Our view of the Galile

Friday, December 2, 2016

Big Red- Toldos 5777 /2016

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"

December 2nd 2016 -Volume 7 Issue 6 2nd Kislev 5777
Parshat Toldot
It wasn’t easy getting a hold of us in yeshiva. This was of course in the pre-historic period before the advent of cell phones. The method to communicate with your children was via the yeshiva pay phone. Those were those primitive boxes hung on the wall which you would have to insert money into in order to dial out. If you were lucky they worked. We had telephone cards to dial long-distance with. But for our parents trying to reach us they would have to call and call and hope that somebody would answer and then if they did hope that they would go get your yeshiva student to come to the phone. For that to happen there need to be a conflux of coincidences. 1) He had to know who your son was- a real problem for a quiet, unassuming, shy guy like me. OK maybe that wasn’t such a problem. 2) The guy that answered the phone had to be motivated enough to run around yeshiva trying to find you. Again, very hopeful. 3) He wouldn’t get distracted and caught up in an important conversation in the interim, like what are they serving for lunch. Is it pizza? If it was, chances are you will be on hold for a long time. 4) Your son was actually in Yeshiva that day and not playing hooky. Something my parents never had to worry about, of course.
My mother had it a little harder than most. For although most people in yeshiva knew who I was, despite my quiet nature, they didn’t really know my name. See in yeshiva I was Schwartzy, not Ephraim Schwartz that I was called by my bris. Most guys were not called by their bris names, maybe it was the bad memories. So when my mother would call and ask for Ephraim Schwartz, inevitably the reply she would get was “Who?!!” in the best scenario. In other cases when it was more knowledgeable guys who answered and just picked up the phone by mistake, or were waiting for an incoming call for themselves and were regretting having answered it the response would be a decisive “there is nobody here by that name.”
My mother wised up though and I’ll never forget the time when she called and asked “Can I please speak with Schwartzy?” The guy that answered the phone asked who this was calling and when my mother answered him. He expressed his wonderment and awe. “You also call him Schwartzy!?!”
Yeah we all had nicknames back in the day. There was T.T. which I still have no idea what it stands for. In camp I was called Pacman, something about me eating up all the food.  One of the stranger names was a freind of mine who we called Grebdlog Oidar- which was our ‘backwards’ way of talking about the illegal contraband that he had hidden in yeshiva (read it backwards). Just the other week I was in Amuka and I bumped into someone who surprisingly looked quite familiar, after-all it was only about 40 years or so since we had last seen each other, back in Camp Gan Israel. But you know what they say about people that served time in the ‘camps’. You never forget your former cell-mates. He started calling me Zaidy right there in Amuka and singing the song that I was nicknamed after having made it famous; ”Shake it up Zaidy”.

