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      Hollywood to the Holy Land
      by Tzvi Fishman
      Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Jewish Creativity and Culture

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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.


      Shevat 28, 5768, 2/4/2008

      Announcing the Great Debate

      To settle, for once and for all time, the question, “Should a Jew live in Israel today?” an upcoming debate will be held in Jerusalem between the crack team of Arutz 7 Bloggers versus an all-star team of Diaspora Couch Potatoes.

      Leading Couch Potatoes to Appear in Jerusalem 

      The debate will be held in the Binyune Hauma National Convention Hall on March 10, a month away. Invitations are going out to the Diaspora’s foremost cyberspace Jews, including Mike from Vienna, VA; Shmuelik from Monsey, NY;  Roger from Manchester, England; Daniel from Kyoto, Japan; SK from the USA; Shimshon from NYC; Steve Fox from St. Paul; and Rob from the USA.

      Israel has been chosen as the debate site since Jewish halachah forbids the Arutz 7 team from leaving the Land of Israel, as the Rambam states: “It is forbidden to leave the Land of Israel at all times to go outside of the Land, except to study Torah, or to marry, or to save a Jew from the gentiles, so long as one’s intention is to return to Eretz Yisrael. It is also permissible to leave temporarily on business, but to settle down in the Diaspora is forbidden, unless there is a severe famine in the Land” (Mishne Torah, Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 5:9).

      The Birthright Organization will be asked to sponsor the ticket costs for participants coming from the Diaspora to forestall their financial concerns. Nefesh B’Nefesh will be asked to arrange for their housing during their stay. Participating debaters from the Diaspora must confirm their attendance no later than February 12. Entries not filed by that date will be considered void. Any team that cannot muster three debaters will forfeit the confrontation, and it will be considered an undisputed victory for the opposing debaters.

      Names that have been mentioned for the impartial panel of judges include the Former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Meir Lau; Rabbi Martin Heir of the Simon Weisenthal Memorial Holocaust Center in Los Angeles; Natan Sharansky; Henry Kissinger; Yosi Sarid; Edgar Bronfman; and Baruch Marzel.

      The debate will be open to the public and will be broadcast worldwide by INN Israel National News.

      The moderator of the historic debate is scheduled to be the world famous CNN talk-show host, Larry King.


      Shevat 24, 5768, 1/31/2008

      Spies Without and Within

      In response to SK’s hysterical question, which we indeed already addressed at the beginning of this blog and in our book, “Torat Eretz Yisrael,” the indisputable Torah giant, the Gaon of Vilna, had this to say in his famous treatise on Israel’s Redemption, “Kol HaTor,” Chapter Five:

      “This sin of the Spies (of misleading the Jewish People against the paramount importance of the settlement of the Land of Israel) hovers over the nation in every generation. How strong is the power of the realm of evil (the Sitra Achre) that it succeeds in hiding from the eyes of our holy fathers the dangers of the impure and evil husk (kelipah) of exile; and in the time of Mashiach, the realm of evil attacks the guardians of the Torah with blinders. Many of the sinners of this great sin of, ‘They despised the cherished Land,’ and also among them many guardians of the Torah, will not know or understand that they are caught in the sin of the Spies, in adopting many false ideas and empty claims; and they cover their ideologies with the already proven fallacy that the mitzvah of the settlement of Eretz Yisrael no longer applies in our day, an opinion that has already been disproven by the giants of the world, the early and later authorities of the Torah (the Rishonim and Achronim).

      This understanding is also found in the writings of the holy Torah sage, Rabbi Eliahu Guttmacher, printed in the beginning of the book, “Em HaBanim Semaicha,” Pg 13; also quoted in the Responsa, “Nefesh HaChaya,” of Rabbi Eliezar Vax, at the end of Responsa 1:

      “We can see how important this matter is of settling the Land of Israel, so much so that the impure forces (kelipot) attack even the biggest Tzaddikim to negate this great thing. For the whole power of the kelipah depends on the exile. With the cessation of exile, the kelipah comes to an end.”

      HaRav Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook, the son of Rabbi Kook and head of the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, was often asked by students how leading Torah scholars could make a mistake in such a serious matter as the Redemption of Israel and the mitzvah of settling the Land? He answered that Gedolim (great Torah giants) and Tzaddikim could also make occasional mistakes, as seen in the opposition of many Eastern European rabbis to Hashem’s returning of the Jewish People to Israel in the years before and after the Holocaust.

