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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.
Tishrei 20, 5768, 10/2/2007
There is one day left before everyone’s final judgment is hermetically sealed and handed over to the Heavenly Tribunal on Hoshana Rabbah. Many Jews will stay up all night studying Torah this evening in a last burst of t’shuva. My friends, we have come down to the wire. Therefore in the name of our holy Sages, if you have not yet installed an anti-pornography filtering service on your computer, this is the time to do it. Save yourselves and save your holy children!
The beginning of this week marked the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. Yesterday was the yahrtzeit of the Gaon of Vilna. Today, the guest in our Succah is Yosef. Rabbi Nachman taught that the greatest test in life is to fight against the sexual temptation. As we have explained elsewhere, one of the main weapons in the battle is the lulav. The waving of the lulav and the succah itself are all designed to purify us from our sexual mistakes and protect us from the sexual sin. Rabbi Nachman explains that the awesome destructive power of the nations comes from their saturation in sexual impurity. They come against us with the power of evil. Our real weapon against them is not tanks and bombers, but our lulavs. The holiness of Israel is what overcomes our enemies, not our physical prowess. When we purify our beings, re-embrace the holy Brit and reattach ourselves to G-d, our enemies are shattered before us. This is the secret of the haftorahs we read on the first day of the Holiday and on Shabbat. It is not our physical might that defeats the terrible enemies that strike from the north, but our holy connection to G-d. The salvation is from Him.
Internet in the Home
Our Sages have long told us that sexual transgression causes a terrible rift between the Jewish Nation and G-d, causing exile and national destruction. Our enemies know this and therefore muster all of their cunning, material resources, and technology to bring us to sin. This has been the strategy from the time of Amalek, Midian, Greece, throughout history down to the zillion dollar industry of Internet pornography today. Today, this terrible enemy has not only invaded our territorial borders – rather, like the Trojan Horse, it has been afforded in an honored place in our homes. So if you want to join in the fight and help win the battle, save yourselves and your children, and the entire Jewish Nation – and expel this seductive, vile, and cruel and crafty enemy from your homes.
The Gaon of Vilna writes that the apocalyptic war of Gog and Magog that we read about on Succot can be averted if we reassert of allegiance to the Covenant of sexual purity through Tikun HaBrit. This is the great example and teaching of Yosef who is called Yosef the Tzaddik because he resisted the temptations of Potifar’s wife. It is Yosef, in his aspect of sexual holiness, who leads the way to tomorrow’s exalted succah guest, King David, who represents the long-awaited Redemption and re-establishment of the Kingdom of Israel. Rabbi Nachman stresses that it is precisely through the festival of Sukkot and the rectification of the Brit that comes through it that we attain the great holiness that leads us to victory over our enemies and to the renewal of the fallen succah of David.
HaRav Eliahu Leon Levi
This week, we had the honor of welcoming the esteemed Kabbalist, HaRav Eliahu Leon Levi, in our succah. He explained that because we are in the sixth millennium of Jewish history, which parallels the sefirah of the Yesod, the channel of sexual purity represented by Yosef, the nations of the world are waging a fierce spiritual war against us, precisely in this sphere, the very foundation of our holiness and connection to G-d. This is the underlying reason for all of the sexual licentiousness today. It is the people who sanctify their sexual lives, he said, who will find “a refuge in Zion and Jerusalem” in the end of days, as our Prophets have promised.
Each of us can play a part in this national sanctification by making sure that the impurity of the nations of the world does not seep into his or her home through the Trojan Horse of the Internet. Download a filter today. In our home, we have three for safe measure: Eye-Saver of Bezeq; K9 Web Protection; and the new enhanced Israeli Rimon.
If we all make this a part of our t’shuva, we will give a big push to bring the Redemption much closer. May it come soon. Amen.
Tishrei 17, 5768, 9/29/2007
With the death of HaRav Avraham Elkana Kahana Shapira, the earthy ship has lost its captain, and we are left bobbing without direction on the waves of a turbulent sea.
