Our view of the Galile

Friday, July 6, 2018

A Holy Room Above Hell- Parshat Pinchas 2018 / 5778

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
July 6th 2018 -Volume 8 Issue 37 23rd Tamuz 5778

Parshat Pinchas

A Holy Room Above Hell

We’re gonna do it different this week. Usually I start off my weekly E-Mail with a cool story, a joke, some radical political statement or a personal anecdote. That sucks you into reading one paragraph and then another and before you know it you’re halfway through and then I sneak in there “this week’s Torah portion” and boom- I’ve got you. But not this week. This week we will start with the words “In the Torah portion this week”, and you will just have to trust me, the payoff and stories at the end and maybe even a joke here and there will be worth it. Life-changing even perhaps. I haven’t let you down yet right? You can do it. I know you can. I have faith in you and that’s really what it is all about.

This week the Torah portion of Pinchas talks about the aftermath of the plague that struck the people after they sinned with the daughters of Moab. Hashem commands us to avenge those deaths by waging war on the Midianites who were behind this whole thing. Rashi notes he spares Moab, although their daughters were involved because Ruth and ultimately Mashiach will come from them. The Torah then goes through a lengthy naming of all the families of Israel. Hidden inside that list, kind of like the way I hide my dvar Torah in my weekly E-mail there is a verse that stands out. In the recounting of the family of Reuvein the Torah tells us that Dathan and Aviram , who were from that tribe are not around anymore because they sinned with Korach rebellion against Moshe and were swallowed up live in the ground. Then the Torah tells us sort of by the way
Bamidbar (26:11) “And the children of Korach didn’t die”

Now if you blinked you missed this verse, but Rashi doesn’t blink and he notes seemingly the anomaly of this teaching. First of all it would seem that the Torah previously tells us that anyone that was in the sin of Korach was swallowed up. So if they sinned seemingly they should have been dead. If they didn’t sin, then it should have just stated they lived. What does it mean that they didn’t die?

So Rashi notes that actually they did sin. Not only did they sin, but they were in fact from the instigators of the entire rebellion. Yet Rashi notes

“At the time of the dispute, they had a thought of teshuva- repentance in their heart. Therefore a high place was fortified for them in Gehennom and they resided there.”

Wanted to know where the term a high place in Hell comes from. This is it.
Now if one reads Rashi correctly Rashi is not stating that they repented. If they would have they wouldn’t have been swallowed at all. Rather they had thoughts of repentance and seemingly that was enough to get them out of the very bottom. It seems like a strange thing. I never really understood it. Are they sinners or repenters? As well, if they survived shouldn’t it have told us this back in the story of Korach? It was three parshas ago and 40 years ago chronologically. Why here? Why now? One last question, perhaps, why reveal this story of the miraculous survival of the children of Korach here with the listing of the name of the families of Reuvein? They were Levites, tell us about it when we recount their tribes family. The answer my friends can perhaps be found in this week’s story of the week. Isn’t it cool you made it this far… Now for the payoff.

It was a few months ago. The Gadol Hador, the great Jewish leader of our generation, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Shteinman passed away at age 104. I don’t usually like to go to funerals, and particularly those of great men when there are 10’s of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people coming. I know it’s wrong of me, perhaps lazy of me. I should go. I should show my respects, but perhaps too my failing I never felt connected so I really avoided them.

Rav Shteinman was different. He opened a yeshiva in Karmiel. I met him twice here and he even gave my son Yonah a blessing on his Bar Mitzva day. I still wouldn’t say I felt connected. But there was something pulling me to go and I felt I needed to connect perhaps a bit deeper, as I was certainly fully aware of orphaned our generation would be without him. It was on the way home from this funeral that I heard two stories that blew me away. And I am pretty well padded as you know, and it takes a lot to do that to me.

There was a man that had come to the funeral with a long beard and was crying incessantly, at the loss of his Rebbe that had changed or even saved his life. He said that he was raised religious and had some terrible experiences that turned him off. It was too repressive. Too challenging and there was too much fun to be had elsewhere. So he left Torah and Mitzvos, he partied, he had fun and he walked away from his parents’ home after they had it out about the shame he had brought upon the family. Ultimately this young Bnai Brak yeshiva boy-let’s call him Yankel-found himself in love with a non-Jewish girl that he declared he would marry. His cousin, who was not religious as well with whom he was living with, was upset that his own flesh and blood was going to go this far to cutting himself off from his family and people. Although he wasn’t observant, he knew that marrying out of the faith would be the end of his cousins’ connection to his old life and his family.

