Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
January 20th 2017 -Volume 7 Issue 13 22nd Tevet 5777
He spoke of watermelons and I have forever been inspired. For many years as a Kollel student in Yeshivas Bais Yisrael in Brooklyn, I had the privilege of attending the great Mussar Lectures of Rav Avigdor Miller. One of his primary themes was recognizing the incredible wonders of the universe in the every day things we take for granted. Watermelons were one of his favorite topics. It is one of my favorite desserts. It was a match made in heaven.
Let’s start with the watermelon seeds, a great roasted Israeli delicacy. I’m sure you know that when you bite into a juicy watermelon they are extremely slippery and they fly out of your hand or mouth. This is unlike orange seeds which are not. The reason according to the Department of Agriculture report (so I’m told) because the watermelon seeds are palatable and therefore need protection so they will fall on the ground and be re-planted, whereas orange seeds are bitter and will naturally be discarded by the eater. The watermelon vines thus know that its eaters might eat them and creates a special mucus around the seed to make it slippery. The orange tree obviously knows that its eaters don’t like bitter things so it doesn’t have to. It also implies that these trees and vines know that the future of their species depends on the protection these seeds.
Next, the fruit itself has an enticing, red, luscious, look. In fact almost all fruits have very delectable colors. Being made for the consumption of human beings it must know that we have an appreciation for colorful food and makes sure it stands out just perfectly. Fascinatingly enough, its outer non-edible shell and even its inedible rind is green a different color, the color of unripe fruits, so that we know not to eat that part. As anyone knows, that unripe fruits and melons can cause stomach cramps. The green protects it from animals eating it, as it blends in with the color of its vines, until it becomes ripe when we can partake in it.
The texture of its taste is also incredible. It is soft and yet has a little bit of crunch, it is juicy but not liquidy. Science and technology, with all their wisdom, still cannot create anything even close to the texture of a watermelon, an apple or an orange. Yet a tree with some sunlight, water and soil, and with the all the programming instructions and raw materials contained in the small factory of a seed, produces daily these miraculous little products that are perfect for sustaining and delighting humanity. How do you like “dem” apples J?
This week’s Torah portion in a very subtle way shares with us an incredible insight into not only in how we can become Rabbi Milllers, but even how we can become like Moshe. We begin the book of Shemos this week and we are told the story of Moshe Rabeinu. Raised as an Egyptian in the house of Pharaoh, he was put on trial and escaped the death penalty for murdering an Egyptian. He fled to Midian and became a shepherd in the home of a former Idolatrous Priest Yisro. He certainly would seem to be an unlikely figure to be the great Jewish leader that would bring about the redemption and to be God’s personal spokesperson for all times. Yet, the Torah tells us about the transformative moment when Moshe the Egyptian shepherd becomes Moshe the Leader.
“An angel of G-d appeared to him in a blaze of fire from amidst “the bush”. Moshe saw the event and behold, “the bush” was burning in fire and yet “The bush” was not consumed. Moshe said, ‘I will turn from my course and see the marvelous sight — why does “The bush” not burn?’ Hashem saw that Moshe turned from his path to see the sight and He called out to him from amidst “the bush and said, ‘Moshe Moshe… ‘”
This narrative, from the moment that Moshe notices the burning bush until Hashem speaks to him from its midst, seems overstated. After Moshe sees the amazing sight, why does the Torah mention that Moshe says “I will go look at the amazing sight?” Further, why does the Torah preface Hashem’s charge to Moshe with the words “Hashem saw that Moshe turned from his path to see the sight, and He called out to him from amidst the bush?” It seems that only after Hashem openly acknowledges Moshe’s interest in the spectacle does he call out, “Moshe, Moshe,” thus beginning the process of redemption.
The answer, Rabbi Miller would suggest was that it was precisely this criterion and test that clinched Moshe for the job, He turned from his path to see. The Kotzker Rebbe suggests that the bush was always there burning and not being consumed, as is the implication of the text referring to the bush as “The bush”. Yet until Moshe nobody ever did more then maybe slow down their camels, clogging up the camel freeway, look out their turbans and say “Hey, check out that cool bush burning”. They didn’t see the obvious miracles. They didn’t recognize that there must have been a message, a Hand, and a Greater Power that was involved in this World. They refused to get off their path and open themselves up to the True one. Moshe did and it was his defining moment. When Hashem saw the intellectual curiosity and willingness to examine and re-examine his path, his world and his ways, he began to speak for the first time with Moshe. He knew he had the perfect man to lead and transform a nation from 210 years of brain-less, mind numbing, and order-following slaves, into one that would be bold and holy enough to challenge all of the world’s conventions and lead them to the path of truth.
We don’t have bushes burning today to wake us up. We already received the Torah, we left Egypt, and we have the knowledge. But, are we somehow living in the fast lane and missing the inspiration that surrounds us? What are you thinking about when you’re eating a watermelon? Are you chowing down instead of chowing up? Has that been something that has brought you closer to the loving masterful Creator that placed it there on your plate? If not, than are we any different than those who missed out on the Bush. Creation is remarkable. It bespeaks a designed universe created for us. Hashem wants us to appreciate the love of his universe in the same way a mother, wife or chef would want their children, husband, or dining connoisseurs to appreciate the delicious meal that she worked so hard to cook, prepare and present the day they came home from culinary school. Can you imagine having that appreciation each day of your life? I don’t have to imagine it. The image and lectures of Rabbi Miller will always be with me. I have enclosed a youtube video below of him. May his life continue to be an inspiration.
