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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.
According to Jewish Law, every Jew is obligated to study the Torah, whether he be rich or poor, healthy or ailing, youthful or old. He must set aside a definite time during the day and at night for the study of Torah, as it says, “Thou shall meditate therein day and night” (Rambam, Laws of Torah Study, 1:8). In addition, the Torah is read publically in synagogue twice during the week and on Shabbat.
We learn Torah because this is G-d’s will for the Jewish People. Throughout the ages, we have been known as “The People of the Book,” and the Torah is our book. There are a lot of books in the world but the Torah is ours. The only way a Jew can understand what it is to be a Jew is by learning the Torah. If he doesn’t study the Torah, he may think he knows who he is, but he really doesn’t.
The Torah is not a long ago, once-upon-a-time story. The Torah teaches us what G-d expects from us today. The tales of our holy Forefathers are examples for us to follow, as our Sages have taught: “The doings of the Forefathers are signs for their sons.”
As we have previously written, give any ten-year-old child the Torah and let him read about Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaacov, then ask him where G-d wants the Jewish People to live. Ten out of ten will say, "Israel!" G-d commanded our Forefathers to live in the Land of Israel, they only departed from the Land in time of severe famine, and then returned as soon as they could. To highlight this to his children, when it came time for Yaacov to die, he made Yosef swear that he would bury him in Hevron, so that his children never forget that, no matter how good a life they had it in Egypt, they were strangers in a strange land.
Our Sages explain that Yaacov wanted to establish for all posterity the principle that Eretz Yisrael was the Jewish People's only heritage. He knew that his burial in Hevron alongside Avraham and Yitzhak would forge an unbreakable bond between his descendants and the Land that Hashem had promised to give them. Yaacov was especially assertive in making Yosef swear because Yaacov saw that his children had become possessed by the foreign land. “Soon,” he reasoned, “they might substitute the Nile for the Jordan, and what began as a temporary sojourn in Egypt would no longer seem to them as an exile” (See, Artscroll, Bereshit, Vol. 6, Pg. 2090).
Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch summarizes: “This was his motive for so ceremoniously insisting that they should not bury him in Egypt, but that they should carry him to their true homeland. This was the reason he told them, ‘Though you may wish to live in Egypt, I refuse to be even buried here.’ This is why he used his name Israel in expressing his wish – he spoke as Israel, the bearer of their national mission.”
Our national mission is to be a holy nation in Israel. Yaacov Avinu’s teaching was not only for his children, but for his children’s children, and for their children after them. His teaching is for us – those of us in Israel today, and those of us who have not yet absorbed the message.
So kids, teenagers, BEWARE! If they tell you that you are American or Australian or Englishmen – don’t believe them! Your parents and rabbis and Federations are lying. You are the Children of Israel. The Land of Israel is your country. Jerusalem is your capital. If your Birthright leader lets you believe that by visiting Israel you are a full-fledged Jew who can continue to live a life of dual loyalty in America, he is lying.
Being a complete Jew means living in Israel. That’s what our Forefathers wanted to teach us. That’s what the Torah tells us over and over again. That’s what G-d wants for His People – to abandon the graveyards of the Diaspora and be living Jews in His Land.
Today is the Tenth of Tevet, the fast day marking the beginning of the siege that led to the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the First Temple. It is a day of introspection and repentance, not only over the misdeeds of our ancestors, but over our wrongdoings, as our Sages have taught, “In every generation that the Beit HaMikdash is not rebuilt, it is like it was destroyed in that generation.” That is to say, it is our sins today that are preventing the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash - the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
One of these sins is when we fail to set Jerusalem above all of our other joys. As the Psalmist says: “How can we sing the L-rd’s song in a foreign land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy” (Tehillim, 137: 4-6).
So important is this message to the survival of the Jewish People that our Sages decreed that this Psalm should be recited after every meal we eat during the week. “By the rivers of Babylon (and Manhattan and Paris and Los Angeles and Mexico City), there we settled down, yea, we wept when we remember Zion” (Tehillim, 137:1) We are always to remember that Zion is our true home, not Babylon, and we are to set our love for Jerusalem above our highest joy.
Our Sages also decreed that this Psalm should be recited at every Jewish wedding, in order to teach that even at this supreme moment of happiness when bride and groom are joined in holy matrimony, there is yet a greater joy – the joy we must feel for Jerusalem.
If we place other pleasures over the joy we should feel for Jerusalem, then something is wrong with our Judaism.
If we place other pleasures over the joy we should feel for Jerusalem, then something is wrong with our Judaism. If sitting down on Sunday mornings in our Central Park apartments with the New York Times and a fresh bagel and lox is more pleasurable to us than our joy over Jerusalem, then we ourselves are delaying the rebuilding of the Temple. If the New York Knicks and the Chicago Bulls and the World Series and the New York Stock Exchange and the Academy Awards and the latest Woody Allen movie and our golf handicaps and doubles matches are more exciting to us than Jerusalem, then our understanding of being Jewish is warped. If refurnishing our mansion in Johannesburg and our villa on the Cote d’Azur is more important to us than rebuilding Jerusalem, then something is wrong with our understanding of Torah. If vacations to Bermuda and Venice and Disneyland are our first choice ahead of Jerusalem then we have some serious repentance to do.
Our unsurpassed love for Jerusalem is not only because it is G-d's chosen city. It is not just because it is the most beautiful city on earth. Jerusalem teaches us the true understand of Torah. It teaches us that Judaism is more than practicing private mitzvot, and searching for OUs in the supermarket, and donating to the Federations in Miami, Los Angeles, and New York. Jerusalem teaches us that the Torah is the establishment of a mighty Jewish nation in the Land of Israel. It teaches us that the Torah is not just a list of dos and don'ts, but rather a Divine national constitution and that real Torah Judaism includes a national homeland and national capitol and national kingship and judiciary and army and being a part of the Nation of Israel - and not a part of a foreign land.
