Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
February 2nd 2018 -Volume 8 Issue 17 17th Shvat 5778
Parshat Yisro/ Tu B’Shvat
Field of Songs
One with nature. I learned that term when I was in Seattle. It’s what people there like to do. They don’t have family vacations. Truth is they really don’t do the family thing much in Seattle as well. Lots of lonely people, working in Microsoft, Amazon, or Boeing behind computers all day. They do have lots of virtual “Friends” though. Lots of people “like” each other. Once in a while they even get a “poke” from them. But those types of relationships don’t generally lead to high birthrates. So people go on vacation by themselves. I always that was a bit strange. I mean what type of vacation is it without everybody yelling at each other in the back seat, people getting car sick, and having to go to the bathroom right after we just went. How is this special family occasion going to accomplish its essential goal of reminding everyone why we make friends outside of the family and don’t spend a lot of time with one another, if you are doing it all alone? How is a trip by yourself going to inspire your children to get married and move out of the house as soon as possible? Anyways that was my feeling back then. I’ve changed since then. I like to go off by my own now. It’s nice, it’s peaceful, it’s rejuvenating and you know what maybe it’s even re-Jew-venating as well.
Now I’m not saying this because I just picked up my wife from the airport from here alone week in New York, and noticed how rejuvenated she looked. Or even because I myself came back a few weeks ago from my trip and appreciated that alone time in LA. Because a trip alone to America can be rejuvenating, it certainly can be fattening, although your walled does weigh less when you come home. I don’t really think it is re-Jew-venating. It doesn’t really do anything for my soul, unless you count really longing to get back to Eretz Yisrael and the feeling I have of being thankful that I don’t have to live outside of Hashem’s chosen and holy land anymore. Unlike all those unfortunate Jews that are stuck in the Diaspora. You know kind of the feeling that my Rabbis in elementary school would describe their experience of coming back from visiting the “Iron Curtain” of Soviet Russia, back in the 80’s and the unfortunate Jews that were tragically stuck there. No America really doesn’t spiritually uplift me on a trip there on my own. But a little hike here in Eretz Yisrael. A walk amongst the trees, amongst the hills, between the plants, through the streams and high up in the mountains. Not too many things can get more spiritual than that. I can just sit there on a rock, or under a tree in a field and listen to the breeze, look out at the beauty of Hashem’s land, I can watch the sheep or cows grazing and marvel at this incredible universe Hashem has created for me. And if I listen really close, I can even hear the music. The song of the trees, the song, of the field, the song of the shepherd.
Do you know about the song of the fields? Have you ever heard it? Let me tell you about it. Or better yet, let me quote you from the great Rebbe Nachman of Breslav who revealed to us this idea and song. See, Rebbe Nachman was very big into hisbodidus- or seclusion and meditation. He and his students would go alone into the field and meditate. They would think, they would pray, they would clear their heads from all the noise of the world and open up to the song of the field. This practice is still done by many Breslavers today. One of the things that Rebbe Nachman would suggest one can appreciate while meditating is the song of the shepherd and the field.
“Know that each shepherd has a special song according to each of the plants and according to each place that he shepherds. For every animal has its own special plant and that it is meant to eat. As well, he doesn’t graze in one particular area. And according to each plant and each place he grazes, he has a special song. Because each plant, each growing thing has its own song. And from those songs the song of the shepherd is formed.”
He notes that it is for this reason when the Torah back in Bereishit notes that Yuval was the father of all shepherds it mentions that he was the one that came up with musical instruments as well. Music and fields. Music and trees. The song within each one of us. That is the job of the shepherd and the experience of being alone and listening to the field. He even explains much deeper that the shepherd sings this song he gives power to the trees and the plants to provide for the animals. Even more significantly this really separates him from the animals that he is watching. For- to paraphrase the Rebbe- If you hang around with animals all day, you might become one of them. The song however, which comes from that inner spirit of Hashem, is what separates us from them. Our song uplifts the world. Their moooos, or baaaaas is the physical earthly mortal song that we are meant to uplift and direct.