Have a fantabulous Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
This week's Insight and Inspiration has been sponsored by my parents Abe and Esther Schwartz in honor and as a merit for my father's parents and aunt whose yahrtzeit is this week Moshe David ben Hersh and Zelda and Itka Sarah bas Yisrael Mordechai all of them holocaust survivors. My Bubby Zeldy raised her sister raised my father on their own and remained committed after all that they had been through to raising him with Torah values even in the most financially challenging of times. She was a tremendous Baalas Tzedaka that dedicated her spare moments to raising funds for needy families and to a large degree it is in her merit that all of her descendants live lives and have families that remain true to the life of Torah that she inspired. May their memories be blessed.
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL VIDEOS OF THE WEEK
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gx_NgHIBRt4 Rabbi Avigdor Miller on Apples…Amazing!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lRkpblJzAb8 –Hasneh Boe’eir Ba’ish by Aharon Razel the Burning Bush
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUZsmxUxfBk&t=554s – VerPlanck- a pretty funny clip from a yeshivish TV sitcom- The Shidduch and Red Heifer
https://youtu.be/87XlDRjmPME – Rare footage of Chafetz Chaim
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S FAVORITE YIDDISH PROVERB OF THE WEEK
“A mentsh zol leben shoin nor fun neigerikeit vegen”- A man should stay alive if only out of curiosity.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
answer below at end of Email
Q. One of the leaders who led the Return to Zion immediately following Cyrus’ Declaration was:
c. Gedaliahu Ben Ahikam
c. Gedaliahu Ben Ahikam
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S ILLUMINATING RASHI OF THE WEEK
We’ve pointed out many times that Rashi’s role is not to quote Midrash and quite the opposite actually is true. If the Midrash contradicts the simple understanding of the verse Rashi will generally not mention it unless it explains the simple meaning of the text. So whenever Rashi mentions a Midrash that seems to contradict the simple phsat it behooves us to explore what we may have missed in the text.
Take this week’s portion of Shemot for example, when Hashem commands Moshe to go down to Egypt He tells him that he need not fear the death sentence that was given to him by Pharaoh for having killed the Egyptian there.
Shemot (4:19) For all of the men that seek your death have died.
This seems simple enough. The men be they Pharaoh or the ones that Rashi tells us earlier had snitched on Moshe had died namely Dathan and Aviram. Yet Rashi leaves the simple pshat and tells us that
“They were alive. Rather they lost all of their possessions and a poor man is considered like a dead man.
This is certainly an interesting idea, but where does Rashi get it from and why does he not explain the pshat the way it states it? The truth is we know that later on Dathan and Aviram are still alive. So obviously they are not dead. Yet again that doesn’t necessarily justify Rashi explaining that this is Dathan and Aviram in the first place. AS the text doesn’t name the people who Moshe intervened in saving. The Chafetz Chaim however sees that Rashi is obviously using this explanation because it is the only one that fits the actual text for the verse says “the men who seek your death” If they were dead already the verse should have said that sought your death –past tense. It must be, the Chafetz Chaim says, that they are still alive.
The Skulener Rebbe notes how it is amazing that the entire redemption and the delay of the 60 years until Moshe could take them out rested on the potential for Jews such as these who would snitch on Moshe. Even Jews who had benefitted where Moshe was defending them against the Egyptian and they should have been grateful Yet their warped moral indignation of Moshe having neutralizing an Egyptian terrorist who was trying to kill a Jew which seemingly was in violation of international law- or at least how it applies to Jews-wouldn’t allow them to be quiet. They demanded an investigation, a commission and ultimately a sentence to be passed against Moshe. The redemption couldn’t come until these types of Jews lost their power… OK maybe he didn’t say it exactly like that… But you get the point. J
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan- The Chafetz Chaim (1838 –1933) – Rabbi Israel Meir HaCohen Kagan is commonly known as the “Chafetz Chaim,” the name of his famous work on guarding one’s tongue. Born in Zhetel, Poland on February 6, 1838, he was taught untill age 10 by his parents and then moved to Vilna to further his Jewish studies. Refusing the pulpit rabbinate, the Chafetz Chaim settled in Radin (Poland) and subsisted on a small grocery store which his wife managed and he did the “bookkeeping”-watching every penny to make sure that no one was cheated. He spent his days learning Torah and disseminating his knowledge to the common people.
As his reputation grew, students from all over Europe flocked to him and by 1869 his house became known as the Radin Yeshiva. In addition to his Yeshiva, the Chafetz Chaim was very active in Jewish causes. He traveled extensively (even in his 90s!) to encourage the observance of Mitzvos amongst Jews. One of the founders of Agudas Yisrael, the religious Jewish organization of Europe and later the world, the Chafetz Chaim was very involved in Jewish affairs and helped many yeshivos survive the financial problems of the interwar period. Exemplifying the verses in Psalms 34:13-14, “Who is the man who desires life…? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit,” the Chafetz Chaim passed away in 1933 at the ripe age of 95.
