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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.


      Elul 15, 5767, 8/29/2007


      The concept of t’shuva means to return to one’s source. Suppose a man is expelled from his house by thieves. The wrongdoing will only be corrected when the owner returns to repossess his house. This is true for the Jewish People on both a national and individual level. To achieve a state of true t’shuva and reunion with G-d, we have to return to our home in the Land of Israel.
      A Jew who becomes a baal t’shuva in Chicago has only returned a part of the way home.
      The return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel is a necessary stage in the t’shuva of the nation and each and every Jew. This is the Redemption that we pray for. For instance, a Jew who becomes a baal t’shuva in Chicago has only returned a part of the way home. While his personal character and behavior have been sanctified by aligning his life on the pathway of Torah, he has traveled only half of the journey home. The “t’shuva train” is continuing on to Israel. The final stop is Jerusalem. Every Jew needs to bring his little light home to the Holy Land where it can join the great flame. He has to uplift his private, egotistical life, to the higher life of Clal Yisrael, and to merge his personal goals with the goals of the rebuilding of the nation. To rectify the blemish caused by the galut, he has to abandon the exile and join the ingathered to Israel. He has to actualize the words of his prayers, “And gather us together from the four corners of the earth.” Otherwise, he is just like a parrot who mouths words without acting out their meaning (Kuzari, 2:24).
      Here’s another example. Let’s say a non-religious Jew decides to return to G-d and make a commitment to Torah. He learns all about Judaism and embraces the mitzvot with the great joy and fervor characteristic of the newly religious. Except he decides that he doesn’t want to put on tefillin. For whatever reason, whether because he feels it’s a silly piece of mumbo jumbo, or because the little box looks strange on his head, or because tefillin are expensive, he decides that it isn’t for him. Obviously his return to the Torah is incomplete. One could not even call this person an Orthodox Jew.
      The same thing is true with the mitzvah of living in Israel. Jewish Law states: “A Jew should always live in the Land of Israel, 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 are Jews” (Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer, 75:1:3). Our baal t’shuva from Chicago may do all of the other commandments with joy, but by not coming to live in Eretz Yisrael, he is showing that his belief in the Torah and in the G-d of Israel is incomplete.
      Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook would stress to his students that an Orthodox Jew does not pick and choice mitzvahs, saying “This commandment is pleasing to me, I will do it, but this commandment is too difficult, I will pass.” This is the way of Conservative Jewry. If Shabbat is too much of a burden, they don’t observe it. If wearing tzitzit is too embarrassing, or uncomfortable, or old-fashion, then it isn’t for them.
      Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook at the Kotel, (standing to the right of the Nazir, Rabbi David HaCohen,) immediately after its capture in the Six Day War
      “Rejecting the commandment of living in Israel is a rejection of Hashem,” Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda emphasized. “It is a rebellion against G-d, as it is written in the Torah concerning the Jews who refused to continue on to Eretz Yisrael after the exodus from Egypt. Hashem declares to them: ‘You rebelled against the L-rd your G-d, and you did not believe in Me, and did not listen to my proclamation’” (Devarim, 9:23).
      Not coming to live in Israel expresses a lack of faith of G-d. It is a denial of G-d’s will for the Jewish People that the commandments be observed in the Land of Israel. Living in Israel is not a matter of personal preference. It is one of the commandments of the Torah required of each and every Jew, a mitzvah that our Sages declare is equal in weight to all of the commandments of the Torah (Sifre, Reah,80). It is such a great mitzvah because living in Israel is the cornerstone of our nation, and the foundation of all of the Torah.
