Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
April 20th 2018 -Volume 8 Issue 26 5th Iyar 5778
Parshat Tazria-Metzora/Acharey Mos-Kedoshim
Transition; that’s the word that keeps passing through my mind during this pretty packed week and half. I personally haven’t undergone any major changes. I’m still working on getting comfortable with that new grandfather title and role. Rather I’ve been on the outside this week, an observer, a people-watcher, and perhaps even what our sages refer to as a maven or yode’ah Ha’itim- someone who watches and understands the different times, moments and transitions.
In truth it’s the right week for transitions as the Torah readings this week are different in America and Israel. In Israel we reading Acharey Mot and Kedoshim in America Tazaria Metzora. Both are double portions both are transitions.
I guess it started out watching my grandson have his pdiyon haben- the fascinating ceremony as he is redeemed by his parents from his sanctified level a s first born son, whose life belongs to Hashem in exchange for Hashem saving the Jewish first-borns when he killed the Egyptian ones. We wait 30 days until we do that, as the 30 day mark is when a child is in the clear of being at risk for neo-natal death. It is considered a viable birth. He has transitioned fully into the world of the living. And right away the first thing that we do focus on what his role will be in this world.
It doesn’t get more Jewish than that. A doctor? A lawyer? A Rabbi? The parents redeem him from the Kohen and dedicate him to this new world where they recognize that he has a role to fill, and that role interestingly enough is one that might take him out of the Temple and the service of the Kohanim, that he is otherwise been dedicated to.
In Israel this past Shabbos we read Parshat Tazria and Metzora and in America they are reading that portion this week. Tazria begins with that transition. A child is born, the parsha begins. Boys have one rule, girls have another. Each one of them the parents have different obligations. Different processes of purity after the birth, different types of of offerings and sacrifices. Birth offerings, sin offerings, birds, sheep for the wealthy for the indigent. The Torah wants us to not to take for granted this significant milestone. There is perhaps nothing more natural than child-birth. At the same time there is nothing more miraculous. No time, perhaps where we ever feel that close to Hashem. Where we feel God-like, as we become His partner in bringing life to this world. So many things could have gone wrong. Do go wrong, many times. So the Torah tells us to mark this with the rituals of post- childbirth. As well the pidyon haben is done when everything is natural. This is the first born of the mother, there is no casarean sections, no previous miscarriages. When everything seems most natural that Torah wants us to take note and recognize that this is a transition and a time to reflect and plan forward.
Its interesting that the parsha of Tazria is juxtaposed with Metzora. It contains the laws of this spiritual malady that take hold when one does not pay attention to ones life. When one speaks Lashon Hara, when one acts haughtily, stingily. When one pretty much does whatever he or she in the mood of doing without thought of the significance of one’s actions. The remedy the Torah tells us is Tzora’as. Things start to go back. His body has a form of spiritual decay. Kind of like food that sits out and doesn’t’ stay fresh. We get moldy. We have to change everything to get back in the game. We go out of the camp, we redo our house, our vessels, our clothing. WE have to examine everything. We need to recognize that life doesn’t just happen. We have to move with the program, grow with the program and become what we were meant to.
As well this week, I flew to the States. It’s always a jarring experience for me. How little America has changed. Same fancy shuls, same fancy houses, same people running, shopping, buying, selling and yes learning and praying as well. It’s a whirlwind. Israel doesn’t feel that way.
Here I feel that more people are taking life with more appreciation for it. People don’t move as fast, don’t feel like they’re trying to escape as much. They’re busy, talking, laughing, raising children and worrying about them. There’s a lot more arguing about life and its meaning and how the world should be run over here. There is a sense that my life has a lot more significance here. One might say it’s because we live in a constant state of terror threat. Every day may be your last. And although that is certainly a Jewish perspective to live with as our sages say that a person should always “repent a day before he dies”. I don’t think that it is the reason why people live that way. I just think that we appreciate that our living here in Israel is a transition in Jewish history.
