Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
October 29th 2016 -Volume 6, Issue 54 26th Elul 5777 (hooray!)
Parshat Vayeilech / Yom Kippur
Dancing in the Fields
It’s a long day. I’m looking at my watch. Only a few hours left. I’m hungry. There’s only about 274 pages left in the machzor. Only. Maariv was fine last evening. Kol Nidrei was moving like usual. Only three or four piyutim after Shmone Esrei. We sing them in our shul. They’re nice songs and I feel holy and angelic. This morning also started off great. We daven at sunrise and if you ask me it’s the perfect time. I’m well rested, it quiet, peaceful, idyllic, serene… The songs the prayers, my soul has been soaring. I started getting tired in middle of Musaf. I think it was somewhere around the 20 pages or so of the service of the Kohen Gadol that you read and read and read… Now if you’re a Brisker that spent a few years learning Kodshim- the tractates of Talmud that deal with the sacrifices then maybe you get excited by the intricacies of these rituals. Back and forth, more slaughtering, more blood sprinkling, rinse, dry, slaughter, repeat. But I was always more of a Nashim/ Nezikin kind of guy. Oxes goring, court cases about people grabbing onto lost talis’es, all types of fun wedding, divorces and all the relatives you can or can’t perform levirate marriages with. I make it through it though. We have a bit of a break and then it’s back for Mincha. Just a few more hours left until…. Bagels!
I’m having a hard time though getting back into it. There’s none pf the usual ashrei that generally precedes Mincha. We jump right in with the Torah reading. But it’s not even the tune of the High holidays that we use for the reading. The reading itself seems like a strange selection. It seems that we are reading about all the forbidden relationships. Don’t lie with your mother, your sister, your aunt, your in-laws, your neighbor’s wife. Huh? What’s this all about? Now perhaps if it would have said don’t lie to them. I could relate a bit more. After-all that’s something I think that most people could relate to and probably have to do some reflecting upon. Except for my mother, of course who I would never lie to, Mom. But why does this have to be part of the Yom Kippur service perhaps one may suggest even the central part right and introduction to Mincha before we start the last prayer before the closing of the gates of Neila?
As the chazzan reads the Torah reading I check my Artscroll commentary on the bottom for some insight here. What did people do before they had Artscroll to peruse during all the boring parts of prayer? Teshuva? They list a few reasons for the Torah reading. Rashi says its because illicit relations is something that people have a strong desire for and its worthy to reflect upon that. OK, I can accept that. But that whole list with all of those relatives? I can barely spend more than a few hours in the same sukkah with some of them without getting into a family fight, certainly never considering any intimacy. Oops.. Bang on chest.. I shouldn’t have said or thought that on Yom Kippur.
There’s a Midrash that suggests an alternative reason that the symbolism is that just as we shouldn’t uncover any nakedness so too Hashem should not uncover the nakedness of ours sins. OK. It’s midrash nice, but again there’s a lot of symbolism. A lot of Torah readings that deal with repentance and Hashem’s incredible capacity for forgiveness that are more explicit and inspiring I believe that would that point home even better. Tosafos offers another reason that is perhaps a bit more intriguing. He suggests that since the women in shul are all dressed up in their High Holiday finery. ‘Dressed to kill’, shall we say-maybe pun intended. This Torah reading is meant to remind us to keep our head and our eyes straight. Interesting. Nice. Appropriate perhaps. But I hate to think of the Torah reading on this most holy of days as just being one great big rabbinic ‘kol koreh’- you know like those posters that adorn the walls of Meah Shearim to guard our eyes. There’s gotta be something deeper. Something that can way me up and get me back in the mood. Something that our sages who established this Torah reading saw that it possesses that will be the perfect segue into the next and final hours of this holiest of days.
