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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.
INN: You have described yourself as the world’s greatest novelist. Don’t you think that shows arrogance and hubris on your part?
FISHMAN: Not at all. If Bibi Netanyahu says that he’s the Prime Minister of Israel, is that arrogance? No. He is simply stating a fact.
INN: Do you really believe you are a better writer than the likes of Melville, Tolstoy, Proust, Dickens, Hemingway, Hugo, or James Joyce, to cite just a few?
FISHMAN: Absolutely. There may be writers who know how to string words together more pleasantly, or who build bigger characters, or more dramatic stories, but the message I convey in my novels far surpasses all of their themes of darkness and despair, whether it be themes promoting atheism, Christianity, unbridled passion, or the meaninglessness of life.
INN: What are some of your themes?
FISHMAN: I write about serving the One and Only G-d, about T’shuva, about Torah, and about Aliyah, the most important things in life.
INN: Then maybe you should categorize yourself as a Jewish author, and leave it at that.
FISHMAN: The goal of the Jewish People is to lead mankind to the service of the One and Only true G-d, to be “a light to the nations.” Serving Hashem is the purpose of all existence. Being a Jewish writer isn’t some minor category amongst the writers of the world. A Jewish writer is the top of the pyramid. So if I am the greatest Jewish novelist in the world, than, by definition, I am the greatest overall writer as well.
INN: Why do you insist on being the greatest?
FISHMAN: I don’t. You want to give the title to somebody else? Be my guest. I couldn’t care less. I don’t write to win prizes.
INN: Why do you write?
FISHMAN: To bring people closer to G-d. That’s what every writer should strive for. That’s why we were created. That’s why we are here on this planet – to get closer to G-d. Any book that doesn’t bring the reader closer to G-d, the One and Only true G-d of the Jews, is a big waste of time.
INN: Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” is a waste of time?
INN: What about the famous Jewish novelists of our times? When it comes to literary fiction, they top the list.
FISHMAN: I don’t want to name names, but by and large, they are either assimilationists chasing after the forbidden shiksa, anti-Torah, anti-Israel, anti-G-d, who turn their backs on Judaism and make fun of everything holy.
INN: You have to admit they can be very funny.
FISHMAN: Gehinom is filled with funny writers.
INN: You yourself use lots of humor in your writing.
FISHMAN: Not to make fun of the Torah, G-d forbid.
INN: If you are such a great writer, as you claim, how come you’re not a New York Times bestseller?
FISHMAN: I write about things people would rather avoid.
INN: Like what?
FISHMAN: Like G-d, like Torah, like t’shuva, and coming on aliyah. It’s a message most people don’t want to hear about. I put all of those themes into my novels in a fun and creative way. But reading about the truth makes people uncomfortable. Unfortunately, most people read fiction to escape from their lives. They like romances, murder stories, and political thrillers. My stuff is too confrontational for their tastes. The people who read it, end up loving it, but at this point in world history, in the very superficial and secular artistic milieu we live in, no one wants to be reminded about the truth. The books of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, the Rambam, and the Ramchal, were banned and burned in their lifetimes. Few of their contemporaries recognized their genius. Rabbi Kook also. What are you going to do? But, Rabbi Kook writes that the day will come when the world will feel the emptiness of secular life and the shallowness of Diaspora Jewish existence, and a great longing will arise for a literature of repentance and t’shuva and Eretz Yisrael. Then I’ll sell lots of books, or give them away for nothing, like I’m doing right now by serializing them on Arutz 7 for free.
INN: Rabbi Kook writes, “There will certainly arise for us a poet of t’shuva, who will be a poet of life, a poet of Israel’s rebirth, a poet of the nation’s soul as it advances toward Redemption.” Is that you?
FISHMAN: (he smiles.) I'm trying my best.
Tzvi Fishman’s novels and books are available at Amazon Books
Returning to the car, I found my way back to the main drag, and followed road signs that pointed the way up a gently winding mountain slope toward the hills of the Galilee. Further up the ascent, and along a sweeping curve, the Sea of Galilee shone like a mirror back in the distance. In another fifteen minutes, I reached the mystical town of Safed.
More than once since leaving Kennedy Airport in New York, I myself thought that I was crazy for journeying across the world in search of a 120-year-old man who may already have died. But here I was in the small, isolated mountainside community famous for the Jewish mystics who had lived there, and who were buried there as well in the cemetery that was one of the “must see” sites in my tour book. After making some wrong turns, I managed to find the Old City of Safed, where I figured it logical that the old man could be found. The main thoroughfare was a cobblestone mall of artist shops and souvenir stores selling mystical paintings, Biblical wardrobes, colorful, sweet-smelling candles, and all kinds of religious paraphernalia. The stone two-story buildings had either been preserved or restored from a period some five-hundred years before, when the city had been a haven for scholars and sages of the Kabbalah, the secrets of the Torah. Obviously, it was an attraction spot for tourists, though I spotted several Hasidic types who looked to be residents of the place, wearing long black robes and sporting equally long side-locks, which dangled in curls down the sides of their heads.
At random, I walked into a bookstore, intending to ask the salesman if he knew where I could find the 120-year-old man who was known for doing miracles. Inside the small shop, a dark-skinned, jovial looking salesman was selling a book to a customer. He was dressed in modern garb and looked about my age. While I waited, I gazed at the Hebrew texts on the shelves and the portraits of no-doubt famous rabbis which were on sale. A cell phone rang and the shop owner answered it. Staring my way, he nodded his head, said a few words in Hebrew and slipped the phone into his shirt pocket.
“You’re from America?” he asked me.
“That’s right,” I said.
“That was my great grandfather on the phone. You’ve come here to speak with him, yes?”
“He knows that I’m here?” I asked astounded.
“Yes,” he said, concluding his sale with the customer.
I was amazed. It turned out to be so easy! “Thank God he’s still alive,” I said to myself, feeling my heart begin to race.
“My great grandfather says he is sorry, but he can’t meet with you,” the bookseller related.
If my heart had jumped into the sky just a second ago, it now plummeted back down to earth. I started to feel dizzy, as if I were going to faint.
“Your great grandfather is 120 years old?” I muttered.
“More or less,” he replied.
“And he’s known for doing miracles?”
“I suppose that he is.”
“He refuses to meet me?”
I held onto a counter to brace myself. Could it be that I had traveled all the way to Israel for nothing?
“Would you like a cold drink? You must be tired from your trip,” the bookseller said.
Saying goodbye to the customer, he removed a cold bottle of spring water from a small refrigerator and poured me a glass.
“I came all of the way from America just to meet him,” I pleaded. “He has to see me. I spent a few thousand dollars, and left my wife at home, and if I can’t get to meet him, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
To say that I was bewildered is an understatement. The Israeli set the glass of water on the counter, but I felt that my hands were trembling too violently to lift it.
“Please,” I begged. “Please explain that I came all the way here from America just to see him. It’s terribly important to me.”
“I will try,” he said. “My great grandfather doesn’t have a telephone, but maybe my son is still with him at the house.”
I nervously waited as he spoke in Hebrew to his son. I felt certain that he, and anyone in sight of the bookstore, could hear my heart beating. An interval passed, as if my request was being relayed to the old man. Listening to the answer, his great grandson nodded his head.
“The Rabbi says there is no point in meeting with you because you won’t accept his advice. He says that you met someone who put a doubt in your head. A man wearing a black hat at the Kotel.”
I was stunned. Shattered.