Nicknames were cool. They were our way of naming each other, something we were not given any say in. Some of our nicknames annoyed our parents, which were even more of a reason to use them. We had nicknames for our teachers as well. Those we would never say out loud. As I said we lived in the corporal punishment era. We knew that although sticks and stones might break your bones but nicknames- particularly for our teachers could really hurt us.
Why am I focused on nicknames this week? Besides the fact that this guy started singing the “zaidy” song to me. Why this week’s Torah portion of course. For the Torah goes out of its way to tell us the nickname that was given to one of the most important people and nations of history. Certainly the one that we currently, according to our sages, have been living and more often than not suffering under for the past two millennia. I’m referring of course to none other than our Uncle Eisav or as the Torah tells us they called him “Edom” or “Red”.
Now I consider myself the king of making up nicknames. Ask my kids Henrietta pooperstock (Shani), Joey Gunga (Yonah) Abecasis (Rivkah) Elka-loosh- you figure that one out and Harry Hertzka (Naftali “Tully” Hertzka). I know my sister Gitty thinks she’s just a good with her names pootchie pootchie koosh koosh mookie boing boing or something like that. But that just sounds Chinese- apologies to all my far-east readers. But “Red” seems like kind of a simple name. I mean he was born a redhead, the Torah tells us, so that would make it pretty obvious. But it seems that he was not given that moniker for his obvious “gingy” status. He was also born pretty hairy and one of the names given to him was in fact Sei’ir or Harry; also not necessarily quite an original name. But the Torah actually tells us that he didn’t receive his nickname until he was a teenager. I guess that’s generally when he went to yeshiva and was given his name by his friends, or in Eisav’s case thrown out of yeshiva. The Torah however tells us that he was called Eisav after the day that he came home tired and wiped out and asked his brother who seemed to be cooking some lentil soup-although I always like to think of it as chulent. But I like to think of everything as chulent J. He turned to his brother, our grandfather Yaakov and asked him
Bereshit (25:30) pour me (into my mouth) from this red-red because I am tired- Therefore they called his name “Edom-Red”
I always believed that nicknames are important, but one has to ask the Torah why do we care what his nickname was. Does it really matter? And smack in middle of the story. As well why is he named after the color of the soup that he asked for? As I noted there were more obvious reasons to call him that particularly his red complexion and hair.
The truth is the entire story seems like a strange story. After-all Yaakov we are told rather than help his starving exhausted brother seems quite devious, using the opportunity to ask Eisav to sell him his birthright in exchange for the soup. Eisav, obviously being given an offer he doesn’t seem to be in a position to refuse-I’ve been that hungry sometimes, I can relate, I’ve been known to offer to sell some of my kids for a shwarma in a pita-just joking...nothing less than a laffa. Eisav responds, “I’m going to die, and what do I need this birthright for.”  Yaakov makes him take an oath. He swears. And it tells us Yaakov gives him bread, and the bean soup which probably wasn’t chulent- for as the Torah tell us, rather than doing what is usually done after one is tired and eats a bowl of chulent, which is to lie down and crash on the couch, Eisav gets up and goes out and mocks the birthright.
The questions around this story are pretty obvious. Why is Yaakov taking advantage of his poor hungry brother? How can you sell a birthright? I imagine Eisav could have gotten himself a good Jewish lawyer to claim that the entire deal was obviously under duress. And why do we care what they were eating? Perhaps even stranger is the epilogue of this story at the end of the Parsha when Yaakov at his mother’s behest dresses himself up, goat-hair sleeves and all, to get the first-born blessings from his poor blind father Yitzchak. Yitzchak detects something is wrong by Yaakov’s voice yet rather than call someone in to identify him he gives the blessings to Yaakov. When Eisav walks in afterwards, our sages tell us that Yitzchak saw Gehenom open up below him. Now the question besides what is going on here that bothered me is REALLY?!? How could Yitzchak not tell? I mean we have all these stories of these great Rabbis like the Ari”Zl that can tell who you are before you even walk in the room and what you dreamed last night. How could Yitzchak be so oblivious to what was going on? What was he even thinking in the first place to give the blessings to Eisav. I mean didn’t he know what a juvenile delinquent he was. A murderer, a rapist, a hunter- definitely a Republican J.
The answer I believe can be found in the entire middle of the story of our Parsha. Yitzchak is a farmer and someone who digs wells. What is a farmer and a well-digger?They are someone who can see and actually are experts at finding and revealing the potential that others cannot see. If you show me a seed, I will try to eat it or sprinkle it on my pizza- I have become that Israeli. A farmer though sees a crop. If I see someone digging, burying and pouring water on said-seed, to me that is the end of it. Yet the farmer knows that from there will sprout forth fruit. Same thing with wells. Dig, dig, dig, dirt dirt dirt seemingly a waste of time. But the well digger knows that underneath all that shmutz lies the fountain of life. mayim- agua. You just need to look beyond the surface.
Yitzchak of course knows what Eisav is on the outside. Yet he believes that to reveal Hashem in this world one must be capable of getting down in the mud, something that Yaakov who was the nice little yeshiva boy would never be able to. He was right about that. It was what Eisav’s job was supposed to be. In fact Rabbi Yonasan Eibieshitz suggests that on a spiritual level Yitzchak saw the holy converts that were meant to descend from Eisav that would do precisely that. Shmaya and Avtalayon the great leaders in the Mishna period and teachers of Hillel, Unkelos- who’s Temple period translation of the Torah is basic reading each week and the great Rabbi Meir. (I will not write Ivanka in the same sentence-no offense). Yet Yaakov knew that Yitzchak had it wrong about this guy. He knew it because Eisav’s name was “Red”.
When I walk into the house and smell something good, the first thing I would ask is what is this? Oh it’s chulent. Oh it’s steak. Oh it’s soup. Really what type of soup? Lentil soup. That sounds delicious can I have some. The Torah tells us specifically what Yaakov is cooking. Yet Esau never asks. He doesn’t even see what it is he is eating. All he sees is red. The surface. He sees it twice. Red-red. Yaakov is not sure about this. Maybe he’s just hungry. Maybe Eisav can be shaken awake. He asks him if would sell his birthright- that special divine mandate that has been passed down from Avraham to their father Yitzchak to light up the darkness of the world, to find the hidden sparks of holiness and reveal the divinity in Creation. Yet Eisav responds at age 15 that he is going to die and life is meaningless. He wasn’t as much hungry- it doesn’t even tell us he was hungry. It says he was tired. But not go-to-sleep-hit-the-sack tired as it obvious that he gets up and heads right back out after eating his bowl of chulent. He was tired of life. Not interested in digging, in revealing, in uplifting in our partnership with Hashem, our birthright. He is Red. The epitome of surface. It wasn’t a nickname he was given when he was born. In fact the name Eisav not only means asui- fully finished but can also be read asu- make- do- work. There were big plans for this boy. But he is ayeif tired. He chooses to only see the surface. He’s Red.
Our sages tell us that each Jewish name contains in it the essence of what our soul is meant to accomplish. The letters of the name, the definition and the numerical value they are all the divine DNA that make up who we are, what talents and gifts we were given, what are particular personal role in this world is meant to be and our strengths and weaknesses that will challenge us in accomplishing that. The nicknames we have are the short cuts. The surface definition that might just latch onto our externalities but will never come close to guiding us into becoming who we are meant to be. We are living in the world and exile of Esau. The red world. The world that seems to be obsessed with externalities. how it looks, what is politically correct. It doesn't make a difference what is on the inside, all that matters is how we can spin it. That is not Hashems world. That is not the name Yaakov and Yisrael that we are meant to reveal. May each of us live up to that name, realize its potential. After-all our grandfather traded a bowl of chulent for that right.

