Our view of the Galile

Friday, April 21, 2017

A Blessing on your Head- Shemini 2017/5777

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

April 21st 2017 -Volume 7 Issue 26 25th Nissan 5777
Parshat Shemini
A Blessing on your Head
In Seattle I never had this problem. Most of my congregation were Kohanim. In fact there was even a time when it was the opposite problem. There were no plain old Israelites, like me to receive the priestly blessing on one of the holidays (my associate Rabbi at the time, Rabbi Fredman-himself a Kohen was running the service, while I was away for the holiday), and the question was do they still give the special blessing even when there was no one standing in the congregation. The answer incidentally is yes, as they bless and have in mind the other Jews in the fields. But we always had a Kohen in the West Seattle TLC. Here in Karmiel though we’re not always so lucky. We’ve had our regular Kohanim over the years, but many have come and gone. Quite a few have actually moved to Jerusalem. Maybe they want to be close to the action as soon as Mashiach comes. I told them that if and when he does come hopefully soon, we get first dibs on them arranging us a little Temple sacrifice action.
But it was a little depressing the first days of the holiday without the priestly blessing from the Kohen. In some ways it’s not as bad as it would have been in the States. Because after-all there they only do the blessing on holidays, while here we do it every single day by morning services. In fact it was one of the jarring things about my trips back to the States that davening and my day does not nearly feel as complete and blessed as it does when I’m in Israel, without that special daily boost from the Kohein. So even though we missed it on the first day, I knew that ultimately we would get the blessing on one of the upcoming days. Sure enough the last days of the chag the Kohen showed up and we got blessed. I felt uplifted. Holiday blessings feel more holy than the weekday ones. Even in Israel we sing in between each one of the three verses. It feels like the Temple. I close my eyes and imagine myself back there…back in the Yerushalayim, on our special mountain, seeing Hashem in his magnificent home. Receiving His blessing. Forever.
This week, the Torah portion begins with the eighth and the inaugural day of the Tabernacle the first of the month of Nissan. It was a busy day. A lot happened. It was the day the Jewish people had been waiting for since we had sinned with Golden calf a little less than year. There was a huge fundraising campaign, building campaign, each Jew contributed not only money, but by bringing whatever skills they had to help work. The Kohanim had all been dedicated and purified, the vessels all anointed. The work was done, the service was about to begin. Aharon the High Priest got up and blessed the nation. Rashi, tells us this was the priestly blessing. Our sages tell us in fact it was the first time this blessing was given.
Yevarechecha Hashem V’Yishmerecha- May Hashem watch over you and protect you
Ya’eir Hashem Panav Elecha Vi’Chunecha- May Hashem shine his countenance upon you and show you grace
Yisah Hashem Panav Elecha V’Yaseim Lecha Shalom- May Hashem uplift you with His countenance and grant you peace.
This is the blessing that the Torah will later tell us that the Kohen is meant to give the people. It is the traditional blessing parents give their children, in our home each Friday night. On major holidays in Israel, like this past Pesach tens of thousands of people gather to the Kotel to receive this blessing from the hundreds of Kohanim that attend the service. It is truly awesome. The Talmud tells us that when the Kohen gives this blessing Hashem’s Divine spirit rests between the Kohen’s hands and He personally brings the blessing to the people. The Zohar and the more mystical commentaries see in this blessing the pathway to bringing down all different Divine blessings that one can experience. The Midrash in Shir Hashirim describes the blessing perhaps the best referring to a verse in Song of Songs
