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Life Lessons with Judy Simon
Torah Tidbits Audio
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.
Av 14, 5767, 7/29/2007
A newly-wedded husband has written our jewishsexuality.com website, expressing his difficulty in not being able to touch and kiss his wife during her Niddah period. With the hope that he can benefit from the broad experience of our readers, I invite you to send in your comments and share your reactions with him. Since today is Tu B’Av, a day marking the national reunion of the tribes of Israel, and a day celebrating the holy bonds of marriage and love, we can add to the joy of the day by helping this troubled couple, and others, to see the heavenly blessing of Tarahat HaMishpachah.
I am a newly married man and I am struggling with not touching my wife (shomer negiah) during her niddah (menstrual) period. You yourself quote on your jewishsexuality.com website the saying of the Rabbis: “Are the Torah's prohibitions not enough for you that you come to create new prohibitions for yourself?” Furthermore, it is stated, "Thou shalt not add or subtract any mitzvot." I would like to offer the thought that the entire book “Road to Purity” (“Derech Tahara” by Rabbi Modechai Eliahu) is adding additional mitzvot. I have read “Road to Purity” as well as “Daughter of Israel” and they have brought nothing but depression. Is not Shalom Bayit and a happy marriage more important then minhagim (customs) and fences?
I will agree that staying away from intercourse during Niddah is not such a hard thing to do and even logical. But being compeletly shomer negiah during niddah? Do you know how insane it was for us not to touch each other the first week of marriage? Is that normal or healthy? And now I find out that the day before she "could maybe" get her period, that we are also not allowed to touch, just in case! How can I not kiss my wife goodbye when I leave for work? Is that treating my wife with respect, to just say, "Ok, sis, see ya! Maybe I'll kiss you in 14 days!” Is that normal? You know what this causes? Severe guilt and depression on the part of my wife because, heaven forbid, she accidentally handed me a glass of water instead of setting it down on the table. And when she is stressed out and in need of my affection, can I not give her a back rub or a gentle kiss? No! Because, heaven forbid, it could lead to yadda yadda yadda. She cannot even uncover her hair in her own home because if I see it I could go crazy and make love to her, because I am nothing but a weak man and men are uncontrollable sex fiends that need fences around everything or they will commit rape. Is this a normal way of thinking?
As if I am some kind of monster
Please address these issues, as I don't think I can go 14 days treating my newlywed wife as a sister or cousin. I do not believe that she should be made to feel guilty for wanting to be close to her husband. You talk a lot about masturbation on your website. Some say that the ultimate cure is to get married so you won't have to masturbate or look at porn. Your wife is all you need. But nay, it is not so! For I am forbidden, according to “Road to Purity,” to merely gaze longingly at my wife during the period of niddah. Of course I could never go to a rabbi with such issues because the answer will just be "try harder" and that it's a sin to touch her during niddah.
Thus it is important to approach the laws of Niddah like all of the other laws of the Torah and the enactments of our Sages, and know that they are for our own good. In the same way, we are happy to clean the whole house before Pesach, and wear tzitzit on hot summer days, and fast the whole day of Tisha B’Av, even though these things can be difficult and burdensome. Admittedly, when it comes to the period when we have to keep a certain physical distance from our wives because of the laws of Niddah, the matter is compounded because of the powerful emotional needs and sexual urges that are a natural part of marriage. But even then, we are to trust that the Sages of Jewish Law know what is best for us in maintaining our spiritual and physical well being. They are the doctors of the soul, and we do well to rely on them. The laws of Niddah are all based on the Written and Oral Torah, and the teachings of the Talmudic Sages, and are not the whims of this book or that.