My mind continues to wander. I think back to the Temple, the Beit Hamikdash. What Yom kippur was like back then. The truth is it was the day of the year that people probably prayed the least. We were all gathered in the Beis Hamikdash awaiting the Kohen Gadols arrival from the Holy of Holies in peace. We were waiting for the sacrifices to be done, for the goat that was thrown off the mountain in the Judean desert along with all of the sins of the Jewish people to meet their bitter end. All our eyes were plastered on that red string that was hanging that would turn snowy fleece white. We would be clean and purified. And then the really party would start. Our sages tell us that were no truly festive holidays on the Jewish calendar besides______________ fill in the blank. No it’s not Purim. No not Simchat Torah either. Not even Lag Ba’Omer in Meron or Rosh Hashana in Uman- as sacrileigious as that might sound. No the happiest days on the calendar were Tu B’Av (a different e-mail you can read about that here if you’d like http://holylandinsights.blogspot.co.il/2016/08/the-greatest-love-of-all-parshat.html ) and that’s right Yom Kippur. Huhhh? Yom Kippur- a happy day? A solemn day, perhaps. A holy day, definitely. A looonnng day, Uh huh. But happy? That would not have been the first word that came to mind. The Talmud tells us that on those days the young maidens would all go out in borrowed clothing of white- borrowed so as not to embarrass those who could not afford them. And they would dance in circles amongst the vineyards. Wow! Sounds like a party. What would they sing- just so that there is nothing left here to the imagination. They would say to the ogling young bacheloers that would inevitably be gathered around..
Young man, lift up your eyes and appreciate whom you are selecting (to marry). Don't look at our beauty. Instead, look at the family (from which we descend).'
Can you imagine that? Rav Shlomo Goren the third chief Rabbi of Israel suggests that this perhaps the reason why we read that Torah reading on Yom Kippur. For this is the time during the Temple days when people would go out to find their mates. Their basherts. They would go out to the fields. They would dance. The Torah reading that we read is to tell us what not to look for. To beware of forbidden relationships. To look for the right things. To focus on building a holy Jewish family.
But I believe it goes even deeper than that. It must. Why on this holiest of days is it the best time to go out, to find your bashert, to dance in the fields? What are we missing today? What have we lost about Yom Kippur that makes us feel even guilty and sacrilegious even reading about this, let alone envisioning it on Yom Kippur?
Rav Mordechai Alon suggests a very powerful insight. He suggests that the essence of Yom Kippur, the point that we have reached by Mincha time when our sins have pretty much been cleared away after hours of praying, of sacrifices, of the Kohen Gadol coming out brings us back to the moment when we can restore the world and fix the ‘original sin” of Man; of Adam in the garden of Eden. Of the moment when for the first time in the world Man and wife were separated. Not any more just physically but spiritually as well. A brief review of the story of the garden would be helpful here. Hashem creates Man on Rosh Hashana the 6th day of Creation and unlike all the other creations, Man is created not merely by Hashem speaking but by Hashem actually forming us out of earth and blowing his spirit, our holy neshama/soul inside of us. The message is clear. Man is meant to unite heaven and earth. To build Hashem a dwelling place on this world. All the other Creations alternate between physical and celestial. Man is the merging of both.
Yet Hashem takes it one step further. He creates Man and women as one. He then brings all the animals to Man and he names them. He gives them and defines their spiritual essence. According to the Midrash he even attempts to have relations with them. “To know them” in the biblical sense. But he realizes that with them he will never be able to achieve his completion. He needs flesh of his flesh, and one that shares his own spiritual nature. Hashem puts him to sleep and we are told of the first surgery of the world. A spare rib is removed and his wife. His bashert, his ezer knegdo- his helper opposite him is formed. Adam’s response upon seeing here is the recognition for all eternity; the first ‘therefore’ in the Torah.
“Therefore a man should leave his father and his mother and v’davak- cleave to his wife and they shall be as one flesh.”