Lost in a Turbulent Sea
The first time I met him, I had just arrived in Israel, a few hours before Simchat Torah. During a break in the joyous dancing at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, I was pulled out of the incredible tornado of spiritual energy and taken to meet HaRav Shapira, the Rosh Yeshiva and Chief Rabbi of Israel. His was one big happy smile which beamed with a radiant light. I felt like I was meeting a celestial angel. He motioned for me to take a piece of cake and to make a “L’Chaim” on a glass of wine. My Israeli friends asked him if I had to keep two days of the Yom Tov, like a Jew who lives in the Diaspora. At the time, I hardly spoke Hebrew. Constantly smiling, the Rabbi asked if I intended to make aliyah? When I answered yes, his smile broadened, his eyes twinkled, and he said that I should keep only one day, but that I should not travel out of the city during Isru Hag.
When I made aliyah, I lived in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood, and would often daven at Mercaz HaRav. HaRav Shapira was always happy to see me and demonstrated a genuine interest in my progress. Once, after I had written a screenplay about an American youth who comes to Israel and gets killed by a terrorist, I had second thoughts that maybe the killing would reinforce the exaggerated fears that Diaspora Jews have about coming to Israel. So I went and asked the Rabbi if having such a scene in a movie could be considered similar to the terrible sin of speaking badly about the Land of Israel? To appreciate his answer, you have to realize that HaRav Shapira had spent all of his life in the holy halls of Torah. As eulogizes emphasized at his funeral, he didn’t just know a part of the Torah in depth, like many other rabbis, he knew all of the Torah in depth. First, he said to me that my worry was not a real concern since, unfortunately, not many Jews from the Diaspora came to Israel anyway. Second, he said that while he wasn’t a maven (expert) on movies, from what he understood, if I didn’t have the murder, I wouldn’t have a movie.
On another occasion, during the protests over the Oslo Agreement, I made a poster of Rabin wearing Arafat’s kefiah. When a student of the yeshiva had qualms about plastering the poster all over Jerusalem, we went to ask HaRav Shapira if it was OK. Without giving a definite yes or no, he asked, “Do you think the Chofetz Chaim would have made a poster like this? After all, Rabin is a child of Avraham Avinu too.”
A few years ago, when the Likud was holding a referendum whether or not to support the Sharon Disengagement Plan, I prepared an anti-Disengagement CD video that was distributed to all of the Likud membership before the vote. When I went to HaRav Shapira to film a statement from him for the film, I asked him if it permissible according to the Torah for a Jewish government in Israel to surrender a part of Eretz Yisrael to the enemy? With a look of innocent wonder, he responded, “You came here with all of this equipment to ask me that? Why do you ask me such a question? Ask any six-year old in Heder. He’ll tell you the answer. You don't have to ask me.”
His definitive proclamation that the Disengagement was a clear violation of the Torah, and that soldiers must disobey orders to uproot Jewish settlements, was the battle cry of the campaign against the evacuation. Tragically, media-pleasing rabbis who had learned under his tutelage, and who were half his age, and who had learned a tenth of the Torah that HaRav Shapira had learned, came out publically with opposing views, thus splitting the national religious camp and undermining the unity and power of the protest campaign. For almost two generations under the Torah leadership of HaRav Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook and HaRav Shapira, we had learned the supreme value of the Land of Israel to the Jewish Nation. Now, suddenly, when the issue came to a real test, a handful of popular rabbis broke away from following the leadership of a true Torah giant, HaRav Shapira, and from the teachings of Rabbi Kook, and declared that the allegiance to the government and the unity of the army were more important than the sanctity of the Land. The rest is history. Instead of an invincible, unified, Torah campaign against the evacuation, the settlers became divided, and a wishy-washy campaign led by wishy-washy rabbis capitulated again and again to the authorities. Gush Katif was lost. The settlement movement lost its moral power and direction. Even worse, our wonderful, idealistic youth fell into a crisis in faith that has not yet been healed.
Walking in the funeral procession yesterday with the one-hundred thousand people who came to pay last respects to HaRav Shapira, I couldn’t help but think that if we had exhibited this unity when the Rabbi was alive, we would not have lost Gush Katif and the State of Israel would truly have become a beacon of moral light to the world. Instead, because we didn’t follow the truth of the Torah as HaRav Shapira taught, we have been punished with the weakening plague of division, and now our captain has been taken away, and we are like a ship cast away at sea having to charter its way through perilous waters alone.