“I didn’t take him seriously,” I insisted.
“My great grandfather says that you did.”
I must have looked pretty shaky, because he grabbed a chair and hurried it over to me, helping me to sit down. It was true, I thought. After talking with the American at the Kotel, the notion hadn’t left my mind that the whole miracle-man business was a hoax.
“Drink,” he said. “It’s hotter outside than you think.”
Embarrassed as hell, I lifted the glass of water with both of my hands and guided it to my mouth. “Shit,” I thought, feeling a-hundred-years old myself.
Maybe the bookseller took pity on me. Once again, he made a phone call and spoke in Hebrew. This time, there was hope in his words.
“Saba Yosef says that he’ll make an exception and see you, but he wants you to first immerse in the mikvah of the holy Ari.”
I figured that Saba Yosef was the name of his great grandfather, whom he also called “the Rabbi.” But I had no idea what a mikvah was. Yosef, they told me later, was the Hebrew for Joseph, the Biblical figure who had been sold into slavery by his brothers, only to become the most powerful viceroy in Egypt.
“A mikvah is a ritual immersion pool,” Baruch explained in excellent English, as if reading my mind. “It cleanses a person from spiritual impurity. The mikvah of the Ari is a natural, underground pool, located in a cave. The water comes down from the mountains. I’ll show you. It’s only a short walk away.”
“I don’t want to take you away from your work,” I said politely.
“It’s lunchtime anyway,” he replied. “I always take a little siesta about now. On the way, you’ll see that a lot of shops are closed. It’s a custom here.”
He said that his name was Baruch, and I said my name was Craig.
“Your great grandfather has mental telepathy?” I asked him.
“Something like that. We call it Ruach HaKodesh. Divine Inspiration. He is shown things.”
“Shown things? By who?”
“It’s hard to explain, but you should know that when a seeker like you makes the effort to come to a holy rabbi like my great grandfather, in order to learn from him a better way of life, the forces of evil in the world rise up against the seeker and put all sorts of obstacles in his path to prevent him from succeeding in his mission. Doubt is one of the most difficult obstacles. Especially for a person who comes from the West. You live in a very rational world. The emphasis is placed on the material side of life. People believe in what they can hold in their hands and see. But it’s all a mirage. It’s very hard for people with backgrounds like yours to accept that there is a whole spiritual world beyond the physical here and now.”
I remembered the mirage that I had seen on the highway in the heat of the day. Everything he said sounded correct, but even as he said it, I heard a cynical voice inside me saying that it was all a lot of nonsense. My heart was beating even faster now. I wasn’t sure I wanted my life to be an open book before some other person, even if it were some old man in Israel that nobody I knew would ever meet. But the ball was already rolling, and I couldn’t stop it now.
Carrying a towel, Saba Yosef’s great grandson locked the door of the bookstore and led the way down the quaint, cobblestone pedestrian mall. I followed his steps along narrow, twisted alleyways until we left most of the tourists behind. Soon, the people we encountered were mostly religious Jews, in what appeared to be an older, more derelict part of the city, whose ruins were being restored.
“Safed was hit hard by several earthquakes over the years,” my host informed me. “Only in the last twenty years has serious reconstruction been going on.”
He led me to the top of a long, steep flight of steps that led down to the sprawling, ancient hillside cemetery of Safed. Many of the tombstones lay shattered. Others were highlighted with a pale blue color that looked like the sky.
“The Ari, or the Arizal, as he is sometimes called, was the most famous of the Kabbalists. He is buried along the slope,” the bookseller explained, pointing to an area where a group of Hasidim were clustered around one of the blue-painted sites.
“He was born about 500 years ago in Jerusalem with the name of Yitzhak Luria. At a very young age, he became a master of all the Talmudic texts. He would isolate himself for years at a time in deep meditation, not speaking a word, until Elijah the Prophet appeared to him and taught him the secret wisdom of the Torah. It is reported that his soul would ascend every night to Heaven, where he would also learn the ancient wisdom from the great Sages of the past. His foremost student, Rabbi Chaim Vital, writes that the Arizal knew the language of birds, the conversation of trees, and the speech of the angels. He could read the faces of people and know everything that a person had done. He knew people’s thoughts, and was aware of everything that happened on earth, and what was decreed in Heaven. He knew the secrets of reincarnation and was able to see the souls of everyone who died. Just from a person’s smell, he could tell what sins he had made. Even though true prophecy no longer exists, Divine Inspiration is still with us. In every generation, Elijah the Prophet reveals the secrets to a few exceptionally devout individuals. Any individual, man or woman, Jew or Gentile, can have Divine Inspiration bestowed upon him. It all depends on his righteousness and his deeds.’”
“Is your great grandfather like that?” I asked him.
“When you meet him, you can judge for yourself,” he said.
A group of Breslov Hasidim brushed by us on their way toward the grave of the famous Kabbalist. They were followed by a steady stream of people of all shapes and sizes, religious and non-religious alike. Pointing down the hillside, my Israeli guide supplied some other information that I probably would never have found in my tour book.
“Down the way is the tomb of Rabbi Yosef Karo, who compiled the ‘Shulchan Aruch,’ the code of Jewish law. Further down the hill, in the tomb with the dome, is the Prophet Hosea, from the time of the Bible. There’s the mikvah of the Ari,” he said, motioning in the other direction. “While you immerse yourself, I’ll say a few prayers, and we will meet back here.”
He handed me the towel.
“Make sure you immerse yourself completely. The water is a little cold, but on a hot day like today it’s refreshing. If you can, dunk yourself seven times. But before you do, try to confess all of your sins.”
If I were to confess all of my sins, he would have had to wait a week before I got back, I thought wryly. I didn’t express my skepticism out loud, because I didn’t want to offend him by making a joke out of what he obviously considered a very serious matter.
“It’s a very cleansing experience,” he said, as if reading my thoughts once again. “There’s a legend that says that anyone who immerses himself in the mikvah of the Ari will become a penitent before he dies.”
I wasn’t sure what a penitent was, nor was I certain that I wanted to be one. I wanted to be healthy math teacher, that’s all, and not drop dead before my time.
Cautiously, I made my way down the stairway of battered stone stairs. Many were broken or chipped and covered with boards. Religious men, with towels draped over their shoulders, trickled in and out of the entrance to the cave which housed the pool of flowing spring water. Inside, the floor had been tiled, and concrete had been plastered onto the walls, but the pool itself was still in its natural setting, as if it had been chiseled into the bedrock of the mountain during the seven days of Creation.
I don’t know why, but the sight of the naked men waiting to take a dip in the pool came as a shock. I was no stranger to health-club locker rooms and showering with the guys, but this was somehow very different. Maybe because the men were religious. A few had shaven heads with long dangling side-locks. Prayer shawls, called “tzitzit,” hung on wooden pegs sticking out from the wall. Like they say, “When in Safed….” Quickly, I stripped liked the others and made my way toward the pool at the back of the cave, thinking, “What am I getting myself into?”
The air was cooler in the mountain cave than outside in the hot sun, but I wasn’t prepared for the first splash of freezing water. After watching how the man before me did the immersion, I grasped onto a rock at the side of the pool and lowered a foot into the spring. My whole body trembled. Without thinking further, I splashed down the three stone steps into the small pool and dunked myself under the water. The freezing cold was like a shock to my being. I can’t describe it. At first my mind went blank, then I remembered that I was supposed to confess all my sins. Where to begin? With the bubble gum I stole from the grocery store as a child? With the test answers I had copied from friends in high school? With the drugs I had taken, and the girls I had slept with in college? With going bowling on Sunday mornings instead of going to church? With my extramarital affairs?