Furthermore, when one learns the secrets of Torah, one understands that the “fences,” such as not touching one’s wife during her Niddah period, are not really fences at all. For instance, the holy Zohar explains that the spiritual impurity of Niddah is the severest of impurities, with the ability to “jump” to another person. One does not have to have intercourse with one’s wife during her Niddah period in order to be exposed to the spiritual impurity of Niddah – affectionate hugging and kissing can also expose a husband to this severe spiritual impurity. The tumah of Niddah is like a thick cloud of spiritual pollution, which blemishes a Jew’s holiness and acts as a barrier between a person and G-d, adversely affecting his prayers, Torah learning, and the entire gamut of Divine service. Yes, kissing one’s wife goodbye in the morning is a wonderful thing, but at the expense of cutting oneself off from G-d? And if a wife hands her husband a glass by mistake, she needn’t fall into a bout of depression and guilt, as you write, rather her regret over the unintentional action brings immediate forgiveness, and her mistake is not something that brings about the transference of her Niddah at all. So neither you nor your wife should be alarmed or uptight over moments of forgetful behavior.
Certainly, at the beginning of a marriage, the times of separation seem like forever. But they come to strengthen the emotional and spiritual bonds between a man and his wife, and elevate their relationship over the transitory passions of our physical yearnings. Try talking to some husbands who have been married for several years. I am sure that they will tell you that keeping the laws of Niddah have enhanced their marriages and deepened their love for their wives, keeping the love between them ever refreshed and renewed. Chances are they will tell you that these times of sexual separation brought them closer together and preserved the purity and excitement of being newlyweds all through their lives.
Waters of Renewal
A basic guide to the laws of Taharat HaMishpachah can be found at milknhoney.co.il
Happy Tu B'Av!
Av 12, 5767, 7/27/2007
“I don’t have to be the leader of the Jews,” Moshe pleaded with G-d. “I don’t have to be their president, or rabbi, or king. Strip me of all of my standing and honor. Turn me into a lowly ant if You want to, but just let me enter the Land.”
Anything - Just to Enter the Land
This Shabbat, we are about to read the Torah portion of “Va’etchanan.” The numerical value of the Hebrew word “Va’etchanan” is 515. From this, our Sages teach that Moshe beseeched G-d with 515 supplications, begging Him again and again to let him enter the Land of Israel with the rest of the Jews. Moshe beseeched G-d in every possible manner and way – crying, imploring, arguing, debating, badgering, conjoling, appealing, entreating, demanding, praying, nagging to enter the Holy Land. This was his life goal. This was his dream. This was his life’s aspiration.
Ever since G-d first appeared to Moshe at the Burning Bush, it was Moshe’s mission in life to bring the Jews to Eretz Yisrael, as G-d tells him: “I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of Egypt, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and large Land, to a Land flowing with milk and honey” (Shemot, 3:8).
Today any Jew can purchase an airline ticket and be in Israel in a matter of hours. There are even organizations that will pay for the airfare. If Moshe were alive today living in Toronto or Monsey, would he give a call to Nefesh B’Nefesh, or would he say, “I won’t buy a ticket until Mashiach comes.”? Or would he say, “I love Eretz Yisrael but as long as the government is corrupt, I’m not coming.”? Or would he say, “As long as the secular Jews violate the Shabbos, I am staying in Monsey.”??????
Of course he wouldn’t. Moshe would be the first on the plane. Why? Because he understood that G-d wants the Jewish People to live in Israel. How did he know? Because G-d says it over and over again. Let’s take a quick look at this week’s portion:
“Now hearken, O Yisrael, to the statutes and to the judgments, which I teach you to do them, that you may live and go in and possess the Land which the L-rd G-d of your fathers gives you” (Devarim, 4:1).
“….That you should act according in the Land” (Devarim, 4:5).
“….That you might do them in the Land” (Devarim, 4:14).
“….But you shall go over and possess the good Land” (Devarim, 4:22).
“….That thou might prolong thy days upon the Land which the L-rd thy G-d gives thee forever” (Devarim, 4:40).
“Honor thy father and thy mother…that thy days may be prolonged and that it may go well with thee in the Land which the L-rd thy G-d gives thee” (Devarim, 5:16).
“….That thou may do them in the Land which I gave them to possess: (Devarim, 5:30).
“….That you might do them in the Land” (Devarim, 6:1).
“….That you may increase mightily in the Land that flows with milk and honey” (Devarim, 6:3).
“….into the Land which he swore to your fathers” (Devarim, 6:10).
“….go in and possess the good Land which He swore to give your forefathers” (Devarim, 6:18).
