Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
November 3rd 2017 -Volume 8 Issue 3 14th Cheshvan 5778
It was a long day. I had started off in Karmiel and headed down to Jerusalem where I picked up my tourists for a one day tour up North. After covering the coastline, from Mount Carmel, Akko all the way up to Rosh Hanikra and then back to Yerushalayim, I was pretty wiped. I then had to head back to Karmiel, but of course I had to make a stop for Maariv. So I popped into the nearest shtiebel,- Minyan factory with plans to daven quick and head out. It seemed however that my plans might be delayed as a local beggar accosted me the second I got out of my car and wanted to engage me in a conversation first. He had a family, a sick wife, an operation, a wedding to make. I really don’t know and don’t remember. Truth is I really wasn’t paying attention. I was focused on getting in and praying- as it seemed they had started already, and out and on the road for a 2 hour drive home. I reached in my pocket but I didn’t have any change on me. I didn’t even have any small bills. So I brushed him off and told him I would get him some on my way out, but had to go in and daven first. They were almost finished with the quiet amida and I wasn’t interested in waiting around for the next one to start, so I really had to move. While praying though, I don’t know why, I felt a bit guilty. He was doing what he needed to. I should have taken care of him first. I finished davening and went back out to look for him. He was gone. Nowhere to be found. I missed out. Oh well… I’m sure there will be another one.
So I hit the road. My luck on the way heading out of Yerushalayim, there were some wonderful young yeshiva bochrim that felt that this was a perfect time to exercise their civic duty of peaceful demonstration, and that the middle of the road leaving Jerusalem would be the ideal location to lie down in middle of the street and to sing and show the world why it is so important that they not be drafted in the army. They are too busy learning Torah. We need an army that will kill the Arabs that are terrorizing us. These guys were trying to demonstrate to the country that they were not right for the job as all they were really capable of doing would be to sit on the floor and sing with the Arabs. They of course don’t understand that their singing and annoying disruptive behavior would in fact be a powerful weapon that would have the Arabs all fleeing. Even empathizing with us. Not to say anything about their terrible smell.
But regardless, there I was stuck in standstill traffic. Not going anywhere. For I don’t know how long… I pulled out my cellphone and figured I’d get some business taken care of. When I pulled out my phone I realized I had a few missed calls from one of my congregants. It was “Shaindy” a recent Oleh and Baalas Teshuva that seemed to never be able to keep her meat and dairy dishes and utensils separate and was always calling with “Kosher Crises”. I called her back ready to pull up my Halachic acumen and see what leniency I might be able to come up with to permit her dinner for that evening, which I’m sure was in halachic jeopardy. And whadaya know, she told me that everything was alright. She didn’t need my help. Her husband had found another Rabbi in the meantime who had ruled the potatoes that she had cut with a dairy knife that hadn’t been used for 24 hours and cooked with her chicken was fine. I was off the hook. She thanked me though for getting back to her. But once again, it seems my efforts to try to help a fellow yid were thwarted.
Eventually the yeshiva guys dispersed. The police came with water hoses, seemingly knowing the aversion these guys have to showers, besides the Mikva on Erev Shabbos, of course. The road cleared and I was cruising on home. Finally. By the time I got off the highway about a half hour or so still to go from my house, it was close to midnight. I was zipping along in the left lane and all of a sudden out of the corner of my eye I saw a few young Bnai Akiva teenagers hitchhiking by the bus stop. I passed them up, as I couldn’t get over, although I usually like to pick up people, having spent enough time on the road myself to appreciate the late night hitch. A few miles up the road though as I was feeling a bit guilty, my IPod shuffle started playing this new v’ahavta l’rayacha song- Loving your fellow neighbor. Hmmmm… I always tell my kids when they ask me to play songs for them, that Hashem is my DJ. He’s the one that chooses the songs that I need to listen to at any particular time. I don’t take song requests. Unless of course they request my songs. Which they rarely do… L. Kids these days don’t appreciate good music, what can I say…
Anyways as the song was playing I felt it a message from God, He was telling me to pick them up. So I turned around and headed back to the bus stop, eager to carry out what was certainly a divinely ordained prophetic mission. They were gone. Someone else must have taken them. Mission unaccomplished. Another opportunity bit the dust.