Shir Hashirim (3:7-8) Behold the bed of Solomon; sixty mighty men are around it, of the mighty men of Israel. They all hold the sword, skilled in warfare; each one with his sword on his thigh because of fear at night-Rav Bibi in the name of Rebbi Elazar the son of Rebbi Yosi explains this verse as a reference to the blessing of Kohanim.
60 mighty men- are the 60 letters of the blessing
From the mighty of Israel- for they make Israel strong
They hold swords- matters that are blessed with strength
Skilled in war- for they fight against all the troubles that are in the world
Each one with his sword on his thigh- that even if a man sees in a dream a sword cutting into his thigh what should he do- go to synagogue recite the Shema, pray and hear the blessing of the Kohen and respond Amen and nothing bad will harm him.
Now you can see why I feel pretty attached to this bracha and why when I was in the States I felt I was missing my daily vitamins to make it through the day.
It all started in this week’s portion. It all starts with that first dedication of the Mishkan. What is however sometimes overlooked though, is that this blessing given by Aharon didn’t seem to work for his own two children who were killed just a few minutes later when they brought in a foreign fire to the incense that they weren’t commanded. Wow… Here it is that incredible blessing which becomes the trailblazer for all other blessings. Which Aharon seemingly recited on his own at that highest moment and that Hashem chooses to utilize for all future blessings and yet it was literally the harbinger of catastrophe and tragedy. What is the lesson in this? In addition what is the whole concept of this blessing that on the one hand seems to come from Hashem, but yet on the other hand can only be given via the Kohen?
In Hebrew to understand a word one has to go to its source, its root word. Unlike other languages where words are just arbitrary terms to refer to something, in Lashon Hakodesh- the Holy Tongue the word identifies the essense of word. The root of bracha- blessing is berech which one’s knee. In Bereshit when Eliezer, the servant of Avraham goes to find a mate for Yitzchak, the pasuk tells us
(24:7)“Vayavrech et ha’gamalim- He made the camels kneel ( by the water, at the time when the people went out to draw water)
In fact the word pool is also breicha, because one has to kneel to draw water from it. In the Talmud in regards to agriculture the process of replanting a tree’s branches by bending them back down into the ground so that they will grow a new tree, this is called Havracha. Again the same ‘root’ word- excuse the pun.. What is a blessing? A blessing is the redirection and reconnection of something to its source of growth, its’ source of nourishment. The Kohen is the one that does this job. He is the one that redirects us to our source of blessing. He does this and the commandment and blessing describes the mechanics of the process with one word. Love.
 “Blessed are You Hashem our God , King of the World who has sanctified us with His commandments and He commanded us to bless His nation Israel with love.”
The love in fact is that if a Kohen bears ill will against the people he is obligated to remove it before blessing the people and is forbidden to bless until then. If the people bear a grudge, even a rightful one against him, they must reconcile. The only way he can reconnect us with the roots that we receive during this blessing is if it full of love. Without love it’s like trying to plant something in poisoned earth. In fact there are only two sins that prevent a Kohen from blessing the people; murder and idolatry. The first prevents the connection between the Kohen and the nation the other between the Kohen and Hashem. He need to be the full conduit without any interference. When that connection is made heaven meets earth, all bad forces disappear, we are reunited with our source. Aharon initiates this blessing at the perfect moment. The Mishkan is built Hashem has forgiven us and we will always have a place to connect. The Kohen will be the one who places, the countenance of Hashem upon us. Just like when someone places the roots back into the earth. It’s perfect. It becomes the eternal process. It is the blessing that we give to our children. As we try to direct and return them to their source.