“Please God forgive me for everything,” I said, lumping everything into one shivering request. Fearing I would have a heart attack on the spot, I dunked myself again and again, seven times like he said, making sure to double over so that all of my body was immersed in the water. When I finished, I climbed, out of breath, up the stairs, gasping as if I had just climbed a tall mountain. Without any clothes on, I felt embarrassed as hell, but no one seemed to notice. Some of the men were shivering as they dried themselves, others were laughing now that the experience was over, and it sounded like old-timers were joking with new arrivals, warning them how freezing the water was. All I can say is that when I walked out of the cave, my head felt clear as a bell, my body felt twenty years younger, and I didn’t have a doubt in my mind.
I made the long climb back up the steep stairway. True to his word, the bookseller was there waiting by a Mazda that was driven by his son, a great, great grandson of Saba Yosef, who had, according to their count, 14 children of his own, 84 grandchildren, 504 great-great grandchildren, and 2,523 great, great, great grandchildren. In my eyes, just for that alone it was worth traveling 10,000 miles to meet such a man. It was mind-blowing. If I couldn’t learn about leading a long, healthy life from him, where could I learn it?
Some people say I exaggerate. Others say that I’m arrogant. But I’m only telling the truth. I wrote “Heaven’s Door” in answer to all of those phony “spiritual” bestsellers that give people the placebo-like feeling that the book is changing their unhappy lives when it is really leading them further astray. Those books are like bubble gum that tastes good for a few minutes, then bursts and goes flat in your mouth. Let’s face it, all of the phony bestsellers like “The Alchemist,” “Celestial Prophecy,” “The Monk and the Ferrari,” “Conversations with G-d,” and the rest of them, give pop solutions to life and ultimately bring the reader to some form of Christian belief or idol worship. Instead of offering true enlightenment, they enshroud their readers with more darkness. As Rabbi Kook explains in “Orot,” Christianity brought terrible darkness to the world by rejecting the commandments of the Torah, thus cutting mankind off from a real connection to G-d. And all those “literary spiritual journeys” that bring readers to India and the jungles of Peru for encounters with gurus, magicians, and voodoo doctors, are all drenched in intellectual idol worship. Yoga may help you relax, but it won’t get you connected to G-d – only the commandments of the Torah can do that.
So that’s why I wrote “Heaven’s Door,” where I bring a typical John Doe from America to Israel to meet with a genuine holy, 120-year-old wise man in Tzfat, where he encounters the wisdom of the Jews and the truth of the Torah. It’s a wonderful adventure, filled with lots of fun surprises. Of course, it’s not for the masses because it demands real introspection and change, rather than the phony bubble gum euphoria that keeps the world festering in darkness and sin.
But why talk about the book? Here’s Chapter Two in the serialization. Enjoy!
Chapter Two – A Meeting with Maimonides
It turned out that the Jerusalem branch of the car-rental agency was a short walk from my hotel. I got there before the place opened. The clerk was very gracious and apologetic when he found out who I was. They had a brand new car waiting for me, “just off the assembly line,” and they were upgrading me to a larger, more comfortable model without any added cost.
“The car that was supposed to be at the airport yesterday was involved in a five-car accident on the way back from Eilat,” the young man reported. “The driver had to be flown in an army helicopter to the Hadassah Hospital here in Jerusalem. We don’t yet know what caused the accident, but if you are planning to drive for long stretches, be sure to drink a lot. Israel is right on the desert. If you don’t drink something every half hour, you can dehydrate in a hurry, and fall asleep at the wheel, even with air conditioning.”
“Wow!” I thought, remembering the story of Rabbi Akiva’s great faith, and his motto, “Everything that God does is for the best.”
But then, some other voice in my mind said to me, “Nonsense! It’s just a coincidence. The accident was because of the driver, not because of the car. If everything is for the best – why are so many things screwed up in your life?”
Picking up the keys to the car, I noticed that my hands were trembling more than usual. Whether the accident had been because of the driver, or because of some problem with the car, in either case, I was glad that I hadn’t been in it.
“Thanks for the tip,” I told him.
“Sure thing. Enjoy your visit to Israel, and we are sorry about the mix-up yesterday,” he repeated.
Safed was a three-hour drive from Jerusalem. Leaving the capital city, you descend east toward the Judean wilderness and a Biblical panorama of Bedouin tents and rolling, sand-covered mountains. Standing next to a sign reading “Sea Level” was a large camel by the side of the road. Like thousands of other tourists before me, I gave its Bedouin owner a few Israeli shekels to take a snapshot of me on its back. Continuing on to the bottom of the long, serpentine descent, I came to the lowest place on earth, the Dead Sea, which spread out in a shimmering blue haze. The haze, my guide book explained, was caused by the evaporation of the dense minerals in the ancient salt lake, site of the overturning of Sodom and Gemorrah. From there, the highway turned north through the Jordan Valley and a picturesque landscape of desert mountains and date-palm groves. The ancient city of Jericho, famous for Joshua’s trumpets, passed by on the left. “Joshua and the battle of Jericho, Joshua and the battle of Jericho, Joshua and the battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumbling down.”
At a roadside bus stop, an Israeli soldier had his arm out for a hitch. To my surprise, the soldier turned out to be a girl. She was probably a little younger than my daughter. When I lowered the window, a blast of desert heat blew in, followed by a fly that hitched a ride all the way to Tiberias. Holding her rifle at a ninety degree angle by her waist, she asked in Hebrew where I was heading.
“I only speak English,” I told her.
In a passable, high-school English, she repeated her question.
“Safed,” I answered.
“Good,” she said.
“Hop in,” I cordially invited. “The car’s air-conditioning sure beats the desert heat.”
“We have to be careful who the driver is before we get in a car,” she explained. “Terrorists try to kidnap Israeli soldiers.”
She was the first female I had ever met who carried a rifle. If I had an instinctive, wild idea to get fresh with her along the way, the truncated M-16 resting on her lap put an end to the fantasy. Not that I made it a habit to woo teenage girls. Except for increasingly frequent peeks at cyberspace temptresses on my computer at home, when I was supposedly preparing my next day’s math classes in my study, I stayed away from young girls. Too many teachers had ruined their careers by falling to the charms of overdeveloped Lolitas. I had enjoyed a prolonged, erotic affair with the divorced mother of one of my students, stopping off at her home once a week for almost a year, until she moved away from our town, but I made it a practice to keep away from underage beauties. Other occasional affairs with friends’ wives, a lonely librarian, a down-and-out waitress, a little-league mom, and the like, were always adult only. So, while the thought crossed my mind, getting something on with this armed Israeli soldier was out of the question.
By the way, I loved my wife - not in a passionate way anymore, but like old friends who have a common destiny. In between our outbursts of anger, we got along together, and while our conversations may have gotten shorter and less scintillating than they were in the past, we shared common goals and interests. While I flirted with the idea of divorcing her and running away with my younger mistress – I didn’t have the nerve. Plus, I could never be sure that my lover wouldn’t one day run off on me for a younger, richer suitor than me. After all, I was an underpaid math teacher approaching the autumn of his life. My wife, I could be sure, would always stay with me and take care of me as I grew older, even if my tremor developed into Parkinson’s – even if I needed help dressing, bathing, and going to the bathroom, like my father before we placed him in an institution, where he spent his last six months attached to a respiratory machine after his lungs collapsed.