      “Being a Jew today comes with the basic requirement to be in Eretz Yisrael,” Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda taught. “Every Jew who comes to Israel brings back to Zion an aspect of the Shechinah from the exile. Every additional Jew who comes to Israel, and every additional tree which is planted in the soil of Eretz Yisrael is another stage and step of the Redemption, in the same way that every additional piece of Torah which is learned, and every yeshiva which is built in Israel, is another stage in the returning of G-d’s Presence to Zion” (see the book, “Torat Eretz Yisrael,” Chapters 5-9, for an in-depth study of the mitzvah of living in Israel).
      Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda’s father, Rabbi Avraham Yitchak HaCohen Kook, also stressed that the true t’shuva of the Jewish People is in our return to Eretz Yisrael. Again and again, in his letters and speeches, he called the Jewish people to return home to Zion. One public proclamation, sent out all over the Diaspora, years before the Holocaust, was entitled, “The Great Call.”
      “To the Land of Israel, Gentlemen, To the Land of Israel! Let us utter this appeal in one voice, in a great and never-ending cry. Come to the Land of Israel, dear brothers, come to the Land of Israel. Save your souls, the soul of your generation, the soul of the entire nation; save her from desolation and destruction, save her from decay and degradation, save her from defilement and all evil — from all of the suffering and oppression that threatens to come upon her in all the lands of the world without exception or distinction....
      “Escape with your lives and come to Israel; G-d’s voice beckons us; His hand is outstretched to us; His spirit within our hearts unites us, encourages us and obliges us all to cry in a great, powerful, and awesome voice: Brothers! Children of Israel, beloved and dear brethren, come to the Land of Israel, do not tarry with arrangements and official matters; rescue yourselves, gather together, come to the Land of Israel....
      “From the time we were exiled from our Land, the Torah has accompanied Israel into exile, wandering from Babylon to France, Spain, Germany, Eastern and Central Europe, Poland, Russia, and elsewhere. And now, how happy we would be if we were able to say that she has returned to her first place, to the Land of Israel, together with the people of Israel, who continue to multiply in the Holy Land.
      “And now, who is so blind that he does not see the L-rd’s hand guiding us in this, and does not feel obligated to work along with G-d? A heavenly voice in the future will cry aloud on top of the mountains and say, ‘Whoever has worked together with G-d, let him come and receive his reward.’ Who can exempt himself from doing his part in bringing additional blessing and swifter salvation; from awakening many hearts to return to the Holy Land, to the L-rd’s legacy, that they may become a part of it, to settle it with enterprises and buildings, to purchase property, to plant and sow, to do everything necessary for the foundation of life of a stable and organized settlement....”
      My friends, the fact of the matter is that if you want to be a real baal t’shuva, you have to return to the place you came from, to the place you belong. And if you want to serve G-d as the Torah intended, you have to perform the mitzvot in Eretz Yisrael. If you are not already here, or not on the way, chances are that you are either lacking in faith, or your understanding of Judaism is mistaken. As the Day of Judgment approaches, find a few quiet moments and ask yourselves, “Am I really doing the best that I can to serve G-d by living here in Chicago, or Monsey, or Beverly Hills? Is my living in Chicago what G-d really wants?” If you truly believe so, then when you come to the following verses in the Rosh Hashana liturgy, you should either cough loudly to drown out the words, or quietly sneak out of the shul:
      “Our G-d and G-d of our fathers, sound the great shofar for our freedom, and raise up a banner to gather together our exiles, and return our scattered from amongst the nations, and assemble our outcasts from the corners of the earth, and bring us to Zion, your city, with happy singing, and to Jerusalem, the home of your Sanctuary, with everlasting joy.”

