerusalem then under Turkish rule from age ll studying with various rabbis most notably the great author of the Pele Yo’etz and it was there that he came under the influence of the Kabbalah – Jewish mysticism. In 1825 he became Rabbi of Semlin (the capital of Serbia). At that time, the Serbs, as well as other nationalities which resided within the Balkan States, were greatly influenced by the Greek War for Independence and the prevailing atmosphere of rebellion against foreign Turkish rule. With this resurgence of national pride and desire for independence, the entire Balkan area became divided among differing nations and peoples. There is no doubt that these events influenced Alkalai and brought him to the realization that the time had come for Jewish nationalism to reassert itself among the Jewish people.
Rabbi Alkalai raised the issue of Jewish political independence and the Land of Israel for the first time in 1834 in a small booklet entitled Shema Yisrael, (‘Hear O Israel’). In his essay, he proposed a beginning of Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel as a precursor to the Messianic Redemption. Such an idea was not only original but was considered heretical among many Jews who believed that the Messianic Redemption would come only through a miraculous event caused by God. Within Alkalai’s proposition of a natural process of redemption, there was the inclusion of the Rabbinic doctrine, expressed in the Midrash, that the Messiah, son of Yoseph, would first come to lead the people of Israel in the apocalyptic war of Gog and Magog and would then re-conquer the Land of Israel, freeing it from foreign domination.
A drastic change took place in the life and outlook or Rabbi Alkalai in 1840 with the occurrence of the Damascus Blood Libel, shaking the very foundations of the Jewish, and elements of the non-Jewish world. This blood libel convinced Rabbi Alkalai that freedom and security for the nation could and would only be achieved in the land of the forefathers, and that the redemption would only come about through positive action on the part of the Jewish community.
From this moment Rabbi Alkalai devoted himself to spreading these ideas through writing and speeches within various Western European Jewish communities. He approached such Jewish leaders as Moses Montefiore and others for their political and financial support.
Rabbi Alkalai was convinced that it would be possible to buy part or even most of the Holy Land from the Turkish government, i.e., the Sultan and his empire, as Abraham had done at the cave of Machpelah when he bought land from Ephron the Hittite. He dreamed of establishing a world-wide organization along the lines of the various national organizations then prevalent among other nations of Europe. The purpose of these organizations would be to buy and reclaim land, as well as providing loans for new settlers. These ideas were subsequently adopted by Herzl and the World Zionist Organization.
Alkalai did not simply write and preach his ideas but he traveled to various cities attempting to set up a basic structure for the organization he envisioned. One such group was established in London but it did not last long enough to have any type of substantial impact upon the masses.
Alkalai attempted to convince people that his plan for at least part of the Jewish nation to re-establish itself in the Land of the Forefathers was one of realistic proportions and that the realization of an independent state in all its modern nationalistic connotations could be achieved. Towards the end of his life he moved to Israel and died there without seeing many of his dreams fulfilled. He lived his last four years here and is buried on Mt. Of Olives right across the mountain from the city that he worked so hard to return the shechina and his nation to.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
answer below at end of Email
Q. A tourist site with a restoration of a Talmudic Village can be seen at:
A. Tel Dan
- Neot Kedumim
- En Yael
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S ILLUMINATING RASHI OF THE WEEK
This weeks Parsha is always read the week before Rosh Hashana. Although Rashi’s explanation is certainly not dependent on our calendar year, if one reads Rashi’s commentary, just as is one reads the weekly parsha with an eye to the eternal timeliness of its corresponding Parsha we can find a message that Rashi is stressing that is meant to inspire us in that particular time.
This week’s Torah portion which moshe reiterates the covenant between us and Hashem tells us about the mitzva of Teshuva and our ultimate Redemption. Devarim (30:2-3)
“And you will return to Hashem, your God and listen to his voice, according to everything that I command you today; you and your children, with all your heart and all your soul.
VShav Hashem Elokecha Es Shvuscha VRiChamecha--And Hashem your God will return your captivity and have mercy upon you”
The translation above is Artscrolls and it was fine with me, but that’s primarily because I really don’t know much about grammar. Rashi on the other hand asks that if that was what the verse meant to say it should have used the word V’heishiv- And He returned rather than the literal translation which would be and Hashem your God returns- the focus being the return of Hashem rather than the capitves. The footnotes say something about intransitive, third person masculine conversive prefixes. Whatever that means..