I hope these beautiful photographs of the walls of Jerusalem by the Israeli photographer Yehoshua HaLevi will inspire each one of us with a greater love for our cherished Holy City and help us reset Jerusalem above our highest joy. May the Holy Temple be rebuilt swiftly, in our time. Amen.
One of the reasons why Diaspora Jews don’t come home to Israel is because they become trapped in the land where they live. We learn this from last week's Torah portion of Vayigash.
At the very end of the portion (Bereshit, 47:27), the Torah tells us: “And Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the region of Goshen, and they had possessions therein (ואחזו בה)….”.
The literal reading of the Hebrew is written in the passive form, meaning, “and they were possessed by it.” According to the Midrash, the expression indicates that the land took possession of them, causing them to want to live there.
The Torah commentator, the Kli Yakar, states that this verse is a condemnation of the Children of Israel. They sought to be permanent settlers and property holders in Egypt when they were only supposed to be temporary strangers there. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch writes: “They let themselves be gripped by the land, and herein lies an indication of the beginning of that sin, the facts of which Ezekiel has recorded for us.”
Rabbi Hirsch is referring to Chapter Twenty of the Book of Ezekiel which describes the terrible desecration of Hashem caused by the Jewish presence in the Diaspora:
"Thus says the L-rd G-d: In the day that I chose Israel and lifted up My hand to the offspring of the House of Yaacov, and made myself known to them in the land of Egypt, when I lifted up My hand to them saying, I am the L-rd your G-d; in the day that I lifted up My hand to them to bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had mapped out for them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the crown of all of the lands; then I said to them, Cast away every man the abominations of his eyes, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt, I am the L-rd your G-d. But they rebelled against me and would not hearken to me; they did not cast away every man the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt: then I said, I will pour out My fury upon them, to inflict My anger upon them in the land of Egypt” (Ezekiel, 20:5-8).
Because the Jews had become so possessed by the foreign land and its culture, Hashem had no choice but to remove them by force.
The prophecy continues: “I acted for My Name’s sake that it not be profaned in the sight of the nations, among whom they were.”
When a Jew remains in a foreign land instead of returning home to the Land of Israel, clinging to the foreign land and its culture, this is a desecration of G-d. In order that the non-Jew didn’t have an opportunity to mockingly say, “This is G-d’s people, and see how they prefer our land to the land that G-d gave them,” in order to prevent this great shame, G-d uprooted them with anger and brought them out of Egypt by force.
This Wednesday is the Tenth of Tevet, a fast day marking the beginning of the siege on Yerushalayim, which led to the destruction of the First Temple, may it be built again soon. In Israel, special prayers are said for the martyrs of the Holocaust whose dates of death are unknown. One cannot help but shudder when reading the continuation of Ezekiel’s prophecy how vividly it speaks of the Holocaust and the violent uprooting of the Jews of Europe:
“And that which comes into your mind shall never come about, in that you say, We will be like the nations, like the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone. As I live, says the L-rd G-d, surely with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with anger poured out, will I be king over you: and I will bring you out from the peoples and will gather you out of the countries in which you are scattered, with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with anger poured out” (Ezekiel, 20:33-34).
In the Divine plan of history, the time came for the Jews of Europe to return home to Israel. When they refused, the Almighty had to extract them with terrible anger and force.
The point is tht the L-rd G-d of Israel does not want His people living in Egypt, nor in Poland and Germany, nor in Monsey or Toronto or LA. The L-rd G-d of Israel is not happy when the nations of the world have an opportunity to say, “See how the Jews rebel against their Master and prefer to dwell with us in foreign lands.”
Dear brothers and sisters in the Diaspora, it is time to realize that you are possessed. In addition to all of your reasons for not coming to Israel, whether they be justified reasons or not, you are possessed by the lands where you live. You are possessed by their cultures, by their customs and dress, by their languages, by their foods, by their politics, by their unholy aspirations and values. If you identify yourselves as being Americans or Frenchmen or Englishmen or Canadians or Australians or South Africans or Mexicans, then your brains are embalmed in the quicksand of the lands where you live.
The choice is yours. You can stay possessed where you are and sink into the oblivion of your foreign existence, waiting to be pulled out by force; or you can come home to Israel on your own free will and merit the unparalleled blessing of fulfilling the commandment of the King.
Stand in front of a mirror and snap your fingers in front of your face. WAKE UP, SLEEPING BEAUTY! WAKE UP!
An e-mailer from Canada asks, "What's the matter with a Jewish family celebrating the non-religious aspects of Xmas - presents, stockings, Xmas tree - so that the children won't feel different from their friends?"
Thank G-d, in Israel, a Jew doesn't have this dilemma, since you don't even know it is Xmas here, unless you get lost and drive into Bethlehem, where you would be slaughtered in two minutes by the lovers of peace and Xmas joy.
I feel I am too out of the Xmas scene to answer this Jew's question in a way that he would understand, so I am turning to you to answer for me, in the hope that your answers will save him and his family from the certain spiritual death that they face.
The secret of a happy marriage is not lots of money, a big house, a good therapist, or living far away from one's in-laws. The secret of a happy marriage is when the husband acts like a man and not an animal.
WARNING - Because this essay by Rabbi Shalom Arush deals with the intimacies of marital relations, we are posting it on our jewishsexuality.com site with this convenient link, in consideration for our readers who have expressed their opposition to my posting blogs of this sort on Arutz 7.
May your marriage be filled with mutual love and joy.