May the memory of HaRav Shapira be for a blessing, and may G-d answer his heavenly prayers for mercy, and send us Mashiach to show us the way back to the Torah. Amen.
Tishrei 11, 5768, 9/23/2007
There are Jews with secrets and secret Jews. There are Jews who know the secret that the holiday of Succot, as well as all of the Jewish holidays, are integrally bound up with Eretz Yisrael, and there are secret Jews who hide their succah booths from view.
If you really want to celebrate Succot - Come to the Land of Israel!
For the ten days in Israel, in whatever direction you look, chances are you will see a succah booth. On front lawns, in driveways, in parking lots, on restaurant sidewalks, on the terraces of buildings, and on rooftops. In the Diaspora, the opposite is true. Unless you happen to be in one of the 5 or 6 Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods scattered around the globe, chances are you won’t see a succah at all. Take a walk from one end of Los Angeles to the other and there won’t be a succah in sight. In Paris and London, you would never know that there is a Jewish Festival about to begin. Diaspora succahs, if they exist, are hidden away on back lawns, or in back alleyways, so that the goyim won’t shoot flaming arrows at them and set them burning to heaven in a blaze of smoke. In the villas of wealthy Jews, you might discover a succah inside the house under a pull-back roof, so that the neighbors don’t have to know that Orthodox Jews live inside. That’s the sad state of affairs when you are a secret Jew living amongst the goyim.
Yes, we have many problems in Israel, but we don’t have to be secret Jews. We do not have to hide our succot in the back of our homes. We can proudly construct them in our driveways and front lawns without worrying about vandals or burglars or gentile police. In the Diaspora, a front lawn succah sticks out like the gaudy statues that Beverly Hills Arabs like to put on their lawns. In Israel, no one takes a second look. Succahs are natural in Israel. They are a part of the landscape. People can dine in them in peace, and sleep comfortably in them all night without the slightest disturbance.
The renown Torah scholar, the Gaon of Vilna, emphasized that only two mitzvot are performed with all of one’s body – the mitzvah of dwelling in the succah and the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael. The lulav, etrog, myrtle, willow, and palm branch are all indigenous to Eretz Yisrael. The festive pilgrimage to the Jerusalem Temple and the joyous “Simchat Beit HaShoevah” can only be performed in Eretz Yisrael.
During my first year as a baal t’shuva returning to the Torah, when the holiday of Succot came alone, I erected four poles on the roof of the eight-story apartment building where I was living in Manhattan. Not having learned the laws of the festival, I stretched a blanket over the poles as a succah roof and slept outside in the wind and rain throughout the holiday. Though my makeshift succah was invalid and not a succah at all, I am sure that G-d was pleased with the well-meaning weirdo on that lonely New York City roof. The next year I was invited to spend the first Yom Tov of Succah at the home of a shaliach from Israel who was working on an aliyah project in New York. When it started to rain at the beginning of the meal, he ordered his family to abandon the succah and move everything into the house. I refused, saying that I was staying in the succah since Rabbi Nachman taught that the mitzvah of succah is a segulah (special blessing) for coming to Eretz Yisrael. My host argued that the halachah stated that a person could leave his succah because of the discomfort and health hazard of rain, but I stubbornly stayed in the succah all night. Five minutes after the Yom Tov ended, the telephone rang. It was a co-worker of the shaliach from Israel. He said that they needed me to accompany a TV film crew that was flying to Israel in two days and that there was an El Al ticket for me waiting at JFK. “You see,” I told the startled shaliach. “Rabbi Nachman was right!”
How I met the Kabbalist Elder, Rabbi Leon, in my succah in Jerusalem is another amazing succah story that I have already told. If you read it closely, you will find a lot of secrets there.
For other Kabbalistic secrets of the succah holiday that are sure to blow you away, you can find them online at jewishsexuality.com. If you are tired of being a secret Jew, you too can become a Jew filled with secrets.