Rashi thus learns and explains pshat with two powerful insights. The first is he quotes the Talmud that explains that Hashem is saying that He is in exile with us. And when we return He returns as well.
As far as we may have fallen and may have strayed from Him, guess what? He’s there as well. He’s waiting for us to return so that He may also return home.
The second lesson that Rashi suggests and brings a proof to is that the day of the ingathering of Exiles is so great and will come with such difficulty it is as if Hashem himself must actually hold each and every person with his hands to take him from his place in Exile. Each and every person. In His hands. Rashi is vivid. It is an image we should read again again.
Rashi was not just satisfied with telling us that Hashem is with us waiting for us. Rashi is telling us that Hashem and the Torah itself is telling us that He will take each Jew with his hand. Like a father crossing his child the street and bring each one of us home. With Him.
We sometimes wonder how can it happen? There are so many that are so scattered, so far from our Father. We are so far. We can’t see him here in our Exile with us. Rashi thus tells us don’t worry. He will take us in His hand. His hand…
We will daven this Rosh Hashana for that Shofar. That call. Rashi tells us to wait and pray for that Hand of return as well.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S COOL HISTORICAL EVENT THAT HAPPENED ON THIS DATE IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK-Death of Shaul and his sons- this Wednesday 28th Elul Year 2282 – 907 BCE:- The story as told in the Book of Shmuel and that I often read as I stand on Mt. Gilboa looking down at the valley below where it all took place is that the great king Shaul knew the end was near. Just the day before he had disguised himself and asked the witch of Ein Dor (Yes, like the Star Wars planet and like the dream of Jeannie witch mother-in-law Endora) to raise up Shmuel from the dead. He was not happy and told him pretty much that he would be joining him over here in the other world pretty soon. Shaul knowing he is doomed still goes out to fight. The Philistines massacare the Jews and Shaul though injured tries to commit suicide by falling on his sword so that the Philistines won’t desecrate his body. When he is not successful he entreats the Amalekite convert that is nearby to finish him off-which he does. Ironies of Biblical ironies for it is Shaul that spared the King of the Amalekim originally and that got him in to this whole losing your kingdom mess with Hashem in the first place. The Philistines find Shaul and Yonasan his son’s bodies and they desecrate them and hang them on the walls of the city of Beit Shean. They were only rescued by the some heroes from Yavesh Gilad- a city that Shaul saved in the beginning fo his career who took his body down. King David when he hears mourns them with the famous “Oh how the mighty have fallen” eulogy. He curses Mt. Gilboa that it should always remain barren and so it is…
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S HORRIBLE BIG/SMALL JOKES OF THE WEEK
What did the big chimney say to the little chimney? 'You're too young to smoke!
What did the big candle say to the little candle? You're too young to go out by yourself!
What did the big bucket say to the little bucket? You look a little pail!
What did the big maths book say to the little maths book? You're too young to have so many problems!'
What did the big star say to the little star? 'You're too young to stay out all night!'
What did the big tonsils say to the little tonsils? 'You're too young for the doctor to take out!'
What did the big firework say to the little firework? 'My pop is bigger than your pop!'
What did the big hand say to the little hand? 'I'll be back in an hour!'
What did the big elevator say to the little elevator? I think I'm coming down with something!'
Finally the last one of these very painful jokes…
What did the big old shoe say to the little old shoe? My sole is hol(e)ier than your sole!
Answer is D – It’s that time of year, thank Hashem, when my phone rings off the hook with people calling for tips for Sukkot vacation. Tel Dan is unquestionably my favorite place in the entire country primarly because it contains all most ingredients for a great tour; history-modern and Tanach, archeology, nature and water it’s just beautiful and an easy trail for the entire family. I have never been to Ein Yael in Jerusalem by Nachal Refaim but I googled it to just be sure and it seems cute recreation of terrasots and roman streets and activities. Maybe I’ll check it out next time. Neot Kedumin is definitely a cool place it was established with the vision of connecting the Jewish people to the land and our history and Torah through nature. On sukkos it is particularly mobbed as they have a very cool Sukkot display which shows all the Sukkot that are kosher and not that are mentioned in our teachings. But the correct answer is of course Katzrin in the heart of the Golan. I don’t go there often enough. But it is definitely a Talmudic period city and they show you (sometimes even dressed up) what life was like back then olive and wine presses and their houses and shuls. They have some cheesy films there that recreate the story of Elisha Ben Avuya AkA Acheir and of the story of Tanur shel Achnai. Happy Sukkos everyone!