Middle East 5:43 AM 3/7/2014
Middle East 3:13 AM 3/7/2014
Inside Israel 1:14 AM 3/7/2014
Life Lessons with Judy Simon
Before making Aliyah to Israel, Tzvi Fishman was a Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbi Kook, Eretz Yisrael, Art of T'shuva, War and Peace, and Torat Eretz Yisrael.
Someone asked me why I made the main character of "Heaven's Door" a gentile. The answer is simple. After publishing my first novel with Dell Publishers, I became a baal t'shuva, and I began to focus my writings on religious themes. Invariably, when I tried to sell my subsequent work to mainstream New York publishers, their response was "It's too Jewish." As I've noted before, there is plenty of "Jewish" fiction on the market, much of it written by popular, bestselling and award-winning Jewish novelists, but for the most part, it's all assimilationist, self-hating, mocking of G-d and His Torah. With "Heaven's Door" I wanted the novel to seem more universal, so I made the main character a gentile. But publishers (Jewish publishers amongst them) still said that it was "too Jewish." What a world!
Chapter Seven - Miriam's Well
“Do you like to go fishing?” he asked, standing up from the table.
“Fishing? Why sure,” I replied, standing up too.
He led me around to the front of the forest cottage toward the gate of the yard. His great great grandson, Moshe, was waiting by his car, as if he expected us.
“What do you say we go fishing together?”
“Fishing for what?”
“Fishing for faith. We still have to purge you of the plague of modern man’s doubt. If you hope to get anything out of our conversations, you have to believe.”
“Believe in you?” I asked.
“Believe in God,” he replied
“I believe in God, in my own way,” I maintained.
“That’s not good enough,” Saba Yosef answered. “God isn’t something we invent or make up to fit our needs. God is.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that God created us. He calls the shots, as you Americans are wont to say. It’s not supposed to be the other way around.”
I was puzzled. For sure, he could see it in my face. He didn’t need Divine Inspiration for that.
“I’m afraid that right now you can’t understand it, because at the present you are more concerned about yourself than you are about the truth. But maybe, after we go fishing together in Miriam’s Well, you’ll understand a little better.”
I was curious to ask him more, but I could tell that he didn’t want to elaborate. What the hell was Miriam’s Well, I wondered? Did he know that Miriam was the name of my wife?
“Go get yourself a good dinner in Safed,” Saba Yosef advised me. “Then get some rest. Tomorrow, I want you to fast all day. No food or water all day long, from sunrise to sunset, OK?”
Fast all day long - how could I fast all day long? I couldn’t remember having fasted for more than a few hours in my life, usually before some kind of medical exam.
“Why fast?” I asked him.
“Fasting is a good atonement, and it breaks down the physical prisons we live in. Many times, I have fasted for a whole week, eating only on the holy Sabbath. It teaches you that you don’t need to race after physical pleasures to live. Instead of lusts mastering you, you learn to master them.”
“I’ll give it a try,” I assured him.
“A fast of twelve hours is not so difficult. Just don’t give in to temptation. No matter how many good reasons you can find for breaking the fast, don’t give in. If you do, I won’t be able to teach you.”
“Can I see you tomorrow?”
“In the morning. Come here at eight o’clock. If God allows, we will be able to talk for an hour.”
“What about our going fishing?” I asked him.
“That will have to wait for tomorrow evening. Just before the city of Tiberias, when you go down the mountain from Safed, there is a gas station with a small coffee shop and a big yellow sign. God willing, just before sunset, I will meet you there. But don’t eat or drink anything until I arrive, even if I get there a little late. All right?”
I nodded my head. It sounded like an adventure, so why not? We said goodbye, and Moshe drove me back to the Old City of Safed to where I had left my car. Following his directions, I easily found the hotel where I had made reservations. This time everything was in order. The key to my room was waiting. The hotel was a quaint place with a lot of stonework and charm, nothing fancy, but with a view of the ancient cemetery, who was in the mood for something fancy?
Taking Saba Yosef’s advice, I treated myself to a tasty, full-course dinner in the dining hall of the hotel. My mind was overloaded by the events of the day, and I guess I was pretty emotionally exhausted. Thinking that it would help quench my thirst for the following day’s fast, and help put me to sleep, I had a few screwdrivers before calling it a night. I went straight to my room, even though it was only around ten o’clock, not wanting to strike up a conversation with anyone, figuring I’d only be getting myself into trouble in one way or another. Plus I figured that I would need all my will power and strength to make it through the day without eating. I don’t remember anything else. More exhausted than I had ever been in my life, I crashed out on the bed and didn’t wake up until dawn.