As I continued home, I thought about the past few hours. It seems that all these various mitzvas were slipping through my hands. Was I failure? I wanted to do the right thing. Our sages tell us that, unlike the common aphorism, good intentions are in fact considered by Hashem in Heaven as if one did the mitzva act, rather than pavement asphalt on the road to Hell. But yet, it didn’t feel the same. Why send me these opportunities and then the last minute yank ‘em away from me. What’s that all about?
The answer of course, I discovered this morning, was so that I should have something to write about in my E-Mail this morning. See it was all for you. Isn’t that heartwarming. I opened up this week’s Torah portion and read about the continuing saga of our forefather Avraham Avinu, and sure enough it’s all about this topic it seems. Maaseh Avot Siman Labanim- whatever our forefathers underwent is a foreshadowing of what will happen to their descendants. I don’t know if this is true on only a national level, but certainly in my life today, it seems that Avraham and I have a lot in common.
The Parsha starts off with Avraham, sick after his circumcision, yet still hungry to perform the mitzva of Hachnasat Orchim-welcoming in guests, sharing with them about Hashem, watching the delight on their face as they tasted their first chulent. I can relate to that type of excitement. Maybe not to the circumcision part but definitely to the rest. Hashem realizing that just a visit from the Master of the Universe is not going to cut it for Avraham, sends three guests to him. Avraham all excited that this mitzva has come his way jumps up, runs around, slaughtering cows, sitting them down, giving them drinks, everything to do his utmost to make sure that they get the full, world famous, Avraham Avinu TLC experience. Everything was fine and good until wadda boom wadda bing turns out that his illustrious guests were in fact angels. And you know what, they really didn’t need any food, any drink, any shade, or even chulent. It was a set-up. All that hard work and effort and there’s no real mitzva in feeding angels. Oh well… I guess it’s the thought that counts.
Next thing on Avraham’s schedule is that Hashem calls in with a very important Divine phone call that he almost missed because he was busy with these “fake guests”. Seems Sodom is on Hashem’s hit list to be destroyed. Hashem shares this information knowing that Avraham is pretty much the only person in the world that could advocate for these low lives. He’s the best lawyer for the job. So Avraham gets on his best lawyer arguments, he tries to find some type of leniency that would prevent the destruction of this city which is in jeopardy. He fails. It’s all over. Poof Sodom ends up at the bottom of the Dead Sea. Another missed opportunity for our Patriarch.
The Parsha continues with stories of Avraham who really tried hard to please his wife and who, in last week’s parsha, even marries her maidservant at Sarah’s behest and insistence in order to provide her at least with a surrogate son, Yishmael to raise, despite the fact that I’m sure he knew it could be a recipe for disaster. But you don’t argue with Mama. Well guess what? Whadaya know? Not only doesn’t it work out, but Sarah blames him for it, tells him to chuck Hagar and his son and even Hashem seems to agree with her. Nothing is really going his way it seems. Anything good he is trying to accomplish seems to be slipping through his fingers.
Finally Finally at the end of the Parsha, he faces his greatest test from Hashem. Bring up his son, his beloved, his promised child, the one that he was told would become a great nation, his Yitzchak, as an offering to Hashem. This is a test. Can he put aside all his personal feelings, all his love, all the promises? Can he do that for Hashem? Avraham is resolved. As difficult and heart wrenching of an act as this may be, he will do it. He will do it with joy, he will do it in the greatest way. He will rise to the occasion. This one he will not let slip through his fingers. So he gets up early. He’s got everything with him. He’s ready, he’s steady annnnnndddd…. STOP! Forget about it. You don’t need to do it. Hashem pulls the plug. Another mitzva unfulfilled, another opportunity lost. It seems that nothing he tries to do has any chance of actualizing into anything real. It all remains just a machshava tova- good unfulfilled intentions. Or maybe not.
See our sages have a different take on all of the above. Our sages tells us that in the merit of Avraham feeding the angels we got lots of great stuff. The midrash tells us
Midrash Bereishit (48:10) Hashem said to Avraham “You told them that ‘They should rest under the tree’ by your life I swear that I will repay your children and spread a cloud over them in the wilderness, in the land of Israel they will have the mitzva of ‘Sukkot they shall dwell for 7 days’ and in the World to come as ‘a Sukka will be their shade’.”.
Even more than that the Midrash tells us that when Moshe wanted to bring down the Torah to the Jewish people and the angels started to protest Hashem claiming that man doesn’t deserve it
Midrash Rabba Shemos (28:1) Hashem changed Moshes appearance to that of Avraham’s and told them ‘Aren’t you embarrassed from him that you came down and ate in his house’”.
