Our view of the Galile

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Great Blazes!- Parshat Behar / Lag Baomer 2018 / 5778

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
May 4th 2018 -Volume 8 Issue 28 12th Iyar 5778
Parshat Behar – Lag Ba’Omer
{Emor- for Diaspora}
Great Blazes
        One of the most memorable experiences that any student spending a year of study in Israel has is the thrilling and unique celebration of that lesser known mystical holiday Lag B’Omer. First, however a little background. The holiday is the 33rd day of the Omer count between Passover and Shavuot (Lag being the numerological/gematria value of Lamed =30 and Gimel =3). It is significant in that it brings to a halt the mourning period of the Omer for the death of the 24,000 students of the Talmudic sage Rabbi Akiva who died during this period. Their deaths, the Talmud tells us, came as a result of them not treating one another with the respect and love their Rebbe had so much personified in his famous dictum
 “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself - this is a fundamental principal of the Torah."
 The day of Lag B’Omer, Rabbi Akiva traveled to the South and started instructing five of his remaining students and her ordained them and charged them with the mission that would restore the light of Torah that had been so diminished with the passing of his
students. One of those students was the great sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Many years later on the/ Lag B’omer day that he passed away, our tradition has it that a great light was revealed to the world. On that day he uncovered many of the hidden secrets of the Torah which were later written down in the Holy mystical book of the Zohar literally “Shining”.

 Now for the memorable Israeli experience that took place only about 20 minutes from my house this past Wednesday night and Thursday. For the past three weeks or so  before Lag B’Omer throughout Israel you begin to feel something strange is going on. There are these huge pyres of wood slowly growing in empty lots around the neighborhood. Sticks, logs, beds, trees, houses are all being hauled, creating these immense edifices for something that can only resemble something out of  an ancient Greek funeral ritual. Even stranger yet, these soon to be towering structures are being shlepped together and constructed by children, most under the age of ten. Then the evening of Lag B’omer comes. You know something is up when everyone begins to take in all their hanging laundry and shutters are closing tightly around the neighborhood. The “Night of Fire- Burning Children” has begun. Huge torches are lit and WOOOSHHH- the skies are lit with bonfires, as the festivities which include singing, barbecuing animals, dancing and three year old children’s haircuts (that’s another email) begin.
 As an American who has attended many campfires in his youth where there were lectures on the finer details of fire safety for an hour beforehand. My memories of campfires consist of being ordered to stand about at least thirty feet away, as the supervising adult would allow us to peek at the flames from a distance. This was always done of course under the protection of three fire extinguishers and five park wardens.  From that rather overly cautious perspective, the Israeli carefree attitude was definitely one that raises (razes?) hairs on one’s head. As a religious person who looks to our time honored ancient traditions for the spiritual inspiration that its timely symbolic rituals bring however, one can find some enlightening ones in the flames of Lag B’Omer.
 As one looks and gazes into the fire there is an incredible sense of awe. The unbelievable power contained in its brilliant flames. The light it provides, the warmth it gives, and the stirring it brings forth. The Jewish soul is compared to a flame and reflects the heat of the passion that drives it. We live in a world too often where that flame isn’t felt. Where the spirit has become cold. From the times of the death of Rabbi Akivas’s students when the brilliant life giving force of the Torah seemed vanquished, through every dark era of our long and painful exile that our embers burned low, we were challenged to relight the fires of our souls. And miraculously we have. For our loving Father in heaven has assured us that in the darkness there will always be that brilliant flame that will never be extinguished, that will reach forth and burst out in blazing glory.
 The Zohar, that sacred mystical work of Kabbalah which contains the secrets of the Torah, is premised on the principal of the love and kindness in which Hashem created the world. Rav Tzadok of Lublin writes that when one truly loves someone then all their secrets are shared. For a secret is but the inner depths of the recesses of the soul. On Lag B’Omer the Almighty shared with mankind those loving secrets that his presence will continue to illuminate our lives. We need merely to scoop ourselves up from the mourning and celebrate the eternal flame we possess.
Have a blazingly fantastic Shabbos,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


“Mit fremdeh hent iz gut feier tsu sharren”- It’s good to poke the fire with somebody else’s hands.

answer below at end of Email
Q: The united underground movement was active in the years:
A.1917 to 1920
B.1939 to 1945
C.1945 to 1946
D.1948 to 1949


https://youtu.be/oE4SlAGEMeg  - Yaakov Shwekey latest release Alef Beis Gimmel the words of faith coined by Shalom Rubashkin

https://youtu.be/HWXH3g1bWv8 – For those of you that are still Acapelling it until the last days of Omer Micha Gammermans new song “Finding Hashem”