“….And He brought us out from there that He might bring us in and give us the Land which He swore to our fathers” (Devarim, 6:24).
“….when the L-rd thy G-d bring shall bring thee to the Land” (Devarim, 7:1).
Certainly, it is not easy to begin a new life in Israel. Not every Jew can simply pack up his belongings and hop on a plane. There are people who have to take care of elderly parents. There are others who would have trouble supporting large families. For others, the change of culture would be an insurmountable challenge. Many people have real reasons why they simply can’t come. But no one can claim that it isn’t a mitzvah. None of us today is wiser or holier than Moshe. Not coming to Israel was the greatest tragedy and sorrow of his life. We should all feel that way too.
Av 10, 5767, 7/25/2007
First, a big yasher koach to the Nefesh B’Nefesh organization for its wonderful work in helping Jews make aliyah to Israel. In addition to helping people carry out the supreme mitzvah of living In the Land of Israel, which our Sages say is equal in weight to all the commandments in the Torah, they are raising the spirit of the nation. Who doesn’t get teary-eyed seeing hundreds of new olim happily descend down the ramp way of El Al jets to begin a new life in Israel? May Hashem grant all of the newcomers success and everlasting joy in their exalted religious endeavor.
Having stated our unreserved praise for these brave, idealistic olim and the assistance that Nefesh B’Nefesh provides, we have to ask – where are the rest of the Diaspora’s Jews?
I have never been much of a mathematician, but I punched a few numbers into my calculator and came out with an eye-opening figure. To make the calculation simple, let’s say that 3000 Jews are making aliyah this year from North America. Out of the 5 million Jews still living there, that comes to .006 percent.
Those jumbo El Al jets look really big, and they are really impressive rolling down the runway toward a welcoming crowd waving a sea of blue and white Israeli flags. The pictures and publicity are great. But wait a minute! Where are the rest of the North Anerican Jews?
Stranded in Outer Space
If the NASA space program succeeded in returning only .006 percent of its astronauts from outer space, you could be sure a lot of heads would roll. And if a hospital reported that only .006 percent of surgery patients survived their operations, the hospital’s director would soon be out of work. Or if only .006 percent of students graduated from a certain college, the Dean would be out of a job.
The point is that something is very wrong with Jewish education in North America if only .006 of its Jews are making aliyah per year. Why are we waving flags? Instead, we should be crying.
As we mentioned in a recent blog, the goal of Judaism if for the Jewish People to live a life of Torah in Eretz Yisrael. It is through this national sanctification of Hashem that the light of G-d is brought into the world and His Kingship is established over all of the earth, as the verse says, “From Zion will go forth Torah, and the word of G-d from Jerusalem.”
In his book, “Orot,” Rabbi Kook writes: “The concept of Judaism in the Diaspora will only find true strength through the depth of its involvement in Eretz Yisrael. Only through its longing for Eretz Yisrael will Diaspora Judaism consistently receive its inherent qualities. The yearning for Salvation gives the Judaism of the Diaspora its power of stamina; whereas the Judaism of Eretz Yisrael is the Salvation itself" (Orot, 1:1. To read the full essay, click here).
This means that the goal of Jewish education in the exile must not be the strengthening of Jewish life in the exile, but rather strengthening the Jew’s connection to Eretz Yisrael. The goal of Jewish education in the exile must be to increase the yearning to be saved from the exile, not to prolong it. The goal of Jewish education in the Diaspora must be to yearn for Salvation, which means salvation from the Diaspora itself. What is this Salvation? Rabbi Kook tells us – the Judaism of Eretz Yisrael.
The reason that the aliyah rate from North America is a dismal .006 percent is because the Jewish education there fosters the strengthening of Judaism in America and Canada. In a past blog, I already gave two clear examples of this, which I will repeat here.
Once, when visiting my parents in Florida before they moved to Israel, I noticed a flyer on the bulletin board of the local Orthodox shul. Its headline invited the congregation to come on a trip with the rabbi to “our nation’s capital.” The photograph on the flyer was the Capitol Building in Washington D.C., and not Jerusalem. Since when, I wondered, had Washington become the capital of the Jewish People?