“Where are you from?” the cute Israeli soldier asked me.
“From America,” I answered.
“Where in America?”
“New England,” I replied. “Not far from Boston.”
“I want to go to New York,” she said. “When I get out of the army.”
“I have a daughter your age. A little older. She’s in Los Angeles, trying to be an actress.”
“Ayza kef,” she said, reacting like being in Los Angeles was the greatest thing on earth. “That’s really cool. Has she been in any movies?”
“Not that I know of,” I answered. “It is very competitive there.”
Glancing at the sun-dimpled Israeli, seeing how young and vulnerable she was underneath her uniform and rifle, I shuddered, imagining what my daughter had to do to convince producers to give her a role.
“That’s Jordan over there, isn’t it,” I asked, not wanting to think about my daughter and the dangers of Hollywood life.
“Where’s the West Bank?” I inquired.
“Well, anything west of the Jordan River is the West Bank, but this here is called the Jordan Valley. What they call the West Bank is back there, behind us, over the mountains.”
“The Arabs in the villages along the way here, are they Palestinians?” I asked, trying to brush up on some current history.
“I think these Arabs more belong to Jordan.”
“Are they at peace with Israel?”
“None of the Arabs are at peace with Israel. They claim we stole their land. But the truth is, most of them weren’t even here when Israel became a State. The British were in control here, and the Turks before that. The Palestinians never had their own country in Israel.”
“It’s a complicated problem, I’m sure,” I answered, not ready to accept her side of the story until I had an occasion to speak with a Palestinian.
The girl didn’t answer. Like an overtired soldier, she had drifted off to sleep. Up ahead, out the windshield, it looked like the two-lane highway was running straight for a pond. “It’s a mirage,” I said aloud. Remembering the advice of the clerk in the car-rental agency, I took a few gulps of water from the bottle of mineral water which I had purchased before starting out on the trip.
“How are you doing?” I said to the insect buzzing around my head, remembering the fly that had accompanied Jimmy Stewart across the Atlantic in the famous Charles Lindbergh movie. “Do you think I’m crazy too for traveling across an ocean to find some old man, when I would probably be better off a home, listening to my doctors?”
Looking at the sleeping girl, I couldn’t help but think of my daughter. The truth is I always wanted a boy. I suppose I became a little-league coach out of frustration that I never had a son of my own. I also suppose that Daisy sensed this, and maybe that’s what led to the wall that grew up between us. I certainly don’t mean to justify things, but merely to explain them. I mean you can’t teach a girl to throw a curve ball, or to dribble behind the back, or to scoop a gold ball cleanly out of a sand trap. Well, I suppose that you could, but what for?
Driving along the desert highway, with a gun-toting girl at my side, kind of shot holes through that theory. I mean, if a woman could be a soldier, she could be a baseball player too. Not that the main thing in life was sports. Every man wants a son, that’s all.
When Daisy started getting involved with boys at an early age, my wife encouraged me to give her more attention. A steady stream of new faces showed up on our doorstep to take Daisy out to the movies. She seemed to change boyfriends like underpants. When she became pregnant and needed an abortion, I went crazy. I called her a whore and made her stay in her room for a week. Then I found the little bastard who knocked her up and beat him black-and-blue.
“Don’t be such a monster,” my wife, Miriam, told me. “It happens. The writing was on the wall. If you had paid more attention to her and given her some love, she wouldn’t have had to search for it with every Tom and Dick and Harry.”
That led a giant quarrel between us, and I nearly belted her too. Putting the blame on me was something I wasn’t ready to hear. Not that I was a paragon of morality, but I never got another woman pregnant, and no one knew about my affairs, so I wasn’t hurting anyone, unlike my daughter and the embarrassment she was causing us.
“Craig,” my wife said. “Stop taking all of your frustrations out on the girl.”
“What the hell are you talking about?!” I screamed back. “You’re the one who is frustrated. Who can’t have any more children – you or me?”
That was another point of contention between me and Miriam. After Daisy was born, neither of us wanted to rush and have another child, so we used different contraceptives. On several occasions, she had adverse reactions to the pill. Once, she developed a serious infection from an IUD. And then there was a time when she suspected that I was having an affair, and refused to have marital relations with me for almost a year. I am not a physician, nor a psychologist, and neither is she, but it wasn’t long afterward that Miriam discovered a growth in her uterus, and a surgeon had to scrape out her womb. So that ended my dreams for a son, and our marriage went flat, like a can of Coke that’s been open too long. After that, our lovemaking didn’t get any better. In fact, sometimes when we fighting, I would often strike out at her by saying that sleeping with her was like making love to an inflatable doll.
Even though we tried to keep Daisy out of our battles, it could be that our daughter picked up our vibes. Maybe that’s why she split the house at such an early age. When she flew the nest, leaving us all alone, things didn’t get any better. As time went on, it seemed like we had less and less to talk about. Miriam enrolled in evening courses and learned reflexology, and I kept the embers burning with fiery and usually short-lived affairs.
I suppose the love of my life was my coaching. I had always been a nut over baseball. Somewhere down in our basement are a few old cartons filled with my childhood collection of baseball cards, old gloves, albums filled with newspapers clippings of long-gone Red Sox seasons, and one of Ted William’s last home-run balls that I snagged in the bleachers of Fenway Park. I was damn good third baseman in high school and college, but my dreams of a major-league career were shattered when I couldn’t even make the minors. So, I became a little-league coach instead.
If I had any religion at all, it was baseball. What I botched up at home, I made up for with the love I felt for the kids. Not every boy came from a well-to-do family, and each summer I would shell out close to two-thousand dollars to pay for equipment that poorer kids couldn’t afford. I told their parents that the money came from a special little-league fund, but it was really me who supplied them with the uniforms, gloves, helmets, bats, and baseball cleats that they needed. Not to mention the cost to feed twenty hungry ballplayers at the back-yard barbecue cookouts at my house, and the group outings to catch a doubleheader at Fenway Park, and the trophies I handed out to every kid on the team at the end of the season, whether we won the league championship or not. To my wife’s credit, she knew about my philanthropy and hardly ever protested. She knew that it made me happy, and maybe it was her way of expressing her own feelings about our not being able to have a son.
I know that baseball was a great outlet for me when I was a kid, and I wanted it to be that way for every boy on our team. A kid can be miserable at home, and a failure at school, but still be a star on the diamond. That’s the miracle and magic of baseball. But you need the basic equipment to start with, and I wanted everyone to have the same chance.
Don’t ask me to explain it, but if I came across as a terror to my daughter at home, I wasn’t that way with the kids on my team at all. No matter how much they screwed up and got into trouble at school, once they were out on the field, they were in a completely non-judgmental world, where the only things that mattered were how much you hustled, how hard you slid into home, and keeping your eyes on the ball.
“We are here to have fun,” I told them. “And to learn how to be human beings. It’s not important to me whether you guys win or lose, but how you play the game.”
Sure it was a clich? expressionn, but it was true. Over the years that I have been coaching, I’ve seen dozens of kids make complete turnarounds - from being borderline juvenile delinquents with all kinds of chips on their shoulders, to becoming real ballplayers in life – changes that I didn’t see happen very often in school.
