Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
November 18th 2016 -Volume 7 Issue 4 18th Cheshvan 5777
I loved shul as a kid growing up. It was a special treat to walk with my father each week the 15 minutes or so to get there even in the worst Michigan weather. But he kept me entertained with stories the whole way. Stories about Bugs Bunny and Jewish super heroes that liked chulent of course and their wacky adventures. When we got to shul the first stop was of course to the candy men. No that is not a typo. We had Mr. Carmen who had lollipops. Rabbi Rockov was his competition with other types of candies. Mr Manela generally had some gum. It was like trick or treat each Shabbos. I would then head off to the back of the shul where my buddies and I would engage in our important shul activities. See, we would collect bottle caps from the Atlas Soda bottles they would serve by Kiddush in Shul and play some table bottle cap football or hockey with them. Usually around Torah reading time we would head out and peek through the window of the side room where the ‘adults’ would congregate. Not the ones in shul davening or listening to the Torah reading, I mean. No, we would be checking out the ones in the Kiddush club. The sweet smell of Sol’s homemade herring, the crackle of the kichel being broken, the sound of the clinking of plastic shot glasses and l’chaim could be heard from the doorway and when some men came out we could certainly detect the faint smell of schnapps wafting out as well, as they would shoo us away.
Every once in a while there would be a Kiddush in a shul. A bar mitzva, an aufruf or some other special occasion. Those were the really exciting weeks. The whole shul smelled of chulent and we would be sitting like hungry kittens in Israel outside my garbage; licking our lips and waiting impatiently, our places all reserved already, for the bounty to begin. Yeah, I loved shul. I evened davened sometimes as well.
But times changed in our congregation. The old Rabbi left, the new one came in and he did not like Kiddush club. He did not like kids running in and out and hitting up the old people for candy repeatedly. See, some of them were getting senile and they would never remember if they had given us already or not J. We did nothing to jog their memory of the candy we had received not just a half hour before. But the new Rabbi didn’t like that. He didn’t like people talking in shul. ‘Shul was a place to daven’ he would say as he stopped the Torah reading in middle. ‘not to shmooze’. It was a revolutionary idea for me. There were many quote- un-quote ‘adults’ that certainly had a different opinion. I agreed with them. But they eventually left. My father was a traditionalist and a loyalist. And so we stayed. And davened. I still would sneak candy though.
As I got older I went to yeshiva. There is was pretty much the opposite experience. Davening was something very serious. It was something we had to come on time to. If not we would get fined. 50 cents after barchu and a dollar after Shmona Esrei. They taught us that davening was avoda. It was work. The labor of the heart. I got myself a Metsuda linear siddur so that I could actually start to learn what the words I had been saying for years actually meant. Eventually I upgraded to an Artscroll which had all types of interesting explanations I could distract myself with as I expanded my appreciation and nuances of the ancient words of our sages who had composed and recited these prayers for millennia. Yet it was still pretty much an intellectual exercise. Something we did besides learn Torah and Talmud all day. There were times when my heart was engaged. When I felt something ‘spiritual’-whatever that meant or means- stir within me. Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur when we knew we had really better make our prayers count- or we might just die. By fire, water, sword or pestilence- take your choice. On Friday nights when we would have a bit of singing during Kabalat Shabbos. Not too much. Let’s not get carried away. And of course don’t dance because that would be a prohibition according to many halachic opinions. But they were nice tunes. And there were at least 6 or 7 alternate ones they would use. Sometimes even the latest hits. So there were times. But mostly I longed for the Kiddush club.