Seemingly as a result they relented. So perhaps it wasn’t for naught, Avraham feeding these angels. After all we got the clouds of glory, the mitzva of Sukka, the World to Come and the Torah all as a result of what at first glance might have seemed like an unsuccessful act.
As well his pleading on behalf of Sodom which didn’t seem to work also bore pretty impressive fruit. For when the city is being destroyed the Torah tells us
Bereshit (19:29) And it was when Hashem was destroying the cities and Hashem remembered Avraham and he sent out Lot from the upheaval.
What did Hashem remember? Our sages suggest it was the prayers of Avraham on Sodom, that although they didn’t work for the city of Sodom, however they did work for Lot. Incidentally that salvation of Lot was not just significant because it saved Avraham’s seemingly shlepper nephew. A couple of nights later Lot becomes the father-to-be of a nation called Moav. Moav ultimately is the granddaddy of a woman named Ruth. Ruth of course, the famous convert, is the bubby of King David from whom Mashiach ultimately will descend. Not bad for a prayer that you didn’t think was accepted or made any difference.
The sending of Yishmael as well, even in the short term led to the salvation of his son and his ultimate teshuva as he returned later on to bury Avraham. Hagar the wife that he had to send away, ultimately returned as well and became Ketura the wife whose ways are as desirous as the incense brought before Hashem in the Holy of Holies. Their descendants include the nation of Sheba of who’s queen ultimately unites with Shlomo Hamelech, and the country of Midian, which provided a refuge and a wife for Moshe Rabbeinu as well as Yisro who was they eyes of the nation. This is probably even more of an amazing accomplishment than Avraham might have dreamed.
Finally, do I really need to tell you the impact of the Akeida- the binding-although not the sacrifice- of Yitzchak, The ram that was brought instead? All the sins we have each year are atoned for as we blow the Shofar to remind Hashem of this great act and move Him from the throne of judgement to mercy. Even more incredibly we are told that every single part of that “consolation” ram offering that Avraham brought was put to use to serve a divine purpose. Its ashes remained and formed the foundation of the Mizbayach (Altar) that was in the Temple. Its ten tendons were made into the ten strings of King David's harp on which the book of Psalms was composed. Its skin became Eliyahu Hanavi's belt. Its two horns were made into trumpets. The left horn was the trumpet that sounded at Har (Mt.) Sinai when the Torah was given. The right horn, the larger of the two, was put aside to be sounded when Moshiach comes. Wow! Maybe there really is no such thing as a missed opportunity or a mitzva that circumstances cause us not to carry out.
Perhaps the message and lesson of our forefather is that our job in this world as stated by Rav Yisroel Salanter’s in his famous epigram is “far unz iz tzu tohn, nisht oyf tzutohn.” The play on words of the original Yiddish is lost in translation, but the gist of the thought is that “it is for us to do, not to accomplish.” Hashem asks of us to heed His Torah and act accordingly, not to bring about any particular result, which is in any event in His control, not ours. We never can know the plans of Hashem, why he sends people our way, why some times we can help them, sometimes we can see immediate results, sometimes we can sit back and bask in the feeling of a mitzva or job well-done, and sometimes not. But one thing we should never forget there is no good intention that will ever not have incredible Divine results, no prayer that will ever go unanswered and no act that we do regardless if it works out the way we think it should that doesn’t have the potential to bring redemption to the world. So keep on trying, the next opportunity is right around the corner.
Have a remarkable Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S FAVORITE YIDDISH PROVERB OF THE WEEK
“Vos Got tut basheren, ken kain mentsh nit farveren.”- What God decrees, man cannot prevent.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
answer below at end of Email
Q. “The Post Office Route” dates to which period?
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL VIDEOS OF THE WEEK
https://youtu.be/wq0ChEGkdFs - Vahavta LiRayacha- with Ari Goldwag great!
https://youtu.be/H1SYRJVf25c -Kever Rachel in 1935 with Yossele Rosenblatt who passed away on this trip to Israel
https://youtu.be/wMUYP8sVbHk - Reb Shlomo Carlebach Yartzeit this week together with MBD at HASC concert awesooooommme!
https://youtu.be/U6uOlDwvijM?list=RDwMUYP8sVbHk -Carlebach Barchi NAfshi the highest of the high!
https://youtu.be/1Gbu5eEmkQA - Putin tells Israeli Army Joke Cool!