America is same old same old 2000 years exile. Israel living is the beginning of the redemption. It’s the ingathering of Exiles. It’s the process of fulfilling our divine mandate of shining our light, Hashem’s light out onto the world. Yeah…. America with all its kosher pizza shops and Kosher eateries With all its Orthodox Jews in the White House, it’s lobbyists and representatives in congress and the Senate. With all its incredible chesed organizations, its yeshivas, its study halls and even its Torah and mitzvos, just don’t feel to me as having anything near the Jewish or even religious significance as one more Jewish baby being born in Eretz Yisrael, one more house or apartment being built or bought, one more Jewish solider swearing to defend with his life our homeland and every Jew no matter where they are.
As I returned to Israel I began to look at the double portion that we read here this week. I had after all four Torah portions to prepare for in one week. I thought about the juxtaposition of the two portions we read here in Israel. Acharey Mot-after the death of the children of Aharon, the first parsha which discusses the laws of the Yom Kippur, atonement service and the laws of forbidden and illicit relations. And Kedoshim- becoming holy, the varied laws and commandments that that run the entire gamut of areas of life of which the observance of them will sanctify us and separate us from all the other nations of the world. There is a wry joke that is said of how whenever anyone dies the eulogies will inevitably make the deceased sound like the greatest tzadik and forget all the terrible things that the person may have done. It is based on the names of these regularly juxtaposed parshiyot; Acharey Mot- after they die, then Kedoshim- they become holy.
I thought about these parshas and their message of transition as I sat in Moscow Airport on my layover to Israel. And had a choice of three different minyanim to daven from. There were chasidim, Sefardim and plain old American Jews all putting on tallit and teffilin and praying in varied corners and gates of the airport. I watched in wonder and thought about how not even 35 years ago this would have been unheard of. The KGB arrested people for praying, I had Rabbis that smuggled in mezuzot and matzas for Jews that hid their Judaism for fear of death. But the world had changed. It had moved on. There are American magazines in the airport, and Chabad guys putting teffilin on Jews in the streets as thousands of Jewish children are learning Torah in the hundreds of schools in Russia. The former Soviet Union was dead and the kedusha, perhaps in the merit of those that sacrificed their lives to bring out that holiness, was no flourishing. I don’t think anyone there appreciated it. They just took it for granted. Why not? Let’s daven in Moscow airport. But nor me. I was in transition mode and this was incredible.
Finally I arrived back in Eretz Yisrael. Home sweet home. I came home though to perhaps the most meaningful and significant transition that this country has. I returned to the siren of Yom HaZikaron- the Israel memorial day for its 23,646 soldiers and victims of terror that have lost their lives for living here, defending our country, because they were Jews, the ones that may not have been so holy in their lives but in their deaths there is none that can enter into their sphere. The truth is this transition began a week ago with the commemoration of Yom Hashoah- Israeli holocaust memorial day when the State remembers the 6 million that were murdered by the Nazis and all their merry helpers. These memorial days are really the perfect transition into perhaps the most celebrated day in Israel; Yom Ha’atzmaut- Israel’s Independence Day. One can’t appreciate the present without recognizing the past and seeing it as a transition. When we have a Tazria- a birth of a child, a nation, a transformation in our life we have to be wary of not becoming a Metzora someone that just lets it sit and become stagnant. When we experience a death, a tragedy, a loss- Acharery Mot. We should await and anticipate the Kedusha of that moment. The Yom Kippur, the atonement, the holiness and the opportunity for new relationships, new opportunities a new explosion of sanctification into a world that is moving faster and faster to its fulfillment. To the end game. To Mashiach.
We are reading different parshiyot in America and in Israel. They are different but they are the same. They are both parshas that teach us to take note of the incredible times we are living in. We may not be on the same page but we are both heading through transformative times, which brings me to one last transition. We are in the period of Omer right now. Today, Friday is the 20th day of the 49 day counts as we move from Pesach to Shavuot. Form Exile to becoming a nation that received the Torah. It is a time of growth and transition as well as anticipation of that most incredible revelation. At the same time, fascinatingly enough it is a time of mourning. We don’t listen to music, make weddings and take haircuts or shave. During this period the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva died, whether of a plague or in the battles of Bar Kochva. As well it is during this period that the Crusades took place when almost 30% of the Jewish population was wiped out in the 11th and 12th century. It is mourning and it is growth, it is exile and it is redemption and becoming, it is remembering the past and seeing how it moves us to an incredible future. It is Tazria and Metzora and Acharey Mot and Kedoshim.