      In spite of the great reverence that HaRav Tzvi Yehuda felt for all Torah scholars, he wanted his students to understand that even the Sages of Torah can err.

      He would explain that the fourth chapter of the book of Vayikra (Leviticus, 4:13) deals with special kinds of sin offerings. Situated between the offerings of a High Priest who sins, and a King who sins, are the laws of the sin offering for the whole congregation. The tractate Horiot explains that this is case where “the majority of the Great Sanhedrin makes a mistake” in deciding the law which causes the majority of the congregation to transgress. We see here that the Torah itself recognizes the possibility that the majority of the greatest Torah scholars can make a mistake.

      HaRav Tzvi Yehuda illustrated this with the example of the tragic sin of the Spies who rebelled against Hashem in the wilderness after the Exodus by refusing to continue on to conquer and settle the Land of Israel. They were the outstanding Torah scholars of their time, the heads of the Sanhedrin, the chiefs of the tribes, all important men, yet they erred in placing their personal feelings ahead of Hashem’s command to conquer the Land of Israel, and this brought about a great Divine wrath and the death of the generation in the wilderness (See, “Mesillat Yesharim,” Ch.11, in the discussion on Honor).

      Everyone has a choice. He can join the ranks of the Spies and encourage people not to go on aliyah to Israel, nor to settle in all of its borders, or he can join the ranks of Calev Ben Yefuna and Yehoshua Ben Nun and become a builder of the Jewish Nation in Israel.

      Any more questions?    

      Shevat 21, 5768, 1/28/2008

      Couch Potatoes - Part II

      While it is true that I wrote that I could not be a psychiatrist to couch potatoes, couch potatoes are people too, and there is an obligation to save them. You could say that if you don’t know about a couch potato in danger, you don’t have to save him. There isn’t any mitzvah per say to search out couch potatoes. But if you know that a couch potato is in danger, then, of course, it is a Torah obligation to save him, since every Jew is responsible for every other Jew, and one cannot stand idly by when someone else is drowning.
      You don't have to be a couch potato forever.

      I bring this as an example, in response to a lover of the exile who wrote that living in Israel is a not mitzvah that one is obligated to perform, comparing it to the mitzvah of giving a “get” in divorce. First of all, his example is mistaken. Any man who divorces his wife must give his wife a get. Everyone knows this. Perhaps he was meaning to say that although there is a mitzvah to give a “get,” one does not have to divorce one’s wife in order to fulfill it.  A less complicated example is tzitzit. If you don’t have a shirt with four corners, you don’t have to wear tzitzit – but what serious Orthodox Jew doesn’t wear tzitzit? In his desire to serve Hashem in the most complete fashion possible, he makes sure that he always has a laundered stack of tzitzit in his closet, even if when he wears them he sticks the fringes inside of his trousers to hide them from the goyim.

      Let’s take another example. There is a Torah mitzvah requiring a person to build a guard rail if he has a terrace on the roof of his house, lest a person fall off the building. Now if you don’t own a house or live in a penthouse apartment, you don’t have to do this mitzvah. You don’t have to go out and buy a house just to perform this commandment. But if you do have a house with a roof-top terrace, then the mitzvah must be performed.

      This argument of whether a mitzvah is an obligation (hiyuv) or not is sometimes set forth by people who don’t want to fulfill the mitzvah of living in Israel. Rabbi Avraham Shapira of blessed memory, former Chief Rabbi of Israel, wrote that he never heard of the notion of a mitzvah not being an obligation (See the book, “Mafar Kumi” by Rabbi Tzvi Glatt, appendix). When a mitzvah comes your way, you are obligated to do it.

      Eretz Yisrael is a reality, an easy hop away on an airplane. The State of Israel is a reality that has facilitated the ingathering of millions of Jews. The Land of Israel belongs to every Jew as an inheritance from our Forefathers. It belongs to the Jews in Jerusalem and to the Jews in New York. Just because a person is not living in Israel at the moment, because he was born in a different place – so what? He cannot pretend that it doesn’t exist. This is the very first thing that Hashem taught to Avraham. If you want to serve Me, then, “Lech lecha,” go to Eretz Yisrael. Make all of Eretz Yisrael into one big Chabad house, and you won’t need hundreds of little Chabad houses all over the world.

      When it came time for the Jews to leave Egypt, four-fifths of them said,  “There is no obligation to live in Israel since we weren’t born there.” In answer, Hashem wiped them out during the plague of darkness, in order to hide the great embarrassment of His children rejecting His Promised Land.

