Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
July 7th 2017 -Volume 7 Issue 35 13th Tamuz 5777
I'm an Israeli now. July 4th was a fun BBQ excuse holiday, which is always a good thing, but this year I didn't even notice that it passed; maybe because I'm still looking for some good meat to grill in this country. Yet I remember the day when we would talk get together and discuss the difference between the American dream and its rights as opposed to those of Israel and the Jewish State. One of the primary differences I always noted was this concept of the pursuit of happiness. In Israel we were and are looking to survive and to be able to make a difference and society that was impactful and hopefully Divine, (the problem is that every Jew has a different opinion of what that means- some even two). But happiness was never our pursuit. Fulfillment, accomplishment, spirituality, Divine connection and most of all peace are what we pray for and what move us. Happines? That's an American pursuit, and one that certainly interesting to explore. What is this pursuit and why aren't we searching for it over here?
As all good searches must begin I started my search at the easiest location; Google- of course. Which then sent me to Wikipedia. They then informed me that 50% of one’s happiness quotient is related to ones genes. Hmmm... I think it's a little too late to work on that. My next hit brought me to that classic work of wisdom and art the famed "You're a good man Charlie Brown" and the happiness song. Here I found out that "Happiness is finding a pencil and pizza with sausage and five different crayons and tying your shoe". Well the pizza thing wasn't too Kosher (tofu sausages certainly don't make me too happy) I don't use pencils and not great with crayons or shoes). It was pretty much downhill from there.
Deepak Chopra- "Happiness is a continuation of happenings which are not resisted", (Huh?). Albert Schweitzer -" Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory". And the always insightful George Burns- "Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city". And last and perhaps least the profound and insightful Don Marquis "Happiness is the interval between periods of unhappiness". Feeling joyous yet?'
Which, as is usually the case brings me to the place that is generally the only real place where I have usually found meaningful and satisfactory answers to the most pressing questions of life; our holy Torah. It's a good thing, I guess, that Hashem gave us this book of wisdom and life or who knows what we would look like. This week's Torah portion gives us a perspective of an individual who was certainly one of the least happy people in the world. We are told the story of Bilaam the prophet who was courted and enlisted to utilize his supernatural spiritual powers to curse the people of Israel. The lessons of Bilaam are lessons in un-happiness. Or what happens to someone who is too caught up in the pursuit of the elusive rather than the acceptance and the experience of what he has.
The Mishnah in Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) contrasts for us the difference between Abraham and Bilaam and their disciples. The students of Abraham possess three primary character traits a good eye, a humble spirit, and a sense of contentedness while Bilaam's students possess the opposite, an evil eye, arrogance and greed. The Talmud tells us that Bilaam was the equivalent of Moshe our greatest leader in his capacity to achieve prophecy and lead the gentile world. Instead, his self-absorption- that eye of his that could only see his own universe rather than reflect out to the rest of the world and serve their needs and elevate them brought him down. He had the power to bless humanity but instead he chose to curse. While Abraham looked at the world and felt humbled by the Almighty and his Creation, Bilaam's arrogance and his pursuit for honor drove him to attempt to defy Hashem's directive. In the end the Torah tells us he was mocked when his own donkey spoke and in his obsessive blinded pursuit of the happiness that can never be achieved, he became the symbol of an individual who ultimately couldn't even get respect and control upon that which his own backside would ride.
When one examines our Jewish leaders and heroes in the Torah and throughout our history, there are two things that one can find that are fairly consistent. The first is that none of them ever were ever engaged in a pursuit of happiness. Rather as King David in Psalms tells us our role is it is to be “bakeish shalom v'rodfehu”- search out peace and pursue it. The righteous look out at the world and ask themselves not how can I become happy? Rather how can I make the world happier, kinder, more peaceful, and more holy. The focus on building a world of love and peace is the pursuit that is our unalienable Divine mandate; it is for that which we are created.
