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.
America is the land of the dollar. France is the land of perfume. Russia is the land of vodka. And Israel is the Land of Hashem.
Avraham Avinu’s foremost craving was to serve Hashem. To fulfill this desire, he searched for the place where he could achieve an intimate closeness to the Almighty. The Zohar relates that with his Ruach HaKodesh (Divine Inspiration) Avraham was able to make a radar sweep of the globe and get a read out of the spiritual character of each location in the world. He discerned that Hashem had appointed a different celestial minister to rule over each country.
But when Avraham fixed his gaze on the central point of the world, and tried to zero in on its character, his spiritual radar failed. He couldn’t get a reading. The ruling influence over this one place was recondite and hidden. This zone was so exalted and remote, no matter how fervently he concentrated, he could not fathom the origin of the providence ruling over that place. He understood that this was the very place he needed to reach, since all other lesser celestial powers emanated from there, and the power that ruled there, ruled over all other spheres. When Avraham attained this recognition, Hashem said to him, “Lech lecha – get thee forth from thy land to the Land that I will show thee” – to this unique and secret place.
The Zohar explains:
“When Hashem perceived Avraham’s efforts and desire, he straightaway revealed Himself to him and said, ‘Get thee forth,’ so as to know thy true self; ‘from thy land,’ from that side of the world to which thou was attached up to now; ‘and from thy kindred,’ from that wisdom that that you relied on from the calculation of stars; ‘and from thy father’s house,’ that you not heed the father’s house, even if thou could hope to receive from thy father’s house prosperity in the world – therefore get thee gone from this wisdom and this consideration…. And I shall show thee that which thou was not able to discover, the power of that recondite and obscure Land” (Zoher, Lech Lecha, 78a).
Immediately, Avraham Avinu set forth on the journey without knowing where he was going, without waiting for a free ticket, without knowing if there were already built Jewish communities there with synagogues, mikvahs, yeshiva day schools, vacant villas, and kosher gyms, like there are in Israel today. He went without questioning if it was dangerous, or if he and his children would have to serve in the army. He didn’t even bother to ask if he would be able to make a decent living. He went forth, without even Nefesh B’ Nefesh to help him, simply trusting in Hashem.
Of course, the recondite power that rules over the Land of Israel is Hashem Himself, and not any celestial angel, as the Torah attests, “The Land that the eyes of Hashem are upon it from the beginning of the year to the end.” This is the understanding behind the halacha brought down in the Gemara, Ketubot 110B:
“In all generations and times, a Jew should live in Eretz Yisrael, even in a city where the majority of residents are idol worshippers, and not live outside of the Land, even in a city where the majority of residents are Jews. For everyone who lives outside of the Land is like someone who has no G-d, as it says, ‘To give you the Land of Canaan to be your G-d’ (Vayikra 25). Can it be that everyone who does not live in the Land has no G-d? Rather, it comes to teach that everyone who lives outside of the Land is like someone who worship idols. This is why David said, ‘For they have driven me out this day from being joined to the inheritance of the L-rd, saying, Go and serve other gods’ (Shmuel 1, 26:19). Did someone actually tell David to go and worship other gods? Rather this comes to teach that anyone who lives outside of the Land is like someone who worships idols.”
This is because Hashem has appointed celestial ministers to rule over the countries of the world. As the Ramban explains, outside of the Land, the prayers of a Jew and the Torah he learns are carried up to the celestial minister who rules over that land, and not straight to Hashem. This gives strength to the angel, and thus to the foreign land and culture which the angel personifies. In this sense, serving Hashem outside of the Land is like serving other gods, ie, serving the angels who preside over the lands of the gentiles. Only in the Land of Israel can a Jew serve Hashem directly without having to contend with any intermediary powers (Ramban on the Torah, Achrei Mot, 18:25).
This is the reason that Avraham Avinu wanted to come to Israel, so that he could worship Hashem directly without intervening celestial messengers. Because we are the children of Avraham Avinu, we have inherited his genes and his spiitual strengths. As the Ramban explains, the deeds of our holy forefathers are signs for us to follow. Just as Avraham went forth to the Land of Israel, trusting in G-d, we all can too.
Chances are that if Avraham Avinu had been born in America, he never would have come to live in Eretz Yisrael. Who could have blamed him? What great award-winning movies he would have missed!
Not to mention the world's most beautiful golf courses!
And all the great Superbowels!
And the kosher restaurants!
And the bagels!
And the holidays like Xmas!
And Groundhogs Day!
And the great Jewish statesmen like Henry Kissinger who married a shiksa!