On another occasion, I had to be in Toronto to raise funds for a yeshiva. While I was waiting to speak in one of the large Orthodox synagogues, I glanced at the weekly Jewish journal. On the front page was a photo of the Toronto landmark skyscraper that looks like a needle. The caption read: “Looking Forward to the Next Decade of Jewish Life in Toronto.”
"If I Forget Thee O Toronto"
I was startled. After all, a Jew is supposed to yearn for the next decade of Jewish life in Jerusalem. This is what we pray for three times a day. And, “Next Year in Jerusalem” is what we all say at the conclusion of the Passover Seder and our Yom Kippur prayers. Are we supposed to mean it, or are we just mouthing the words?
At the risk of upsetting the whole of establishment Jewry, a word about “Birthright,” the program that brings Jewish college students on a free visit to Israel to strengthen their feelings of Jewish identity. Certainly there are many praiseworthy things that can be said about this endeavor. Nonetheless, let me point out a matter that coincides with what we have been saying. The youthful participants in the Birthright program are not brought to Judea and Samaria during their tours. This is something that the United States Department of State considers a travel risk, causing insurance companies to balk. Now if the organizers of this program adhere to what the State Department advises in order to show that they are faithful Americans, and thus bypass visiting Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Hevron, why should any of these young people embrace their Jewishness as their first and foremost identity? If they are full-fledged, faithful Americans, then it follows that it is perfectly OK to marry fellow Americans, even if they aren’t Jews. After all, what’s the difference? Americans are Americans, and all Americans are equal, whether they be Eskimos, Afro-Americans, Catholics, or Jews.
The point is that without educating these kids that the Land of Israel is not just a cool place to visit, but rather their true homeland as Jews, in the long run, after the ten-day fix fades away, their identity as Americans is sure to win out in the end.
As long as Jewish education in the Diaspora emphasizes the strengthening of Jewish life and Jewish identity in the Diaspora, it is bound to fail. It is education toward extinction. Whether through assimilation or persecution, the future of Diaspora Judaism is doomed. Jewish educators in the Diaspora have to stop sticking their heads in the sand and face this reality. Education that strives to build Jewish life in galut is blind to the future.
Blind to the Future
As I said, I am not a mathematician, but any statistician will tell you that with the low Jewish birthrate and with the steady rise in assimilation, Diaspora Jewry is on a drastic decline. In thirty years, fifty years, one hundred years, it is destined to disappear. This is how it should be. This is a good thing. The exile is not meant to last forever. This is what we yearn for in our prayers:
“Sound the great shofar for our freedom (from the Diaspora) and lift up the banner to bring our exiles together (in Israel) and assemble us together from the four corners of the earth to our Land. Blessed art Thou, O L-rd, who gathers the dispersed of Thy people Israel (to the Land of Israel).”
Av 8, 5767, 7/23/2007
This week’s Torah portion begins with Moshe begging G-d to let him enter the Land of Israel. “Please let me pass over there and see the good Land on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon” (Devarim, 3:23).
As a rule, the Torah is very precise and sparse with its wording. Why then does the word “good” appear twice in this verse? Rabbi Shalom Gold from Jerusalem explains that Moshe was asking Hashem two things in his fervent petition. The first was permission to enter the good Land with the rest of the Jews. The second request was, “Please, Hashem, after I am in the Land, please grant me the blessing to continue to see the Land in a good light.”
Take a rosier look!
This is a wonderful insight. What splendid advice for us today. We are always to see the Land of Israel in a positive light. Even though there are many problems in the Land, we are always to look on the positive side, with a good eye, and not with a negative orientation. In doing so, we rectify the sin of the Spies and their “evil generation” who chose to emphasize the difficulties and dangers they saw over everything else. In doing so they undermined the spirit and resolve of the nation, leading to the destruction of that generation in the wilderness. In addition, their ambivalence toward, and rejection of living in Eretz Yisrael planted of the seeds of national weakness that still haunts us today, prolonging the exile and strengthening our enemies who seek to uproot the Land from our grasp.