As we mentioned, in honor of Parshat "Lech Lecha" we posted some of Rabbi Kook's writings on Eretz Yisrael on the homepage of www.jewishsexuality.com. Why there of all places? Take a look in the Torah at the Brit between Hashem and Avraham - where was it stamped? The Covenant of the Land is intinsically tied to the holiness of our lives. This is what distinguishes us from the nations of the world. In the meantime, here's another chapter from "Heaven's Door." Shabbat shalom.
Chapter Six- A Mind-Blowing Lesson
“You speak excellent English,” I noted with pleasant surprise.
“I was born in Jerusalem,” he said. “When hard times came upon the city, my family was compelled to move to Egypt. My father was a great Torah scholar and Kabbalist. My grandfather too. They knew all of the Torah, Mishna, Gemara, Zohar, and Jewish Law by heart. They were the pillars of the world, the humblest of the humble, possessors of Divine Inspiration. Every night after midnight, they would rise out of bed to say the special Midnight Lamentation over the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. They would drag me out of bed, even when I was a young child, and take me with them in the middle of the night to the synagogue to pray. After my bar mitzvah, we moved back to Jerusalem. When I was twenty, I was chosen by the community to go to England to study agronomy, so that when I came back I could help the old yishuv – settlement - establish an economic base for the growing Jewish population, so we wouldn’t have to be dependent on our Turkish rulers, and on charity from abroad. That’s how I came to learn English, during my agricultural studies in London.”
“You certainly have an excellent memory,” I said.
“Yes, but if you don’t go over the things that you’ve learned, the mind forgets, so I am pleased to have the opportunity to sharpen my English with you.”
“Can I ask you some questions?” I ventured.
“By all means,” he said. “Though I don’t promise you that I will have all the answers.”
“In addition to the tremors in my hands, I’ve been worried that I may have Parkinson’s Disease. Do you know what that is?”
“Of course,” he answered. “Let me look.”
Our conversation was put on hold while he glanced off to the side in profound concentration, as if he were focusing in on a CAT scan of my brain. His eyes closed as he meditated, and the wrinkles in his forehead deepened. It wouldn’t be right to say he was attractive in the normal sense of the word. From the slight slur in his speech and his gaunt cheeks, I guessed that his upper teeth were missing. His eyes were set deeply in their sockets, giving the impression that he was far away. His eagle-like nose looked like it had been broken. But his intimidating demeanor all changed when he smiled. His wrinkles turned into a hundred crinkles and his eyes sparkled with joy. With his little laugh, he suddenly looked like a mischievous elf, or some benevolent angel.
“There is a little problem,” he said, as if he had received a fax with my diagnosis, “but if you remain a penitent and don’t return to the mistakes of the past, it will go away, with the grace of God.”
He glanced at me, as if to make sure that I was listening before he continued. “There is a verse in the Book of Isaiah that says, ‘Return and be healed.’ The Lord created us with healthy bodies, and gave us the rules for proper living. When we follow His teachings, we are rewarded. But if we stray from His way, then things start going bad. For instance, if a man commits sins against his body, by overeating for instance, his body will react in a negative way. If he has improper character traits, like anger or pride, his soul will be negatively affected. Since the soul is clothed in the body, its blemishes are transferred, like carbon copy images, to the physical side of man. Likewise, if a man commits sins against others, like theft or malicious gossiping, his evil will return full circle to haunt him. If he takes illicit sexual pleasures from this world, the holy life force that he squanders will leave his body depleted and susceptible to disease and other misfortunes. Do you understand?” he asked.
“I think the general principle is clear,” I answered, not certain that I had grasped the full meaning of his words.
“There is a very wise teaching of our sages that I will try to twist into English, though it depends on the Hebrew words. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi of blessed memory said, ‘Know what is above from you: an all-seeing eye, an all-hearing ear, and all of your deeds are recorded in a book.’ In Hebrew it can be read, ‘Know what is above is from you.’ We ourselves are responsible for the Heavenly decrees that fall upon us - may God have mercy on all His creation.”
“It sounds like a sophisticated computerized system. Everything a person does down here below triggers an automatic response from above.”
“Excellent. That is the general way that God conducts the world. But the system can be over-rode by penitence. When a person repents, he transforms the judgment he deserves into mercy. In effect, his repentance over the misdeeds in his past turns him into a new person, so the former sentence against him no longer applies. The illness and suffering that was sent to warn him to mend his ways is no longer needed. He has learned his lesson and changed for the better. That’s why penitence is the ultimate cure for all of man’s ills.”
“What about the problem I have with my prostate?” I bluntly asked, it being one of my biggest fears.
Once again, he turned slightly aside in thought. “Let me take a look again,” he said, as if he were putting me through some type of spiritual MIR.
“It comes from the same source,” he said. “You should know that semen is the strength of the body, its life force, and the light of the eyes. If it is emitted excessively, the body decays, a person’s powers deteriorate, and his vitality withers. King Solomon, in his great wisdom, warned that a man should not squander his strength on women.”