After getting married I moved to New York. Where I lived in Flatbush we literally had a smorgasbord of shuls all within a 4 block radius of my house. I think I once counted about 15 of them. There was the Young Israel on the corner, where I would sometimes accompany my grandfather. It was pretty institutionalized. Same songs each week, quick dvar torah, a kids sings yigdal or adon olam at the end and you were out. Slam Bam Shabbat Shalom Maam. I didn’t go much for the institutional thing though. There was Katz’s shtiebel on the corner. Latest shacharis in town, torah reading was pretty quick although a good portion of it was probably read out of a chumash as the layner tried to learn it on the go. But there was always the Rebbetzin’s chulent Kiddush afterwards. The Rebbe had passed away though years before and I kind of missed a nice dvar torah. I then tried out Lefkowitz’s it was a bit of a walk, but he really had an amazing drasha each week that incorporated the parsha, some halacha and inspiration. No chulent though. My last shot though was at Shmiddmans which was kind of a blend between the three. A late shacharis, a little chasidish, a little drasha and a Kiddush with a once in a while chulent but usually at least some kugel and herring. I felt like the Goldi-lox of shuls.
Ultimately we escaped Brooklyn. I experienced some more shuls. A quasi orthodox one in Des Moines; no mechitza between men and women and microphone on Shabbos- we made our own minyan there. Norfolk Virginia had an amazing shul with great singing, fantastic drashos and a herring social Kiddush each week. It probably became one of my models when I ultimately opened up my own outreach shul in West Seattle. Being that most of my congregation there couldn’t read Hebrew-my first week there was me an eleven year old boy and a curious gentile- and I wanted to make it inspiring. I would intersperse the service with explanation stories and insights. We had lots of singing. Different tunes each week. And of course it’s when the Rebbetzin’s chulent first made its public debut. Our shul grew. We would have people that came from the orthodox neighborhood that would come check it out and shared with us afterwards that for many of them it was the first time they experienced a shul that inspired them. A place where the davening came to life. It was truly a communication with the almighty. The stories and insights made the words they had been saying by rote for years, a personal and meaningful expression of their inner thoughts and emotions to Hashem. I suspected they were just saying that because they liked the Rebbetzin’s chulent, but I certainly knew that it did that for me.
When we moved to Eretz Yisrael I began a shul in our community as well. It was a different crowd. Most of them were hareidi Kollel guys. I couldn’t intersperse the prayers with insights and stories any longer. But I got to keep my songs, my drasha and most importantly my Kiddush. I love my shul. I love the people that come regularly, the ones that pop in once in a while. And I love that it offers a place where everyone feels comfortable and feels that they can get something from it. They can be themselves. They can find themselves. They can find Hashem in themselves.
In Israel perhaps one of the great tragedies is that many people view their shuls as just a place to daven. We have to pray three times a day. I need a place to do it. The Shul works. It has to meet my needs. If it doesn’t we’ll find a new one. Or I‘ll do shacharis here, mincha here, shabbos evening here and High Holidays wherever. On the one hand it’s nice to have such a variety. It also probably saves you money because sadly many people feel that they don’t need to contribute as they are only davening there for one prayer here and there. On the other hand the shul doesn’t become your community. A person doesn’t feel he has a place. Even worse perhaps that he doesn’t need a place. I told someone once how imagine if your work office they switched your cubicle or office to another place three times a day and a few times a week. It would be hard to connect, to work, to have that sense of belonging that I think is essential to producing a meaningful work product. Why do we treat our shuls any different? Our prayers, our conversations with God?
This week’s Torah portion has continues to tell us the story of our forefather Avraham, the man who our sages tell us established the concept of a regular morning prayer to Hashem. The Torah tell us about one of the most essential lessons Avraham taught us about praying. It was right after the Avraham’s seemingly failed prayer and advocacy on behalf of the cities of Sodom that Hashem had said he would destroy. The verse says Bereshit (19:27)
“And Avraham arose early in the morning to the place where he had stood before Hashem
Our sages derive from this verse in the tractate Brachot (6B)
R. Chelbo, in the name of R. Huna, says: Whosoever has a fixed place for his prayer has the God of Avraham as his helper. And when he dies, people will say of him: Where is the pious man, where is the humble man? One of the disciples of our father Avraham!
How do we know that our father Avraham had a fixed place [for his prayer]?
For it is written: ‘And Avraham got up early in the morning to the place where he had stood.’
And 'standing' means nothing else but prayer.