Rashi notes that the Divine spirit is telling Man this as the first, the most essential, and most pivotal knowledge that he should have. This is in order to teach him that forbidden relations are prohibited upon him. And that the two of them alone are created in order to form one flesh. To create and bring forth life.
Not so incidentally that word to cleave v’davak is also found in reference to our relationship with Hashem, our Creator. v’davka bo we should cleave and become one with Hashem v’atem Ha’dvaikim Ba’Hashem Chayim kulchem hayom- and we are the ones that are cleaving, to Hashem, you are all living today. It is also only with Hashem that we are meant to believe and state each day that Hashem is one. The mitzva of oneness of cleaving. With Hashem and with our mates.
Yet sadly it does not work out that way, the next narratives finds Chava/Eve alone her husband is not there with her. They are separated. And that’s when the snake comes. He tempts her. According to the midrash he seduces her and through his seduction is trying to woo her to mate with him. To give up on the divine one-ness connection with her soulmate. Our sages use the term that by eating from the Tree of forbidden knowledge- inappropriate knowledge, knowledge perhaps even in the biblical sense of man and wife she was injected with zuahama- a spiritual pollution. Her husband blames it on her, she blames it on the snake. Our oneness, our cleaving between man and woman is gone. And as a result of that so is our fully being able to cleave and connect to Hashem.
Our sages tell us that we all suffered from that sin and that impurity and distance until the giving of the Torah. There we were commanded to separate from our wives for three days. We heard, saw and experienced the Divine voice and the commandments and we were given new souls. It’s incredible that the first thing Hashem tells us to do after the Torah is (Devarim 5:26) “to return to our tents” and as Rashi notes to go back to our wives. Rebuild the oneness. Cleave. Connect. Unite. Become one and bring oneness into the world. Yet forty days later we sinned. We strayed. This day it was with a golden calf. Our sages compare it to a bride cheating under the chupah still. This was the 17th of Tamuz. On the month of Elul Hashem forgave us. He would not destroy us. But He still did not want to dwell with us. Moshe would lead, but Hashem would not be one with us. We still had the zuhama. We then began our real period teshuva. Moshe went up again and on Yom Kippur he brought us those words that we were waiting for salachti ki’dvarecha- I have totally forgiven you. He brought done the second tablets. We were restored. We were one.
Is it any wonder why the central point of Yom Kippur at this point would be to go out and find our bashert? Why they are dancing in the fields, in the garden. ‘The’ ‘garden’. Why this would be the happiest day on the calendar. We have the ability to return to Eden. To entirely restore the world to the way it’s supposed to be. We read the Torah reading of the arayot-the forbidden relationships and we don’t even need the traditional Yom Kippur tune for it. We have gone back to the beginning. We are back to that perfect primordial spiritual man. The one that can unite with only his bashert. The one that remembers that our only function is not beauty but rather the family. The family of mankind that will bridge heaven and earth. That will ultimately build that Home for Hashem once again in this world.
The Mincha prayer has now ended. It’s time for me to get up and say my pre-neila drasha. The gates are closing up above. I am returning from my thoughts, from my visions of the Temple, of the dancing in the fields, of the specialness of my bashert. I have bonded and I have cleaved. All that remains is for me to turn my tearful eyes up to shamayim and ask Hashem to finally return to His tent. To rest his shechina- his Divine presence upon our homes. We are told that when a man and his wife are b’shalom- when they are at peace, when they are complete, then the divine presence will rest between them. Hashem, your nation is awaiting. We have struggled, we have strayed, we have sinned, but we want to return, we need you to first bring that peace to restore the festivity to this most incredible day. To return us to the fields and to bring us back to that garden. Your garden. Please once again say those words salachti kidvarecha.