As the sirens end and the festivities of Israel’s 70th birthday dwindle down, I think about how far we have come. I have just read an article written by the nephew of the founder of the anti- Zionist, Neturei Karta Rabbi Yehuda Meshi Zahav on his appreciation of what has changed since the founding of the State. It’s a worthwhile and fascinating read (https://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/israel-news/1506537/you-were-wrong-a-letter-from-yehuda-meshi-zahav-to-his-uncle-rav-amram-blau-founder-of-neturei-karta.html )
The world is moving faster and faster. The Kedoshim of the past’s merits have brought us a country where even the most secular Jew is singing songs of praise to Hashem. Our first exile from our Temple lasted 70 years. We have now been returned for 70 years to our home. May Hashem now this year bring us to that final transition with His return to His home as well.
Have transformative Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S FAVORITE YIDDISH PROVERB OF THE WEEK
“Nit mit sheltn un nit mit lakhn ken men di velt ibermakhn.”- Neither cursing nor laughing can change the world
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
answer below at end of Email
Q: The previous name of Kfar Tavor:
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL VIDEOS OF THE WEEK
https://a7.org/media/a7radio/misc/video/18/apr/hared%2018-4.mp4 - Incredible video of Chariedi children being taught about Yom Hazikaron by Viznitze Chasidic teacher Rabbi Bombach
https://youtu.be/kxzEGSmgYl4?list=PL4FBDAAD0572A52D7 – Eyewitness to history- 1948 American Volunteers to War of independence-inspirational- What would you have done!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6UcozPpJvs – Maccabeats Megillat Ha’Atzamut- not my favorite Maccabeats composition but hey it’s Maccabeats right?
https://youtu.be/oxzR9Z-kG6Q - Shlomi Shabbat and KolKulam with 12,000 people singing Al Kol Eileh magnificent almost impossible not to get chills and emotional…
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S HAFTORA CONNECTION OF THE WEEK
Tazria/Metzora Story Haftoras are always more interesting, but they are even better when the parsha itself has no stories in it. This week the two Torah portions contain the various laws of Metzora, Tazria deals more with the process of becoming a metzora and how, where and the different variations of the tzaras-physical blemish manifestation of a spiritual malady, occur. Parshat Metzora on the other hand deals more with the purification process from it. The Haftora though which is a story from the book of Kings contains some metzoras that seem to play a role in the story but seemingly we always try to find a deeper message and connection that our sages are trying to tell us that reflect on the entire portion.
The story is that the Jewish King of Israel, Yehoram, is facing a siege by the king of Aram. Food is sacrce and people are starving. The King blames the prophet Elisha… it’s always the Rabbi’s fault, right? For his prayers had not been answered. He prophetically tells the King that the next day
Kings II (7:18) “a seah of fine flour will sell for [merely] a shekel, and two seahs of barley will sell for a shekel in the gate of Samaria.'
The Kings doubting servant is rather skeptical and mocks Elisha and Elisha tells him that as a result of his lack of faith he will not enjoy the miracle.
That is the backdrop, the haftorah tells us then of the story of the four lepers that having been quarantined outside of the camp, make their way to the Aramean camp and find it empty. It seems Hashem had performed a miracle and made it sound like great armies were approaching and the Arameans fled, leaving everything behind. The Metzoras ate to their hearts content and then decided to share the news with the camp and the King. Although he was skeptical at first the Jews went out and celebrated when they found the former army camps full of food. They celebrated and took all the stuff. In their haste the skeptical servant got trampled just like Hashem had promised through the prophet.