Emor This week’s Haftora connection is easy to figure out. The Torah portion discusses primarily the mitzvot of the Kohanim and the holidays and their sacrifices in the Temple and the Haftorah is from the book of Yechezkel and describes his vision of the third Beit Hamikdash and the Kohanim’s role there. That part is easy. The problem though is when one pays attention to the Haftorah we find a few interesting laws that seem to be different from our Parsha. Most notable perhaps is that in Yechezkel’s vision Kohanim don’t marry widows, which in the Torah it tells us was only a prohibition for Kohen Gadol. There are other laws as well that seem strange. The commentaries all struggle to find resolutions. Some suggest the third temple will be different. Others suggest that it is personal stringencies the Kohanim took upon themselves. Certainly in his vision he sees the Kohanim being teachers and judges  of the people and more involved in the spiritual educational system as opposed to the traditional of them merely being the conduits of the ritual sacrifices in the Temple. I guess we”ll have to wait, hopefully not too long, to see what the real story will be.

Yechezkel /Ezekiel (590 BC)-  Perhaps known as the most Messianic prophet of the books of the prophets, Yechezkel focuses on the wars of Gog and Magog and the visions of the Temple rebuilt and the services that take place there. He was from a family of Kohanim according to the Radak he was perhaps even the child of Yirmiyahu the prophet as he is called Ben Buzi- the son of the “scorned one”. He was exiled to Babylon in the first Exile and he lived through the period when Ezra was granted permission to rebuild the Temple. His grave is in Iraq and according to the Abarbanel many would go and pray there

Behar- There are different suggestions as to when the custom to read haftorahs began, but it was certainly in the period of the second Temple. It was also in a period during that temple when Judaism was being challenged. It may have been when the Greeks forbade the Torah reading publicly, or when there were those that denied the Divine stature of the books of the prophets. Regardless the connection to the Parsha is generally one that not only reveals the Torah connection and continuation found in the books of the Prophets. It is one of hope and light for the Jewish people in challenging times.
This week’s Haftorah is perhaps the classic example of that. The Haftora begins with Yirmiyahu in prison. The Jewish people were sick of his dire prophecies of doom and they threw him in jail. Jail the messenger-so to say. It may not seem like it could get worse than that. Yirmiyahu is trying to do everything he can to save the Jewish people and he is speaking to deaf ears. It is at that point that Hashem tells Yirmiyahu that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.

(Yirmiyahu 32:15) “Houses, fields, and vineyards shall again be purchased in this land
Hashem tells Yirmiyahu to purchase the land from his relative, who was selling it. This is a fulfillment of the mitzva in this weeks Torah portion, that one’s relative should redeem their lands in order to “keep it” in the ancestral tribal land. This seems like such a strange command, being that at the same time the land is about to be destroyed and the Jews exiled. But ultimately that becomes, Hashem says, the ultimate buying moment.

The Haftorah tells us how he buys land and he signs the documents in the presence of witnesses and with the seal of his student and scribe Baruch Ben Neriya so that it shall last “many days”. How long is “many days”? How does 2500 years sound? This incident with Yirmiyahu takes place sometime between the years 597 and 586 BCE. In 1975 the burnt clay seal or bulla as they are called of Baruch Ben Neriya was found in the city of David where Yirmiyahu was kept prisoner most likely in the archives of the kingdom and palace. Just in case you were doubting whether it was authentic in 1996 another identical seal was found with Baruchs name on it. 2500 years ago Hashem promised we would be back and we are. That piece of land of Yirmiyahu was certainly a good investment and this haftora teaches us that even when things look bleak. There will be a day when all will be right.


Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (160 CE)– The most quoted Rabbi in the Talmud without a chapter that doesn’t mention his name, Rebbi Shimon remains perhaps the most famous of and certainly the most connected to of all of the Mishna period Rabbis. He is the only person in the history of the Jewish people whose yartzeit became a national religious holiday with hundreds of thousands making their pilgrimage to his grave in Meron. I discuss Rebbi Shimon with my tourists and connect with him many places in Israel. When I am in ancient Roman cities, like Tzippori, Beit She’an and even Jerusalem by the Cardo, I mention Rebbi Shimon’s controversial opinion that he stated how these roads and markets were built in Israel by the Romans just to bring licentiousness and for their own financial gain. These public statements of his got him into trouble where he had to flee to Peki’in and hide in the cave that I take people to see there. The spring and Carob tree that sustained him as he hid for 13 years with his son are still there. When he came out he could barely move and he was taken to the hot springs in Tiverya to be healed. Afterwards he wanted to express his appreciation and he purified the city, by identifying all the graves that were scattered throughout by the earthquakes that had devastated it.
Rav Shimon was most known for his revelation of the “hidden secrets” of the Torah”. Much of his works of Kaballa what is known as the “Idra”- the granary where Rebbi Shimon studied with 7 of his students the deepest secrets of the Torah, was written in the hills and caves in the mountains of the upper Galile on many a jeep ride I stop and we pray over there as well. And of course finally I take people to Meron where we talk about the great light the Zohar that was revealed on the day that he died.


One dark night outside a small town, a fire started inside the local chemical plant and in a blink it exploded into flames. The alarm went out to the fire departments from miles around. When the volunteer fire fighters appeared on the scene, the chemical company president rushed to the fire chief and said, "All of our secret formulas are in the vault in the center of the plant. They must be saved. I will give $50,000 to the fire department that brings them out intact."
But the roaring flames held the firefighters off. Soon more fire departments had to be called in as the situation became desperate. As the firemen arrived, the president shouted out that the offer was now
$100,000 to the fire department who could bring out the company's secret files.
From the distance, a lone siren was heard as another fire truck came into sight. It was the nearby Jewish rural township volunteer fire company composed entirely of menchen over the age of 65. To everyone's amazement, the little run-down fire engine operated by this Jewish Fire Department passed all the newer sleek engines parked outside
the plant and drove straight into the middle of the inferno.
Outside the other firemen watched as the Jewish old timers jumped off and began to fight the fire with a performance and effort never seen before. Within a short time, the Jewish old timers had extinguished
the fire and saved the secret formulas.
The grateful chemical company president joyfully announced that for such a superhuman feat he was upping the reward to $200,000, and walked over to personally thank each of the brave, though elderly, Jewish fire fighters.
The local TV news reporters rushed in after capturing the event on film asking, "What are you going to do with all that money?""Well," said Morris Goldberg, the 70-year-old fire chief, "The first thing we are going to do is fix the brakes on that lousy truck!"

Yankel, the new beggar in town comes to the Rabbi of the community to ask him for help.
"Everything I had and owned, Rabbi, was lost when my house burned down recently in a raging fire. I've nothing left but the clothes I’m wearing."
"Do you have a letter from your own rabbi attesting to this fire?" Rabbi Goldman asks.
"Yes, I did have such a letter, but unfortunately, that was also lost in the fire."

At the local Talmud Torah School they brought in a fireman to talk about safety before Lag Ba’Omer. He brought some visual aids with him including a smoke detector. The fireman pressed the button to demonstrate and asked the children if anyone knew what it meant when an alarm sounded from the smoke detector.
Little Moishie immediately raised his hand and said, "It means my Abba is cooking dinner."

And my favorite of the week… nothing like a joke that laughs at yourself…. hildren to Pinocchio “Would you like to celebrate Lag Ba’Omer with us?
Pinocchio “But I don’t have any branches or wood?”
Children- :)))))
Pinocchio- :(((((((

And finally favorite of the week
So the Breslaver was standing by the grave of Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai and he was pouring out his heart and was overheard saying "Rebbe Shimon, I need a salvation and I promise that if you help I will mention you  and add you to my prayers on Rosh Hashana in Uman by Rebbe Nachman...

Answer is C – This one was also pretty easy. If you know what the United underground movement was.  Which anyone who has been on a tour of mine of Akko and its prison should know. Before the founding of the state all three underground movements united for a period of time. So that already knocks out D which is post state, or at least War of independence un which the three groups had become one already and were no longer underground and the Irgun and Lechi ceased to exist. If you know that the Lechi or the Stern Gang was formed during WWII as they did not want to ally with the British to fight the Nazis and actually they tried to cut deal with the Nazi’s in exchange for the their support against British then you would know that the only answer that makes sense is C, as the Lehi wasn’t formed until 1940. The United underground Army was in 1945 and 1946 when the British passed the White Papers and limited Jewish emigration. All three groups united in response and blew up British bridges and trains into Israel in response; sending a message if we can’t get in neither can you.

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