And great Jewish writers like Philip Roth, Arthur Miller, and Norman Mailer, who all married a shiksas!
And great filmmakers like Woody Allen who married a shiksa!
We can imagine the dialogue that would have taken place between Avraham and Hashem:
"Avraham, lecha lecha, go to the Land that I will show you!"
"Sorry, I'd like to, but I can't."
"Why can't you?"
"Well, for one thing I have to think about my parents. And my father has a big business that I have to look after. And there is a lot of important kiruv work I can do here teaching people about You. And besides, it's dangerous in the Land of Israel, and the place is loaded with idol worshippers. And the Mashiach hasn't come yet, and on and on and on."
Thank G-d that Avraham Avinu wasn't born in America, that's all I can say.
Rav Leon often tells a story about a man who bought a ticket to go on a long cruise.
After a few days, he appoached the steward of the ship and asked if he could supply him with a hammer and and nails. When the man in the neighboring cabin heard the sound of a hammer noisily pounding away, he knocked on door. When his fellow voyager opened the door, the neighbor asked what was making all the noise?
"I'm bored," the man with the hammer explained. "So I decided to make a hole in the floor of my cabin bedroom so that I can see all the sharks and fish swim by."
"You can't do that!" the neighbor responded in horror.
"Why not?" the man answered. "I can do what I want. It's my private cabin. I paid for it. I can do what I want."
"It may be your private cabin," the neighbor answered, "But what you are doing in it can sink the whole ship!"
Guess what caused the Flood in the days of Noah? That’s right. How did you guess? Friends, the story of Noah isn’t just ancient history – it’s a warning for today!
The holy Zohar teaches that the Flood came as punishment for the sin of wanton sexual transgressing (Zohar, Bereshit, 56A).
“Rabbi Shimon taught: There is nothing in the world that so arouses the zealousness of HaKodesh Baruch Hu as the sin of transgressing the Brit, as is written, ‘And I will bring a sword upon you that shall avenge My Brit (Vayikra, 26:25).
“Behold the generation of the Flood was not considered completely guilty until they sexually corrupted their ways on the earth. Even though they acted violently, each man with his fellow, nevertheless it was because of their sexual corruption that the sentence of destruction was decreed. They were punished measure for measure – they were destroyed for the sin of destroying their seed on the earth (Zohar, Bereshit 66B).
Now tell me, my good friends, the flood that inundated the hooker filled, homosexual rampant New Orleans, can’t this be seen as a warning that G-d wants us to mend our ways and do away with the promiscuous culture that characterizes western society?
And was it a coincidence that the Tzunami wiped out miles upon miles of nude beaches where freedom loving perverts from all over the world would shamelessly practice their abominations in public?
OK. Maybe that’s true for New Orleans and the Tzunami, but what do these disasters this have to do with Am Yisrael? Well, for one thing, as long as the Jewish People guard their sexual purity, embodied by the Brit, there is no enemy that can harm them, as the Zohar attests:
“Rabbi Elazar said, As long as they remain attached to this Brit and do not loosen their hold of it (do not blemish it with sexual sins,) there is no nation nor language in the world that can do them harm. Noah clung to Brit and guarded it, therefore the Holy One Blessed Be He safeguarded him. But all of his contemporaries did not guard the Brit, and because of this, the Holy One Blessed Be He removed them from the world. As has been stated, in exactly the same way that they sinned, they were blotted out from the world” (Zohar, Bereshit, 66B).
Let’s not forget that the destruction of Jerusalem, and the exile from our Land, was brought about by sexual transgression.
The elder Kabbalist, Rabbi Leon Levy explains that just before the destruction of both Temples, there were false prophets who led the people to think that the licentiousness of the time wasn’t so bad, as the verse says, ‘Thy prophets have seen for thee vain and foolish visions; and they have not exposed thy iniquity, to restore thy captivity; but have prophesied for thee burdens of falsehood and deceit’ (Eichah, 2:14).
“These men, known as lenient rabbis, consistently spoke falsehood and deceit, saying that G-d appeared to them in nightly visions. They pretended to look after the holy Jewish People with vain and ill-spirited proclamations, saying, ‘Don't worry, everything will be all right. Even if you are lax in sexual matters, it isn't so bad, you have our permission to walk about the streets of the city in immodest attire, and we are permitting you to assemble together, men and women, and youths of both sexes. Therefore, dear brothers, why are you so worried and troubled? Behold, all of you are the holy children of Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaacov, and you are leading your daily lives according to our authorized rabbinical supervision. Even if you pollute your eyes with forbidden images, even if you have slipped into immoral sexual practices, there are ways to amend these things, it isn't such a terrible thing, for sure, G-d will forgive you.’