      To what is this situation analogous? To a man who doesn’t have an etrog in his house when the holiday of Sukkah arrives. He is not exempt from the mitzvah. He has to go out and get one. The same with matzah. A person can’t say, “I don’t have any matzah in my pockets, so I don’t have to do the mitzvah.” He has to go out and bake or buy the matzah he needs for the holiday. Similarly, a single man cannot say, “I wasn’t born with a wife, so I don’t have to get married.” He has to go out and look for a wife till he finds one. That’s the way it is with all of the mitzvot. We are commanded to take the action needed to fulfill our obligation in doing them.

      Certainly, if a Jew can move from the United States to live in Japan, he can just as easily move to Israel. Hashem has given us airlines and money to buy tickets. There are varieties of available apartments and houses in Israel, and mortgages for people who need them. There are jobs for people who want to work, and more yeshivot and synagogues than anywhere else in the world.

      Dear brothers and sisters, we are not talking about the obligation to say a blessing over eating a piece of bubble gum, or about making sure there is a trustworthy kosher symbol on a box of chocolate chip cookies. We are talking about the mitzvah that is the foundation of all of the Torah. Two-thirds of the Mishna can only be performed in the Land of Israel. The Ramban states three times that living in Israel is a Torah obligation (hiyuv) that applies in all generations (Supplement to the Sefer HaMitzvot of the Rambam, Positive Mitzvah #4). All of the Rishonim and Achronim who decide halachah agree (See the Shulchan Aruch, Pitchei T’shuva, Even HaEzer, Section 75, sub-section 6). For those who like sources, here is a partial list of the Halachic authorites who state that the obligation to live in the Land of Israel is a Torah obligation binding in all times:

      Rambam, Laws of Marriage, 3:20; Rambam, Laws of Slaves, 8:39; Sefer Haredim, Ch. 7; Maharit, Responsa, 2:28; Rashbash 1; Knesset Gedolah, Even HaEzer, 75, notes to the Beit Yosef, 25; Gaon of Vilna, Yoreh Deah, 267:161; Avne Nezer, Yoreh Deah, 454; Even HEzer, 75, notes to the Beit Yosef, 25; Gaon of Vilna, Yoreh Deah, M’il Tzedakah, Responsa 26; Rav Yaacov Emden, Mor Uktziah, Section 1, Pg 16; Chida, Responsa, Yosif Ometz, 52 and Ya’ir Ozen, 10:5. Chachmat Adam, Shar Mishpatei HaAretz, 11:3; Paat HaShulchan, Ch 1, Beit Yisrael 14; Chatam Sofer, Responsa, Yoreh Deah, 223 and 224; Rav Haim Palagi, Responsa, Nishmat Kol Chai, Yoreh Deah 48; Rav Shlomo from Lublin, introduction to the book, “Mitzvah Yishuv HaAretz; Mahram Shik, Yoreh Deah, 225; Ohr Someach, Letter for the book, “Shivat Zion; Rav Elchanan Specter, Letters, “Shivat Zion”; Chazan Eish, Letters, 175; Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, Hazone HaGeula, Ch 2.

      The assertion that the Sages of the Babylonian Talmud did not come back to live in Israel after the first exile is certainly not an viable argument for clinging to the Diaspora, for this behavior has already been condemned by the Sages of the Babylonian Talmud who did return to Israel (Yoma 9b; Berachot 63a and 63b).  This point is emphasized in one of Judaism’s most classic books, the “Kuzari,” written by Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi. When the King of the Kuzars criticizes the Rabbi for not acting in line with the teachings of the Written and Oral Torah by living in the Diaspora, the Rabbi confesses:

      “You have uncovered my great disgrace, O king of the Kuzars. It is this sin which prevented the Divine promise from being fulfilled in the time of the Second Temple, for Divine Providence was ready to restore everything as it had been at first, if all of them had answered the call and returned to Eretz Yisrael in joy. But only a small portion responded, whilst the majority, and Sages of the Torah amongst them, remained in Babylon, preferring exile and slavery under the gentiles, rather than giving up their houses and their affairs.” (Kuzari, 2:24).