      Elul 14, 5767, 8/28/2007

      Madonna to Visit Israel

      Regarding Madonna’s scheduled visit to Israel for Rosh Hashanah with other Hollywood stars, the question was asked, “What about celebrities like Madonna learning Kabbalah?”

      One time, after watching a monkey in a traveling circus perform all kinds of tricks, a man in the audience made a bet with the trainer of the monkey that he couldn’t teach the monkey to drive a car. They agreed to meet in a month, and sure enough, the monkey took the keys from the hand of the trainer, got in the car, started the engine, and began to drive off. The man who had made the wager watched in amazement. Coming to an intersection, the monkey stopped at the red light, waited for the light to turn green, then continued to drive along  the busy city street. Everything was well and dandy until the car passed a sidewalk fruit stand. Seeing a pile of bright yellow bananas, the monkey jumped out of the window of the car and ran to the irresistible food. The driverless car proceeded to speed down the street toward an approaching intersection. The result was a four car crash, killing several people. The monkey had a wonderful time eating the bananas he stole. 

      As for the trainer, he grabbed the talented monkey, snatched  a bunch of bananas for himself, and raced away down an alley, taking his monkey to another circus in a different town. 

      Elul 12, 5767, 8/26/2007

      Men are Men, and Boys Will Be Boys

      A reader inquired where to start on his path of t’shuva. The legendary Kabbalist, Rabbi Yaacov Abuchatzera from Morocco, states that a person should first strive to cleanse himself from the stains of sexual transgression. In his commentary to the Torah portion, “Bechukotai,” he writes:

      “A person who comes to serve G-d should first rectify any blemish to the Brit in the proper fashion, and afterward begin to serve G-d…. When the Brit is blemished and has not been rectified, everything is canceled and considered naught.”
      Wake up, my friends. The clock is ticking. The Day of Judgment is just moments away.

      We have explained on many occasions that sexual transgressions most damage the Brit, or Covenant, between G-d and the Jewish People. The Brit of sexual purity that was sealed in the flesh of our forefather Avraham is the foundation of the Jewish Nation. Living our lives in a holy fashion is what distinguishes us from the other nations of the world. Therefore, Rabbi Abuchatzera explains that G-d warns us in the most emphatic matter regarding the sufferings that will come upon us if we blemish this part of our lives:

      “Even if you will do all of the mitzvot, I will consider that you have not done them. Even if you will observe My statutes with love, I proclaim that you have despised My statutes. And even if you will perform My judgments with great joy, I proclaim that you have abhorred them. All of this is because you violated My Brit and have not rectified it. For this reason, everything you do is considered canceled and as naught.... Therefore, whoever desires to do t’shuva, let him first rectify blemishes to the Brit, and after that, the things he does to please G-d will succeed.” 

      Readers who are interested in understanding this subject in more depth are encouraged to read the opening chapters of the book, “Secret of the Brit,” which can be found online at www.jewishsexuality.com. But even without learning the Kabbalistic secrets surrounding the Brit of sexual purity, this message comes across loud and clear in the Torah portion we read this past Shabbat:

      “When you go out to encamp against your enemies, you should keep from every evil thing. If there be a man among you that is not pure by reason of impurity of a seminal emission that chances by night, he shall go abroad out of the camp…. For the L-rd your G-d walks in the midst of your camp to deliver you, and to give up your enemies before you; therefore your camp shall be holy, that He see no unclean thing in you and turn away from you (Devarim, 10-16).

      All of our security and well being, both in a national, military sense, and in the camp of our homes, depends on our sexual purity. The Talmud explains that the meaning of “you shall keep from every evil thing” means that you should not gaze upon the beauty of a woman, because a man shouldn’t have sexual thoughts in the day and come to seminal impurity at night,” (Avodah Zara 20A).

      Our camps are to be holy. Sexual transgressions cause the Shechnah, the Divine Presence, to flee. Without the protection that the Shechinah affords, our country and our homes are vulnerable to all sorts of misfortune, G-d forbid, whether it be enemy missiles, traffic deaths, or health, livelihood, and marital problems at home.

      Of course, most people hear these verses during the Torah reading in shul and don’t think twice about them. “That was back then,” they think. Or “It’s something for the army to worry about.” They don’t realize the Torah is also speaking about our homes, warning us that our homes must be free of any unclean thing, and that includes such things as televisions, and computers that don’t have reliable filters on their Internet server to prevent pornography from entering the home. Without such a filter, a computer is an “unclean thing.” Say what you will say, the fact is that men are men, and boys will be boys, and only the most holy Tzaddik will not fall prey to the temptation of the Internet, with all of the seductions of Midian and Amalek just an easy click away. Without a reliable filter that blocks out erotic images and websites, your computer is an open, flowing sewer that brings pornography into the house, causing the Shechinah to flee.

      Men will be men, and boys will be boys.