I’ve been thinking about this song this week, not only because we celebrated the holiday of Tu B’shvat this past week and which is generally this parsha- the week in between Yisro the giving of the Torah and last week, the parsha of the song of the Sea. But also because whenever I read the parsha of the giving of the Torah, my mind goes to the holiday of Shavuot almost 4 months away from now and I picture the leaves, the flowers, the greenery that we place around our shuls and our homes in honor of the holiday and to remember when we stood at Sinai. There is a connection between the field and the trees and the Torah and us. I think it is all about the song.
It is interesting to note that each morning when we make a blessing on the Torah the blessing we say is
Asher natan lanu torat emet vchayei olam nata bitocheinu baruch ata Hashem notein ha’torah- Blessed are you Hashem who gave us the Torah of truth and eternal life planted within us, blessed are you Hashem Who gives the Torah.
So we mention the giving of the Torah as if it planted something within us. This is really not a coincidence, I believe. In fact one of the things that I ask my tourists many times, is why in the Torah does it say Hashem created Man. Of course many of them give me many spiritual anwers that it states in the many philosophical or ethical works that they have been indoctrinated in. But then I repeat my question. Why in the Torah itself does it say Hashem created man.; In the actual text. The answer is because Hashem needed a gardener. Look at the verses.
“Bereshit (2:7) And Hashem- Elokim formed man earth from the ground and blew within him the soul of life and man was a living being.
And Hashem-Elokim planted a garden in Eden and he placed man in the garden which he formed.
The verses continue with the tree of life and knowledge and the rivers that flow out of Eden and then it says
Ibid (2:15) And Hashem-Elokim took man and put him in the garden to work it and protect it.
It is interesting to note that in the first chapter when the Torah describes Creation it only mention Elokim creating the world. That is the term of judgement. That is the standard term for god. On the other hand when it comes to creating the garden and man it describes Hashem as Hashem Elokim- the God of mercy, of eternality, the Jewish concept of God. As well as opposed to all other Creations that were created through speech, man and the garden and the trees in ti are formed. Man and tree, man and the garden. Our job was to go into the field and to raise it up. To find its song. To understand that each tree has its place and its time. To study from the tree of life. To avoid the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Rebbe Nachman explains, that when the snake tempts Eve and tells her to eat from that forbidden tree of knowledge, he tells her that on the day she will eat she will be
Ibid (3:5) “like God who knows good and evil”
What was their knowledge before the tree, Rebbe Nachman asks? He answers that before eating from the tree they didn’t have knowledge of good and evil. It wasn’t an academic course that needed to be learned. It was a reality. It was something that they felt inherently. Like we see blue and green. We don’t know it we experience it. Upon eating we became Good-ologues and Evil-ologues we can write 50 page treatises on the moral imperatives of some things and argue the immoral and unethical tenets of another. But we don’t’ have the gi’feel, as they say in Yiddish, for it anymore. We don’t hear the music or song of it. It’s just intellectual.
We lost the Garden of Eden. We were exiled from the garden and for 2000 years we wandered until we came to Sinai, to that place where we were once again given the Tree of life. Our Torah. The Torah is called a Shira at the end of the Torah, by our shepherd Moshe who gave it to us. He understood that the Torah is the way that we can understand our personal place in this world, our personal song that only we can sing. The right trees and plants that will nurture us. It is the eternal world that Hashem has planted within us. That can uplift the earthliness and animal within us. We decorate our synagogues on Shavuot to recall that song of the field; of the mountain.
This past week was the Rosh Hashana for the trees. Man as well, the Torah tells us is compared to a tree. Trees are different than fields and plants. When one plants a tree they put in a little seed, and unlike wheat, barley and other grains that pretty much produce little seeds that we use. A tree produces fruit. A fruit is very different than the seed that is planted. It has flourished into a much greater, refined, perfect and tasty treat. It has lifted itself off the ground. It waves high in the air. Its song is soaring to the heavens. I look out at the beautiful trees here in the Galil, as I sit here on my own and I listen to their song as their waves blow in the wind. I begin to hear my own song stirring. The song that our shepherd, Moshe, sang for me as I stood under that mountain and looked up and heard Hashem blow that spirit of life into my tree. I await the day when soon the entire world will hear that song of the field and together the world will sing in one big symphony to our Creator.