Now even though he couldn’t get him to break it off, his cousin did insist that Yankel go back and at least spend a Shabbat at home with his family and tell them to their face what his plans were. Yankel agreed, but on the condition that his parents would not put any restrictions on him. He was no longer observant, and he wasn’t going to fake it for them. They agreed and Yankel went home for Shabbos.

Friday evening, the family had a pleasant meal together. After the meal Yankel went out to smoke on the porch and then he came back and told his parents his plans. Their hearts broke but they realized he was a big boy and they were not going to be able to force their will or faith on their son anymore. Shabbat morning, Yankel did not go to shul. He pretty much sat on his smartphone all afternoon. He had some chulent and then went back to his room. At about an hour before Mincha, Yankel’s dad asked his son if he would join him for the Torah class of Rav Shteinman. He wasn’t too hopeful, but he figured he may as well try. Lo and behold Yankel agreed. They went to the class and afterwards his father brought him to Rav Shteinman and told him that his son was no longer observant, in fact he didn’t even keep Shabbat. Rav Shteinman turned to the young man and asked him how long had he already been not Shomer Shabbat.
“Two years” Yankel said

“And during those two years, did you ever have any regrets any thoughts of teshuva?”- The Gadol Hador asked.

Yes, probably about 4 times” Yankel responded brazenly

“And about how long did those thoughts last for?”- the elderly Rav asked as he stroked Yankel’s hands and looked into his eyes.

Each time for maybe ten minutes or so… I guess”.

Rav Shteinman put a big smile on his face and did the math for him
So 10 minutes times 4 is 40 minutes! 40 Minutes that you were standing in a place where our sages tell us that where baalei teshuva stand not even a tzadik gamur can stand in heaven. You were higher than the most righteous jewish leader ever could stand. I am jealous of you…His rebbe then said. I am jealous of you… Shabbat Shalom.”

Yankel went back home to his cousins house and the words of the Rabbi gave him no rest. He kept hearing the Rabbis voice, He saw the caring in his words and the true awe that the Gadol Hador, the man who studied Torah all day and all night, who wrote great works, who lived in humility and modesty, and who embodied everything that Judaism was meant to be… He saw the awe that the Rabbi had of him. Of Yankel. He broke his engagement. He came back home. He became this crying Rebbe at his Rabbis funeral who would try to impart the lessons and power of even a thought of teshuva could have to his own students.
There is a part two to this story, that’s even more amazing but first let’s finish up the Dvar Torah.

The Jewish people right before we enter the land of Israel are at a crossroads. We have just suffered a horrible plague. 24,000 had been killed when they let their desires overwhelm them and they sinned in the most immoral of ways. Can we pick ourselves up from that. Hashem tells us we can. He tells us to avenge the Midianites. They are the ones that His anger and wrath is against. Not us. He tells us that Moav will be spared. There are sparks of holiness even in this impure tribe that seduced us. Not just sparks of holiness but in fact Messianic sparks can and will come out of the most impure place once it becomes uplifted. Once it becomes brought under the wings of the Shechina.

After that we are named the families of each tribe and we begin with Reuvein. Reuvein our sages tell us was the first person to recognize the power of teshuva. It was he that returned to pit to find his brother Yosef. It was he that was in sackcloth mourning and repenting for having sinned by “messing his father’s bed” and defiling it in the act that Torah compares to illicit behavior of the worst kind. Hashem adds his letters “yud and hey” to each of the tribes names, to show that each family has the name of Hashem in their midst always. That we have that same soul as well.

And then, right then it tells us about the children of Korach. The children that didn’t repent, but had thoughts of repentance. They were placed above everyone else, as they were swallowed and our sages tell us from there they sang out praises to Hashem. Praises and Psalms that King David who was anointed King by their very descendant none other than the Prophet Shmuel, incorporated in Tehillim. Psalms that we recite every Monday in our shul after morning service  and every Rosh Hashana before Shofar reading for even thoughts of teshuva, of repentance are holy.

