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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.
When animals are confronted by danger, they instinctively flee. In contrast, man will often rush forward without a second thought, as if there were no consequence to his actions. According to the tenets of Judaism, one of the consequences is Heavenly Judgment.
The elder Kabbalist, Rabbi Leon Levi, warned a large gathering at the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh night that the judgment of Rosh Hashanah is only a few weeks away. In the meantime our lives are hanging in a precarious balance. Not only our lives, he emphasized, but the lives of our marriage partners and children. Our deeds affect them too. Now is the time to start a serious, heartfelt accounting, the holy Rabbi proclaimed in a voice resonating with a tangible concern for the People of Israel.
The Kabbalist said that out of G-d's great kindness, He has given us the month of Elul to atone for misdeeds and to put our lives back on a holier, healthier track.
The past two weeks, there has been a rash of fatal traffic accidents in Israel. The police and Ministry of Transportation are demanding more funds to combat this very grave national problem. But Rabbi Levi said that the true of cause of the accidents isn’t because of the condition of the highways or the recklessness of the drivers, but because of our sins.
“An accident that happens today was already written down in the Book of Judgment last Rosh Hashanah,” the Rabbi declared. “Now is the time to wake up and return to our Father in Heaven, because, whether someone wants to believe it or not, there is judgment for all of our deeds," This is why we say in our Yom Kippur prayers, "Who will live and who will die; who is his time and who not in his time; who by water and who by fire; who by sword and who by beast....”
This week’s Torah portion of “Shoftim” begins with the command: “Judges and policemen you shall appoint for yourselves in all of your gates….” Rabbi Levy said that according to an inner meaning of the text, “gates” is referring to our openings to the world – our mouth, eyes, nose, and ears. These all have “policemen” that can guard over them and close them like gates. These “policemen” are our lips, eyelids, earlobes, and nostrils, which can serve as protective shields. But if a person allows forbidden things to enter or exit these “gates” without supervision, then they turn into his “judges,” condemning him for his evil doings when the Day of Judgment arrives.
For instance, our eyes. Rabbi Leon used the cell phone as an example. He said that cell phones that were connected to the Internet, and its sea of forbidden images, were severing thousands of Jewish people from the G-d of Israel, especially young Jewish Torah students who were so polluting their souls with pornographic images that they could no longer focus on their learning.
Rabbi Leon explained that according to the Kabbalah our eyes are connected to the highest spiritual worlds, and that by looking at forbidden images we bring a great impurity upon our souls, and bring a terrible pollution to all of the exalted spiritual channels that bring blessing to the nation, severing our connection to everything holy. “This is the most dangerous spiritual threat to the Jewish Nation since Amalek attacked us on the way out of Egypt,” he declared, explaining that Amalek’s strategy was to lure the Jewish People into sexual sin and thus weaken our protective connection to G-d.
Regarding our mouths, Rabbi Levy said that to the same extent that we guard over the things that go into our mouths, making sure that foods have the finest certificates of kashrut, we have to guard over what comes out of our mouths as well.
Speaking badly about other people (lashon hara) is like signing one’s own death warrant. “In our days, the punishment doesn’t come right away,” he said, “Because G-d, in his great mercy, gives us time to repent. But don’t think that everything is rosy and that there won’t come a day of judgment. The Day of Judgment is coming, and it is only a matter of time until the traffic accident, or devastating sickness, or tragedy to one of the children strikes, may G-d have mercy, he said.
In the same way that speaking lashon hara can kill, hearing lashon hara can also have disastrous consequences.
That is why we have earlobes, to close them over our ears if somebody we are talking to starts to speak badly about someone else. Spoken words may seem to only be made out of air, but the words of lashon hara are like invisible daggers. Beware!
OK, OK. Everyone can understand that one’s eyes and mouth and ears can lead a person astray. But his nose? Why do I need a policeman to watch over my nose? Well, among other things, the Hebrew word for nose, “Aph,” also means “wrath.” Ever see a picture of a snorting bull with the anger steaming out of its nose? The supreme Kabbalist master, the Arizal, taught that anger is the most damaging character trait, causing the Divine soul to flee the body and an impure, bestial soul to takes its place.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Day of Judgment is coming. In the meantime, Shabbat Shalom.
Dear Reader, if you are looking to be happy, creative, in harmony with the Almighty G-d and with His universe, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook has the answer — t’shuva.
For Rabbi Kook, t’shuva is a concept much deeper than the common understanding of repentance. It is much more than penitence over sins and the remorse a person feels when he strays from the pathways of goodness and truth. While t’shuva includes these factors, Rabbi Kook teaches that the phenomenon of t’shuva spreads out over all universe, bringing harmony and perfection to all of existence.
Since Elul is the month of t’shuva, and with the New Year just a few weeks away, many of our upcoming blogs will be focusing on the phenomenon of t’shuva, with the hope of helping our readers to replace their old, worn out t’shuva tapes with a sparkling new, heartfelt cassette.