So that’s the story. The message I believe, which is really the one of Tzara’s in general is that one has to try to see the good, see redemption and appreciate that the salvation of Hashem can come from even the most unlikely of sources. The King, the servant they look down on Elisha, what do rabbis know from politics, from sieges, from famines. Why should we listen to these lepers, these castaways? On the other hand the Metzora who had previously spoken evil as well and seen only the negative here choose to focus on hope, Hashem will provide, let’s go to the enemies camp there will be salvation. As well they share the news with the people. They don’t just hide it for themselves. That is perhaps the greater message and connection our sages wish for us to reflect upon when we read this portion
Elisha (718 BC) – The period of Elisha's prophecy in Israel was a very crucial one. The land suffered from war and famine and was on the verge of total collapse. It was at this time that G‑d sent the great prophet Elisha to bring comfort and courage to the people in distress. Elisha was constantly on the road, mingling freely with the people. He counseled kings and offered his help to a poor widow, with equal grace. So numerous did Elisha's disciples become, that their quarters in Samaria became too small. At the request of the young prophets, Elisha agreed to accompany them to the Jordan, where they intended to build spacious quarters to house all the young prophets who were eager to be near him.
Acharey Mot/ Kedoshim- So Sefardim and Ashkenazim have different Haftorah to read this week. The Sefardim read the haftorah of Kedoshim which is from the book of Yechezkel and the Ashkenazim read the shorter one of Acharey Mot from the book of Amos. Both haftorahs contain the same theme though. They are prophecies that discuss the Jews engaging in the evil and licentious ways of Egypt or Kush (a relative of Egypt). The navi tells how Hashem will wipe out those sinners as the land of Israel will not tolerate this immorality. As well it foretells in Amos of the Messianic period after this immorality is eradicated
of the Jews returning to the land of Israel and all of the incredible porphecies that we see fulfilled today are foretold.
Amos (9:13) Behold days are coming, says Hashem, that the plowman shall meet the reaper and the treader of the grapes the one who carries the seed, and the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt.
14 And I will return the captivity of My people Israel, and they shall rebuild desolate cities and inhabit [them], and they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their produce.
15And I will plant them on their land, and they shall no longer be uprooted from upon their land, that I have given them, said the Lord your God.
There is not too many mountains that one can drive through in Israel that one doesn’t see the vineyards, the crops, the produce and the ingathering of Exiles. We are back and forever! What an amazing Haftora to read particularly this week as we celebrate 70 years back home.
Amos (646 BC) – Amos began his prophesies during the period of the first temple when Yeravam ll extended the boundaries of Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and under whose reign the kingdom of Israel flourished. Yeravam attempted to banish Amos from the kingdom because of his prophecy that Yeravam's kingdom would not last. Amos criticized the kingdom for persecuting the poor and immersing themselves in materialism and luxury
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S ERA’S AND THEIR PLACES AND PEOPLE IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK
The War of Independence 1948 – It is Israel’s 70th Birthday, you want to learn more about the great war that led to the founding of our country when we warded off 5 armies Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt and established our State. Over the past few years there have been some really fantastic upgrades to the many museums that discuss the stories of that yearlong struggle that began in 1947 with the United nations vote and ended in in March of 1949 with the cease-fire agreement. To learn about the soldiers and fighting units one can visit the Palmach museum and Etzel museum in Tel Aviv with their multi-media movie presentations. In the Palmach museum by special arrangement one can even see the film dedicated to the Gachal the foreign immigrant army units. In Kfar Etzion the story of the history and battle of the Etzion bloc that fell on the morning of Yom Ha’atzmaut the day of the Ben Gurion’s declaration of independence, is vividly told in their new upgraded multimedia museum. In Latrun one can appreciate the remembrance wall and discuss the tank battles that took place there on the road to Jerusalem and of course in the old city there is the museum where one can see footage of the war for Jerusalem in 1948 and the blowing up of the Churva shul that led to its defeat and surrender. Certainly no tour of the war of independence is complete without a visit to independence Hall in Tel Aviv where one can visit and see displays and films about the declaration of our State and the historic United Nations vote that led up to it.
It is easy to celebrate the birth of our country and to even sing songs of praise to Hashem and to make barbeques but to really make the day meaningful it is worthwhile to become more knowledgeable about the history, the heroism and the story that were the founding of our country.
