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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.
There is an opinion in the Talmud that our Forefathers were born in the month of Nissan, so after the morning mikvah, I drove to Hevron this morning to wish them a happy birthday, to pay my respects before the Pesach holiday, and to gain strength against the evil counsel of the Spies amongst us, as just Joshua and Caleb did in the past.
Usually, I ignore Mike, and his anti-Israel band, as Rabbi Baruch Kahane, the son of Rav Meir, advised. Over the past months, we have disproved all of their deranged rantings against the supreme mitzvah of aliyah, but since there are always new readers to this blog, we are forced to repeat certain fundamental matters, lest the newcomers be led astray by their poison.
First, let the following be clear to everyone - it is a mitzvah from the Torah to live in the Land of Israel. Our Sages considered this mitzvah equal in weight to all of the other commandments in the Torah. This mitzvah applies in every generation. All of the Torah authorities, both the Rishonim and Achronim, agree on this matter. This mitzvah is not dependant on the danger involved, nor on the level of religious observance of the government, nor on the moral purity of its political leaders, nor on whether Medinat Yisrael is pleasing in one’s eyes or not. It is mitzvah to live in Israel, even if the Mashiach hasn’t yet come, even if Tzvi Fishman’s blogs turn you off, even if you will have to settle for a second rate golf course.
Let’s take another look at the universally-recognized classic on Jewish faith, “The Kuzari.” The book was written by Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi in the form of a conversation between a Rabbi and the non-Jewish king of Kuzar, a seeker of the true path to G-d. In a long and detailed discourse, the Rabbi explains that the true service of G-d is only in the Land of Israel. Among the very long list of its praises he says:
“The Patriarchs yearned for it and endeavored to live in the country even though it was in the hands of pagans.”
This means that it is a mitzvah to make aliyah whether pagans rule over Israel or corrupt Jewish politicians. This mitzvah applies to all Jews, except for the likes of Mike and the Boys in the Band, who are apparently holier and far more intelligent than our exalted Forefathers, Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaacov.
The “Kuzari” continues, citing the halachic law:
“Concerning a woman who refuses to move there with her husband, our Sages decreed that she is divorced and that she forfeits her marriage settlement. On the other hand, if the husband refuses to accompany his wife to Israel, he is bound to divorce her and pay her Ketubah. They further say that it is better to dwell in the Holy Land, even in a town mostly inhabited by idol worshippers than in the Diaspora, even in a town mostly inhabited by Jews; for he who dwells in the Holy Land is compared to him who has a G-d, whilst he who dwells outside the Land is compared to him who has no G-d. Thus said David, ‘For they have driven me out this day from living in the place that is the inheritance of the L-rd, saying go and serve other gods,’ which means that he who dwells in the Diaspora is as if he served strange gods.”
When the Rabbi finishes praising the transcendental value of living in the Land of Israel, the king of Kuzar chastises him, saying:
“If this be so, thou fallest short of the duty laid down in thy law, by not endeavoring to reach that place, and making it thy abode in life and death. Is it not the gate of Heaven? All peoples agree on this point. Christians believe that the souls are gathered there and then lifted up to heaven. Islam teaches that it is the place of the ascent. All the Jews turn to it in prayer. Thus thy bowing down and kneeling in its direction is either mere appearance or thoughtless worship. Yet your first Forefathers chose it as their abode, and lived there as strangers, rather than as citizens in their own country. This they did even in a time when the Shechinah was not yet visible, and the country was full of unchastity, impurity, and idolatry. Your Forefathers, however, had no other desire than to remain in it. Neither did they leave it in times of dearth and famine except by G-d’s permission. Finally, they directed their bones to be buried there.”
The Rabbi answers in shame and disgrace:
“This is a severe reproach, O king of the Kuzars. It is the sin which kept the Divine promise with regard to the Second Temple from being fulfilled. Divine Providence was ready to restore everything as it had been at first, if they all had willingly consented to return. But only a part was ready to do so, whilst the majority and the aristocracy amongst them remained in Babylon, preferring dependence and slavery, unwilling to leave their mansions and their affairs. Had we been prepared to meet the G-d of our Forefathers with an honest mind, we would have found the same salvation as our fathers did in Egypt. If we say in our prayers, ‘Worship at His holy hill; worship at His footstool; He who restoreth His glory to Zion,’ and other words of this nature, this is but as the chattering of the starling and the nightingale. We do not realize what we say by this sentence, nor others, as thou rightly observes, O king of the Kuzars” (Kuzari, 2:22-25).
The story concludes as follows, and I quote at length for readers who have not yet studied this monumental treatise of the fundamentals of Jewish faith:
“The Rabbi was then concerned to leave the land of the Kuzars and to betake himself to Jerusalem. The king was loth to let him go, and spoke to him in this sense as follows: ‘What can be sought in the Land of Israel nowadays, since the Shechinah is absent from it, whilst with a pure mind and desire, one can approach G-d in any place. Why wilt thou run into danger on land and on sea, and among the various peoples living there?’”