Yet for two of Aharon’s children it doesn’t work. They received the connection as well. Yet it seems they only got the first part of the blessing. Half of the mighty warriors. The first but not the second half. As readers of the second part of my weekly E-Mail know, I like Rashi. Reading his insight precisely leads to a greater appreciation of the text. Rashi on this blessing notes that Aharon blessed the people the priestly blessing Yevarecha, Yae’r and Yisah- And Hashem should bless you, and should shine upon you and should uplift you. Now seemingly, this was extraneous. We know what the priestly blessing is. Yet perhaps Rashi is telling us that Aharon really only was able to affect the first part of the blessing. The Ramban explains that each sentence has two parts to it the blessing and the almost opposite protection for the blessing. The replanting and the sprouting of the roots.
The first sentence is that Hashem should bless us. Too much blessing can be dangerous. It can lead to jealousy, to arrogance to a lack of appreciation of where it comes from. We can become drunk with overabundance. So Hashem adds the second part and He should guard you; Guard and protect us from the pitfalls of the blessing. The second sentence Hashem should shine his presence upon us, also can lead to a negative situation. One who feels and has Divine inspiration, can feel holier than thou, can be shining so bright that people can’t connect with him. Can feel he is above everyone else. We therefore receive that blessing that Hashem should show us grace. He should always make sure that we never get disconnected from everyone else. That when our roots grow up into a tree we should be part of a beautiful forest that sings the praise of Creation together to our Creator.  Finally the last blessing that Hashem should lift us up as well is wrought with the greatest sense of displacement that one can feel. I am soaring in the heavens and have nothing to do with the earth. What do I need this world for? Why should I be so dirty buried under the with my roots deep blow when all I want to do is soar and stretch out to the heavens that are uplifting me. So Hashem blesses us with Shalom. With completion, with peace, with serenity, with the upper realms and lower world all being connected and unified. With the harmony necessary to flourish and prosper.
Nadav and Avihu got the first part of the blessings, but they didn’t get the second part. In fact all of the dangers and factors I mentioned are found by our sages as being the sins that led to their deaths. They were jealous of Moshe and Aharon and thought they were greater than them, they felt they were to holy to get married, they drank too much wine of blessing. Their souls literally flew out of this world because they were too “holy” to remain here. The first part of the blessing rested upon them, but not the second. It is interesting and again precise to note that in America when the blessing is recited by the chazzan, who leads the service (and in Israel as well, when there is no Kohen) we say an introduction
Our God and the God of our Fathers bless us with the three-fold blessing of the Torah that is written by Moshe Your servant, and that is from the mouths of Aharon and his children, the Kohanim as it said...”
We are very precise about the bracha that we want. We want the one that is written in the Torah. The full blessing. The one that not only connects us to that love of Hashem, but allows us to bring that back into the world with us and shine it out to the rest of the world. In Eretz Yisrael, the only place on earth, the only soil that is truly ripe and ready for our plants to flourish we need and get that blessing every single day. The rest of you, have it much more challenging. But don’t worry. Spring is here. The crops are starting to grow, the trees are blooming and we are counting each day until we can bring the new wheat to Yerushalayim. God willing this year we’ll all be there to get the priestly blessing together.
Have a blessed Shabbos and a Chodesh Iyar Tov!
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