The second characteristic that can be found by those who merited to have had the privilege to encounter and to develop a relationship with our holy masters is that they all were filled with an incredible sense of happiness and inner peace. In the worst of times and through the greatest of struggles, from our forefathers and to our great leaders today somehow there is somehow a reservoir of happiness that fills them that allows them to shine it out and bring light and joy to the world. Their secret and the Torah's lesson? It is not the pursuit of one's own happiness that will bring them joy or fulfillment. Rather it the pursuit of others happiness, the happiness between man and his fellow, between man and his Creator, and between our Loving Father and his children that will ultimately result in true inner happiness.
We live today in a society that has more and better "stuff" than ever before in the history of mankind. Yet we also live in a generation that suffers from more depression and a true lack of inner peace, joy and satisfaction than ever before. The early settlers of Israel came with different ideals. Perhaps if we would all take a step three thousand years before the founding fathers of the United States set out their mandate for the foundation of their society in the Declaration of Independence. And we looked back to our own heritage and our Forefathers and Jewish heroes as our beacons; we would be closer to achieving that happiness we seek. Our ancestors saw themselves and happiness not in their Independence and in their opportunities to further their own personal goals and lives, rather it was in their dependence on the Almighty for all the goodness that they had and the furtherance of his love and the worlds happiness and relationship with Him and with each other that was their life work and ultimate fulfillment. May we merit soon to see the true fulfillment of those dreams.
Have an ecstatic Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S FAVORITE YIDDISH PROVERB OF THE WEEK
“Ainem dacht zikh az bei yenem lacht zikh..”- One always thinks that by others they are happy
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL VIDEOS OF THE WEEK
https://youtu.be/TFvvTotFzoY – Just what the world needed another Rebbe Nachman happy song! Maybe? Or Not? Either way the video is cool!
https://youtu.be/Rr5DzbYvFAE - The Dunk in Mikva song…a bit strange chasidic camp humor…OK
https://youtu.be/92-Py3wheAg – Cool footage of Operation Magic Carpet bringing the Jews of Yemen back home in 1949 (sounds not great but still pretty awesome)
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
answer below at end of Email
Q. Jewish burial in Kokhim (loculi) was practiced:
a. During the period of the Judges
b. In the days of the Return to Zion
c. From the Hellenistic Period
d. During Iron Age II
a. During the period of the Judges
b. In the days of the Return to Zion
c. From the Hellenistic Period
d. During Iron Age II
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S ILLUMINATING RASHI OF THE WEEK
One of the great things that many of our sharpest Rabbis do with Rashi is to look at his words and take them as precisely as he writes them and utilizing them to go in an entirely different direction that you may have thought that Rashi was trying to say. It’s the beauty of Rashi, which to a large degree is like the Torah, it can be read and studied and understood on many different levels.
In this week’s Torah portion when the Torah tells us that Bilaam got up early to go to try to curse the Jewish people. So Rashi points out the similarities of the text to another text that is in the Torah. The Torah seems to be echoing a previous story and Rashi tells us the message. The verse says
Bamidbar (22:21) And Bilaam got up in the morning and he saddled his donkey.
Rashi notes on this verse
“Hashem said ‘Wicked one Avraham their forefather preceded you already as it says ‘And Avraham got up early in the morning and saddled his donkey’
Now seemingly I understood this Rashi, as I think that most people do, to be saying, that the merit of Avraham when he got up early in the morning to fulfil Hashem’s command to sacrifice his son Yitzchak, preceded Bilaam’s evil intent and therefore they have nothing to worry about. But the Kotzker Rebbe, has a different take on Rashi. He asks, what does the holy act of Avraham who is fulfilling the will of Hashem have anything to do with Bilaam’s act. Why would the fact that Avraham got up early convince Bilaam that he was doomed to failure? After-all as Rashi writes this is Hashem telling Bilaam that it would not work because of Avraham.
He answered brilliantly that when Avraham was taking his son up for an offering so than he would be destroying the future of the Jewish people. For Hashem had promised that the Jewish nation would only be transmitted through Yitzchak. So Hashem was telling Bilaam, look. If Avraham who was fulfilling my commandment and he even got up early to fulfill my will and saddled his own donkey, despite the fact that this would cause the end of the Jewish people. And that act never came to fulfillment. Then for sure your act which is against my command and will is bound to never succeed. Give it up! The Jewish people are forever…
Pretty awesome and sharp isn’t it?
