Torah Tidbits Audio
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.
Presumably, readers who accuse me of avoiding the "real issues" are referring to the political coruption in Israel, to the ill-fated and abjectly secular policies of our government leaders, and to what readers see as a lack of political activism and protest on the part of the Israeli public.
This is indeed the present situation, but the fact is that the majority of my readers are Diaspora Jews who, by and large, exert absolutely no influence on what goes on in Israel. Except for wealthy Jews who can contribute to relevant organizations, Diaspora Jews are simply not in the ballgame when it comes to affecting positive change in Israel. For me to write blogs complaining about this politician or that, or blogs offering strategies for reform or rebellion, would have no meaning or practical application, because the Diaspora Jew isn't here to take a part in the struggle. My Israeli readers would probably agree with what I wrote, but this would be like preaching to the already convinced. Nothing would be gained by it. They are here. They know what the problems are. So why waste my time writing what everyone already knows just to see my name in print?
Instead, I use the opportunity that I have on this blog to speak to Diaspora Jews about something they can change, and that is their ongoing life in the Diaspora, in foreign countries, when the Master of the World has miraculously returned us to our cherished homeland after an exile of 2000 years. What are they waiting for? Why do they prefer gentile lands over our own? Why do they cling to foreign identities and raise their children to believe that they are Americans, and Frenchmen, and proud Mexicans like everyone else? I ask them these questions, hoping that they will wake up to the hypocrisy of their lives.
For an assimilated Jew who has no connection to his Jewishness or to Israel, OK, I realize that convincing him is like talking to someone in Timbuktu. But for a reader of Arutz 7, who cares enough about his Jewishness and Israel to religiously follow a religious Zionist website, he is very close, and just needs an outstreched hand, or a tug and a shove to climb out of the mud.
Secondly, as I have emphasized in the past, one of the major "real issues" is indeed the failure of Diaspora Jewry to respond to the clear, obvious, and Divine call for the Jewish People to return to the Land of Israel. To what is this like? To a flashlight that has a battery missing. If it has three batteries, but requires four, it won't work. The light won't go on. So too with the Jewish People. We are a whole. If a part of us is missing, the light doesn't go on.
So brothers and sisters, if you really want to affect change in Israel, if you really want the light to shine here, then come. Bring your batteries. We're waiting.
Continuing our update on thriving Jewish communities in the Diaspora, I put in a phone call to one of the prime movers of the Timbuktu Jewish community. The outgoing, dynamic figure, formerly from South Florida, is known throughout the Mali region as Master Abraham, and is never seen without a safari hunting hat and walking stick.
He apologized for not knowing what a blog was, but said he was happy to do an interview for Arutz 7, in order to spread the word about Jewish Timbuktu.
To remind readers, the West African city of Timbuktu was an intellectual and spiritual capital and centre for the propagation of Islam throughout Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries. Its three large mosques recall Timbuktu's golden age. Although continuously restored, these monuments are under threat from desertification. Interestingly, Timbuktu is primarily made of mud.
“Why Timbuktu?” I asked him.
“Why not?” he replied. “Jews have made a home for themselves all over the world. Historically, Timbuktu’s geographical setting has made it a natural meeting point for nomads and travelers. Its long history as a trading outpost brought Jewish and gentile traders together from all over the world. This is what gave it its fabled status as an exotic, distant land, as the saying goes, "From here to Timbuktu."
“What else can you tell our readers about historic Timbuku?”
“Well, Timbuktu's long-lasting contribution to Islamic and world civilization is scholarship. By the fourteenth century, important books were written and copied in Timbuktu, establishing the city as the centre of a significant written tradition in Africa.”
“What’s the Jewish population there today?”
“Just counting the locals, we almost have a minyan. But we host Jewish travelers constantly. Over the High Holy Days, there were over a hundred Jews at services. We get a lot of Jewish tourists and Israeli businessmen passing through. Also lots of young Israeli soldiers who have recently finished their army service. We see it as our duty to provide a warm, welcoming Jewish atmosphere for them during their visit. Including kosher food and a real Shabbat. Until recently, Jewish women who needed a mikvah could perform their ritual immersion in Timbuktu Lake, but one lady was eaten by a swarm of piranha fish, so we have embarked on a mikvah fundraising drive.”
“What other plans do you have for the Timbuktu Jewish community?”