Some of the boys were under my tutorage for two or three years, and it wasn’t uncommon for a real father-and-son relationship to develop that was even stronger than the connection the boys had with their fathers at home. To my satisfaction, there were boys who stayed in touch long after their little-league years, calling me on the phone for advice when they were in trouble, or when they were in the doghouse because of their girlfriends, or with problems at home. Some of my former little-leaguers even invited me to their weddings, and at least one baby was christened Craig after daddy’s favorite baseball coach.
Before long, there was a “STOP AHEAD FOR INSPECTION” sign on the road, and we came to an army checkpoint. When I began to slow down, my rider woke up with a start and said she had to get out. This was where she was stationed.
Not far along the highway, I stopped to pick up another hitchhiker, this time a black-hatted Hasidic Jew, dressed in long black garb, standing out in the hot sun in what looked like the middle of nowhere. He didn’t speak any English at all. Using sign language, I asked him where he was going.
“Ha Rambam,” he said. Then, in a very basic English, “Maimonides.”
“Maimonides?” I asked in surprise. “That’s the name of the high school where I teach.”
Not understanding anything I said, he opened the scholarly tome he was carrying, and started to study, as if not to waste any more time on our conversation.
Soon, like another mirage arising out of the desert, the sparkling blue waters of the Sea of Galilee spread out before us. We came to an intersection, and the Hasid pointed to the left, without asking me where I was going.
“Safed?” I said. “I’m going to Safed.”
The Hasid nodded his head, as if to say, “Yes, yes, this was the way to Safed.” Stopping by a picturesque viewpoint to take a picture, I glanced in my trusty tour guidebook and learned that these were the illustrious waters that Jesus walked upon, and that its northern bank was the site of his sermons. I recalled that the Pope, or the President, or maybe both, had been here on a visit. Dating back to Talmudic times, the city of Tiberias was situated on the western bank of the sea, which, by American standards, was a small to medium-size lake, being that you could see from one side to the other. The eastern bank rose steeply up to the ascents of the Golan Heights, which Israel has re-conquered from the neighboring Syria in the Six Day War.
The Hasid directed me through the traffic-jammed town of Tiberias, and motioned me to stop when we reached a modern, Calder-like sculpture that towered over a graveyard.
“Maimonides,” he said.
Without saying good-bye, he got out of the car and walked quickly up a path into the small cemetery, where, it occurred to me, Maimonides was buried. It seemed liked more than a coincidence that I had been brought precisely here, to the tomb of the rabbi-physician-educator that my high school was named after, so I decided to get out and pay my respects as well. A kiosk shop by the gate of the old cemetery sold soft drinks, religious trinkets, and framed portraits of a distinguished, turbaned rabbi with a neat black beard, whom I guessed to be the Spanish-born scholar.
I found the Hasid swaying back and forth in front of a large, impressive tomb where Maimonides was buried. A small plaque in English described his achievements in codifying the laws of the Torah, as a great rabbi, as a medieval Jewish philosopher, as a physician, and as a writer who penned numerous volumes, including the “Mishna Torah,” the “Guide to the Perplexed,” and the “Thirteen Principles of Faith.” Being a mathematician, I made a quick calculation that he had been dead for eight-hundred years. Without bothering the Hasid, I found some other visitor to take a picture of me in front of the tomb to show my colleagues back home.
Our Sages teach that if a person understood the great value of abuse, he would wake up each morning and beg G-d to send someone to abuse him that day. A person who is abused and doesn’t answer in return is forgiven of his sins. He is loved by G-d and elevated beyond all others, becoming a shining light in the universe, “like the sun that bursts forth over the mountains in all of its might.”
I’m not referring to the abuse I regularly receive from talkbackers who get angry at me for pointing out the disgrace of living in gentile lands when they could be living in Israel. That abuse is part of being a blog writer. It comes with the job. I am talking about an abuse much more painful – the fact that very few of my readers, even the most faithful amongst them, have purchased my books, so easily available at Amazon Books. As I have mentioned before, I am a novelist at heart. Blogs are blogs, but a good novel is something entirely different. And here, after I spent literally thousands of hours writing blogs, free of charge, in order to enlighten my beloved brothers and sisters in the exile of the darkness which surrounds them, and the very real dangers they face, when I present them with an opportunity to experience true Jewish literature that has the power to revolutionize their lives, they turn their backs as if it had no value.
Yes, I understand that books cost a few bucks, and that most Internet readers can’t get past a homepage, let alone tackle a 500 page saga like “Tevye in the Promised Land”, but, even if they don’t want to read my novels, they could give them away as gifts. Young people love my stories. Old people too. And yes, I realize that my writing is confrontational, dealing with uncomfortable things like G-d, emunah, tshuva, and aliyah, subjects that the majority of people would rather avoid. And I am perfectly aware that until the goyim declare that Fishman is a great novelist, the Jews won’t consider my writing as being of any worth. Yes, I know all of these things, but still, after all of the years that I have invested in my writing, with all of my heart, the apathy which I encounter is painful indeed. So I thank you for your abuse, knowing that it is all for my good.
And lest you think my motivation is money, on some books my royalties are 20 cents. On others 30 cents. On one or two titles, I earn a buck. That’s the reality of digital ebooks. So I am not in it for the money.
There is a Talmudic saying that more than the calf wants to suck, the mother cow wants to feed its youth. So I have decided to take a hiatus from blog writing, and to use this column to serialize my novels, chapter by chapter, day after day, to let people read, free of charge, in short, non-overwhelming installments, my fictional works, which I have written for the Sake of Heaven, for the enlightenment of Am Yisrael.
So here we go, for all of my hundreds of thousands of readers who have plastered my face with dry digital saliva by ignoring my books, I thank you for all of your abuse with this gesture of kindness in return. You can read the serializations or not. That is up to you. As for me, Hashem gave me a gift which I am sharing with you. Here is my milk. Enjoy.
One Man’s Spiritual Quest for Health, Love, and the Golden Path
A Novel by Tzvi Fishman
Chapter One – Everything Is For The Best
The first omen of my trip wasn’t very encouraging. The rental car that was supposed to be waiting for me at the airport when I arrived in Israel wasn’t there. I was traveling light with only a shoulder bag for my short, four-day visit, so I didn’t have to battle the mob of American, European, and Korean tourists at the baggage claim, nor with the lively, Hebrew-speaking Israelis who pushed carts piled high with suitcases, DVD players, and other electric appliances purchased on their jaunts overseas.
It was spring break in schools throughout America, and the plane had been loaded with Christians coming to Jerusalem to celebrate Easter, and all kinds of Orthodox Jews arriving for the Passover holiday. But I was in the Holy Land for another type of pilgrimage. Believe it or not, I had come to Israel to meet the oldest man in the world.
“What do you mean, the car isn’t ready?” I asked the young Israeli clerk at the rental counter. “I reserved it two-months ago!”
“Yes, I see that you did, Mr. Peters,” he answered, looking at his computer. “I’m sorry. This is our busiest season. Sometimes people don’t return their cars on time.”
“That’s your problem, not mine,” I answered, raising my voice. “I want a car now! I only have four days here, and I don’t want this uncalled for negligence to screw up my trip!”
Another arriving passenger in the line next to me looked over to see who was making all the commotion. A bunch of his little, yarmulke-sporting kids ran around in circles, as if eager to get out of the terminal after the long, trans-Atlantic plane ride. I felt a little embarrassed, making a scene in a strange country, but I was ticked off, and deservingly so. Business was business. The company should have had cars in reserve to avoid screw-ups like this.