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Of Kotzk - (1787-1859) --His whole life he waged a war for the truth. The external and internal truth. This was the essence of Rav Menachem Mendel Morgenstern better known as the Kotzker Rebbe. The Kotzker was born in 1787 and lived at a time when Chasiddus was making great inroads into the mainstream of Jewish society. He felt that Chasiddus needed to be tuned up by correcting some of its basic flaws. Chasiddus had become too Chassidishe for him. He wanted to restore Torah as the focal point of all Avodas Hashem and get people to become more self-reliant and not subjugate their God given minds to the Rebbe. A person, he felt, needed to take responsibility for his life, his ways, and develop his own personal relationship with Hashem.
He left no seforim written works-, no tales of miracles, and no biography. He did not seek honor, fortune, or fame. He sought to raise Chasiddus to a movement for the elite. He longed to metamorphis Chasiddus into a movement with truly inspired service of Hashem and intense Torah learning as its cornerstone. His lone legacy is his short sharp sayings that he became famous for, to the world outside of Kotzk.
He was born into a family of a Misnagdim-the antagonists of the Chasidim and eventually became a student of the Chozeh of Lublin and then later leaving Lublin for Peshischa where he became a student of Rav Simcha Bunim of Peshischa. After Rav Simcha Bunim's passing, most of his chasidim who were peers of Rav Menachem Mendel, including the Chiddushei HaRim the founder of the Gerer dynasty, chose to follow Rav Menachem Mendel and make him their leader. His other main student was Rav Mordechai Yosef Leiner who eventually broke away and founded the Izhbetza Chasiddus. Rav Laibele Eiger, the grandson of Rebbi Akiva Eiger, was also attracted to Kotzk much to his father's great dismay. The Kotzker's son in law was the Avnei Neizer who succeeded him.
The Kotzker passed away in 1859. He spent the last 20 years of his life in seclusion frustrated by his inability to create the flock of his ideals while refusing to play the role of the ideal Rebbe as the Chasidim wished. The story goes that once while he was secluded in his room for weeks on end, a chasid wanted to see him so he went right outside and opened the window a crack to listen to the Rebbe learning.... a few minutes in without even looking up, the rebbe said "farmacht de fensters, dem velt shtenk" close the windows, the world stinks. The world perhaps cannot and could not handle the unrelenting truth of the Rebbe of Kotzk, yet every generation requires someone to take that unthankful role to bring that to the world. Yehi Zichro Boruch!
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TYPES OF JEWS IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEKYemenites/ Teimanim – Certainly one of the oldest Jewish communities and some of the most colorful people in Israel are it’s Teimanim or Yemenite Jews. Coming from Yemen, which dates its Jewish community back to the destruction of the first Temple. The Jews of Yemen really were the ones that most symbolized he ingathering of Exiles that took place upon the establishment of the State of Israel. Already in the late 1800’s Jews from Yemen started to immigrate to Israel. The first wave of Aliya in 1882 was called Aleh Batamar from the verse in Song of Songs that talks about the date palm coming up and being a play on the year 5642 from creation which equals Taf Reish Mem Beis the year they came that spells BaTaMaR. About 5000 made Aliya at that time. But the major Aliya really took place on operation Magic Carpet or Kanfei Nesharim- Wings of Eagles right after the War of independence where the fledgling state airlifted over 50,000 Yemenite Jews to Israel to escape the persecution that was taking place over there. There was much controversy in Israel at the time whether the newly founded State had the capacity and financial wherewithal to integrate and accept all these new immigrants, but ultimately the decision was made by Ben Gurion that it was for this reason the State was founded. That being said there was much controversy as well as they arrived as the secular leadership was not looking for old fashioned Jews, so sadly and tragically and in perhaps one of the blackest moments of Israel’s history many of their Jewish books and Torahs were taken away from these immigrants and immense pressure was put upon them to assimilate and become leave their religion behind. There have been three different commissions that have been established that have investigated claims of Yemenite children being taken away from their parents after being taken to the hospital and telling their parents they had died they were given to secular families to be raised non-religious.