Have a heavenly Shabbat Shuva and may we all be sealed in the Book of Life for a good year,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL VIDEO CLIPS OF THE WEEK
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7g2qckv28k– Shlomo Carlebach Kvakoras frim Nesane Tokef…beautiful and classic
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DALWbiEsN7c - Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev Yom Kippur story from none other than…
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZxKIL8RUHU – The wrong Yom Kippur attitude
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5iauRLe7Pqc – I can’t read this weeks Haftorah of Shuva without humming this classic of Rav Shmuel Brazil. Fast Forward to start at 2:30 and just enjoy…
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S FAVORITE YIDDISH PROVERB OF THE WEEK
“Bemokem she-eyn ish iz a hering oykh a fish..” – When there is no other man a herring is also a fish. (this really only sounds good in Yiddish)
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S JEWISH PERSONALITY AND HIS QUOTES IN HONOR OF THE YARTZEIT OF THE WEEK
“In the beginning, sin is like a thread of a spider's web. But in the end, it becomes like the cable of a ship.”
“He who remains unmarried impairs the divine image.”
“Fortunate are you Israel before whom are purified and who purifies you? Your Father in heaven. Just as a Mikva purifies the impure So the Holy One Blessed Be He purifies Yisrael.”
“If a rock, though extremely hard, can be hollowed out by water, how much more so should it be possible for the Torah, which is compared to water, to change my heart. I will begin to study it, and try to become a scholar of The Torah.”
Rabbi Akiva Ben Yosef (16 CE – 136 CE) This Sunday, the 9th of Tishrei- If there is one yartzeit you should remember every year it that of Rabbi Akiva one of the greatest sages of the mishna period. In fact if you think about it much of the Yom Kippur davening revolves around Rabbi Akiva in order to invoke his memory and his merit into our service. We being Yom Kippur with the repeated statement before Kol Nidrei by taking out the Torah scrolls and kissing them and saying ohR zaruA la’tzadiK u’liyishreI leV simchA- the last letters of that verse which means a light should shine for the righteous and those of a straight heart joy, are R’ AKIVA. We then recite how we permit us to pray with all the sinners- again Rabbi Akiva’s famous maxim that loving one’s fellow Jew is the greatest rule in the Torah. We then recite the verses that recall the quote above of being purified before Hashem. We recite the Avinu Malkeinu prayer at each Shmona Esrei that was written by Rabbi Akiva, We even read about his death when we mention the ten martyrs- that seemingly is appropriate on Tisha B’av to be read, but not necessarily on Yom Kippur if not for us trying to once again recall Rabbi Akiva. Finally we conclude our Yom Kippur with the final dying words of Rabbi Akiva the words that every Jew since recites upon his death Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad. Those words were recited by him the morning before Yom Kippur when he was taken out to be killed by the cursed Romans.
Yet at the same time Rabbi Akiva is the least likely of heroes and leaders. Until he was forty he wasn’t just ignorant but he himself says that he hated Torah scholars. He was anti-religious. And then upon wooing the wealthiest daughter of Jerusalem away from her family that disowned her obviously he became a Baal Teshuva and started to study. Ultimately he abandons his wife and family for 24 years (with her permission and blessing) and comes back as the greatest scholar of his times with 24,000 students. He sees the Temple destroys and laughs while other Rabbis cry because he sees that just as this prophecy was fulfilled so too will it eventually be rebuilt. Ultimately he becomes convinced that his prize student, Bar Kochva is the Messiah. Mashiach and he not only announces it to the world but he encourages all his students to join his army in their revolt against Rome. He himself at over 100 years old become his ‘armor bearer’. Ultimately though Bar Kochva fails and Rabbi Akiva is martyred in a gruesome way by the Romans.
I’m not sure if Rabbi Akiva with that resume would ‘make it’ today in our highly critical yeshiva world-view of fitting in. Yet it is in his merit that we come to Hashem each Yom Kippur. May his life on this special holy day and the thoughts that it provoke in us be a merit for all of us to be sealed for a good year.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
answer below at end of Email
Q. A museum that documents the history of the Valley Train is found in:
A. Kfar Yehoshuah
C. The old Gesher
D. Beit She’an
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S ILLUMINATING RASHI OF THE WEEK
Occasionally Rashi will connect dots for us and underline important lessons that we may miss because if we were just reading the text we would just gloss right over with it. This week’s Torah portion is a classic example that is really worthy of serious consideration.