Wow! Who would’ve thought that just having a set place to daven would make a person a righteous person, a humble person? It seems to be kind of a jump? It doesn’t even say that you have to pay synagogue dues. What is so important about having a set place to daven? Isn’t Hashem everywhere? And why would that make someone a humble or righteous person?
On the last question Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank is quoted as having said rather ruefully. That someone that stays in the same shul forever and doesn’t get into a fight with the Gabbai, the Rabbi, the president or the guy that prays (or talks J) next to him, and doesn’t leave and go to another shul must be either a very righteous and forgiving person or someone extremely humble. Ouch! I think we can all relate to that one.
However other commentaries suggest perhaps something a bit more meaningful. It is interesting, the Shemen Hatov notes, that it is precisely here that the Torah chooses to teach this lesson about Avraham. For it is here the day after seemingly his all night prayer and beseeching before Hashem seems to have not worked. He wakes up the next morning and the city is burning. A mushroom cloud rises over the horizon. Sodom is gone. His prayers didn’t work. Some of us might say- fuggedaboutit. The rest of us are not from New York and would pronounce that like three different words but with the same meaning. Does it really pay? Maybe I need to find a new shul. Maybe this whole prayer thing is meaningless. What’s really the point, if Hashem doesn’t answer my prayers anyways?
But not Avraham. He understood that prayers aren’t about necessarily getting what we want. They’re also not about giving Hashem any extra praise, or trying to ask for things and recognizing that he is our Father and the giver of all that we have. Neither is it even merely about taking time out and expressing our gratitude to Him. The word prayer in Hebrew tefila comes from the word to judge pelilim. Prayer is a time for one to self-examine oneself before his Creator. What am I here for? You put me in this world. You want a relationship with me. You have empowered me, given me gifts, talents, blessings. I have a neshoma; a piece of the divine in me. In fact the word to daven in Yiddish, someone one told me comes from that same Latin root word of divine. Davening is about revealing that inner spark. Recharging it. Recalibrating it. Restoring it factory settings. To do that properly one needs to be in the same place. It’s not the place that needs to change. It’s me. Me in the same place, but a different, better me. I have the same job, challenges, life and opportunities. I’m not running anywhere from them. I’m not blaming them on my location, my circumstances. I may not have been successful yesterday. But today I’ve been given a new chance and opportunity. Today. Here. This morning, this afternoon, and this evening.
The Ari’Zl gives a beautiful parable how prayer is like a warrior that is trying to breach the wall of a city. He takes a fiery arrow and shoots it at the wall, and nothing happens. If he then goes and tries shooting it in another place and another and another, nothing may ever happen. If however he keeps shooting at the same spot again and again. Eventually that wall will come a’ tumbling down. The Ari then says that when the Temple was up we had that direct contact with Hashem. A straight line up. We knew what we were here for. There was one place where we could connect with him and get that awakening and reflection that we needed to do. Since it has been destroyed though it is as if there is an ‘iron wall’ between us and heaven. Between us and our Father. The Shulchan Aruch- code of Jewish law suggests that’s why we need a permanent place for it. For our prayers are like the sacrifices that were once brought. They need that permanence, that one place where we can keep bringing them. It’s how we can connect. You can and perhaps should shop around for clothing. For food. For plumbers, doctors, even Rabbis and tour guides. All of them might need to be upgraded, replaced. Some daily, some seasonally, some as you grow older and wiser. Sometimes you want different varieties for different moods. Different tastes. Different problems. But there’s no need to shop for shuls. You’ve just got to find the one that makes you feel like you have your place. One place that will be your home. That will be your gateway to heaven. That’s the door that Hashem will always be standing on the other side waiting to hear you from. He’s there. Are you?
Have an absolutely amazing Shabbos!
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
This week’s Insights and Inspiration is sponsored by my dear friend Minnette Almoslino of Seattle Washington. Minnette is truly one of the most amazing people I know. I don’t’ know to many people that at her “young age” has such incredible energy, such a love of Torah, of classes, of Hashem and her fellow Jew. A true disciple of Sarah Immeinu. Minnette will always be an incredible role model for me. May Hashem bless her with many more healthy energetic years until 120!