      The Day of Judgment is only a short time away. Don’t let it come without having downloaded a filter onto your computer. Don’t fool yourselves, saying that you trust yourselves, or your husbands, or your children. Don’t let your camp be unholy. For the sake of your family, and for the well being of the Jewish People as a whole. “Remember what Amalek did to you (אשר קרך בדרך) causing you to have a seminal emission on the way” (See Rashi, Devarim, 25:17). Amalek isn’t just some enemy of the past. He is lurking in our computers, just waiting to pounce and draw us into his web. And we are to remember and guard against his evils every day, in every way that we can, including blotting Amalek out of our homes.

      Take it from Rabbi Yaacov Abuchatzera. Take it from the Torah. Wake up, my friends. The clock is ticking. The Day of Judgment is just moments away.


      Elul 9, 5767, 8/23/2007

      Secret of Success

      It is no secret that western society is success oriented. Everyone wants to be a success, whether it be a successful basketball player, a successful actress, a successful lawyer, a successful stockbroker... the list goes on and on. Success is championed as one of life’s greatest values. Everyone loves success stories. Everyone envies successful people.
      And the winner is....
      From the earliest ages, children are taught to admire success. Parents push their kids to be successful. The drive to succeed is reinforced in schools. The competition is fierce to get into top colleges, because they are seen as the doors to success. Working your way up the ladder of success is the mainstay of capitalism. Accordingly, bookstores are filled with guides on how to succeed.
      Chances are that the faces we see in this world on the cover of People Magazine are not the faces which we are going to see in Heaven in the world to come.
      All of this means that the poor soul who does not succeed is a loser. In western society, if you are not a success, you are probably very unhappy. Your self-image is bound to be low. The successful people are the winners, and you are nothing more than a bum.
      The Torah, however, has a very different understanding of success. Our Sages teach that the beginning verse of this week’s Torah portion, “When you go forth to war against your enemies, and the L-rd thy G-d delivers them into your hands, and you have taken them captive….” is not only speaking about military encounter, but also about a person’s war against his evil inclinations. The hero in this war is the person who overcomes his passion and remains true to G-d’s will for the Jewish People as set down in the guidelines of the Torah. This is life’s true success.
      The Never Ending Battle
      So if you are a loser according to the standards and values of modern Western society, all is not lost. You too can be a winner. You too can succeed. How? Through t’shuva. That’s right. The key to success is t’shuva. When life is looked at through spiritual glasses, the most important thing is neither money, nor honor, nor power, nor fame. The most important thing is getting closer to G-d. For real achievement is actually measured by what is important to G-d, not by what society flaunts. In G-d’s eyes, a woman can be successful without looking like Barbie. A man can be a success without having a six-figure salary. The real successful individual is the baal t’shuva, the person who is forever seeking a deeper commitment to Torah and a healthier relationship with G-d. 
      In his book, “Lights of T’shuva,” Rabbi Kook teaches that the fundamental force of life is the will to get ever closer to G-d. The will to be connected to G-d finds expression in the longing for goodness. Just as G-d is good, we should be good. Just as G-d is giving, we should be giving. Man is the only creature who possesses a free will. Our task is to align our will with the will of our Creator. For the Jewish people, living a life of goodness means living a life filled with Torah, which is G-d’s will for the Jews. This is the path to true happiness.
      Sin acts as a barrier between man and his Maker. When a person defies G-d’s will, he distances himself from G-d. He falls out of harmony with existence, because all of existence is doing G-d’s will. The sun rises every day just as G-d has decreed. Rains fall, flowers grow, birds chirp, all in harmony with G-d’s will. Only man has the freedom to turn his will against G-d.