Moshe, this week on the last day of his life, calls in Yehoshua his loyal student and appoints him his successor in front of all of the Jewish people. The verse tells us Devarim 31:7
Be strong and courageous, for you Tavo Es Ha’am-shall come with this people to the land that Hashem swore your forefathers to give them and you shall cause them to inherit it and Hashem who walks before you shall be with you He will be with you. ”
Rashi notes that there seems to be a discrepancy here, for at the end of the Parsha Hashem actually Himself commands Yehoshua (ibid 23)
Be strong and courageous Ki Ata Tavi es Bnai Yisrael- for you shall bring the children of Israel to the land I swore to them and I shall be with you.
Rashi is troubled that when Moshe gives the command he says Tavo –that Yehoshua will come with them and yet when Hashem tells Yehoshua Hashem says Tavi- that Yehoshua will bring them.
Rashi thus notes that Moshe was telling Yehoshua that the ‘elders shall be with you’ everything he does should be with their consultation and advice. Hashem however is telling Yehoshua to bring the children of Israel that it’s all up to him. Even against their will. If necessary smack them on the forehead. Ouch! Rashi’s words not mine.
It’s an incredible Rashi. What an amazing diverse opinion of the leadership of Yehoshua between Moshe and Hashem. Moshe seems to tell Yehoshua that he should get a consensus. Hashem tells Yehoshua to grab the reigns and pull the horse if need be. It’s even more interesting that Moshe refers to the Jews as ‘the nation’. Yet Hashem calls us the ‘children of Israel”. Even more thought provoking is that Moshe is not allowed into the land because he yelled at the nation calling them rebels and hits the rock rather than talking to them. One can postulate perhaps. That Moshe after a life time of dealing with this stiff-necked people appreciates perhaps even more that the path and method is and should be one of communication. And perhaps for himself that would be true. Hashem though, understands who Yehoshua is even more than Moshe does. He knows that Yehoshua who’s whole life was of total subservience to Moshe. He was like the moon a mere and total reflection of Moshe, while Moshe was the sun. Yehoshua needed to assert that level of bitul of negation of one’s own personal ego in the children of Israel. He would need to ‘hit them on their forehead. The forehead is the symbol of my own opinion. My own ego. Yehoshua who exceled in that could show them that Hashem will always be with them, if they are willing to let up from their own selves enough to let Him in.
One little letter in the Torah that we might have missed. tavo and tavi- Yet it is the difference of a world.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S HISTORICAL EVENT THAT HAPPENED ON THIS DATE OF THE WEEK-
Babi Yar massacre 8-9 Tishrei 5702 - September 29-30, 1941: They are perhaps two words that will always remain in infamy for the Jewish people. Babi Yar is a ravine on the outskirts of Kiev where perhaps one of the most horrific massacres of our people took place. With the initiation of Operation Barbarossa, Germany's breaking of its treaty with Stalin and the assault on the Soviet Union, the mobile killing units of the Einsatzgruppen under Heydrich's general command, operated behind the advancing German troops to eliminate political criminals, Polish government officials, gypsies and Jews. Jews were rounded up in every village, transported to a wooded area, or a ravine, stripped, shot and buried. On September 19, 1941, the German army captured Kiev, Ukraine. Within a week, a number of buildings occupied by the German military were blown up by the Soviet secret police and in retaliation, the Germans proceeded to kill all the Jews of Kiev.
An order was posted throughout the city in both Russian and Ukrainian:
Kikes of the city of Kiev and vicinity! On Monday, September 29, you are to appear by 7:00 A.M.with your possessions, money, documents, valuables and warm clothing at Dorogozhitshaya Street, next to the Jewish cemetery. Failure to appear is punishable by death.