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S HAFTORA CONNECTION OF THE WEEK
I’m a story person and story Haftorahs are obviously my favorite. This week the Haftora shares with us three (or two if you are sefardi) stories of the great miracle worker prophet Elisha. The first when he comes to the widow of the prophet Ovadia who’s children were taken away by Jewish creditors in order to pay off the debts her husband had occurred when he borrowed money to feed the prophets he was hiding from the King Achav and his wife Jezebel. The first connection to our parsha of course being the evil of the city of Sodom which Hashem destroyed seems to have been alive and well in Israel as well, as Jews were preying on the widows and orphans and being uncharitable.
The prophet Elisha preforms a miracle for the woman as he tells her close the door to her room and to bring her small flask of oil and she proceeds to pour it upon his instruction into every vessel she can get her hands on. Chasidic sources see in this act symbolically that the oil- or shemen is like the neshoma- our soul and small spark of Hashem that can never be tainted. Just as Avraham tries to find that small spark of holiness in Sodom, albeit unsuccessfully, Elisha shows the woman if we take that holy spark, we can fill “every vessel” with light.
The next story in Haftora is that of the famous woman of Shunam whom Elisha passes by. She personifies the hachnasat Orchim of our Patriarch Avraham, as she welcomes him in and even builds him a special “guest suite”. Just as in the case of Avraham her act of welcoming in guests leads to her receiving and ultimately realizing her long dream of having a child despite- like Avraham and Sara- they were old and for many years had been childless. The child incidentally we are told is the prophet Yonah. The connection and lesson the Haftora is meant to reinforce for us that the mitzva of welcoming guests and providing hospitality can bring down the blessing of children.
The haftorah interestingly concludes for the sefardim with the woman almost losing that child. He gets sick and is laid up in bed dying and she tells her husband to saddle her up so she can go to the prophet and have him pray on her child’s behalf. It is interesting and telling that her husband seems to be clueless to the significance of all of this and the danger that his child is in. It is almost a contrast to Avraham and Sarah where Avraham is the one told to bring his child up as an offering to Hashem whereas Sarah is left out of the loop. Perhaps because it is Avraham that is the one the Torah tells us last week explicitly asks Hashem for the son, whereas Sarah was skeptical and had accepted her fate with the birth of Yishmael who she had adopted.
The Ashkenazic custom continues with the conclusion of this story with the woman saddling up her donkey- just as Avraham had when he went to bring Yitzchak up. Just as she doesn’t tell her husband, she doesn’t tell Elisha’s servant Geichazi that there is a problem. She has faith that all will be well. Similarly Avraham does not tell Sarah or his other son Yishmael what is about to happen. He tells them that “they will both bow down and return to him.”
The connections continue for Elisha first sends Geichazi to revive the child. Similarly Hashem first sent an angel to tell Avraham not to harm the child. Geichazi was not successful in resuscitating him, and according to a Midrash neither was the Malach able to prevent Avraham until Hashem Himself told him to (if you note the verse says the angel called to him, but then afterwards it says and He said speaking in first person, ‘Now I know that you fear Hashem and haven’t withheld your child from Me’). Elisha ultimately brings the child back to life, after closing the door and laying on top of the child. As if becoming one with him. Avraham as well takes a ram and uses that in place of Yitzchak. The woman bows down and she leaves as do Avraham and Yitzchak at the conclusion of the story.
Not every Haftorah has so many connections as this one does. There are as well so many words that seem pulled out of our parsha.
Avraham is promised ‘Ka’eis Chaya’-at this time next year- as is the Shunamite woman
The door is closed behind Lot who is saved from Sodom- thus separating him from the entire natural world that is about to go up in flames and the miracle takes place. Both the wife of Ovadia and the Shunamite woman’s miracle takes place with the door closing.
There are plenty more. Find them yourself. This column is longer than I had thought, but it’s a slow week and too incredible of a story. As I said I like story Haftorahs J.