      In Harmony with Nature
      If a person’s will to do good slips off the right path, he quickly comes to transgress. Rabbi Kook explains that every sin weakens the will to do good. With a weakened moral desire, a man can fall into the clutches of sin completely, G-d forbid.
      For example, this explains how so many people fall into viewing pornography on the Internet. A seemingly innocent glance at a website containing erotic images involves the Torah transgression of not going astray after one’s eyes. This falling away from the Torah invisibly weakens the will for goodness. Since the person has already succumbed to his desire once, he succumbs again, then again and again, until his will for goodness is decimated and he becomes addicted to pornographic sites.
      This moral decline and subsequent severance from G-d can only be cured by t’shuva. It is through returning to G-d that man recognizes the value of goodness. This recognition strengthens the will to do good and gives the penitent power in the battle against his yetzer hara. The more a person learns about the goodness of G-d, and the more he learns Torah, the more ammunition he has in the fight. When he fervently prays to come closer to G-d, his will for goodness is fortified and he re-attaches himself to the Divine “superwill” for the world. This gives him the inner spiritual resources to overcome his evil inclination and turn it toward the good. The winner in this ever-raging battle is the man who clings to G-d in all of his doings. He is the true hero. His is the truest success.
      T'shuva Knocks Outs the Yetzer
      This understanding is startling because it stands in total conflict with all of modern western culture. Today, who are the “successful people”? The movie stars, rock stars, billionaires, political leaders, and sports heroes. These are society’s champions. These are the role models whom young people emulate. They are considered successful because they have successfully achieved honor, power, money and fame — values which Judaism places at the negative side of the scale of character traits.
      You Ain't Nothing But a Hound Dog
      Our Sages teach that we should flee from honor and pride. Our prophets tell us that it is not the powerful and egotistical who shall inherit the earth, but the humble and righteous. Our Rabbis warn that the pursuit of wealth and fame brings misery in its wake. In other words, chances are that the faces we see in this world on the cover of People Magazine are not the faces which we are going to see in Heaven in the world to come.
      Is This Success???
      Rabbi Kook writes: “All of the talents in the world are merely to implement the person’s will to do good, which becomes stamped into his being through the light of constant t’shuva. A great influx of G-d’s spirit falls constantly over the penitent, and a holy will increases in him, far surpassing the aspirations of ordinary men. He comes to recognize the positive value of true success — the will for goodness, which is solely dependent on the person himself, and not on any external condition.”
      When a person connects to the moral and spiritual world of the Torah, he realizes that talents are not ends in themselves, but the means we employ in serving G-d. One realizes that the goal is not just to be a good singer, but to sing the praises of G-d. The goal is not just to be a good writer, but to use one’s talent as a writer to bring people closer to G-d.
      All You Really Need is T'shuva
      The greatness of one’s talent is not the measure of success. Nor is monetary reward or public recognition the yardstick. Rabbi Aryeh Levin, the “Tzaddik of Jerusalem,” lived a life of one good deed after another, but outside of Israel, he was hardly known at all. Who in G-d’s eyes do you think was a greater success, Rabbi Aryeh Levin or Frank Sinatra, “Old Blue Eyes,” who was known all over the world? The answer is obvious when we judge our lives by Jewish standards, and not by the standards of western culture.
      So friends, take down the posters of rock stars and actors from your walls and replace them with pictures of the true heroes of existence, “the heroes of t’shuva,’ as Rabbi Kook calls them, the Tzaddikim and baale t’shuva who bring blessing and goodness to the world. “They are the elite of existence, who call out for its perfection, for the victory over evil, and for the return to true goodness and joy.”
      Rabbi Kook