I suppose I was more uptight than usual. After all, I had travelled ten-thousand miles with the crazy hope that some old wise man in Israel could tell me why my life was such a mess, and, right off the bat, the rental-car company had bundled my reservation. It made me think that maybe I was off on a wild goose chase after all.
“Where will you be staying this evening?” the clerk asked.
“In Jerusalem,” I answered. “Then I’ll be traveling to Safed in the morning, so I’ll need a car.”
“We can have a car for you in Jerusalem first thing tomorrow morning,” he promised.
“I want a car now!” I stubbornly replied.
“There is an expression in Hebrew,” my fellow passenger said to me. “Hakol l’tova. It means that everything is for the best. This is the Holy Land. There is a special Divine Providence here. Not getting a car right away may seem like a pain in the neck, but it’s all for the best, believe me.”
Like a Valium tab, his words had a soothing affect on my silently screaming nerves. After all, I had journeyed across the ocean to the Holy Land to track down the world’s oldest man, in hope of finding a miracle cure for all of my maladies, so maybe it was time to lay back a little and start seeing things in a different light.
To tell the truth, I am not one-hundred percent sure that he was the oldest man, but he certainly was among the top ten. A few years back, I had read about him fleetingly on the Internet, and then continued on with my daily routine without giving the matter anymore thought. But when things started going sour in my life, and my sixtieth birthday came into sight, I remembered reading about an old, miracle man in Israel, and began to wonder what was the secret of his longevity and his miraculous cures?
The first thing that went out of whack was my prostate. More and more frequently, I had to get up in the middle of the night to urinate. Usually, it was accompanied by a burning sensation. When it didn’t go away, I went to a urologist, and my blood test revealed a PSA level rocketing up the scale. To be on the safe side, the urologist sent me for a biopsy that was such an unpleasant ordeal, I vowed in my mind to agree to the procedure again. During the two weeks that it took for the results to come back, I read up about PSA on the web and convinced myself that I had cancer. I can’t describe my overwhelming relief when the doctor said that the biopsy was clean, but the fact that my anatomy wasn’t working the way it should made a permanent chink in the armor of my youth. The urologist wanted to see me in another six months, so even though the hangman’s noose was loosened, it was still around my neck.
Then my hands started to shake. At first it was a tiny tremor in the right hand. One day, the principal of the Maimonides High School, where I taught mathematics, asked me why my hand was shaking so much. It was ironic that he was the one to notice, having only one arm of his own, the result of a boating accident in his youth. A short time afterward, my wife noticed it too. The neurologist called it a familial tremor, nothing to worry about, but I was concerned all the same, since my father had died of Parkinson’s Disease at the age of sixty-five. The neurologist said that it wasn’t necessarily hereditary, but I remembered my father’s shaking hands before the ensuing stages of the disease gradually turned him into a statue of petrified wood.
Anyway, I began to worry about it. I started thinking about death, and I couldn’t get the subject out of my mind. My wife, Miriam, said I was foolish – after all, I wasn’t even 60 years old. But the fear of getting Parkinson’s became a fixation. Surfing once again through some medical sites, I came upon anxiety disorders and compulsions, where a person can’t keep something out of his mind. That was me, I decided. There were an assortment of mood-swing medicines to ease the symptoms, but I didn’t want to get started on drugs, and the dependence they cause. That’s when I remembered reading about the 120-year-old man in Israel. But when I did an Internet search, I couldn’t find a thing. There were articles about super-octogenarians in the United States, in China, Japan, and an old wine-drinker in France, but nothing came up about Israel. Why he in particular stuck in my mind, I don’t know. So when I couldn’t find anything about him, and when the notion of meeting him wouldn’t leave my mind, I decided to journey to Israel to track him down myself.
My wife said I was crazy. She accused me of acting like a baby. First of all, she noted, the “old cocker” was probably dead already. Plus, she said it was a big waste of money – to go all the way to Israel, for only four days, and maybe I wouldn’t even find him, and if I did, maybe he didn’t have anything more intelligent to say than the old grandfather down the block, where we lived in an ever-growing town in New England. Besides, I didn’t have the money to take her along, and she wasn’t happy about that, not that she had ever spoken about wanting to go to Israel, but we hadn’t taken a vacation abroad together in years, and I could tell she felt kind of jealous.
She wasn’t the only one who thought I was nuts. After hearing the cynical reactions of two of my colleagues at school, I stopped talking about it. “Craig, it sounds like you’re going through a pre-golden-years crisis,” the principal said. “It happens to some people when they approach sixty. I’ve heard it called male menopause.”
Generally, I was in pretty good health. I jogged twice a week, and I still coached a little-league team every summer. True, I had put on a few pounds around the belly, I needed reading glasses, and my lovemaking with my wife wasn’t what it used to be, but I didn’t need Viagra, and the old tiger returned whenever an exciting, clandestine affair chanced my way.
“How come his reservation’s OK?” I asked the clerk, when the religious Jew next to me was handed a paper and told where to pick up his car.
“He ordered a family van,” was the answer. “I can give you a family van, but it will cost you five times as much.”
I may have screwed up one or two things in my life, but I wasn’t a complete jerk to agree to a deal like that. In an apologetic tone, the rental-car worker told me where I could find a group taxi, called a “sherut,” that would take me to Jerusalem for only fifteen dollars. Grumbling to let him know that I was a very dissatisfied customer, I walked away toward the terminal exit, where my fellow passenger was herding his family and luggage toward the door.
“Don’t worry. It will all work out,” he told me, taking a few steps in my direction. “There is a story about the wise sage, Rabbi Akiva, who had to journey to Rome on official business for the Jewish community at the time of the Second Temple, some 2000 years ago. While he was walking to the seaport, a thorn pierced his sandal and entered his foot. ‘Hakol l’tova,’ he said with great faith. ‘Everything that God does is for the best.’ Removing the thorn from his sole, he had to limp slowly the rest of the way to the dock. By the time he arrived, his ship had already sailed. ‘Hakol l’tova,’ he said, once again. ‘Everything that God does is for the best.’ In those days, a ship sailed for Rome only once a month, so Rabbi Akiva had to wait patiently, even though his business was pressing. A week later, news came that the ship had sunk in a storm at sea and all of the passengers had perished. So, at least for Rabbi Akiva, the thorn in his foot turned out to be a good thing after all. Otherwise, he would have perished with all the others.”
It was a nice story, and I thanked him for calming me down, but I was still a little peeved to have to wait on another line until the taxi van was filled with passengers headed for Jerusalem. Plus, I was beginning to have suspicions that maybe my wife and colleagues were right about my freaking out in setting off on such an impulsive and quixotic adventure.
I was never religious, but I felt something out of the ordinary when the sign at the airport exit pointed the way to Jerusalem. I suppose it is something that everyone feels deep inside. After all, world history had its beginning in this part of the woods, and while my parents hadn’t believe in any religion that I can remember, who doesn’t have sentimental childhood memories about the manger in Bethlehem in those beautiful TV dramas come Christmas time?
The only things that I remembered of the Internet story about the old Israeli sage was that he lived in the mystical city of Safed, and that he was known for his miracle cures. Maybe my wife and colleagues were right - maybe I was being crazy, I thought, as the highway ascended toward the mountain-top city of Jerusalem. Other men celebrated their sixty-year-old crisis with a trail of extra-marital flings to prove to themselves that they were still manly, and here I was off on a wild goose chase to talk with a 120-year-old man.