Thank you for your sponsorship and even more so for your readership and comments and feedbacks each week!
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL VIDEOS OF THE WEEK
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_ox4vLGH4U in honor of his yartzeit Reb Shlomo Carlebach on Vayeira and song
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlsXS4DPZpw – My best songs are on Shabbos Carlebach interview
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbw9eHe9i-Q – Happy first birthday to our Sefer Torah last years hachnasat Sefer Torah in Karmiel
https://youtu.be/rTwLdj44G5s – Hundreds gather at Shlomo Carlebach grave for his yartzeit singing for hours…
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S FAVORITE YIDDISH PROVERB OF THE WEEK
“Ven ale mentshn zoln tsien af eyn zayt, volt zikh di velt ibergekert.” If everyone pulled in one direction, the world would tip over.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
answer below at end of Email
Q. An oak that is not indigenous (native) to Israel:
A. Cork oak
B. Boissier oak
C. Mount Thabor’s oak
D. Palestine oak
A. Cork oak
B. Boissier oak
C. Mount Thabor’s oak
D. Palestine oak
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S ILLUMINATING RASHI OF THE WEEK
One small word in a Rashi. Just one word and a whole world can open up if you just take the time to examine it. We all have the famous image of Avraham Avinu sitting outside his tent right after his circumcision distraught, but not over the painful procedure he underwent at his well advanced age. Rather it was over the fact that he could not find any guests that he could offer his famous hospitality to.
Rashi notes on the verse in the beginning of the Parsha
Bereshis (18:1) And he was sitting at the entrance of his tent- To see if there was anyone that was passing or returning that he would be able to invite them to his house.
Did you catch the extra word here? The Pardes Yosef does. He asks why Rashi needs to say ‘passing or returning’. We would be able to get the same message had he just said anyone passing. He answers with an important lesson. There were certainly people that passed by Avraham’s house that he invited in. Heck, anyone that passed by got a meal by him. But perhaps, Avraham was nervous, there were some that had already come to him on their way going, but did not want to be a burden again on the way back. So they would try to avoid him. They were embarrassed. So Avraham was not merely on the lookout for guests. His intense caring and sensitivity for individuals was as well for people that might feel a bit more intimidated by coming. He wanted the repeat customers. As my mother taught me if you say thank you and compliment the meal after you have eaten, that doesn’t prove anything. You’re just being polite. The sign of a good guest is one who comes back for doubles J. I guess she, and therefore I in turn as well who tell that to my guests, learned that from Avraham Avinu. Isn’t it amazing what you can learn from just one word in Rashi.
Rabbi Yosef Patchinovski- The Pardes Yosef - (1875-1942), This incredible Polish scholar who was a Gerrer Chasid and is known for his scholarly work on Rashi and the Torah never served as a Rabbi, a Rosh Yeshiva or even teacher. He was in fact a simple wood salesman. Quite a succssefful one at that. Yet if you asked him he would tell you that was just the way he supported his family. Hes love and passion was his Torah study. By his own testimony “anyone that came to my house or my shop always saw that I never rested or was still. Rather all my days I was enraptured in Torah. All the days include the nights he said- for during the nights as well my heart did not rest, rather ‘the morning would come and it was Leah’ it was wonderful and much toil.”