Now back to Yankel. When asked what made him go to the Rav’s shiur in the first place. After-all if you were a critical or even typical cynical Jewish reader of the story, it’s the part that doesn’t make sense. Yankels smoking on Shabbos, do you really believe he would even step foot in a yeshiva, let alone the class of Rav Shteinman?

But Yankel explained. He sais when he was a little boy, Rav Shteinman came to their class, (as he did incidentally almost until the end of his life) and he would test the children. He would ask boy’s questions and they would get candies ofr answering correctly. Yankel was asked once by the Rav a question and not necessarily being the best student he didn’t know the answer. So the Rav asked him a few minutes later an even easier question. Yankel thought long and hard, but unfortunately as well this time he really gave the wrong answer. The third time around the Gadol asked him a really easy question. Not necessarily one that would be obvious that he was giving the ball away. But easy enough that really anyone who was paying any attention to what they were studying would know in a heartbeat. Unfortunately Yankel was not from that aforementioned group. He answered once again wrong and the exam ended shortly afterwards. After the exam as the Rav was handing out candies to the children who earned them. He called over Yankel and told him the following lesson which really encapsulates it all.

In Judaism we get rewarded for our efforts, not for our results. All of the children here tried and answered one question and therefore they all got a candy. You on the other hand tried to answer three questions. Therefore you get three candies.
And the Rav stroked his hands and looked in his eyes and handed Yankel three candies. That’s why I came to the shiur Yankel said. There was something about this Rav, that I remembered that wanted, perhaps even needed to see him again.

There is perhaps nothing more fleeting or meaningless in the modern world and mind-set than “good intentions”. How does that old adage go about the pavement on the road to Hell. Not so in Judaism. A hirhur teshuva, a thought of repentance of regret is a whole world. A thought to do a mitzva, raises up a planet. A candy, a word of encouragement can save a life. We have the power and the name of Hashem within us. Yet how often are we so indignant about the sins, failings, weakness, an lack of observance of others. That is sinat chinam. That is not loving someone and focusing on their flaws when ultimately it is the most counterproductive thing one can do. It is perhaps that for that reason why the Torah waited 40 years until the Parsha of Pinchas, the great zealot, and the role model of religious zealotry to teach us about the lesson of the children of Korach. It may be that the Torah waited until the period right before Tisha B’Av, when we mourn our Temple that was destroyed because we failed to see the greatness in each other. The good intentions, the fleeting thoughts of teshuva that even the simplest and most distant of us might have and the tremendous value and holiness that they possess.

We have lost our Gadol Hador. But we have not lost his lessons. May his teachings forever continue to inspire us, his orphaned nation.
Have a heavenly Shabbos
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


“Besser mit a klugen in gehenem aider mit a nar in ganaiden”- It’s better to be with a wise man in hell than with a fool in paradise.

answer below at end of Email
Q. Alters abolished during the 1st Temple period:
A. Ramat Rachel and Lachish
B. Tel Arad and Tzuba
C. Lachish and Tel Be’er Sheva
D. Tel Be’er Sheva and Tsfat (Safed)


Parshat Pinchas This weeks haftora is one that I talk about often with my tourists. In fact I spoke about it this morning. It is the epilogue to the story of Eliyahu on Mt. Carmel. After preforming the great miracle of Hashem bringing down the fire that eats up his sacrifice as opposed to that of the prophets of Baal. The Jews go back to sinning and Jezebel the wife of Ahav sends people to kill him. He flees for his life, wanders in the wilderness and Hashem miraculously provides water and food for him. He ultimately makes his way after 40 days and 40 night to Chorev (Mt. Sinai?). Hashem asks him what he is doing here and Eliyahu answers that he is hiding for his life as the Jews have violated the covenant/ bris and worship idols and frankly are not really impressed with the miracles and they’re hunting him down. Ouch!
Hashem then brings wind, fire, and earthquake and then in a soft quiet voice comes and asks again what is he up to when he gives the same response. Hashem basically tells him his season is up and he should appoint new kings and new prophets. Meaning Eliyahu can’t handle the soft spoken way.
The connection to our Torah portion is that Pinchas, who was also a zealot, it never mentions that he died. As well Eliyahu the zealot never dies but goes up to heaven in a fiery chariot. Our sages suggest Eliyahu is really Pinchas.
It is interesting to note, I point out, that we see Eliyahu upon two occasions; by the Pesach Seder and by circumcisions where we have a special seat for him. In recent studies they have found that the two rituals that Jews keep despite being even unaffiliated are Pesach and circumcision. Now if you ask me those would be the first two I would not do if I wasn’t religious. I would keep Purim and Simchat Torah. But yet those are the two most common commandments. Both symbolize the covenant that we have never rejected and Eliyahu is always there to testify. Pretty amazing. That is why he will be the one who heralds in Mashiach because he is the one that can testify that we have always kept it.