      As to the feeble excuse that the Gaon of Vilna did not come on aliyah, he, in fact, did set out on the journey to move to Israel, as he relates in a letter to his wife and children, whom he left behind. In those days, securing sea passage to Israel was a difficult matter, and he was unable to overcome the difficulties he encountered. Nevertheless, he urged his students to make aliyah in the strongest of terms, and their settlement of the Land is vividly described in several books, including, “Shivat Zion,” “Kol HaTor,” “HaTekufah HaGedolah,” and “Likutei HaGra,” end of Safra D’Tziniuta. To quote just one passage:

      “Our teacher, the Gaon of Vilna, Kadosh Yisrael, with words carved in flames, advised his students to go on aliyah to the Land of Israel, and to work to further the ingathering of the exiles. Furthermore, he encouraged his students to hasten the Revealed End of Galut and the Redemption through the settlement of Eretz Yisrael. Almost every day he spoke to us with trembling and emotion, saying that in Zion and Jerusalem there would be a refuge, and that we shouldn’t delay the opportunity to go. Who can articulate, or who can describe the magnitude of our teacher’s worry when he spoke these words to us with his Divine Inspiration and with tears in his eyes?” (Kol HaTor, end of Ch. 5).

      To those who say I am too harsh on the lovers of the exile, the Haggadah teaches us the proper way of responding to the wicked son who rejects the mitzvah of Pesach, saying, “What is this service to you?” implying to you, but not to him. “Since he removes himself from the community of Clal Yisrael, he denies everything, and you are to smash him in the teeth” by answering him bluntly.

      How much more this applies to the mitzvah of living in Israel which is equal in weight to all of the commandments in the Torah!

      We are not writing about Jews who would like to live in Israel but can’t for a variety of real reasons, but rather about those Jews who could come, but refuse to, and lead others astray with their trunk load of excuses, like the Spies in the wilderness who discouraged the Children of Israel from journeying on to the Promised Land because of their own personal considerations and fears.

      In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Mishpatim, we are told that if a Hebrew slave does not want to go free come the Sabbatical year, saying, “I loved my master – I won’t go out to freedom,” his master must stand the slave by the doorpost, take an awl and drive it through his ear. Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook compared this to the situation of Jews in the exile who refuse to come on aliyah: “When we fall in love with the exile, saying, ‘I love my master, the foreign nation,’ this is indeed a tragic error” (Torat Eretz Yisrael, Pg. 121).

      “It must be clear before anything else,” Rav Tzvi Yehuda said, “no matter where a Jew is, he belongs only to Eretz Yisrael. This is his permanent home. Outside of the Land we have the status of guests. For a year or two it is possible to be there in order to fulfill a mitzvah, but the aim of our life is to be here.”    

      Shevat 17, 5768, 1/24/2008

      A Trunk Load of Excuses

      A reader writes that he won’t come to live in Israel as long as the political leadership is corrupt.

      Imagine that our forefather Avraham said to G-d, “I won’t come to Israel as long as there are idol worshippers in the Land.”

      Or, if Joshua had said to G-d, “I won’t bring the Jews to Israel as long as I have to fight the Canaanites.”

      The point is that we don’t pick and choose what mitzvot we do because they are pleasing to us or not. That is Conservative Judaism.
      To cling to the exile, holding on to an aging trunk filled with paltry excuses, while others do all the work – may the All Merciful One have mercy on us all.

      We don’t say, “I won’t put on tefillin because they cost too much money.”

      We don’t say, “I won’t wear tzitzit because they make me look funny.”

      We don’t say, “I won’t eat matzah because it makes me constipated.”

      Or, “I won’t keep kosher because not all kosher supervision is on the level.”

      Or, “I won’t keep the laws of family purity because I want to kiss my wife whenever I like.”

      Or, “I won’t pray because there are people in shul who talk during davening.”

      We do the mitzvot because Hashem commanded us to do them. Especially when it comes to the mitzvah that the entire Torah is based on – the mitzvah of living in the Land of Israel.

      Thank G-d that the brave and holy pioneers that returned to settle Eretz Yisrael in the last century did not say, “We won’t come as long as there are Turks, and swamps, and mosquitoes in the Land.”

      More than a hundred years ago, the unsurpassed Torah giant, The Gaon of Vilna, sent his students to settle the Land even though the journey was filled with danger, on sea and on land. He sent them even though the Turkish rulers in Israel were corrupt through and through.

      Yes, the politicians leading today’s government in Israel are corrupt. But thank G-d there are Jews ruling here, and not Christians, Moslems, and Buddhists. Thank G-d that G-d has brought us back to our homeland, out from the exile of foreign lands. Thank G-d that we have the opportunity to fix things that need fixing.
      Trunk load of excuses

      But to cling to the exile, holding on to an aging trunk filled with paltry excuses, while others do all the work – may the All Merciful One have mercy on us all.