 Have a perfect Shabbos!
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


https://youtu.be/8tIAaMOpKEQ -Elka’s favorite song- Matanot Ketanot

https://youtu.be/znLYZRhbLK4  – Lipa with the holocaust survivor band and Dudu Fisher singing songs from the Alteh Heim

https://youtu.be/pZm_uk5M5D0   A composition by my dear friend Benzion Klatzkow Rabbi “K”- Kol Zmaan Shehaner Dolek Efshar L'Taken Assur L'heetyaesh, M'Hashem Tivakesh- As long as your flame is lit, You can still be fixed Refuse to Give up hope, Call out to God

https://youtu.be/BY0awgARQNo Birkas Habanim by Ohad for this week’s Torah portion theme the blessings for children


“Nit mit sheltn un nit mit lakhn ken men di velt ibermakhn.”  Neither cursing nor laughing can change the world
answer below at end of Email
Q.   Which among the following is not a bird of prey?
A. Eagle
B. Vulture
C. Owl
D. Tristram’s Starling (Grackle)

Our greatest leaders read Rashi and saw in him the basic principles of faith and with that profound insights into our our world and human behavior. In the first verse of this weeks portion of Toldos the Torah tells us
Bereishit (25:19) These are the generations of Yitzchak the son of Avraham. Avraham begot Yitzchak.
Obviously upon reading a pasuk like that which begs the question as to the repitiive nature of it “Yitzchak the son of Avraham and Avraham begot Yitzchak, one needs to check out Rashi. Rashi explains the text with two intepertaions. I’ll focus on the 2nd one (check out the first one yourself) which is famous. Rashi says
For the scoffers of the generation were saying that Sarah became pregnant from Avimelech. For she spent many years with Avraham and did not become pregnant from him. So what did Hashem do? He fashioned Yitzchak’s face to resemble Avrahams and everyone attested that Avraham begot Yitzchak.”
The great Rav of Brisk, Rav Yitzchak Soloveitchik noted that the term that Rashi uses to describe the non-believers was not heretics but rather mockers, scoffers, letizanim. He points out that these people were not people that didn’t believe. For the truth is there was obviously great miracles that took place. Sarah was after all hereself 90 years old. Rather they were believers that chose not to believe in what they would need to believe in. Namely that a miracle was performed for Avraham. Meaning seemingly they should have denied the entire story. Yet, the Rav told his students, that is the way of mockers. They have to believe in something. Each person was granted a power of faith, it is natural to us like strength, wisdom and other attributes. We can direct that faith to something real. To Hashem and his running of the universe or we can and will believe in far-fetched ridiculous things. Be they horoscopes, superstitions, luck, fortune tellers, scientific postulations that struggle to explain the inexplicable without Hashem and without a Creator. A leitz a scoffer is not a non-believer, he is someone who is just channeling his faith in the wrong direction and more often than not a more far-fetched one. Wouldn’t it be wiser to utilize our natural faith for what it was given to us? One word in Rashi and a lesson his students will remember forever.

Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Halevi Soloveitchik (1886,-1959)- Perhaps one of the most influential leaders in the Yeshiva world of the last generation The Brisker Rav or the Gri”Z as he was known, established what is perhaps noted as the most elite Yeshiva in Israel today, reknown for their precision and meticulousness about Jewish law and tradition. He was born in Volozhin to the famed Rav Chaim Soloveitchik. At age 16 he was noted as an illui- genius that had mastered the entire Talmud with Rashi by heart. During World War I he fled to Brisk and was offered the position of the Rav there. In 1941 he came to Israel where he founded the famed Brisk Yeshiva. The style of Brisk was to study each word and the nuances that were written by the Rambam and other halachic works, as well much of the focus of study of the yeshiva was on the tractates of Kodshim that were not vastly learned. He was ardently opposed to Zionism and refused to take and receive any money as other yeshivot did from the government or in fact any source that was questionably “not Kosher”. However he had tremendous respect for many of the great leaders that were supporters of Zionism referring to Rav Kook as the “Pe’er Hador- the splendor of the generation, his nephew Rav Soloveitchik from Yeshiva University he referred to as the greatest scholar in America and even the chief Rabbi of Israel Rav Herzog he noted was a tzadik and genius. This was a different approach than both the Aguda and the Rebbe of Satmar. In fact when the issue of voting in Israel came up he defined his position as stating “It is not such a big mitzva that Rav Aharon Kotler has to come from America to support it and fulfill it and not such a big sin that the Rebbe of Satmar has to come protest it.”
The Rav’s children and grandchildren lead his yeshivas in Israel today. And thousands of Torah Jews study his insights and have adopted many of his customs emulating this great man.


Lone Soldiers – People ask me all the time why I moved to Israel. As if I was crazy to give up the incredible life in America. More often than not it is Israelis that ask me that or people from New York. I had my reasons. My reasons certainly have changed with a greater appreciation for what life in this land truly is on all levels- material, spiritual, emotional and historical. However non of those reasons come close to perhaps the greatest heroes of our  time which are the young men and women that leave their families and life behind in order to join the army and defend our promised land and the Jewish people. Today in Israel there are over 6000 of such soldiers of which over 40% serve in combat units. To be considered and to receive the special benefits the government and army give to lone soldiers which include a higher stipend tickets to visit home, preferential free or subsidized housing, one has to not be in contact or have family here in Israel. The majority of the lone soldiers come from the US and Russia but recently there have been an influx of Chareidi young men who have joined the army and been ostracized by their families or communities who have also been given that status. There are many organizations that assist and support these young dedicated heroes. Many of them have given their lives Al Kiddush Hashem defending this land that may not have been their birth country but is certainly the place that was dearest to their heart. In the last Gaza War there were over 20,000 people that attended the funerals of those that were killed defending our land, giving homage and honor to those that certainly deserve it.
My mate insists on being called 'N' by everyone. He'll do anything to be the center of attention.

I have just changed my name by name to Heart Disease. Just so I can be known as the UK's biggest killer.

Mr. and Mrs. King were in the hospital with their newborn baby.
"What shall we name him?" she asked.
"How about Joseph?" he replied.
The nurse with the birth certificate looked at the baby and said: "You've got to be Joe King!".

How come there are so many bus drivers called Drive? ( In Israel that would be sa!)

A little boy at school on his first day was asked by the teacher what his name was.
The boy replied, "Six and seven-eighths".
The teacher asked him why his parents had given him such a strange name and he replied, "They just picked it out of a hat".

My nickname means I have a great pick -up line when I'm in America.
"Hi, I'm Waldo. I believe you've been trying to find me."

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, goes by the nickname' Bibi'. His wife, in contrast to most Israeli' first ladies', takes a more activist role in her country's affairs.
During the last peace talks with Yassir Arafat and the Palestinians' there were discussion about a formal conference complete with state dinners. The press was dying be on hand to hear Mrs. Netanyahu lean towards Mr. Arafat and motioning towards her husband intone:
'Yasir, that's my Bibi'

Answer is D – We’ve moved on from botany to wildlife. This one was easy though. The tristramites named after Henry Tristram Baker the famous 19th century British archeologist are those friendly birds that hang out at Masada whom he named. They’re black with an orange stripe and they love people and love to sing. They are very romantic birds always eating, flying and singing together with their spouses.

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