Frankly, I was completely taken aback. Not that I was a prude and embarrassed about the subject, but hearing this from a 120-year-old rabbi came as a shock. Once again, he looked down at the writings of Maimonides, then explained in English, as if he knew it by heart.
“The Rambam states, ‘Whoever overindulges in sexual intercourse ages prematurely, his strength is diminished, his eyes become dim, his teeth decay, and many other ailments inflict him. Medical experts have stated that for every person who dies from an assortment of ailments, a thousand die from sexual excess. Therefore, a man should exert caution in this matter if he wants to live a healthy life. He should only have relations with his wife when he is feeling good and vigorous, and when he feels a heaviness and tightness in his loins downward, as if the strings of that place are being pulled taut. A man in this situation should engage in marital relations and this will bring him health.’”
My first reaction was to dismiss what he was saying as primitive mumbo jumbo, but I was already falling apart in my fifties, and he was 120 and still going strong. Plus I hadn’t come all the way to Israel to argue. But his explanation had caught me off guard, and I was at a complete loss for words. The truth was, I hadn’t exactly been a saint all my life, if you know what I mean.
“You enjoy sports, don’t you?” he asked. “Don’t trainers advise athletes not to engage in sexual activity before sporting events in order to preserve their strength? It’s the same idea. The Rambam simply carries it further from a medical point of view.”
Not knowing what to say, I waited for him to continue.
“Maimonides is telling us that many diseases wouldn’t develop if a man conducted his sexual life with his wife in a limited, modest fashion. Like in your case. Apparently, you have made some mistakes in this area, am I wrong?”
I nodded my head in concession. What was the point of denying things? He probably had a DVD download of my life on the satellite dish of his brain.
“Listen to what the Rambam writes: ‘Whoever conducts his life, according to the guidelines that I have set down, has my guarantee that he will not become ill all of his life till he reaches a ripe old age and dies. And he will not need a doctor, and his body will function as it should, and he will stay healthy all of his days, unless his constitution was damaged from the time of his birth, or if he became accustomed to bad habits in his childhood, or if some plague or pestilence fall upon the world.’”
“Wow,” I said, letting out a deep breath. “That’s really something.”
“It isn’t enough to hear it – you have to apply the teachings to your life. In your case, this is especially true. Your present medical concerns are not your real problems. They are merely symptoms that something is spiritually damaged underneath. You have a Heavenly decree pending against you. Ever since your arrival, I have been trying to annul it, but the Heavenly Court doesn’t agree.”
“A Heavenly decree against me?” I asked feeling a sudden hole in my stomach. “What does that mean?”
“In most cases it means that after a series of warnings, if a person doesn’t desist from his erring ways, his sentence is sealed, and his time on this planet is limited. Like with a sandglass, when the sand runs out, the time is up. Usually, when a person expresses regret over the mistakes of the past, and makes a commitment to start anew, the decree is torn up. But in your case, no matter how much I appeal in your behalf, my prayers are turned away. Perhaps you really haven’t yet made a sincere decision yet. Penitence can erase the blemishes of the past, but you yourself have to make a new beginning.”
He looked at me with his incredibly serious, four-thousand-year-old eyes, eyes that had seen everything, the folly of momentary pleasure, and the destiny that awaits all those who turn away from the truth.
“’Vanity of vanity, all is vanity’” said King Solomon. “’The end of the matter, when all is said and done, is this - fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every doing into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be bad.’”
Instinctively, I understood what he was saying. I knew that I had to make changes in my life. But the absolute seriousness and immediacy of the matter was something I hadn’t expected.
“If you continue on with your established ways, your ailments will get worse. If you change, the decree will go away. But don’t think it will be easy. It is very hard to change. When most people learn what you have just learned, they start out with good intentions, meaning to alter their ways, but when they try to bridle their lusts, the evil inclination rises up against them with all of its strength and persuasion, and people give up the fight. A person has to be a real warrior to win the battle. And I see that you are still tormented with doubts.”
He looked at me, but at the same time right through me, with a gaze that made me shiver. I was trying to believe what I was hearing, and to be as true as true could be. But maybe I had been playing games so long in my life that I could no longer tell the difference between the mask and me.
“The truth is that I have been feeling despondent lately about the decline in my health, and the fact that I’m getting old, as if some great weight were over my head,” I confided. “Maybe this is the decree you are talking about.”
“Getting old?” Saba Yosef said with a twinkle that lit up his face. “I’m twice your age, and I don’t feel old yet. You’re still a young man. The question is – how are you going to live the next half of your life? In a healthier and holier fashion? Enjoying life with the love of your youth? Or suffering from a worsening prostate and Parkinson’s?”