Eliyahu Hanavi (905-890 BC)-  Perhaps the greatest and certainly one of the most famous prophets Eliyahu Hanaiv is known by all. He lived after tehe split of the kingdom and prophesized in the northern kingdom of Israel. He is the mysterious figure that our sages tell us never died and has been known to come to help, warn, and guide the Jewish people throughout their exile. He has free reign on both worlds. Eliyahu HaNavi was one of the very few to be taken up to Heaven without dying. He is known as the “Angel of the Covenant,” and according to Jewish Tradition, he is present at each circumcision, when a new Jewish soul is brought into the World. Generations of children have heard the lullaby that begins:
“Eliyahu HaNavi, Eliyahu HaTishbi, Eliyahu HaGiladi…”
“Elijah the Prophet, Elijah the Tishbite, Elijah the Giladite…”
“Bi’mehera Yavo Elaynu, im Mashiach ben David.”
“May he soon come to us, accompanying the Messiah, Son of David.”
Eliyahu is the harbinger of the Mashiach , and he is the one “who will restore the hearts of the fathers unto the children and the hearts of the children unto the fathers,” uniting the generations of the Jewish People across all of the ages


Splitting of Sea- 1312 BC-  Now this of course took place by Egypt. When the Sinai desert was under Israel’s control from 1967 until 1982 one could visit there and see where the Jews crossed, I am told. Not anymore. However one can certainly go to the Red Sea, after all that is the beach of Eilat. In fact every year on the 7th day of Pesach, the day that the sea split 3000 years ago the Rabbis of Eilat go down to the red Sea and sing the songs of the splitting of the sea which is pretty awesome. Now although I can’t show you the splitting of the sea, I can show you what a sea that has been dried up looks like. Can you guess where? Yup sadly the Dead Sea is pretty much almost 40 percent gone. Once you pass Masada you pretty much can’t see it anymore, until you get close to the new manmade pools on the bottom that have been trying to put the water back in. Now unlike the splitting of the sea this was not miraculous. This was in fact the negligence of Israel and Jordan as they drained the Jordan River of much of its water for their countries consumption and thus less flowed into the Dead Sea drying it up.
Now besides the splitting of the sea locations of discussion in the museums of Israel one can certainly see remains of ancient Egyptian chariots. And of course in the Music Museum one can even see musical instruments they found there.  Now for the wealth and booty of Egypt, there’s not too many places I can show you that. But we can go to Kfar Kedem for the Talmudic experience and ride on donkeys which the Torah tells us the Jews left Egypt carrying all of the booty that we got there. And that’s lots of fun too!


Hannah comes home from her afternoon out with Arnold looking very unhappy.
"What’s the matter, Hannah?" asks her mother.
"Arnold has asked me to marry him," she replies.
"Mazeltov! But why are you looking so sad?" her mother asks.
"Because he also told me that he was an atheist. He doesn't even believe in Hell."
Her mother then says, "That’s all right Hannah, it really isn’t a problem. I suggest you marry him and then I will show him how wrong he is."  

A priest invites his rabbi friend to join him in the confession booth. A penitent enters on the other side, saying, “Bless me, father, for I have sinned this week.”
“Very well,” the priest replies. “Say three Hail Marys and put $5 in the collection box.”
The next penitent says, “Bless me father, for I have sinned three times this week.”
“Very well,” the priest says. “Say three Hail Marys and put $10 in the collection box.”
At this point, the priest feels the call of nature. “Why don’t you take over for me while I’m in the loo?” he tells his rabbi friend. “You see how it works. Nobody will know the difference.”
Soon another penitent enters the booth. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned twice this week,” she says.
“Go back and sin again,” the rabbi instructs her. “We’ve got a special this week: three sins for $10!”