RETURN TO THE SOURCE
While t’shuva is normally translated as penitence or repentance, the root of the Hebrew word t’shuva means “return.” T’shuva is a return to the source, to one’s roots, to one’s deepest inner self. Rabbi Kook writes:
“When one forgets the essence of one’s soul; when one distracts his mind from seeing the true nature of his own inner life, everything becomes doubtful and confused. The principal t’shuva, which immediately lights up the darkness, is for a person to return to himself, to the root of his soul. Then he will immediately return to G-d, to the Soul of all souls. And he will continue to stride higher and higher in holiness and purity. This is true for an individual, a nation, for all of mankind, and for the perfection of all existence....” (Orot HaT’shuva, 15:10).
One can readily understand that to reach fulfillment and happiness, a person must be his true self. In modern times, this basic understanding has been corrupted into a “do your own thing” attitude. Rabbi Kook is advocating a deeper, inner search, far beyond the surface passions and emotions which often lead people to express their every desire and lust. Rabbi Kook understands that the individual, and all of existence, has a deeper, spiritual source.
Throughout history, man has been searching to discover the driving force of life. To a capitalist, money makes the world go around. To a romanticist, love is what impassions mankind. Freudians claim that man’s unconscious desires and sexual libido are to blame. Peering into a microscope, a modern physicist declares that atoms and neutrons cause the world to spin. For biologists, the uniting power resides in strands of DNA.
When Rabbi Kook gazes into the inner workings of the soul, the soul of the individual, and the soul of the world, he sees that the force behind all existence is t’shuva.
THE AGE OF ANXIETY
It is no secret that there is great darkness, confusion, and pain in the world. Bookstores are filled with self-help books on how to be happy. Layman’s guides to psychology line shelf after shelf. Our generation has been called “the age of anxiety.” People often live out their lives plagued with depression, sickness, a sense of dissatisfaction and constant unrest. Psychiatrists and psychologists have become the prophets of the moment, proposing dozens of theories to explain man’s existential dilemmas. Whether it is because we suffer from an Oedipus complex, or from a primal anxiety at having been separated from the womb, from sexual repression, or from the trauma of death, mankind is beset with neuroses. Vials of valium and an assortment of anti-depressants and “uppers” can be found in the medicine cabinets of the very best homes. Not to mention the twenty-four-hour bombardment of work, television, computer games, Internet pornography, discos, and drugs which people use to blot out the never ending angst that they feel.
The psychologist, Erich Fromm, in his book, “Psychoanalysis and Religion,” describes an interesting photograph which captures the average man’s pain:
“It is proclaimed by many voices that our way of life makes us happy. But how many people of these times are happy? It is interesting to remember a casual shot in Life magazine some time ago of a group of people waiting on a street corner for the green light. What was so remarkable and shocking about this picture was that these people who all looked stunned and frightened had not witnessed a dreadful accident but, as the text had to explain, were merely average citizens going about their business.”
Fromm continues and states: “We pretend that our life is based on a solid foundation and ignore the shadows of uneasiness, anxiety and confusion which never leave us.”
Rabbi Kook understands man's unhappiness in a different light. Its source not in external causes, not in the traumas of child hood, nor in the pressures to conform to behavioral norms. Rabbi Kook gazes beyond social, cultural, psychological, sexual, and family dynamics to shed spiritual light on the world’s confusion and pain.
“What is the cause of melancholy?” he asks. “The answer is the over abundance of evil deeds, evil character traits, and evil beliefs on the soul. The soul’s deep sensitivity feels the bitterness which these cause, and it draws back, frightened and depressed” (Orot HaT’shuva, 14:6).
“All depression stems from sin, and t’shuva comes to light the soul and transforms the depression to joy” (Ibid, 14:7).
If Rabbi Kook were to have studied the Life magazine photograph of the tense, unhappy people on the street corner who were waiting to cross the street, he would have suggested a far deeper reason for their anxiety than any psychologist could pro pose. A deeper reason, and a novel cure:
“Every sin causes a special anxiety on the spirit, which can only be erased by t’shuva. According to the depth of the t’shuva, the anxiety itself is transformed into inner security and courage. The outer manifestation of anxiety which is caused by transgression can be discerned in the lines of the face, in a person’s movements, in the voice, in behavior, and one’s handwriting, in the manner of speaking and one’s language, and above all, in writing, in the development of ideas and their presentation” (Ibid, 8:3).
The melancholy and anxiety haunting mankind is not a result of the “separation from the womb,” but of a separation much deeper — the separation from G-d. Rabbi Kook writes:
“I see how transgressions act as a barrier against the brilliant Divine light which shines on every soul, and they darken and cast a shadow upon the soul” (Ibid, 7:5).
Thus, the cause of depression is transgression and the resulting estrangement it causes from G-d. The remedy is t’shuva — for the individual, the community, and for the world. Rabbi Kook teaches that to discover true inner joy, every person, and all of Creation, must return to the Source of existence and forge a living connection to the Creator.
This month of Elul, may we all merit to return in complete t’shuva, Amen. Chodesh tov!
[This blog has been excerpted from the book, “The Art of T’shuva,” an in-depth study of the writings of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook on the subject of t’shuva, written by Rabbi David Samson and your insignificant Arutz 7 blogger.]
If reminding people of these exalted matters isn’t “Ahavat Yisrael,” then I would be happy to know what is?