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Want to live a long and healthy life? 800 years ago, long before the pop holistic craze began, the Rambam set forth the guidelines to healthy living. Instead of peddling lies and false panaceas to the reading public, I incorporated the Rambam's teachings into my novel. Say what you will about me - no one can accuse the Rambam of being a phony.
Chapter Five - The Secrets of Longevity
I was awakened by the sound of running water. Saba Yosef was in the back yard, dragging a hose, watering one of his rock and flower gardens. Sitting up, I shook the sleep from my head. The old man got around with an unexpected agility. He bent down, lifted a broken branch, and threw it a distance away.
“How are your hands?” he asked.
I looked around to see who he was talking to, but I was the only other person in the yard.
“My hands?” I asked, standing up.
“They used to shake, didn’t they?”
Sure enough, when I held out my hands, there wasn’t a trace of a flicker. The trembling was gone. I was stunned.
“Thank you,” I said, not knowing what else to say.
“Don’t thank me,” Saba Yosef answered. “Thank God. He does everything. I am nothing at all.”
When I held out my hand, it was as steady as a brain surgeon’s.
“How did you do it?” I asked.
“I prayed, that’s all. I said to God, ‘True, this pilgrim to Your Holy Land has made some mistakes in his life, but who doesn’t make mistakes? He didn’t know better. No one ever taught him.’”
“Will you teach me?” I asked.
“With the help of God, I can teach you what I have been taught by others. The question is – do you have the humility and sincerity which a person needs in order to learn.”
Setting down the hose, he sat down in a chair by a plastic white table and motioned for me to join him. Set out on the table were two hot cups of tea and small plastic plates with grapes, olives, figs, potato chips, and nuts. A cool afternoon breeze filled the air.
“My grandchildren don’t like me working in the garden, but exercise is very important,” he said.
“If you don’t mind me asking, how old are you?” I asked.
“Four-thousand years old,” he replied with a smile.
“Four-thousand years old?” I repeated.
“That’s right. Counting reincarnations.”
“There really is such a thing?” I asked.
“By all means. The Holy One Blessed Be He keeps bringing us back until we complete our missions on earth.”
“Can you know what reincarnations a person has had?” I inquired, wondering who I was in my pasts.
“It is possible, yes. The holy Arizal, whose mikvah you immersed in, wrote a book on the theme, but I am not allowed to disclose matters like that.”
He picked up one of the cups, recited a blessing in Hebrew, and took a sip.
“Please, help yourself,” he told me, pointing to the snacks, as if to change the subject. “People don’t come by at this hour, so we have some time to learn a little something together. How long will you be here?”
“I have to return to America in three days.”
“I suppose we can compress 4000 years into three days. In fact, we’ll have to do it in less than that. Thank God, I have a lot of obligations and visitors.”
I lifted my cup of tea, overjoyed that my hand wasn’t shaking. Remembering that I had brought a small tape recorder, I asked if I could tape our conversation.
“If you don’t forget to share the royalties with me,” he joked with a happy smile.
I was astounded how he seemed to hover between two worlds. On the one hand, he seemed to possess all the secrets of the universe, but he also knew what was happening in the modern world. I removed the small recorder from my shoulder bag and, with a steady hand, set it down on the table between us.
“Most people who come to see me are suffering from medical problems,” he said. “In addition to being a great scholar of the Torah, the Rambam was a doctor. I believe there is a hospital named after him in New York, Maimonides, as he was known to the outside world.”
“Yes,” I muttered, finding it strange that the namesake of the high school where I taught had popped up again. “Maimonides Hospital. In the Bronx, or Brooklyn, I think. The school where I teach in America is also named after him. I was just at his grave in Tiberias.”
The old man nodded his head, without registering any reaction, as if he already knew.
“The name Rambam is made up of the initials letters of his name - Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon. Maimonides is a westernization of his name. I have what he wrote right here,” he said. “So why trust my memory when I can read it to you?”
He opened a large tome that rested on the table. It looked just like the book the hitchhiking Hasid had been reading in my car. But the old man’s eyes didn’t really look at the page while he translated the Hebrew text. Perhaps he knew it by heart.
“Did you know that Maimonides was also a pioneer dietician?” he asked.
“I really don’t know anything about him at all,” I admitted.
“One of the secrets of longevity,” he said, “is to eat the proper foods. As I mentioned, at one point in his life, Maimonides, or the Rambam as I prefer to call him, was the chief physician for the sultan in Egypt. The other doctors were jealous of him, and quite possibly a little anti-Semitic. They complained to the sultan, saying that he was wasting his money by employing the Jewish scholar since the sultan never was ill. On their advice, he decided to fire him. ‘You don’t do anything for me, so why should I keep you?’ he asked Maimonides, who answered, ‘The sultan is never sick because he follows the proper diet. Every morning, I enter the palace kitchen and tell the cook what to prepare you for the day. That’s the reason that you are always feeling healthy.’”