When the Spies saw the might fortified cities in Israel, instead of being thankful they would soon inherit these already built cities, they saw an insurmountable obstacle. When they saw funerals wherever they traveled, instead of thanking Hashem for keeping the local inhabitants distracted while they spied out the Land, they came back with the demoralizing report that the Land eats up its inhabitants at a ravenous pace. When they saw giants, instead of seeing that the Land contains the power for tremendous growth, they merely saw an invincible enemy.
Half filled or half empty? It all depends on your perspective.
What can we learn from this?
First we have to know that there is a yetzer (an evil inclination) to see the Land of Israel in a negative light. Just like there is a yetzer to steal, and a yetzer to say bad things about people, and to look at erotic pictures, and the like, there is a yetzer to see and speak about Israel derogatively. This is the yetzer that entered the eyes and hearts of the Spies, bringing destruction upon their whole generation, and eventually leading to the destruction of Jerusalem and our national life in the Land of Israel. The Gaon of Vilna points out that even Torah scholars can succumb to this yetzer. He states: “Many of the sinners in this great sin of ‘They despised the cherished Land,’ including many guardians of the Torah, will not know or understand that they are caught in the sin of the Spies, that they have been sucked into the sin of the Spies in many false concepts and empty claims, and they cover their ideas with the already proven fallacy that the mitzvah of the settlement of Israel no longer applies in our day, an opinion that has already been disproven by the giants of the world, the early and later Torah authorizes” (Kol HaTor, Chapter 5).
On the eve of Tisha B’Av, we all have to keep on guard and be careful that we don’t fall prey to this terrible yetzer.
For instance, while it is true that we have a government of short-sighted politicians in Israel today, thank G-d that we have a Jewish government after suffering under gentile rule for nearly two-thousand years.
And while our army has been misused as political tool of short-sighted politicians to foster the ideology of the Spies, thank G-d that we have a Jewish army with Jewish officers and soldiers after being persecuted and murdered by gentile armies for those same two thousand years.
And while our media is filled with journalists who have the same misguided mentality of the Spies, thank G-d that we have the satellites and TV equipment in place for the day when Arutz 7 takes over the reins and begins broadcasting Torah to all of the world.
And while our holy Jewish daughters don’t always dress as modestly as they should, thank G-d that they are marrying Jewish men and are not marrying outside of our faith like in every other country in the world.
And while taxes in Israel are high, thank G-d the tax money goes to Jewish schools and hospitals and yeshivot and to build highways all over the Holy Land.
And while you often have to wait on long lines in all sorts of government agencies and offices, thank G-d that the elbow in your rib is a Jewish elbow, and the impatient guy behind you is yelling at you in Hebrew.
And while the traffic jams in Israel are getting worse all the time, thank G-d you are delayed on your way to Jerusalem and not on your way to Manhattan. It seems to me that Moshe would have been happy to wait out the extra half hour.
Av 7, 5767, 7/22/2007
This past Friday, thousands of Jews in Israel traveled to ancient cemetery in Safed to pay respects to the renowned Kabbalist, the holy Arizal, on the anniversary of his yahrtzeit. Rabbi Chaim Vital, the foremost student of the Ari, writes in his preface to Ari’s book, “Etz HaChaim,” that the prolongation of the exile and its tribulations are because the learning of the secrets of Torah has been neglected. In a similar light, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook writes that due to an alienation from the secrets of Torah, the supreme importance of a Jew’s connection to Eretz Yisrael is not properly understood. In his classic treatise, “Orot,” he bases his deep insights into the renaissance of the Jewish nation in Eretz Yisrael on the esoteric teachings of the Arizal and the holy Zohar, dressing up Kaballistic concepts in the language of developing nationhood and rebirth. He writes:
"By alienating oneself from the secrets of G-d, the highest segulot (treasures) of the deep Divine life become extraneous, secondary matters which do not enter the depths of the soul, and as a result, the most potent force of the individual's and of the nation's soul will be missing; and the exile is found to be pleasant in its own accord. For to someone who only understands the superficial level, nothing basic will be lacking in the absence of the Land of Israel, the Jewish Kingdom, and all of the facets of the nation in its built form."
What is Rabbi Kook saying in this difficult sentence? (For a complete translation and commentary on Rabbi Kook’s essay, click here.)