If this isn’t the babble of the Boys in the Band, what is? It is their exact Talkbacks, brilliantly captured in a book written one thousand years ago by one of the Jewish People’s greatest Sages.
The Rabbi answers: “The Land of Israel is especially distinguished by the L-rd of Israel, and no religious function can be perfect except there. Many of the Jewish laws do not concern those who do not live there; and heart and soul are only perfectly pure and immaculate in the place which is specially selected by G-d. The danger one runs on land and sea does not come under the category of , ‘You shall not tempt the L-rd,’ which refers to risks which one takes when traveling with merchandise in hope of gain. However, he who incurs even greater danger on account of his ardent desire to reach a state of cleanliness in his service of G-d is free from reproach. He braves danger, and if he escapes, he praises G-d gratefully. But should he perish through he sins, he obtains the Divine favor, and he may be confident that he has atoned for most of his sins by his death.”
The king tries to dissuade him with the following argument: “I thought thou didst love freedom, but I now see thee finding new religious duties which thou will be obliged to fulfill in the Land of Israel, even though they are in abeyance here.”
O, stick with me, dear readers, and see the Boys in the Band exposed in all of their naked shame.
The Rabbi answers: “I only seek freedom from the service of those numerous people whose favor I do not care for, and shall never obtain, though I work for it all my life. Even if I could obtain it, it would not profit me – I am speaking of the service of men and courting their favor. I would rather seek the service of the One whose favor is obtained with the smallest effort, yet it profits in this world and the next. This is the favor of G-d. His service spells freedom, and humility before Him is true honor.”
In other words, we have to stop trying to be good steppinfetchit Jews in foreign countries, and be true servants of Hashem in His eternally Chosen Land.
The Rabbi concludes: “This means that Jerusalem can only be rebuilt when the Jewish People yearn for it to such an extent that they embrace her stones and dust.”
Finally, the king of the Kuzars concedes: “If this is the case, it would be a sin to hinder thee. It is on the contrary a merit to assist thee. May G-d grant thee His help, and be thy protector and friend. Amen.”
And now for the blah blah blah of the Boys in the Band.
It saddens me when Talkbackers accuse me of lambasting Jews in the Diaspora. The truth is, except for those unfortunates who discourage people from fulfilling the tremendous mitzvah of living in Israel, I have great respect for the Jews in Diaspora. They have far more bravery and endurance than I do. I could never survive in the spiritual and cultural cesspool of exile the way they do, day after day, year after year. Their ability to keep going in the Egypts of today is beyond my comprehension. Once I realized that the Diaspora was for the gentiles and the Land of Israel for the Jews, I had to escape. If I had remained in the quicksand of exile, I would certainly have drowned, but they cling to their Jewish identities with a superhuman strength that I admire.
The problem is that they haven’t yet realized they don’t belong amongst the goyim. That’s why I badger them, to try to help them see the error of their ways. To what is their situation analogous? Let me give an example. As I mentioned, the other night, I went to a wedding. It was held outdoors on the verdant windswept lawns of a religious kibbutz. To everyone’s surprise, the Rabbi who came from Jerusalem said he couldn’t say the wedding blessings because of the smell.
“The smell?” asked the local Rabbi. “What smell?”
“From the cow stalls,” the city Rabbi said, referring to the pungent, choking oder wafting on the wind.
“I don’t smell anything,” the Rabbi of the kibbutz responded, shrugging his shoulders.
The point is that when you live on the farm, you don’t smell the manure of the cows. You get used to it. It’s the smell of the kibbutz, that’s all. You even come to like it.
So too regarding the exile. When you live in a sewer, you don’t notice the stink. The stench seems natural. That’s the way it is. You don’t even notice the stink at all. The foreign culture, the foreign language, the foreign customs and values, the unholy air and soil, they all seem natural to you.
Like I have written in the past, if I have to travel to the Diaspora for some pressing reason, I have to wear a space suit and helmet, and bring along my own air supply from Israel. People may think I am crazy, but I can’t survive otherwise. For me, it’s like being on the moon or some other oxygen-free planet. Somehow, the creatures there can live without air, but I can’t.
Fishman Visits America (Reuters)
I guess that’s why, when it comes to this blog, a lot of people out there in the outhouse of exile don’t seem to grasp what I am talking about. What stinks to me smells good to them. In fact, they think I am crazy, or simply nasty. “What stink?” they say. “It smells perfectly fine to us.”