“Diet and nutrition are very popular in America,” I told him.
“They have learned from the Rambam. He was the first nutritionist.” He flipped through a few pages of the book before him and continued. “For instance, he writes that since it is impossible to have any clear knowledge of God when a person is ill, it is man’s duty to avoid whatever is injurious to the body. Thus, a person should not eat foods unless he is hungry. Even when he eats, he should not stuff himself until he is fully satiated, but leave a third of his stomach open, so that he can properly digest his meal.
“During the meal, water should be drunk in moderation, so as not to wash away his natural digestive juices, and the water should be mixed with a little wine. After the process of digestion is underway, water may be taken as needed, but not in an excessive amount. In the morning, it is beneficial to exercise till the body is in a glow. After a sufficient rest, breakfast should be eaten. Laxative foods such as grapes, figs, mulberries, pears, watermelon, cucumbers, and pickles should be eaten before the meal, and not with the main dish. It is best to allow for their digestion before the meal is resumed. In general, lighter foods should be eaten first, so that, for instance, it is preferable to eat chicken before beef. In the summer, cold foods should be eaten. In the winter, warm foods are the best.”
I was impressed. It sounded just like the latest self-help best-seller. Though I had read about many of these things back home, I was a pretty compulsive French fries and cheeseburger man, with a passion for carbonated beverages and sweets.
“Some foods are very harmful and should always be avoided,” he continued. “For example, large, salted and stale fish, and aged salted cheese. Milk, cheeses, and fruits should not be consumed in abundance, nor the meat of large cattle. Fruits should be eaten in moderation, however, figs, grapes, and almonds are always good, but they too should not be eaten all the time. Honey and wine are bad for children, but good for the elderly, especially in the winter. In short, a man who is wise and watches over his diet, never eating to his harm, is indeed a hero.”
Motioning to the simple foods on the table, he invited me to eat.
“At all times, a person should maintain a free and relaxed condition in the movement of his bowels. He should attend to his needs both before and after eating. It is a principle of medicine that if there is constipation or the bowels move with difficulty, serious physical disorders will follow. As long as a person engages in active exercise, works hard, does not overeat, and keeps the state of his bowels relaxed, he will not fall sick and his strength will increase, even though the food he eats is not the very best. But if a person leads a sedentary life without exercising, ignores the call of nature, or is constipated, even if he eats wholesome food and does what his doctor tells him, he will suffer aches and pains throughout his life, and his vigor will surely lessen.”
Here's Chapter Four of "Heaven's Door" for your reading pleasure, a book that takes the reader on a true spiritual journey, leading him to the G-d of Israel, the sublime morality of the Torah, and true happiness in life.
Chapter Four - The Miracle Man
“Saba,” I was told, meant grandfather. The old man lived just outside of the city, at the edge of a forest, along a twisting hilly road. Here and there, small rural cabins were scattered along the scenic drive. The sage’s great great grandson, Moshe, turned off the main road and drove into a gravel driveway. He parked by a white wooden fence and got out of the car. My heart was pumping nervously as I followed him through the gate of the fence into a garden courtyard. A young man sat in a wheelchair near the door of the old, but neatly kept house. Standing beside him was an attendant, maybe his father. A dark complexioned woman, about forty years old, wearing a kerchief, sat on a bench, her head lowered, her hands squeezed tightly together. At first glance, she looked to be either overweight or pregnant, I couldn’t tell for sure. Behind her, a man paced impatiently back and forth, holding an oversized envelope in his hand, the size of an X-ray. He was also dark skinned, like an Arab, and I guessed that they were Sefardic Jews, like the book merchant, his son, and no doubt, the old, wise man himself.
The pretty, manicured garden was filled with flowers of every shape and variety. White jasmine petals scented the air. A few large fig trees provided shade. There was a wooden picnic table covered with prayer books and Psalms. Plastic chairs were plentiful, obviously for the people who came to meet with the old-timer.
Recognizing Baruch, the man with the X-ray started yelling in an angry, impatient tone, waving the envelope, obviously complaining about having to wait his turn on line. Embarrassed by the outburst, his wife lowered her head even further. Baruch smiled patiently, replied to the man in Hebrew, and motioned him to calm down. Frustrated, the man walked back toward his wife and sat down at the far end of the bench, as if he were angry at her as well.
“Everyone wants to see Saba immediately,” Baruch explained to me. “Sometimes people wait for hours. Before we limited the number of visitors, dozens of people would come by in a day. People even slept in tents overnight to be first on line in the morning. Saba would welcome them all, but the family doesn’t allow it anymore, to make sure he doesn’t overtax his strength.”