He is saying that someone who understands only the superficial level of Judaism will feel nothing lacking if he lives far away from the Land of Israel, in a foreign country, in a gentile land, under a gentile government. A person like this lives a truncated Judaism that focuses on the individual and the individual mitzvot that he or she can do. Without a deeper understand of the Torah, which is the national constitution of the Nation of Israel as a whole, he will not feel the need for a Jewish Land, nor for a Jewish country with a Jewish army, nor for any of the other foundations of national Israeli life. His focus is on Shabbat, Kashrut, and Tefillin. He thinks that in order to perform them, he does not need Eretz Yisrael. He is satisfied with the individual obligations which he feels he can perform just as well in Chutz L'Aretz, and thus the exile finds favor in his eyes. Being estranged from the national component of Torah, but he does not miss having his own Jewish Homeland. The opposite is true – he enjoys the Galut. He enjoys his work, his community, the education he can give to his children, and the opportunity he has to experience the best of both worlds – his Judaism and the gentile world around him. If there is an inner need to live in Israel, or to live there because it is the true place of the Torah’s performance, he does not feel it. Therefore, something will be missing in his yearning for Salvation, for the Temple, the Sanhedrin, for prophecy, for Jewish Kingship, and for all of the aspects of the Jewish nation in its rebuilt form. To his way of thinking, the concept of nationhood has nothing to do with Judaism, or with being "Frum." He fails to understand that the highest worship and sanctification of G-d comes through the life of the nation of Israel, and not through the deeds of the individual Jew.
One of the great contributions of the Arizal was revealing the relationship between transgression and rectification, known as tikun. For instance, the sin of the Spies in the wilderness fell on the night of Tisha B’Av. Our Sages tell us that their lack of faith in G-d, expressed in their refusing to journey on to Israel, and their rejection of the supreme importance of the Land of Israel to the Jewish People and Torah, planted the seeds for the future national destruction and exile. Because their sin was in despising the cherished Land, the rectification is to love the Land and to make every possible effort to live there.
Destruction of Jerusalem
On the eve of Tisha B’Av, here are some deep Torah teachings to help awaken our love for the Land and increase our yearning to live there.
The Arizal taught that just by eating the fruits of Eretz Yisrael, a person’s fear and reverence for G-d is increased.
The Hasidic master, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, who based much of his teachings on the secrets which the Arizal revealed, taught his students that the holiness of Eretz Yisrael is the epitome of holiness, encompassing all other levels of holiness, and that genuine enlightenment and Torah wisdom come only in the Land of Israel. Repeatedly, he stated that only through the special spiritual treasures of Eretz Yisrael can a Jew rise up to the highest levels in the service of G-d. In addition, he said, that true faith and prayer are only possible in Eretz Yisrael, for it is there that prayer ascends to the worlds above (Likutei Etzot, Eretz Yisrael).
The Cherished Land
Rabbi Nachman states: “When a person attains to the level of the Land of Israel, he is worthy of being called ‘a man of strength and valor.’ Before he attains this level, ‘Let not him who girdeth on his armor boast as the one who takes it off.’ But when he has gone through the battle successfully, he is worthy of the name ‘a man of war.’”
In addition to deepening our Torah learning, how can we increase our love and yearning for the Land of Israel? Rabbi Nachman says: “Pray to G-d to give you desire and yearning for the Land of Israel. Then you will succeed in reaching there.”
True, making Aliyah is a very difficult mitzvah. In addition to the great joy and spiritual elevation that it brings, it is filled with challenges and hardships. The Talmud teaches that it is impossible to come to the Land of Israel without difficulties and suffering. Rabbi Nachman explains that “the root of all the difficulties and suffering lies in the slanderous image of the Land which is put about by the wicked. They are the source of all of the obstacles. But the power of the Torah which we draw into ourselves enables us to overcome all the obstacles, difficulties, and suffering. The more profound a person’s grasp of the Torah, and the greater tikun he brings about through his attainment, the greater his victory will be over the obstacles, and he will succeed in reaching the Land of Israel.”
May we all be so worthy soon.