P.S. Now that my erudite friend and political, historical, Zionistic mentor, Yisrael Medad, is on board in the blog dugout of Arutz 7, I have no more qualms about quitting.
Tishrei 7, 5768, 9/19/2007
There is a time for everything under the heaven. In our age of sexual licentiousness, the time has come to reveal the secret of Yom Kippur.
Secret of Yom Kippur
May the Almighty accept our prayers and cleanse us from all of our wrongdoings.
[Since a reader's query has triggered several questions about women and tikun habrit, we are providing a link to an answer to her question.]
Tishrei 5, 5768, 9/17/2007
If you are seriously planning on doing t’shuva this week, don’t forget to exercise and get into shape. Rabbi Kook teaches that in order to return to one’s healthy spiritual source, a person must also return to his natural, optimum physical being. To reach inner peace and harmony with G-d’s Creation, an individual must first have a healthy body.
In our days, where health-food stores and sports clubs abound, this simple teaching is known to almost everyone. What is new, however, is that Rabbi Kook sees this as part of the process of t’shuva. Being in good shape is an important factor not only in attaining personal well-being, but also in forging a connection to G-d. Rabbi Kook writes:
“Every bad habit must cause illness and pain. Because of this, the individual and the community suffer greatly. After a person realizes that his own improper behavior is responsible for his life’s physical decline, he thinks to correct the situation, to return to the laws of life, to adhere to the laws of nature, of morality, and of Torah, so that he may return to live revitalized by all of life’s vigor” (Orot HaT’shuva, 1).
To hook up with the spiritual channels connecting heaven and earth, a person must first be in a healthy physical state. For instance, one of the basic requirements of prophecy is a strong, healthy body. Physical and spiritual health go together. The Rambam, who worked as a physician when he was not studying Torah, has systematically detailed in his writings the rules of healthy living, stressing the importance of exercise, proper diet, sexual moderation, and bodily care as a prerequisite to keeping the Torah (Laws of De’ot, Ch.4).
Today, everyone seems to have a battery of doctors. People cannot seem to do without an assortment of pills. Medical clinics are filled up months in advance. Yet the natural state of a man is to be healthy. Physical ailments, headaches, back pain, allergies, or being overweight are all signs that the body is in need of repair. Sometimes the remedy is medicine. Sometimes a proper diet. Sometimes rest and relaxation are the cure.
Rabbi Kook’s call to a state of natural well-being has been partly answered in our generation. Today, there is a vast world industry in being natural. We have natural foods, natural organic vegetables and fruits, natural whole wheat bread, natural herbal teas and medicines, natural clothes, natural childbirth, and an assortment of back-to-nature lifestyles. In the past, it was written on food labels which ingredients were included. Now it is often written which ingredients are NOT INCLUDED: no preservatives, no additives, no salt, no carbohydrates, no artificial coloring, and the like.
In line with this return-to-Eden existence, Rabbi Kook teaches that when a person corrects an unhealthy habit, he or she is doing t’shuva. It turns out that gyms and health clubs the world over are filled with people doing t’shuva. If you are riding an exercise bike to get back into shape, you are coming closer to G-d. Tennis players are doing t’shuva. In Los Angeles, even though the morals of the health-conscious people in aerobics classes may be bent out of shape, they too are engaged in the beginnings of t’shuva.
Wish You Were Here!
Accordingly, if a person stops smoking, he is engaging in repentance. If a fat person goes on a diet, he is embarked on a course of personal perfection and tikun. When a teenager who is addicted to Pepsi begins to drink fruit juice instead, he is returning to a healthier state. In place of caffeine, his blood will be carrying vitamins throughout all of his system. In the language of the Rambam, this person is replacing a food which merely tastes good, for one that is beneficial to the human metabolism (Laws of De’ot, 5:1). As he explains, a person should always eat what is healthy and not merely foods that give his taste buds a lift. Interestingly, the Rambam’s guide to healthy living, written generations ago, reads like the newest best-seller on the market.