“But, unfortunately my cherished friends, things did not come to pass according to these prophets of falsehood. The opposite occurred. Harsh and mighty judgments fell upon us, along with terrible sufferings that we had never known, may G-d have mercy, as it says, ‘Who will fall by the sword, who by famine, who by thirst?’
“In this fashion, both Temples were destroyed, the Second like the First, all because of the sins and wickedness of these same false prophets who constantly led the Jewish People astray with improper and deceitful guidance. This brought about national collapse and destruction until the Jews were cast into exile and forced to endure the grave sufferings that have accompanied our holy nation for nearly two thousand years” (From “Tikun Now!” in the book, “Tza’akat Yisrael”).
Today, with Jerusalem once again on the chopping block, G-d forbid, and with all of Judea and Samaria in jeopardy of another plan of evacuation - may its formulators be evacuated instead – in addition to waging a fierce and determined campaign against this latest national betrayal, it is worthwhile to take heed to the message of this week’s Torah portion and the teachings so clearly set forth in the Zohar.
At the beginning of the year, there are always a few diehard skeptics who ask, “What about Darwin? What about evolution? What about dinosaurs and the age of the earth?” Often these questions are asked by baale t’shuva who are seeking serious answers to seeming contradictions between the account of Creation in the Torah and the things they previously learned in school.
Today, most serious biologists will admit that man did not evolve from apes, excepting perhaps certain Israeli politicians who do things that not even a monkey would do. The fact is that decades after Darwin formulated his theory of evolution, his famous “missing links” have never been discovered. Some high school texts and natural history museums may still have illustrations of monkeys evolving into prehistoric man, but the theory has been shot through with holes. As the story of Creation attests, man was a unique and separate creation, distinguished from all other animals. Even if there are species that underwent a process of evolution from fish to frogs, this doesn’t bother the religious Jew. The Torah does not stand in conflict with scientific knowledge. The Torah adds a higher understanding to scientific thought. The story of Creation in the Torah is not meant to be a historical, scientific recording of what took place. Rather, the Biblical account of the seven days of Creation, and the story of Adam and Eve, come to teach us moral lessons about the world in which we live, and about our relation to the Creator. Even the vaunted “Big Bang” theory has lost credence, and many leading scientists have turned to theological explanations of the primal cause.
Rabbi Kook writes: “There is no contradiction whatsoever between the Torah and any of the world’s scientific knowledge. We do not have to accept theories as certainties, no matter how widely accepted, for they are like blossoms that fade. Very soon, scientific technology will be further developed and all of today’s new theories will be derided and scorned, but the word of G-d will endure forever” (Letter 91). The main teaching that we derive from the story of Creation, Rabbi Kook says, is that everything is the work of G-d, from the smallest to the largest, from the few to the many. G-d rules over all.
The Zohar emphasizes that to properly understand the Torah, it is necessary to explore the secrets of the Torah which are hidden under the stories on the Torah and the simple reading of the text. Rabbi Kook writes: “The Torah certainly obscures the meaning of the act of Creation and speaks in allegories and parables, for indeed, everyone knows that the stories of the Book of Bereshit are part of the hidden Torah, and if all these narratives were taken literally, what secrets would there be?” (Ibid)
Thus, if scientists maintain that the world is billions of years old, and that dinosaurs once roamed the earth, good for them. The Zohar also has an answer for that. It says that worlds were created and destroyed, created and destroyed, before G-d was satisfied with His Creation. What is important to us is the relationship of the Creator to man, and that great epic started 5768 years ago when the Holy One Blessed Be He whooooshed a Divine soul into Adam.
And this brings us to the apple. If the story of Creation is an allegory, then what is the real secret behind the apocalyptic sin of eating the forbidden fruit? The Tikunei Zohar and the writings of the Arizal explain that Adam’s sin was in not waiting until Shabbat to have relations with Eve. Instead, he rushed to mate with her on the same day they were created, which was Friday. Because it was a weekday, the day lacked the exalted holiness of Shabbat. Thus their marital relations were consummated at a time when harsh judgments and spiritual impurity abounds. Their hastiness and lust brought about a devastating blemish in all of the spiritual worlds, and its rippling effect, like an atomic fusion, triggered a physical cataclysm as well, shattering the ideal paradise of existence and expelling man from Eden. If they had only waited until Shabbat, the world would have been elevated to an everlasting Redemption. This is the power of Shabbat and the world-enhancing beauty of holy marital relations on this incredibly holy day.
That first illicit bite was the real beginning of history. Ever since then, we have been trying to find our way back to the Garden.