      Elul 8, 5767, 8/22/2007

      T'shuva Now!

      Continuing our magical mystery tour of t’shuva, let’s have a look at what Rabbi Nachman of Breslev teaches about the month of Elul and t’shuva. Try to put on an imaginary pair 3-D “t’shuva glasses” and see the spiritual powerhouse in the days of Elul.

      Take a look behind the physical curtain.

      The month of Elul is a rope ladder that G-d lowers down to us to rescue us from our fallen state. But it is our task to grab a hold of the ladder and climb back up.

      Rescue Ladder

      In his book, “Advice,” Rabbi Nachman teaches:

      The dominant spiritual theme of the month of Elul is the “tikun habrit,” the rectification for the abuse of the sexual covenant. A person who achieves this will find his true partner in life, a partner who will help him in his aspirations rather than fight against him constantly.

      Elul is an especially favorable time to attain “Da’at,” the knowledge of G-d. A person can come to know and understand what he did not know before. New clothes are fashioned for his soul, and he is released from all of his troubles.

      Elul is the time to circumcise the foreskin of the heart. Only then does a person have the sensitivity to feel real pain in his heart over the sins he has committed. His sensitivity will become so acute that the very hearts of all of the drops of seminal seed he cast away will also feel the pain, no matter where they may have fallen. They will all rise up in a great commotion and also return to G-d.

      Elul is the time most suited for t’shuvah, the return to G-d. It is a period of Divine favor because it was at this time that Moshe went up to receive the second tablets of law and opened a wide path to G-d. The key to this path is to realize that G-d is present in every place and every situation. No matter how far you may have fallen, G-d is with you there just as much as He is present in the heights of the universe…. His dominion extends over everything.

      No matter how low you fall.

      To make amends for one’s sins and rebuild what was damaged, the role of the Tzaddik is of paramount importance. Anyone who wants to attain the ultimate good must make every conceivable effort to draw close to the true Tzaddik and his followers. He must pour out his heart before the Tzaddik and confess his past deeds. Then all of his sins will be forgiven.

      Even when a person knows he has achieved perfect repentance, he must still make amends for his earlier repentance. For what he has achieved then was good only in proportion to the perception of G-dliness he had at the time. But now that he has advanced, compared with his present perception, the earlier perception turns out to have been grossly materialistic.

      When a person wants to return to G-d, he must become expert in halachah, Jewish Law, (halachah literally means “going).

      Even if a person falls into the lowest pit of hell, G-d forbid, he must not despair in any way, regardless of his condition. He should remain firm and search for G-d even there, pleading with Him and begging Him to help in whatever way. For even in the lowest pit of hell, G-d is present, and even from there it is possible to be attached to Him.

      Keep on climbing!

      No matter how greatly a person may have sinned, as long as he is still called by the name of Israel, he is still a Jew in spite of his sins, and the radiance of the root of his soul can be transmitted to him wherever he may be by means of the study of Torah. Then he will return to G-d.

      When those who were far from holiness draw closer – whether they are proselytes who convert, or Jews returning to their roots – G-d’s glory is exalted through their drawing closer, and His Name is glorified in the upper and lower worlds. Glory is raised to its root, and through this shalom spreads over the whole world.

      When those who were far away from holiness are roused to return to the light of the Torah, they may experience tremendous obstacles. It takes enormous effort to strip themselves of their “filthy garments.” These “filthy garments” are as difficult a barrier as a river which is impossible to cross. Do not be discouraged if you find yourself confronted by all kinds of obstacles. This is inevitable. It takes great effort to strip off these “filthy garments” – the sins of the past. At times the experience is very bitter. But in the end all of the barriers which separate you from holiness will disappear.

      Don't let the obstacles scare you.

      You must be “like a strong man running his course” (Tehiilim, 19:6), because even if you have succeeded in repenting and making amends for the damage you did, you must still make up for the good deeds which you could have done but didn’t all the time you were rebelling against G-d. You must be extra enthusiastic and run extra fast in order to make up for what you failed to do then.

      Give it all you got!

      A person must take pity on himself and try to repent of his sins and pray to G-d to help him find a spiritual leader who will show him true love, enlighten him with wisdom, and draw him from his sins. There is no love greater than this.

      The only way to attain complete t’shuva is by passing through all the places one had been before his t’shuva. When he passes through them and encounters the very same temptations that he experienced before, he must turn his head aside and control his inclination without repeating what he did in the past. This is the essence of perfect t’shuva. There is no other way.

      Oh, no, not Hollywood!

      Repentance helps for every conceivable sin, even the most serious of all, the deliberate emission of semen in vain, or other forms of grave immorality. When the Zohar says that t’shuva does not help in the case of a person who wastes his seed, the meaning is not what it appears on the surface. The truth is as our Sages have said, “There is nothing that stands in the way of t’shuva.” But perfect t’shuva can only be attained with the help of the true Tzaddikim.

      [From the book “Advice,” See chapters on the Month of Elul, and on T’shuva. Translations by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan.]