All of the road signs were in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, so I could keep track of where we were headed. The hotel I had booked was moderately priced, and since I was only spending the night, I didn’t need anything more than a bed. In answer to my question, the clerk at the reception desk said that I could walk to the Old City. Before leaving on my odyssey, I had purchased a guidebook to Israel, and on the taxi ride from the airport, I had glanced over the section on Jerusalem. The Old City looked like the best place to spend the next few hours, before jet lag sank in.
It was already evening, and without wanting to sound mystical, there was a special light in the sky, a golden twilight, renowned to be unique to Jerusalem. A chorus of church bells sounded overhead. In the distance, the ramparts of the Old City looked like some Middle Age fortress. High-pitched wailings, coming from a loudspeaker atop a Muslim mosque, lent an eerie, romantic, Arabian backdrop to the city. My guide book said that the impressive walls of the Old City had been built five-hundred-years earlier by the Ottomans. An old look-out called King David’s Tower rose over the stately Jaffe Gate. According to my guidebook map, the Old City of Jerusalem was divided into the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Armenian Quarters. Most of the shops in the Arab market or “casbah,” as it was called, were closed at the hour, but there were still some Arab merchants hawking their colorful wares in the doorways of their small crannies. It was as if I had suddenly left civilization behind and entered the mysterious world of “A Thousand and One Nights.” Radios blared out Arab music, and barrels of spices saturated the air with their exotic scents.
Tourist that I was, I took a photo or two, but I didn’t linger to bargain and haggle over prices with the merchants like other vacationers. Something was pulling me onward down the steps of the narrow casbah, until I found myself in the midst of a crowd of Hasidic Jews heading in the same direction. In their fur “Streimmel” hats, cream-colored robes, black shoes, and white socks, they looked strangely out of place in this Mediterranean setting. Not only was it Easter time, but the Jewish festival of Passover as well, and these holiday-garbed celebrants were on their way to the Western Wall to pray.
Like I said, I do not consider myself a religious person in any shape or form. As a youth, I was drawn to the sciences, and I suppose that’s why I ended up teaching math at the Maimonides Science High School, not far from Boston. Religion hadn’t been a part of my upbringing, and when we raised our only daughter, Daisy, we didn’t think it important to drag her off to church on Sundays just to keep up with the Joneses. But when I got my first glimpse of the Western Wall, it was something I wasn’t prepared for - what you might call an actual “religious experience.”
First, you had to get past Israeli security and wait on line to pass through a metal detector – one for men and a separate line for women.
I’m sure that there were floodlights shining on the Wall, but it looked like the radiant light illuminating its boulders was coming out of the huge stones themselves. I don’t know how to describe it. The Hasidim rushed on ahead, almost running, while I stood to take in the sight.
I had read about the Western Wall in the taxi, and the amazingly rich history of the Temple Mount is probably what made me make it my first stop after checking into the hotel. It was also called the “Wailing Wall,” or simply the Wall, or the “Kotel” in Hebrew. It was over two-thousand-years old, the last vestiges of the outer wall which had surrounded the ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. After conquering the city of Jerusalem, King David had purchased the site of the Temple Mount from a local Jebusite farmer. Here, tradition maintained, Adam had built the first altar to God. Here, Cain and Abel fought over who would be the heir to their father, and rule over the land of Israel. Here, Noah came to praise the Lord after being saved from the Flood. Here, Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son until an angel stopped the raised knife from falling. And here, Jacob saw a ladder ascending up to Heaven.
For me, a New Englander who often attended the summer concerts in a picturesque town called Jacob’s Ladder, it was an interesting sidelight that connected me more personally to the place. King David had gathered all the vast and costly materials for the First Temple’s building, but it was his son, Solomon, who actually constructed the once magnificent edifice, which had been the center of Jewish life and prayer for eight-hundred years until it was destroyed by the conquering Babylonians. After the exiled Jews returned to rebuild the Temple, it became the target of the attacking Greeks, and the site of the Hanukah story, where the valiant Maccabee tribe of Jewish warriors vanquished the far mightier Greek army and rekindled the lights of the Temple menorah. Later, before the Romans burned the Second Temple and razed the city of Jerusalem, it was here where Jesus was reported to have overthrown the tables of the money changers to protest the corruption of the priests in his time. Then, almost a thousand years later, the Muslims had built the golden-domed shrine which rose up on the Temple Mount behind the remains of the Western Wall and its massive, indestructible boulders.
It was the stuff that history was made of. No wonder that the Arabs and Jews were always arguing over the site, and the eyes of the world were constantly turned toward Jerusalem. For my part, in maybe the same way that I wasn’t religious, I wasn’t much of a political creature either. I had never been a news buff, and even Presidential elections didn’t excite me. While I was aware there was an ongoing conflict in the Middle East, I never had researched into its roots. Frankly, except for the month following September 11, when all of America was in shock from the al-Quaeda attack on the Twin Towers, I didn’t pay much attention to what was happening in the Middle East. When American soldiers were sent off to the War in Iraq, I didn’t have a son going off to fight, so I didn’t have to worry about a somber army chaplain one day knocking on my door. My sheltered New England life revolved around my job as a high-school teacher, my little-league coaching, bowling, golf with the guys, and a few lovers here and there, to break the boredom with my faithful yet mundane wife, Miriam. Though she was some years younger than me, and still an attractive woman, the passion had gone out of our increasingly infrequent encounters. For years we had been getting angry at each other, over the most inconsequential things, as a way of venting the frustrations each of us felt with ourselves and our marriage. Our only daughter had flown the coop early to escape our bitter quarrels, and dropped out of college to seek a more exciting life as an actress in Los Angeles, where, from the little we heard from her, she was lucky to land jobs as a waitress.
So experiencing a “spiritual high” at my first sight of the Western Wall came as a surprise for a cold-blooded mathematician like myself. Please don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t “blown away” with any revelation. But I felt something inside, connecting me to something greater than my own solipsistic existence, and that was a very unusual feeling for me. I could figure out the circumference of a circle, and the angles of a triangle, but spiritual matters weren’t my forte.
As I entered the crowded plaza before the Wall, an Orthodox Jew motioned to my head and pointed to a box filled with cardboard skullcaps for tourists. “When in Jerusalem, do as the Jerusalemites do,” I mused, placing the little beanie on my head. At the Wall, I wedged my fingers into the cracks between the enormous stones and prayed that whatever Divine Presence was hovering there would take away my trembling. I prayed that He keep me from getting Parkinson’s like my father. And I prayed that my prostate wouldn’t become cancerous. Seeing the crumpled notes that petitioners had placed in the crevices between the huge boulders, I decided to write one too. Since I didn’t have a piece of paper to write on, I scrawled my request on a dollar bill, asking God to bring our daughter home so we could work out the differences and smooth over the bouts of anger that had marked our relationship over the years.
After I had folded my note and placed it in the Wall, a neatly shaven man wearing a suit and black hat, approached me and help out an open hand.
“Charity for poor families,” he said in what sounded like a New York accent.
Feeling generous, I reached into my pocket, and gave him all of the coins that had accumulated there.
“Visiting the country?” he inquired.
“That’s right,” I replied.
“I’m from Staten Island,” he said. “But I’ve been here twenty-five years.”
Once again, he held out a begging hand.
“I just gave you,” I said.
“I know,” he acknowledged, “but who knows when you’ll get to Jerusalem again, so maybe you can give a little more. The money goes to families who are really in need, and the Talmud teaches that charity is the foundation of the world.”
This time, I drew my wallet out of my pocket and gave him a few dollars. He seemed like an honest guy.