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S TOP ISRAEL QUOTES OF THE WEEK
When I was a boy, the Dead Sea was only sick. -George Burns
The only thing chicken about Israel is their soup -Bob Hope
Are the Israelis friendly? Don’t ask! If you are lost in Israel and ask directions, they don’t tell you. They take you, then you both get lost. ~ Dave Berg
Students in Israel don’t riot. They’re too busy arguing what to riot about. ~ Dave Berg
Tel-Aviv airport is still the only airport in the world where each passenger is met by ten relatives. ~ George Mikes
Bad English was the second language of Israel and bad Hebrew, of course, remained the national language. ~ George Mikes
Let me tell you something that we Israelis have against Moses. He took us 40 years through the desert in order to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil! ~ Golda Meir
If we have to have a choice between being dead and pitied, and being alive with a bad image, we’d rather be alive and have the bad image. ~ Golda Meir
AND MY FAVORITE
On a crowded bus (in Israel), a mother was speaking to her son in Yiddish. An Israeli woman reprimanded her. “You should be speaking Hebrew. Why are you talking to him in Yiddish?’’ The mother answered, “I don’t want he should forget he’s a Jew.’” ~Kirk Douglas
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S REALLY TERRIBLE ISRAEL JOKES OF THE WEEK
A voice was heard on Israeli Radio. “This is Station OYVEH Tel Aviv, 1830 on your dial…. but for you, 1825.”
How does the Prime Minister’s celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut? BiBiQ
What is the name of the dance we do on Yom Ha’Atzmaut? The Indepen-dance
A car hit an Israeli man. The paramedic says, “Are you comfortable?” The man says, “Eh, I make a good living.”
A guy is partying on Rothchild and suddenly noticed he lost his wallet. He got up on the bar and shouted, “Excuse me ladies and gentlemen, I’ve just lost my wallet with over 500 shekels in it. To the person that finds my wallet, I will give 50 shek!” A voice from the back of the bar shouted, “I will give 75!”
Hear about the new Japanese Israeli restaurant. It is called “SohSueMi.”
It’s the Maccabi Games in Tel Aviv and just before their race, an American sprinter asks an Israeli opponent, “So what’s your best time for the 100 meters?” “Just over 8 seconds,” replies the Israeli.”But the world record is around 9 seconds,” says the astonished American. “Yes,” says the Israeli, “but I know a short cut.”
Benny is on holiday in Israel and goes to a concert at the Minkovsky Auditorium. Benny asks one of the officials, “I was wondering whether this magnificent auditorium is named after Dovid Minkovsky, the famous biblical scholar?””No,” replies the official, “It’s named after Harry Minkovsky, the writer” “I’ve never heard of him,” says Benny, “what did he write?” “A cheque,” replies the official.
Moshe was travelling back to London on an El Al flight from Tel Aviv and it was time for the main meal to be served. “Would you like dinner?” a flight attendant asked Moshe.”What are my choices?” he asked.”Yes or no,” she replied
A Journalist has to write a story on the lack of meat in Poland. So he goes off to Poland and asks the people: “Excuse me, what do you think of the lack of meat in Poland?” All the poles reply: “Meat? What is meat?” Seeing he cannot get an answer in Poland he goes to the USSR and asks the Soviets: “Excuse me, what do you think of the lack of meat in Poland?” All the Soviets reply: “Think? What is think?” Seeing he cannot get an answer in the USSR he goes to the USA and asks the Americans: “Excuse me, what do you think of the lack of meat in Poland?” All the Americans reply: “Lack? What is lack?” Seeing he cannot get an answer in the USA he decides to go to Israel, and asks the Israelis: “Excuse me, what do you think of the lack of meat in Poland?” To which all the Israelis reply: “Excuse me? What is excuse me?”
Answer is A – Yup, got this one wrong, I guessed Sejera. I wasn’t that far off Sejera is the name of Ilaniya which is right next to Kfar Tavor, but ahh well… The correct answer for this one was Messah. Omm Junni was Deganiya and not sure who Ja’unni. Not that I think any of this information is important or that any of my tourists would ever be interested in the old arba names of the original Jewish villages, but I would have studied this for the exam because I knew that they usually ask questions like this. I guess I deleted it from my memory after the exam, if I never knew it.