Have a symphonious serene Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S FAVORITE YIDDISH PROVERB OF THE WEEK
“Fun fartrikenteh baimer kumen kain paires nit arois.!”- No fruit falls from withered trees
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
answer below at end of Email
Q The term “Dhimmi” in Islam means:
A. Dancing/whirling dervish
B. People of the Jahiliyya period
D. Non Muslim citizens of an Islamic state
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL VIDEOS OF THE WEEK
https://youtu.be/q0ymyhxOJHA - The awesome Abie Rottenberg classic “Little Kite” remade- thumbs up
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lx9k6zJjQmA - The song of the grass Avraham Fried
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7_Gmax_yfw – National Tree of the year of 2017 of Europe saved Jews
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I2LMLWn_7ok – Simcha Leiner Naaseh Vnishma
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S HAFTORA CONNECTION OF THE WEEK
As in last week’s Haftorah this one has different Sephardic and Ashkenazic readings. However as opposed to last week where the Ashkenazim started earlier then the Sefardim, this week we both start together the Ashkenazim just continue on to the next chapter. Now the first part of the Haftora can easily be realized in its connection to our parsha but that is only if we look at it on the surface. What I mean is that just as the Jews by Sinai saw the Hashem, in our Haftora Yeshaya Hanavi describes his first prophecy where he sees Hashem sitting on his throne with angels- seraphim around him reciting Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh. Now I say that this is only a surface connection for the rest of the Haftora describes the inadequacy that Yeshaya feels for being impure, yet at the same time taking up the role to bring the message to the Jewish people of his time that the land and the temple will be destroyed. That it seems that despite all their senses they have become fattened and will be wiped out. The Haftora concludes that a tenth will remain and will return like a tree stump that still has life. So I guess that is a positive enough of a note for the Sefardim to end their reading by. Now seemingly this part of the haftorah does not have much to do with the parsha. Yet the truth is the parsha really contains more than the vision of Hashem. It is parshat Yisro that talks about Yisro a priest for idolatry that is inspired to return to Hashem and the court system he recommends setting up. The inspiration for Yisro is the reward and punishment he sees that happens to the Egyptians and the battle of Amalek which would seem to suggest that there is power in our hands to fight as well. This is the dual nature of the Jewish people. On one hand we know we are eternal like the Hashem and His throne. On the other hand we are subject to consequences for our actions that will lead to our punishment, but will never obliterate us.
The Ashkenazim continue on that theme perhaps with the next chapter where the King Ahaz who is a wicked King is reassured that he will survive the attack by his enemies. And the Kingdom of David will be eternal. It’s fascinating that it is an incredible counter to the first part of the Haftora. Whereas the first part Isaiah is told to tell the Jews that they will be destroyed and there is nothing they can do. Interestingly enough the Jews were mostly observant in Uzziah’s time. When we are doing good the navi warns of our destruction. Yet in Achaz’s time the Jews sinning was widespread. Yet it is at that time that we see that Hashem will abandon us. Those two messages are what Yisro sees perhaps. The Jews role in this role to fulfill Hashem’s throne that will take us out of Egypt. Yet at the same time we must appreciate we have to fulfill our role and battle Amalek and utilize the Temple as that light for the throne of Hashem or else we will lose it.
