Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
January 12th 2017!! -Volume 7 Issue 12 15th Tevet 5777
Oh Say Can’t You See
So how do you feel about the situation in America today? Are you scared? Are you hopeful? Nervous? Optimistic? All of the above? Then you’re probably like most Americans…confused. I find it very telling that the platform for the current president was to “Make America Great Again”. Was it great before? I don’t know let’s take a look at the last few decades of American presidential slogans.
2008- “Change We Need”- Barack Obama- Ummm. That worked out pretty good.
2004- “Let America be America Again:”- John Kerry- Ahhhh sooo that’s where Trump got it from
2000- “A Reformer with Results “George W Bush- and he even spelled the word reformer right.
George Bush Sr. campaigned on a “Kinder Gentler America” and then killed about 35,000 people in Iraq. Mondale in 1984 said “America Needs Change” which seems to be ongoing theme. Ronald Reagan’s question of “Are we were better off than we were four years ago?” usurped Jimmy Carter’s claim that “It’s Not Just Peanuts”, and the first president since Ephraim Schwartz came into the world Gerald Ford campaigned under the slogan “Making us Proud Again”….Hmmmm it seems like we haven’t been happy for a long time in this country. Maybe that’s the one thing that hasn’t changed.
What were the good old days that people are longing for, tell me? If presidential slogans are any sign of the sentiments of the spirit of the times then let’s look back at perhaps those good old day slogans that people are nostalgic about. Was it Hoovers “Chicken in every pot” promise? Harding’s “Cox and Cocktails” campaign-whatever that means. In 1896 William McKinley inspired the masses with his profound “Good Money Never Made Time Hard” campaign. I think Trump was originally gonna use that one. Maybe people are longing for the election of 1884 when James Blaine’s campaign slogan was “Ma, Ma, Where’s my Pa, Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha”, while his opponent Grover Cleveland countered with the truly prolific “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, The Continental Liar from the State of Maine”. And people think Trump is a baby….He’s merely making America great again like it used to be when all these other great men led our nation. Our nation…our nation…?
Do you feel America is our nation? Do you care a lot about it? Enough to put signs on your lawns? To argue and fight for the future of this country with anyone that disagrees with you. You were born in America. They took in our hungry, our homeless, our weary and war-torn. They let us into their schools, their universities, Hollywood. We became doctors, lawyers, musicians- or rock stars (those are very different things) Supreme court justices, vice-presidential candidates and hey today from what I understand the White House may even be having a full time Kosher kitchen for all the religious Kosher eating Jews in the higher echelons of the incoming administration. We have religious freedoms, the likes of which we didn’t’ have in many of our other long bitter places of exile…. Exile? Are we in Exile?
Europe was Exile, Babylonia was Exile. Spain was Exile. This is America. Ohhhho Say Can You See? (continue humming –you know you’re feeling patriotic right now) But really, is America really different? One thing Jews have learned throughout our history is that no place ever turns out to be different. But c’mon, it’s the 21st century. We live in a civilized world. Uh huh…Than why are we longing for the old one?
I just want you to hold on to those words ‘Oh Say Can You See’ for a second. You see as we examine this week’s Torah portion those words should have profound import. The parsha we read this week, Vayechi, is unique in the entire Torah. Unlike other Torah portions that begin with a break of space in between its start and the next parsha, either a line or a new paragraph, Vayechi immediately follows the conclusion of Vayigash, with the space of just one letter. I noticed that when I was Bar Mitzva’d and read and it wasn’t obvious where to end. Maybe it was a forewarning for me that I would be the type of guy that would never know where or when to end his Torah drashot… Rashi notes this anomaly and quotes our sages as saying
“Why is this parsha “closed”? Because once our forefather Yaakov passed away, the eyes and hearts of the Israel became closed from the troubles/suffering of the enslavement, for the Egyptians began to enslave them.”