Despite its tragic beginnings though the Yemenites in Israel have made a significant mark upon the country. They are from the more traditional Jews with great regard for their Rabbis and leaders. There are close to 450,000 of them in Israel. Many of Israel’s most famous singers are Yemenite and certainly the greatest Yemenite restaurants where you get jachnun, matbucha and other Yemenite delicacies ae part of the Israel experience. Most Yemenites are simple, fun, happy go lucky and very family and community oriented. Celebrating their holidays, and special occasions the way they did back in the old country. Although originally Yemenites were more of the blue collar workers, the taxi drivers, construction, shoe makers and simple professions today they can be found in all areas of society. A true testimony to the ingathering of exiles that this country has experienced.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TEIMANI JOKES OF THE WEEK
( A bit of an explanation to get the jokes here I’m not a stereotyping type of guy but from what I grasp Yemenies are stereotyped as a simple-minded, blue-collar, and frugal-feel free to exchange Yemenite for the stereotype that you feel better matches the joke)
The Yemenite was sleeping for a week straight. When he awoke he found himself in the hospital surrounded by doctors who had never seen something like this before. They asked him in shock
“Are you all right? Hakol B’Seder?!”
“I’m fine” he said “After a week of searching, I finally found the 50 shekel I lost in my dream the week before!”
A man sees a Yemenite walking around with a half an umbrella. He asked me if everything was alright. The Teimani answers “Yes, they just said it would be partly cloudy/partly rainy today.”
Bill Gates became sick with a terrible illness and he needed a specific type of blood donor that could help him. Doctors looked all over the world to find this special blood type offering a million dollars to the person that could be the donor. Finally Saadia the Teimani was found he agreed to be the donor but on the condition that he received payment first. The doctors were desperate they told him not to worry, the blood was necessary immediately. Bill Gates would certainly pay him afterwards. But Saadia refused. His family thought he was crazy but Saadia wan’t giving one drop until he had the check in the back. So Bill wrote out the check and it was deposited. Saddia then gave his blood. Afterwards Bill came over to Saadia and asked him why he was so stubborn. Saadia explained. “What do you think I’m stupid? I knew that as soon as my Teimani blood flowed through your body, there wasn’t a chance I would ever see a shekel from you…!”
The Russian, the Morrocan and the Teimani were planning a BBq together. The Russian said that he would bring Vodka and Red Bull and they would drink all night. The Moroccan said that he would bring steaks, salads shishkebabs so they would have great food. The Teimani said he would bring his brother he would make the best jokes…
The Yemenite hails a taxi. As they begin to drive all of a sudden the driver loses control and the car begins to go flying down a hill to towards a cliff. The Yemenite screams “STOOOPPPP STOPPP!!!” The drive yells back “I can’t my brakes are not working…. “ The Yemenite says “NOOOO… I MEANT STOP THE METER..”
Answer is C– This is one of those questions that I believe is arguable. The truth is burial above ground in caves which is what kochim burial is was practiced by the Canananites even before the Jews got here in the Bronze Era 2900 BC or so before the Iron Era when it seems it went out of style. However Tanach does tell us that in a few places that they buried in caves. The cave of Machpela being certainly a good example. As well in the period of judges and the Kings of Israel it is mentioned in a few places. The answer they are looking for which seems to based on archeological finds though is certainly the Hellenist period when we find that it was the most prevalent form of burial. The best example being the Tombs of Sanhedrin where there are tons of caves some having 70 tombs one on top of another where the Sanhedrin were buried far from what was then populated Old City Jerusalem on the outskirts of the city. Today Jewish custom is to bury in the ground and earth and it seems foreign to many religious Jews to see that in the old days they buried in these tombs. It has become a debate and discussion today in Israel in some places where they have begun doing this again, as the country grows and space is scarce to bury people.