The door opened and Saba Yosef stepped out onto the porch, holding a cane. He was wearing a long oriental type of robe like a caftan. Its hood was pulled over his head, giving him the appearance of a “Star Wars” wizard, or a Moroccan holy man. Under the hood, a large black skullcap covered his head. He was thin, and his face was gaunt, the color of the earth. His beard was completely white, but there were still dark streaks in his moustache. His eyes were wide open, but his gaze was like a blind man’s, looking forward, but not focusing on anything in particular, as if he didn’t need his eyes to see.
“Lech lech,” he called out in Hebrew, motioning with his hand, as if to shoo someone from the house.
A man, who would have been considered old by normal standards, appeared uncertainly in the doorway, hesitant about leaving the cottage. His hand reached out for the cane, but Saba Yosef held it away.
“Atah lo tzarik et zeh,” he assured him in Hebrew.
The man looked at him with pleading eyes and let out a begging appeal, once again reaching his hand out for the cane, as if he were afraid to walk without it.
The sage smiled with a twinkling grin that lit up his face. His face seemed to crinkle with pleasure. Again, he made a shooing motion with his hand, sending the visitor on his way.
“Saba wants the man to walk on his own,” his great grandson explained. “He says he doesn’t need his cane anymore.”
The elderly man gazed at the two short stairs leading down from the porch, as if he were poised on the peak of some high mountain. Fearfully, he took a frightened step forward.
“He could fall,” I said, instinctively moving forward to help. But Baruch grabbed my arm.
“Don’t worry, Saba knows what he is doing. He has a whole collection of canes that he has taken away from people who were certain they couldn’t walk without them.”
Following the sage’s commands, the old man moved forward and walked down the steps of the porch, his arms outstretched as if he were about to fall. But he made it. At a command from Saba Yosef, the man straightened his back, lifted his head, and walked forward without bending over. Still uncertain, he glanced appealingly back toward the cottage, but Saba Yosef waved him on like a cop directing traffic. By the time the former cripple reached the gate of the garden, he was walking naturally on his own.
“I need my cane more than I need my wife,” he said to Baruch in Hebrew.
“Don’t worry. You will be fine,” Baruch assured him.
With an almost unnoticeable flick of a finger, Saba Yosef signaled to his great grandson to bring the young man in the wheelchair into the house. I watched as the elderly man walked out of the yard with a smile, his back straight, his head erect, as if he were seeing the world for the first time. With Baruch’s help, the attendant lifted the invalid onto the porch and wheeled him into the house.
Immediately, the Sefardi husband jumped up and started to complain about having to wait. He yelled at me as if I were to blame. Before I could tell him that I didn’t understand Hebrew, he spit out his whole life story. Finally realizing that I couldn’t help him, he began walking around the yard like a tiger in a cage. When his wife stood up to calm him, he yelled at her, as if she were at fault as well. Her belly was so swollen, she looked ten months pregnant, not nine. When her husband raised a threatening hand to strike her, she sat back down on the bench, looking like the most miserable woman on earth.
Feeling the heaviness of the journey and jet lag, I sat down in one of the chairs in the garden. It could be that for a minute or two, I dozed off in the afternoon heat. A short time later, the door opened and the father appeared sitting in the wheelchair. His invalid son stood behind him, holding its handles – the exact opposite of how they had entered the house. A big smile covered both of their faces.
“Baruch Hashem, Baruch Hashem,” the father kept repeating. He even translated it into English for my benefit, “Thank God, thank God.”
He stood up and watched in satisfaction as his son walked, a bit uncertainly, and with a noticeable limp, down the porch steps. In the doorway, Saba Yosef barked out an order and made a circling motion with his hand. Eager to comply, the young man walked around the yard, his gait getting smoother and more certain with each circle he made. Finally, his father folded up the wheelchair, and, waving to the cheerful sage, father and son walked away happily together.
Saying something to his great grandson, the old man once again disappeared inside the cottage. Baruch motioned toward the impatient husband and his pregnant, brow-beaten wife.
“You too,” he said to me. “Come in.”
I was a bit overwhelmed with what I had seen. Mikvah or no mikvah, it was hard to believe. Perhaps it was the cynical American in me, or the mathematician in me, that was skeptical with the miraculous healings. I was a man of equations and proofs who could understand formulas that could be set tidily down on a piece of graph paper. Supernatural events were not a part of my weltanschauung. I had seen faith healers on TV, but never put much credence in them, taking them to be a form of Sunday morning entertainment, warming people up for the afternoon football game. But there was something very different about Saba Yosef and the things that I had seen in his garden, something very genuine and sincere, without any of the hoopla and fanfare of smooth-talking preachers and spellbound TV audiences, who shouted and clapped as money-hungry producers held up large cards instructing them to applaud.
Perhaps reading my mind, Saba Yosef called me inside with the nervous Sefardi couple to see another miracle unfold before my eyes.