“Our plans include building a ten-million dollar Jewish Community Center with a kosher cafeteria, swimming pool and health club, basketball court, and cinema center. In addition, we have hired a group of renowned architects and landscapers to design a utopian residential complex, on the model of Boca Raton, with a wide selection of villas, and a country club featuring tennis courts, an eighteen-hole golf course, a mini shopping mall, medical center, and Ashkenazi and Sefardi synagogues.”
“Sounds like quite an investment.”
“One hundred and twenty million dollars. In the States it would be more, but labor here is cheap.”
“Don’t you think that an investment like that might better be planned for a place like the Golan Heights in Israel, which is in danger of being lost to the Syrians?”
“The Golan Heights is too far away from things to be attractive.”
“So is Timbuktu.”
“You’re forgetting the lure. There is a magical pull to Timbuktu. And to be perfectly frank, not everyone is built for idealistic and military struggles, which is the case in order to live in Israel. Don’t get me wrong. We are a very Zionistic community. We’ll fly the Star of David on Israel Independence Day, and our doors will always be open to shalichim from ha’Aretz, but we see ourselves as a tolerant, academic, multi-denominational Jewish community in the historic tradition of Timbuktu, spreading the light of Judaism at the crossroads of the world.”
“Anything else you would like to tell our readers?”
“Sure thing. Come on down to Timbuktu!”
When Israel was given the Torah at Sinai, all of the Jewish People called out in one voice, “All that the L-rd has said. We shall do and we shall hear” (Shemot, 24:7).
They took it upon themselves to do the commandments even before they were explained, as if to say, “You are the boss, Hashem. Whatever you say, that’s what we will do, whether the commandments please us or not, whether we understand them or not, we will do them without any complaint, or without offering a dozen excuses.”
This is the essence of a Jew – to do what Hashem wants.
In the Talmud, Rabbi Elazar teaches: “When Israel said ‘we shall do’ before ‘we shall hear,’ a heavenly voice called out, saying, ‘Who has revealed this secret to My children, a secret employed by the ministering angels?’” (Shabbat 88a).
Angels do what Hashem commands them without saying, “But it’s too cold on earth,” or “What if it rains?” or “There are suicide bombers down there,” or “The Mashiach hasn’t come yet,” or “Explain exactly what’s involved and then we’ll decide,” and a thousand other rationalizations, intellectual arguments, and excuses.
The modern master of Halacha and Kabbalah, Rabbi Kook writes:
“Saying ‘we shall do’ before ‘we shall hear’ is Israel’s eternal strength, revealing the holiness of Judaism that is concealed in the natural depths of our essence. If we feel a diminishment of this strength within us, we must first of all strive to be faithful to our true selves. We must shake off all self-deception and strive to protect the wholeness of our characters. Then we shall walk with strength on all the paths of life, including the path of our national rebirth and the rebuilding of our Land” (Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah, Pg 172-3).
Rabbi Kook teaches that the natural inner essence of a Jew is the desire to do all of the commandments. To be true to ourselves and reach inner wholeness, we must shake off all self-deception and embrace the wholeness of the Torah, including rebuilding the nation of Israel in the Land of Israel.
Rabbi Kook explains that angels require no instruction, explanation, or persuasion before they act, because they are motivated by a pure and natural holiness. So too, in the animal world, a bee naturally builds the cells of its hive with utmost precision without attending lectures on engineering. Only human beings, who are confused by a bombardment of false ideas, emotional pulls, and fears, need to exert themselves to return to their pure inner source.
The inner truth of the Jewish People was revealed to us at Sinai when the Master of the World gave us the Torah and commandments. The Torah is who we are. The commandments are our wholeness. When we say “we shall do” before “we shall hear,” we are our true selves, servants of Hashem, and not the servants of foreign concepts, cultures, and kings, including our very own ego and limited human understandings, which often trick us into doing what WE want, rather than doing what Hashem commands in His Torah.
“And now, brothers,” Rabbi Kook writes, “Both young and old, in a bold flight, let us return to our exalted purity. Faithful to the very nature of our soul, let us fortify our return to our Land on a foundation of purity and confidence. And a heavenly voice shall once again bust forth from the peaks of holiness, saying, ‘Who has revealed this secret to My children, a secret employed by the ministering angels?’ And as in the days of yore, we shall all answer together with a fiery voice, ‘All that the L-rd has said, we shall do and we shall hear.”
Hag Shavuot Samaoch!