      Shevat 15, 5768, 1/22/2008

      Trees and Truth, Truth and Trees

      “One day Honi HaMe’agel was walking along the road. He saw a man planting a carob tree and asked him in how many years it would bear fruit. The man replied, ‘In seventy years.” Choni asked, ‘Do you think you will live another seventy years?’ The man answered, ‘I found this world with carob trees. Just as my forefathers planted them for me, I am planting them for my descendants,” (Talmud Ta’anit 23A).
      The secular kibbutznik in Israel who works all day cultivating his fields may have a higher place in the World to Come than a Daf Yomi Jew from Beverly Hills or Monsey, New York.

      In the same light, the following matters may not be understood by many of our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora, but I will plant the seeds here in the faith that they will be bear fruit in the future. Perhaps Shmuelik, or Shimshon, or Daniel in Kyoto will leave this blog on their computer screens while they rush off to shul, and one of their children will come by and read it, and discover the truth.

      Today in the Land of Israel, we have been happily celebrating Tu B’Shevat, the holiday of the trees. School children sing songs praising the Land of Israel and thanking Hashem for its fruits. Families go on field trips throughout the country. When it is not a Sabbatical Year, saplings are planted with great joy and spirit. And festive meals of thanksgiving, highlighted by a cornucopia of fruits of the Land, grace our tables.

      This is all missing in the Diaspora because Diaspora Judaism is missing the Land of Israel. On many occasions, we have mentioned that Judaism can only be complete in the Land of Israel. There are two types of commandments in the Torah – the commandments that are dependent upon the Land of Israel, and those commandments which are not. Every commandment which depends upon the Land of Israel may only be performed in the Land. The other mitzvot can be performed anywhere (Kiddushin 36B). However, the Ramban teaches that the true place of performance for all of the commandments is only in the Land of Israel (Ramban, Commentary on the Torah, Bereshit, 26:5; Devarim, 11:18). Everywhere else, when a Jew performs a commandment, he is merely going through the motions so that he won’t forget how to do them during his exile in foreign lands (Sifre, Ekev, 11:18, and Rashi, Devarim, 11:18. Also, Ramban there).

      For those readers who don’t like to look up sources, here is what Rashi says, to show that this seemingly outrageous claim is not merely the mad ranting of Tzvi Fishman.

      Rashi quotes the Midrash: “Even though I am exiling you from Eretz Yisrael to outside of the Land, distinguish yourself with the commandments, so that when you return, they will not seem new in your eyes” (Sifre, Ekev, 11:18). Rashi comments: “This is like a king who became angry at his wife and sent her away. He said to her, ‘Wear your jewelry so it won’t seem new to you when you return to the palace.’ Thus HaKadosh Baruch Hu says to Israel, ‘My sons, distinguish yourselves with precepts so that when you return, they won’t be new to you” (Rashi, Devarim, 11:18).

      The true, G-d given place for the commandments is in Eretz Yisrael. Their purpose in the exile is to keep us attached to the Torah, so that when we return, they won’t seem unfamiliar and new. But the main place for their performance is in Israel. The Land of Israel is not just our geographical homeland, it is the foundation of all of the Torah and Jewish observance.

      During our festive Tu B’Shevat meal, there is an order by which we eat the  fruits of the Land. The order is based on the Torah verse, “A Land of wheat, and barley, and grape vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a Land of olive oil, and date honey….” (Devarim 8:8). For instance, after partaking  bread (wheat and barley) and wine (grape vines) because of their importance, we first eat the species of fruit that is closest to the word “Land” – which is olives. In a similar light, Rabbi Kook writes that the person who is more engaged in the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel is closer to perfection and closer to receiving a Divine blessing.

      Thus it may very well turn out that the secular kibbutznik in Israel who works all day cultivating his fields may have a higher place in the World to Come than a Daf Yomi Jew from Beverly Hills or Monsey, New York, as our Sages have taught us, “The mitzvah of living in Israel is equal in weight to all of the commandments in the Torah,” (Sifre, Reah, 80).

      So, to all the kids who are sneaking a look at Daddy’s computer, if Judaism is important to you, and you want the real thing, it can only be found in the Land of Israel. That’s the simple Torah truth, and there is no way of getting around it.