The front room of the house was like the small study hall of a library with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with oversized volumes and tomes whose bindings were torn and worn away with use. There were several long tables and chairs, either for visitors, or students, or family affairs. Saba Yosef sat behind a large desk, which was draped with a colorful, bedspread-like cloth, the kind I had seen in the Arab market. The desk was piled with books and bottles containing scented oil. Around him on the walls were portraits of famous rabbis of yore, including Maimonides, whose picture I recognized from Tiberias. Other large picture frames were filled with Hebrew letters and prayers in the shape of a menorah. Another mystical-looking poster was some sort of Kabbalistic diagram with all kinds of circles, opened hands, and an eye peering out from its center. There were vases filled with fresh flowers and aromatic myrtle stems. A fan moved lazily back and forth on a wall, as if tired from the heat. On the other side of a glass door behind the old sage was a newly-built extension to the room. It looked like a miniature, oriental synagogue with prayer benches, an old wooden altar, ornate chandeliers, and Persian carpets leading the way to a handcrafted ark where Torah scrolls were kept.
Saba Yosef sat in deep concentration, holding a book, quietly reciting Psalms. His face was set in a serious expression, almost grave in intensity, far different from the cheerful countenance that he had displayed on the porch. He seemed to be meditating, sitting there in his large comfortable desk chair, yet thousands of light-years away.
The couple sat in chairs on the other side of the desk, waiting for him to finish. Finally, the husband could no longer keep still. I was sitting a short distance away at a table with Baruch, who whispered a running translation of what was about to take place.
“They want to operate on my wife! On Thursday!” the man shouted out, jumping up from his chair.
His wife looked embarrassed by his outburst. Saba Yosef continued to pray without glancing up.
“I have the X-ray!” the husband continued, holding up the large envelope. “They want to operate. What should we do?”
The old rabbi closed the book of Psalms. A look of stern judgment was engraved on his face. Seeing his holy expression, I was overwhelmed with the feeling that life was a very serious matter, and not some meaningless game.
“Of course they want to operate,” Saba Yosef said. “Your wife has a very big tumor in her belly. That’s why it’s swollen.”
That came as a surprise to me. I was certain she was pregnant, but it was really a cancer inside.
“I have the X-ray,” the man kept repeating. “They say we have no choice.”
“What do you expect?” the sage asked him. “You force yourself on your wife like an animal when she doesn’t want to have relations.”
Immediately, the husband stopped in his tracks. He shut his mouth. Suddenly, he was as docile as a puppy.
Though Saba Yosef didn’t gaze at the husband directly, his aura of displeasure could have turned bones to ash. I could feel the gravity of the matter from where I was sitting. It was as if the old man was the spokesman for some Heavenly Tribunal, privy to their deliberations and rulings.
“Of course your wife is sick,” he continued. “It’s because of your behavior. Aren’t you ashamed?”
The husband didn’t let out a peep.
“Do you feel sorry for having acted that way?” the ancient voice inquired.
This time, the man nodded his head.
“Oh boy,” I thought to myself. Was I ever in trouble! If Saba Yosef could see into people’s bedroom, I had a lot of explaining to do.
“A husband has to respect his wife,” Saba Yosef said to the man. “He has to love her like he loves himself, and respect her even more.”
The man remained silent, fixing his gaze on the floor.
“Do you promise that you’ll stop behaving like a beast in the bedroom and demanding to have your way?” the holy man asked the husband.
After a moment of weighted thought, he nodded his head yes.
Without looking at the woman, the old man made a small movement with his hand. “Stand up,” he said.
Silently, she obeyed, her belly swelling like a watermelon under her dress.
“The tumor in your stomach is the anger you feel toward your husband,” he told her. “But you have to remember that he didn’t behave that way on purpose. He is a good person, only he didn’t learn. Can you forgive him if he changes his ways?”
The woman readily nodded yes.
“Give your belly a hit,” the old man instructed.
The woman hesitated, then raised her hand and gave her swollen stomach a tap.
“Harder,” the rabbi commanded.
Once again, the trembling woman gave her belly a hit, this time a little bit harder.
“Harder!” he ordered.
This time, the woman gave her stomach a solid whack. Like when a pin is stuck in a beach ball, all of the air seeped out and the swelling deflated. I watched with astonished eyes as the tumor in her oversized belly vanished completely. In seconds her stomach was flat. Whether out of fright or joyous shock, the woman started to cry. Once again, the husband became animated.
“I have the X-ray,” he repeated, as if not grasping the miracle that had just occurred. “The surgery is on Thursday.”
“You can throw the X-ray away,” the old man said. “The problem is gone.”
“But we have a doctor’s appointment. What should I tell the doctor?”
“Tell him whatever you want to,” the old man said with a chuckle. “He’ll see for himself that the tumor is gone. Let him take another X-ray if he doesn’t believe it.”