“Ver shemt zikh fun zeineh mishpocheh, oif dem iz kain brocheh.”- Whoever is ashamed of his family will have no blessings.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVi0NNZIEu4   - Birkat Kohanim by the Western Wall this past Pesach

https://youtu.be/u57jx8dyFgE  – Pretty Funny- my friend SYR’s Im Hashem Lo Yivne Bayit in English by some group in Indiana….OY…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r81POtmNtBI Ilan Gold Jewish comedian at the UN pretty funny

answer below at end of Email
Q A settlement associated with Yitzhak Ben-Tzvi is:
a. Beit Keshet
b. Kefar Hanasi
c. Mesuot Yitzhak
d. Be’erot Yitzhak

Rashi does point out “no duh” questions. A “no duh” question is one which is obvious. Like when I tell my children that they have to wash before the eat bread… They of course say “no duh…” exasperatedly, of course with the accompanying rolling of the eyes. Like, I know this already. What the word “like has to do with the previous sentence, I have no idea. But that’s what they say. Like, “No Duh”. Anyways If Rashi is telling us something that we think might be obvious, think about it for a second, he’s trying to point something out to us.
This week the first Rashi of the parsha begins
And it was on the eighth day- Rashi says, profoundly of course, the eighth of the miluim-innauguration of the Mishkan.
No of course our knee-jerk reaction would be to say “no-duh”. I mean the entire chapter and verses that preceded this Parsha are talking about the 7 days of the inauguration. The Kohanim stay in the Mishkan, they bring sacrifices, they are anointed. Obviously this is the eighth day of the miluim. What is his chidush? What else was it the eighth day of circumcision, for those who answered that “Who know Eight” question correctly by the Seder?”
Now if you thought about this for a second the truth is you would find this a very strange name for the day. The truth is as Rashi continues to say, this is the first of Nissan, It is also the day when 10 “crowns” special divinely royal occurences took place. Including the creation of the world, the day the Mishkan was erected and established, the priestly blessing first recited among a few of them. So why in fact does the Torah call the day the eighth day? Why doesn’t it instead refer to it as the first of Nissan as it generally does, giving the month a day when something significant happened?
The Sefat Emet notes that although all of the crowns that came down are huuuuge and important, yet all of that pales in face of the truly momentous thing that took place. It was the eighth day of the inauguration. For seven days the Jews and the Kohanim and Moshe all prepared themselves. They prepared the world. They were miluim- they filled up the void and set the platform for which all of these crowns could land. Our work is so much more significant than the crowns coming down. They don’t and can’t come down without our seven days of preparation first. They can only come down because this is the eighth day. That’s what Rashi wants us to notice. Now you can’t say “No Duh” to that!
Rabbi Yehuda Leib Alter-Sefat Emet (1847-1905) – The Sefas Emes, created the largest Chasidic following in Poland prior to WWII. Rabbi Yehuda Leib Alter was the son of R' Avraham Mordechai zt"l, the eldest son of the Chidushei Harim of Gur. He was born on erev rosh chodesh Iyar 1847 and as a boy of only two, he was orphaned of his mother. When he was about nine years old, his father too was passed away and he was brought up by his holy grandfather who treated him as a son, The Sefat Emet slept the bare minimum and ate very little throughout his youth, but when he became weak in his later years he admitted. "I feel that my body is weak probably due to my minimal sleep and food when I was young. I don't regret the missing sleep because a minimization of sleep is one of the ways with which Torah is acquired but I do regret not having eaten properly for now I am suffering the consequences."
 After his bar mitzva he married the granddaughter of R' Boruch Taam, and continued living in Gur with his grandfather. After his grandfather passed young Yehuda Leib was appointed av beit din. He refused however to act as rebbe and travelled together with the chassidim to R' Chanoch Henoch of Alexander until the latter's passing 4 years later.
On Shavuos, when he saw the massive crowd which had gathered around him, he agreed to join the chassidim in "giving ourselves chizuk" but still did not say divrei Torah in public until Succos the following year. Even then he refused to sit in his grandfather’s seat at the head of the table and sat in the middle of the table-which remains the custom of Ger until today. Finally, when he started giving forth his pearls of Torah wisdom, the world was astounded. These divrei Torah were printed in his famous sefer Sefat Emet al hatorah. His seforim on Shas were also printed many times.
During the Russo-Japanese War, many of his young followers were drafted into the Russian Army and sent to the battlefields in Manchuria. The Rebbe was very worried over these devotees and would constantly write to them. During the entire period of the war the Rebbe would sleep on the floor, rather than in his own bed and would cry bitter tears each night on the fate of his students. Unlike the custom of many of the Rebbes, the Sfas Emes refused to take money from his Chasidim that wished to support him and instead sufficed himself from the income his wife’s store would bring in. In fact he encouraged all of his chasidim to learn a trade rather than to make a living off of their Torah study or even seeking rabbinic positions.
 On Sunday 24th Teves  (1905) a rare illness poisoned his body and at dawn of the 5th of Shevat he returned his pure soul to its Maker. At his funeral there were 10’s of Chasidim that attended and mourned. Today Gerrer Chasidim is alive and well carrying out his legacy and the largest Chasidic group in Israel numbering 15 thousand families.