A descendant of the famed Nesivot Hamishpat. Rav Yosef lived in Lodz Poland during the war years. His family was all killed in the Holocaust. He himself was only able to print the first three volumes of the Torah work that he had written. The rest being lost. He is buried in the cemetery in Lodz. He passed away 4 days after his wife at the age of 67. May his memory be blessed.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TYPES OF JEWS IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK
Kibbutznik (over 100,000)- They were the image of the young Zionist state of Israel. The shorts, the kova tembel and the orange picking sabra look personified the ‘new jew’ the one that would make the desolate land flourish once again. The socialist communal living model which began in 1920’s with the establishment of Degania with 12 members, reached 65,000 by the 1950’s and had almost 8% of the population living on kibbutzim. The movement peaked in the late 80’s with about 130,000 members. It has gone down since then. Kibbutz life was the classic utopian model of socialized living. Everyone is equal, all money is communal, jobs are alternated so that everyone shares in the labor equally. Kibbutznikim would eat together, live in communal housing any change or decoration or personalization would have to be decided by committee. Children of Kibbutznikim initially were all kept at children’s home. They were after-all products of the Kibbutz and they did not refer to their ‘birthers’ as parents. With the advent of a globalized economy which hurt them economically, as well as with the exposure and advancement of the amenities and lifestyles of those that lived and worked in the private sector the Kibbutz movement has gone down. As well the ideological imperative of planting and flourishing the land has gone down in much of the secular post-zionist world as many of them view the ‘occupation’ at the more right-wing ideology as morally distasteful. Interestingly although the Kibbutz movement initially was a very strong secular almost anti-religious movement, today there are more and more of them that are more welcoming to religion with a tremendous return to Torah Judaism and observance. Many are building shuls and Mikva and host Torah classes regularly- thanks to the Ayelet Hashachar movement that reaches out to them. There are close to 270 Kibbutzim in Israel today-16 of them are in fact religious ones. Most of them are located in the North and South of Israel. Many Kibbutzim have left agriculture and entered into new sources of income. Kibbutz Sasa generated 850 million dollars in its military plastics industry and Kibbutz Ketura becoming one of the world leaders in solar power technology.
A Texas rancher visits a kibbutz farm in Israel. After he is shown all the agricultural advances, he tells the Sabra: "I'm real impressed with your farm here, but where I come from, I can drive all day and not reach the other end of my ranch." The Sabra replies: "I know how you feel. I once had a car like that too!"
Yankel the Kibbtznik’s mother moved to the city. She was not too successful there and she had a hard time getting used to city life. He would visit here occasionally and when he would she would send him out to the bus station to go shopping for her. Not ever having done the whole city bus thing when the driver asked him for his money he said he didn’t’ have any. Instead he offered him a dozen eggs. To barter as is the custom n the socialist community he was from. The driver agreed and he got his ride. The next time as well he brought him the eggs. The third time he came however with a chicken in tow. When the driver asked him what this was for. Yankel told him it was his monthly pass…
Sol Rosenberg’s wife Esther was complaining to all of their friends at shul that she didn’t like it that Sol would attend the men’s only “Kiddush club” on Shabbat mornings.
So one day Sol decided to invite Esther to the Kiddush club with him.
"What'll you have?" he asked.
"Oh, I don't know. The same as you I suppose," she replied.
So Sol poured some single malt scotch for himself and Esther and he downed his drink quickly. Esther watched in amazement, and then took a sip from her glass. She immediately spat it out. "Yuck, that's TERRIBLE!" she spluttered. "How you can drink this stuff!"
"Well, there you go," said Sol. "And you think I'm down here enjoying myself Shabbat morning!"
David Goldberg had never celebrated Shabbat before but he was invited by his observant friend Moishe to shul for the Shabbos Project. Moishe took him to the “Kiddush Club” where they proceeded to have a number of l’chaims – scotch, bourbon, wine – you name it.
Moishe was trying to explain to David some of the many laws relating to Shabbat when David said, “I’ll admit – I don’t fully understand all of the laws of Shabbat yet, but there’s one law that makes perfect sense.”
“What’s that,” asked Moishe.
“No driving on Shabbos!
Answer is D – Botany not my strong point. But the Oak trees are the most common in Israel. The Palestine Oak or Alon hamatzui is the most common tree in Israel. The Tabor Oak is all over the lower Galilee. The first two were a challenge to narrow down. But the Hebrew translation helped me out. As the Bossier or whatever is called the alon tola which is a worm and in fact the tola’at shani dye that was used in the Mishkan comes from the worm that hangs out in the tree. Which leaves the cork tree as the correct answer which I should have known as well with all my visits to wineries where they have told me that the corks are imported. But I was perhaps too busy focusing on the wine.