Here and there, some lucky ones catch on. Inhaling a whiff of pure holy air over the Clal Yisrael cyberspace waves of Arutz 7, they suddenly realize that life can be different, that it doesn’t have to be goyish, that a Jew can truly live as a Jew in the Jewish homeland, and send his kids to schools where Hebrew is the language, and not English, or Spanish, or French. That in itself makes all the difference in the world. As the Psalmist sang, “When the L-rd returned he exiles to Zion, we were like those who dreamed,” meaning that the whole exile nightmare dissolved like a dream when we saw our children growing up in the Jewish homeland speaking Hebrew, instead of being schizophrenic, half breeds in a foreign land, always trying to be like the goyim.
If it’s too hard to scrape the @@@@ off your shoes, then throw them away and get a new pair. Life doesn’t have to stink. Come up to the real taste and flavor of being a Jew. Come to Israel.
If you haven't yet bought this inspiring book, what are you waiting for?
Chodesh tov! The Midrash teaches that the first day of Nissan, when the Mishkan was erected in the wilderness, was the happiest day in Heaven since the Creation of the world.
In Jerusalem, you certainly feel a heightened joy, as the holiday of Pesach draws near. Last night the Kotel was crowded with people, including a large group of Breslov Hasidim who came to recite the Tikun Clalli, to dance, and to sing songs in honor of the new month and the birthday of Rebbe Nachman. Like every Motzei Shabbat, I joined the group that came to recite Tehillim and special Rosh Chodesh prayers with the holy Kabbalist, Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi. What an incredible high!
Then, first thing this morning, after the mikvah and davening, I took my young sons to a garden down the street to recite the blessing over newly budding trees, with the former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu. The blessing, said once a year in the month of Nissan, thanks G-d for creating a world in which nothing is lacking for our enjoyment.
Then we went off to bake matzahs with Rabbis from the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva. Just a page turn of history backwards, Jews in Russia weren’t allowed to make matzot. Today, these same Jews, now Israeli immigrants, have replaced the Arab worker in the matzah factory in Jerusalem. What a joy it is to see this clear sign of the Geulah in front of your eyes!
Later in the day, we hope to join a joyous procession that will bring a new Torah scroll to the Mercaz HaRav High School Yeshiva in honor of the eight boys that were murdered, symbolizing that their love of Torah and the Land of Israel will go forth with an even greater flame.
From there, we have to hurry to a wedding of family friends. It’s a lot of events and happiness to squeeze into one day, but that typifies life in Israel. The Holy Land is the center of the world, and Jerusalem is its vortex. Here, everything spins so fast that it is impossible to keep up with the dizzying pace. This is life in the fast lane. As the complete Redemption draws closer, the spinner gets faster and faster. I am sure that my fellow Israeli readers will agree that here in Israel, ten, twenty, a hundred lifetimes are compressed into one. Things happen so quickly, we undergo daily life changes at a centrifugal pace. It is a totally different experience than Jewish life in Diaspora, on the circumference of the circle, where things moves so very slowly. In the Diaspora, people don’t seem to change at all. You can go back for a visit after ten years and the people seem exactly the same, like figures in a wax museum.
In simple terms, this is where it is happening, brother. Chodesh tov!
Here is a short dvar Torah from Rabbi Samson in the honor of Shabbat:
IN THIS WEEK’S Torah portion, we meet a unique form of Mega-Tumah (impurity) known as Tzaraat (Vayikra, 13:20). Compared to other forms of impurity, this form of defilement is the severest.
The first Mishnas in Seder Taharot delineate Ten Levels of Tumah (Kelim, 1:1-5). According to this list, a person who is a metzorah is at the highest level of defilement that a person can contract, exceeded only by the tumah of a decaying cadaver.
The Mishna then goes on to delineate 10 levels of Kedusha (holiest) in Israel. The holiest is the Holy of Holies upon the Temple Mount, where only The High Priest can enter once a year on the holiest day of Yom Kippur. The Mishna then categorizes the various types of defiled people and lists those who are forbidden to enter the Temple, the Temple Mount, Jerusalem, and finally any walled city in Israel. As would be expected, the person with the greatest level of defilement – the metzorah is exiled to the most remote part of Israel and prohibited from living within the confines of any walled city in the country.
The Talmud (Erchin16a) teaches us that tzaraat is caused by evil speech, called lashon harah. One who speaks lashon harah about a fellow Jew is ostracized from the community, but may still dwell within the confines of Israel. There is, however, one person whose defilement is so great that he is banished totally from the land – a person who speaks lashon harah about Eretz Yisrael. The Torah prescribed a punishment for the Spies and their followers of being banished not only from the community, but from all of Israel: "All who detest me shall not see her (Israel)". (Bamidbar, 14:23). "In this wilderness will your cadavers decay" (Bamidbar, 14:29). From this we can see the extreme severity of speaking negatively about Eretz Yisrael. It is the epitome of defilement.
May we merit to cherish the Land in our hearts, deeds, and speech. As the Kuzari concludes, "For Yerushalayim will verily be reconstructed only once the Jews yearn for it with all of their hearts."