The Chafetz Chaim’s greatest legacy is the 21 sefarim (holy books) which he published. His first work, Sefer Chafetz Chaim (1873), is the first attempt to to organize and clarify the laws regrding evil talk and gossip. He later wrote other works, including Shmirat HaLashon, which emphasized the importance of guarding one’s tongue by quoting our Sages. The Mishnah Brurah (1894-1907), his commentary on the Daily Laws of a Jew (his first series in the Shulchan Aruch), is found in many Jewish homes and is accepted universally to decide Halacha.
Firmly believing that he was living right before the time of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, the Chafetz Chaim wrote a work that stressed the learning of laws concerning sacrifices, the Holy Temple, and related topics. He also published seforim to strengthen certain aspects of Jewish life including kashrus, family purity, and Torah study.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TYPES OF JEWS IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK
Birthright Students – They’re all over the place in this country. You can’t miss the buses with the big blue and white posters that say Taglit- Birthright. Since the start of this program in 1999, that provides free 10 day trips to Israel for “young adults” ages 18-26 over a half a million young men and women have come to Israel. The Birthright program was conceived from what I understand by the Bronfman family and Michael Steinberg and other significant North American philanthropist who when faced with the results of a recent study that the majority of young Jewish adults were not likely to contribute to Jewish causes. All the edifices and organizations that they had built and were meant to be monuments and legacies to their family names would disappear. The JCC’s, the Federations, the Museums and charitable organizations were at risk. SO they did a study which revealed that Jews that had gone to Israel at least once in their life were 85% more likely to contribute to Jewish causes and the thus Birthright was conceived. Birthright is a nondenominational organization. Students can choose whether they want a Orthodox, Reform, Conservative run group-although no religious proselytization is permitted. There are nature Birthright trips, extreme ones, alternative lifestyle one and even for people with disabilities. The majority of the trips have the same 80% required places and things to do. Meet with soldiers, Tel Aviv, Bedouin tent, Har Herzl military cemetery, Dead Sea, Yad Vashem, Masada and of course the Kotel. The remaining parts are left to the individual groups to organize. The Orthodox run ones of course provide a real authentic Shabbat experience.
Birthright has had a tremendous impact on Israel with over 75,000 Israelis participating in some form either as soldiers, security and escorts for the students. Over 250 million dollars is estimated annually is brought into Israel in tourism dollars, hotels, entrance fees, plane and the like; a tremendous boon to our economy. As well according to studies students that come on a birthright trip are over 50% more likely to marry a Jewish partner and 1out of four meet their spouse on a birthright trip. As well for many students the 10 day trip is not enough. There have been many programs like return and learn and Birtright Next that bring the students back again for a more serious learning and experiential period of time. I have led quite a few of the post-birthright trips and they really are amazing.
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S REALLY TERRIBLE WATERMELON JOKES OF THE WEEK
Q: When do you go at red and stop at green? A: When you're eating a watermelon.
Q: Why do watermelons have fancy weddings? A: Because they cantaloupe.
Q: What do you call fruit that is a serious criminal? A: a waterfelon.
Q. How did the watermelon feel when it went out with broccoli? Melon-choly
There was a farmer who grew watermelons. He was doing pretty well, but he was disturbed by some local kids who would sneak into his watermelon patch at night and eat his watermelons. After some careful thought, he came up with a clever idea that he thought would scare the kids away for sure. He made up a sign and posted it in the field. The next day, the kids show up and they saw the sign which read,
"Warning! One of the watermelons in this field has been injected with cyanide."
The kids ran off, made up their own sign and posted it next to the farmer's sign. When the farmer returned, he surveyed the field. He noticed that no watermelons are missing, but the sign next to his read,
"Now there are two!"
Answer is D – See the key word in the question is immediately. Everyone is familiar with Ezra and Nechemia, however the Talmud tells us that Ezra did not immediately come up after Cyrus declared the right of the Jews to return and set up their country once again 70 years as prophesized after the Babylonian Exile and destruction of the Temple. According to the Book of Ezra close about 42,000 thousand Jews went up mostly Kohanim Levi’im and others that would serve in the Temple that was meant to be rebuilt. The rest of the people that came were mostly shleppers. Ezra didn’t come up immediately because he was still learning by his Rebbe Baruch Ben Neria the student of Jeremia. Nechemia as well waited as he was still serving in the palace. The correct answer is Zerubavel the grandson of Yehoyachin the former King and of Yehoshua the Kohen Gadol. The numbers weren’t stacked well as there were close to 24,000 men and only 12,000 women and children. Talk about a Shiduch crisis. The Jews married out therefore unitl Ezra came about 80 years later and broke them all up. Gedalia Ben Achikam never left Israel after the destruction he was appointed governer and assassinated by Jews. We fast to commemorate that day that was really the final blow to the Jews post-Churban the day after Rosh Hashana.