Elisha Hanavi Era of Prophecy (892-832 BC)- If there is one prophet that is best known for his miracles it is Elisha. Reading the stories of Elisha the student of Eliyahu is like reading a book of miracles after miracles. He serves as a prophet in the period after the split of the Northern Kingdom of the ten tribes of Israel in the North and the 2 tribes of Yehudah and Benjamin in the south after the death of Ahab. He prophesized for 60 years and under evil idolatrous kings. He brought the word of Hashem and preformed miracles to the other nations as well healing and prophesizing for them as well.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S ERA’S AND THEIR PLACES AND PEOPLE IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK
Cain and Abel 3760 BC I can’t tell you where these two brothers lived, somewhere outside of the Garden of Eden. The function of this column though, is where I can bring up and discuss historical themes and eras and personalities and that one can definitely do about these two brothers in Israel. I generally mention them when we are up in the Golan Heights and I explain how this is really the cowboy grazing area of Israel. The Torah tells us two tribes Reuvein and Gad who had lots of cattle chose to stay on this side of the Jordan for precisely that purpose. The question is how could they miss out on crossing the Jordan and living in the land that they had been promised and told about for so long? The answer I like to suggest is because of Cain and Abel. What do I mean? See Cain was a farmer, Abel a shepherd. The Torah tells us that they fought in the field, although it doesn’t tell us what the fight was about. Some of the commentaries suggest that their fight was particularly about “the field”. The farmer wants land for planting, the rancher for grazing. That was the first fight in the history of the world. Reuvein and Gad wanted to avoid this conflict. The Land of Israel they were promised was all about planting, the seven species, milk and honey. Thus they told Moshe, being that they were shepherds that they would stay on the side other side of Jordan and use it for grazing land and avoid all potential fights with the rest of the tribes. Until today the Golan remains primarily the area for grazing in Israel.
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S TERRIBLE CHAREIDI IN THE ARMY JOKES OF THE WEEK
Yankel the yeshiva guy was taken into the army. On the first day of exercises they were meant to run through an obstacle course pivoting and jumping over different barriers. As their officer was showing them what to do, he tripped and fell. Yankel confidentially told his officer that would never happen to him.
The officer looked at him incredulously and asked “What do you think you’re in better shape than me?”
“No”, answered Yankel, “I would never try to do it in the first place”
The next day the General came and lined up the soldiers and walked through the ranks.
He stopped the first soldier and asked him “If your superior officer told you to shoot me would you?”
“Yes sir!”- the soldier responded
He asked the second soldier the same question and the officer as well answered
When he got up to Yankel. Yankel answered much to everyone’s surprise
The General had a broad smile and asked Yankel why he wouldn’t shoot
Yankel responded “Because I don’t know how to shoot!”
Finally the time came to choose their units. Each soldier put in their requests for the place they would like to serve. When it was Yankel’s turn he said that he wanted to serve in the unit that shoots down planes
As this was a very non-standard request the officer asked him what it was about that particular unit that drew him to it, Yankel explained
“Truth is I really wanted to be a pilot that flies planes. But they turned me down. So I decided if I can’t fly, no one else should either!”
The battle finally came and the first soldier went out on his mission. He came back with a little drop of blood on his head. When they asked him what happened he told his fellow chayalim
“See that pillar over there?”
They all answered “Yes”
“Well behind it were 10 enemy soldiers hiding. I chased after them and killed them all”
“Hooray” they all applauded him and he was given a medal of honor
The next soldier went out on his mission and came back with a few drops of blood on his forehead. When the soldiers asked him how it went he told them
“See that house over there?”
“Yes!” they all responded
Well behind it were 25 enemy soldiers hiding I chased them and killed all of them
Hooray they all cheered
The next mission was Yankel. He went out and came back shortly after leaving, he had two black eyes, bruises and blood dripping all down his face. The soldiers took him to the infirmary and asked him what happened
“See that tree over there?” Yankel asked
“Yes!” they all said
“That’s the problem I didn’t see it…”
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S SHABBAT CARTOON OF THE WEEK
Answer is D – The Postal route was Mamaluk the latest of these four empires that ruled Israel they were here from 1260 to 1517 when the Ottomans took over. They were slaves that rebelled in Egypt and came to Israel and wiped out Crusaders and the other Arabs that were here. They built up much of the old city of Jerusalem and they created much of the roads and routes in this country in order to communicate from their capital in Cairo all the way up to their capital in the North in Damascus. That was the Postal route. The Israel portion of the route ran from Gaza which was their capital in Israel (and incidentally had the largest Jewish population in Israel during this period until the 1500’s) and went to Yavne-Lod- Rosh Haayin, Nachal Iron-Megiddo- Beit Shean- Tzemach. At a later period it went up to Tzfat as well. One wonders if the mail got there faster back then, than it does today…