Their eyes were closed from the troubles and suffering. Ohoy, Vay, couldn’t see by the dawn’s early light…. It seems was their anthem. But many of the commentaries note that something is wrong with this Rashi. For the suffering and the slavery didn’t really start after the death of Yaakov, in fact Rashi later tells us that it didn’t start until the passing of the last of Yaakov’s children Levi. In fact it really didn’t escalate until the last 80 years that they were in Egypt, when the new pharaoh came and “didn’t know Yosef”, in the next book. So why is this parsha closed now? And why particularly here in the beginning of this parsha is it closed, when even according to what Rashi says, Yaakov doesn’t die until the very end of the parsha.
Perhaps one may suggest, that the Torah in “closing” this parsha called Vayechi-And he lived, not so ironically for the parsha that talks about his death, is connecting it very closely to the words that last week’s Torah portion concludes with that immediately precede it. The Torah tells us that the brothers of Yosef had all been set up nicely by Yosef. They settled in Goshen, they were the ministers of the sheep of Pharaoh, nice cushy government jobs provided by their brother; their man in the White House. The parsha concludes with these words
And Israel settled in Egypt, in the land of Goshen; they took holdings, and they were fruitful and they multiplied there.
Rashi on the words ‘and they took holdings’ elaborates- ‘and they bought houses and estates and formed landholdings.’
Listen, what are we gonna be shepherds forever? We got into the Real Estate business. We became moguls. We settled the land. We became more Egyptian than the Egyptians. We had our little paradise there in Boro Park… I mean Goshen. Kosher pizza, shwarma, wedding halls, Yeshivot, Egypt was our new home. Israel was becoming a distant memory. I mean it’s dangerous there in the Middle East, remember that whole fight and kidnapping of Dina in Shechem. Egypt is civilized. It’s the new world. This after-all the 15th Century BC. The Torah begins the idyllic era in great malchus shel chesed- kingdom of graciousness of Egypt with the national anthem that we didn’t realize we should have been singing.
Oho Say can’t we see… our eyes and hearts have been closed… for the suhhh uffering… and troubles of Egypt are coming…For this was not going to be the land of the free…it would be the home…of the…. slaves…
If one looks carefully at Rashi he doesn’t say that the suffering started. It didn’t. But with Yaakov’s death, our eyes and hearts became closed to seeing that this was not meant to be our home. We were in Exile. The troubles of the enslavement of the Egyptian began with our self-delusional assimilation into their society and the belief that we had made it. We were where we belonged. The word Vayechi- and we lived, is the word that is closed. We thought we were living the life. But we know how the story ended. How it always always ends. There is no life when we are not home. There is no life when the shechina is not where it’s meant to be. It’s all just another step, another wandering place, another respite in our long bitter Exile.
Maybe it’s time to start focusing our efforts on Making Israel Great Again. Maybe we should be putting even half as much energy into our own spiritual campaigns, as we put into a country that is merely a temporary resting place for us that really hasn’t been great in seemingly a long time, and that will only really be great if and when we get out of there and raise the entire world up with the light of Hashem from His holy palace in Yerushalayim. We don’t need an embassy there as much as we need a Temple there. That’s where our focus needs to be. I speak not only to my brothers and sisters in the Diaspora, I speak to myself and all of those privileged to live here in Israel as well. This is not the Israel we are praying for. It hasn’t arrived yet. We are still in Exile despite at least living in our own land. We too have not arrived. Od Lo Avda Tikvateinu- our hope has not yet been fulfilled and has never been to be merely a free nation in our land. Rather it is to be Hashem’s nation in His Land. That is our true anthem. That is the day that we still long to see.
Have a fantabulous Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL VIDEOS OF THE WEEK
https://youtu.be/19EVMHFbGwI -Ani Yisrael by my great friend Gershon Veroba from his awesome new CD cool video
https://youtu.be/BCh-yxlcEY8 – Gad Elbaz & Nissim Black great new video and song L’Chaim
https://youtu.be/ieBhINqUAyQ – Pretty funny Avraham Fried Jewish Siri with Mendy Pellin
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S FAVORITE YIDDISH PROVERB OF THE WEEK
“A nogid a nar iz oich a har” -A foolish rich man is still a lord.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
answer below at end of Email
Q. According to Josephus Flavius during the Great Revolt a massacre did not occur in:
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S ILLUMINATING RASHI OF THE WEEK
There are many interpretations and explanations that are given for various verses in the Torah. The genius of Rashi is that he chose the one that best explains the simple understanding of the pshat. If Rashi gives more than one explanation then it is because each one on its own doesn’t fully explain the problem in understanding the text. So pay attention when there is more than one explanation brought down by Rashi it can truly reveal pearls.