“Maybe you can help me,” I said.
“My pleasure,” he replied, motioning me to follow him a short distance away to a table covered with prayer books, apparently not to bother the pilgrims at the Wall.
“I’m looking for a 120-year-old wise man who lives in Safed,” I told him. “He famous for doing miracles.”
“There are lots of wise men in Israel,” he answered. “Every city has rabbis and Kabbalists who are supposed to do miracles. For sure, some of them do, and for sure, some of them don’t. Take my advice. Not everyone with a long white beard is a miracle worker.”
I was a little surprised by the cynicism in his answer, but it was good to hear the truth from a fellow American who had lived in the country 25 years. It could very well have been that Miriam and my boss at school were right that I was off on some imaginary magical mystery tour in my quest after the “fountain of youth.” But even if his warning had let some hot air out of my balloon, here I was, halfway across the world, and I was determined to continue my journey.
I was rescued from my ruminations when a man wearing a fur Streimmel grabbed my hand and dragged me toward a group of singing Hasidim, who were holding hands and swirling around in frenzied circles, as if their feet hovered over the ground. Joining the happy merry-go-round for a dozen 360 degree whirls was more than enough of a religious experience for my first night in Israel.
Maybe a year or two before, I would have ventured the steep hike back up through the Arab market to the Old City gate, but after the dance and the ten-hour plane flight, I was beat. I wanted to be fresh in the morning for my drive up north to Safed, so I asked where I could find a taxi. Making my way across the wide Western Wall plaza to a bus stop, I hailed a passing cab. The next day when I met a great grandson of the old man from Safed, he told me that when a person comes to the land of Israel, the first night he sleeps there, he receives a new soul. When I got back to my hotel room, I crashed into bed without undressing. Goodbye old and ailing soul. Say shalom to the new, healthy and rejuvenated Craig Peters.
If Eve had read www.jewishsexuality.com, she wouldn’t have followed after her eyes and got us all kicked out of the garden. If Adam had read jewishsexuality.com, he wouldn’t have eaten the “apple.” If Cain had read jewishsexuality.com, he wouldn’t have gotten angry at Abel. Today, we don’t have to make the same mistakes they did. We have the teachings of the Torah and the advice of the Sages to rely upon. While I won’t quote from the holy Zohar here, for people who enjoy the secrets of Torah, there’s a lot more to the snake than his pretty long tail.
Which brings us to Noach. If his generation had taken the time to read jewishsexuality.com, they could have avoided the flood. The Zohar teaches that the wanton sexual sin of the time was the cause of the flood. Measure for measure.
Concerning Noach himself, our Sages express a certain criticism. Yes, he righteously followed each and every order in building the ark, but he didn’t hurry around the countryside, from village to village, warning people what would be if they didn’t improve their ways. Maybe he felt they wouldn’t listen. After all, the sexual urge is a powerful passion, and people don’t like being told that they can’t do whatever they please, like they did in the days preceding the flood. Noach was a private tzaddik, minding his own business, unlike Avraham who traveled to and fro, teaching people about the godly way to live.
If a person sees that his fellow man is erring in his ways, he has the obligation to enlighten him, so that the transgressor can correct his wrongdoing. If he doesn’t, he himself becomes part of the sin. True, not everyone is on a level to rebuke others, and rebuke isn’t an easy thing to do, but the principle is clear that when you see someone heading for destruction, it is a good deed to endeavor to save him.
That is what I, and other INN bloggers, have been doing when writing about the mitzvah of aliyah. We don’t seek to harm anyone – rather to wake people up to the higher and holier reality which we enjoy here in the Land of Israel, living according to the guidelines of Torah. And this is why I urge readers to browse through the jewishsexuality.com website, to alert them of the dangers that brought on the flood. Whether it is the flood of assimilation that is devastating the Jewish People in the Diaspora, or the flood of immodesty and licentiousness in which the world is drowning, everyone must do his share to save not only himself, but also his fellow.
Put the two together and you get the Covenant of the Brit between G-d and the Jewish People, coming up in the Torah portion of Lech Lecha next week, where our sexual holiness and the gift of the Land of Israel are inseparably linked.
That’s all we have to say. We don’t have to explain anything else. We don’t have to talk about safe borders, and security guarantees. All the talk about two states for two peoples is nonsense. Israel belongs to the Jews. Period. That’s all that our leaders have to say.
A few thousand years ago, our Sages foresaw that the day would come when the nations of the world would accuse the Jews of illegally conquering the Land of Israel. The great Torah commentator, Rashi, cites this in his very first remark on the Torah portion of Bereshit. Why, he asks, citing Rabbi Yitzhak, does the Torah begin with the account of Creation, and not with the first mitzvah given to the Jewish People, since the Torah is, by and large, a book of laws and proper behavior. The reason is to establish our eternal right to the Land of Israel: “So that if the nations of the world should come to claim ‘you are robbers who conquered the territory of the seven nations,’ the Jews can say to them, ‘All of the world belongs to the Holy One Blessed Be He. He created it and apportioned it to whomever He saw fit. It was His will to give it to them, and it was His will to take it away from them and give it to us.’”
Our Sages foresaw the day that America, and the UN, the European Jew haters, and the Arabs would all claim that the People of Israel were the illegal occupiers of Eretz Yisrael. In their wisdom, our Sages gave us the very best answer and defense. “If you don’t like it, go argue with G-d. He owns the world and He gave Israel to us.” This is the foolproof answer. No one can deny it. It says so again and again in the Bible. The Bible is our deed to the Land. The Christians believe in the Bible. The Muslims base their faith on the Bible. It states in the Bible, again and again, that G-d gave the Land of Israel to the Jews. What could be clearer than that?
All our leaders have to say is that G-d gave Israel to the Jews. It’s our Land. Period.
So what’s the problem? Why do we get bogged down in feeble and losing political and military explanations that lack the weight to withstand the accusations of the world? Because our present leaders don’t have the great faith of King David who said the he would speak unabashedly before kings about the commandments of G-d and not be ashamed. It isn’t enough for an Israeli Prime Minister to quote a verse here and there from the Bible, just to make his UN speech sound a little Jewish. He has to hold up a Bible in his hand and state loudly and clearly that G-d gave the Land of Israel to the Jews.
We hope the prophesized t’shuva of our Nation will come swiftly, when we will have a true Torah leader like King David, impassioned with great religious faith and emunah, but even if it occurs naturally, via the jumbo birthrate amongst the religious Jews in Israel, as opposed to the diminishing birthrate of the secular, bringing us a religious majority in just another decade, control of the Knesset and a religious Prime Minister or king, the time will surely come. Of course, if the million plus religious Jews of the Diaspora were to heed the Torah commandment to come to Israel, a commandment equal in weight to all of the precepts of the Torah, the situation would change overnight. Woe that the great religious communities of Europe and Russia failed to heed the call of aliyah prior to the Word Wars of the past century, and the terrible persecutions and slaughter that accompanied them. Had they came en mass to Israel then, the Israeli Cabinet would be filled with beards today. As the saying goes, one who prepares for Shabbat will be able to enjoy its blessings. The religious communities of the Diaspora shouldn’t complain about the situation in Israel now, when they had the power to change it by getting their garter socks dirty by helping to clear out the malaria-infested swamps with the brave Zionist pioneers.
It isn’t too late. Brothers and sisters, come now! And may the day soon come when the Prime Minister of Israel will proclaim to the world, “G-d gave Israel to the Jews!”