It is important to note that while physical wellbeing is a basic rule of good living, the injunction to be healthy is a principle of Torah. We are called upon to “carefully guard your life” (Devarim, 4:9). This is a warning to avoid needless danger and to carefully watch over our health. Inflicting any kind of physical damage on oneself (like excessive cigarette smoking) is forbidden. The Rambam explains: “Having a whole and healthy body is part and parcel of serving G-d, for it is impossible to have understanding and wisdom in the matter of knowing the Creator if a man is ill. Therefore one must avoid things which damage the body and to habituate oneself with things promoting health” (Laws of De’ot, 4:1).
In his book “Orot HaT’shuva,” Rabbi Kook emphasizes that t’shuva is bound up with personal strength and valor. Man was created to be a strong, active creature. This is true not only for athletes, but for spiritually enlightened people as well. The holy men of the Torah possessed not only great personal attributes and wisdom, but also great physical prowess. Though Yaacov spent all of his youth studying Torah, he could lift up a huge boulder when needed. The young shepherd, David, was able to overcome lions and bears, and the giant warrior Goliath. The holy spirit (Ruach HaKodesh) which marked Samson’s life was an incredible physical brawn.
A person who is overweight and easily tired may lack the energy to perform the commandments with the proper enthusiasm, or he may feel too weak to resist bodily temptations. His fatigue may interfere with his Torah learning and prayer. In G-d’s service, a strong body and a strong mind go hand-in-hand.
Rabbi Kook explains that a weakening of the will to keep the Torah in all of its fullness is often due to a lack of physical energy and strength. When a person’s willpower is weak, he can fall into many bad habits and sin. As part of his overall mending, he must improve his physical health, as well as his moral and spiritual worlds.
Interestingly, Rabbi Kook was condemned by certain ultra-Orthodox groups who belonged to the Old Settlement in Jerusalem when he extolled the virtues of exercise and a healthy physique. In his classic work, “Orot,” Rabbi Kook writes that the exercise of young Jews in Eretz Yisrael, in order to strengthen their bodies to become mighty sons to the nation, adds overall strength to the Jewish people (“Orot,” Orot HaTechiyah, pg. 80).
The ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem vehemently attacked Rabbi Kook for this enlightened outlook. They were afraid that any praise of the secular Zionist pioneers could lead to a crumbling of barriers between the holy and the profane. Their negative attitude toward physical strength evolved from the miserable state of the Jew in the ghetto. In the Galut, Diaspora Jews were helpless against the oppression of the gentiles. A distorted philosophy developed whereby a Jew was supposed to look solely to G-d for salvation and rescue. The Jews were so outnumbered, how could they fight? Physical prowess was meaningless. The Diaspora Jew had to rely solely on Torah and prayer. While that might have been true in the exile, with the return of the Jewish people to Israel, physical strength became a necessity if the Jews were to successfully dry up the swamps, settle the land, and defend Jewish settlements against hordes of hostile neighbors.
In the generation of national revival, as the Jewish nation returns to its homeland in Israel, a new type of religious Jew must appear to take up the challenge. Rabbi Kook writes in “Orot”:
“Our physical demand is great. We need a healthy body. Through our intense preoccupation with spirituality, we forgot the holiness of the body. We neglected bodily health and strength. We forgot that we have holy flesh, no less than our holy spirit. We abandoned practical life, and negated our physical senses, and that which is connected to the tangible physical reality, out of a fallen fear, due to a lack of faith in the holiness of the Land....” (Ibid).
In fact, Rabbi Kook emphasizes, it is the revival of the nation’s physical strength which brings about a renewed spiritual strengthening.
“All of our t’shuva will only succeed if it will be, along with its spiritual splendor, also a physical t’shuva which produces healthy blood, healthy flesh, firm, mighty bodies, and a flaming spirit spreading over powerful muscles. Through the power of the sanctified flesh, the weakened soul will shine forth — like the dead’s physical resurrection.”
Jews, religious or not religious, are not to be “nebechs” or weaklings whom everyone can push around. We must be strong to learn Gemara, and strong to build the Land.
[More of Rabbi Kook’s essays on t’shuva can be found online to help inspire readers to a higher, holier, healthier t’shuva.]