In this week’s Torah portion there is a great example of this. When Yaakov makes his request of Yosef to bury him, he tells him
Bereshit (47:29-30) “Please do not bury me in Egypt, and I will ie down with my fathers and you shall transport me out of Egypt and bury me in their grave”
Rashi in explaining Yaakov’s request not to be buried in Egypt notes three things
1) It’s land will be turned into lice (during the 10 plagues)
2) The dead of the lands outside of Israel will only be resurrected with the pain of rolling through tunnels (to come to the land of Israel where they will be resurrected.
3) So that the Egyptians shall not make a deity out of him.
The Klei Yakar explains that the three reasons given by Rashi are all necessary to understand the pshat. For if the land of Egypt was going to be turned to lice, seemingly Yaakov could have been spared that pain, for we have a tradition that Yaakov and our holy people who’s bodies have become totally purified don’t even have any deterioration of their bodies after death, so for sure lice wouldn’t have power over them. It is therefore that Rashi tells us that they would make him into a deity. For having seen that the land is turned to lice and Yaakov’s grave remains untouched they would deify him. Yet both of these reasons are not sufficient to explain why Yaakov asked Yosef to bury him in Israel, as he did. Seemingly anywhere that’s not Egypt that wouldn’t be struck with plagues would be enough? Rashi therefore tells us that Yaakov also did not want to suffer the dead-man tunnel resurrection roll, that would take place outside of Israel. Yet this in itself was not alone a reason as well. For he wanted Yosef to know and be sure that if he couldn’t for whatever reason bury him in Israel to take care of this problem, but at least he should make sure that he should not bury him in Egypt because of the lice and his fear of them deifying him.
Now that’s how you learn a Rashi!
Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Luntschitz (1550 –1619) – Rabbi Ephraim son of Aaron was born in the city of Luntschitz in what is today central Poland around the year 1550. He studied under the famed Maharshal (Rabbi Shlomo Luriah) and became Rabbi of the city of Lvov where he served for 25 years.
From an early age he was recognized as a star orator and was renowned for his fiery sermons. In 1601, Rabbi Ephraim became deathly ill. During the course of his illness he added the name Shlomo to his name and thereafter signed his name Shlomo Ephraim. He also vowed that if he survived his illness he would compose a commentary to the Pentateuch.
Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim survived his illness and the very next year wrote and published his commentary, named Kli Yakar. The commentary became immediately popular throughout the Jewish world and was his most famous publication, to the point, as with many other great Rabbis, that he is now known simply as the Kli Yakar. More than 400 years later, the Kli Yakar remains popular and is printed alongside the commentary of Rashi and others in many Chumashim.
The year after the Kli Yakar’s publication, he was appointed Chief Rabbi of the great city of Prague, where he also served as Rosh Yeshiva and the Head of the Beit Din. Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim passed away in 1619. His son and other descendants followed in his footsteps, also holding the esteemed position of Chief Rabbi of Prague. Amongst his most famous students was Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller, also known as Tosfot Yom Tov.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TYPES OF JEWS IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK
Cowboys – Yeah we have our Texas here in Israel as well. Up in the Golan Heights a few miles from the mess that’s going on in Syria is where our buffalo roam and the deer and the antelope play. OK so we don’t really have buffalo over there, although we did try introducing some in the Hula valley. Not many antelope either. But we have cow. Thousands of them up in the Golan Heights probably one of the only places where you’ll see cows roaming around tanks. Israeli cowboys, there are about a 100 of them or so just in the Golan, have to deal with cows wandering into old Syrian minefields, avoiding army firing ranges or them ending up in some army base.Israeli cowboys face their unique set of challenges. For starters, they operate on a relatively small patch of land mostly made up of nature reserves and military grounds, so everything they do has to be coordinated with authorities. In summer, their primary role is that of firefighters, putting out blazes caused by negligent hikers and military maneuvers. They've had to euthanize cows that had limbs blown off by stepping on mines, and in last spring's cattle drive one cowboy had to physically block a gap in a military base's busted fence to prevent cows from roaming inside. The cowboys are mostly in charge of the cows that are raised for beef in this country. 95% of the country’s meat comes from import as there is not a lot of grazing land that is not used for planting and agriculture a much larger industry in Israel. The largest grazing land is in the Golan, yet the majority of cattle farmers are located in the Galil area although one can find cowboys all over the country.