Avreichim/ Kollel Guys – Perhaps one of the most significant changes in the State of Israel, one that Ben Gurion and the early secular Zionists never dreamed of was the explosion of Jews studying Torah full time. They had thought that the old concept of the “shtetl yid” who would get up early and study and learn would disappear and give way to the new, “enlightened”, modern Jewish fighter, farmer, politician. BG was wrong. Torah study as a full-time occupation in Israel is growing by leaps and bounds. This is not only true in the Hariedi world, but in the religious Zionist world as well. In the Chariedi world there are over 110,000 men ages 18-67 learning Torah full-time of them are about 75,000 married men and 35 thousand single young men. In the Dati Le-Umi world there are over 12.000 more students studying full time in over 75 institutions around the country. Altogether in Israel there are over 1600 Yeshivas and Kollels where people study from morning through night our three thousand year old tour and that number is increasing each year, as the population is. What is perhaps most remarkable about this number is to think that in 1948 in Israel when the State was declared there were 62 yeshivos and a few hundred students in all of Israel.
The majority of the Chariedi Kollel Rabbis, in fact about 76% of them have exemptions from army service. They could go to work and get a “real job” without any worries about serving in the army- so this not merely a ploy to get out. They are there because this is what their life service is all about. Studying, teaching, learning and keeping our people and nation alive in the holiest of ways. Many of them live sadly in tremendous poverty. Meat or in some homes even chicken is a delicacy saved for Shabbos or chagim. They live in small apartments, may with lots of kids. They truly live a life of the frugality that our sages describe of “bread and salt they shall eat and water they drink”, yet many of them wouldn’t trade their portions and what they consider their fortunes, for the world. When one sees the joy and ecstasy in the beit midrash of their learning, their new understanding in the millennia old text, you can start to fathom why it is they do what they do. On Simchat Torah watch how they hold the Torah scroll close and sing Ashrainu Ma Tov Chelkaynu- How lucky we are. I believe that it is for these heroes that the State of Israel was truly divinely meant to be built. To restore the glory of Torah study to the Jewish people after the holocaust and to lay the framework for the Messianic world when the world will fill with the wisdom of Hashem.

The Goldberg family was having Friday night dinner at their grandmother’s house – Bubbie Adella. Seated around the table little Moishie Goldberg dug into the food immediately.
"Moishe!” his mother exclaimed. “You have to wait until we make the blessing."
"No I don't," the little boy replied.
"Of course you do," his mother insisted, "we always say a blessing before eating at our house."
"That's at our house," Moishe explained, "but this is Bubbie's house and she knows how to cook."

One day there was a knock on the Pope's office door.
When he answered it, the salesman said, "Hello, my management team would like to discuss a proposal with you." After taking a seat in his office, the salesman said, "I am with Kentucky Fried Chicken. We would like to offer you a contract to the church if you can change the Lord's blessing from 'Give us this day our daily bread' to 'daily chicken'."
The Pope said, "I'm sorry we just cannot do that." The salesman went back to his office where he discussed the outcome of the meeting.
He returned to the Pope's office a week later with the same proposal, only he had upped the bid to 4 million. The Pope gently declined, again.
The next week he came again and offered the Pope an offering of 10 million.
The Pope said, "Let me think it over."
The Pope then called a meeting with the elders of the church and said, "Well gentlemen, I have good news and bad news. Kentucky Fried Chicken has generously offered us 10 million dollars to change the Lord's Prayer from 'daily bread' to 'daily chicken'. The bad new is that we will lose the Wonder Bread Contract.

A priest and a rabbi operated a church and a synagogue across the street from each other. Since their schedules intertwined, they decided to go in together to buy a car.
After the purchase, they drove it home and parked it on the street between them.
A few minutes later, the rabbi looked out and saw the priest sprinkling water on their new car.
It didn't need a wash, so he hurried out and asked the priest what he was doing.
"I'm blessing it," the priest replied.
The rabbi considered this for a moment, then went back inside the synagogue.
He reappeared a moment later with a hacksaw, walked over to the back of the car and cut off two inches of the tailpipe.

A couple invited some people to dinner. At the table, the mother turned to her six-year-old daughter and asked her to say the blessing.
"I wouldn't know what to say," she replied.
"Just say what you hear Mommy say," the mother said.
The little girl bowed her head and prayed, "Dear Lord, why on Earth did I invite all these people to dinner?"

Answer is A – Yeah no clue about this one either. I knew that it wasn’t Masuot Yitzhak the yishuv in the Gush which was named after Rav Hetzog. And of course I knew that Ben Zvi was the second and longest serving president of Israel. But I had no clue of the story of his son being killed outside of the kibbutz by an arab ambush there in the war of independence and that he dedicated a national heritage site for him there by this small kibbutz near Nazareth. Now I do… Which is one of the reasons why I have this section in your weekly E-Mail.

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