A Rabbi once traveled to a distant town to speak on the subject of teshuva to the locals. He wanted to get across the point that we all will be called to task in heaven for our actions on this world. He warned, "Everyone in this community is eventually going to die. Therefore you must do teshuva before it is too late."
As his point was taken, he noticed that everyone in the room became somber
except one man who was grinning. The Rabbi wondered why this man wasn't
getting into the proper mood. He decided he should make the point stronger.
"My good townsfolk, you must remember that sooner than you think, you are going to die. At that time you will be called to judgment in the heavenly court. All your sins will be revealed and discussed. It can be a horrific experience. Repent now." As the Rabbi looked around the room he saw people squirming uneasily and looking distressed. But, to the Rabbi's chagrin, he saw that the man who had been grinning was now chuckling.
The Rabbi realized that he was now going to have to pull out all the stops.
"Members of this noble community, you must realize that your lives on this
earth are only temporary - as fleeting as the shadow of a passing bird. Soon
will come the frightening Day of Judgment. You will be brought before the
heavenly tribunal whose judges you cannot bribe or deceive. All your
innermost secrets will be presented and scrutinized by the court. Your
feeble excuses will not work there like they do here. The judgment will be
exacting. Your only chance is to repent now before it is too late." At this
point, everyone in the audience was turning white and trembling with fear.
Everyone appeared as though they were about to faint, excepting the one man
who by now was laughing out loud.
The Rabbi couldn't control himself and he asked the man why he was reacting
this way. The man replied, "Because I am not a member of this community."

Four Jerusalem beggars are driving home one Sunday afternoon when they are involved in a terrible car crash. Unfortunately, none of them survive. When they arrive up in heaven, they are kept waiting to get in because the angel at the gates can’t find them listed in the book of heavenly new arrivals. "I'm sorry," he says to them, "but I can't find you in the book."
So he has no choice but to send them down to Hell.
A week later, God visits the entrance gates and says to the angel, "Where are those nice Jewish beggars who were supposed to be here by now?"
"You mean the fund raisers? I didn't see them listed, so I sent them to Hell," replies the angel.
"You did what?" God says, "I wanted them here. If you don’t want to join them, you’d better call Satan and get them transferred back here right away."
So the angel phones Satan and says, "Satan, you know those Jewish beggars I sent you last week? Well we really need them up here. Could you please send them back?
"Sorry, I can’t oblige," Satan replies, "they've been down here only a week and already they’ve raised $100,000 for an air conditioning system."

Benny’s dog has died and he goes to see his rabbi. "Rabbi, I wonder whether you could find the time to say a special blessing at my dog's grave?"
The rabbi replies, "I'm afraid it isn't possible, Benny. In fact the rules don't really make any allowance for animals."
Benny says, "But I'm really upset, rabbi."
"So maybe you should go to see the Reform rabbi over the road," says the rabbi.
As Benny walks away dejectedly, he turns to the rabbi and says, "What a shame. I was willing to donate £1,000 for such a service."
At which point the rabbi shouts, "Come back, come back."
Benny turns round and says, "I thought you couldn't help me."
"Ah," says the rabbi, "but you didn't tell me your dog was Orthodox."
Answer is C– OK annoying thing about this question. Alters is spelled altars inless your talking about alter-egos or an alter kackers. Which it seems the ministry of tourism who issues this exam are because they refuse to learn English enough to spell things correctly. As well tsfat is spelled Tzfat, safed, Tesfat, Zfat and what else you can think of. Why they cant spell it normal is also annoying. But that’s just me ranting. Anyways I guessed this question correctly. It was definitely Tzfat. I don’t know of any First Temple Tzfat it wasn’t even around then. Beer Sheva and Arad both have one. I wasn’t sure about Tzuba. I never saw archeology there, just a great chocolate shop. So I guessed correctly C Lachish and Beer Sheva. I knew Lachish was Bayis Rishon, but didn’t know of a mizbayach there. Turns out they didn’t find it till 2016, after  I finished the course. And there you go!

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