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S REALLY TERRIBLE COWBOY JOKES OF THE WEEK
If a cowboy rides into town on Friday and three days later leaves on Friday, how does he do it? The horse's
name is Friday!
name is Friday!
So Shaindy from Boro Park went out West and was all ready for her first horseback ride. She said to the cowboy, "Can you get me a nice gentle pony?"
"Shore," said the cowboy. "What kind of a saddle do you want, English or western?"
"What's the difference?" asked the lady.
"The western saddle has a horn on it," said the cowboy.
"If the traffic is so thick here in the mountains that I need a horn on my saddle, I don't believe I want
to ride." Said Shaindy…
to ride." Said Shaindy…
Shaindy’s next stop was to the cowshed where she saw a whole herd of cows out in the barn.
“Wow, you have a lot of flies buzzing round your horses and cows. Do you ever shoo them?”
Cowboy answered her “No we just let them go barefoot.”
Cowboy answered her “No we just let them go barefoot.”
Back in the cowboy days, a westbound wagon train was lost and low on food. No other humans had been seen for days and then they saw an old Jewish cowboy sitting beneath a tree. The leader rushed to him and said, "We're lost and running out of food. Is there someplace ahead where we can get food?
"Vell," the old Jewish cowboy said, "I vouldn't go up dat hill und down da other side. Somevun told me you'll run into a big bacon tree."
"A bacon tree?" asked the wagon train leader.
"Yah, ah bacon tree. Trust me. For nuttin vud I lie."
The leader goes back and tells his people that if nothing else, they might be able to find food on the other side of the next ridge. "So why did he say not to go there?" some pioneers asked "Oh, you know the Jewish -- they don't eat bacon."
So the wagon train goes up the hill and down the other side. Suddenly, Indians attack and massacre everyone except the leader, who manages to escape back to the old Jewish cowboy, who's enjoying a "glassel tea." The near-dead man starts shouting. "You fool. You sent us to our deaths! We followed your instructions, but there was no bacon tree. Just hundreds of Indians, who killed everyone."
The old Jewish cowboy holds up his hand and says "Oy! vait a minute." He then gets out an English-Yiddish dictionary, and begins thumbing through it. "Gevalt, I made myself ah big mistake. It vuz not a bacon tree. It vuz a ham bush."
One Sunday a cowboy went to Shul. When he entered, he saw that he and the Rabbi were the only ones present. The Rabbi asked the cowboy if he wanted him to go ahead and give his weekly Drasha/ sermon. The cowboy said, "I’m not too smart, but if I went to feed my cattle and only one showed up, I’d feed him." So the Rabbi began his sermon. One hour passed, then two hours, then two-and-a-half hours. The Rabbi finally finished and came down to ask the cowboy how he liked the speech. The cowboy answered slowly, "Well, I’m not very smart, but if I went to feed my cattle and only one showed up, I sure wouldn’t feed him all the hay..."
Answer is A – Back in the period of the end of the second Temple the North was where the radicals lived. It was kind of like the Gush and Chevron area is today. The rebellion against Rome started in the North. Migdal was destroyed, Yodefat was where Josephus was based and was also destroyed although his fighters all pulled a Masada by his urging and commited suicide and then he chickened out and joined the Romans. Jerusalem obviously was a slaughter which leaves Tiverya as being the correct answer and which Josephus tells us was spared by the Romans because they did not join the revolt.