Yeshaya Hanavi Era of Prophecy (780-700 BC)– Yeshaya came from a royal family from the Kings of Yehuda. He had a wife and at least two children and a daughter that are mentioned in Chazal. His sons names were Shaar Yashuv and Immanuel and he may have had others as well. It is interesting that he is compared by Chazal at many times to Moshe Rabbeinu and that as Moshe he came from royalty and thus automatically garnered a certain stature amongst the people.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S ERA’S AND THEIR PLACES AND PEOPLE IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK
The battle of Shechem 1550BC- I don’t do a lot of Shomron tours, although I should. I wish we would finally liberate this historic part of Israel as we have done the rest of the this country from the occupying Arabs that are sitting in our land that the Torah tells us was purchased by our forefather Yaakov for 100 Keshita- that’s a lot of falafels and we kept the receipt... it’s called the Torah, the bible, the Koran all of the holy books register that purchase. We’re not doing anyone any favors by allowing the Pa-‘Lie’-stinian authority stay in control and get rich off the backs of the people that they are holding down and persecuting and raising on hate. But I digress. But because of the often security situations and the nervousness of my tourists I really don’t get out there as often as I should. But there are certainly some awesome places where one can look down on the city of Shechem and even spot the grave of Yosef buried there. Particulary from Moutn Gerizim or Har Bracha as it is known. From there we can look down from mitzpe Yosef and talk about Avraham who first built an altar here in Alon Moreh as it is called. There is in fact an arab village on the suburbs of Shechem called Tel Balata- Balat is the arabi word for Oak which would be a reference to that tree Alon Moreh. Here as well we can tell the many biblical stories that took place here. the two brothers of Dina that rescued here and killed out the city, The story of the Jewish people coming into the land and having the blessings and curses right between these two mountains, as well as the stories in the period of Judges of Avimelech the son of Gideon and of Yeravam ben Nevat during the split kingdom who made his capital here.
This is about as Jewishally historical of a site as you can get and ranks up there with Chevron and Jerusalem as significant Jewish biblical cities. It’s really a shame that it is not as visited as it should be.
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S TERRIBLE TREE JOKES OF THE WEEK
What is every tree’s favorite shape?
Which Canadian city is a favorite vacation spot for American trees?
What did the tree say to the drill?
You bore me..
You bore me..
Why do trees hate tests?
Because they get stumped by the questions.
Because they get stumped by the questions.
What tree produces fruit that tastes like chicken?
What do they serve to drink by trees Shalom Zachors?
What do you call a Russian tree?
What kind of trees do you get when you plant kisses?
Tully’s favorite joke- What did the Jedi say to the sacred tree?
May the forest be with you.
May the forest be with you.
What’s green, fuzzy has four legs and if it falls out of a tree it will kill you? – A pool table.
The Cohen family was on good terms with their Catholic neighbors, the O'Brian's. In fact, little Yainkele Cohen and Chris O'Brian from next door would play together from time to time. Or at least they used to.
Well, one late December's day, Tim O'Brian, the non-Jewish father, came storming in to the Cohen's house holding poor Yainkel by the ear. "Your son is not going near my Chris again; he just has no respect for us and our religion!"
"What's the matter; what did he do?" inquired Mr. Cohen.
"I'll tell you" said Tim in a rage. "He saw our Christmas tree and started making fun."
"He did?" said Mr. Cohen. "What did he say?"
"He saw our tree and started asking all sorts of ridiculous questions - which kinds of pine trees can be used for a Christmas tree? What's the minimum required height? How close to the window does it need to be? Do too many decorations render it unfit? What if it's under a neighbor's balcony?!"
And perhaps the most Jewish Joke of all
Two Jews, Moshe and Itzik, are walking in the Ukrainian forest. In the distance, they see two local guys walking towards them. Moishe turns to Itzik, panics, and says, “Itzik, what should we do? There’s two of them, and we’re all alone!”
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S SHABBOS CARTOON OF THE WEEK
Answer is D – Although, like Christianity, Islam is not my forte. However that being said this one was pretty easy. See I am a fan of Jewish history and the Dhimmi status is quite essential to understanding Jewish life under Muslim rule, which was basically dhimmi status. They had certain rights as all Muslims did. And they had to higher taxes and certain restrictions as well. For the most part Jews fared far better under Muslim rule than Christian rule throughout our exile as a result of this. The other choices in case you are interested, the swirling dancing Muslims are called Sufi- and they dance- they’re like mystical Muslims. JahiIlya is pre-Muslim world- basically their term for secular people. And heretics are Kafirs- I only know that because like many Arabic words it comes from the Hebrew Kofer which means heretic.