Now when he addressed the wife, he was smiling. “Why are you crying?” he asked her. “You should be happy. Thank God that He’s done a miracle for you.”
The poor woman couldn’t stop sobbing. Like I said, I was amazed. “Abracadabra” and the tumor went away. One second it was there, and the next it was gone. I saw it with my very own eyes, in person, without any slight of hands, or editing on TV.
When the couple departed, the old rabbi nodded at me, recognizing my presence for the very first time, and walked out of the room.
“My great grandfather is going to rest for an hour,” Baruch explained. “Actually he retires to say special prayers. He hardly sleeps. Maybe an hour at night, that’s all. He doesn’t have regular physical needs like we do. He can get along with just crackers and tea. When he eats a meal with us, he does it for our sake, to make us feel comfortable, as if he is like everyone else. But he is on another wave length entirely. I don’t understand it myself. In the meantime, he wants you to rest. He told me that you must be tired from your journey. There’s a lounge chair in the shade of the backyard where you can take a nap. I’ll show you.”
He led me out to the garden of the wooded back yard. There was a small shack that Baruch said housed a mikvah, and a sand box and swings for the great, great, great grandchildren. With all of the excitement I felt, I didn’t believe I could sleep, but seconds after reclining in the padded lounge, I conked out like a corpse, sensing I was going to need all the energy I could muster to keep up with this incredible old man.
"Heaven's Door" is can be ordered online for a wonderful Hanukah gift.
Before presenting the next chapter of “Heaven’s Door,” I would like to once again apologize to anyone who I might have offended during the course of writing this blog, especially my beloved brothers and sisters in the Diaspora. It has always been my heartfelt intention to educate readers about the true understanding of Judaism and its goal of establishing the Nation of Israel in the Land of Israel, according the teachings of the Torah; and to furthermore warn readers of the shortcomings and dangers of Jewish life in foreign gentile lands.
I realize however that not everyone can make the difficult move to Israel, which is, in addition to being equal in weight to all of the commandments of the Torah, the most demanding and challenging mitzvah there is. Furthermore, the darkness of the exile is so dense, “choshech mamash,” in the words of the Torah, darkness that you can actually feel like a thick sticky glue, that it is almost impossible to see the light of Eretz Yisrael without intense prayer and yearning, and a deep and committed learning of Torat Eretz Yisrael, as illuminated in the writings of Rabbi Kook and his son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda.
Furthermore, along with my sincere apology for portraying Diaspora Jewry in a negative light, I would like to commend my brothers and sisters in the Diaspora who, in defiance of the great darkness of foreign lands, have maintained a dedicated connection to Eretz Yisrael, as manifested by your support of Israel, by the charity you give in its behalf, and by being avid readers of Arutz 7, through of your great love for Israel and day-to-day concern for its welfare.
Rabbi Kook writes in his treatise “Orot,” in his chapter on Eretz Yisrael:
“The more one is incapable of tolerating the air outside the land of Israel; the more one feels the impure spirit of the defiled foreign land - this is a sign of a more interior absorption of the Kedusha (holiness) of the Land of Israel, of the sublime kindness which will never abandon the person who has merited to take refuge in the clear umbrage of the Land of Life, even in his distant journeys, even in his exile, and in the land of his wanderings.
“The strangeness that one feels outside of the Land of Israel causes a greater bond with the inner spiritual desire for Eretz Yisrael and its Kedusha. The yearning to see the Land increases, and the vision of the concrete, holy image of the Land, which the eyes of G-d are always upon from the beginning of the year until the end, becomes deeper and deeper. And the depth of the holy yearning of the love of Zion, of remembering the Land to which all the good things of life are bound - when this valorously increases in the soul, even in one individual - behold, it acts like an overflowing spring to all of the Clal, to the myriads of souls which are bound up with him, and the voice of the shofar of the ingathering of the outcasts awakens; and great mercy increases; and the hope of life for Israel sparkles; and the planting of G-d develops and blooms; and the light of Salvation and Redemption spreads out and out like the dawn which stretches over the mountains” (Orot, Eretz Yisrael,6).
Yasher koach to all of you! Through your love and connection to Israel, you are uplifting the souls of thousands of Jews, awakening deep stirrings of longing for the Land of Hashem, and binging our Redemption closer.
And by keeping the flame of Judaism burning in the darkness of exile, and by striving to pass the torch of Torah on to your children, and to educate fellow Jews to its truth and beauty, you are adding light to the darkness and bringing the day closer when Hashem’s Name will be One over all of the world with the re-establishment of all the Jewish People in Eretz Yisrael. May the day come soon. Amen.
[In honor of Parshat “Lech Lecha,” we have reposted several important essays on Eretz Yisrael by Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook, and his son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda, of blessed memories, on our website www.jewishsexuality.com.]