From the cemetery, the Jews were marched to Babi Yar, a ravine only two miles from the center of the city. A truck driver at the scene described what he saw:
I watched what happened when the Jews – men, women and children – arrived. The Ukrainians led them past a number of different places where one after another they had to remove their luggage, then their coats, shoes, and overgarments and also underwear. They had to leave their valuables in a designated place. There was a special pile for each article of clothing. It all happened very quickly … I don't think it was even a minute from the time each Jew took off his coat before he was standing there completely naked….
Once undressed, the Jews were led into the ravine which was about 150 meters long and 30 meters wide and a good 15 meters deep…When they reached the bottom of the ravine they were seized by members of the Schultpolizei and made to lie down on top of Jews who had already been shot. That all happened very quickly. The corpses were literally in layers. A police marksman came along and shot each Jew in the neck with a submachine gun … I saw these marksman stand on layers of corpses and shoot one after the other … The marksman would walk across the bodies of the executed Jews to the next Jew who had meanwhile lain down and shoot him.
Over the next week, 33,771 Jews were murdered at Babi Yar. Many people were buried alive, suffocated by the mass of bodies atop them.
In August 1943, with the Red Army advancing, the Nazis dug up the bodies from the mass graves of Babi Yar and burned them in an attempt to remove the evidence of mass murder. Paul Blobel, the commander of Sonderkommando 4a, whose troops had slaughtered the Jews of Kiev, returned to Babi Yar. For more then a month, his men and workers conscripted from the ranks of concentration camp inmates dug up the bodies. Bulldozers were required to reopen the mounds. Massive bone-crushing machinery was brought to the scene. The bodies were piled on wooden logs, doused with gas, and ignited.
When the work was done, the workers from the concentration camp were killed. Under cover of darkness on September 29, 1943, 25 of them escaped. Fifteen survived to tell what they had seen.
May Hashem avenge their blood and may their deaths al Kiddush Hashem sanctifying Hashem’s name inspire us to lead our lives with that inspiration.
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S FORGIVENESS JOKES OF THE WEEK
Mrs. Epstein, A Hebrew School teacher at Beth Israel Congregation had just concluded her lesson in preparation of Yom Kippur and wanted to make sure she had made her point. She asked her class, “Can anyone tell me what you must do before you can obtain forgiveness for transgressing one of the commandments?”
There was a short pause and then, from the back of the room, a small boy spoke up and said, "Transgress one of the commandments.”
There was a short pause and then, from the back of the room, a small boy spoke up and said, "Transgress one of the commandments.”
Once upon a time in their marriage, Saul Rosenberg did something really stupid. Ethel Rosenberg chewed him out for it. He apologized, they made up.
However, from time to time, Ethel would mention what he had done.
"Honey," Saul finally said one day, "why do you keep bringing that up? I thought your policy was 'forgive and forget.'"
"It is," Ethel said. "I just don't want you to forget that I've forgiven and forgotten."
Teacher :What do you call someone that apologizes when they do something wrong?
Yankel: An honest person
Teacher: and what do you call someone who apologizes when they didn’t do something wrong?
Yankel? A husband
Answer is A – This is actually quite a timely question. I like when Hashem works that out for my E-Mail. The reason I say that is because just two days ago a taxi driver told me that the valley train through the Jezre’el valley which was originally built by the Turks to connect the coast all the way through Jordan to Mecca and blown up in the war of independence, is about ready to start running again in the next few weeks. The trainline which really provided most of the early development in the lower Galile in the pre-state Israel ran from Haifa to Kfar Yehoshua, Afula and Beit Shean and Gesher. The right answer to the question where the museum is in Kfar Yehoshua. We went there in our course. I thought it was boring. I never went back. Oh well… But it is cool that it will be running again. It will be great and easier for me to get around the country like I had to this week instead of taking 4 buses.